Category Archives: CD Reviews

Duduk Prodigy

Arsen Petrosyan – Charentsavan: Music for Armenian Duduk (Pomegranate Music, 2015)

Charentsavan: Music for Armenian Duduk showcases the talent of a young musician who represents the new generation of duduk players. The duduk is the wind instrument that represents the music of Armenia.

The music selection on Charentsavan: Music for Armenian Duduk includes traditional pieces, compositions from the 1700s and 1800s and one contemporary piece by Ara Dinkjian.

Most of the tracks on the album feature Arsen Petrosyan playing evocative solo duduk accompanied by drone duduk, percussion and other instruments. On track 6, Petrosyan plays a lively dance featuring a larger ensemble with santur and percussion.

The producer intentionally made the album relatively short. The producer indicates that the average music listener wouldn’t be able to listen, retain, and eventually appreciate a traditional and standard 60 minute duduk (plus drone duduk) album. Additional instruments were added to recognize modern listening habits.

Charentsavan: Music for Armenian Duduk presents the beautiful sound of the duduk, performed by one of Armenia’s finest players.

Buy Charentsavan: Music for Armenian Duduk


Múdanse os ventos

Barahúnda – Múdanse os ventos

Barahúnda – Múdanse os ventos (self release, 2015)

Spanish act Barahúnda has taken 9 years to release a new album and the style has changed dramatically. Previous works featured a full ensemble and a wide range of influences within the context of Spanish folk music. Although Múdanse os ventos includes some guest musicians, it is essentially a songwriter album.

Múdanse os ventos features Helena de Alfonso on vocals and José Lara Gruñeiro on guitar. The arrangements are very basic. There’s barely any trace of roots music. Lyrics are in Galician and Spanish. It’s an intimate album focused on poetry rather than music.


A Beautiful Bagpipe tradition Recovered

Päre – Hausjärvi Beat (Zebo Records ZBR01, 2016)

Päre is a Finnish band that has recovered the Finnish bagpipe tradition. On the band’s album Hausjärvi Beat the bagpipe, called säkkipilli in Finnish, is used to perform a mix of traditional and modern Finnish folk music.

Piper Petri Prauda uses bagpipes made by Yrjänä Ermala. The Finnish bagpipe has a beautiful warm sound, closer to uilleann pipe than a Scottish highland pipe.

The ensemble includes Petri Prauda on säkkipilli (Finnish bagpipes); Piia Kleemola on fiddle, octave fiddle, 15-string kantele; Jarmo Romppanen, on 10-string mandola; Oskari Lehtonen on percussion; and Tapani Varis on folk clarinet, jew’s harp and overtone flute.

Hausjärvi Beat delivers mesmerizing bagpipe music inspire by ancient Nordic folk traditions.

Buy the digital version of Hausjärvi Beat.

The CD is available from


Distant Drumming Traditions Brought Together

Various Artists – Tambours Croisés Chapter 2 (Buda Musique, 2016)

The Tambours Croisés project celebrates the drumming traditions of France’s overseas territories. For this second volume of the project, the producers also invited musicians from two former French colonies, Haiti and Senegal.

The majority of the pieces have a similar format, featuring vocals or chants and drumming. There is a mix of traditional songs and original works by the participants as well as a final jam.

The album is part of a larger project that included tours, workshops, and a photo exhibition

The artistic director, Thierry Nossin brought together a larger cast for this second volume. Ideally, he wanted a vocalist and a drummer from every country or territory. The artists featured include griot singer Coumba Arame Mbaye and master drummer Alioune Seck from Senegal; the Martinique representatives are Nenetto (René Capitaine) and Beatrice Alcindor on vocals and Claude Jean-Joseph on drums.

Drummer Joël Jean and vocalist Marie-Line Dahomay hail from Guadeloupe. The artists from Reunion Island in the Indian Ocean are Eno Zangoun on vocals and Zelito Deliron drums.

Guyana is represented by singer Yannick Théolade. Diho provides the singing tradition of Mayotte. Lastly, two artist arrived from Haiti, vocalist Guerline Pierre and drummer Jackson Saintil.

Buy Tambours Croisés Chapter 2 in the Americas

Buy Tambours Croisés Chapter 2 in Europe


The Magnificent Curro De Utrera

Curro De Utrera ‎– Grands Cantaores Du Flamenco Volume 25 (Le Chant Du Monde, 2016)

Le Chant Du Monde’s series dedicated to the great flamenco singers celebrates the work of Curro De Utrera. Francisco Díaz García, better known as Curro De Utrera, was one of the greatest flamenco singers of the past decades. He passed away in 2015.

