Touch of MacMaster’s Hand

Natalie MacMaster - Blueprint
Natalie MacMaster – Blueprint

Natalie MacMaster

Blueprint (Rounder Records, 2003)>

Two tunes on Cape Breton fiddler Natalie MacMaster’s latest recording, Blueprint succinctly describe the power behind the 30-year old musician’s feisty gift. They are “Touch of the Master’s Hand,” based on a poem by Myra Brooks Welch; and the love song, “My Love, Cape Breton and Me,” which ends the recording. The first tune cites, “From the room far back a fair-haired girl came forward and took the bow. Then she wiped dust from the old violin and tightened up the strings. She played a tune so pure and sweet you could hear the angels sing.” I would bet that Natalie could also transform a tired old instrument into the stuff of angels.

Natalie’s cousin Bob Quinn wrote the second tune for MacMaster’s marriage to fiddler Donnell Leahy that took place on October 5, 2002. Quinn’s 18-year old daughter handled vocal duties at the wedding and on the recording. The song which was recorded in Halifax and produced by Natalie and her husband, speaks of the simple things in life and also about returning to one’s roots.

Natalie’s roots go deep into the heart of Canada’s Cape Breton. She was born into a fiddling community and is related to fiddling royalty, yet she relocated to Ontario after her wedding, giving the song a lasting poignancy.

The remaining 12 tracks were recorded in Nashville, Tennessee with “new acoustic” producer Darol Anger at the helm and embellished by an array of stellar bluegrass talent. MacMaster teams up with Bela Fleck (banjo), Jerry Douglas (dobra), Victor Wooten (bass), Alison Brown (banjo), John Cowen (vocals), Sam Bush (mandolin), Bryan Sutton (guitar), Edgar Meyer (Arco & Pizz bass) and her regular band mates to create a masterful marriage between traditional Cape Breton repertoire and new grass. They even toss in a few bluesy chops and jazzy bits here and there. However, besides this rich line up of musicians, what strikes me the most is being able to hear joy welling up in Natalie’s heart when she performs.

Her musicianship boasts both technical brilliance and absolute soul fullness that shouts integrity. If only there were more Natalie MacMaster’s in the world, I believe we would live in peace.

The tracks on Blueprint range from the pastoral “Eternal Friendship” to the tricky “Devil and The Dirk” with its alternating fiddle textures (staccato and sweet lyrical) and everything in between. Natalie’s fiddle kicks into gear on Gravel Shore then the musicians take turns at solos while building off of each others’ creative impulses. I am surprised to find Swedish guitarist Roger Tallroth’s (Vasen) “Josefin’s Waltz” on this recording, yet a few similarities between Swedish traditional music and fiddle music of the Americas do exist. Bela Fleck chips in Bela’s Tune and Natalie pays homage to her parents with the romp, Minnie & Alex’s Reel.

The musicianship is extraordinary on this spirited disc. Natalie plays straight from the heart and expertly turns musical phrases. She has toured the world and shared stages with such luminaries as Carlos Santana, Luciano Pavarotti, Alison Krauss and The Chieftains. And now she stars in her own show, accompanied by some of the hottest bluegrass musicians. Certainly her latest recording is a blueprint for success, but it also a CD filled with longing for one’s home. Whether or not you make your home in Cape Breton or elsewhere, finding your way home will be less complicated after listening to this heart-felt recording.


Vinicius Cantuária’s Live Album

Vinicius Cantuária - Live - Skirball Cultural Center 8/7/03
Vinicius Cantuária – Live – Skirball Cultural Center 8/7/03
Vinicius Cantuária

Live – Skirball Cultural Center 8/7/03 (Kufala Recordings Kuf 0043, 2003)

Brazil is a gold mine for musical talent. Every year new Brazilian musicians are brought to the attention of the international community. Some of them are here to stay, but others are excessively hyped, overproduced and their names quickly fade away.

