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Opinionated Piano: Jason Moran, Sullivan Fortner, Aaron Diehl

The piano.  It is unique: the piano is melodic like no other instrument is and plays us heavy loud and even sometimes fast, producing sounds that momentarily darken one’s soul.  Piano history is as fascinating as the sound the instrument makes.

The instrument’s best players have been those who have dared. Mozart, Monk, Jelly Roll Morton: the list goes on of musicians who have mastered the mass of matter that is the piano, all the while moving others with their style, opinions, and all around spirit. Three jazz musicians, Jason Moran, Sullivan Fortner, Aaron Diehl, are amongst today’s great, daring, pianists, but first a short introduction to the instrument.

The piano was invented during Europe’s Middle Ages: a time of adherence (to the Church) for many musicians but also a time of quiet dissent, as all times are in the end.  Given that its coming-together was financed by the Medici who were well known Renaissance patrons, the piano was probably born to some sort of moneyed dissent.

The Padua (now in Italy) that served as a host to the invention more than likely had the lutes, the hammered dulcimer, the clavichord, and the flutes that the Middle Ages were known for, instruments that excel at expressing lightness, and also the Harpsichord whose strings are plucked instead or struck despite its resemblance to the piano. With the piano came new direction; loudness and heaviness to add to instrumental largeness. The instrument that, to me, dethroned the plucking of strings, was first named the Fortepiano, a name that includes the word forte or loud, though it was also meant to play soft music.

The instrument made its way through Europe and especially to Vienna and  to the genial playing of Mozart. It eventually made its way to other societies, and communities that’ve included the Storyville living in New Orleans that bred Jazz. It continues to matter.

Jason Moran, Sullivan Fortner, and Aaron Diehl, three Jazz pianists, all belong to the new lineup of formidable, daring, piano players. All three play us very well formulated modernist or postmodernist opinions and wow us with the subjective. They often play us notes that are not accompanied with words that mirage the piano playing and because of this require us to feel instrumentation as we listen to make sense of their language. If one does listen in, formidable experience ensues.


Jason Moran - Modernistic
Jason Moran – Modernistic


ason Moran’s album Modernistic is a personal favorite but his piano playing is always sits a listener, whether it be long and lyrical or stride-ish.


Jason Moran All Rise: A Joyful Elegy for Fats Waller
Jason Moran All Rise: A Joyful Elegy for Fats Waller


The album of his that is the easiest listen is the soulful, melodic, and comic All Rise: A Joyful Elegy for Fats Waller; the rule is that Moran’s songs require serious contemplating. His playing is sharp and does not intend to either please or be celestial.


Jason Moran - Same Mother
Jason Moran – Same Mother


Moran seems to be always be playing an opinionated deconstruction of the times that we live – his playing is very complex and yet resonates with much odd familiarity. His song “The Field” on the album Same Mother is one of his best.


Sullivan Fortner - Aria
Sullivan Fortner – Aria


Sullivan Fortner is a very young musician. He has released a single solo album so far, Aria. He is a stride pianist who plays us the soft and smooth with incredible elegance. His song “You Know I Care” feels like an epic of well theorized beauty in movements. He plays us quiet very well with “For All We Know.”


Aaron Diehl - Space, Time, Continuum
Aaron Diehl – Space, Time, Continuum

Aaron Diehl seems to want to plays neo-traditional Jazz. The songs on his album Space, Time, Continuum, despite its having a title that we would associate with Free Jazz, tell us this. Sometimes he is an experimental piano player, the song “Le Tombeau De Couperin,” as many traditional Jazz musicians such as Duke Ellington were in their day, but he is never philosophically avant garde.

His piano playing is very controlled and allows to plunge into the sounds of individual notes all the while feeling along to the mood and other instrumentation in the song. His song “Single Petal of Rose” is a piano tragedy that will leave any listener asking about his or her own life.





