While German-born trumpeter Volker Goetze and Senegalese griot Ablaye Cissoko may seem an unlikely pairing, they create an enchanting ambiance with their delicate chemistry on this cross-cultural duet project. But there is little here for jazz fans to latch on to. Cissoko’s tunes and the traditional Senegalese numbers that he sings are all based on simple sing-songy melodic motifs that, while pleasant enough, go nowhere. There’s no harmonic or motific development, just an immersion into this sweet vibe created by the shimmering sound of the 21-string West African kora. And on a playing scale, Cissoko is no Toumani Diabaté, whose staggering virtuosity on the kora is several levels above what we hear on this disc.
Trumpeter Goetze picks up on some of the lyrical motifs established by Cissoko, echoing them or playing unisons with either open horn or mute, sounding at times like “Time After Time”-era Miles. It’s a nice enough effect but without the upstart improvisational streak that someone like a Ron Miles, Steven Bernstein or Shane Endsley could bring to the table, this stuff just remains in one place, sounding tame and polite while never taking off. The one time they get into something that goes beyond the pretty/naive zone is on Goetze’s lone composition, “Bamaya,” where some darker implications suggest what this collaboration could’ve been. The rest of Sira, which was recorded in Senegal and named for Cissoko’s youngest daughter, is too much of the same. World music fans may find it all delightful but a little of this will no doubt go a long way for jazz aficionados. (A portion of the sales of this record goes to Tostan for education about African women’s health and human rights; visit www.tostan.org for more information.)