Category Archives: CD Reviews

The Splendid Kurdish Ensemble Nishtiman Project

Nishtiman Project ‎– Kobane (Accords Croisés AC 164, 2016), Collection Vox Populi

Nishtiman Project is an extraordinary ensemble that performs contemporary folk music deeply rooted in traditional Kurdish music. Their second album, Kobane, is dedicated to a city in the Kurdish region of Syria that suffered tremendously when jihadists tried to take over the area.

Nishtiman Project ‎– Kobane

Musical director, percussionist and ensemble founder Hussein Zahawy brought together master musicians from the greater Kurdistan region, from Iraq, Iran and Turkey. They play exquisite timelessly crafted musical pieces.

Nishtiman Project uses captivating traditional musical instruments from the region and solo and harmony vocals as well.

The lineup includes composer Sohrab Pournazeri on tanbur, kamanche and vocals; Hussein Zahawy on daf, dohol and bendir; Ertan Tekin on zorna, balaban and duduk; Donya Kamali on vocals; Mayar Toreihi on santur; and Robin Vassy on percussion.

The physical edition is beautifully packaged with a book-style hard cover and a booklet with information in English and French.

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The Independent Spirit of Highlander Music

Trebunie-Tutki i Quintet Urmuli – Duch Gór – The Spirit of the Mountains

Trebunie-Tutki i Quintet Urmuli – Duch Gór – The Spirit of the Mountains (Unzipped Fly Records, 2016)

“The Spirit of the Mountains” is an encounter of ancient musical traditions, envisioned by two ensembles highly acclaimed in their respective homelands: Trebunie-Tutki from Zakopane, Poland and Urmuli Quintet from Tbilisi, Georgia.

Using traditional shepherd instruments and polyphonic songs, the musicians tell stories of the highwayman way of life, love and death, and also bring back to life the spirits of their ancestors, the legendary heroes of the mountains.

Highlanders from Podhale, Poland, and Georgians from Kazbek have for centuries been free and independent shepherds, outlaws, and valiant warriors, running away from any authority and led by an internal instinct and a sense of justice, pride and honor. Their music and powerful male singing define this culture.

The artists featured include Krzysztof Trebunia-Tutka on vocals, violin, highlander bagpipe, highlander flutes, whistling, steep bells, wooden horn, double flute; Anna Trebunia-Wyrostek on vocals, highlander cello, highlander vocal glissando; Jan Trebunia-Tutka on viola and vocals; Andrzej Polak on violin and vocals; Kuba “Bobas” Wilk on acoustic bass; Nugzar Kavtaradze on vocals, panduri (lute), duduk; Shalva Abramashvili on vocals and chuniri (fiddle); David Ratiani on vocals, bass chonguri (lute); Tamaz Mamaladze on vocals, bass panduri, gudastviri (Georgian bagpipe); and Gela Tabashidze on vocals and salamuri (flute).

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Fiery and Edgy Estonian Folk

Trad.Attack! – Kullakarva / Shimmer Gold

Trad.Attack! – Kullakarva / Shimmer Gold (Trad.Attack!, 2017)

Trad.Attack! is one of the leading acts in the current Estonian world music and contemporary folk scene.  The group combines Estonian traditions with powerful rock drums, intertwining fast-paced dance songs with dreamy, laid back musical pieces and mesmerizing ambient explorations.

The lineup includes Sandra Vabarna on Estonian bagpipe, jew’s harp, whistles, zither, vocals; Jalmar Vabarna on 12-string guitar and vocals; and Tõnu Tubli on drums, vocals, zither and glockenspiel. Actor Aivar Tommingas provides his on one of the tracks.

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Masterful Classical and Folk Guitar Melodies

David William Ross – Amor Fati (Ravello Records, 2019)

David William Ross – Amor Fati (Ravello Records, 2019)

Guitarist David William Ross has a background in classical music and as a jazz guitarist, although he ventures beyond, into other musical genres.

His album Amor Fati presents an impeccable set of folk lullabies, contemporary Argentine tango, and various other influences performed on the classical guitar, combining passionate works along with gentle and introspective pieces.

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Albaluna, Charismatic Progressive World Music from Portugal

Albaluna – Amor, Ira & Desgosto (independent release, 2019)

Albaluna is an outstanding Portuguese band that is hard to describe. Their sound is rooted in a fantastic mix of Mediterranean and Middle Eastern influences, northern European folk, medieval music and progressive rock. They call it ethnic prog. Whatever, you call it, it is one of the most captivating and original acts I’ve heard out of Europe recently.

Albaluna – Amor, Ira & Desgosto

Amor, Ira & Desgosto (Love, Wrath and Disgust) combines ancestral instruments from around the globe as well as modern instruments, injecting the high energy of progressive rock drums, electric bass and keyboards along with charismatic vocals that cut across time.

The group’s performances range from intimate acoustic concerts to lively electric shows at folk and rock festivals. The band has performed in Portugal, Spain, France, Italy, Germany, Lithuania, and India.

Prior to Amor, Ira & Desgosto, Albaluna released three albums and two EPs, “D’Antes” (2010), “Marca Antiga” (2012), “Alvorada da Lua” (2014), “Nau dos Corvos” (2016) and “Nau dos Corvos – Lado B” (2017).

