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World Music CD Reviews, May 2005

TEA: VOYAGES DU JOUR
Lost Grove Records

info : buy CD : Band Website

My first listen to Tea was disappointing. The liner notes list contributing musicians from Benin, Congo, Selegal Cameroon, Nigeria, and the USA - surely the makings of some fabulous Afropop! But the instrumentation is modern, the arrangements smooth, the singing subdued. No Fela attitude, no djembe solos. Still, there's something intiguing about the music. Tea inhabits a different reality, calling their style "progressive global music." Tea's driving duo are French guitarist Franck Balloffet and Southern California drummer/keyboardist Phil Bunch, both of whom have a background in jazz, pop, and other styles. Their compositions inhabit a space somewhere between Cameroonian jazz, global chill, and the multicultural orchestrations of Ray Lema. The first half of the CD is very mellow, after which Tea kicks up the energy a notch (just a notch, mind you) with the club-beat pace of "Sinfomania" and an upbeat song of joy called "Fever." The arrangements never spin out of control, the orchestration leaves little space for soloing. Solid, consistant, and emotionally distant, Voyages Du Jour is probably better background than active-listening music, and while musically very accessible, it may not satisfy the cravings of world music fans.

©2005 Scott Allan Stevens, Earball Media

SVÄNG: SVANG
Aito Records

artist site : buy CD/hear samples

Sväng, the record label claims, "is a refreshing and uplifting new phenomenon in the genre of harmonica bands." Frankly, I was unaware that harmonica bands had earned their own genre. I'll leave that point to the experts. The point of this CD is to spread what I can only describe as wonderful and surprising music. The quartet begins with a slightly dissonent rising tone that leads to "Jampparaleele," a bouncy tune that sounds like an accordion being pulled in four directions at once. Then the tango melancholy of "Kaipaustango" with a completly different tone, grounded by the low, low bass harmonica. And with the swing of "Saaren Erakko" kicks in, any last suspicion fades that this is just a novelty band. Playing chromatic, diatonic, harmonetta, and bass harmonicas, Sväng achieves a balance and richness you might not expect. They move seamlessly from originals, to traditional Romanian, Finnish, Russian, and Swedish tunes, even the American "Sandy Boys and Hangman's Reel." Sväng seems to cultivate a retro aura, from the sepia CD cover to their songwriting. You'll find no electronic effects here, and the concluding song "Svängtime Rag" could be the soundtrack to an old silent comedy. If you're deadset against reedy music, steer clear. But open-minded world music listeners and harp players and fans will find a lot to like in this energetic and emotionally rich album.

Sväng is:
Eero Turkka, chromatic and diatonic harmonicas
Eero Grundström, chromatic and diatonic harmonicas
Jouko Kyhälä, Harmonetta, chromatic, and diatonic harmonicas,
Pasi Leino, bass harmonica

©2005 Scott Allan Stevens, Earball Media

BAKA BEYOND: RHYTHM TREE
March Hare Music

artist site : buy CD/hear samples

Baka Beyond has been quiet of late, quieter since the demise of WOMAD USA (they appeared in 2001). And it's been three years since their last album, East to West. But they've been busy in the meantime, and the new CD Rhythm Tree makes it worth the wait. The band that arguably pioneered the "Afro-Celt" concept (with a far more organic, less clubby vibe than the band bearing that moniker) beautifully layers Baka vocals and rhythms with lyrics and melodies from Celtic tradition. Highlights include "Sad Among Strangers," a rhythmic jam that, before it got a more dignified name, the band originally referred to as "Smack Your Buttocks." And "Kobo" sounds like a relaxed evening party in the rainforest. The band's engagement with the African culture that inspires its music (read more at bakabeyond.co.uk) should be a model for all musical wanderers of the globe. Rhythm Tree abounds with feel-good world fusion, and in this case that's a great thing.

Addendum...Concert review: Baka Beyond played at Olympia's Capitol Theater April 23 as the finale to both their US tour and the annual Procession of the Species parade/celebration. The band was a bit ragged after a long tour, a long night in Vancouver BC the previous day, and a long drive to Olympia. Su Hart had lost most of her voice, and was relegated to singing soft harmony with singer Denise Rowe taking the lead. The band was tight, with Martin Cradick (guitar), Sam Djengue (bass), and Nii Tagoe (percussion) valiantly pushing their energy for the group and the audience, who needed little urging to get up and dance. Still, the missing vocals and some sound-system glitches combined to take the shine off what could have been a jewel in Olympia's world-music year. After waiting so long to hear this band, whose organic Afro-Celt style is so enjoyable on their recordings, I left the theater wanting more, and better.

