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Music Reviews

Fumaca Preta – “Impuros Fanaticos” – [Soundway Records]

Louie Caliente   4/23/2016   12-inch, International

Scorching-hot fuzzy tropical psychedelia blended with metal, surf, free-jazz, and haunted houses. Despite such disparate influences, the album is amazingly cohesive and just fucking rocks!

“Fumaca Preta” (foo-ma-sa pret-ta), which means “Black Smoke” in Portuguese, was started by Alex Figueira, a Portuguese-Venezuelan percussionist, and recorded with his friends in his home-made analog studio in Amsterdam. The South-American influence on this album is strong, sounding at times like Os Mutantes, but meaner, more acid-fried, and blood-stained.

Lyrics are all in Portuguese, but translated into English in the liner notes. They deal mostly with dark themes like murder and suicide, but with some humorous moments, like the very first lyric on the album, which translates to “Stick your selfie-stick in the infinite hole of your idiosyncrasy.”

It’s all really, really good. My personal favorite is Baldonero, a bizarre mix of latin dance rhythms, surf guitar, doomy riffs, and cookie-monster vocals like nothing I’ve heard before.

Songs For The Jewish-American Jet Set [coll] – [Idelsohn Society For Musical Preservation]

Naysayer   4/20/2016   CD, International

Oh for the days of vacationing in the Catskills, staying in the luxury hotels of the Borscht Belt, partying all night in clubs on the Florida coast, flying over to Tel Aviv for a rejuvenating week: such was the life of the Jewish-American Jet Set. The amazing Idelsohn Society has set to preserving some of this feeling through selections of music coming from this time in the 1950’s and 1960’s. Honoring the Tikva Records label that continuously released this music, the listener is treated to 20 selections of sounds that vary from kitsch to twist to more traditional-ish styles of Jewish-American sounds. Jewish cowboys, how to date orthodox,conservative or reformed ladies, or learning the difference between a Litvak and a Galitz, it’s all here. The night club orchestrations are superb, making each number bump, swish and sway the night away. Enjoy and mazel tov.

Los Hacheros – “Bambulaye” – [Chulo Records]

humana   4/5/2016   12-inch, International

Talk about something that gets you dancing from the first sound of the first track–this is brilliant salsa from the New York-based sextet composed of musicians who know their music and aren’t afraid to share it. Flute, sax, bass, violin, trombone, tres guitar, bongo, and conga combine with great vocals to mix up some Cuban and Latin rhythms that are tinged with jazz and speak to your own inner rhythms to include you in a world dance. Celebrate!

Stanley and Ten Sleepless Knights, The – “Quelbe!” – [Smithsonian Folkways]

humana   4/3/2016   CD, International

Quelbe (pronounced kwell-BEH) is the official music of the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the tradition owes much of its style and continuity to Stanley and his band. At its core are the squash (a gourd scratched by metal), steel (triangle, originally formed from car brakes), banjo-uke, and pipe (flute, originally a muffler from a car). The effervescent calypsos, waltzes, quadrilles, jigs, and marengues on this release will lift your spirits and pull at your feet. Read the liner notes for the history of quelbe and the story behind each of the songs.

Arohi Ensemble – “Ahimsa, Love Is The Weapon of The Brave” – [Innova Recordings]

billiejoe   3/23/2016   CD, International

World music with a yogic message. Musicians from India, Venezuela, and Los Angeles. Arohi means ascending melody. Ahimsa is a sanskrit word meaning non-violence and is in many ancient yogic texts. It is meant to be a philosophy for how to live your life, not just describe an isolated instance. It’s also intended to apply to oneself, meaning don’t do harm to yourself, or, love yourself. There are vocals, sitar, and rad fast drumming. Really lovely groovy dance music.
— Billie Joe Tolliver

Ephat Mujuru Ensemble – “Spirit of The People, The” – [Bardwells]

Arcanum   3/21/2016   12-inch, International

This record invokes the soothing and focused sound of the Mbira. The Dzavadzimu Mbira is a symbol of the traditional culture of Zimbabwe. The njari is a less common type of Shona mbira originally introduced from Mozambique. It was quite popular in Zimbabwe during the mid-20th century, and frequently featured there in radio shows during the 1950’s and 1960’s.The liner notes in the gate-fold are a great guide to this work.It helped me a lot to read each individual song’s synopsis while I listened and the dreamed scenarios described.

Khan, Shujaat Husain & Goudarzi, Katayoun – “Spring” – [Self Release]

humana   2/8/2016   CD, International

This 2-CD release is a treasure, with its rich textures and sounds. Goudarzi’s voice is seductive as she sings/recites from memory the poetry of Rumi, accompanied by the masterful sitar music written and performed by Khan. Abhiman Kaushal gives everything a heartbeat with his tabla, and Ajay Prasanna’s flute weaves its way into this international brew in a mesmerizing way. The overall effect is compelling and tantric.

