Tag Archives: world fusion

Artist Profiles: Aditya Kalyanpur

Aditya Kalyanpur
Aditya Kalyanpur

Indian tabla player Aditya Kalyanpur was born July 21, 1978 in Mumbai, India. A student of the legendary late Ustad Alla Rakha and today of Ustad Zakir Hussain with whom he has collaborated and performed for many years now. Aditya Kalyanpur is well known in the west for his solo performance during the Rolling Stones concert held in Bombay and for the recording collaboration with their saxophonist Tim Ries. He has participated in some important festivals in India and abroad.

He’s recorded with John Beasley (“American Idol” music director), performed with GRAMMY-winner John Popper at the prestigious Carnegie Hall NYC, and Founded the New England School of Music in Boston, MA, as well as established the Shyamal Music Foundation in Mumbai, India – a non-profit created to promote, preserve and propagate Indian classical music by giving a platform to the next generation of talented musicians.

Aditya Kalyanpur is currently a member of the fusion group Tihai.



Artist Profiles: Abhishek Basu

Abhishek Basu gave his first professional concert with santur maestro Tarun Bhattacharya. He was but a boy of eight when he first stepped into his guru’s home, where music reigned, in every possible form.

While Bikram Ghosh was away on long tours with Ravi Shankar, Abhishek had the privilege of taking lessons from the former’s father, the great tabla wizard Shankar Ghosh.

For the past years, Abhishek has intensely engaged himself with the study of rhythm. Presently, he is enriching his musical horizons with guidance from mridangam maestro Vidwan S. Sekhar. Though his technical underpinning derive from the Farrukhabad Gharana, Abhishek believes in the individual beauty of every gharana (school).

Abhishek’s individuality rests primarily on his modulations of the baya (the left hand bass drum). What distinguishes him most from his contemporaries is his ability to strike a perfect balance between power, clarity, and rhythmic sophistication. Bikram Ghosh says, “Abhishek is an extremely diligent and hard working tabla player. He is exceptionally talented, as is evident from the standard of performance he has achieved at such a young age. I can confidently say that he has a very bright future in professional tabla playing. He is sure to shine as one of the finest tabla players in our country in the near future.”

Awarded the First Prize at the annual music competition of the West Bengal State music Academy in 1996, Abhishek is also the recipient of the Pandit Jyan Prakash Ghosh Award (2001).

Abhishek has appeared in concert both as a soloist and accompanist in many. He has toured and performed with Tarun Bhattacharya, the celebrated santur virtuoso. Abhishek contributed significantly to Bhattacharya’s album Dance of the Gods, released by Bricklane, UK.

Abhishek released his first World music album Acrostic, with his world fusion band, ISM. Abhishek’s band has performed in the top venues of Kolkata.


Don’t Nix the Mix

Seems like a clear majority of releases coming my way nowadays are some kind of fusion music. It hasn’t been easy tearing myself away from specific genres I know and love, but this thing we call World Music is getting ever more, well, worldly, and being along for the sonic global ride can result in finding music that excites listeners as much as breathtaking sights thrill literal travelers.

You’d expect an album with a title like Planetary Coalition (Skol Productions, 2015) to be pretty far-reaching, and it is. Under the guidance of guitarist Alex Skolnick, a versatile axe man known mainly for dual identities as a thrash metal and jazz player, this sizable, ArtistShare-sponsored coalition shines on 75 minutes of sounds from many a corner of the world.

Skolnick’s string finesse trades off gracefully with the santoor of Max ZT on several tracks, matches the deft fire of Rodrigo y Gabriela on another, makes the textures of Yacouba Sissoko’s kora that much more heavenly, underpins Kiran Ahluwalia’s ghazal-influenced vocals with the proper mysticism and adds electricity to the tart tones of Adnan Joubran’s oud. And that’s barely marring the surface. There are Argentinian, Eastern European, Far Eastern and Latin Jazz ingredients here as well, and notable guest players aplenty. Yet this mainly instrumental set doesn’t overreach. It’s an ear feast that satisfyingly blends the familiar and the unexpected.


Idan Raichel - At the Edge of the Beginning (Cumbancha, 2016)
Idan Raichel – At the Edge of the Beginning (Cumbancha, 2016)


For the time being he’s put aside the Idan Raichel Project name and recording simply as Idan Raichel on At the Edge of the Beginning (Cumbancha, 2016). An Israeli keyboardist, composer, producer and arranger, Raichel has (apart from his acoustic albums with Mali’s Vieux Farka Toure) long blended Jewish, Arabic and African sounds with a worldly dance music sensibility. His new one finds him more introspective, starting off with a pair of chamber-like pieces that primarily showcase Raichel on piano.

Programmed rhythms fuel the tracks that follow but the feel stays rather whispery. The tracks are short and many have a lulling quality to them, reflective of Raichel’s recent identity as the father of two small children. Sparse instrumentation in the form of things like accordion, cello, saxophone and baglama stays on the supportive outer edges of the songs, which are delicate in their construction but have their own quiet strength. While not as groundbreaking as Raichel’s earlier material, his latest nevertheless gets to the heart of its matter by being touchingly low-key.


Karim Nagi - Detour Guide
Karim Nagi – Detour Guide


Karim Nagi has got a thing or two to say about Arabic culture and Detour Guide (Self-released, 2015) says it with percussion, spoken words, rap-like cadences and beat backdrops. Born in Egypt and presently based in Boston, Nagi is out to dispel myths, question stereotypes, recount history, impart truths and make both humorous and serious points about what it is to be of Arabic ethnicity nowadays.

He seamlessly mixes the cheeky with the sincere on titles like “What Arabs Do For Fun,” “Oriental Magic Carpet,” “Heart Full of Cairo” and “If I Were Hummus,” bringing so many observations to the table that you’ll have to listen to this disc multiple times to digest it all. It’s a kind of aural performance art that’s impossible to describe in any significant detail, but a rewarding listening and learning experience just the same.


Black Masala - I Love You Madly
Black Masala – I Love You Madly


A mashup of Balkan brass, stomping funk, Gypsy zest, punkish energy and Afrobeat syncopation, I Love You Madly by Washington DC’s Black Masala is a rousing fun burst of energy and true musical chops that’ll get you smiling and busting dance moves you didn’t think you had in you. While the music changes gears quite a bit, it does so rightly and tightly, such that the resulting songs are full of infectious instrumental and vocal passion rather than just one hot mess after another. Great stuff.


 David Broza & The Andalusian Orchestra Ashkelon - Andalucian Love Song

David Broza & The Andalusian Orchestra Ashkelon – Andalucian Love Song


The musical connections between Moorish Spain, North Africa and the Middle East have been explored before, but seldom as grandly as the work of David Broza & The Andalusian Orchestra Ashkelon on Andalusian Love Song (Magenta, 2015). One of Israel’s most respected singer/songwriters, Broza here has a number of his tunes arranged for a 35-piece ensemble of strings (bowed, plucked and strummed), reeds, brass and percussion.

Improvised interludes set the mood between the songs, which range in feel from aching to celebratory (much like the ups and downs of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict that often figures into Broza’s work). The vocals are richly emotive and the music, under the direction of conductor and arranger Tom Cohen, is unfailingly superb.


Avataar - Petal
Avataar – Petal

Avataar, a band led by Toronto-based saxophonist/flautist Sundar Viswanathan, achieves a crackling good mixture of Indian classical music, jazz and ambient frameworks on Petal (InSound Records, 2015).

