Category Archives: CD Reviews

Love Trap by Susheela Raman

Susheela Raman - Love Trap
Susheela Raman – Love Trap
Susheela Raman

Love Trap (Narada, 2003)

Described as “more beauty and more beast,” by the BBC newcomer winner, Susheela Raman, her latest
release Love Trap seduces its listeners into taking a wild ride through international musical territory. The titular track with its erotically charged lyrics tossed over a tapestry of Arabic Indian exoticism certainly qualifies this album as the hottest release this summer. And don’t be surprised if the words “love trap” emerge into everyday language since this catchy phrase tells all. Love Trap is the English language version of Ethiopian songwriter Mahmoud Ahmed’s Behmen Sehbeb Letlast, which translates to “it is impossible not to love you.” And it is impossible not to love Susheela’s latest recording with its explosion of percussion, soaring vocals and gorgeous instrumentation provided by who’s who of the global music scene. The repertoire is a mix of folky-blues and a musical journey through the Carnatic tradition of southern India, where Susheela was born to Tamil parents in 1973 and where she trains with Hindustani vocalist Shruti Sadolikar.

Two of the tracks, the Bollywood classic Ye Meera Divanapan Hai with its light drums and bansuri
(Indian flute) treatment and Sakhi Maro which features the musicians from Tama on kora (Tom Diakite), clay pot (Djanano Dabo) and guitar (Sam Mills), act as a by product of these musical lessons. Sam Mills, (Susheela’s husband) who produced the award-winning Salt Rain also came on board to produce Love Trap and the album was recorded at the El Cortijo studios in southern Spain. Various musical guests traveled to Spain to appear on the recording, including Afro-Beat drummer Tony Allen, tabla performer Aref Durvesh, Greek clarinetist Manos Achalinotopolous, members of Tame, flamenco pianist David Dorantes, as well as, Tuvan musicians Radik Tiolauch and Albert Kuvezin of the rock group, Yat Kha.

The songs on the album hail from ancient times or are covers of recent international pop, but all of the songs feature innovative arrangements that blend the best of India, North Africa, Mongolia and continental sounds.

The bewitching Love Trap which is sung in a five-note scale representative of Ethiopian church music (not that you would equate this song with church music), features Allen on drums and back up vocals and instrumentation that twangs with sexual intensity. Susheela’s seductive vocals are at an all-time best showing off her versatile talents. The melancholic cover of Joan Armatrading’s Save Me features guitar and tabla light and is sung in a bluesy-Indian style. While Love Trap speaks of the beginning of a love affair, Save Me comes at the end of an affair. The Indian classical songs, Amba and Manusoloni feature Tuvan musicians Radik Tiolouch (also contributes horsehead fiddle) and Albert Kuvezin along with electric guitar and light programming. Bliss begins with an Erik Satie style piano solo performed by David Dorantes and is soon joined by a swirling bansuri duet which is further embellished by Susheela’s vocals.

Also worth mentioning is the dissonant Half Shiva Half Shakti showcasing the dual drumming talents of Allen who performs syncopated jazz rhythms that are fused with Durvesh’s explosive tabla beats. Clarinetist Achalinotopolous contributes a manic performance as well. Susheela and company end the CD with a Durvesh’s tabla beat extravaganza (Blue Lily Red Lotus) and the experience in total will leave listeners breathless. Love Trap isn’t an album for the faint of heart. This is an album that will get your blood pumping, your hormones racing as well as, raising your musical aptitude.

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Yol Bolsin by Sevara Nazarkhan

Sevara Nazarkhan - Yol Bolsin
Sevara Nazarkhan – Yol Bolsin
Sevara Nazarkhan

Yol Bolsin (Real World/Narada, 2003)

Real World Records has released some of the most beautiful music composed and sung by women. Joining
the ranks of such divas as Yungchen Lhamo and Estrella Morente is 25-year old Uzbeki star
Sevara Nazarkhan. A celebrity among young women in her home, Tashkent, Sevara carries on a regal
tradition of the solo woman court musician. She brings to us music of Central Asia (Uzbekistan, once a member of the Soviet Union), that combines melodies plucked on a doutar (a lute), with minimal percussion and mesmerizing soprano vocals. Sevara’s debut release on Real World, Yol Bosin (Where Are You Going?) is a culmination of several centuries and another treasure from the Silk Route.

