June 2013 - September 2013
The demands of writing, editing, translating and syndicating hardware reviews plus covering editorials, news posts and maintaining this site leave me no time for writing the type of full-length music reviews I used to write when 6moons was less busy. Even so those readers who share my love of what in general goes by world music though that's a pretty poor term—does everything else come from outer space?—keep asking for at least miniature capsule mentions so they can accompany me on my field trips of worthwhile new finds or rediscoveries in my library.

Here I must qualify 'new' with 'new to me'. Just because I discover something now doesn't imply it was recently released. It could be older stuff. But that's the magic of music. The good stuff is timeless. Heck, aficionados of classical music keep listening to compositions a few centuries old. Time and timing aren't of the essence. Selectivity is.

Professional music reviewers tend to educate their readers with things like genre history, styles, key artists and core recordings one ought to know in a given sector. This isn't that. All that this is are mini mentions of music I happen to have on rotation on any given month. Think of it as sneak views into somebody else's playlists - ours in this case (M&H = Marja & Henk).

As Ali Akbar Khan and Ravi Shankar did for the same generation, bansuri flute maestro Hariprasad Chaurasia paved novel cross roads to connect traditional Indian music's pure focus on rhythm and melody with contemporary Western music's addition of harmonic progressions. Then the next generation of Anoushka Shankar and Rakesh Chaurasia had the bridges built by their parents to further develop Indian crossover music. On the ultra-minimalist two-movement O Soul Song—in essence two endless alaps floating unmoored in space with zero rhythmic pulses—Hariprasad teams up with Ken Lauber. The latter's chordal synths add a subtle but very effective dimension by replacing the fixed classical tambura with harmonic new-age pedals. Very dreamy inner space stuff!
Anyone into Jazz piano and classical music knows Frenchman Jacques Loussier's trio and its popular Play Bach style. Far fewer knew of Rumanian-born Eugen Cicero who passed away in Zürich 1997 and eclipsed Loussier in sheer virtuosity and inventiveness on the level of Art Tatum or Oscar Peterson. His Rococo Jazz sold a million copies. A dedicated improviser, Cicero never played anything the same twice whilst giving clearly scored classical pieces the freewheeling Jazz makeover citing liberally from many other works. Swinging the Classics on MPS is a generous triple-CD stack of 35 tracks jumping from Bach to Mozart, Schubert to Tchaikowsky, even Romanian folk songs. It's a great introduction to a crossover giant with perfect diction on furiously complex ivories.
Boulou Ferré's Solo: mais aussi rejoins him with his regular duo's younger brother Elios Ferré on second guitar and Pierre Boussaguet on upright bass whilst Florin Niculescu on violin and gypsy singer Motia Iankovskaia make brief one-track appearances each. Though these players are also regulars in the contemporary French Jazz Manouche scene, Solo does without la pompe rhythm guitar or trademark Gypsy phrasings. This is less specific more 'pure' guitar Jazz and as such not directly tied to Django Reinhardt's legacy. It even includes two quite abstract and very lengthy 'outside' solo meditations which reflects Boulou's formal studies of harmonic progressions with composer Olivier Messiaen. Qobuz has it as a 24-bit 'Studio Master' file.
Aging Greek super star Yannis Parios continues to enchant with one of the best voices in his country. Ta Kommatia Tis Psihis Mou from 2011 is a mostly bouzouki-free album with the occasional wailing e-guitar instead to downplay stronger ethnic elements and show up the potent pathos of the hammy singer in fine form. For some the warbling high-note vibratos, slowed-down melodic peaking and hymn-style delivery border on the schmaltzy. For others they're essential virtues and key attractions. Regardless, emotionally charged ballads with Parios at the helm are saucy stuff. Ta Kommatia has its fair share and harmonizing backup singers stir in more cream. In movies it's when you cue up the violins. This album calls on them repeatedly. So watch your diet...
ti-an-guis is download-label Marijn Kooy's first production for sniprecords and available at 24/96 to explain why no physical media. The acoustic formation of female lead vocal, bass, two guitars (one a small Mexican jarana jarocha) and percussion covers the traditional Romani titles "Ederlezi" and "So te kerau" plus various Portuguese, Latin, Anatolian and Croatian tunes in a sparse style that hovers between the earnestly folksy and the cheerily campy. Lead singer Lovorka Holjevac is occasionally accompanied by group harmonies or trades the spot light. Purist recording/mastering guarantee high recorded dynamic range with excellent space and depth à la m.a. recordings. It's light girl+guitar fare scaled up to quintet strength and an ethnically diverse ambiance.
