Category Archives: CD Reviews

Effective Letter of Introduction to Yuly Tovar

Yuly Tovar – Songs From Mexico (Arc Music EUCD 2714, 2016)

The delicate combination of chicano afterbeat and the general ear is challenging. We tend to hear eight bars of Mexican euphony of whatever quality and file it under “humorous film scene background music.” Listen to this one again. The challenge is met.

With this sort of music, one hears the message THROUGH the recording rather than along with it. The environment is established first.

The environment, for multiple award-winning Yuly Tovar, is somewhat south of the border between arid and tropical. It is a “wet” mariachi, more languid than the familiar standard, and closer to the emotion than to the technical form. The afterbeat is there, and the pull toward minor keys, but the foundation is … in the verdant bushes, rather than in the sun-beaten, dry plains.

This is no field recording, with engineers taking what they can get. The mix is absolutely the star here. Balances between sections are unique and perfect for getting the tunes across. Ms. Tovar is in perfect sync with the players, sometimes using her voice as part of the horn section, then lilting atop the strings, then laying back to encourage relaxation along with the backline rhythm. She is spotlighted throughout this release as a consummate band leader.

“Songs from Mexico” is the first global release for Ms. Tovar, already well known and respected in her own country. It should serve as a most effective letter of introduction for her.

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The Wide-Ranging Diversity of Brussels A World of Music

Various Artists – Brussels A World of Music (Wallonia Brussels Music WBM 175, 2016)

This compilation is designed to showcase the world music talent found in Brussels, the multicultural melting pot in Belgium. Brussels A World of Music features artists living in Brussels, from many different ethnic and national backgrounds.

Although described as a world music compilation, the anthology also features Balkan jazz, avant-garde sounds, pop and hip hop.

Highlights include Daniel Dzidzonu’s vibrant Afrobeat; the Tunisian-Gypsy collaboration of Jawhar Feat. Mitsou; Kel Assouf’s Tuareg rock; the Tunisian mountain music of Bargou 08; Oghene Kologbo & World Squad’s superb Afrobeat; Asian sounds by the Refugees For Refugees collective; the mesmerizing collaboration of Chinese erhu musician Gan Guo abd Turkish saz player Emre Gültekin; the Tunisian beat meets brass band of Mw’soul – Ghalia Benali Feat. Maäk; and a track by the great Guinean kora player N’Faly Kouyate (Afro-Celt Sound System).

 

 

 

 

 

All the artists featured here have full recordings available.

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Virtuosic Jazz Explorations of Afro-Latin and World Music

Duende Libre – Duende Libre (2017)

Duende is the self-titled debut album by a Latin jazz trio featuring three talented Seattle-based musicians. The project is led by keyboardist, composer and producer Alex Chadsey, who has a background in jazz and classical music, and salsa bands as well. Chadsey connected with Uzbek bassist Farko Dosumov and percussionist Jeff “Bongo” Busch.

The three musicians share a passion for Afro-Caribbean music and this shows in the band’s music that is a well-crafted combination of contemporary jazz and Latin American traditions. In addition to the Caribbean influences, the album also shows Brazilian rhythms and funk.

Duende Libre goes beyond the Americas too. Salif is a tribute to Malian world music star Salif Keita, which is a new direction for Chadsey that he’d like to explore further.

On Duende Libre, Alex Chadsey, Farko Dosumov and Jeff “Bongo” Busch deliver a richly textured set of Latin and African grooves and melodies under a jazz perspective.

Buy the digital download version of Duende Libre.

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Eliane Elias Celebrates Her Roots

Eliane Elias – Dance of Time (Concord Jazz, 2017)

USA-based Brazilian pianist and vocalist Eliane Elias has become of the most familiar names in the world of Brazilian-rooted jazz. Her new album Dance of Time takes Eliane back to her Brazilian roots in a brilliant manner.

Dance of Time was recorded in Brazil and the result is a truly exquisite recording. There is not a weak track on this album. Eliane Elias effortlessly balances her talent as a pianist and singer-songwriter, delivering some of her finest material, injecting spirited samba.

Dance of Time features first class talent from Brazil and the United States, including pianist Amilton Godoy, singer- songwriter and guitarist João Bosco, guitarist and vocalist Toquinho, trumpeter Randy Brecker, vibraphonist Mike Mainieri and the unmistakable remarkable vocals of Mark Kibble (Take 6).

The performances on Dance of Time are remarkable and the recording quality is superb.

Dance of Time is so far one of the best Brazilian-rooted albums of the year.

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Folk Rockers from Nunavut

The Jerry Cans – Inuusiq

The Jerry Cans – Inuusiq (Aakuluk Music, 2017)

Canadian band The Jerry Cans is based in Nunavut, in Canada’s far north. On Inuusiq they present a unique mix of folk-rock, pop, indie rock, reggae and Inuit throat singing.

The band indicates that their songs talk to young people and their challenges, trying to make music that equalizes traditional and contemporary life.

