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World Music CD Reviews, December 2007

Album of the Month

Electric Kulintang-Dialects

Electric Kulintang: Dialects
Plastic Records

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As the group Electric Kulintang, Roberto Rodriguez and Susie Ibarra have combined efforts to create a hypnotic album of soundscapes based on the traditional Philippine instrument Kulingtang (a gong instrument not unlike an Indonesian gamelan). While this is clearly created music, constructed with the magic of multitracking, it maintains a sense of acoustic, organic playing. Percussion fans will eat this up, but the tones of the Kulingtang (along with vocals by Ibarra on a few tracks) make it melodic in a trancey, swirling way. The album wobbles a bit in figuring out what it wants to be: the wonderful opening track "Anitos (Spirits)" could hardly be more different than the free-floating vocals on "Bangka." But inconsistency aside, Rodrigues and Ibarra deserve kudos for an album that sounds like nothing else out there, and invites new possibilities for an old folk instrument.

©2007 Scott Allan Stevens, Earball Media

THIS JUST IN! ... New World Music CD Releases


Rajery: Sofera (Marabi)
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Madagascar's amazing valiha player Rahery returns with a richer sound more like the arrangements of Oliver Mtukudzi. This is Malagasy Afropop at its finest, a wonderfully accessible album that one doesn't need an ethnomusicology degree to appreciate, yet will please long-time fans as well. You don't need to know that Rajery makes all this beautiful music with just one hand, but his tragic-triumphant personal story and his advocacy of the disadvantaged makes his work that much more compelling. Highly recommended!

Cocoa Tea: Biological Warfare (minor7flat5)
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From the outset it's clear that this is a very conscious album, as Cocoa Tea launches into "Poverty" and rips into income disparity, and its role in causing crime. This CD combines the sparse groove of dub with richer arrangements to emerge as one of the freshest, most righteous reggae albums to come across my desk in recent months.

Luis Villegas: Guitarras de Navidad (Tenure)
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Every year, the holiday albums flow in. And it's a rare one that catches my ear, rising above the ranks of rehashed carols. Luis Villegas accomplishes this with an album of traditional carols mixed with a couple less familiar tunes. "Peces en el Rio" has a flamenco-rock vibe without becoming too slick. "Jingle Bells" gets downright danceable with its Afro-Cuban rhythms and a tight horn section. The traditional Mexican tune "La Rama" sounds like a village celebration ('cause that's where it's from!). Fine, creative arrangments with variety in the instumentation and vocals make Guitarras the freshest holiday offering I've heard this year.

Sursumcorda: L'Albero Dei Bradipi (Passion)
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For reasons that aren't clear, the booklet to this Italian-language disc includes lyrics only in English. This odd surprise gives a welcome insight into the music of this group whose credits might make you think they're a classical music ensemble, with instruments including cello, salterio (an Italian zither), recorders, oboe, slide flute, English horn, and classical guitar. While the music is intricate, precise, and beautifully played, the arrangements (and the inclusion of other instruments including kalimba, berimbau, hand drums, and mouth harp) put this more firmly in the world music pasture. The band's name is Latin for "Lift up your hearts," and I suppose they do at that. Not in a bouncy, pop-music sort of way, but with a sort of melancholy that befits the gray area they occupy between classical and folk styles. It took me a couple listens to really appreciate this album, but I was won over by the crazy teetering of "La Notte Degli Oscar (The Night of the Oscars), and the blend of strings, accordion, and kalimba on the tango-rooted "Mi Hanno Perso (They Lost Me). The album name, by the way, translates as "The Tree of the Sloths."

©2007 Scott Allan Stevens, Earball Media



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