Music Reviews

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

-Thurston Hunger

Los Donnenos – “Grabaciones Originales 1950-1954 ” – [Arhoolie Productions]

ArtCrimes   3/7/2007   CD, International

Los Donnenos “Grabaciones Originales 1950-1954”

The Norteno style is found in its most basic form here, with Ramiro Cavazos and Mario Montes playing accordion and guitar (or bajo sexto, the chunky sounding Mexican 12 string). There are many story songs, typically about bad-ass gunmen or unobtainable senoritas of great mystery. Each song is tagged with its style: the ranchera has that peppy and relentless Tex-Mex beat well known to anyone within range of a Spanish speaking radio station; Corridos are text-heavy ballads about heroic deeds of both well-known and obscure characters. Track 14 is an instrumental polka.

This music is what one might have heard at a dance or saloon in southern Texas 50 years ago, far more authentic to these styles than anything one hears today.

Bauls of Bengal, The – “Bauls of Bengal, The ” – [Empire Musicwerks]

loun   2/20/2007   CD, International

There are some things that can only happen on the subcontinent. With their unique blend of religious diversity and fervor, rigid social strata, and tolerance, the people of the subcontinent found a way to live with the Thuggees, who robbed and murdered as an act of devotion, mathematicians who practiced their craft like a religion, and the Bauls, who deliberately present themselves as both Hindu and Muslim, as well as other religions, and make a living by singing for their supper.

Baul music is folk music of a surprising depth and sophistication, handed down through generations that do little else but play music. Unlike many folk styles, Baul music is fluid and personal – each performer is expected to bring their own search for God and truth into the performance. Likewise, listeners should hear the piece in the context of their own search. Perhaps that is why track 4 ripped my attention away from whatever I was doing each time it played – perhaps it spoke to my own search for truth, or maybe it was just Purna’s sweet and powerful voice wrenching my heart with her passion.

All tracks are solid, and can be played wherever an American folk piece would fit – the Bauls were to Bob Dylan as Ravi Shankar was to the Beatles. Take a little time and listen to the search for God – it began before we were possible, and will continue long after we are dust.

Kaiser, Henry / Noyes, Charles K. / Park, Sang Won – “Invite The Spirit 2006 ” – [Tzadik]

Max Level   2/13/2007   CD, International

Not content to have blown many minds with their 1983 collaboration LP (“Invite The Spirit” on Celluloid), Kaiser, Noyes, and Park are back at it again, blending ancient, reverent sounds with modern extended techniques on electric guitar and such. Noyes is to percussion as Kaiser is to guitar: obviously skilled and musical, but eager to find odd sounds on his instruments and/or make hellacious noises. Park is a traditional Korean musician and master of the kayagum, a zither-like instrument similar to the Japanese koto. He contributes some other instruments here as well, and sings a bit. There are also a couple of guest vocalists, who bring elements of traditional Korean opera. I’m finding this traditional-sounding material fascinating; Korean music has a very different flavor than other types of Eastern music I’ve heard. Add to that Kaiser’s bristling guitars and Noyes’s inventive percussion and there’s just nothing else like it out there. Highly recommend for the musically restless. Note: there’s a lengthy tribute poem to the late guitar pioneer Derek Bailey inside the CD package.

Jorge, Seu – “Life Aquatic – Studio Sessions, The ” – [Hollywood Records]

Thurston Hunger   1/25/2007   CD, International

Viva Brazil. Portugese sounds obscenely beautiful to this foreigner,
sensually slurry and rarely in a hurry. Okay As Mercenarias has a quicker
appoach…maybe that is the beautifully obscene side? Anyways, whereas
the soundtrack to Orfeu Negro beat at the heart of that film, Seu Jorge’s
renditions of David Bowie’s songs ends up being a scented pillow, or tub
of hot water to rest in during the goof-a-rama of the Life Aquatic. Which
is so perfect, as Bowhead is the Man who fell to earth, Jorge and his
acoustic guitar are barefoot in the soil, already as down-to-earth as one
can get. This recording catches the little croak in his throat, and
the breeziness of his falsetto. Wes Anderson placing him in the film as
a crew member also was a sweet lampoon of the left-field nature of any
soundtrack, like seeing John Shaft’s band strutting behind him, hustling
the theme along. The songs here are at once recognizable and yet well
camoflauged. Try testing a friend on some of these, “Changes” comes on
quickly…but “Suffragette City” sounds like someone whispering to you on
a street corner in San Fransister, or I suppose in Rio. Replacing the
original alienation with a more subtle striving to seduce the listener
really showcases the power of these true re-makes. At the same time, we
realize how deep Bowhead plumbed our subconcious with these numbers;
better “Rebel Rebel” show up here, than trying to sell your nephew
a combination ipod/skateboard.

