A gently mesmeric set in which the Malian guitarist Vieux Farka Touré teams up with Israeli keyboard player Idan Raichel for a series of improvised, largely instrumental pieces in which both musicians quietly extend their range. Raichel has become something of a hero across the Middle East for his adventurous fusion of Israeli, Arab and African themes, though his band, the Idan Raichel Project, sometimes veer towards classy global easy-listening. Here, he allows the African guitar hero to dominate many of the tracks, with Touré moving away from his driving, electric-guitar blues-rock style to concentrate on laid-back acoustic riffs and improvised flurries that at times echo the work of his legendary father, Ali Farka Touré. Raichel adds sensitive piano embellishments, and the duo are backed by insistent bass and calabash percussion, with added harmonica work and vocals from Ethiopian-Israeli singer Cabra Casey. Ideal for late-night listening or meditation…..world music………….
This is the best record you will hear this year
Vieux Farka Toure has, for my money, been putting out solid albums for a while now, long since moving out from the lengthy shadow of his father Ali and staking his own acoustic-electric, Afro-trad-rock territory. Last year’s album The Secret was an excellent addition to his ouevre, coming on the heels of his 2010 live album and featuring surprising contributions from unlikely sources like Derek Trucks and John Scofield.
None of that history, though, could have prepared a listener for the transcendent brilliance of Toure’s latest effort, an album-length collaboration with Israeli keyboardist and pop star Idan Raichel. The Toure-Raichel Collective, as the men have dubbed themselves, sat down one afternoon in Israel to spontaneously jam and swap musical ideas back and forth. The results betray a rare but profound responsiveness to one another’s work, and a refreshing willingness to set aside egos in favor of musical purity. It would be an understatement to say that The Tel Aviv Session is a good record, or even a great one. This is, simply put, one of the best Afro-pop collaborations you are likely to hear, rivaling the elder Toure’s 1994 effort with Ry Cooder, Talking Timbuktu.
Yes, it’s that good.
Toure sets aside his electric guitar for these sessions, and the revelation–one of them–is that his sinuous melody lines are just as much at home on an unplugged instrument. Many of these songs are framed by his rapidfire fingerpicking, before settling into an easy, lilting rhythm, which invites accompaniment from Raichel’s equally fluid piano playing. Album opener “Azawade” finds its rhythm right off the bat, and stays nestled in its groove for the next eight-plus minutes. Accents of piano, accordion and vocals add to the spell without diluting its simple power. To put it simply, it hits the sweet spot.
In fact it hits such a sweet spot that the listener half hopes it will never end, but at the same time can’t wait to hear what else these musicians have in store.
The answer to that is: plenty. The bend reels off a string of outstanding tunes without pausing for breath: “Bamba”, “Experience”, “Alkataou”, and “Hawa” all sound like the work of a band that’s been playing together for years, the various instruments and voices mingling with apparent effortlessness. “Experience” is a knockout track, with a snaky Middle Eastern melody led by Raichel’s piano and echoed by Toure’s confident but never aggressive guitar. Vocals remain an element in the instrumental mix but are never the focus of a song, and this decision, like so many others, fits the mood of the album perfectly.
Later in the record, “Toure” rocks with surprising vigor, helped along by an unexpected but thoroughly welcome harmonica, while “Le Niger” strikes a dreamier note for its eight-minute running time. These tracks have ample time to breathe and stretch. Six of the album’s eleven songs top six minutes, while just two clock in at under four. Despite that, the tracks never seem formless or meandering; they’re as long as they need to be.
The record ends on yet another high note, with Raichel’s piano intro leading into the eight-minute-plus “Alem”, which evolves into one more trance-inducing experience. Toure’s guitar plays off Raichel’s keyboards, and vice versa, with occasional other sounds creeping into the mix as well. It all sounds earthy and unearthly at the same time–something that could be said about much of this record.
If you’re going to own only one Afro-pop album in your entire collection, then I would recommend Talking Timbuktu. Second would be something by Baaba Maal (Baayo and Firin’ In Fouta are both good places to start). Three and four would be Salif Keita (Papa) and Tinariwen’s Amassakoul. But number five? Make it The Tel Aviv Session.
This is high praise, as I’m sure the musicians themselves would agree. Mighty high praise indeed, and entirely deserved. This record is a gift. – PopMatters, March 27, 2012…………………………..