Jan Garbarek did something similar with the Hilliard Ensemble. Popular response even revisited the at first seemingly outré concept of a freewheeling sax improvising over against sacred choral tunes with a second album. With Jeremiah now comes Klezmer/classical clarinetist David Orlowsky and the German Singer Pur ensemble of three tenors, one baritone, one bass and one soprano voice. They enjoy a very close collaborative friendship with their British Hilliard colleagues and here give us their own take on works by Palestrina and Gesualdos with accompanying and/or soloizing clarinet. It works a treat too, stylistically more seamless and organic than Garbarek's. Sony Music add high production values for a musically and sonically sterling encounter.
Like similar albums from Serkan Çağri, Hüsnü Senlendirici, Göksun Çavdar and Bülent Altinbaş, Corlulu Savaş' Sehrin Gözyaslari | Tears of the City is dedicated to the popular Turkish G clarinet. It explores the stronger folkloric elements of countryside taverns and outdoor wedding ceremonies. Corlulu's grittier playing thus replaces Çağri's highly polished gloss, Kirpi's romance and Hüsnü's smoothness with a wilder freer energy like a cloven-hoofed Pan trading his pipes for a volatile blackwood. Tears also arrives with its own mournful downtempo ballads where simple melodies are embellished with serpentine flourishes, its own minor-key taksim interludes which spiral out over martial drums. But the gist is the clarinet as an edgy messenger of melancholia.
On Murat Yeter's Asya, our very busy drummer encounters the singing and occasionally rapping or narrating voices of Ebru Güneş, Yonca Lodi, Niran Ünsal, Sirel and Halil Sezai, the slinky clarinets of Hüsnü Senlendirici and Göksun Çavdar and the electrified watery baglama of Ismail Tuncbilek. Whilst these artists are no mere window dressing, the real purpose still seems to be taking us down the twisty back roads of contemporary Turkish Club, Pop and folk rhythms. Yet this isn't a beat-only affair like various Harem darbuka duels. This is simply a quite varied mix of heavily beat-centric Anatolian Pop which gives the lead percussionist the proper context to work out in and show off his chops. Great pump-it-up fun. Good colonics for stuck-up systems.
As Prayer for the Soul of Leyla had been, Jamshied Sharifi's follow-up One is a quasi soundtrack (there's no actual film) in a Mercan Dede meets Hans Zimmer world beat vein. It's chock full of African tribal elements, pulsating bass drums, exotic instruments, jubilant voices, dense layering and a nearly symphonic grandeur stemming from the fact that this Iranian/American composer does a lot of work in the movie industry. One also happens to be very well recorded. This artist takes pride in both his music and how it sounds over a highly resolving hifi. Solid infrasonic content mixed with acoustic instruments and polyrhythmic complexity makes this fabulous demo material decidedly not in the tired old Diana Krall vein.
Kebelek/Butterfly used to be hard to find. I had to get my copy in the shopping district around Istanbul's Taksim Square. Now Qobuz has it. This super evocative desert-feel soundtrack from the proven team of Brian Keane and Turkish multi-instrumentalist Omar Faruk Tekbilek is achingly gorgeous and with its bass ney, symphonic strings and horns quite epic in scope too. Whilst nobody I've talked to has seen the film, the music for it is a true masterpiece which conjures up its own timeless images. If you've loved prior Keane/Tekbilek collaborations—there are many good ones—this one tops them all. The Sufi-inspired cover art of a whirling dervish also is a musical undercurrent which adds that ancient mystical dimension of music as a sacred gate to elsewhere.
Santana's legendary drummer Michael Shrieve's The Big Picture bridges naturally with Transfer Station Blue from five years before when he collaborated with Teutonic synth meister Klaus Schultze. It focuses its narrative equally on electronic percussion grooves with minimalist synth-generated melodic material. This creates headily rhythmic spirals and patterns like drifting oil bubbles on water where entire soundscapes are built up of layered beat elements and industrial noises. This affair with fellow drummer David Beal is not as repetitively hypnotic as the spacey Transfer was but similarly cool on texture by shunning organic acoustic instruments. It thus feels like a futuristic Vangelis soundtrack without the Greek's melodic focus though the title track gets close.
Lena Chamamyan's The Collection is a lovely discovery thus far limited to Spotify+ 320kbps streaming until I secure copies of her Shamat and Hal Asmar Ellon albums. This classically trained Syrian singer has collaborated with German Jazz accordionist Manfred Leuschter and the songs in this compilation show off fluid transitions between what might be dubbed Oriental Jazz with classical and Armenian influences. It results in a very pleasing makeover of legacy Middle-Eastern tunes with contemporary harmonies and modern instrumental arrangements to promote Syrian folk music to international audiences. In that it echoes successful prior efforts by Rim Banna and Souad Massi in the Palestinian and Algerian music sectors.
