Music Reviews

Cambodian Rocks I I [coll] – [Khmer Rocks]

Thurston Hunger   1/13/2006   CD, International

You’re in your garage and you hear strange sound leaking
out of a floor crack over there in the corner. You grab your
trusty pick axe and chip away at the crack, finally finding
deep beneath the floor a secret chamber with these bands
playing an amazingly engaging style of 60’s pop. You start
dancing, drinking and pass out. Come morning you see this CD
laying on the floor across the original crack. I got this
volume a long time ago, shortly after adding Vol I to the
KFJC library, gotta say the obvious covers (#1 “Hey Jude,”
#5 “If You’re Going to San Francisco”, #11 “Whiter Shade
of Pale”) don’t really float my boat like #16 and #8 do. I
think the latter was used in “City of Ghosts” (a film that
feels like it was built around Matt Dillon’s love of this
brand of Cambodhissatvan pop music…). Check out the ska
charge of #4. maniac laughter over soul on #6! Guitar urgency
often drives these hits, along with some of that mesmerizing
organ, and the now-recognizable keening vocals. Viva Ros
Sereysothea! While others may like the ghost-Penh’d US covers,
I suspect you could toss a killer party by loading up all
(now four) of the Cambodian Rocks collections, and letting
shuffle create a sexy, smoky vibe that is at once familiar
and exotic. I only wish there were secret garage chambers
that could have protected most of those slaughtered by the
Khmer Rouge.

Women of Rembetica [coll] – [Rounder Records]

Thurston Hunger   1/13/2006   CD, International

Snapshots of intoxication from Greece and the first half of
the 1900’s. Intoxication by song, dance or drug; pumped into
women and flowing out of their souls though their pipes.
Flowing slow and sweet like ouzo. Underground Greece had
tunnels to Asiatic cultures it appears, definite Turkish
and Iranian influences give these tracks a sway, a powerful
pining. Just listen to Marika “Politissa” belt out her
“Secret Pain.” “Cool Gal” if recorded with a slightly higher
(or lower) fidelity today would be a huge psy-folk hit. Many
of the tracks have weeping violin moving in the shadows of
the vocalist, edging in and out of tune, and multiplying the
passion of those songs. Not all the wild women of Greece
were gathered up by the gods, some of them fled in gypsy
packs, behind brothels and smoothly as smoke through the
backrooms of the opium dens. These mighty meraklous achieve
immortality without any deus ex machina nor Zeus in bullish
form, but via their songs. This disc is their oracle, viva
the women of rembetika!!

Streets of Lhasa [coll] – [Sublime Frequencies]

Max Level   1/6/2006   CD, International

Another ear-opening world music/sound collection from Sublime Frequencies (may they never run out of remote people and places to document!). This time we’re in a town in the mountains of Tibet, with vocals, instrumentals, and field recordings. Featured are the erhu, a 2-stringed Chinese violin, and the san xian, a long-necked 3-stringed relative of the guitar. The track titles generally tell us what to expect (“Father/Son Vocal with Erhu”, “Streets Of Lhasa”, etc.). The longest track, #10, is a field recording, described as a group of monks conversing but to me sounding far rowdier; I was picturing a drunken, high-energy card game or something. I also don’t quite get #13, which is titled “Train” but sounds more like a stuck record. Whether one understands what’s going on or not, everything here is well worth a listen. Speaking of that father/son duet, you’ve gotta hear this 3-year old boy singing (#1 & #11)? no cute kiddie warbling, this child brings it, belting it out with unbelievable conviction. #19 is a 9-minute field recording with soft singing and bird sounds. A pleasant way to end our visit.

Ult Nusrat Ali Khan V1 [coll] – [Narada]

Krzton Drda   1/6/2006   CD, International

Nusrat Fateh Ali Kahn, Pakistani master of Qawal, traditional Sufi music, was a musical giant who influenced many, started and ran a school, explored. Lots of information on the CD jacket about him. These early tracks have minimal instrumentation, dominant vocals with occasional accompanyment. Vocal improvisations here are in a way familiar, but more extreme and raw than are heard in his later works. This will be a treat for listeners familiar with his more popular works.