The lineup includes Ruben Monteiro on sanfona (hurdy gurdy), kopuz, kisa, divan, harmonium, davul, zurna, keyboards, santur, and vocals; Raquel Monteiro on medieval viola and violin; Dinis Coelho on jembe, darbuka, dahola, bendir, tombak, daf, tabla and riq; Christian Marr’s on voice, bass and bouzouki; Carla Costa on tin whistle, ney and gaita de foles (bagpipe): Tiago Santos on drums; and Luís Runa on keyboards.

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Enthralling Songs from Rising Iranian Artist Nelia Safaie

Nelia Safaie – Songs from Lands of Silence

Nelia Safaie – Songs from Lands of Silence (Kirkelig Kulturverksted, 2019)

Songs from Lands of Silence is the excellent debut album from Iranian singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Nelia Safaie, produced by Mahsa Vahdat and Erik Hillestad.

The album highlights the vocal and instrumental talent of Safaie. Her music is rooted in Middle Eastern traditions, featuring transfixing frame drums, evocative duduk and beguiling string instruments.

The lineup includes Nelia Safaie on vocals, baglama, tar and setar; Emre Sinanmis on duduk; Gjermund Silset on acoustic bass and guitar; and Keneth Ekornes on percussion.

The physical edition includes Farsi-language lyrics and their translations to English.

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Enchanting Argentine-Norwegian Tango

El Muro Tango & Juan Villareal – Nostálgico

El Muro Tango & Juan Villareal – Nostálgico (Galileo Music Communication, 2018)

El Muro Tango is a contemporary tango ensemble featuring Argentine and Norwegian musicians. It was founded by Argentine pianist Juan Pablo de Lucca and Norwegian violinist Karl Espegard.

The group plays delightful tango with a sense of longing, combing traditional tango, classical and jazz influences plus one Afro-rooted candombe piece. Nostálgico includes instrumental pieces that showcase the virtuosity of the instrumentalists and vocal performances by the ensemble’s singer Juan Villareal, who adds passion and a feeling of nostalgia and longing.   

Juan Pablo is the nephew of celebrated tango singer Alberto Castillo. He moved to Europe in 2016. Karl Espegard moved to Argentina in 2014 to focus entirely on tango. Karl later returned to Europe, met Juan Pablo and they formed a group.

Juan Villareal was the lead singer of the prominent Buenos Aires tango orchestra El Arranque.

Personnel: Juan Pablo de Lucca on piano; Karl Espegard on violin; Åsbjørg Ryeng on bandoneón; Sebastián Noya on acoustic bass.; Juan Villareal on vocals and guitar; Pablo Martínez on piano drum; Fer Aguirre on repique drum; and Martín Rizo on chico drum.

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The Spectacular Mongolian Roots Rock of The Hu

The Hu – The Gereg

The Hu – The Gereg (Eleven Seven Music, 2019)

The Hu is a sensational Mongolian band that combines Mongolian traditional music with rock, a style they describe a hunnu rock. On their album “The Gereg,” the group uses a wide range of vocals techniques ranging from various types of throat singing and shamanic chants to rock style vocals and harmonies.

The instrumentation includes striking modern versions of traditional instruments such as the morin khuur (horsehead fiddle), tsuur (end blown shepherd’s flute), tovshuur (lute), and jaw harp together with rock drums and distorted guitars.

When we do this, we try to spiritually express this beautiful thing about Mongolian music. We think we will talk to everyone’s soul though our music,” said Temka, band member.

Personnel: T.S. Galbadrakh (aka Gala) on lead throat singing and morin khuur; B. Enkhsaikhan (aka Enkush) on lead morin khuur and throat singing; G. Nyamjantsan (aka Jaya) on jaw harp, tsuur, flute, and throat singing; and N. Temuulen (aka Temka) on tovshuur.

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Djénéba & Fousco, Rising Griot Talent from Mali

Djénéba & Fousco ‎– Kayeba Khasso

Djénéba & Fousco ‎– Kayeba Khasso (Lusafrica, 2018)

Djénéba & Fousco is an award-winning griot duo from the Kayes region of Mali. Both artists won the top talent contest in Mali and later married each other. Kayeba Khasso is their first album on the France-based Lusafrica label.

Djénéba is a talented vocalist and Fousco has become one of the finest singer-songwriters in Mali and an outstanding guitarist as well. On Kayeba Khasso they deliver a masterfully-produced recording that combines traditional Malian roots, reggae, rock and chamber music influences, combining delightful laid back songs and lively, captivating rhythmic pieces.

The vocal interplay is one of the highlights of the album along with the acoustic and electric guitar and cello work.

The lineup includes Djénéba Kouyate on vocals; Fousseyni (Fousco) Sissoko on vocals, and guitar;  Valentin Ceccaldi on cello; Yacouba Kone on guitar; Marcel Balbone on drums; Alex Nkuin on drums; Charlotte Tiendrebeago on backing vocals; Adrien Arnaud on accordion; Fred Soul on percussion; and Ballaké Sissoko on kora.

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The Impressionist side of Django Reinhardt

Stephane Wrembel – Django L’Impressionniste

French guitar maestro and composer Stephane Wrembel presents another side of Django Reinhardt on the album Django L’Impressionniste (Water Is Life Records, 2019).

Wrembel goes beyond the familiar Gypsy Jazz and focuses on Reinhardt’s lesser known works, recorded between 1937 and 1950.

Django L’Impressionniste is a fascinating overview of the impressionist classical side of Reinhardt, who admired Maurice Ravel and Claude Debussy.

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