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).

Looking for new Sevara Nazarkhan I chanced upon this Maria Magdalena oratorio from Estonian composer Peeter Vähi, lyrics from the gnostic gospels, Sevara's non-operatic light soprano as Mary. Doubter Andreas is a tenor, Levi a baritone, Jesus and Peter are basses. There's also a narrator, the Riga Dom Cathedral boys choir, the Latvian state choir and national symphony. It's programmatic music somewhere between a Biblical soundtrack, Baroque passion and choral/orchestral tone poem with eclectic timbres (sistrums, double-headed Egyptian drums, long horns, thunder sheet) and dramatic climaxes. Ambitious in scope and likely rare as on-stage concert, this recording is a real opportunity. Sadly the Coptic lyrics conceal the meaning of the on-stage action.
Erol Parlak and Okan Murat Öztürk are Turkish saz and baglama masters whose Har and Sevda Sitem Götürmez invite us into a rusty dark world of stately pulses, cyclical returns, wiry buzzing string timbres, watery G clarinet, curly-cue embellishments, lazy low drums and plaintive undulating male vocals. On feel it seems like miniaturized traditional fasıl, not light diwan music and certainly not arabesque. Whatever it's properly called, it should be off the beaten path for most and a peek into another world.
Ferus Mustafov's King Ferus is a collection of Macedonian tunes and medleys of the exact high-speed ruchenitza sort we heard during a wedding in a hotel ball room in Serbia. The Romani saxophonist who started on clarinet and violin is accompanied by galloping accordeon, scratchy guitars, synth keyboards and percussion. Fans of Ivo Papasov, Mladen Malakov and Yuri Yunakov will instantly admire Mustafov's freewheeling virtuosity and improvisational fluidity. What King lacks in audiophile sonic virtues it more than makes up for in teaching the rest of us what Balkan wedding music is all about. If you've never heard any, I guarantee you'll feel utterly lost how anyone could possibly dance to it. Yet they do and Ferus albums sell in the 100'000s each.
The Tord Gustavsen Quartet's Extended Circle covers this Norwegian pianist in 24/96 'studio master' resolution and ECM/DG quality via Qobuz. Few Jazz keyboardist have the lyrical reach and maturity to say so much with so little. Space and silences are allowed to strengthen fragile melodic arcs for deep atmospherics; softly falling notes are like snow flakes minted in that very moment. Over the TG trio the quartet adds Tore Brunborg's tenor sax for Garbarek-style whispers and snotty intensity. The overall mood is mostly signature introspective and dreamily balladeering though dynamic and stylistic range are greater than before, hence the title. And explaining the central source of stillness, inspiration for these tunes were chorales, hymns and spirituals.
Fadista Mísia's Ruas is a 24-track 2009 twofer I'm clearly way late to. Listening to it I imagined stylistic tendrils hooked into the morna of the Cape Verde islands and certain sausade-flavored Brazilian bossa. On "Joana Rosa", "Fado da Rua da Bica" and many more tracks a café-style violin chimes in slinkily to counterpoint the typical Portuguese guitar for color and mood. It's so well matched that one wonders why violin hasn't become a Fado staple like the Afro-Peruvian cajon has for Flamenco. In established fashion slower and livelier tracks alternate. There's even an unexpected Jewish song "Aishuh hatoba" with accordion whilst the closer scales it all up with a walk on the wild side, i.e. distortion-saturated electrical guitars.
In the same vein of Mísia's old news is Cristina Branco's Idealist, a very recent very generous 58-track retrospective over a 17-year 13-album career with three new tracks to celebrate the occasion. Fans of Cristina will obviously double up. For newcomers Idealist is the artist's hand-selected invite into her musical world of Mediterranean chanson. This is traditional guitar-anchored not overly dramatic fado but also sports more modern arrangements with piano. There's even a jazzy number "Cherokee Louise" with mellow trumpet and English lyrics to stand in for Cristina's less successful past adventures. There are valses and duets where the Portuguese guitar steps out of the background and goes solo in the hands of master Custódio Castelo.
For people unexposed to or not appreciating 'proper' classical music, symphonic movie soundtracks are often as close as it gets. But concert pianist Paul Sauvanet's Tristesse subtitled 'Five Adagios for Times of Sorrow' isn't a programmatic or visual soundtrack. As minimalist quasi orchestral mood music it's actually closer to Arvo Pärt's floating pedal points, albeit performed by a digital orchestra in Sauvent's electronic music studio near Aix-en-Provence. This builds an easy bridge between symphonic and electronic music forms that could be attractive to classical newbies as an introduction to more complex harmonically challenging works. After all, few grok a Bruckner Adagio's advanced harmonic progressions without any prior lighter exposure.
