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The Fabulous Musiki wa dansi of East Africa

Various Artists – Urgent Jumping! East African Musiki Wa Dansi Classics (Sterns Africa STCD 3067-68CD, 2016)

This 2 CD world music compilation is packed with over two hours of Afro-rooted dance music from 1970s and 1980s East Africa. Selected by British DJ and journalist John Armstrong, the anthology features many of the hits popular during two decades in East Africa.

Many of the Kenyan, Tanzanian and Congolese bands featured Urgent Jumping! included talented guitarists who combined modern elements with traditional rhythms. The vocals are in KiSwahili, the language spoken across many East African countries.

The most prominent genres included in this great compilation include benga, a style developed by the Luo people of western Kenya, who fused traditional beats and melodies with electric guitars and basses.

Congolese music was also very influential. Congolese migrants brought Cuban-inspired rumba and soukous to Kenya and Tanzania. It was common bands that featured musicians from various countries.

Lastly, there is the Arabic and Indian music influence that came across the sea. This includes taraab from Zanzibar, Lamu and other islands off the East African that had an effect on pop music in the mainland cities of Mombassa, Nairobi and Dar es Salaam.

The artists featured in Urgent Jumping! Are: L’Orch. Dar International, Afro 70, Kauma Boys Band, Super Mambo Jazz Band “69”, Maquis du Zaire, Victoria Jazz Band, Orchestre Conga Internationale, The Golden Kings Band, Sunburst Band, Urafiki Jazz Band, L’Orchestre Grand Piza, Hafusa Abasi & Slim Ali and the Kikulacho Yahoos Band, L’Orch. Moja One, Sega Sega Band, L’Orchestre Super Mambo, Earthquake Jazz Band, Vijana Jazz Band, Orchestre Special Liwanza, Juwata Jazz Band and Orchestre Super Jambo.

John Armstrong did a fabulous job putting this collection together. It’s great to see East Africa getting some attention since most of the African music we normally get is dominated by West African acts.

Buy Urgent Jumping! East African Musiki Wa Dansi Classics in the Americas

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Eros Coolness

Omar Sosa and Paolo Fresu – Eros (Tuk Music/Ota Records, 2016)

Luxuriously elegant, seductive and exotically dreamy, the Tuk Music release Eros, born out of the collaborative efforts of Cuban musician and composer Omar Sosa and Italian musician and composer Paolo Fresu, is one of those exciting CDs where you just have no idea what’s coming around the next bend.

Dramatically packed with savory bits and bites of electronica, musical samplings and offbeat percussion, as well as the mastery of Mr. Sosa’s piano lines and Mr. Fresu’s trumpet and flugelhorn lines, Eros conjures up jazz, world music and dreamy musicscape and sometime all at once. Add in the vocals of Natacha Atlas and cello by Jaques Morelenbaum and Eros goes from extraordinary to extravagantly superb.

Opening with the sleek coolness of “Teardrop/Ya Habibi” with vocals by Ms. Atlas and trumpet lines by Mr. Fresu so good it will raise the hairs on the back of your neck. Full of surprises, Eros never quite goes where you think it will so when “Sensuousness” combines a throat singer with cello, piano and trumpet in a track so utterly elegant it’s a little odd but it works in a big way.

Listeners get savvy coolness with tracks like “Zeus’ Desires” and “Brezza del Verano.” “My Soul, My Spirit” with vocals by Ms. Atlas against a backdrop of strings, electronica and birdsong is a simply stunning. Other goodies include “La Llamada,” the fantastical world conjured on “What Is Inside/Himeros” and exotically charged “Eros Mediterraneo.”

Eros is savage coolness. Forget what you know about the piano, trumpet or the way you think a track will progress. Ditch the map and just go with where the music will take you.

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Spellbinding Sounds from the North

Wardruna – Runaljod – Ragnarok (By Norse Music, 2016)

The music of Wardruna takes you to an intriguing era in the Nordic regions of Europe. On Runaljod – Ragnarok, the Norwegian musicians combine early Scandinavian musical instruments with contemporary sounds. It’s a fascinating sound that incorporates trance-like drones, mesmerizing chants, distant horns, and rhythms that give you an image of cadenced rowing.

