Love Is My Religion out on the Alif Records label, the latest offering by Turkish composer and multi-instrumentalist Omar Faruk Tekbilek is stylishly dramatic and sleekly passionate and a worthy addition to Mr. Tekbilek’s impressive discography that includes the recordings The Sultans Middle Eastern Band Vol 1 and 2, Suleyman the Magnificent, Beyond the Sky, Whirling, Mystical Gardens, Alif, and Kelebek. Pulling at threads from the past and present, from the traditional and contemporary, Love Is My Religion cleverly weaves a spell that is both beguiling and deliciously exotic.
Opening with “Araf,” listeners delve deep into the warm riches of Mr. Tekbilek’s mastery of ney, oud, davul, bendir and darbuka, as well as the flavors offered up by accompanying artists Alex Alessandroni Jr. on piano, Bahadir Sener on kanun, Yossi Fine on acoustic bss and Chris Wabich on drums. If that weren’t enough to tempt listeners “Vivir” is utterly spectacular with the song’s composer and vocalist Yasmin Levy taking center stage with her heartbreaking vocals. Joined by Mr. Tekbilek on vocals and various instruments, keyboardist and guitarist Amotz Plessner and Hamid Saeidi on santour, “Vivir” shimmers.
Love Is My Religion adds icing to the cake with Ismet Siral’s “Barefoot Dervish” in all its piano, synthesizer, brass and woodwind goodness, as well as A. Ekber Cicek’s “Haydar” and the delicately delightful “Mara” composed by Amotz Plessner, Alex Alessandroni Jr. and Idan Raiche who also his own piano work to the recording, but the real outstanding performance on this track has to be Lili Haydn’s spectacular violin lines. Standout tracks like deeply exotic “Memories,” the jazzy slant found on “Steepe” and closing track “Adam, Love Is My Religion & Tende Canim,” composed by Mr. Tekbilek and using a traditional Sufi melody are sure to please any music fan.
The performances on Love Is My Religion aren’t just impeccable there’s hypnotic, graceful and fiercely good, so my only advice is to listen up, load up and disappearing into some delicious music.
Strange Circles is the superb debut album of Bokanté, a new supergroup that features a multinational and cast of musicians, including members of the cutting edge jazz fusion band Snarky Puppy, percussion masters Jamey Haddad and Keita Ogawa (Banda Magda, Yo-Yo Ma), Väsen’s André Ferrari, steel guitar master Roosevelt Collier, and talented Montreal-based Guadeloupian vocalist Malika Tirolien.
Strange Circles crosses genres with total ease, incorporating Caribbean and other global beats, fabulous guitar work, blues, progressive jazz, rock and more. This is world fusion at its best.
Bokanté is the project of Snarky Puppy bassist and founder Michael League, who plays baritone guitar in this ensemble.
The lineup includes Malika Tirolien on vocals; Jamey Haddad on percussion; André Ferrari on percussion; Keita Ogawa on percussion; Chris McQueen on guitars; Bob Lanzetti on guitars; Roosevelt Collier lap and pedal steel guitars; and Michael League on guitars and bass.
Strange Circles is world music cool with some stellar individual playing.
Mawwal is a collective based in the northeastern United States. The musician behind the project is composer and instrumentalist Jim Matus who plays various types of lutes.
Mawwal performs mostly original material by Matus inspired by various global traditions such as the music of India, North America and Eastern Europe and the rhythms of the Middle East and Africa. Matus is involved in numerous other projects.
James Asher and Mahesh Vinayakram – Bravado Masala (Times Music, 2008)
This album sounds promising and exciting on the cover, which certainly has an element of humor in it as well. The 8 tracks span just under an hour, but many of the pieces come across as rather cheesy and amateurish, which is quite surprising considering the fusion success of musicians like James Asher. Still, we recommend the track Lost Summer.
Another piece which also manages to stand out is Tabletop Dancer, which reveals influences of Middle Eastern sound. We would recommend instead Asher’s other fine fusion album, Feet in the Soil.
