Category Archives: CD Reviews

Suitcases Express Iberian Music Tales

Kepa Junkera & Sorginak – Maletak (Fol, 2016)

Accordion player Kepa Junkera and his regular companions Sorginak have released one of Kepa’s finest albums in years. Although Kepa Junkera is still known as a virtuoso’s accordionist, he’s also taken an interest in percussion and plays a wide range of percussion instruments. He’s joined by the all-female ensemble Sorginak, who sing and play frame drums.

Maletak (suitcase) makes reference to the old accordion cases Kepa kept in a loft that reminded him of his numerous travels. On this occasion, Kepa and his colleagues explore the folk music and rhythms of the various regions of Spain.

The regions covered include the Basque Country, Castile and Leon, Catalonia, Aragon, Cantabria, Galicia, Castile La Mancha, Asturias and Extremadura. Even though Kepa has composed all the music, he adds more authenticity to the project by bringing in an impressive list of guest musicians representing various folk music traditions.

Kepa follows the lead of Spanish folk music innovator Eliseo Parra, who appears as guest on the album. Parra has been exploring the folk music of the Iberian Peninsula and has reintroduced dozens of traditional musical instruments and rhythms.

As indicated earlier, the album features extensive use of percussion, especially frame drums along with the accordion, Spanish guitars, zanfona (hurdy gurdy), gaita (bagpipe), horns along with many guest vocalists and vocal ensembles.

The guest vocalists include Sorginak, Ion Elustondo, Beloki, Imanol Urkizu, Xabi Solano, Eliseo Parra, Gritsanda, Amadeu Rosell, Guillem Ballaz, Beatriz Bernard, Rocio Sapiña, Lourdes Escusol, Xabier Diaz, Adufeiras de Salitre, La Ronda de Motilleja, Hermanos Cubero, Pandereteras de Fitoria, Acetre, Amigos de Extremadura, and Olga y los Ministriles.

The extraordinary ensemble of musicians includes Kepa Junkera on accordions and percussion; Sorginak on percussion; Daniel Do Pando on trompa; Ibon Koteron on alboka; Oreka TX on chalaparta; Jose Luis Montón on guitar; Josete Ordoñez on guitar; Antonio Serrano on harmonica; Diego Galaz on fiddle and mandolin; Germán Diaz on zanfona (hurdy gurdy) and Pedro Lamas on saxophone and bagpipe.

Kepa Junkera’s album design always attracts attention. The beautifully packaged CD contains a large horizontal 24-page booklet with lyrics, photographs by Igotz Ziarreta and Santi Yaniz, and a set of 10 cards that are pieces of a jigsaw puzzle developed by Rober Garay and Alberto Palomera.

Maletak is a beautifully-crafted music project by a talented and diverse group of musicians that illustrates the rich diversity of Spanish folk music. Highly recommended.

Buy Maletak in the Americas

Buy Maletak in Europe

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Mara by Aditya Prakash Ensemble

Aditya Prakash Ensemble – Mara (2016)

Mara is an excellent album and the soundtrack to a multimedia show. The artists behind the project are sibling collaborators Aditya (vocals) and Mythili (Bharata Natyam dance) Prakash.

The album features a thrilling mix of South Indian classical music, jazz and other elements. The vocals featured include Indian classical and the vocal percussion known as konnakol. Throughout the album you’ll find masterful performances by percussion, Indian flute and violin masters from India plus a jazz horn and piano section. The fusion performances feel like a 21st century Shakti.

The lineup on the Mara albums includes Aditya Prakash on vocals; Julian Le on piano and keyboards; Hitomi Oba on tenor saxophone; Mark Einhorn on alto saxophone; Jonah Levine on trombone; Shejith Krishna on vocal percussion; Shiva Ramamurthi on violin and vocals; Mashesh Swamy on flute, vocals and konnakol; Fabiano do Nascimento on guitar; Owen Clapp on bass; Jake Jamieson on drums and percussion; S. Ganapathi on tabla and mridangam; Ligaraju on mridangam and kanjira; and Adam Berg on keyboards and percussion.

Mara is a spectacular production, featuring exceptionally expressive Indian vocals and dazzling Carnatic and fusion jazz instrumental virtuosity.

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Unpredictable Bareto

Bareto - Impredecible (World Village, 2016)
Bareto – Impredecible (World Village, 2016)

Bareto, one of Peru’s leading cross-genre bands has released its latest album Impredecible in the USA. The new recording features a mix of psychedelic Peruvian cumbia, Andean melodies, reggae, dub, merengue and Afro-Peruvian beats.

