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Music Reviews

Guedra Guedra – "Vexillology" – [On the Corner]

aarbor   12/8/2021   CD, International

Guedra Guedra is the DJ name of Abdellah M. Hassak from Morocco who plays with the spiritual polyrhythms of gnawa, the looping vocalisations of Sufism and the percussive tessellations of Berber folk. The sounds of the North African cultures meet in the music of Morocco. These rhythms are the core of his work. The name Guedra Guedra comes from the Berber dance music performed on the guedra drum. Vexillology, his debut full length is 13 complex (and wonderful) tracks. Seven Poets samples a group chant over birdsong and snappy hi-hats that evoke footwork’s stacked rhythms – bringing together the dancefloors of Chicago and the desert-scape of Berber song. The Chicago sound also leaves its mark on the bouncy Stampede Step with its shrill flute melody and growling bassline, and Aura samples the chants of the Zayane mountain community: chopping their circular incantations over rumbling sub-bass, the effect renders them as verse with a kind of crowd sound. Instead of simply pasting decontextualised field recordings over bright electronics, Hassak integrates these folk elements into the mix and allows them to breathe. He incorporates the clatter of the bendir drum on the rollicking Aura, a smattering of hand claps over the house piano of Cercococcyx, and the shrill arpeggios of the taghanimt flute on the drum machine-heavy 40’ Feet. Not to be missed! AArbor

Il Complesso Di Tada – “Il Complesso Di Tada” – [Record Kicks]

aarbor   12/8/2021   CD, International

Il Complesso Di Tada is a “super band” directed by Massimo Martellotta some special guests who are true national icons (in Italy) such as Elio from Elio e Le Storie Tese, Nina Zilli and Filippo Timi. Il Complesso di Tadà focuses on the grooviest and hip-shakingest side of Italian mid ’60s Italian TV Shows music. From the opening single, Piero Umiliani’s masterpiece, Mah Na Mah Na to the beat explosion of Il Surf Delle Mattonelle and Ma Che Colpa Abbiamo Noi to classic Italian treasures such as Sapore Di Sale and Guarda Che Luna, it’s a “super cool mid 60s experience”. The sound is tight, poppy and punchy, full of percussive rhythms, wild organs and groovy percussion. There are also some groovy instrumental tracks such as Veloce, Non Troppo, Allegro and Movimentato all composed by Massimo Martellotta, which reflect his admiration for one of the great Italian soundtrack composers Piero Umiliani. AArbor

Ragab, Salah & The Cairo Jazz Band – "Egypt Strut" – [Strut]

aarbor   12/8/2021   12-inch, International

Salah Ragab was an Egyptian drummer and bandleader. While serving in the Egyptian army, Ragab tried to form a jazz band with American saxophonist Mac X. Spears in the early 1960s, but Spears left the country soon after. At a concert by Randy Sexton, Ragab befriended German diplomat Hartmut Geerken and Eduard Vizvari, and they became the Cairo Jazz Band. In his work for the military’s department of music Ragab selected musicians to join the big band and taught them jazz. The Cairo Jazz Band performed for the first time at American University in 1969, performing original works in addition to music by Count Basie and Dizzy Gillespie, then in Alexandria and Cairo. The band recorded in the early 1970s. Geerken invited Sun Ra, who made a few visits to Egypt. Ragab performed with Ra in 1971 and 1983. Ra recorded two of Ragab’s songs: “Dawn” and “Egypt Strut” (both on this record). This is the Strut re-release of an important record – it’s his first of 3. Like many other jazz recordings made around the world during the 1960s and ’70s “it refracts the language of jazz through the prism of local traditions”, culture, politics, history… AArbor

Badmarsh & Shri – "Dancing Drums" – [Outcaste Records]

aarbor   11/17/2021   CD, International

Debut album by Badmarsh (Mohammed Akber Ali from Yemen) and Shri (Shrikanth Sriram from Mumbai, India) recorded in 1998 on Outcaste Records. Badmarsh (which means rascal in Hindi) is the “producer” and Shri is the drummer. The label created the group thinking their skills and sounds would work well together. The sound is drum ‘n bass, hip hop, Indian classical and jazz. “We wanted to make music that moved you on the dancefloor as well as at home. Everything had to be emotive, whether it made you angry or made you swoon. But it also had to be funky. We wanted it to be about feeling rather than thinking – that was our vision.” They definitely succeeded. AArbor