Ask Your Heart is the second album by the Mehmet Polat Trio (released in 2017 on homerecords.be). Its music transports the listener from a world of agitation to a place of calm. Imagine you are by the sea, relaxing by the waves, and you begin to get an image of this trio’s sound. Much contemporary music is too overproduced with electronics in place of real instruments, but not this album. Its spareness is elegant and moving.
The trio has nothing fancy to hide behind. They have only each other for back up. Folk in feel, the music has within it modal jazz and traditional African sounds. The album starts out slowly with “Untouched Stories,” as the two-stringed instruments, kora and oud, take baby steps and gradually move together with the flute-like ney. There is a lullaby feeling as the ney moves out expansively, playing longer notes while the oud and kora provide a steady accompaniment.
Mehmet Polat is the trio’s founder. He started his life’s journey in Turkey, raised in a family of Alevi Sufi musicians. They play a spiritual folk music, whose songs are often revelatory or in praise of Sufi saints. Yet Mehmet was not content to remain within one musical genre. He seeks to voyage, exploring the musical connections between the middle East, traditional African music, and jazz. He has written that he is “constantly searching for new musical paths and inspiration.” He has found two master musicians to accompany him on his quest: Sinan Arat on ney and Dymphi Peeters on kora. The ney is an ancient reed flute, and the kora is 21 stringed instrument from West Africa with a calabash base as a resonator. But, neither instrument dominates the other; and none of the musicians overpowers the others or remains the center of attention.
There is equilibrium among the players, a sense of give-and-take as they improvise, as if each has come to share a delicious communal plate of food. The trio’s first album Next Spring started their collective adventure, but on this album, the different musical genres coalesce. The sound takes flight.
The trio’s musical creativity is heard best on the fifth track, “Whispering to the Waves,” as the oud shapeshifts to sound like an upright bass. The music breathes and the listener breathes with it. It has spaciousness. Sinan plays a long solo on the ney. It is haunting, seeming to flow like a mysterious mist into the night air.
On “Evening Prayer,” the three instruments together announce a simple melody. The ney improvises next. And then a surprise: Mehmet sings a vocal of longing, and the ney shadows it. The piece is a ghazal from the Middle East. Mehmet explains, “there is a melody or groove underneath, and the vocal improvisation is on top of it.” He learned how to sing ghazals from listening to recordings of an old local master from Urfa, Turkey, Kazancı Bedih. His listening paid off. He’s a talented, expressive singer. The deep vocal works well with the low tones of the instruments. The vocal is full of yearning for the divine. The song is from a poem by Leyla Hamm, who was an Ottoman woman poet, and reads in part:
Dear Divine: please help this powerless being in despair May you help me heal my heartache I am your disobedient creation, please forgive me…
The final track, “Mardin,” is also a ghazal. Here again the instruments start by playing the melody together and then the vocal is introduced. The song’s lyrics are translated in part as, “I have sacrificed myself for no other than your love.” The listener is drawn into this powerful, meditative moment as the vocalist moves into a place of longing. Mehmet Polat writes in the album’s liner notes: “Music for me is a connection from heart to heart. I invite you to open your heart to the music and let it come to you.” And if you allow yourself to stop and to listen, this music will open your heart.
For more about the Mehmet Polat Trio or to purchase “Ask Your Heart” you can visit their website: mehmetpolat.net
Rao Trio – Sin Titulo (Producciones Efímeras, 2004)
Although the zanfona (Spanish hurdy gurdy) is best known as an instrument used in Spanish regional folk and Celtic music, Rao Trio take the zanfona to the world of progressive jazz and improvised music as well as tango and flamenco buleria.
Rao Trio is led by zanfona master Germán Diaz from Valladolid (Spain), who is known as one of the best hurdy gurdy players in Europe. The other two members are César Diaz on bass and fretless bass; and Diego Martín on drums and percussion. Accordionist Gorka Hermosa is the guest artist on the album.
