Category Archives: CD Reviews

Transfixing Tuvan Rock

Yat-Kha – Live at Stray Dog Club (Sketis Music SKMR-115, 2015)

This live album showcases the transfixing music style developed by Tuvan throat singer Albert Kuvezhin. Although Kuvezhin founded the traditional throat-singing group Huun Huur Tu, his greatest achievement is Yat-Kha, a genre-defying band that mixes overtone Tuvan music with rock. Some call it ethno-rock, others world music, but whatever you call it, it’s a groundbreaking form of music that brings an ancient Siberian tradition to European rock clubs.

Live at “Stray Dog Club” was originally released by Yat-Kha in 2011. The Sketis Music label has re-released, providing a much larger distribution and marketing effort and therefore reaching a significant audience.

On Live at “Stray Dog Club” you’ll find Kuvezin’s characteristic vocal drones and fascinating growls accompanied by a mix of western and Tuvan musical instruments.

The lineup on this album includes Albert Kuvezhin on vocals and guitar; Evgeny Tkachev on drums, mandolin and backing vocals; Sholban Mongush on vocals, igil (2 or 3-stringed Tuvan fiddle with a carved wooden horse’s head attached to the top of the neck), temir-khomus (Tuvan jew’s harp); and Alex Saaya on bass, clarinet, backing vocals

Live at “Stray Dog Club” is a stunning performance by one of the most alluring artists from Siberia.

Buy the digital version of Live at Stray Dog Club

Buy the CD from sketismusic.bandcamp.com/album/yat-kha-live-at-stray-dog-club-skmr-115

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Babilonia Party

Riserva Moac - Babilonia (Bayla Records BAY011 CD, 2015)
Riserva Moac – Babilonia (Bayla Records BAY011 CD, 2015)

 

Italian band Riserva Moac plays lively music with a party atmosphere, incorporating Balkan brass, Gypsy music, Mediterranean sounds, toe tapping dance beats, ska and more. On the vocal side, the ensemble uses a mix of regular vocals and rapping. Rap is a tired technique that has little new to say so the best moments are the instrumental moments.

Riserva Moac was formed in 2003 with the goal to knock down musical borders as well as geographical and historical fences. The group’s name Moac Moac is an acronym for Molise (a region in southern Italy), Oriente (the East), Africa and Cuba. Previous recordings include “Bienvenido” (2005) and “La musica dei popoli” (2009).

The lineup on Babilonia includes Maya Pavone on vocals; Roberto “Zanna” Napoletano on percussion, accordion and vocals; Patrizio “Basko” Forte on bass; Fabrizio “Pacha Mama” Russo on vocals; Mario Evangelista on electric, cutsic and classical guitar, dobro, mandolin, banjo, steel guitar; Graziano Carbone on drums, Vladimiro D’Amico on saxophone; Alessio Lalli on trumpet; Antonio Sciolli on tuba and helicon; Giuseppe Ferrante on t-bone, euphonium, baritone fluegelhorn,; Mario Cusano on clarinet; Francesco Bruni on guitar; Enrico Greppi on vocals; Master App on vocals; Carla Patullo on vocals; Yam Salia on vocals; and Big Roma on vocals.

 

 

 

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Dramatically Elegant Viena

Varttina – Viena (Westpark Music, 2016)

Thirty years in the making, the Finnish folk group Varttina started out as a children’s music project in the village of Raakkyla in 1983. In those years the group has evolved in membership and endured the occasional change in musical direction, putting out such recordings as Varttina (1987), Musta Lindu (1989), Oi Dai (1991), Ilmatar (2000) and Miero (2006), performed live across the globe and collaborated with A.R. Rahman for the musical theatrical production of The Lord of the Rings performed in Toronto, Canada and London, England. Headed up by original Varttina singer, Mari Kaasinen, Varttina is back with thirteenth studio album Viena on the Westpark Music label.

Varttina’s tight, neat sound is crafted out of the talents of vocalist and kantele player Mari Kaasinen; vocalist and kantele player Karoliina Kantelinen; vocalist Susan Aho; accordionist, bansuri player and vocalist Matti Kallio; fiddler, nyckelharpist, bowed lyre player and vocalist Lassi Logren and guitarist mandocellist, bouzouki player, mandolinist and vocalist Matti Laitinen. Keeping to that sharply honed sound centered on the blending and the myriad of harmonies of its female vocalists, Viena is just as energetic, beguiling and edgily eccentric as ever and the result is contagiously joyful.

Drawing influence from a trip to Russia’s Viena Karelian folklore villages where the last of the “rune singers” and Kalevala folk tradition and poetry have eked out an existence for thousands of years, Viena is a tribute to the region’s untouched nature and the musical roots.

