Before disbanding in 1985, the group recorded more than 20 albums, many of which were bootlegged and distributed internationally to world-music collectors, whose rabid interest elevated the classic LPs to cult status. So hopes were high for an enthusiastic response to last year's CD reissue of the 1982 recording Pirate's Choice. Indeed, both fans and critics hailed the disc as a four-star effort, which prompted many of the group's original members to come together for a reunion tour and to record Specialist in All Styles, a new album co-produced by N'Dour and slated for a September release.
Orchestra Baobab is well versed in contemporary and traditional music from its various members' native lands, which include far-flung regions of Senegal, Mali, Morocco, and Togo. Yet the group's real appeal lies in its masterful variations on familiar Afro-Cuban motifs. A front line of five male vocalists provides a mesmerizing melodic lead, around which the rhythm section (percussion and acoustic bass) ebbs and flows in sultry, hip-swaying waves. Tenor saxophonist Issa Cissoko adds full-bodied riffs and patient solos, while guitarist Barthelemy Atisso -- the widely acknowledged superstar of the group -- weaves a stunning latticework of single-note explorations that reflects the bold tunefulness of jazz, R&B, and reggae-rock. In the end, Baobab's rare integration of Pan-African genres is one-of-a-kind.