Tracks on the first CD (20, 30, 20 min) are from 1978 and have the most raw character to the vocal flourishes.

Tracks on the second CD (13, 15, 15, 30 min) reveal increasing discipline with the last track being a sombre piece with a deliberate feel.

Nao Wave Revisited [coll] – [Man Recordings] – (45 rpm)

Hunter Gatherer   12/30/2005   12-inch, International

This is a follow up to the excellent Nao Wave: Brazilian Post Punk 1982-1988 collection that we added to the library earlier this year (A/CD). It is also released by Germany’s Man Recordings.

On this EP four tracks from the Nao Wave compilation are remixed and reworked by four European electronic artists: The Glimmers (Belgium), Munk (German), Tim ‘Love? Lee (England), and Marco (German).

The artists take what they want from these songs, editing them with an eye on the dance floor. The resulting sound is familiar and strange, retro and futuristic at the same time. Thanks to Man for finding these recordings and showing that they are still relevant.

–Hunter Gatherer

Cult Cargo: Belize Cit [coll] – [Numero Group]

Hunter Gatherer   12/18/2005   CD, International

This is another great release by Chicago’s Numero Group. This time they have dug up some rare and/or overlooked music recorded between 1960 and 1980 in Belize, a Central American country about the size of Massachusetts.

The compilation takes it’s name from the national dish of Belize – Boil Up, which is a mixture of ingredients like pig’s tail, banana, yams, fish all boiled together in a pot. It’s an apt metaphor for the mix of genres found on this release: roots reggae, Stax soul, funk, folk, calypso, latin, disco, and anything else they can get their hands on. Instrumentation varies from song to song, but check out the organ on the Lord Rhaburn tracks and the trumpet and trombone solos on Soul Creation‘s Funky Jive Pts. I and II.

Notable are the three covers on the CD: Shame, Shame, Shame (originally by Shirley & Co.), Back Stabbers (originally by The O’Jays), and a strange and wondrous version of Theme from The Godfather that would at least make an excellent bed. Two other favorites: tracks 4 and 15, both by The Web.

Instrumentals: 1, 8, 13, 14

Covers: 7, 9, 14

–Hunter Gatherer

Hunters of the Dallol Mawri – “Hunters of the Dallol Mawri ” – [Radio France]

Hunter Gatherer   12/18/2005   CD, International

This is a CD of hunting-related music made by musicians in an area of western Niger called Dallol Mawri. It was released this year (2005) by Radio France’s label Ocora.

Four musicians (two masters and their apprentices) are recorded singing and accompanying themselves on the gurumi, a lute-like instrument containing three strings (high, medium, and low pitches). In all 15 songs, the lead musician begins a phrase and the apprentice joins in to finish it. They are banging away on their gurumi throughout.

The musicians and their songs play an important role in the success of their village’s hunting. There are songs that praise particularly strong and agile hunters, suck up to the leader of the hunt (and his assistant), and remind hunters that the whole village is counting on them. Interestingly, magic plays as important a role in hunting as weapons, so there are a lot of songs about magical animals and genies. Most songs begin with praise to Allah.

On the chance that you don’t know Hausa (the language of this region), parts of the lyrics are included in the excellent insert booklet. Some of my favorite lyrics:

‘You’re the only one who can saddle a lion and ride it without a problem.’

‘You who kill wild animals like tame ones?

‘Whoever knows the true worth of a musician must know us/For we’ve performed in Senegal?

‘Shooting from far away leads to uncertainty?

‘You know I don’t eat lizard/That’s women’s food?

‘In this world you’re only loved if you’ve got something?