Opening with the lovely “Taivasranta” or “The Heavenly Shore,” fans get the full force of these elegantly entwined vocals surrounded by guitar, accordion and kantele (a Finnish plucked instrument belonging to the dulcimer and zither family).

Dipping into the traditional, Viena offers up the vocally sensational track “Raijan Joiku,” before giving over to the joyfully worked “Kanaset” and the delicately dreamy “Kelo.”

Working through stunners like “Ukonlammas,” the traditional “Kokko” and irrepressibly delightful “Kiri,” Viena exudes the richness of Finland’s musical traditions. Closing traditional track “Oi Dai” with its happy energy is reason enough to check out Viena.

By turns Viena is infectiously folksy and dramatically elegant and well worth the legacy of Varttina.

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Exhilarating and Captivating Karsh Kale

Karsh Kale – Up (Six Degrees Records, 2016)

Six Degrees Records’s release of Karsh Kale’s Up is a bit like being shoved off a cliff and reveling in an expansive freefall surrounded by a frenzy of tabla and percussion, sizzling guitar lines, moody electronica and soaring vocals. It is a glorious swan dive into musical imagination of producer and multi-intrumentalist Karsh Kale.

With recordings like Cinema (2011), Realize (2006), Liberation (2007) and Broken English (2006) to his credit, Mr. Kale had continued to dazzle fans with performances around the globe, including a stint at spinning records for the Obama White House, as well as opening for A.R. Rahman at the Hollywood Bowl and joining Alicia Keys, the Black Keys, Norah Jones and Gary Clark, Jr. for a tribute concert to George Harrison. He’s also collaborated with the likes of Imogen Heap and Anoushka Shankar.

Proving there’s no rest for the weary, Mr. Kale uses that frustration of balancing the demands of an artist on the go and the constant travel with fatherhood as part of the inspiration for Up.

Mr. Kale says of the experience, “When you’re always traveling you’re never really ready to go. I’d be a father in Brooklyn one moment then fly to India and go straight to a TV show or a festival.”

Squeezing every ounce of creative juice of that frustration, Mr. Kale’s Up rides on air of constant motion and movement wrapped in intricate rhythms, high flying guitars and keyboards, furthered along by way bansuri flute, sitar and electronica to conjure up an Indian inspired mix that downright heady.

 

Karsh Kale
Karsh Kale

 

Up proves potent with opening track “High” with vocalist Milan Xai, bassist Tony Grey, electric bansuri player Ajay Prasanna and Mr. Kale on keyboards, samples, tabla, drum programming and additional bass. Title track “Up” is just as lush with Warren Mendonsa on acoustic and electric guitars, Ravi Chary on sitar, Karan Joseph on keyboards and Benny Dayal’s vocals and Mr. Kale on tabla, keyboards, drum kit, as well as offering up some sleekly cool vocals. And, Up just get better with tracks like “Butterfly Effect” with vocals by Ankita Joshi and Sabir Khan on sarangi, the electronically airy “Thin Line of Blue” and the kick ass “Play” with vocals by Sa Dingding.

“Be Like Water” is a marvel of tabla, drum and bass programming and keyboards and a solo endeavor by Mr. Kale. Equally delicious is the razor sharp edged “Shiva” with its fiery guitar lines, the sultry moody “Snowflake” with vocals by Ranjit Arupurakal and Papon and the delicately lovely closing track “Shyam” with vocalist Monali Thakur, bassist Tony Grey, electric guitarist Warren Mendonsa, bansuri player Ajay Prasanna with Mr. Kale taking up keyboards, bass and drum programming.

 

 

Exhilarating and captivating, Up is a headlong leap into the exotic and the ride down is delicious.

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Breton Energy

Startijenn – “Skeud” (Paker, 2015)

“Skeud” (shadow, reflection) is the fifth album by one of the best-known bands from Brittany. The group combines traditional dances and tunes from Brittany with rock, jazz, Celtic influences from Ireland and even a bit of funk.

The sound of Startijenn is characterized by the sounds of traditional Breton instruments, biniou (bagpipe) and bombard (reed instrument) supported by guitar, accordion and a solid rhythm section of electric bass and percussion.

The captivating Breton folk music styles featured on “Skeud” include an dro (circle dance), rond de Loudia (a dance from the Loudia region), valse, ridée (a dance from the Vannes region) and various other traditional forms.

The lineup on “Skeud” includes Tangi Oillo on guitars; Youenn Roue on bombards; Lionel Le Page on biniou and uilleann-pipes; Kaou Gwenn on percussion; Tangi Le Gall-Carré on button accordion; and Julien Stévenin on bass.

