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Music Reviews

Uwaifo, Sir Victor – “Guitar-boy Superstar 1970-76 ” – [Soundway Records]

ArtCrimes   9/16/2008   12-inch, International

Sir Victor Uwaifo originally worked very successfully in Nigeria with the popular “Highlife” style in the 60s (one of his hits from that time provides part of the title here, “Guitar Boy”), but this collection on Soundway takes a look primarily at his “Ekassa” series of releases from the early 70s. These tracks took their rhythm from a ceremonial dance dating back to the 16th century for the coronation of kings in Benin (where Uwaifo was born and raised). The rhythm is driven by the sound of stones inside shells worn by ceremonial dancers, and you’ll hear the rattle of those stones on nearly every track, along with Uwaifo’s distinct guitar style, employing echo, wah-wah and percussive effects. Saxes and wheezy electric keyboards add counterpoint here and there, as well as call and response vocals, but mostly this is dance music first and foremost, with some riffs borrowed from songs like “Twist and Shout” and “Tequila” grafted to the Ekassa rhythm. Uwaifo later dipped his toe into funk and disco projects, but he’s all about taking his own heritage to the dance floor here. CRIMES

Savannah Rhythms: Music of Upper Volta [coll] – [Elektra/ Asyum/ Nonesuch Records]

ArtCrimes   9/11/2008   12-inch, International

A Nonesuch Explorer release of field recordings done in the nation now known as Burkina Faso. Western African instruments such as the balafon (gourd marimba) are heard here, but this music is distinct from the styles heard in neighboring countries like Mali and Niger, where the multi-stringed kora is often the featured instrument. Instead we hear a single string bow, as well as flutes, and the orchestrated percussion that is vital throughout Africa. Call and response vocals are featured on some tracks, some with Islamic content. And praise songs written for specific individuals are also included, another tradition heard throughout the African continent, serve as tributes to local heroes or benefactors. These recordings give you a sense of being there, walking through a land rich in musical culture. So get your feet dirty!

Vasen – “Linnaeus Vasen ” – [Northside]

ArtCrimes   8/12/2008   CD, International

The Swedish instrumental folk group Vasen honors the 300th anniversary of that early pioneer of plant and animal biology (and a fellow Swede), Carl Linnaeus, by performing some of his favorite melodies dating from the 18th century, as well as tunes composed by his friends and relatives. Using viola, guitar, some dramatic percussion and the Nordic “keyed fiddle” or Nyckelharpa, this is mostly dance music but distinctly Swedish, favoring polskas rather than the more Germanic polkas. It’s all nicely recorded and expertly performed. Linneaus himself did not have much of a knack for music but did own a “barrel organ” which could play back preprogrammed melodies, much like a player piano, by turning a crank. Linneaus’ very own restored barrel organ makes an appearance here.

JPP – “Artology ” – [Northside]

ArtCrimes   8/3/2008   CD, International

Fiddle-heavy band from Finland performs instrumental music drawing from Finnish folk tunes and other influences, ranging from Swedish to American styles. Polskas (not the same as polka ??? it???s a different rhythm), as well as actual polkas, waltzes, swing, and tangos are explored here; this is primarily music for dancing, although there are more meditative tracks as well (see #4). It???s all beautifully played, with a rowdy live track at the end.

Nigeria Rock Special: Psychedelic Afro-Rock & Fuzz Funk… [coll] – [Soundway Records]

ArtCrimes   7/16/2008   12-inch, International

Another well-packaged Soundway collection of 70s tracks from Nigerian LPs and singles, this time with the bulk of them in English and clearly under the influence of American and UK rock styles. The Ginger Baker collaboration with Fela in the 70s had some impact on Nigerian bands, with some of the players featured here having worked with Baker in his post-Cream band “Salt”, during a period when he was living in Nigeria. In general, electric guitars are brought to the foreground on these tracks, rather than the horns and dance rhythms featured on the Soundway “Disco Funk Special”. The Funkees and Mono Mono both have been featured on other Soundway collections with their more pop-oriented rock sound, while BLO and Ofo are hipper bands with social comment on their minds, not so much dancefloor. As for psychedelia, Nigerian tracks titled “Acid Rock” and “Freaking Out” were maybe trying too hard to catch up with the popular culture of the time, but by adding their own local rhythms and vocal styles, they ended up with something distinctive and still interesting 30 years later.

