There's a certain elegance to Orchestra Baobab's latest, and that's entirely the point. The Senegalese outfit — notable veterans Balla Sidibe and Rudy Gomis on vocals, Balla Sidibe on timbales, Mountaga Koite on congas, saxophonists Issa Cissoko and Thierno Koite and bassist Charlie Ndiaye — have now woven their velvety take on Wolof rhythms, Casamance creole and Afro-Cuban influences into something that's at once homegrown and universal.
Since their reformation back in 2001 — driven by a reissue of their classic 1982 long-player Pirate's Choice — the nearly five decades-old band have been revitalized by the renewed interest in their sleek and refined take on "Senegal to Guinea" rhythms. This new ten-track project, Tribute to Ndiouga Dieng, is a dedication to the recently deceased band vocalist, and it's a wholly reverent affair.
Absent is longtime guitarist Barthélemy Attisso; in his stead is a new addition, the Mali-based Abdouleye Cissoko, who adds a sparkling element to the band's sound by way of his mastery of the kora. The sound complements the group's already shimming jazz soundscape — check out sax sections in "Magnokouto" or "Caravana" for proof — and he stands out particularly on the solo "Mariama." Elsewhere, the Afro-Cuban "Douga" virtually jumps for joy, and the Latin tempo on "Natalia" commands attention.
Orchestra Baobab have truly mellowed with age — those expecting a rawer and urgent take on West African rhythms may come away disappointed — but Tribute to Ndiouga Dieng is a triumphant spin on their classic style. (World Circuit)