©2005 Scott Allan Stevens, Earball Media

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BABATUNDE OLATUNJI: CIRCLE OF DRUMS
Chesky

artist site : buy CD/hear samples

Mere mortality can't stop the rhythm. Two years after the passing of legendary Nigerian-born drummer Babatunde Olatunji, fans have a chance to hear more of the master's beats. Originally recorded in 1993 in Menlo Park, California, Circle of Drums was never commercially released. The CD includes some instruments not usually associated with drum circles: Harry Ely's hammered dulcimer on "Embracement" and James Gurley's one-stringed Indian ektar lute (that must be it on "Incantations," though the notes stubbornly refuse to break down instrumentation for individual tracks). And the heart of it, of course, is the deep drumming and chanting Olatunji fans will expect. The sound is clear and balanced, and the six tracks (ranging from around six to 21 minutes long) each have a distinct flavor, if a more mellow energy than other drumming discs.

©2005 Scott Allan Stevens, Earball Media

MICHAEL SPIRO / MICHAEL WILLIAMS: BATAMBIRA
BataMbira Productions

artist site : buy CD/hear samples

Yum. Yum, yum. yum! Two great tastes in one. Shona and Santeria/Orisha traditions may be miles apart geographically, even spiritually, but in the hands of Michaels Spiro and Williams, their musics blend beautifully, woven so tightly and harmoniously it's hard to believe they weren't always played together. Williams writes in the CD notes about the serendipitous conversation that ended up pairing his interest in Zimbabwean mbira with Spiro's knowledge of the Cuban bata drum. Listening to this CD, it's boggling to discover that these sounds, from traditions rooted so deeply in Africa, are emerging from a couple of Euro-Americans. Their playing is as beautiful as it is respectful as they play songs about ancestors, nature, and spirit. Enhancing the sounds are musical partners Sylvain Leroux (Fula flute), Jesus Diaz (vocals and timbal), Munose (Bansuri flute) and Sonyalsis Feldman (vocals). "Sometimes we're called upon to do things regardless of the cost," writes Michael Spiro, "whether that cost is measured in time, money, energy, or endurance. This record is such a calling.... yet there was never a doubt in our minds that it had to be completed." Any lover of Afro-Cuban music will delight in this highly recommended album.

©2005 Scott Allan Stevens, Earball Media

CORVUS CORAX: BEST OF CORVUS CORAX
Noir Records

artist site : buy CD/hear samples

US-based fans of medieval heavy drums and pipes, rejoice! Thanks to a signing with Noir Records, the really-retro sounds of the band with the attitude and the avian name are now available without the hassle of importing. As we mentioned in January (see review), Corvus Corax is chock full of pipes, moody chants, pounding drums, and 'tude. The music's strange crossover appeal may find fans of medieval, world, heavy metal, and hiphop all digging the same CD. I didn't know that multi-lane bridge was in need of building, but there you are. Check your preconceptions at the door and you might find yourself loving this music.

©2005 Scott Allan Stevens, Earball Media

 

Other recent arrivals of note:

KONONO N° 1: CONGOTRONICS (Crammed Discs)
info : buy CD

It is entirely possible that an amplified, slightly distorted likembe creates the most awesome sound on earth. There's no other sound quite like it, and there's no other band like Konono No. 1, the assemblage of Bazombo musicians, dancers, and singers from Democratic Republic of the Congo (formerly Zaire) that makes the likembe the center of their sound. It's something of an accidental update on Bazombo trance music, and it's thrillingly unique stuff, a torrent of kinetic sound that straddles the line between the traditional and the avant-garde. Konono employ three electric likembes-- each in a different register-- and the amplification is very makeshift. The band formed in the 1980s to perform its traditional music, but soon found that being heard above the street noise of Kinshasa wasn't a going concern as long as they remained strictly acoustic. Scavenging magnets from car parts, they built their own microphones and pickups, and they augmented their percussion section with hi-hat and assorted scrap metal. Konono No. 1 are the kind of band that remind us that music still possesses vast wells of untapped potential, and that there's virtually no limit to what can be developed and explored. (Pitchfork)