Tango Fusion Club Vol. 1 [coll] – [MDR Records]

aarbor   11/17/2021   CD, International

What Gotan Project started in 1999 with La Revancha del Tango, continues in both Europe and South America during the next decade: updating the sound of tango with electronic instruments and hip hop beats. The Tango Fusion Club formed in Munich in 2000 is a fine showcase of updated tango tracks. All tracks are worth playing, the standout is track 7 “Bandoneon Acorazado” which means fortified or armoured bandoneon. Bandoneon is the type of accordion used in tango bands. Not to be missed! AArbor

Anatolian Weapons – "to The Mother of Gods" – [Beats In Space]

Ms. Conduct   11/15/2021   12-inch, International

Postulating a kind of inverted oracular through the sonic landscapes of this collaboration between Greek musicians Aggelos Baltas and Seirios Savvaidis, the album reconstructs an acoustic imaginary of ancient folk traditions with upgrades from psychedelic and space rock contemporaries. In the reverb cycle one hears a certain agrarian re-envisioning of the world, replete with harvest rituals and celestial incantations. Only once or twice one might hear a wrong exit in the direction of slipstreamed Neo-Classical utopias of the 1970’s sepia sci-fi variety (replete with columnated bathing chambers and shopping malls of the future-past). For the most part, this is a folksy reckoning of ancient Grecian musical traditions with a modern upgrade. The utopic yearning reaches full crescendo in the closing track where a ‘new dawn beginning’ solar horizon opens on to a suggestion of futures.

PAN Project – "PAN Project" – [Neuma]

aarbor   11/3/2021   CD, International

PAN Project is an ensemble rooted in the Chinese, Korean and Japanese music traditions. The word ‘Pan’ in the ensemble’s name is taken from the Korean music-storytelling tradition ‘pansori’ which means to gather. The PAN Project is about gathering and telling stories through music and performance. The tracks here draw on the intercultural music traditions of East Asian instrumental performance, ritual and theatre, as well as modern influences: improvisation, Western composition and technology. The PAN Project was co-founded and is co-directed by Korean piri master gamin and American composer-performer Jeff Roberts. The sound is timeless. It’s old, it’s new, it’s borrowed… AArbor

Ethiopian Urban and Tribal Music [coll] – [Sub Rosa]

Medusa of Troy   11/2/2021   CD, International

This 2-CD set of Ethiopian folk music was released in July 2020 by the Sub Rosa label, but the songs were originally recorded in 1971. Even though the album title makes reference to urban and tribal music, all of the songs are very stripped down – some with just a single instrument, others with one instrument and one voice. There are a couple of group chants, but nearly all of the songs are on the quieter side. The liner notes are unclear, but it has the feel and sound of field recordings – no amps, no studio effects, just traditional instruments and voices on traditional songs – some explicitly religious, some based on poetry. Mary Armeede’s “Fanno,” on CD2, is the longest track and has a bluesy feel that brings to mind early Mississippi Delta blues. “Wub Allem” (translated as “Beautiful World”) is the most energetic track but is not particularly loud or raucous. However, no dirges, either – just spare, lovely music on the slower side.

Yuseinov, Ateshkhan – "Strange Suite" – [Riverboat Records]

aarbor   10/27/2021   CD, International

“Atesh” Yuseinov is from Bulgaria where he is apparently a cult figure. He is an amazing guitar player and has cultivated his own style of playing: combining the fast rhythms and changes of Balkan folk music with the freedom of jazz, and even adding in a beatbox [track 8]. Track 7 is the only traditional track with Atesh’s wife Venera Todorova as the vocalist. [Don’t miss tracks: 1,2,6,8,9] AArbor

Sabreen – "Death of The Prophet" – [Akuphone]

Ms. Conduct   10/26/2021   12-inch, International

Sabreen formed amidst the drama of political turmoil in 1980 as a collective of Palestinian musicians & artists interested in channeling the generational sentiments wrought from social strife and the hope of eventual conciliations. Death of the Prophet, originally recorded on cassette at the beginning of the first intifada (the insurrectionist rebellion of Palestinians against Israel’s occupation of the West Bank) in 1987 and was re-released in 2020 by the Akuphone label. 

This album blends traditional classical Arabic music with popular folklore:

—Barbed chords pluck misery from heaven as the larynx releases a white dove. 

—A sanguine calligraphy bleeds out an arsenal of poetry to wrangle the holy landscape.

—Ghosts send up a solemn prayer for peace that the usurpers hold mute.

