Category Archives: CD Reviews

The Experimental Side of Sheila Chandra

Sheila Chandra – This Sentence is True

Sheila Chandra – This Sentence is True (EMI/Narada, 2001)

Sheila Chandra, the Anglo-Indian singer who released a number of synth-pop albums in the 1980s, is in a more experimental mood in this album. Her earlier releases include ABoneCroneDrone.

This album is rather intriguingly named, and our picks on this album include the three tracks briefly titled This, Sentence and Is! The sound is ambient, but less sensual and more fragmented. Her vocals are mixed with percussion, piano riffs, guitar riffs and crackling sounds.

The album may come across a bit jarring or even dissonant to some listeners, especially those used to more rhythmic arrangements, and the 7 tracks barely stretch beyond 45 minutes.

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Olcay Bayir’s Long Musical Road

Olcay Bayir – Rüya – Dream for Anatolia (Arc Music, 2019)

Rüya is the second album from Olcay Bayir, an Alevi Turkish singer-songwriter and composer based in London. She delivers a set of original and traditional poetic songs. Her band includes an international cast of musicians from Turkey, the UK, the Mediterranean and the Middle East.

Olcay Bayir – Rüya – Dream for Anatolia

Olcay Bayir has a captivating voice style with a blend of passion and energy that fits well with the contemporary world music style of the album. In terms of arrangements, Rüya combines finely sculpted traditional Turkish, Armenian and western instrumentation.

The lineup on the album includes Olcay Bayir on vocals; Giuliano Modarelli on guitar; Al MacSween on keyboards and piano; Aurel Qirjo on violin; Erdi Arslan on zurna, duduk, flute; Kostas Kopanaris on darbuka, bendir, percussion; Sam Vicary on double bass; Erdoğan Bayır on saz; Serkan Çakmak on kaval; Joost Hendrickx on drums; Adam Teixeira on drums; Mehmed Mert Baycan on bendir; Murat Sığırcı on bağlama; and Huw Bennett on double bass.

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Songs Inspired by the Strong, Resilient Stories of Women

Taína Asili – Resiliencia

Taína Asili – Resiliencia (Taína Asili , 2019)

Resiliencia is the new album from bilingual singer-songwriter and social justice activist Taína Asili (Taina Del Valle). Although Taína was born in the continental United States, she grew up in a Puerto Rican family and has strong connections to the traditional music of Puerto Rico, Cuba and other parts of the Caribbean.

The concept of resilience has become a focal point in current society, increasingly adopted by many individuals and health providers as well. Taína Asili advocates for resistance to the current American administration and also celebrates the resilience of women, victims of violence, hurricane sufferers, cancer survivors and other individuals who have shown their hardiness and capacity to recover after facing adversity.

Taína sings in Spanish and English. Musically, Taína draws from diverse influences such as Manu Chao-style mestizo music that incorporates ska and rock, traditional Puerto Rican music, reggaeton, cumbia, salsa, electronic dance music, Indian music and American soul. Highlights include “Resiliencia”; the irresistible “La Alegria,” a collaboration with DJ Johnny Juice; the wonderful son cubano “Canción de luz”; and the Indian music-infused “Beyond the Stars” featuring the outstanding Veena Chandra on sitar.

Taína Asili

“Before I started writing songs, I conducted interviews with women from New York and California to Montreal and Puerto Rico,” says Taína about Resiliencia. “I had already planned a trip to Puerto Rico, but after the hurricane it became more urgent than ever before to witness and record what happened on the island.”

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Flamenco and Jazz, Andreas Arnold’s Two Hearts

Andreas Arnold – Odisea

Andreas Arnold – Odisea (Galileo Music, 2019)

Andreas Arnold is a US-based, jazz-trained German guitarist who fell in love with flamenco and spent some time in southern Spain immersed in flamenco culture. Odisea is his third release and it is deeply influenced by flamenco guitar and Mediterranean music. Unlike other non-Spanish guitarists who play easy listening flamenco rumbas, Arnold plays the real stuff: soleas, tangos and other forms.

Odisea is a melting pot of musical ideas and cross-pollination. Andreas Arnold incorporates jazz, flamenco, Greek and other world music influences. This project showcases a skilled trio format that includes Arnold on guitars, Greek musician Petros Klampanis on acoustic bass and Japanese percussionist Miguel Hiroshi, who was raised in Granada, Spain.

I think this album is sort of a homecoming for me,” says Arnold about Odisea. “Back to a looser and improvised approach, while incorporating many things that I’ve learned during my travels across the vast seas of flamenco. Back to jazz elements, even back to classical elements that are rooted in my childhood.”

The recordings took place in Brooklyn (New York) and also in Cadiz and Madrid (Spain) and feature additional guests who provide additional authenticity to the flamenco side of the album. Guests include Carlos Ronda on cajon and palmas (flamenco handclap percussion); Cristian Soto on vocals; David Enhco on trumpet; Guy Mintus on piano and melodica; Jeremy Smith on percussion; Juan Carmona on percussion and palmas; Lucas Carmona on palmas; Maria Manousaki on violin; Ricardo Piñero on electric bass and palmas; and Rocio Parilla on vocals and palmas.

