Category Archives: CD Reviews

Melange’s Vision of World Jazz

Melange - Via Maris
Melange – Via Maris

Melange – Via Maris (Two Rivers Records)

Melange is a British multi-ethnic ensemble that combines jazz improvisation with the evocative sounds of North Africa, the Middle East and the Mediterranean. Their latest album Via Maris reflects this fascinating melting pot of musical influences with a fabulous mix of original pieces and recreations of traditional tunes and dances from Turkey, Greece and Iraq.

Cellist Shirley Smart founded Melange after spending 10 years in Jerusalem studying and playing the musics of the region. The ensemble includes musicians from Greece, Spain, Morocco, Iraq, Italy and the UK.

Album lineup: Shirley Smart on cello, Stefanos Tsourelis on oud, Peter Michaels on guitar, Maurizio Minardi on accordion, Joe Browne on saxophones, Jake Painter on trumpet, Michele Montolli on bass, and Demi Garcia Sabat on drums and percussion.

Via Maris is a splendid album where the cello and various other instruments explore the captivating worlds of jazz and global sounds.

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Luiz Caracol’s Melting Pot

Luiz Caracol Devagar (DGP, 2013)

One the highlights of the Ibero American Music Expo (EXIB) 2016 was the concert by Portuguese musician, composer and singer-songwriter artist Luiz Caracol. We got a copy of his 2013 album Devagar that contains a lot of the material he performed live.

Luiz Caracol grew up in Lisbon, the son of parents who moved from Angola. His music reflects the melting pot of Lisbon with a mix of Portuguese, lusophone African and South American styles and jazz.

Most of Caracol’s songs begin with guitar and vocals and then he adds the additional instruments provided by his band. He sings seductive songs in the form of Brazilian samba, reassembled fado or featuring world music elements from other traditions of the globe. He also adapts a Spanish-language song by the great Uruguayan singer-songwriter Jorge Drexler to Portuguese.

In addition to his regular band, Luiz Caracol invited high profile guests to collaborate in Devagar, including Afro-Portuguese singer Sara Tavares and Brazilian vocalist Fernanda Abreu.

The album lineup includes Luiz Caracol on guitar, bass, cavaquinho, guitalele, vibraphone, percussion and vocals; Miroca Paris on percussion; Ivo costa on drums and tarola; Hernani Almeida on guitars; Renato Junior on Rhodes; Patricia Antunes on vocals; João Balão on kalimba, bombos and percussion; Carlos Lopes on accordion; Ruca Rebordão on percussion

Guests: Sara Tavares on guitar and vocals; Fernanda Abreu on vocals and beat box; and Valete on vocals.

Devagar delivers timelessly crafted songs with toe-tapping rhythms from Africa and Brazil.

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The Impassioned Splendor of Mahsa Vahdat

Mahsa Vahdat a cappella – The Sun Will Rise (Kirkelig Kulturverksted, 2016)

Okay, I am going to lapse into my inner icky fangirl for a moment or two. One of my favorite record labels, the Oslo, Norway based Kirkelig Kulturverksted and one of my favorite producers, Kirkelig Kulturverksted’s very own Erik Hillestad have put out The Sun Will Rise with the stunning Iranian singer Mahsa Vahdat.
For anyone who has read some of my reviews I have a longstanding devotion to female Iranian singers like Ms. Vahdat, her sister Marjan Vahdat, Azam Ali, Parisa and Mamak Khadem.

Mahsa Vahdat is a particular favorite for her collaborations on the Lullabies from the Axis of Evil and recordings such as Songs from a Persian Garden, Traces of an Old Vineyard, I am Eve with Marjan Vahdat, Twinklings of Hope also with Marjan Vahdat, A Deeper Tone of Longing: Love Duets Across Civilizations with Mighty Sam McClain and Sent of Reunion: Love Duets Across Civilizations also with Mighty Sam McClain.

