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Music Reviews

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 that???s 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

Molam: Thai Country Groove From Isan Vol. 2 [coll] – [Sublime Frequencies]

Daryl Licht   8/21/2007   CD, International

???Molam – Thai Country Groove From Isan, Vol. 2??? is the second of two new CDs recently issued by Sublime Frequencies featuring authentic archival sounds from Thailand. It focuses on recordings from the 1970???s and 80???s which feature a unique hybrid of traditional Northeastern Thai (the geographic area known as Isan) folk song structures and instrumentation (like the khaen, a bamboo mouth-organ, and the phin, a Thai lute) and modern Western pop and rock influences and instruments. The resultant sound was (and still is!) something entirely new – a mesmerizing blend of organic Asian folk rhythms, hypnotic, bleeding keyboards, repetitive guitar figures, and amazing, jaunty, freestyle vocals. Although the material on this disc is almost uniformly great, several tracks still deserve special note for their transcendent qualities: ???The Generosity Of Our Fans??? by White Leg Group, Chai Mungpon???s ???Lady With the Big Eyes???, ???Two Brothers Leave Town For Bangkok??? from Doi Intanon And Group Suthep, ???Give Responsibility To the Son-in-Law??? from Soonton Chairoogruen (now there???s one in your face rock and roll statement of counter cultural defiance for you, huh?!?), and ???Finishing My Business In Burma??? by Aungkana Kunchai. Perhaps even better than the first volume, these unique and genre-defying tracks represent another great musical discovery from the fine folks at Sublime Frequencies! DL

Mekuria, Getatchew, The Ex, and Guests – “Moa Anbessa ” – [Terp Records]

Hunter Gatherer   8/16/2007   CD, International

Legendary Ethiopian saxophonist Getatchew Mekuria teams up with legendary Dutch band The Ex and some friends who join in on bass, clarinet, sax, trombone, and organ. The Ex were big fans of the albums he recorded in the 70’s (and you will be too if you check out the copy of Negus of Ethiopian Sax we have in International CD), and tracked him down in Addis Ababa. Some of the tracks were recorded in two days of studio work in April 2006. Others were recorded live in concert.

The relentless driving of The Ex fits perfectly with the horns, especially the featured sax of Mr. Mekuria, creating a sound that is part punk, part free jazz, and part war chant. According to the detailed liner notes, Mr. Mekuria had something of a breakthrough in his style when he started to transcribe a vocal war song style called sh??llela for his saxophone. Check out Tezalegn Yetentu (10) for an example. There is a lot going on but somehow it all hangs together perfectly. Or turn to Mr. Mekuria’s solo on Tezeta (8) for a more lyrical sound.
–Hunter Gatherer

Language: 1 (fuck, suck)

Awon Ojise Olorun [coll] – [Savannahphone]

ArtCrimes   6/19/2007   CD, International

[coll] Awon Ojise Olorun International

The Yoruba tribe of Africa has resided in Nigeria, Benin, Ghana and Togo for over a thousand years. Their percussion and group call-and-response singing style are the bedrock for more contemporary African styles like Juju, Apala, and eventually Fela???s Afrobeat. The examples here, spanning the period 1931-1952, are largely percussion-driven, although acoustic guitars show up here and there, and an Islamically-influenced style called ???sakara??? adds a one-stringed fiddle to the palette. The song topics run the range from religious invocations, to wildlife stories, to the merchandising of Kola nuts. English translations are provided for all tracks.

Kane, Nuru – “Sigil ” – [World Music Network]

Jawbone   6/5/2007   CD, International

Hailing from the western most point of Africa, Dakar (the capital of Senegal), but based in Paris for many years with his band Bayefall Gnawa, Nuru Kane draws his influences from many places. Inspired by a trip to Morocco, he took up the guimbri (a 3-stringed guitar-like bass) favored by the trance music of the Gnawa people. Also influenced by Griot (west African wandering poets) and African blues (ala Ali Farka Toure), he chose to record this album in Scotland, of all places. The Scot producer, Martin Swan, adds occasional fiddle and accordian, with wonderful results. But make no mistake, backed by other African musicians, including some members of his band Bayefall Gnawa, this is authentic African folk, not generic world fusion. Some tracks are electric beat based and some are acoustic slow blues. I prefer the latter. They are soaked in the deep heartfelt soul of Kane’s voice and his expressive acoustic guitar playing. Most songs are sung in the Senegalese national language (French), but other African languages surface from time to time.

I especially like tracks 1, 4, 6, 9, 11 & 13.

–Jawbone

Tidawt – “Agamgam ” – [Nomad Foundation]

ArtCrimes   6/5/2007   CD, International

Tidawt are Tuareg musicians from Niger. This is not traditional music, but original songs that are informed by the nomadic lifestyle of the Tuareg, where family and traditional customs keep them going, despite political disruptions to their way of life. Although Tidawt exists as a larger group in their homeland, the recording here is by the touring group of three members, singing and playing acoustic guitars and some percussion???the trot of the camel serves as the rhythmic influence for many of these songs. Entirely sung in a Tuareg dialect, with guitar work at times suggests a Malian style, but often the chordal sequences are just as much western as they are African.