The band’s sound is characterized by the sound of psychedelic and retro-60s electric guitars and organ along with acoustic percussion and dub effects. Celebrated Afro-Peruvian singer Susana Baca appears on one song, “El Loco”, which is one of the best on the album.

Although most of the album has a fun feel and encourages the listener to dance, the band also has a mordant attitude, mocking the cheesy Latin American variety shows on the song “La Pantalla.”

Bareto includes Rolo Gallardo on guitar, keyboards, ukulele, backing vocals; Jorge Giraldo on bass and backing vocals; Joaquin Mariátegui on guitar, keyboards, ukulele, and lead vocals; Mauricio Mesones on lead vocals; Jorge Olazo on drums and percussion; Sergio Sarria on drums and percussion; Miguel Ginocchio on keyboards.

Special guests: Susana Baca. Additional musicians: Eka Muñoz on backing vocals; Henry Ortiz on accordion; Juan Medrano “Cotito” (Novalima) on cajón; Esteban Copete on marimba; Rawa Muñoz on backing vocals; Carlos Espinoza on saxophone; David Haddad on percussions; and Chongo on percussion.

 

 

 

Tour Dates

July 24: Festival Peruano de San Francisco, Newark, CA
July 27: Club Michella Room, Chicago, IL
July 28: The Palace Night Club, Woodbridge, VA
July 30: Coliseum Night Club, Sarasota, FL
July 31: Festival Peruano de Miami, Miami, FL

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Length & Time: Gilberto Gil

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. 

Perhaps Time & Length would be a clearer moniker to use in order to articulate the relationship between the time that we are living and not only the length of the songs that we listen to but the strategy used by musicians to make the most out of length to both express the times that are being lived or express themselves to those who are living specific times.

How does one communicate ‘I’m crazy about you,’ to an international audience, in one album, in 1987, as Gilberto Gil does with the album Soy Loco Por Ti America

The immediate times that hosted the album’s release was a time of radio and of euphoria and so all of the songs are less than 5 minutes; its the best way to invite everyone to the party. Gil, however, was a political artist and first and foremost intended to affect his listeners positively and politically through his songs. How does he pull off his gamble?

Gilberto Gil - Soy Loco Por Ti
Gilberto Gil – Soy Loco Por Ti

He is not playing religious music; he does not have the time to express some sort of complex epic that all will feel faith in. Never forgetting to achieve compositional beauty, he uses keywords and emotion, such as melancholy and the word ‘Marti’ (from Jose Marti) in the song “Soy Loco Por Ti America,” speaking in language that the world knows through mass media. In other words, he explores the world that is obvious and that we all know, despite, for example, the size of America in “Soy Loco Por Ti America.” It’s an album of 8 songs, and many of the titles make us blush: “Mamma,” “Vida,” which even a non-speaker of Portuguese can guess means mother and life.

Gil here is genius at conveying emotion and it is the genius of this album. It’s as if we are listening to what we are also “crazy about” as we listen to Soy Loco Por Ti. There is a certain amount of ambiguity heard that comes with interpreting sound – what the sound expresses is quite simply the instrument’s notes. Does one note specifically correspond to one emotion? Civilizations have their notions of what each note should correspond to, but as we know music grows like weeds and is pretty good at getting out of control. Not to mention that Brazil is a melting pot like no other wherein ethnic groups often retain the sounds of their pasts in their Brazilian presents. However, many of us are socialized pretty similarly, work, television, radio, and Gil succeeds at playing us language that we may all fall into such as lush and lyric repetition which can only really mean joy at this point in human time for “Aquele Abraco,” or playing us Reggae, letting his songs signify whatever Reggae may mean to our time (justice, freedom,) on most of the other songs.

Is he being honest? Even if he is being honest, he would have to adapt his honesty to the times through strategy.

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Rising Talent from Bahia

Alê Kali – Alê Kali (independent, 2016)

The self-titled album by Alê Kali reveals a fascinating vocalist and songwriter from Bahia (Brazil). She is now based in France, near Bordeaux, where she recorded the album.

