Category Archives: CD Reviews

Reves D’Oasis – Desert Blues 2

Reves D’Oasis – Desert Blues 2
Reves D’Oasis – Desert Blues 2 (Network 22.762, 2002)

The first volume of this series, 1996’s Ambiances du Sahara, was a sprawling treasure chest of music from the vast regions covered by the world’s largest desert. The critical praise it received was considerable, and the recently released second volume takes another bountiful trip around the same countries to come up with a further load of riches. Africa’s Saharan countries create music as enjoyable as it is subject to analysis- the likelihood of it being the basis of American blues, its Arabic roots, etc.

Desert Blues 2 starts off with strong selections from Majid Bekkas and Boubacar Traore, featuring melancholy guitars and vocals winding around nervously tapping percussion. Gradually, over the set’s two-disc length, the songs run a gorgeous course between bright and celebratory and solitary and very bluesy indeed. The same multiple facets as volume one are in evidence, along with the same balance of familiar and lesser-known names. Plenty of calabashes and n’goni lutes are heard, but there’s also bottleneck guitar spacing out alongside kora, Tuareg and Gnawa sounds that keep the journey a spiritual one, music that could’ve come from the Mississippi Delta if not for the growly non-English lyrics, ancient pentatonic scale riffs serviced by modern dance grooves and loads more of the same kind of diversity you’d expect to come from and area roughly the size of the U.S.

A fair number of the songs are by women, and the set is also reflective of their artistic emergence from certain countries and cultures where their role has been secondary. There’s a lot going on here, and anyone who bought the first volume with the thought that there must be much more will find out how right they were. Reves D’Oasis will refresh and rejuvenate you like bountiful flowing water found in the midst of barren desolation. 

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Nakai, Eaton, Clipman, Nawang

Nakai, Eaton, Clipman, Nawang

Nakai, Eaton, Clipman, Nawang - In A Distant Place
Nakai, Eaton, Clipman, Nawang – In A Distant Place

In A Distant Place (Canyon Records)

After several trial recordings together, R. Carlos Nakai and Nawang Khechog have succeeded in combining their visions of music for meditation and peace. On the same road for many years, the two flutists – Nakai on cedar and Nawang on bamboo – have pursued peace, contentment and joy through their music, Nakai from the West and Nawang from the East.

Nakai has found his way using his Native American background solo and with scores of collaborations. Nawang has until recently walked the path solo composing pieces based on Tibetan philosophy for TV and film scores. Now the two have found success in their expression together. William Eaton’s unique harp guitar provides the network of notes for them to bond to.

Will Clipman’s acoustic percussion grounds the group. The chanting in both Native American and Tibetan adds focus to an already meditative album. This album breaks new ground in its spiritual aim, and it is well worth noting that with it, the distance between the ancient Native Americans and the Tibetans has grown smaller.

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Pizzimenti, Antonio Paolo

Antonio Paolo Pizzimenti

Atlante – Musiche dai Teatri (Dunya Records)

The variety of themes, influences and musical arrangements is astounding in this collection of pieces written for the theatrical production Codice Atlantico by the Italian composer and arranger Antonio Paolo Pizzimenti.

Pizzimenti is well known for his work in Italian advertising, radio, TV, and soundtracks. Working mostly behind the scenes as a sound engineer for the Italian star Eugenio Finaldi, ane The Memphis Horns, he has also added his musicianship to albums by Roberto Vecchioni and Banda Isiris.

Lead mostly by keyboards and percussion, and using everything in his repertoire from bagpipes, organs, and heavy drums each piece is very unique and enjoyable. Even without seeing the theater piece, one can appreciate the complexity and density of this music. Drawing on Celtic, African, Italian folk music, Middle Eastern and Latin themes, the music is arranged to draw the listener in, dance and sing, and then go on with life – such is the ideal of life in Italy.