I’ve Grown Accustomed To Your Face

Cassandra Wilson
Cassandra Wilson

Listening to Spotify shuffle Cassandra Wilson songs, I stumbled upon a song that I believe spoke to me in a political way: “I’ve Grown Accustomed To His Face.” The version that plunged me into dream was the one on her album Blue Skies. It had me think of it as a metaphor for political sentiment.

The song itself is a Broadway tune “I’ve Grown Accustomed To Her Face,”  though made grave this time my Wilson’s voice. This one in particular is from the musical My Fair Lady, a tale of becoming. It can be sung as either his, her, or your face. She takes her time at feeling her sentiments and at the sound of a magnificent voice until our walk through the song we are left amazed at a fantastic expressionist performance.

A Broadway tune that can be felt as a political metaphor? Who would have guessed. The  song’s lyrics can be interpreted in two ways. On the one had, I’ve grown accustomed to a face, sung to slow Jazz can only mean that I do not want this to end. On the other hand, the song can only be a rallying cry for change. We live in a world that most of us would like to change whether on the right or on the left. What is the root of much current political sentiment is inequality and cultural morbidity felt in a society that turns a bit too much to the dollar.

The lyrics added political layer to an already sentimental and poignant musical composition and much can be said about the fact that the instrumentation itself can be felt politically. I’ve grown accustomed to his face sung over and over again can signify that things much change or that things should remain the same with phenomenal elegance only if the instruments are well played.


Artist Profiles: Rasbawa


Beninese singer-songwriter Rasbawa is the son of a businessman and a traditional music singer. Very early, he became interested in music. While in Abidjan (Ivory Coast), he fell in love with reggae.

He started to sing in the school choral society and later sang and composed within several groups based in Yamoussoukro (Ivory Coast), including Akanza, New Fashion and Ebioso.

In 1992 he moved to France, where he registered at the Modern School of Music in Grenoble. While he improved his musical skills and learned musical theory, he worked with several local bands, Fallah Five in 1993 and Struggle in 1994. In 1995 he formed his own group and in December recorded his first album, Black or White Image of God.

Rasbawa played live alongside major Jamaican acts. His second album, Passeport, came out in 1998.

His third recording, Jeunesse Africaine (African Youth) came out in 2000.

In 2002 he produced 2 young Beninese artists: Adjag and Daristo.

Island King Records, a label specialized in roots Reggae, released the fourth album, De Paris a Bohicon (From Paris to Bohicon).


Continental Garden: Gilberto Gil, Mini-Jazz

Gilberto Gil’s song on the album Expresso 2222 ‘Qui Nem Jilo’, originally written by Luiz Gonzaga, sounds very similar to a certain Haitian mini jazz aesthetic: the songs of the group Les Ambassadeurs and of Les Fantaisistes from respectively the Bel Air and Carrefour areas of Port Au Prince.

Upbringing? Gilberto Gil and the Haitian mini jazz musicians are originally from black lower middle class to middle class origins – areas well known for having much less prejudice than other areas in their country. Gilberto Gil was born in the mythical Salvador de Bahia, well known for being much less prejudiced than other Brazilian cities. Carrefour was a neighborhood that hosted the living of dark skin Blacks in Haiti and so was Bel Air.

Politics? Gil and the Mini-Jazz musicians all faced similar political realities: bourgeoisie and dictatorship, despite the stark difference between the economies of Haiti and of Brazil. They all chose to respond to the times that they lived with music and perhaps it is why both “Qui Nem Jilo” and the Mini-Jazz from Carrefour play are so thrilling.

Globalization?? Religion?? All lived in a world shaped by mass media broadcasting the music of Americans and Europeans. There is certainly a heavy undercurrent of African diaspora religion music in both Gil’s and in Mini-Jazz songs from Carrefour and Bel Air.

The reason why might be frenzy: both parties committed their songs to expressing frenzy: their sentiments about absolute love and its urgency, whether if it was love of country or or a significant other.

