The brightest lights at the 2017 World Music Festival

Chicago Reader

By Peter Margasak

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Nicole Mitchell & Ballaké Sissoko: Bamako*Chicago Sound System

Saturday, September 23
Part of the Hyde Park Jazz Festival. 3 and 5:45 PM, Logan Center for the Arts, University of Chicago, all-ages

Malian kora virtuoso Ballaké Sissoko roots his playing in traditional Mande modes—his 2013 solo album At Peace (Six Degrees) is a beautiful case in point—but he's also distinguished himself by bridging cultural divides through thoughtful collaboration. He's worked with American bluesman Taj Mahal, Chinese pipa master Liu Fang, French cellist Vincent Segal, Italian contemporary classical pianist Ludovico Einaudi, and Moroccan oud player Driss El Maloumi. That roll call is evidence of his curiosity and versatility—he can draw upon improvisational creativity to make new situations work. This new project promises to be as exciting and rewarding as any he's undertaken, because he's joining forces with one of the most dynamic composers, improvisers, and bandleaders in the world: former Chicagoan Nicole Mitchell.

This coproduction of the World Music Festival and the Hyde Park Jazz Festival was born three years ago, when Mitchell and Sissoko performed together in Paris. Today they'll present the world premiere of a new batch of music, to be rehearsed in Chicago during a residency preceding the concert. In Bamako*Chicago Sound System, the principals are joined by two Malian musicians (balafon player Fassery Diabaté on balafon and singer Fatima Kouyaté) and by four members of Mitchell's long-running Black Earth Ensemble: guitarist Jeff Parker, bassist Joshua Abrams, vocalist Mankwe Ndosi, and percussionist Jovia Armstrong.