–Hunter Gatherer

Wu Man – “Wu Man and Friends ” – [Traditional Crossroads]

Thurston Hunger   11/11/2005   CD, International

Insert “I am Wu Man, hear me roar” joke here. I’m sorry, but
ever since I first heard about this talented musician (back
when she stole Derek Bailey’s stringed thunder) I always
crack a smile. And while this album definitely has serious
and serene petals-on-the-stream beauty, it also comes with a
warm sense of humor. Even without the one-minute mouth-bow
zinger of an intro, “Old Joe Clark” taps an Appalachian funny
bone to sex and drugs and rock and roll. Or zen and moonshine
and bluegrass? Track 4 offers more country music (although
the country might be US of Banjo, or maybe the Pipa’s Republic
of China). This album seems loosely joined hither and thither
by brothers and sisters of the zither, and showcases a fine
range of sound. “Raining” is an apt title/theme for much of
the quick picking on this CD, it features Wu Man singing in
addition to ripples of string. Julian Kytasty also displays
his excellent voice, check out “Cossack Lament.” A pretty
picture of what life at the Crossroads can offer. Now to get
Mono to cover the closer, “Night Rider”

Choubi Choubi! [coll] – [Sublime Frequencies]

Thurston Hunger   10/1/2005   CD, International

If the picture of Sally Fields on the cover isn’t enough…
This time the Sublime Freaks are rollin’ ‘n’ Iraqin’ (by way
of Syria, Detroit and elsewhere). Mark Gergis returns to the
driver’s seat (or maybe the passenger’s seat in a taxi), with
a focus on the lurch and destroy rhythm of the Choubi. Very
seductive slithery beat at the core, with screechy fiddle
work or maxxed out keyboards unite for a blaring, glarey sound.
It often has what I can guess is the Iraqi analog to the
Billy Idol 80’s synth handclap except maybe it’s supposed
to be a tabla or ghatam or maybe a submachine gun from an
early Atari game. The vocals are pleasantly pleading, but
those rapid electro rolls make the music seem so much more
insistent. Two basta beat tracks spark the album with their
upbeat bird-darting through a Bollywood movie vibe (and a
larger ensemble in flight with ’em). Dig riding the shifting
#6 sonic sands. Also Ja’afar Hassan stars in his so-called
socialist life on three numbers (& a great insert portrait),
although to me he sounds the most western here. Go figure?
The album ends very strongly with a double Choubi burger
and Hassan in the middle offering a psych lament anthem.
Dedicated to missing Persians everywhere… -Hunger

Shankar, Ravi – “West Meets East (Menuhin) ” – [Angel Records]

Thurston Hunger   9/4/2005   CD, International

Selections from 3 historic lp (’66,’67,’76)
journeys for Yehudi Menuhin to the sonic
palaces of Ravi Shankar. Menuhin channels
some Karnatic connection. Every ornate flight
of sitar fancy, is shadowed on the violin.
The drone of tamboura nourishes consciousness
like nothing else, and then synapses are
just ignited by this mathemusical tag between
the two masters. Stunning symmetry and speed.
The sensual blur bend of the sitar notes
is also totally stimulating. I’m convinced
there’s a mystic connection here between the
exhalation of the listener, and paradoxically
exhilirating relaxation these pieces(peaces?)
produces. Picture-prana-perfection.

Pena, Paco – “Arte Y Pasion ” – [Nimbus Records]

Thurston Hunger   9/4/2005   CD, International

Flamenco Flames…Paco Pena and Brothers
Losada set the nylon of their guitars
afire…sometimes w/ those dry crackling
muted runs as kindling. But the presence
of the “painguished” wailed vocals really
fuels the blood flow here. Wavering vox
and the hyperstrum of the guitars
sonically capture the adrenaline that
must be bursting the veins in the legs
of the people dancing here. That’s right
they’ve recorded the percussive steps,
exclamation marks, of the dancers.
Disk one smolders, disk two ignites.
Emotional motion!