Gilberto Gil - Expresso 2222
Gilberto Gil – Expresso 2222

Headline photo: Gilberto Gil – Photo by Priscila Azul


In order to rear a beautiful child: Rhiannon Giddens, Mermaid Avenue

On the road to eternal rest, perhaps one of the greatest challenges that a person can face is how to raise a child. The answer is complex and layered but it surely includes listening to folk songs. Folk songs cultivate empathy. Rhiannon Giddens plays folk songs that will enthrall any contemporary soul. The Mermaid Avenue albums are collections of songs that do the same.

Folk songs perform magic. For one, they allow us to feel along with others in a grassroots sort of way – they delight not because of heavy marketing’s affect but because of genuine sentiment. Like all things that delight, they are not taught in school and are associated with the “wild” or the “reckless” to be consumed in humorous “doses.” It should not be the case. Listening to a great folk song is a communion with years of sentiment, interpretation, and expression. As a child learns of his or her world, it would be wise for that child to feel the world, the weight of it, by listening to folk songs. He or she will feel the soul of the times that came before his or her own and that will have shaped the times that he or she will live.

Rhiannon Giddens is mixed raced folk singer waist deep in the business of dwelling in the South, the same dwelling in the South that has often been horrific to African Americans. The public lynchings and other torture many African Americans suffered still hurt. The South has also been a great region for the production of American culture. The South has hosted folk courage beyond belief and its folk songs are products of this. Giddens plays with folk songs: sings them beautifully and always while committed to the grandeur that a song may have. By doing so, she sings us magnificence.

The Mermaid Avenue albums by Billy Bragg and Wilco reveal the twists and turns of American history. They sing Woody Guthrie’s collected songs along to well played instrumentation and never singing these songs in a way that will not thrill themselves.

It’s always wise to dance and sing along to songs that have gone from one singer to the other, as if a song that collected mounds of sincere nods about delight and detail. It’s even wise to do it with one’s child. Then, you will have raised a beautiful, comprehending, soul.

Headline photo: Rhiannon Giddens – Photo by Dan Winters


Balladeers: John Coltrane, Charles Lloyd

Central to the African American musical tradition is the writing of black ballads – an even more fitting way of understanding black music than simply tying down black music to the use of minor chords i.e. the blues.

The list of black balladeers is long. One name that sits high on the list is John Coltrane. In John Coltrane’s music, one hears the entire history of the undercurrents in African American music: impressionism, expressionism, religious expressionism, American nationalism, and the frustration from music’s inability to emancipate the African American. We hear American existentialism and nationalism through his ballads.

Key to the ballad is narration. It was not easy. Coltrane came to the Ballad as a Jazz saxophonist. He was often left to narrating without words. What helped him was that Ballads had socialized Americans for years before and so he had the opportunity of matching his ballads to written ballads despite his improvisations. He released an album of 22 ballads in 1963, each narrating beauty to American soul.

The ballad is the oldest form of American music. It is a descendant of European culture made American by years of practice. It is still practiced today and many beautiful ballads are being written as much as folk ballads continue to be played. What’s fascinating about the American ballad is that a culture of deep democracy and the individualism that comes from deep democracy could have killed the ballad but it has not. Commerce has re-branded the ballad as whatever profitable genre it fits into but that’s about it. African Americans wrote secular ballads using cosmological retentions from African cultures and the musical concepts that came along with these cosmologies inherent in African religions.

Charles Lloyd
Charles Lloyd

Another great balladeer is Charles Lloyd. Lloyd’s ECM album Mirror is a great album of ballads that tell stories without words, revealing themselves as they go on onto that final point in a musical composition we term as “end.” Lloyd’s ballads are informed by his spiritual quests: the teller is wants to be at peace. It makes for Ballads that are light and sincere and that will surely stand the test of time of such because of Lloyd’s skill.

