Music Reviews

Vagabond Opera – “Zeitgeist Beckons, The” – [Vagabond Opera]

ArtCrimes   6/3/2009   CD, International

Vagabond Opera, based in Portland, combines florid, operatic singing styles (male and female), humor, drama, and multi-ethnic musical styles (accordeon often is deployed); the result yields somewhat fragmented cabaret-style act, but unquestionably it’s well-played and sung. This is their third release and definitely is their most ambitious and best produced. A variety of covers gives a good idea of some of their influences: here they do songs by Tom Waits (5), Jacques Brel (12), and Raymond Scott (11), as well as songs sung in more languages than this reviewer could easily determine (Italian, French, Oshtal, & Yiddish among them). Some of the original songs have the feel of show tunes with lots of grand narrative (3, 14)… although the band does stitch together a bit of a story in the accompanying booklet to suggest that a saga is being told, but it’s mainly an opportunity for bandmembers to dress up. Tracks 2 and 13 are somewhat self-referential and would be better experienced in the context of a live performance than on the air. Tracks 6, 8, and 11 are instrumentals. (crimes)

Gamelan Sekar Jaya – “Kali Yuga: The Age of Chaos” – [Self -released]

humana   5/10/2009   CD, International

International: This 30-year-old Bay Area ensemble (recognized as the premiere Balinese gamelan ensemble outside of Indonesia) here offers music composed for a dramatic dance work dedicated to the victims of the 2002 and 2005 bombings in Bali. Thirty musicians evoke a variety of moods from the bronze gamelan orchestra, ranging from chaos to hopeful prayer. Take a listen to this group that, with the help of guest Balinese musicians and artists, keeps the traditional music of Bali alive and perpetuates it with new compositions.
PGM: All songs end at about :08 except 1, which ends at :15.
Picks: 2, 6.

I Don’t Feel At Home In This World Anymore [coll] – [Mississippi Records]

ArtCrimes   4/28/2009   12-inch, International

Mississippi Records of North Portland, OR, assembled this collection spanning 1927-1948 with a variety of styles and ethnic backgrounds. Although all recorded in the USA, the artists wear their heritage conspicuously, with Greek rebetica from Marika Papagika, early Tex-Mex from Lydia Mendoza, gospel from Two Gospel Keys, Cajun with Cleoma Falcon and Blind Uncle Gaspard, country from Blue Sky Boys (a rare track of theirs as far as I can tell), calypso from The Caresser and Wilmouth Houdini (another rare track or perhaps just titled incorrectly!), Hawaiian with Mike Hanapi’s Ilima Islanders and Mme. Riviere’s Hawaiians, klezmer with Jacob Hoffman, latin rhythms from Sexteto Bolona, an unidentified Indonesian artist on Sorban Palid, and the reed pipe stylings of Big Boy Cleveland. Over-riding concerns here seem to be for beauty and mystery in the selections, although the calypso tracks are more goofy that the others (by design). Most of the transfers are fairly clean. Although many of these tracks have been reissued before, most are new to KFJC. When I’m feeling particularly ambitious, I’ll look up the dates for each of these recordings. [crimes]

Terakaft – “Akh Issudar” – [World Village]

ArtCrimes   3/18/2009   CD, International

With Tuareg band Tinariwen having achieved worldwide fame, numerous other groups from the Western African desert region have garnered attention as well. This one is a Mali-based Tinariwen spinoff, with two members coming from that group, so it’s no surprise that this music is instantly familiar: the not-quite-blues guitar with spidery phrasing, the camel-inspired rhythms, handclapping, and the vocal interplay. All the Tuareg groups follow this model to some degree, but the distinctions come with how many people are involved, and what instruments they feature. Terakaft (the name translates as “Caravan”) has a core of only four musicians, with a more open, less percussive sound than the much larger Tinariwen group. The focus here really is on the guitars, which have become, for the Tuaregs, a symbol of resistance. In a way, the Tuareg groups all play “protest music” to serve the Tuareg separatist movement. Tuaregs first adopted acoustic Western-tuned guitars for their portability, allowing them to perform anywhere, anytime. This is very different from the Malian guitar styles that use non-Western tuning to echo traditional Malian instruments. Now that they are a working group, Terakaft’s guitars reflect more of the influence of the Western world, but the notes played could come from nowhere else than the Sahara. (crimes)

Valle, Marcos – “Samba ’68” – [Verve/Mgm]

Cousin Mary   3/6/2009   CD, International

Brazilian music performed by the composer himself – recorded in 1967 during the bossa nova craze when songs such as ???Summer Samba??? and ???The Face I Love??? had wide radio play on top 40 stations. Still very sweet, pop-y, loungy perky fun! Nice organ touches on track 9. Most vocals are in English.

Warning ??? can cause 60???s flashbacks of war in Ipanema!

