Category Archives: CD Reviews

Exceptional Global Fusion from Out of Nations

Out of Nations – Quest (Riverboat Records, 2018)

Out of Nations is a Berlin-based world fusion band led by talented reeds player and composer Lety Elnaggar. Born in the United States, Lety has Egyptian and Mexican immigrant parents and this diverse background incorporates Middle Eastern and Latin American influences to her music.

The rest of the band includes musicians from various nations, who live in Germany and add an even further multiplicity to Out of Nations. They dress in advanced, sci-fi outfits that point to a future world where humanity goes beyond nations.

On Quest, Out of Nations delivers an exquisite selection of instrumental pieces and spoken word where world music, funk and electric jazz fusion intermingle with ease. The album was recorded in Berlin and Cairo.

The musical instruments are equally diverse, including Lety’s reeds, global percussion, Arabic oud, a string ensemble, electric guitar, bass and keyboards.

The spoken word segments address issues of increased xenophobia, border security and violence against immigrants.

Out of Nations

Out of Nations includes Lety ElNaggar on saxophones, clarinet, flute, nay; Khalil Chahine as producer and arranger; Christian Tschuggnall on drums and percussion; Charis Karantzas on electric guitar; Jonas Cambien on piano, keyboards and synthesizer; Ayman Mabrouk on percussion; and Ahmed Nazmi on electric bass (who delivers superb lead bass melodies).

Guests include:

Khaled Owaida, Mohamed Refaat, Shady Elian, Mohamed Medhat, Mostafa Zaky, and Mohamed Raouf on violin; Wael Rezk, Karim Fouda, and Ashraf Ragab on viola; Dr. Khaled Dagher and Mohamed Hamdy on cello. Hany Badry on nay; Hazem Shaheen on oud; Abdallah Abozekry on saz; Brigid Babbish on bassoon; Martin Loyato on trumpet; Michel Bardon on trombone; Juan Ospina on maraca; Hany Bedair and Medhat Mamdoh on Middle Eastern percussion. Spoken Word: Verena Horne, Clare Richardson, Michael Edwards, and Axel Reinemer.

Quest is a spectacular world music album that wanders with ease and elegance between propulsive, rhythmically dynamic global beats; melodies from various traditions and vibrant jazz-rock fusion.

Buy the CD from amazon UK or the digital download from amazon.com

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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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Delightful Scottish Fiddle Inspired by Short Stories

Aidan O’Rourke with Kit Downes – 365: Volume 1 (Reveal Records, 2018)

365: Volume 1 is a truly exquisite double album of instrumental music composed by Scottish fiddler Aidan O’Rourke. He’s joined by Kit Downes on piano and harmonium.

365: Volume 1 was inspired by the short stories of James Robertson, one of Aidan O’Rourke’s favorite Scottish authors. Robertson wrote a short story each day for a year, and every story had exactly 365 words. Aidan O’Rourke decided to do something similar and composed a tune every day for 1 year, each one connected to a story from James’s collection.

Although the plan is to record all 365 tunes, 365: Volume 1 features the first set of highlights. The musicianship is superb. The wonderful music is rooted in Scottish folk music tradition, although Aidan O’Rourke goes beyond, incorporating classical and jazz elements.

The nicely-packaged two CD set includes a booklet with all the stories that inspired the recordings and the date they were composed.

Aidan O’Rourke is the founder and fiddler of acclaimed Scottish band Lau. His other solo albums include Sirius (2006), An Tobar (2008) and Hotline (2013). The Lau albums are Lightweights and Gentlemen (2007), Live (2008), Arc Light (2009), Race the Loser (2012), and The Bell That Never Rang (2015).

365: Volume 1 is an impeccable contemporary Scottish folk music album featuring exceptionally expressive violin performances.

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Transfixing Arabic Sounds from Philippe El Hage and Youssef Hbeisch

Philippe El Hage and Youssef Hbeisch – Asrar (independent release, 2016)

Asrar is a beautiful collaboration between Lebanese piano virtuoso and composer Philippe El Hage and Palestinian percussion maestro Youssef Hbeisch, who uses spellbinding bendir frame drums.

The two musicians and a handful of guests cross into various musical territories, incorporating mesmerizing Arabic modes, western classical music, trance atmospheres, and contemporary jazz.

