Category Archives: CD Reviews

Uho Vocal Wizardry

Tuuletar – Uho

Tuuletar – Uho (Bafe’s Factory, 2017)

Finnish vocal music wizards Tuuletar have anew single titled Uho. The four talented women once more perform all vocal and percussive sounds with their voices. The Uho disc features the new track “Uho” plus two tracks from a previous album. “Uho” mixes traditional forms with hiphop.

Tuuletar stand out when they mix regular vocals with their vocal effects. The rapping doesn’t add much value. In fact, song 2 “Tuu Keraa” from “Tules Maas Vedes Taivaal” is more attractive, where the quartet combines classic vocals with something tha sounds like electronic dance music performed with vocals.

Likewise, track 3, “Odotan,’ is excellent, combining traditional influences with modern beats.

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Remarkable Folk-Rock Renaissance

Offa Rex – The Queen of Hearts (Nonesuch Records, 2017)

Offa Rex is a fascinating collaboration between English vocalist, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Olivia Chaney and multi-faceted American rock band The Decemberists. Their extraordinary debut album The Queen of Hearts and it is deeply inspired by the great English folk-rock wave of the 1970s. Offa Rex adds elements of psychedelia, folk-rock, Americana, contemporary folk music, progressive folk, and even hard rock, creating a sound that bridges the past and modernity.

The material used in Offa Rex is primarily traditional English, Irish and Scottish songs. You’ll find upbeat, sing along songs, together with mesmerizing songs such as “The Gardener,” highlighting the gifted vocals of Olivia Chaney.

 

 

 

 

Offa Rex is touring this summer. Next dates:

8/08 — Vancouver, BC at Orpheum Theater*
8/09 — Calgary, AB at MacEwan Hall*
8/12 — Missoula, MT at Travelers’ Rest Festival
8/13 — Missoula, MT at Travelers’ Rest Festival
8/15 — Salt Lake City, UT at Red Butte Garden*
8/17 — Oakland, CA at Fox Theater*
8/19 — Jacksonville, OR at Britt Festival*

*Olivia Chaney opening for The Decemberists’ shows

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Bravado Masala

James Asher and Mahesh Vinayakram – Bravado Masala (Times Music, 2008)

This album sounds promising and exciting on the cover, which certainly has an element of humor in it as well. The 8 tracks span just under an hour, but many of the pieces come across as rather cheesy and amateurish, which is quite surprising considering the fusion success of musicians like James Asher. Still, we recommend the track Lost Summer.

Another piece which also manages to stand out is Tabletop Dancer, which reveals influences of Middle Eastern sound. We would recommend instead Asher’s other fine fusion album, Feet in the Soil.

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Sublime Toy Raha Toy

Toko Telo – Toy Raha Toy

Toko Telo – Toy Raha Toy (Anio Records, 2017)

Toko Telo is a world music supergroup that brings together three of the finest and best-known Malagasy artists. The lineup includes guitar virtuoso and vocalist D’Gary (Ernest Randrianasolo), vocalist and percussionist Monika Njava voice & percussion; and accordionist and vocalist Régis Gizavo.

The trio delivers masterful performances showcasing their talent in a set of original songs by D’Gary, Régis Gizavo and other songwriters. You’ll find fiery guitar and accordion pieces, along with beautiful laid back songs.

Sadly, Règis Gizavo died on July 16, 2017. Toko Telo have decided to continue to perform in his honor.

Toy Raha Toy is an impeccable album representing music rooted in the traditions of southern Madagascar, performed by three world class musicians.

 

 

Buy the Toy Raha Toy CD or the MP3 download.

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Ask Your Heart: Mehmet Polat Trio

Mehmet Polat Trio – Ask Your Heart (Home Records, 2017)

Ask Your Heart is the second album by the Mehmet Polat Trio (released in 2017 on homerecords.be). Its music transports the listener from a world of agitation to a place of calm. Imagine you are by the sea, relaxing by the waves, and you begin to get an image of this trio’s sound. Much contemporary music is too overproduced with electronics in place of real instruments, but not this album. Its spareness is elegant and moving.