Viswanathan’s reeds put forth the same sonic sweetness as Felicity Williams’ largely wordless vocals, and the expert support of Michael Occhipinti (guitars), Justin Gray (bass, mandolin), Ravi Naimpally (tabla, percussion) and Giampaolo Scatozza (drums) provides serpentine grooves, nimble melodies and unending pleasure. The music is intricate without being overbearing or showy, and the result is blissful.


Persian Music Sensation Mamak Khadem Talks About Her Upcoming Performance at the Rainforest World Music Festival 2011

Mamak Khadem
Mamak Khadem, one of the great voices of the Persian music tradition is scheduled to perform Sunday, July 10th at 19:00 at the Rainforest World Music Festival in Sarawak (Malaysia).

You will be performing at the Rainforest World Music Festival in Sarawak (Malaysian Borneo) in July 2011. What material will you be presenting there?

The concert will include pieces from “A Window To Color,” my new album that is coming out very soon; Jostojoo, the previous album; and a couple of songs from Axiom Of Choice.”

Can you tell us about the band you will be taking to the Rainforest World Music Festival?

The ensemble is my usual fusion ensemble: Hamid Saeidi on santoor, Jamshied Sharifi on Keyboards, Ole Mathisen on clarinet and sax, and Ben Whittman on percussion.”

On Sunday, May you had a special concert in Los Angeles featuring Omar Faruk Tekbilek as a guest. Will you be collaborating more with him in the future?

We had such a great performance and amazing connection. We are thinking about it and hope we can find ways to do it again.”

Your album Jostojoo came out in 2007. Are you working on any new recordings?

“The new album is just about out. It’s called “a Window To Color” and is based on the poetry of late Sohrab Sepehri (1928-1980).”

Mamak Khadem shared a copy of what is in the liner notes:

{“If you are coming to see me, pray tread slowly, gently, lest the fragile china of my solitude may crack.” That is how painter/poet Sohrab Sepehri preferred to be approached. A mystic and a seasoned world traveler, he never lost touch with his Persian roots. His vision was inspired by simplicity and an openness to seeing the Creator in all things.

His God was in nature, and the wonders instilled by its emanation. His poems, reflecting his deep innermost feelings and perceptions, depict sometimes in autobiographical strokes, stages of a “voyage from seed to flower.” His brush on canvas and his pen on paper moved to embody this vision in poetic form. He was “the wayfarer,” the “lover who was always alone,” translating his experiences of life into word and color.}

Born in Iran, Mamak Khadem was part of the Children’s Choir for National Radio and Television, and emigrated to the United States as a teenager in 1976. After the Iranian Revolution of 1979, her passion for singing and learning traditional Persian vocal styles grew.

She was inspired by works of master musicians in the 1980s and regularly traveled back to Iran to study with prominent vocalists and musicians. She also studied classical Indian singing at Ali Akbar Khan College of Music in northern California and Eastern European singing with the Los Angeles-based women’s choir Nevenka.

In 1992, Mamak joined world music group Axiom of Choice, and over the next ten years created three albums with the group. After Axiom of Choice, Khadem embarked on a solo career and in 2007 released a solo recording titled Jostojoo (Forever Seeking). Inspired by her travels throughout the Middle East, Khadem adapted Persian poetry to rearranged traditional melodies from various regions of Iran, Baluchistan, Armenia, Turkey, Greece and Kurdistan.

Recordings available:

More about the the Rainforest World Music Festival: rainforestmusic-borneo.com


Cross-Cultural Collaborations and Fusion Bands – What makes them so brilliant?

The Imagined Village -  The Imagined Village
The Imagined Village – The Imagined Village
In a world where the news is constantly derived of tragic tales of war and devastating violence, it is a pleasant surprise to see artists from vastly different cultures, ethnicities and backgrounds working together to create truly beautiful and original pieces of music.

Idealistically, cross-cultural collaborations show that the people can work peacefully together to create something striking and harmoniously unique. It may be naive to think so, but music is an art form based on expression and emotion and surely it couldn’t seem more adequate than when two entirely different genres, traditions and societies are brought together to express a particular similar feeling of that time?

Nevertheless, this isn’t always as easy as it seems, Simon Broughton – Editor in Chief of Songlines Magazine makes a fair point, that the problem with most fusions is that they are in fact “extremely uninteresting, people somehow think that ethnic musicians plus beats will make something attractive.. That’s rubbish.” Broughton goes onto explain that “what makes it work is not the styles of music that are meeting, but the musicians themselves and how responsive they are to each other. It’s the fact that this is so difficult, yet so inspiring that made us devote an award to it.”

Yes, we may be reading too much into these collaborations and fusions; they will have, in some cases, only been created for the sake of making “nice sounding music” but I think we all want to believe that these partnerships are more than that. Apart from anything else, they bring people and audiences together and if this works well, then surely it’s been a success? Furthermore, it seems bittersweet that we regard cross-collaborations and musical fusions so highly, although some pairings aren’t going to work, it should be more of an everyday occurrence and less of a big deal.

The fact that it isn’t however, is perhaps what makes these collaborations just so special. Following this is a collection of the top ten best cross-cultural collaborations and fusion groups of all time. You may disagree with the order, with who is or isn’t in there but give it a read, give the artists a listen and let it help to make up your own mind.

1. The Imagined Village: The Imagined Village is a musical project created by Simon Emmerson, comprising of several artists of various cultures, ethnicities and faiths. Formed in 2007 to highlight the advantages of multiculturalism in the UK, The Imagined Village stands for bringing people together to create something truly diverse and spectacular. The first self-titled album, The Imagined Village, released in 2007 is a must have for any fan of World Music.

2. Transglobal Underground: Transglobal Underground is a London-based World Music fusion group. Created in 1990 and featuring members of many nationalities, they have released 7 albums to date, not including any of their remix albums. Many of their albums have also featured collaborations with other World Music artists; ‘Yes Boss Food Corner’ starred Zulu vocalist Thobekile Doreen Webster and the 2004 album ‘Impossible Broadcasting’ featured the Egyptian vocalist Hakim.

3. Afro Celt Sound System: Also formed by Grammy-nominated guitarist Simon Emmerson in 1992, Afro Celt Sound System is a wonderful exploration of Celtic music and African/World beats. Intrigued by the theory that nomadic Celts lived in Africa or India before moving to Europe, Emmerson brought members of Baaba Maal’s band together with Irish musicians to see what the outcome would be. Clearly, the experiment worked and since being signed to Peter Gabriel’s Real World Records label in 1996 they have sold over 1.2 million from their 5 albums.

4. Tinariwen and Tunng: You couldn’t get two more different bands if you tried; Tinariwen a desert blues band from the Sahara and Tunng an experimental folk band from the UK , broke all musical boundaries earlier this year to create a remarkable piece of collaborative music. Joined together for BBC Radio 3’s Late Junction show and resulting in a 10 date UK tour; both bands successfully demonstrated that language and cultural barriers weren’t enough to prevent a coalition of musical forces from making an awe-inspiring debut together. Make sure to check out ‘Tamatant Tilay’ on YouTube.

5. Najma Akhtar and Gary Lucas: When in July, the infamous songwriter and guitarist Gary Lucas collaborated with the inspiring and traditional ghazal style singer Najma Akhtar to create ‘Rishte’, we were taken aback. The result was a deeply sensual and compelling compilation of blues, jazz and raga. Make sure that you have a listen to ‘Special Rider Blues’ the 6th track on the album.