Guitarist Vinicius Cantuária is an artist that has been around for a while, but he hasn’t received the attention he deserves. He doesn’t use recording gimmicks. Instead, his main strengths are his guitar technique, his ability as a composer and a great live performance. As many of his country mates, Cantuária combines jazz with Brazilian sounds, including bossa nova and samba, but he goes beyond easy to listen grooves. His guitar sound is similar to that of jazz experimentalists like Bill Frisell (whom he has collaborated with), with a clear Brazilian feel.

This live album, Live is one of the freshest live albums this reviewer has heard in a recent months. Cantuária
presents a set of pieces that range from dreamtime minimalism to guitar-percussion jams, intimate bossa nova and even Brazilian classics like “Carioca.” The album was recorded on an August night in the hills of Los Angeles at the Skirball Cultural Center.

Buy Live


Feathered friends

Mary Youngblood - Beneath the Raven Moon
Mary Youngblood – Beneath the Raven Moon
Mary Youngblood

Beneath the Raven Moon (Silver Wave Records)

Mother of four children, Aleut and Seminole Indian, award winning flautist Mary Youngblood offers us her third release on Silver Wave Records, Beneath the Raven Moon. Inspired by the wonderful spirits that have walked with Mary on her journey through life and based on her poem, Beneath the Raven Moon, this CD features an array of styles from blues to traditional to classical in which each song title represents a line in the poem. “Cama-I/ Walk with me/ beneath a raven moon/ and we shall dance/Laugh with me/caress the smile/within my heart/and we can love/dream with me/above the Mother Earth/and we will fly/Ipiluni.”

This peaceful music comes at a time when many among us fear the planet’s extinction. Yet, when Mary’s voice and flute flow through a room, hope also presents itself. Her music is as stunning and haunting as the infamous Native American flutist R. Carlos Nakai, another musician that has successfully blended European and
Native American traditional music. Mary’s music differs from Nakai’s compositions in that it possesses a feminine edge that travels straight to the womb of Mother Earth. At times her songs hover above us and at other times they soars past us, always spirited, sometimes mirthful and at other times, tranquil.

Similar to her label mates, Joanne Shenandoah and Lawrence Laughing, producer Tom Wasinger comes on board offering his musical talents on a variety of instruments, Beneath the Raven Moon also marks the first CD in which Mary offers her sultry vocal talents. Joanne Shenandoah had enlisted her vocal talents on Youngblood’s CD, Heart of the World leading Youngblood on a new direction. Beneath the Raven Moon showcases Mary’s multiple gifts and her vocals can be heard on Walk with Me and Caress the Smile.

Walk with Me features bluesy guitar which is seduced by equally bluesy flute. The title song falls into the classical realm with flowing guitar, violin and flute. We Can Love is a beautiful chamber piece in which Youngblood’s flute caresses the strings that augment the composition. Two traditional Aluet songs, Piluni and Cama-Igrace the album while adding a timeless sacred quality to Mary’s inspired poem

Youngblood dedicated her heartfelt recording to those human beings in which she has loved, “To walk with another human being on life’s journey is a courageous endeavor.” One might say the same thing about recording and performing music that comes from the soul. And in that respect Mary Youngblood is a courageous musician here to offer us peace through her music.

Buy Beneath the Raven Moon


Marimbas and Flamenco Mestizo Sounds


Ayatana (Ventilador
Music CDA 035, 2003)

The Ventilador label has become Barcelona’s essential label for new world
music talent. Ayatana is an unusual group that falls into the growingly popular
“mestizo” (hybrid) category. It’s unusual because the veteran musicians combine
flamenco, world percussion and jazz using instruments that most flamenco and
mestizo artists rarely use. The most intriguing is the use of the marimba, an
instrument rarely (if ever) used in Flamenco. The foundation of Ayatana is percussion (palmas, cajón, shakers, frame drums,
etc.), and marimba combined with the harmonies and melodies of the archilaúd, an
instrument derived from the lute that has a much longer neck and resonance box.
There are also Flamenco and Gypsy rumba vocals throughout the album by singer
and dancer Vicky Romero.


