Bassekou Kouyaté & Ngoni Ba
In the Bambara language spoken in the African nation of Mali, “ba” means “strong,” and Malian musician Bassekou Kouyaté named his latest album Ba Power to represent both its tough sound and its potent messages.
However, the album doesn’t beat the listener over the head with blunt intensity; its strength is much more subtle, choosing to dazzle with mind-bogglingly fast runs, a sustained, smoldering heat, ardent singing and carefully applied doses of rock-oriented timbres and drumming.
Kouyaté is a virtuoso on the ngoni, a West African lute, and his band Ngoni Ba includes members of his family on various ngonis plus his wife, singer Amy Sacko, who is anything but timid when delivering her emotional and stirring vocals, like when emboldening women on “Musow Fanga.”
Kouyaté’s superb previous album, Jama Ko, expressed the frustration of living through unrest and political turmoil happening at that time, but Ba Power has more general, sometimes philosophical messages directed to both people in Mali and those outside the nation’s borders, like the temporal contemplation “Waati.”
There is also the spirit of collaboration on Ba Power, with other African artists such as fellow Malian Samba Touré on guitar or notable western world musicians like trumpeter and “Fourth World” music creator Jon Hassell and guitarist Chris Brokaw, formerly of Codeine and Come.
The rock fusions fortunately don’t dilute Kouyaté’s style, complementing it instead; for example, when distortion is applied to his lead solos, it’s mixed so that the original percussive plucks can be heard as well as the fuzzed output. While it can be easy for some musicians to hide behind rock distortion to mask sloppy or sub-par playing, nothing is hidden on Ba Power, with remarkably tight and dexterous runs that are dizzyingly exhilarating.
The tightrope that Ba Power walks is expressing a bold passion while not being overbearing, delivering streams of incredible moments with a breathtaking, effortless energy.
Flying Saucer Attack
Fans of the British outfit Flying Saucer Attack—essentially guitarist and vocalist David Pearce, with guests every once in a while—and possibly numerologists also are celebrating its return with the hour-long album Instrumentals 2015, comprised of 15 solo guitar pieces, breaking the band’s 15-year hiatus which started after Mirror was released in 2000.
Flying Saucer Attack built up a reputation in the ’90s for its treble-heavy fuzzed-out electric guitar sheets of sound and dreamy drones, with and without a rhythmic momentum or soft vocals. Although it carved out its own niche, astute listeners could hear traces of Pearce’s eclectic influences, with various tracks informed by British psychedelia, German Krautrock (several tracks are named after the group Popol Vuh) or more folk/acoustic-leaning artists like Roy Harper and Nick Drake, and at its most pop-rock-leaning, Flying Saucer Attack could resemble a more rugged version of The Jesus and Mary Chain.
For the most part, the home-recorded Instrumentals 2015 contains gentle, glistening multi-tracked electric guitar numbers, sounding like it utilizes little more than distortion and delay pedal effects.
It’s Pearce at his most seemingly free—not totally amorphous, but flowing easily with less of a concern for structure or time constraints. Anything using copious amounts of delay effects will be called “shoegaze” nowadays, but it’s not a stretch to say that shoegaze fans will likely enjoy this.
A few striking diversions from the dominant shimmering bliss on Instrumentals 2015 include “Instrumental 6,” which has a piercing beginning with what sounds like squealing feedback, treading into harsh noise territory.
“Instrumental 10” uses a twin guitar approach, with two melodic lines occupying the right and left stereo channels atop what sounds like a wispy loop of machinery lurking in the background, and “Instrumental 13” evokes a wistful, mysterious feeling that might work well as a low-fidelity soundtrack to a moment of reflection.
Instrumentals 2015 may seem more like a sketchbook than a fully formed album because of its simple approach, but it’s more than rehearsal scraps, with Pearce trying out ideas and making them work on their own terms.