Music Reviews

Astatke, Mulatu – “Mulatu Steps Ahead” – [Strut]

Cousin Mary   4/6/2010   CD, International

Astatke is an Ethiopian jazz vibraphonist – among his many claims to fame is that he was the first African student at the Berklee School of Music. This album, recorded in sessions from 2007 to 2009, displays his compositions and arrangements. Many of the tracks are performed with the Either/Orchestra. I hear influences from Africa, funk, blues, Latin, and big band jazz.

Big rich sounds with a variety of sounds, solid vibe playing.

Ghana Special [coll] – [Sound Way]

Max Level   3/15/2010   CD, International

This is some real deal stuff–a blast for fans of African music. 33 songs, mostly upbeat and energetic, with electric guitars, keyboards, horns, vocals, and incessant percussion, just the way it should be. The material was culled from a period of musical change in Ghana, when local dance-club bands were playing fewer covers of imported soul and pop hits, and more of an Afro-centric sound that represented their own culture. Extensive liner notes give info on the artists, the record labels, the nightclubs, the whole scene. When I saw bands listed with names such as The Barbecues and The Sweet Talks, I knew this was going to be good.

Jansch, Bert – “L.A. Turnaround” – [Drag City]

ArtCrimes   2/1/2010   12-inch, International

Nearly 10 years into his career by this point, and having just split from the folk/jazz Pentangle, Bert Jansch was enticed to sign with the prog-heavy UK label, Famous Charisma Label. The first of 3 releases for Charisma, this one is perhaps the most eclectic and interesting of them. At the time, Mike Nesmith of the Monkees was doing country flavored work with the First National Band, and he was brought in to produce this LP with Bert, using FNB steel guitarist Red Rhodes plus an LA-based rhythm section on some tracks. Jesse Ed Davis, sometimes sideman for Taj Mahal, brought his tough slide sound for a few tracks, giving a bit of a Little Feat or Ry Cooder edge on tracks like “Open Up the Watergate”. The result is a fuller sound than usual for Bert’s casual (and very Scottish) vocals and his always complex and driving acoustic guitar. Instrumentals “Chambertin” and “Lady Nothing” are more typical of his earlier solo work, and “Needle of Death” is a remake of one of his very first original songs, sounding a bit like Neil Young’s “Ambulance Blues” in this countryish re-arrangement. Outtakes from these sessions are collected on a companion CD along with a short Quicktime film of a British session for the album. ((( crimes )))

Mapfumo, Thomas & The Acid Band – “Hokoyo!” – [Water]

ArtCrimes   12/7/2009   CD, International

Thomas Mapfumo has long been associated with a type of music called “Chimurenga,” the Shona word for “struggle” or “uprising,” which gained prominence as colonial Rhodesia’s white minority rule began to crumble, leading to an independent Zimbabwe. The Chimurenga style bases its guitar parts on the sound of the mbira (thumb piano), and uses the Shona language. Although the name “Acid Band” might suggest some psychedelic aspects, this is in fact nothing of the sort… the music is upbeat in tempo (the drummer rides the high hat pretty relentlessly throughout), sometimes influenced by Western R&B and soul styles of the late 70s (particularly track 1) but mostly more obviously African with interlocking vocals and percussive guitar similar to the Jit and Zouk styles. The acid side of the story perhaps is in the corrosive spirit of the lyrics, which recast the struggle for independence in mythical terms, drawing from Shona legends. This music spoke directly to the Shona people while not seeming so obviously subversive to the ruling class. Mapfumo went on to become more radical with his later work, a sort of Zimbabwean Bob Marley. ((( crimes )))

Group Bombino – “Guitars From Agadez Vol. 2” – [Sublime Frequencies]

ArtCrimes   12/7/2009   CD, International

Volume 2 of Sublime Frequencies “Agadez” series focuses on a single group, Group Bombino, working in the Toureg style played by desert nomads. This music is guitar based and tied to the Toureg’s struggle for self-determination, with tempos matching the gait of the camel (in fact, a camel is one of the first things we hear on track 1). Bombino himself does most lead vocals. The first 4 tracks are studio tracks, played on acoustics with handclaps and sparse percussion, Tracks 5-9 are electric live performances recorded (with adequate-to-good sonic quality) in Agadez with full drum kit and the spiky electric guitar interplay we associate with groups like Terakaft. These latter tracks are far more Western sounding, although sung in the local language. Although somewhat intended as a call to action for Toureg independence, this is also potentially some party-down stuff, especially track 9.

PGM: Track 2 has a spoken intro to start. Tracks 3-4 segue with ambient desert sounds. (((( crimes )))))

Analog Africa No. 5 – Legends of Benin [coll] – [Analog Africa]

Cousin Mary   11/21/2009   CD, International

German Samy Ben Redjeb scoured African markets for these gems recorded by musicians in Benin between 1969 and 1981 and released them on his label “Analog Africa”. He also wrote the excellent notes in the accompanying booklet that tells a lot about the musicians and about how he found their music.

