REVIEW: The Touré-Raichel Collective - The Tel Aviv Sessions

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Friday September 21, 2012

from World Music


Take two world music virtuosos – one a Jewish-Israeli pianist, the other a Muslim-Malian guitarist – put them together for one day for an impromptu jam and see what comes out. Now, those of you who have ever tried capturing the magic of improvised music and spontaneous creativity will know just how hit and miss this can be. Just because you put two maestros together doesn’t mean that a masterpiece will result. The conjuring up of such elusive moments of artistic passion (what the Spanish flamenco performers refer to as ‘duende’ or the Welsh as ‘hwyl’) is something born of the moment, that almost accidental crossing of time, place, personalities, atmosphere, skills, communication, tension, relaxation and inspiration that creates the spark that fires the soul‘¦

Just under two years ago the Israeli keyboardist Idan Raichel and the Malian guitarist Vieux Farka Touré came together for one day after a performance the night before, which had inspired them to want to record something in the small window of opportunity they had. There were no major expectations of the session, Vieux’s manager Eric Herman of Modiba thinking ‘alright, this is fun, a nice little jam’. They sat down in a small recording studio in south Tel Aviv set up like a living room and recorded whatever came to them.

Accompanied by Israeli bassist, Yossi Fine and the Malian calabash player Souleymane Kane the four musicians played for just three hours. After the first three pieces, Herman was thinking ‘Maybe there will be something here we can use’. Five or six numbers later there was enough for an entire album.

It also became clear to the participants that something special was occurring. Herman describes it thus: ‘Because there were no expectations, it was really the most fluid and pleasant recording experience. They all just played until they got tired. ‘¦ What struck me was the nakedness of it. So many people agonise over all the aspects of a recording, everything is premeditated in virtually all recording sessions that I’ve been to. And this was entirely freeform – an open exchange’.

The result of this Tel Aviv session is the basis of this album – acoustic, spontaneous and entirely improvised. And it’s a keeper.

As hinted at above this is not a ‘normal’ album – it’s a recording of a jam session essentially – and this explains a certain uniformity of mood and tone throughout, something which is both its strength and its weakness. Strength because it ties it all together – the exploratory nature of the numbers, the calm, the ebb and flow of musical ideas and motifs; weakness because I occasionally wanted something that stood out as quite different from rest – more light and shade between tracks (even though there is plenty of light and shade within each track).

However, as I’ve listened to the album again and again, this seems less and less important. There’s far more here than meets the ear at first. It is definitely one of those works that repays renewed listenings as you begin to notice fresh layers revealing themselves, new juxtapositions of sounds and melodies, conversations you might have missed‘¦ It is one for quiet reflection, for mood immersion and musical absorption. You need to spend time with “The Tel Aviv Session”. Don’t expect it to reveal all its secrets at one. But if you have the patience it’s well worth the digging. There’s gold in them thar hills.

Vieux Farka Touré, in my opinion, is better on this album than on his last one (‘The Secret’) – he just feels infinitely more relaxed and liberated. All the musicians are excellent and feel very comfortable with their parts. But it’s Idan Raichel’s influence that I’m enjoying the most of all. With a free-ranging mind and countless musical colours he appears completely in control of his instrument and it becomes a direct expression of his musical will. I love that in a musician. In fact, he reminds me in that sense of the Japanese pianist Ryoko Nuruki.

Some years ago Peter Gabriel and Realworld made an album called ‘Big Blue Ball’ on which many musicians collaborated. It was described if memory serves me correct as a fine wine that would mature with age. Well, for me the jury’s definitely still out on that one (talented though the individual musicians were). However, I really feel that the epithet should apply to Raichel and Touré’s ‘The Tel Aviv Sessions’. Just like the obvious comparison with Vieux’s father’s ‘Talking Timbuktu’ (with Ry Cooder) or an album like Surinder Sandhu’s ‘The Fictionist’, this bottle could be one for the bodega‘¦

Pour yourself a glass and sit back.

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