Category Archives: CD Reviews

Garifuna Collective, Uplifting Musical Traditions and Resilience

The Garifuna Collective – ABAN

The Garifuna Collective – ABAN (Stonetree Records, 2019)

The Garifuna Collective delivers an album where Garifuna musical traditions are combined with modern musical forms such as dub and subtle cutting edge electronics. The irresistible songs feature call and response choruses, delightful electric guitars and hip-shaking rhythms.

The recording features musicians from Belize and Honduras, representing different generations. The lineup includes Marcela Aranda on vocals; Desiree Diego on vocals and maracas; Mohobub Flores on vocals and turtle shells; Sheldon Petillo on vocals; Emilio Thomas on vocals; Rolando “Chichiman” Sosa on vocals and percussion; Denmark Flores on Garifuna drums; Sam Harris on electric guitar and vocals; Guayo Cedeño on electric guitar; Eli Levinson on sampling and programming; Iván Durán on electric and acoustic guitars, bass; and Al Ovando on electric guitar, bass, percussion, claps.

ABAN presents well-constructed, uplifting songs illustrating the new trends in Garifuna rooted music.

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Global Chaos Theories from the The Souljazz Orchestra

The Souljazz Orchestra – Chaos Theories

The Souljazz Orchestra – Chaos Theories (Strut Records, 2019)

Canadian jazz collective The Souljazz Orchestra, led by songwriter and arranger Pierre Chrètien, combines a wide range of musical with sociopolitical messages. On the music side, The Souljazz Orchestra presents an extraordinary kaleidoscope of sound that includes Afro-Caribbean beats, jazz, disco, captivating Afrobeat, funk, reggae, and soul.

With insistent energy, the lyrics address issues that are close to band members: insincerity of modern day politics, police rough treatment and income inequality.

The Souljazz Orchestra will be touring North America and Europe in the next weeks.

Tour dates:

Sep 20 – Ottawa, ON – Babylon
Sep 27 – Montpellier, FR – Rockstore
Sep 28 – Rambouillet, FR – Usine à Chapeaux
Sep 29 – Chelles, FR – Les Cuizines
Sep 30 – Paris, FR – New Morning
Oct 01 – Gent, BE – Vooruit Balzaal
Oct 02 – Madrid, ES – Café Berlín
Oct 04 – Granada ES – Planta Baja
Oct 05 – Zaragoza ES – Las Armas
Oct 06 – Barcelona ES – La Nau
Oct 09 – Dusseldorf DE – Zakk
Oct 10 – Mainz DE – KUZ
Oct 11 – Athens GR – Gagarin 205
Oct 12 – Thessaloniki GR – WE Complex
Oct 13 – Berlin DE – Gretchen
Oct 14 – Dresden DE – Tonne
Oct 16 – London UK – Jazz Cafe
Oct 17 – Dublin IE – Sugar Club
Oct 18 – Épinay-sur-Seine – PMO
Oct 19 – Nancy FR – Nancy Jazz Pulsations
Nov 16 – Gatineau QC – Le Petit Chicago
Nov 21 – Sherbrooke QC – La Petite Boîte Noire
Nov 22 – Montréal QC – Groove Nation
Nov 23 – Québec QC – L’Anti
Nov 28 – Waterloo ON – Starlight
Nov 29 – Hamilton ON – This Ain’t Hollywood
Nov 30 – Toronto ON – Velvet Underground

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Captivating Latin Jazz Tribute to John Coltrane

Poncho Sanchez – Trane’s Delight (Concord Picante, 2019)

The great conguero (conga player) Poncho Sanchez, one of the masters of American Latin Jazz, has a new album titled Trane’s Delight, dedicated to iconic jazz musician John Coltrane. Trane’s Delight recreates Coltrane classics under a Latin Jazz perspective.

Poncho Sanchez – Trane’s Delight

I’ve always loved John Coltrane,” Sanchez says, “ever since I was a kid and first learned about jazz. I’ve recorded tributes to a lot of my heroes in life: Mongo Santamaria, Tito Puente, Cal Tjader – so I thought it was definitely time to do a tribute to the great John Coltrane.”

On Trane’s Delight, Poncho treats the listener to wonderful new versions of Coltrane standards that reappear as lively mambos, irresistible cha cha chás and passionate boleros. Naturally, throughout the album Poncho delivers various spectacular and tasty conga solos.