Wonderful African music with great instrumentals, vocals (some French), and driving beats. One hears influences of Latin, funk, reggae, and even an accordion (Track 2) reminiscent of Zydeco.

Note: Benin (I found 3 pronunciations: buh-NIN or be-neen or Bay-nahn?) is in West Africa between Togo and Nigeria.

PGM: Track 14 begins with a song that is about 7 minutes long, then silence, then another song that begins at the 9-minute mark (about 4 minutes remaining).

Highly recommended!

Kuti, Fela – “Best of The Black President, The” – [Knitting Factory Records]

Cousin Mary   11/4/2009   CD, International

Excellent 2-CD selection of Feal Kuti’s afrobeat classics, many long tracks up to 17 minutes. Liner notes give extensive background on his political activities, many relate to the music. Very energetic, good beats even when telling about tragic events in Fela Kuti’s life or Africa. Vocals are in pidgin, generally understandable to English speakers.

PGM: Language CD1-track 3, CD2-track 5. Also CD2-track 2 goddamn.

Siamese Soul [coll] – [Sublime Frequencies]

MSTiZA   10/29/2009   CD, International

I can’t get enought of these tracks, or Sublime Frequencies. There is something eerie and enticing about the South East Asian groove on Western Soul. Their versions are endearing and haunting, yet rise to the measure of soul mixed with psychadelic. I just want to squeeze this collection into my pocket for the day and take it out at night and sleep with it under my pillow…love *sigh*

Cazumbi – African Sixties Garage Vol. 2 [coll] – [No Smoke]

humana   10/24/2009   CD, International

International: Out of Madagascar, Angola, Mozambique, South Africa, Ghana, and Cameroun come these fine sounds of garage rock, surf, and psyche. Guitars, percussion, organ, occasional horns back up vocals in English, French, and other languages, all of it upbeat, energetic, and tinged with the sound of the 60s that reached Africa. These bands infuse the songs with funk, soul, and style, and there are indeed howlers and screamers in here. Check out the covers (11, 19, 20) and the psyche effort (13). Enjoy!

Slavic Soul Party – “Taketron” – [Barbes]

aarbor   10/14/2009   CD, International

Brash and strong as slivovitz this is danceable Balkan-flavored pop from a new NYC band. They mix the “messed-up” rhythms of the Balkans with gypsy music, funk and jazz. This is “heart and feet music” rather than “head music” according to one of the band members. There are great horns and hip-grinding grooves. Actually there’s a bit of gypsy, a bit of Eastern European, some Mexican, some Asian and jazz and even some soul. It’s NYC “neighborhood music” a little bit of this and a bit of that. Well worth playing! AArbor

Songs of The African Coast [coll] – [Yarngo]

ArtCrimes   9/9/2009   CD, International

A new label, Yarngo, debuts with this reissue (and expansion) of field recordings made in Liberia, Africa, in 1948 by ethno-musicologist Arthur Alberts (eventually part of his “Tribal, Folk and Cafe Music of West Africa” collection, first issued on 78 rpm discs). Fans of African field recordings may be expecting the ethnic percussion and vocal styles in village communities heard on any number of Nonesuch Explorer releases, but this music has a far more Westernized approach, with piano accompaniment by the blind Prof. Howard B. Hayes (who also composed a number of the songs) that suggests the influence of American jazz and popular song. Hayes does duets with vocalist Malinda Jackson Parker on the first several tracks, and the balance of the disc features the Greenwood Singers, doing a slightly more folk-based approach with an ensemble, sometimes doing their own versions of songs also done by Hayes & Parker. There are similarities to Bahamian and Calypso styles, so fans of the Pindar Family, Joseph Spence and Mighty Sparrow may enjoy the wit and charm of many songs here. (((crimes)))


Bali 1928, Vol. 1 [coll] – [World Arbiter]

Cousin Mary   8/26/2009   CD, International

Three Gamelan groups from Bali perform on these historic recordings from 1928, very rare glimpses of these performances from before World War II. The tracks come from 78???s that were recorded to introduce Westerners to this music and to be sold to the Balinese market – not a success since there were ample opportunities in Bali to see live performances and also since few owned the equipment to play them.

Chimes, gongs and other instruments are lovely in these gamelan settings despite some hiss and noise from the old recordings. CD also includes more text information and copies of silent films recorded at the time.

Raks Raks Raks (17 Golden Garage Psych Nuggets Iranian 60’s) [coll] – [Raks Discos]

Rarus Avis   8/25/2009   12-inch, International

Raks Raks Raks is a new collection issued by Raks Discos of 17 choice songs from the Persian 1960’s, ranging from Psych to Soul. These songs, recorded during a time in pre-Revolution Iran when western/eastern music cultural exchanges were highly active. On a beautiful colored disk, this collection includes musical pearls from artists such as Moha Jamin, The Flowers, The Littles, and an early “Respect” cover release from Googoosh. Included is a very good insert that provides much historial context. What a terrific release. Play early – play often.