Sin Titulo is an excellent album that shows the tremendous potential of the ancient zanfona in the hands of a talented and pioneering musician.
Born in Uganda Kaz Kasozi is an artist who has horned his craft working with musicians and bands playing different genres of music from around the world since the age of sixteen.
He started music singing choral and traditional songs in his school’s performance troop in his home country of Uganda. In 1989 he moved to England where he got more freedom to express himself and opportunities to study music.
In the new free environment Kaz discovered his artistic voice and started to learn the piano and cello. On leaving school at sixteen he sought musical knowledge from self-teaching books and proceeded to teach himself the guitar, drums and bass guitar and later African percussion in particular Ugandan, Kenyan and Tanzanian rhythms.
He joined several funk soul and world fusion bands on the London live circuit as pianist, keyboard player, bassist, percussionist and backing vocalist. He has performed with legends such as Peewee Ellis and Congolese World music star Papa Wemba. He has performed at prominent venues such as the Jazz cafe National Theatre Momo’s to mention but a few in London and Cafe Alto in Amsterdam & the Zenith in Paris.
In 1998 he released his debut album The Quest. At this point he started to produce work for various World music artists and worked as a sound engineer for studios and live shows. To date Kaz has produced and/or arranged music for more than 30 artists. He has been credited on 67 World fusion releases. He has worked as music director for several bands and solo acts at venues such as the National Theatre the Royal Festival Hall (London) and the Zenith in Paris and has also run multi-cultural World music & multi-media workshops in schools in and around London.
Presently Kaz works as a freelance producer arranger workshop leader and new digital-media artist alongside developing a career as a world fusion solo performer. Naked and Blue was released by the independent label Madhead Kitchen.
Jamshied Sharifi was born in Topeka, Kansas to an Iranian father and an American mother. At an early age Sharifi was exposed to jazz and Middle Eastern music by his father and to European classical and church music by his mother. He began to study classical piano at age five and quickly developed a thirst for musical instruction and a desire to improvise. At age nine he began studying guitar and drums and at age ten added flute.
After graduating from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology with a degree in humanities Sharifi wenton to further his musical education at Berklee College of Music in Boston. At Berklee he studied Jazz Piano and Composition as well as Film Scoring and in 1983 he received of the Outstanding Jazz Pianist award at the Collegiate Jazz Festival held at the University of Notre Dame. He studied with noted trumpeter and Charlie Parker sideman Herb Pomeroy and after graduation from Berklee Pomeroy asked Sharifi to lead the MIT Festival Jazz Ensemble a post Pomeroy had held for twenty-two years.
From 1985-1992 under Sharifi’s direction and leadership the group recorded two CDs performed twenty of his compositions and won the prestigious Notre Dame Collegiate Jazz Festival in 1991. During this time Sharifi also taught in the Music Synthesis and Ensemble Departments at Berklee.
In 1992 he left his teaching positions in Boston and moved to New York City in search of new musical endeavors and opportunities.
Sharifi began to focus his attention on film soundtracks. His foray into the world of film and television began as a keyboardist and orchestrator for Michael Gibbs. Together they scored three feature films and fifteen one-hour television shows. Sharifi went on to compose the soundtracks to many major studio and independent films including Muppets From Space Down To Earth Harriet the Spy and Clockstoppers and contributed to the scores of The Thomas Crown Affair and The Rugrats Movie.
While Sharifi’s initial focus in music can be credited to American jazz it is his infusions of elements from the Middle East and Africa that make his music distinctive. He is an accomplished pianist and synthesizer player. Notably Sharifi holds the synthesizer to an ‘acoustic’ standard and aims to play it with the detail and richness of articulation that comes naturally to an acoustic instrumentalist. To achieve this sound he uses a controller which allows him to manipulate the synthesizer with his breath. He combines this technique with a ribbon controller that allows him to bend the pitch smoothly and continuously with his finger. According to Jamshied using both these techniques makes the instrument a “wind-driven fretless synthesizer”.
