Category Archives: CD Reviews

Hemdem, A Celebration of Innovative Turkish String Music

Sinan Cem Eroğlu and Muhlis Berberoğlu – Hemdem (Ahenk Müzik, 2018)

Hemdem is a remarkable album by two extraordinary Turkish multi-instrumentalists. The two virtuoso artists play a wide range of string instruments from Turkey and the West. Musically, Hemdem combines Turkish and Middle Eastern modes with western influences.

Throughout the album, Sinan Cem Eroğlu and Muhlis Berberoğlu tastefully interweave acoustic instruments and modern devices like the electric guitar and the mesmerizing electric baglama.

The lineup on the album includes Sinan Cem Eroğlu on fretless guitar, electric guitar, kaval, e-bow, and vocals and Muhlis Berberoğlu on electric baglama, tambura, and vocals.

Hemdem is an exquisite, masterfully-crafted album by two talented Turkish music innovators.

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Delightful Contemporary Finnish Folk Music from Kardemimmit

Kardemimmit – Kesäyön valo – Midnight Sun (Kardemimmit, 2018)

Midnight Sun is the fifth album by highly talented Finnish female ensemble Kardemimmit. The quartet delivers an exquisite set of recreated traditional and original songs inspired by Finnish folk music.

Kardemimmit’s sound is characterized by masterfully-crafted vocal harmonies and the spellbinding sounds of the kantele.

The current lineup of Kardemimmit includes Maija Pokela, Jutta Rahmel, Anna Wegelius and Leeni Wegelius on vocals and 15 and 38 stringed kanteles.

The CD booklet includes the original Finnish lyrics and the English-language translations along with song descriptions.

Buy Kesäyön valo – Midnight Sun


Heartfelt Romantic Reggae by Sadiki

Sadiki – Blue Mountain Acoustic

Sadiki – Blue Mountain Acoustic (Skinny Bwoy Records, 2018)

Blue Mountain Acoustic is the fifth album by Sadiki, a popular Jamaican vocalist, songwriter and producer. Although he’s been involved with various forms of reggae, Blue Mountain Acoustic leans much closer to romantic pop. It’s a fine acoustic performance with a combination of lover’s rock, American soul, pop and a little reggae that has great commercial appeal.

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Ensemble Novo Lured by Brazil

Ensemble Novo – Who Saw You Then, Who Sees You Now

Ensemble Novo – Who Saw You Then, Who Sees You Now (Frosty Cordial Music, 2017)

Who Saw You Then, Who Sees You Now is a 7-track by Ensemble Novo, an American ensemble led by saxophonist and flute player Tom Moon.

The album highlights Moon’s smoky saxophone and the intersections between jazz and Brazilian bossa nova and samba. Who Saw You Then, Who Sees You Now features remarkable interplay between the saxophone, vibraphone, bass and guitar.

Buy Who Saw You Then, Who Sees You Now


The Captivating Mystery of the Bulgarian Voices and Lisa Gerrard

The Mystery of the Bulgarian Voices featuring Lisa Gerrard – BooCheeMish (Prophecy Productions, 2018)

The women in the publicity photo for the album BooCheeMish smile, lovely in their traditional dresses and headdresses festooned with flowers. They are of varying ages; they are mothers, daughters, sisters and perhaps a few grandmothers in the lot. They seem pleasant, perhaps even a little unassuming, but that would be deceptive. To dismiss this group of songstresses as quaint or simply charming would be a dreadful mistake because these are the women of The Mystery of the Bulgarian Voices.

Steeped in vocals traditions that have floated over fields, wound their way through mountain passes and sunk down deep into the very ground, The Mystery of the Bulgarian Voices are captivating, haunting and call to our all shared nomadic musical past.

The female vocal choir, known as The Mystery of the Bulgarian Voices (formerly Le Mystere des Voix Bulgares) started out as The Bulgarian State Television Female Vocal Choir in the early 1950s to preserve and promote Bulgaria’s folk traditions by way of radio and television. It just happened that Swiss music producer Marcel Cellier stumbled upon and was captivated by vocal mastery of the choir and recorded and released the first volume “Le Mystere des Voix Bulgares” in 1975.

