Album Review: Omar Sosa & Seckou Keita – Transparent Water [World Village/Harmonia Mundi, 24th February 2017]

Transparent Water, a meeting between Cuban jazz pianist Omar Sosa and versatile Senegalese kora player Seckou Keita, is a delightful sounding album that lures the listener into an enchanted sonorous world. Keita has made his mark in recent years as a sensitive collaborator (with Welsh harpist Katrin Finch, for example), and this collection of thirteen beautifully-formed pieces highlights his ability to blend his West African kora style with anything that is thrown at him.

Surprisingly, the piano and kora are not always placed centre stage in this production, as the album also features musicians from Yoyo Ma’s Silk Road project. Wu Tong plays sheng and bawu, Mieko Miyazaki adds the rippling sounds of the Japanese koto and E’Joung-Ju introduces the timbres of a Korean zither, the geomungo. Mosin Khan Kawa adds his nagadi to the fascinating percussion textures generated by inventive Venezuelan musician Gustavo Ovalles, who is the other main collaborator in this project.

Track one, ‘Dary’, sets the scene; an enticing percussive sound world, rippling with kora breaks that give it shape and substance. Throughout the album space and texture are the overriding features. The far-Eastern instruments often provide an unidentifiable ambience, as these instruments have rarely been heard in ensemble together. Keita’s vocals drift in and out, like flotsam being carried on currents of water. 

Occasionally one starts to feel overwhelmed by the mix of timbres, jazz-inflected chords and drifting sequences, only to be pulled back in once more by the rhythms of Ovalles’ unusual percussion instruments and the warm tones of Keita’s vocals.  There is a pleasing ambience to this music, and despite a rather drifty feeling, the playing is as tight as it comes in this free style of creativity.

‘Fatiliku’ is a strong track. Its pace is more upbeat with a typical kora groove  – and then the koto appears, adding a new dimension. Sosa’s jazz harmonies and Ovalles cool percussion give this track a slight edge. There is a great dialogue between the piano and kora, and the dynamic between kora and percussion sparkles with joy. The album ends with ‘Thiossane’, which, with its stately pace, is a fine culmination to this meditative work.

Long fades and intros tend to place this music more towards the ‘ambient’ end of the spectrum, and some of the piano melodies could be a little too sugary for some tastes. However, the overriding feeling is one of experimentation and creativity, exactly what collaborations should be about.