Category Archives: CD Reviews

Eliane Elias Celebrates Her Roots

Eliane Elias – Dance of Time (Concord Jazz, 2017)

USA-based Brazilian pianist and vocalist Eliane Elias has become of the most familiar names in the world of Brazilian-rooted jazz. Her new album Dance of Time takes Eliane back to her Brazilian roots in a brilliant manner.

Dance of Time was recorded in Brazil and the result is a truly exquisite recording. There is not a weak track on this album. Elina Elias effortlessly balances her talent as a pianist and singer-songwriter, delivering some of her finest material, injecting spirited samba.

Dance of Time features first class talent from Brazil and the United States, including pianist Amilton Godoy, singer- songwriter and guitarist João Bosco, guitarist and vocalist Toquinho, trumpeter Randy Brecker, vibraphonist Mike Mainieri and the unmistakable remarkable vocals of Mark Kibble (Take 6).

The performances on Dance of Time are remarkable and the recording quality is superb.

Dance of Time is so far one of the best Brazilian-rooted albums of the year.

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Folk Rockers from Nunavut

The Jerry Cans – Inuusiq

The Jerry Cans – Inuusiq (Aakuluk Music, 2017)

Canadian band The Jerry Cans is based in Nunavut, in Canada’s far north. On Inuusiq they present a unique mix of folk-rock, pop, indie rock, reggae and Inuit throat singing.

The band indicates that their songs talk to young people and their challenges, trying to make music that equalizes traditional and contemporary life.

One of The Jerry Cans’ initiatives is the creation of the first record label ever in Nunavut, Aakuluk Music. “We had thrown around the idea to start a label to support Inuktitut music. We have four young artists singing in Inuktitut,” says vocalist and guitarist Andrew Morrison. “We’ve often heard as we were pitching our work, that if you want to succeed, you have to sing in English. We don’t accept that. We wanted to create a business entity to support it.”

 

The Jerry Cans

The lineup includes Nancy Mike on throat singing and accordion; Brendan Doherty on bass; Steve Rigby on drums; Gina burgess on fiddle; and Andrew Morrison on lead vocals and guitar.

The CD version includes a booklet with Inuit and English-language lyrics.

 

 

With Inuusiq and their new record label, The Jerry Cans give a fresh, creative new voice to Canadian Inuit culture.

 

 

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Lush Observations

Tigran Hamasyan – An Ancient Observer (Nonesuch Records, 2018)

Just out of curiosity, when was the last time you heard a piano recording? Seriously, when was the last time you sat and soaked in the frolicking richness or the magically complexity of an entire piano CD? Been a while? When so much peripheral background music screeching from the corners it hardly seems like pleasurable and more like something shoved down the throat, re-exploring the unimaginable richness of the piano can seem like an indulgence.

You deserve an indulgence by way of Tigran Hamasyan’s second offering on the Nonesuch Records label entitled An Ancient Observer. Born in Armenia, Tigran Hamasyan is known for such recordings as World Passion, New Era, A Fable and his first recording with Nonesuch by way of Mockroot. He is also known for collaborations with Dhafer Youssef, Ari Hoenig, Lars Danielsson, Stephane Galland and Sefj Tankian.

Backed by a wealth of folk traditions from his Armenian roots, Mr. Hamasyan has delved into progressive rock and jazz, often pulling at those Armenian musical tradition threads to flesh out his musical compositions.

Mr. Hamasyan explains his new recording, “These songs are musical observations about the world we live in now, and the weight of history we carry with us.”

Pairing charming elegance with musical drama, An Ancient Observer is a bold, razor sharp listen that tugs at the musical tapestry of jazz, classical and his native folk music. Plying the listener with his extraordinary mastery of the piano, Mr. Hamasyan expands the depth by way of vocals, synths, Fender Rhodes and special effects. The result is at once intimate and then expansive as he takes the listener through such musical feats as “Markos and Markos,” “The Cave of Rebirth” and the elegance of “New Baroque I and II.”

 

 

Back in Armenia, where ordinary life inspires his music Mr. Hamasyan explains, “I gaze out of my window and see the biblical mountain Ararat with perpetual snow on its peak, with electrical towers with wires in the foreground cutting the picture, and satellite dishes melted onto old and modern houses—ancestral smoke coming out of their chimneys—and birds hovering above the trees along with occasional airplane trails in the vast sky. It is a dialogue, this interaction of God-given ancient nature with our modern human achievements” he says.

