Category Archives: CD Reviews

Outstanding Cello and Tarantella

Hasa-Mazzotta – Novilunio (Ponderosa, 2017)

Redi Hasa and Maria Mazzotta is a remarkable duo representing two diverse European traditions. Redi Hasa is a remarkable Albanian cellist who appears in many of Ludovico Einaudi’s recordings. Maria Mazzotta is a passionate singer, one of the greatest voices from Salento in southern Italy.

Novilunio is the duo’s new collaboration. Here, Redi Hasa and Maria Mazzotta continue to explore the sounds from the two southern banks of the Adriatic Sea: Albanian music and southern Italy’s tarantellas; although this time the two musicians go beyond, incorporating evocative classical music, jazz, Mediterranean, Moroccan and Middle Eastern influences.

On most of the songs Maria Mazzotta the Apulian dialect, while she sings in French on two tracks.

Novilunio is a beautifully constructed album that brings together the wonderful voice of Maria Mazzotta and the spectacular, versatile cello of Redi Hasa.

Buy the Novilunio CD in Europe or the digital download.


State of the Art Guitars and Happy Times for Al Di Meola

Al Di Meola – Opus (earMUSIC, 2018)

Although Al Di Meola became famous as an outstanding and pioneering jazz-rock fusion guitarist, he’s demonstrated throughout the years that his music goes much further, crossing numerous musical boundaries. Opus is a very special album. Here, Al Di Meola showcases his talent as a musician and composer in various ways.

Musically, Al Di Meola treats the listener to an exquisite set of original shape-shifting pieces where you’ll find jazz, fusion, classical, Italian music, flamenco and Argentine musical influences.
More impressive is the fact that Al Di Meola plays practically every instrument on the album. In addition to guitars, he also plays percussion, keyboards and bass and does a great job indeed. In a handful of tracks, Al Di Meola has guest musicians on piano, keyboards and drums.

The recording of the guitars is pure delight. On every track you’ll hear a mix of guitars all played by Al Di Meola. The mixing lets you enjoy guitars on different channels, delivering masterful interplay. In addition, he adds soft ambient electric guitar effects that coat lightly the acoustic guitar sounds.

Al Di Meola uses his favorite Conde Hermanos acoustic nylon guitar throughout the album along with his trademark spectacular electric guitar solos. Conde Hermanos make some of the best guitars in the world and they sound splendid in Al Di Meola’s hands.

With Opus, I wanted to further my compositional skills as I think that the evolution of this part of my persona has labelled me more composer-guitarist than guitarist-composer”, articulates Di Meola. “For the first time in my life, I have written music being happy, I’m in a wonderful relationship with my wife, I have a baby girl and a beautiful family that inspires me every day. I believe it shows in the music.”



Opus features Al Di Meola on guitars, cajon, snare, toms, drums, bass, electric effects; Kemuel Roig on acoustic piano; Dario Eskenazi on keyboards; Richie Morales on drums; and Rhani Krija on percussion.

Opus is a magnificently-crafted, genre defying album by one of the finest guitarists in the world, Al Di Meola.

Buy Opus


What If from Music Action Lab 2.0

Giant Steps Music Action Collective – What If

Giant Steps Music Action Collective – What If (Giant Steps Music, 2018)

What If features songs by a group of musicians that participated in the San Francisco-based Giant Steps’ Music Action Lab 2.0. The month-long music lab took place in the Fall of 2017 throughout the San Francisco Bay Area and ended in Ixtapa, Mexico.

The Music Action Lab 2.0 brought together nine musicians from various parts of the globe: drummer Ernesto “Matute” Lopez; Kenyan percussionist Kasiva Mutua; cellist Avery Waite; multi-instrumentalist Sevana Tchakerian; Albanian singer Rona Nishliu; jazz saxophonist and composer James Brandon Lewis; Tanzanian multi-instrumentalist and percussionist Kauzeni Lyamba; Japanese-American pianist and flutist Erika Oba; and American bassist Chris Bastian.

The majority of the songs on What If are pop and jazz-oriented, featuring soulful vocals, ubiquitous smooth jazz saxophone, tiresome rapping in various languages, great African drumming and some Latin American influences. Despite the international talent, most of what appears in the album is stereotypical Americanized music.

The concept behind the music lab is to build a worldwide community of musicians that create music to advance social change.


Deep Dub Intensity of Super Hi-Fi

Super Hi-Fi – Blue and White

Super Hi-Fi – Blue and White (Very Special Records, 2018)
Blue and White is the new album by Super Hi-Fi, a collective of musicians based in Brooklyn who combine a powerful mix of dub reggae with rock, jazz and world music elements. It’s led by bassist and vocalist Ezra Gale.

