Category Archives: CD Reviews

Ebo Taylor’s Lost Nigeria Sessions Released for the First Time

Ebo Taylor – Palaver

Ebo Taylor – Palaver (Tabansi Records/ BBE Music, 2019)

Palaver contains five tracks recorded in Nigeria in 1980 by famed Ghanaian guitarist and composer Ebo Taylor. The material consists of irresistible songs that mix highlife, Afrobeat, funk and jazz. The EP showcases Taylor’s characteristic electric guitar style, along with a superb set of musicians, comprising George Amissah. Mat Hammond, George Kennedy and George Abunuah.

Ghanaian guitarist Ebo Taylor was one of the leading highlife musicians in the 1950s with ensembles such as Broadway Dance Band and Stargazers and continued during the following decades making remarkable highlife and Afrobeat recordings in Ghana and Nigeria.

This video sums up the historical context of the recordings:

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Elegantly Modern Accordion Rooted in Portuguese Tradition

Danças Ocultas – Dentro desse mar (Galileo Music, 2018)

Portuguese accordion quartet Danças Ocultas recorded Dentro desse mar at Casa do Mato Studios in Rio de Janeiro, produced by celebrated cellist and producer Jaques Morelenbaum. Danças Ocultas is a group of talented accordion players who perform exquisite contemporary musical pieces rooted in tradition and classical music. It is a nuanced sound, creating a mix of laid back ambience and melody rather than flashy virtuosity.

Dentro desse mar is a set of charming, elegant songs and instrumentals featuring various musical guests.  Jaques Morelenbaum brought in Brazilian percussionists, highly expressive cavaquinho, several other instrumentalists and guest vocalists from Brazil and Portugal, who provided finely-crafted chemistry around the accordions. Morelebaum also contributed his own enchanting cello work.

Danças Ocultas – Dentro desse mar

The line-up includes Artur Fernandes on diatonic accordion; Francisco Miguel on diatonic accordion; Filipe Cal on diatonic accordion; and Filipe Ricardo on diatonic accordion; David Feldman on pinao; Marcos Suzano on percussion; Brazilian singer Zelia Duncan; Jaques Morelenbaum on cello; Rogério Caetano on 7-string guitar; Luis Barcelos on mandolin and cavaquinho; Marcelo Costa on percussion; Portuguese fado singer Carminho; Robertinho Silva on percussion; Dora Morelenbaum on vocals; Tiago Abrantes on cvlarinet; and Paulo Braga on percussion.

Dentro desse mar features a captivating amalgam of Portuguese and Brazilian influences under a modern prism.

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Sunujazz, a Delightful Encounter Between West Africa and West


Lamine Cissokho – Sunujazz

Lamine Cissokho – Sunujazz (Sewa Music, 2019)

Senegalese kora player Lamine Cissokho mixes traditional sounds from West Africa with jazz and contemporary influences on Sunujazz.

Standout pieces include “Contre Vent,” an exquisite piece where the kora and electric guitar dance around each other over a layer of calabass; the irresistible rootsy “L’Amour” featuring lead vocals by Lamine Cissokho; the joyous interplay of Ousmane Ba’s guitar and Lamine’s kora on “Kaira;” and the lively “Sosolasso” a superb song highlighting the kora, electric guitar and call and response vocals.

Lamine Cissokho is a Mandinka jali (musician and storyteller, also known as griot) from Casamance in southern Senegal. He is based in Sweden.

The lineup includes Lamine Cissokho on kora and lead vocals; Alain Oyono on saxophone; Tobias Grim on guitar; Per-Olof Rylander on piano; Ousmane Ba on fula flute; Romi Christian Bonaban on bass; Ibou Calebasse on calabash; Diougouna Sissokho and Saga Björkling on backing vocals.

