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Spin the Globe reviews, October 2003

ARC Music

Without knowing it, you may already have heard Pape Siriman Kanouté from his work with the groups Africando and Agricantus. The salsa is gone from this new CD, his first international solo release (a previous CD, Kambalaba, was released in Italy). But the fusion of world styles lives subtly on. The sounds of West Africa are always present-particularly in the form of Kanouté's kora and vocals-but around them swirl drums, bass, guitars, saxes, and more exotic instruments. The disc begins with "Afrique," which bubbles with rich instrumentation including Kanouté's soprano sax, along with call-and-response vocals between Kanouté and female singers. "Seremende" incorporates didgeridoo, tambourine and strings for an offbeat Middle-Eastern twist. Poor liner notes leave the listener in the dark about the CD's song meanings, instruments, and additional musicians, giving only the untranslated lyrics of the songs. And kora lovers will be disappointed at how seldom the magical calabash harp is in the foreground. But for a subtle fusion effort that maintains a traditional vibe, Griot from Senegal is highly listenable and enjoyable.

Not unlike: Issa Bagayogo, Mandingo Griot Society, Yaya Diallo with Kanza (see review below)

©2003 Scott Allan Stevens, Earball Media

Tinder Records

hear samples of Kristi's music here

If you've heard her previous work, you'll know not to expect traditional Greek music from Kristi Stassinopoulou. On her third release, the Athens-born singer continues her exploration and hybridization of styles. Opening with the CD's electronica-edged title track, she breathes more than sings over guitar and drum beats. Her multitracked vocals are stronger on the "Strong Winds Blockade" backed by snare drum and bagpipes, sounding a little like a sea shanty sung by Varttina. Indeed, the sea is a major theme throughout, along with love and the passage of time. Lyrics in English and the original Greek help with song meanings. Except for the traditional "Amorgos Passage," all songs are originals by Stassinopoulou and her collaborator-husband Stathis Kalyviotis. While some of the tracks veer a bit too far into experimental/ambient relams ("Red Adders," "The Days Go By"), most of Stassinopoulou's wanderings find her on solid ground and provide engaging listening.

Not unlike: Varttina, Moreno Veloso

©2003 Scott Allan Stevens, Earball Media


On his fourth CD, Seattle-based guitar and mandocello player/teacher Stanley Greenthal shares rich acoustic music from various European traditions, music he has collected through travels and learned from other musicians. While it would make great party-background music, these songs deserve close attention to catch the nuance and flavor of the different ethnic styles and players. Enhancing Greenthal's deft string work are instruments added by Joel Bernstein (fiddle), Christos Govetas (oud, clarinet, bendir, defi), Roger Landes (mandolin), and Paddy League (percussion). Together they venture through eighteen mostly traditional songs, with sounds ranging ranges in mood and origin from the speedy Macedonian "Da Li Znaes, Pomnis Li" to the slow Irish solo guitar of "The Lament for Limerick." Emotionally and melodically rich throughout, the CD also features music from Brittany, Scotland, Crete, Bulgaria and Greece. The track notes and credits are clear and informative, and the sound quality is excellent, a glowing testament to Greenthal's home-studio setup. A great album for any fan of acoustic ethnic folk music.

©2003 Scott Allan Stevens, Earball Media

Facing East Productions

If the recent "Remember Shakti" tour finds you hungry for more Indian-jazz sounds, look no further; flute virtuoso John Wubbenhorst has what you hanker for. Pop in this CD and atop the traditional drone you hear the fingers of Subash Chandran dancing gleefully over the surface of his ghatam (clay pot drum), along with the equally nimble playing of Ganesh Kumar on kanjira (a small frame drum with monitor-lizard skin). Then the other three musicians enter simultaneously, playing the melody in synchronous precision on flute, guitar (Jorge Zamorano) and fretless bass (Steve Zerlin). The song is "Continuous Celebration," a joyous flowing tune that you would be hard pressed to identify as based on an 8 1/2 beat cycle. Other selections range from the whimsically cross-cultural ("Irish Raga") to the profound ("There Is Only Light") to the outright blissful ("Infectuoso Groovatissimo"). "John Beyond" is dedicated to one of the pioneers of this kind of fusion, John McLaughlin, who strongly influenced Wubbenhorst.