Victrola Favorites [coll] – [Dust-To-Digital]

ArtCrimes   2/25/2009   CD, International

Dust-to-Digital and Climax Golden Twins are responsible for this book / CD party pack, a celebration of the legacy of 78 RPM recordings released all over the world over a period of time from the 1900s to the 1950s, when 78s began to lose traction in the marketplace. Climax Golden Twins have a history of projects like this, having released a series of 10 cassettes made from their gigantic collection of 78s, played on an actual Victrola that was recorded with a high quality microphone. Those cassettes were packaged without any annotation whatsoever, but this collection adds artists, titles, and years of release as well as some background info in the book, as well as many pages of graphics from packaging, needle tins, advertising, and the labels of the records themselves… this helps us imagine how exciting the idea of recorded sound once was to early purchasers of recorded discs, and the machines to play them on. Rob Miillis of the Twins has selected a few favorites here, which I’ve highlighted in yellow in the track list; that’s a good place to start, but it’s all fascinating stuff, and even the tracks by American artists are quite exotic at times. (crimes)

Sprigs of Time [coll] – [Honest Jon’s]

ArtCrimes   2/10/2009   CD, International

“78s From The EMI Archive” – Honest Jon’s has done numerous themed collections that we’ve enjoyed here at KFJC, but this one is perhaps the widest ranging one yet. There’s no unifying factor here other than the fact that all these tracks were released on 78s found in one massive archive: EMI, the British based recording conglomerate, which keeps a copy of EVERY SINGLE RELEASE that ever existed in their catalogs, anywhere in the world. Going back to the 1900s, EMI was quick to exploit much of the British Empire by selling the colonies their own music, setting up makeshift studios all over the world and then shipping the results back to the UK for mass production. The selections here capture every style one can imagine, from the traditional African call-and-response of “Umbok” to the amusing antics of Indian funny guy Vengopal Chari (represented by 2 tracks) to the sophisticated Cuban scene back in the age of the rumba (Sacasas). Some tracks are VERY short (like tracks 1 and 30), so note the timings! (crimes)

Texas-Mexican Border Music Vol.1 [coll] – [Arhoolie Records Inc.]

ArtCrimes   2/4/2009   12-inch, International

Chris Strachwitz’ Arhoolie label has issued more Tex-Mex archival collections than anyone else worldwide. This LP on his Folklyric reissue label was one of his earliest collections of this genre, the first of a multi-volume series of LPs. This one is a generous overview of Border styles — Ranchera, Corrido, Polka, Huapango, Mariachi, Jarocho, and some lovely harmony singing are all present here, covering a period of about 30 years. He’s picked some of the most famous (Lydia Mendoza) and some of the most obscure (El Ciego Melquiades), and perhaps a couple because of their incredible band names (Los Tremendos Gavilanes).

Much of the music here is driven by small combos with accordeon and/or fiddle, but there are also large brass (Banda Tipica Mazatlan) and string groups.

Find out tons more about this genre: http://digital.library.ucla.edu/frontera/
and http://arhoolie.pagepointhosting.com (crimes)

Give Me Love : Songs of The Brokenhearted – Baghdad, 1925-29 [coll] – [Honest Jon’s]

Thurston Hunger   1/7/2009   12-inch, International

Interesting liner notes set the stage for these recordings
from the 1920’s!!! They sound excellent in terms of both
sound quality as well as in terms of wailing abandonment.
Translated lyrics include phrases like “Your love struck
me down dead before my time has come.” Passion slays,
and the sorrow borders on anger, but fueled oddly by
some kind of ecstatic joy. Several women appear on here
Badria Anwar was my leading lady, mostly as her backing
band delivers these rushing lush romantic soundtracks.
The lead off track has a bouncy upbeat vibe that differs
from much of the collection. Each side (of this double lp)
ends with an instro-meditation. Side A’s on the zorna
is superbly trippy in its otherworld, underwater vein.
The remaining three instros, “Taqsim” pieces, are all
violin with the album closer and great coda to an Anwar
number. This Iraq, is a united one with Jewish musicians
and some stellar Kurdish work, including the crazy near
yodel throb of Said El Kurdi’s “Aman Aman Zakko.” If Neung
Phak really has Phacked it in, then maybe the MonoPausers
can start redelivering these 80 year old gems. Superb,

-Thurston Hunger

Nigeria 70: Lagos Jump [coll] – [Strut]

Thurston Hunger   11/12/2008   12-inch, International

Even though this double 12″ set starts with a cough, it is
likely good for what ails you. Side B has that happy raindrop
style highlife sound, the ever-bright guitars arpeggiating
across a smile, but there’s plenty of other ears in here.
Solid connections to reggae, above and beyond stealing a
bullet from “I Shot the Sherif” by Sir Shina Peters. Shina’s
“hyyying” should become a popular cry. Chief Checker’s
“Ire Africa” has a rasta approved bassline. Ify Jerry
Krusade and The Immortals (especially the latter) offer
tracks that garage pop fans might dig. Other moments work
noodley guitars and sweet keys that many will dig. While
the sound overall may vary, the idea of “Happy Survival”
(a track by Eddie Okwedy here) is as good a theme as
any. Perhaps not as stunning as the Nigeria 70 triple CD,
but these echoes of Eko still shine. -Thurston Hunger

Note: LP version missing 2 tracks that CD has, also
hopefully the accompanying booklet will show up.

Costa, Gal / Veloso, Caetano – “Domingo ” – [Vinyl Lovers]

ArtCrimes   10/22/2008   12-inch, International

When his Brazilian LP first appeared on Philips in 1967, both Gal Costa and Caetano Veloso had released only a few singles individually, so this is the first long player from either of them. Although presented as a team effort, this LP is actually mostly Caetano Veloso’s work, with him composing, performing and arranging most of the songs. Gal is featured as the solo vocalist on a few tracks and there are a few duets. These are almost art songs with a tropical wrapping, sometimes defying normal pop song convention by quickly fading out after only 90 seconds or so without a hook or chorus to grab onto, but there’s great vocal control and careful use of strings in the arrangements. This captures a moment when bossa nova was the best known musical export of Brazil, largely through the hugely popular work of Jobim and Astrid Gilberto, but neither Costa nor Velosos would ever sing and play so gently and lushly as this again…they both were to be major figures in the psychedelia-influenced Tropicalia movement that became a cultural and political force in Brazil only a year after this LP was released.

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.

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

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.

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