A chance meeting eventually led Israeli pianist Idan Raichel and Malian guitarist Vieux Farka Touré to meet up in Tel Aviv for a jam session, each with a friend; Israeli bassist Yossi Fine & Malian calabash (bottle gourd) percussionist Souleymane Kane. This CD is the result (with a few guests contributing in post-production). It was not intended as a recording session so the musicians were “just” improvising together; and one can sort of sense the relaxed spontaneity. Vieux’s masterful guitar playing is uncharacteristically not amplified. On many tracks the notes Raichel plays on the piano are those one might expect from a kora. As the jam continued the musicians must have realized that something special was happening - and you will too. This is rich!……..ByJay Paul……………….
The Story Behind The Touré-Raichel Collective
The formation and success of The Touré-Raichel Collective, the band led by Israeli keyboardist and songwriter Idan Raichel and Malian guitarist Vieux Farka Touré—icons in their own countries and abroad—is a reminder of the unique power of music to bridge geographic, ethnic, political and religious differences.
Although a collaboration between an Israeli Jew and a Malian Muslim has unavoidable political implications, what inspired Touré and Raichel to work together was not the potential to make a statement; they simply connected as artists and friends seeking to find musical common ground.
They met for the first time by chance, in 2008 at the Berlin airport, where they expressed mutual admiration and a desire to get together and play. Touré’s father, the late great Ali Farka Touré, was one of Raichel’s musical heroes and inspirations. Raichel invited Touré to Israel, where they assembled a few musicians and convened an unscripted, improvised jam session. The chemistry between Touré and Raichel was instant and profound. They assumed the name The Touré-Raichel Collective and used the material from that first gathering as the basis for an album, The Tel Aviv Session, which found poignant, musically beautiful common ground between the artists’ cultures.
Due to popular demand, The Touré-Raichel Collective has undertaken multiple international tours and performed on some of the world’s most prestigious stages. In June of this year, Touré returned to Israel to join Raichel’s band The Idan Raichel Project in a performance at Masada, an archeological site of immense significance in Jewish history.
Since they recorded their first album in Tel Aviv, the plan was to make the follow-up in Bamako. But for reasons of logistics, cost and security the artists met in France instead. For three days Raichel, who produced, and Touré sequestered themselves at Studio Malambo in the outskirts of Paris where they were joined by a number of special guests. While The Paris Session is the result of the same freeform approach that was used in the first album, this time around they decided to feature more songs with vocals, a wider range of instrumentation, and appearances by musician friends such as Senegalese artist Daby Touré on bass, Israeli trumpeter Niv Toar, Malian singer Seckouba Diabate and others. Touré and Raichel have honed their interplay over the course of multiple tours together, but the album possesses the same spontaneous, heartfelt magic as its predecessor.
One highlight of the recording is a rendition of the song “Diaraby,” written by Ali Farka Touré and featured on his landmark collaboration with Ry Cooder, Talking Timbuktu. Raichel says that there was a period of six or seven years during which he had listened to the song nearly every day. Upon sharing a stage with Vieux for the first time, Raichel suggested they play the elder Touré’s song together, and doing so brought tears to Raichel’s eyes. He describes feeling “a big, big circle from Ali Farka Touré in Niafunke to me in Tel Aviv, then going back to Ali’s son.”
More broadly Raichel says of his collaboration with Touré, “I’m a musician from Israel, and I will always make Israeli music. And Vieux Farka Touré for me represents the spirit of Mali. I think world music artists by definition are people who reflect the soundtrack of the place they come from. I think that this collaboration between Mali and Israel—and remember we don’t even have diplomatic relations between the two countries—creates a new imaginary island located somewhere between Bamako and Tel Aviv.”
Touré says, “Idan comes from Israel, he’s Jewish. I come from Mali, I’m a Muslim. This project shows the point where there are no real differences between us. Working on these recordings we learn a lot about each other.”
It all works, first and foremost, because Touré, Raichel and their guests manage to make singular music. Reviewing The Tel Aviv Session for NPR’s All Things Considered, Banning Eyre wrote, “If Raichel and Touré had planned a collaboration, it’s hard to imagine that they could have topped the casual charm of this impromptu encounter.” Hosting the Collective on WNYC’s Soundcheck, John Schaefer called the debut recording “one of the year’s most surprising and infectious world music releases.” Wall Street Journal rock and pop music critic Jim Fusilli has described the collaboration as “not so much cross-cultural exercise as an exploration of common ground.”………………..