Symphonic Klezmer joins the David Orlowsky Klezmorim trio of clarinet, guitar and upright bass with the forces of the Kammerakademie Potsdam for a new take on previously recorded trio originals here rearranged by commissioned composers whose stated aim it was to use the orchestra not merely as backdrop but active protagonist. This has netted a full dozen of five-minute quasi-symphonic miniatures or tone poems with an often nigun-flavored center. Sony Classics have done a marvelous mixing job to properly balance the trio against the Potsdam formation. And because the re-imagination of these tunes came from five different arrangers, there's lovely variety of how the orchestra is used to expand the original tunes. Superb playing all around!
I'd somehow missed Jan Garbarek's Twelve Moons recorded in 1992. And a very evocative cherry of minimalist Jazz-meets-folk Norse fare it is, with ECM label regulars Rainer Brüninghaus, Eberhard Weber, Manu Katché and Marilyn Mazur in attendance. We're back to the stark overcast aesthetic of Invisible World and Rites and even get quasi tribal female vocals on "Psalm" and "Darvanan". There's also a tribute to 1974's Witchi-Tai-To in a remake of one of its tracks. We're back on vintage Garbarek turf with soaring occasionally searing soprano sax—his tenor only shows up on three tracks—floating above ancient drums and circular piano motifs. It's nearly impossible not to drift into a daydream about Saami life in wide open snow-covered country.
Rabih Abou-Khalil's usually effective most inventive stylistic fusions meet Trouble in Jerusalem on a commissioned soundtrack for the silent film Nathan the Wise from 1922 which pits the Beirut oudist against symphony orchestra, solo tuba and Oriental hand drums. It reads like a surrealist high concept and musically telegraphs the same as though it tried too hard given the historical era of the Third Crusade. No Abou-Khalil recording is ever a total miss and there's enough here to make for a National Geographic type exposé in sound even if in the end it all keeps one at arm's length perhaps because the portentous interludes feel forced and without the visual narrative strangely out of musical context. Interesting then rather than emotionally persuasive.
On 2010's Django Nuevo German Manouche Jazz wunderkind Joscho Stephan paid a very generous tribute to the genre's father figure of Django Reinhardt and his 100th birthday. The title's 'nuveo' indicates not the nth rerun of overgrazed Django classics but five original Joscho compositions plus nine clever workovers of Latin, classic and pop tunes to draw those into the Gipsy Swing fold. Blessed with limitless hyper-clean technique and equally keen musical reflexes, Joscho's easeful re-imagination of 'alien' styles into his favored own recall piano greats Jacques Loussier and Eugen Cicero. So does the advanced concertized vibe which takes street or club music and elevates it to international competition level status without sacrificing any playfulness in trade.
Iyi Olacaksin shows off the slinky lyrical tenor of Ramazan Kubat who was born in Antwerp/Belgium but since 1995 has been working out of Turkey. Kubat began singing at five and started to perform in restaurants at eight. A Youtube concert video with Yasmin Levy shows him to be a consummate performer with a powerful very captivating stage presence and clearly big heart. Given proper support from top-tier composers this man with the honeyed happy voice should become a very big international star well outside Turkey. For now we have a fistful of beautiful tracks from his latest album to place our bets. Already the opener is a typical earworm which drills itself pleasantly into your cortex for a revolving half life of its own - and Iyi Olacaksin has more of those.
Kaloomé is a sextet from the Saint Jacques quarter of Southern France's Perpignan whose four male and two female voices borrow from not only Rumba Flamenca and the nearby Maghreb. Instrumentation includes guitar, violin and bass. For percussion the Peruvian cajon and African darbuka work in the foreground. With Catalan and Moroccan melodies, rotating lead vocals and attractive harmonizing, the group's 'gypsification' was authentic enough to see them invited to Fanfare Ciocărli's Queens & Kings tour. On their second De Otro Color album of 2010, Kaloomé still feel like the younger sibling of Marseille's more adventurous fierier Barrio Chino formation but already had more stylistic facets than Tekameli where Kaloomé band leader Antoine 'Tato' Garcia began.