-Thurston Hunger

Souleyman, Omar – “Highway to Hassake : Folk and Pop Songs of Syria ” – [Sublime Frequencies]

Thurston Hunger   1/18/2007   CD, International

Thank Allah and tell Jehovah the news, we’re lucky to have such Sublime
ambassadors! This time Mark Gergis visits Syria and the results quicken
the pulse. If you remember “I Remember Syria” than you already may have
a little Omar in your soul. His troupe delivers a brand of dervish techno
that spins and swirls in your brain; the overdriven keyboards of Rizan
Sa’id sound somewhat like a bionic bagpipe. How does solid state wheeze?
Other tracks trickle with brittle oud (like “Atabat” which features an
almost reggae stoniness to its rhythm as well.) As always, the whole
package merits attention with this label, the liner notes are stellar,
they fit with the images of Omar having the words breathed into his ears
by lyricist Mahmoud Harbi. There is a great shot where you can see through
Omar’s opaque glasses and make out his eyes widened and white, as if the
illumination has spread like fire from word through his mind and is about
to be ignited via his voice for the audience. If you want to slow things
down a bit, check out “Jalsat Atabat” with killer kamancheh by Lazgin
Khaled or the impassioned pleading (vocally and instrumentally) on
“Bashar Ya Habib al Shaab” four minutes of pure power before getting into
a more soothing groove. Wow! According to Gergis, on “Toul Al Zeenah”
Omar asks god to keep his keyboardist Rizan with him, it’s a good thing
’cause I could see the Underground Resistance trying to sign Rizan to a
Detroit 3-record release deal. Further reasons to worship the sublime
prankster gods of the Sun City!

-Thurston Hunger

Group Doueh – “Guitar Music From The Western Sahara ” – [Sublime Frequencies]

Thurston Hunger   1/18/2007   12-inch, International

The liner notes by Hisham Mayet in this glorious gatefold release capture
the double feeling of discovery that is the pulsing essence of KFJC.
First he hears something in a hotel room, tapes it and spends great
effort trying to track it down, after that odyssey seems nearly futile,
the gods of coincidence smile upon him and he winds up in the living
room of the musician. Amazing… Doueh, aka Baamar Salmou, has founded
this group as a family affair, entwined about the hither-slither of
his guitar. It’s a whole-different lightning-in-a-bottle sound, quick
picked by bare fingers with gnawa propulsion, Junior Kimbrough sizzle,
ethiopian hypnosis, Electric grit that sticks to your ears, over fine
galloping beats to get your knees buzzing too. Chanting and wailed
vocals add to the incantation, but just listen to the cluster sputter
of “Fagu”, that’s a pretty swirling vortex. Crash phase style. Other
pieces feature a more fluid approach, in the photos we see Doueh with
almost a different guitar in every shot. Some of the tracks have the
vox squelched, like they are stuffed under the seat of a jeep getting
smuggled past a checkpoint. It adds to the intimate immediacy on
those numbers (A1, A2 and B3). A release that looks and sounds
fantastic, viva vinyl!

