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Music Reviews

Tam, Phuong – “Magical Nights: Saigon Surf Twist and Soul -’64-’66” – [Sublime Frequencies]

puplaif   5/25/2022   CD, International

Phuong Tâm was one of the first Vietnamese singers to record rock and roll music. 

As a young girl, she was intrigued by the rock and roll sounds emanating from a nearby neighbor’s radio and she knew from a young age that she wanted to be a singer. 

In her teenage years, she began performing at Saigon nightclubs, where she met and connected with other Vietnamese musicians. Together they wrote, recorded, and performed original Vietnamese rock and roll songs incorporating surf, twist, soul, and other influences. Phuong’s powerful voice brings both grit and sweetness to these songs about love and loss. 

In 1975, Phuong and her family fled Vietnam, ultimately setting up roots right here in San Jose. Thanks to some serious digging and collaboration spearheaded by Phuong’s daughter Hanna, we’re able to enjoy Phuong’s musical legacy today. Magical Nights revives 25 of Phuong Tâm’s songs, recorded in Vietnam from 1964 to 1966, and re-gifts her music to the world after nearly being lost to the forces of cultural erasure. 

Talbot Brothers of Bermuda, The – “Talbot Brothers of Bermuda, The” – [Maaula Records]

aarbor   5/18/2022   12-inch, International

The Talbot Brothers of Bermuda were a musical group based in Bermuda that were among the most popular calypso performers of the 1950s. The band was composed of brothers Archie (lead singer, acoustic guitar, harmonica), Austin (acoustic guitar, harmonica), Bryan, a.k.a. “Dick” (tipple, a large, 10-stringed ukulele), Ross, a.k.a. “Blackie” (electric guitar) and Roy Talbot (bass), and their cousin Cromwell “Mandy” Mandres (accordion). Their sound is a variation of Trinidadian calypso in a smooth melodic style influenced by popular music. They performed and recorded cover versions of calypso classics in addition to their own originals, and were a popular attraction in local hotels. This record was originally released in 1958. AArbor

Spence, Joseph – “Encore: Unheard Recordings of Bahamian Guitar and Singing” – [Smithsonian Folkways]

aarbor   5/18/2022   12-inch, International

Joseph Spence, who died in 1984, was a Bahamian guitarist and singer. He is well known for his vocalizations and humming while playing the guitar. A number of musicians, including Taj Mahal, the Grateful Dead, Ry Cooder, and Olu Dara,were influenced by and have recorded variations of his arrangements of gospel and Bahamian songs. Spence played calypso, blues, folk music and sacred songs. He played a steel-string acoustic guitar. Nearly all of his recorded songs have a guitar accompaniment in a drop D tuning. You’ll hear his magnificent voice (singing and kind of scat singing) moving bass lines, interior voices and a driving beat that he emphasized with foot tapping. He adds blues coloration and calypso rhythms to achieve a unique and easily identifiable sound. This album from 2021 is the latest recording to be released of his work, making a total of 4 released after his death. His sister Edith Pinder and her family also sing on some of the songs here. The recordings are from 1965 (the peak of his career) his only New York concert, at his cottage in Nassau, Bahamas, and at Peter Siegel’s (producer/recording engineer) apartment in Manhattan. AArbor

Barrio Manouche – “Aires de Cambio” – [doubleOone]

aarbor   5/11/2022   CD, International

Barrio Manouche is a very international acoustic ensemble from San Francisco. They play music inspired by the places they come from and have lived: Spain, France, Brazil, French Canada and the U.S. Their music is also inspired by those who have come before and their nomadic spirits. They use music to describe the world as they see it. Of note here is “musical guest” Mallar Bhattacharya (sarod) and Hilan Chaudhuri (tabla) who join them on the title track [5]. This is their first recording from 2018. Barrio Manouche has been recognized for its surprise concerts, innovative style, complex technique, and its passion for musical improvisation. Their intercultural musical fusions start with Latin/French Jazz and then add in Brazilian beats, a bit of Flamenco and even Indian music. AArbor

Les Filles de Illighadad – “At Pioneer Works” – [Sahel Sounds]

aarbor   4/27/2022   CD, International

Les Filles de Illighadad, Tuareg women who play guitars and combine both tendé (women’s music) with the guitar music played by their male neighbors, have graced our airwaves since their first album. This album, recorded in 2019 in Red Hook (Brooklyn), NY at the Pioneer Works arts center – rather than out of doors in North Africa, is their latest offering. The sound is meditative, but tender. It takes Tuareg guitar music (sometimes called desert blues) brought to the West by breakthrough artists from the region like Mdou Moctar, Bombino and Tinariwen, and fuses it with tendé. The result is repetitive and hypnotic, and conveys something spiritual and solemn but also has a sense of joy and playfulness that goes back to the music’s roots in village life. AArbor

