Category Archives: CD Reviews

Review for The Music of Martinique

Wapa Sakitanou

The Music of Martinique (ARC Music 1790, 2003)

Looking for something a little different? Say, Caribbean? ARC Music’s The Music of Martinique features Wapa Sakitanou, a lively musical group that encompasses the traditional music, costumes and dance of Martinique.

Rich and weighty with African rhythms, The Music of Martinique showcases the call and response of vocals and percussion found in traditional Martinique music. Wapa Sakitanou percussionists make the tambour bèlè (barrel drum) and the ti-bwa (bamboo percussion) the backbone of the song upon which the singers build.

Christian Valléjo is the lead drummer of the group, as well as author, composer and arranger. Sonia Marc Lasosso is the group’s choreographer and writes and arranges songs. Lead male singer Félix Cébarec warms up “Frapé Tig-bang,” “Bouwo” and especially “Marie o” with his rich tone. Sonia Marc Lasosso’s powerful voice takes center stage with “Changé la mi mwen” and “Milo Casérus.”

The Music of Martinique is a fine pick for the person seeking traditional Caribbean music.



TJ Nelson is also a fiction writer. Check out her latest book, Chasing
Athena’s Shadow
<>. Set in
Pineboro, North Carolina, Chasing Athena’s Shadow follows the adventures
of Grace, an adult literacy teacher, as she seeks to solve a long
forgotten family mystery.  Her charmingly dysfunctional family is of
little help in her quest.  Along with her best friends, an attractive
Mexican teacher and an amiable gay chef, Grace must find the one fading
memory that holds the key to why Grace’s great-grandmother, Athena, shot
her husband on the courthouse steps in 1931. Traversing the line between
the Old South and New South, Grace will have to dig into the past to
uncover Athena’s true crime.


Wajdi Cherif : Acoustic Tunisian Jazz Album

Wajdi Cherif

Phrygian Istikhbar (2003)

Tunisian pianist and composer Wajdi Cherif released recently a new CD of
acoustic Tunisian jazz recorded in Paris in autumn of 2002. The début CD,
Phrygian Istikhbar
, presents compositions by the pianist that reveals a
refined taste in mixing jazz with ethnic sounds from Tunisia. “Voyage”, the
opening tilte, begins with a very soulful introduction played piano solo on
Arabic modes and scales, soon followed by the other musicians that support the
melodies and improvisations of percussion player Habib Samandi at the end of
this composition. “Blurred Vision” presents a bass solo that is in harmony with the fantastic
Arabic rhythm played by Habib. Jeff Boudreau displays advanced drum skills
during a solo on “Waiting For Paris”. Phrygian Istikhbar also features Arabic
percussion such as darbuka and bendir, played by the distinguished Tunisian
percussion player Habib Samandi on “El Gasba” and “Phrygian Istikhbar,” which is
also the title of the CD. The CD is Available at
(international) and on

This CD is a real innovation in The world of ethnic jazz with a refined
mixture that displays a real and deep immersion in both worlds… A real
discovery. More information at


Abundant Latin Heat From Two New Rough Guides

Various Artists – The Rough Guide to Latin Jazz
Various Artists – The Rough Guide to Latin Jazz (RGNET 1089 CD, 2003)

Various Artists – The Rough Guide to Salsa De Puerto Rico (RGNET 1130 CD, 2003)

It’s generally accepted that Latin jazz is rooted in Cuba while salsa’s origins are in Puerto Rico. The distinctions between the two have become a bit less pronounced in recent years, so it’s no surprise that some of the same artists appear on both of these collections. But let’s forget about defining characteristics and get to the bottom line- both discs are exceptionally good, even in a world full of Latin jazz and salsa compilations.

The Latin jazz Rough Guide has many of the greats you’d expect while avoiding tunes that have been anthologized to death. Thus pieces like the late Tito Puente’s “Spain” and “Princess” by the recently deceased Mongo Santamaria benefit from not being overexposed and provide ample rhythmic refreshment. Likewise, Eddie Palmieri’s “Our Routine” and Poncho Sanchez’s “Joseito” sound fresh by virtue of having been culled from recent albums by those artists. No, there’s no denying the biggies are represented in peak form, but it’s the lesser-knowns who come closest to stealing the show. The way Roland Vazquez and his ensemble take on the Wayne Shorter/Weather Report gem “Palladium” is a marvelous mixture of breezy and aggressive, William Cepeda scores with his blazing Afrorican style, and the Yoruba roots of Michael Philip Mossman’s orisha ode shine brightly.