Out of Africa

Abyssinia Infinite, featuring Gigi – Zion Roots

Abyssinia Infinite, featuring Gigi

Zion Roots (Network Medien, 2003)

Ethiopia’s ‘gift from God,’ better known as Gigi has returned with a sensational homage to traditional Ethiopian music, Zion Roots. While the songs here do not derive from the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, they are colored by Gigi’s earlier involvement with the church and certainly she delivers a soulful experience on this disc. In fact, these gorgeous songs will stop you in your tracks and you’ll want to take a closer listen.

There are a few key ingredients to keep in mind. First, the stunning vocalist has a broad range that never quits. One moment she appears to be crooning a love song and the next moment her soprano vocals take on a variety of syncopation that are absolutely incredible. Second, the recording produced by her long-time collaborator Bill Laswell leaves plenty of space for Gigi’s talent to shine. And finally, the fact that these songs have returned after years of exile (political turmoil of the Derg regime) is a miracle in itself.

Ethiopia (Abyssinia) has been around since Biblical times and many legends surrounding the ancient country such as legends revolving around the Queen of Sheba and Solomon still remain today. According to the CD liner notes, "The hope of better things to come and the belief in a benevolent power greater than oneself, have fueled love songs and hymns that have defined Ethiopian popular music for generations." However, Gigi’s generation, (she was born in 1974), suffered 20 years under chaotic rule of the Derg regime. Musicians were either thrown in prison or found themselves unemployed. Horns and live bands were replaced with synthesizers and drum machines.

On an ironic note, Gigi’s destiny led her to electronica producer Bill Laswell. He produced Gigi’s debut album (2001) which was released on Palm Pictures. The recording featured mostly acoustic backing and boasted an array of talented jazz players including, jazz saxophonists Pharoah Sanders and Wayne Shorter. Then Laswell re-mixed the album and released it under the guise, Illuminated Audio. While I enjoyed the debut album, the re-mix left me cold. Zion Roots, however, blows me away with it’s beauty, musical integrity and innocence. The music is serene while bringing on a truly sacred experience which can only resonate from acoustic instruments.

The songs might have originated in Ethiopia, yet they take on an international flavor here. They are laced with Senegalese percussion, (Aiyb Dieng), masterful tabla (Karsh Kale), accordion/guitar (Tony Cedras of Paul Simon’s Graceland), saxophone (Moges Hable), and keyboards/programming (Bill Laswell and Abegasu Shiota). Laswell even chips in acoustic guitar, a rare occasion indeed. Traditional musician, Melaka Gelaw contributes washint (bamboo flute) and kirar (an African harp, also referred to as King David’s harp (Biblical reference). Together these musicians journey over an aural landscape, peppered with polyphonic rhythms and syncopated vocals. Monew Natana recalls Mali’s jali tradition. Embe Ashafergne features Karsh Kale’s watery tabla beats and enhanced with hand claps.

Gole displays acoustic jungle beats and primal flute that eddies around Gigi’s vocals, sung in two languages, Amharic and her father tongue, Agewna. I just hope that Laswell doesn’t tamper with perfection and re-mix Gole as a DJ track in the future. Aba Alem Lemenea is special to Gigi because it conveys its spiritual significance to the singer. "That’s a spiritual song I wrote about a world that’s peaceful and loving, but somehow we always end up harming nature and harming ourselves or somebody else, whether we intend to or not." And if that track doesn’t grab your attention, listen to the lullabyesque Ethiopia, a song in which Gigi’s voice strokes and caresses every note.

Gigi is a high-caliber talent and not one to miss. You’ll want to add this CD to your collection as well as, your best of 2003 list.

Compliments of Cranky Crow World Music.


