Category Archives: CD Reviews

CD Review: Idrissa Diop – Yakar

Idrissa Diop - Yakar
Idrissa Diop – Yakar
Idrissa Diop

Yakar (Tinder Records, 2003)

Senegalese band leader Idrissa Diop offers us his dance to you drop release, Yakar which marks another
sizzling recording coming out of the African continent and African music releases tend to be endless these days, cranking out one gifted artist after another, almost to the point where these musicians get lost in a sea of names. I know I have trouble remembering names, but like many other world music enthusiasts, I am delighted to keep unveiling these musical treasures. Similar to other contemporary African musicians, Diop records and performs with a large band that includes 5 percussionists, 6 horn players, guitar, bass, keyboards, violin and backup vocals.

The soundscape created is immense with power beats, blaring horns and impassioned vocals that never relent. As you can imagine with this arrangement, Diop explores various musical territories from Cuban salsa sung in the Wolof language (one of the Senegalese languages), jazz that recalls John Coltrane, funk, rock and disco. Diop’s writing and arranging proves strong here and his love for music comes through in his tribute to music, Guenth (Dreams) which appears twice on the CD, once as an instrumental. Most of the tracks feature high octane music including the funky rock titular Yakar, the groovy Life, Cuban Sopante and Diolof Man which recalls the 70’s super funk group, Earth Wind and Fire.

However, Diop knows that a dancing body needs rest now and again, so he tosses in a few ballads that allow listeners to wipe the sweat from their brows and to breathe. Tire Ailleurs slows things down a bit with its Arabic violin and percussion. The love song, Nop features Coltranesque sax laid over jazzy piano and a trap kit. And Africains et Antillais recalls a Caribbean ballad. Diop whose vocals often times recall fellow countryman and superstar Youssou N’Dour comes off as an instinctive and passionate performer. He carefully crafts the type of songs that please audiences live and on recordings. And similar to the too numerous to name talent coming out of Africa, there’s no stopping this musical force and who would want to anyway?
(Compliments of Cranky Crow World Music).

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CD Review: Filippo Gambetta’s Pria Goaea

Filippo Gambetta

Pria Goaea (Dunya Records. FY8052). Distributed by Felmay.

Sometimes you put on a CD by someone you’ve never heard and forty-odd minutes later you find yourself replaying it. It’s that good.This is one of those occurrences.
Gambetta is a young melodeon virtuoso from Genoa who has written most of the material here but manages to make it sound as though it has been around for ages. With his trio and a superb bunch of guests he draws on diverse European music to create a varied selection of moods and atmospheres. The effect is a little like a journey in the hands of a well-informed guide, beginning and ending in Maria’s Genoa trattoria.

Although strongly rooted in his native city I can hear traces of other places too, such as France, Spain, parts of Eastern Europe and Ireland.

His playing is ever inventive, resourceful and melodic and he is ably supported by some fine musicians. For example, Apparenze begins with his own meditative playing which is inspiring and beautiful in itself. Then Alessio Pisani’s bassoon joins and lifts the track to another level. This combination of instruments is perhaps unexpected and that makes it all the more exciting and arresting.

Similarly, Oliver Schroer’s electric violin brings a mixture of Eastern European and North African echoes to Slatner. But it’s Piero Ponzo’s clarinet that consistently proves itself the perfect companion for Gambetta’s rich explorations, especially on the sprightly Corbu which draws its inspiration from a nightclub of the same name.

The final track has its roots in the Ligurian tradition. La Tabachera/Quattro Danse/Incantatrice is from an anonymous 18th century manuscript and moves easily from the solemn and stately opening to a spirited and uplifting climax. I’d swear there was a violin in there too though none is credited.

So having reached the end I find myself going back to the beginning.This is an album that is a joy to hear and one that I can’t recommend highly enough.

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CD Review: Robert Mirabal’s Indians Indians

Robert Mirabal – Indians Indians
Robert Mirabal

Indians Indians (Silver Wave Records, 2003)

The poignant storytelling and thorny lyrics of Indians Indians, Robert Mirabal’s latest offering on Silver Wave Records, will capture and ensnare the listener before he even realizes it. Mr. Mirabal doesn’t ply the listener with overused, romantic visions of life as a Native American in his home of the Taos Pueblo in New Mexico. Instead Mr. Mirabal coaxes the listener to a new understanding with humor and graceful imagery. Mr. Mirabal’s credits include Mirabal, Taos Tales and the multi-media project Music from a Painted Cave. He was also the 1998 and 2000 Songwriter of Year for the Native American Music Awards, so it’s no wonder Indians Indians is utterly captivating. Those familiar with Robert Mirabal know that he isn’t a slave to any category and this CD is no exception with songs ranging from rock to dreamy ballads.