There’s a curious lack of material from Latin jazz’s formative period (the days of such trailblazers as Machito), but that may well have been due to availability restrictions and is a small quibble considering the quality of what you do get.

Various Artists – The Rough Guide to Salsa De Puerto Rico
Most enlightened listeners know there’s much more to salsa music than tight pants, shiny shirts and slick dancing. There’s African beats and Spanish melodies at the heart of it, and The Rough Guide To Salsa De Puerto Rico is loaded not just with tunes to work your waistline but also the down-home folkloric music that led to what we now call salsa.

The slightly brooding intimacy of Nava’s song assessing the beauty of a Puerto Rican woman seems to have little in common with the sizzling jams of Jimmy Bosch or the Willie Colon/Hector Lavoe collaborations that helped establish the mighty Fania Records label, but this Rough Guide gets the job done by emphasizing deeply rooted variety instead of just one big dance party. The selection of the songs handily showcases the beauty of the beats in ways both lavish and relatively unadorned, all sounding great.


Mali’s Blind Couple- Great Match, Great Music

Amadou & Mariam - Wati
Amadou and Mariam

Wati (Circular Moves CIM 7011, 2003)

Known as “The Blind Couple of Mali” when they first began to make a splash in their homeland and throughout West Africa, Amadou and Mariam continue to make inroads with listeners elsewhere in the world. The story of how they met at the Institute For The Young Blind in Bamako and triumphed over their visual impairments is a heartening one, but it’s their music that will get you and keep you hooked.

It’s been widely asserted in recent years that West Africa is the true birthplace of blues music, and just like fellow Malians Ali Farka Toure, Habib Koite and Boubacar Traore, much of what is heard in the songs of Amadou and Mariam fuels that contention. Their 1999 album Sou Ni Tile (on the Tinder label) was full of longing, ethereal sounds centered around Amadou’s aching guitar riffs and Mariams voice-in-the-wilderness singing taking the lead as well as harmonizing with Amadou’s gruffer tones. There was also a distinct Arabic leaning in the disc’s frequent use of Middle Eastern modes and phrasing.

The couple went in a somewhat different direction with their next one, 2000’s Tje Ni Mousso (Circular Moves), speeding up the grooves a bit and inserting a heavier Latin/Caribbean feel hinted at previously. Now, with Wati, the two let it all hang out. Amadou’s guitars ripple with authority over galloping drum and percussion rhythms, firmly anchoring bass, varied doses of keyboard, brass, flute, n’goni lute and even hurdy-gurdy and Gnawa instrumentation.

Vocally, Mariam runs the gamut between plaintive and ecstatic as expertly as Oumou Sangare or Rokia Traore, her voice equally at home front and center or sweetening the angular edges. The steady, rolling pulse of songs like “Sarama,’ “Mali Denou” and the opening “Wali De” are tucked away among rockier pieces (‘Lahilala,” “Les Temps Ont Change”) and percolating ballads that address love, faith, history and changing times. Firmly rooted in West Africa but strengthened by shadings of funk, jazz, folk, Islamic mysticism and even rock and roll, this deeply engaging work is another keeper from Amadou and Mariam.


CD Review: Shanti by Abhijit Pohankar

Abhijit Pohankar - Shanti
Abhijit Pohankar – Shanti
Abhijit Pohankar

Shanti (Times Music, 2000)

Abhijit Pohankar is a brilliant Indian keyboardist and composer. On Shanti he creates electronic arrangements and rhythms that generate a mystical atmosphere for the beautiful vocals by Pandit Ajay Pohankar.

Acoustic instruments such as flute, tabla and harps are interweaved with the electronic sounds. The recording has the intention to provide peace and relaxation, but this is not flaky new age. It’s music that has true spirit.Abhijit Pohankar is one of the few professional classical keyboard players in India and a disciple of santoor maestro Pandit Shiv Kumar Sharma.

Buy Shanti


CD Review: Agua ‘e Coco by Huracán de Fuego

Huracán de Fuego - Agua 'e Coco
Huracán de Fuego – Agua ‘e Coco
Huracán de Fuego

Agua ‘e Coco (Nubenegra IN1121-2, 2003)

Unfortunately, western audiences are exposed to very little music from Venezuela. Spanish label Nubenegra has produced two recordings by one of the finest Afro-Venezuelan bands, Huracán de Fuego (the group’s name means Fire Hurricane). Agua ‘e Coco (Coconut Water) is the latest recording.

