Singer Dee Dee Bridgewater walks in with considerable credentials, including a hit list of Broadway accolades, an apprenticeship with the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra and a string of acclaimed straight-ahead albums, but Red Earth: A Malian Journey trumps them all. While world-beat listeners will recognize these grooves, Bridgewater brings her own experiences as an African-American woman back to the motherland for what can only be called a fusion of feeling.
Enlisting the production talents of Cheick Tidiane Seck, the album recalls the power-pop sound of Selif Keita and the primordial blues of guitarist Ali Farke Toure, set to the heartbeats of Mali, as heard in the virtuosic kora (gourd harp) of Toumani Diabaté, the Wassoulou vocals of Oumou Sangare and various traditional instruments, including balafon (marimba), n'goni (lute), Peul flute, tamani and doum-doum (low- and high-pitched talking-drums), djembe, shakere (gourd rattle) and calebasse (gourd drum). The West is represented by Bridgewater's working combo, covers of Mongo Santamaria's "Afro Blue, Wayne Shorter's "Long Time Ago, Nina Simone's "Four Women and Gene McDaniels' "Compared to What and the vocalist's strong allegiance to and affinity for the great tradition of Holiday, Fitzgerald and Vaughan.
But Red Earth is a merging and melding of borders: while Bridgewater is uncannily at home scatting over "Mama Don't Ever Go Away, doubling the fleet kora and n'goni lines on "Bad Spirits and trading choruses with vocalists Sangare, Kabine Kouyaté, Mamani Kèita and Baba Sissoko, the Malians have intuitions of their own; Fatoumata Kouyaté shows on the title track that he too can take it back to the chicken shack and Seck busts out some serious Hammond B3 chitlin' circuitry on "Compared to What. With one foot in the funky soul of brother Horace Silver, the other in the polyrhythmic heterophony of Malian village life, Red Earth is global yet local, grounded in the commonality of human experience.
Track Listing: Afro Blue; Bad Spirits (Bani); Dee Dee; Mama Don't Ever Go Away (Mama Digna Sara Yé); Long Time Ago; Children Go 'Round (Demissènw); The Griots (Sakhodougou); Oh My Love (Djarabi); Four women; No More (Bambo); Red Earth (Massane Cissè); Meanwhile; Compared to What.