With a voice that is as rich as it is expressive, Mahsa Vahdat is the certainly the gold standard for Iranian vocalists and so it comes as no surprise that Ms. Vahdat would craft and entirely a cappella recording. What is the real surprise of The Sun Will Rise are the extraordinary lengths Ms. Vahdat, Mr. Hillestad and crew took to dazzle listeners.

Delving into a wealth of poetry from likes of Forough Farrokhzad, Rumi, Saadi, Mohammad Ebrahim Jafari, Aref Ghazvini and others, Ms. Vahdat takes her hauntingly graceful vocals on the road to record a cappella in venues like the barrel-vaulted mausoleum of painter Emanuel Vigeland at The Emanuel Vigeland Museum in Oslo, Norway; the Eglise Saint-Claude in Provence, France; the Iglesia de Santa Maria in Requena, Spain; and the Palacios Nazaries in La Alhambra in Granada, Spain; as well as venues in Poland and Turkey. Restricted from performing publicly in Iran, Ms. Vahdat chose to seek out those ancient places where her vocals would rise up ancient walls, age worn bricks and history steeped ceilings. The effect is glorious.

With snippets of the captured sounds of passing birds, water trickling through fountains and the occasional bell, The Sun Will Rise is quite simply strikingly lovely. Ms. Vahdat’s achingly poignant vocals echo throughout The Emanuel Vigeland Museum on opening title track “The Sun Rises” so that the listener can’t help but be enchanted.

Moving through such tracks as “My Eyes Brim with the Sea” with lyrics taken the 14th century poet Iranian Hafez at the Eglise Saint-Claude in Provence to “Show Your Face” with poetry from the 13th century Persian poet Rumi and sung in the Iglesia de Santa Maria in Spain to “The Pair of Your Hair” with poetry from the 11th century Persian poet Baba Taher and recorded in the Crimea Memorial Church in Istanbul, Turkey, The Sun Will Rise is enchanting.

Completely devoid of gimmicks or artifice, Ms. Vahdat’s vocals implore, revere and appeal to the greater grace on each of the 21 tracks of The Sun Will Rise.

Listeners are treated to everything from the wideness of cathedral spaces to the most intimate of spaces with equal measures of clarity of sound and the impassioned splendor of Ms. Vahdat’s vocals.

Stunningly spare, Mahsa Vahdat never sounded so richly worked as in this recording.

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Entrancing Georgian Polyphony

Ensemble Marani - Polyphonies de Géorgie
Ensemble Marani – Polyphonies de Géorgie

Ensemble Marani – Polyphonies de Géorgie (Buda Musique, 2016)

Polyphonies de Géorgie is the new album by the Franco-Georgian men’s choir The Marani Ensemble. The choir, based in Paris is dedicated to Georgian polyphony, one of the most fascinating vocal traditions in the world.

Georgian music has fascinated travelers for centuries. The style features high, middle and bass voices with melodies that provide captivating interplay.
The Marani Ensemble includes vocalists from the nation of Georgia as well as French singers. The ensemble was founded in 1993 and the repertoire include traditional folk songs as well as sacred chants.

The ensemble’s current artistic director is Tariel Vatchadzé, who plays panduri (three-string plucked lute) and chuniri (bowed instrument). The vocalists are: Boris Herzbojn, Davit Kveselava, Sergi Kveselava, Bertrand Lambolez, Nicolas Leguet, Bernard Odot, Craig Schaffer, Laurent Stephan, Irakli Sulukhia, and Pierluigi Tomasi. Giorgi Davitashvili plays doli (drum).

The CD booklet comes with liner notes in English, French and Georgian.

Buy the digital version of Polyphonies de Géorgie

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Enchanting Love Songs from Sicily

Gera Bertolone - La Sicilienne
Gera Bertolone – La Sicilienne

Gera Bertolone – La Sicilienne (Sonora Recordings SRC001, 2015)

La Sicilienne celebrates the traditional music of Sicily. Vocalist Gera Bertolone grew up in a medieval town in the center of Sicily and has been researching traditional vocal music from her region for many years. La Sicilienne keeps arrangements down-to-earth, with Gera on vocals and clarinet and her colleague Rares Morarescu on guitar, violin and mandolin.

