Julio Montoro y Alma Latina – Black Roots (Tumi Music, 2018)
and composer Julio Montoro and his band Alma Latina dedicate Black Roots to the
African-rooted music of South America , the Caribbean and North America.
Black Roots features
one of the rising stars in Cuban music, vocalist Dayana Botello as well as
guest appearances by Congolese guitarist Papa Noel and vocalist Nolita Golding.
The album is a multifaceted set that includes an effervescent mix of reggae, Afro-Cuban, funk, hip-hop, Cuban son and salsa. Unfortunately, a very melodic smooth jazz saxophone appears throughout the album. It may make the music more accessible to wider audiences, but it also makes it less appealing if you are seeking fiery Cuban music.
includes Dayana Botello on lead vocals and chorus; Julio Montoro on guitars,
chorus and keyboards; Roger Reina on bass; Yosvany Betancourt on drums, congas and timbales; Ivan Reyes on percussion; Juan
Lázaro Pompa Zamora on piano; Abel Hernández on alto and soprano saxophone; Juan
Kemell on trumpet and chorus; Raul Hernandez on congas; Amaury Balzan on double
bass; Leonardo Milian on piano; Javier Chacon on piano and keyboards; Osmel Cuellar on tenor saxophone; Osmel Cruz
on tres; Nolita Golding on vocals; Papa Noel
on guitar in Sambembere; Jose Luis Hernandez (El chewi) on tenor saxophone; and
Esteli Roz and Maydenis Palomino on chorus.
Michael Spiro & Joe Galvin – Bákini: En el Nuevo Mundo (Iu Music, 2017)
Bakini: En el Nuevo Mundo is a celebration of Afro-Latin percussion performed by the acclaimed Afro-Cuban Folkloric Ensemble that came out of the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music.
Produced by percussionists Michael Spiro and Joe Galvin, Bákini: En el Nuevo Mundo is a fabulous introduction to the marvelous world of Afro-Cuban folkloric percussion. However, the ensemble goes beyond Cuba by incorporating Brazilian musical forms, Caribbean calypso, strings, brass and percussion instruments from other regions of the world.
Bákini: En el Nuevo Mundo is divided into three suites. The first one, Aganyú suite, combines Afro-Cuban religious music and secular sounds. The lead singer (akpuón) is Jesús Diaz.
Macarambique Suite mixes Brazilian maracatú with a relatively modern Cuban rhythm called Mozambique and celebrates carnaval (carnival) festivities throughout the Americas.
The final set is “Oyá Suite,” another Afro-Cuban inspired piece with some unexpected innovations like a Brazilian samba battery. The akpuón here is Michael Mixtatacki.
The CD booklet includes extensive information about the artists, musical forms, instruments used and the development of the suites. It also contains a glossary.
The personnel that participated in Bákini includes Michael Spiro on iyá (batá drum), caja, quinto and other percussion instrument; Joe Galvin on okónkolo (batá drum), vocals, steelpan, chequeré (shaker) and vocals; Kristin Olson on itótele (batá drum), vocals and keyboard percussion; Jesús Diaz on quinto and lead vocals; Michael Mixtacki on chequeré; Scott Ketner on percussion; Eli Edelman on yonofó drum, caja and various other percussion instruments; Andy Miller on timbal; Ben Christensen on vocals; Jen Bollero on vocals, Fabiana Masili on vocals; Liliana Araujo on vocals; Brenna Johns on trombone; Alex Dura on saxophone; Mitchell Shiner on vibraphone; Jeremy Allen on double bass; Marco Núñez on flute; Daniel Stein on violin; Clara Scholtes on violin; Rose Wollman on viola; Leonardo Vásquez on viola and Chris Cho on cello.
Acclaimed Cuban vocalist Daymé Arocena is set to perform on Thursday, August 17, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. A singer, composer, and choir director, Arocena’s inspiration comes from jazz, soul, classical music, and Cuban musical traditions. This is a free admission concert available on a first-come, first-served basis.
It’s no surprise that ‘Tribute to Ndiouga Dieng’, the new album by Senegalese band Orchestra Baobab is one of the highest rated recording in the past weeks by the two leading world music charts: the Transglobal World Music Chart and the World Music Charts Europe.