His Alula Records debut in 1998 A Prayer for the Soul of Layla (named in honor of his daughter) was voted Best Contemporary World Music Album in the first annual New Age Voice Music Awards. The widespread critical acclaim “Layla” received sent him and his group to São Paulo Brazil to perform at the Musica Mundial festival with artists such as Baaba Maal and Baka Beyond. “The album is a distillation of all these directions,” says Sharifi. “Because I’ve always had a lot of contact with acoustic instruments and players I have tried to hold the synthesizer up to an ‘acoustic’ standard in other words to try and play it with the depth detail and richness of articulation that come naturally to an acoustic instrumentalist.”
Sharifi’s second solo album One was released April 8th 2008.Drenched in world rhythms and instrumentation accented by contemporary Western influences. One invites the listener to journey to places off the map through its blending of cultures performers and sounds.
Sharifi invited internationally influential names to lend their voices to this momentous album. “I wanted to put together singers and musicians who wouldn’t normally perform together and see where that led” said Sharifi. “I was intentionally disrespectful of world music ‘boundaries’ hoping that the spirit of cooperation and mutual respect would prevail.”
On the opening track, “One” Sharifi orchestrates a stage of layered instrumentation for Tibetan songstress Yungchen Lhamo to weave intricate vocal melodies.”My thought was that this track would set the tone of the whole project” explains Sharifi. “By combining performances of Yungchen Lhamo and a West African singer it would define the space in which mi project would live.”
Yungchen who was encouraged directly by the Dalai Lama to share her inimitable voice to the world is joined by Malian vocalist
Abdoulaye Diabate. On the passionate “Darfur Is Burning, a response to our and the world’s inaction in the face of whatcan only be called genocide Diabate’s soulful vocals plead over the delicate kora playing of Mamadou Diabate.
Grammy Award winner Paula Cole lends her well-known voice to “My Grandfather The Tree” and “A Charlotte Sky” which Sharifi wrote for Cole’s daughter with Hassan Hakmoun who joins Cole on the track.
Hakmoun performs on two other songs including the album’s closing track “Requiem” which was written at the request of John Diliberto at Echoes soon after 9/11. Sharifi invited Irish whistle player Seamus Egan of the band Solas to play the melody and Hakmoun to sing the brief lament in the middle of the song. “It’s worth remembering that 9/11 has been for most Muslims a tragedy as well.”
Also appearing on the album are critically acclaimed vocalist Sussan Deyhim of Tehran and North Indian vocalist Vishal Vaid. Remarkably Vaid infuses his performances with the ancient technique of Ghazal singing creating the perfect counterpart to Sharifi’s compositions.
In addition to creating his own albums and scoring films Sharifi has produced and arranged albums formany artists including Tibetan vocalist Yungchen Lhamo and Persian vocalist Mamak Khadem. He has also recorded four albums with world fusion band Mo Boma.
Jai Uttal is a pioneer in the United States’ world music community. His eclectic east meets-west sound has put his music at the forefront of the world fusion movement. Jai Uttal’s musical roots embrace a rich variety of cultures and traditions that span the globe and the centuries. From the traditional music of the Appalachian Mountains to the passionate strains of Bengali street singers from the haunting rhythms and melodies of ancient India to contemporary electric rock sounds Jai’s music distills the essence of diverse musical forms.
As a child in New York City, Jai’s home was filled with music. He began studying classical piano at the age of seven and later learned to play old time banjo harmonica and guitar. His musical interests encompassed a wide variety of styles and over the years he experimented with many forms of musical expression.
Eventually this led him to the work of India’s National Living Treasure Ali Akbar Khan. At the age of 19 Jai moved to California to become a student of Khansahib for traditional voice training and to learn the sarod a 25-stringed Indian instrument. Later he traveled to India where he was deeply inspired by the Bauls the wandering street musicians of Bengal. Jai settled among them communicating only through music which ultimately helped establish his unique style.