The black ballad becomes what we call R&B. A great example is Ray Charles’s “Hit The Road Jack.” As R&B, it becomes a commercialized ballad and the stories it tells are formulated for radio. The practice of producing black ballads is lost there and old black ballads inspire the black music of today.

Headline photo: John Coltrane – Photo by Charles Stewart


American Troubadour: Charles Bradley, Charles Caldwell, RL Burnside

In the 20th century, a wonderful thing happened to American poetry. The recordings of musical troubadours, a singer of vernacular poetry, became very important to most of the population. Not even Robert Lowell has known the poetic esteem of Muddy Waters, of Bob Dylan or of Bill Withers. They were the product of years of social dissent and political organization that had created a new ethos in this country: a love for poetic and popular song.

Some of these musicians were educated at the University level. Some were not. The USA, singer of countless ballads, had produced a Guillaume IX d’Aquitaine. Millions, not hundreds, not thousands, sang along. In his book Writing Degree Zero, Roland Barthes writes that modern poems are a matter of “verbal luck.” The “verbal luck” had worked. Three such musicians are undeniable greats: Charles Bradley, Charles Caldwell and RL Burnside.


Charles Bradley - Photo by Shayan Asharnia
Charles Bradley – Photo by Shayan Asharnia


Charles Bradley is a singer who has had the chance of officially beginning his career as a matured man. It has allowed him to sing from the bottom of his heart and with verve. He does not sing us a traditional ‘composition”; instead he chooses for his songs to be incredible moments strung together as a formidable experience. He sings about a multitude of things: He sings us nationalism superbly in the song “Good to be back home” and love in at most beautiful vernacular in “Crazy for your love.” In five words, he is a superb musician.


Charles Caldwell - Photo courtesy of Fat Possum Records
Charles Caldwell – Photo courtesy of Fat Possum Records

Charles Caldwell writes songs that burn. He is a man at a fireplace: with few words he attempts a flame, adding more wood to the fire (with his guitar) without saying more than the minimum “and along /  come another man ..” His album Remember Me is magnificence.

Charles Caldwell - Remember Me
Charles Caldwell – Remember Me


RL Burnside, courtesy of Fat Possum Records
RL Burnside, courtesy of Fat Possum Records


RL Burnside will change your mind about what to dance along to. His songs are introductions to an art of life of humor, contemplations, but also of feeling. His lyrics are amazing. His songs like “Fireman ring the bell” and “I be troubled” have the ability to erase and leads towards other avenues and in doing so ‘stomping one’s blues.”

They are known as blues singers or folk singers but those are commercial categories. What they are in American society are troubadours. What makes these singers of poetry troubadours is the fact that, like European troubadours, they propose language and conceptions through their songs, though they are not court poets. Music has dethroned religion in the US for how it is (i.e. tones) that people speak. Music has made vernacular not only accepted but also revered. Like European troubadours, American singers are those who propose definitions of emotions like “love.” Love introduced in Europe in the middle ages by Troubadours who also rebelled against static living.

Before the rise of the Bourgeoisie into power through revolutions like the American Revolution, monarchy and Aristocracy decided on great poetry. Whether if it was classical poetry, the Alexandrin for example, for example, the poems of Joachim de Bellay or the English poetry of Chaucer and of Hoccleve, they all had to produced, promoted, and approved by a system. With the Bourgeoisie rise in power came, through revolution, new liberties.

American poetry was born as the poetry of this modern world and never had to submit itself to the court system, though it has to academia. Academia, however, in the end, has not decided for the people. Unlike academics, Americans have never longed read court poets. They have rebelled against court society. They would also agree with Barthes’s stating that a poem is a “possible adventure”. It’s some sort of intellectual entertainment. Most would disagree that poetry functions in American society like the Iliad did in Greek society. The most well known “poetry” in American life that is both known and revered is poetry put to song.

