Music from the Hearts of the Masters
Gambian kora master and griot Foday Musa Suso moved from his homeland to Chicago in the mid-'70s with a desire to collaborate and stretch beyond his traditional approach. He immediately founded the Mandingo Griot Society-working with Hamid Drake and Don Cherry-before moving on to a dazzling array of pan-stylistic projects with the likes of Bill Laswell, Herbie Hancock and Philip Glass. This project, a gorgeous duo with drummer Jack DeJohnette, features some of his purest, most beautiful improvisations in years. A raft of original compositions and a few traditional ones find Suso shaping elaborate improvisations built on the famously cyclical nature of Senegambian tradition; cascading arpeggios, jaunty runs and wild intervals push boldly against the music's relatively tight structures. He picks up the basslike dousinguni on a few pieces and tastefully enhances his sound with light electronics here and there, but for the most part he revels in the kora's bell-like resonance. DeJohnette plays the role of crisp accompanist brilliantly, and he also pushes the structural rigidity of the tunes to the hilt, laying on soothing polyrhythms and occasionally dropping some of his characteristic snare bombs without ever overwhelming the gentleness of the kora. He finds all kinds of space within Suso's dense tangle of notes, accentuating the music's lovely heartbeat.