All posts by TJ Nelson

TJ Nelson is a regular CD reviewer and editor at World Music Central. She 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.

Vitto Meirelles’s Delicious Servings

Vitto Meirelles – Da Hora

Vitto Meirelles – Da Hora (Cooking Vinyl, 2019)

If you have even the slightest affinity for Brazilian music you need a copy of Vitto Meirelles’s Da Hora, out on the Cooking Vinyl label. And, I’m not just saying that because the cover features Mr. Meirelles in the buff with just a guitar. Yes, after years of bitter complaints about CD covers exploiting women’s bodies to boost sales, we can just chalk this up to an About Time Moment. Regardless of the cheesecake photo connotations, Mr. Meirelles has crafted a first rate recording that is a smart, savvy and satiny follow-up to previous recordings Da Fonte and Vem Rei.

Conjuring up an airy and intimate feel on Da Hora, singer, composer and musician Mr. Meirelles enlists percussionists Domenico Lancellotti, Marivaldo Paim, Carlos Sales and Pedro Fonte in addition to his own playing guitar, piano, bass and electric keyboard to weave this silky smooth Brazilian musicscape. Mr. Meirelles’s past work with the like of Gilberto Gil, Salif Keita and Seu Jorge and composing for film and theater serves him well on Da Hora in crafting engaging tracks and moods.

Opening with the “A Fonte Secou” featuring Denis Lavant, listeners are teased with flirty bit of opening accordion before riding the easy, breezy vocals of Mr. Meirelles and some delicious percussion dashed with a bit of cuica.

Lazing his way into “Nada E melhor do Que Voce,” listeners are lulled by backing Brazilian drumming, guitar and keyboards against Mr. Meilleres’s vocals before giving way to sections of just percussion and vocals.

Full of interesting turns of vocal phrasing and percussion, Da Hora transforms what might have been ordinary Brazilian fare into something extraordinary. Equally delicious are servings of “Outro Ceu,” the savvy swinging “Le Cannibale,” “Um Tempo ao Tempo,” the delicately worked “Tudo Era Leve” and the faint vocal backing of easy feeling “O Amor E Tudo.”

Title track “Da Hora” is indeed a standout track, along with “Sou Menina Menino” and the bonus tracks “Tu T’laisses Aller” and “Aguas de Marco.”

Da Hora’s warm intimate feel is dreamy drowsy laze steeped in Brazil, and we all know if Brazilian music is playing then all is right with the world. And hey, there’s a naked man with a guitar on the cover.

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Guo Gan Trio’s Stunning Collaboration

Guo Gan Trio – Gobi Desert

Guo Gan Trio – Gobi Desert (Felmay, 2019)

Musical collaborations hold a particular fascination for me. I assume that many start in the simplest ways with the questions from one musician to another, “Hey, wanna play some music?” Now I’m sure that there is the occasional “no” but really what self-respecting musician ever says no to a gig or to at least show off their latest riff? Music is this wonderful messy conglomeration of instruments,genres and styles that have crossed hills, mountains, rivers, regions and countries a million times over from the beginnings of the earliest flute or drum.

Ethnomusicologists, despite all the studies, scratched out records or archaeological evidence, are dependent on a fair amount of guesses or suppositions on the evolution of song or the origins of one single instrument. A disputed claim by two neighboring towns as the birthplace of a particular instrument can break out into a brawl if not monitored closely. In a weird way music is the big human collaboration.

When I come across these musical cross-pollination recordings, the first thing I want to ask is what was it about this other genre of music that fascinated you? I know what I hear after the collaboration is essentially complete, but what did you find that worked melding two different musical traditions and what didn’t work. My second questions is why must you print liner notes over photographs making it impossible to make out what’s in the liner notes.

There’s a wonderful collaboration out there available for a listen on Italy’s Felmay label called Gobi Desert by the Guo Gan Trio. Some music fans might have had a listen into the 2014 Guo Gan Trio recording called Jasmine Flower with Guo Gan on erhu with Rao Ying on zheng and Lai Long Han on dizi and xiao. Now the Guo Gan Trio is back with yet another trio and another sound. Teaming up with Turkish saz player Emre Gultekin and Turkish percussionist Levent Yildirim.

