Category Archives: CD Reviews

Captivating and Stylish Opium Moon

Opium Moon – Opium Moon (Be Why, 2018)

Descriptors like enchanting, elegant and hypnotic just don’t seem to do justice to Be Why Music’s recent self-titled release of Opium Moon. It is indeed enchanting, elegant and hypnotic, but it’s more. Surely, this is the music drunk bees must hear lolling inside a flower, captives to the warm summer sun and soothing breeze surrounded and infused by drugging fragrance. Finding your inner drunk bee is no further than a listen to this extraordinary CD.

The musician masterminds of Opium Moon are Iranian santoor master Hamid Saeidi, Israeli bassist Itai Disraeli, American percussionist MB Gordy and the Canadian-American violinist Lili Haydn. Delving deep into a sound that draws on trance and sacred musical traditions of both East and West, Opium Moon is sultry and meditative. Produced by Ms. Haydn and Opium Moon, this is musician’s recording in the best of all possible ways where composing and execution is collaborative, where each thread of music is more than its parts or participants.

Ms. Haydn remarks, “In this era of ‘fake news,’ I began to feel that words no longer seemed to matter. I lost my faith in my protest songs and threw myself into creating an album without words, one which was imply an embodiment of the peace and inclusiveness I wanted to see in the the world. In these polarized and frightening times, simply making beauty – and loving across boundaries – is a revolutionary act.”

Mr. Disraeli insists that the music, “is not about opium! It’s about mindfulness, clarity of vision and heart. This world is so filled with hate and division; this is peace music, about connection and deep humanity. For each of us, there is some of our best work on this record – because it was born out of love, humility and respect for each other’s rich cultural legacies.”

I feel it prudent to mention to listeners to settle in because where you are going on this musical landscape isn’t a wild ride but a slow, sensual surrender. The opening notes of the lush “Gravity = Love” sets up another worldly space where the music seems to have traveled through space and time by way of steady drum beat, thrumming bass and the exoticism of santoor with violin lines rising like threads of smoke.

Each track of Opium Moon is as good as the last on this recording with tracks like the elegantly airy dip and soar on “Drunk With the Great Starry Void,” it title borrowed from Pablo Neruda, the deeply hypnotic “How Can I Pray When the Beloved Is All I See?” and the moving play of violin over santoor, frame drum and bass on “When I see You Naked I Smell the Earth.”

Closing out with the equally delicious “Caravan,” marked by some truly plumy bass lines, Opium Moon proves potent in its languid grace in gently propelling listeners to a place that is as old as time and still right around the corner.

 

 

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Invigorating Cross-Genre Expressions by Kiran Ahluwalia

Kiran Ahluwalia – 7 billion (Kiran Music, 2018)

Composer and vocalist Kiran Ahluwalia is an explorer and innovator in the field of modern Indian music. On her 6-track album 7 Billion she incorporates the energy of electric guitar, organ and bass, along with drum set, tabla and global percussion.

7 billion is progressive world fusion, where fascinating South Asian traditions and Indian-language vocals are combined with irresistible funk, powerful rock, and tasty Saharan desert blues.

The band on 7 Billion includes her producer husband Rez Abbasi on guitar; Louis Simao on organ, accordion and synthesizer; Rich Brown on electric bass; Davide Direnzo on drums; Nitin Mitta on tabla; and Mark Duggan on jembe and hand percussion.

 

 

7 billion is a beautifully-crafted album where various global music traditions are connected impeccably.

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Captivating Sounds from the Greek Melting Pot

Loxandra Ensemble – In Transition (Dalit-Music, 2018)

Loxandra Ensemble, one of the finest world music acts from the eastern Mediterranean, has released a flavorful album titled In Transition. The Greek band delivers a superb mix of traditional Greek music, Turkish influences, Gypsy swing, Sephardic, salsa, Middle Eastern and Balkan sounds.

The band features an outstanding, delightful vocalist Ria Ellinidou and world class musicians who use a wide range of musical instruments from the Mediterranean, Middle East, and beyond.