This album is the third part of a trilogy of recordings that interpreted the 24 olden Nordic runes. The first two segments of the trilogy were Runaljod – gap var Ginnunga (2009) and Runaljod – Yggdrasil (2013).

The artist behind the project is multi-instrumentalist, composer and songwriter Einar Selvik, who used to play drums in heavy metal bands. He’s developed the Wardruna hybrid sound that integrates acoustic world music, trance electronics and a Dead Can Dance-sensibility. Selvik uses a wide range of musical instruments; the most captivating are the rare kraviklyra (a medieval lyre, considered one of the oldest instruments in Norway), taglharpe (a Viking-era horse hair bowed harp), goat horns, birchbark lures (a long wooden horn tied with birch bark), and deer-hide frame drums. Selvik’s music was used in the popular Vikings TV series.

 

Wardruna - Photo by Ole J Brye
Wardruna – Photo by Ole J Brye

 

Although there is continuity between the chapters of the trilogy, Runaljod – Ragnarok introduces additional elements such as bronze lures, guest performances by Einar’s children and the Skarvebarna children’s choir.

 

Wardruna's Einar Selvik and Lindy-Fay Hella - Photo by Espen Winther
Wardruna’s Einar Selvik and Lindy-Fay Hella – Photo by Espen Winther

 

Runaljod – Ragnarok was composed, recorded and produced by Einar Selvik at his Fimbulljóð studio. The lineup includes Einar Selvik on vocals, taglharpe, kraviklyra, goat horn, tongue horn, bronze lure, flutes, drums, percussion and electronics; Lindy-Fay Hella on vocals; Eilif Gundersen on bronze lure, birchbark lure, goat horn, willow flute and ice percussion; Arne Sandvoll on vocals; HC Dalgaard on vocals; Kjell Braaten on vocals; Ask Einarson Nybro and Tuva J. Einarsdatter Nybro on vocals; and the Skarvebarna Children’s Choir conducted by Ingjerd Almås Arnfinset.

 

 

Selvik will present the Runaljod trilogy workshop titled “The Thoughts and Tools Behind Wardruna” presented by Scandinavia House and Gramercy Theatre on December 9-10.

 

 

Runaljod – Ragnarok is a spellbinding recording by one of the most talented artists in the Norwegian music scene.

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Getting Reacquainted With Old Friends and Making New Ones

It’s been more than three decades since my musical tastes went global. In that time I haven’t stopped being amazed at the diversity of music that’s out there, the cross-cultural connections that led to the diversity, the influence music from other cultures can have on artists who are looking for something new (or old) and many other aspects of the whole scene that my words can’t begin to do justice to. Reminders of why a particular genre attracted me in the first place are always good and worth sharing. And hearing them expanded upon increases the pleasure factor.

 

 Avalon Jazz Band - Je Suis Swing
Avalon Jazz Band – Je Suis Swing

 

Being the visionaries they were, it’s entirely possible that guitarist Django Reinhardt and violinist Stephane Grapelli knew the Gypsy Jazz style they invented in Paris in 1934 would continue to charm listeners to this day. It certainly cast a spell over singer Tatiana Eva-Marie and violinist Adrien Chevalier, who met in France’s main metropolis before taking their shared love of Gypsy Jazz to New York and forming the Avalon Jazz Band. Their debut CD Je Suis Swing (self-released, 2016) is a charmer of the first order, capturing perfectly the spark and feel of ‘30s and ‘40s Paris. Eva-Marie’s French and English vocals are as deftly phrased as they are heartfelt, sensual and wide-ranging, and the instrumental lineup of violin, dual guitars, standup bass, clarinet and accordion swings, sweeps, swaggers and swaps solos accordingly.

The songs are a mix of epochal favorites and American jazz chestnuts, each lovingly rendered by a band that presents them, to quote Eva-Marie in the liner notes, “not as a museum piece, but as an emotion suspended in time that can be accessed at any moment by a simple stretch of our romantic imaginations.” One listen to this dreamy disc will clarify exactly what she means.

 

Nu Haven Kapelye - What’s Nu?
Nu Haven Kapelye – What’s Nu?

