Orchestra Baobab, Jazz Café, London

Click to follow
The Independent Culture

It's disconcerting to think that Barthelemy Attisso, the lead guitarist and principal arranger of Senegal's greatest musical export, had a moment of doubt before he agreed to participate in the band's reunion in 2001. Apparently, when he first picked up his instrument again (after a 15-year gap in which he built up a successful career as a lawyer), his fingers simply wouldn't do what he wanted them to.

But fortunately for us he persevered, and, on the evidence of Sunday night's performance at the Jazz Café, he has matured into one of the world's greatest lead guitarists. Not because he delivers a hundred notes per second or makes your ears bleed, but because no guitarist, since Les Paul himself, has played this instrument with quite that subtlety, controlled passion and unaffected versatility. But it needs to be said that without the sublime ten-piece band in which he made his name, he might still be behind a desk in Togo.

The Senegalese legends mean business. Dressed in subtly co-ordinated suits, shirts and ties, they open with the low-key Cuban shuffle of "Surukun", before taking a daring side-step into the dub reggae waltz of "Jiin ma jiin ma", in which Attisso unleashes some subtly wah-wahed lead bursts.

From then on every song is laid out with effortless finesse, before an enraptured audience who can hardly believe they are hearing something that transcends Nick Gold's excellent recent re-recordings of the band's Seventies' hits, on the just-released Made in Dakar, and those treasured originals.

Two great vocalists, Rudy Gomis and Baila Sidibe, share the limelight, backing each other up, depending on who's singing lead, while a solid rhythm section of congas and drums ripples away busily in the background, creating an agreeable tension with the more laid-back saxes, bass and guitars.

It's impossible to take your eyes off Attisso once he begins one of his architectonic solos. It's partly that he's so calm and focused on his instrument. There is real drama in the way he moves from the warm, growling bottom-end, up to the pure, choirboy notes on the small frets. First he's in Dakar, then it's off to Hawaii, before, with a bluesy semitone string-bend and a knowing smile, he lands us all in downtown Chicago.

By the time we get to the encore you know you've just heard the hottest, most dignified dance music around.