Toumani Diabate's Symmetric Orchestra Boulevard De L'independence

Arguably the best kora player in the world, Toumani Diabate fulfils a longstanding wish to record his Symmetric Orchestra. This band that holds a Friday night residency at an outdoor venue called Hogon, an "espace culturel” in Bamako, Mali where multi-generational patrons eat, dance, talk, hang out but generally focus on the live music. The orchestra has been together for 14 years but has never performed outside Africa. Diabate’s concept for the band is one-part repertory group and one-part a dance band with new material evoking the many traditional styles of Mali. The result is a tightly grooving album, slick even with dashes of horns and strings to add colour and atmosphere. There are plenty of good grooves, and some nice touches such as the Malian salsa of "Africa Challenge” and the "We Will Rock You” beat of Mali Sadio. Somehow this disc feels like less than the sum of its considerable parts. Diabate is stellar on kora as usual with his aggressive attack and fascinating sense of phrasing always demanding attention, but the locomotive drive of most tracks becomes monotonous after a while, there is little room in the arrangements for improvising, counterpoint or even much of a variation of the energy that the best West African bands are capable of. This is still an above-average record, but the whole comes off as constricted when this recording should soar. (Nonesuch)