Yıldıran Güz's Med Cezir is bylined as traditional Turkish music but like Omar Bashir did with Crazy Oud, it also explores the occasional striking of that purist 'traditional' qualifier as does the companion Renkler Ve Sesler album which depicts the solo oudist on guitar. There are thus Flamenco-flavored rumbas and slinky Latin Jazz numbers against light piano or funky bass accompaniment besides the expected melancholy Moorish meditations. The hot mastering can approach clipping but the music is great.
Mercan Dede's latest Dünya twofer is a mixed bill. Unless you suffer from club fever rash, forget all about the second disc 'Sunset'. 'Sunrise' however fits right into the Nefes, Su and 800 canon which established our DJ composer/performer as one of the biggest names in a genre also served by Cheb i Sabbah. Dede's milieu sets traditional Turkish folk instruments like baglama, kanun, ney and modern ones like clarinet and trombone into tasteful electronic ambiance like Hector Zazou did for Sevara Nazarkhan, then floats his multi-layered constructs on pulsating grooves with infrasonic beats. High production values and a real flair for augmenting Sufi-flavored inner-space music with respectful modern touches makes this high-caliber organic ambient fare with audiophile sonics.
The Jazz Accordeon: The new Wave compilation takes the pulse on the contemporary status quo of the instrument. From avantgarde to Balkan folk, from brassy Musette to freestyle Jazz with paralleled vocals, from a strangely glissandi valse to a Grappelli-esque smoocher, from high-romp electrified wiriness to art house Jazz trio, from straightahead chaser to wistful ballad, The new Wave spans quite the gamut. Invited soloists on the bellows are Jean-Luc Fillon, Laurent Derache, Antonello Salis, David Venitucci, Roumanian ace Roberto de Brasov, Jacques Pellarin, Géard Pansanei, Marcel Loeffler and the legendary Richard Galliano. Particularly the electrified numbers are real mind benders that illuminate unexpected corners of the accordeon's reach.
Amira Medunjanin simply known as Amira is a Serbian singer specialized in Bosnian sevdah related to Cesaria Evora's slow mournful Cape Verdean morna or perhaps certain styles of American Blues if you can insert blue-note chromatically crisscrossing accordion into that vision. With a fresher far higher and more refined voice than Ljiljana Buttler's which is otherwise likewise set to sparse mostly downtempo tunes, she has the Amulette and Zumra albums for us to make her acquaintance. Her vocal delivery can exhibit very faint echoes of Bulgarian warbling and turns from plaintive but gutsy like an Irish singer to brief interludes filled with shining vibrato and jubilant power only to revert again to weighty melancholy moodiness. Very pretty in a slightly maudlin fashion.
Eleftheria Arvanitaki's Ektos Programmatos is an epic 31-track twofer affair recorded live. This instantly adds the tangible fourth dimension of spontaneity, charge and audience interaction which studio productions lack by design. The concert setting also adds guest singers for variety, to give the star short breaks and to enable colorful duets for attractive harmonizing. The material includes ballads, laiki songs, light Nisiotika folk dances from the islands of the sort Yannis Parios made famous with two volumes dedicated to them, heavier dimotika country songs and even Latin-flavored numbers like "Amarantos". Ektos Programmatos is a lighthearted summery musical backdrop with a kaleidoscope of short but varied Club Med cuts.
On The Crazy Oud Omar Bashir takes a quintessentially Arab instrument places it's not gone before. From the rocking opening rumba with slap bass, one is elsewhere already. Things turn melancholy ache with the cyclical ode of "Sorrow of a Child", boisterous with the Lucia/di Meola/McLaughlin classic "Mediterranean Sundance" and overdrive wiry and funkey with the testosterone-fueled "Longa Blues". "Improvisation" pays tribute to the oud's classical taksim milieu, "Ambient Oud" introduces pulsing beats, growling drone, bat effects and Flamenco vocals pinned to a hypnotic groove worthy of an opium den before the final triptych of tracks goes classicist with "Maqam Flamenco" and glorious Muezzin-type vocals by a powerful Iraqi singer. Crazy oud indeed!
