...he simply has few equals as a player.'
Jon Lusk 2004-08-20
The recent return of Guinea's Bembeya Jazz to the international stage has been very welcome. Nevertheless, the resulting Bembeya album seemed to lack much of the chemistry that made them one of the great African dance bands of the 1960s and 70s. This solo CD by their infamous lead guitarist (aptly nicknamed 'Diamond Fingers') goes some way towards alleviating that disappointment.
Guitar Fö is a largely instrumental disc made with a small group consisting of the excellent rhythm section of Bembeya Jazz and two rhythm guitarists. From the opening "Biduman", its immediately obvious how the maestro got his name; he simply has few equals as a player. And while live performances of late have been undermined by an understandable tendency to show off, there's none of that in these beautifully relaxed, melodic and even meditative grooves.
How much that's down to the influence of producer Christian Mousset (the man who coaxed Bembeya Jazz out of virtual retirement in 2001) isn't clear. Whatever, old fans will be thrilled by the stripped-down sound of classics like "Bala Koura", "Wati" and the title track, which 'Diamond Fingers' has been airing enthusiastically once again in shows of late.
He switches to a sultry Hawaiian guitar on "Dianamo", and delivers one of three vocal performances, which turn out to be the album's main weak points. Even guest singer Safiata Condé fails to impress much on her two griot-style contributions.
Maybe Safiata was specifically chosen in order not to upstage a man whose singing has never been his forte, but it begs the question what Guitar Fö might have sounded like without any voices. Possibly a little monotonous, when compared with the richly layered brass and vocals that most of these songs have been arranged with in the past. Yet the breathtaking subtlety of the closing solo guitar piece "Mohammed Diabate" really does make you wonder..