All posts by Arthur Shuey

Arthur has been reviewing music for publications since 1976 and began focusing almost exclusively on world music in 2012. His musical background includes past presidencies of the Cape Fear Musicians Association and Blues Society of the Lower Cape Fear, founding membership in nine other blues societies, service on 17 music festival planning committees, two decades of teaching harmonica to individuals and groups, operating a small recording studio and performing solo and in combos for 30 years. Arthur has written professionally since 1975, pieces ranging from short fiction to travel articles, humor to poetry, mainly for local and regional entertainment media. His blog," Shuey's World," is featured at www.accesswilmington.com.

Masterful Ethiopian Songs from Minyeshu

Minyeshu – Daa Dee (ARC Music EUCD2732, 2018)

Music is an extended family. Its genealogy includes percussionists, string and wind instrument players, dancers, singers, choreographers, producers, engineers, composers, lyricists and more. Many of our best records are family reunions of a sort, reuniting connected cousins, as when Marvin Gaye, originally a drummer, put out his important, groundbreaking recordings. Ethiopian singer/dancer/choreographer/producer Minyeshu gives us a wonderful new example of “family reunion” music on her new CD, “Daa Dee.”

World music is reaching out today, understanding and respectful of deep roots associated with unique cultures and traditions, but incorporating mainstream instrumentation and techniques familiar to a globally broad selection of ears. This album is a prime example of this exciting trend. Close your eyes and listen to any of the 13 songs on “Daa Dee” and find yourself transported … to a steamy jungle fireside, a theater, a concert hall or lasting-impact incidents from your own life, depending on your mood during the listening experience … the songs gently point to all those scenarios.

It is evident that Minyeshu is confident, proud and open to sharing her own lasting-impact incidents, narrated beautifully. Fragile, emotional moments are presented to us here by an artist who trusts us to understand, share, protect and celebrate them with her. A mother encourages her baby’s first steps. Loneliness is experienced and explored to the depths of the seemingly endless sinkhole that it is, and then the bottom is found and a rise back up into love and community begins. Homes are lost and missed and new ones are found and decorated here. Distinctively, each of these vignettes, from the bluest to the brightest, brings clear images of dance to mind. At no point is that part of musical cousin Minyeshu’s perspective anywhere but out front in the mix and emphasis.

Another integral part of this masterpiece is the perfect mix. Every instrumentalist and vocalist is part of a team, working together to express the artist’s vision. Jazz horns riff off of resonant drums and ringing, rubber-funky bass. Blended harmony vocals equally evocative of Balkan cities or bleak Scottish highlands encourage cerebral piano phrases. These respectfully yield to brief, tandem punches from string sections and high-register percussion touches to acknowledge an imperfect today while reflecting the lights of a happier tomorrow. And all with dance in the artist’s mind.

There is a lot of music here. “Daa Dee” is a more-than-memorable musical family reunion, hosted by a gifted artist.

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The Lost Yiddish Songs of World War II

Yiddish Glory: The Lost Songs of World War II

Yiddish Glory: The Lost Songs of World War II – Sergei Erdanko, Collaboration (Six Degrees Records, released February 23rd, 2018)

“Yiddish Glory” was released last winter. As it is a collection of songs from the Second World War, a few more months may not be relevant, and so a review telling prospective listeners that it is available is still pertinent. As explained by producers, the record “tells the remarkable story of folklorists in the Soviet Union who risked their lives collecting songs from Jewish Red Army soldiers, Jewish refugees, victims and survivors of Ukrainian ghettos.

Following the war, the researchers were arrested by Stalin; their work was confiscated, and they died thinking the collection was lost to history. But the songs were later discovered in unmarked boxes stored in the basement of the Ukrainian National Library, and brought to life through painstaking research, for the first time in 75 years.”

Perhaps the most striking feature of this anthology of Holocaust victims’ musical memories is their normality. While the lyrics address genocide, brutal destruction and a terrible conflict against Evil, the songs themselves are delivered as small ensemble tunes based on traditional melodies. These patterns were used for popular songs, weddings, local celebrations and private gatherings for many decades prior to the war. They are no more dramatic, no more agonized, no more pontification about great, universal truths than any other Yiddish songs. And no less. They are solace and distraction from an extremely harsh world.

It is a world so harsh that Stalin looked good; better, at least, than Hitler. Concerning the latter, as is sung in “Happy New Year 1944,” “Some peace and joy around the world / Just to spite those silly little Germans / Hitler will be thrown around in fiery and icy hells / And he can kiss our asses.” It is a world where every Russian victory and every German non-victory, even inconclusive battles where neither side gained anything but casualties, is cause for hope and celebration. Soldiers say goodbye to girlfriends, the exploits of Jewish soldiers are told, Polish Jews resettled in Kazakhstan after fleeing the Nazis thank their new host home, a list of failed historical oppressors of the Jewish people is counted, and Hitler “can kiss our asses.”

