Collaborations between improvising musicians and orchestras sometimes reveal nothing but a culture clash. The performances can sound disjointed and fragmented, the musical equivalent of cut and paste. But when Toumani Diabate, the kora maestro, and his band of eminent Malian musicians shared the Barbican stage with the London Symphony Orchestra back in 2008, the connection exposed only the glorious possibilities of bringing traditions together. With Ian Gardiner and Nico Muhly’s orchestral arrangements supporting Diabate’s compositions, the ambition was, as Muhly said, ‘to create a subtle architecture’ where the orchestra made space for the band to flourish.
A few lucky people attended the short run of concerts that Diabate’s band and the LSO performed way back when; but for the rest of us the magical music they produced together has become a distant rumour. That is until April 23rd, when the release of Korolen on World Circuit, the live recording of that almost mythical Barbican concert, will reveal all.
Previewing the full release comes the album and concert’s sumptuous opener “Hainamady Town”. Fittingly as the performance marked the first time that a kora had been used as a solo instrument with a symphony orchestra, the cut begins with Diabate playing solo, coaxing that tumbling beauty from his instrument strings while he slides closer to its chiming melody.
As the orchestra gently eases into the soundscape, carefully building around the tune, Diabate lets the main theme fly with his usual improvisational flare pulling restlessly at the emotions as he goes. It’s music with a widescreen cinematic feel without the cliché and the melodrama.
“Hainamady Town” signals that great things can be expected from the Korolen album. We may have waited more than 12 years for its release, but April 23rd can’t come soon enough.