Asrar was recorded in Switzerland and Dubai and features Philippe El Hage on piano; Youssef Hbeisch on bendir, bass bendir, bongos, shakers, jembe, spring drum, bells and darbuka.

Guests include Houry Dora Apartian-Friendly on vocals; Ramu Maalouf on flute; and Ongjen D. Beader on electric bass.

 

Buy the digital version of Asrar

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Irresistible Bokanté

Bokanté – What Heat (Real World Records, 2018)

What Heat is the second album by the fabulous world music band Bokanté. It is a project led by multi-instrumentalist Michael League, who also leads Snarky Puppy, one of the finest jazz fusion bands at the moment.

Bokanté fits perfectly with the Real World Records sensibility of high quality contemporary world music. Bokanté features the lead vocals of Malika Tirolien, who sings in Guadeloupean Creole and the music is fantastic.

On What Heat, Bokanté collaborates with Metropole Orkest from Chicago. It’s a masterfully-constructed recording with lush arrangements where Caribbean music, jazz, blues, Middle Eastern elements, cinematic classical music and West African influences are elegantly intertwined.

The global fusion in this case works seamlessly. Although Malika Tirolien’s vocals anchor the songs beautifully, there is plenty of space for the instrumentalists with unexpected, yet exquisite orchestral interactions; masterful bluesy dobro; spectacular drumming; string instruments from across the world; and much more.

The lineup on What Heat includes: Malika Tirolien on vocals; Michael League oud, cümbüs, fretless acoustic bass, electric bass, Minimoog, 12-string acoustic guitar, daf, sumbati, dayera, bendir, riq, tambourine, handclaps, vocals; Bob Lanzetti on 6-string acoustic guitar, 12-string acoustic guitar, baritone acoustic guitar, and vocals; Chris McQueen on 6-string acoustic guitar, baritone acoustic guitar, and vocals; Roosevelt Collier on dobro and vocals; André Ferrari on concert bass drum, bass drum, frame drum, dayera, goat nails, cymbals, grouse pipe, matchbox, hand claps, tamborim, katak bells, pandeiro, antique chains, crotals, wooden Japanese bicycle bell, shekere piccolino; Jamey Haddad on hadjini, hadjira, jembe, darbuka, shaker, riq, ocean drum, daf, frame drum, handclaps; Keita Ogawa on mushroom drum, ceramic vase, talking drum, bendir, daf, cowbells, the thing, shakers, bells, pandeiro, bass pandeiro, handclaps; and Weedie Braimah on jembe and vocals.

The Metropole Orkest, Conducted by Jules Buckley, featuring:

1st violin: Arlia de Ruiter, Vera Laporeva, Sarah Koch, Denis Koenders, Pauline Terlouw, David Peijnenborgh, Christina Knoll, Casper Donker;
2nd violin: Herman van Haaren, Wim Kok, Jasper van Rosmalen, Ruben Margarita, Robert Baba, Ewa Zbyszynska, Merel Jonker;
Viola: Norman Jansen, Mieke Honingh, Julia Jowett, Iris Schut, Isabella Petersen/Wouter Huizinga;
Cello: Emile Visser, Maarten Jansen, Annie Tangberg, Jascha Albracht; double bass Erik Winkelmann, Arend Liefkes, Tjerk de Vos;
Flute: Mariël van den Bos / Janneke Groesz, Janine Abbas;
Saxophone/clarinet: Marc Scholten, Paul van der Feen / David Kweksilber, Leo Janssen, Sjoerd Dijkhuizen, Max Boeree / Nils van Haften;
Horn: Pieter Hunfeld, Felix Peijnenborgh, Lies Molenaar / René Pagen; tromboneJan Oosting, Martijn Sohier, Jan Bastiani;
Bass trombone: Martin van den Berg;
Orchestral percussion: Eddy Koopman, Murk Jiskoot.

What Heat is one of the finest world music albums of 2018, showcasing the versatile, modern and bewitching talent of Bokanté.

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Guitarist Ana Popovic Motivates the Ladies

Ana Popovic – Like It On Top

Ana Popovic – Like It On Top (ArtisteXclusive Records, 2018)

Ana Popovic is one of the finest guitarists in the blues scene. She’s a role model for women who want to pursue a career as a working musician. On like It on Top, she sings about women who have initiative.