Trane’s Delight includes Poncho’s longtime collaborators, musical director Francisco Torres on trombone;  Ron Blake on trumpet and flugelhorn; Robert Hardt on saxophone; Andy Langham on piano; Rene Camacho and Ross Schodek on bass; and Joey DeLeon and Giancarlo Anderson on percussion.

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Round ‘em Up

Time for another overview of CDs that have fortuitously found their way into my possession, and, even more fortuitously, that I’ve enjoyed enough to spread the word on. If you want or need a common thread by which these releases are connected, file them under the general heading of Music to Make Hard Times a Little Less Hard or Good Times Even Better. And if that ain’t what music’s all about, it’s at least a key factor.

Lakou Mizik – HaitiaNol

Many of those who fled the tumult of the Haitian slave revolt that began in 1791 found refuge in New Orleans. The longstanding musical and cultural connections between the two places is celebrated by Haitian roots band Lakou Mizik on their new release HaitiaNola (Cumbancha, 2019), the inspiration for which came about after they played the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival in 2017. A glorious gumbo of guests representing the Crescent City grace the entire album and mutual inspiration abounds.

From the moment the already-irresistible dance groove of the opening “Renmen” gets notched higher by the reedy injections of the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, the party is in session. Sure, some of that party cools down the pace a bit and makes way for mellower tracks like “La Famni” (featuring Jon Cleary’s moody piano) and “Rasanbleman” (with Leyla McCalla’s cello speaking as eloquently as the spirited voices), but the bulk is celebratory.

The sort of African-derived rhythms that propel “Loumandja” (assisted by Damas Louis and Logan Schutts on tanbou drums) are never far off, and when they’re laced with the declarations of Cyril Neville (“Sa Na Kenbe”), the deftly sweet horns of the Soul Rebels (“Manman Lavi,” “Bouyou Lakou”) or the unparalleled wallop of Trombone Shorty (“Pistach Griye”), they come alive ever more resoundingly. Keeping Lakou Mizik’s traditional/modern rasin approach intact while adding creole wonders of another kind entirely, this album mixes and matches with brilliance to spare.

Rubén Blades – Paraiso Road Gang

Panamanian singer/composer/actor/activist/politician/Renaissance Man Rubén Blades returns with Paraiso Road Gang (RB Records, 2019).

Ever eclectic and never content to be under the heading of mere “Latin” music, Blades moves easily from rock-like punchiness to balladry, reggae, Celtic strains (the Spanish kind), hip hop and funk. His voice is as strong and plainspoken as ever, he’s backed by a tight band that attunes to every stylistic change, and here he adds another to a long line of impressive albums.

Rafael Berrio – Niño Futuro

Singer/guitarist Rafael Berrio comes across a bit like a Spanish Bob Dylan on Niño Futuro (Rosi Records, 2019). He’s got a talk-sing kind of voice and his acoustic/electric backing of guitar, bass, piano and drums has a pleasantly twangy quality filled with subtle accentuations, easy flowing melodies and a seeming refusal to be showy.

With no lyric translations and my lack of fluency in Spanish, the meaning of the songs is lost on me (although the title track seems to be a cataloguing of what our children stand to inherit, both good and bad). Such a quibble aside, the disc is a quietly refreshing diversion that packs its own kind of power and doesn’t need to try hard to do so.

Andreas Arnold –Odisea

Andreas Arnold is also a guitar slinger, but apart from a couple of tracks, Odisea (Galileo Music, 2019) leaves vocals out of the picture and lets Arnold’s acoustic axe do most of the talking. Flamenco is one language it speaks, while utterances of jazz, blues and rhythms from the Arabic world have a say in the matter also.

Arnold can play some fiery riffs and runs when he chooses to, though his approach is more often one of finesse that comes in selected bursts rather than sustained flash. The supporting instrumentation is primarily bass and percussion, with some additions of piano, trumpet, violin and melodica. No matter the configuration, the interplay between Arnold and his accompaniment never fails to build into a tasty whole that satisfies the ears and heart. Note how well the deft picking of “Bike Messenger” contrasts with the tune’s shuffling inner core or the perfect squaring off of guitar and muezzin-like vocals on “Tangos Arabe.” And be sure to stick around for the concluding “Continuum,” a Jaco Pastorius piece that comes across like the sonic equivalent of a finely cut diamond.

Shahbaz Hussain and Helen Anahita Wilson- Diwan

Tabla player Shahbaz Hussain and pianist Helen Anahita Wilson both shine on Diwan (Golden Girl Records, 2019), a duo disc that ranges from qawwali-ish pulses to exquisitely built and disassembled passages that reveal just how skilled these two are. Some of it carries a stately, chamber music feel. Some of it simply dazzles. If you think a stunning wall of sound can’t be built with only two instruments, think again. Hussain and Wilson build a beauty of one here.

