Category Archives: New Films

Armenian Minstrels and Armenian Echoes, Treasure Trove of Delights

Hagop Goudsouzian – Armenian Minstrels and Armenian Echoes (Hagop Goudsouzian Productions)

When was the last time you had a hostess sit before a neatly set table, complete with floral china cups, and offered her guests a charming, a cappella folk song while wearing a lime green Nestlé Frutina T-shirt? Probably never would be my guess. But that’s exactly what you get and so much more with Armenian and Canadian filmmaker Hagop Goudsouzian’s collection of films Armenian Minstrels and the three-part series Armenian Echoes.

Producer and director of a bevy of television programs, as well as the films Apricot Armenian Gold, Armenian Exile and My Son Shall Be Armenian produced by the National Film Board of Canada, Mr. Goudsouzian has set his sights on capturing Armenia’s musical soul by way of Armenian Minstrels and Armenian Echoes. Maybe some have caught these gems on your local PBS stations, but for those who haven’t these films they are not-to-be-missed glimpses into the riches of the heart of the often overlooked Armenian people.

Mr. Goudsouzian is generous as he introduces viewers to the Sayat-Nova Minstrel Song Ensemble in Armenian Minstrels and to artists like Minstrel Andranik Ujanci and Minstesl Makhmour, as well as the studio work of the group and the students of the Jivani School of Minstrel Art.

We get a listen to the vocals of Tovmas Poghosyan, a professor and the artistic director and president of the Sayat-Nova Cultural Union in the recording studio, a peek into Garine Haroyan’s archival work for the center and a behind-the-scenes look as the ensemble prepare for a concert.

The interview with Minstrel Kochar as he explains his early singing roles during his Soviet era school years and his backyard performance at his village home in Yeghis is indeed a delight. It also leave the viewer wanting, because, hey, what are these fruits that the bears eat in the mountains?

It’s easy to fall headlong into the kaleidoscope of colors and sounds with the trilogy Armenian Echoes as the films follow the work and artists of the Aram Merangulyan Folk Instruments Ensemble and its kamancha maker, player and concertmaster Onik Galstyan, the deeply lovely vocals of National Chamber Choir under direction of Robert Mikeyan and collaboration with composer and musicologist Arthur Shahnazarian, the reverence of song of the Choir of the Mother Cathedral of the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin, the bright work of the Naregatsi Folk Instruments Ensemble.

What’s easier is to fall under the spell of is the elderly minstrel Edik Safaryan as he sings one his songs dedicated to his wife Knarig, the dancers of the Vardanyan Sisters Dance Troupe and Edmon Safaryan playing the duduk along with fellow musicians Khatchik Sogoyan, Gargan Hakopyan and Ura Hakopyan.

Perhaps my favorite is Bogdan G. Hovhannisyan, amateur folk song collector and khachkar (an Armenian stone carving with origins dating back to the 9th century) carver and engraver. Amid the jumble of his workshop, Mr. Hovhannisyan treats viewers and his assistant to a song before he explains his passion for folk songs that began under the Soviets when it was not encourage and his founding of a folk choir in the Lori region of Armenia.

Despite all the charms of the landscape Mr. Goudsouzian offers, the smiles of dancers and joyful offerings of song throughout these films, viewers are reminded of the seriousness with which all these artists have devoted themselves.

There are reminders of a sometimes harsh reality as the director of the Sayat-Nova Cultural Union struggles with financing now that the state no longer provides funds, the sorrow that many Armenians simply emigrate to other countries to find better lives, the remaining scars of lands that once belonged to the Armenian people, a genocide and the horrific ravages of the 1988 Armenian earthquake that killed some 50,000 people and destroyed nearly 500,000 buildings. But there is a stubborn perseverance to keep going and to take the business of cultural preservation seriously. Nothing could sum up this sentiment better than a young singer from the Surb Tiramayr Choir from Vanadzor when she says, “Singing spiritual songs is a very difficult and a big responsibility. We have taken it upon ourselves, because they are the heartfelt songs of our people and they don’t take it very well if it’s poorly sung. You must sing it very well or resign.”

