The magical strings of Toumani Diabate and Martin Taylor at the Cedar

An opinionated look at the week in live music, Nov. 7-13.

Gig of the Week

Toumani Diabate
(Cedar Cultural Center, Thursday, Nov. 13, 7:30 p.m., $25 in advance, $30 day of show)

Runner Up
Martin Taylor and Martin Simpson
(Cedar Cultural Center, Saturday, Nov. 8, 8 p.m., $18 in advance, $20 day of show.)

The kora is an instrument standing 4 feet tall, containing 21 strings. Thirty years ago, the Malian griot Sidiki Diabate was dubbed (in translation) “King of the Kora,” only to watch his son Toumani convincingly usurp the throne by taking the centuries-old kora tradition into radically expansive new frontiers. Self-taught since the age of 5, the now 43-year old Toumani Diabate developed a prodigious kora style that encompasses the bass and rhythm lines as well as the traditional solo melody. The crisp pizzicato of a harp and the resonant twang of a sitar fold and separate and twine in tapestries that are by turns stark and shimmering, with elements of Spanish flamenco and carnatic Indian idioms coloring the mix, which nevertheless retains its distinct African lineage — Diabate is, after all, of the 54th or 71st (depending on the source) generation of hereditary griots from the Malinka Empire.

When Diabate brought his Symmetric Orchestra to the Dakota last year, the sprawling West African supergroup precluded many opportunities for him to showcase his extraordinary kora solos. But 2008 has seen him return to the States by his lonesome in support of his solo album, “The Mande Variations.” This is music as dense and dizzying and yet geometrically precise and fascinating as an ant colony, all arising out of 10 fingers and the sensibility of a sociocultural icon literally born to perform.

Toumani Diabate playing a kora solo during his appearance with the Symmetric Orchestra at the Dakota last year.

At the other end of the week, the Cedar will host another potentially spellbinding night of picking, with a show it’s calling “The Two Martins.” I’m more familiar with Martin Taylor, an Englishman whom Pat Metheny describes as “one of the most awesome solo guitar players in the history of the instrument.” Taylor’s latest disc, “Double Standards,” has him performing duets with himself via overdubbing, which could easily become a stale gimmick in lesser hands but here accomplishes the considerable feat of providing Taylor with a worthy foil — himself — as he explores the contours of standards from Jobim (“Trieste”), Ellington (“Drop Me Off at Harlem”), Gershwin (“Someone to Watch Over Me”) and others.

Martin Taylor playing “I Don’t Know Why” on solo acoustic guitar at a festival in England five months ago.

Metheny’s plaudits notwithstanding, Taylor is as fine an accompanist and he is soloist, a versatility proven not just on “Double Standards” but in his long association with violinist Stephane Grappelli. On Saturday, he and Martin Simpson will each perform solo and come together. Simpson mines a more British folk and blues-oriented vein, as compared to Taylor’s jazz inclinations, and thus more populist and perhaps soulful than Taylor. Put it all together and it adds up to a really remarkable week of string-bending at the Cedar.

Soul food or sold fool?

Anthony Hamilton
(Epic, Friday, Nov. 7, 8 p.m., $25, “VIP” $40.)

When Anthony Hamilton released “Comin’ from Where I’m From” five years ago, it felt like vintage hot-buttered soul music that seasoned its grooves with noticeable but not overbearing dollops of gospel vocal sincerity and hip-hop spangles. Bobby Womack and Bill Withers were frequent invoked as comparisons,  and I’d add Sam Cooke. Since then, Hamilton seems to have lost his apparently fragile cache. There was a strain — trying to be real more than realness itself — in his three subsequent releases and the single — “Cool,” featuring David Banner — off his forthcoming “The Point of It All” recording. Now Hamilton comes to Epic, the former Glam Slam on the downtown Minneapolis nightclub strip, the kind of place where you can add $15 to your admission charge to be a “standing VIP” and call Nunzi if you want “bottle service.” It doesn’t feel like Hamilton is comin’ from where he’s from anymore.

Could make a blind man smile

Savion Glover
(Orchestra Hall, Sunday, Nov. 9, 7 p.m., $20-$47.)

What’s that you say, Savion Glover is a tap dancer and not a musician? Well, if Glover’s wealth of past performances haven’t validated his musical credentials (and they have), this “Bare Soundz” gig, with its ambition of “showcasing a mosaic of percussive rhythms including jazz and Caribbean beats,” should remove all doubt. Tappers Marshall Davis Jr. and Maurice Chestnut will join Glover onstage, hard-shoeing polyrhythms that don’t require visuals to break out the grins.


Kinks Tribute with The Deaths, Askeleton, Jon Rodine and Switzerland
(331 Club, Wednesday, Nov. 13, 9 p.m., Free.)

No band better lends itself to the seemingly disparate impulses of punky garage-rock, filigreed art-rock, snotty apathy and incisive social commentary than the fabulous Kinks of yore. Be it the terse diamond riff of “You Really Got Me,” the pansexual swirl of “Lola,” or the majestic dissolution of “Sunny Afternoon,” the Davies brothers fronted an attitude that could snarl and sneer with inescapable charm. I can’t speak about Rodine and Switzerland, but The Deaths and Askeleton are acts that grasp both sides of the curious Kinks equation along with being highly praised original artists in their own right. And it’s free, on a Wednesday night. Indulge the impulse.

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