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World Music CD Reviews, August 2009

Album of the Month

Huun Huur Tu and Carmen Rizzo: Eternal
Green Wave

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If you're paying attention, you'll have noticed that I have a certain fondness for the unique sounds of Tuvan throat singing. It's a fascinating musical tradition on its own in traditional songs, or blended with modern instruments or electronic beats and samples as a number of bands have done (Ondar, James Whetzel, Guy Mendilow). Huun Huur Tu have largely stayed on the traditional side of things, releasing some dozen albums that are much loved by world music fans. The one fusion project they did undertake was recording two albums (Fly, Fly My Sadness in 1996 and Mountain Tale in 1998) with the fabulous women's vocal group The Bulgarian Voices: Angelite.

So the group is breaking new ground in this recording, a collaboration with electronicist/producer Carmen Rizzo. Rizzo was initially asked to mix a set of audiophile-quality recordings Huun Huur Tu had made, but he found more in the project.
"As I listened more in depth and studied the tracks, I knew I could mix it, but it lent itself to a lot more," Rizzo says. "As I began to mix I inched myself into doing more and more and taking different liberties. And as it went on they liked more of what I did. ... It evolved into a natural collaboration...."

Rizzo's impact on the album is clear, but respectful. This isn't a brash, bouncy fusion in the spirit of Ondar's Back Tuva Future, as Rizzo eases in his own electronics along with additional violin, cello, trumpet, bass, and cumbus (a Turkish banjo-oud ... hmmm a banjoud?). The songs are technically remixes, but they're meant for listening more than cranking up at the club. The most insistent (and perhaps therefore least effective) drum track comes on "Saryglarlar Maidens," though even that sounds like something you might hear on a Putumayo compilation called Tuvan Lounge. The best tracks might be the swirling disorientation of "Orphaned Child" and the darkly roiling "Ancestors Call.

Overall the has more than a passing similarity to modern Sami music from the likes of Ulla Pirtijarvi and Wimme Saari. And if some songs ("Dogee Mountain" ) sound a bit like a soundtrack, that might be the influence of producer Mark Governor, who has worked on a lot of film music.

Eternal weighs in at eight songs and just over 40 minutes, but within those eight songs there's a wonderful new world for Tuvan/overtone singing fans, and a more accessible entry for those who may just be discovering the tradition.

©2009 Scott Allan Stevens, Earball Media

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


various artists : Putumayo Presents Brazilian Cafe (Putumayo)
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I've been critical of the last couple Putumayo compilations for veering from their intended destination -- not so with Brazilian Cafe. This 12-song collection not only lives up to expectations of gentle acoustic Brazilian tunes, it also has a wonderful balance and variety of tunes and introduces us to some new artists to explore. Only Rosa Passos and Ceumar were really familiar to me. Others perhaps should be familiar, such as Djavan, since the liner notes tell me he's been big in MPB since the mid 1970s. Someday I'll have to have someone explain how samba can be both these soothing, intimate songs and the sound of a hundred marching feet with thunderous drums. Until then, I'll enjoy Putumayo's engaging (if short at a mere 41 minutes) soundtrack to the softer side of Brazil.

Clara Moreno : Miss Balanço (Far Out)
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Though her promo material is replete with dubious claims -- what could it mean that "Clara Moreno embodies her image"? -- her new CD is a winning item. The singer's sixth recording reaches back to classic samba rhythms and instruments, and forward with modern production values and sprinklings of jazz. The quality of the album certainly rests in part with Moreno's mother/producer Joyce.
"Samba has always been in my heart," Moreno says. "Having flirted with various styles, from electronic to Bossa Nova, when Joe Davis asked me for a new disc I saw the opportunity to explore samba. We arrived at 'Sambalanço'. I feel very comfortable with this music. "

Sister Fa : Sarabah-Tales from the Flipside of Paradise (Piranha)
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As you in-the-know world music fans know, hip-hop is huge in much of Africa, and particularly in Senegal. You've probably also noticed that it's pretty exclusively a male affair. Think Daara J, K'naan, Positive Black SOul, MC Solaar, Gokh-Bi System, and the like. Sarabah has plenty of male voices, but heading it all up is the powerful voice of Sister Fa. Now based in Germany, the rapper (born Fatou Mandiang Diatta) says uses her musical soapbox to talk about the conditions for women in her Senegalese homeland. "[T]hey work a lot and they suffer, just to give something to their children to eat. But no one was really interested in talking about these things. For me, hip-hop was the music I could use to complain and bring out all of this energy I had inside and to talk about all of these injustices so people can be aware of what's happening in this country. It was only hip-hop that I could use to educate and talk about all of these problems." (quote from article in The Independent)
I'm drawn to this album for its musical variety, its use of acoustic instruments, and the catchy melodies that intertwine with rapid-fire rapping. The best tracks include the kora-laced opener "Milyamba" and the acoustic-guitar-led "Amy Jotna." Other tracks on the album are less memorable, particularly for those of us who don't speak the language. While Sarabah is groundbreaking in some very positive ways, I suspect Sister Fa's best is still to come.

TriBeCaStan: Strange Cousin (Evergreene Music)
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Maybe it's the name and the eclectic ethnic-y collage on the CD's cover; for whatever reason, I got to thinking of TriBeCaStan as something of an American version of 3 Mustaphas 3. And truth be told, that's not far off. These upstarts -- principally John Kruth and Jeff Greene, multi-instrumentalists, both -- don't take their national mythology to such lengths as their predecessors, but they share the same love of strange acoustic instruments, exotic rhythms, and a good dose of humor, as evident in track names such as "The Flowers (that I Place at my Ancestor's Grave Spontaneously Burst into Flame with their Appreciation)."

“I like to think of us as avant garde doing something new. But what are we doing? Just like Art Ensemble of Chicago, one of my favorite bands, we compose and play Ancient Future music. Sun Ra would play music from the roots to the fruits and music from next Tuesday that you haven’t heard yet,” muses Kruth. “I like to think we are playing music you haven’t heard yet.”

Perhaps their music is best summed up by the benediction in their liner notes: "May all the gods smile on you at once without your skull exploding." It may be too confusing to compel most folks to the dance floor, but this kind of crisp, intelligent, curious instrumental music will always have a place in my ears.

©2009 Scott Allan Stevens, Earball Media



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