George Dalaras' Vammena Kokkina Mallia is an earlier 1993 album I acquired recently when the sauna-like temps inside our flat recalled our two heated summers living on the beach in Coral Bay, Cyprus. Those memories longed for a musical taverna meal of fresh white fish and meze capped off with sweet Commandaria wine. On this album the Greek laiki superstar's voice is at its glorious height. While its raw power never quite matched that of landsman Yannis Parios whose pipes must have been blessed by the Greek gods, Dalaras' later career has successfully avoided the latter's bloated sentimentality to became ever more sophisticated instead. Vammena Kokkina Mallia is happy Mediterranean summer music from one of Greece's most famous living singers.
Turkman Efkan Şeşen's light tenor was a new voice to me and Dar Kapılar [Narrow Doors] an impulse buy after meeting it online. Stringing together Turkish, Kurdish, Arab, Azeri, Armenian, Georgian, Bulgarian, Zaza and Cypriot folk tunes, this album of Ethno Pop belongs into the same vein of acoustic material mined also by Yavuz Bingöl and Volkan Konak though Şeşen is an accomplished whistler too. Many of Dar Kapılar's simple tunes materialize a quite aged mood. That's because they've been around and weren't glossed up or electronically enhanced to modernize them beyond recognition. When music conjures up visions of bygone times and exotic locales, it becomes a personal time traveling machine. That's why I like so-called world music.
For me Glykeria's 1992 Live sto Likavitto recorded at the Lycabettus theater was this month's third deep immersion and remote contact high into fond Cyprus memories. Over her long career Glykeria Kotsoula has toured alongside George Dalaras, sung in Israel and in perfect Hebrew with Jerusalem's Philharmonic to be offered the city's golden key as honorary citizen, concertized in Istanbul, sung for the soldiers during the 2006 Israel/Lebanon conflict and performed in the closing ceremony of the Athens 2011 Special Olympics. She's become the most important female champion of Greece's Rembetiko style to arguably be Dalaras' feminine counterpart. Live sto Likavitto presents an earlier view into her career.
Joscho Stephan & Olivier Holland's Gypsy meets Jazz is a friendly yet serious duel between devilish Jazz Manouche chops on a Jürgen Volkert D-hole guitar and mature upright bass. The gig's setup spans from pure duo meets to full reinforcement by quartet of violin, rhythm guitar, bass and percussion. The material includes originals but also revisits classics from genre greats Lagrène and Reinhardt as well as pure Jazz legends Charlie Parker and Chick Corea. For a twist on this theme there's Gypsy meets Klezmer where the German guitar wonder teams up with clarinetist Helmut Eisel's Quartet. There a slightly sauced rabbi does the dirty to la pompe in the shade of the Eiffel tower. Either album is a session crackling with virtuosity, intelligence and clever turns of phrasing.
Renaud Garcia-Fons' Solo - The Marcevol Concert is the live record of a performance at the French monastery where the Paganini of the 5-string upright bass accompanied himself with percussive sounds and electronic loops before an awestruck audience. Unexpectedly rich, layered and varied, what this one man manages to coax from his unwieldy instrument has already become the stuff of legend. This album simply reinforces it. From lyrical bow work to violently percussive spiccato exploits emulating Flamenco cajon to his trademark 'singing cello on steroids' reaching into seemingly impossible flageolet registers, Solo has it all. Published again on the excellent Enja label, the sound quality nicely doubles as very challenging demo material.
Following the call of sweltering summer for light bubble gum music of a mellow romantic mood swaying on Middle-Eastern beats without their often aggravated disco elements, I downloaded all three of Tamer Hosny's Romantic volumes of Egyptian pop. A Qobuz presampling had shown better production values and sound than most such fare and the final proof of the pudding—leashing them into an endless random loop—measured up to the promise. The stylistic spread includes surprise Latin elements, Amr Diab-type fat harmonizing, glossy pop hooks, typically sumptuous strings, silvery acoustic guitars, plenty of reverb behind Tamer's slinky light voice and unapologetically beautiful melodies. In short, just what the doctor ordered for humid summer accompaniment.
Tanja Tzarovska is a Macedonian transplant to the UK whose coquettish voice with faint echoes of Kate Bush has appeared on soundtracks from Avatar and Titanic to Troy, The English Patient and The Passion of Christ. No Record Of Wrong is her first album of originals and covers. It shows her keen songwriting skills and Balkan slash Byzantine harmonic styling to gorgeous effect and takes us into a musical world dominated by her wispy angelic voice routinely overdubbed for flawless harmonizing. There are no filler tracks. Production values approach audiophile demo material. Musical depth rather exceeds it however. The focus is on down-tempo moody numbers which often start out sparse before they crest into surprisingly layered richly nuanced finales.