The trio has nothing fancy to hide behind. They have only each other for back up. Folk in feel, the music has within it modal jazz and traditional African sounds. The album starts out slowly with “Untouched Stories,” as the two-stringed instruments, kora and oud, take baby steps and gradually move together with the flute-like ney. There is a lullaby feeling as the ney moves out expansively, playing longer notes while the oud and kora provide a steady accompaniment.

 

Mehmet Polat

 

Mehmet Polat is the trio’s founder. He started his life’s journey in Turkey, raised in a family of Alevi Sufi musicians. They play a spiritual folk music, whose songs are often revelatory or in praise of Sufi saints. Yet Mehmet was not content to remain within one musical genre. He seeks to voyage, exploring the musical connections between the middle East, traditional African music, and jazz. He has written that he is “constantly searching for new musical paths and inspiration.” He has found two master musicians to accompany him on his quest: Sinan Arat on ney and Dymphi Peeters on kora. The ney is an ancient reed flute, and the kora is 21 stringed instrument from West Africa with a calabash base as a resonator. But, neither instrument dominates the other; and none of the musicians overpowers the others or remains the center of attention.

 

 

There is equilibrium among the players, a sense of give-and-take as they improvise, as if each has come to share a delicious communal plate of food. The trio’s first album Next Spring started their collective adventure, but on this album, the different musical genres coalesce. The sound takes flight.

The trio’s musical creativity is heard best on the fifth track, “Whispering to the Waves,” as the oud shapeshifts to sound like an upright bass. The music breathes and the listener breathes with it. It has spaciousness. Sinan plays a long solo on the ney. It is haunting, seeming to flow like a mysterious mist into the night air.

On “Evening Prayer,” the three instruments together announce a simple melody. The ney improvises next. And then a surprise: Mehmet sings a vocal of longing, and the ney shadows it. The piece is a ghazal from the Middle East. Mehmet explains, “there is a melody or groove underneath, and the vocal improvisation is on top of it.” He learned how to sing ghazals from listening to recordings of an old local master from Urfa, Turkey, Kazancı Bedih. His listening paid off. He’s a talented, expressive singer. The deep vocal works well with the low tones of the instruments. The vocal is full of yearning for the divine. The song is from a poem by Leyla Hamm, who was an Ottoman woman poet, and reads in part:

Dear Divine: please help this powerless being in despair
May you help me heal my heartache
I am your disobedient creation, please forgive me…

The final track, “Mardin,” is also a ghazal. Here again the instruments start by playing the melody together and then the vocal is introduced. The song’s lyrics are translated in part as, “I have sacrificed myself for no other than your love.” The listener is drawn into this powerful, meditative moment as the vocalist moves into a place of longing. Mehmet Polat writes in the album’s liner notes: “Music for me is a connection from heart to heart. I invite you to open your heart to the music and let it come to you.” And if you allow yourself to stop and to listen, this music will open your heart.

For more about the Mehmet Polat Trio or to purchase “Ask Your Heart” you can visit their website: mehmetpolat.net

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A New Vision of Fado

Yolanda Soares – Royal Fado (Compaes Records, 2016)

Eclectic classically-trained Portuguese vocalist Yolanda Soares draws her inspiration from fado, although she doesn’t describe herself as a fado singer. On Royal Fado she showcases her gifted voice accompanied by Portuguese guitar and Welsh harp. In addition, Yolanda Soares incorporates flamenco, tango and Middle Eastern influences. This unconventional, innovative fusion works out very well.

The Welsh connection comes from the album’s producer Chris Marshall who brought in acclaimed harp player Claire Jones; baritone singer Rhydian Roberts; Portuguese guitar maestro Custódio Castelo and traditional choral group A Moda Mae from Alentejo.

