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Music Reviews

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

Montoya, Carlos -From St. Louis to Seville- [RCA Victor/ BMG]

Thee Opinataur   7/8/2021   12-inch, International

Carlos Montoya was already one of the world’s foremost flamenco guitarists in 1958 when he stepped into a New York studio to record this album with some of the top studio jazz sidemen. It is an album of two distinctions as the name of the album ‘From St. Louis to Seville’ simply states. Side one (Jazz ) highlighted by Handy’s ‘St. Lous Blues‘ is quite remarkable, as Montoya puts his unique interpretation on a classic. However, don’t sleep on Montoya’s original ‘Improvisation’ where he truly immerses himself in the fusion of jazz and flamenco. 

Side two (Flamenco) – While the underlying foundation is traditional flamenco on these tracks featuring several of Montoya originals. What is fascinating as you listen closely is how he shares the limelight with his rhythm section, a collection of some excellent musicians steeped in jazz. Collectively they bring an element of freshness to the traditional framework. 

Carlos Montoya– guitar 

Osie Johnson– drums 

Milt Hinton– bass 

Barry Galbraith– rhythm guitar 

-Thee Opinataur

Trio Da Kali – "Trio Da Kali" – [World Circuit]

aarbor   6/30/2021   CD, International

Trio Da Kali are from Mali in West Africa. They come from illustrious musical ‘griot‘ families which makes them “hereditary musicians” – very clear from their excellent playing and musicianship. Da Kali means ‘to give a pledge’. In this case the pledge is to a musical heritage that dates back to the early 13th century. The line up of balafon (a xylophone) bass ngoni (a lute) and female singer is also based on ancient tradition, although these days it’s an endangered tradition. This is their first recording from 2015. Their subsequent recordings were all done in collaboration with the Kronos Quartet. These 3 are arguably the best of the up-and-coming generation of musicians in this tradition. The first track is unaccompanied vocal and the rest have instrumental accompaniment. AArbor

Classical Vocal Art of Persia [coll] – [Jvc Musical Industries]

aarbor   6/30/2021   CD, International

Poetry is very important in Iran. Between the 10th and 15th centuries a succession of important poets from Iran made poetry the national art of Iran. The most frequently sung lyrics come from Iranian poetry. Here we have poems by Rumi and Hafez, who were strongly influenced by the Sufi tradition of Islamic mysticism, set to music. It is a poetry which is both religious and sensual. Passionate love for God and longing for union with God is represented metaphorically by the desperate passion of a man for a woman of incomparable beauty. There are 4 long-ish tracks, each from a different composer. AArbor

De Plata, Manitas – ‘Flamenco Guitar Vol. 2’ – [Connoisseur Society]

Thee Opinataur   6/18/2021   12-inch, International

Manitas de Plata was born in 1921 as Ricardo Baliardo in southern France to a traditional Gypsy community. His name bestowed upon him by his community means ‘Little Silver Hands’. His uncle taught him the guitar as a boy and ultimately evolving into a virtuoso. He exclusively played for his Gypsy community most of his life until he was recorded in 1963 in Arles France and his subsequent albums helped to popularize Flamenco music all over the world. He became somewhat of a cultural icon from that point, as his friends included Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dali, Charlie Chaplin, and even Brigette Bardot. 

He was French rather than Spanish, and his unpredictable improvisations depart from the formal structures of the compás, the metric conventions that enable Flamenco singers, dancers, and musicians to perform together. De Plata achieved prominence as a unique individual who made his own rules.

Several of his sons Toninio, Paco, and Diego Baillardo, as well as nephews, went on to form the Gipsy Kings in the early 1980s that continued to popularize this music for future generations. 

Manitas de Plata died in 2014 at age 93, in France, he continued to tour the world and record extensively, until his death in 2014 having never lost his gypsy ways and outlook on life, pursuing his joint passions of music and women and utterly careless of money and the trappings of wealth.

He wears his emotions on his sleeve, there is no posturing, only the authenticity in his exquisite playing. 

Track 1 – Fandangos -. Dark and introspective, raw and intimate. sweet subtle expression. It is as if he is playing just for you. Taking delight in the transference of his spirit to us the listener. 

Track 2 – Tarantas y Bulerias – combines two forms. The Bulerias originally a slow dance, considered the most festive of Flamenco dance along with Tarantas, expressing a feeling of melancholy. 

Track 3 – Gypsy Rhumba – Impromptu, an example of chico flamenco (light-hearted). An after-hours party with singing, clapping, stomping, and some percussion elements such as scraping corrugated cardboard. Singing alongside Jose Reyes and his son Manero Baillardo.

Side 2 – Moritas Moras -(Little Moorish Girls) Delves into the heart of flamenco. Jose Reyes and Manero Baillardo take turns sharing the raw unrefined Gypsy Blues. This song digs deep into the heart of the Gypsy experience. 

Thee Opinataur

Bellissima! More 1960s She-Pop From Italy [coll] – [Ace Records]

aarbor   6/16/2021   CD, International

A compilation of 1960s Italian pop songs and pop divas you’ve never heard of backed up by swingin’ bands. What’s not to like? Light weight? Sure. But fun! The Italian press gave animal nicknames to the country’s female pop stars: Mina was La Tigre (tiger) di Cremona, Milva – la Pantera (panther) di Goro, Patty Pravo – la Civetta (Owl) di Venezia, Rita Pavone – la Zanzara (Mosquito) di Torino, Marisa Sannia – la Gazella (gazelle) di Cagliari, Orietta Berti – l’Usignolo (nightingale) di Cavriago and Iva Zanicchi – la Aquila (eagle) de Ligonichio. [Some tracks I liked: 2,5,8,9,13-17] AArbor

Meridian Brothers – "Salvadora Robot" – [Soundway Records]

Thurston Hunger   6/8/2021   CD, International

Yo por mi parte abrazo a nuestros señores robots. As long as Eblis Alvarez is involved in the not-so-artificial intel-y-gente. His crafty processed guitar feels like a Martian tickle to the ear. Weird enough for feet at the disco and in the mosh pit, splendid one-man mad scientist work, on several songs Eblis’ breaks into maniacal laughter in his Isaac Newton studio laboratory (a full band assembles for live gigs).