Volume II would go on to win a Grammy Award for Best Traditional Folk Recording, with additional recordings like Le Mystere des Voix Bulgares (1989), Volume III, Melody Rhythm & Harmony (1993), Ritual (1994), Bulgarian Custom Songs (2001) and Pora Sotunda (2017) with Lisa Gerrard of Dead Can Dance fame. The choir would go on to wow audiences in some 1250 concerts across the globe under the current conductor Prof. Dora Hristova.

So it is my sincerest pleasure to announce, with perhaps a small amount of gleeful hand clapping and girlish giggling thrown in for good measure, that the glorious voices of The Mystery of the Bulgarian Voices is back with a new recording called BooCheeMish, set for release on May 25th on the Prophecy Productions label. Joined again by Lisa Gerrard, as well as musicians like Hristna Beleva, Petar Milanov, Rano Ranila, Kostadin Genchev, Deimitar Karamfilov and a string quartet, BooCheeMish shimmers with the familiar goodness that is The Mystery of the Bulgarian Voices.

Opening with the soaring vocals of “Mome Malenko,” BooCheeMish packs a punch that’s exotic and evocative. Fans get welcomed doses of Ms. Gerrard’s shimmering vocals on tracks like “Pora Sotunda,” “Mani Yanni,” “Unison” and “Shandai Ya” that simply enhance the lushness of BooCheeMish.

Threaded throughout are added rhythms of jembe, riq, udu, tonbak and frame drums that add to the pleasure of the extraordinary, tight, neat intricate vocals of the choir. Listeners will wallow in the upbeat pleasures of Rano Ranila,” the haunting loveliness of “Mani Yanni” and the sheer lushness of “Sluntse” conjured up with help of Ms. Beleva and Mr. Milanov. BooCheeMish stacks stunning track upon stunning track so that “Unison” proves as powerful as tracks “Zableyalo Agne,” “Ganka” and closing track “Stanka” replete with string quartet members Yordan Dimitrov, Evgeni Nikolov, Ognyan Kostantinov and Dimitar Tenchev.

Kudos certainly go to Ms. Gerrard, the musicians and the utter impeccable recording and engineering of this CD, but the real superstars of this recording belong to Prof. Hristova and singers Elena Bozkova, Olga Borisova, Gergana Dimitrova, Gergana Popova, Snezhana Kastelova, Violeta Eftimova, Violeta Marinova, Binka Dobreva, Dafinka Damyanova, Daniela Kostova, Rulana Asparuhova, Marina Boiadjieva, Elichka Krastanova, Mariya Leshkova, Rada Nankova, Evelina Hristova, Evguenia Milousheva, Daniela Dimitrova, Tsvetelina Velyovska, Silvia Vladmirova, Sofiya Yaneva, Nevyana Ganeva, Elizabet Georgieva, Mirrela Asenova, Polina Paunova, Lyubomira Pavlova, Tsonka Dimtrova-Manolova and Diyana Visileva – the women of The Mystery of the Bulgarian Voices.

Buy BooCheeMish


Powerhouse Tejana Rocker

Patricia Vonne – Top of the Mountain (Bandolera Records, 2018)

Patricia Vonne is an actress, filmmaker, activist, bandleader, musician, singer and songwriter. So, it comes as no surprise she’s conjured up a rocking powerhouse recording, easily apparent by the snarly guitar licks and fierce vocals found on tracks like “City is Alive” and “Lil Lobo” on her seventh full-length album Top of the Mountain, set for release on May 25th on the Bandolera Records label. With recordings like Viva Bandolera, Worth It, Rattle My Cage and Firebird to credit, Ms. Vonne continues sharpen her vocals and song writing skill to claw deep and captures listeners with her own brand of tejano folk/rock sound on Top of the Mountain.