There are no slick rock star musicians, no big haired divas, no Dancing with the Stars anywhere in sight in Armenian Minstrels and Armenian Echoes – no, these small town dancers, striped shirted religious singers and mountain side saz players and minstrels are better. By way of Armenian Minstrels and Armenian Echoes, Mr. Goudsouzian had opened a treasure trove of the delights of the Armenian soul.

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Celebrated Blues Rock Guitarist Steve Hunter Releases Live CD & DVD ‘Tone Poems Live’

Steve Hunter - Tone Poems Live
Steve Hunter – Tone Poems Live
Blues rock guitarist Steve Hunter, well-known for his work with Peter Gabriel, Lou Reed and Alice Cooper, has a new live DVD and CD titled ‘Tone Poems Live‘. The career-spanning collection was filmed on August 24th 2013 at a recording studio in Los Angeles. Together with Steve was Tony Levin (Peter Gabriel, King Crimson) on bass, Phil Aaberg (Elvin Bishop, Peter Gabriel) on keyboards, and Alvino Bennett (Dave Mason, Robin Trower) on drums.

The musicians rehearsed for two days and filmed on the third day as though it were in front of an audience. Fourteen pieces, each played twice, with no overdubs added later. The material was chosen from most of Steve’s solo albums plus a few covers, including Solsbury Hill’s ‘What’s Going On’ and Stevie Ray Vaughan’s ‘Riviera Paradise’.

This is the first time Steve Hunter has ever been filmed doing his own material plus material of his own choice. Steve is now legally blind and touring has become a challenge. The recording session was produced and recorded by Brian Brinkerhoff and Paul Lani.

Steve is one of those wonderful musicians who speaks from the heart,” said Tony Levin.

There’s something about the subtlety, the texture and the tone quality that he gets with an individual note, to me that’s a great guitar player,” added Phil Aaberg.

I’m hearing all three Kings; Albert, BB and Freddy,” expressed Alvino Bennett.

Purchase the CD: Tone Poems Live

Purchase the DVD Tone Poems Live


Monumental Jake Shimabukuro

Jake Shimabukuro - Grand Ukulele Live in Boulder
Jake Shimabukuro – Grand Ukulele Live in Boulder
Jake Shimabukuro

Grand Ukulele Live in Boulder (Hitchhike Records,2013)

The latest video by ukulele maestro Jake Shimabukuro demonstrates how a single musician with a small musical instrument can deliver a fascinating live show. The director of the Grand Ukulele Live in Boulder video did a great job, capturing Shimabukuro’s skill and passion for the ukulele.

The first part of the video presents Jake Shimabukuro performing in purely acoustic format, using various techniques and engaging the audience with interesting stories and good humor. Most of the material in this first part consists of original pieces composed by Shimabukuro.

Halfway through Grand Ukulele Live in Boulder, we get a chance to meet Jake and learn more about his background and his latest musical work, Grand Ukulele. This recording was produced by renowned musical architect Alan Parsons. The mid-segment features studio and backstage footage, along with an extensive interview that reveals a lot about Jake Shimabukuro’s background and musical approach.

The second part of the concert introduces the sounds of the ukulele processed with a wide range of pedals. Jake Shimabukuro performs his popular versions of Queen’s ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ and George Harrison’s beautiful ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps While My Guitar,’ which made Jake Shimabukuro famous worldwide for his Youtube performance a few years ago.

The 75 minute selection of live music and interviews reveal one of the great instrumentalists of his generation, a musician that has taken the ukulele to a monumental level.


Documentary Presents Remarkable Disabled Musician and Dancer Sidiki Conde

You_Dont_Need_Feet_to_DanceYou Don’t Need Feet to Dance, an first-hand documentary about African immigrant Sidiki Conde , a man who overcomes his disability one day at a time in New York City will open March 22 at the Quad Cinema in New York.