For me it is an awakening, and a beautiful feeling, to be able to observe the magnificence of this sleeping volcanic giant, which has existed for millions of years and was observed by the Ararat Valley Koura-Arax culture through to the present day citizens of the Armenian republic. I can see and observe the same birds, animals, rivers, and mountains that the craftsman of 4,000 years ago painted on a clay vessel. He was observing the same thing I observe now, and what remains is his or her beautiful work of art.”

Composing all the music on An Ancient Observer and basing “Nairian Odyssey” and “Etude No. 1” on Armenian folk melodies, Mr.Hamasyan enthralls and entrances listeners with “Nairian Odyssey” with its fascinating twists and turns and “Etude No. 1” with its quick and bright clever catchiness, as well as additional tracks like “Egyptian Poet,” Leninagone” and title track “Ancient Observer.” This is simply a lush recording.

Jazz and piano fans are sure to dive into the deep end of An Ancient Observer, but for those jazz novices this might be one of those recordings they might very well enjoy dipping a toe into for the sheer quiet loveliness, expressive drama and poignant expansiveness. An Ancient Observer is one of those easy indulgences begging for us to be quiet and just listen.

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Moving Ragas from the Kirana Gharana

Mashkoor Ali Khan – Transcendence (Nimbus Alliance, 2017)

Transcendence is a set of 5 ragas performed by Indian classical music maestro Mashkoor Ali Khan.

The musical pieces featured in the album include monsoon season ‘Raga Desh, Drut bandish in Jhap tal’ that uses vocal sounds with no meaning.

‘Raga Shahana, Madhyalaya bandish in Teental’ is a raga of festivity and happiness often performed at weddings.

Track 3 is ‘Raga Jhinjhoti, Madhyalaya bandish in Rupak tal & Drut bandish in Teental’, one of Mashkoor Ali Khan’s favorite compositions.

‘Raga Bhupali, Tarana in Teental’ includes vocals based on Persian and Arabic distinct sounds.

The last track, ‘Raga Basant, Drut bandish in Ektal’ is a seasonal raga, traditional performed during spring.

The lineup includes Mashkoor Ali Khan on vocals; Anindo Chatterjee on tabla; Kedar Naphade on harmonium; Michael Harrison and Shampa Bhattacharya on tanpura.

Transcendence features masterful performances by Mashkoor Ali Khan and Anindo Chatterjee and is an excellent example of the Kirana Gharana (Kirana school) of Indian classical Music.

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Dona Onete’s Sensual Songs from the Amazon

Dona Onete – Banzeiro (Mais Um Discos, 2017)

An album by charismatic Brazilian Amazonian singer Dona Onete. Her songs are about seduction, plants that make your body ‘agitate’ and stories related to the Amazon. The septuagenarian artist is enjoying new popularity in her country and abroad thanks to international releases like Banzeiro.

On Banzeiro, Dona Onete delivers infectious Brazilian rhythms like bangue and a style she developed called carimbó chamegado where she combined two genres called lundum and carimbó. She mixed them with the rhythm of the songs from the slaves. Dona Onete describes carimbó chamegado as slower and sexier than carimbó.

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Vieux Farka Toure Delivers a Masterful Collection of Desert Blues, Funk, Reggae, and Rock

Vieux Farka Toure – Samba (Six Degrees Records, 2017)

Too often when we hear “it must be something in the blood” it conjures up images of someone gone wrong somewhere, but nothing could be further from that kind of assumption when we’re talking about Mali’s Vieux Farka Toure.

Son of the musical powerhouse Ali Farka Toure, Vieux Farka Toure has not just continued in his father’s musical footsteps but blazed a path of his own with recordings like Vieux Farka Toure, Fondo, The Secret, Mon Pays and Touristes with Julia Easterlin and an ongoing collaboration with Israeli musician Idan Raichel on the Toure-Raichel Collective. And the righteous riffs just keep coming with the Six Degrees Records release of his latest of Samba.