Toop, David – “Lost Shadows: In Defence of The Soul” – [Sub Rosa]

ralph   1/13/2016   12-inch, International

The Yanomami are an indigenous rainforest tribe that have been massacred time and time again, and captured here are sounds that would have been otherwise lost to the folds of time. Mesmerizing guttural chanting with subtle forest sounds in the background. Great for mixing, no real discernible breaks between tracks. Included booklet details everything you’d ever want to know about Toop’s journey.

Funk Carioca [coll] – [Mr Bongo]

ralph   1/13/2016   12-inch, International

Heavily influenced by Miami Bass, this is Brazil’s own brand of hip-hop. Often minimal in structure, simple out of necessity, and made with only the equipment they could get their hands on, this music originated from some of the most impoverished parts of Brazil. With lyrics ranging from naughty innuendos, to subtle drug references, to just the longing to feel pride for the favela you came from; these songs maintain an upbeat, bass heavy outlook on life, proving no matter what hardships these people face, it can’t be denied that at the end of the day, they know how to party…really, kids in Brazil get fucked up to this shit.

Cooley – “gael-linn” – [Gael-Linn Records]

humana   11/23/2015   12-inch, International

Joe Cooley hailed from Ireland and played the accordion with such heart that this album was made to preserve the experience of his music for generations of lovers of jigs, reels, and country folk music. Tony MacMahon writes the touching liner notes that describe how the first 8 songs were recorded at a session just a month before Cooley died at the age of 49 on December 21, 1973. After a stint in America and San Francisco, Cooley was home and packed the bar in South County Galway so there were even folk outside in the rainy November night gathered to hear the musician one last time. Side two has songs from earlier in Cooley’s life. This is a bittersweet tribute.

Moti, Loksagarnaan – “Gujarati” – [EMI (India)]

billiejoe   11/4/2015   12-inch, International

Indian folk singing and zitar and drumming and wind instruments. Alternating female and male vocalists in Indian language I can’t identify. Bob your head to these bollywood styles. The only thing I could find out about this is that Gujarati means someone from Gujarat.
— Billie Joe Tolliver

Forty Martyrs – “Armenian Chanting From Aleppo” – [Electric Cowbell]

billiejoe   9/30/2015   12-inch, International

A Capella religious chanting. One side only. Lyrics written in Armenian and translated to English. The way he is singing and using his voice reminds me of latin catholic chants. Liner notes have history of the church and the Armenian genocide. Same vocalist on each track, Reverend Yeznig Zegchanian. This album was released just this summer.
— Billie Joe Tolliver

Tessier, Yves – “French Troubador Songs of The 12th and 13th Centuries” – [Elektra-Stratford Reco…]

humana   9/28/2015   10-inch, International

If you like Southern France, iambic meter, lutes, Gregorian chants, then you’ll love this. The liner notes highlight the history behind the courtly poets of Southern France (the troubadours) who expressed their reverence for women and the love they inspire in vocal music sometimes accompanied by lute (on this record, Mildred Clary plays the lute). Tessier himself composed the music in the tradition of the 12th and 13th centuries, since musical notation for these ballad-like songs did not exist. Some songs just feature Tessier’s voice, and those definitely sound like Gregorian chants. Others have the lute setting. Enjoy.

Indian Music of The Southwest [coll] – [Folkways Records and Service Corp.]

Hemroid The Leader   9/17/2015   12-inch, International

Songs, with and without drums. Recorded by Laura Boulton, groundbreaking female ethnomusicologist. Album released in 1941.
“The Indian sings with his jaws only slightly open and there is very little change in the position of his jaws or lips while singing.” “Nonsense syllables are common.” Pure melody, no fixed scale, and only occasional heterophony. “When a soloist performs, it is not because he has a beautiful voice and wants to give aesthetic pleasure but because he has a song which has particular value or power.” The singing and drumbeat patterns coincide but do not match. “It is necessary to put aside … fixed concepts in order to understand.” Our predecessors on this land used these songs to deliver rain, prosperity, and victory in battle.

Related: Littlefeather, Kyle. Unconquered Spirit: Chants and Trances of The Native America (Int’l CD)
Also on Smithsonian/Folkways: Classic Southern Gospel (coll. Country CD)

Authentic Indian Dances and Folklore [coll] – [Kimbo Records]

humana   9/11/2015   12-inch, International

We have Carole Howard (Princess Wa-Be-No-Que of the Chippewa tribe) to thank for this uniquely enriching album that details the folklore behind and the steps to four dances of great importance to the Chippewa Native Americans. Chief “Little Elk” (AKA Eli Thomas) explains to an interviewer what the significance of these dances is to his people, who hail from an area of Michigan near Mt. Pleasant. Chief “Coming of Thunder” joins Chief Little Elk in the chants and authentic drumming of the Corn Dance, the Rain Dance, the War Dance, and the Strawberry Dance. A written instruction booklet is included, but I recommend listening to each dance all the way through to get the full experience of it. This is one of those rare treasures that you hope will never get lost.