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Yat-Kha

Yat-Kha - Aldyn Dashka - The Golden Cup
Yat-Kha – Aldyn Dashka – The Golden Cup
Yat-Kha

Aldyn Dashka – The Golden Cup (Yat-Kha Records)

Yat-Kha is the latest project of Albert Kuvezin from Tuva, Siberia, who started his career in music by playing electric guitar along with his Deep Purple records during the Soviet era. As a hint of the format of this album, Albert appears on the cover wearing his electric guitar over his heavy Siberian coat.

A diversion from the folk music of Tuva seen in so many places – on recent European rock albums, throat singing is used to evoke a raw energy. The Bulgarian Choir Angelite sang with members of Huun Huur Tu. But this album goes the next step, getting away from the uniqueness of the style and featuring great songwriting, superb musicianship and a real sense of humor. On a few songs, Albert is joined by Sailyk Omnum, who sings in the bluesy Tuvan women’s style. Band members include the venerable Aldyn-ool Sevek, who toured for many years with the Sayani Ensemble, Tuva’s Official Folk Singing and Dancing Group. This is the next chapter in Tuvan music.

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Triny Gipsy Streams

Triny - Gipsy Streams
Triny – Gipsy Streams
Triny

Gipsy Streams (Supraphon)

Iveta Kováĉová, Dagmar Podkonická and Jana Ryšerová met at the Prague Conservatory, all interested in Roma (gypsy) musical heritage. According to Iveta, they explored their roots together at her home, and found much to sing about. Their sound compares well with the Scandinavian vocal group Varttina in their range and accomplished vocal quality. Harmonies are not as complex and close as the Bulgarian Women’s Choirs or as simple as some Caribbean ditty, but find their own center in each song.

Their arrangements sensibly feature the wonderful timbre of the three voices. No one singer dominates, but each carries a unique sound, identifiable, and, after a while, you’ll be listening for your favorite. And when blended together, they sound sweet.

What makes this album super smart is their top notch band who coax rhythm and meaning out of every beat. Using a truckful of folk and electric instruments, they keep the songs lively, modern and fun, even when the lyrics are repetitious or nonsense. Very fun music to listen to on your way anywhere.

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Salif Keita – Moffou

Salif Keita - Moffou
Salif Keita

Moffou (Universal Music 8527, 2002)

From his days as featured singer with the Rail Band and Les Ambassadeurs through his high-profile solo career, Mali’s Salif Keita has possessed one of the world’s greatest voices. Still, he has made his share of uneven albums. While 1999’s rockishly disappointing Papa left him no place to go but up, Keita’s latest release triumphs not only in comparison but in its own right.


Moffou
, easily Keita’s best since his 1987 landmark Soro, is a feast of acoustic instruments, spiritually soulful singing, richly subtle rhythmic undercurrents and an African roots sensibility unlike anything this remarkable singer has embraced in a long time. There are a couple of voice-and-guitar tracks on which Keita’s slightly raspy, Islamic-inflected tones effortlessly cut to the marrow, songs where the nuances of rhythm and melody are so tightly entwined as to be virtually inseparable, and one irresistible dance jam, “Maman,” with a solidly airy groove that will have remixers scrambling for their knobs.The instrumental backing includes the sharply attuned work of longtime guitar collaborator Kante Manfila along with a crafty balance of flutes, accordion, n’goni lute, varied percussion and more.

Moffou
. Other recordings available:

Remixes from Moffou

  • In Europe:

    Moffou
    . Other recordings available:

    Remixes from Moffou
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    Mamar Kassey – Alatoumi

    Mamar Kassey - Alatoumi
    Mamar Kassey

    Alatoumi (World Village 470003, 2002)

    Even if your global music collection is fairly extensive, chances are you don’t own a great deal of music from Niger. It just so happens that the music of Niger hasn’t been as widely recorded and distributed as that of some other African countries in the same general area (Nigeria, Mali, Senegal, etc.), and if the high quality of Alatoumi is any indication, it’s a shame.

    Mamar Kassey (the name sounds like one person, but it’s a band) play deliciously twangy roots music not unlike what you’d hear coming from other lower Saharan regions, but it jumps with a passion very much its own thanks to a tightly intertwined mix of modern guitar and bass sparring intensely with not-so-modern lutes, flute and percussion.