Trovesi, Gianluigi and Coscia, Gianni – “In Cerca di Cibo” – [ECM Records GmbH]

aarbor   4/6/2022   CD, International

The unlikely ensemble of clarinet and accordion is what you have here. Gianluigi Trovesi plays clarinets of all sizes and Gianni Coscia plays accordion. It’s kind of a union of jazz and folk music – jazzed up versions of well-known Italian folk melodies. Umberto Eco, who wrote the liner notes, an essay called “Devils in Music”, says “Coscia and Trovesi know how to contaminate a piece without damaging its unity and without sacrificing the listener’s chances of recognizing the [original].” I don’t get all the musical references but you can enjoy the music without getting them. btw In Cerca di Cibo means looking for food. AArbor

Humeniuk, Pawlo – “King of The Ukrainian Fiddlers” – [Arhoolie Productions]

aarbor   4/6/2022   CD, International

Pawlo Humeniuk was born in Western Ukraine but emigrated to the U.S. around 1902 when he was about 18. He was a terrific fiddler and in demand to play at Ukrainian social events especially weddings. He made at least 250 recordings. These recordings were made in New York from 1925-1927 and feature quite a bit of wedding-related music. Arhoolie have done a great job of documenting what each piece is called and how it fits into the context of the event. Track 13 is one of Humeniuk’s most celebrated recordings. Track 21 is a very well-loved melody in the Ukraine. Different groupings of instruments both traditional Ukrainian and orchestral, can be heard on each track. AArbor

Tri Atma/Tri Atma

carsonstreet   3/27/2022   CD, International

Tri Atma was founded in 1977 by German guitarist Jens Fischer and Indian tabla player Asim Saha, Tri Atma fuses Eastern musical elements with Western electronic pop and psychedelia. Jens Fischer: “Tri Atma was founded around 1976, initially we were 3 people, the tabla player Asim (pronounced Oshim), a saxophone player Herbert Koschmieder and a sitar player, Manfred Flathe”. In 1982, the duo met Klaus Netzle, a veteran German record and television producer who brought the space-age sounds of the Fairlight and Synclavier computer synthesizers to their music. This is their first album and was recorded in 1979. Jens Fischer: ” We were inspired by everything from everywhere. I was very much into jazz, Miles Davis especially, Indian music, blues, reggae. Actually when you listen to the first album you will notice that all the bass lines were just reggae riffs. And we weren’t using a regular bass guitar but an acoustic one

Disorientalists, The – “Who Was Essad Bey?” – [Oriente Musik]

aarbor   3/23/2022   CD, International

The only release by “The Disorientalists” who are Daniel Kahn, Yuriy Gurzhy and Marina Frenk. Kahn is from Detroit (and a U of Michigan alum) musician, actor and theatre director who lives in Germany these days. Kahn is also the founder of The Painted Bird an outfit whose music is described as “a mixture of Klezmer, radical Yiddish song, political cabaret, and folk punk”. It has been compared to the music of Tom Waits and Woody Guthrie. This release is in the same musical vein. It focuses on the story of Essad Bey, the pseudonym of Lev Nussimbaum a colorful Russian Jew who claimed to have converted to Islam and to have written quite a few books, then died at the age of 36. I suspect that this is the recording of a theatre piece which was produced at Maxim Gorski Theater’s STUDIO R. Klezmer meets folk and punk. AArbor

Wallahi Le Zein [coll] – [Mississippi Records]

aarbor   3/16/2022   12-inch, International

Mauritania is in Northwest Africa. It is bordered by the Atlantic Ocean, Algeria, Mali, and Senegal. It is one of the least densely populated countries on Earth. The Moors, who call themselves the Beydane, trace their ancestry back to the region’s original Berber inhabitants and to the nomadic warriors from the Arabian Peninsula. The Beydane are patrons to griot families called the iggawen who jealously protect and preserve their specialized skills and knowledge. Today this patronage system has changed and musicians are known as Vennane. They can be invited to play for an event (e.g. a wedding, or an evening at someone’s home) and paid. There is no music industry, in Mauritania. Music is very informal, participative, and difficult to record effectively. Most of the recordings don’t capture the multi-sensory experience of the music, the sensuality of the dancers, the extravagant behavior of the percussionists, the body heat generated by 50 people packed into a small room, the conversation, or the mint tea. The recordings on this record are probably the best available. The performances involve considerable improvisation and the quality of any given performance is largely determined by the dynamics of the event. A Beydane performance is like a pick-up basketball game. The sound: jackhammer riffs that stop abruptly, waves of blistering guitar runs, pushing against thundering drums, then mysteriously fizzle out, only to dramatically resurge, spurred on by enthusiastic shouting. Form? structure? the music ebbs and flows with dramatic spikes of intensity. AArbor