Alma (Soul) by Luz Casal is a Latino songbook of romantic boleros and slow bossa, samba and valses by a popular Spanish singer whose debut dates to 1980 and who during the 1991 Amnesty International concert in Chile shared the stage with U2, Sting and Bruce Springsteen. This connection between Iberia and South America also factors on Alma with tracks like "O amor am paz" to time warp us back to the feel of the girl from Ipanema and the actual Jobim classic "Wave" or the Henri Salvador hit "Winter Garden". If this were a party, we'd be at the very end of it. The DJ has programmed a final hour for pure slow dancing and smooching. The remaining revelers dream of lazy action under the sheets whilst moving on the dance floor in tightly glued embraces.
Hegira is a trio effort between Hasan Isakkut on kanun, Ercan Irmak on ney and Ara Dinkjian on oud. Subtle synth, piano and drum enhancements round out the tonal palette. If you've loved the many Omar Faruk Tekbilek releases which introduced us to many of these tunes and Isakkut on the Oriental box zither, you'll feel right at home. For these musical expats "in exile", this chamber music is a way to reconnect with the melodic folklore of their homelands of Turkey and Armenia. Unlike the Taksim Trio and Secret Trio (the latter also with Ara Dinkjian) which spin out into technically more advanced showman virtuosity, Hegira remains solely focused on downtempo lyricism in what I'd call easy listening mode of Middle-Eastern folklore.
Except for the drum-accompanied 20-minutes closing raga, on the twofer Electric Modes Indian maestro L. Subramaniam and his electrified Carnatic violin go solo against just the drone of the tambura. At his best Subramaniam knows how to enter an abstract yet utterly transcendental realm of vast space and otherness. Modes contains fiery bow work whose reverb overlays build up large very momentary fractal glass structures which tumble, rise again and then dissolve to nothing. But with tracks like "Contemplation" these albums also contain introspective meditations on which the willing listener can hitch a ride towards quietude and inner peace. And then you wish such a track would never end but keep taking you farther and farther away from yourself...
Lebanese soprano Magida El Roumi's Ghazal sees her return after a 6-year hiatus of working on it with noted poets and composers like Kadim al Sahir, Marwan Khoury and violinist Claude Chalhoub whilst contributing 8 of the 14 songs. She performs with the orchestral forces of Budapest's symphony; duetizes with Senegalese lion Youssou N'Dour and her father; sings an Arabic adaptation of Charles Chaplin's "Eternally"; swings through a roaring Abd El Rabb Idriss cut arranged as a brassy Jazz number with solo sax, soaring trumpet and trombone plus backup chorus; goes schmaltzy chorus-line waltz on "El a'alm Elna"; dives into a love song based on a Sultan's classic poem; and closes on an anti-violence patriotic note with "Nashid Al Chohada". Ghazal is a scintillating grouping of songs by a famous soprano with a golden 40-year career.
Sœur Marie Keyrouz is a Lebanese-born singer and Greek Catholic sister of the Basiennes Chouerites order. She holds a joint PhD in musical sciences and religious anthropology from the Sorbonne and founded the L'Instituit International de Chant Sacré in Paris. Collecting Aramaic, Maronite, Byzantine and Melkite chants preserved mostly in Greek, Syriac and Arabic manuscripts or passed down orally and being proficient in both classical Western and Eastern vocal techniques, she has developed a powerfully melismatic style of singing oriental liturgical songs. Méditations d'Orient presents five of them with her usual Arabian L'Ensemble de la Paix and piano. Méditations are universal prayers in song delivered by a truly haunting very pure shockingly otherworldly voice.
Diálogos joins tango and flamenco between bandoneonist Rodolfo Mederos and cantaor Miguel Poveda whose Verses of Love and Desglaç had already gone beyond flamenco puro. The Argentine/Spanish vein has also been mined by Diego El Cigala, Martyr and Estrella Morente. These dialogues go back to a 2004 meet between the protagonists at the 32nd Cervantes Festival in Mexico. From it followed a road show backed by Rodolfo's Orquesta Típica. Presented here are live songs from a 2006 Buenos Aires and 2010 Granada concert where the Spanish mood was reinforced by the adventurous Flamenco guitarist Juan Gómez ‘Chicuelo’ and two hand clappers. Think of Diálogos as the unofficial continuation of Cigala y Tango - same concept, different flavor, equal pathos.