    Some of it is as funky as can be, but the disc is incredibly alive in its more thoughtful moments as well. Lead vocalist/flutist Yacouba Moumouni’s voice has a wailing Arabic keenness to it, and on songs like "Dommo," it straddles the rising and falling rhythms and hair-standing-on-end female background vocals with style and grace. His sparse but deft flute work is nice too, helping to bring out the intricacies of instrumental passages where shades of Senegalese m’balax and Nigerian juju are heard.

    Alatoumi is terrific from start to finish, easily one of the best African releases of the year. Anyone who may have regarded Niger as a non-presence on the music map had better seriously change their way of thinking.

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    Tania Libertad – Costa Negra

    Tania Libertad - Costa Negra
    Tania Libertad

    Costa Negra (World Village 468014, 2002)

    Peru’s Tania Libertad could be categorized alongside Susana Baca easily enough. Both women base their sound around Peru’s African roots, and both sing with considerable range and depth. But where Baca’s sound most often opts for a small-scale intimacy, Libertad engages with a grander, more orchestrated sound.

    The characteristic Afro-Peruvian percussion foundation (including the cajón box drum) is present, with guitars, bass, violin, accordion and saxophone, giving many of the songs a sparkle that takes things beyond the Peruvian border.

    The African connection is particularly strong- Libertad duets beautifully with Cape Verde’s Cesaria Evora on one track and utilizes Senegalese players and instrumentation on a couple of others. Vocally, Libertad resembles not only Susana Baca but Colombia’s Totó la Momposina as well (in fact, the African touches on Costa Negra are every bit as successful as those on Momposina’s Pacanto album, albeit with a different regional sensibility).

    Tania Libertad is poised to become a major voice on the global scene, a voice with the strength to both ride the grooves and envelop the emotions. Costa Negra has plenty of both, and that’s what makes it so satisfying.

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    A Spirited Elegance

    Catriona  McKay –  Untitled (Glimster Records. GLIMCD 01)

    Fiddlers’ Bid –  Da Farder Ben Da Welcomer ( Greentrax. CDTRAX218)

    When I first heard a fragment of Catriona McKay’s playing I thought it was Derek Bell, the great, and now sadly late, Belfast harpist. There was just something about the lightness of touch and the tune briefly reminded me of something by Turlough Carolan.  Well, I was wrong on both counts. It wasn’t Bell and the tune was, ‘The Swan LK243’, composed by McKay herself. It’s here on this, her first, CD along with various Shetland and other traditional tunes plus a couple more originals.  And it is one of those totally refreshing albums that combines harp, fiddle, double bass and percussion with such elegant simplicity that the tunes cannot help but speak and stay with you.

    Take the aforementioned piece, ’The Swan’. This was written about a trip from Lerwick Harbour on the sail boat from which the tune takes its name. There is an open air, cool breezes in your face feel as the harp and fiddle glide through and embellish the melody as the bass firmly anchors it all. You can almost feel the decks rolling under your feet!!

    But before I get carried away with that one there are many memorable tunes here. ‘The Forlorn Queen’, is taken from the Bunting Collection, published in 1797, and if the word ‘haunting’ wasn’t so over-used I’d be tempted. It is a melody for which no words have been traced and to be honest it is so eloquently written that I doubt if words could ever do it any justice. McKay allows the tune to unfold in a stately, unhurried manner and it is one of those that I keep replaying. Another one is ‘Maurice O’Connor’ and this time it is one of Carolan’s. McKay takes it solo and the grace and elegance that characterise some of the best of the blind harper’s tunes are evident here. Her own, ‘The Loon Mountain Moose’, is equally sprightly and buoyant, abetted by some restrained bass and percussion.

    Of the traditional tunes, ‘The Bonfire’, which is three pieces in one, shows off both the fleet-fingered harping and the subtlety of the accompanists whilst ‘More Grog Comin’ brings together another three tunes, all from the Shetland repertoire. Chris Stout’s fiddle gets a chance to solo too as the harp adds its own understated textures.