During these early visits to India Jai also met his Guru Neem Karoli Baba and spent time with many great beings of both the Hindu and Buddhist traditions. He became deeply absorbed in the practice of kirtan the ancient yoga of chanting or singing to God. This form of prayer became the core of his musical and spiritual life.
When Jai returned to the United States his music had been transformed. He continued to study Indian music diligently while also performing in reggae, R&B, punk and blues bands. He also began leading kirtan groups all over the country. The combination of Jai’s exceptional vocals and exotic instrumentation produced a new and captivating sound.
In 1991 Triloka Records released his debut album Footprints featuring world music innovator Don Cherry and Indian vocalist Lakshmi Shankar. The album received critical acclaim and led Jai and his band the Pagan Love Orchestra to international prominence. By the time his second album Monkey was released in 1993 Jai and the Pagan Love Orchestra had an enormous fan base with a top ten record on the world music charts.
In 1994 Beggars and Saints was released a tribute to the Bauls of Bengal and again the album received international recognition solidifying Jai Uttal’s position as a world music visionary. During this time Jai also produced two CD’s for his teacher Ustad Ali Akbar Khan. Combining the brilliance of Khansahib’s playing and composing with Western orchestration Journey and Garden of Dreams became extremely popular in the Indian community.
Jai’s fourth release Shiva Station was another leap forward. Capturing the raw urgency of his live performances with the Pagan Love Orchestra and adding the mixing wizardry of veteran producer Bill Laswell Shiva Station presented traditional chants in a totally new way. The concerts at that time united the temple and the nightclub the sacred and the worldly; emphasizing the underlying theme that spirituality and devotion can pervade all aspects of life.
Meanwhile, with the rise of interest in Yoga, Jai was receiving more and more requests to lead kirtan workshops and concerts all over the world. In the last few years chanting has brought him to Israel Fiji Brazil Germany Switzerland and India. Jai released a live kirtan CD titled Nectar to begin to chronicle these powerful events.
Finally in February of 2002 Jai Uttal and the Pagan Love Orchestra released Mondo Rama on Narada Records. The product of several years of deep musical and self-exploration Mondo Rama combined Brazilian influences, Hebrew prayers, Appalachian Blues, Beatles psychedelia and of course Indian music and chants, Mondo Rama explodes from the speakers in celebration and rebirth. “I went through many difficult heart-wrenching transformations in the last year” says Jai, “and I decided to put it all into this CD. The anguish the pain the joy and the redemption. Mondo Rama means the World is Rama or Everything is God. This CD is an attempt to express that feeling and the sense of surrender and gratitude that I try to remember everyday“. Mondo Rama went on to be nominated for a Grammy as Best New Age Album of 2002.
Jai adds, “world music is music from everywhere. Music that creates bridges. Music that unites hearts and cultures. Music that brings peace.”
In recent years Uttal has drifted away from world music, focusing on music for the new age market.
The prolific Indian slide guitar maestro Debashish Bhattacharya loves to collaborate with other musicians. He has released exquisite solo albums as well as remarkable collaborations with jazz and world music artists. On this occasion, Debashish and his brother Subhasis (tabla) team up with two acclaimed jazz musicians, Norwegian saxophone player Anders Lønne Grønseth and innovative American guitar player Kenny Wessel.
The East West fusion works perfectly, especially when the two totally different guitar styles interact with each other. Debashish uses his habitual mesmerizing resophonic guitars while Kenny Wessel uses the electric guitar and the interplay is exquisite.
Anders Lønne Grønseth’s saxophone also blends well with the guitars and tabla, especially when he uses the softer form of playing the sax, when it feels more like a whisper.
The lineup includes Debashish Bhattacharya on chaturangui and National resophonic guitars; Anders Lønne Grønseth on tenor and soprano saxophones; Kenny Wessel on electric guitar; and Subhasis Bhattacharya on tabla and percussion.