You can chalk it up to “gratitude for the force of serendipity,” to quote the very sparse liner notes, or simply enjoy the master musicianship at work.

Magos Herrero – Dreamers

I initially overlooked Dreamers (Sony 2018), a collaboration of string quartet Brooklyn Rider and Mexican vocalist Magos Herrera. Please pardon my shortsightedness, because the album is a stirring, rhythmically alive but often pensive collection of songs representing a variety of South American styles. Compositions by the likes of Gilberto Gil, Federico Garcia Lorca and Caetano Veloso, dreamers all, are reconstructed by Brooklyn Rider’s savory violins, viola and cello, matched in unencumbered beauty by Herrera’s Spanish, Portuguese and English vocals.

The title track, based on a poem by Octavio Paz, typifies the overall approach with strings and voice gliding through lovely twists and turns on route straight to the soul. Percussion and palmas are added throughout, bringing a spirited zest to the already glorious combination. If, like me, you missed this one, make amends and latch onto it soon.

Moken – Missing Chapters

Born in Cameroon and based in Atlanta, singer/instrumentalist/composer Moken offers a rather atypical African sound on Missing Chapters (Moodswing Records, 2019), his debut album. His voice, an elastic, quirky combination of scat singer, crooner, bluesman and octave-jumping musical theater performer, is the immediate grabber. Trust me- you’ve never heard anything quite like it. The tracks, mainly of a sprightly acoustic sort, range from affirming declarations (“Your Sun is Rising,” “Walking Man”) to grinning slices of life (“Tequila Song”).

This is one of those records that will have you notching up the volume and pricking up your ears to catch the nuances of Moken’s never-predictable singing and how well it goes with the varying, unfailingly tight arrangements of guitar, upright bass, trumpet, drums, n’goni, reeds, violin and percussion. While recognizable as African music with Western elements, Missing Chapters lives up to its title by bringing in Moken’s many unique and adventurous angles.

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Kalba, Alluring Ghanaian Xylophone and Global Music

Isaac Birituro and The Rail Abandon – Kalba (Wah Wah 45s, 2019)

Kalba brings together Ghanaian gyil (xylophone) maestro Isaac Birituro and British producer, sound engineer and singer-songwriter The Rail Abandon (Sonny Johns). The remarkable collaboration highlights the mesmerizing, resonating sound of the gyil and the warm, soft vocals of Sonny Johns.

The album is a beautifully-constructed set of songs that masterfully interweave Ghanaian music, jazz, world music, and English folk. The finely-crafted arrangements include African and Afro-Cuban drums, captivating flutes, a jazz horn section, tasteful synthesizer; and virtuosic chamber strings.

Isaac Birituro and The Rail Abandon – Kalba

The lineup includes Isaac Birituro on gyil and vocals; Sonny Johns on vocals, guitar, bass and drum machine; David Sorrah on congas; Godfred Sernyor on congas; Sebastian Rochford on drum set; Casablanca on gome and maracas; Kasim Kada on palago; Vincent Lapitey on gongas; Aminu Amadou on talking drums; Liran Donin on electric bass; Elliot Galvin on synthesizers; Raph Clarkson on trombone; Laura Jurd on trumpet; Mark Lockheart on tenor sax; Josienne Clarke on tenor saxophone; Leafcutter John on overtone flute; Dela Botri on flutes; Garance Lewis on accordion; Zosia Jagodcinska on cello; Sophie Cameron on violin; Alison D’Souza on viola; Queen Aisha, lead vocals on “So Ma”; Helen Dompkier, lead vocals on “La Cocina”; and the Kaiba Birifore Choir.

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The Expressive Vocals of Daniela Soledade

Daniela Soledade – A Moment of You

Daniela Soledade – A Moment of You (Blue Line Music Records, 2019)

A Moment of You is the debut album from talented Florida-based Brazilian singer-songwriter Daniela Soledade. Although Brazil is a country rich in musical genres, the majority of the Brazilian music productions mad in the United States gravitate towards bossa nova and this is the case here as well.

The highlights of the albums are the upbeat samba and baiao songs, when their lively beats come to the surface, featuring outstanding Brazilian percussion by Duduka Da Fonseca and producer Nate Najar’s guitars and cavaquinho. Another standout track is the exquisite “Veja Bem Meu Bem” featuring Yves Dharamraj’s magnificent cello.