Cantuaria, Vinicius – “Tucuma ” – [Verve/Polygram]

Thurston Hunger   9/4/2005   CD, International

Slinky sambaista songs from Brazilian-born
Cantuaria (is that his real name?’) who has
relocated in NY and is making some fine
friends; among them some of my heroes like
Mark Feldman, Laurie Anderson, Arto Lindsay
and Joey Baron who all show up on here.
Gorgeous in melody and in production (the
latter may trouble some?) The edgier things
get, the better…Arto’s noise concret solo
on the last track, a Latcho Drom(?) sample
on super-hummable “Aracaju”, little buzzing
synthsects on the piece dedicated to Riuchi
Sakamoto (who collaborated with Cantuaria
on his first solo album). If you dig this,
go check out some Tom Ze.

Dancing with the Dead [coll] – [Ellipsis Arts…]

Thurston Hunger   9/4/2005   CD, International

Imagine the line of time, somewhere on there is
one segment that demarcs your life. There is time
before that segment, and time after, together
that’s your death. As much a beginning as an end,
death envelops you and defines your life. You’ve
already survived it. Yes I have these
thoughts all the time…this album is beautiful
in sound, spirit and packaging. It provides an
excellent occasion to contemplate and enjoy YOUR
life/death. The geographical range parallels the
musical one here. Tracks, like life, are all too
fleeting. An accent on joy over lamentation. The
most eerie moment for me came in the first track,
with it’s subsurface political vendetta between
eulogizer and deceased.

Orishas Across the Ocean [coll] – [Rykodisc]

Thurston Hunger   9/4/2005   CD, International

There’s a history of death-bed Christians…
accepting Hay-Zeus…just in case. Well don’t
wait until your afterlife to get to know the
pantheon of orishas. Voodoo pops up in odd
places from William Gibson’s novels to David
Byrne’s “True Stories” to Strom Thurmond’s
recreational activities. The liner notes are
a class in themselves, check them out when
you have time (and loan me your copy of Maya
Deren’s “The Divine Horsemen”) This is mostly
chants, often sounding youthful and exuberant
and interesting backing syncopated percussion.
Evidently track 5, the Bori songs are somewhat
rare…it stood out for me.

Rodrigues, Virginia – “Sol Negro ” – [Hannibal Records]

Thurston Hunger   9/4/2005   CD, International

Virginia is blessed with a deep hollow voice,
large enough to encompass an amazing range
from joy through sorrow…often within one
long lingering note. Ballads and batucadas
all melt at her command. She captivates me
like David James of the Hilliard Ensemble,
in fact I suspect Arvo Part could write an
amazing requiem for her to sing solo. She
is an earthy angel, gossamer strength…
not so sterile as others might sound.
Reverence and passion co-existing. The
music is hyper-produced and involves a
variety of instrumentation including harp
and the berimbau (such an amazing sound…
like a more lively digeridoo). She was
discovered by Caetano Veloso.
Love this woman.

Los Camperos De Valles – “El Ave De Mi Sonar ” – [Smithsonian/Folkways]

Thurston Hunger   9/4/2005   CD, International

Few things cry passion like a ragged violin and a man’s voice
that flips up into falsetto. “El Llorar” is of staggering
beauty, all tracks demamd your attention…”Oye?” Oh, yeah!
This has as much fervor as the best punk music, and more
whistling than your average Lynyrd Skynyrd album to boot.
For more serious notes, check the fine Smithsonian liners
included herein, but seriously this Huasteca sound spikes
my ears like few other forms can. The violin sounds like it
was recorded in a brittle, slippery bottle…and the guitars
gallop, but the vocals are a great blend of taunting and
haunting. The song titles alone speak of the jagged edges
of love. One of the most blazing releases I’ve heard in a
long time…do not miss. Huasteca to the corazon.
-El Hombre del Hambre

T.P. Orchestre Poly-Rhythmo ?The Kings of Benin: Urban Groove 1972-80? [Soundway Records] (33 rpm)

Hunter Gatherer   7/24/2005   12-inch, International

This album is a compilation of songs from the prolific but obscure West African band T.P. Orchestre Poly-Rhythmo. They have been going strong for over 40 years putting out over 50 LPs and 100 45s, but this release focuses on the years 1972-1980. Some notes on their name(s): The T.P. stands for tout puissant, or all-powerful in English. You can find them filed under various suffixes as de Cotonou Benin (pronounced be-NIN or be-NEEN), de Cotonou Dahomey (the colonial name for Benin), or just de Cotonou (the capital of Benin).