One of The Jerry Cans’ initiatives is the creation of the first record label ever in Nunavut, Aakuluk Music. “We had thrown around the idea to start a label to support Inuktitut music. We have four young artists singing in Inuktitut,” says vocalist and guitarist Andrew Morrison. “We’ve often heard as we were pitching our work, that if you want to succeed, you have to sing in English. We don’t accept that. We wanted to create a business entity to support it.”

 

The Jerry Cans

The lineup includes Nancy Mike on throat singing and accordion; Brendan Doherty on bass; Steve Rigby on drums; Gina burgess on fiddle; and Andrew Morrison on lead vocals and guitar.

The CD version includes a booklet with Inuit and English-language lyrics.

 

 

With Inuusiq and their new record label, The Jerry Cans give a fresh, creative new voice to Canadian Inuit culture.

 

 

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Lush Observations

Tigran Hamasyan – An Ancient Observer (Nonesuch Records, 2018)

Just out of curiosity, when was the last time you heard a piano recording? Seriously, when was the last time you sat and soaked in the frolicking richness or the magically complexity of an entire piano CD? Been a while? When so much peripheral background music screeching from the corners it hardly seems like pleasurable and more like something shoved down the throat, re-exploring the unimaginable richness of the piano can seem like an indulgence.

You deserve an indulgence by way of Tigran Hamasyan’s second offering on the Nonesuch Records label entitled An Ancient Observer. Born in Armenia, Tigran Hamasyan is known for such recordings as World Passion, New Era, A Fable and his first recording with Nonesuch by way of Mockroot. He is also known for collaborations with Dhafer Youssef, Ari Hoenig, Lars Danielsson, Stephane Galland and Sefj Tankian.

Backed by a wealth of folk traditions from his Armenian roots, Mr. Hamasyan has delved into progressive rock and jazz, often pulling at those Armenian musical tradition threads to flesh out his musical compositions.

Mr. Hamasyan explains his new recording, “These songs are musical observations about the world we live in now, and the weight of history we carry with us.”

Pairing charming elegance with musical drama, An Ancient Observer is a bold, razor sharp listen that tugs at the musical tapestry of jazz, classical and his native folk music. Plying the listener with his extraordinary mastery of the piano, Mr. Hamasyan expands the depth by way of vocals, synths, Fender Rhodes and special effects. The result is at once intimate and then expansive as he takes the listener through such musical feats as “Markos and Markos,” “The Cave of Rebirth” and the elegance of “New Baroque I and II.”

 

 

Back in Armenia, where ordinary life inspires his music Mr. Hamasyan explains, “I gaze out of my window and see the biblical mountain Ararat with perpetual snow on its peak, with electrical towers with wires in the foreground cutting the picture, and satellite dishes melted onto old and modern houses—ancestral smoke coming out of their chimneys—and birds hovering above the trees along with occasional airplane trails in the vast sky. It is a dialogue, this interaction of God-given ancient nature with our modern human achievements” he says.

For me it is an awakening, and a beautiful feeling, to be able to observe the magnificence of this sleeping volcanic giant, which has existed for millions of years and was observed by the Ararat Valley Koura-Arax culture through to the present day citizens of the Armenian republic. I can see and observe the same birds, animals, rivers, and mountains that the craftsman of 4,000 years ago painted on a clay vessel. He was observing the same thing I observe now, and what remains is his or her beautiful work of art.”

Composing all the music on An Ancient Observer and basing “Nairian Odyssey” and “Etude No. 1” on Armenian folk melodies, Mr.Hamasyan enthralls and entrances listeners with “Nairian Odyssey” with its fascinating twists and turns and “Etude No. 1” with its quick and bright clever catchiness, as well as additional tracks like “Egyptian Poet,” Leninagone” and title track “Ancient Observer.” This is simply a lush recording.

Jazz and piano fans are sure to dive into the deep end of An Ancient Observer, but for those jazz novices this might be one of those recordings they might very well enjoy dipping a toe into for the sheer quiet loveliness, expressive drama and poignant expansiveness. An Ancient Observer is one of those easy indulgences begging for us to be quiet and just listen.

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Moving Ragas from the Kirana Gharana

Mashkoor Ali Khan – Transcendence (Nimbus Alliance, 2017)

Transcendence is a set of 5 ragas performed by Indian classical music maestro Mashkoor Ali Khan.

The musical pieces featured in the album include monsoon season ‘Raga Desh, Drut bandish in Jhap tal’ that uses vocal sounds with no meaning.

‘Raga Shahana, Madhyalaya bandish in Teental’ is a raga of festivity and happiness often performed at weddings.

Track 3 is ‘Raga Jhinjhoti, Madhyalaya bandish in Rupak tal & Drut bandish in Teental’, one of Mashkoor Ali Khan’s favorite compositions.

‘Raga Bhupali, Tarana in Teental’ includes vocals based on Persian and Arabic distinct sounds.