6. Salsa Celtica: As the name suggests, Salsa Celtica are an infused hybrid of traditional Scottish and Irish artists and talented jazz, salsa and world musicians from both the UK and Latin America.Creating their own infectious style of salsa and folk, Salsa Celtica have gone onto play hundreds of festivals including Glastonbury, WOMAD and Edinburgh Hogmanay Festival. Since 1995, they have released four albums, their 3rd album ‘El Agua De La Vida’ reached number 5 on the World Music Chart of Europe. They are the ultimate success story of a fusion band bringing together two completely different genres of music.

7. Damon Albarn & Friends ‘Mali Music’: Damon Albarn,a musical legend known for his part in Blur and Gorillaz has, for the last few years, taken an interest in World Music. Beginning in 2002 during a trip for Oxfam, Albarn recorded and released the album ‘Mali Music’ featuring the likes of Toumani Diabaté and Afel Bocoum. ‘Mali Music’ is a fantastic collaboration album highlighting the success of an African/English fusion and enforcing the talents of not only Albarn but of his Malian counterparts, particularly with the song ‘Sunset Coming On’.

8. Jah Wobble & the Chinese Dub Orchestra: The album, released in 2008, is a project created by legendary musician, songwriter and poet Jah Wobble and his wife – the Chinese born guzheng player Zi Lan Liao. The collaboration entitled ‘Chinese Dub’ consists of Wobble’s regular band plus Chinese vocalists Gu Yinji, Wang Jinqi and the Pogoda Chinese Youth Orchestra from Liverpool. The fusion of different genres of music have created a tremendous composition that is both rich in heritage and culture and wonderfully diverse.

9. Nitin Sawhney – ‘Beyond Skin’: The critically acclaimed composer and producer from Kent has won many awards for his contribution to World Music. With 7 albums to date, Sawhney has collaborated with several different World Music artists including Natacha Atlas and Anoushka Shankar and Ojos De Brujo. His greatest album so far is his 1999 breakthrough album ‘Beyond Skin’ exploring the issues behind Nuclear Weaponry and Identity as an Indian male in Britain. The album features the likes of Hussain Yoosuf, Sanchita Farruque and the nephews of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan.

10. Jayme Stone and Mansa Sissoko: When Jayme Stone decided to travel to Mali in 2007, he expected to gain an understanding of the banjos roots and history. What he actually came home with however, was an in-depth insight into African music and friendships that would ultimately lead to the release of Stone’s first folk-griot fusion album. His collaborations with the “walking encyclopaedia of Malian songs” Mansa Sissoko, a griot player from Bayela resulted in the 2007 ‘Africa to Appalachia’. The album also features guest appearances from Casey Driesson, the legendary ngoni master Bassekou Koyate and Katenen Dioubate. Simplistic in nature ‘Africa to Appalachia’ is a sublime understanding of two separate cultures where Stone became more “attuned to the communal aspect of making music”.


Forever Seeking Persian Excellence

Mamak Khadem - Jostojoo Forever Seeking
Mamak Khadem – Jostojoo Forever Seeking

Mamak Khadem

Jostojoo Forever Seeking (Banyan Tree Production, 2008)

Most world music fans would easily recognize Mamak Khadem’s voice by her work with the popular Persian ensemble Axiom of Choice, but that would just be a sliver of this songstress’ career. Lending her exquisite voice to movie and television soundtracks like The Peacemaker, Traffic, The Profiler and Battlestar Galactica, participating in the Voices of Women Festival in Greece and the World Festival of Sacred Music in Los Angeles, as well as, appearing on Omar Faruk Tekbilek’s Alif and Jamshied Sharifi’s A Prayer for the Soul of Layla has certainly put Ms. Khadem firmly on the musical map. Now fans have a new reason to rejoice because Mamak Khadem has kicked off her solo career in a big way with Jostojoo Forever Seeking out on Banyan Tree Productions.

Assembling and arranging a repertoire of songs based on melodies found in Iran, Baluchistan, Armenia, Turkey, Greece and Kurdistan and shot through with Persian poetry, Ms. Khadem, along with producer extraordinaire Jamshied Sharifi and Omar Faruk Tekbilek, has created a smart, sophisticated CD with Jostojoo. Artfully crafted and expertly arranged, Jostojoo is simply an invitation something magical.

Opening track “Baz Amadam The Return” starts simply but blossoms into a full force of clarinet, oud, darbuka, viola, bass, djembe, gungon, bender, chaker, bells, bombo and some snappy hand claps against the full force of Ms. Khadem’s vocals. I have to admit a little greedy pleasure I get from tracks like percussion layered “Gelayeh Plaintive” or the achingly poignant Kurdish melody “Varan Rain” in that there is a fairytale like feel to them, where there are unexpected turns of vocal phrasing I didn’t expect or the subtle circle of accordion or clarinet that wend their way throughout the compositions.

Omar Faruk Tekbilek lends his rich voice to Ms. Khadem’s bewitching vocals on “Heydar,” a composition brimming over with the meaty sounds of ney, baglama, tam-tam, daf, cajon, darbuka, shaker and accordion. In addition to rich pieces like title track “Jostojoo,” “Lalah Lullaby for the Awakening” and “Avareh Homewrecke,d” there is the powerful “Lachrymosa” with Mamak Khadem on vocals and harmonium, Kourosh Moradi on tambur and vocals and Omar Faruk Tekbilek on vocals and ney that is deliciously evocative.

While centered around Mamak Khadem’s vocals, Jostojoo Forever Speaking also features some splendid musicians like Ole Mathisen on clarinet, Simone Haggiag on daf and cajon as well as a whole host of other instruments, Eyvind King on viola, Brahim Fribgane and Dimitris Mahlis on oud, Skuli Sverrisson on bass, Benjamin Wittman on darbuka and Hamid Saeidi on santur. There’s also Habib Mefia on dom dom and damman, Sofia Lambropoulou on kanum, Roubik Haroutunian on duduk, Layla Sakamoto Sharifi on violin, Marc Shulman on guitar and other fine musicians I simply don’t have room to mention.

Jostojoo is simply a triumph of a jumping off point for Ms. Khadem’s solo career.

Buy Jostojoo.


Sparking Vocal Inspiration, an Interview with Mamak Khadem

Mamak Khadem


Formerly lead vocalist of the popular Persian ensemble Axiom of Choice, Mamak Khadem is a classically trained singer who has studied her art in both Iran and the United States. Inspired by her travels throughout the Middle East, Khadem adapts Persian poetry to rearranged traditional melodies from various regions of Iran, Baluchistan, Armenia, Turkey, Greece, and Kurdistan.

Born in Iran, Khadem was part of the Children’s Choir for National Radio and Television, and immigrated to the U.S. as a teenager in 1976. After the Iranian Revolution of 1979, her passion for singing and learning traditional Persian vocal styles grew, and she regularly traveled back to Iran to study with prominent vocalists and musicians. She also studied classical Indian singing at Ali Akbar Khan College of Music in northern California and Eastern European singing with the Los Angeles-based women’s choir Nevenka.

Mamak Khadem Ensemble will be performing Sunday, February 3 at Ashkenaz Music & Dance Community Center, which is located at 1317 San Pablo Ave. at Gilman Berkeley, CA 94702. Doors at 6:30 p.m.; Show at 7:00 p.m. $25. Khadem performs with her ensemble featuring Jamshied Sharifi on keyboard and accordion, Naser Musa on ud and vocals, Chris Wabich on percussion, Hamid Saiedi on santur (hammered dulcimer), and Ole Mathisen on clarinet and saxophone.

World Music Central’s Angel Romero interviewed Mamak Khadem in January 2008:

1) What circumstances led you to begin a solo career?