Gera Bertolone began studying music and playing the clarinet at the age of 7. It was after adolescence when became interested in traditional music. While studying musicology and Ethnomusicology at the University of Palermo, she started singing in one of the college labs, called “Aglaia.”

In 2009, Gera moved to Paris where she is studying ethnomusicology at the University of Paris. There, she continues her research on vocal traditional music, especially from Sicily.

La Sicilienne (The Sicilian Girl) is dedicated entirely to Sicilian love songs. It’s a noteworthy album featuring the striking, expressive vocals of Gera Bertolone.

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Formidable A Cappella Songs from South Africa

Various Artists - Best of African Mbube
Various Artists – Best of African Mbube

Insingizi, Black Umfolosi, Iyasa, Afrika Mamas, Amadaduzo and Blessings Nqo – Best of African Mbube (Arc Music EUCD 2643, 2016)

In the seminal text, “Tristes Tropiques,” Claude Lévi-Strauss argued that the “savage” mind has the same structures as the “civilized” mind and that human characteristics are the same everywhere. His thoughts have proven useful to anthropologists and sociologists for several decades now in dividing societies and communities into perspective-based subgroups for analysis. He is also a good ally for world music listeners, who require some interpretational basis that transcends unique cultures and different languages.

“Mbube” means “lion,” in Zulu. Zulu culture venerates hunting and fighting prowess, as opposed to agricultural skills. When 20th Century realities forced the sons and grandsons of revered warriors to seek livelihood in coal mines and industrial settings, they became strongly interested in retaining the core of their culture in song.

Poor men living in camps or semi-permanent hostels had few instrumental resources, but had one another’s voices, and so a musical form built on loud and powerful a cappella four part harmony, accompanied by dancing, evolved. When Solomon Linda improvised the first 15 notes of a song called “Mbube” during a 1939 recording session with the Evening Birds, the subgenre’s formal framework was defined.

Most listeners will not know exactly what the artists on “Best of African Mbube” are singing about on most of the release’s 20 selections, but will recognize that they are celebrating heroes and celebrating as heroes.

That upbeat attitude is something to seek, enjoy and share. This record and releases by the artists represented on it are very much worth adding to one’s music collection.

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Dreamy Harp Samba

Cristina Braga & Brandenburger Symphoniker – Whisper (Enja Records, 2016)

Brazilian samba and bossa nova appear in a conventional format, bringing together harp, a samba jazz quintet and a symphony orchestra in a captivating intercontinental collaboration.

At the forefront is harp player and vocalist Cristina Braga. She’s a virtuoso harpist with a soft and seductive singing style, where she nearly whispers accompanied by her harp. The result is truly mesmerizing.

Whisper contains a mix of laid back dreamy bossa nova pieces along with a couple of lively songs where there is plenty of room for the jazz quintet and orchestra.

On some songs Cristina sings duets with special guest Dado Vila-Lobos on vocals and guitar. Although most of the songs are in Portuguese, Braga shifts to English on two track.

This concert was recorded at the Great Hall of the Brandenburger Theatre in Germany. Cristina Braga was joined by the Modern Samba Quintet and the Brandenburger Symphoniker Orchestra.

Lineup on Whisper:

Cristina Braga on vocals and harp.

Modern Samba Quintet featuring Jesse Sadoc on trumpet; Arthur Dutra on vibraphone; Ricardo Medeiros on bass; Claudio Wilner on percussion; Mauro Martins on drums; and Marcelo Costa on additional percussion.

Brandenburger Symphoniker conducted by Tobias Volkman:

Andreas Preisser on violin; Chidori Sokooshi on violin; Klaus Hoyer on violin; Till Handrick on violin; Olivia Kucharska on violin; Katja Kulesza on violin; Uwe Kinderick on violin; Ralf Wittman on violin; Giulia Bellingeri on violin; Izabela Powichrowska on violin; Matthias Erbe on violin; Franca Rudolph on violin; Ralf Damming on violin; Ruth Gerner on violin; Friederike Dietz on violin; Meike Schirling on violin; Auret Botoi on violin.