The last track, ‘Raga Basant, Drut bandish in Ektal’ is a seasonal raga, traditional performed during spring.

The lineup includes Mashkoor Ali Khan on vocals; Anindo Chatterjee on tabla; Kedar Naphade on harmonium; Michael Harrison and Shampa Bhattacharya on tanpura.

Transcendence features masterful performances by Mashkoor Ali Khan and Anindo Chatterjee and is an excellent example of the Kirana Gharana (Kirana school) of Indian classical Music.

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Thornato’s Fascinating Global Travels

Thornato Bennu (Wonderwheel Recordings, 2017)

Thornato, the artistic name of American producer Thor Partridge, takes the listener on a global electronica voyage across the Americas, southern Africa and the Middle East.

Using seductive electronic and acoustic dance rhythms based on Colombian cumbia, Jamaican dancehall, Central and South African beats, South Asian rhythms, and mesmerizing marimbas from Esmeraldas in Ecuador.

Even though Thornato produces a lot of the melodies and electronic global dance music, he features various guests throughout the album such as Afro-Esmeraldan band Grupo Taribo, African dance music collective Kongo elektro, Colombian vocalist Lido Pimienta, dancehall singer Gappy Ranks, and the Arabic oud of Spy From Cairo.

Bennu is an impressive global electronica debut album beautifully-crafted by Thornato.

Buy Bennu (available on CD, vinyl and digital download versions)

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Dona Onete’s Sensual Songs from the Amazon

Dona Onete – Banzeiro (Mais Um Discos, 2017)

An album by charismatic Brazilian Amazonian singer Dona Onete. Her songs are about seduction, plants that make your body ‘agitate’ and stories related to the Amazon. The septuagenarian artist is enjoying new popularity in her country and abroad thanks to international releases like Banzeiro.

On Banzeiro, Dona Onete delivers infectious Brazilian rhythms like bangue and a style she developed called carimbó chamegado where she combined two genres called lundum and carimbó. She mixed them with the rhythm of the songs from the slaves. Dona Onete describes carimbó chamegado as slower and sexier than carimbó.

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Vieux Farka Toure Delivers a Masterful Collection of Desert Blues, Funk, Reggae, and Rock

Vieux Farka Toure – Samba (Six Degrees Records, 2017)

Too often when we hear “it must be something in the blood” it conjures up images of someone gone wrong somewhere, but nothing could be further from that kind of assumption when we’re talking about Mali’s Vieux Farka Toure.

Son of the musical powerhouse Ali Farka Toure, Vieux Farka Toure has not just continued in his father’s musical footsteps but blazed a path of his own with recordings like Vieux Farka Toure, Fondo, The Secret, Mon Pays and Touristes with Julia Easterlin and an ongoing collaboration with Israeli musician Idan Raichel on the Toure-Raichel Collective. And the righteous riffs just keep coming with the Six Degrees Records release of his latest of Samba.

Mr. Toure is just content to rest on his vocals and guitar playing laurels on Samba; instead he composed and arranged all the tracks and produced this latest with co-producer Eric Herman. Mr. Toure explains the recording process of Samba, “It was not a regular studio session nor was it a concert. It was somewhere in between. We were recording the album, but we had an audience of about fifty people in the room with us. The audience understood it was to witness the process of recording an album, not to present a concert in a studio, which was a very good thing because we got the energy of a live concert with the quality of a studio recording.”

Rich, warm and rewarding, Samba pulls at the threads of desert blues, funk, reggae, rock and Malian praise song to create a polished, masterful collection of tracks. From the opening of the guitar lick laced “Bonheur” through to the deliciously catchy “Ni Negaba,” Mr. Toure lets his listeners ride a wave of hypnotic grooves while using his musical voice to express the joys of family, the importance of protecting the environment and the pitfalls of religious fanaticism in the wake of Mali’s recent struggles with jihadism where music was banned and musicians were abused or exiled.

Backed by such musicians as drummer Mamadou Kone, calabash player Soulemane Kane, ngoni players Maffa Diabate and Abdoulaye Kone, bassists Marshall Henry, Eric Herman and Checikmare Ba, shaker and kourignans player Tim Keiper and organist and keyboardist Rob Cohen, Mr. Toure gives listeners a delicious ride on sizzling tracks like “Ba Kaitere” and “Homafu Wawa,” and doles out delectable treats like the guitar and ngoni enfused “Samba Si Kairi” and the cool grooves of “Nature.” Fans get a dose of guest keyboardist Idan Raichel on the track “Mariam,” a track dedicated to Mr. Toure’s little sister, and the delightfully elegant track “Maya.”

 

 

Despite some doubts about the success of Samba, Mr. Toure says of the experience, “It was an interesting idea but I did not know how it would go. Luckily everything was perfect. There was a great ambience there for the session and we were able to capture this unique energy for the album.

Mr. Toure has certainly blazed his own path on Mali’s musical griot road of riches with Samba. Must be something in the blood.

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