Odisea is a remarkable journey through the spirited sounds of western Mediterranean flamenco, eastern Mediterranean Cretan and Greek music and contemporary jazz.

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The Stylish Celtic Flute Allure of Flook

Flook – Ancora (Flatfish Records, 2019)

Flook, the Celtic flute powerhouse, is back with a fabulous new album. Ancora is Flook’s first studio album since 2006 and the four musicians have delivered another gem. Flook performs original contemporary instrumental pieces rooted in Irish folk music traditions. The primary composers are the two flute players, Sarah Allen and Brian Finnegan.

Flook – Ancora

The music of Flook revolves around masterful flute and whistle melodies and their exquisite interplay, supported by the trance-like beat of the Irish bodhran frame drum and string instruments.

Ancora features various guests that contribute influences from other global musical traditions and new tonalities through several unexpected, delightful musical instruments like the Theremin, steel drums, hurdy gurdy, hammered dulcimer and the pandereta asturiana.

The current Flook lineup includes Brian Finnegan on flutes and whistles; Sarah Allen on alto flute, concert flute and accordion; Ed Boyd on guitars, bouzouki and piano; and John Joe Kelly on bodhran.

Guests include Simon Chrisman on hammered dulcimer; Phil Cunningham on piano accordion; Amadou Diagne on percussion; Philip Henry on lap steel guitar; Trevor Hutchinson on acoustic bass; Melvin Ifill on steel drums; Matthias Loibner on hurdy-gurdy; Conor McCreanor on acoustic bass; Niall Murphy on fiddle; Patsy Reid on cello, viola, violin; Eva Tejedor on pandereta asturiana; and Mark Tucker on Theremin.

Ancora is an impeccable example of exceptionally expressive, shape-shifting Celtic music craftsmanship

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Masterful and Reverent Vietnamese Zither

Tri Nguyen – The Art of the Vietnamese Zither

Tri Nguyen – The Art of the Vietnamese Zither (ARC Music, 2019)

Okay, I know what you’re thinking. You see the title The Art of the Vietnamese Zither and I can hear the huff of your sighs and feel you rolling your eyes from here. Perhaps you are imagining a rather spare, academic exploration of the zither and a dense intellectual tour through Vietnamese music with an impossible array of terms to learn and understand in order to grasp the Vietnamese zither. Well, nothing could possibly be further from the truth. Achingly elegant and intricately engaging, The Art of the Vietnamese Zither will have listeners perched on the edge of their seats, anticipating note after note capable of musically expressing a summer afternoon, the rainy season and a young man’s ride on a horse to seek his bride all by way of the Vietnamese zither.

Armed with a musical education that includes the Music Conservatory of Saigon and the Ecole Normale de Musique de Paris, as well as previous recording credits Beyond Borders and A Journey Between Worlds, Vietnamese composer, pianist and zither player Tri Nguyen has turned out a stunning recording with The Art of the Vietnamese Zither. There’s nothing spare or clinical about this music. It comes across as sweepingly cinematic and deeply personal to Mr. Nguyen whether it is a grand, bold piece like “Strategist Khong on the Fortress” or a delicately intimate song like “Autumn Moon Lullaby.”

Composing and arranging most of the tracks, Mr. Nguyen has gathered up a group of musicians to join his vision and own zither playing on the Art of the Vietnamese Zither like Buynta Goryaeva on violin, Iryna Topolnitska on violin, Carolin Berry on viola, Dima Tsypkin on cello, Son Mach on violin, Thanh Trung on guitar, Trung Tran on monocord, Nguyen Quyet on Vietnamese bamboo flute, Thien Lam on Vietnamese lute, Tran Hien on Vietnamese drums and for an unlikely addition on several tracks Qais Saadi on percussion and oud.

From the very opening track “Exchange of Love” through to the last note of closing track “Black Riding Horse,” The Art of the Vietnamese Zither is masterful in its balance. It’s easy to pick out the reverence to ancient musical traditions of Vietnam and where Mr. Nguyen marries that with Western traditions as on the elegant “Song of the Blackbird.”

The bright delicacy and careful bend of notes allow tracks like “Twilight Mist,” “Sadness of the South” and “Move on Water, Walk on Clouds” to simply flow like fluttering silk in the breeze. Stepping away from the delicate into the bold “Melancholy” and “Strategist Khong on the Fortress” prove that there’s plenty of drama in Vietnamese music. And, if that weren’t enough, Mr. Nguyen dazzles with a kind of hybrid track on “Child Where Are You?” with Mr. Saadi providing percussion and interestingly enough sinuous oud lines, and again on the track “Golden Skies.” Closing with the traditional Vietnamese folk song “Black Riding Horse,” Mr. Nguyen fleshes this track out with traditional Vietnamese bamboo flute, lute and drums to dazzle listeners with this wild musical ride on a black horse.