 

I didn’t realize there was a precedent for combining klezmer music with a big band sensibility until I heard Nu Haven Kapelye on their inaugural recording What’s Nu? (Reckless DC Music, 2016). Actually, I came late to the revelation. Turns out this 30-plus member ensemble has performed live every December 25th since 1998 and do a fair number of other concert appearances. Under the direction of bassist/arranger David Chevan (of Afro-Semitic experience fame), they’re as varied in age, occupation, religion and musical background as can be.

The resulting music is wide-ranging as well, covering European and American interpretations of klezmer, evocative instrumentals, Yiddish theatre songs and even a cover of Balkan Beat Box’s “Gross.” It’s all in good jazzy fun, but there are some seriously skilled players at work, with horns, strings, reeds, guitars, accordion, drums, keyboard and the must-be-heard vocals of The Seltzer Sisters each getting a piece of the action.

There were several “hey, I know that song” moments for me (been a long, long time since I heard “Chiri Biri Bim”), and when I wasn’t having my memory tweaked I was content to simply immerse myself in music obviously created with a lot of joy and passed along in that same spirit. This is uplifting, grin-inducing stuff, maximally enjoyable from start to finish. nuhavenkapelye.com/music

 

Jefferson St. Parade Band - Viral
Jefferson St. Parade Band – Viral

 

You could easily assume New Orleans and Balkan brass music to be among their inspirations, but Jefferson St. Parade Band takes it considerably further with Viral (Jefferson Street Music, 2016). The title is apt- this is infectious music. While JSPB have the requisite battery of drums and horns to power them along, their electrified guitar and bass help them rock to global heights. I didn’t think an outfit of this sort would be wise to cover Jamaican dub master King Tubby, but their “Easy Dub” is wicked in the best sense, likewise their rendering of Mexican traditional tune “El Cascabel” and some uniquely danceable originals.

The disc has a short running time and only 7 tracks, but the way JSPB draws on everything from African and Latin beats to jazz, psychedelic and borderline grunge gives Viral a well-rounded feel that’ll make you want to listen repeatedly. Think of them as a horn-heavy world music jam band or a freewheeling experiment in just how tight multiple layers of rhythm and melody can be. Either way, make sure to lend them your ears. And hang on.

 

Various Artists - African Rumba
Various Artists – African Rumba

 

On the various-artists front, there’s no going wrong with African Rumba (Putumayo, 2016). Sure, much of it fits more easily under the banner of African salsa (particularly if it’s the Congolese sort of rumba the title leads you to expect), but the tracks all sizzle. Latin music is, at its core, African music, and when Cuban sounds first started reaching Africa in the 1930s, it wasn’t long before African musicians began reconnecting them with their roots. Those reconnections are here in varied forms, including the slinky “Mame” by Senegal’s Alune Wade (who also does a scorching duet with Cuban pianist Harold Lopez-Nussa), a m’balax-laced offering from Pape Fall, a classy charanga collaboration featuring Orquesta Aragon and Afia Mala, Ricardo Lemvo’s impeccable salsa/soukous blend and the ever-classic sounds of L’African Fiesta and Orchestre OK Jazz. Some uncovered bases notwithstanding (understandable for a single CD), it’s a great collection.

Particularly engaging is the kora-laced final track “Sin Murri Gossi” by Angola’s Banda Maravilha, a group previously unfamiliar to me and one I’d certainly like to hear more of.

 

Tom Teasley - Eastern Journey
Tom Teasley – Eastern Journey

 

As a percussionist myself (albeit one of no renown and questionable ability), I greatly admire what a true percussion master can achieve. Tom Teasley proves himself just such a master on Eastern Journey (T2 Music, 2016). Inspired primarily by Korean and Chinese musical modalities as well as informed by his prowess as a jazz player, Teasley employs more than 20 instruments (percussion and non-percussion alike, and he plays ‘em all) to create pieces that are beautifully ornate, melodically appealing, rhythmically intricate and all combinations thereof.

The complexity of the tracks does not render them inaccessible; rather, the combinations of sounds (including the use of uncommon instruments like the Chinese bawu oboe and kouxian jaw harp) conjure moods ranging from mystical to whimsical.

Note how the mix of HAPI drum and kalimba on “The Heart is a Flower” gives the music an especially shimmery feel, the way the underlying waltz tempo of “The Gold Cicada) is jazzed into something entirely new, or the wavy palette of sounds that comprise “The Mountain.” It’s all like a soundtrack accompanying the travelogue of your dreams, and what you hear is every bit as vivid as what you might hope to see.