For a number of years now I have been traveling to Armenia, Turkey and Greece. I find their cultures and music particularly inspiring and have had a desire to explore the differences in these traditions from my Iranian background. Instead I ended up discovering how many things we all share – especially in music. I felt an urge to work with the traditional melodies I had encountered. As you know, with Axiom of Choice, we primarily were composing original music. With this project I wanted to start with existing melodies that had been haunting me – sparking my imagination and inspiring me to take on a very personal journey. This solo project “Jostojoo”, has given me an opportunity to widen my musical family and I am so thrilled to collaborate with the combination of players on this album from folk traditions, contemporary world music and from the jazz scene.

2) What characterizes your latest CD?

As I mentioned to you, I began with melodies from regional music of Iran, Armenia, Greece, and Turkey. I first thought about doing these beautiful songs in their original languages but I soon realized that I can express myself more openly and effectively in my native language, Farsi. So I married the work of some Persian master poets such as Rumi and Shamloo to the melodies. They are voices that I continue to turn to for inspiration. I also collaborated with some young Iranian contemporary poets based in Iran who wrote the lyrics for a few songs. Their work amazed me. Add to the mix my producer, Jamshied Sharifi who has an extensive knowledge of jazz, rock and folk music from many countries and I was able to innovate and feel free to meld the traditional with the new. I believe “Jostojoo” really captures the passion of these songs with an immediate and contemporary beauty.

Mamak Khadem – Jostojoo

3) Who participated in the recording of the album?

Jamshied Sharifi is a New York-based composer, producer, and keyboardist of Iranian descent. He is a fantastic arranger and I felt that he would really understand what I wanted to do with “Jostojoo” esthetically. I had worked with him previously on his first CD A Prayer for the Soul of Layla, on which I sing on three tracks. I was also impressed with his arrangements and production work on Yungchen Lhamo’s Ama CD. I really admire his musical skills, professionalism and the ease with which he works with musicians. His contribution is pivotal to “Jostojoo”. We worked together on the CD from its inception and it has been the most enjoyable recording process that I have been through. I give Jamshied credit for that.

Ole Mathisen is a superb soprano and tenor saxophonist and clarinetist, as well as an accomplished composer and arranger. In addition to performing on “Jostojoo”, he has become a member of our live ensemble. He was involved from the beginning of the recording, both improvising and playing written parts. His sound and concept were key for me in developing the tone of the record – listen to the way his clarinet improvisation sets the mood for “Varan”. Also notable is the transparent and almost mystical sound he gets from the tenor saxophone on “Lalaii,’ – it creates a beautiful bed for my vocals.

Benjamin Wittman and Simone Haggiag have played percussion on most of this album. There are examples of their playing throughout the record, but I’m really taken with the way they create a driving, grooving feel on the technically complicated 10/8 rhythm of “Baz Amadam”. In lesser hands this rhythm can be mechanical, or worse, but Ben and Simone make it natural and swinging. Ben’s cajon playing on “Heydar” and his darbuka solo on “Gelayeh” are also high points for me. We were also lucky to include the unique talents of Habib Meftah on dammam (percussion from south of Iran) and Pezhham Akhavas on tombak (Persian goblet drum) on the tracks “Gelayeh” and “Avareh.”

We were blessed with two wonderful (and very different) oud players on this recording: Brahim Fribgane and Dimitris Mahlis. Brahim plays a tasteful and understated solo on “Varan,” and handles with aplomb the difficult part on “Baz Amadam.” Dimitris is an old friend and like a brother to me. He combines the technical prowess (and reading ability!) of a schooled player with the unpredictability and passion of a “natural,” and his improvisations on “Avareh” and “Jostojoo” are just glorious.

Turkish multi-instrumentalist Omar Faruk Tekbilek collaborated on “Heydar.” He was the one who actually first introduced me to the song. He sings on that track in Turkish while I sing in Farsi and he plays saz and darbuka.

And then there are some friends from Iran…. Hamid Saeidi on santur (hammered dulcimer) and Reza Abaee on gheychak (Persian bowed instrument) who gave their best. Hamid and Reza have been trained in Persian classical music but have a feeling for fusion and cross over music. I admire them tremendously for their fusion work because they do it intelligently and with understanding. Their crossover work is informed. They played an important role on “Gelayeh,” “Mandeh,” and “Avareh.”

The other musicians who lent their talents were Sofia Lambropoulou from Greece on kanun, Rubik Haroutunian from Armenia on duduk , and Kourosh Moradi of Kurdish descent from Iran on tanbur (long-necked lute from Iran) and voice. They all brought the essence of their respective cultures to the recording.

Skuli Sverrisson is for me unique in the world of electric bass players. His sensitivity and musicality create a sound that has the fullness of the electric with the delicacy of an acoustic instrument. His imprint on this particular recording is subtle, but gives added width and dimension to the songs he performs on. I love the way he locks with the percussion on “Baz Amadam,” and becomes part of the overall feel, without drawing attention to his instrument. It keeps the track organic.

Eyvind Kang is on viola. I treasure his expressive sound and inventive lines, and his wide-ranging awareness of music from many cultures. He has a particular passion for Persian music, and you can hear that ardor on the beautiful introduction and interlude he plays for “Lalaii.”


Mamak Khadem


4) Your vocal style is stunning and not easy to replicate. What kind of vocal training did you have?

Well my training is in the Persian Classical repertoire called Radif. This music has been taught from master to apprentice for many generations. After years of traveling to Iran to study this music I realized that I didn’t want to be a pure traditional singer. I was an immigrant to the U.S. when I was a teenager and was exposed to many different cultures and music. I wanted to create my own style of music – accessible to everyone, but with an Iranian signature. It was a challenge. We were at the beginning of a revolution in music called World Music and such ideas were not appropriate to the classical music purists. We were breaking some new ground with this Persian Classical fusion that now has become an alternative style for many singers.

5) Which are your main primary musical influences?

I moved to the U.S. from Iran when I was a teenager so I came of age listening to American popular music and rock and roll. But I never ceased to long for a meaningful connection to my roots and culture. Passionate about Persian Classical music, I would travel to Iran regularly to study with singing masters Parisa, Sima Bina, Saleh-Azeimi and setar master Hossein Alizadeh. They of course are my primary influences along with my continued fascination with Bulgarian, Indian, Greek, Turkish and Kurdish music.

6) Your voice is used frequently in Hollywood movies. How easy is it to work for film scores? Are you currently working on more music for film or TV?

My first recording for films was in 1997 with a dear friend Jeff Rona. I had to sing for a television series called “Profiler”, looking at the scene and doing an improvisation over it. This was the first time I had ever experience music in a different context. Film work can be tedious and technically difficult but it is very exciting to see what an impact the score can have on a movie – how it really helps to tell the story. After a few minutes, I knew I wanted to do this as a part of my career. I’ve had a lot of fun working on movies like “Peacemaker” and “Traffic” and on different television series including “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Battlestar Galactica”. Most recently I sang and recorded Mohammad Reza Darvishi’s score for a play written and directed by Bahram Beyzaii called Afra that is currently playing in Tehran.

7) Is Axiom of Choice over or will you reactivate it in the future?

Axiom of Choice is a way of thinking, living, and looking at things around me and can never be over! It is the space from which I experiment and learn. At this time there are no definite plans for another recording but I hope we can do another great album after we fulfill our respective needs to explore our own separate projects.

8) You participated as a guest in Jamshied Sharifi’s debut CD. Now he is a member of your band. What does he contribute to your music?

It has been a great experience working with Jamshied. He is an extremely talented musician who creates music that respects folk origins, but looks afield with contemporary orchestrations both simple and rich. I am so thrilled with his arrangements on “Jostojoo”. And, it is an absolute delight to share the stage with him on this tour.



