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Live review: Vieux Farka Touré at the Satellite

May 20, 2011 |  1:05 pm

Vieuxfarkatoure 
The Malian singer-guitarist Vieux Farka Touré plays desert blues with a personal charisma and technical finesse that have led some reviewers to dub him the North African Jimi Hendrix.

It’s a useful, facile handle for Western listeners. But in his edgy, exploratory hourlong Thursday night set at the Satellite, Touré summoned the tender, reflective Hendrix of “Little Wing” and “The Wind Cries Mary” more than the raunchy, insinuating belter of “Foxy Lady.”

Touré’s musical bloodlines are impeccable. Born in 1981, he’s the son of the late guitar virtuoso Ali Farka Touré, who initially discouraged his offspring from adopting a musician’s nomadic life. But the younger Touré’s talents couldn’t be denied. Trained as a percussionist, he also apprenticed with Toumani Diabate, a wizard of the harp-like kora. Both influences color Touré’s guitar playing, which can be delicate and probing, then explode into ferocious rhythmic exchanges with his excellent drummer Tim Keiper.

With a pared-down three-man lineup that also included bassist Mamadou Sidibe, Touré began cautiously on Thursday with a calm, thoughtful trio of tunes, as if patiently waiting for bigger grooves to kick in. He followed “Touri” with two songs, “Ali” and “Amana Quai,” off his new album “The Secret,” which was produced by jazz futurist Eric Krasno and features contributions from Dave Matthews, Derek Trucks and Ivan Neville.

Using a slight, echo-y reverb, Touré’s Godin electric guitar chimes, shimmers and pulses, yielding mirage-like, minor-scale chords that mysteriously waver for an instant, then vanish. He rarely indulges in extended solos, and never in ostentatious riffing or aimless noodling. The title of his second album, “Fondo,” means The Road, and this is a musician who, in live performance, has clear ideas about where he’s going, and why.

His gently twisting melodic lines can acquire intensity with surprising speed, as they did on a brilliant version of “Lakkal” that left both band and audience momentarily breathless. “It’s good to see everybody moving,” Touré observed with a smile.

But the ambience, in sum, is of a fervent, sustained trance. Rather than building to theatrical pop-star crescendos, Touré generally eases his songs down gently at the end. His spare, double-tracked vocals, mainly in traditional Malian languages, occasionally in English, serve largely to frame the superb instrumentation, not the other way around.

Touré’s cosmopolitan tastes extend in many directions. At Thursday’s show the band unleashed the reggae-infused “Diaraby Magni,” from “Fondo,” and “Nama Mouna,” which sounds like a proto-ska tune smuggled into Kingston by way of Bamako.

The encore, “Dounia,” from his first album, supplied a final, gentle grace note to the evening, before the band brought it down to a conclusive hush. Indeed, there was nothing left to say.

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-- Reed Johnson

Photo: Vieux Farka Toure performs at the Satellite in Silver Lake. Credit: Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times

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