Toumani Diabate’s Symmetric Orchestra / Katenen Dioubate Harbourfront Centre, Toronto ON July 5

The most anticipated ticketed show at Harbourfront this year was all-world kora master Toumani Diabate’s first Toronto show since 1989. He brought perfect Harbourfront weather with him — puffy pink clouds coloured the skyline, providing patrons with a serene setting in which to absorb the music. Opening act Katenen Dioubate dazzled the crowd in a crepe-heavy, cornflower blue dress. While her band were composed of excellent musicians, she peaked early, and the grooves became jammier as her set progressed, with less discernable flow. The Symmetric Orchestra, on the other hand, have honed their act over ten years at the Hogon club in Bamako, Mali, and the showbiz started in earnest as soon as they hit the stage. Each member entered with a brief solo flourish, only to lock into a tight, slick groove when the master himself took the stage. As Diabate explained in a workshop-like moment later in the set, kora players play bass, melody and improvisations all at once, but he had delegated all but the improvisational elements to the rest of the band. This resulted in a highly polished groove from all players, so anxious to show off their international high calibre chops. About half the material in the set was drawn from the Symmetric’s disc, and was much more impressive than the boxy, unfulfilling sound of the 30-strong orchestra in the studio. This was not dangerous music, but it was a propulsive and imaginative re-imaging of ancient music within modern arrangements. While at times a bit bloodless, there was a point in each song where Diabate simply took off in a flight of virtuosity. To paraphrase Mingus: "If Toumani Diabate were a gunslinger, there’d be a whole lot of dead copycats.” His expertise at deconstructing time and possibly space left a permanent impression on all in attendance.