9) Which are your favorite musical places in Los Angeles?

Los Angeles has such a dynamic music scene. The city itself is a giant melting pot of cultures and people. For a world music fan it is nirvana! LA’s got an amazing club scene for world music that is always changing and evolving. It is especially fun here in the summer with free concerts at the California Plaza, the Santa Monica Pier, and at the museums. Every night of the week you can hear any number of musical styles and traditions outdoors and under the stars. I often go to the Skirball and UCLA for their world music performances.

10) What other projects are you collaborating with?

I am starting to explore some ideas for my next album but truthfully, I am really focused on putting most of my time and effort into presenting the “Jostojoo” album and performing with this amazing ensemble of friends.

As complement to this interview, we reproduce Patricia Herlevi’s interview, made in 2002:

Interview with Axiom of Choice‘s Mamak Khadem

Mamak Khadem
Mamak Khadem

For many years I have harbored a growing interest in the healing qualities of music. I had read many articles about the healing properties of Mozart and Beethoven and I had read about music from the celestial spheres, but reading expert opinions is one thing and experiencing the healing effects of music even for something as simple as a cold is another story.

I sat in a crowded theatre at Meany Hall at the University of Washington campus fighting off chills and certainly not wanting to deal with a crowd, music enthusiasts or not. However, when the members of Axiom of Choice, a group that blends Persian classical music with Western influences hit the stage, I felt my fever abating somewhat as I absorbed the music that emanated from their ancient instruments. The group started the set with Mystic and Fools from their latest release, Unfolding then continued through a set of hypnotic drum beats and flowing, exotic melodies. The audience responded with clapping to the exotic beat on one song and appeared memorized by the performance in general.

I spoke with vocalist Mamak Khadem during the group’s intricate sound check. Duduk player-clarinetist Ruben Haratoonian’s musical gift eddied throughout the green room while Mamak and I discussed the musician’s role in achieving world peace and planetary harmony. While it’s comforting to know that some people have heard celestial music, many of us have experienced the healing effects of music from various cultures here on earth. And by the way, the next day when I awoke, my cold had left my body and music had replaced it.

If music can cure a cold, can it also bring peace to the planet? I believe that it can and so Mamak and I discussed the healing effects of music and the magic of cinema as a way of transcending the chaos of contemporary times.

Patty-Lynne Herlevi: Cranky Crow World Music is about promoting cultures and music from around the world in order to promote world peace so my first question is in regard to my site’s agenda, which is to promote peace. The question that I ask musicians, “do you believe that music can sooth the beast in us and create an environment of peace within the chaotic times we are facing?

Mamak Khadem: I definitely think so. Just even amongst our selves and the nature of this band includes people from different cultures that have gotten together. And there is a lot of love and respect for one another as a person and a culture, also. I think that if people can communicate musically, I think that really opens up your soul and it opens you up to other people’s way of thinking. I mean for right now as Ruben plays his clarinet and just listening to it and I feel there is something in there that touches (me). And that just makes me a better human being to be honest with you.

PLH: I have noticed two types of musicians. I have noticed the more mature ones that have day jobs. You have a job teaching mathematics to high school students. And I have noticed that some musicians never grow up and they are stuck in a perpetual childhood. But in order to do music, you have to have a sense of child because it is about play. And it can only make you a better musician to reach that place of innocence.

MK: I have heard this from other people and it’s exactly what I feel when I am performing. When I am with the band singing there are moments that I am absolutely in the moment. I don’t even know what’s going on within myself. I am in a very tranquil, peaceful place and I think just for me to experience a few moments of that is a blessing. Other people live their whole life and they don’t ever experience one second of that. And that’s very unfortunate. There are so many distractions around us, especially in this country. You know there is hardly any time anyone can take for them selves so for us I think it’s a blessing to be able to really get present with life and in a place where everything is peaceful and nothing matters. Nothing really matters because you make that connection.

PLH: That’s exactly what I had in mind. I know little about Persian music, I was a film journalist and the thing that I do know is Iranian cinema. And what I discovered with the music on your CD and also Iranian cinema is that in Iranian cinema you have these images that are so strong and there is all this universal storytelling that you really don’t even need the dialogue to understand the story. And with the music you play it’s almost that you don’t need a translation of the lyrics because the moods are so strong. And you as a singer evoke different emotions so it becomes obvious and you can figure out which songs are heartbreakers and which ones are about joy.

MK: I am so happy to hear that because I have lived here for so many years and of course, Farsi is my first language, but every day I am using English to teach and to get by with life. And a lot of times there have been suggestions or thoughts of singing in English were made. But up until this point there hasn’t been a necessity to sing in English because absolutely what you’re saying is that a lot of our audiences are non-Persian. But they get the feeling and I think that is one thing because I could sing in the same language. And people could hear it and not even get the feeling of what’s going on or it could be in a totally different language but the feelings and emotions are there. And I think actually I much prefer to go that way because if I can bring that emotional thing that exist in every human being no matter if you’re American, Iranian or whatever because we all have that. We just have it in different places and we randomly pull it out.

Since you’re talking about film, I have to share with you the movie that I saw by Abbas Kiarostami, Where Is My Friend’s House (English title). It was made many years ago.

PLH: Wait a minute, I know the film. It’s the one where the little boy is searching for his friend’s house so he can return the friend’s homework to him (and adults basically ignore the boy as he tries to locate his friend)

MK: Yeah. It’s called khane-ye doust kodjast (Iranian title). And that’s the title of one of the songs we did on our last CD, Niya Yesh. That’s poetry from a late (Persian) contemporary poet, Sohrab Sepehri. I just wanted to let you know that when I saw that movie maybe ten years ago, I was sitting in the movie theatre and I was crying the whole time. I mean just absolutely crying. I am a teacher and I work with kids and you know there was a place in my heart that hadn’t been touched for years. And that movie just touched it. So I was just crying and people were looking at me like woman this is just a movie.

PLH: Yeah, but it was the director. He has that effect on most of us.

MK: It was the director and I think that it was the fact that the kids had no idea there were cameras so it was real. I mean I get to see kids with all their fears and anxieties. So just being there in the moment with that kid, he was so innocent. I just kept crying. So when I saw the poetry by the poet that was titled Khane-ye doust kodjast which was the same title. So when I singing that song I kept remembering all the pictures and it was unbelievable. So I think that we all have different kinds of feelings and emotions and music is one of the arts that can absolutely touch that. And when it touches that it doesn’t matter what language it is or where you are at or who you are. It touches it.

PLH: And of course, there is Persian music in Iranian films. And my first real exposure to world music was when I reviewed world cinema. I was raised as a musician so the first thing I notice with cinema is of course the music. I understand the language of music and I don’t care what country it comes from because it’s still going to affect me as a musician. So a lot of the times when I was watching films I became so absorbed in the music that I couldn’t keep pace with the story.

MK: I experience the same thing.

PLH: I read that you had studied Bulgarian and Indian music. What other types of music are you interested in and what type of music do you listen to on a daily basis?

MK: To be honest with you, some times nothing. Especially when we are recording and all I am listening to is our music just to see how we can enhance it or see what’s wrong with this or what’s wrong with that. And unfortunately sometimes that’s all I listen to because you have to go into the mode of listening to yourself. I love music from all over the world and there was a period of time when I was listening to Indian music a lot and there was a period of time when I was listening to Bulgarian music a lot. There are times when I get hooked on something, but usually I just love music all around the world. Flamenco and Spanish singing is wonderful.

