Category Archives: CD Reviews

Cinematic Wackiness

Beninghove's Hangmen - Pineapples and Ashtrays
Beninghove’s Hangmen – Pineapples and Ashtrays

Beninghove’s Hangmen – Pineapples and Ashtrays (Beninghove’s Hangmen, 2015)

You can tell that these guys are having a lot of fun. Beninghove’s Hangmen is an instrumental group of excellent seasoned musicians based in New York City who play music with a wide-range of influences that takes unexpected quirky twists and turns.

On Pineapples and Ashtrays you’ll find a mix of Brazilian rhythms, surf rock, funk, dub reggae, blues, Americana, zany circus music, and exploratory jazz-rock. You may think that this more than plenty, but there’s more. What begins with a Latin beat may turn quickly into surf or Americana. The musical surprises are fascinating and carried out with total ease.

At times Beninghove’s Hangmen has a cinematic feel, a wacky soundtrack that would feel at home in a Tarantino or Almodovar film.

The band is led by multi-instrumentalist and composer Bryan Beninghove. The rest of band includes Eyal Maoz on guitar; Dane Johnson on guitar; Rick Parker on trombone; Shawn Baltazor on drums, and Ezra Gale on bass.

Beninghove’s Hangmen discography includes the self-titled Beninghove’s Hangmen, the self-released EP “Rattlesnake Chopper”, a tribute to Led Zeppelin titled “Zohove“, and “Pineapples & Ashtrays.”

Pineapples and Ashtrays is a highly entertaining album that combines skilled musicianship with good humor and eccentric exploration.

Buy Pineapples and Ashtrays


Elemental Cuban Joy

Roberto Fonseca – ABUC (Impulse/Verve, 2016)

I’m a greedy girl…and I’m sneaky. I have secreted my way into the dark, messy lair of our esteemed editor and smuggled out a savory treat – ABUC, the latest by the Cuban Grammy nominated pianist, composer and producer Roberto Fonseca. Well worth the personal risks of being crushed under the weight of stacks of CD and mountains of press releases, ABUC is lush, delicious sophistication. Grounded by meaty Cuban percussion, set soaring with tight, neat brass and levitated by the sheer brilliance of savvy compositions, Mr. Fonseca pulls and tugs at the history of Cuba’s musical traditions to conjure up a brilliant homage to his homeland.

The idea was to show a different Cuba, perhaps from a different direction,” explains Mr. Fonseca. “That’s why the album title is Cuba spelled backward. I wanted to review the Cuban music history – not only the styles that have influenced me most, but in a broader sense, so people could have a better idea of how the orchestras used to sound in those times.”

This Cuban powerhouse comes to music by way of his drummer father, Roberto Fonseca, Sr., singer mother, Mercedes Cortés Alfaro, and older half-brothers drummer Emilio Valdés and pianist Jesús “Chuchito Valdes, Jr. who are the sons of Ms. Cortés’s first marriage to pianist Jesús “Chucho” Valdes, and of course the rich music that pervades the island like the scent of tropical flowers. With collaborations with the likes of Ibrahim Ferrer, Omara Portuondo, Carlinhos Brown and Orlando “Cachaito” Lopez, Mr. Fonseca has dazzled listeners on countless tours and recordings like Akokan (2010), Tiene Que Ver (2002), Zamazu (2007), Yo (2013) and Temperamento (2012).

Released under the Impulse label in conjunction with Verve, ABUC is set for digital release on October 28th and physical copies out on November 11th. Writing most of the compositions himself, Mr. Fonseca inundates listeners with a collection of tracks that drinks deeply from bolero, danzón, cha-cha-cha, contradanza, descarga and hip-hop, all immersed in Mr. Fonseca’s jazz sensibilities. Often the music seems steeped in the tradition, helped by way of the recording process.

Mr. Fonseca explains, “Capturing the music as it used to be done in the old days means getting out of the high quality sound of these days, and if a certain song invoked a certain time when the sound was not that clean, that’s how we had to do it on ABUC. I’m sure many people will get confused and will think some tracks were composed some time ago. I hope they do, because that was our goal.”

Chocked full of goodies, listeners get the full force of Mr. Fonseca’s mastery from opening track “Cubano Chant” with its plummy percussion, sleek piano and some fabulous help from Trombone Shorty. ABUC is a feast of delights with the cleverly dated sections of “Afro Mamba” with vocals by Dayme Arocena and Carlos Calunga, the dazzling guitar laced “Tumbao de la Unidad with the revered Eliades Ochoa and the sizzlingly sassy “Family” which is stylized in the way of the 70s group Los Zafiros.