Nikolai Nikolov on viola; Markeljan Kocibeli on viola; Geraldo Brandigi on viola; Demna Gigova on viola; Andreas Posch on viola.

Robert Friedrich on cello; Ute Doring on cello; Joachim Kohler on cello; Stefan Immel on cello.

Fabio Caggese on bass; Josif Schmuschkowitsch on bass; Rudiger Dierks on bass.

Susanne Pietrowski on flute; Martin Bosse-Platiere on flute.

Anje Thierbach on oboe; Benjamin Kahleyss on oboe.

Rico Wolff on clarinet; Marco Dommus on clarinet.

Sebastian Pietsch on bassoon; Rainer Walenta on bassoon.

Richard Mosthaf on horn; Henrik Moderegger on horn.

Frank Tietze on trumpet; Andreas Weitzer on trumpet; Martin Sander on trumpet.

Burkhard Gotze on trombone and Sören Fries on trombone.

Special guest: Dado Villa-Lobos on vocals and guitar.

Whisper is an album with immediate appeal, featuring tranquil and ear friendly Brazilian tropical music.

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Deliciously Vibrant Flamenco

Gerardo Nuñez and Ulf Wakenius – Logos (ACT Music, 2016)

Journalist, writer and provocateur Hunter S. Thompson once wrote, “Music has always been a matter of Energy to me, a question of Fuel. Sentimental people call it Inspiration, but what they really mean is Fuel. I have always needed Fuel. I am a serious consumer. On some nights I still believe that a car with the gas needle on empty can run about fifty more miles if you have the right music very loud on the radio.”

Whether you’re bent on calling it inspiration or fuel, music is one of those things that indelibly mark us; it is those bright, shiny pieces we pick up simply because we are slaves to it whether we want to be or not. Speaking of the bright and shiny, guitar and flamenco fans have a set of the brilliantly fiery pieces to clutch at and put away in their pockets with ACT Music’s release of Logos by Spain’s famed flamenco guitarist Gerardo Nuñez and Sweden’s master jazz guitarist Ulf Wakenius.

With recordings such as Calima (1998), Flamencos en Nueva York (1992), Travesia (2012) Jucal (1997) and Jazzpaña Live (2015) to his credit Mr. Nuñez teamed up with Mr. Wakenius, who has own recording credits that go beyond work with the Oscar Peterson quartet and the Ray Brown trio such as Vagabond (2012), Momento Magico (2014), Love is Real (2008) and Forever You (2013), for the live recording Jazzpaña Live in 2015. Hitching a ride to that collaboration, Logos is a rich and rewarding collaboration for this unlikely pairing. Fiery, masterful and simply superb, Logos dives deep into the waters where flamenco and jazz eddy together to create a whirlpool that’s warm and effervescent.

Gerardo Nuñez and Ulf Wakenius - Logos
Gerardo Nuñez and Ulf Wakenius – Logos

Deliciously vibrant, Logos opens with title track “Logos” and it’s difficult not to get a little breathless as this pair finds a groove that is so finely and tautly drawn. Joined by flamenco percussionist Cepillo, as well as Mr. Nunez’s wife Carmen Cortes and daughter Isabel Nuñez on palmas, Logos travels a road that lushly landscaped, where every turn is yet another stunning overlook with tracks like “Selene,” “Habana” and “Mirlo.”

With the bulk of the composition credits going to Mr. Nuñez, Logos revisits a few of his earlier themes, but the pair collaborates together on flamenco fiery “Fui Piedra” that includes vocals by flamenco singer Cancun.

Mr. Wakenius takes his own composing credit for the breezily elegant “Mirlo.” Fans get other goodies like the rich and savvy “Orfeo,” the dramatic “Liber Pater” and the graceful “Sevilla.” Kudos should definitely go to sound people and studio staff because this is one of those crystal clear recordings where listeners can pick out every nuance and note.