I like to pretend the first song is a reference to legendary SF band “The Residents” – it’s not, but both projects share a recognizable base masked behind strange sonic costumes. I think it’s his guitar mimicking a clarinet, but I don’t know. It’s all so lovingly tweaked. All songs have swift percolation, and party of percussion, while here Mr. Roboto es de Bogota, his tunes would put some carne on the skeleton bones in a Brazilian Carneval. The drums aren’t digital, but there are plenty of other synthetic waves at play. There’s more dancing arpeggios over staircases of sound than in an old Fred Astaire movie. There should be a full album cartoon video with Daffy Duck dance steps. Kinda wonder if Eblis’ Mom listened to
Raymond Scott during her pregnancy.

Enough reverb applied to make a surf fan weep, in Spanish. But they are tears of joy, this is one festive album and project. All tracks are fabuloso but “Un Príncipe Miserable y Malvado” wears the crown for me. Eblis is a master guitarist via computer wrangler, really look forward to seeing him play, maybe in KFJC’s pit in the future.

-Thurston Hunger

Yildirim, Derya & Grup Simsek – "Kar Yagar" – [Les Disques Bongo Joe]

Thurston Hunger   6/8/2021   12-inch, International

Old Anatolian Psych has certainly charged KFJC’s airwaves in the past, this is a modern Grup coming out of Germany, also channelling Turkish melodies and scales, but with more of a pop charm. I can see Slowdive fans enraptured by much of this. Derya Yildirim is at the forefront with her baglama, and her arresting voice. Somewhat husky and brimming with a triumphant frailty that reminded me of Selda Bagcan. She soars on re-interpretations of classic folk songs, there are nice translations and brief backgrounds in the included booklet – “Dom Dom Kursunu” has a piercing story behind it. The older songs have more political sting to them, while Derya’s compositions cover a more emotional heartbreak. The album does have an ache to it, although the number that drew me to it was the closer “Oy Oy Emine” – a playful pining folk tune, number one with a bullet for your belly dancing class. “Hekimoglu” is another unique track, a stately percussion procession, Derya’s voice wavering a top it. Most of the album though masterfully mixes her saz riffs with swelling organ, some gritty fuzz guitar and absolutely suave basslines. Drummer Greta Eacott holds it all down (and has her own label too). Great hypnotic pop with a petite powerhouse lead vocalist (nice that her Dad Mustafa thunderously recites poetry on “Cockular II”). Old tunes, young Turks, new rewards!

-Thurston Hunger

La Locura De Machuca [coll] – [Analog Africa]

Thurston Hunger   6/8/2021   CD, International

Flight/release #30 for commander Samy Ben Redjeb and the Analog Africa airlines destination Columbia and the late 1970’s. Gleaning craziness from an old label run by Dr. Machuca (check the fine liners for details), who dumped his day job for the love of discos and an Afro-Columbian groove best captured raw in a take or two at most. Apparently “Tucutru” was a bit of a hit sort of a tone poem that takes three steps up and three steps down. Like that song, this album never stops moving. Some instros, like “El Campenero” and “Wabali” which cooks like a happy day outside at the barbecue. Female singers saunter in “Caracol” which gets pretty tropicalia, on “Te Clavo La…Mano” there’s a siren whispering sweet nadas and on “A Otro Perro” a woman sorta yodels ole. Otherwise there’s plenty of men and geetars, thin and gritty. Some double-lead lines, check out the opener which has a kinda Tom Ze itch to scratch. The other Samba Negra track, “Long Live Africa” may be a nod to Ikenga Super Stars but it’s in its own funky universe. My favorite, cheap synth never sounded so good. That “band” and many others here may just be made up friends and studio musicians from the good Doctor to recreate/Columbian-ize African tunes. Definite DIY vibe throughout. “Juipiti” whistles as it did Analog Africa #12
Killer label! -Thurston Hunger

Atlas, Natacha – "Gedida" – [Mantra Recordings]

aarbor   5/26/2021   CD, International

Natacha Atlas spent her childhood in a Moroccan suburb of Brussels. Her father is of Sephardic Jewish ancestry, and her mother is of Muslim and Christian ancestry. She’s kind of Moroccan by way of Egypt and Palestine. She moved to Britain as a teenager, and went back to Brussels after school to belly-dance and sing in the Arab quarter, then returned to England where she became part of the pan-poly-everything dance-and-world-music bohemia. She started out with Transglobal Underground and then went out on her own. Gedida is from 1998. The range of styles is fundamentally a reflection of Atlas’ musical instincts—she likes color in her music, and so she’ll use any color she has, from anywhere. The music is held together by her singing, which is Arab to its core: Arab melodies, Arab pitch, Arab ways of connecting notes, Arab feeling. AArbor

Kale, Karsh – "Realize" – [Six Degrees Records]

aarbor   5/5/2021   CD, International

Karsh Kale [pron. Kursh Kah-leh] was born in the UK and raised in the US. This is his very first solo album from 2001 (after he appeared in Laswell’s Tabla Beat Science lineup). Some call this style the “Asian Massve Movement”, a new breed of Indian-classical fusion, as opposed to Talvin Singh’s “Asian Underground”. The music is engaging and well worth a listen. AArbor

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