Right at the start, Toumani DiabatÃ©’s kora ripples with easy grace and, for a brief moment, it’s easy to imagine this collaboration of musicians fromMaliandBrazilwill be a feast of griot, samba and bossa nova. Then Edgard Scandurra’s guitar enters, angular and awkward, upsetting the balance. When Brazilian poet and singer Arnaldo Antunes finally opens his mouth, with a voice that sounds as if it’s been dragged over rough gravel, all bets are off. This is an album that stands outside any culture, or even fusion. And once “Cara” arrives, flamenco as imagined by King Crimson, full of serpentine twists and curls, it’s apparent that at its heart this album has pure rock ‘n’ roll.
This is obvious on “Un Senhor,” where urgent strumming and elegant kora (by Diabate’s son Sidiki) fight each other behind Antunes’s words. It captures the restless spirit here, especially when juxtaposed with the quiet beauty of “Psui,” where Scandurra offers restrained slide guitar, leaving the instrumental spotlight to Toumani, who swirls around the deliberately monotone vocal delivery to highlight the gentle ache of the melody. This is a record that confounds expectations at every turn, constantly switching tack, from the kora workout of “Rio Seco” to the pure yearning of “Yacine,” and the final electric madness of “Bamako’s Blues,” a raw, gutbucket mess that could have come straight out of R. L. Burnside’s juke joint. There’s light and dark shadow here, and every shade in between.