PLH: As a vocalist are you first attracted to the vocals when you listen to music?

MK: Well, not really. I think the melody is the first thing that has to touch me, the melody overall. And then the instrumentation definitely a voice with this or that, the feeling of the song rather than the voice. Of course the voice is very important, but you know, I think melody is the first thing that hits me. You know if it really hits me good or not. I listen the voice critically, but when I listen to the song it’s overall. Do you know what I am saying? I really want to listen the whole song and get a feeling for that instead of listening and saying, ooh, did she sing this well or not? That just kills the whole thing.

PLH: Some times it’s the emotions that count and not the technique. Do you think that vocalist with training have a difficult time listening to other vocalists?

MK: I can see how the classical musicians and the traditional musicians of Iran (would affect that). I have friends who absolutely can not tolerate one off note. They are looking for perfection and perfection is more about technique and not emotion. They could be listening to something and say that’s perfect and I would think what is this? Back home we have these old guys, street musicians and that would totally touch my soul even though the guy had never been to school. And (I say to my friends) “you guys are listening to this and you think this is perfect?” It’s just a matter of training and in a way, I think it’s good not to get hooked into being trained all the time.

PLH: Axiom of Choice refers to artistic freedom within your group, but in the world many people are either afraid of losing their liberties or have already lost those liberties. What type of world do you envision for our future and again, do you believe that creativity will allow us to manifest a more harmonious world?

MK: I think that if any human being can actually get into their true self, definitely there is harmony. I have been to places at times where it was a poetry or Rumi class and I have been around people who have been around for a long time or are special people. When I am singing poetry that is ancient, you know that the poet was able to reach that level of self. Rumi achieved a sense of self so when you get familiar with it, there are times where I have actually been one with myself. Not very many times, but now I have a taste of that and I crave that. If we could all get to that, I think the world would be in harmony.

PLH: I just read that if you learn to love yourself, you won’t need to get love or anything from anyone else.

MK: That is absolutely true. I think those of in life who at least have been introduced things like that such as there is a self and there is a self love you are blessed. Even if you haven’t reached it you know that’s where we want to get. That gives our life a purpose and that gives us that we have something to move towards. I feel sorry for people who don’t have that and I feel that there are absolutely lost. But that is their thing and that’s their journey. That’s what they have to go through, but anyone who has been there can think that’s why we are living on this planet.

PLH: But some times I think we need something to trigger that response to spirit. Music is one way and poetry is another way.

MK: Music is definitely one way. Poetry and poets such as Rumi (can help us reach that place). The more I learn about Rumi the more I admire him because he was someone who actually lived it. When they talk about (self) you know that they were physically, spiritually and mentally there.

(This interview took place during the fall of 2002 before a concert).

For more interviews and reviews of the healing powers of music, visit& Patricia’s The Whole Music Experience blog.

Patricia Herlevi is also the author of the magic realism comic novel, All Saints Day.


Global Qawwali

Sukhawat Ali Khan – Shukriya

Sukhawat Ali Khan – Shukriya (Megawave, 2007)

Qawwali musician Sukhawat Ali Khan lives in the USA and adds new elements to the venerable Sufi art. The opening piece on Shukriya, titled “Mustafa,” blends traditional Qawwali sounds such as vocals, tabla and harmonium with electric bass, creating a powerful resonance that enriches the overall sound.

As a young musician, Sukhawat is also influenced by contemporary popular sounds. He uses bhangra and world beat sounds, in addition to the funky electric bass played by African musician Baba Ben Okulolo, to enhance his music.

While some of the pieces are upbeat and festive, combining South Asian percussion with African drums, some of the best material on the CD are the two dreamy cuts titled “Natnarayani (part 1) and (part 2). Sukhawat’s intimate style, accompanied by a hypnotic drone and strings brings the listener a soothing feeling of calm and peace.

Highly recommended.

Buy Shukriya.


Richard Khuzami Releases Fused

Richard Khuzami – Fused

New York (New York), USA – Fused is producer and multi-instrumentalist Richard Khuzami’s celebration of the cultural and ethnic forces that surround him. Recorded in New York City, Fused features artists such as Omar Faruk Tekbilek, Frederick Reed (Jeff Buckley, Sesame Street, Susan McKeown), Tommy “Rameses” Rodriguez (Daddy Yankee, Miles Copeland), Anath Benais (Fiesta Mora [original version of Alabina]), Duke McVinnie (member of alt-rock group Shivaree and a member of Joan Baez’s band), Rachid Halihal (Rachid Taha), Maurice Chedid, and Nickodemus (Turntables on the Hudson). It was mixed/engineered by multi-Grammy winning engineer Jon Fausty (Tito Puente, David Byrne, Gilberto Santa Rosa), and Grammy nominated engineer Matt Stein (Def Jamaica). Fused exposes the listener to the beauty, dynamics, and traditions of Middle Eastern music while incorporating English lyrics, as well as dance, pop and reggaeton.

The prominence of Middle Eastern rhythmic patterns and scales in Fused is remarkable because Richard Khuzami was raised in New York with minimal exposure to the Lebanese heritage of his family. Like any American teenager in the sixties, he absorbed the rock and pop music of his New York surroundings and taught himself to play drums. This all changed in 1978, when he had a chance encounter in Rochester (New York) with the renowned Turkish multi-instrumentalist, Omar Faruk Tekbilek. It was this meeting that triggered Khuzami’s interest in Middle Eastern percussion instruments and where his Lebanese background began to
play an important role in his identity and is what ultimately inspired Fused.

Over the course of his career, Khuzami mastered various other percussion instruments: darbuka, riq, bendir, and davul. (from the Balkans, Anatolia, the Middle East, and North Africa). He has studied with some of the masters of this genre (including Tekbilek) and has performed in Greek, Turkish and Arab-American ethnic communities throughout United States as well as with top international artists both domestically and overseas.

Khuzami’s experiences as a young adult listening to music in the 1960’s enforced his belief that music is a powerful means of providing a voice to those outside the mainstream. Music is an instrument for change. The recent decline in the public’s perception of the Arab community propelled Khuzami to once again use
music as an instrument for change. The pain he felt when faced by the misconceptions and disrepute of his Arab lineage helps to fuel Fused. It is Khuzami’s sonic bridge between the common ground of Eastern and Western cultures.

Khuzami called upon a wide array of his musical friends and heavyweights from Arab, Israeli, North African, Greek, Turkish, African, American and Latin backgrounds to contribute to this project. From the infectious Greek reggaeton track “Burn that Beat”, written by “it” reggaeton producer, Rameses, to the bewitching “Go with Me” featuring Moroccan Berber vocalist, Malika Zarra and ney
(reed flute) flutist Omar Faruk Tekbilek, the sonic and aesthetic diversity of Fused is intentional and quintessentially New York.

Fused may be understood as a musical reel of Khuzami’s life, whether it be “Wings of a Songbird”, a deeply personal and romantic ballad set in 9/8 and 6/8 time featuring the vocals of Anath Benais and the bouzouki (Greek stringed instrument) of Nikos Tatasopoulos or the funked up grooves of “Malfouf” featuring Tekbilek on ney and zurna, and Chedid on oud. Another highlight of this diverse album is “Nothing Lasts”, written by and featuring the vocal of musician and composer, Duke McVinnie. The graceful and spiritual composition illustrates Khuzami’s arrangement and production skills and captures the essence of his Middle Eastern heritage.

Fused is currently available for purchase via www.dahdoo.net and CD Baby. Single tracks are available for download on iTunes.