Unlike other groups who rework old songs, Huracán de Fuego creates its own music. The roots are crearly Afro-Venezuelan, but there are also African-American influences in the form of rappping. An impressive array of percussion instruments play the main role along with lead vocals, choruses and occasional flutes.Huracán de Fuego was founded by Maracaibo native Nestor Gutiérrez, who played the congas in a salsa group before becoming fascinated by the great wealth of traditional Venezuelan drums.

Gutiérrez gathered together a talented group of percussionists who share his passion to preserve the traditional instruments and performance practices in danger of disappearing in many parts of Venezuela. Huracán de Fuego’s music embraces the regional drumming techniques, style of singing, and barefoot dance associated with traditional drum performances


Bhattacharya Plus Brozman Equals Guitar Greatness

Debashish Bhattacharya and Bob Brozman – Mahima
Debashish Bhattacharya and Bob Brozman

Mahima (Riverboat Records/World Music Network TUGCD1029)

American acoustic guitarist Bob Brozman certainly has a knack for wonderfully unique collaborations. I’m not sure if he chooses the collaborators or they choose him, but everyone seems to emerge a winner when a Brozman team-up comes to pass. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that Brozman is a master musician just as surely as are those he pairs with, but the real secret seems to be just the the right meshing of elements that work culturally as well as sonically. Brozman’s previous discs with Okinawan sanshin player Takashi Hirayasu and Reunion Island accordionist Rene Lacaille just sounded so indefinably right. They were fusions that seemed to presume nothing and thus succeeded at everything.

Now, Brozman has hooked up with Calcutta-born slide guitarist Debashish Bhattacharya to simultaneously pay respect to and shake up the richly complex tradition of Indian raga. Paring down the often epic-length aesthetic of raga into more conventional song structures while maintaining a sense of improvisation and adventurous use of ascending and descending scales, the two create pieces that dip, dance and shimmer with exquisite beauty. The guitars slide along like freshly sharpened skates on ice- deft one moment and drenched with emotion the next, playing through and around differences (and more importantly, similarities) in technique, packed with power but never indulgent.

Bhattacharya and Brozman clearly understand each others’ nuances, and the resulting conversant nature of their playing is a joy to hear. Joining in on percussion is Bhattacharya’s younger brother Subhashis, who likewise bends the rules to good effect by playing not only Indian tablas but a slew of African, Arabic and Celtic instruments.

Sister Sutapa Bhattacharya makes it even more of a family affair with richly celebratory vocals on some tracks, which, like the instrumentals, are reflective of specific aspects of Indian culture or its interactions with other lands on a musical level.

The word mahima translates loosely as “divine inspiration through artistic creation,” and Mahima the album is creative and inspired to the point where the title borders on understatement.

buy Mahima


Rough Guide To Scottish Music CD Review

Various Artists - The Rough Guide To Scottish Music
Various Artists – The Rough Guide To Scottish Music
Various Artists

The Rough Guide To Scottish Music (World Music Network RGNET 1110, 2003)

In the booklet that comes with this CD it says that Scottish music is…a rich musical heritage rooted, not stuck, in the past…clearly a living tradition…which seems a fair claim to make. For example Emily Smith, who at the time of recording was still studying for a degree in Scottish music, melds a new tune with an old song, Fair Helen Of Kirkconnel. Equally, Deaf Shepherd draw on music from all over the country and join traditional with more contemporary material. They play with verve and invention and in some ways their music sounds timeless and quintessentially Scottish.

The spare beauty of the solo fiddle is almost caught in the work of Bob Hobkirk though it is, by virtue of technology, joined by accordion. He recorded his track in 1973 and I’m not sure why the second instrument was added. It sounds fine but I would have liked to hear the solo fiddle.

There are plenty of other instrumentals that are worth hearing, for example, Pete Clark’s stately Coilsfield House with formal and elegant fiddle and cello setting the melody in restrained surroundings. A superb example of a treatment which enhances the traditional tune. One instrumental outing that I can’t really recommend is a grisly mix of calypso rhythms and Scottish reel. I don’t mind fusions but this sounds like a horrible mistake.

There are a number of winsome ballads here too, my favourite being Fordell Ball sung by Jack Beck. It features a tune I’ve heard many times in both Irish and Scots music and is set to words by Jimmy Dunn. And for those who know Gaelic, Christine Primrose sings, accompanied by harp and whistle. Whether you know the language or not doesn’t matter, as it is still a moving and attractive sound.

