Category Archives: CD Reviews

Classic Dub Reissues Strip Reggae to the Roots

Augustus Pablo – Rockers Meets King Tubbys in a Fire House
Augustus Pablo – Rockers Meets King Tubbys in a Fire House (Shanachie SH 45055, 2003)

Ja-Man All Stars – In the Dub Zone (Blood and Fire BAF CD 041, 2003)

The practice of dubbing reggae music- breaking it down and reconstructing it via studio tweaking and remixing -has become an inseparable component of reggae. In dub, the inner core of bass and drums is left intact, with other instruments and effects sliced and diced to accentuate the rhythm and blow your mind to varying degrees. Sounds come, go and come again, and an expert dub mixer can create a “version” of a reggae track that brims with spiritual depth, mischievous fun, empathetic musical vibes, or any number of other sonic sensations.

Augustus Pablo, who died in 1999, was a master of dub and instrumental reggae who created mystical music unlike any other. An accomplished keyboard player, his signature instrument was the melodica, a wind/keyboard hybrid often regarded as a child’s toy. Pablo’s melding of the melodica’s reedy etherealness with the pulsating rhythms of reggae was nothing short of pure genius.

His 1980 release Rockers Meets King Tubbys in a Fire House (so named because dub pioneer King Tubby had a sizable hand in the mixing) was one of many landmark albums he recorded, and it’s been re-released with 4 additional tracks. These are dubs of songs by Pablo himself and other artists he produced, and it’s mesmerizing from start to finish. Highlights include the time signature-bending title track and the mildly Spanish-sounding “Dub in a Matthews Lane Arena,” but the whole disc is highly recommended.

Ja-Man All Stars – In the Dub Zone
One of the many strengths of England’s Blood and Fire label is tracking down and re-releasing golden age reggae and dub that may otherwise have been in danger of fading into obscurity. Dudley “Manzie” Swaby was a Jamaican producer who did some fine but often overlooked work in the last half of the ’70s. In the Dub Zonecompiles two of his dub albums on one CD.

The roots and culture slant predominant in reggae at the time is reflected in the sparse, urgent sound of these dubs, though there’s a snappy brightness that surfaces often enough. In his own liner notes, Manzie states that the disc is all about the love for the music felt by those who created it. It shows. These are crucial dubs laid down by some of the finest Jamaican players, including drummer Sly Dunbar, who is heard on many tracks on the latter half of the collection experimenting with the emerging syndrum sound he would later use to great effect with Black Uhuru. If you’re already familiar with the very high quality of Blood and Fire’s output, you’ll need no convincing that this is an essential dub release. If not, buy it and enjoy convincing yourself.

Buy the albums:

Augustus Pablo – Rockers Meets King Tubbys in a Fire House

Ja-Man All Stars – In the Dub Zone


Reconfigured Burning Sky Should Still Score with Native American Music Fans

Burning Sky – Spirits in the Wind
Burning Sky

Spirits in the Wind (Canyon Records CR-7047, 2002)

Pared down to the duo of Aaron White and Kelvin Mockingbird (both of whom are proficient on guitar and Native American flute) Burning Sky continue to make great music, though the feel now is one of soulful intimacy rather than exploratory inventiveness.

Their three previous albums for Canyon were trio efforts with percussionist Michael Bannister as a core member, and for 1998’s wonderful Enter The Earth (Ryko), the group added a bassist to become a quartet. By that point they were part neo-traditionalists, part canny global fusionists (including African, Celtic and many other flavors in the mix) and part jam band. I’m not sure what kind of personal or professional shake-ups led to the current version of Burning Sky, but the fact that Spirits In The Wind is a work of considerable beauty indicates they couldn’t have been too very painful.

Acoustic guitar and flute in various solo and duo arrangements carry most of the disc, with a chamber music sensibility occasionally riled by blues riffing, growling didgeridoo or production that seems deliberately not fancy.

