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Maal’s powerful voice is as distinctive as ever, but just about everything else on the album sounds a little out of place on first listen. Maal told Songlines magazine earlier this year, “The whole world is coming to Africa to look for its music. Why shouldn’t we go to them? Would it be possible for us to say, we are just musicians, not ‘African musicians’?” His comment cuts to the heart of a long-standing argument about whether African music somehow loses its authenticity if it borrows from other cultures. Maal has fought against that idea for years now, and Television goes much further than any of his previous records to make his point.
This is Maal’s least African-sounding record ever, even though he sings in African languages atop muscular grooves that ripple with the distinctive throb of tam-tam drums and “Miracle” sparkles with a touch of kora. In the past he’s made artistic missteps in his attempts to grow musically—particularly on 1998’s Nomad Soul, where simplistic we-are-the-world sentimentality and too-slick production torpedoed some otherwise strong material—but Television isn’t similarly commercial. I’ve never been a fan of Brazilian Girls, but the sound they craft with Maal—subdued, meditative, dense in texture while simple in arrangement—has really grown on me.
The Old Town School has just announced a live date with Maal and his band for April 9, 2010, but this Saturday at 5 PM he’ll appear for free at the Claudia Cassidy Theater at the Chicago Cultural Center. Adrienne Samuels, editor of Ebony magazine, will moderate a question-and-answer session, plumbing the singer’s thoughts on contemporary African society and his role as Youth Emissary of the United Nations Development Programme; it will be followed by a brief acoustic performance.
Kornstad Trio & Axel Dörner, Live From Kongsberg (Jazzland)
The Sweet Inspirations, The Sweet Inspirations (Collectors’ Choice/Atlantic)
Arthur Kell Quartet, Victoria: Live in Germany (Brooklyn Jazz Underground)
Astor Piazzolla, Piazzolla-Goyeneche en Vivo (Sony/BMG, Argentina)
Avram Fefer Trio, Ritual (Clean Feed)