Super Hi-Fi’s sound is characterized by the use of vibrant bass, dub effects and two dueling trombones that provide captivating interactions. Although Super Hi-Fi was primarily instrumental in previous recordings, band leader Ezra Gale sings on several tracks.

On Blue and White, the band reaches out into multiple genres incorporating fascinating elements such as Afrobeat and a joyful mix of ska and traditional country music featuring steel guitar.
Super Hi-Fi is into analog sound and this recording was recorded completely to tape.

The lineup includes Ezra Gale on bass, vocals, acoustic guitar; Rick Parker on trombone; Jon Lipscomb on guitar; Madhu Siddappa on drums; Alex Asher on trombone; Robert Stringer on trombone; Jeff Lampert on pedal steel guitar; Drew Fleming on vocals; Vincent Giangola on vocals; Erica Rutt Gale on vocals; Mitch Marcus on keyboards; Mamadou Konate on jembe and talking drum; Vera Sousa Marina on vocals; Bryan Benninghove on vocals; and John Blevins on trumpet.

The album is available on vinyl LP, cassette and digital.

Buy Blue and White


Niladri Kumar Pushes the frontiers of Indian classical music

Niladri Kumar – Sitar Gaze

Niladri Kumar – Sitar Gaze (Times Music, 2005)

Pushing the frontiers of Indian classical music, this is an excellent album featuring sitar virtuoso Niladri Kumar, son of sitar maestro Pandit Kartick Kumar. All eight tracks are beautiful; our picks include the title track, as well as two others called Lovers Dream and Sensuous.

Rounding off the full and rich sitar sound are Tejendra Narayan Majumdar on sarod, Rakesh Chaurasia on flute, Ankur Chatterjee on guitar, Vijay Prakash on vocals and Madhav Pawar on Pakhawaj. The percussion work is slick and the album is very well produced. It would also make a great gift, so get an extra copy or two when you buy your own.

Buy Sitar Gaze


The Brilliantly Contagious Nigerien Rock of Tal National

Tal National – Tantabara (FatCat Records, 2018)

Tantabara is the new album by the remarkable Nigerien band Tal National. Their music reflects the melting pot of Niger, featuring a wide-range of traditional musical influences fro the various ethnic groups represented in the band. What’s remarkable about this collective led by guitarist Hamadal Issoufou Moumine (also known as Almeida) is that they inject powerful rock into the mix.

Tal National delivers a high energy sound with irresistible rhythms, where conventional rock drums are mixed with talking drums. Moumine’s extraordinary variable guitar draws influences from psychedelic rock, Afropop, and progressive rock.

On Tantabara you’ll find a large variety of vocalists who combine captivating lead vocals, choruses and call and response techniques. Meanwhile, the musicians are masters at frantic polyrhythms and time shifts, changing the tempo easily from dazzling speed to laid back and trance-like moments.

Tantabara is a spectacular Nigerien rock album masterfully crafted by Tal National.

Buy Tantabara


Irka Mateo’s Neo-Dominican Crosspollination

Irka Mateo y la Tirindanga – Vamo a Gozá (Irka Mateo, 2017)

Irka Mateo, one of the innovators of Dominican roots music, has released Vamo a Gozá, an album that focuses on accordion genres. Irka’s music is a lively melting pot of influences and dance rhythms where tradition meets modern urban life. She incorporates and mixes various traditional Dominican beats along with rhythms from other Caribbean cultures such as ska from Jamaica, champeta from coastal Colombia, compa from Haiti, cumbia from Colombia, and other music styles as well: soukous from Congo, South American tango, Nigerian Afrobeat, samba reggae from Brazil and American reggae.

The artists that participated in Vamo a Gozá include Irka Mateo on lead and backing vocals; Yasser Tejeda on guitars and backing vocals; Danny Blume on baritone guitar; Plinio de la Cruz on guitars; Mary Spencer Knapp on accordion, organ and harmonium; Leo Pimentel on accordion; José Fermin Ceballos on accordion; Miche Molina on accordion; Kyle Miles on bass; Junio Felix on bass; Otoniel Vargas on drums; Otoniel Nicolás on drums; Isidro Bobadilla on percussion; Joel Guzman on percussion; Mario Castro on saxophone; José Luis Armengot on trumpet; Yenny Núñez on backing vocals; and Carolina Núñez on backing vocals.

On Vamo a Gozá, Irma Mateo showcases an irresistible fusion of genres that includes lesser known Dominican music rhythms: congo, bomba de la sarandunga, puya, mangulina, salve, and carabiné.
Buy Vamo a Gozá


Joyful Carnival Songs by Cesaria Evora

Cesaria Evora – Carnaval De Mindelo (Lusafrica, 2018)

Carnaval De Mindelo is a great opportunity to listen to the unforgettable Cesaria Evora in a carnival music context. The 4-track EP features Cesaria Evora’s vocals with re-recorded arrangements in the style of the Mindelo carnaval held on the island of São Vicente in Cape Verde.