On the surface, to those without a little history under their belts, some might consider this an unlikely collaboration, but if you think about the Silk Road trade routes that stretched all the way from China through Turkey to its final reaches in southern Italy the musical sharing leap becomes easier. The Silk Road started around 114 BCE, so it’s not hard to imagine that collaborations like this went on longer and farther than we could have ever have guessed.

This collaboration is indeed a treat. Packed full of erhu, doholla, uc telli, bendir, baglama and tembur, Gobi Desert is a musical landscape that graces the lines of the elegance of Chinese musical traditions into the meaty, sinuous turns of Middle Eastern music, Guo Gan, Emre Gultekin and Levent Yildirim set up a collaborative musical space that is as entertaining as it is engaging.

Opening with the title track and Guo Gan composition “Gobi Desert,” the trio fashions a delicate hybrid that almost comes across as an elegant court music with picked out doholla in between lines of erhu and rippling uc telli. The effect is stunning. Equally exciting is the Emre Gultekin composition “Kogaoglan Pacarani” that blends erhu with baglama and tembur with some truly spectacular percussion by Mr. Yildirim so fans will not want to miss a moment of this.

Other treats include the erhu fronted “Chinese Bike,” the deliciously mysterious “Tera Kiya,” the vocal laced “Harput” and moving erhu solo of “Parting at Yang Guan Pass.” Wrapping up with “Biday derya” the Guo Gan Trio hooks listeners with the whirlwind of erhu, doholla, tembur and baglama with some additional guest help from Malabika Brahma on dubki and vocals.

This is a stunning collaboration and we just can’t wait to see what trio Guo Gan cooks up next.

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Duplessy & The Violins of the World’s Extraordinary Musical Landscape

Duplessy & The Violins of the World – Crazy Horse

Duplessy & The Violins of the World – Crazy Horse (Absilone/Op Conseil, 2016)

Feeling a little hemmed in … a little harassed … a little hounded? Looking to step out into the untamed wilderness and run with wild without leaving the comfort of your headphones? Then I have the perfect CD for you. It’s the 2016 Absilone/Op Conseil release (yeah, I don’t know how this one got past us either) of Mathias Duplessy & The Violins of the World’s Crazy Horse. This extraordinary musical landscape is just the cure for what ails you. Crazy Horse has got guitar, Chinese erhu, horsehead fiddle, nychelharpa, sarangi, violin and throat singing. Who can resist throat singing?

Crazy Horse is the collaboration of French guitarist Mathias Duplessy, Chinese erhu master Guo Gan, Mongolia’s horsehead fiddler extraordinaire and throat singer Naraa Puredorj, French nychelharpa player Aliocha Regnard with Mongolian overtone singer and horsehead fiddle player Enkhjargal Dandarvaanchig, Indian sarangi player Sabir Khan and Tunisian violinist and composer Zied Zouari thrown in for good measure. With Mr. Duplessy composing most of the music for Crazy Horse, listeners get a dose of Maurice Ravel on “Pavane Pour Une Infante Defunte” and a composition by Mr. Dandarvaanchig.

Opening with horse galloping sounds, title track “Crazy Horse” takes off across the steppes at breakneck speed with horsehead fiddles and guitar with a little throat singing tossed in. I’ll admit that it kinda comes off as if Spaghetti Western music composer Ennio Morricone took a wrong turn east, but it quirky enthusiasm and fiddle playing is worth it.

Crazy Horse just veers off the beaten path with the East/West combo with Mr. Duplessy and Mr. Regnard providing the flourishes against some catchy percussion, before giving way to the elegant lines of “Montagnes” with Mr. Gan, Mr. Dandarvaanchig and Mr. Khan in this sweeping musicscape.

There’s some truly lovely tracks like “Pavane Pour Une Infante Defunte,” “Le Vol du Heron” and “Lac Dans La Brume.” “Petards Chinois” written by Mr. Guo is deliciously catchy and Indian laced “Baiao of Mumbai” with Mr. Gan, Mr. Dandarvaanchig and Mr. Khan is equally captivating. Closing with “Chevauchee Celeste” listeners get another dramatic dose of a Morricone drama that’s just a good as the first track.