Mr. Toure is just content to rest on his vocals and guitar playing laurels on Samba; instead he composed and arranged all the tracks and produced this latest with co-producer Eric Herman. Mr. Toure explains the recording process of Samba, “It was not a regular studio session nor was it a concert. It was somewhere in between. We were recording the album, but we had an audience of about fifty people in the room with us. The audience understood it was to witness the process of recording an album, not to present a concert in a studio, which was a very good thing because we got the energy of a live concert with the quality of a studio recording.”

Rich, warm and rewarding, Samba pulls at the threads of desert blues, funk, reggae, rock and Malian praise song to create a polished, masterful collection of tracks. From the opening of the guitar lick laced “Bonheur” through to the deliciously catchy “Ni Negaba,” Mr. Toure lets his listeners ride a wave of hypnotic grooves while using his musical voice to express the joys of family, the importance of protecting the environment and the pitfalls of religious fanaticism in the wake of Mali’s recent struggles with jihadism where music was banned and musicians were abused or exiled.

Backed by such musicians as drummer Mamadou Kone, calabash player Soulemane Kane, ngoni players Maffa Diabate and Abdoulaye Kone, bassists Marshall Henry, Eric Herman and Checikmare Ba, shaker and kourignans player Tim Keiper and organist and keyboardist Rob Cohen, Mr. Toure gives listeners a delicious ride on sizzling tracks like “Ba Kaitere” and “Homafu Wawa,” and doles out delectable treats like the guitar and ngoni enfused “Samba Si Kairi” and the cool grooves of “Nature.” Fans get a dose of guest keyboardist Idan Raichel on the track “Mariam,” a track dedicated to Mr. Toure’s little sister, and the delightfully elegant track “Maya.”

 

 

Despite some doubts about the success of Samba, Mr. Toure says of the experience, “It was an interesting idea but I did not know how it would go. Luckily everything was perfect. There was a great ambience there for the session and we were able to capture this unique energy for the album.

Mr. Toure has certainly blazed his own path on Mali’s musical griot road of riches with Samba. Must be something in the blood.

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Different Threads of Indian Fusion

Rakkatak – Small Pieces (Rakkatak RA017, 2017)

Rakkatak is a Canadian duo led by tabla master Anita Katakkar and bassist Oriana Barbato. Their album Small Pieces came out this week. It’s a remarkable mix of percussive Indian classical music and western musical forms, including rock and jazz-rock fusion.

Small Pieces contains original pieces by Rakkatak along with some surprising versions of well-known songs. The most famous is “Norwegian Wood,” the Beatles’ song composed by John Lennon and Paul McCartney. The other unexpected song is Rush’s “YYZ.” Rush is one of Canada’s most famous rock bands and Anita Katakkar found connections in its rhythmic structure and odd time signatures.

In addition to the familiar tabla, Anita Katakkar adds other percussion instruments to her arsenal such as the western glockenspiel, creating an unpredictable partnership between the tabla and the bell sound of the glockenspiel.

On Small pieces Rakkatak is joined by sitar player Rex Van der Spuy as well as several other guests on Indian-style vocals and other instruments.

The last track on the album, “Riffing On 9,” takes Rakkatak in yet another direction, This timer it’s an example of the work Anita Katakkar did in the past, mixing Indian percussion with electronics, inspired by the Asian Underground movement.

The lineup on Small Pieces includes Anita Katakkar on tabla, cajón, glockenspiel and harmonium; Oriana Barbato on bass, shaker and cabasa; Rex Van der Spuy on sitar; Sina Bathaie on santur; Randolf Jiménez on drums; Samidha Joglekar on vocals; Joanna De Souza on manjira; Jessica Deutsche on violin; Steve Oda on sarod; Philippe Tasci on guitar; Reza Moghaddas on keyboard; and Joanna Mack on sitar.

The album is available from rakkatak.bandcamp.com/album/small-pieces

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Toronto’s Afro-Cuban Post Rock Groove Machine

Battle of Santiago – La Migra (Made With Pencil Crayons, 2017)

Canadian band Battle of Santiago’s style has evolved towards a vibrant mix of Afro-Cuban rhythms, post rock, dub, cumbia, Cuban Yoruba chants, funk and beyond. The band became more “Cuban” as more musicians from the Caribbean island joined. Battle of Santiago is based in Toronto, which has a large Cuban expatriate community.