Ripe with sultry vocals, jangling guitar riffs and pounding rhythms, Top of the Mountain opens with the edgy “Citadel” before giving way to the speeding down the open road sound of “City Is Alive” with the aid of Robert LaRoche on electric guitar, Scott Garber on bass and Héctor Muñoz on drums.

Top of the Mountain proves versatile as listeners get the goods with Spanish lyric laced “Iluminaria,” the growly guitar of “Lil Lobo” and the catchy Latin flavored “Madre De Perla.” The Southwest sound prevails on title track “Top of the Mountain” edged with Ms. Vonne’s vocals and acoustic guitar, Mr. LaRoche on acoustic and electric guitar, Mr. Garber on bass, Dony Wynn on drums and David Perales on violin.



Equally delicious are tracks like sultry “Tidal Wave,” the lonely landscape sound of instrumental “Western Blood” and sweetly worked “Cancion de la Boda.” Ms. Vonne and company wrap things with the kicking rocking “Lekker Ding” with the help of guitarist Joe Reyes, upright bassist Harmen De Bresser and drummer Jan Pohl and the vocal and piano duet “God’s Hands” with Ms. Vonne’s soaring vocals against piano by Carl Thiel.

I am very proud of this new work,” Ms Vonne says of this recording. “Top of the Mountain celebrates the defiant human spirit in the midst of adversity and the Higher Power that lights our path.



Top of the Mountain is a rocking, wind-in-the-hair, open road in a speeding convertible ride of a recording. Enjoy the ride.

Buy Top of the Mountain


Farsi Pop Band Mitra Sumara Releases Tahdig

Mitra Sumara – Tahdig

Mitra Sumara, a New York City-based band that plays Farsi pop and funk, has a debut album titled Tahdig. The album is scheduled for release on June 8, 2018 on Persian Cardinal Recordings. Tahdig was produced by Salmak Khaledi.

The group is inspired by pre-revolutionary music of Iran in the 1960s and 70s. Mitra Sumara performs catchy popular songs by Iran’s cherished singers such as Googoosh, Soli, Leila Forouhar, and recreates southern Iranian Bandari melodies. The band includes musicians drawn from New York’s indie-rock, jazz, and avant-garde music scene and was founded by vocalist Yvette Saatchi Perez, who has some Iranian roots.

Mitra Sumara’s lineup includes Yvette Saatchi Perez on vocals; Peter Zummo on trombone; Bill Ruyle on hammer dulcimer; Julian Maile on guitar; Jim Duffy on keyboards; Nikhil Yerawadekar (Antibalas) on bass; Michael Evans on drums/congas; and Kaveh Haghtalab on drums/percussion.


Beyond Words

Some people don’t like instrumental music because it has no lyrics. Then again, there are people who don’t much care for world music sung in languages that are foreign to them. Somewhere in between those objections lies the realm of globally-inspired instrumental music, which wouldn’t do a thing to placate that first group but just might sway the second. I’m not in either group, so these releases present no problem whatsoever for me.

To combine Ethiopian-inspired reeds and a Saharan blues-rock rhythm section largely without a chordal instrument leading the way was no doubt challenging, but the eponymous debut by Molly Tigre (Very Special Recordings, 2018) rises to it marvelously. Bassist Ezra Gale and saxophone player Mitch Marcus, both of Aphrodesia fame, came up with the idea and recruited Chris Hiatt (sax, flute), Joe Abbatantuono (drums) and Ibrahima Kolipe Kamera (jembe) to make it happen.

Don’t be fooled into thinking tracks with titles like “Hello Bolly” and “Couscous Timbuktu” are going to come out sounding goofy. The music holds fast to a funky core while the saxes handle what there is in the way of melody, resulting in slabs of sweet/salty sound very much like those we’ve come to know and love from all those golden age Ethiopian reissues that have come along in recent years.