Kyoto Nohgaku Kai, The – “Japanese Noh Music” – [Polygram]

Hemroid The Leader   9/2/2015   12-inch, International

In the 6th century, ancient music and dance came to Japan from the Kingdom of Kudara in what is now Korea. In the 8th century the Chinese circus came to Japan, with acrobatics, pantomime, and comedy. These influences, in combination with indigenous rituals related to the passing of the seasons or cultivation of rice, form the basis for Noh theater, which took on its present form in the 14th century.
Noh theater troupes are led by a Grand Master and all members are blood relatives or adopted. Sons reprise roles of their fathers. Small gestures are mimicked through generations, eventually commanding much of the audience’s focus. The audience is made up of the Shogun, feudal lords, sophisticates and wealthy commoners.
This record features members of the Kyoto Noh Theater, designated as an Important Intangible Cultural Property by the Japanese government in 1957. It may seem like not much is going on. A wooden flute plays an ancient pentatonic melody, taiko strike here and there, a woodblock plays a slow roll as characters enter and exit the scene, dancers move in exact synchronization. The main character wears a wooden face mask, an ornate robe, and speaks in Old Japanese. A ceremonial tone pervades throughout.

Qwanqwa – “Volume Two” – [FPE Records]

Morada   9/2/2015   12-inch, International

Qwanqwa play an assortment of traditional Ethiopian music with an experimental twist, side B being distinctly more so. They seek opportunities to play to as many demographics as possible. Attempting to mitigate the infinite factors limiting attendance at club shows, they organize concerts in remote places and unique situations.

Francis The Great – “Ravissante Baby” – [Hot Casa]

humana   6/11/2015   12-inch, International

What were you doing when you were 7? Francis Mbarga was exercising his musical creativity as a budding afrobeat/funk/disco artist. He was born in Paris to parents hailing from Cameroon (to which Francis eventually returned), and when Francis said he wanted to get involved in the music scene, his parents provided the means. Read the liner notes to get the full, fascinating story. Enjoy the jazzy, upbeat music and the adorable vocalizations of this young prodigy who is fluent in French, English, and African dialects.

Valenca, Alceu – “Molhado De Suor” – [Sol Re Sol Records]

Thurston Hunger   6/11/2015   CD, International

Reissue of a 1974 Brazillian beauty. Honestly I don’t know if
this is considered true Tropicalia but it hits a lot of those
happy buttons for me, folksy percussion, wood thunks and those
boingy springy sounds (like on #4), lots of acoustic guitar
and other strings, thin like a mandolin, or ramshackled and
bending (like on #5). Nimble electric basslines, just about
ready to dance around, even on the slower, happier, lazier
songs. Tracks flecked by flute too. Love the sweet sourness
of songs like #9 “Dente de Ocidente” even without speaking
the language, you can hear the playfulness in the title.
Or on #8, again without knowing the what the portugese
tongue is telling you, it’s rapid-fire tickling your ears
That track and others have some big production that sits
just fine next to the more ragged playing and singing and
on that rapid-fire staggering stacatto “Papagaio do Futuro”
there’s even coughing, and something about gasoline. It’s
a huff and puffer with a nice electric bumble bee guitar
coming in alongside some soaring choruses! Wow! That ability
to mix polish and passion is so key to this release, which
really is tremendous or should I say “Fantastico” which
apparently is where some folks like my co-workers first
came across Valenca on a Sunday night TV show. Every track
here is a must, Scott and Sol re Sol shining strong!
-Thurston Hunger

Ata Kak – “Obaa Sima” – [Awesome Tapes From Africa]

Thurston Hunger   5/29/2015   12-inch, International

The tale of the tape, is just as awesome as the tape itself.
Liner notes talk of tracking Yaw Atta-Owusu around the globe
from his homeland of Ghana, where ATFA label leader Brian
Shimkovitz first heard these sounds on cassette, to Germany
and Canada and finally back to Ghana. Ata Kak (little twin,
as Yaw is a twin) has a delivery that feels familiar to
old school rap devotees, he gets some sweetly simple
back-ground female vocals (the mighty Lucy Quansah in
dubbed triplicate) and Ata Kak just punctuates the beat
with his Twi (a Ghanian dialect) language styling. Inserting
some hah-hahs, and other rapid fire syllables. My American
ears would squeeze English inappropriately but still fun
out of these songs. Backing music is pretty cheesy R&B
riffs, light Chic guitar and loads of synth. The background
vocals feel like they come with dance moves on “Medofo”
and “Moma Yendodo” the latter, I swear the girls are
saying, “Put me on the door” and Ata Kak is busting a
Scoobie Doobie Doo move. “Yemmpa Aba” seems like its
pitched past the speed limit, and there’s some “funky”
business going on, and a jump around hyperactivity.
“Bome Nnwom” is a dizzy instro, breathless and vocalless,
with some quick swipes at psuedo-scratches. An A+ for an
OG (Originally Ghanian) B-Boy!
-Thurston Hunger