‘Tribute to Ndiouga Dieng’ brings back the captivating mix of traditional Cuban and Senegalese dance music along with some innovations. For the first time, Orchestra Baobab has added a permanent kora (West African harp) player, augmenting even more the Senegalese flavor of the band.
The title of the album makes reference to Ndiouga Dieng, the longtime vocalist for Orchestra Baobab, who passed away in November 2016.
The lineup features Balla Sidibe on vocals and timbales; Rudy Gomis on vocals; Issa Sissoko on tenor saxophone; Thierno Koite on tenor and alto saxophone; Charlie Ndiaye on bass; Mountaga Koite on congas; Abdouleye Cissoko on kora; Oumar Sow on guitar; Yahya Fall on rhythm guitar; and Beninese musicians Wilfried Zinzou on trombone and rising guitarist Rene Sowatche.
Two special guests participated in the recording sessions, world music star Cheikh Lo who appears in the song ‘Magno Kouto’ and former Baobab vocalist Thione Seck, who recreates the hit ‘Sey’.
The physical version of the album comes in a very nicely-packaged format, as a hard cover book with song descriptions, photos and illustrations.
On Tribute to Ndiouga Dieng, the extraordinary Orchestra Baobab treats the listener to a beautiful set of passionate songs and infectious Afro-Cuban and Senegalese beats.
Battle of Santiago – La Migra (Made With Pencil Crayons, 2017)
Canadian band Battle of Santiago’s style has evolved towards a vibrant mix of Afro-Cuban rhythms, post rock, dub, cumbia, Cuban Yoruba chants, funk and beyond. The band became more “Cuban” as more musicians from the Caribbean island joined. Battle of Santiago is based in Toronto, which has a large Cuban expatriate community.
The title of the album is La Migra, which is the name Mexicans and other Spanish-speaking immigrants give to the border patrol or immigration officers. Another evolution of the band is that they’ve added vocals. The classic Cuban-style vocals mixed with the post rock influences makes the experience unique. There is also a little bit of rapping which doesn’t fit that well with the band’s forward-thinking sound.
The Battle of Santiago’s name could have several different meanings depending on what part of Latin America you’re in. Battle of Santiago’s founder, bassist Michael Owen, indicates that it reflects how the band’s music can change and also the sound clash between the Anglo and Hispanic sections of the band.
La Migra showcases the talent of Battle of Santiago, a band developed in Toronto’s melting pot, who have developed a dazzling mix of Afro-Cuban music, electronics and post rock.
Being a self-styled traditionalist doesn’t mean my musical tastes are so staunch that I shun any sonic adventurousness that steps over traditional boundaries. Cross the line into an over-reliance on gimmickry (which can take the form of too much technology or pop pandering for commercial purposes), and you’ve lost me. Taking chances by mixing traditions or styles in ways that leave musical integrity unscathed? You’ve got my attention.
Aziza Brahim, a Sahrawi woman who was born in an Algerian refugee camp as the war over the Western Sahara region was raging, doesn’t exactly go in for traditional Sahrawi music on Abbar el Hamada (Glitter Beat, 2016). Having lived and studied in Cuba and currently a citizen of Spain, some of her songs have an expected, and very welcome, Iberian and Latin edge. She even sings in Spanish for much of the album, the title of which refers to rocky desert landscapes and subject-wise deals with activist concerns like the ongoing plight of the Sahrawi.
The disc also digs into a measure of the “desert blues” sound that many Saharan musicians have become known for, as well as a few galloping rhythms that suggest a more laid back version of Senegalese m’balax (which has always had its own Latin flavors).
Brahim isn’t as frequent in her use of wailing, undulating tones as a lot singers with Arabic roots tend to be. Her approach is more pensive, but she sharpens her tone when needed, and partly because she also plays the bowl-shaped tbal drum while she sings, her voice fits the grooves as naturally as the grooves themselves, be they acoustic or electric. A stunning release all around.
She’s already a groundbreaker for use of the Swedish nyckelharpa (keyed viola) in the music of her native Spain, and now Ana Alcaide takes things a few steps further with Leyenda- World Music Inspired by Feminine Legends (ARC Music, 2016). Female folkloric characters from various cultures (including Spain, Mexico, China, Scotland and Alcaide’s own imagination) are celebrated in songs that range from lullaby-like softness to ritualistic and pulsating.