Despite its proximity to Africa, the Mindelo carnaval has deep Brazilian influences. The irresistible arrangements were made by guitarist Hernani Almeida, one of the finest guitarists and producers in the current Cape Verdean scene.

Carnaval De Mindelo

Buy the digital edition of Carnaval De Mindelo


The Depth and Subtlety of Cuban Rumba

Los Rumberos de la Bahia – Mabagwe – A Tribute To “Los Mayores” (Eguin Eje Records, 2018)

Los Mayores means “the elders” in Spanish. Mabagwe celebrates the Cuban rumba legacy in San Francisco. With a mix of Cuban asylum seekers who settled in the San Francisco Bay Area and their students, San Francisco has a thriving Cuban rumba scene. This project showcases the work of Cuban vocalist José Luis Gómez, Cuban percussionist Jesús Diaz, American percussionist Michael Spiro and their numerous friends and collaborators.

Mabagwe – A Tribute To “Los Mayores” features a mix of Afro-Cuban chanting with call and response vocals and lyrics and spoken word in Spanish that illustrate the syncretic nature of Afro-Cuban sacred songs that mix African deities and Catholic saints. The first track specifically names many of the musicians that played a role in the development of Afro-Cuban music and have now passed.

The large majority of the album features vocals and a wide range of spellbinding Cuban drums. Mabagwe also includes a medley of three classic boleros that have been transformed into exquisite rumba songs featuring guitar. Again, here we find the Cuban melting pot, where African traditions meet Spanish musical influences.



Mabagwe was recorded by rumberos from three different areas: Cuba, the United States, and rumberos who recently emigrated to the United States from Cuba. These musicians provide diverse sounds, arrangements and inspirations.

The personnel on Mabagwe includes Michael Spiro on percussion; José Luis Gomez on lead and background vocals; Jesús Diaz on lead vocals, background vocals and percussion; Rogelio Ernesto Gatell Coto on lead and background vocals; Ivan Camblor on tres guitar; Colin Douglas on percussion; Jesús González on quinto; Jason McGuire on acoustic guitar; Beatriz Godinez Muñiz on lead and background vocals; Fito Reinoso on lead and background vocals; Genesie Reinoso on background vocals and Randel Villalongo on quinto.

Mabagwe – A Tribute To “Los Mayores” is a masterfully recorded album that provides celebrates Cuban tradition and continues to move it forward.



Buy Mabagwe – A Tribute To “Los Mayores”


Magnificent Restored Edition of Ravi Shankar’s Ghanashyam – A Broken Branch

Various Artists – Nine Decades Vol. 5: Ravi Shankar’s Ghanashyam – A Broken Branch (East Meets West Music, 2017)

Ghanashyam – A Broken Branch is a fascinating folk musical theater piece by the great musician and composer Ravi Shankar. It was commissioned by the Birmingham Touring Opera Company.

The original album was released in 1994 as a 60-minute CD that left out part of Shankar’s full composition. This new edition includes the musical work in its entirety, with an additional 20 minutes.

Using a fabulous orchestra of Indian classical and traditional instruments conducted by Ashit Desai, Ravi Shankar wanted to bring attention to drug abuse among youth.

The album contain 18 tracks, ranging from short musical vignettes to lengthier pieces. Ghanashyam – A Broken Branch features a wide range of Indian musical instruments, ranging from the sitar, sarod and veena to various percussion instruments. Even though there is some synthesizer work, most of the album showcases remarkable acoustic instruments and vocal work that brilliantly incorporates Indian and Western elements.

Ashit Desai on vocals; Hema Desai on vocals; Haimanti Sukla on vocals; D. Kannan on mridangam; Harminder Soni on violin; Fateh Singh Gangani on tabla; Vikram Patil on tabla and bolak; Ramesh Misra on sarangi; Parthosarthy Chaudhury on sarod; Shubhendra Rao on Sitar; Kailash Sharma on flute; Aloke Nath Dey on flute; Vishwa Mohan Bhatt on guitar; Daya Shankar on shenai; Raju on synthesizer; Prashanta Bagchi on synthesizer. Padant (Katthok): Maulik Shah, Ishira Shah. Padant (Bharatnatyam): V.P. Dhananjayan.

Ghanashyam – A Broken Branch is an outstanding original work by the late Ravi Shankar that illustrates the versatility of ancient Indian musical instruments in a contemporary context.

Buy Nine Decades Vol. 5: Ravi Shankar’s Ghanashyam – A Broken Branch