Loxandra Ensemble includes new members. The album lineup includes Nikos Angousis on clarinet and vocals; Foibos Apostolidis on riqq, cajon, darbuka and davul; Makis Baklatzis on violin, lead and backing vocals; Ria Ellinidou on lead vocals; Thanasis Koulentianos on kanun and backing vocals; Loukas Metaxas on acoustic and electric bass and backing vocals; Dimitris Panagoulias on darbuka and riqq; and Kyriakos Tapakis on oud.

 

 

In Transition is a beautifully-crafted album that illustrates the fascinating multiple musical influences that meet and combine in the eastern Mediterranean.

Buy the digital download or the CD from www.dalit-music.com

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South American and Caribbean Musical Crosspollination

Che Sudaka – Almas Rebeldes (Cavernicola Records, 2017)

Almas Rebeldes (Rebel Souls) is the new album by Che Sudaka, a band formed by South American expats from Argentina and Colombia living in Spain. Che Sudaka is known for its lively shows and party-like atmosphere, where the band mixes accordion-fueled Colombian cumbia, ska, pop, rock, Andean folk music, Brazilian beats and other musical forms.

Che Sudaka’s band members share the social activism of artists like Manu Chao, and Chao himself appears as guest on one track. Other high profile guests include German reggae and dancehall artist Dr Ring Ding, French reggae singer Gari Greu, Spanish reggae and world music vocalist Amparo Sanchez, Congolese act Jupiter & The Okwess and Brazilian singer B-Negao.

Almas Rebeldes showcases the irresistible grooves and cross-pollination of Che Sudaka.

 

 

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Urban Classical Music From Iran

Mehdi Rostami & Adib Rostami – Melodic Circles – Urban Classical Music From Iran (ARC Records EUCD2794, 2018)

It is often said of traditional Iranian music, “One man’s Mede is another man’s Persian.” Perhaps too often, but the nation does have a venerable and relatively pure musical history, absorbing less from neighbor states than most countries, because Iranian musicians have, for many centuries, “been caught between Iraq and a hard place.” To summarize the foundational system of Iranian classical music more dryly, it is but a few steps from Pythagorean musical theory through medieval thinkers such as Avicenna and Safi al-Din al-Urmawi al-Baghdadi to the compositions on this release.

An important factor here is that Iranian music reached out to the world and offered scientific, modal patterning to other nations before most modern nations existed. Given today’s headlines, we do ourselves and the world a favor by being receptive to a cultural gift that is neither part of nor party to them. This is music.

Strings predominate. Percussion is obviously expert and mandatory on these seven pieces, but it is placed, muted, in the background as a de-empathized frame to jaw-droppingly skillful and expressive frontline string work.

Press materials extrapolate “Melodic Circles” as “melodic circles of suspense, interest and mystique.” They are accurate. There is something going on in each track, and that something is a story, with beginning, middle and end. Conceptually, the record comprises two “circles;” two distinct sets of related ambient anecdotes.

Album artists (brothers) Mehdi and Adib Rostami are active and renowned players on the live London scene today, continuing in the sharing that is so integral to their chosen form. Their sound is easy to Youtube search. In “Melodic Circles,” they have created a solid, intriguing release, well-named and important.

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Magnificent Timple, Guitar, Kora and Mandolin Performances by the Oslava River

Various Artists – Strunk Nad Oslavou – Strings over the Oslava River 2016 (Indies Scope, 2017)

In 2016, violinist Jitka Šuranská brought together an ensemble of string instrument maestros from various countries, representing diverse traditions. The concert at Festivalu Folkové prázdniny (Festival Folk Holidays) in Náměšť nad Oslavou by the Oslava River in 2016 was recorded and released under the title Strunk Nad Oslavou – Strings over the Oslava River 2016.

The festival team invited Germán López, one of the leading timple (a small Spanish guitar from the Canary Islands) players in the Canary Islands, Spain; talented guitarist Antonio Forcione from Italy; Senegalese kora virtuoso Seckou Keita; and Czech mandolin maestro Martin Krajíček.

The headliner quartet was enhanced with the addition of Spanish guitarist Antonio Toledo, violinist Juraj Stieranka, bass player Juraj Valencik from Slovakia, mandolinist Wolfgang Meyering and Jitka Šuranská on vocals.