Sevara, a direct descendent to a musical past that dates back to the 1600’s, blends traditional music with pop sensibility while blurring the boundaries between entertainment and ritual music. The same music played at weddings and other rites of passage ceremonies also substitutes as a commercial release that meets the demands of Uzbeki consumers. Of course, you will find the same scenario played out in Turkey, Greece and other parts of the world where ceremonial music is massed produced for public demand.

Yol Bosin features folk, Sufi and peasant songs in which Sevara takes a few liberties singing about taboo subjects. For instance, My Dearest Song, reflects on hope of marrying someone outside of the arranged marriage tradition. In Sevara’s favorite song, Gadir, white snake symbolizes freedom and heartache. The lyrical Soginomai Bayot and El Nozanin showcase Sevara’s immaculate vocals and range. Most of the songs are rooted in the Near or Middle East and at times, Sevara’s voice could be compared to that of a classical Persian vocalist. This traditional music can also be linked to shamanistic traditions in Central Asia, although it was the male bards called bakhshi that used music to connect to their spiritual ancestors and not the women vocalists.

Produced by French producer Hector Zazou and featuring musical master Toir Kuziyev (doutar), Yol Bosin
offers us a haunting and exotic musical tapestry by a new and exciting feminine voice. Sevara’s timeless songs already feel like classics even if they have not yet come into blossom. The songs are soft yet edgy, ethereal yet earthy, ancient and contemporary.

(Compliments of Cranky Crow World Music).

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Faraualla

Faraualla - Faraualla
Faraualla – Faraualla
Faraualla

Faraualla (Amiata Records, 1999 Recording/released in the US in 2001)

Often times I discover incredible recordings when perusing the public libraries music shelves. On one fateful day, I picked up the Italian a cappella group Faraualla’s debut recording. Although this recording was recorded in Florence, Italy in 1999 and released in the US two years ago, I had only recently learned about the quartet and polyphonic choir music.

Faraualla’s enchanting and beguiling performance falls somewhere between a Bulgarian choir and the Belgian group Zap Mama. The four vocalists, Christina Palmiotta, Gabriella and Maristella Schiavone and Teresa Vallarella give their vocal chords a workout, sometimes singing in only pitches dogs can hear or singing in a guttural fashion, but mostly their vocals reflect a sweetness similar to the Finnish group Varttina. (For some reason, playing this CD attracts raccoons to my back porch).

The recording features 14 varying tracks with origins found in Hungary, Bulgaria, Corsica, Native America, Russia, Italy and Dalmatia. The tracks are backed by drummer Pippo D’Ambrosio who performs intricate rhythms and polyphonic beats on bendir, tar, singing bowl, hand drum, bells, cymbals and a collection of percussion instruments that would cause others drummers to salivate.

Each song is given a different treatment from rousing gypsy dances to the playfulness of a child’s game and as the songs flow into one another, I can’t help wish that the music would never stop. I find this album irresistible and I wonder why it received so little attention when it was released. I found a few reviews hidden on the Internet and most of the reviews were by other folks such as myself who discovered the CD by mistake or coincidence.

One woman reviewer found Faraualla’s songs to be reflective of African music due to the call and response a cappella vocal arrangements augmented by polyphonic rhythms. I find this music to be otherworldly and international since it draws from various traditions presented to us over time. I realize that this is an older release, but Faraualla is a group worth noting and worth knowing.

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Zambia Roadside – Music from Southern Province

Zambia Roadside – Music from Southern Province (SWP, 2003)

SWP is a small label doing great work. Quite apart from the mammoth task of compiling and releasing the original Hugh Tracey recordings from the ILAM archives, SWP’s Michael Baird is becoming a very well travelled man, spending considerable time in southern and central Africa recording the authentic sounds of the people he encounters.

Zambia Roadside is a compilation of Tonga music recorded as recently as August 2002. What this collection provides is a contemporary insight into the sounds of ordinary Southern Province musicians, sounds not readily available to us overseas as they do not fall into easily definable commercial categories. We are granted a tempting glimpse into the broad and diverse range of sound emanating from this largely unfamiliar musical area. There is an abundance of styles and line-ups on Zambia Roadside, ranging from the one-man-and-his-guitar combo of Short Mazabuka, to the full-bodied, xylophone accompanied Mukuni Palace Women’s Choir. Personal favourites are any of the three tracks performed by Green Mamba, one of which is acoustic rumba, complete with that unmistakeably Congolese vocal timbre. The fact that these tracks are acoustic by no means detracts from their ability to deliver a punching beat. What is incredible, given the depth and quality of sound, is the fact that most of the instruments are home made (the same applies to the instruments of most of the artists featured). A particular highlight has to be the rumba-based “Busiku Bwanduuma”, for its tight vocal harmonies and teasing rhythmic plays towards the close of the song. This song is right up there with the very best soukous for it irresistibility.

