Nocturne finds Marseilles-based singer and guitarist David Walters taking a change of direction from his last release Soleil Kreyole, with its urban dance rhythms and expansive sound. This is a purely acoustic affair featuring just three other musicians (Ballaké Sissoko, kora; Vincent Ségal, cello; and Roger Raspail, guitar) but this paring down has not been at the cost of a rich musical texture. On the contrary, it has allowed each musician space to explore the distinctive qualities of his chosen instrument as well as finding the common ground shared with the other two. A limited palette can bring a greater cohesion to ensemble playing and this is a case in point.
There are ten songs here, two of them reworking titles from the previous album, plus one very short instrumental interlude. The tracks are divided into four sections - A, B, C and D, and whether these divisions are thematic isn't made clear, though this may be gleaned from the lyrics, which are included. Walters moves between three different languages in his songs - French, English and Martinican Creole, reflecting his own background growing up in France with Caribbean parents; his father from St Kitts and Nevis and his mother from Martinique. For a trilingual songwriter to work in this way may well feel natural, but it is also an effective and democratic strategy, certainly giving the songs wider accessibility.
But it is the music overall that first draws you into what the album has to offer and the quality of Walters' voice is integral to the sound. He maintains a powerful presence, employing a range of vocal approaches, sometimes reciting, sometimes gently rapping as on "Freedom." When Walters sings more melodically he tends to move to a high register, his voice soaring above the supporting instrumentation, with an endearing fragility which at times brings to mind, somewhat surprisingly, the voice of Robert Wyatt.
Stylistically the music on Nocturne is hard to pinpoint though there's something of a Latin vibe pervading many of the tracks. Virtually all the songs are in a minor key with only a couple just about resolving to the major, which can make you feel that a change of mood might be a good idea. But this never becomes a big issue, particularly because the arrangements and the contributions of the other instrumentalists ensure plenty of variety in other ways.
The sparkling interventions of Ballaké Sissoko can suddenly take us to a different place and on tracks such "Manyé" there is some magnificent interweaving between his rhythmic patterns on the kora and David Walters' fingerpicking guitar, underpinned by Roger Raspail's inventive percussion and a range of contrasting textures from Vincent Ségal on cello. Ségal has worked previously with Sissoko and his contribution here completes an unlikely trio of string instruments, but one which which makes perfect musical sense. Sometimes Ségal's playing can be spiky and percussive and on other occasions he plays sustained lyrical lines to complement Walters' vocal lines, drawing a similar vocal tonality from the cello.
Although thought has clearly been given to the arrangements of the songs, there is a very attractive loose, improvisatory quality running throughout this album. This is true not just of the instrumental playing but of David Walters' vocalizing too. There's a real sense of him responding to the other players in the way he sings. Whilst opting to make a purely acoustic album could be interpreted as a return to traditional values, the international nature of this collaboration makes Nocturne feel instead very modern.
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