GIORGIO CONTE: LA BELLE VIE... (Nocturne)
info : buy CD

For more than 30 years, Giorgio Has told, lawyer?sti (Pi?nt), in love with nature and amateur of good kitchen, composes of the songs taken again by large interpr?s like Wilson Pickett, Milva, Mina, Mireille Mathieu, Ornella Vanoni, Adriano Celentano, Francesco Baccini, Paolo Conte. Did its songs make the turn of the world and have? often enregistr?, sold per d.exemplaires million. But for him, passionn?e jazz, of popular music and large chansonniers fran?s, the music n.a repr?nt?usqu.?r?nt qu.un. hobby. of luxury. During 1993, it d?de n?moins to go up for the premi? time on Sc?. Do the public and the Swiss, Austrian and Italian critic have much appr??a m?dic vein of this new chansonnier? from 53 years, which likes pr?nter with an acoustic formation. Repercussions of left Bank, jazz-haversack, popular songs and beautiful songs d.amour, cr?t a atmosph? feelings and of r?s qu.on believed to n.appartenir qu.au pass?Sa participation in the Festival. Premio Tenco. of Sanremo in 1993, with artists like Francesco Guccini, Paolo Tells, Eugenio Finardi, has favorably impressionn?a critical: . Corriere della Will be. d?ni Giorgio Conte has. most beautiful d?uverte of the Old Festival.. tubes, new songs, a soft voice and velout?: with these simple ingr?ents, Giorgio Conte has r?si?nthousiasmer and to amuse an authentic public still d?reux d.atmosph?s. (sad Babelfish translation of Nocturne album notes)

JAZZINHO: JAZZINHO (Streetbeat Records)
info : buy CD

For the unusual in Brazilian jazz, give JAZZINHO a listening to, for it is so full of vim and vigor it is bound to capture your interest from beginning to ending. This CD collection moves with imaginative verve. There are ten songs in the collection, and a bonus track titled "Sim Ou Nao" (remix). Among the songs are "Yambou," "Velejou," "Astral," "Camponesa," and "Telefone." If you enjoy fast-paced Brazilian music, you will want this one for your home collection! JAZZINHO is contemporary Brazilian jazz at its best. (Jazzreview.com)

KIRSTEN BRATEN BERG, MARILYN MAZUR, & LENA WILLMARK: STEMMENES SKYGGE / SHADOW OF VOICES (Grappa Musikkforlag as)
info : buy CD

Norwegian Kirsten Bråten Berg (vocals, jew's harp), Sweden's Lena Willemark (vocals, violin, viola), and Danish percussionist Marilyn Mazur join together for is going to be one of the great Nordic recordings of 2005. 'Voices' Shadow' is a pure trio recording, unadorned and yet ornate in structure, deeply rooted in tradition and yet almost avant garde in performance, and a total joy to listen to. (CDRoots)

LAMA GYURME & JEAN-PHILIPPE RYKIEL: THE LAMA'S CHANTS- SONGS OF AWAKENING / ROADS OF BLESSINGS (Narada)
info : buy CD

It's been exactly ten years since the release of "The Lama's Chant/Songs Of Awakening" by Tibetan Monk Lama Gyurme and French keyboards wizard Jean-Philippe Rykiel. This stunning album - a musical UFO in the musical landscape of the mid-nineties - was highly successful in Europe (more than 200,000 copies sold), especially in Spain (where it was certified gold), in Italy and France. Released worldwide, "The Lama's Chant" became a "classic" and remains unequalled. To celebrate this tenth anniversary, Last Call and Taktic Music are re-releasing a remastered version of "The Lama's Chant/Songs Of Awakening," along with a bonus CD of unreleased live recordings. Recorded during the 1995/96/97 and 2000/2001 tours, these live performances convey an impressive feeling of power lead by the highly inspired voice of Lama Gyurme literally wrapped up by the keyboards of Jean-Philippe Rykiel and Loy Ehrlich.

OOJAMI: URBAN DERVISH (Mondo Melodia)
info : buy CD

Hailing from the Mediterranean town of Bodrum on the southern coast of Turkey, Necmi Cavli, the composer and “music weaver” of Oojami, has put together traditional sounds of Turkey and the Far East along with funked up electronic beats and grooves. Fitting right into the heady multi-cultural underground North London clubs – one of which is Necmi's own Hubble Bubble club – this is an entirely new “bellydance” soundtrack. It is full of surprises, some of which will stop your ear until you can jump into the breakbeat melange. Traditional Middle Eastern music purists might not find this style of arrangement to be their cup of chai, but then again, there is plenty of authenticity embedded within the breakbeats and “sound effects.” Evocative, almost cinematic musicial excursions return to fond renditions of village modalities. Oojami seizes past and future and weaves an altogether new kind of space, and like space, it is deep, given to harboring phantoms and parallel universes. Quite a trip! (aljadid.com)