Sidiki was born in 1961, in Guinea, West Africa. At age fourteen, polio left him almost completely paralyzed. Sent to live with his grandfather in a village deep in the forest, Sidiki learned to manage his disability, building his upper-body strength so that he could walk on his hands. When faced with the dilemma of dancing in a coming of age ceremony, he reconstructed the traditional steps by dancing on his hands instead of his feet.

In time Sidiki ran away to Conakry, Guinea’s capital city, where he and his friends organized an orchestra of artists with disabilities recruited from the city’s streets. They toured the country, determined to change the perception of the disabled.

In 1987, he became a member of the renowned dance company Merveilles D’Afrique, founded by Mohamed Komoko Sano. Sidiki became a soloist and served as rehearsal master, composing and directing the company’s repertoire. He also worked as a musician and arranger with Youssou N’Dour, Salifa Keita, Baba Maal and other popular musicians.

In 1998, Conde’s music took him to the United States, and he founded the Tokounou All-Abilities Dance and Music Ensemble. In the United States, he has continued to perform and teach, instructing people of all abilities in schools, hospitals and universities, and served as artist in residence at a Bronx public school for children with multiple disabilities.

In You Don’t Need Feet to Dance, Sidiki balances his career as a performing artist with the almost insurmountable obstacles of life in New York City, from his fifth-floor walk-up apartment in the East Village, down the stairs with his hands and navigating in his wheelchair through Manhattan onto buses and into the subway.

Despite the challenges, Sidiki teaches workshops for disabled kids, busks on the street, rehearses with his musical group, bicycles with his hands, and prepares for a baby naming ceremony, where he plays djembe drums, sings, and dances on his hands.

About the Director

Alan Govenar is a writer, folklorist, photographer, and filmmaker. He is president of Documentary Arts, which he founded in 1985 to present new perspectives on historical issues and diverse cultures. Govenar is the author more than twenty books and is a Guggenheim Fellow. The Off-Broadway premiere of his musical Blind Lemon Blues, created with Akin Babatunde received rave reviews in The New York Times and Variety.


Pa’s Fiddle: The Music Of America, inspired by the Little House on the Prairie

Pa’s Fiddle: The Music Of America
Pa’s Fiddle: The Music Of America is a live concert DVD featuring some of country music’s biggest stars: Randy Travis, Rodney Atkins, Ronnie Milsap, Committed, Natalie Grant, Ashton Shepherd and The Roys singing the music of the Little House on the Prairie.

In January 2012, some of the leading country musicians got together to bring to life the traditional American folk songs written about by Laura Ingalls Wilder in her internationally best-selling series Little House on the Prairie. For the first time in concert, this music was performed in front of an intimate audience at the Loveless Barn in Nashville and filmed for broadcast.

The concert was seen nationwide on PBS throughout June and was one of the most successful of the 2012 public TV fundraising programs. Additional broadcasts will be scheduled for Fall 2012.

The idea for pairing notable country artists with traditional American repertoire was the initiative of Dean Butler (film producer and the actor who played Almanzo, Laura’s husband, on the Little House on the Prairie TV show) and musicologist Dale Cockrell (Professor of Musicology at Middle Tennessee State University).

Dale Cockrell loves traditional American music and I love the stories of American pioneer life written by Laura Ingalls Wilder,” says Dean Butler. “Having this opportunity to share the music Laura recalled in her unforgettable novels is nothing less than a dream come true.”

The concert includes well known artists such as Randy Travis, Rodney Atkins, Ronnie Milsap, Ashton Shepherd, The Roys, Natalie Grant and Committed (NBC Sing Off Champions) accompanied by a skilled band led by Grammy award-winning musician and musical director Randy Scruggs.