Lebanese saxophone, bouzuq and percussion player Toufic Farroukh's drab zeen on the Le Chant du Monde label is a tough effort to qualify. It flows somewhere between the shores of fusion and ethno jazz, then throws in elements of drum'n'bass, club and electronica for good measure. It's very groove centric and funky to blow up the dust from a different direction than Dhafer Youssef's exploits into Arab Jazz. Think randy-buck trombone atop a darkly rocking groove with French rap snippets; hard-edged Jazz piano atop fat walking bass with slam beats and vocal percussion before a strangely lyrical soprano sax alters the mood accompanied by darker sax pedals; dirty modal violin trading phrases with distorted e-guitar and more... trippy, diverse and never boring!
Anger and hope drive Bassekou Kouyaté’s latest Jama Ko - anger about the state of affairs his native Mali is in with Muslim radicals, revolting Tuaregs and food shortages; and ongoing hope for a better future. Coyote plays the ngoni, the ancestor of the modern banjo. With his accompanying band Ngoni Ba there are a total of five ngoni of different sizes and thus pitches of which Kouyaté designed the bass ngoni himself. All instruments are electrified and some fed through effect pedals like the classic wahwah. The mix of more traditional African chants and electric Blues is subtle yet powerful. Vocal contributions by Kasse Mady Diabete and Taj Mahal make Jama Ko irresistible. - M&H
Dutch Nynke Laverman who sings in the exotic Frisian tongue teamed up with flamenco producer and guitarist Javier Limón from Spain. Where Laverman is known for her affection of Portuguese fado, on Alter her presumed embrace of the flamenco idiom is less successful. Yes she is accompanied by flamenco guitar and palmas but all tracks save for one tend towards the same light Fado delivered once again in Frisian lyrics. The exception is one track not only sung in English but also with a different feeling to it than all the other numbers. Limón is known for working with strong women like Concha Buika and Anoushka Shankar but Nynke Laverman was apparently too strong-willed to remain very close to her original self and Frisian pride. - M&H
With Lea & Kash the super-talented Karim Baggili delivers an epic almost operatic album which captivates the listener from beginning to end. The guitarist/oud player weaves a soundscape in front of us which builds to dreamlike proportions. It is hard to escape the ongoing invite of closing one's eyes and letting the mind discombobulate to flow into the wavelike melodies. Singer Karoline de la Serna’s at times meandering always wordless vocals enhance the esoteric feeling and easily bridge the musical boundaries between flamenco, South American and classical. For us so far this album is the find of the year because it has all the earmarking which transform ordinary music into Music with a capital 'M'. - M&H
Mediterranean Suite by Juan Pablo Zaragoza is a smooth ambient soundtrack suited not so much to concentrated serious listening as it is ideal to conjure up a high-quality parallel soundscape. It is far better than ordinary muzak and what's commonly known as elevator music. It's really no wonder that many of this multitalented composer’s works are used as soundtracks for movies and documentaries. Acoustic influences from around the Mediterranean blend with synthesizer chords and spacey vocals into a non-intrusive backdrop that's really ideal for lazy after-dinner sittings and pure zoned-out lounging after an intense day of work. - M&H
Carlos Vamos is one of those free-spirited musicians who defy almost any known category. Carlos can often be found playing the streets of Amsterdam with his electric guitar plugged into an effects board and amplifier. One would think that his incredible 10-finger fret-board chops à la Stanley Jordan would open him doors to far flashier famous venues yet our man Vamos prefers to work the humble open airs. He isn't shy of recording though and one of those productions is Famous Unknowns LIVE 2009 where fellow string virtuoso cum busker Lindsay Buckland joined in. Loops, echo drum computers, Vamos’ guitar and Buckland’s electric dulcimer get the listener into a pleasant trancelike state. - M&H
Soft Machine is dead. Long live Soft Machine Legacy. After an extended period of recording silence the Softs in their current reincarnation have a new album and it very surprisingly picks up where 'they' left off decades ago. Built on a steady drum 'n' bass foundation with layer after layer of guitar, tenor sax and Rhodes accents, the formation's name might suggest a tribute band but the opposite is the case. This band may have been inspired by the original but the music on the aptly titled Burden of Proof is new, fresh and totally Jazz Rock. If your music collection is sorted by genre, slip this crafty album right next to your finest Evans, Gong, McLaughlin, Scofield and Stern classics. - M&H