Whether it’s the raucous ride across the steppes or the slow amble next to a lazy stream, Crazy Horse has your musical escape covered.

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Otherworldly Autumn Soundscapes

Kayhan Kalhor, Rembrandt Frerichs, Tony Overwater and Vinsent Planjer – It’s Still Autumn (Kepera Records/Challenge Records International, 2019)

Somewhere in the throes of baking in the last of the summer heat thoughts of autumn arise. The lure of the pungency of dries leaves, that crystalline light that belongs to those first crisp mornings and the warm glow of that last blast before the dark of winter takes hold might just seem like property of experience or childhood memory, but what if you could capture autumn in music? What would be the soundtrack to autumn? Lucky for you I think I’ve got just the right soundtrack for you autumn listening.

The Challenge Records International release of It’s Still Autumn is the quintessential soundtrack for your autumn lolling and reflection. And, let me caution here that once you open yourself to this glorious collection of tracks it is all about the music so it’s best to sit, listen and take the ride.

Kayhan Kalhor, Rembrandt Frerichs, Tony Overwater and Vinsent Planjer – It’s Still Autumn

Interestingly enough our autumn pleasure soundscape is the result of a collaboration between the Iranian kamanche player Kayhan Kalhor and the Dutch jazz group The Rembrandt Frerichs Trio. Music fans might know musician and composer Mr. Kalhor ‘s work with Yo Yo Ma’s Silk Road Ensemble and recordings such as The Rain with Ghazal, The Wind and Hawniyaz. The equally impressive music pedigree of musician and composer Rembrandt Frerichs has recordings such as Ordem E Progesso Vol. 1 & 2, Levantasy with Yoram Lachish, Tony Overwater and Vinsent Planjer and The Contemporary to his credit. Musician and composer Tony Overwater’s discography includes Changes in Time, Ellington Suites with the Tony Overwater Trio with Calefax and Jungleboldie with the Tony Overwater Trio. Musician and composer Vinsent Planjer has appeared on Levantasy, Continental and A Long Story Short recordings.

With Mr. Kalhor on kamanche, Mr. Frerichs on fortepiano and harmonium, Mr. Overwater on violone and double bass and Mr. Planjer on his own crafted percussion setup called the whisper kit, It’s Still Autumn lays down a soundscape so finely crafted that if you were to close your eyes listening your mind’s eye would catch the swirl of dried leaves or the dawning light catching the dew. It’s Still Autumn is where everything is in its proper place, where curlicues of Iranian kamanche rise on the winds of fortepiano against the thrum of double bass and polished off by the tang of percussion or the tinkling of bells. It is neither wholly jazz or wholly world music – it’s the best combination it is that out-of-time, other-worldly soundscape fueled by its own goodness.

Divided into two sections of Dawn and Dusk, It’s Still Autumn is cleverly crafted where one track simply flows into another, so the opening “Dawn-Introduction” with fortepiano, violone and cascade of wind chime bells sets up the anticipation of the full light with kamanche before flowing neatly into “Dew Drops” which in turn leaps headlong into the spectacular that is the bright and joyful “Kayhan’s Chahar” with some pretty stunning double bass, fortepiano and kamanche goodness. And, that’s only three tracks in. There’s the serene sorrow of the kamanche on “Still” and the elegantly smooth “Offering.”

If the music hasn’t hooked you by this point seek professional help, but first you should check out the second section of It’s Still Autumn entitle Dusk. The eerie musical threads on the opening of Dusk’s “Introduction” snare the listener before the track slowly unfurls into a reflective mood awaiting the gloaming by way of achingly lovely kamanche lines before evolving into the melancholic mood of “Autumn” led by kamanche and laced by double bass and fortepiano. “Autumn Winds” is perhaps the most strongly jazz flavored and boasts some truly delicious double bass, fortepiano and percussion work as the track takes wild flight on the autumn winds. Closing track “Long Story Short” is simply masterful in its musicianship as it reaches out and snatches colored leaves from the wind and conjures up the very edges of light before it slips into the dark.

It’s Still Autumn is the mosaic of leaves under foot, that tang of wood smoke in the air and the golden moments of last warm light before winter. Yeah, it’s that good.