It sometimes pays to step off the main road and venture a little off the beaten track. “Zambia Roadside” bears testimony to this.

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Klezmatics on the Rise

The Klezmatics – Rise Up! Shteyt Oyf!
The Klezmatics

Rise Up! Shteyt Oyf! (Rounder Records 11661-3197-2, 2003)

The venerable Jewish roots music called klezmer has seen peaks and valleys of popularity, and much of its recent visibility can be attributed to a combination of general interest in world music and good old fashioned resiliency. A good klezmer band knows how to strike the right balance of serious tradition, innovation and a bit of meshugge. That said, The Klezmatics remain arguably the best practitioners of klezmer around.

Rise Up! Shteyt Oyf! contains songs of both simple beauty and wild abandon, tossing in touches borrowed from Celtic, Balkan, Latin and other musical realms. The result is very much an album for our times, a post-9/11 longing for unity through celebratory and introspective music in a world very much in need of it. Pieces like “Davenen (Prayer),” achieve maximum impact through wordless instrumental surges, but such others as “Yo Riboyn Olam (God Master of This Universe)” and “Hevl Iz Havolim (Vanity is Vanities)” draw lyrics and music straight from tradition to spell out the way to spiritual wisdom or plain common sense. Though a few moments of pure sonic nuttiness save the proceedings from approaching a tone that’s completely serious, this is mostly a food-for-thought album.

A cover of Holly Near’s “I Ain’t Afraid” asserts that we all have a lot more to fear from religious zealots than from God, while “Barikadn (Barricades)” laments mankind’s need to fight in the streets. Throughout it all, the band’s rich tapestry of brass, reeds, strings, accordion, keyboards and percussion does a superb job of taking it to the max or taking it easy. This is a very fine disc, full of good times, great sounds and hope in the face of uncertainty.

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Don’t Pardon My French

Various Artists – French Caribbean
Various Artists

French Caribbean (Putumayo PUT 211-2, 2003)

Musically, some Caribbean islands bear strong marks of having been former colonies of Spain, England or The Netherlands. Haiti, Martinique and Guadeloupe, however, were under French control back in the day. As elsewhere in the Caribbean, enslaved Africans provided the rhythms that today form the basis of popular music in those places.

Putumayo’s French Caribbean is a celebration that is as lively as it is sultry and sensual, oozing forth beguine, compas and other styles with melodic strains cut from the same cloth as French chanson or cabaret music and beats straight from Africa.

Some of the songs, such as the selections from Michel “Sweet Mickey” Martelly and Haiti Twoubadou, groove to a choppy gallop like what you’d hear in cumbia or reggae, resounding with a folkloric feel shared by Kali’s banjo-picking quadrille and Emeline Michel’s graceful ode to motherhood. There’s modern-sounding tracks to keep things balanced, embellishing the roots via electronic and hip-hop touches without drowning them.

The disc ends with a live track from the mighty Kassav’, who combined the various traditional musics with up-to-date studio technology to create the rousing contemporary style known as zouk. It’s a fitting final note to a nicely put together collection that will leave you wanting to explore the region’s music further.

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Good Weed Indeed

Yerba Buena - President Alien
Yerba Buena

President Alien (Razor and Tie 7930182894-2, 2003)

It’s easy to like a band whose name means “good weed.” Truly, it appears that some degree of herbal assistance may have played a role in Yerba Buena coming up with their mix of salsa, Afro-Cuban, cumbia, rock, hip-hop, urban funk, Afrobeat and a few other kitchen sinks. It’s the Latino edge that stands out most, though the many global flavors in this serious party music are fully integral and not mere adornment.