MATISYAHU: LIVE AT STUBB'S (JDub)
band site: buy CD

Though his message and music are easily identifiable as reggae, the act is still initially a tough sell. Any all-white reggae band will always have a tough time gaining credibility, let alone one fronted by a guy garbed in the attire of an 18th century Polish Jew. Matisyahu is the first to acknowledge the apparent oddity. "On one hand it works to our disadvantage because people have all these preconceived notions about what we do. But, one the other hand," he continues, "it works to our advantage because we're like a sneak attack on people. They expect one thing, and leave surprisingly pleased. It's rare that you can genuinely surprise people." The band lays down an authentic stripped down dirty reggae-dub sound. The trio made up of Aaron Dugan on guitar, and the tight rhythm section of Josh Werner, and Jonah David on bass and drums respectively, boils the music down to its bare essentials while emitting a surprisingly dense sound. Matisyahu adds a wide octave voice which he displays in songs and spiritual chanting, and topping it off is his fierce beat-boxing ability. As he says, "the music speaks for itself. atisyahu's mission is simple he wants people to come to his shows with an open mind, and he tries to fill both the mind and soul with a certain Ruach (spirit). "My hope is that you take this music and let it inspire you and that you can incorporate that inspiration into your life. I want to help people build their own vessels, and show them it can be done." Not only is Matisyahu building vessels around the country, but he is also building a reputation as one of the must-see acts of 2005. He released his second album Live at Stubbs, in April 2005 and is constantly touring supporting the album. Just do not expect him to catch him on a Friday night.

(full review at jambands.com)

TRANS-GLOBAL UNDERGROUND: IMPOSSIBLE BROADCASTING (Triloka/Artemis)
artist site: buy CD

Here is news from the world-electronica frontier. We have seen the heights to which the mighty Trans-Global Underground have scaled, crossing cultural barriers with such seeming effortlessness that even their early Dream of 100 Nations still sounds as other-worldly as it is this-worldly. Where the departure of Natacha Atlas made 2001's Yes Boss Food Corner an unexpected feast of African elements, sitar, and churning techno, this time around the fire burns more slowly. Production-wise, the TGU crew are working themselves into a clear, uncluttered sound that lets all their diverse elements shine through. Impossible Broadcasting travels a darker groove for these darker times, and there is a pervasive dub influence on the album. The CD starts out sounding a sonic warning; "This is London," says a voice, "Do not be afraid...What music do you like?" This and the track "Radio Unfree Europe" (with its "Go home!" sample) hint at a more overt political stance than Trans-Global Underground has ever mustered: these are claustrophobic moments for a band that has welcomed the world onto the dance floor. "Drinking in Gomorrah" even matches an entrepreneur's reflections on years of travelling with a restless techno beat, as he finally resigns himself to the moment of "sitting on the same stool...wearing the same shoes...eating the same food." New sonic adventures are provided by the inclusion of the Trio Bulgarka, but overall, Impossible Broadcasting seems like a leaner, wiser Trans-Global Underground for the current age. (rootsworld.com)

SO CALLED: THE SO CALLED SEDER-A HIP HOP HAGGADAH (JDub)
info : buy CD

While the concept album is nothing new, So Called's mashing of beats and Jewish culture is, as he puts it, made with "Jewish music from the bottom up." Dolgin accomplishes this by layering samples from Yiddish theatre and cantorial music on top of Negro spirituals and hip-hop beats, and, in doing so, discovers a link between Judaism and rap that no one else had the meshugaas to notice. Enlisting the aid of the Wu-Tang's Killah Priest, the incredible Hasidic reggae beat boxer Matisyahu, and several local rappers, musicians and DJs, this album proves that the Seder is indeed the funkiest part of Passover. My reservations about this album are threefold: a) at times he layers so much sound on a track that the wall of sound he creates feels ready to fall on the listener, b) the rapping on some tracks is weak, and c) you can't play this album on the Sabbath or High Holidays. (ottawaxpress.ca)

SHARON SHANNON & FRIENDS: LIBERTANGO (Compass)
info : buy CD

The sixth album by Irish accordionist and peripatetic world-music adventurer Sharon Shannon begins and ends promisingly. It's what comes in between that's troublesome. Libertango opens with a rollicking Irish melody that's quickly augmented by a swaggering Latin horn chorus. Like the album's closer, a version of the same song startlingly reworked for rapper Marvel, it's a bracingly fresh combination. But in between, Shannon seems to lose her nerve, retreating into a succession of traditional Irish dance tunes and ballads - augmented by such guests as Sinead O'Connor, Trevor Hutchinson and Donal Lunny - that could have been done by anyone. Shannon and her fans have long since discovered that her greatest talent is her ability to mix Celtic music stylishly with that of other cultures. Libertango' shows, for better and for worse, that she should pursue that talent single-mindedly. (Boston Herald)

 



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