The concert DVD release contains 14 performances including standouts The Roy’s performance of “The Gum Tree Canoe”, Ronnie Milsap’s “Dixie/The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” and “Roll the Old Chariot Along” by Committed in addition to bonus performance footage from Natalie Grant, discussion of the historical context for Charles Ingalls fiddle music from Dale Cockrell, and a video short titled: “Little House on the Prairie: the Legacy of Laura Ingalls Wilder.”

Also available are the accompanying concert cd and a companion Primer cd featuring recordings by Riders in the Sky, Bryan Sutton and Mac Wiseman, among others, performing additional songs from the books.

Little House on the Prairie, the autobiographical bookseries by Laura Ingalls Wilder, offers the most authentic firsthand account of 19th-century American folk music available to us. Seen through the lens of Laura’s father Charles “Pa” Ingalls (1836-1902), a highly acclaimed fiddler of the time, the books offer a window into the music that Americans played, sang and listened to in the late 1800s.

The Little House on the Prairie books are among the most popular of all time, with over 60 million copies sold since the release of Little House in the Big Woods in 1932. The much-loved TV show, which was inspired by the books, has been in syndication since its debut in 1974.

Buy the DVD Pa’s Fiddle: The Music Of America n North America

Buy the CD Pa’s Fiddle: The Music Of America in North America

Buy the DVD Pa’s Fiddle: The Music Of America in Europe


The Goat Rodeo Sessions Live Released on DVD & Blu-Ray

The Goat Rodeo Sessions Live
The Goat Rodeo Sessions Live (Sony Masterworks) on DVD and Blu-Ray featuring cellist Yo-Yo Ma, fiddler Stuart Duncan, bassist Edgar Meyer and mandolinist Chris Thile will be available tomorrow.

This performance was a one-night only concert filmed on January 31, 2012 at the House of Blues in Boston, Massachusetts. The four string virtuosos performed songs off their collaborative album, The Goat Rodeo Sessions, joined by guest vocalist, Aoife O’Donovan.

The concert included on the DVD was filmed for a PBS Special that will air in the United States in prime-time in May and will also air as a pledge program throughout the month of June.

Playing with Edgar, Chris and Stuart – being surrounded by so much virtuosity and generosity – is such a joy,” says Yo-Yo Ma. “I think you really hear in their music the personal, instrumental and musical relationships that brought this album, and now this concert, to life.”

While each artist is a leading figure in his own music category, the group came together as a unified ensemble on a most remarkable and organic cross-genre project. The Goat Rodeo Sessions, which was released in Fall 2011, is an 11-song recording of original compositions that has been dubbed “genre proof” by the group. The music feels both new and recognizable. It is composed and improvised, uptown and down home, funky and pastoral, and above all, uniquely American.


Morocco Fantasia

Al Di Meola - Morocco Fantasia
Al Di Meola

Morocco Fantasia (inakustic, 2012)

Morocco Fantasia is an excellent opportunity to watch and listen to one of the finest American guitarists. The DVD and Blu-Ray release shows Di Meola and his ensemble during a concert in Morocco, at the Mawazine Festival in Rabat.

During most of the concert, Al Di Meola uses the acoustic guitar, presenting a brilliant mix of jazz, flamenco and Mediterranean influences. Only at the end, he picks up the electric guitar, showing his versatility as a guitarist.

The band at the time included highly skilled instrumentalists from the areas of jazz and Latin music: Peo Alfonsi on 2nd guitar, Fausto Beccalossie on accordion, Gumbo Ortiz on percussion, Victor Miranda on bass, Peter Kaszas on drums. In some pieces, Al Di Meola and the band were joined by special guests from Morocco, including Said Chraibi on oud, Abdellah Meri on violin, and Tari Ben Ali percussion.

Morocco Fantasia features some of Al Di Meola’s familiar compositions as well as new pieces from his current album, Pursuit of Radical Rhapsody.

The video crew did an excellent job. The close-ups of the musicians are perfectly timed and allow the viewer to watch solos and musical interactions up close. It is very well edited and provides a full immersion into Al Di Meola’s music. Morocco Fantasia includes bonus material such as rehearsals, soundcheck and Al Di Meola performing a session while visiting a bazaar.