-Thurston Hunger

Sothear, Srei and Sisamouth, Sin – “Cambodian Psych-Out ” – [Defective Records]

Thurston Hunger   1/4/2007   12-inch, International

Cambodian Rocks and the stellar Cambodian Cassete Archives on Sublime
Frequencies (the mighty Mark Gergis gets a nod here) already have shown
KFJC the magic and tragic sides of this amazing sub-genre. As on those
releases, the American covers “Venus” and “Wooly Bully” should be your
*last* stops on this time travel. The lead-in to the first track, with
its airport-terminal-white-courtesy-phone spoken interchange is a good
place to check your emotional luggage. “If You Wish to Love Me Don’t
Laugh or Cry” is a must-stop, and a tad familiar, with Sothear’s voice
sounding like she’s got effects in her throat, and Sin’s bubbles of
laughter in the background and manly handling the choruses for her. I
don’t know what they’re singing, but I don’t know how the hell it could
have warranted them being killed by the Khmer Rouge. Indeed that title
alone makes the most romantic sense I’ve ever heard. Looking at the
lps with handsome headshots of Sin and Srei (Ros?) marred by holes for
the turntable kind of freak me out as if those are the bullet wounds
of their execution. Anyways, no need to be morbid, these songs are as
alive as ever. On the B-side, “As Young Woman Wanted, Now 31 Years
Old Not So Good” (amazing titles, no?) the secret of Sothear’s voice
is most evident, she sounds like a human wah-wah pedal. Remarkable
singing…so fantastic. Another key is the Cambodian embracement and
elevation of the electric keyboard, they just mic it up right. The
liner notes offer multiple spellings of both singers’ names, maybe
adding to their mythic quality, or somehow hoping a name was changed,
and somehow they survived as well as these songs.

-Thurston Hunger

Tournas, Kostas – “Aperanta Choraphia ” – [Anazitisi]

Thurston Hunger   1/4/2007   12-inch, International

Burt Bacharach attack on side A. Cinematic superpower horns fly over an
island of studio musicans. I know melodic symphonic rock may be Greek
to you, 21st Century Noizoid Man…but in 1973 to the Greeks, this lp
by Kostas Tournas served as a nice oasis/oracle. Don’t be bummed by its
“Hey Joe” hummability – or fuss about the big budget. The 70s were a
time for inflation. The B-side seems to work the theme a little better,
with cave-echo guitar phosphorescing, some balalaika and a vox humana
synth chorus….okay and a snipped of Led Zep III acousticity. Those
weirder strands though, are what help to unravel the commercial tapestry
of this rock opera carpet ride. Sides flow pretty strongly, so dip in
and out as you can or let it roll out… Still hoping Grecian psych
formula can be redeployed as well as those Anatolian holy rollers and
rockers from Turkey’s vaults.

-Thurstocles Hungryphon

West Africa Unwired [coll] – [World Music Network]

loun   12/9/2006   CD, International

A compelling case could be made that West African music has been the world’s most influential musical style, pushing not only northward into Europe via the Moors, but also across the Atlantic with the slaves to become the foundation for gospel music, jazz, the blues, and, eventually, rock & roll. Yet this music remains largely unheard in its original form. This disc contains a collection of what is known as griot music, the traditional generational music of the region, which embodies the wisdom of the ancestors. The music is rich, deep, and pleasing, and contains a musical maturity rarely found anywhere, courtesy of countless generations of refinement. The sound is consistent, but there is plenty of variety. All tracks are excellent. An unassailable choice wherever a blues track would fit.

Mustafa Ozkent ve Orkestrasi “Genclik Ili Elele” [Finders Keepers] (full length CD)

ArtCrimes   11/28/2006   CD, Format, International

It’s easy to see how this fell through the cracks of the Turkish pop scene in 1973, with the insane-chimp-in-studio cover photo and the 3-D type bursts proudly declaring “Rhythm’n’Soul”, “Blues’n’Jazz”, “Rock’n’Pop” and most charmingly, “Folc”…as if this recording easily fit all those genres. Strangely, it nearly does, and without a word ever being sung.

This instrumental combo, recorded without overdubs in what we can only assume were Spartan recording conditions, falls somewhere along the lines of Booker T & the MGs doing a student exchange program with Frank Zappa circa Hot Rats, with Hammond organ, extremely busy electric bass, and two drummers backing the ethnically psychedelic guitar work of Mustafa Ozkent and Cahit Oben. The album title translates as “Hand in Hand With Youth”, and so it’s got to have all the hip, new sounds of the era, with wah wah and other guitar effects, but it also draws heavily on traditional Turkish melodies, which utilize non-Western tunings and apparently additional guitar frets.