Overall there is plenty to attract a newcomer to the music as well as pleasing anyone with an interest in it already. Just one question – how come there is nothing here by one of Scotland’s greatest singers, Dick Gaughan?


Puerto Rico meets Brazil by way of Jamaica

Bayanga – Bayanga

Bayanga(RAS Records 06076-89603-2, 2003)

RAS Records, known as one of the finest reggae labels, steps a bit off their beaten path with this disc. Yes, there is a helping of reggae spirit in Bayanga’s pulsating rhythms, soulfully conscious lyrics and the dreadlocked appearance of some of its members, but there’s more at work here.

Bayanga are a sizable band from Puerto Rico with a passion tending to lean more towards sounds from elsewhere in the African diaspora. They’re perfectly capable of taking a crafty turn into salsa, plena, bomba or Santana-like Latin rock, but the main inspirations seem to come from Brazil and Jamaica.

The wall of percussion that forms the backbone of nearly every song is largely of the Brazilian variety, and Bayanga do some great things with it. Check the clever combination of Brazilian cuica and Australian didjeridoo on “Cohimbre’s Stylee,” for example, or the expert looseness with which the percussion battery can hammer away at the very spot where the guitar or keyboard chop would be in traditional reggae.

Don’t overlook the band’s versatile horn section, though, or the steady guidance of keyboard player/musical director Eduardo Cabra in his ability to navigate forays that include dips into ska, samba and Cuban rhythms. Lead singer Hermino Cabrera doesn’t have much of a vocal range, but his deft phrasing and assured charisma keep the songs moving.

It’ll take more than one listening to pick up everything this disc has going on, and you won’t mind putting forth the effort. With a bluesy slide guitar here or a simple but attention-grabbing melodic punch there, Bayanga have reached into some well chosen sources to come up with a very good sound all their own. Brazilian music fans, reggae lovers, percussion enthusiasts and anyone who appreciates deeply satisfying grooves without a drum machine in sight will enjoy this one.


Reggae Remake is in the Pink

Easy Star All-Stars – Dub Side of the Moon
Easy Star All-Stars

Dub Side of the Moon (Easy Star Records ES-1012, 2003)

I first learned of this project while interviewing Eric Smith of Easy Star Records in late 2001. When he told me the label was planning to do a reggae remake of Pink Floyd’s perennial bestselling rock album Dark Side of the Moon, I was intrigued, but not to the extent I knew some people would be. Though I was (and am) quite fond of the music and attitude that comprised the Pink Floyd original, I certainly didn’t count myself among its more rabid fans. I never even owned a copy, but given how omnipresent the album was at parties, on the radio and in college dorm rooms, I didn’t need one. Still, whether your affection towards the original is casual or hardcore (or if maybe you’re just a fan of solid reggae), you’re likely to be floored by how well the Easy Star All-Stars have pulled this off.

Guitarist (and label co-founder) Michael Goldwasser and keyboardist Victor “Ticklah” Axelrod (also a member of Afrobeat band Antibalas) were responsible for reconfiguring the tracks inna reggae style, and they’ve done so brilliantly.

The original’s opening heartbeat sounds are rendered on nyabinghi drums, potentially indulgent rock guitar solos are replaced by DJ chatting, and, in a particularly inspired move, “Money” is laced not with cash register cadences but the bubbling/coughing rhythms of a water pipe being smoked. But don’t get the idea that this is all played for laughs, for nothing could be further from the truth.

The gloomy life-cycle cynicism of the original is still the core aesthetic, and most of the distant, elusive sonic textures (such as the melancholy guitar and keyboard accents) are intact.

Essential to this reggae re-casting are the disc’s guest artists, with Frankie Paul nailing the frustrated but resigned tone of “Us and Them,” Kirsty Rock giving “The Great Gig in the Sky” the right anguished/orgasmic vocal wail, Ranking Joe and Dollarman toasting their way through the gaps and Dr. Israel doing sufficient damage to “Brain Damage.” Plus, there are a few dub versions at the end to make a good thing even better, enhancing the rock-to-reggae transition while adding an extra starkness that even Pink Floyd themselves likely couldn’t have envisioned.

I don’t know if the Easy Star gang embarked on this with a so-crazy-it-might-just-work outlook or the complete opposite, but let’s all be glad they saw it through.

This disc has gotten a lot of positive reviews already, and I’m pleased to add my voice to the chorus of approval.

Buy Dub Side of the Moon