Cuban Los Jubilados, an Attraction in Bahia

(Prensa Latina-Cumbancha) Salvador, Brazil – “No musician retires,” stated Cuban artist Juan Gualberto ‘Bebeto’ Ferrer, one of the founders of Los Jubilados, a band shaping up as the successor of the famous Buena Vista Social Club
. “Much less he is driven away from music, which goes along with you forever, beyond your age,” the 78-year-old ‘Bebeto’ stated in Salvador, Bahia, where the Cuban musicians are the main attraction of the 5th Cultural MarketSalvador, Brazil.

No musician retires,” stated Cuban artist Juan Gualberto ‘Bebeto’ Ferrer, one of the founders of Los Jubilados, a band shaping up as the successor of the famous Buena Vista Social Club. “Much less he is driven away from music, which goes along with you forever, beyond your age,” the 78-year-old ‘Bebeto’ stated in Salvador, Bahia, where the Cuban musicians are the main attraction of the 5th Cultural Market


Silvio Rodríguez Sings in Caracas for the Bolivarian Revolution

(Prensa Latina-Cumbancha) Caracas, Venezuela – Cuban singer songwriter Silvio Rodríguez performed last weekend in Caracas, in a concert in support of the Bolivarian Revolution led by President Hugo Chávez, the Venezuelan government reported. The concert “Una canción de amor a la revolución” (A Love Song for the Revolution), was part of the activities organized to celebrate the 5th anniversary of Chávez’s electoral victory.


Cuban Musicians Mourn Pianist Rubén González

(Prensa Latina-Cumbancha) Havana, Cuba – Cuban musicians are again mourning after the death of pianist Rubén González, one of the most famous members of the popular Buena Vista Social Club, who died Monday in Havana at the age of 84. The musician, 1997 Grammy award winner for the album of the above-mentioned project, died in his house from heart and lung failure, after a long illness. Rubén González, considered a “piano man” of Cuban music, had retired from the stage a year ago, since he suffered from general degenerative osteoarthritis that confined him to bed months ago and led him to death, according to the doctors assisting him.


Matthew Zachary Launches

New York, NY. Matthew Zachary, 29, is a recording artist and brain cancer
survivor whose recovery has motivated thousands worldwide. His two albums of
acoustic piano solos, inspired by his battle with cancer, offer listeners a mix
of Jazz, Classical and New Age-inspired compositions. Now these albums will
inspire others in a brand-new way, thanks to a new website celebrating music as
the “gift of hope”: integrates
seamlessly with Zachary’s official site at, with links
to additional resources in support of music and healing as well. A portion of
all proceeds will go to such worthy cancer charities as The National Coalition
for Cancer Survivorship, the Melissa’s Living Legacy Foundation, and more.


Flute Maestro Deepak Ram and Sarod virtuoso Arnab Chakrabarty on a Jugalbandi Tour

USA – Hampshire Media Ventures will produce a most unique Indian concert tour
in 2004-05.

Deepak Ram
(a la Buddha Bar and Matrix Revolutions), one of the brightest
exponents of Indian classical flute (bansuri) with
, a masterful performer on the sarod. They will be accompanied by
Mayookh Bhaumik on the tabla.

Deepak is a delightful performer and a two-time recipient of the South African
Music Awards for the Best Instrumental Album. Arnab, dubbed a “peerless
virtuoso at 24
” by Calcutta’s leading daily, The Telegraph, is one of the
front-ranking representatives of the Gwalior baaj of sarod playing.The duo started touring together in 2002, and have built an inspiring duet
format which will be presented, along with their respective solo performances at
each concert on this tour. Stay tuned for more news on this tour. USA and Canada
in Mid-March, April and May. UK between April 24 and May 6.

Mayookh Bhaumik, arguably the most innovative technician on the tabla, will
accompany Deepak and Arnab. He is a disciple of Ustad Sabir Khan of Calcutta,
and has toured globally with top-ranking artists for seven years.


[Photo of Arnab Chakrabarty].


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