Joris Vanvinckenroye is BASta!, a one man band of he, himself, his bass and a Boss RC-50 loop station. On Cycles BASta! performs a variety of musical styles ranging from classical through Rock and Jazz. Whatever the style, a melancholic tendency runs beneath each track. Most consist of a simple melody spun out with the help of his loop machine. Contrary to fellow bassist Renaud Garcia-Fons on his Solo album, BASta! relies more on technical assistance and of course also lacks the more famous Frenchman's fifth bass string. Nonetheless Cycles doesn't harp on the same old string and keeps surprising us. - M&H
Billy ‘Blanco’ White’s Dharmaflamenco II takes up where the first incarnation left off. Flamenco guitar, oud, percussion and a wealth of exotic instruments are used to produce a meditative album. This thematic concept is properly successful and a nice flood of music from the speakers relaxes the listener as intended. Sonically alas the recording is flat as a pancake - a very tasty pancake to be fair but flat nonetheless. Just like its predecessor Dharmaflamenco the dynamic range of the production has been badly compressed which is a true shame as subtle gentle musical dynamics create an undulating movement of ebb and flow in the brain which in turn would help one relax even more. - M&H
From Anastasia by Renaud Lhoest is a wonderfully eclectic suite of 20 tracks in which elements from chamber music, Jazz, Klezmer, Arabian and Oriental congregate in a mesmerizing way. This is an album you don’t just listen to. You have to allow yourself to get immersed in it for the full duration of a generous hour. Albums like From Anastasia are very rare. They really only appear now and then. It took Renaud Lhoest a full 10 years of gestation to create it. Now it's our time to enjoy his magic. - M&H
An album with a catchy mix of French chanson, a touch of Tango, a zest of Jazz Manouche, a pinch of Indian raga, a bit of Balkan gypsy and loads of energy is what eXtraOrdinary Rendition by Rupa and the April Fishes is all about and what Rupa Marya herself calls a mestizo sound. Rupa’s fragile voice is like an innocent adolescent’s yet her adult lyrics are reflections on her other work as a physician, medical professor and social worker. The album's title says much about the vision which drives her musicians. Social and political engagement go hand in hand with uptempo rhythms and lively melodies. Highly recommend! - M&H
Rio de Colores is one of my favorite Strunz & Farah parties. It deposits us in some neo-Mayan rain forest of Latin rhythms, Andean melodies, zampoña and kena flutes like exotic birds and darker Persian undertones all led by the blistering interplay of the two acoustic guitar virtuosos from Costa Rica and Iran. Danny Papakalos makes a smoking-hot appearance on bouzouki, the duo's regular contributor Charlie Bisharat shows up with violin, percussion has at least five players intermeshing on cajón, drums, tombak, tambourine and congas and Rene Camacho's Latin bass holds down the grooves. Whilst Jorge Strunz went solo on Neotropical Nocturnes to rely on overdubbing, the true magic comes from this real-time duetizing backed up by a rollicking band. Hola!
Yildirim Levent's Turkish Neverland Fusion is edgy virtuoso percussion-driven fare and as such a decidely Middle-Eastern version of related fusion efforts from Indian drum wizards Zakir Hussain and Trilok Gurtu. Fahir Karaduman's slinky violin, Ismail Tunçbilek's electrified baglama familiar from the two Taksim Trio albums, Murat Berber's jazz-transformed ney and Nuri Karademirli's oud complement the high-powered darbuka groove focus on the instrumental side. Ayaz Kapli and Devjani Daddah add singing vocals, Yildirim Indian-style vocal percussion. Programmed synths round out the color palette. Transient loaded and rhythmically complex like a Jackson Pollock painting, Neverland Fusion is cutting-edge modern music of bygone Shakti pedigree.
From the land of raï legends Cheb Khaled and Cheb Mami comes high tenor Akim El Sikameya. He combines his training in Arabo-Andalou (moorish) nubas with formal French conservatory vocal studies in Marseilles and a thigh-braced fiddle to present a new style of Algerian music with exclusively original compositions of his own pen. Introducing shows off Gypsy, African and Flamenco influences, Cajun-flavored bayou vibes, even elements of Jazz, waltz and Latin. Rather than an incongruous cookie-cutter collage, this mélange is a daring blend of unexpected ingredients which in Akim's magic cauldron turn into something novel topped off by a very unique slinky high voice. Moods and flavors shift from track to track to make for quite the snake-river trip.
Orizontes is a well-cut compilation CD of great songs by one of the most popular Greek singers alive. If you're a fan and have many of her 30 albums, you won't find much if anything new. If you're new to Haris Alexiou, Horizons is an excellent cherry-picked way to make her acquaintance. Nearly exclusively acoustic context comes from bouzuq, acoustic guitars, violin, clarinet, accordion and harp. Two numbers are from the red-maned Gaelic mistress Loreena McKennitt like "To Tango Tis Nefelis", one is from Turkish super star Sezen Aksu who duetizes with Haris on "Me to idio vima tha gyriso". With a special nod to her German audience, the producers bracket the album by having the singer redo the Greek opener in German lyrics as the 15th track closer.