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The Multiple Sides of Ruben Blades

Ruben Blades Presents Paraiso Road Gan

Ruben Blades Presents Paraiso Road Gang (RB Records, 2019)

Famed singer-songwriter, producer and actor Ruben Blades is enjoying a highly productive phase. Recently, he has released excellent salsa and jazz albums, appears as an actor in the great zombie spinoff Fear the Walking Dead TV series and develops other fun projects. Ruben Blades Presents Paraiso Road Gan is an endeavor where Ruben takes music in a different direction and showcases Panamanian talent as well.

“As an artist, part of my function is to provoke reactions, stimulate discussion and tear down stereotypes,” says Ruben about Paraiso Road Gang.

In the album credits, Ruben appears as El Hijo de Anoland (Anoland’s son). Anoland Diaz is Ruben’s mother and he uses this artistic name when he experiments with other musical genres.

The album opens with the song “No te Calles,” a collaboration with alternative rock band Making Movies. The group includes two Panamanian brothers, guitarist and vocalist Enrique Chi and bassist Diego Chi; and Mexican brothers Juan Chaurand on percussion and keyboards and Andrés Chaurand on drums. On this piece, rock meets a wall of global drums.

“El País” is a delightful rock song with engaging lyrics in Spanish, elegant jazz trumpet and overall excellent vocal work.

On “Love Me or Leave Me,” Ruben switches to irresistible roots reggae with English vocals and a rocking guitar solo.

Says Ruben about Paraiso Road Gan : “This album represents the fulfillment of an intention that I expressed more than three decades ago. Make a record with material other than what I usually interpret and produce, in Spanish and English. This is “Paraiso Road Gang.”

On “Templo de Agua,” Ruben collaborates with renowned American bagpiper Eric Rigler from Bad Haggis. It’s a potent mix of rock and world music with Celtic influences and vocals in Spanish.

Panamanian rapper Pash appears on “Panamá Gris,” a song that incorporates salsa and rock.

“Nación Rica, Nación Pobre” is a Spanish language blues-rock song; a sharp socially conscious comparison between life for blacks in Haiti and the United States and also a critique of world powers.

Pop love song “Mírame” gives voice to singer-songwriter Horacio Valdés.

“Dime (Que puedo hacer sin Ti)” presents a love song with folk, rock and pop elements.

The final track, “La China Medina” is a really fun piece with rock, funk and retro disco beats and strings.

Paraiso Road Gang

The lineup includes El Hijo de Anoland on vocals; Luis Enrique Becerra on keyboards and chorus; Marco Linares on guitars; Daniel Ortega on drums; Ademir Berrocal on percussion; Germán “Chispa” Lawson on bass; Juan Carlos “Wichy” López on first trumpet and Flugelhorn; Alejandro “Chichisin” Castillo on second trumpet and flugelhorn; Avenicio Núñez on first rombione; Francisco Delvecchio on second trombone; Carlos Ubarte on alto, tenor and baritone saxophones; Karla Vargas on chorus; Carlos Pérez Bidó on batá drums; Roberto Delgado on bass; Jose Ramón Guerra on percussion; Raúl “Toto” Rivera on percussion; Marcos Barraza on congas; Juan Antonio Berna on piano; Idígoras Bethancourt on trombone; Enrique Santamaría on guitars and bass; Néstor González on tenor saxophone; and Ladislao Becerra on harmonica.

“This new genre, “Mixtura”, allows me to present musical explorations that are fun and at the same time educate me,” adds Ruben. “Leaving the comfort zone is something necessary for the creative mind and I will continue to do it periodically. It is something that helps us grow and that prevents indifference from taking over our life.”

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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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Ricardo Peixoto’s Remarkably Expressive Brazilian guitar

Ricardo Peixoto – Scary Beautiful (Ricardo Peixoto, 2019)

Brazilian guitarist and composer Ricardo Peixoto collaborates with American and Brazilian jazz and classical musicians Scary Beautiful. Although a lot of the Brazilian jazz made in the United States is smooth bossa nova, Peixoto’s music goes in a totally different direction, incorporating various other Brazilian rhythms and tonalities.

Scary Beautiful is masterfully arranged and features stellar performances by Peixoto, flutist Bob Afifi, pianist Marco Silva and a robust rhythm section.