Not Unlike: Shakti, Jonas Hellborg

©2003 Scott Allan Stevens, Earball Media

ARC Music

One of the great "world music" collaborators, Hossam Ramzy spans two worlds, with his Egyptian roots coexisting with backing work for artists as diverse as Robert Plant, Joan Armatrading, and Peter Gabriel. And talk about prolific - even before I sat down to write this review, his even-newer CD Sabla Tolo II had arrived in my mailbox. This percussion workhorse consistently turns out solid music, and the all-instrumental El-Sultaan is no exception. The traditional songs (explained in the brief, multilingual track notes) are all about love and passion and tradition. And as you might guess, they feature some fabulous percussion work. Among the seven musicians joining Ramzy are Samy El-Babli blowing his delightful quarter-tone trumpet, and Farouq Mohammed Hasan on quarter-tone accordion. If you like the rhythms and melodies of Egyptian music (but perhaps find the traditional reedy vocals too harsh) El-Sultaan may have you up and trying out some bellydance moves.

©2003 Scott Allan Stevens, Earball Media


Peace Code Records

Bluesy guitar-rock is not a mainstay of Spin the Globe's listening. But sprinkle in great songwriting, strong vocals and musicianship, and a little reggae/soca flavoring and my ears start perking up. Seattle-based Sister Guitar Band definitely delivers on their new CD, Universal Peace Experience. At the heart of the band are the playing of Teri Anne "Sister Guitar" Wilson and the vocals of Susan Sims (who also provides percussion). Their wide music experience is blazingly apparent on the CD, which starts out with some guitar feedback sliding into "Doorstep," a straight-ahead rocker complete with soaring Santana-esque guitar and a poignant refrain: "On the doorsetep of the thrift shop on the corner / I left my love for you."

Not to get morose, the band follows with the sweet love song "Needless to Say," the gritty blues vocals of "Kiss My Dimple," and the Caribbean-beat freedom anthem "Liberty Soca." They don't say exactly what this freedom is from, but in the current political climate, I've got some ideas.

My world-music-attuned ears most enjoy "Liberty Soca," the reggae-tinged "Bam-Bam," and the Latin "Mama Pastales." But with music of this quality, I'm eager to listen outside my usual genres. When Suze gets rolling with her powerful, scratchy vocals, as on "Lost and Found," you can't help but think of Janis Joplin. Of course, for the real comparison, you'll have to catch them live, performing one of their few covers, a reggae flavored take on "Piece of My Heart."

A variety of supporting musicians make solid contributions to the CD, including drummer Ronnie Bishop and bassist Rumpa (who rounded out the foursome that played live on Spin the Globe on Sept. 5, 2003).

SGB's well-crafted original songs use catchy hooks and great muscianship to push uplifting messages, "Our lyrics," Teri says, "come from a place of wanting to heal and make a positive experience happen for everybody." And that positive experience just happens to include a lot of dancing.

©2003 Scott Allan Stevens, Earball Media



Onzou Records

hear samples of Yaya Diallo's music here

This CD may come as a surprise to listeners who know Yaya Diallo from his previous albums, Nangape and Dounoukan, which focus on traditional West African drumming. Diallo goes electric on this forthcoming release, adding guitar, bass, drum set, sax, violin, backup singers, and more. The result is hypnotic dance music, with one foot planted in village music, the other kicking toward jazz and funk.

Leading the band with his voice and his djembe, Diallo romps through eight songs on subjects ranging from domestic violence to love to skunks. The music ebbs and flows, rolling over the listener in melodic waves. Repetitive patterns provide the musical foundation, as in more traditional Malian music, with the traditional kora riffs taken on by a combination of violin and guitar. Then Jody Golick's sax tears through the atmosphere as the thick, steady bass of Evan Manigat pushes the music along.

The minor modes keep the music sounding moody, even on praise songs like "Forgeron" (The Blacksmith) and the highly energetic "Samba the Trucker," which describes the boorish behavior of apprentice truckers. Giving a break from the dance tunes, the children's song "Chehon" (The Skunk) features a vocal call and response between Diallo and singers Fanta Koné, Delphine Pandoué, and Josiane Antourel, relating how skunk parents advise their children to be proud, even though nobody likes them.

Diallo's generous liner notes explain not just the individual songs, but also the concept of kanza, the fusing of past and the present music into something new, yet well-rooted. While it may sound like a break from his healing-oriented traditional albums, the same depth of meaning pervades this CD.

Recorded at Montreal's Club Soda in 1989, the music has aged well, maintaining the freshness and energy of the live performance. Although the audio quality isn't perfect and the hand drums are often hidden beneath other instruments, Live at Club Soda is a fine example of traditional music updated.

Not unlike: Abdel Kabirr & the Soto Koto Band, Les Têtes Brulées

©2003 Scott Allan Stevens, Earball Media

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