Although he was born in Utrera, a Seville suburb, he spent a long time time in Córdoba province, where he adopted many of Córdoba’s flamenco styles. You can listen to some of these on the album, including alegrías de Córdoba, soleares de Córdoba and fandangos de Lucena.

Curro De Utrera was a passionate artist with a powerful voice who mastered many other flamenco styles from other parts of Andalusia (southern Spain). Additional styles featured in the album include fandangos, martinete, fandangos de Huelva, polo, serranas, seguiriyas con martinete, jaberas, malagueñas, caracoles, tientos, bulerías con fandango, media granaína, alegrías de Cádiz and peteneras.

Curro De Utrera ‎– Grands Cantaores Du Flamenco Volume 25 is a fantastic introduction to the music of a truly significant flamenco artist.

Buy Grands Cantaores Du Flamenco Volume 25 in the Americas

Buy Grands Cantaores Du Flamenco Volume 25 in Europe


Enduring Kinship and Hope Navajo Songs

Radmilla Cody – K’é Hasin

Radmilla Cody – K’é Hasin (Canyon Records CR-6542, 2016)

Diné (Navajo) singer, songwriter and community activist Radmilla Cody presents a collection of mostly a cappella songs dedicated to an important Diné teaching known as K’é Hasin.

K’é means kinship and it is the basis for Navajo identity and existence as a people. K’é goes beyond immediate family and encompasses relationships stretching across Navajo society.

K’é Hasin translates as Enduring Kinship and Hope. It includes new songs by Herman Cody and Radmilla Cody. The songs allude to the Circle of Life; the new born; kinship honor; the four essential elements: fire, water, air and Holy Earth; mother’s love; leadership values; disposing of trash; happy morning songs; Diné Way of life teachings; clan songs; compassion and good thoughts; mother’s advice; and also a humorous song about a PT Cruiser (car).

The CD booklet contains Navajo and English-language lyrics.

Buy K’é Hasin


The Klezmatics Back to Roots

The Klezmatics – Apikorsim/Heretics (World Village, 2016)

The Klezmatics, the grand masters and innovators of klezmer music continue to charm with their new album, Apikorsim/Heretics. On this recording, the six musicians dig into traditional klezmer roots, although, as usual, they add contemporary elements that make their sound current.

On Apikorsim/Heretics you’ll find lively Eastern European Yiddish dance music along with powerful brass, and jazz improvisation.

As to the title of the album, group founder Lorin Sklamberg says: “It’s seriously irreverent. It says, if you’re going to do something that some people might find unkosher, enjoy it as much as possible. It’s definitely our kind of song.”

Frank London adds “We called the new album Apikorsim/Heretics for many reasons: political, philosophical and philological. Apikorsim-heretics, rebels, questioners-are people who do not conform to established attitudes and challenge orthodox opinions. And the Klezmatics are decidedly unorthodox.”

The current lineup includes Richie Barshay on percussion, vocals; Matt Darriau on alto sax, tsimbl, clarinet, vocals; Lisa Gutkin on violin, viola, octave violin, vocals; Frank London on trumpet, organ, alto horn, flugelhorn, harmonium, vocals; Paul Morrissett on bass, tsimbl, baritone horn, guitar, vocals; and Lorin Sklamberg on lead and background vocals, accordion, guitar, piano.

Buy Apikorsim/Heretics in the Americas

Buy Apikorsim/Heretics in Europe


Latin Changeups

I’ve long contended that Latin music (something of a loaded term) was the first world music (ditto) to catch on in a big way. Even if many a mainstream fan’s interest began and ended with Latin big bands, Desi Arnaz, “Tequila,” Santana or the Buena Vista Social Club, there’s no denying Latin music’s permeation into our collective listening consciousness. Me, I love both the purist and fusionist sides of the story. The Buena Vista Social Club was, after all, originally intended to be a collaboration between Cuban and West African musicians. It didn’t work out that way, but the path had already been cleared by that point and many have since trod it.

The Gypsy Cuban Project – Havana Night Sessions

Thankfully, one recently planned Cuban/non-Cuban musical project that did come to fruition has a very fine CD as the result. Havana Night Sessions at Abdala Studios (Universal Music Romania, 2016) by a collective called The Gypsy Cuban Project sounds very much like what you’d expect from a band with that name: a passionate, freewheeling, seamless melding of Roma and Cuban music.

Romanian musician, activist and parliamentarian Damian Draghici brought 15 players and singers from Europe to Cuba. What they found there was a shared desire to record songs that bridged the two cultures and musicians with the chops to make it happen. The arrangements on the disc reflect the more Cuban angle, but Gypsy elements emerge in the atypical, serpentine way that distinctly Romany-toned strings, brass and accordion tartly take the lead during many of the breaks and solo passages as well as the subtle (but no less heartfelt) shifts in mood when the vocals trade off from one side to the other.