The title of the album is La Migra, which is the name Mexicans and other Spanish-speaking immigrants give to the border patrol or immigration officers. Another evolution of the band is that they’ve added vocals. The classic Cuban-style vocals mixed with the post rock influences makes the experience unique. There is also a little bit of rapping which doesn’t fit that well with the band’s forward-thinking sound.

The Battle of Santiago’s name could have several different meanings depending on what part of Latin America you’re in. Battle of Santiago’s founder, bassist Michael Owen, indicates that it reflects how the band’s music can change and also the sound clash between the Anglo and Hispanic sections of the band.

La Migra showcases the talent of Battle of Santiago, a band developed in Toronto’s melting pot, who have developed a dazzling mix of Afro-Cuban music, electronics and post rock.

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Shamanic Electronica from Bulgaria

Vataff Project – Solьmen (Fusion Embassy, 2017)

Vataff Project is a Bulgarian act that brilliantly mixes trance and ambient electronics with traditional musical instruments. Electronic music artist Victor Marinov is behind the project. He provides the electronic atmospheres, beats, samples and effects. He’s joined by three additional musicians who add a tasty world music vibe to the recording.

One of the guests is Veselin Mitev on duduk. The duduk by itself always sounds exotic and mesmeric. Here, the duduk is processed to sound even more mysterious and fascinating.

The other two guests are Anton Karadimchev on vocals and guitar; and Rossen Zahariev on flugelhorn.

Vataff has several meanings. One of them is leader or guide. In Bulgarian folk tradition the leader of the kalushar dancers is also called vataff. The vataff are considered the successors of an ancient privileged society of warriors, whose frontrunners most likely were initiated in a religious cult and had the capacity to heal through particular music as part of certain rituals.

Solьmen is a finely-crafted album that brings together cutting edge electronica, Bulgarian folklore and shamanic world music influences.

Buy the digital edition of Solьmen.

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The Passion and Virtuosity of Khamoro Budapest Band

Khamoro Budapest Band – Hungarian Gypsy Music (ARC Music EUCD2708, 2017)

Preparing to direct the 1970 film, “Little Big Man,” director Arthur Penn decided to use country blues for the soundtrack rather than Native American music. He called Columbia producer John Hammond to discuss the matter, stating that he wanted “the sound of oppression.” Hammond played him some of the music of Robert “Hellhound On My Trail” Johnson, and Penn said, according to Hammond’s autobiography, “My God, that’s just what I want. I hope we can get him.”

Hammond told him Johnson had been dead for more than thirty years, but that his son, John Paul Hammond, played just like him. That is how now-renowned slide guitarist John Hammond got his recording career off to a fantastic start, courtesy of his father, and that is also an example of how “the sound of oppression” easily crosses cultural barriers to speak to us all.

Gypsy music parallels blues in many ways. It is the music of an ethnic group stuck in interaction with a bullying mainstream culture. One does not wish persecution on any culture. Music is, however, a means of expressing deep feelings and generating solace and joy. The music of an oppressed people has the extra task of replacing words in a climate where a dominant culture frowns upon or even bans said oppressed people’s verbal observations on their plight. The listener can share the solace and joy and admire the players’ abilities all the more when the music comes from such a source, and the players are more motivated and rewarded by being able to accomplish much with a restricted set of tools. This is what Khamoro Budapest Band brings us.

There is some mournful wailing. There is reliance on sad, minor keys. Instrumentation is not always what we expect. There is also an imparting of awe; how can these people still dance and laugh with all they’re letting us know with their music that they and their families have gone through? Khamoro (“little sun” in the Romani language) plays with passion, virtuosity and the enthusiasm that comes from their desire to share the experience and exuberance of their musical tradition with the world.

There is poignancy, pride and dignity in “Rovan More Jahka,” humor in other pieces, and beautifully supported celebration throughout the release.
They have done their homework and selected pieces from specific regions in which gypsy culture has bloomed best. As a plant grows tallest above the soil when its roots run deepest beneath it, their take on the music shares it articulately because of the study underlying their familiarity with the form. When one acquires this CD, one acquires not only the joy and strength inherent in the music, but also a deeper insight into the tradition that built it.

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