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Dazzling Collection of Latin Jazz Tunes

Michel Camilo – Essence (Resilience Music, 2019)

The tunes that flow out on Resilience Music’s release Essence are all the evidence you need to know that the Dominican composer and musician Michel Camilo is one cool cat. Well, that and that he hangs out with equally cool cats because the bevy of musicians on Essence is spectacular.

Essence is the 25th recording for the Grammy award winning jazz and Latin jazz pianist, who’s musical collaborations sounds like a who’s who list of the Latin and jazz world with the likes of Tito Puente, Paquito D’Rivera, Dizzy Gillespie, Stanley Turrentine, Bela Fleck, Arturo Sandoval and Danilo Perez in the mix. With recordings like Triangulo, Live at the Blue Note, Spain Forever and Why Not to his credit, it can come as no surprise that Mr. Camilo delivers a well heeled, sharp, savvy collection of tunes on Essence just as any cool cat can.

Michel Camilo – Essence

Hooking listeners from the jump on opener “And Sammy Walked In,” Essence is a delicious melange of piano, brass and percussion that will please any inner jazz or Latin jazz fan out there. Tight and neat, the sleek and sassy “And Sammy Walked In” is just a pleasure of Latin rhythms, saxophone and piano. Slipping into a call-and-response of vocal and piano with percussion beneath on “Mongo’s Blues Intro,” fans don’t have any clue about what’s to hit them as “Mongo’s Blues” takes over and a delicious whirlwind take hold. Things just get better from there.

Composing all the music on Essence and doling out some extremely fine piano performances, Mr. Camilo is joined by bassist Rick Rodriguez, drummer Cliff Almond, percussionist and vocalist Eliel Lazo, alto sax and flute player Antonio Hart, alto sax and clarinet player Sharel Cassity, tenor sax and flute player Ralph Bowen, tenor sax and clarinet player Adam Kolker, baritone sax and bass clarinet player Frank Basile, trumpet and fugelhorn players Raul Agras, John Walsh, Diego Urcola and Kali Rodriguez-Pena, trombone players Michael Dease, Steve Davis and Jason Jackson, bass trombonist David Taylor and trumpet and flugelhorn player Michael Philip Mossman who also arranged the music for Essence.

Mr. Camilo and company deliver some first rate performances on Essence that include the jazzy prowl of “Liquid Crystal,” the cyclonic brassy “Mano a Mano,” the achingly lovely piano and brass combo on “Just Like You” and the deliciously Latin flavored “Piece of Cake.” Jazz fans won’t want to miss a second of “Repercussions” or closing track “Hello & Goodbye.”

Essence is sweetly swinging, audaciously dazzling and smartly stunning.

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The Quebe Sisters, Western Swing Coolness

The Quebe Sisters – The Quebe Sisters (independent, 2019)

The first definition for the word “swing” that appears in the Merriam-Webster dictionary is as follows:

1a : to cause to move vigorously through a wide arc or circle

b : to cause to sway to and fro

c(1) : to cause to turn on an axis

(2) : to cause to face or move in another direction

As luck would have it that is the exact effect that the Dallas-based Texas swing band The Quebe Sisters have on the body on their fourth recording The Quebe Sisters. So be prepared to dip, sway, twirl and Texas Tommy across the floor. Western swing devotees will certainly have acquaintance with The Quebe Sisters so newbies will have to play a little catch-up with recordings such as Timeless, Every Which-A-Way and Texas Fiddlers.

Rather than remaking Western swing, vocalists and fiddlers Grace, Sophia and Hulda Quebe, along with guitarist Simon Stipp and upright bassist Daniel Parr put their own stamp on the genre on this sweetly sassy, smartly sharp recording.

The Quebe sisters define the process by saying, “It was a holistic process, involving every in the band. We’ve never arranged and recorded so collaboratively before, so it’s very rewarding to hear everyone’s musical fingerprint in the final sound.”