A Collection of Tango

Carlos Libedinsky -  Narcotango
Carlos Libedinsky – Narcotango

First up is Carlos Libedinsky’s Narcotango. One can only assume the narco part of the title is in some way linked to the Mexican narco-corridos, those happy, blood-thirsty anthems to the border drug lords; there’s little narco, if any, in this CD. The title’s just a grisly attempt at a slick coolness.

Speaking of grisly, the selection of photographs of the Saran-wrapped/black-belt bondaged duo on the cover and throughout the booklet was … well…unfortunate. They look cheap and hurried, possessing none of the artful nature of bondage professionals.

Intended to be a part of the new wave of tango fusion, Narcotango relies heavily on techno loops and samples woven through the text of the music. Unfortunately, the industrial sound comes across as flat and chunky. Several of the pieces sound as if they’ve been squeezed out by a band of zombies trapped in the bottom of an elevator shaft. That’s not to say that Narcotango doesn’t have its moments with tracks like “Otra Luna” and “Humo.” Too bad, there’s just not more of these moments on a 12-track CD.

Tangophobia Vol. 1 fairs better with a dose of funk thrown in Tanghetto’s “Humedad” and the keyboards of B.A. Jam’s “Incognito.” The mood of Tangophobia is more sophisticated, but it’s techno-based rather than traditional tango, so hardcore tango fans be warned. B.A. Jam’s track “Tango Provocateur” slips back and forth from tango to techno, as does Tanghetto’s “Otra Oportunidad.” It’s best to think of this music as tangoesque – there the premise of the tango, but there’s wide-open spaces of heavy techno beats and funk grooves. It’s quick and slick – a good car CD.

Next up in the tango/electronic fusion bin is Zona Tango. Unlike Tangophobia, Zona Tango’s opening track, “Diskparte,” sounds like it could have come straight from a cheesy 1970’s spaghetti western or European sex romp. Adding the vocals and the whistle solo didn’t help the piece any. Unfortunately, Zona Tango doesn’t get any better with tracks like “Experimento Milonga” and “Piazzolectro.” There’s a cheap cartoonish feel to the recordings, where the electronic elements sound as if they were part of a ‘free with purchase’ software item. Try as they might to spice it up with some radio background sounds, restaurant recordings, chirpy flute sections and some plucky strings, it annoys.

I’d like to say some nice things about Zona Tango. The best I came come up with are some individual moments of brilliance as in the CD is a 22-second piece of the bandoneón and a couple of saxophone and piano solos. I could be wrong, but this really belongs in the elevator music bin.

Hybrid Tango with Max Masri and Diego S. Velázquez has a decidedly different feel, although it’s still part of the new wave of fusion tango.

Meaty with a heavy backbeat and techno edge, Hybrid Tango doesn’t loose sight of the goal by overplaying the thrumping beat or industrial garage electronic loops. Hybrid Tango centers each piece on the tango itself; the variety of elements change but it’s still a tango. The opening track, “Más de lo Mismo,” features some sharp bandoneón playing against the techno beat. Because the focus remains on the tango, there’s not that cluttered feeling of most techno tango CDs. Throughout the CD, respites exist, where the furious electronica is stripped away, revealing some lovely solo moments of guitar, piano or badoneón. Tracks like “Bario Sur” and “Lo Que Nunca Fue” don’t lose their passion amid the added elements and isn’t that the whole point of the tango? Keep in mind this stuff is essentially techno tango, so if you’re expecting Astor Piazzolla buy something else.

Ultratango’s Astornautas opens with “Libertango” and is another of those techno tango pieces that evokes the image of a cheap James Bond knockoff spy type with too much makeup, making his way through a crowded train traveling through the Swiss Alps. The twangy eletronica and lumpy squeezebox sound of the bandoneón of track, “CiteTango,” written by Piazzolla, made me cringe. “Invierno Porteño” with the vocals of Raul Lavie would certainly earn my vote for NPR’s Annoying Music Show for its grand show of machismo. The electronica is tinny and sounds as if washed through the bottom of a trash can. “Asi Sea” is one of only stand out pieces on the CD with some interesting rhythm if you can get past the spoken word sections, but my gut tells me to pass.

Tango Fusion Club V.1 fairs better with a funky, hip-hop feel to opening track “De Trampa.” Unfortunately, Tango Fusion Club soon lapses into the same old pop/techno mix that soon loses its charm. Tango Fusion Club, like many of the other techno tango CDs, have a limited appeal other than to serve as background for jogging or a short trip on the treadmill. “Ultimatum” isn’t a bad piece, but it doesn’t go anywhere; there’s little to set it apart in either musicianship or artistic expression than any other techno piece. “Número 23,” on the other hand, possesses a darker feel and more attached to the passion of the tango and is a better track for it.

I won’t say that tango doesn’t lend itself to techno well, because I believe it might in some cases. The sad fact is that, with little exception, most of the techno tango CDs I’ve mentioned here are stuck in between wanting to turn the tango into a pop piece or a muzzy kind of romantic ballad. The tango is neither. Most of the tracks loose their passion and fall into the same two or three techno backbeats. There’s no innovation, the very thing that vilified Astor Piazzolla and made him great at the same time.

Now on to something a little different. The 3-0-3 group’s Música con Buenos Aires has a decidedly different feel. Música con Buenos Aires is a smart fusion of jazz and tango with guest appearances by Horacio Ferrer and Walter Ríos. 3-0-3 features of Alan Ballan, Martín Benedetti, Gerardo Solnié, Julio Morales, Fabián Zylberman and Hernán Valencia. Infusing jazz and funk elements into the tango, the compositions are intricate and full-bodied. While the jazz elements tend to rough over the tango elements, tracks like “Pithyrosporum Ovale” and “Un Jubilando Más” are breezy fusions of both. “Tango Vasco II” stands out as one of the gems on the CD with its funk flavor. There’s also the fabulous play on “Pequeña Obra para dos Tangoides” between Alan Ballan on bass and Hernán Valencia on the piano. Música con Buenos Aires will certainly impress the jazz fans, but tango fans might be less enthusiastic. The producers of 3-0-3 might want to consider a different translator for the CD’s cover, considering the notes were chocked full of errors.

Spain’s Chivo Records have released this year Che Camerata’s Salduba and it’s deliciously rich. Blending the tango with the traditions of the Spanish bulería and solea, Che Camerata has created a masterpiece ripe with the passions of both Spain and Argentina. Each track is a peek into the dark, smoky labyrinthine interior that is the tango’s soul, with unexpected turns with Chico Farga’s flamenco percussion on “Salduba” and Paco Javier Jimeno’s guitar on “Camaron Piazzola.” “Laussane 8PM” gently rises with Miguel Pérez’s opening piano solo and grows fuller as he’s joined by Lorenzo Triviño on violin, Juan Baca on contrabajo and Ariel Hernández’s fierce bandoneón playing. “Viento Sur” and “Otoñal” are spectacular pieces. The work is powerful and passionate. The recording is clean and sharp, possessing none of the sterile sound so many recordings have today after being washed through computers too often. After listening to a good deal of fluff, Salduba is one of those CDs you can really sink your teeth into it’s that too good to pass up.

Milan Sur’s The Last Tango in Buenos Aires, The Best of Casa del Tango hails itself as a “comprehensive overview of modern tango,” and it could very well be that with the opening track “Vuelvo al Sur” with its impassioned vocals by Roberto Goyenche, but the CD has a movie soundtrack feel to it. The CD, with its sometimes overblown orchestrations, is your basic hothouse variety of tango, uncomfortably noticeable on tracks like “Libertango” and “El Choclo.” This is the stuff of TV specials with overly golded, Aramis-soaked male hosts and scantily clad women. Unfortunately, the track “La Cumparsita” is just short of being relegated to elevator speakers.