The 13 tracks on this release cover a wide range of styles, combining Afro-beat with Latin, Soul, Psychedelic, and Funk influences. The rhythm (or rhythms) of most songs is complex but generally comes down on the 1, making the music instantly accessible. Once the band settles into a groove the horns punctuate it, guitars noodle and jam with it, and vocals (in French, I think) shout into it.

It’s music for when the air-conditioning in the Master studio is busted. Perfect for summer!

If you liked the Love’s A Real Thing collection (International/CD) added a few months ago (these guys did the title track), you will certainly like this album. Drop the needle anywhere and funk out.
–Hunter Gatherer

Ondekoza, the – “Ondekoza, the ” – [Jvc Musical Industries]

Thurston Hunger   7/23/2005   CD, International

So I used to think that the world would end in a war between
Pepsi and Coke, but now I think it’s going to be two different
multi-national corpse (sic): Sony versus JVC. The actual warriors
waging battle will be Za Ondekoza versus Kodo. Fuck the Yakuza,
these people run marathons and then beat their souls out on
gargantuan drums…while wearing diapers. The fluid synchronicity of
the drumming is beyond tight, you know that sound of a quarter
wobbling and settling down…well imagine a quarter the size
of Taiwan. Sonic thunderheads have been forming for centuries.
This album also showcases shamanic shamisen’s death rattle and
dervish (#3,#2), rattle-snake shakuhachi poison darts (#5,#1,#2),

I’m ready to enlist in Za Ondekoza Nostra.

Ghana Soundz Vol. 2 [coll] – [Soundway Records]

Rococo   7/9/2005   12-inch, International

Soundway label boss and musical archaeologist Miles Cleret comes correct with another outstanding collection of funky, obscure sounds from 1970’s Ghana. It’s hard to pick out favorites on a collection as rich as this one, but I’ll give it my best shot. First up, there’s the previously-unreleased and criminally-short ‘Olufeme, – an Afro-beat love song from Oscar Sulley, who’s making his return appearance here on Volume 2. On a jazzier tip, you’ve got guitarist Ebo Taylor, also returning from Volume 1, this time with the track ‘Atwer Abroba.’ Next, Ebo Junior gets even funkier than his daddy, with some help from Wuta Wazutu, on ‘Mondo Soul Funky.’ One of my favorite keyboard sounds, the Farfisa, shows up all over this compilation and features prominently on The Sweet Talks? ‘Kye Kye Pe Aware.’ Highlife makes a token appearance on ‘Aboagyewaa? by K. Frimpong & Vis a Vis, though it’s a strikingly unusual and moody take on the genre. The fourth and final side of wax brings us a classic James Brown funk workout, courtesy of The African Brothers? ‘Sakatumbe,? and Marijata’s enthusiasm on ‘No Condition is Permanent? appears to be quite a challenge for those African VU meters in the recording studio. In a market seemingly glutted with Afro-funk compilations, let us pause and give thanks to Mr. Cleret, who continues to unearth and expose some of the most valuable music never heard outside of Africa. Please sir, I want some more!

Caribbean Sampler [coll] – [Rounder Records]

Rococo   7/5/2005   CD, International

Another cruise through the Lower Antilles with Alan Lomax, circa 1962. This set of field recordings includes 31 selections from Dominica, Grenada, Guadeloupe, Martinique, Carriacou, St. Lucia, St. Barthelemy, Anguilla, Trinidad, and Nevis. Recorded at a time when many of these islands were achieving independence from the British Empire, it was Lomax’s hope that by finding cultural commonalities among the peoples of the Caribbean, he might contribute to a postcolonial Caribbean unification. Lofty ambitions for a guy with a tape recorder. What he found and documented included a myriad of musical styles with roots in African, French, English, Celtic, Spanish, and even East Indian cultures. A remarkable musical survey with excellent liner notes.

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