The oud and the kanun instruments preserve echoes of their classical origins, but are adapted to modern composition with freer improvisation. Lyrics deploy sanctified words from the Palestinian poets, Mahmoud Darwish and Samih Al Qasem, imbuing this album with postcolonial righteous zeal.

Altin Gun – "Yol" – [ATO Records]

aarbor   10/20/2021   CD, International

Third [2021] release from Altin Gun – an Amsterdam-based project founded in 2016 by Jasper Verhulst. They mix Turkish folk, psychedelia, funk and rock. Here they add instruments not heard before in their music: synth, congas, drum machines and a Suzuki Omnichord. Some songs are taken from archaic sources: “Yekte” [11] is a traditional song from the Anatolian city of Kayseri, while “Arda Boylar”[7] comes from a region of the Balkans that once formed part of the Ottoman Empire. Every song works in the neo-disco psych environment; the despondency of the folk melodies blends with glittering pop production creating a stream of gilded melancholy. The music sits somewhere between 19th century Ottoman Empire, ’60s Haight-Ashbury, the bubblegum boogie of ’80s New York, and today’s pop. AArbor

Uzel, Nezih – "Mevlana: Instrumental Mevlevi Music" – [Kent Elektronik]

aarbor   10/13/2021   CD, International

In Turkey, Rumi is fondly remembered by his followers as Mevlana — which means scholar. When he died in 1273, Rumi’s followers founded the Mevlevi Order, also known as the Order of the Whirling Dervishes, famous for the Sufi dance known as the Sema ceremony. The Mevlevi Ayin is a form of Ottoman art music that evolved around an organized religious ritual: the Whirling Dance ceremony of the Mevlevi Dervishes . It was based on musical composition and poetry, taking the form of an original cyclical suite format. The instruments which accompany Mevlevi music are: the Bendir – a wooden frame drum, the Oud (lute) and Ney (and end-blown flute). The Dervishes consider this kind of dance and music a form of meditation. The dervishes wear long white robes and very tall conical hats when they dance. Nezih Uzel was a very famous bendir player and dervish. He once said that this is music for participation rather than just listening. I was surprised by the gentleness and pace of this music which accompanies Whirling Dervish dance/meditations. AArbor

Colombian Soul [coll] – [BBE Music]

aarbor   10/6/2021   CD, International

Dean Bagar a/k/a Tricky D a producer from Croatia, who now lives in Colombia, has compiled a magnificent collection showcasing the works of native Colombian musicians. Tricky D moved to Bogotá in 2013 after living in London, Berlin and Jamaica. He is active as a DJ, producer, remixer, and bass player, as well as teaching workshops on musical production. Since moving to Colombia, his new works contain Afro-Colombian influences. As a bass player, he’s now working on live projects which merge soul, dub and Afro-Colombian elements. His intention with this compilation was to find dubby, downbeat, minor tuned songs. Colombian Soul is soulful songs recorded by well-recognized Colombian artists. [ Most tracks updated traditional music: 6-world folklore and electronic dance music, 10 – Afro-Colombian reinterpreted, 11 – Latin drum ‘n bass, 12- Peruvian Cumbia reinterpreted, 13- Contemporary Colombian tropical, 14- Dub textures morphed with rolling bass, percussion and cumbia rhythms]. AArbor

AlHaj, Rahim Oud and String Quartet – "Letters From Iraq" – [Smithsonian Folkways]

aarbor   10/6/2021   CD, International

Rahim Al Haj has been an oud player since he was a child in Iraq. When he graduated from the Conservatory of Muisc in Baghdad he had won awards and had played in many parts of the world. When he refused to support Saddam Hussein’s regime he was twice imprisoned and tortured. Under threat of execution he went into exile in Jordan in 1991. Later he moved to Syria and then to the U.S. The 8 “letters” here are mostly very sad with accompanying very sad stories in the notes. Letter 7 is the most upbeat and Letter 8 is hopeful. According to Al Haj this is “Music to help us realize peace”. His wish is that this album will inspire listeners to choose love, wonder and hope. AArbor

Various – "[AMHARA] WEDDING SONGS" – [Domino Sound]

aarbor   9/29/2021   12-inch, International

These are well-known Amhara wedding songs from Ethiopia. Amharans are an indigenous group who live in the northwest highlands of Ethiopia, and have their own language. They are about 26% of the Ethiopian population. In Ethiopia Amhara families invite as many people as possible when there is a wedding. Festivities can start as much as a week before the actual wedding day. Read the notes for more details about what each song means and how it fits into the wedding festivities. AArbor

Lord Flea and His Calypsonians – "Swingin' Calypsos" – [Penny Records]

aarbor   9/29/2021   12-inch, International

Lord Flea was the stage name of Norman Byfield Thomas who was a Jamaican mento musician credited with helping start the calypso craze in U.S. With his band The Calypsonians, Flea toured the U.S. throughout the late 1950s, and released just this 1 album before he died (before the age of 30) in 1959.

