Vinicius Cantuaria, Ronnie Scott's; Mory Kante, Queen Elizabeth Hall; Rachid Taha, Barbican; London Jazz Festival

Straddling the continents
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The Independent Culture

The low-ceilinged, dimly lit interior of Ronnie Scott's, all crimson and black, is an appropriate setting for the laid-back guitar of the Brazilian bossa-nova artist Vinicius Cantuaria. The cloth is drawn over the club's piano tonight, as Cantuaria takes the stage with his three-piece band of drummer, percussionist and bassist. His latest record, Horse and Fish, is his first international release, though he has worked with the likes of Brian Eno and David Byrne, Caetano Veloso and Arto Lindsay.

The low-ceilinged, dimly lit interior of Ronnie Scott's, all crimson and black, is an appropriate setting for the laid-back guitar of the Brazilian bossa-nova artist Vinicius Cantuaria. The cloth is drawn over the club's piano tonight, as Cantuaria takes the stage with his three-piece band of drummer, percussionist and bassist. His latest record, Horse and Fish, is his first international release, though he has worked with the likes of Brian Eno and David Byrne, Caetano Veloso and Arto Lindsay.

Dressed casually and sporting a beanie, Cantuaria plays slightly above reclining position, his angular features, beard and nonchalance recalling a Brazilian Willie Nelson. He certainly shares Nelson's relaxed dexterity with a guitar. Cantuaria plays with exquisite restraint and delicacy, his sensuous, exploratory music unravelling the structures of bossa nova into a kind of musical suspension.

Songs begin with breathtaking solo guitar-lines, while the percussionists straddle several continents, and the bassist combines a half-pint beer glass and some knob-twiddling to recreate some of the ambient flavours of Cantuaria's recorded sound. Mostly, though, it's his elegant playing and exquisite, effortless vocals that provide the ambience. His shimmering, meditative take on bossa nova is an outstanding antidote to a freezing Sunday night.

This year's London Jazz Festival is subtitled Music from Out There, In Here, a moniker that fits Cantuaria as much as it does the West African griot Mory Kante, who showcases his new album, Sabou, at the Queen Elizabeth Hall. The record is played virtually in its entirety, with a mass rhythm section - even the three girl singers are hard at work with their hands - accompanied by a flautist, two guitarists, balafon and Kante himself switching deftly between kora and guitar.

Once the purveyor of Afro-Western dancefloor hits, with Sabou he has returned to his West African roots, and as live experiences go, it is hard to beat. By the start of the irrepressibly buoyant "Loninya" ("Knowledge"), the audience is on its feet and streaming down the aisles to dance, and that kinetic energy is sustained by the rousing encore of his Eighties hit "Yeke Yeke".

What is fascinating about Kante is that he is at once deeply traditional and an experimental modernist. The music tonight is a sea of multi-layered sound patterns, endlessly permutating from balafon to kora to guitar and a panoply of percussion that builds up like the musical equivalent of perpetual motion, both extraordinary physical and powerfully hypnotic. You hear phrases and lines repeated time and again, bubbling and metamorphosing in the mix, around which flow seemingly effortless instrumental and vocal improvisations. Kante's famous voice is as emotionally powerful as ever, and with the new music from Sabou, he is at the pinnacle of his career.

The North African rai star Rachid Taha made his first record in 1981, influenced The Clash to record "Rock the Casbah" and returned the favour with a cover version on his latest album, Tekitoi ("Who Are You?"), produced by his long-time collaborator Steve Hillage. Taha is a kind of metaphysical protest singer, fusing Arabic folk tunes with crowd-raising rock in songs that combine public rage and private horrors.

Taha includes a half-dozen numbers from Tekitoi, from a full-throated "Rock el Casbah", to his battlecry against one-party thought in "Safi" ("Pure"). The insurgent sentiments of "H'asba-hum!" ("Ask Them for an Explanation") couldn't be clearer: "Liars, thieves, humiliators, killers, oppressors, traitors, the envious, the rotters, the diggers..." Elsewhere, "Medina" and the classic "Yarayeh" slow the pace and open up some musical space, for behind the thunderous impact of the six-piece band lurk some fine interplays between guitar and oud, tabla and full kit, and the rocker's growl of Taha's vocals and the sweetness of his sources - especially on "Bent Sahra" ("Bird of Sahara"), usually played on solo flute.

Taha is on top form, a showman who can galvanise his audience in seconds, raffishly prowling the stage in mirror shades and leather trousers, a cigarette dangling from his mouth. Not even Keith Richards does stage cigarettes any more.

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