The Tanini Trio are Tahir Aydoğdu on kanun, Bilgin Canaz on ney and Hakan Toker on piano and accordion. Their first album was Dokunuşlar later followed by Dokunuşlar 2. Their unusual combination of instrumental timbres is exceptionally happy. The repertoire covers classics from Bach/Gounod's "Ave Maria" to Satie's "Gymnopedie N°.1" to a positively spine-tingling read of Astor Piazzolla's "Oblivion" and many Turkish compositions including three by our kanun virtuoso. The chamber-music classicist rather than ethnic folk treatment of this material merely adds to its jewel-like allure with its surprising embellishments from the two folk instruments which are alien to the well-tempered piano. This is unapologetically beautiful music.
On Romance de la luna tucumana, the Gipsy dandy with the big voice and long hair revisits his much admired talent for giving Latin boleros and Argentine tangos and milongas the fiery Flamenco-styled makeover. The novelty here is the addition of Diego 'Twanguero' Garcia's Gibson 295 electric guitar and repertoire from Atahualpa Yupanqui and Mercedes Sosa. It's the next chapter in Diego El Cigala's Tango saga replete with a Mariachi trumpet on "Canción de las simples cosas" and Mercedes Sosa's imported voice on the closing "Canción para un niño en la calle". Those who were used to Diego's purely acoustic exploits might need repeat listen to settle down fine with the electrified aspects of Romance but should then agree that it's another perfect little prawn dish.
As a big fan of the Turkish G clarinet, Hüsnü Şenlendiriçi, Göksun Çavdar and Serkan Çağrı are obvious big names. This tip though goes to Bülent 'Kirpi' Altinbaş and his Bugu album, a selection of romantic songs and soaring hymns laid over big string orchestra and percussion. It's the album his Greek counterpart Vassili Saleas never made. Unabashedly Turkish pop of the instrumental kind, Bugu manages to stay clear of the saccharine and shallow. As the cover suggests, the music is opulent and intimate like red silk sheets, brocade curtains and dim golden lighting. The focus is on lazily drifting melodies which are embellished with tendril-like ornaments, not finger-twisting virtuosity. It's rose petals, honey and pistachios.
During the 1980s the Lebanese composer/oudist Charbel Rouhana took part in the Al-Mayadine Ensemble with Marcel Khalife but 2006's Dangerous album moves traditional Arabian music into less traditional settings for attractive crossovers. Typical elements include call-and-answer vocals between undulating soloist and mixed chorus, massed middle-eastern strings, paralleled oud with qanun and rolling darbukas. Less typical elements involve jazz piano on 5-based rhythms underpinned by walking bass; or the Leonard Cohen-style gravelly vocals which are perfectly octave-doubled by another male we encounter on "Sleepless Night" for truly thrilling timbres over nightclub keyboards with haunting transverse flute accents.
Nedim Nalbantoglu is my favorite fiddler and his albums with accordionist Roberto de Brasov get heavy play, less so his three angular romps with the Balkan Messengers because those are too outré for my wife. Takılmaca belongs to this sort but changes ensemble. It parallels Nedim's serpentine jazz/folk-coupled crisscrossing of the scales with Orhan Osman on lightningy bouzuq whilst two accordeons, baritone saxes, tuba and percussion fill out the backdrop. Folk dances turn into galloping improv, oompah rhythms contrast Greek-style string solos, Tzigane violin flageolet goes menacing spiccato duplicated by bouzuq before the dance motif returns... and that's how this high-wire act takes daring risks and sails right through to the very end.
The Jazz Manouche genre continues in the vein set by Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelli. Dividing contemporary players in this field is being derivative or original. Ace guitarist Angelo Debarre always was one of the latter and his numerous exploits with just-as-ace accordionist Ludovic Beier are sparkly foot-stompin' examples of top-level French musette music. Entre Amis delights in combining recognizable melodies of the sort you'd expect at an outdoor Parisian café with the smoking technical savoir-faire that only comes with lengthy training. Whilst this is light entertainment between friends, the sophistication of the mirror-imaged playing between both soloists transforms lite into something far heavier - effervescent but executed with true panache.