The title track “Indians Indians” is a gem with witty lyrics, funky guitar licks and Mr. Mirabal’s electric delivery. The silky voice of Laura Satterfield joins Mr. Mirabal in duets “Dream of You” and “Ruler of My Heart,” while Mirabal’s long-time fans will recognize Mirabal’s flute work as it weaves its magic spell. Cellist Michael Kott is the perfect partner to Mirabal’s vocals in “Black Jack Daisy.” But it is Mr. Mirabal’s storytelling that shimmers with tracks like “Theo’s Dream,” “Days Before Christmas” and “Grandpa,” while the tribal vocals of Reynaldo Lujan and Evan Trujillo lace the story of “Blue Lake.” Listeners are sure to be delighted with guitarist Estevan Castillo’s, drummer Joel Fadness’s and bassist Robin Abeles’s performances on the track “Morrison.”

While Indians Indians possesses traditional Native American musical elements of flute, drum and tribal chant, it refuses quaint stereotypes and instead embraces both soulful passion and painful truths of Robert Mirabal and his people.

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Two Reissues of Klezmatics CDs

Klezmatics - Shvaygn =Toyt
Klezmatics – Shvaygn =Toyt
In 2003, Rounder Records has reissued The Klezmatics’ seminal recordings, Shvaygn=Toyt (Silence=Death) originally released on Piranha Records in 1988 and Rhythm & Jews released on Piranha Records, 1991. Both CD’s were recorded in Germany and the songs on the CDs are sung in Yiddish and German.

Silence=Death features the Les Miserables Brass Band along with The Klezmatics lineup that includes, Kurt Bjorling (clarinet), David Licht (drums), founding member and composer, Frank London (trumpet), Paul Morrissett (bass), Lorin Sklamberg (vocals, accordion and piano) and celebrated klezmer fiddler Alicia Svigals (who later embarked on a solo career).

The recording marries Russian waltzes with swing and experimental jazz, folk and klezmer music resulting in an eclectic musical stew. First Waltz features a circus-like atmosphere filled with oompah pahs, swirling clarinet, sparkling horns and Lorin Sklamberg’s emotive vocals. Glass of Wine would be equally at home on a Tom Waits’ recording and a Jewish wedding party. Other tracks on the CD range from moody waltzes, Balkan gypsy and experimental jazz music and it is only the talent of the band members that hold this melange together.

Klezmatics -  Rhythm & Jews
Klezmatics – Rhythm & Jews
A similar lineup of musicians appears on the follow up Rhythm & Jews with clarinetist David Krakauer replacing Kurt Bjorling and Krakauer’s presence can be felt throughout the recording.

On first listen, Rhythm and Jews appears less eclectic than Silence=Death. There are an equal amount of romps as there are laments on the CD, but the group favors orchestral arrangements over jazzy numbers. Fun Tashlikh focuses on Krakauer’s impassioned clarinet performance that is draped over North African percussion. NY Psycho Freyleklis combines Manhattan mayhem with a Balkan gypsy wedding party and features Alan Bern on accordion. Araber Tants features Alicia Svigal’s sonic violin and Tsiveles Bulgar showcases the band members’ musical prowess.

While many purists will argue that The Klezmatics do not record and perform authentic Klezmer music, the group has brought klezmer music to a larger audience. And perhaps they have taken klezmer music to the next level. For some folks, these two recordings will be a pleasant trip back in time.

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Culduz – Murat Ses

Murat Ses

Culduz (Clou Records, Clou-003, KALAN Music, Peacework Music)

Culduz is the third and last part of Murat Ses trilogy.

Culduz is a Turkic word and simply means “The Star” indispensable to navigation. The sound on the album is a fusion of fine electronics (even symphonic electonics at times) of Binfen and of Anatolian roots music of Automaton. Excellent combination!Piri Reis, the legendary seaman with his marvellous maps is the hero this time. Like on two former albums, Murat goes on telling one of his unique stories musically… Wonderful compositions influenced by Anatolia’s rich cultural heritage. Creuset (The Melting Pot) is a good example for what I am talking about in a series of fusion work beginning from late 60’s with Anadolu Pop.

There is also something new on Culduz: Influences of other world cultures in the newer compositions: Azimuth with cascading West African arpeggios on slightly de-tuned microtonal piano playing a Turkish-style composition, Indian Ocean, an electronic dance track built on spheric space sounds embedded in Kreole ambient. The title track Culduz with above mentioned songs are highlights of the album as well as Cathay, a composition about ancient China with Asian melodic percussion combined with Eurasian timbres.
Take your time and listen toMurat Ses trilogy on “The Timeless and Boundariless Context of Culture and Civilization”.

