Category Archives: CD Reviews

The Magnificent Winds of Lithuania

Saulius Petreikis – Jūrėse (independent release, 2018)

Jūrėse presents the work of Lithuanian multi-instrumentalist Saulius Petreikis. The album contains a set of beautiful melodic instrumental works rooted in traditional Lithuanian folk music and classical music as well. Petreikis music is inspired by his hometown, Žemaitija (Samogitia) which is surrounded by a pond.

Saulius Petreikis uses a wide range of wind instruments, including flutes from different parts of the globe. On Jūrėse he is joined by Styginių Sekstetas, a chamber music string sextet that adds an exquisite touch to Pertreikis’ music.

The lineup includes Saulius Petreikis on flutes, trumpet, whistles, bansuri, horns, and wordless vocals; and Donatas Petreikis on guitar.

Styginių Sekstetas: Vytautas Mikeliūnas on violin; Laura Staponkutė on first violin; Jurga Gaubytė on  second violin; Ugnė Petrauskaitė on viola; Onutė Švabauskaitė on cello; and Mariusz Praśniewski on acoustic bass.

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The Best of Kroke Indeed

Kroke – Kroke 25, The Best of

If you haven’t heard about Kroke yet, this is one of the finest instrumental ensembles in the European music scene. The award-winning Polish trio includes virtuoso instrumentalists who deliver an exquisite mix of modern Polish music, klezmer, contemporary jazz and chamber classical music.

The trio is highly popular in Europe, from Poland and Germany to Spain, performing their passionate and evocative music to world music, jazz and classical music fans alike.

Kroke – Kroke 25, The Best of (Universal Music Polska, 2017)

This two-CD compilation includes superb material released from 1996 to 2015, released on various labels: Germany’s Oriente Musik and two Polish major label divisions: Warner Music Poland and Universal Music Polska.

Kroke’s sound revolves around the masterful performances of composer and multi-instrumentalist Tomasz Kukurba, accordion player Jerzy Bawoł and bassist Tomasz Lato. Kukurba’s violin and viola dance around the highly expressive accordion and bass, and sometime soars into fantastic, mesmerizing explorations.

Throughout the years, Kroke’s sound evolved and Tomasz Kukurba added more instruments to the mix. One track includes a captivating electric viola performance.

The lineup includes Tomasz Kukurba on violin, viola, electric viola, flutes, hand and mouth percussion, vocals, whistles, piano; Tomasz Lato on acoustic bass; and Jerzy Bawoł on accordion.

Guests include Dariusz Grela on vocals, Tomasz Grochot on percussion, Anna Maria Jopek on vocals, and Sławek Berny on udu.

The CD booklet includes detailed information about each track in Polish and English.

The Best of Kroke is an outstanding introduction to a formidable trio that has been making deeply satisfying, genre-defying instrumental music for many years.

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Enthralling Tibetan Spiritual Impressions

Laurie Anderson, Tenzin Choegyal; and Jesse Paris Smith – Songs from the Bardo

Laurie Anderson, Tenzin Choegyal and Jesse Paris Smith – Songs from the Bardo (Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, 2019)

Songs from the Bardo is a spellbinding recording featuring extraordinary musicians from various cultures and musical genres: American experimentalist Laurie Anderson, Tibetan multi-instrumentalist and singer Tenzin Choegyal; and composer, pianist and climate activist Jesse Paris Smith (Patti Smith’s daughter).

The album is a guided voyage through the farseeing text of the Tibetan Book of the Dead with Laurie Anderson on spoken word and violin.  Songs from the Bardo intertwines captivating spoken word sections (accompanied by gongs and drones) and instrumental passages.

Tenzin Choegyal plays lingbu (Tibetan flute), dranyen (Tibetan lute), singing bowls and gong; Jesse Paris Smith plays piano, crystal bowls and gong. Guests include Rubin Kodheli on cello and Shadhad Ismaily on percussion.

The physical edition of the album includes a 32-page booklet with artist biographies, photos and details about the project.

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Cross-Cultural Fusions Across the Globe

Mikarimba – Taperebá

Taperebá (2019) is a superb new album from Mikarimba, an ensemble of excellent musicians led by Japanese marimba maestra Mika Stolzman. The United States-based act plays flavorful acoustic music grounded in jazz and classical music, with international flavors. Taperebá includes recreations of musical pieces by Brazilian, Cuban, American folk, jazz classics and contemporary jazz musicians such as Hamilton de Holanda, Paul Simon, Mongo Santamaria, Chick Corea, Gershwin and Pat Metheny.

