Africa Express - Africa Express presents Terry Riley's In C Mali

by David Bruggink Rating:8 Release Date:2015-01-27

Like Steve Reich’s Music for 18 Musicians, Terry Riley’s In C remains a compelling listen for something so mundanely titled. Attempting to adequately describe it at any given moment could be somewhat difficult, since it relies heavily on short, repeated series of notes on strings, piano, and tuned percussion, yet it conjures an impressive range of ebbing and flowing moods, from dread to wonder and excitement.

As the listener is enveloped in the ceaseless background rhythms, they become a haze from which stimulating new colors and phrases emerge. Rather than changing instantly from one emotion to another, melodies evolve slowly and ambiguously, preventing you from firmly pinning down where the piece has been or where it’s going.

The concept behind In C allows the base-note to serve as a foundation from which new patterns and emotions can be explored. It also lends itself well to reinterpretation, especially within new cultural contexts, as different instruments and playing styles can significantly change the feeling of the piece. A unique addition to the lengthy list of recordings of In C has been created by Africa Express, a shifting collective of artists including Damon Albarn, Brian Eno, and more than a few legendary West African musicians.

This 50th-year commemoration of Riley’s composition strikes you almost immediately with its exuberance. The presence of West African instruments, including hand-drums, balafon, kora, and calabash, give this rendition a genuine warmth and looseness, even as it veers toward the mournful mid-section of the composition.

At one point, its restless background rhythms even subside and allow the kora to come to the fore in a consummately placid moment. Elsewhere, one catches sight of an unconventional panoply of instruments: bright synthesizer arpeggios, flutes, melodica, and crisp electric guitar all make an appearance at one point - unexpected, but strangely fitting.

Your enjoyment will depend on part on your tolerance for repetition, but In C Mali is a meeting of traditions that feels surprisingly natural, showcasing minimalist music at its most organic, and West African folk music at its most mesmerizing.

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