Stanton is the band of one of Belgium’s finest guitarists, Geert Hellings. Mostly known for team work with others he now works under his own band’s name after a US ghost town where he once got lost. Produced by Jim White and available in 180g LP and 90g CD formats, the sound reminds us occasionally of JJ Cale and Mark Knopfler. Fortunately Stanton’s own signature dominates to add nicely rough edges to otherwise smooth songs. The combo of roots music including uhu-singing female vocals and distorted Fender accents plus horns make for lively captivating cuts. Americana played by non-US residents can easily get cheesy but Stanton is a nice exception. Without the 'made in Belgium' pointer on the cover, you'd be none the wiser. If you like your new country/roots music served up well done, go Stanton. M&H via TuneUp, Antwerp.
On Internal Flight (guitar version), Soviet-born modern-day troubadour Estas Tonne delivers instrumental improv. Where his other recordings and live concerts contain the spoken word in the troubadour's true meaning, this recording is of mere guitar with minimal electronic effects like reverb, loops and the odd sample. Estas has remarkable finger picking technique which enables him to play various orchestral parts at the same time. Internal Flight must be enjoyed in one go like an acid trip and builds up the same. It starts out soft and easy, gets into an extended climax and then ebbs down again. There's a central theme cited either directly or chopped up in a reverberant loop which comes and goes during the flight. This music can only be enjoyed with eyes closed. When played at not too low volumes it is pure magic. M&H via
Yates Brown and Rima Ash form San Francisco-based Doralice and their eponymous album is our find of the year. The band members play violin and toy piano; and guitar, banjo and accordion respectively. When their web page states that they perform original chamber pieces with various influences, the true meaning doesn't register until one plays Doralice in its entirety. Here the band’s sound is enhanced by flugel, cello, bass and drums. All 14 tracks are elaborate little piece-by-piece audioramas with a flamenco/tango vibe which offer a rich variation of themes and sounds such that the album keeps surprising as one finds a new little musical nuggets each time it is played. Highly recommended. M&H via
The Hadouk Trio has grown into the Hadouk Quartet with Hadoukly Yours. This latest album is more intimate and less freaky than previous releases could get. This mellowing and shift to a jazzier style here and there doesn't hurt and the sound remains recognizably Hadouk, perhaps more so as the tracks cover eclectic musical influences from India in the opening tribute to Ravi Shankar; to Africa with the banjo doubling as bolo or kora harp; to the Midwest's banjo jive. Melodies vary from the dreamily wafty to the danceable. Al have that typical Didier Malherbe wink. As closing track there’s the odd "Blueberry Hill" where bowed bass and banjo form the base for Didier’s duduk and the classic is worked over into a real blue grass stomper. M&H via
Kali City is the latest Karim Baggili and a musical pleasure from the first note. Where Frank Zappa had his conceptual continuity, the Belgian oud, bass and guitar player uses a similar concept. All his latest albums plus that of singer Karolina de la Serna can be played in sequence to form a coherent melodic canvas. This album features the Joubran oud trio and Baggili’s Arabic Band. 13 highly lyrical tracks carry the listener on a trip through the Arabian part of the Mediterranean whilst Karim offers musical narration on the scenery and its varied peoples. Melancholia, empathy and joyous dances pass the virtual windows of our tour bus. Each composition contains a careful mixture of traditional Arabian music, Western jazz and classical expressed such that each note has meaning and intent. Kali City is a jewel! M&H via
Tunisian oudist and vocal phenomenon Dhafer Youssef now working out of Austria called on Turkish clarinet sensation Hüsnü Senlendirici and his regular qanun partner Aytaç Dogan from the Taksim Trio as well as the Scandinavian sound magicians Nils Petter Molvaer and Eivind Aarset to join him on Birds Requiem. The latter two set the blue-tinged mood. The album cover of an overcast sea shore with Dhafer's lone silhouette facing away, cased oud slung across shoulder, points the way. Swapping regular pianist Tigran Hamasyan for Kristjan Randalu further deepens the introspective focus. The result is a soundtrack feel that's suggestive of a bird's aerial vision scanning vast Nordic landscapes far away from the noise and lights of the big cities.
On Imaginarium guitarist Kevin Seddiki who regularly performs with Al diMeola, Dino Saluzzi, Stelios Petrakis and has cut two albums with singer Yasmine Hamdan teams up with Bijan Chemirani on the long-necked saz lute and oud. Both contribute percussion on the Persian zarb or tombak drums. Imaginarium thus is a leisurely descent into atmospheric mood music as we'd expect it from ECM. It's all about flow and gentle micro grooves, semi improvised interludes between melodic refrains, long developmental arcs and the barest minimum of effects to supplement timbres. It thus falls into my 'music for a rainy day' category as the sort of album one cues up when one desires a quasi soundtrack to accompany bad weather indoors. Perfect for November!