The album is vocal oriented, with Ana Popovic on solo vocals and duets with Keb’ Mo’ and Kenny Wayne Shepherd. Although the guitar is Ana’s greatest skill, it is very subdued in many tracks.

Musically, Like It On Top features ear friendly songs with pop beats, R&B, funk and rock. The highlights are the more blues-oriented tracks, where the guitar stands out: “Last Thing I Do,” “Brand New Man,” “Matter Of Time,” and “Honey I’m Home.” The album was produced by Keb’ Mo’ and there is definitely a Keb’ Mo’ flavor in terms of arrangements throughout the recording. Guitarist Robben makes a guest appearance on “Sexy Tonight.”

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The Best Ballads of The High Kings

Decade – The Best of The High Kings

Decade – The Best of The High Kings (Celtic Collections, 2017)

The High Kings, a well-liked Irish band that specializes in folk ballads released “Decade” – The Best of The High Kings’. The album contains the group’s most popular songs, a total of 18 tracks. Some of these include “Rocky Road to Dublin,” “Marie’s Wedding” and “Spancil Hill.”

The High Kings’ music cuts across generations, appealing to older music fans and younger people as well. Current band members include Finbarr Clancy, Brian Dunphy, Darren Holden and George Murphy.

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Bixiga 70, Where Brazil and Africa Get Together

Bixiga 70 – Quebra Cabeça (Glitterbeat, 2018)

The Sao Paulo instrumental group Bixiga 70 is where Brazil and Africa meet. Their layered sound is explosive and energetic and all you have to do is hold on while the music takes over. With the recordings Ocupai, Bixiga 70 and III already under their belts, Bixiga 70 is ready to ride the airwaves again with their latest Quebra Cabeça set for release on October 19th on the Glitterbeat label.

The groups baritone saxophone player and flautist Cuca Ferreira explains, “From the very beginning, what we have always had in common is African-Brazilian music. Some of us come from candomblé (the African-Caribbean religion), others from jazz, reggae, dub, and everything. The whole idea of the band has been to take all these different elements that form us, from Africa and Brazil, and create a hybrid from them.”

Combining the talents of guitarist Chris Scabello, baritone saxophonist and flutist Cuca Ferreira, trumpeter Daniel Gralha, drummer Deicio 7, tenor saxophonist Daniel Nogueira, trombonist Douglas Antunes, bassist Marcelo Dworecki, keyboardist and guitarist Mauricio Fleury and percussionist Romulo Nardes, Bixiga 70 summons up an impossibly rich mix that finds space for Africa’s meaty percussive riches, Brazil’s infectious dance scene all the while sticking fingers into dub, jazz and reggae. So good luck sitting still with a dose of Quebra Cabeca.

Mr. Ferreira notes that the group’s influences often evolve out of collaboration and says, “We’ve been exposed to so much. So many of the people we’ve played with have had an impact on us, like Pat Thomas, the Ghanaian highlife singer or (Nigerian saxophonist) Orlando Julius. And then we toured and recorded with João Donato. He’s over 80 now and still playing piano, one of the icons of Brazilian music. We’ve learned from them all, they’ve made us think about what we can do with our music. Those new ideas have found their way into this album.”

The music of Quebra Cabeca is delicious from the percussion and sizzling guitar opening of title track “Quebra Cabeca” through to high energy dance track “Ilha Vizinha” through to the revolving musical theme of the Brazil soaked bold brass of “Pedra de Raio.”

We want people to relate to our melodies, to take the line a vocalist might use and play it on the horns,” says Mr. Ferreira. “Sometimes in instrumental music, the players are so good it ends up putting the listener at a distance. We make music as a celebration, a way to connect and bring some joy. We want to draw them in. We try to write something very memorable.”

The melange of sound on Quebra Cabeca is enticing and thrilling. Fans won’t want to miss out on the keyboard or trumpet sections of “Cantos” or the jazzy lushness of “Ladeira” or the dreamy mysteries conjured up on “Levante.” The quick paced “Torre” is just as delicious as the percussion and bass rich “Camelo” and as good as closing track “Portal.”

