Adriano Adewale: Comboio

I admit I have to get used to some of the vocals that appear on Sementes. So far I can't quite get my ears around them. It isn't because they are not good. I just don't know whether they are or not because I have no frame of reference. In the end I have to figure that out on my own. In the meantime, there are vocals on "Comboio." But they are treated more as rhythm than as melody. That makes it easier for me.

Composer and percussionist Adriano plays the tarol, a Brazilian snare drum that is shallower than a traditional snare drum. It is lightweight and often worn over the shoulder. According to tradition it helps guide the overall percussion in a band by its constant "rolling." Adewale certainly does a lot of rolling on this piece.

This jazz is a mix of cultures. There are the African sounds of Nigeria and Angola. The South American sounds of Brazil are tangible. There is some European flavor. I even hear Klezmer. The music also has a classical feel to it sometimes evoking Leonard Bernstein and his West Side Story era. "Comboio" means convoy or to escort in Portuguese. So I need to add another cultural influence to my list.

The beat is the key ingredient to the success of this song. But the happily innocent melody is a strong supporter. A propulsive rhythm, played solely on the tarol, introduces the cut. We are exuberant. Soon a more jungle-like atmosphere envelops us. We are a bit worried as clarinets and flutes are heard in the distance. We don't know where we are. A repeating voice is heard. At first the repetition is quiet and slow. Soon it becomes faster, louder and more urgent. The tension builds until released in the joyful reprise of the song's main theme. All's well that ends well.

This was an interesting listen. Perhaps it will help me create my own frame of reference so I can go back and dig the rest of the music.

November 12, 2008 · 0 comments


Ablaye Cissoko & Volker Goetze: Domain Domain

This magical (and most unlikely!) intersection of cultures produces a surprising result. To be fair, "surprising" may seem like an odd description given the fact that I'd never considered the combination of the West African kora with a trumpet before. With the wide tonal range available on the 21-string kora, Ablaye Cissoko is able to maintain a solid bassline and a series of beautiful and ringing arpeggios over which Volker Goetze weaves his melody. There's also a call-&-response feel here as Goetze drops back for a few short solo passages. Truly mesmerizing stuff.

October 27, 2008 · 0 comments


Todd Sickafoose: Future Flora

People like to draw sharp lines between musical genres – pop, rock, jazz, classical, country, folk, world (whatever the heck that means). There can be music that crosses over, but most listeners seem confused by that kind of thing. Which is why I was so happy to stumble onto this Todd Sickafoose recording. See, my pop side (which honestly doesn't care if it gets mixed up with jazz) knew of him only as the bass player for Ani DiFranco. It turns out that Sickafoose has a whole other side, that of.....uhm...well, whatever this music is.

Some bass triplets introduce a few ringing guitar notes & scrapes before the entire group settles down into a nice, deep groove. That sense of forward motion is enhanced by the occasional break where the band drops away and those opening notes are revisited. As things proceed, instruments pop in and out to comment, including short trumpet/vibraphone unison lines, and some terrific electric guitar work. Very thought-provoking stuff from my new favorite pop/jazz/world/folk instrumental artist. Sort of.

October 13, 2008 · 0 comments


John Handy & Ali Akbar Khan: Ganesha's Jubilee Dance

The two albums recorded by John Handy and Ali Akbar Khan, Karuna Supreme (1975) and Rainbow (1980), are among the most successful fusions of jazz and Indian raga forms. Handy and Khan had been playing together periodically for several years before their first recording, which may help to explain Handy's relaxed and assured ability to adjust to the non-Western harmonic concepts, rhythms and tonalities of this challenging music, while still maintaining his individuality.

The 9-minute "Ganesha's Jubilee Dance," from Karuna Supreme, is inspired by Ganesha, the elephant-headed god who is the son of Shiva, the god of music, and is based on the raga called "Jhinjoti," meaning "vibrate your body." The joyful, skipping theme is played by Handy, who then soars into his first solo already in full flight. His distinctly boppish lines contrast with more Eastern-sounding tonal effects. After reasserting the theme, Khan solos, his nimble fingers creating delicate yet emphatic structures. Handy again states the theme, and his second improvisation then ventures into the upper register with a pinched timbre, before swooping down to the lower depths of his horn. From there, he repeats mesmerizing rhythmic patterns and finally adopts the complex rhythms being laid down by Hussain's tabla. Khan next delivers a more intense solo than his first, his phrasing more jazz-like in both nature and spirit. He and Hussain reach a stirring dual climax. Handy again mimics the tabla's beats in his closing statement, which includes some additional ecstatic runs. The theme is restated to satisfyingly complete the cycle.

September 20, 2008 · 0 comments


Surinder Sandhu: Avi's Theme

World jazz player and composer Surinder Sandhu thinks in grand scales. This time out he has tackled another huge project. A grant was awarded in celebration of Liverpool, England's being named "European City of Culture 2008." Sandhu was given the task of writing music for the occasion, and his own band of musicians was to be augmented by the 75 members of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra. Not surprisingly, he was thrilled to be given the opportunity. However, just as he was to begin composing, his nephew Avi tragically died. Sandhu found it impossible to even think about music. After mourning his nephew, Sandhu made several unsuccessful attempts at composing. His heart was just not in it. Finally inspiration returned when he went back to England from India. Sandhu says the music then poured out of him very quickly. Fittingly, the first cut on The Fictionist is entitled "Avi's Theme."

