Category Archives: CD Reviews

Misia, a Different Side of Fado, Free from Rules

Misia – Pura Vida (Banda Sonora)

Misia – Pura Vida (Banda Sonora) (Galileo Music, 2019)

Portuguese singer Misia is known for her superb vocals and unconventional approach to fado, exerting artistic freedom. This is evident as soon as she listen to the first track, “Rosa Negra no Meu Peito II” on her new album Pura Vida (Banda Sonora).  Misia delivers a fado exclusively with voice and bass clarinet, a rare combination in the genre.

Throughout the album, the focus is on the vocals intertwined with virtuosic instrumental performances. On track 2, “Ouso Dizer,” Misia continues with her rebel approach by using Portuguese guitar and an electric guitar solo.

Although the first two songs are in Portuguese, she switches over to Spanish on track 3, “Corazón y Hueso.”  This is a deeply passionate tango piece, with a mix of vocals, bandoneon, piano and guitar. She is joined by famed Argentine singer Melingo, a former rocker turned tango singer.

Misia returns to Portuguese language and exquisite fado on track 4, “Os Homens Que Eu Amei,” utilizing piano, guitar and violin.

Track 5, “Lágrima” includes reverberating ambient electric guitar and vocals.

On “Ausência” she combines fado vocals with soaring electric guitar, clarinet and violin.

Track 7, “Fado dos 2 Pardais,” is a lovely classic fado with voice, Portuguese guitar and piano.

On “Escrevo na Pele,” Misia’s ensemble includes impassioned violin, piano and guitar.

Ghostly drone-like electric guitar, piano and bassoon give way to Misia’s vocals on track 9,” Destino.”

On “Pasión”, Misia returns to Spanish language with another tango, although this time she adds electric guitar to the familiar tango sounds. Portuguese fado singer Ricardo Ribeiro joins Misia, singing in Spanish as well.

Track 11, “Fadinho do Anúncio,” mixes fado with a Gypsy Jazz swing feel.

Back to fado on Track 12, “Santo e Senha” featuring piano, violin and Portuguese guitar with dreamlike sounds underneath it all.

A third tango song in Spanish is included in Pura Vida. “Prelúdio para el Año 3001” is a recreation of a song by Astor Piazzolla, a contemporary tango with piano, bandoneon and clarinet.

The album ends with an outstanding classic fado titled that winds up with a final drone.

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More about Misia.

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Steve Khan’s Splendid Mix of Jazz and Afro-Cuban Beats

Steve Khan – Patchwork – Medio Mezclado (Tone Center, 2019)

Virtuoso jazz guitarist Steve Khan continues his enchanting combinations of jazz and Afro-Cuban rhythms on Patchwork.  In this case, Khan has taken jazz classics and recreated them with harmonic and rhythmic modifications. The jazz artists chosen include Thelonious Monk, Ornette Coleman, Joe Henderson, Alan Jay Lerner, Keith Jarrett, and Bobby Hutcherson.

Khan has built one of the most formidable rhythm sections in contemporary American jazz, featuring an exquisite blend of Afro-Cuban rhythms; masterfully arranged and recorded.

Khan’s colleague, keyboardist, composer and arranger Rob Mounsey plays a bigger role on Patchwork with inspired string and brass arrangements as well as superb electric piano and synth work.

Steve Khan – Patchwork – Medio Mezclado

Highlights include the opening track, Thelonious Monk and Kenny Clarke’s “Epistrophy,” a high energy electric guitar piece with a creative rhythm section of drum set, Afro-Cuban drums and bass; and “Bouquet” by Ornette Coleman, with Khan acoustic guitar. This piece is turned into a lovely down tempo bolero with exquisite Spanish and Latin American-influenced guitar work, delicate drums and percussion, and beautiful orchestrations.

Other high points include Khan’s composition “Naan Issue,” a delicious bluesy cha cha cha; the lively “A Shade of Jade” (Joe Henderson) featuring a superb flugelhorn performance by Randy Brecker; the timeless Alan Jay Lerner and Burton Lane piece “Too Late Now” transformed into a bolero-paced ballad with outstanding guitar work, magnificent orchestrations and subtle rhythms; and the fusion-leaning “T. & T.,” where Khan turns this Ornette Coleman composition into high energy Latin jazz rooted in a Mozambique rhythm. 

Lastly, a tune that captivated me is the outstanding rendering of Keith Jarret’s “The Journey Home.” This is the longest track on the album, with various sections. It opens with a dreamy slow tempo segment with Khan back on acoustic guitar, delivering delicious interplay with the electric piano, and then moving forward to lively Afro-Cuban beats and electric guitar, beautiful wordless vocals. And then the music slows down and concludes with a truly excellent acoustic guitar and synthesizer duet over a layer of percussion and masterfully-crafted orchestrations.