Alê Kali is an exquisite recording where Alê Kali’s expressive vocals are accompanied by a wide range of acoustic percussion, bass and various other instruments. Although the majority of the influences are Brazilian, Alê Kali has absorbed additional influences in her new home, such as North African, Gypsy and Balkan.
Her Brazilian musical influences include samba, Brazilian popular music and Nordestina music (forró, côco, maracatu)

The line on the album includes her band, featuring Anthony Duvalle (France) on percussion and Josias Liashw (Brazil) on bass. Guests include Matthew ‘Teteu’ Gillemant on guitars; Patricia Sireyjol on cavaquinho; Celia Reggiani on Fender Rhodes;, Jorge Solovera on guitar; Hugo Lins on viola 12 strings; Mathis Pollack on saxophone; Paolo Chatet on trumpet; Silvano Michelino on percussion; Karine Huet on accordion; Pierre Carrie on keyboards; and Michelino Matteo on guitar.

Alê Kali showcases the talent of a great new vocalist from Brazil, who tastefully combines Brazilian traditions with global music influences.

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Splendid Musical Tribute to Mother Earth

Ricky Kej – Shanti Samsara (Zee Music Company, 2015)

Shanti Samsara, the magnificent album by composer, producer and keyboardist Ricky Kej brings environmental awareness to the world. Ricky Kej brought together renowned international musicians from various genres to create an epic album.

The result is Shanti Samsara, an exquisitely-crafted album that combines cinematic Indian and western classical music traditions, world music from various continents, new age, Buddhist monks, a gospel choir and the voice of the Prime Minister of Japan, Shinzo Abe. There is also spoken word featuring Sanskrit verses by Bollywood superstar Amitabh Bachchan as well as narrations by Hollywood actresses Frances Fisher and Rosanna Arquette.

In this recording honoring nature, Kej includes the orchestral sounds of the outdoors: a tabla rhythm of rain drops; drums of thunder; sitar undulations of running water; and choirs of blooming flowers.

Shanti Samsara was created for presentation at the United Nations Conference on Climate Change 2015. What’s fabulous about this album is that it’s bringing awareness about the deterioration of our planet to audiences across the globe.

The lineup on the album includes dozens of musicians and singers from across the global. Guests include country music artist Gary Nicholson, Canadian singer Jennifer Gasoi, flute player Wouter Kellerman, the Soweto Gospel Choir, vocalist Ani Choying Drolma, veena virtuoso Pandit Vishwa Mohan Bhatt, zheng master Mei Han and lots more.

This production included stunning musical videos that we are sharing here:

 

 

 

 

 

 

The CD booklet contains several pages of credits with beautiful, colorful artwork.

 

 

Shanti Samsara is a spectacular production that shows through music and spoken word the best humanity can offer.

Buy Shanti Samsara in the Americas

Buy Shanti Samsara in India

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Åkerblomrörelsen by Captain Cougar

Captain Cougar - Åkerblomrörelsen
Captain Cougar – Åkerblomrörelsen

Captain Cougar – Åkerblomrörelsen (Pinetree Records, 2014)

Finnish band Captain Cougar, from Jyväskylä, uses contemporary folk music in the nicely-crafted album Åkerblomrörelsen to recount the story of the 20th century evangelical movement that became a sect in the Swedish speaking area of Ostrobothnia, in Finland. The group was led by the prophecies of Maria Åkerblom, who affirmed she received them directly from God. Maria delivered her sermons in trances and travelled throughout Finland spreading the word.

Even though Captain Cougar is a Finnish band, their style and arrangements are much closer to Americana, especially with the English-language vocals and the way the band uses the piano and electric guitar.

The lineup includes Captain Cougar is a folk rock band, Finland, made up of Laura Lehtola, on vocals; Juha Kujanpää, on piano, synthesizers and reed organ; Jussi Petäjä, on guitars and vocals; Juha-Matti Rautiainen on bass and vocals; and Janne Torvikoski, on drums and percussion.

The CD booklet reveals much more about the controversial life of Maria Åkerblom.

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Lovin’ Haiti

Despite the persisting perception that Haiti is a place most readily associated with brutal dictatorships, impoverished masses and natural disasters, it is more so a land of great music. African and Creole roots have combined with varying levels of outside influence, evolving technology and a growing diaspora, resulting in a music scene that includes such globally renowned artists as Tabou Combo, Boukman Eksperyans, RAM and Emeline Michel.

The underlying African-birthed grooves of Haitian music give it a rhythmic flexibility that’s rife for fusion or simply being left to move you on its own indomitably spirited terms.