This is not grim lamentation. It is human. It reminds us that the Nazis’ victims were human, and that we all are.

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The Winds and Echoes of the Andes

Los Ruphay – A Cry For Revolution< - Earth Healing Music from Bolivia

Los Ruphay – A Cry For Revolution< - Earth Healing Music from Bolivia (ARC Records EUCD2795, 2018)

It’s a 50th anniversary album for the band. They’re not as old as the Rolling Stones, but they’re older than the Internet, and they owe nothing to either. This is music that percolated through relative isolation, part Inca and part Spanish and mainly the former, because lower literacy rates equal high aural retention rates.

This half century-old Bolivian ensemble is the equivalent of a superlative, studied European Reformation Revivalist band. Except that they’ve spent more time with homemade instruments. And with their (South American griot) grandfathers and grandmothers. And with childhood bedtime stories of the Golden Man. And border wars, in living memory, with headhunters, ritual cannibals and slavers from the Amazon basin on the other side of the Andes.

Long ago, before the Andes rose, the Amazon flowed from East to West. Said dramatic rise trapped dolphins, otters and other creatures on the far side, and they adapted to freshwater. Bolivian legend includes intriguing tales of these creatures’ origins and motives, not to mention stories of 75-meter snakes and reptiles the world in general complacently believes disappeared with Jurassic extinctions. In short, within this tradition, everything over the next hilltop will kill you if you go there alone and quietly. This leads to a tight ensemble sound, yet also to individual resource. This is the basis for revolution.

“A Cry For Revolution” is a half century-old band articulating the revolutionary message of post-Conquistador centuries. The wind instruments capture the wind of the Andes. The drums capture the echo of mountains. Complete instrumentation for the record, among the eight players thereon, includes charango, vocals, flutes, pan-flutes, percussion, quena, guitar and cello, with much interchange between band members. This is an album paying homage to the ancestors. It’s that kind of World Folk.

It is a large album; one will put it on for a dinner party and feel insecure about having set enough places. One will water the yard and worry that spots have been missed. That wind. That echo. It is a record that makes one’s world larger.

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Urban Classical Music From Iran

Mehdi Rostami & Adib Rostami – Melodic Circles – Urban Classical Music From Iran (ARC Records EUCD2794, 2018)

It is often said of traditional Iranian music, “One man’s Mede is another man’s Persian.” Perhaps too often, but the nation does have a venerable and relatively pure musical history, absorbing less from neighbor states than most countries, because Iranian musicians have, for many centuries, “been caught between Iraq and a hard place.” To summarize the foundational system of Iranian classical music more dryly, it is but a few steps from Pythagorean musical theory through medieval thinkers such as Avicenna and Safi al-Din al-Urmawi al-Baghdadi to the compositions on this release.

An important factor here is that Iranian music reached out to the world and offered scientific, modal patterning to other nations before most modern nations existed. Given today’s headlines, we do ourselves and the world a favor by being receptive to a cultural gift that is neither part of nor party to them. This is music.

Strings predominate. Percussion is obviously expert and mandatory on these seven pieces, but it is placed, muted, in the background as a de-empathized frame to jaw-droppingly skillful and expressive frontline string work.

Press materials extrapolate “Melodic Circles” as “melodic circles of suspense, interest and mystique.” They are accurate. There is something going on in each track, and that something is a story, with beginning, middle and end. Conceptually, the record comprises two “circles;” two distinct sets of related ambient anecdotes.

Album artists (brothers) Mehdi and Adib Rostami are active and renowned players on the live London scene today, continuing in the sharing that is so integral to their chosen form. Their sound is easy to Youtube search. In “Melodic Circles,” they have created a solid, intriguing release, well-named and important.

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El Berencesa’s Rhythmic Vignettes

Hossam Ramzy – El Berencesa -The Princess (Drumzy Music CD001, 2018)

Hossam Ramzy is one of the most important currently active percussionists / composers. This CD’s subtitle, “The Heart and Soul of Egyptian Music,” is not the sort of overstated puffery usually associated with the phrase, “heart and soul,” but a sincere expression of the man’s dedication to musical expression.

Like his past several releases, it is also a culmination of his lively, ongoing musing on music in general, and of human life itself. These 14 pieces are compact philosophical and artistic treatises as much as they are tunes.

