Review by Emily Slider, DJ assistant for Wo'Pop on KEXP
The Earshot Jazz Festival has been in full swing all over Seattle (ending November 12th), and on a recent Sunday night at the Seattle Art Museum, Earshot hosted an evening with Ballake Sissoko and Vincent Segal. The two entered, dressed formally for their culture. For Segal, a French cellist, his idea of formal was a suit coat and a button-down shirt, but for Sissoko, a Kora player from Mali, formal was a shiny, bright, monochromatic outfit.
Sissoko began the concert by conjuring the lyrical harp sound from his Kora, a double-bridged “harp-lute” made from the calabash gourd. His eyes closed, he drifted into his own world with his fingers dancing on the bridge of his instrument.
The Kora has a double notched bridge supported by the body of the instrument and tucked behind the neck. To play the Kora, the player uses only their thumb and index fingers to pluck at the strings, creating a sound often compared to a harp. After introducing himself musically, Sissoko continued to dance on his strings while Vincent Segal answered with his cello. During the first piece, the music transformed from a passive listening experience to an active conversation between musicians, transcending language and culture. Each took their turn dominating the conversation and setting the pace at which the instruments communicated. The music was clearly not held fast to a structure, and without a previous knowledge of their music, the listener may not be able to tell if the music was completely improvised or not improvised at all.
Segal played the cello as if the category of “stringed instrument” were only a mere suggestion. During one song, he pressed the bow onto the strings so lightly and pulled his fingers up the neck in such a way that his cello sounded like a wind instrument. The voice of the cello almost turned into that of a didgeridoo! In the next piece, Segal played in such a way that his cello sounded like a flute. Later yet, he used his bow and his hands to turn his cello into a percussive instrument. For a cellist with formal European training, his playing was anything but concert-hall stuffy.
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