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Afro-Celt Sound System Seed

Afro-Celt Sound System - Seed
Afro-Celt Sound System – Seed
Afro-Celt Sound System

Seed (Real World/Narada Records, 2003)

On first listen, I found Afro-Celt’s fourth release to be heavy on the Celtic inspired washes and light on the African and Asian big beats. However, after a third listen, I realized that the Afro-Celts had solidified all their previous recordings into this gorgeous gem. Sure the absence of Barry Dembe (Shadowman) can be felt as can the return of French Celtic harpist Myrdhin, but Seed is nothing short of magical and its enchantment harbors no false illusions as it unleashes its spiritual force. If you fear this sort of magical experience then beware because Afro-tribal spirits dance with Celtic gods here; their force is spectacular.

You will not find the big name acts or radio friendly chorus-verse-chorus on Seed. But you will find a musical maturity and a complexity of multi-tracking that marries Celtic, Irish and East Indian instrumentation while using vocal textures to its full effect. And Johnny Kalsi’s big beats come through loud and clear on the weighty Rise Above It and The Other Side. Nothing is missing here, but it does take a few listens and a good ear to discover this recording’s hidden musical treasures. This really is a musician’s dream album.

The CD opens with the ethereal Cyberia which features Narada recording artist, Jesse Cook on flamenco guitar along with James McNally on a Javanese bamboo flute and N’ Faley Kouyate on balafon. The song represents a musical global village and a collage of instrumentation. Seed highlights blues slide guitar, Kalsi’s power rhythms and N ‘Faley’s tribal vocals. Nevermore focuses on a duet between Iarla’s clear tenorist renderings and chanteuse Nina Miranda, herself resembling a Brazilian samba performer. The track is repeated as an instrumental at the end of the CD, but I prefer the one with vocal tracks.

The earthy Other Side conjures a jungle atmosphere featuring the Screaming Orphans harmonizing with N’ Faley, riding over heavy drum beats. Rise Above It again finds Iarla in a duet, this time crooning with the whisky drenched vocalist Mundy (recalling Robert Plant on Further in Time). It’s a long play groove and trance number sure to please fans of the Afro-Celt’s third release, Further in Time. Slowing things down, Ayub’s Song/As You Were glides by at a dreamy pace and recalls another Afro-Celtic group, Baka Beyond’s work. Rise focuses on Myrdhin’s Celtic harp which plays over a backdrop of guitar and synth drone with Iarla’s vocals skimming the top.

As their previous CD title would imply, Afro-Celt has in fact traveled further in time both spiritually and musically speaking. Seed will most likely appeal to discriminating listeners that are just as interested in the melody as they are the musical mix. However, we don’t need to get analytical here since Seed also feeds on intuition, instinct and the sacred. It’s truly a treasure.

Compliments of Cranky Crow World Music

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Sheila Chandra’s Indipop Retrospective

Sheila Chandra – The Indipop Retrospective

Sheila Chandra

The Indipop Retrospective (Narada, 2003)

There’s no great hardship in reviewing a Sheila Chandra CD – it’s just a simple matter of slipping the CD in the player and allowing the waves of this miraculous voice to flow over you.

The latest from Ms Chandra is a compilation of previous recordings on Indipop Records on Narada World entitled The Indipop Retrospective. Anyone familiar with the British Indipop label will recognize her as one of its leaders. The compilation draws from such albums as Roots and Wings, Quiet and Out On My Own. Rich workings are the basis for this CD with multicultural influences from the Celtic, Indian raga and drone and pure pop.

In the opening track, “Lament of the McCrimmon/Song of the Banshee,” Ms Chandra’s voice, Enya-esque, drifts out of the mist with an unmistakable Indian flair. Soulful expressions lacing tracks “One” and “Om Shanti Om” surprise and can cause the tiny hairs to rise on the back of your neck they’re so good. It’s on tracks like “This” and “Prema, Shanti, Dharma, Satya” that Chandra’s voice flies and takes the listener along. “Village Girl” and “Crescent Silver Scythe” are the pure pop pieces of this collection, and though not my favorite, are very good. Also featured on the compilation is “Mien,” that revolves around a speech Ms Chandra gave in 1991 in Khazak at a music festival.

Some listeners might find some songs over-produced, but certainly not enough to detract from the beauty of Ms Chandra’s captivating voice. And, while I realize this is a compilation, extracting works from more 20 years in the business, there was no mention of the musicians or other vocalists in the liner notes. All in all, Sheila Chandra’s The Indipop Retrospective will delight old fans and earn her new ones.