Perkins, David Ensemble – “Israeli Klezmer King” – [Melech Music]

aarbor   3/16/2022   CD, International

David Perkins went to Israel to explore his spiritual heritage. He discovered the land and its history, and also the cross ethnic whirlpool of musical styles, rhythms and melodies. David is a clarinet player and instrument builder who designs and creates flutes, chimes and brass instruments. There is both traditional Klezmer music [2, 3, 4] and new interpretations of traditional folk style [6]. Some tracks were composed by Perkins [1, 6, 7, 8, 9] others by other musicians [10, 11, 12, 13]. Track 5 is the national anthem of the USSR. There’s plenty of variety here. AArbor

Bomtempo, Alexia – “Suspiro” – [Ropeadope Records]

aarbor   3/9/2022   12-inch, International

Sultry voiced Alexia Bomtempo was born in the U.S. (where her mother is from) but began her musical career in Brazil (where her father is from), and now lives in NY. On this, her latest release from April 2020, she sings in Portuguese, French and English. She believes that the world needs more bossa nova. All the songs have a Brazilian sensibility to them even though they originate in other countries. The whole idea behind this album was to do everything live, in the spirit of the old recordings that she loves, with the musicians playing at the same time. The arrangement was done on the spot. AArbor

Veseli Muzyky – “From Kiev to The Black Sea: Folk Music From Ukraine” – [Arc Music]

aarbor   3/9/2022   CD, International

Uptempo Ukrainian folk music played on traditional instruments like the tsymbaly (dulcimer) [track 6], bayan (button accordion), Sopilka (piccolo/flute), dvodencivka (double flute) and zozula (Ceramic flute) [tracks 5,8,14], and rozshok (trumpet). Lots of spirited polkas here. This is music from various regions of the Ukraine on that regions’ instruments. Veseli Muzyky formed in 1983 and recorded until 1998. AArbor

Les Maitres-Tambours Du Burundi – “Les Maitres-Tambours Du Burundi” – [Arion]

aarbor   2/23/2022   CD, International

The Drum Masters of Burundi, the Batimbo-s, all come from the Batutsi ethnic group. Their job is to make, beat and keep the drums. The drums are kept in their own enclosure or “drum palace”. The drums are carved from a rare wood, and are thought to have shoulders, a breast, waist and hips. The drums are taken to the royal court each year for the festival of Muganuro. There are 5 tracks on this CD: 3 short ones and then 2 longer ones. It’s all drumming. AArbor

Angelou, Maya – “Miss Calypso” – [Scamp]

aarbor   2/23/2022   CD, International

A reissue of the 1957 recording by 27 year old Maya Angelou (born Marguerite Annie Johnson in St. Louis, MO) who apparently started out as a dancer and singer – 25 years before I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. Even though this release is a minor one as compared to her many literary credits, she also wrote music for Roberta Flack and some movie scores years later. She wrote several of the songs on this album: tracks 2,3,4,7 and 11 – all worthy. It’s 1957 style calypso in the style of Harry Belafonte, with a bit more moxy. Despite her musical talent, what captivated most (male) listeners was the cover artwork. This amazingly talented woman accomplished more in her lifetime as an activist, writer, journalist, broadcaster… than most people. This is an important release because it demonstrates the breadth of Maya Angelou’s talent – check it out! AArbor

Bulawayo Blue Yodel [coll] – [Mississippi Records]

aarbor   2/9/2022   12-inch, International

These are the songs of (itinerant) cowboy-styled African troubadours from Zimbabwe, Kenya, and South Africa mostly recorded by Hugh Tracey in the 1950s. Restored from their original 78 and 45 rpm discs. The hard fighting, independent cowboy heroes of American Western (movies) appealed to African viewers who were wary of losing their wide open spaces to European colonialists. African cowboys with 4 gallon hats strummed guitars like Gene Autry, Roy Rogers or Tex Ritter, and a form of African pop music was born. The liner notes provide stories of the musicians, recording engineers and labels. Another very cool release from Mississippi Records. AArbor

Compagnia Nuove Indye [coll] – [Compangia Nuove Indye]

aarbor   2/2/2022   CD, International

Compagnia Nuove Indye is a label devoted to promoting young Italian artists, founded in 1992, in Rome by Paolo Dossena a composer, producer and lyricist. CNI defines the style of its artists as “New Popular Music” or “Contaminated Music”. In fact it includes pop, dub, ambient, jungle, cut-up, international and rock. This compilation is from 1997 and is a good representation of the sounds on the label at that time. Almamegretta who was launched by this label, has collaborated with Bill Laswell. AArbor

Rough Guide to Bollywood, The [coll] – [World Music Network]

aarbor   2/2/2022   CD, International

A good introduction to Bollywood music featuring the best known playback singers: sisters Asha Bhosle and Lata Mangeshkar, Kishore Kumar ad Mohammed Rafi, as well as some newcomers; Chitra, Lucky Ali and Alka Yagnik. Bollywood films and their music have always been very popular. Bollywood music is the popular music in India. Even if you haven’t seen the films – the liner notes give you the plot synopses so you can introduce your listeners who haven’t seen and heard these classics to the films that go with these songs. You too can be an honorary Bollywood film connoiseur! AArbor

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

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