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Spin the Globe CD reviews for March 2003


ARC Music

In the multiplicity of Cuban musical styles, timba lies somewhere between salsa and traditional son, with funk, rap, and jazz elements sprinkled in for good measure. One of its leading proponents is Osvaldo Chacón, formerly of Bamboleo. Chacón, who has been called “the voice of timba,” uses his smooth, energetic voice to tie together a variety of musical styles on his second CD, from the reggae-tinged “Voy a Entrar” to the soca-rap of “Socala.” Though Chacón is now based in London, he returned to Havana to record this CD. As you’d expect with any good Cuban dance album, the arranging and performing are tight as a conga head. With a crisp horn section, funky bass lines by Alfredo Hechavarria (who also plays with Isaac Delgado) and flute licks by Policarpo "Polo" Tamayo of the Afro-Cuban All Stars, this CD will hit salsa-timba fans in all the right places.

©2003 Scott Allan Stevens


ARC Music

It’s refreshing to hear music that’s distinct amid the vast quantity of West African music available in the US today. Seckou Keita, a descendent of royal Malian lineage (and a member of Baka Beyond), is a talented drummer as well as a player of the kora, the harp-guitar of the jaliya (or griot). This CD takes nimble kora melodies and adds lively rhythms and vocals, along with less-traditional banjo, violin, and electric bass. The results vary from the original acoustic songs “Sakiliba” and “Baiyo (Orphan)” to the groovy, danceable “Sabu Nima,” an autobiographical song of luck and gratitude. Keita, rare in his straddling of the usually divided clans of royals and musicians, concludes with “Tamala,” a soulful solo kora tune that similarly straddles musical styles, often echoing classical guitar or oud. He attributes the discovery of this song to a mistake made while tuning his kora. Here’s to happy accidents!

©2003 Scott Allan Stevens


Domo Records

Tsugaru-shamisen player Hiromitsu Agatsuma occupies a space in the Japanese soundscape somewhere between seriously meditative traditional music and the bubblegum pop of “musicians” picked more for cuteness than talent. Beams, his first US release, is far too slippery for easy categorization. This all-instrumental CD has a way of floating toward, say, a new-age sound, then veering off at the last minute and becoming jazz or fusion. The title track starts off with an electronic shimmer and a driving programmed beat, which are quickly grounded by Agatsuma’s plucky melody. “In the Rain” and “Curfew” are somber, atmospheric pieces, while “On Bourbon Street” is backed with dynamic acoustic drumming. The programmed music is somewhat bland and easily could become tiresome without Agatsuma’s presence. I’d love to hear the talented Agatsuma playing with a group such as Tabla Beat Science. Despite a few shortcomings, Beams is a fun enjoyable effort.

©2003 Scott Allan Stevens


Candela/Tinder Records

The latest in Tinder Records’ salsa-around-the-world series, Salsa Creole is a aural tour of Afro-Caribbean musical styles from zouk to bolero to jazz to…yes, salsa! The highlights include piano virtuoso Mario Canoge from Martinique, whose jazzy “Adelante” features some powerful keywork, tempo changes, and energy. Former bank clerk and Kassav singer Ralph “Crooner of the Caribbean” Thamar shimmies through the salsa opener “Un Nueva Era” and the merengue “Philosophie.” The variety of styles threatens to spin out of control, though even Edith Lefel’s homage to Edith Piaf, “La Foule,” toes the line by combining the vocals of French chanson with the music of Cuban bolero. The liner notes include interesting information on the performers, who also include Soubou & Africando (Haiti), Haitiando (Miami), Bago (Martinique), Henri Guédon (Martinique), and Malavoi (Martinique). Salsa Creole doubles up on some countries, while omitting other seemingly obvious candidates like Cuba and the Dominican Republic. And this otherwise sharp compilation is marred by a production anomoly that left Haitian singer Dominique Sylvain’s “Merci la Vie” noticably softer than the rest of the CD.

©2003 Scott Allan Stevens

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