Ricardo Peixoto Peixoto’s compositions include ensemble pieces with fascinating guitar and flute interplay, rich string and brass ensemble orchestrations and an exquisite piano and guitar duet.

The lineup includes Ricardo Peixoto on guitars; Paul McCandless on soprano saxophone; Ken Cook on piano; Cliff Hugo on bass; Kendrick Freeman on drums; Brian Rice on percussion; Bob Afifi on flute; Paul Hanson on bassoon; Marcos Silva on piano; Scott Thompson, bass; John Santos on percussion; Kendrick Freeman on percussion; Aaron Germain on bass; Rafael Barata on drums; Bernardo Bessler on violin; Priscila Plata Rato on violin; Marie Christine Bessler on viola; Marcus Ribeiro de Oliveira on cello; Claudia Villela on vocals; Rob Reich on accordion; Jessé Sadoc on flugelhorn; Marcelo Martins on tenor saxophone; Aldivas Ayres on trombone; Mike Shapiro on drums; Luiz Brasil on tenor guitar, percussion; Ricardo Guerra on percussion; Harvey Wainapel on clarinets; and Kyle Bruckman on oboe.

Ricardo Peixoto – Scary Beautifu

Scary Beautiful is an impeccable example of Brazilian guitar craftsmanship.

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Mexican Roots Fusion and Social Fairness from the Villalobos Brothers

Villalobos Brothers – Somos

Villalobos Brothers – Somos (Villalobos Brothers, 2019)

The Villalobos Brothers hail from Veracruz in the Gulf of Mexico area. Their finely-crafted music includes an exquisite mix of traditional son jarocho, contemporary Latin jazz, catchy rock, flamenco and classical music.

The three brothers are violin virtuosos, with a beautiful technique that incorporates various influences, leaning on jazz and classical music. On Somos they treat the listener to fascinating violin interplay and poetic justice.

There is a wonderful mix of acoustic-leaning pieces and powerful tracks with drum set, electric bass and electric guitar.

The lyrics on Somos convey messages of love, peace and social justice, focusing on corruption in their home state, inequality, environmental justice, the Ayotzinapa student murders and poverty. “We believe in music as a positive, necessary and inexhaustible healing force, and we live to share our creations. We are not only troubadours of love and brotherhood, but also activists, speaking against injustice, corruption, greed and impunity.

The lineup on Somos includes Luis Villalobos on vocals and violin; Alberto Villalobos on vocals and violin; Ernesto Villalobos on vocals and violin; Humberto Flores on electric and acoustic guitars, jarana; Rosa Avila on drums; Leo Sherman on electric and double bass; Arturo Stable on percussion on tracks; Javier Cabrera Jasso on percussion; Alberto Jiménez on electric guitar; Manuel Vásquez on cajón; and special guest Arturo O’Farrill on piano.

Somos is a charming and delightful cross-genre album rooted in tradition and social equity, forged by a group of talented young Mexican musicians.

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The Idiosyncratic Vocals of Moken

Moken – Missing Chapters

Moken – Missing Chapters (Moodswing Records, 2019)

Cameroonian singer-songwriter Moken delivers a genre-defying album where virtuosic jazz meets Afro-roots, American folk, lively Afropop and blues.

The signature sound of Moken is his inventive vocals; he uses unexpected, quirky vocal modulations, shifting his pitch throughout a song, similar to the work of Portuguese-Cape Verdean singer Carmen Souza.

This is a feelings album. Whatever felt right, we kept it,” reveals Moken. “This album has given me the musical wings I always wanted, the wings to fly and create.”

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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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A New Side of Kurdish Fusion

Adir Jan – Leyla

Adir Jan – Leyla (Trikont, 2019)

Singer-songwriter and saz player Adir Jan Tekîn formed the project Adir Jan (Adirjam) in the spring of 2014. Although born in Berlin, Germany, Adir Jan has Kurdish ancestry.

Adir plays the saz (long-necked lute). His captivating music combines traditional Mediterranean and Middle Eastern music with pop, psychedelic music and progressive rock.

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