Hans Lüdemann Trio Ivoire

Timbuktu
Intuition INTCHR 71310

Coming to terms with African music without treating it as novelty is challenging enough. Dealing with its innermost elements while linking it with conspicuous tropes from Jazz and notated European music is harder still. But that’s what Trio Ivoire has mostly done with this 10-track CD

Working together since 1999, the trio’s guiding lights, German pianist Hans Lüdemann and balaphon player Aly Keita with an Ivory Coast/Malian background, succeed in creating more than so-called exotic World Music because both have experiences beyond the expected. Know as a sophisticated Jazz stylist, Lüdemann has also been involved with Rock and electro-acoustic sounds. Keita not only has a thorough understanding of fundamental African musics, but has for years also improvised with European players. German drummer Christian Thomé contributes as well. But since he had just joined the band when the CD was recorded, he’s content to be the junior partner.

The most illustrative of this sonic alchemy appears on the pianist’s nearly 11½-minute composition “Crum”, which characteristically includes an Africanized 9/8 rhythm, despite being written near Philadelphia. Brisk and good-natured, the exposition contrasts an overlay of dramatic Europanized chords from the piano with spiny melody embellishments from the diatonic balaphon. Subverting the keyboard’s Ur-romantic theme with a climax of crackling syncopation, it’s not the first time in the set where Keita’s hollow mallet reverberations seem to suggest the outright rhythm of Lionel Hampton’s approach to the vibraphone.

Despite these inferences Trio Ivoire is no more a “Jazz” trio than it is a “World Music” ensemble. While the sliding and double-stopping interaction between Keita’s chromatic balaphon and Lüdemann’s piano might resemble a more basic John Lewis-Milt Jackson hook-up, the emphasis is on contrast rather than swing. In contrast, the Malian theme “Douentza” is built up with some kinetic sweat equity, but appears equally wedded to European rounds as West African relaxation. Furthermore tracks like Keita’s “Makuku” are sympathetically balladic via low-frequency piano chording and slow moving tremolos from the composer.

Overall it’s also tracks like this that maintain Trio Ivoire’s musical balance. Achieving a jaunty groove is no problem for the trio. But altering the tempo for even a measure in the wrong place could weaken all the virtuous witchcraft created and slide the sounds into mindless happy music.

With this CD the trio has achieved its goal with panache. But it will have to be doubly careful in the future to emphasize the improvisational mixture it evokes.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Timbuktu 2. Heartbeats 3. Maloya 4. Perles Noires 5. Love Confession 6. Crum 7. Makuku 8. Treiben 9. Douentza 10. Ndo

Personnel: Hans Lüdemann (piano and virtual [piano); Aly Keita (diatonic and chromatic balaphon) and Christian Thomé (drums, percussion and electronics)