On Royal Fado, Yolanda Soares brings passion and a new imagination of fado.

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Copla with a Jazz Twist

Natalia Mellado – Caminos De Vuelta

Natalia Mellado – Caminos De Vuelta (Cabalgache, 2014)

Natalia Mellado is a talented singer from southwestern Spain that specializes in copla, a type of Spanish folk song that was very popular in the 20th century. Natalia sings copla with a twist, adding jazz, flamenco and traditional folk music elements from other cultures as well as Latin American rhythms and genres such as tango.

The album features arranger Raúl Ramoson piano; Oscar Fernández on bass; Adrián Alameda on drums and percussion; Javier Bruna on flute; Victor Bruna on clarinet; Jesús Sacristán and Isaac Maroto on palmas; and Oscar Herrero on flamenco guitar.

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Fufu Tryout

Dominic Egli’s Plurism with Feya Faku – More Fufu

Dominic Egli’s Plurism with Feya Faku – More Fufu (Unit Records, 2016)

More Fufu is an album Swiss jazz drummer Dominic Egli. His band Plurism plays contemporary jazz with some world music influences such as Latin beats and kalimba. Plurism’s special guest on More Fufu is renowned South African trumpeter Feya Faku. More Fufu includes impressive drumming and interplay between the trumpet and saxophone.

The lineup includes Dominic Egli on drums and kalimba, Feya Faku on trumpet and flugelhorn; Raffaele Bossard on double bass and frikywa bell; Donat Fisch on alto and soprano saxophone; and Puno Selesho on spoken word.

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The Beautiful World of Elemotho

Elemotho – Beautiful World (ARC Music EUCD2721, 2017)

Elemotho is the artistic name of award-winning Namibian musician and singer-songwriter Gaalelekwe Richardo Mosimane. Beautiful World is his new album where he showcases his talent as a songwriter. The album opens with a beautiful song featuring vocals, mesmerizing mbira, guitar, birds and spoken word.

Throughout the album, Elemotho sings in various languages, including English, Setswana and other Namibian languages, with great solo, overdub and harmony vocal work. On most songs he’s joined by guitarist Samuel Batola (Congo Brazza) who delivers superb melodies in a call and response fashion.

Beautiful World features a mix of traditional Namibian songs along with EElemothos’s compositions. Elemotho grew up with storytelling around the campfire and that experience has inspired him to “create something that could make you dance as well as listen, smile as well as cry, find peace as well as wisdom.”

The album features Namibia-based artists Sam Batola on guitars and backing vocals; Fernando Pio Paulus on drums; Tilie Nanghama on backing vocals; and poetess Naita Hishoono (spoken word). The International musicians include Diego Galaz (Spain) on violin; Jorge Arribas (Spain) on accordion; Spain-based cellist Matthieu Saglio; Yaron Bichacho (Israel) on percussion; and Terry Lewis II (USA) on saxophone.

 

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Delightful Goldenhair

Goldenhair by Brian Byrne and James Joyce

Goldenhair by Brian Byrne and James Joyce (Node Records, 2016)

Goldenhair is an album composed by acclaimed Irish musician Brian Byrne. He wrote and arranged the music with lyrics based on the writings of James Joyce.

Despite the Irish origin, don’t expect an Irish folk music album. Goldenhair focuses primarily on jazz. The album includes songs and spoken word segments and has an impressive list of guests, Judith Hill, Glenn Close, Julian Lennon, Kurt Elling, Sara Gazarek, Curtis Stigers, Kate McGarry, Kristina Train, Declan O’ Rourke, Cara Dillon, Jack Lukeman and the RTE Concert Orchestra.

 

 

 

Although most of the album is grounded on jazz, it also features evocative bagpipe, neosoul, gospel, blues and bluegrass. Goldenhair brings together the best of music and literature.

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