The concert program included a set where each musician took the lead and then various pieces where the full ensemble played together. The result is a wonderful mix of solo work, dazzling interplay and superb ensemble creations. The musical influences include traditional folk music from the Canary Islands, Senegalese music, Czech folk tunes and world fusion, where various genres met and delivered a deeply satisfying mix.

The CD version includes a booklet with photos, liner notes and biographical profiles of the musicians in Czech and English.

Strunk Nad Oslavou – Strings over the Oslava River 2016 is an extraordinarily expressive album featuring superb timple, guitar, kora and mandolin performances.

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El Berencesa’s Rhythmic Vignettes

Hossam Ramzy – El Berencesa -The Princess (Drumzy Music CD001, 2018)

Hossam Ramzy is one of the most important currently active percussionists / composers. This CD’s subtitle, “The Heart and Soul of Egyptian Music,” is not the sort of overstated puffery usually associated with the phrase, “heart and soul,” but a sincere expression of the man’s dedication to musical expression.

Like his past several releases, it is also a culmination of his lively, ongoing musing on music in general, and of human life itself. These 14 pieces are compact philosophical and artistic treatises as much as they are tunes.

Life is that which makes a conscious effort to maintain itself and grow. Good is that which abets Life; Evil is that which hinders it. That is Hossam Ramzy’s rhythm and commentary. The songs are microcosms, vignettes upon which he zooms in within the big picture of our shared existence. Each can be interpreted as a day, a crucial event or a demonstrative sample of the life we lead or the life we are offered.

He makes world music accessible to even novice listeners by enriching stark, primordial rhythms and melodies through use of musical sections, exemplary recordings and effects such as doubling that enrich each and every participating instrument.

Versed and expert in many genres and traditions, Mr. Ramzy relaxes on this release with a comfortable bedding in the music of his homeland, Egypt.

Because he is within his own zone of greatest comfort, the result is exquisite and in all ways right, but at the same time free of formality.

The players all sound as if, in one another’s company and support, they are each eager to push themselves to excel, by their own standards. “Habibet Alby,” the sixth cut, is a wonderful demonstration of how musicians can work as a team to build chords, riffs and passages into a song.

“Ana W’Habibi” is an entrée for percussionists, utilizing rests as well and effectively as it utilizes notes. Throughout these and the other dozen cuts on “El Berencesa,” Hossam Ramzy is in the driver’s seat, not only playing, but conducting with his instrument.

Congratulations to the artist and all those who seek this release out for their own collections.

 

 

Buy the digital version of El Berencesa -The Princess. The CD is available from www.hossamramzy.com

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Diali Cissokho Brings North Carolina and M’bour Together on Routes

Diali Cissokho and Kaira Ba – Routes (Twelve Eight Records, 2018)

Routes is the new album by North Carolina-based Diali Cissokho and Kaira Ba. Diali Cissokho is a Senegalese kora maestro who moved to Pittsboro a few years ago and formed a band with American musicians.

This new recording has deep Senegalese and North Carolinian roots. Diali Cissokho traveled with his American bandmates to his birthplace, M’bour to record an album together. The band’s bassist and producer Jonathan Henderson and engineer Jason Richmond setup a mobile unit in a hotel near the ocean and invited local musicians.

After the sessions in Senegal, the producer added North Carolina musicians to the tracks. Guests included renowned violinist Jennifer Curtis, North Carolina Heritage Award-winning mandolinist Tony Williamson, jazz and gospel vocalists Shana Tucker and Tamisha Waden, and the excellent pedal steel guitar player Eric Heywood.

 

 

The final result was Route, an eclectic and deeply satisfying album that features a mix of traditional jali (griot) kora, Afropop, Senegalese salsa and American gospel, jazz and North Carolina roots music.

 

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Dayramir González as a Formidable Orchestrator and Bandleader

Dayramir González – The Grand Concourse (Machat Records, 2018)

In recent years there’s been a wave of highly-talented Cuban pianists. Composer, arranger, producer and keyboardist Dayramir González Vicet is part of this group of skilled artists that has burst into the international music scene.