Mento is a style of Jamaican folk music that predates and has greatly influenced ska and reggae music. It is a fusion of African rhythmic elements and European elements, which reached peak popularity in the 1940s and 1950s. Mento typically features acoustic instruments, such as acoustic guitar, banjo, hand drums, and the rhumba box — a large mbira in the shape of a box that can be sat on while played. The rhumba box plays the bass part of the music.

Mento is often confused with calypso, which is from Trinidad and Tobago. Although the two share many similarities, they are separate and distinct musical forms. During the mid-20th century, mento was confused with calypso, and mento was frequently referred to as calypso. As in calypso, mento uses topical lyrics with a humorous slant, commenting on poverty and other social issues. Sexual innuendo is also common. Mento draws on musical traditions brought by enslaved West African people. AArbor

Central African Republic: Gbaya Music – Thinking [coll] – [Ocora | Radio France]

aarbor   9/22/2021   CD, International

The Gbaya are one of the largest ethnic groups in the Central African Republic. This is music of a Gbaya village called Ndongue. Music is performed either solo or in groups. Neighboring villages may have music that sounds quite different. The songs relate to activities: love songs, entertainment songs, lullabies, mourning or hunting songs. These are “Thinking Songs” which are performed by men with rattles and sanzas: thumb pianos: a small wooden resonator with metallic “tongues” as keys. The tongues can even be made with recycled ribs of an umbrella, or spokes of a bicycle wheel. Sanzas can be enhanced with metal rings that extend the resonating time or the instrument can be placed in a gourd (see cover picture) to increase the volume. The music is lovely: fluid, melodious. The audience can enter into the performance if they know the words or if a call/response is desired. The first 3 tracks are ensemble, and the last four are solos. All tracks were recorded in 1977. AArbor

Anthology of Traditional Guqin Music [coll]

SlartiBartfast   9/14/2021   CD, International

Anthology of Traditional Guqin Music [Coll]

The guqin is a seven stringed Chinese zither aching with notes of tranquility. Played correctly, this beautiful instrument can give rhythms of a thumb scratching on the wound strings, eerie base like notes, and harmonic tones that will transport you to other worlds. I dare say the guqin masters profiled on this 4 CD set represent some of the best guqin players in China that produce a sound equivalent to a slow, slide, blues guitar. Boil your water, prep your Yixing pot with good Oolong, and relax to a good session of Gongcha.

Onda Sonora: RED HOT+ LISBON [coll] – [Red Hot Organization]

aarbor   8/11/2021   CD, International

Onda Sonora means soundwave in Portuguese. This collection was put together by the Red Hot organization which raises money on behalf of the AIDS epidemic – their slogan is “fighting AIDS through popular culture”. The collection features 40 artists from 11 countries (they are not all from Portugal or its colonies). The artists range from Caetano Veloso, Carlinhos Brown, Marisa Monte and Arto Lindsay to k.d. lang, DJ Wally, and Durutti Column and many others. The collection creates a travelogue of music tracing the Portuguese legacy from Fado to Samba to Morna ( a dance from Cape Verde), and explores the connections between different people linked by the random acts of history, language and rhythm. AArbor

Lunapark: The Sound of Russia Today [coll] – [Eastblok Music]

aarbor   7/21/2021   CD, International

Relatively little new alternative rock and pop from Russia has made it over the collapsed Iron Curtain. Here’s a collection whose intention is to introduce us (in the West) to the up and coming musicians and music from all over the former Soviet Union. In fact the Eastblok does this for music and musicians all over the “New East”. Think of what’s here as a “vodka-fueled, polka-driven Russian Sound”. Check out these bands, read about them in the CD booklet, check out their websites. The lyrics are mostly in Russian, the styles vary from rock, to electro punk, to rap, to social criticism, soulful ballads to electronic. There’s plenty of talent that we don’t know about in the New East! AArbor

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