Catrin Finch, Seckou Keita: Echo

Welsh harpist and Senegalese kora player present a suave mixture of folk, classical and African music sometimes redolent of modal jazz

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This is the second Bendigedig release featuring Seckou Keita which I’ve had for review: in November 2021 I reviewed the surpassing SUBA, which the Senegalese kora virtuoso cut with the Cuban maestro Omar Sosa.

That album led me to other striking Bendigedig releases with Keita, such as the 2019 Joy by the AKA Trio of Antonio Forcione, Keita and Adriano Adewale, the solo 22 Strings / Cordes of 2015 and 2018’s Soar. Recorded with the renowned Welsh classical harpist Catrin Finch, Soar followed the duo’s debut recording Clychau Dibon of 2013.

Finch has worked with the Colombian band Cimarrón as well as the Malian kora master Toumani Diabaté. There’s not a trace of any classical “stiffness” in her phrasing here. Rather, she and Keita – a musician who can lay claim to griot ancestry – evince what I experienced as a confluence of sensibilities as jazz-aware as they are folk-rinsed.

The sensitively programmed set of original pieces that is Echo is as melodically appealing as it is rhythmically enticing, as poetically wrought as it is spiritually charged. Hear the rolling and building figures of the opening Gobaith (“hope” in Welsh) or the lilting elegy to the late Zimbabwean mbira (thumb piano) master Chartwell Dutiro that is Chaminuka.

Enjoy the funky riffs and nudging momentum of the irresistible Dimanche and Dual Rising, or sink deep into the chromatically inflected musings of the concluding, at times blues-touched Jula Kuta (“new strings” in Mandinka and a track where Keita makes the most of a specially made double-necked kora).

As always with Bendigedig, the quality of the music is matched by the production values: superb sound and sturdy packaging, distinctive photography and informative quotations from the musicians are topped off by a fine sleeve-note from regular Bendigedig contributor Andy Morgan.

Discography
Gobaith; Chaminuka; Dimanche; Dual Rising; Tabadabang; Jeleh Calon; Julu Kuta (43.51)
Finch (hp); Keita (kora, v; plus, variously, Matthew Denton, Alice Apreda Howell, Annie Pullar (vn); Eoin Schmidt-Martin, Lucy J. Morgan (vla); Emma Denton (clo); Claire Whitson (b). Real World Studios, Bath, 2021.
Bendigedig BEND19