Rarus Avis

Panama! 2 [coll] – [Soundway Records]

ArtCrimes   7/22/2009   CD, International

Soundway’s second volume of Panamanian tracks, mostly from single releases during the sixties and seventies influenced by Afro-Cuban jazz, Salsa, Cumbia, American ’70s rock, soul and funk (a Santana-like groove on #6, Bill Withers gets covered on #10), folkloric sources, reggae, samba, and whatever other Latin rhythms were in the air at the time. Cuban call-and-response vocals are pretty widespread here but there’s also some Calypso toasting and American soul singing with creamy backup harmonies as well. The accordions are often used as the instrumental lead, taking the lines that might have gone to the brass in Cuban salsa. Electric guitars also take some of the leads here, and sometimes are used similarly to the Chicha combos from Peru, and there’s enough wah-wah to remind you what years are being considered here. (((crimes)))

Eto, Kimio & Shank, Bud – “Koto & Flute” – [World Pacific]

Cousin Mary   7/3/2009   12-inch, International

This recording from 1960 features Kimio Eto, master of the koto — an ancient 13-string Japanese instrument. All cuts on Side 2 are koto solos.

American jazz musician Bud Shank appears on Side 1 in the Haruno Umi Suite. His flute playing is very fluid, not at all jazz like, and is a lovely complement to Eto???s koto.

Very pretty, virtuoso traditional Japanese koto pieces.

Beraki, Tsehaytu – “Selam” – [Terp Records]

loun   7/1/2009   CD, International

This is not revolutionary music – it is the music of a revolution. When the people of Eritrea fought for, and ultimately won, independence from Ethiopa, the songs of Tsehaytu Beraki were part of the struggle. Although she eventually fled, shrapnel-damaged, to Rotterdam, she and Eritrea were inseparable. Rediscovered by Terrie Ex (of The Ex), who built her a new krar, the traditional five stringed lyre-guitar of the region, she began for the first time to record her music after a lifetime of playing and writing. This double-CD set is the result. The music is warm and intoxicating, and the krar often sounds like several instruments instead of one. The songs have a timeless, haunting quality, and although the range of style is not large, the sound does not wear thin. Read the booklet for a fascinating background, plus translations of all the tracks.

Innes, Gary – “How’s The Craic?” – [Skipinnish Records]

ArtCrimes   6/12/2009   CD, International

“How’s the Craic?” is Gary Innes’ first release, on the Scottish label Skipinnish (2005). The Gaelic word “Craic” is pronounced “crack,” and loosely describes the intersection of fun, drink, & music. Gary hails from Spean Bridge, Lochaber, Scotland, far north in the Highlands, and he has played the accordion since age 9, a skill that has already taken him to the USA, Jordan, and Kazakhstan for gigs. He works with two other bands, including the all-accordion Box Club, in addition to his own group; additionally, his participation in the Fort William Shinty Club has brought him much Scottish fame for taking the Camanachd Cup more than once (Shinty is an ancestor of hockey, mostly found in the Highlands but also wherever Scots have migrated). The tunes here are primarily instrumental, exceptions being the Gaelic “Filioro” (track #3) sung by Darren MacLean, the country standard “Tennesse Waltz” (#8), sung by Jen Butterworth, and another Gaelic song “Oran Do Cheit” (#11) sung by Kathleen Graham. (All vocal selections are sung by guests, as Innes does not sing on this release.) This is mainly up-tempo fare, updating traditional Scots dancing styles with faster tempos and trickier time changes and adding a host of instruments including guitar, keyboard, fiddle, pipes, banjo, bass & percussion. Track #9 “Laura’s Wee Tune” is a much slower tune dedicated to a former girlfriend, featuring accordion, pipes, and guitar. (crimes)

Cudamani – “Cudamani” – [Vital Records]

humana   6/7/2009   CD, International

International: Cudamani, which means sincerity or wholeheartedness, is the name of the seven-tone gamelan orchestra from the village of Pengoskan, Bali. 33 male musicians were recorded by Wayne Vitale (director of Gamelan Sekar Jaya) on July 27, 2000 in Bali. The first 2 tracks are based on the 7-note scale, and are recent compositions for gamelan. The last 3 tracks are more traditional compositions from older times (1930 and 1920) and are meant to accompany dance. 3 is the only track containing vocals. Each track features gongs, metallophones, or flutes, and summons images of a culture that searches for purity through musical form and interpretation. Cudamani plays for artistic expression rather than for financial gain.
PGM: Each track ends at :14.

Terauchi, Takeshi & “Blue Jeans” – “Let’s Go Eleki Bushi” – [King Stereo]

humana   6/6/2009   CD, International

Japanese surf: Terauchi is Japan???s electric guitar surf hero. He started out in country and western but after the Ventures??? pivotal 1962 tour of Japan, he fronted surf bands and hasn???t looked back. The Blue Jeans change over the years, but Terauchi???s distinctive riffs and guitar remain constant. The 18 tracks on this CD are each a delight. 1 sounds distinctly Japanese. 6 has actual surf sounds and vocals. 12 starts with a baby crying. You can pretty much pick any song and be pleasantly surprised if you like surf.
PGM: All songs end around :03.

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