The Quebe Sisters

With a trio of songs penned by Sophia Quebe and Daniel Parr, individual solos and tight, neat arranging, The Quebe Sisters swing in the best sense of the word. Recording together in the studio space at Austin’s Texas Treefort Studio, as well as using some vintage equipment, The Quebe Sisters has a cozy nostalgic feel that firmly steers clear of overpowering the collaborative skills of the group’s members or coming across as simply a trite copycat recording,

The Quebe Sisters state, “This album came from the curation of our inspirations. We looked at all the styles that we play, and found a single performance that embodied the essence of everything we loved about that style. Then we dug into the mood and feel of those performances, and used them as reference point for how we played the album.”

From the opening strains of “Always Seem to Get Things Wrong,” western swing will be hooked by just the utter catchy coolness of guitar, fiddle and double bass and fall head over heels over the twangy goodness of the vocals on The Quebe Sisters.

Fans get treated to “My Love, My Life, My Friend,” the sweet sisters vocals of “Pierce the Blue,” the brightly chugging instrumental “Load at 7 (Leave at 8)” and a downright dulcet version of Willie Nelson’s “Summer of Roses.”

The bright and shiny tracks of “Lonesome Road” and “Lullaby of Leaves” are real standouts for the unexpected turns of mood and phrasing that speaks to the musical mastery of these musicians. Fans won’t want to miss out on “The Waltz You Saved for Me,” the instrumental “Bluegrass in the Backwoods” or closing track “Twilight on the Trail.”

The Quebe Sisters will indeed cause one to move vigorously through a wide arc or circle, definitely cause some swaying to and fro and absolutely cause one to turn on an axis and we are all the better for it.

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The Musical Joy of the Gypsies of Rajasthan

Dhoad Gypsies of Rajasthan – Times of Maharajas (ARC Music

There are some CDs that are remarkable easy to review. These are the ones filled with a musical joy and a mastery that goes beyond just mere proficiency. Times of Maharajas by the Dhoad Gypsies of Rajasthan out on the ARC Music label is just one of those recordings.

With the 2005 Dhoad Gypsies: From Rajasthan” under their belt, more than a 1000 concerts in more 100 countries in the last 18 years, performances for the likes of Queen Elizabeth II, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi, former President of France Francois Holland and gig for The Rolling Stones’s Mick Jagger’s birthday, Dhoad Gypsies of Rajasthan are again taking us into the rich and colorful musical traditions of the north west Indian state of Rajasthan on Times of Maharajas.

Dhoad Gypsies of Rajasthan – Times of Maharajas

Overflowing with harmonium, sarangi, kartal, dholak, tabla and some truly extraordinary vocals, Times of Maharajas is extravagantly lush and infectiously joyful. Seriously, who wouldn’t enjoy a recording that has a song entitled “Romantic Peacock?” Musical director and tabla player Rahis Bharti intent on keeping alive the musical and dance traditions of Rajasthan lends his own tabla to Times of Maharajas along with Sanjay Khan, vocalist and harmonium player, sarangi players Ustad Sabri Khan and Ustad Lyikat Ali Khan, singer and kartal player Bilal Khan, dholak player Yakub Khan, singer Moinuddin Khan and tabla players Teepu Khan and Amrat Hussain.

Times of Maharajas is a delight from the opening strains of “Sona ra button banna (The Prince Is Born)” as the courtly life of the maharajas takes on life through each track.

Carefully crafted and intricately worked, Times of the Maharajas expresses a pure musical joyfulness by way of the syncopated vocals against harmonium on the opening before taking shape into “Breathing Under the Water,” and on the happy groove conjured up on “Janwariyo (Romantic Peacock),” or by way of the sweet saranji lines on “Lullaby.”

And the delights just keep coming with “Dhanra Saheba ji (Dream Wedding),” “Nagar bele (Never Let You Go)” and simply fabulous “Royal Dance of Rajasthan Ghoomar.”

Listeners get a real treat by way of a four minute thirty-two second tabla solo with a deliciously threaded harmonium for company on “Tabla Solo” before Times of Maharajas closes with the exotics of “Begha ghara ayo (Maharani Longing for Maharaja).”

Times of Maharajas is a magically rich listen into the times of the maharajas.