There are improvisational jazz elements at work in how spontaneous and alive it all feels, and the minimal instrumentation means that every horn line, bass line, Afrobeat-laced drum pulse and djembe crackle gets its delightful due. A few Farfisa organ swells are thrown in for good measure and “Ethiofreaks” takes it higher by featuring Mulatu Astatke-style vibraphone expertly laid out by Tommy Mattioli. And if that’s not a sufficient nod to the originators, there’s a cover of Astatke’s own “Yekermo Sew” capping off a disc that blazes bright and gets it exactly right from start to finish. I can’t recommend this release highly enough; it’s sure to earn a spot in my top ten of the year. (

Free Radicals – Outside the Comfort Zone


On a larger scale and not aiming for any particular fusion, a group calling themselves Free Radicals gives us a wordless musical statement for our times on Outside the Comfort Zone
(Antitrust Music, 2017). Heavy on the horns and textured with an array of other instruments (including violin, vibes, pedal steel, tabla and dumbek), this outfit expertly tears into 23 tracks that cover varying degrees of ska, Ethio-jazz, New Orleans gumbo, Latin rhythms, psychedelia, Afrobeat, rock, reggae, cumbia, blues and all connective tissue therein.

Forget categorizing and simply consider it a first rate selection of inventive, rousing, get-off-your-ass music that just might take your mind away from how fucked up the world is right now. Then again, with titles like “Manifest Dust Bunny,” “Cheeto News Coma” and “The Legals Have a Lunch,” you can also choose to have a good laugh while you’re shaking that thing. In addition to being the stuff of repeated listening, this musical middle finger melting pot sports one of the greatest album covers in history.


Uri Sharlin and the Dogcat Ensemble – Back to the Woods


It’s a 2013 release that escaped my complacent notice until recently, but I must give belated kudos to Back to the Woods (Folk Dune/Naxos) by Uri Sharlin and the Dogcat Ensemble. Sharlin is an accordion, organ and piano player with an ear for eclecticism, and his keyed-up virtuosity is joined by guitar, bass, bassoon, bass clarinet and percussion on a selection of tunes that range in feel from playful to pensive to power-packed.

In Sharlin’s hands, the accordion becomes a most expressive instrument, leading the ensemble (who all get to show their own chops) through tunes that, by turns, would sound at home in a jazz club, a smoky cabaret, a Jamaican dub session, a busker’s corner or a clearing in the middle of a rain forest. Again, impossible to classify, and again, something you really must hear for the freshness and variety it offers. Sincere apologies to Mr. Sharlin and his crew, who deserve much more than an afterthought.


Taiko Drumming: Collaboration and Good Spirit

Joji Hirota and The London Taiko Drummers – Japanese Taiko

Joji Hirota and The London Taiko Drummers – Japanese Taiko (Arc Music, 2017)

Japanese Taiko showcases UK-based Japanese composer and multi-instrumentalist Joji Hirota and his formidable group The London Taiko Drummers. The album is a real treat for fans of percussion and specifically Japanese drumming.

The music selection consists of 10 original contemporary taiko pieces by Hirota and two folk songs. Most of the album features spectacular instrumental multi-layered drumming performances, using various types of Japanese drums and gongs, except for two songs in which Hirota plays the shakuhachi flute and vocals are added.

The CD booklet provides abundant information about the musical pieces, Joji Hirota and also each member of the ensemble: Yoshinori Hayashi, Jorrel Dawoodi, Luke Harrison, Monti Sadler, Yasuna Higuma, Haruna Komatsu, Naomi Potter, Tokiko Minoda, Simona Lombardi, Mayumi Hirata and Eri Kaishima.

Buy Japanese Taiko


Fascinating Ud and Santur Encounters

Rahim AlHaj Trio – One Sky (Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, 2018)

Ud virtuoso Rahim AlHaj presents a new set of works in trio format. His colleagues include Iranian santur master Sourena Sefati and Palestinian-American percussionist Issa Malluf.

The majority of the musical are compositions by Rahim AlHaj inspired by folk and classical Arabic music plus one from Sourena Sefati. The CD booklet in English and Arabic provides extensive details about each piece.

On One Sky, Rahim AlHaj and Sourena Sefati showcase their talent with dazzling solos and fascinating ud-santur interplay, supported by Issa Malluf’s reliable hand percussion.

Buy One Sky