The slower songs drift towards smooth jazz with the pre-requisite sax solos and melancholic harmonica.

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Chicha and Ayahuasca Visions

Los Wembler’s de Iquitos – Visión del Ayahuasca

Los Wembler’s de Iquitos – Visión del Ayahuasca (Barbès Records, 2019)

Veteran Peruvian band Los Wembler’s de Iquitos is still active 50 years after its creation. Los Wembler’s is an iconic chicha band that makes slow-paced Peruvian Amazonian (sonido amazónico) psychedelic cumbia full of creative electric guitar melodies, effects and surf influences.

The album’s title connects with the psychedelic nature of Los Wembler’s: Ayahuasca is an indigenous Amazonian hallucinogenic brew used in traditional medicine that is becoming popular in the United States and other countries because of its alleged healing benefits and psychoactive properties.

Los Wembler’s de Iquitos will be touring North America in 2019:

09/10 Freight & Salvage, Berkeley, CA
09/11 Zebulon, Los Angeles, CA
09/14 Chicago World Music Festival, Millenium Park, Chicago, IL
09/15 Pandemic Dance Party, Pittsburgh, PA
09/16 Songbyrd, Washington, DC
09/17 Johnny Brenda’s, Philadelphia, PA
09/18 World Music Collider, Northampton, MA
09/19 Nuits d’Afrique Festival. Théâtre Fairmount, Montreal, QC
09/20 BSP, Kingstson, NY
09/21 The State House, New Haven, CT
09/23 Le Poisson Rouge, NYC

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Hardanger Fiddle Beauty from Benedicte Maurseth

Benedicte Maurseth – Benedicte Maurseth

Benedicte Maurseth – Benedicte Maurseth (Heilo, 2019)

This self-titled album features exquisite solo performances on the hardanger fiddle by Norwegian fiddler and composer Benedicte Maurseth.

Most of the pieces on Benedicte Maurseth are traditional tunes recreated by Benedicte Maurseth. They are transformed into mesmerizing chamber folk performances highlighting the simple beauty of solo hardanger fiddle.

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New Fiddle Colors in Irish Traditional Music

Martin Hayes and Brooklyn Rider – The Butterfly (In A Circle Records, 2019)

The Butterfly brings together five extraordinary masters of bowed instruments, Irish fiddler Martin Hayes (The Gloaming) and American contemporary chamber music ensemble Brooklyn Rider.

In this collaboration, the five musicians recreate Irish traditional music tunes (plus two original pieces) by giving them a modern twist, incorporating contemporary classical and folk music elements, creating a rich tapestry of interlaced fiddle wonders, exquisite arrangements and intuitive interplay.

The lineup on The Butterfly includes Martin Hayes, Johnny Gandelsman and Colin Jacobsen on violin; Nicholas Cords on viola; and Michael Nicolas on cello.

Martin Hayes and Brooklyn Rider – The Butterfly

The Butterfly is a deeply gratifying album featuring impeccable examples of contemporary acoustic craftsmanship.

Buy The Butterfly

More about Martin Hayes

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Itamar Erez’s Jazz and World Music Conversations

Itamar Erez – Mi Alegri

Itamar Erez – Mi Alegria (Itamar Erez, 2019)

Israeli multi-instrumentalist and composer Itamar Erez is currently based in Canada. On his new album Mi Alegria, Erez put together an ensemble with some of the finest jazz and world music artists in Vancouver.

Mi Alegria (my joy in Spanish) combines exquisitely-crafted contemporary jazz intertwined with Brazilian, Flamenco, Middle Eastern and various additional global music influences.

Although the guitar is Itamar’s primary musical instrument, he plays the piano as well. Throughout Mi Alegria, Erez engages in captivating, spirited guitar and piano interplay with the clarinet, percussion and a diverse set of other instruments.

“I’ve been playing and composing on the piano for years, but this album is the first to feature my piano playing so prominently,” Erez clarifies, “It’s an interesting process to write on piano and shift to guitar, or vice versa. You need to find creative solutions to solve difficulties.”

The band on Mi Alegria includes Itamar Erez on guitar and piano; Francois Houle on clarinet; Hamin Honari on percussion; James Meger on bass; Kevin Romain on drums; Ilan Salem on flute; Dani Benedikt  on percussion; and Celso Machado on percussion.

Mi Alegria is dedicated to Itamar’s daughter, Mia.

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