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Candid Respect for American Stringband Music

Tui – Pretty Little Mister

Tui – Pretty Little Mister (Hearth Music, 2019)

The shiny sparkly goodness whipped up on the debut recording Pretty Little Mister by the duo called Tui must be akin to the goodness that makes hummingbirds hang around the backdoor, make bad dogs go good and why some fish jump out of the water to kiss the light. Writer’s hyperbole? Perhaps, but only by inches because this is an excellent CD in the resurgence of Americana stringband music. Tight, neat instrumentation, expressive vocals and infectious energy transform Pretty Little Mister into a true delight.

The duo of Tui is fashioned out of singer and musician Jake Blount, one of the few African American banjo players on the stringband scene today and Libby Weitnauer, a sweet voiced fiddler and banjo player from Maryville, Tennessee. This unlikely duo have come to stringband music from entirely different backgrounds.

Mr. Blount found his way beyond funk and metal to American folk through his studies at Hamilton College and delved deep after the acquittal of George Zimmerman for the murder of Trayvon Martin in 2012. He says, “I remember going into my bedroom and pulling out these old spirituals, digging through the music of black people and slaves to figure out what our coping mechanism was.” Picking up the banjo seemed fitting as it was African slaves in the Chesapeake Bay area were the first to have brought the banjo to the America.

For Ms. Weitnauer the banjo and fiddle are a sort of birthright in Maryville, Tennessee. She says, “I moved to Chicago to get my degree in violin performance and I got homesick and had a reframing of my upbringing. Growing up, you’re supposed to feel shame about growing up in that area. Once I moved away, it became more a feeling of pride, so playing fiddle music was an expression of that.”

But in order to play this kind of music you have to find it first. More than just reclaiming, it’s a kind of unearthing by way of a worldwide roundabout of musicians that share old field recordings, archival material and trades of knowledge of long forgotten songs and musicians. It’s by way of this deep dive into the stringband traditions that the material for Pretty Little Mister emerges.

It’s simply apparent from the get-go that Mr. Blount and Ms. Weitnauer are masterful musicians, but it is the almost elegant interplay of this pair that makes the recording sparkle, especially on instrumental tracks like “Crazy Horse,” “Eighth of January” and “Twin Sisters.”

Equally delightful are tracks like “Sugar Babe” with Mr. Blount’s haunting vocals or the sweet vocals of Ms. Weitnauer on “Went Up on the Mountain” or the swayback slide of her vocals on “Mistreated Mama Blues.”

The duo of Tui offers up first rate performances that come across with a kind of genuine respect and love for the tradition.

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Superb Chick Corea with The Spanish Heart Band

Chick Corea with The Spanish Heart Band – Antidote (Concord Jazz, 2019)

Every once in a while you come across a recording that completely stuns you, one of those where melodies and rhythms leak out, sprawl lazily across the skin and sink deep leaving you utterly spellbound and unable to anything but listen. That best sums up Antidote, out on the Concord Jazz label, by the estimable pianist, keyboardist and composer Chick Corea along with his brand new band The Spanish Heart Band. With compositions that are smart and sophisticated, a collection of musicians that make each track sizzle and all under the guiding hand of Chick Corea, Antidote is deliciously ferocious, sleekly sublime and savagely cool.

Chick Corea with The Spanish Heart Band – Antidote

Revisiting the Spanish, Latin and flamenco influences from his own past and previous recordings such as My Spanish Heart and Touchstone, Mr. Corea assembles a dream team of musicians to realize with work on Antidote. With Flamenco guitarist Niño Josele and fellow Spaniard saxophonist and flutist Jorge Pardo, along with Cuban bassist Carlitos Del Puerto and Venezuelan percussionist Luisito Quintero, as well as drummer Marcus Gilmore, trombonist Steve Davis, trumpeter Michael Rodriquez and dancer Niño de los Reyes at his back, Mr. Corea let’s fly with his signature piano and keyboard lines in an extravaganza of Spanish tinged, Afro-Cuban goodness.

Mr Corea explains, “My genetics are Italian, but my heart is Spanish. I grew up with that music. This new band is a mix of all the wonderful and various aspects of my love and lifetime experience with these rhythms that have been such a big part of my musical heritage.”