Interestingly, White and Mockingbird are joined by former Doors drummer John Densmore (credited with playing the dumbek, but it sounds more like a jembe), who adds some pleasantly primitive pounding on an effective cover of Jimi Hendrix’s “Little Wing” and elsewhere. This is not music that’s going to blow you away, but with pieces like the closing “Shadow Man” taking their sweet time, you may well find yourself drifting away instead.

This album can be seen as something of a musical crossroads for Burning Sky- they’ve blazed trails, and now, likely on their way to blazing more, they’ve paused to make music that’s lovely and unpretentious.

Buy Spirits in the Wind


Baikouba Badji and Modibo Traore – Babu Casamance!

Baikouba Badji and Modibo Traore

Babu Casamance! (Cafe Tilibo, 2003)

Modibo Traore has a mission. Visit his website and you’ll notice an emphasis on leprosy prevention as much as on his new CD. A dollar from each CD sold returns to Senegal for leprosy and sustainability projects. And the title track “Babu Casamance!” was recorded at a leprosy village in Teubi, Casamance. This CD completes a circle for Traore, who learned traditional songs as a youth by assisting with ceremonies, then pounding out the rhythms on his homemade tin-can drums with plastic heads. Now based in Seattle, Traore returned to Senegal in January 2003 to play and record with the people of Casamance and master bougarabou player Saikouba Badji of Gambia.

Close your eyes and you’ll find yourself under a shade tree in midday, or around a fire late at night, soaking in the rhythm, the clapping, the group singing. The recordings by Rebecca Zimmer are wonderfully clean and crisp, but the liner notes remind that the musicians are not professionals-special thanks are extended to the musicians who gave up valuable time away from their jobs to participate. Except for translations of song titles, no song details are included. But the titles alone convey a variety of real-life themes: “Father gave me a need to dance,” “Man is tired,” “She wants peanut sauce,” and “Shake it!” An authentic aural slice of rural African life, this music will transport you to a village far away, where people make wonderful music about familiar concerns.


CD Review: The Rough Guide to Ska

Various Artists

The Rough Guide to Ska (World Music Network. RGNET 1083, 2003)

There have been many introductions to this energetic music and there are some overlaps. A few of the artists present here show up on other compilations, for example, the 3cd Trojan Ska Box Set. The material though is not duplicated. This set comes solely from work produced by Vincent ‘Randy’ Chin between 1960 – 64 and includes the usual suspects ; The Skatalites, The Maytals, Roland Alphonso, Don Drummond and Rico Rodriguez, among others.

It is always a real pleasure to hear Rico’s warm, melodic trombone and there are three samples from 1961, including Rico’s Farewell, recorded before he left for the UK. It features some fine ensemble playing as well as each soloist offering a personal goodbye. But there is also some fine inspired playing from the man himself on the shuffle, Rico Special, especially when he begins his solo and the drummer’s brushwork springs into life to crisply underline his fluent blowing. There is a lot of magic crammed into 3 minutes worth of playing.

The Skatalites produced their own kind of magic too and it isn’t surprising when you consider that the line-up included players like Tommy McCook amd Roland Alphonso on saxes, Drummond on trombone and Jackie Mittoo on piano. Their fondness for re-working tunes from different genres is evident here on Ska-Racha, adapted from the Mexican song, La Cucharacha, and Baby Elephant Walk, based on the theme from the movie, Hatari. They produced some of the most driven ska from fairly unlikely sources.

There are plenty of vocal tracks too though I’m not sure that Alton & Ellis is really ska, it’s more like doo-wop. Lord Creator’s vocal style was cool and mellow and Don’t Stay Out Late is a suave, urbane piece of advice to his underage date. A little tingue in cheek too ! Bunny & Skitter only produced a couple of tracks for Chin but their steady shuffling A Little Mashin’ is worth hearing as is the lesser known Basil Gabbidon’s Iveree. Both show the influence of blues and r’n’b.

The quality of a few tracks suffers from deteriorating master tapes but overall the selection sounds great, a reminder of the energy and freshness of this music.

Buy The Rough Guide to Ska.


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).

Buy Yakar


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.


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.

Buy Indians Indians


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.


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”.


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

Buy Seed