“The Secret,” young Malian virtuoso Vieux Farka Toure's third studio album, features lots of guest stars, many of them from American jam bands. Tuesday night at the 9:30 Club, however, the guitarist-singer was accompanied by only drummer Tim Keiper and bassist Mamadou Sidibe. This was Afropop as played by a blues-rock power trio, and Toure — wearing a sleeveless shirt to reveal his muscular arms — was the generator.
Echoes of the musician's father, the late Ali Farka Toure, were frequently heard. Most of the songs began in the pentatonic, minor-key mode that caused the senior Toure's music to be labeled "Mali blues" — and which dominates "The Secret." On stage, though, that loping, hesitating style quickly yielded to faster, flashier playing. Toure's versatile tone and swaggering riffs recalled Chicago bluesmen such as Albert Collins, as well as Jimi Hendrix when he wasn't inclined to break out the lighter fluid. The trio's jazzy interplay also suggested the tighter moments of Cream, a band these days remembered mostly for acid-blues excess.
The nearly two-hour set was relaxed, with Toure in a chatty mood (in both English and French). Opening act Cheik Hamala Diabate, a Malian musician and friend of Toure's father who's now based in Adelphi, joined the headliner occasionally. So did dancers, roadies and other unidentified pals. But Toure (who had previously toured with four backup musicians) didn't emphasize either the communal vibe or the chattering polyrhythms typical of West African music. While he sometimes called on the audience for call-and-response chants, such songs as "Diaraby Magni" were keyed to drums and especially guitar.
The guitarist would leap from a stroll to hyperspeed, contrasting his jabbing triplets with chunky funk-rock chords that hinted at reggae. The sound was pointed and vigorous, even during the encore, when Keiper and Toure downsized to, respectively, calabash and steel-stringed acoustic guitar. It may take a village to make traditional African music, but Toure's current lineup is more in the rock-ensemble tradition of guitar-bass-drums uber alles.