Logos is indeed bright and shiny polished and is very definition of masterful, but it’s not like we’d expect anything different from these consummate guitarists. So, yeah, I see us going an extra fifty miles and beyond with this kind of fuel.

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Old Time Music Traditions of Castilla-La Mancha

Vigüela - Temperamento - Traditional Music from Spain
Vigüela – Temperamento – Traditional Music from Spain
(Arc Music EUCD2635, 2016)

Spanish folk music band Vigüela specializes in traditional music from the Castilla-La Mancha region. Unlike other Spanish groups who have modernized folk music with new arrangements, Vigüela present traditional music old style.

The band’s lively repertoire includes various song and dance styles such as malagueñas, rondeñas, cantares de esquileo (shearing songs), fandangos from La Mancha, wedding songs, tonadas de segadores (harvest songs), seguidillas, jotas and more.

The lineup includes:

Carmen Torres Delgado on vocals, castañuelas (castanets), botella de anís (anise bottle), sartén con cuchara (pan and spoon), varas de varear (split cane clappers), piedras (stones), panderetas (tambourines), almireces (mortars) and palmas (hand clap percussion).

María del Rosario Nieto Palomo on vocals, almireces, panderetas, varas de varear, stones, tijeras de esquilador (shearing scissors), and palmas.

Pablo Garro Delgado on vocals, laúd (lute), bandurria, guitar, botella de anís (anise bottle), harnero con dediles de caña (large wire sieve), galdarras (cowbells) and palmas.

Elena Pérez Fernández on vocals, bandurria, rabel (rebec), triangle, almirez, varas de varear (split cane clappers), stones, frame drums, and palmas.

Juan Antonio Torres Delgado on vocals, rabel de vejiga (bladder rebec), rabel de piel (skin rebec ), guitar, zambomba (friction drum), harnero con dediles de caña (large wire sieve), media fanega (wooden half bushel), pandera de piel de cabra, pandero de piel de cordero (goat skin frame drum), almirez (mortar) and palmas.

The CD booklet contains photos and extensive liner notes in English and Spanish.

Temperamento is a fabulous introduction to the folk music of Castilla-La Mancha in southern Castile, the land of Don Quixote, windmills and red wine.

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A Cuban Dimension for New American Music

Miller, Bowyer, Beck, Bourland, Carollo, Brandman, Mobley, Murray – Abrazo – The Havana Sessions (Ansonica Records, 2016)

Abrazo – The Havana Sessions contains newly composed music for big band, small jazz combo, choir, and chamber ensembles. The composers are American, the performers are Cuban. This collaboration was easier after the restoration of diplomatic connections between the United States and Cuba in December 2014.

The list of composers includes Bunny Beck, Roger Bourland, Donald Bowyer, Margaret Brandman, John Carollo, Timothy Miller, Mel Mobley, and Michael Murray. The Cuban musicians are current or former members of the National Symphony Orchestra of Cuba, the Buena Vista Social Club, Irakere, and other ensembles.

Abrazo is released under Ansonica Records, a new imprint created by Parma Records. “Producing new music by living composers is my passion, and hearing musicians play with this level of preparation, dedication, and ingenuity was invigorating,” says Parma Recordings CEO Bob Lord. “We went right to the source, and sure enough they brought a totally new dimension to the music – a Cuban dimension, a feel and a sound and a perspective unlike anything else in the world.”

The album contains one disc featuring the jazz works. The musicians deliver an outstanding form of Latin Jazz infused with Cuban styles like son, danzón, cha-cha-cha, and more. The ensemble includes much-admired pianist Rolando Luna, who was a member of Buena Vista Social Club and Omara Portuondo’s band.

Disc 2 contains the classical works featuring impressive interpretations of madrigals, duets, quartets and other formats.

Abrazo – The Havana Sessions demonstrates the extraordinary musical talent found in Cuba, spanning a wide-range of musical styles.

By Abrazo – The Havana Sessions in the Americas

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