To the extent Senegal has a jazz tradition, it's all mixed up. Around the time West Africa picked up jazz, other New World styles were busy seeping in, including varieties from the Caribbean and Brazil. The hybrid offspring that shot off never really locked into any specific sound.
And that's basically a good thing. Senegalese saxophonist Abdoulaye N'Diaye is equally at home playing with a kora or a piano, something he demonstrates over and over again on Taoué. He aims here to integrate his instrument within two contexts: the American jazz quartet and the West African string ensemble.
The 29-year old hooked up with David Murray in 1999 while the tenor veteran was producing Dieuf Dieul's Salimata (Justin Time, 2001). Murray, it seems, developed a taste for Senegalese music in the '90s; he helped pull Taoué together in Dakar with the help of seven African and three other American musicians.
Abdoulaye N'Diaye's debut has an interesting split personality: three tunes utilize a traditional jazz approach (with American instruments); three cut down the middle (with traditional West African instruments); and one shoots the wad with everyone on board. Interestingly, they appear in the reverse order.
The opener, "Aduna," derives its name from an ancient Mande word which simultaneously implies "life," "the world," and "the universe." That's suitably enormous for the polyphony assembled here, which comprises four drummers and a surprisingly compatible array of six other instruments. Senegalese star Tidiane Gaye lends high-energy Wolof vocals to give the piece thrust and emphasis; djembe player Seydina Djiba perks things up to full-blown mbalax levels. And when Edouard Mohammed Manga rips his kora apart in rapid clusters and runs, all hell breaks loose.
Then three pieces follow with N'Diaye leading an African ensemble. His lyrical alto voice runs along a coursing stream, bubbling up now and then but always moving forward. Instead of punching out tight units or contrasting phrases, he emphasizes continuity. It makes for an interesting contrast with Manga's densely knotted and strikingly virtuosic kora solos.
Within a stricter jazz context, Abdoulaye N'Diaye adopts a decisively swinging affect, moving fluidly through changes with the same momentum that he emphasized earlier. He introduces more dynamics into his phrases, relying on the strengths of the rhythm section to keep things moving along. In all fairness this band is excellent, perhaps because its members are serious out- jazzers who retain the ability to play within the lines without breaking a sweat. David Murray keeps his yelping and shouting under control, making it hard to resolve the two horns at times.
Rather than try to turn traditional West African instruments toward a strict jazz idiom, N'Diaye has wisely chosen to integrate his horn within an over-reaching framework of improvisation. The straight-ahead pieces on Taoué are solid, but the Senegalese tunes are downright brilliant. That makes sense, really, given the who and what involved. Play those first four tracks over and over again.
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Personnel: Abdoulaye N'Diaye: soprano, alto, and tenor saxophones; Dave Burrell: piano; Jaribu Shahid: bass;
Hamid Drake: drums; Sady Faza N'Diaye, Seydina Djiba: percussion; Cheikhou Kanté: bolong;
Edouard Mohammed Manga: kora; Seydina Djiba: djembé; David Murray: tenor saxophone; Tidiane