Equally delightful is the dark thrum against ethereal vocals on “Habanera,” the hip-hop/reggaeton combo of “Soul Guardians” and charming bolero “Despues” with Manuel “Guajiro” Mirabal on trumpet and Mr. Fonseca’s mother Mercedes Cortes Alfaro singing the vocals.

Mr. Fonseca says, “I feel very blessed to have had the opportunity to work with such a super team. What’s more, I feel blessed to be a musician and to have the opportunity to share my life and my perspective through my music. When people listen to this album and attend my concerts, I would like for them to walk away feeling full of positive energy and hope. I want them to feel the same love that I’ve put into this record – enough to make them dance. I want them to feel good, but most importantly, I want them to feel!

ABUC is masterful and sleekly sophisticated, but it is infused with that familiar Cuban invitation that music is an elemental joy and that everyone should have a good time.

Buy ABUC in the Americas

Buy ABUC in Europe


Beautifully-Crafted Phenology

Fungistanbul – Phenology (Hits on Air Music, 2016)

Turkish ensemble Fungistanbul celebrates nature on its debut album titled Phenology. Fungistanbul’s project goes beyond music, incorporating other art forms. Phenology revolves around the natural life cycle of plants and animals.

The music on Phenology includes seven original compositions and the remaining three pieces are Turkoman, Kurdish and Armenian traditional songs. Fungistanbul’s style incorporates Turkish traditions as well as the sounds of nearby cultures, adding elements of jazz and western classical music. The ensemble uses a combination of traditional acoustic instruments with electric bass.

Throughout the album you’ll heard the mesmerizing sound of an end-blown flute. Without reading the credits, I assumed it was a Turkish ney, but in reality it’s a Bulgarian kaval, which has some similarities.

Fungistanbul also use a new string instrument called tarmoni. The CD booklet shows a picture and provides an extensive description. In essence, it is an improved saz.

The lineup on Phenology includes Roni Aran on tarmoni, setar, classical and fretless guitar; Herman Artuç on percussion and vocals; Yildirim Eldem on kaval and tenor block flute; and Ciwan Ayaz on electric bass, lavta, and vocals. Guest: Eren Turgut on acoustic bass.

The exquisitely-packaged CD includes original artwork by various professional, adult and child artists that illustrate each track.

Phenology is a finely-crafted work that brings together beautiful contemporary Turkish-rooted music and other art forms.

Phenology CD is available from Turkey

Buy the Phenology digital download version


Dom La Nena’s Favorite Songs

Dom La Nena’s Cantando EP (Six Degrees Records, 2016)

Brazilian singer-songwriter, cellist and world traveler Dom La Nena has released Cantando, an EP that includes cover versions of some of her favorite songs from various international composers. Cantando features Dom La Nena’s whispered vocals in Portuguese, Spanish, French and English.

Although Dom La Nena sings her own material, from time to time she also wants to sing and record the songs composed by other artists. The songs that appear in “Cantando” are at times included in her live concert set, others she only sings at home. “All of the songs selected for this EP are long time favorites of mine, many of which I have enjoyed since I was a child,” says Dom La Nena. With these four songs, Dom offers a diversity of feelings, languages, impressions, and time periods, revisiting her musical roots.

Dom La Nena kept things simple on Cantando. She only used her cello as accompaniment. The song selection includes “Felicidade” (happiness) from Brazilian composer Lupicinio Rodrigues, a song that reminds Dom of her childhood. “It is one of the first songs I learned to play…I have a strong sense of contentment whenever I hear or perform this song. I think Lupicinio makes me feel so happy because he transports me back to my hometown of Porto Alegre (Lupicinio was also from there), back to my family roots.”

Acclaimed Chilean songwriter Violeta Parra is one Dom’s biggest musical inspirations. Dom remembers passionately singing Parra’s “Gracias a la Vida” during her teenage years while in Buenos Aires.

“Scenic World” appeared in Beirut’s first album, “The Gulag Orkestar. The song reminded Dom of samba while she was living in France.

“Les Vieux,” by Belgian singer-songwriter Jacques Brel is Dom’s mother’s favorite song. She introduced Dom to Brel’s music during her childhood in Brazil before Dom arrived in France. It was with this song that Dom became familiar with the French language.

Cantando is a dreamy, ear friendly set of songs by much-admired songwriters performed by Dom La Nena’s soft vocals and cello.