The lineup on Patchwork includes Steve Khan on guitars and vocals; Rubén Rodríguez on baby bass and electric bass; Dennis Chambers on drums; Marc Quiñones on timbales, bongos, percussion; Bobby Allende on conga; Rob Mounsey on keyboards and orchestrations: Randy Brecker on flugelhorn; Bob Mintzer on tenor saxophone; Tatiana Parra on vocals; and Jorge Estrada on keyboards and arrangements.

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The Captivating Thaitronics of Apichat Pakwan

Apichat Pakwan – Esantronics

Apichat Pakwan – Esantronics (Animist Records, 2019)

Esantronics introduces a wonderful world of hybrid music where traditional Thai music meets European electronic music. Apichat Pakwan includes Thai musicians who perform music from the Northeast region of Thailand, also known as Esan, and Dutch composer and producer Olivier Schreuder.

The project got started when Olivier Schreuder became passionately interested in the music of Laos and Esan. While studying this music in the city of Khon Kaen in the region of Esan in Northeast Thailand he encountered a group of young and very fine musicians with whom he started playing and recording a mix of the traditional music with local instruments like the kaen (mouth organ), phin (stringed instrument), pi phu thai (flute), sor (fiddle), a wide range of percussion and analog and digital electronics.

Apichat Pakwan live at Amsterdam Roots Festival in July 2019

Apichat Pakwan is not a studio only project. The group has performed live throughout Asia and Europe. The lineup varies and there is always room for improvisation. Although the ensemble originally played instrumentals, vocalist and composer Anusara ‘Bee’ Deechaichana joined the project. She wrote the lyrics for the songs.

Apichat Pakwan live at Cinetol Amsterdam in 2019

Although Apichat Pakwan had released some recordings before, Esantronics is the debut full album. It was recorded at various locations in Thailand, as well as in Singapore, Amsterdam and Berlin.

Apichat Pakwan at Houtfestival in The Netherlands, 2019

The lineup includes Olivier Schreuder on percussion, drum programming, Fender Rhodes, kaen, electronics; Pumisakseri ‘Kwang’ Sasida on phin, kaen and sor esan; Angkanang ‘Num’ Pimwankum on percusssion; Anusara ‘Bee’ Deechaichana on vocals; Wimonmat ‘Wiw’ Kangjantha on vocals; Arthit Krajangsree on phin; Pongsapon Upani on kaen; and Chanawat ‘Smurf’ Jonhjoho on sor esan.

Esantronics is a superb album where fascinating, innovative Thai roots music meets masterfully-crafted electronica.

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The Golden Age of Funaná Accordion Masters

Various Artists – Pour Me A Grog: The Funaná Revolt in 1990s Cabo Verde

Various Artists – Pour Me A Grog: The Funaná Revolt in 1990s Cabo Verde (Ostinato Records, 2019)

Pour Me A Grog: The Funaná Revolt in 1990s Cabo Verde is a tribute to the great masters of Cape Verdean funaná music. Funaná is upbeat, irresistible dance music from Santiago Island fueled by accordion (the accordion is known as gaita in Cape Verde) and supported by percussion, bass and a scraped iron instrument known as ferrinho that is used in Cape Verde.

This compilation brings together recordings by some of the finest artists in the funaná scene in the late 1990s, including many pioneering elders. These are high quality recordings funded by members of the Cape Verdean diaspora compiled by Vik Sohonie & Olav Aalberg.

The artists featured in Pour Me A Grog: The Funaná Revolt in 1990s Cabo Ve include the groundbreaking Ferro Gaita, one of the most successful acts in Cape Verde in terms of album sales, along with several other masters:  Etalvinho Preta; Tchota Suari e Chando Graciosa; Avelino e Orlando Pantera; Peps Love; Bitori e Fefé di Calbicera; Orlando Pantera; and Fefé di Calbicera.

The physical CD version of the album is worth getting. It comes in a beautifully-designed hard cover book with fascinating artwork and extensive notes about the music and the artists featured. The design is by Pete ‘Piwi’ White and the illustration by Lauren O’Neill. The album is also available on vinyl and digital.

The album title refers to grog, an alcoholic beverage made in Cape Verde distilled from sugarcane.

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Alluring Afro-Roots and Funk from Dawn Drake and ZapOte

Dawn Drake and ZapOte – Nightshade (Dawn Drake, 2019)

Nightshade is the new album from American bassist, percussionist, vocalist and composer Dawn Drake and her band called Zapote. This masterfully-crafted recording combines funk, edgy and futuristic trip hop, Afro-Cuban rhythms, high energy Afrobeat, and jazz with lyrics in English, Spanish and French.

Dawn Drake and ZapOte – Photo by Albie Mitchell

Dawn Drake describes Nightshade as more ambient and moody than previous works. “Some of the themes that appear on this new album are looking at darkness or depression and the symbology of coming out of it. For this album, I wanted to write more instrumental songs and focus more on the compositional aspects of the music to represent that process, rather than lyrical themes with chordal accompaniment.”