On Taperebá, Mika appears along with her husband, famed clarinetist Richard Stoltzman; Eddie Gomez on bass; Steve Gadd and his son Duke Gadd on drums and percussion; Brazilian maestro Hamilton de Holanda on mandolin; and arranger and pianist Kazunori Maruyama, who flew in from Japan.

Kim Sanders and friends – Bent Grooves

Australian multi-instrumentalist Kim Sanders plays a wide range of global music instruments. His band includes Australia-based musicians from diverse backgrounds and nationalities. On the album Bent Grooves (2008), Sanders and his friends play a mix of Turkish Sufi music, Balkan Gypsy brass sounds, West African beats, Indian Classical music, flamenco, blues and jazz improvisation.

The band on Bent Grooves includes Kim Sanders on Turkish gaida (bagpipe), aardvark (bass bagpipe), kaval (Bulgarian flute), ney (Turkish flute), saluang (Sumatran flute) and tenor saxophone; Sandy Evans on soprano and tenor saxophones; Carlos Villanueva on charango; Bobby Singh on tabla; George Doukas on bouzouki and Greek baglama; Llew Kiek on Turkish baglama; and Steve Elphick on acoustic bass.

Musa Mboob, – Gambia Sessions

Gambia Sessions (2019) showcases the talent of Musa Mboob, one of the finest percussionists in Gambia. Musa, who is also a singer and dancer, is presently based in Brighton, UK. Gambia Sessions (Arc Music, 2019), his latest Gambian fusion recording, features his band XamXam: Tom Phelan on keyboards; Luke Ratenburry on electric guitar; and Tom Fairbairn on bass.

Musa performs at Gambian cultural festivals, venues across Europe and also conducts workshops in British and Gambian schools.

Rootes – Uncommon Ground

Uncommon Ground (2018) is the debut album from Rootes, a world music ensemble formed in 2017, led by percussionist Gilbert Mansour. The goal is to fuse traditional Arabic music and instruments with other genres such as flamenco from Spain, Indian music and Latin American sounds.

Mansour’s intention is to develop cross-cultural pollination that serves as an alternative communication bridge between people around the world. The ensemble uses a wide range of musical instruments representing diverse cultures: buzuk and darbuka from the Middle East, Flamenco cajón and guitar from Spain, bansuri flute from India and Latin percussion.

The lineup includes Rashika Shekar on bansuri; Gilbert Mansour on percussion; Alba Díaz Escudero on vocals; Jose Antonio Torres Maldonado on guitar; Albert Mansour on buzuk and guitars; Tomás de los Cariños on vocals; Tabari Lake and Han Beyli on bass; Joyce Cheung, Hooni Min and Erick Peralta on piano; Scott Peters and Marta Roma on cello; Jelena Soro on oboe; Rachel Lanskey, Layth Sidiq and Tania Mesda on violin; Dan Lay on viola; Cesar Secundino Méndez on harp; Tony Barhoum on qanun;Argenis Genao on bongos; Pedro Sanjur on timbales; and B-horns Boston on horns.

Manaraf – La route à soi

Manaraf is the project of two French musicians and composers who deliver an exquisite and captivating mix of western and eastern music on La route à soi. Aliocha Regnard plays the Swedish and Henri-Charles Caget plays a wide range of percussion instruments, including Provence drum, shaman drum, udu, daf, bendir, darbuka, riq, psaltery, bass marimba, ebow, bowed, clockernspiel, sanza, cymbals, and fruits. 

Chris Prosser – Mistune

Violinist Chris Prosser presents dark instrumental pieces inspired by classical, Balkan and Jewish music, accompanied by the Indian drone instrument tanpura, played by Susan Thompson. The album is titled Mistune (2019). New Zealand-based Prosser was one of the founders of the duo Besser and Prosser in the 1980s. Besser was also part of the Free Radicals electronic band.

Wassim Halal – Revolutionary Birds

French-Lebanese composer and percussionist Wassim Halal introduces the listener to an unconventional combination of Middle Eastern percussion and French bagpipes. The album Revolutionary Birds features percussion and bagpipe duos along with Sufi chanting. The lineup includes Wassim Halal on daf, darbuka and bendir; Erwan Keravec, from Brittany, on cornemuse (bagpipe); and Mounir Troudi (Tunisia) on Sufi chant.