The rap elements are the least interesting aspect (there’s even a lame reference to “J-Lo” in the opening track), though they do manage some deft twists and turns by utilizing unusual cadences and gearing their intensity to match the abundant percussion. Some of the adventurous instrumental work here (the horns of Ron Blake and Rashawn Ross in particular) recall the freewheeling sounds of the Fania All Stars and other vintage Latin boogaloo, and show clearly that this band is just as much about giving the roots their due as they are about sounding cutting edge. In other words, the mix of old and new is a good one, with equal parts Orisha-inspired rhythms and street swagger.

The songs often take unexpected turns into tight percussion breaks, jazzy solos or spaced-out vocal tangents with no loss of groove momentum. There’s plenty of variety as well- compare the smoky fun of “Fire” with the assertive “Definition of a Warrior,” and you hear the mark of a band that’s diverse in subject matter as well as sound. The core band members are players and singers of considerable skill, but assisting Yerba Buena are numerous guest artists who’ve rubbed elbows with guitarist/keyboardist/bandleader/sonic mastermind Andres Levin in his many musical projects.

These include Carlinhos Brown, Mark Ribot, Yosvany Terry and Andy Gonzalez, adding licks and kicks that deepen and sweeten the proceedings. President Alien is fusion music with appeal likely to reach far and wide. Be prepared not only to fall under its spell, but to go down dancing.

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CD Review: Kristi Stassinopoulou–The Secrets of the Rocks

Kristi Stassinopoulou - The Secrets of the Rocks
Kristi Stassinopoulou – The Secrets of the Rocks
Kristi Stassinopoulou

The Secrets of the Rocks (Hitch Hyke Music/USA:Tinder, 2003)

Greek multi-media artist Kristi Stassinopoulou possesses a limitless talent and a unique world-view. Kristi’s most recent release, The Secret of the Rocks features Kristi’s vocal and writing talents as well as, giving listeners a peek into her spiritual and mysterious world.

The artist published two books in the past, Seven Times in Amorgos (1993) and the mystery novel, The Fiery Sword (1995) along with a collection of CDs as a solo artist and member of the group Selana which she formed with her partner, Stathis Kalyviotis, another multi-talented musician.

The Secret of the Rocks revolves around ocean themes. Everything from seaweed, (Red Adders), the wind mentioned on various tracks, the moon, rocks, sand and mysterious elements surface in Kristi’s poetic lyrics. And in fact, this beautifully packaged CD combines poetry and music in a compelling fashion while reflecting on the life of beach bohemians who eschew television and perfume ads.

The music that appears on the CD marries Greek (rembetika) and Balkan folk roots with electronic and psychedelic pop-rock and its easy to see where a drug culture might be attracted to this ethereal music. And others such as myself also find the CD enjoyable. The music which in part is inspired by American and English psychedelic groups from the 1960′s such as Jefferson Airplane can also trace its roots back to Mediterranean, North African and Indian music in which influenced the psychedelic musicians from the past.

Kristi and Stathis create something fresh from their various influences while marrying the past with the future. Similar to their last North American release, Echotropia, Kristi treats her voice like a musical instrument. She whispers, narrates poetry and sings in various modes and scales. On the titular track, her raspy whispers hang lightly over percussion, drone and ambient guitar recalling early Cocteau Twins’ releases. On Waves, she utilizes the Greek scale and oriental modes. For the most part, her vocals embellish synthesizer-guitar-sample mixes, but on the tracks, Strong Wind Blockade, The Fates and Calima, saz (a Turkish pear-shaped string instrument), ney and bagpipes are introduced. And if you listen closely to the collage of instruments that appear on this CD, you will also hear accordion, lyre and various percussion instruments.

The groovy 70′s style Whirlpools with its jazzy guitar and provocative lyrics, “and if you hear the sirens scream at night, it’s my heart’s whirlpools that sigh,” is one of my favorite tracks. The other worldly, The Days Go By, the melancholic Calima with its desert images and the catchy R.E.M-esque verse-chorus-verse Summer Moon are also gems waiting to be unearthed and brushed of their sand.

Any artist that draws on the ocean and moon for inspiration will touch our souls. The Secret of the Rocks also delves into contemporary Greek mythology, nature spirits and the unknown without ever losing its musical footing. And it is one of those CDs that grabs a hold of your senses while transporting you into another time and place.