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Headline photo: Jefferson St. Parade Band

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L&T: Léonore Boulanger

I will be writing a column on Length & Time in music, in each presenting an album and its strategies that pertain to addressing Length & Time. 

Feigen Feigen begins at its cover art: an odd bird and an odd rabbit. Each is rendered psychedelically, albeit a soft city psychedelia, intellectual and seemingly rooted in anthropology.

That the bird has the rabbit’s head and the rabbit the bird’s is a prelude to the album’s musical art. These are artful songs, though none as direct as Edith Piaf’s, Massenet’s, or Barbara’s, etc, and closer to a Lou Reed’s. They are all difference being sung to those who are accustomed to the expected in terms of text put to music. I’d recommend listening to the entire album, before choosing a particular beloved.

Venus? Dionysius? Or is this the work of one of Pan’s sirens? Is this meant to be danced? Listened to politically, in order write liberty all over, to paraphrase Paul Elouard? I’d argue that this is the work of the help of a postmodern Venus, product of a dream that a woman once had to produce music that would both infatuate and impose: there are two question marks on the front cover for that purpose.

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Love Will Find A Way

Mike Love - Love Will Find A Way
Mike Love – Love Will Find A Way

Mike Love – ‘Love Will Find A Way’ (LNW003, 2015)

A great reggae album by Hawaiian reggae artists Mike Love. The singer-songwriter delivers a memorable collection of songs that go beyond outstanding roots reggae, incorporating ska, jazz, classic soul, blues and more.

The lineup includes Mike Love on vocals, guitar, ukulele, and piano; Sam Ites on drums; Jon Hawes on bass; Keith Tsukamaki and Jorell Nacapuy on keyboards; Reggie Padilla on saxophone; and Deshannon Higa on trumpet.

Mike Love’s captivating songs have positive messages that will cheer up the listener.

Buy the digital version of Love Will Find A Way

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A Look at Vienna’s Music Scene

Various Artists - Radio Vienna - Sounds from the 21st Century
Various Artists – Radio Vienna – Sounds from the 21st Century

Various Artists – Radio Vienna – Sounds from the 21st Century (Galileo MC GMC065 CD, 2016)

This compilation intends to provide a look at some of the music made currently in Vienna, Austria’s capital. The collection features different genres. Pop in German-language and cabaret style songs dominate Radio Vienna, although there is also Klezmer, folk-pop and jazz.

The highlights include the German language jazz crooning of Willy Landl; the slow tempo blues guitar of Alex Miksch Trio; and the Balkan-rooted world music sound of award-winning female ensemble Madame Baheux.

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Nordic Vapors

Sinikka Langeland – Starflowers (ECM Records, 2007)

Starflowers is a stunning collaboration between Norwegian folk music composer, songwriter, vocalist and kantele player Sinikka Langeland and jazz musicians. The ambience throughout the album is ethereal and tranquil, full of beauty.

Sinikka Langeland’s concert kantele creates a trance-like effect, along with Sinikka Langeland’s evocative vocals. The jazz musicians add color to some of the pieces. The combination of vocals, kantele and double bass is one of the highlights of the album, together with the exquisite trumpet of Arve Henriksen.

The lineup on Starflowers includes Sinikka Langeland on vocals and kantele; Arve Henriksen on trumpet; Trygve Seim on tenor and soprano saxophones; Anders Jormin on double bass; and Markku Ounaskari on percussion.

Starflowers is a spellbinding and memorable Nordic folk recording showcasing the remarkably expressive vocals and kantele of Sinikka Langeland.

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Voices of a Better World

In this era of harsh voices speaking know-it-all rhetoric from various political, religious, cultural and elitist viewpoints, the need for musical voices to tame the beasts has never been greater. I’ve recently been treated to some releases featuring female voices that succeed in temporarily transporting me away from the madness and may prove even more antidotal in the long run.

Bosnian singer Amira Medunjanin immerses the listener in the depths of sevdah, the word used to describe the emotional intimacy of her native traditional music. Sevdah is to Bosnia what blues is to America or fado is to Portugal: an expressing via music of what the heart longs for and the spirit believes in. Damar, (World Village/Harmonia Mundi, 2016), Medunjanin’s latest, goes measurably beyond Bosnian tradition, giving her small unplugged ensemble the means to stretch out in a few jazz and pan-Mediterranean subtleties with acoustic guitar and piano most often leading the way.