The layers of sound on Quebra Cabeca isn’t just electrifying it’s evocative and interesting. Too often listeners get hung up on the vocals, but with Bixiga 70 the nuances of turns of phrase are taken not by vocals but by instruments and it’s thrilling. Bixiga 70 adds meat to the bones and it’s all delicious.

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Altogether Satisfying and Exotic Istikrarli Hayal Hakikattir

Gaye Su Akyol – Istikrarli Hayal Hakikattir (Glitterbeat, 2018)

For the most part we humans like knowing what to expect. We prefer the predictable. We like the safe. We want what we want when we want it. That’s an impossible order when faced with the veritable avalanche of world music out there. I have to admit that I occasionally feel like the well-meaning parent standing with hands on hips over the obstinate child facing an unknown vegetable asking, “How do you know you won’t like it? Have you tried it?”

To brag a bit, I think that the standard World Music Central follower is smarter than the average bear. We have followers who want to know when their favorite Cuban is coming to town, or what’s the latest in music from Mali, or perhaps visit to learn a bit about the heavy hitters in Indian classical music. Unfortunately, that doesn’t stop my incessant need to get you readers to try something new and exciting. It’s a good thing I don’t know where you live because I’m fairly certain I would be sitting on your bed in the middle of the night shoving a set of headphones at you and forcing you to listen to track 4 because it’s amazing.

Well, here we are again. So, be good, open wide and take a sip of Turkey’s singer, songwriter, producer and audio/visual conceptionalist Gaye Su Akyol’s Istikrarli Hayal Hakikattir. You’ll like it.

Translated the title Istikrarli Hayal Hakikattir means Consistent Fantasy is Reality. Ms. Su Akyol says of the recording, “In terms of its philosophy, lyrics, music and motto, this album is the dream of pure freedom, of showing the courage to be yourself, of looking at the culture I was born into without alienation, a ‘dreaming practice’ propounded into a country and world that is increasingly turning inward and becoming a concervatized prison.”

Following up on previous recordings Hologram Imparatorlugu and Develerle Yasiyorum, Ms. Su Akyol’s latest hits the streets November 1st on the Glitterbeat label. Beyond her own vocals, playing percussion and adding electronics, Ms. Su Akyol is joined by co-producer, electric and acoustic guitarist Ali Guclu Simsek; bassist, acoustic guitarist and keyboardist Gorkem Karabudak; drummer Ediz Hafizoglu, saxophonist Ihan Ersahin, classical guitarist Barlas Tan Ozemek; violinist, oud, electro saz and cumbush player Ahmet Ayzit, percussionist Ismail Darici and trumpeter Oguz Bilgin.

Istikrarli Hayal Hakikattir is edgy, moody and wholly satisfying. It’s deliciously exotic, stunningly kickass and delectably dense. Melding the sinuous lines of Turkish classical musical traditions with the sharp edges of Anatolian rock and Western rock turns Istikrarli Hayal Hakikattir into something fresh and extraordinary.

Ms. Su Akyol explains, “Musically the album combines influences from the Anatolian pop/Anatolian rock genre that emerged in Turkey during the ‘60s and the ‘70s with Turkish classical music scales and vocal aesthetics, and various subgenres of rock (psychedelic, post-punk, surf) bringing together strong ballads, Turkish folk tunes, the conventional guitar-bass-drums trio with percussion, joined by violin, oud, cumbush, and – as new additions that the previous albums did not have – baglama (Turkish native instrument), all together making up a very rich instrumental palette.”

Opening with some electronica “İstikrarlı Hayal Hakikattir” takes on weight with Ms. Su Akyol’s vocals, throaty guitar lines and satisfying bass and percussion. It comes across as a fresh take on the Turkish brand of rock, replete with male vocals to round out the sound.

If you don’t simply fall for Ms. Su Akyol’s right out on the sultry “Bağrımızda Taş,” there’s plenty to wrap your musical soul around like ramped up surf feel of “Laziko” or the subterranean goodness of “Gölgenle Bir Başıma” or the brass, electronica and guitar laced gritty powerhouse “Meftunum Sana.”

There’s also goodies like “Şahmeran,” “Bir Yaralı Kuştum” and the intensely lush closing track “Halimiz İtten.”

Try Istikrarli Hayal Hakikattir, you’ll like it. Don’t make me come to your house.

Buy Istikrarli Hayal Hakikattir

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