By Bobby Reed | Published August 2017
Some albums stand out because they have a unique instrumental blend. But that doesn’t necessarily guarantee the music will be great. It’s what the musicians do with the instruments that can distinguish a recording that is nobly educational from one that is emotionally engaging. Such is the case with Trio Ivoire’s excellent new album, Desert Pulse. The band’s pianist and primary composer, Hans Lüdemann, is teamed with percussionist Christian Thomé and Aly Keïta, who plays an instrument he developed, a diatonic balafon (a type of wooden xylophone). Augmenting the core trio are trumpeter Reiner Winterschladen and Ballaké Sissoko, a master of the kora, which is a long-necked harp lute. (Another famous practitioner of the kora is Toumani Diabaté, who topped the category Rising Star–Miscellaneous Instrument in the 2013 DownBeat Critics Poll.) In the years since Lüdemann first encountered Keïta in 1999, the pianist has been pursuing an aesthetic that blends elements of jazz with those of West African music. The deep-grooved “Timbuktu,” which features muted trumpet, kora and balafone, illustrates how these musicians can combine various musical ingredients into a coherent, head-bobbing tune. On “Love Confessions,” Keïta constructs a fascinating balafone-and-piano conversation with Lüdemann and later unleashes a fiery solo that would induce a knowing smile among jazz vibes players. The generous Lüdemann embraces different roles throughout the program, sometimes providing a foundational element, sometimes sitting out momentarily, and other times adding a memorable motif for coloration. Fans who are intrigued by the notion of blurring the lines between jazz and world music should check out the hypnotic Desert Pulse.