Lakou Mizik - Wa Di Yo
Lakou Mizik – Wa Di Yo

A multigenerational band calling itself Lakou Mizik takes a largely traditional approach on Wa Di Yo (Cumbancha, 2016). But despite being heavy on voudou drums, rara horns and melodies steered in no small measure by the Francophone sway of an accordion, the group also makes a few concessions to modern times in the form of electrified guitar and bass and even an occasional hip hop cadence in the vocals. Make no mistake, though. This crew, which formed in the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake, is mostly about passing along the music of the older generations to the younger ones.

Some tracks are traditional songs but as many are originals, and the fact that both are equally strong in terms of waist-winding infectiousness, joyously evocative singing and rhythmic forward motion is a testament to the mettle of those who created the music and the culture that created them. Highly recommended.

Various Artists - Tanbou Toujou Lou: Meringue, Kompa Kreyol, Vodou Jazz & Electric Folklore From Haiti 1960-1981
Various Artists – Tanbou Toujou Lou: Meringue, Kompa Kreyol, Vodou Jazz & Electric Folklore From Haiti 1960-1981

A title like Tanbou Toujou Lou: Meringue, Kompa Kreyol, Vodou Jazz & Electric Folklore From Haiti 1960-1981 (Ostinato Records, 2016) may be wordy, though it’s barely sufficient in summarizing the variety of richly superb music the compilation of that name includes. Through the course of 19 tracks from a shade over two decades, you’ll want to dance yourself into ecstasy as your ears absorb the ingenious ways in which the rhythmic and vocal cadences of Haiti blended with Afro-Cuban, Colombian, pan-Caribbean, mainland African, soul, jazz, psychedelic and big band influences, resulting in irresistible music that such terms as “melting pot” and “golden age” don’t describe the half of.

From the rumba-like percolating of Les Gypsies de Petionville to the Latin stew of Super Jazz de Jeunes and stirring majesty of Orchestre de la Radio National D’Haiti, the 75 minutes of music on this disc (which was the result of considerable scouring about in both Haiti and New York City by compiler Vik Sohonie) resounds with must-have essentialness from beginning to end. Simply amazing. (www.ostinatorecords.com)

Afro-Haitian Experimental Orchestra
Afro-Haitian Experimental Orchestra

The self-titled CD by Afro-Haitian Experimental Orchestra (Glitter Beat, 2016) benefits from the presence of Afrobeat drummer extraordinaire Tony Allen on the kit and a host of noted Haitian percussionists and singers recruited by vocalist and ethnology standard-bearer Erol Josue. They’re joined by Mark Mulholland (guitar), Jean-Philippe Dary (bass) and Olaf Hund (keyboards, electronics) on a set of crazy-cool jams culled from rehearsal sessions that were done in preparation for a live festival performance in Haiti a few years back. The raw tracks were given cohesive mixes, and the results hit the mark.

Allen’s chugging, serpentine drums blend seamlessly with multiple hand percussion layers above call-and-response vocals sung and chanted as bending, twisting waves of contemporary sound take everything on a wildly controlled ride. Haiti’s African roots are brought into the present and thrust headlong into the future, and though some moments are spliced a little too cacophonously, the album is an invigorating listen with a lot of inspiration behind it. Let’s hope the participants can get together again sometime.

Headline photo: Lakou Mizik

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This Is Where I Live by William Bell

William Bell’s new release This Is Where I Live on revived Stax Records keeps the same spirit, and purpose (or telos to quote the ancient Greeks,) as the label’s releases in 1950’s, 1960’s, and 1970’s: that of an unashamed articulation of a Southern humanist musical accent true to local values that transcends or transfixes a listener.

Years after the heyday of Stax Records Soul music, William Bell is back at it with the similar compositions, all produced to feel as clear as any new style of song and not to mimic an old one. This time his song is much graver than it was the case for his older songs such as his “A Tribute To A King” on The Very Best Of William Bell. His songs are lyrically complex and it gives his music a valuable quality: his songs must be listened to more than once in order to feel a complete plunge into them. They are not as complex instrumentally, but that’s all right.

Much has been put in these songs lyrically; the simplicity in their instrumentation, as it’s always the case for William Bell, is deceptive. “Poison in the well” is an enjoyable listen and sounds like a metaphor,  as fairy tales or myths seem to all be. He sings “she put poison in the well / and I drank it” with so much ease and faith in the experience that he persuades us that it’s only normal to. If it is an attempt at singing a myth: congratulations. “Mississippi – Arkansas Bridge” is a long song that requires the same listening into as a short story or a novel.