Bolero meets sevdah on the slower tunes and both are stronger for it, while the dance floor tracks are a transatlantic party of the first order. There’s not one bum tune in the bunch, but I particularly like the way the voice of Omara Portuondo is shadowed by what sounds like a pan flute on “Serenata En Batanga” and the slow-burn version of “Chan Chan” that wraps things up.

I was hoping my copy of the CD would be loaded with credits and liner notes. Because it was an advance version, however, no such info was to be found therein. Oh, the tribulations of a music journalist. So when you have the good sense to buy this crackling good disc, you’ll likely get more of the story in addition to the marvelous music.

Diego El Cigala – Indestructible

Madrid-born contemporary flamenco singer Diego El Cigala goes for more of an in-house approach, combining the emotive reach of his grandly grainy vocals with golden era salsa on Indestructible (Sony Music Latin, 2016). Cigala has stepped out of his flamenco roots to cross paths with Cuban and Argentinian music in the past, so he knows how to adapt his vocal nuances.

His focus on this disc is the classic salsa sound brought to the world by the Fania label in the ‘70s, and the fact that Cigala recorded it with salsa master musicians in the U.S., Puerto Rico, Colombia and Spain attests to just how worldly the reach of salsa was and is. The title track is the classic composed by conguero Ray Barretto and burns with all the trademarks of the genre: blazing horns, swirling piano, supernaturally tight percussion, snug bass and a lungful of vocal power. Cigala hits the heights on that one and every other, most of which are chestnuts from Fania that incorporate the salsa subtleties of the places they were recorded.

The smatter of originals like the Bebo Valdés tribute “Fiesta Para Bebo” are no less mighty. And when things slow down a little, as on “Conversación en Tiempo de Bolero,” Cigala wields his voice like the well-honed instrument it is, matching the interplay of Gonzalo Rubalcaba’s piano and a very sharp rhythm section. Rubalcaba is also present on the concluding Beny Moré composition “Como Fue,” a vocal and piano duet that rounds out one grand and glorious album. Salsa fans; don’t miss this one.

Headline photo: Diego El Cigala


Startijenn‘s Live Osmosis

Startijenn – Live Paker Tour (Paker Prod. 22, 2016)

This album gives the listener the opportunity to experience Startijenn, one of the finest Breton acts live. The album was recorded during the summer tour in 2016, where music and dance came together in the popular festoù-noz festivals.

The name of the band Startijenn, means energy in Breton and they deliver a vibrant sound rooted in Breton musical traditions. Startijenn’s sound is instrumental music centered on the fascinating interplay between the bombard (double-reed), the biniou (bagpipes) and accordion, supported by rhythm guitar and electric bass.

The band presents new, extended versions of Startijenn’s audience favorites from previous albums, such as “Hir, hir!”, “Skeud”, “Flagas Track”, “Paker Nozter” along with previously unreleased new material.

The lineup includes Tango Oillo on guitar; Julien Stevenin on bass; Youenn Roue on bombarde; Lionel Le Page on biniou;and Tangi Le Gall-Carré on diatonic accordion.

Live Paker Tour is a superb live album showcasing the deep Breton music intensity of Startijenn.

You can purchase the album from


Earthbound Systema Solar

Systema Solar – Rumbo a tierra (Nacional Records/ Polen Records, 2017)

Rumbo a tierra is the third album by one of Colombia’s most exciting acts. Systema Solar is an audiovisual collective from the Caribbean coastal area that skillfully brings together various musical genres.

Cartagena and other ports are cultural melting pots and this is the environment where Systema Solar develops its craft. The band mixes Colombian melodies and rhythms, including the local champeta criolla, with reggae, calypso, Afrobeat, blues, Gnawa grooves, salsa, DJ scratching, electronic beats and much more.

Systema Solar celebrates the talent of female dancers and the verbenas, the block parties that are popular in the Caribbean region of Colombia featuring sound systems and lots of dancing. Concern for the environment is another topic of great interest to band members. Climate change and pollution are affecting the region and band members want to bring more attention to the effects of misguided policies.

The band has added new musical instruments to its arsenal, including the Gnawa guimbri (sentir) and the caja vallenata. They also invited one of Colombia’s great contemporary salsa bands, La 33 to participate in Rumbo a tierra.

The current lineup includes Dani Boom, Pellegrino, Pata de Perro, Indigo, Andrews Malandrews, Jhon Primera and DJ Corpas.

Rumbo a tierra is an irresistible cross-genre recording that should appeal to a wide range of musical fans beyond Latin and world music. It showcases the talent, creativity and vital energy of one of Colombia’s finest acts, Systema Solar.

Buy Rumbo a tierra