So many glowing reviews for this album, that I was skeptical as to whether this would measure up. But, in this case, believe the hype! This is indeed a magical and memorable album, a collaboration between two musicians of seemingly very different backgrounds, but ones that mesh seamlessly.
A previous collaboration between musicians from different countries and background’s, Ry Cooder and Ali Farka Toure’s acclaimed “Talking Timbuktu”, has been cited as being similar to this album, or at least possessing the same energy and musical magnificence. That’s a very good comparison, and high praise indeed, but I also hear elements of another album, “In The Heart of the Moon”, that the elder Toure (Vieux Farke Toure’s father) recorded with the legendary Malian kora player Toumani Diabate. In fact, there are times when I could swear that I DID hear a kora player in the mix, but alas that was only my imagination. Still, the synthesis of Idan Rachel’s deft piano playing and Toure’s equally remarkable guitar skills makes for a very fluid and mesmerizing sound.
Play this album over and over, admire the musical proficiency, and allow the magical vibes and melodic moods to sink into your soul. Blissful stuff indeed!
The CD comes with a lovely 24-page booklet that includes many photos from this sessions, plus a short essay detailing “The Story Behind the Toure-Raichel Collective.” I’m ready to hear more by these guys!……….ByDonald E. Gilliland…………..
When leading his own band, guitarist Vieux Farka Touré has lately been getting increasingly deeper into the Hendrixian electric zone, his Malian desert roots steadily saturated by rock’n’roll seepage.
This project reveals a different aspect, as Touré comes closer again to his heritage, concentrating on the acoustic guitar. He’s now sounding nearer to the musical spirit of his departed father, Ali Farka.
The other half of this album’s fresh equation is the Israeli keyboardist Idan Raichel, whose reputation is still somewhat underground outside his homeland and probably bigger in the USA than Europe. Even though this collaboration is equally billed, the tunes mostly sound closer to a Malian source. It’s an unlikely teaming, forged out of a chance meeting between the two artists on the road.
Raichel is the producer of this improvised session, which lasted just three hours. The participants began in a jamming frame, then subsequently refined the results into repeatable tunes, arranging on the hoof. They don’t sound improvised, but these linear pieces were created in totally spontaneous fashion, with only a few subsequent overdubs. Raichel and Touré were joined by Israeli bassist Yossi Fine and Malian percussionist Souleymane Kane on calabash.
Raichel favours the acoustic piano, frequently preparing its strings or dampening them with his fingers. Several of the pieces work in a subliminal vocal humming, thickening the textures into a dense sound. When Raichel starts off Experience, the track possessing a noticeably Middle Eastern vibration, his style is reminiscent of Maurice El Médioni’s Jewish-Algerian orientalism.
Guest Frédéric Yonnet plays harmonica on Touré, setting off at a sprightly pace. He gets a solo bridge, accompanied solely by minimal percussion, growling into his harp and flapping his fingers. Another guest, the singer Cabra Casay, takes the lead on Ane Nahatka, with Raichel moving to electric piano.
Many fusion adventures such as this one have found success in recent years, as artists increasingly traverse the globe, becoming authentically grounded in each other’s previously alien sounds, styles, cultures and religions. The players here use that joyful experience to forge exciting new traditions….BBC music review………..
Bass – Yossi Fine
Engineer – Shai Solan
Executive Producer, Liner Notes – Jacob Edgar
Guitar – Vieux Farka Touré
Mastered By – John Davis (4)
Mixed By – Lane Gibson
Percussion [Calabash] – Souleymane Kané*
Piano – Idan Raichel
1 Azawade 8:12
2 Bamba 6:00
3 Experience 6:22
Bass – Patrick Ruffino
5 Hawa 7:01
Tar (lute) – Yankale Segal
Harmonica – Frédéric Yonnet
8 Le Niger 7:59
9 Ai Houde Bakoi 2:47
10 Ane Nahatka
Lyrics By – Cabra Casay
Vocals – Cabra Casay
Kemenche [Kamanche] – Mark Eliyahu