Nyckelharpa, baroque guitars and bouzouki are sweetened with other strings, reeds, percussion and celestial production values that surround Alcaide’s gracefully penetrating vocals and construct a pair of instrumentals that seem to tell otherworldly tales without any words at all. This is music that could serve as a soundtrack for any ancient or modern fantasy worth conjuring, or bring about just enough of a dream state to take you blissfully away from reality for a while. Either way, it’s stunning.
Chicha, the Peruvian-originated, organ-tweaked, fuzz guitar-laden psychedelic style of music with similarities to Colombian cumbia and Jamaican dub, continues on its revival path courtesy of Austin-based band Money Chicha. Their debut album Echo En Mexico (Vampisoul, 2016) is an irresistibly throbbing beat fest where unyielding layers of Latin percussion support keyboards, guitars and bass that are as trippy in their wall of sound as they are intertwined in their tightness. And tightness is indeed the key.
The chicha sound is one that must not lag in its skipping rhythms or spot-on melodic mesh that weighs in somewhere between surf rock, alternative Latin, Andean tradition, the ghost of Arsenio Rodriguez and music that simply wouldn’t appeal to polite society in Lima, Bogota or, well, Austin. Money Chicha go their own way by eliminating vocals entirely and giving the tracks a subtle funk push with a little extra breathing room among the instruments, resulting in a disc that satisfies to the frenzied max.
Lovers of African drumming and African music in general will happily tune in to West to West (ARC Music, 2016) by Nii Okai Tagoe. He’s a master of many a drum and percussion instrument affiliated with the Motherland and treads a beaten (beating?) path away from tradition by lacing his danceable pieces with horns, keyboards, violin, harp, bass and guitar.
Some unexpected turns are taken with arrangements as well, such as the blues sway of “3 Monkeys.” Not surprising for a gent who’s played with outfits as diverse as Baka Beyond and African Head Charge. This sort of thing has been done before, but Tagoe certainly does it spot-on.
A very different take on percussion and its relationship to the human voice can be heard on Chiaroscuro (Bent Records, 2016) a collaboration involving Baird Hersey & Prana with Nexus. Nexus is a virtuosic percussion ensemble; Prana is a group of singers who all specialize in singing two pitches simultaneously. That dual pitch knack helped inspire Garry Kvistad of Nexus to invent the vistaphone, four octaves worth of chimes gathered into one instrument and the perfect companion to the harmonic series scale of notes that the singers use to achieve their second level of vocal prowess.
The grandiosely-titled tracks on the album (“The Rituals of Dusk,” A Crown of Radiant Fire,” etc.) combine orchestral drums, gongs, glockenspiel, marimba, vibraphone, xylophone, voices and the debuting vistaphone to create music that I can only describe as equal parts refined and primal, rhythmic and atmospheric, structured and seemingly spontaneous, eerie and comforting, earthy and not of this earth. Repeating patterns of percussion and wordless voices ascend to mesmerizing heights and hover there, exploring in sonic terms the disc’s titular concept of light and dark contrasting yet harmonizing.
The three concluding compositions (including a mind-and-ear-altering Balinese monkey chant) are voices unaccompanied and lose nothing in the absence of their percussive counterparts. So is this disc the pinnacle of traditional music, the complete lack of it or something else altogether? Get it and decide for yourself. And prepare to be spellbound.
I don’t know a great deal about traditional Welsh music and thus can’t say how closely 9Bach adheres to it with their latest release, Anian (Real World, 2016). But I am quite taken with the shimmery emotiveness of singer/pianist/composer/lyricist Lisa Jen’s lead vocals, as well as the sparse yet very sturdy support her bandmates offer on guitar, bass, percussion, harp, hammer dulcimer and harmonies.
While some of the instruments used reportedly stray from tradition, the end result is a perfect fit, with modern production adding a kind of cool mist to softly enveloping music that often has a melancholy, longing feel offset by pure beauty. Anian is one to savor repeatedly.
There’s also a bonus disc, Yn Dy Lais (In Your Voice), that features Welsh-influenced poetry and storytelling rendered in English by the likes of Peter Gabriel and Rhys Ifans. It’s meant to make the nuances of the Welsh language more accessibly artsy and is worth a listen, but the lovely sounds on the first disc are the true reason to get this album.