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Shafqat Ali Khan – Sublime Sufi

Shafqat Ali Khan - Sublime Sufi
Shafqat Ali Khan – Sublime Sufi
Shafqat Ali Khan

Sublime Sufi (ARC Music EUCD 1798, 2003)

This is one of the most pleasant surprises of 2003. Pakistani Qawwali singer Shafqat Ali Khan has recorded an excellent album where ancient Sufi tradition meets modern Western rock and jazz instrumentation, creating a superb hybrid sound. The album features the dramatic vocals of Ali Khan singing Sufi poems, ghazals and ragas. The line-up includes mandolin, electric guitar, tabla, dumbek electronic percussion grooves; the fiery, but also subtle, tenor sax of George Brooks; and the arrangements and keyboard work of Oakland (California) producer Douglas McKeehan.

Doug McKeehan and Shafqat have known one another almost seven years, meeting in 1994, during a visit to the U.S. by Shafqat’s father, the renowned Pakistani vocalist Salamat Ali Khan. McKeehan, a keyboardist who has performed with the world fusion group Ancient Future, has long harbored a love of Indian and Pakistani music and culture.

Shafqat Ali Khan was born June 17, 1972 in Lahore, Pakistan. He began his professional career at the prodigious age of seven, performing two very difficult ragas at the Punjab Music Festival in 1980; his professional training had already begun when he was four years old. “People were amazed. I sang for twenty minutes.” Afterwards, he was approached by Radio Pakistan, which led to a series of on-air recitals which spread the fame of this preternaturally endowed talent. By the age of eight, Shafqat had already proved his mettle, earning widespread regard as a classical artist of merit. Further classical performances on area television stations enhanced his public profile.

Highly recommended.

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Matahambre Son, Short Stories About Cuba CD Review

Matahambre Son, Short Stories About Cuba
Matahambre Son, Short Stories About Cuba (Danza y Movimento, 2002)

I want to tell you a story about a small village, a village in the Santiago de Cuba region of Cuba. Long ago, according to legend, soldiers came to this village looking for food. As luck would have it, beautiful mango trees lined the main street of this village. The soldiers plucked the ripe fruit and filled their bellies. It is said that from then on the village became known as Matahambre – the place where hunger ends.

Life went on in the little village. Most of the people worked growing fruit or coffee. They worked in the fields and celebrated with fiestas and dances. Following them everywhere were the sounds of the musical tradition known as Son. Because the village was poor and had no cultural centers, the people made up their own songs and their own rhythms.

Now in this village lived a radio and television engineer named Angel Faez, who could write and arrange music and play the guitar. Then, there was Alexis Vásquez who could play the double bass and Oscar Vásquez who could play the tres. There was also a welder named Raudel Garzón, who played bongos and a carpenter named Pedro Correoso, who was a fine percussionist. Lastly, there was a topographer named Gilberto Carbonell, who just so happened could sing quite nicely and compose songs. These fellows got together and started to play, often making up their own songs about people in the tiny village. They sang songs about people they knew and village life around them. These fellows became Matahambre Son.

The story might have ended there in the little village without you or I even knowing about this remarkable group, but there’s always a fairy godmother in these stories. Actually, it was a fairy godfather of sorts. José Ochoa, famed member of the Buena Vista Social Club, turned up one day in Matahambre heard music coming from the front porch of the house. José Ochoa knew a good thing when he heard it and convinced the German label Danza y Movimiento to go to Cuba to record this wonderful group.

Matahambre Son is a collection of songs written by the group’s members and produced by Mattias Möbius and José Ochoa Bustamante. The songs are delightful and vibrant.

Tracks like “Los Pollitos,” “Pensando” and “La Mulata y su movimiento” are sure to charm even the fearful out onto the dance floor. As a bonus the CD comes in a booklet with the story of Matahambre Son with stunning photographs of the musicians and the people of Matahambre by Susanna Rescio. Matahambre Son is proof that sometimes big things happen in small towns. And that makes a good story.

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Automaton by Murat Ses

Murat Ses

Automaton (Clou Records, Clou-001, KALAN Music, Peacework Music)

Automaton is the first part of Turkish-Austrian synthetist/electronic musician Murat Ses’ trilogy that began in early 90s.
I listened to the second album Binfen first and then came to other two. Automaton is more Anatolian roots and wild compared to Binfen and Culduz.

Murat is telling wonderful musical stories from a part of the world with rich traditions (see booklets). His musical approach is neither “orientalistic’ nor ‘occidentalistic’… and difficult to categorize.His trilogy’s main theme “The Timeless and Boundariless Context of Culture and Civilization” possibly is something all we need these days be it west or east.
A fusion of ethnic self-programmed timbres (such as a synthetic zurna, mey, kaval, ney, kanun or sounds of mehter ensembles you might hear at the Topkapi Palace) in microtonal settings.
His sound possibly is a dialectic quantum leap from his earlier sound of the 70’s called Anadolu Pop. That style revolutionized Turkey’s music then.

As an enthusiastic student of this kind of music I liked: Dry Sun, Argus babe, Mehter and some kind of symphonic New Age Belt of Orion.

Murat’s official website:
http://www.muratses.com

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