Sovereignty has chosen poetry. Charles Bradley, Charles Caldwell, RL Burnside are American culture’s great European troubadour poets of the Middle Ages, singing in such a thing as American language. They have been loved by many Americans and have shaped resting, sitting, or limping American souls.

Headline photo: RL Burnside – Photo courtesy of Fat Possum Records


The Expressionists: Adele, Seu Jorge, Kamasi Washington

The impressionists produced a massive boom of cultural significance and so did the nationalists and their affect on society lingers but no aesthetic has had more massive appeal than musical expressionism to today’s youth. What does that translate to in English? The impressionists, those who played the complexities, the points, of what we all see, Ravel and Debussy, and the nationalists, folk music practitioner for example, transformed this world but subjective emotion translated into music now thrills today’s youth.

Who are these expressionists? They seem to share one thing in common: songs that use poignant beats, meter, and synths to create an atmosphere. They tend to produce alter-narratives, ripping away the hegemony of narrative writing from the traditional guardians of our society who tell us all that are lives will be school, work, home, death. They bring in hurt, healing, and freedom into public sphere and in doing so have socialized millions to look forward to healing or to anticipate hurt.

Adele, England


An expressionist par excellence, we cannot see the bittersweet world that she sings to us given its private nature but can only imagine the distortion felt when she sings us about hurt and longing. We sit and stand amazed at a world of dark colors and of productive dissatisfaction. 21 is a fine expressionism and its climaxes express an interior and not a romantic exterior (war, power, conquest) which move us to sing along to “we / almost had it all ..”

Seu Jorge, Brazil

Seu Jorge
Seu Jorge

Seu Jorge’s song “Motoboy” sounds like a human’s experience living a city and perhaps is one of the great expressionist songs of this era. How he achieved this is the question and we can only imagine that solitude is behind it. Imagine living in a massive metropolis in a country marching in the streets to express their opinions and it is a plunge into human living. The expression of that is Seu Jorge.

Kamasi Washington, USA

Kamasi Washington - Photo by Mike Park
Kamasi Washington – Photo by Mike Park

In The Epic, what others do in quiet music, he does in loud Jazz. He expresses his habitus which includes his accumulation of experience, and by doing so seems to move his listeners beyond having to accept the immediate world. In his case, he does it with an entire band and that’s the beauty of it: all playing towards several colors and shapes to fall into.

Headline photo: Claude Debussy in 1908. This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published (or registered with the U.S. Copyright Office) before January 1, 1923.


Bel Ochan for Michel Lamartiniere Honorat

"Les Danses Folkloriques Haitiennes"
“Les Danses Folkloriques Haitiennes”

In the history of Haitian dance, and thus of Haitian music, there is a name that few people know but that signifies conviction: Michel Lamartiniere Honorat. A politician famous because of his courage, who was an cultural anthropologist (ethnologist) first, he wrote the very first book on Haitian folkloric dance: “Les Danses Folkloriques Haitiennes.” It has yet to be translated in English.

It is impossible to understand Haitian music without understanding Haitian dance and the fact that the music is for the most part produced to dance others and that dance is the foremost expression of liberty, even more than writing or speech, in Haitian culture. Haitian music is meant to dance Haitians, even politically. Not all does, but the majority of it must or else it will be pushed aside.

Most of Haitian dances carry the names of old African tribes, Igbo, Nago, etc and are preserved rites of belonging and identity. We can safely say that Haitians danced the revolution of 1804, as odd as it may seem in 2016.  For a long time, neo-colonial Haitians defined Haitian folk dancing as “primitive.” Honorat wrote these dances down as ethnography and produced the very first text to go along with the preservation of Haitian dance.

As it is the case in traditional Haitian culture and it was especially the case before the American occupation of Haiti from 1915 to 1934: an Ochan is a military salute to a great person. A Bel Ochan, a beautiful Ochan, is an Ochan full of gesture and of conviviality, sent from a world that smells of humanity, dignity, and satisfaction. Bel Ochan Michel Lamartiniere Honorat, Mama, a man who even left behind “secret writings” about Haitian vodou that have not been published, because you have accomplished.