Jansch, Bert – “Bert Jansch ” – [Earmark]

ArtCrimes   7/16/2008   12-inch, International

A reissue on vinyl of Scottish songwriter & guitarist Bert Jansch’s first LP, originally out in the UK on Transatlantic in 1965. The audio verite production by folk specialist Bill Leader, with the session taking place in Leader’s Camden home, provides a snapshot of Jansch when he was starting to take his career more seriously, after having been a busker and a folk club regular for a few years, greatly influenced by the pioneering acoustic guitarist Davey Graham (who had introduced some middle eastern sensibilities into his playing after his travels to Morocco), American jazz (Nat Adderly and Jimmy Guiffre are covered here), and American blues. Jansch would later develop a greater interest in traditional British folk songs, but here he writes almost all of the tunes himself, with “Needle of Death” to become perhaps the best known of his originals. “Do You Hear Me Now” would later be covered rather successfully by Donovan on one of his early UK releases. There are a few instrumentals here as well. The British folk scene was full of distinctive guitarists in the 60s, but Jansch has remained one of the best regarded, both for his complex guitar work and his vocal style which (although an acquired taste) remains unmistakable for anyone else.

Indian Sonic Omnibus [coll] – [Majmua Music]

Thurston Hunger   7/8/2008   CD, International

Sonic snapshots from Majmua/Fire Museum curator Steven Tobin
and his kundalini concubine cohort Leah Fenimore. Pristine in
spirit, if not audio fidelity. Look out for the horns blaring
off the street. It’s as if we are a blind third person joining
the tour for bits and stretches. Hard for me not to find the
“Varanasi Boat Ride on the Ganges” anything short of remarkable
but don’t look for it on a Starbuck’s compilation. Other
recordings have the raw recording like a long echoey cafeteria
or some bizarre bazaar (see track #25 “Hassan Bazaar”). That’s
a short blast, as is #5 for you birdbrains! Questing for the
Qawwali-style, check out #11. Also parades and marching band
practices and even some sweet sax galloping (“Sravanbelagola
Jain Temple Group”). “Mysore Hotel Mandolin & Tabla Duo”, you
can check out…but you can never leave. It has an entrancing
entrance…”would you like some wine” gets voiced over!
Some of the weirder ears are going to wish there were dance
mixes to elongate some of the audio verite voyeuristics.
Dig the sarode less travelled!
-Thurston Hunger

PS KFJC listeners and DJs might like to check out the blog
behind the travels.
http://majmua.museumfire.com/omnirants

Living Is Hard [coll] – [Honest Jon’s]

ArtCrimes   6/18/2008   12-inch, International

[coll] Living Is Hard: West African Music in Britain, 1927-1929
33-1/3

Much as ???Race Records??? in the US were opportunities for record companies to pursue niche markets by recording and promoting early blues artists, this Honest Jons collection compiles 78 rpm releases from the Zonophone label in the UK drawn from their recordings of West African immigrants. The musical styles here focus on specific regions of Africa, and the promo materials in the sleeve show how carefully Zonophone was courting the West African communities, with a huge catalog of releases in specific dialects. Recorded some eighty years ago, this lively African folk music performed in the UK draws from the styles of these immigrant’s homelands, while also considering life in the ???Modern World???. The liner notes, although fascinating regarding details of the Zonophone label and some of the key African artists of the time, are not strong on specific track information, but translations are provided for a number of tracks.

Nigeria Disco Funk Special [coll] – [Soundway Records]

ArtCrimes   6/13/2008   12-inch, International

[coll] Nigeria Disco Funk Special: The Sound of the Underground Lagos Dancefloor, 1974-1979

Another Soundway collection of Nigerian releases from the 70s, this time concentrating on 70s Funk, with the “Disco” in the title referring to the place, not the musical genre. These are mostly longer tracks that what we heard on Nigeria Special Part 1, as these tracks were from albums rather than singles. There are influences from the US funk scene, with some keyboard touches that wouldn’t be out of place on a late 70s Parliament/Funkadelic track, and the Meters are another reference here (Jay-U Experience’s “Some More”). Most of these tracks immediately lock into a groove and don’t let up, perfect for the dance floor and a great palate cleanser for radio. As is the case with Soundway, ample documentation is included for labels, dates, and some of the original sleeve art.