Each track of Antidote is a bit like a turn of a kaleidoscope where all the pretty shapes and sparkly bits get rearranged into something even more spectacular. Opening and title track “Antidote” is a wildly wonderful hybrid of Latin jazz, Afro-Cuban strains and Spanish influences, made more so by vocals by Ruben Blades. Chocked full of drama set up by brass, percussion, guitar, flute, palmas and keyboards, “Antidote” is one of those tracks where every note is where it’s supposed to be and everything is right with the world and you just don’t want it to end.

Following up with the sweetly jazzy “Duende,” Mr. Corea and company settle into a fiercely cool groove before Antidote turns stunning with companion tracks “The Yellow Nimbus – Part 1” and “The Yellow Nimbus – Part 2.” These two tracks, colored heavily by flamenco flashes that include a flamenco dancer, finger snaps and palmas, are simply spectacularly drawn by way flamenco guitar, brass, percussion and piano. They are intense, dramatic and extravagantly played out before turning sleekly Spanish jazzy on Part 2.

And the goodness just keeps going with tracks like the easy sweetness of “My Spanish Heart,” again with Ruben Blades providing vocals. “Armando’s Rhumba” is a delicious Latin jazz cocktail of trombone, trumpet, guitar, bass and percussion against Mr. Corea’s piano lines. “Desafinado” dazzles with vocals by Maria Blanca in this plushy jazzy track.

Mr. Corea turns his sights on “Zyryab,” the Paco de Lucia, Joan Albert Amargos and Ramon de Algeciras composition. This track is loaded with goodies like Mr. Pardo on flute, Mr. Josele on guitar and Mr. Del Puerto on bass all backed by Mr. Corea on piano. Listeners get a sweet little listen to Igor Stravinsky by way of Mr. Corea’s lovely piano work on “Pas de Deux” before Antidote closes the recording with the easy, breezy flash of “Admiration” with a closing percussion and flamenco dance section.

Antidote isn’t just good, it’s Chick Corea good.

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SIU2, Hong Kong’s Creative East-West Musical Fusion

SIU2 – Sonic Traveler

SIU2 – Sonic Traveler (Flower Music, 2008)

One of the thrills of my CD review stack is that I often don’t know what musical adventure I’m about to take. This week’s thrill would have to be the wild ride of SIU2’s Sonic Traveler out on the Flower Music label. Based in Hong Kong SIU2 is one of those creative inventions that proves potent not just for their inventiveness but through their own musical skills.

On the surface, Sonic Traveler might come across as quirky, playful and flirty, but a skillfully crafted musical meld of East and West emerges and the smart, savvy musicals skills make the journey worth while. Need a little quirky, need some international getaway music for your ride into work or just want to take a musical tumble into a dramatic, jazzy, rocking slice of fusion? Then look no further than Sonic Traveler.

From the jump, Sonic Traveler defies any preconceived expectations. Crafting a fusion sound by way of composer, sheng player and electric organist Ng Cheuk Yin, zheng player Jason Lau, sanxian player Cass Lam, pianist Peter Fan, bass guitarist Siuming Chan and drummer Lawrence Tsui, Sonic Traveler propels listeners on a raucous roller coast of a ride that’s part high octane jazz, part quirky movie chase music, part hard driving rock all threaded through with Asian sensibilities. With two previous recordings, Open Door (2008) and KonFusion (2010), including a part of Open Door as part of a movie soundtrack, under their belts, SIU2 determinedly puts their own stamp on East/West musical fusion.

SIU2 launches the journey with the frenetic title track “Sonic Traveler,” a bold, jazzy melange of piano, crashing drums, organ and bass with flashes of zheng, sheng and sanxian. Sonic Traveler is a clever walk on the wild side of East meets West with the addition of the zippy zany turns of “Lights Up” and the hard rocking edged “Haunted House.”

“Gondola” proves to be a lovely respite in the frenetic groove, with its elegant piano and sanxian lines, as does the extraordinarily dreamy solo piano piece “Icy Night.”

“Drifting Ice” is just as exotically drawn as if possessed by a kind of musical anticipation threaded through with some wonderful chunky bass and the occasional rhythm driven outburst.

Sonic Traveler closes with “Gliding” that rides high on a “Mission Impossible” theme that runs through the track. It’s quirky and fun.

Buy the digital download version of Sonic Traveler from amazon or the CD from Flower Music

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