Life is that which makes a conscious effort to maintain itself and grow. Good is that which abets Life; Evil is that which hinders it. That is Hossam Ramzy’s rhythm and commentary. The songs are microcosms, vignettes upon which he zooms in within the big picture of our shared existence. Each can be interpreted as a day, a crucial event or a demonstrative sample of the life we lead or the life we are offered.

He makes world music accessible to even novice listeners by enriching stark, primordial rhythms and melodies through use of musical sections, exemplary recordings and effects such as doubling that enrich each and every participating instrument.

Versed and expert in many genres and traditions, Mr. Ramzy relaxes on this release with a comfortable bedding in the music of his homeland, Egypt.

Because he is within his own zone of greatest comfort, the result is exquisite and in all ways right, but at the same time free of formality.

The players all sound as if, in one another’s company and support, they are each eager to push themselves to excel, by their own standards. “Habibet Alby,” the sixth cut, is a wonderful demonstration of how musicians can work as a team to build chords, riffs and passages into a song.

“Ana W’Habibi” is an entrée for percussionists, utilizing rests as well and effectively as it utilizes notes. Throughout these and the other dozen cuts on “El Berencesa,” Hossam Ramzy is in the driver’s seat, not only playing, but conducting with his instrument.

Congratulations to the artist and all those who seek this release out for their own collections.

 

 

Buy the digital version of El Berencesa -The Princess. The CD is available from www.hossamramzy.com

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Koum Tara’s Sound Recipe Spanning Millennia

Koum Tara – Chaâbi, Jazz and Strings (Odradek Records ODRCD700, 2018)

Jazz legend tells us that while the U. S. 369th Infantry Regiment (AKA Harlem Hellfighters) was temporarily integrated into the French 16th Division during the First World War, musicians from Harlem and from North African French colonial possessions bonded, sharing not only performance ideas, but homemade instruments and instrumental techniques, and that what we call “jazz” today came from that specific merging of cultures.

Music aficionados surmise that a listening background in American jazz and blues, marked by slurred and individualistic improvisational phrasing, is a good start for falling in love with World Music, in which the primary vocabulary, for the listener, must be that of music rather than that of any one spoken tongue. Combine the legend and the surmise, and what results is the basis for Koum Tara.

Led by composer/pianist Karim Maurice, this group weaves Châabi, classic string quartet and jazz to create a cerebral music at once lighthearted and capable of exploring sophisticated depth. New release “Chaâbi, Jazz and Strings” does what is supposed to be done with a jazz project; it utilizes a group of respectful, introspective players to examine songs, take them apart and put them back together in just a few, not-long-enough minutes. In common with the most treasured recordings in one’s record collection, Koum Tara’s sound is at the same time superlatively modern and convincingly primitive.

Four musicians, nine songs. To give some idea of thematic range with words, some sample lyric lines, translated into English, include:

Don’t ever imagine seeing my shadow again

My wait is limitless / Like an orphan seeking happiness

In this garden, next to a river / The sun is about to fade into dusk

An internal ember burns me from inside

Accustomed to travel, he always returns to his nest / His plumage soft as silk

Be more tender and accept being mine / Beautiful creature, O dove of the city

and

No one can blame me for holding on to my first love

Is it a record or a rubaiyat? Please access it and decide for yourself. Piano like unexpected, refreshing summer rain. Driving percussion. Intense strings. Vocals guiding one through the human heart, from delight to despond. A sound recipe spanning millennia.

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Harmonious Debate

Harmonious Debate illustration by Nancy Karen Davis

Chapter 1

Millenia before the invention of the screw, he screwed his perceptions down, tightening and focusing all the sensory pressure he could bring to bear on the essentials of the moment. His eyes locked onto the pig, willing the arrow to go to that one spot behind the animal’s shoulder. Nerve endings were shut off except in his fingertips, which retained the feeling of the string just released, and its tension, through which he knew the strength of the arrow shot he had just released, its range, drop and penetrating power.

He smelled and tasted the creekside forest in which he hunted, its humidity reflecting both effect on his bow and arrows and the weather he’d face bringing his kill back to the clan and its lush growth of plants on which the animal fed creating anticipation of rich, fatty meat. His ear, cocked toward the game and hoping to hear the thwunk of his arrow, had brief leisure to enjoy the melodic, decaying vibration of his bowstring, settling back into rest after propelling his arrow.

Chapter 2

She, too, was narrowing and aiming all her senses at that moment. Her eyes searched for the best shade of gray green and the best height for picking mallow stalks among the various creekside reeds and weeds, and they abetted her bare soles, on which she concentrated to judge a firmness of mud that allowed for easy plucking of plants and decent footing.