Nigeria Special: Part 1 [coll] – [Sound Way]

ArtCrimes   5/27/2008   12-inch, International

[coll] Nigeria Special, Part 1
(Modern Highlife, Afro-Sounds & Nigerian Blues 1970-1976) 33-1/3

First of 2 Soundway sets drawing from Nigerian singles and album tracks in the 70s. Part 1 features the early 70s period following Nigeria???s independence, with new approaches to the earlier Highlife style (Sir Victor Uwaifo, St Augustine, Celestine Ukwu, Harbours Band), the influence of American Soul & Funk (Funkees, Mono Mono), ideas from Fela???s Afrobeat work (Don Isaac Ezekial, Semi Colon), and some updated folk tunes (Dele Ojo). What???s nice is there are some 7??? single-only tracks that haven???t been reissued previously, in the Funkee???s case with Parts 1 & 2 stitched together for non-stop dancing pleasure. Plenty of info inside that sets the stage for this interesting era in Nigeria???s recording history, and nice pix of picture sleeves and labels, too.

Hwang, Jason Kao/ Park, Sang Won – “Local Lingo ” – [Flying Panda Records]

Jawbone   12/17/2007   CD, International

Violinist, composer and educator Jason Kao Hwang, has recently written a chamber opera, ???The Floating Box- A Story In Chinatown???. He is the former front man of the Far East Side Band and has worked with Anthony Braxton, Henry Threadgill, Butch Morris, Reggie Workman and William Parker. He was born in Waukegan, Illinois.

Korean Sang-Won Park plays the kayagum and ajeng (two types of Korean zither: one bowed, one plucked) and sings. He has collaborated with Laurie Anderson, Henry Kaiser, Ryuichi Sakamoto and Bill Laswell. He makes his living by operating two flower shops in New York City.

The unfortunately titled ???Local Lingo??? brings the two of them together to forge an interesting sound that at times reminds me of a tuxedoed concert violinist being mocked by a Neanderthal playing a cello with a club. Other times, the sound is much more sophisticated and Eastern. The difference is the kayagum, a 12-stringed plucked zither and the ajeng, a 6-stringed zither bowed with a resined stick. The sound of the bowed zither is like fingernails on a chalkboard. The stick, instead of sliding smoothly like a conventional horsehair bow, drags and skips across the strings. At times it sounds humorous, other times annoying, so needless to say I prefer the plucked zither tunes, which are tracks 2 & 3. Track 3, ???Grassy Hills???, the longest track at 15:07, is the best and well worth a listen.

–Jawbone

Chaurasia, Hariprasad – “Maestro of The Indian Flute ” – [Times Square Records]

Jawbone   12/16/2007   CD, International

Hariprasad Chaurasia (Ha-RIP-ra-sod Char-AYSH-ya) is a master of the bansuri, or North Indian bamboo flute. His predecessor, Pannalal Ghosh raised the instrument from the folk level to the classical repertoire. Chaurasia perfected the performance of the instrument in the classical realm, then began to explore outward, encompassing other genres. Eventually, he settled back into the tradition of Indian classical raga form.

This collection spans the years 1967-1995 and includes both traditional and nontraditional works. The first disc includes the ???Innovations??? or explorations into other genres and features some western instrumentation, like guitar. Track 2 includes guitar and some sort of bass-like instrument, and is the only track that sounds a little cheesy for my taste. The other tracks of the two discs are all excellent. Disc two contains all ???Traditional??? or classical pieces. It???s great to hear an instrument not familiarly heard in Indian music. And it???s played with such dexterity and finesse. Chaurasia truly is a phenomenal musician and he knows when to take a back seat and let other musicians shine, too. A great collection, with tracks running from 5 to 30 minutes.