A Song For You joins Danish pianist Søren Bebe with bassist Niels Ryde and drummer Anders Mogense. Like the Tord Gustavsen trio Bebe can be categorized as a staunch proponent of the Nordic sound where music is mainly improvised but clean, open and minimalist. Each and every note on A Song For You gets personal attention and all the room there is to die out lazily at its own very pace. In that same Nordic tradition the trio does not play a single note too many to keep its melodies pure and lyrical. With these ingredients it'd be easy to fall into the trap of three disconnected soloists. Not so with the Bebe Trio. During this session's tracks they grow more and more together to take the listener along on what is an ideal album for very late-night contemplations. M&H
We try to follow pianist Aaron Parks ever since we first met him playing at Stars’ in Seattle when he was just 16. Guarded by mother Judy he already displayed an unreal talent and musical maturity. Remarkable for such skill? He offers his gifts mainly as sideman. Happily now Aaron takes the lead. His latest ECM recording is a solo improv dubbed Arboresence. Piano improvisations on ECM immediately recall Keith Jarrett but this recording in the magnificent Mechanics Hall of Worcester/Massachusetts feels much warmer and grounded - or perhaps rooted is the better term. The pianist tells his stories filled with rich emotions and isn't shy to include classical references just as he isn't shy to let the Steinway D grand roar when needed. In a word, beautiful. M&H
Where ECM recorded Aaron Parks with ultimately precise attention to mike balance and room interaction, Aaron also recorded himself. This free Bandcamp download is of a concert Aaron did with bassist Thomas Morgan and drummer RJ Miller in the B2 club in Mito, Japan. Most people would record their own gig with a high-end Tascam recorder. Not Aaron. He used his iPhone’s voice recorder and Nate Wood did only a little editing and mastering to final things The result is a very live sounding recording from the pianist's perspective. Bass and drum are simply there and not artificially boosted. As B2 is also restaurant and bar, cutlery clatter and visitors' din accompany the trio. When downloading this free album don’t forget to donate a little to a good cause. M&H
Israel-born Mor Karbasi is a singer who like Yasmin Levy embraces Ladino music sung in the ancient language of the exiled Jews in Spain. Mor now actually lives in Seville and with her third album La Tsadika explores the fairly unknown Sephardic Moroccan songbook repertoire. Accompanied by a wealth of Israeli and Spanish musicians the album mixes Arabo-Andalus, Ladino, Flamenco, Fado and Turkish music for a real potpourri. Highly recommended. M&H
La Buena Mujer’s En Directa is a live recording of the band around multi-talented Carmen Morales who doesn't just sing but also is actress, playwright and movie maker. The band's eclectic style really knows how to party. Pop, Rock, Rap and of course Flamenco combine in a catching stage act that makes sitting still near impossible. Here that is cleverly captured in 13 tracks from a concert in Cadiz’ Sala Central Lechera plus 5 additional tracks from the Sajorami Beach resort of Cadiz. Unfortunately there is one literally dissonant note on this album. Track 9 has one of its guitars completely out of tune yet for some unknown reason still made it onto the final release. With that edited out, En Directo becomes pure party however. Dance on! M&H
The Daniel Willem Gypsy Jazz Band's Sinto Jazz combines the leader's rootsy fiddle with his brother's upright bass, the Berger brothers Sylvestre and Tchavo on rhythm guitar and accordion, Popso Weiss on second rhythm guitar, Samson Schmitt from the famous Schmitt clan on swingé solo Selmer and guests Thierry Crommen and Daniel Pollain on harmonica and woodwinds. There are lyrics in French and Romani, swaying valses, seductive bossa novas, glittering guitar solos, reedy sax turns, stomp chasers, slurred violin phrases, warbling bellows, rumbas. Unlike most contemporary Manouche Jazz these folks take their time. Like America's Pearl Django they shun pyrotechnics and favor a more relaxed easier take on the theme.
If you know Quadro Nuevo's brilliant concertized café music and Richard Stolzman's crossover albums particularly Brazil, you'll segue fluidly into Choro e Bossa Nova. Here Sabine Meyer's less famous brother Wolfgang blows the blackwood against Peter Lehel's sax with bass, piano and percussion backup in typically Brazilian chamber music fashion. On Bolero and with the same collaborators the classical German clarinetist visits lazier just as melodious tunes for easy albeit beautiful listening at a high level.