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Original Masters of Ska Show Their Love

Skatalites – From Paris With Love
The Skatalites

From Paris With Love (World Village 468017, 2003)

No matter how much ebb and flow there is in the popularity of ska, the fact remains that it’s one of the most recognizable and enduring forms of music on the planet. It’s been 40 years since the Skatalites combined shuffling jazz and r+b with Afro-Caribbean rhythms and sharp accents on the off beat to create a style that went on to influence and inspire punk rockers, reggae rebels, musicians of various stripes and listeners the world over.

Ska started out not only as music but as a reflection of contemporary culture, with many ska songs over the years being reconfigured versions of popular classics or drawing ideas from movie soundtracks and matinee idol personas. The Skatalites continue to keep that spirit alive to this very day, and From Paris With Love is the latest jewel in the crown of their long and distinguished career.

Recorded in the French capital late in 2001, the disc includes the amazingly honed chops of longtime members Lloyd Brevett (bass), Lester Sterling and Cedric Brooks (saxes), Lloyd Knibb (drums), and Dizzy Moore (trumpet) as well as perennial vocalist Doreen Shaffer singing on a few selections.

The 15 tracks are heavy on updated old favorites, and though the production is considerably more polished than the often ragtag quality that made vintage Skatalites recording so charming, no one would deny that this band has earned a bit of gloss.

Ageless and timeless as ever are the likes of “Rock Fort Rock,” “African Beat,” “Freedom Sounds” and “Guns of Navarone,” with a smattering of new instrumentals like “Skata Skata” fitting right in. Horn melodies and solos bob and weave over tightly skanking riffs and rhythms, with Knibb’s dead-on drum fills always hitting the mark and the entire ensemble recalling glory days of ska that never truly went away.

The latter-day additions to the group earn their wings alongside the old masters, the album sounds great throughout, and ska fans from Paris to Polynesia will be grooving with renewed vigor.

Buy From Paris With Love.

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Bembeya Jazz–Bembeya

Bembeya Jazz - Bembeya
Bembeya Jazz – Bembeya
Bembeya Jazz

Bembeya(World Village, 2003)

Released on World Village, sporting three vocalists, four guitarists, a horn trio, drums and percussion, Guinea’s Bembeya Jazz has reunited after a 14 year hiatus to commemorate their 40 plus year history. The end result was the group’s first European appearance in over a decade at the Musiques Metisses Festival and Bembeya, a CD that acts as an anthology.

The legendary octogenarian Cuban musicians made famous by the recording Buena Vista Social Club comes to mind and it’s not too far fetched to draw comparisons between the two groups. Both groups derived from nightclub musicians that reached legendary status in their respective countries and both groups suffered hardships due to politics or economic hardships only to return in their later years more dynamic than ever.

The Bembeya Jazz group first formed in 1961 as part of the new president Sekou Toure’s national arts and culture program. When persuaded by his uncle, guitarist Sekou Diabate, “Diamond Fingers,” created the nucleus of Bembeya Jazz. The group continued to evolve and expand through the 1960’s and 70’s by adding two rhythm guitarists and dancing girls. The group also experienced success within Guinea’s nightclub scene. By the 1980’s Guinea’s economy began to crumble, and while most musical acts suffered from this hardship, Bembeya Jazz was fortified by the arrival of their new young vocalist, Sekou “Bambino” Diabate who also contributed griot traditions to the group. However, this success proved short lived after Bambino left the group to pursue a solo career.

Founding member Sekou Diabate broke out on his own too, recording an album with his wife, Djanke Diabate and a solo album (Diamond Fingers) as well. He was residing in Paris when he was asked to return to the group. This led to Bembeya Jazz’s recent festival performance in France as well as, this recording. (For more historical information, see the CD liner notes).

The eight tracks on Bembeya span from 1965 with the group’s first song, Bembeya to 1987 with Yelema
Yelemaso, a song about heroes and troubadours. Sanfaran dates to 1974 and speaks of an old and revered woman sorceress. Gbapie written by Diagbe Traore is a love song about a young man that woos a village girl with his musical talents. Sabou, written by Sekouba Diabate brought in a new infusion of the Manding griot tradition and speaks of the cause of something or synchronicity.

Fans of the Ganje Brass band or the numerous orchestras or jazz outfits found throughout the African continent will enjoy Bembeya Jazz. Of course, since the group has been around since 1961, I imagine they have already garnered a sizable international following. If not, this recording should do the trick.

Buy Bembeya

(Compliments of Cranky Crow World Music).

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