Pulling a mallow up from the muck slowly, to keep roots attached, she cracked the stalk, smelled the break, then licked it to test its quality as an herbal medicine. As she did so, a rising breeze blew across unevenly snapped reeds she’d used to pull herself forward through the mud, and she heard a combination of discordant notes.

Chapter 3

He, another he, pulled a crude coracle onto a sandbar. Surveying his possessions and the little world in which he would overnight, he saw the round vessel, skins stretched over a wooden frame and covered with fat, the extra fat and provisions wrapped in other skins and animal bladders, a large hide used as a blanket, his paddles and stone tools, sand, mud, driftwood branches, sticks, and stumps.

Like the aforementioned woman, he judged the earth with his feet to find the driest spot on which to sleep. Arranging his property, he smelled the meat and berries on which he would dine for freshness, then dropped his paddle against the upended skin boat to hear good tautness to test the craft’s soundness for the next day’s journey.

Chapter 4

The pig’s scream, the deep beat of the paddle against the skin boat and the reeds’ haunting wail coincided, more or less, up and down the creek, making them aware of one another. The hunter’s success being the loudest and most dramatic sound, and he being the middle of the three, he became the center of attention for all. As he finished his kill, he looked around and prepared to defend it, at need, from the strangers he knew were nearby. They warily approached, the boatman wading near the shore and the medicine woman approaching warily down the opposite creek bank.

Out of bowshot, they sized one another up in relative safety. There were no tribal differences then, nothing greater than fighting over food, and since the pig was more meat than the lone hunter could possibly carry back to his own clan, that was not an issue. In innocence and pragmatism, they accepted without any barter, threat, or palaver that they would eat and camp together that night.

Harmonious Debate illustration by Nancy Karen Davis

Chapter 5

Only the boatman had anything like a camp. The sandbar was fairly dry, open enough to let the breeze blow insects away and possessed of old, easily ignited wood for a fire. They could make fire.
Using simple syllables and gestures, they agreed to gut the pig together and push the carcass into the creek, then wade together, allowing the current to wash the creature’s blood away, taking it to the sandbar, where further butchering and then a roasted meal could take place.

Once there, they displayed their resources to one another in dusk light, gradually replaced by firelight. Both men had striking stones for making fire. The woman had a collection of gathered herbs, both medicinal and culinary, as well as salt, as well as the snapped, hollow reeds she had snatched up out of curiosity when the three had accidentally announced their presence to one another. The boatman had an assortment of shells and brightly colored stones, some strung on leather cords as necklaces.

The coracle was a marvelous, magical thing to the other two, who walked around it, rubbed their hands across its surface and, with permission, hit it tentatively with the boatman’s paddle. All tested the hunter’s bow, after he bragged on its potency, and enjoyed testing the string by plucking. The men tried to imitate the sound they’d heard from the woman’s starting position and pointed at her with hands outstretched at waist level, palms up, to ask her what had caused it. She held up her handful of uneven, hollow reeds and passed her hand over it in the sign for wind, but her explanation was unclear, and so she blew across them, and another near-melodic noise came forth.

Chapter 6

The trio’s conversation was necessarily limited by paucity of vocabulary and mutually understood gesture, but they could and did seek for explanation of the world around them, the little world of the fire-lit sandbar, with the tools available to them. They took turns plucking the bow, beating the coracle and blowing the reeds.

They experimented and learned that the bowstring, pressed with a stiff finger or pig bone at different places along its length, yielded different sounds from the plucked portion beneath the blocking device. They noticed that the reeds could be rearranged into different combinations of exposed lengths and that blowing over them in those different combinations produced higher or lower sounds. The coracle, beaten mainly by the boatman, it being his property and greatest treasure and he living by the rhythm of his paddling day in and day out, was incorporated for rhythm.

Chapter 7

Percussionists tend to believe that the first manufactured instrument was a drum. String players are confident theirs was the first tool of music. Wind instrumentalists are certain reeds and wind were our earliest cultural inspiration. Perhaps, after all, it was a band.

dedicated to Hossam Ramzy

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Saor Patrol’s Effective Mix of Scottish Music and Heritage

Saor Patrol – Battle of Kings (ARC Music EUCD2788, 2018)

This magnificent new release by Scottish heritage band, Saor Patrol, examines events related to the struggle between Robert the Bruce and Edward II Plantagenet. Creating images of slices of life and history from three decades at the end of the 13th and beginning of the 14th centuries, the album centers on the Battle of Bannockburn, June 23rd and June 24th, 1314. “Battle of Kings” official release date is June 22nd, doubtless to align with the eve of that amazing, decisive Scots triumph.