Morocco Fantasia is an outstanding video that showcases the music of an excellent guitarist and composer who gently crosses the boundaries between jazz and world music.




Guitar Maestro Al Di Meola to Release “Morocco Fantasia” Video

Al Di Meola - Morocco Fantasia
Jazz and world fusion pioneer Al Di Meola will be releasing a new video titled Morocco Fantasia on DVD and Blu-ray on January 24. The 2009 concert was shot in Morocco, at the renowned Mawazine Festival in Rabat, featuring a crack band and special guests.

Al Di Meola’s performance in 2009 also represented a gathering of different cultures and religions – Al Di Meola (guitar), Peo Alfonsi (2nd guitar), Fausto Beccalossie (accordion), Gumbo Ortiz (percussion), Victor Miranda (bass), Peter Kaszas (drums), and with special guests from Morocco, Said Chraibi (oud), Abdellah Meri (violin) and Tari Ben Ali (percussion).

On his third trip to Morocco, the public gave this exceptional guitarist a rousing reception and showed its openness towards Western music.

Al Di Meola wowed the audience with a repertoire containing not just familiar songs but also new tracks from his current album, Pursuit of Radical Rhapsody.

The bonus material includes excerpts from the rehearsals, from the soundcheck and Al Di Meola performing a session while visiting a bazaar, etc.



Willie Nelson Live At The US Festival DVD to Be Released in November 2011

Willie Nelson Live at the US Festival, 1983 DVD
Willie Nelson Live at the US Festival, 1983 (Shout! Factory) contains 23 songs and a total running time of 80 and captures an unforgettable moment in country music history.

Held over two weekends in 1982 and 1983, the US Festival was funded and organized by Apple Computer’s Steve Wozniak, who also organized the accompanying technology exposition, and the construction of a brand-new outdoor venue in Glen Helen Regional Park in San Bernadino, CA. Nearly every musical genre was represented by bands as diverse as U2, Fleetwood Mac, David Bowie, Ozzy Osbourne, Willie Nelson, Van Halen, The Police and The Clash. Over the combined seven days of the festival, more than one million people passed through the entrance gates.

June 4, 1983, was “Country Day” at the US Festival, featuring artists such as such as Waylon Jennings, Alabama, Hank Williams, Jr., and Emmylou Harris, and the headliner was none other than the legendary Willie Nelson. This concert showcases the country music superstar at his peak, including many of his best-loved songs and greatest hits, such as “Whiskey River,” “Bloody Mary Morning,” and “Blue Eyes Crying In The Rain,” and to the excitement of the crowd was joined by Waylon for “Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys,” and “Good Hearted Woman.”


Waylon Jennings Live At The US Festival DVD to Be Released in November 2011

Waylon Jennings Live At The US Festival, June 4, 1983
The Waylon Jennings Live At The US Festival, June 4, 1983 DVD includes 22 songs and 60 minutes total running time and features and essential moment in country music history.

Held over two weekends in 1982 and 1983, the US Festival was funded and organized by Apple Computer’s Steve Wozniak, who also organized the accompanying technology exposition, and the construction of a brand-new outdoor venue in Glen Helen Regional Park in San Bernadino, CA. Nearly every musical genre was represented by bands as diverse as U2, Fleetwood Mac, David Bowie, Ozzy Osbourne, Willie Nelson, Van Halen, The Police and The Clash. Over the combined seven days of the festival, more than one million people passed through the entrance gates.

June 4, 1983, was “Country Day” at the US Festival. Waylon’s set was one of the day’s highlights, with performances of several of his hits, including “Don’t You Think This Outlaw Bit’s Done Got Out Of Hand,” “Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way,” “I’ve Always Been Crazy,” and “Luckenbach, Texas (Back To The Basics Of Love).” Waylon was also joined onstage by wife Jessi Colter for a particularly memorable rendition of “Storms Never Last.”