Buy Cantando


Mariza’s Larger World

Mariza – Mundo (Warner Music Portugal/Nonesuch, 2016)

Released earlier in the year in Europe, Mariza’s new album Mundo is now available in North America. The acclaimed fado singer became a world music sensation thanks to showcases at WOMEX, performamces at world music festivals and other presentations. Now she’s taken a further step with her collaboration with Spanish producer Javier Limón.

Mundo still contains exquisite fado. In fact, most of the album is still fado plus a Cape Verdean morna. But there is more. Grammy award-winning producer Javier Limón is well-known for making music accessible to large audiences. Limón composed a song titled “Alma” for Mariza. Here, Mariza sings in Spanish. Her Spanish is charming, with an Andalusian flavor.



Although most of the album is in Portuguese, there is another track in Spanish, a 1930’s Argentine tango song. Thanks to “Alma” and a handful of other pop songs that are very radio friendly, Mariza has now reached beyond the fado and world music audiences. She currently has access to Portuguese and Spanish-language mainstream audiences, which will boost her international career. Nevertheless, fado fans shouldn’t worry. As indicated earlier, most of the album still contains splendid classic and modern fado songs featuring Mariza’s passionate vocals and Portuguese guitar.



Mariza is currently touring North America to present her new work.

Buy Mundo in North America

Buy Mundo in Europe


L&T: Juan Gabriel

Juan Gabriel - Con Mariachi Vol. 2
Juan Gabriel – Con Mariachi Vol. 2

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.

Juan Gabriel’s album Con Mariachi Vol. 2 confers Mexican society a variation of traditional spirit that it delights in, this time made fashionably beautiful.

Juan Gabriel is a product of the 20th century whereas Mariachi style of the 19th century. In the 19th century, only the opera singer or the composer was conferred the titles artist, fashionable, beautiful, and could represent a nation. All others were quite simply entertainers.

With the 20th century came both radio and the idea that crowds could decide on the representation of a nation through song, despite the countless songs of the French, American, Haitian, or Mexican revolutions. Mariachi came to represent identity. The 20th century also brought along both prestige for modern art and creatives at marketing and media companies inspired by modern art in the aesthetics of their communication. Juan Gabriel came to represent fashionable beauty.

Gabriel produces 20th century crowd music, for those obsessed with visual beauty, true to 19th century style of music subservient to rituals of fiesta in a society, as opposed to producing them. He does this through his person. Mariachi is wedding music, event music: Gabriel makes good with the idea that is a traditional fiesta, true to old dreams.

Buy Con Mariachi Vol. 2


La Lucha

Eljuri - La Lucha
Eljuri – La Lucha

Eljuri – La Lucha (Manovill Records, 2016)

La Lucha (the fight) is the new album by Ecuadorian-American guitarist and songwriter Eljuri. Even though she’s described as a skilled rock guitarist, this album is primarily focused on Eljuri’s vocals raher than her guitar-playing ability. And while there are rock, reggae, bachata and dub influences, in essence, this is a pop album with lyrics in Spanish and English featuring pop vocal hooks and rhythms.

Eljuri plays a wide range of instruments including acoustic and electric guitars, electric tres, keyboards and percussion programming.

Buy La Lucha


Lautari’s Avant-Garde Folk Music

Lautari - Vol. 67 Live 2014
Lautari – Vol. 67 Live 2014

Lautari – Vol. 67 Live 2014 (Wodzirej, 2015)

Polish chamber ensemble Lautari recreates folk music traditions using contemporary music techniques. The album title Vol.67 refers to the significant ethnographic work of Oskar Kolberg. He wrote about Polish folk traditions, including song and dance.

While other artists combine folk music with rock, jazz and electronica, Lautari look at folk music under the prism of contemporary classical music, using avant-garde arrangements and adding freeform improvisation.

The lineup on Vol. 67 Live 2014 includes Maciej Filipczuk on fiddle; Jacek Hałas on prepared piano and accordion; and Michał Żak on clarinet, flute and shawm. Guests: Marcin Pospieszalski and Marcin Lamch on double bass.

Vol. 67 Live 2014 was recorded at Arthur Rubinstein Philharmonic in Lodz, Poland. It comes packaged in hard cover book with extensive notes in Polish and English, vintage photos and illustrations.

Buy Vol. 67 Live 2014


Manara’s Superbly-Crafted Sudanese Essence

Alsarah & The Nubatones – Manara (Wonderwheel Recordings, 2016)

Manara is the new album by an American world music band called Alsarah & The Nubatones. The group is led by Sudanese-American vocalist and songwriter Sarah Mohamed Abunama-Elgadi, better known professionally as Alsarah.