    The album ends with a love song ‘Castle O’Neill’, again without words and from the Bunting Collection. It is a delicate affair with just solo harp to deliver the lovely tune. It is a fitting end to a set that offers spirited revivals from the tradition alongside newer tunes which promise more to come.

    If you like the sound of that then you’ll probably also enjoy the collective exuberance of Fiddlers’ Bid, a seven piece specialising in tunes from the Shetland Islands as well as their own compositions. Catriona McKay is a member along side several storming fiddles, guitar and bass guitar. They race through breakneck tunes, like ‘Zander The Sander’, another piece from that boat trip out of Lerwick, a place which also inspired one of their slow airs ‘Leaving Lerwick Harbour’. The latter exudes a melancholy grace as massed fiddles soar over the rippling harp. It is both poignant and effective.

    The band’s Shetland roots are explored in traditional pieces such as, ‘Du’s Bun Lang Awa An A’m Tocht Ta See Dee’ or ‘You Have Been Long Away And I’ve Thought Long About Seeing You Again’, a tune that was played as part of a Shetland wedding. Music for wedding nights features again on ‘Da Farder Ben Da Welcomer’, a tune to do with ‘bedding the bride’, apparently. It’s all played with gusto and obvious pleasure. I bet they are a joy to witness on stage.

    So to bring me back to where I started there is another harp tune, ‘Christine’ which is a simple and expressive showcase before McKay’s ‘The Swan’ closes the album, this time as a bigger band version which retains every bit of the tune’s delicacy. Currently favourite contender for my ‘tune of the year’ it wraps up a breath-taking set of vital playing that warms the spirit in these dark days of the new year.

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    Drop The Debt : Various Artists

    Drop the Debt

    Various Artists

    Drop the Debt (Wrasse Records : WRASS 095)

    Music allied to a cause can sometimes be a disappointing enterprise. Are a bunch of egos hi-jacking music to promote their sagging profiles? Occasionally such projects suffer from musical blandness, which may not help the cause much. Thankfully, this CD manages to escape all of these pitfalls. It is a varied and constantly listenable album and anyone who parts with the asking price is contributing to a more than worthy campaign. And all the tracks are exclusive to this CD.

    Artists from Brazil to Senegal, Cameroon to Venezuela join with each other in addressing and opposing a common problem. So, as you might expect, there are many diverse musical voices sharing the same space. Fernanda Abreu & MV Bill blend voices, which are partly submerged in the drum, dominated mix. Electronic and acoustic musics sit easily side by side. The huge brassy arrangements of Columbia’s Toto la Momposina urge on the equally huge, spirited vocals which declare that: ‘We Have to end the debt/So we can move forward’.

    Brazil and Ivory Coast join forces in a reggae based polemic. Tiken Jah Fakoly & Tribo de Jah “Baba” declare that their ‘parents die in poverty’ working the fields while the tv coldly states that ‘the country’s success depends on farming’. Meiway, also from the Ivory Coast, reiterate the message ‘cancel the debt’ on Assez’, using a deceptively relaxed groove.

    The cool reggae and brass of Zedess sound equally relaxed but the words again are angry on ‘Cadeau Empoisonne’, accusing the World Bank and the IMF who ‘were born to hand out poisoned chalices’. Massila Sound System incorporate a sample of Thomas Sankara’s passionate speech, made shortly before his assassination, into their mix of raw guitar and choppy electronic rhythms.

    This contrasts with the spectre of blandness, which intrudes briefly on Africa South’s ‘The Third World Cries Everyday’, a track that has neither verbal nor musical passion. Fortunately, Oliver Mtukudze can always be relied upon to deliver both. His ‘Murimi Munhu’ sets his own gruffly distinctive voice against a gently melodic backdrop of guitars and female vocals. It is capable of moving you whether or not you speak his language. Like much of the music here it transcends linguistic barriers and speaks to the whole body.

    There are many styles represented on this CD united by the same sense of injustice and every track has earned its place. Definitely recommended.

    Buy the recording:

    www.jubileedebtcampaign.org.uk

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