A world away but still bringing tradition to a different level, Roddie Romero and the Hub City All-Stars take music with roots as old as the Louisiana bayou itself and jolt it full of rock, soul, blues, zydeco and funk energy. Gulfstream (Octavia Records, 2016) is a swampy, sultry, swaggering, sizzling slab of deep-south musical gumbo that will delight anyone who loves the celebratory sounds of New Orleans and Lafayette and appreciates the need to cool down for a ballad like the Aaron Neville-ish title track. It’s a party, albeit from the heart.
Richard Bona, the “African Sting,” melds his smooth Cameroonian roots music with the sounds of Afro-Cuban band Mandekan Cubano on Heritage (Qwest Records, 2016). African and Latin musical traditions have been best friends for a long, long time thanks to their shared origins, and Mandekan Cubano’s piano, dual percussion, trumpet and trombone lineup expertly underpins Bona’s joyous salsa-infused numbers and his softer side. Primarily a bassist but adept on numerous instruments, Bona adds unexpected touches like electric sitar to the range of Afro-Latin delights that comprise a very fine release.
Brazilian music, a familiar world staple for decades, has more recently been fused with electronica to degrees that some traditionalists have accepted and others rejected. Put me in the former category. It’s telling that Luisa Maita waited six years since her first album to put out a followup; perhaps she wanted to see how the Brazilian/electronica scene would play out in the interim. Her sophomore release Fio da Memoria (Cumbancha, 2016) has the breathy, sensual feel that’s nearly a given when it comes to female Brazilian singers, and the tunes roll out on a foundation of grooves rooted in samba, even if they’re not always rendered on organic instruments.
Maita’s steamy sentiments translate well, as the sung-in-English “Around You” demonstrates, and she’s got some stories of substance to tell, like “Na Asa,” a musical tale of dreams realized. Fio da Memoria is a keeper for sure, but Maita’s vocal mix of subtle and searing would benefit even more from backing that likewise balances real and electronic sounds equally.
If you need a reminder of how well traditional Ethiopian music meshes with jazz, The Rough Guide to Ethiopian Jazz (World Music Network, 2016) will handily serve. Trailblazer Mulatu Astatke kicks off with the horn-heavy proclaiming of “Gamo” and things jump ever further back into the Swinging Addis feel of the 60s and 70s from there.
While at only 9 tracks the collection can’t cover the whole spectrum, what you get is choice. Serpentine instrumentals are the bulk of it, including NYC’s Budos Band providing impressive overseas translation of the sound, but the soulful vocal thrills of Tlahoun Gessesse and Gabriella Ghermandi show just how large a role male and female voices also played (and play) on the scene. A superb sampler.
Cameroonian bassist and singer-songwriter Richard Bona has a new album titled Heritage, scheduled for release on September 16 in the United States. To promote the album he will be touring the United States in September 2016.
Heritage, Bona’s eighth, is the first with the Afro-Cuban band Mandekan Cubano. This recording follows the roots of Afro-Cuban music back to its origins in the Mandekan Empire of the 15th century and earlier. The music explores the alchemy of African rhythms in Cuba.
Born in the Algerian port of Oran into a Jewish family in 1928, Maurice El Medioni has led a remarkable life crammed full of music. He played Jewish Andalusian music at weddings, boogie and rumba in bars, introduced the piano into early Rai music, and became a cabaret star in the Paris of the 1960s.
At the age of 77 he played Middle Eastern nostalgic notes on his piano to the opening track of Khaled’s celebrated latest release. His unique piano style never fails to charm. His left hand boogies on the rhythms of the New World, his right hand paints the alluring melodies of the Old. The result is an evocative cocktail of Cuban rhythms, French cabaret chic and Middle Eastern sounds. The swinging melodies rekindle the cosmopolitan atmosphere of the Oran of the past, when it was a sparkling melting pot of religions and cultures.
Today he lives in Marseilles and international recognition of his unequaled style is still growing. His music still evokes the cosmopolitan era of Oran in the 1940’s but Maurice El Medioni is also looking forward, fulfilling a dream, on the critically acclaimed Descarga Oriental album with Roberto Rodriguez, of a Cuban interpretation of his music.
The Afro-Cuban All Stars were brought together by musical director Juan de Marcos González (leader of the son group Sierra Maestra and mastermind behind the Buena Vista Social Club), as a multi-generational big band to explore a broader scope than the Buena Vista projects, ambitiously paying tribute to the diversity of Cuban music, marrying the past with the present. It is a band for dancing – combining a variety of contrasting styles including classic son montuno, contemporary timba, swinging big band guajira, Afro-Cuban jazz, danzón, the pure tribal rhythms of abakua, bolero and more.
