It’s been my experience that no time spent checking out the Kronos Quartet’s latest activity is ever wasted, and the group’s new album, Ladilikan, in which they accompany Mali’s Trio Da Kali, is a beauty. The meeting between the voice of Hawa Diabaté, the balafon of Lassana Diabaté and the bass ngoni of Mamadou Kouyaté and the violins of David Harrington and John Sherba, the viola of Hank Dutt and the cello of Sunny Yang turns out to sound like something that has always existed, somewhere in the universe.
The primary impression is one of rhythmic vitality, with the quartet locking naturally into the trio’s two instruments to create a thoroughly integrated sextet, providing a lovely setting for Hawa Diabaté’s graceful contralto. In between the vocal passages, the band vamps with delicate power and a groove that is at times almost delirious. Approaching the conclusion of the stunning “Lila Bambo”, they come together in a unison coda that sweeps you off your feet.
Halfway through the album they give us something that might well become a classic. At Harrington’s suggestion, Hawa Diabaté sings Mahalia Jackson’s “God Shall Wipe All Tears Away”, with the original organ accompaniment transcribed for the string quartet; the words are translated into Bambara, the first among more than 40 languages spoken by Mali’s various ethnic groups. The controlled ardour of the voice and the grain of the strings — which together recreate the slightly wheezy sound of a portable harmonium — are irresistible (you can hear a snatch of it in this short trailer).
Meticulously produced by Nick Gold and Lucy Duran for the former’s World Circuit label, Ladilikan could well end up being the album I give to friends and family this Christmas. It’s hard to imagine anyone not loving it.
* Trio Da Kali play at the Musicport Festival in Whitby on October 21, then at Opera North, Leeds (22), St Barnabas Church, Oxford (25) and the Old Church, Stoke Newington, London N16 (26).