Nightshade is a splendid album by a talented artist bursting into in the international world music scene.

Dawn Drake and ZapOte are set to perform on December 21, 2019 at Shrine World Music Venue in New York City, New York, USA.

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A Beautiful Journey Through the Musics of the Middle East

Mehdi Rajabian

Mehdi Rajabian – Middle East (Sony Music, 2019)

Middle Eastern is the latest album from Iranian multi-instrumentalist and composer Mehdi Rajabian. The album is dedicated to the rich musical traditions of the Middle East and focuses on various countries within the region. Mehdi Rajabian brings together classical forms from the Turkish, Persian and Arabic traditions, together with traditional music elements and western classical influences.

Mehdi Rajabian – Middle East

Middle Eastern is an exceptionally good, masterfully-constructed work featuring master instrumentalists using traditional instruments as well as piano and electric bass, along with superb arrangements and majestic cinematic passages.

Mehdi Rajabian invited a hundred musicians from twelve countries in the Middle East. Ironically, the album is not available in Iran due to the restrictions Rajabian is facing. He was imprisoned due to his musical activities. Some of the musicians who participated in the album were refugees fleeing from war or under other forms of stress.

Mehdi Rajabian appears on the album representing Iran. Guests include Arslan Hazreti (Turkey & Syria); Elnur Mikayilov (Azerbaijan & Turkey); Yousuf Alluwaihi (Oman), Tahira Jamal Albalushi (Oman); Alfares (Yemen); Wasim Qassis (Iraq & Palestine); Basem Hawwar (Palestine); Sakhnini Brothers (Palestine); Yarub Smarait (Jordan); Mohamed Saed (Egypt); Hussain Alhaddad (Bahrain); Ali Alolaiwi (Bahrain); and Omar Teymoorov (Tajikistan).

The cover of the album is a photo by Reza Deghati shot in Iraq.

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Extraordinary Final Recording from Rachid Taha

Rachid Taha – Je Suis Africain (Naïve/Believe, 2019)

Rachid Taha, a leading figure in modern Algerian and French music died in late 2018. Je Suis Africain is a posthumous album with material Taha was working on before he passed away.

Rachid Taha – Je Suis Africain

Je Suis Africain encompasses many of the wide-ranging influences that characterized Rachid Taha’s music: rock, Algerian rai, Arabic and Arab-Andalusian orchestral arrangements, West African rhythms, blues, Congolese rumba, French chanson, spaghetti western-style influences, Spanish music, and Gnawa trance music.

Taha’s lyrics were a mix of passion, African pride and social justice.  The songs on Je Suis Africain are in Arabic, French, Spanish (sung by Flèche Love, aka Amina Cadelli, a Swiss-Algerian vocalist) and, for the first time, in English.

Je Suis Africain is a remarkable cross-genre album by an iconic bohemian artist who created music rooted in African traditions and western rock as well.

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The Soulful Afro-Roots of Ajoyo

Ajoyo – War Chant

Ajoyo – War Chant (Shems Records, 2019)

War chant is the new EP from New York-based Afro-roots band Ajoyo. Led by saxophonist Yacine Boularès, Ajoyo delivers an exciting mix of Afrobeat, West African rhythms, contemporary jazz, funk and exquisite neosoul.

The lineup includes the extraordinary vocalist Sarah E. Charles and a formidable cast of skilled instrumentalists: Yacine Boularès on saxophone; Jesse Fischer on keyboards; Kyle Miles on electric bass; Michael Valeanu on electric guitar; and Philippe Lemm on drums. Guests: Keita Ogawa on percussion and Foluso Mimy on jembe.

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The Middle Eastern Aspect of Gordon Grdina

Gordon Grdina’s The Marrow – Ejdeha

Gordon Grdina’s The Marrow – Ejdeha (Songlines Recordings, 2018)

Ejdeha presents the Middle Eastern music side of Canadian guitarist and ud player Gordon Grdina. Here, Grdina focuses on the ud in a set of ud solos and improvisations supported by mesmerizing daf frame drum and acoustic bass, along with cello. The album combines remarkable improvisation with tight ensemble interplay.

The lineup on Ejdeha includes Gordon Grdina on ud; Mark Helias on bass; Hank Roberts on cello; and Hamin Honari on tombak and daf.

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SugaTree, Celtic Crossover from Australia

SugaTree – This Time

SugaTree – This Time (Two Tails, 2017)

Australian band SugaTree combines Celtic music, folk rock, bluegrass and pop on This Time. The songs have pop hooks, great vocals harmonies with nicely crafted arrangements. The Celtic aspect appears in the form of penny whistle and fiddle. The mandolin adds a strong bluegrass flavor.

The trio includes Natalie Parker on vocals and penny whistle; Ryan Pentland on vocals, guitar, harmonica and kick drum; and producer and multi-instrumentalist Yanni Dellaportas on vocals, acoustic guitar, mandolin, piano, and bass.

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