–Jawbone

Melodii Tuvi: Throat Songs and Folk Tunes From Tuva [coll] – [Dust-To-Digital]

ArtCrimes   12/16/2007   CD, International

Melodii Tuvi: Throat Songs and Folk Tunes From Tuva

16 tracks recorded in 1969 for release in the USSR demonstrating a variety of throat singing styles and folk songs from Tuva, a mountainous area which was annexed into the USSR in 1944. The Tuvan lifestyle is largely nomadic and the songs are often sung by herders, intended to calm their livestock. The result suggests Cowboy music for the Tuvan prairies, with that wide open lonesome sound. Throat singing is also heard in Mongolia and Tibet, but the Tuvans are known worldwide for their singing styles, with festivals and institutes dedicated to this tradition. Some tracks are vocals only, some have instrumental backing, and several tracks near the end are instrumental ensemble pieces. The booklet has history on the styles and best-known performers.

Ragab, Salah & The Cairo Jazz Band – “Present Egyptian Jazz ” – [Art Yard]

ArtCrimes   11/27/2007   12-inch, International

Salah Ragab and the Cairo Jazz Band Present Egyptian Jazz
full length LP

In 1968, drummer and pianist Salah Ragab was in the unusual position of leading the Egyptian Military Music Dept. with the help of jazz charts brought in from Europe, and a round the clock rehearsal schedule, he formed Egypt’s first jazz big band with a group of 25 musicians. These tracks date from 1968 to 1973. Although they aren’t exactly masters of the improvised side of jazz, the arrangements here do take advantage of traditional Egyptian instruments such as the nay (flute) and baza (Ramadan drum), which give the band a distinct sound. The compositions here are mostly very tightly arranged and rhythmically varied, using 4/4, 6/8 and 7/8 rhythms.

Brozman, Bob Orchestra – “Lumiere ” – [Riverboat Records]

Jawbone   10/31/2007   CD, International

Drop the proverbial needle anywhere on this compact disc by Bob Brozman and be prepared to take a musical journey that crosses many borders and genres. Skipping from Hawaiian to Klezmer to French to Indian to African and Okinawan it travels the world, sometimes within one song. All instrumental and all Bob, all the time…actually, it’s called the Bob Brozman Orchestra, because he multitracks a myriad of stringed instruments. He is helped out here and there by a couple of people on percussion, though. A well deserved egofest from a massively talented figure of blues/folk/world music, it is consitently exotic and smooth, but with a punch, like Martin Denny on steroids.

–Jawbone

Sacred Music of The World [coll] – [Arc Music]

ArtCrimes   10/9/2007   CD, International

[coll] Sacred Music of the World

30 tracks that span the globe, capturing religious observance through music, done as group activities or as individuals, communing with their spirits of choice. Arranged somewhat geographically, the first few tracks are African, then we move into the Middle East, to India and Southest Asia, then on to Australia and New Guinea, and finally to the Americas and the Caribbean.

As you would expect, religions, languages, and instrumentation will vary from track to track. All are well recorded so you can really hear the distinct qualities of each. Among the cooler moments: the Aboriginal track (CD2, #10) which features the Bullroarer, a wooden devotional object spun around on a string, and of course fans of throat singing will find the Mongolian track, CD2 #4, of interest. Go with God…or gods.

Early Scandinavian Bands and Entertainers [coll] – [Banjar Records]

ArtCrimes   9/26/2007   12-inch, International

Early Scandinavian Bands and Entertainers

America is a nation of immigrants, and thatss always added to the diversity of music heard in the states, but that was even more the case prior to the Depression years, with American-made recordings of various countries’ folk music appearing in direct response to large numbers of immigrants in the US, pining for anything that would remind them of the Old Country. Here we have recordings made between 1904 and the late 1940s by Swedes (and a couple of Norwegians) playing dance tunes in traditional styles, and also more daring arrangements with large groups using xylophones and tubas along with the usual accordions and fiddle. Following the Depression, sales of these Scandinavian favorites started to trail off, with big band and country western displacing them in the fickle hearts of Swedes in America. So, here are the Glory Years of Scandinavian masters like Olle I Skratthult and The Eddie Jahrl Kvartett, playing the songs that made them famous, for a little while.