Dayramir González’s style incorporates jazz improvisation and Cuban musical forms. His compositions are modern, sometimes venturing into cutting edge fusion, featuring electric piano and synths, along with fabulous electric bass and electric guitar.

The Grand Concourse is full of pleasant surprises. He’ll follow a forward-looking Afro Cuban electric piece with an all-acoustic retro-style exquisite danzón. He also uses vibrant Afro Cuban chants and beautiful orchestrated classical strings on some of the pieces.

The album features an impressive cast of Cuban, Latin American and American musicians. Ther lineup includes: Dayramir González on Steinway grand piano, Fender Rhodes and synthesizers; Antoine Katz on electric bass; Alberto Miranda on electric bass; Carlos Mena on acoustic bass; Zwelakhe Duma-Bell Le Pere on acoustic bass; Zack Mullings on drums; Keisel Jiménez Leyva on drums; Jay Sawyer on drums ; Willy Rodriguez on drums; Raul Pineda on drums; David Rivera on drums; Paulo Stagnaro on congas, batá drums, surdo, cajón, güiro, pandero and miscellaneous percussion; Marcos López on congas and timbal; Mauricio Herrera on congas, batá drums; Pedrito Martínez on batá drums and lead vocals; Gregorio Vento on miscellaneous percussion and lead vocals; Yosvany Terry on alto saxophone and chékere; Harvis Cuni on trumpet; Oriente López on flute; Kalani Trinidad on flute; Rio Konishi on alto saxophone; Dean Tsur on alto and tenor saxophone; Edmar Colón on tenor saxophone; Ameya Kalamdani on electric and acoustic guitars; Tatiana Ferrer on backing vocals and viola; Jaclyn Sánchez on backing vocals; Nadia Washington on lead vocals and backing vocals; Ilmar López Gavilán on violin; Audrey Defreytas Hayes on violin; Jennifer Vincent on cello; Caris Visentin Liebman on oboe; and Amparo Edo Biol on French horn.

 

 

The Grand Concourse is a masterfully-crafted piano recording where contemporary American jazz and various seductive Cuban musical forms are combined with ease.

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Masterful Puerto Rican Percussion Labyrinth

Hector “Coco” Barez – “El Laberinto del Coco” (Hector “Coco” Barez, 2018)

“El Laberinto del Coco” is the first solo album from virtuoso Puerto Rican percussionist Hector “Coco” Barez. He has compiled his numerous musical influences (including his work as percussionist for Calle 13 and Bacilos) over a rich foundation of Afro Puerto Rican rhythms called bomba.

The album features a wide range of genres, bridging tradition and contemporary music, from rootsy Afro Puerto Rican pieces to energetic Latin jazz, fusion, powerful rock, irresistible funk and cosmopolitan world music in the form of Middle Eastern and Australian aboriginal musical influences. While most of the album is highly engaging and features masterful percussion performances, fiery brass and superb guitar work, two of the tracks include rapping which is an increasingly annoying vocal form.

Hector “Coco” Barez invited friends from Puerto Rico, the United States, Spain and France’s Reunion Island to participate in the album.

 

 

The lineup on the album includes Héctor”coco” Barez on percussion; Amarilys Rios on vocals; Chamir Bonano on vocals; Kiani Medina on vocals; Ellen Cockerham Riccio on violin; Tressa Gold on violin; Kimberly Ryan on viola; Schuyler Slack on cello; Tobias “Toby” Whitaker on trombone; Bob Miller on trumpet; John Lilley on saxophone; JC Kuhl on baritone saxophone; Abiud Flores on bass; Edward Prendergast on bass; Derrick Englert on bass; Todd Herrington on bass; Ben “Wolfe” White on keyboards; Efrain Martinez on drums; Kelli Strawbridge on drums; Reggie Pace on beatbox; Edmer Omi Lebron on electric guitar; DJ Williams on electric guitar; and Andrew Rapisarda on electric guitar.

 

 

Buy the El Laberinto del Coco digital download or the CD from ellaberintodelcoco.bandcamp.com/releases

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