Evora Sightseeing During EXIB 2016

During my recent stay in Evora, Portugal, for the 2016 Ibero-American Music Expo (EXIB), I had the opportunity to visit some of the monuments in and around Evora.

Evora is a UNESCO world Heritage site. It’s a walled city that includes dozens of monuments ranging from a Roman Empire-era temple and aqueduct to a cathedral, numerous churches, public squares and other historic buildings.

The city is visited by hundreds of tourists daily. Some of the most popular shops for tourists sell dozens of items made out of cork, such as purses, wallets, hats, floor mats and lots of other items. The cork comes from the cork oaks found in southern Portugal and Spain.

Here’s a photo report of my visit to Evora.

Street art on Avenida Sebastiao - Photo by Angel Romero
Street art on Avenida Sebastiao – Photo by Angel Romero


Evora city walls - Photo by Angel Romero
Evora city walls – Photo by Angel Romero


another shot of the Evora city walls - Photo by Angel Romero
another shot of the Evora city walls – Photo by Angel Romero


Travessa do Barao, one of the numerous narrow city streets - Photo by Angel Romero
Travessa do Barao, one of the numerous narrow city streets – Photo by Angel Romero


Curved building on Rua Serpa Pinto - Photo by Angel Romero
Curved building on Rua Serpa Pinto – Photo by Angel Romero


One of the main squares, Praça de Giraldo - Photo by Angel Romero
One of the main squares, Praça de Giraldo – Photo by Angel Romero


 Cork item souvenir shops - Photo by Angel Romero

Cork item souvenir shops – Photo by Angel Romero


Bags and hats made out of cork - Photo by Angel Romero
Bags and hats made out of cork – Photo by Angel Romero


The ancient Evora Roman Temple - Photo by Angel Romero
The ancient Evora Roman Temple – Photo by Angel Romero


Evora cathedral - Photo by Angel Romero
Evora cathedral – Photo by Angel Romero


On May 7th, my colleague Albert Reguant (Director of "Les Rutes del So" Ona Sants Montjuïc de Barcelona and member of the World Music Charts Europe) and I encountered fado singer Jaqueline and her band at the cathedral.
On May 7th, my colleague Albert Reguant (Director of “Les Rutes del So” Ona Sants Montjuïc de Barcelona and member of the World Music Charts Europe) and I encountered fado singer Jaqueline and her band at the cathedral.


On May 7th, local sponsors organized a trip to Convento do Espinheiro in the outskirts of Evora. The 15th-century convent is now an upscale hotel and spa, about 5 km from downtown Evora.

EXIB delegates were welcomed by local officials and this was followed by a fascinating performance by Brazilian multi-instrumentalist Carlos Malta, playing wind instruments in the chapel. Following that, we were scheduled to go to the adega Herdade das Servas wine cellar in Estremoz, for a wine tasting, but it turned out to be too far away so the trip was cut short and we returned to Evora.


Convento do Espinheiro chapel - Photo by Angel Romero
Convento do Espinheiro chapel – Photo by Angel Romero


Brazilian musician Carlos Malta performing at Convento do Espinheiro chapel - Photo by Angel Romero
Brazilian musician Carlos Malta performing at Convento do Espinheiro chapel – Photo by Angel Romero

Related articles:

The Passionate Music of Alentejo, the Focus of EXIB 2016 Opening Concert

Three Continents Represented at EXIB 2016 Day 1 Showcases

The Diverse Sounds of Iberia, Mexico and Cuba at EXIB 2016 Day 2 Showcases

Cuatro Mastery and Hip Shaking Cumbia at EXIB 2016 Day 3 Showcases

EXIB 2016 Conferences and Trade Show

Related links:

EXIB Música

Evora Tourist Guide

Visite Evora