Startijenn was founded in Brest in 1997. Since then, the band has grown to be one of the leading acts in the Breton folk music scene and they have toured internationally, taking the Breton music they are passionate about. Startijenn’s earlier recordings include Startijenn (Coop Breizh, 2006), Pakit Holl! (Paker Prod / Coop Breizh, 2008), Kreiz da Fas! (Paker Prod / Coop Breizh, 2010), and Startijenn – El Taqa Live (Paker Prod / Coop Breizh, 2013).

“Skeud” is a powerful forward thinking album by one of Brittany’s most significant contemporary folk music artists.

Buy Skeud from Amazon UK or directly from the band: www.startijenn.bzh/en/shop/

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Baraka Honors Nargis Bandishoyeva

Baraka – Tribute to Nargis (Sketis Music SKMR-099, 2013)

Ethno-jazz band Baraka dedicates this album to Pamir singer Nargis Bandishoyeva. During the Soviet era, Nargis was the first vocalist who performed on the stage in the Shugnan language, which is spoken in Tajikistan and Afghanistan. The singer was adored by her nation and during her life gained real fame throughout Tajikistan. In the early 1990s, her life was sadly cut short in a car accident.

Baraka, based in Latvia, is known for mixing jazz with traditional music from various parts of the world. It’s what some call ethno-jazz or world jazz. In this case, the focus is on the music of Tajikistan, in Central Asia. Baraka’s band leader, percussionist and arranger Dmitry Evsikov along with his daughter Devika (vocals, bass) delve into genuine Tajik and Pamir folk music. On Tribute to Nargis, the music selections includes recreations of original compositions by Oleg Fesov and other composers together with some traditional pieces arranged by Dmitry Evsikov.

Throughout the album, Devika sings heartfelt ballads and love songs in various languages, including Farsi, Shugnan, Dari and Pashto. The music is characterized by the use of Central Asian percussion, electric piano and saxophones, developing an East meets West fusion.

The booklet includes the memories of Nargis collected by Dmitry and Devika. The poetry of Omar Khayyam and Rumi is interlaced with the works of modern Tajik poets.

The lineup on Tribute to Nargis includes Devika Evsikova on vocals and bass; Denis Pashkevich on tenor and soprano saxophone, flute; Raivo Stashans on soprano saxophone, flute; Normund Piesis on flugelhorn; Vilnis Kundrats on tenor saxophone; Alex Suris on accordion (and also cover design), Madars Kalnins on piano, Rhodes piano; Artem Sarvi on piano, Rhodes piano; Egor Kovaikov on guitar, acoustic guitar; Zigmund Zukovsky on bass; Andris Grunte on upright bass; Stanislav Judin on double bass; Andrey Markin on fretless bass, rhythm acoustic guitar; Andrey Orlov on bass; and Dmitry Evsikov on percussion.

Tribute to Nargis features a set of effectively crafted songs embracing contemporary jazz and the musical traditions of Central Asia.

Buy Tribute to Nargis in North America

Buy Tribute to Nargis in other territories.

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Delightfully Incandescent Divanhana

Divanhana – Zukva (ARC Music, 2016)

As a 2012 participant in the 12 Points Jazz Festival in Porto, Portugal and at the World Music Expo in Thessaloniki, Greece and with the 2013 release of Biljeske Iz Sestice on the Multimedia Music label, the fiery rich Bosnian fusion group Divanhana is back. This time on the ARC Music label, Divanhana wows listeners with Zukva, set for release on January 29th.

Melding influences of pop, jazz and even classical to the Bosnia’s sevdah or sevdalinka musical traditions, similar to the Portuguese fado, Divanhana pushes through the traditions and discovers a blend that’s fresh and deliciously flirty.

Divanhana members vocalist Naida Čatić, pianist Neven Tunjić, accordionist Nedžad Mušović, bass guitarist Azur Imamović, drummer Rifet Čamdžić and percussionist Irfan Tahirović make the most of their new take on Bosnia’s musical traditions with the lively opening track “Oj Safete, Sajo, Sarajlijo” with the equally energized “Da Sam Ptica” following close on its heels.

Formed in 2009 as students at Sarajevo’s Music Academy, Divanhana flashes brilliant on Zukva with straight forward musical expertise, but tracks like the lushly worked “Ciganka Sam Mala,” and brightly breezy “Zasto Si Me Majko Rodila” are proof that Divanhana is as expressively incendiary as it is talented.
Other delightful little goodies on Zukva include the sultry vocal studded “Otako Je Banja Luka Postala,” the lushly jazzy “Sejdefu Majka Budase,” along with “Zapjevala Sojka Ptica” and the irrepressibly catchy “Pijanica, Bekrija.”

Cleverly sassy and passionately expressive, Zukva blazes a new path for Bosnia’s music scene that is a delightfully incandescent introduction to Divanhana and the new music of Bosnia-Herzegovina.