Beginning in early 1313, Stirling Castle, held by an English garrison, came under siege by Scottish forces under Edward Bruce, brother of King Robert the Bruce. The English commander agreed in June, 1313 to surrender the castle if a relief force did not reach him by Midsummer Day (June 24th) of 1314. Specifically, an English army would have to be within three miles of the castle within eight days of that date.

This agreement compelled King Edward II of England to invade Scotland, but it also gave King Robert the Bruce of Scotland a predictable year to prepare his own plans and army. He used the time to standardize his soldiers’ equipment to a greater extent than was usual among the Scots of that period, and to drill them to move and fight in “schiltrons,” densely packed formations of foot soldiers relying on long spears. These units were highly effective against cavalry, but as highly vulnerable to archers, who could hardly miss hitting one of so many targets so close together.

Through intentional strategic prodding by Robert’s army and bad decisions on the part of the English commanders, latter were forced into a position where they could not deploy their archers effectively and had to rely on their heavy, armored cavalry, which ran fruitlessly onto Scottish spears until discipline cracked and the routed army fled as a disorganized, panicked mob across the stream (“burn,” “Bannockburn”) that ran on both sides and in back of their position, losing as many or more men to drowning as to actual combat.

Like the battle that made Scottish independence, for a time, a reality, this album follows a year of thought and planning. Saor Patrol members were, relative to their usual ways, on separate sabbaticals before going into the studio to create this new opus. Like Bruce’s schiltrons, it reflects a new level of tightness, discipline and flexibility. Frontmen Charlie “Chick” Allan (bagpipes) and Steve Legget (electric guitar) have achieved something akin to the Keith Richards/Ronnie Wood interplay that Richards famously refers to as “the ancient art of weaving,” a supportive, near-psychic knot that blurs distinctions between rhythm and lead, leaving hearers with effective punch and power.

These dozen songs are all better than good, and each is a vignette clearly evoking a moment or mood from the most focal days of Scottish history. Liner notes include background on the tunes’ themes, making the packaging an important partner piece to the CD contents.

On a larger scale, Saor Patrol itself is a partner piece to the overall project, goal and motive of the band members, which is Scottish heritage awareness through the Clanranald Trust.
After listening to the “Battle of Kings” CD a few times, fans will enjoy hearing it again while online searching “Duncarron,” a reproduction of a medieval Scottish walled town, or “Combat International,” the related medieval and ancient fight reenactment unit, or the school visits by educators from Clanranald Trust or any of the other activities that boil Saor Patrol members’ blood as their music does ours.

One does more than purchase an excellent CD with “Battle of Kings.” One acquires an informative touch of Scottish history and heritage and contributes back to it. And aren’t good Scots supposed to like good bargains?

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Falling in Love at the Beach

Rafael & Energía Dominicana – Enamorarse en la playa

Rafael & Energía Dominicana – Enamorarse en la playa [“Falling in Love at the Beach”] (ARC Music EUCD2715, 2013)

Many people, especially those of the romantic persuasion who enjoy the creative arts, believe in love at first sight. These days, one can eavesdrop on friends describing first encounters with potential paramours met online and hear them summarize, “We spent half an hour at Java Jive, and the spark just wasn’t there.” Cats, on the other hand, prolific beasts reputed to have nine lives, are more prudent; they do not believe in love at first sight. Two feline housemates may gambol and groom and sleep curled up together once they become acquainted, but the first interaction is a quick sniff and a spark.

For many people using online dating services, all housecats and at least this one listener to Rafael & Energía Dominicana’s “Enamorarse en la playa” release, “the spark just wasn’t there,” at first meeting.

This is probably because merengue itself is so strident and exuberant that it all initially sounds the same; everything’s on ten. On second and ongoing listens, though, this proves to not be just another merengue release at all. There is huge comfort with modern instruments and studio technique. The studio facility and staff are equal partners with the players here on a creative, passionate, gifted team.

This release develops, listen after listen, like a flower blooming. One looks forward to the next needle drop, not because it’s merengue night at a club, but because it sounds so good. Balance between instruments and sections, naturalness of vocals, judicious ring off from guitars, capture of the elusive horn solo from amidst the ever-steroidal salsa horn section … every concern that might go into a listener’s first impression is addressed and dealt with. It’s a record that makes one seek better speakers or tunable headphones to provide the sound a better frame.

“Enamorarse en la playa (Falling in Love at the Beach)” is not, at least to this listener, a love at first hearing release. It is, however, a long-term relationship.

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Effective Letter of Introduction to Yuly Tovar

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

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

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

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

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

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

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