Beyond Borders Band – It Just Happens

Beyond Borders Band is a German-Tunisian ensemble that fuses western music and Arabic sounds. On their album It Just Happens (Hout Records, 2018), the four skilled musicians deliver a set of instrumental pieces that incorporate jazz and Arabic influences. The lineup includes Fadhel Boubaker on ud; Niko Seibold on saxophone; Jonathan Sell on acoustic bass; and Dominik Fürstberger on drums.

Elektra Kurtis and Ensemble Elektra – Bridges from the East

Elektra Kurtis and her Ensemble Elektra includes New York musicians from various backgrounds. The music is rooted in Greek tradition as well as other cultures and genres: flamenco, Arabic, Caribbean, jazz improvisation and contemporary classical exploration. Band members include violinist ad composer Elektra Kurtis, Reggie Nicholson on drums, Bradley Jones on bass, Lefteris Bournias on clarinet, and Curtis Stewart on violin. Through the improvisations each member brings their own flavor to the music.

Ensemble Elektra’s recordings include: The Book of Time (Milo Records, 2000), AFROdite’s Smile (Milo Records, 2005), Cutting Through (Milo Records, 2010) and Bridges from the East (Milo Records, 2015).

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Multifaceted Essences from the Far North

Although Finland is a relatively small country in northern Europe, it has a sizable, high quality music scene. These are some noteworthy recordings from the Nordic nation.

The album from Finnish duo Aino & Miihkali performs mesmerizing music rooted in northern Karelian traditions and West African beats. The Helsinki-based duo uses the traditional kantele zither and guitar along with vocals and loop pedal.

Aino & Miihkali – Aino & Miihkali

Aino is Finland’s leading progressive kantele player, known for her work with Uniruukki. She is also a composer and vocalist. On this recording she sings in three different languages, Finnish, Swedish and English.

Miihkali’s is a virtuoso guitarist, influenced by jazz, blues and bluegrass banjo.  He studied at the celebrated Berklee College of Music.

Aino & Miihkali started playing together in the spring of 2017 released their self-titled album in 2019.

Pirttijärvi , Skullerud and Torget – Áššu

Pirttijärvi , Skullerud and Torget’s debut album on the Bafe’s Factory label is titled Áššu (Embers). The trio’s style is rooted in traditional Sami Joik. Ulla Pirttijärvi joiks about her extended family and her home villages, Utsjoki and Angeli. Olav Torget and Harald Skullerud complement the ensemble with string instruments and percussions. The group draws further inspiration from West African rhythms and traditions.

Áššu won The German Record Critics’ Award in 2019 in the world music category.

Puhti – Pahan Lalulu

Puhti is an innovative Finnish folk group that incorporates dance and electronic sound design along with traditional finish music. Their music on the album Pahan Lalulu includes fiery accordion and percussion pieces along with meditative songs featuring kantele and harmonic singing. The duo includes Anne-Mari Kivimäki on accordion, stomp box, harmonium and vocals and Reetta-Kaisa Iles on stomp box and vocals.

Tuuletar – Rajatila – Borderline

Tuuletar is an exploratory a cappella group influenced by traditional Finnish music, overtone singing and beatbox culture. Their latest album is Rajatila – Borderline (Bafe’s Factory, 2019) is full of amazing vocal wizardry. Two additional musicians appear as guests: Pekko Käppi on bowed lyre and vocals and Antti Paalanen on accordion and roars.

Helsinki Soundpainting Ensemble – Helsinki Soundpainting Ensemble

The Helsinki Soundpainting Ensemble was founded in 2007. It is an improvisational ensemble featuring musicians from Helsinki. On its self-titled album “Helsinki Soundpainting Ensemble,” they use soundpainting-language to compose music and combine various musical styles, including folk music and avant-garde music.

The ensemble includes Sonja Korkman on soundpainting; Charlotta Hagfors on vocals; Teea Aarnio on vocals; Amanda Kauranne on vocals; Mimmi Laaksonen on flutes; Turkka Inkilä on flute; Anu Keski-Saari on cello; Sigurdur Rognvalsson on guitar; Ilkka Heinonen on acoustic bass; and Oskari Lehtonen on percussion and drums.

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Fascinating Recreations of 19th Century Caribbean Dance Music

Bellegarde – Anba Tonèl

Bellegarde – Anba Tonèl (Bellegarde, 2018)

Canadian percussionist and composer Daniel Bellegarde explores the encounters of 19th century European ballroom dance music with the musical genres from the French-speaking Caribbean on Anba Tonèl.