Folk and Pop Music of Myanmar (Burma) Vol. 3 [coll] – [Sublime Frequencies]

Daryl Licht   9/24/2007   CD, International

Sublime Frequencies returns with the third volume in their ongoing series of releases documenting the folk and pop music of Myanmar. This set focuses on the ceremonial folk music created by various Nat Pwe ???orchestras???.

In Myanmar, many people still believe in a folk religion (yeah, I know, ALL religions are really folk religions; some are merely able to present a more deceptive facade of legitimacy due to their large, formal, organizational structures and their varying, but significant, levels of influence over both cultural attitudes and governmental policies, but, I digress…) based on ghost spirits called Nats. Believers participate in ceremonies called Pwes in order to pay tribute to the various Nats with the hope of enjoining their assistance or, conversely, avoiding their wrath. The music on this disc was recorded live at various Nat Pwes throughout Myanmar and features some of top practitioners of the form.

These groups use an assortment of percussion (such as bamboo sticks, bells, cymbals, gongs, wood blocks, and xylophones, in addition to a wide variety of drums) to create an incredible foundation for layers of alternately melodic and chaotic oboes and reverb-drenched vocal stylings. The resultant music is an maniacal and hypnotic vortex of authentic, organic, asian folk sounds, which have been beautifully captured on these sixteen glorious tracks. Another fine and very much appreciated release from the sonic ethnographers at Sublime Frequencies! DL

Never The Same [coll] – [Honest Jon’s]

ArtCrimes   9/18/2007   12-inch, International

collection: Never The Same: Leave-Taking from the British Folk Revival 1970-1977

Hats off to Honest Jons for shedding some light on a pretty obscure corner of British folk. Folk enthusiast Bill Leader was luckily situated in the right place at the right time when he started recording British folk acts in the early 60s like Bert Jansch, Davy Graham and Anne Briggs. However, none of *those* artists are present here, except in the liner notes photos included with this 2 LP collection, as their work was instead licensed to other labels for release…what we have instead is music Bill Leader recorded for one of the two labels he launched, Trailer. It’s probably accurate to say that much of the British folk momentum had changed to more eclectic, electric fare by the time Leader did these sessions in a decidedly old-school style, with most of these tracks being solo performances of purely traditional song rather than rocked-up updates like what Steeleye Span and Fairport Convention were doing at the same time. So it’s not surprising these tracks were overlooked in the market…it also seems that Leader’s fortunes in the music business were constantly beset with difficulties, as one can read in the liner notes provided. So most of this music has gone unheard since Trailer’s releases went out of print ages ago. Nice to have them here now, although one might wish for slightly greater variety given that some artists here have 2 tracks apiece, while other Trailer acts aren’t represented at all.

Nathamuni Brothers – “Madras 1974 ” – [Fire Museum Records]

Thurston Hunger   9/13/2007   CD, International

I was sort of hoping for the glory of the Jaipur Kawa Brass
Band, but this is a different kettle of sonic tea. This is
another large ensemble, accustomed to playing outdoors (this
was evidently recorded on a patio in 1974!) The clarinet-ty
nagaswaram is twice as long as the shehnai, its sound is a
tighter shade of shrill. It is strongly featured and often
with a pair or more leading the charge, the notes definitely
slither in Carnatic ecstasy, but the tone is oddly pure.
I miss the a raspier gasping to a degree. Also the bumps and
brrppts of the brass are very much in the background, even
then they are smoothed out. I will say that several times the
tabla/drums get good and driving, like at the end of #3.
The improv introduction to #4 is stellar, as free as any fire
jazz…completely killer! The next track is an epic 28 minute
excursion, again I found the drumming pushing my prana buttons
even more than the reeds. Some of the melodies sound closer to
home, rue Brittania?? And I’m not counting the English “Note”
on track 8 which would bring a tear to Popeye’s eye. Glad the
CD doesn’t end there. It closes with more nagaswaram noodling.
A solid release…as one would expect…by way of a UC Irvine
musicologist by the name of Robert Garfias.

-Thurston Hunger

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