With so few musical pathways left untrodden today, seemingly the only way to create something truly individual to is meld two apparently disconnected styles of music. Trio Da Kali and Kronos Quartet’s collaborative ‘Ladilikan’ is just that; a vibrant, unique mixture of western classicism and Malian folk. On paper it’s a curious mixture but in practice it works well, even excellently, for the majority of the group’s debut album.
The ways in which the two musical cultures intermingle here are frequently fascinating – imbued with the melodic bent of both East and West, there’s a salient power to the combination of instrumentation and influences found on ‘Ladilikan’. Rhythmically, too, the album is intriguing: often polyrhythmic, Trio Da Kali’s musicality centres around the Balafon – a traditional West African instrument not wholly unlike a xylophone. This instrument’s duality of rhythm and melody lends the album a percussive drive as well as a frequently playful melodic streak.
With a career stretching back to the late ’70s, Kronos Quartet is an ensemble well used to collaborative ventures, which makes their fluent dialogue with Trio Da Kali of no surprise. Where the trio bring the sounds of their culture and tradition, the quartet trade in a musicality certainly based in the established bounds of Western Classical but voiced in an often more left-field way. Enunciation of the frequently complex melodies on the album is stuttering, even nervous at times – a sign not of inexperience but rather of an understanding of juxtaposition, the often stop-start nature of the quartet sitting in stark, if effective, contrast to the more fluid musicality of the trio.
Vocals here are sumptuous and rich; providing a clear melodic beacon that often carries the album’s tunes by itself, with the musical backing serving as a mostly rhythmic accompaniment. Performances are confident throughout and, by and large, the disparate styling of the collaboration works well. There are times, however, when the two groups don’t quite manage to gel with one-another. ‘All Tears Away’ seems not to have a clear direction, the song’s undulating melody never quite coming into focus enough to really satisfy. The mood, too, errs at times – although there’s no denying the persuasive power of the group’s sound, there’s a lack of instrumental variety on the album that does lead to proceedings feeling rather familiar by the latter third of the album. The string arrangements from Kronos Quartet are occasionally a little overbearing, a rather sonically dense addition to the airy, light soundscape that Trio Da Kali promote; although the two groups meld well in general, such moments don’t see the bands perform together at their most harmonious.
Still, even for those few misjudgements, ‘Ladilikan’ is a striking, beautiful record and a vibrant collaboration between two undeniably talented entities. The album is a meeting of two sonic cultures – two differing ideologies which often sit together so well that it feels as though they were made for each other.
‘Ladilikan’ is out on the 15th September 2017.