The modernized styles featured on Anba Tonèl include contradans (square dance), the quadrilles of Guadeloupe, Martinique, and Dominica; minuet-congo of Haiti; and Haitian twoubadou guitar music.

Bellegarde brought in musicians from diverse backgrounds who play typically European instruments like the violin and hurdy gurdy along with a wide range of percussion instruments and French Creole vocals.

Based in Montreal, Bellegarde has performed with numerous artists in the Quebec music scene as well as Cirque du Soleil.

The lineup includes Daniel Bellegarde on percussion and manouba (thumb piano); David Boulanger on violin; Hassan El Hadi on banjo and ud; Marco Jeanty on lead vocals; Toto Laraque on guitar, bass and banjo; Erik West-Millette on acoustic and electric bass; The Kreol Supremes Choir: Sylphir Soulafy, Cynthia Soudin and Cynthia Cantave; Nicolas Boulerice on hurdy-gurdy; Diol Kidi and Sacha Daoud on percussion; Frtiz Pageot on bass manouba; Francis Franklin Brisebois on guitar, bass and banjo; Jean Christophe Germain on violin; Bruno Rouyere on vocals; and Olivier St-Pierre on lap steel, manouba, mandolin, guitar, bass and banjo.

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Masterful Malian Guitar and Communal Memories

Mamadou Kelly – Les Bateaux (Clermont Music, 2019)

Malian guitarist, vocalist and composer Mamadou Kelly continues his collaboration with American musicians on Les Bateaux (The Boats). Kelly’s music contains a mix of upbeat traditional Malian music and transfixing Malian desert blues.

The title of the album refers to the boats that brought food to Malian villagers during the overwhelming   drought of the 1970s. Mamadou Kelly sings about history, daily life and honors those who have done commendable things.

Mamadou Kelly – Les Bateaux

Les Bateaux includes his Malian band and additional Malian musicians who regularly work with Kelly along with American friend, celebrated guitarist Cindy Cashdollar on lap steel guitar, and two other American musicians: Jacob Silver and David Rothenberg.

The lineup includes Mamadou Kelly on lead guitar and vocals; Aly Magassa on electric guitar; Kande Sissoko on ngoni; Hamadoun “Afo” Guindo on calabash and drums; Adama Sidibe on balafon; Madou Diabate on violin; Hama Sangho on backing vocals; Jacob Silver on bass; Cindy Cashdollar on lap steel guitar; and David Rothenberg on clarinets and bass clarinet.

Les Bateaux was recorded live in Bamako (Mali) and New York.

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Enthralling Mix of Nordic Winds and Arabic Atmosphere

Anders Hagberg & Ahmad al Khatib – Melodic Melang

Anders Hagberg & Ahmad al Khatib – Melodic Melange (Footprint Records, 2014)

Melodic Melange delivers a remarkable mix of Nordic jazz and Middle Eastern maqam music. This project features Swedish multi-instrumentalist, composer and Professor Anders Hagberg and Palestinian ud (oud) maestro virtuoso Ahmad al Khatib.

The album contains a set of spellbinding pieces highlighting the sound of various flutes and soprano saxophone in collaboration with the ud. The two soloists are supported by mesmerizing Middle Eastern frame drums and delectable acoustic jazz bass.

The lineup includes Anders Hagberg on flutes, soprano saxophone and mouth harp; Ahmad al Khatib on ud; Johannes Lundberg on double bass and vocals; and Youssef Hbeisch on percussion and vocals.

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Rising star of Melodic Reggae

Mortimer – Fight the Fight (Easy Star Records, 2019)

Fight The Fight is an excellent modern reggae EP from rising reggae artist Mortimer. The young Jamaican singer combines classic roots reggae with soul, electronic drum and bass, dub, and lovers rock (romantic reggae).

Fight The Fight features exquisitely produced, wonderfully seductive reggae songs. It is currently available on digital format. The CD and vinyl versions will be released in late January 2020.

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Boundary-blurring Contemporary Malian Songs

Kankou – Kuma

Kankou – Kuma (Cannery Row Records, 2019)

Rising Malian singer-songwriter Kankou joins forces with Scottish guitarist Mark Mulholland on Kuma. Kankou Kouyate is a member of a well-known Malian family of musicians and singer-storytellers. Her vocals provide a decidedly Malian flavor.

Mark Mulholland contributes finely-crafted blues-rock electric guitar and delightful acoustic folk sounds. Parisian musician Olaf Hund adds electronic beats and subtle atmospheres.

Harmonica player Vincent Bucher provides additional blues essence on two songs.

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