The Fictionist is comprised of 10 sections, but is written in such a way that it should be considered one long piece. "Avi's Theme" is everything you expect these days from Sandhu. It is a dramatic mix of European orchestral flourishes, Indian and Spanish (almost Argentinean) rhythms, with some modern Indian, funk and free jazz mixed in. Much of this modern music is produced by the ancient instruments of India, Sandhu's sarangi being chief among them. But there are also the sounds of electricity. On this particular tune it is Sandhu's sarangi, a bowed string instrument, and Chris Aldridge's saxophone that provide the most interest. Trish's accordion is also of note as it is played in the style of the Argentinean bandoneón. "Avi's Theme" is a fully realized effort full of scope and dynamic twists and turns. It almost gets you ready for what will follow.

August 30, 2008 · 0 comments


Jonas Hellborg: Aram of Damascus

The album title alludes to references in the Bible, though not explicitly verifiable. In the Bible, Aram referred to the country and the peoples between two unnamed rivers. But it is accepted that these are the Euphrates and Tigris. We know this general area as ancient Mesopotamia. Even though this land is mostly located in today's Iraq, more often than not when "Aram" is mentioned, it refers to Syria.

Bass phenomenon Jonas Hellborg never takes on easy projects. The success of this music is based upon a solemn approach. This is world jazz music performed under some very restrictive tenets. Even a slight hint that this reverential music had turned into a jam would ruin the performance. Here, before a live crowd, Hellborg plays the acoustic bass with the facility of a guitarist on light-gauge strings. He is both the rhythmic and melodic center of this excursion based on the Arabic scale. Joined by Mased Sri al Deen on Ney, a Persian flute, and Arab percussionists, Hellborg explores the most holy of all topics in a penetrating yet respectful way.

August 10, 2008 · 1 comment


Omar Sosa: D'Son

Omar Sosa carries on with his attempt at blending his native Cuban musical breeding (which included both piano and percussion) with the rest of the Black Diaspora's culture in an all-embracing syncretic perspective. In the process he has borrowed from Northern and Black Africa as well as from the whole of South America, and from jazz improvisation as well as from European classical music. This tune is based on the Cuban danzon tradition, but is treated more in a composer's way than in a performer's. Sosa refrains from extrovert Latin licks, and confronts the poised soloing of the flute, then the flugelhorn, with the intricate rhythmic maze of the percussionists. Then his own piano soars and slowly builds a climax with few but beautifully phrased notes. Indeed, Sosa is a searching musician who will get trapped in neither his own multi-instrumental virtuosity nor the clichés of his Cuban origins.

July 31, 2008 · 0 comments


Miles From India: All Blues

Miles had a cool period, and a fusion period, but the Prince of Darkness never went through a Carnatic phase. Even so, his music, especially from the modal period, is well suited for the multicultural angle of the Miles From India project. For my part, I give high marks to any session that puts the great ghatam player Vikku Vinayakram in a rhythm section alongside Ron Carter and Jimmy Cobb, and mixes sitar and alto sax in the front line. (Front line? Perhaps I should call it the front half lotus position.) Producer Bob Belden gets high marks just for the bravado of his vision. But the fun doesn't stop there. The band tackles "All Blues" in 5/4 just to add some more curry into an already spicy mix. In an age of tribute projects that are as tasty as last week's leftovers, this one delights the palette.

July 28, 2008 · 0 comments


Marc Rossi: Hidden Mandala

Pianist Marc Rossi is onto something here. That is not to say that he hasn't been onto something for quite some time during an impressive career. A respected Berklee faculty member, Rossi is himself a devoted student of Hindustani and Carnatic music. That is a rarity for a Western keyboard player. I am aware of only two established jazz pianists who have decided to follow in any way the precepts of Indian music (which lacks a piano history) to influence their composing and playing. The other would be Stu Goldberg. That being said, Goldberg, though not exclusively, seems to focus more on the traditional sounds of India. Rossi tends to play a Western keyboard style in the context of Indian music's cycles. But a single listen to this album makes clear that Rossi and his band are not tied down to any rules of any music. As a result, much of the music on Hidden Mandala has nothing to do with Indian tala cycles or ragas.

"Hidden Mandala" is a totally modern straight-ahead jazz piece frameworked within the traditions of the raga. Rossi's piano plays the introduction. The bass and then the sax enter. The rhythm starts. The vocals of Geetha Bennet double the melody. A very strange and wondrous thing happens at this point. Despite the undoubtedly sonorous Indian sound of Bennett, her voice in combination with the instrumentation and rhythms makes the tune sound like a Spanish and Indian hybrid, which is something I have not heard before. It is like Flora Purim and Airto meet Shakti. This synergy is counterintuitive. The song is somewhat circular in nature, returning to Indian structure and Western tones, and features several outstanding solos, until an Indian orchestrated final section. These players are definitely in touch with their hidden mandalas. This music is high energy, high concept and high culture.