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Bulgarian Folktronics

Oratnitza – Folktron (Fusion Embassy, 2015)

Oratnitza delivers a contemporary acoustic music vision of Bulgarian traditional music. On Folktron the band performs original pieces that revolve around captivating vocals, kaval (a long, end-blown Bulgarian flute) melodies, roaring didgeridoo and a variety of trance drums beats and percussion.

Although some of the rhythms may emulate modern percussion instruments or even electronic beats, there are no electronics, except for one piece which is an electronic dance music dub remix.

The use of the didgeridoo adds an exotic tribal elements that permeates throughout most of the pieces. Most of the vocals use the traditional Bulgarian style that has fascinated world music audiences for years. They also add a little rapping on one piece which is annoying.

The lineup on Folktron includes Hristiyan Georgiev on kaval, vocals, melodica and tambura; Georgi “Horhe” Marinov on didgeridoo; Petar “Buny” Yordanov on cajon, tupan and darbuka; and Ivan “Popa” Gospodinov on vocals. Guests include Peyo Peev on gadulka; Petar Milanov on tambura; Petar Yanev on kaba bagpipe, and Magdalena Petrovich on cello.

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The Healing Power of Music

Manish Vyas – Atma Bhakti – Healing Sounds of Prayer (New Earth Records, 2015)

Let me say at the outset you not only want Manish Vyas’s Atma Bhakti Healing Sound of Prayer you need it. Composer, multi-instrumentalist and singer Manish Vyas from Gujarat, India is the artist behind such recordings as Healing Ragas, Shivoham, Sattva, Prasad and Prem Joshua and Manish Vyas: Water Down the Ganges with the German fusion musician Prem Joshua. He has collaborated with Deva Premal, Snatam Kaur, Ramdass and Maneesh de Moor. While that all might seem like a mouthful, it’s very clear from the opening strains of Atma Bhakti, you aren’t going anywhere in a hurry.

The serene, soul soothing song found on Atma Bhakti is elegant, quietly comforting and will surely blunt the edges of a chaotic day and maybe, just maybe, allow you to find your happy space and ignore that jerk in the neighborhood with the leaf blower.

Finding inspiration in the environs of an ancient temple, Mr. Vyas summons up an air of a restful, mindful space by way of vocals, chant, the swar-mandal (a harp from India), tanpura (a plucked, stringed instrument from India), keyboards, bells and gong.

Joined by Milind Date on bamboo flute, Atma Bhakti overflows with serenity, but not a Kenny G type of serenity, but rather revolves around a profound sense of consciousness through the use of chant, enhanced by Mr. Vyas’s vocals and additional vocals by Jay Dave, Krishna Jani and Singdha Pious.

Composing and arranging the music of Atma Bhakti, Mr. Vyas has conjured up that ancient temple through a set of three extended tracks that simply allow the listener to fall into that meditative space.

Mr. Vyas points out succinctly, “There is a very meditative atmosphere in the music.” Adding, “The material I select to sing is always on a higher plane going to a higher dimension. That has always been my preference, to work on music that lifts you from the level of the mind and takes you higher.”

Mr. Vyas indeed succeeds as listeners are transported by way of the quiet, almost spare, opening track “Atma,”riding the lines of his own vocals, keyboards, flute and the occasional use of bells.

The sound of a gong opens the track “Bhakti” or “mantra ‘shivaya namaha om.’” As instrumentation fills out the track, “Bhakti” deepens the lure with vocals, swar-mandal and tanpura.

Closing out the CD with “Vedic Chanting,” with an opening of street sounds, Atma Bhakti entrances the listener with a potent form of Vedic chant long used by priests in India and considered one of the oldest forms of oral tradition, so much so that Vedic chant has been proclaimed a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization).

Atma Bhakti’s beauty and depth is one of those rare musical journeys that gently remind us of the healing power of music and voice, nudging our mind into a mindfulness we often ignore. My advice is to settle in and slip on the headphones and take this journey.

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Roma Brass Meets Klezmer

Cocek! Brass Band - Here Comes Shlomo (Cocek! Brass Band, 2014)
Cocek! Brass Band – Here Comes Shlomo (Cocek! Brass Band, 2014)

Cocek! Brass Band is a 5-piece brass band led by composer, vocalist and trumpeter Sam Dechenne. The group plays original music inspired by Balkan Gypsy music, the sounds of New Orleans and Klezmer music.

The format includes two trumpets, trombone, tuba, and drums with plenty of room for improvisation.

All the material on Here Comes Shlomo is original. Sam Dechenne wrote all the pieces on the album. Dechenne plays in a reggae band and also participates in Klezwoods so you’ll notice some of those influences on the album. Half the tracks of the album are Balkan čoček (pronounced cho-check) dance tunes.

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