The impression The Last Tango in Buenos Aires exudes is of trying just too hard. Besides stripping the passion of music, the vocals have been so digitally enhanced they have lost that rough edge that speaks of the emotion of the singer. I’ll give the CD its due by pointing out that tracks like “Milonga Trieste” and “Ciudad Trieste” are pretty. The magic only really happens as Wynton Marsalis takes on “El Sur,” but I’m not sure it’s enough to prop up a whole CD. Overall, The Last Tango in Buenos Aires is the stuff you pawn off onto tourists. Like so many other CDs out there these days, I would like to point out some particularly outstanding backup musicians on The Last Tango in Buenos Aires, but can’t because the producers are so stingy with the liner notes.

ARC Music’s Classical Tango Argentino with the late Hugo Díaz is the real stuff. Bandoneón player Díaz, along with Luis Etchebarne on piano and Vinicio Ascone on double bass, tear through Piazzolla’s “Melancolico Buenos Aires” and Héctor Stamponie’s “Un Momento” with sheer gusto.

Born in 1947, Díaz was acquainted with the origins of the tango and his renditions often possess a bawdy raunchiness that speaks of the tango’s past scandalous reputation. Pieces like “Otoño Porteo” reflect that sad loneliness that is one of tango’s trademarks, so when the CD slides into “Melancolico Buenos Aires” the piece really sings.

Díaz’s trio really captures the light and dark of the tango, that inexpressible element that’s purely emotional. “Nostálgico,” “Nocturna” and “Alfonsina y El Mar” are flawless pieces; the twists and turns are tight and neat, speaking to the exceptional musicianship of Díaz, Etchebarne and Ascone. Grab your partner because Classical Tango Argentino is definitely danceable.

Carlos Gardel The Passion of Argentina is Milan Music’s reissue of tango singer and songwriter Gardel’s short career as Argentina’s “Zorzal” or the thrush.

Gardel’s actual birth and origin are shrouded by several contrasting stories. According to one story Charles Romuald Gardel was born in France, but other documents point to a Uruguayan heritage, others insist that Gardel was the illegitimate son of Uruguayan Colonel Carlos Escalaya that had dealing with France.

Cited as having recorded over 300 tango records, Gardel started out recording Argentinean folk songs, but was best known as one of the most prolific tango songwriters. The recording is dated, but the songs possess the charm of popular singers of the 1920s and 30s. Tracks like “Golondrinas,” “Lejana Tierra Mía” and “Cuesta Abajo” are just downright quaint. The recordings have been remastered, but there is that overlaying buzz of older recordings, but that shouldn’t discourage listeners to the popular song marking the beginnings of the tango.

Gardel’s songbird style and that dapper, smiling figure from the photo on the CD’s cover must have marked him as one of tango’s original heartthrobs.

Lunático is Gotan Project’s follow-up CD to their debut album La Revancha Del Tango. Gotan Project’s Phillipe Cohen Solai, Christoph H. Müller and Eduardo Makaroff make techno tango work. Opening track “Amor Porteño” can best be described basement tango; with its chunky beat, twangy background and heart heavy vocals, it’s almost the stuff of a Quentin Tarantino film. “Amor Porteño” gives way “Notas” with its slick groove, bandoneón with string overtones and Juan Carlos Cáceres on vocals. “Celos” drops the CD into a more reflective tone with a jazzy, smoke-filled bar scene feel. “Lunático,” “Tango Canción,” “La Vigüela with Eduardo Makaroff’s acoustic guitar work, and “Criminal” with Nini Flores on bandoneón are all outstanding pieces. The group rounds out the CD with “Paris, Texas,” the tango’s homage to Wim Wenders’ 1984 film. While Gotan Project might tend to veer off the beaten path of the tango from time to time, the orchestrations are full-bodied and the techno elements are part and parcel to the piece, not cheap overlays, but essential to the feel of each piece. The clean recording adds to the richness of the jazzy pieces and lends bite and brightness to the techno-based pieces.

Milan Entertainment’s Vuelvo Al Sur is a collection of eight Astor Piazzolla performances, taken from a film score and concerts from 1970s to the 80s. The title piece Vuelvo al Sur gets the royal treatment with Roberto Goyeneche’s vocals and Piazzolla’s brilliance. “Libertango” and “Verano Porteño,” taken from a 1984 concert at the Théâtre Roxy de Mar del Plata and the concert at the Palais des Congrès de Lugano respectively, are the artful expressions of tango’s masters with Piazzolla’s bandonéon, Fernando Suárez Paz on violin, Pablo Ziegler on piano, Oscar López Ruiz on guitar and Héctor Console on bass. “Mumuki,” with Horaacio Malvicino on electric guitar, is from the Lausanne concert in 1989 and it ten minutes worth of stunning craftsmanship of the light and dark of Piazzolla’s tango compositions that includes priceless performances by Carlos Nizzi on cello and Gerardo Gandini on piano. After listening to endless renditions of Piazzolla’s “Luna,” the performance at the concert at the Club Italien de Buenos Aires in 1989 puts the others to shame. Vuelvo al Sur is classical tango at its best.

The companion CD to Milan Entertainment’s Vuelvo al Sur is Astor Piazzolla, Four Seasons of Buenos Aires. With arrangements by Egberto Gismonit, Jaques Morelenbaum, Henrique Cazes, Zeç a Assumpção, Paulo Sérgio Santos and Beto Cazes, the CD covers ten of Piazzolla’s compositions. The classical flair of the interpretations might scare off dancehall tango fans, but the work is extraordinary. The CD’s title might mislead some into thinking that the CD features Piazzolla, the fault of the liner notes again, but let me make it clear these are interpretations by other performers. The first four tracks are The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires and Piazzolla’s Argentinian soul’s answer to Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons. Each snares the very light and shadow right out of the air with the work the Rio Cello Trio, Quinteto Villa-Lobos and Eduardo Monteiro on flutes, Paulo Sérgio Santos on clarinet, Philip Doyle on horn, Luis Carlos Justi on oboe, Elione Medeiros on bassoon and Zeç a Assumpção on double bass. The Rio Cello Trio made up of Alceu Reis, Marcio Mallard and Jaques Morelenbaum charms with ” Fuga 9.” The “Libertango Suite” orchestrated by Henrique Cazes is another stunning piece of work with the Orquesta de Cordas Brasileiras. The final track, “Deus Xangô” has to be my favorite piece on the CD with some remarkable percussion by Beto Cazes, and Santos on wind instruments, Morelenbaum on cello, Assumpção on double bass and Henrique Cazes on guitar and cavaquinho. For the scaredy cats looking for the dance CD this might not be what you’re looking for, but you should give it a listen just the same because it’s delightful.

As with most opinion-based reviews, there will be the snorts of derision and the sneers of snobbishness from those who know they know better at my take on these CDs, but think on this for a moment, the tango has become the moveable feast for artists all across the world. It is the ever-evolving reflection of human emotion, those inexpressibly sweet moments of love and intimacy, the murderous rage of that love gone bad and the pitiful longing for that love to return. Tango by its very nature available to everyone. The sub-genres of the tango are as varied as the people who listen and love them. When Astor Piazzolla shredded the traditional precepts of the tango, he was vilified by the press, shunned by the traditionalists and actually accosted on the street for his soul’s path to the tango. The next evolution for the tango is a living and breathing thing, and there’s plenty of tango out there for everyone.