Tamburitza! [coll] – [Arhoolie Productions]

ArtCrimes   5/9/2007   CD, International

[coll] Tamburitza! Hot String Band Music
From the Balkans to America 1910-1950

The tamburitza is a stringed instrument, similar to a mandolin or bazouki, associated with the Balkans, especially Serbia and Croatia. ???Orchestras??? employing various sizes of these instruments were once all the rage among communities of Serb and Croat immigrants in America who clung to the musical traditions of their homelands. This collection presents close to fifty examples of tamburitza music recorded in the US from 1910 to 1950, with some of the earliest selections recorded without use of electricity, before the introduction of microphones. There are many sprightly instrumental dance tunes, one jazz number from 1950, and vocal numbers covering topics like farming, drunkeness, baking, and romance, although not necessarily in that order.

Bats’i Son [coll] – [Locust Music]

ArtCrimes   4/10/2007   CD, International

Field recordings made in the Chiapas mountains of Mexico back in the seventies, made by Richard Alderson for Folkways???he has gone back to the masters and spiffed them up for CD. Although a collection, no individual artists are credited here. The tracklist shows the indigenous group name and the type of song (or event). This is mostly social music, some specifically for public events (religious festivals, carnivals, funerals). This is indigenous music of the region, but the influences include some European instrumentation (violin, guitar) and styles in addition to the local languages and customs. The recording quality is amazingly good, often with a clear stereo field so you can hear individual instruments. Some tracks (like #8, 9) feature fireworks as a percussive motif! Track #7 is an acapella duet of professional prayers, who seem to enjoy their work. Tracks #19-20 are segued.

Zecharia, Zadik – “Kurdish Melodies On Zorna ” – [Bo’weavil Recordings]

Thurston Hunger   4/5/2007   CD, International

I thought the zorna was a form of bagpipe on initially hearing this,
Zecharia seems to keep a cycle of sound going so long at times. Evidently
it is closer to the shehnai, a two-reeded wooden instrument…that can
blow like piercing fire. On the first nine tracks on this Zecharia is
chained to very emphatic Dola drumming. Too heavy to be hypnotic, they
are domineering tracks. Tracks 10 – 16 have a bit more air in them
and allow the notes of the Zorna to sustain gracefully. There is still
percussion, but it does not seem to be as slave-driving. At the end
two tricky treats, remixes that sort of kaleidoscope two of the earlier
driven tracks and do so to excellent effect. I think individual tracks
from this will be very handy for energizing shows, or making interesting
leaps into/out of modern electronics, or perhaps summoning the charm of
a friendly snake charmer…

-Thurston Hunger

Valencia, Cant D’estil – Singing Contests [coll] – [Ocora | Radio France]

ArtCrimes   3/28/2007   CD, International

It???s ???American Idol??? as they do it in Valencia, Spain…competitive singing, done in the streets, with small backing groups. You can be overweight and plus-50 and still have a chance to win big time, as long as you can warble like a Valencian thrush. Men (Xiquet del Carme is a dude) and women both compete, and some tracks here are duets. The repertoire is limited to about 6 different backing themes (note the repetition of song titles), but the singing is mostly improvised, with lyrics made up by each performer about subjects ranging from what their nickname is, or how awful the parking is in Valencia, or ???let???s parteeeee???. The singing style is very florid and demanding, and there???s some jaw dropping moments here. The backing group, using guitar strums and brass instruments, hangs on tight, as each singer determines when the chords should change and when the song is over. (Track #13 is an instrumental interlude.)

Khan, Bismillah – “Shehnai Nawaz ” – [EMI (India)]

Thurston Hunger   3/8/2007   12-inch, International

Bismillah Khan was laid to rest August 2006 year, his work on the shehnai
remains lively and remarkable…he took those four reeds and squeezed
seven decades out of them. While listening to these two ragas one is
impressed by the shehnai’s abilty to waver, as if to falter…not unlike
someone hitting the pitch shifter on the turntable, but then quickly
re-align itself right back in tune. These deft drops done repeatedly
show the mastery…and remind me of a bird taking off. The first raga,
“Bhupal-Todi” keeps things at a managed pace, drone-infused but again
full of more flight than that. On the other face, that for the night,
“Bageshree” showcases a more impulsive set of playing, at times it
seems Khan splits into two or three other players…forces are joined
but it is more fun to imagine Khan incarnate and reincarnating on the
spot. and some lightning deviations zap your breath away. Lengthy tracks
but time just flies with these on…perhaps that is the math underneath
creating some sort of audio illusion? Anyways the shehnai, like the
theremin and the erhu, has the ability to connot the human voice,
especially a voice overcome with feeling…to the point of it becoming
something else. Gods cast mortals into statues and trees, why not
musical intruments as well. Viva Bismillah Khan, enjoy these two
tremendous pieces played with devotion, and check out
http://www.deccanherald.com/deccanherald/aug10/at1.asp

-Thurston Hunger

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