Some of the world's best Flamenco guitarists had recently put out new albums so summery June put a lot of that fiery type on rotation. With Vicente Amigo's Tierra we encounter an artist who many considered to be Paco de Lucia's unofficial successor in a novel setting somewhere deep in the heart of Gaul. Here one strain of musical roots trace their way up the Druidic ley lines to the green shores of Ireland and Scotland. It's this very earthy connection with its memories of gigs, reels and the timbres of flutes, fiddlers and bagpipes which Tierra mines in a fabulous crossover effort that dances on the edge of Flamenco rhythms, Flamenco phrasings and indefinable yet very tangible Galway-meets-Granada elements. Brilliantly inventive, top-drawer musicianship!
Gerardo Núñez's Travesía reminds us both of this guitarist's monstrous technique and his uncanny knack for fluidly crossing from Flamenco into Jazz, Salsa and back without losing a beat. This isn't from your father's Sabicas or Manitas de Plata collection. This is cutting-edge 21st century Flamenco that'll have you at similar hallo to watching the Olympic Games and marveling over athletes continuing to set new records with the same old human bodies. Here the shocker aren't merely the raw finger chops of the quicksilvery maestro. The true shocker is the compositional brilliance which culminates in the lengthy final track that goes stylistic places the beginning couldn't possibly prepare you for. Way trippy in a very sober non-Hippy way!
With Soy Flamenco, the adventurous little tomato aka José Fernández Torres gets to pay tribute to his admiration for George Benson, then more than tips his Spanish hat at Pat Metheny with a gorgeous read of a Jazz standard simply called "Our Spain". The album revisits two Camaron de la Isla songs from Tomatito's days as the famed singer's inseparable accompanist and also features Paco de Lucía and the voices of Guadiana and his own daughter Mari Ángeles Fernández. As he demonstrated with his two Michel Camilo collaborations—Flamenco guitar, Latin piano—Tomatito's musical curiosity has come a long way but his big heart continues to outshine all technical aspects.
John Amir Haddad seems to be to Flamenco guitar what Ismail Lumanovski is to the current clarinet. Where Lumanovski can do classical as well as wicked Balkan ruchenitzas, Gipsy Jazz, Turkish taqsim and nouveau chamber music and supports numerous ensembles to mine different strains, John Amir plays pure Flamenco, Mediterranean crossover and Rock with at least three different formations. On 9 Guitarras he sticks mostly to the pure Flamenco idiom but not only plays nine different guitars to show off different timbres, he also adds the Greek bouzuq and Arabian oud. I'd never of heard this artist before but 9 Guitarras showed him to be at the very top of this game. There are plenty of YouTube vids to sample his playing.
On Coplas del Querer, the ever adventurous Miguel Poveda who'd previously surprised the purists by collaborating with the astonishing qawwali singer Faiz Ali Faiz follows the super-popular precedent of long-haired gitano singer El Cigala and his Lagrimas Negras crossover efforts with octogenarian Cuban pianist Bebo Valdez. Love Letters is related to Flamenco primarily by the singer's inflections and stylings but otherwise moves us into a milieu dominated by violin, muted trumpet, piano and massive string orchestra. For another pointer, the female counterpoint to El Cigala and Miguel Poveda would be Concha Buika. If you love the tattooed diva or the elegant crayfish but didn't know Miguel... you're missing out. Then Coplas is the best place to make his acquaintance.
On Mestizuö, the Majorca native had moved into straightahead Jazz ballads to explore a very different side of her thrilling voice against the piano of Jacob Sureda. This she pulled off as convincingly as Sting's sadly under appreciated exploits have been with standards - which is to say brilliantly. Buika and "My one and only love" is quite special. Having dedicated another previous album to the songs of Mexican sorceress Chavela Vargas who also was a favorite of diva Lila Downs, La noche más larga now shifts us into a funky mélange of Latin Jazz dominated by African and Cuban elements. This material is solidly anchored by the arrangements of Ivan Lewis and Ramon Porrina who also hold down the fort on keyboards and percussion.
Having heard Natacha Atlas live at last year's Paléo Festival in the open fields around Nyon—our annual Swiss recreation of Woodstock—and even seen her delight our standing-only audience with a bit of coy belly dance, I really resonate with her latest Expressions - Live in Toulouse. It's a very gentle all-acoustic affair that meanders lazily to downtempo hip-swaying grooves which are overlaid on honeyed Arabian string orchestra. It has her undulating Egyptian vocals in stark contrast to some of her far edgier electronica-driven earlier shaabi efforts. It's lovely to watch this maturing artist counter prevailing trends of 60-something rockers refusing to slow down. This Natacha previewed already on Ana Hina acts her years and is all the sexier for it.