The Art of Vietnamese Zither is a gorgeously sumptuous listen and well worth the journey across southern Vietnam’s musical landscape.

Purchase The Art of the Vietnamese Zither

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World Music Inspired by Buddhist Philosophy

Sakya Tashi Ling Buddhist Monks – My Spirit Flies to You

The Buddhist Monks Sakya Tashi Ling – My Spirit Flies to You (Fundacion Prevain, 2006)

This is an ambitious world music album inspired by the Buddhist philosophy and musical chanting of Sakya Tashi Ling, a monastery belonging to one of four Buddhist schools from Tibet, the Sakyapa tradition. They later set up the first Buddhist monastery in Spain.

The orientation is mostly toward Western listeners, with the Buddhist chanting adding an exotic ‘Eastern’ appeal over the 14 smooth jazz and lounge tracks.

Our picks include the pleasant piece Emotions and the soaring I Wanna Fly. The music is generally a mix of pop and New Age music, architected by Sergio Medrano and Miguel González.

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Alluring Musical Journey to the Middle East

Various Artists – Journey to the Middle East

Various Artists – Journey to the Middle East (ARC Music, 2019)

Everyone knows that the tin with an assortment of cookies is just so much better than the tins with just a single kind of cookie. It’s just so much better to sample one’s way through dark chocolate covered cookies, white chocolate wafers, shortbread squares, bites of buttery Madeleine cookies or milk chocolate covered cookies with tiny pictures pressed into the chocolate than a beaten up bag of plain old snicker-doodles. That’s just fact.

Interestingly enough it can be the same way with music and our friends at ARC Music know this and have put a wonderful collection for listeners to nibble their way through on Journey to the Middle East. This compilation works its way through the music of Syria, Egypt, Persia, Israel, Cyprus, Lebanon and Turkey. This glorious collection would delight the most seasoned listener or the newbie listener dipping an ear into the musical mysteries of the Middle East.

Listener get a dose of the dramatic right up front with the traditional song and dance from Cyprus titled “Cifdetelli” by the folk ensemble Yeksad. Journey to the Middle East turns hip with Hossam Ramzy and Phil Thornton’s “Planet Egypt” replete with hypnotic percussion and call-and-response interplay between mizmar, argul and kawala from the ARC release Planet Egypt.

Up next is “Aziz Jun” by Zohreh Jooya, originally from the ARC release Persian Nights. Fans will simply not want to miss “Midnight Sun” by Dastan Trio. This track is just simply impressive as Dastan musicians Pejman Hadadi, Hossein Behroozi-Nia, and Hamid Motebassem weave a web of improvisational mastery on barbat, setar and tombak that includes some spectacular percussion.

If that weren’t enough to lure listeners to Journey to the Middle East, there’s the sly and sassy “Iraqi Jazz” by Ahmed Mukhtar, the sweetly soulful “Mi Yitneni Of” by The Burning Bush, originally from the ARC release Folksongs from Israel. There’s also “Amaken” by Andre Hajj & Ensemble, the sultry vocals on the Syrian song “Hayyamatni” by Zein Al-Jundi and Armenian dance song “Karoun, Karoun/Nooneh” by Alan Shavarsh Bardezbanian.

The Iranian percussionists of Zarbang have on offer “Cycling Feast” and it is a powerful Sufi trance, ancient Iranian call to the wild and percussion extravaganza all rolled into one. Journey to the Middle East keeps up the wild ride all the way to the end with a final track from Ensemble Huseyin Turkmenler called “Rumeli Karsilamisi.”

Journey to the Middle East is a whole assortment treats and everyone knows that’s the best.

Purchase Journey to the Middle East

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Elegant and Graceful Piano Tango


Hakon Skogstad – Two Hands To Tango

Hakon Skogstad – Two Hands To Tango (Avantango Records, 2018)

Norwegian musician Hakon Skogstad delivers an exquisite interpretation of tango through the prism of the piano, combining tango, jazz and classical music elements.

Skogstad extracts the passion, romance and longing feelings of tango with ease. The material includes eight tango classics, as well as two original pieces including a tribute to Astor Piazzolla.

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Ravi Shankar’s Vision of Peace


Pandit Ravi Shankar – Vision of Peace

Pandit Ravi Shankar – Vision of Peace (Deutsche Grammophon/Universal, 2000)

This double CD showcases some of Pandit Ravi Shankar’s international prowess. The first CD has Japanese-Indian collaborative tracks featuring Pandit Ravi Shankar on sitar and Ustad Alla Rakha on tabla, accompanied by Japanese musicians Susumu Miyashita and Hozan Yamamoto on flute and string instruments. Our pick on this CD is the energetic track, Rokudan.

The second CD is more traditional, with Raaga Jogeshwari and Raaga Hameer. In sum, a fine listen for an afternoon of relaxation.

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