Master tape damage is apparent here and there, with some tape speed changes, but we’re lucky to have this at all, the liner notes suggest, due to the recycling of much Turkish vinyl during 70s oil shortages.

Love Is Love [coll] – [Mono Records]

shiroi   11/26/2006   12-inch, International

An odd and intriguing assortment of various pop and traditional music from Ethiopia, Siere Leone, Kenya, South Africa, Zambia, Nairobi and Tanzania, with string and other instruments. “Toomus Meremereh Nor Good” may be my favorite. Others are more mellifluous in places. “S’modern” sounds very old. “Castle Beer” sounds very primitive and unproduced. “Uolayinda Kubota” has a cheerful rhythm. “Jumbe Nipelek Kwetu” makes me think of a cheerful Tom Waits. “Chemirocha” is actually cute. All songs have their charms. – Shiroi

World Library of Folk & Primitive Music: Romania [coll] – [Rounder Records]

Thurston Hunger   10/5/2006   CD, International

Original recordings date back to 1934-1957. They sound simply
remarkable, both in audio quality as well as the emotional
pull. This is music, not meant to sell a new automobile, or
to make your myspace page sexier, but music as *the* response
to life…a wedding, a death, a day at the working bee,
a morning tending sheep. It starts with a call to Spring
on powerful nine-foot-long horns(tulnic). There’s also hyper
percolating pre-disco dance with cimbalom flipping. There
are amazing suicide arias (#23), fevered flute soliloquies
(#17), bagpipe reels (#11), protean hiphop on flute (#12).
The latter two are excerpts, and if there is any complaint
it is that sadly some of these are not extended more than a
minute or two. People on here are singing their souls out
for perpetuity…check #28, a love song across centuries.
Or a tear-prodding lament for an 8-year old brother (#7).
Drone choruses (#5,#8), Latcho Drom violin creepy pulls,
middle eastern flair (#30), pumping chants (#2) and an
orchestra chasing a bird (#35). An amazing sample of joys
and sorrows, well-preserved. Sterling and stirring…
Taking a page from the fine liner notes :
“Our good fortune is that we can hear this!

-Thurston Hunger

Orchestre du Bawobab/Don Isaac Ezekiel Combination “Kelen Ati Len/The Preacher Man” [Soundway]

Mr. Lucky   9/13/2006   7-inch, International

There’s nothing about this 7″ I don’t like. Side one is the Orchestre du Bawobab coming staight outta Senegal and doing some funky thangs! “Kelen Ati Len” is a nasty funk hitter with some beautiful wah guitar action over some fatback drums. I can’t understand what is being said, but I’m sure it’s something like “Get yo ass up and dance!”. Side two is The Don Isaac Ezekiel Combo getting down on some Funky-gospel stylings with some call and response vocals, a bongo happy rhythm section, and strummy guitar hopping all over the track. I would say that the only thing I don’t like about this is the fact that it ends, but there’s a lovely locked groove to save your needle from the label at the end. Like a toddler in the dirt, this is short and funky! -Mr. Lucky

Julius, Orlando & His Afro Sounders “Orlando’s Afro Ideas ’69-’72” [Soundway]

Mr. Lucky   9/13/2006   12-inch, International

Orlando Julius isn’t necessarily the name that comes to mind when speaking of African Funk music. But this man and his band were peers of Fela and the Africa 70, and are credited with infusing African traditional musics with the stylings of Stateside music. And really, while Fela and crew were the Kings of Afro Beat, Julius and the Sounders were the Kings of Afro Soul. Taking elements of Highlife and fusing them with the American sounds of Soul, OJ and the Sounders have here a music that is soothing to the ear and exciting to dancing feet. Jazzy solos on saxaphone waft among the shuffling drums, wailing horns, gliding bass, and ringing guitars. They even released songs on Polydor, and composed a welcome song to the Godfather himself, who would come and visit them in Lagos. This is lovely stuff that shows a different side to the vibrant Afro-Music scene of the late 60’s-early 70’s in Nigeria. -Mr. Lucky

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