The original list of lead vocalists that have performed with the group is a virtual “who’s who” of the greatest Cuban sonerosthe octogenarian Pío Leyva (Estrellas de Areito) and the septuagenarians Raúl Planas (Rumbavana, Celia Cruz), and Manuel “Puntillita” Licea (Sonora Matancera) were joined by rising stars from a younger generation, Antonio “Maceo” Rodríguez (Sierra Maestra), Félix Valoy (Alberto Alvarez), and Teresita García Caturla (Las D’Aida).
To back these individual talents through a diverse selection of songs González brought together a very special group of musicians. On piano is one of the founding fathers of modern Cuban music, the legendary Rubén González (Arsenio Rodríguez, Enrique Jorrín, Estrellas de Areito). On acoustic bass is Cuba’s finest, Orlando “Cachaíto” López, who learned his trade as part of the extraordinary bass playing López dynasty which includes his father Orestes López and uncle Israel “Cachao” López.
The six piece horn section (three trumpets, two trombones, sax, flute) is made up from the best players of Havana’s celebrated Tropicana Orchestra. Soloists include the great Manuel “Guajiro” Mirabal on trumpet (Orchestra Riverside, Estrellas de Areito) and Afrokan (Irakere) on trombone.
In a country renowned for its percussionists, the All Stars’ six-piece section is matchless and includes the young phenomenon Julienne Oviedo on timbales, and the great Miguel “Angá”on congas.
In December of 2000, Pedro Calvo, the lead singer of Cuba’s top dance band, Los Van Van, was recruited as a vocalist for the Afro-Cuban All Stars. The line-up in 2001 also included Caridad Hierrezuelo.
Crowding around an LP and contemplating Jazz singing are a thing of the past for today’s youth. Those of us with a passion for Jazz are for the most part left to asking ourselves, as if in honor of a well-known cannon of Jazz vocals that includes Johnny Hartman’s songs with John Coltrane and Nina Simone’s vocals, what a renewed version of the art form would be like.
Ever so often, a new album of Jazz vocals promises a dozen of so songs that will swoon and sometimes do. Songs like that of Gregory Porter’s Blue Note albums are great examples. The problem is always that these new Jazz songs, like most old Jazz vocalist songs, do not seem to be in tune with the synths and sounds of avant-garde Jazz music and most of us who are young of age only associate great Jazz with avant-garde Jazz expression. The thing is that the young of today like John Coltrane, Miles Davis, and even Pharaoh Sanders when it comes to Jazz. Just listen to Kamasi Washington’s album The Epic, a popular Jazz album amongst young listeners, to tune into the phenomenon. Youngsters Ibeyi and Alfredo Rodriguez may have found the right formula on Rodriguez’s new album Tocororo (2016) with the song Sábanas Blancas.
Ibeyi and Alfredo Rodriguez team up for two songs on Tocororo: Yemaya and Sabanas Blancas. Both feature poignant piano playing. Yemaya is a much more lush song than is Sabanas Blancas. Yemaya does not feature any vocals and all we hear is a choir chime along to Yemaya. Sabanas Blancas, on the other hand, is a minimalist composition throughout. The twins of Ibeyi take turns singing a hymn to the Habana, the city that Alejo Carpentier called “the city of pillars” and that is well known for its allure.
It breaks away from its Jazz singing past. What’s great is that Sábanas Blancas does sound like a grand narrative about Habana. Despite it being a hymn to Habana, its instrumentation often abruptly changes trudging its listener along into feeling others sounds. Sábanas Blancas is a fast paced Jazz song and that’s the beauty of it: it understands the senses that a flood of pop music has given birth to and the need to dance away one’s burdens. “Habana / ..” we hear again and again, as if the dawn of a new magnificence.
We can only hope that, like Marcel Duschamp’s Dada toilet or Baudelaire’s modernist poetry, that this marks the beginning of a new tendency in Jazz singing. The vocals of youngsters such as Ibeyi are ripe for Jazz and there are plenty of young composers and composers whose musics’ ethos will match youthful vocals. It’s come time to again sit in small venues and listen to quartets or sextets play along to an unforgettable voice; to Jazz.
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