Alsarah & The Nubatones’ music is deeply influenced by Sudanese and Nubian music, featuring vocals in Arabic intertwined with irresistible North African percussion and the mesmerizing sound of the ‘ud.

Manara was sequenced to be listened to from the opening to the end, as it intertwines through various instrumental interludes and songs. Sudan is a musical crossroads of musical influences so you’ll hear a mix of influences that range from high-speed -paced percussion to slow cadence songs that connect with the desert blues that has become so popular in recent years. The group describes its sound as East African Retropop.

After ‘ud player Haig Manoukian passed away, Alsarah & The Nubatones recruited two new members, Brandon Terzic on ‘ud and Nahid on additional vocals.

The lineup on Manara includes Alsarah on vocals; Rami El Aasser on percussion and backing vocals; Mawuena Kodjovi on bass and trumpet; Brandon Terzic on ‘ud and ngoni; and Nahid Elgadi on backing vocals. Guests: Yusuke Yamamoto on keyboards; Marie Abe on accordion; and Marandi Hostetter on violin.



Manara is a finely-crafted album that captures the essence of modern Sudanese music.

Buy Manara


Joe Bonamassa Live at the Greek Theatre

Joe Bonamassa - Joe Bonamassa Live at the Greek Theatre
Joe Bonamassa – Joe Bonamassa Live at the Greek Theatre


Joe Bonamassa – Joe Bonamassa Live at the Greek Theatre (J & R Adventures, 2016)

Badass rocker and blues man Joe Bonamassa is back. This time the Grammy-nominated guitarist has hit the sound streets with the double live album Joe Bonamassa Live at the Greek Theatre out on the J & R Adventures label. If you are looking to get a peek of the action there is also the CD/DVD/Blu-ray available. With 22 fiery, kickass, rabble rousing, rocking blues numbers, Joe Bonamassa Live at the Greek Theatre is staggering roundhouse antidote to any blues deficiency fans might be suffering from amidst this silly election season.

So if you’re Joe Bonamassa and you’ve opened for the revered B.B. King at the age of twelve; have more than a dozen records to your name including Blues of Desperation (2016), Joe Bonamassa Live from the Royal Albert Hall (2009), Muddy Wolf at Red Rocks (2015) and Different Shades of Blue (2014); play with groups like Black Country Communion and Rock Candy Funk Party and earned a Grammy nomination and won a Blues Music Award what do you do? Well, you pay it forward by paying homage backwards to those of your roots. And that’s where Live at the Greek Theatre comes in.

Paying homage to the music of Albert King, B.B. King and Freddie King by way of the 2015 Three Kings tour that resulted in the concert at the Greek Theatre, Mr. Bonamassa pulls out all the stops to these three revered blues masters with a bevy of beauties like “See See Baby,” “Going Down,” “I’ll Play the Blues for You,” “Hummingbird” and “The Thrill Is Gone.”

Backed by a seriously group of badass musicians and singers that include drummer Anton Fig, rhythm guitarist Kirk Fletcher, bassist Michael Rhodes, pianist and Hammond organist Reese Wynans, trumpeter Lee Thornburg, tenor and baritone saxophonist Paulie Cerra, tenor saxophonist Ron Dziubla, trombonist Nick Lane and backing singers Mahalia Barnes, Jade MacRae, and Juanita Tippins with Mr. Bonamassa’s signature guitar playing and vocals up front Live at the Greek Theatre is just a whole bunch of goodness that goes down smooth and sweet.

Digging into the musical wealth of the Three Kings of Blues Guitar with the musical legacies of Albert King (“Born Under a Bad Sign” and “I’ll Play the Blues for You”), B.B. King (“Let the Good Times Roll” and “The Thrill is Gone”) and Freddie King (“Have You Ever Loved a Woman” and “Hide Away”) might seem like a daunting task on the surface, but Mr. Bonamassa and company pull it off with polish and pure class with tracks like “Some Other Day, Some Other Time,” “Lonesome Whistle Blues,” “You’ve Got to Love Her With a Feeling” and “Cadillac Assembly Line.” And, that’s just the first disc.



Disc two has got the goods with “Oh, Pretty Woman,” “Let the Good Times Roll,” “Nobody Loves Me But My Mother,” “Born Under a Bad Sign” and “Riding with the Kings.”



All listeners need to do is let Live at the Greek Theatre show you the way – where paying homage never sounded so good.

Buy the Joe Bonamassa Live at the Greek Theatre 2-CD set or 4-LP set in the Americas

Buy the Joe Bonamassa Live at the Greek Theatre Blu-Ray or DVD set.

Buy Joe Bonamassa Live at the Greek Theatre in Europe