July 21, 2008 · 0 comments


Debashish Bhattacharya: Gypsy Anandi

Lately this strange and wonderful recording keeps finding its way back to my CD player. Everyone I share this music with is just as captivated as I am. Debashish Bhattacharya plays Indian slide guitar -- imagine Elmore James growing up in Calcutta -- and the end result is a music so fresh and different that you too will keep coming back for more. The cultural ingredients on this track will defy your best efforts to separate and identify. Yes, there are the expected Indian and blues elements, and a dose of Romani traditions (as the song title implies); but I also hear a Celtic lilt and echoes of bluegrass. But don't try to figure it out, just sit back and enjoy the finished product. Debashish Bhattacharya is a remarkable artist, and this CD is one of the most creative releases of the year.

July 21, 2008 · 0 comments


Myriam Alter: Was It There

Though it does happen, it is not too often an album comes out under the name of someone who doesn't even perform on it. In this case that someone is Belgian composer Myriam Alter. It is an interesting story, really. Alter had been outside the music business for years studying psychology, overseeing a dance school and even working for an ad agency. At age 36, she decided to get back into the fray and formed a jazz band with herself on piano. But beginning in 1997 she focused on composing, eschewing playing, and has put out three albums using this model. For Where Is There she gathered a cast of international musicians to interpret her latest works.

The album is thematic in nature. However, individual tunes may be listened to without any loss of effectiveness. "Was It There" offers an empathetic piano as introduction. Arabian scales and percussion runs soon dominate and create the framework of the piece. An unmistakable "Caravan" vibe takes over. The tune is calmer than that classic, but it is a slower trip to the same place. John Ruocco and his clarinet enjoy the most space. The clarinet's deep and alluring sounds beckon us to come along. This music is a successful attempt at melding world music, folk and jazz.

July 15, 2008 · 0 comments


Gotan Project: Tríptico

How odd that the most popular tango band of the new millennium is a Paris-based ensemble founded by a French DJ. Yet Philippe Cohen Solal, composer of this track and driving force behind Gotan Project, presciently understood that tango could serve as an ingredient in an electrified, groove-oriented world fusion sound. Heck, how many tango bands dare cover a Frank Zappa tune? When the producers of the hit film Shall We Dance looked for a tango for a sensual dance scene featuring Jennifer Lopez and Richard Gere, they didn't pick Piazzolla, but rather a sultry number from this band. La Revancha del Tango has sold more than a million copies, and has ushered in a new era of electro-tango, where the programmer is as important as the bandoneón player. Sometimes this band gets too close to background music for my tastes, but this edgy track, the longest performance from the group's debut CD, has a jazzy feel and relentless groove. Will Gotan Project have staying power? The verdict is still out. But no matter what the future holds for this band, tango music will never be the same.

July 10, 2008 · 0 comments


Narcotango: Mejor Asi

Tango continues to evolve in the new millennium, as demonstrated by Carlos Libedinsky's Narcotango, which draws on the rich traditions of the genre while mixing in loops and samples and other digital paraphernalia. Yet the effects are never an end in themselves, and Libedinsky succeeds through an artful combination of diverse elements into a fresh hybrid that both respects the music's heritage while taking it in new directions. He has built a global audience for this music -- half of his CD sales now come outside of Argentina, and Narcotango makes regular overseas tours. Here chill-out ambient sounds cross paths with music for a sensual dance in one of the most intriguing world fusion projects of recent years.

June 29, 2008 · 0 comments


David Rogers: Oboo Ketua Nyom

Tracks likes this make it worthwhile to dig into the unheralded indie label CDs that come out every week. Most up-and-coming tenor saxophonists show off what they have learned from Coltrane, Rollins, Lovano, Getz and other past masters. But Rogers dishes out tenor playing here that cuts through all the tired jazz clichés -- it is almost as if his music sprang up fully formed outside the jazz tradition, without any telltale licks to reveal his sources. Of course, Rogers's long stint in Ghana may have helped open his ears to sounds outside the bop-to-free coordinates that direct most of his peers. His composition "Oboo Ketua Nyom" is inspired by the music of the Dagara and Lobi peoples, and is supported by a drummer and two gyil (pronounced JEE-lee) players. The gyil is a Dagara xylophone, and Rogers builds his solos primarily from pentatonic lines that reflect the scale of this instrument. He moves through slow, fast and medium sections, but in a holistic way that few jazz works achieve. This is world fusion jazz at its finest.

February 09, 2008 · 0 comments


Chris McGregor: MRA

In the early '70s, Chris McGregor and the members of his Blue Notes – who had fled the apartheid regime of their native South Africa, where a racially mixed band was unwelcome – had settled in London. That’s where the pianist recruited some of the best local musicians to bring his sextet to the size of a big band. This track is not only typical of the African side of the Brotherhood of Breath, it’s also a great arrangement where each section enters after another in turn, and comes back again to build a gorgeous tapestry of melodic and rhythmic layers. So much so that nobody ever has the idea to even take the slightest solo. Collective work at its best!

January 21, 2008 · 0 comments


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