Amira Medunjanin - Damar
Amira Medunjanin – Damar

Medunjanin’s beautifully faraway tones flow like lifeblood through love songs, sacred devotions and declarations of the indomitable spirit of Sarajevo and other recently troubled locales in her home region. Music seldom gets more up close and personal -or quietly thrilling- than this.

Her choice of costuming looks rather grandiose on the cover images that adorn her CD Songs of Resilience (Simrit Kaur Music, 2016), but Greek-born, South Carolina-raised singer/songwriter Simrit isn’t about to go over the top musically. Her influences range from Orthodox chants to African drumming and the rhythmic mantras of yoga, and while you might fear the results to be some kind of mystical mess, they’re not. Electronic textures do figure into the music but take a back seat to the kora, guitar, cello, bass, harmonium, piano and percussion that provide melody, strength and unhurried forward motion to the songs.

Simrit - Songs of Resilience
Simrit – Songs of Resilience

A steadily militant beat propels the opening “Prithvi Hai” as Simrit intones with both the intimacy of a coffeehouse singer and the authority of a shaman, enveloping the instrumental backing and building to a spatial climax that results in bliss the rest of the album sustains.

Simrit’s songs take their time; most of the tracks here clock in between 6 and 10 minutes. Still, the musical journey is well worth the investment. Understated rhythms are given just enough production value to skirt the line between ancient and modern, and Simrit’s dreamlike vocals (in several languages including English) similarly touch upon the here and now while seeming to reach for something beyond. If such wordiness leads you to believe this music is difficult to categorize, believe it. But rest assured it’s also a healing, calming experience and a substantial sonic adventure.

And then there’s Peia, a singer whose scholarship to the New England Conservatory of Music was ostensibly for her to study opera. Instead, she found herself enamored with a myriad of global styles and set out to explore numerous connections between music, culture and the forces that have the power to preserve them.

Peia’s heritage is Scottish and Irish, and while some degree of that is evident on Beauty Thunders (Peia Song Music, 2016), she goes a good deal further. Moving seamlessly from Hungarian lullaby to Scottish reel, Peruvian proverb and poetic originals, Peia constructs a prayer-like cycle of songs that often permeate with hushed vocals and restrained melodies before adding grooves that edify and further mesmerize.

Peia - Beauty Thunders
Peia – Beauty Thunders

Declare yourself emotionally bankrupt if the singing, particularly the way Peia’s playfully angelic reach blends with the harmonies of Luna Marcus and Murray Kyle, doesn’t leave you spellbound. But by all means save ample appreciation for the unerringly earthy accompaniment, which includes Peia’s own charango and harmonium in addition to guitar, oud, bass, fiddle, Irish whistle, bagpipe and percussion.

Whatever thunders the title may bespeak, this gem of a disc is more about the beauty aspect: a delicate beauty anchored by the sort of hope expressed in the concluding song “We Will Rise Again” and affirmed by sweet, glorious music that leaves no doubt as to the truth of such a statement. (www.peiasong.com)

Headline photo: Peia by Arterium

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Enthralling Miami Reggae

Mixed Culture – Movement in Roots & Movement in Dub, Deluxe Edition (Jah Youth Productions, 2016)

Mixed Culture’s latest album comes in a 2-CD Deluxe Edition that contains a roots reggae titled Movement in Roots and dub versions of the same songs in second disc titled Movement in Dub.

Mixed Culture is a product of Miami’s multiculturalism. The reggae band has a led singer named Cisco Lagomarcino from Peru, who sings in English and Spanish. Although rooted in captivating melodic roots reggae, Mixed Culture incorporates elements of Latin jazz and other genres.

Gary Woung (Third World) mixed the dubs album. Lagomarcino worked with Woung to make sure the musicians are still heard on the dub versions of the songs.
The group’s lyrics touch on important issues such as the Arab Spring, the economic collapse of 2008, or individuals trying to make a living in the arts.

The music on Movement in Roots & Movement in Dub is beautifully constructed and has a broad appeal beyond reggae.

Buy the digital version of Movement in Roots & Movement in Dub, Deluxe Edition

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