Bell’s singing style is that of a singer of beautiful troubadour epics or of beautiful troubadour narratives – he articulates the words and the ideas that make his songs logical letting this story swoon as much as his voice. It is the most impressive element of the album and should exist more in American song. The language of the songs’ lyrics is fairly simple and, given the possibilities that come with his singing style, these songs could have worked with much more complex language. It would have been even better to hear him sing us words that impress.

Stax Records Soul meant to meld the erotic and the political into one burning experience. Bell’s songs will unhinge some with their eroticism but will not for others.

Listeners who were not around for Stax’s greater days and who are now left with old recordings will find in this album the possibility of listening to a renewed, and clear, version of Stax soul.

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Most Beautiful Songs of the World

Various Artists - The Most Beautiful Songs of the World
Various Artists – The Most Beautiful Songs of the World

Various Artists – The Most Beautiful Songs of the World (ARC Music EUCD2648, 2016)

The Most Beautiful Songs of the World is a selection of beautiful world music songs from various parts of the globe. “There’s more to a blue-jay than any other creature. He has got more moods, and more different kinds of feelings than other creature; and mind you, whatever a blue-jay feels, he can put into language. And no mere commonplace language, either, but rattling, out-and-out book-talk – and bristling with metaphor, too – just bristling! And as for command of language – why you never see a blue-jay get stuck for a word. No man ever did. They just boil out of him! And another thing: I’ve noticed a good deal, and there’s no bird, or cow, or anything that uses as good grammar as a blue-jay. You may say a cat uses good grammar. Well, a cat does – but you let a cat get excited, once; you let a cat get to pulling fur with another cat on a shed, nights, and you’ll hear grammar that will give you the lockjaw.

Ignorant people think it’s the noise which fighting cats make that is so aggravating, but it ain’t so; it’s the sickening grammar they use. Now I’ve never heard a jay use bad grammar but very seldom; and when they do, they are as ashamed as a human; they shut right down and leave.” – Mark Twain, from “Jim Baker’s Blue Jay Yarn”

Twain had a sense that understanding and appreciation of song predates speech. World music listeners, enjoying songs with lyrics in languages they do not speak, are much like Twain listening to a blue jay, having to dig deep into their own sensitivities to find the rewards they know are there. Because it predates human speech, a portion of song appreciation resides beyond the human part of Mind, in the mammalian part. How, for example, does the song relate to the listener’s primal mating call? Concepts of Beauty are, after all, woven inextricably into our urge to propagate. A jazz performer might call this the “Go to the fourth and multiply” theory.

This introduces world music. An effective mating call from the dry Sahara would not be the same as one from less open, more humid environs, as different pitches travel better through different climes. The part of song that relates to ancient food gathering varies with the crops, as well, so a rhythm that implies an ability to stalk and call wild birds down to nets would not augur well for the singer’s ability to move down rice paddy rows in tandem with others to harvest that grain crop. These and similar cultural memories reside in each listener and form the foundation for his or her judgment of the beauty of every song heard.

No one will find all 28 songs on “The Most Beautiful Songs of World Music” double-disc to be beautiful. People are too individualistic for that. Most will, however, be wooed by most of them, and that is an impressive accomplishment for ARC’s artists and catalog. Perhaps intended as part as an anthology introduction to a number of artists from all over the globe, this release is also a two-hour philosophical debate between representatives of various cultures as to what comprises Beauty.

The artists featured include Clannad, Seckou Keita, Kate Rusby, Brian Kennedy, Capercailie, Ana Alcaide, The Red Army Choir, Marta Gómez, Arinushka and Linas Rimsa, Hanitra, Petru Guelfucci, Lenka Lichtenberg, Vusa Mkhaya, Ceumar, Lidojosoais & Ieva Akuratere, Khiyo, Gong Linna, Maria Ana Bobone, Klapa Cambi, The Kambarkan Folk ensemble, Tango Orkesteri Unto, Joji Hirota, Perunika Trio, Nataliya Romanskaya & Kirmash, Techung, Russian Folk ensemble “Balalaika”, Bomas of Kenya, and Divanhana.

The Most Beautiful Songs of the World is well worth owning.

Buy The Most Beautiful Songs of the World in the Americas

Buy The Most Beautiful Songs of the World in Europe

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