The Belgian Ghent Folk Violin Project's Tatoeage highlights the very different violin playing of leader/composer Wouther Vandenabeele, Lotte Remmen, Naomi Vercauteren and Anouk Sanczuk to span from swing to folk to neo-classicist styles. Hanneke Oosterlijnck sings olds texts in a comfy down-home fashion, Jeroen Knapen accompanies on guitar. One hears Irish-reminiscent reel and jig flavors, dreamy country valses with harmonizing violins all captured with care to convey gorgeous tone enriched by recorded ambiance. It's purely acoustic music for Kaffee und Kuchen in the country earl's stately mansion. Audiophiles should delight in the burnished timbres of the various strings where tone not speed is the thing. Tatoeage is quite the folksy feast.
On Bessason Abdalak from Israel play Jewish music with a twist: Balkan, Arab, Turkish and Indian flavors mashed up with electronic and psychedelic elements. Think frame drums, djembe, darbuka and conga, five different vocals, ney, G clarinet, trumpet, violin, viola and sax. Think Moorish aromas drifting eastward on the winds. Think flageolet-tweaked modal violin. Percussion-simulated palmas. Octave-doubled vocals intoning circularly descending motifs. 9/8th and 5/4th swirling rhythms. Metallic oud and warbling sax against the background din of faraway voices and clanging noises for some location vibe. Indian-style harmonium meets the Kabbalah. Musicians have replaced the temple's money lenders to play under ancient columns in a desert sun. Glimpses of old times.
As the name nails down, Nicolae Feraru & his Romanian Gypsy Band cover typically Roma music of cymbalom clattering, accordeon bouncing, fiddle scratching and watery clarinet slinking across Taraf de Haidouks turf with those trademark limping rhythms. Count Dracul remains safely in the castle. The villagers down below dance to folksy tunes with unexpected time changes. The Romanian hammered dulcimer which so fascinated Bela Bartok takes center stage, whisking in impossibly rapid pearlescent swirls across the strings before slowing to half time and riffing on a strangely chromatic melody through various minor keys. Most of these are folk dances remade by gypsification. Many are no longer danceable, having become country-style salon music.
The Temple Step Project's Embrace the One from Oz's Byron Bay bills itself as 'sacred bass music with shamanic ambitions'. Hence it combines psychedelica, dubstep and glitch hop with Middle-Eastern instrumental colors and some cosmic voiceovers for a darker less groovy or accomplished version of Mercan Dede or the more organic Tulku formation - similar turf, starker terrain, far more cloud cover and some serious infrasonic beats. One recognizes famous Asia Minor tunes reimagined as a broodingly mystic shuffle within ancient stone circles and hears faint rusty echoes of Sufi zikr. Those 'sacred' elements placed into a club context build shaky bridges. They hint at a deeper dimension than purely electronic fare but get corny with the New Age prophecies.
Telling intelligent stories in lyrically sophisticated songs beautifully enunciated is one of Sting's special gifts. On the sparsely arranged The Last Ship of all original material, this includes quasi talk-delivered elements in dialect with old-timey Celtic-hued storyteller shanties birthed in British pubs. All cuts are thematically linked in a grand arc. They are also a preview of his upcoming eponymous Broadway play for 2014. General themes of homecoming and maturing mix with very personal remembrances of growing up by Swan Hunters Shipyard in Wallsend and watching its shipbuilders decline during the 80s. Highly personal, well past instant airplay appeal, some will find Sting's latest quite pretentious. Others find a well-aged songwriter not giving a damn but follow his heart.
Complicité is high-octane stomping swing at the hands of both acoustic and electric Manouche guitarist Angelo Debarre and his glittering sidekick for this venture, the big-tone swaggering fiddler Marius Apostol. On the title track and "Indiscrétions" the fiery cymbalom of Kosty Lakatus makes bravura appearances to clatter across its range at breakneck speed, invoking echoes of the Carpathian Taraf de Haidouks and Count Dracul doing the footsie shuffle. The uptempo interplay is so intense as to warrant coming apart at the seams. Yet it never does. As he did for his prior Musette exploits with accordionist Ludovic Beier, Debarre has chosen his musical partner for this project well. It's the perfect mix again of sauce, spice and dreamy ballads like "Anouman".
Called the world's first classically trained garage band by their label IMG, 3 Fervent Travelers combine two violins and upright bass to plow not merely the conservatory-approved repertoire. On the live album Time For Three the fresh trio invade the Appalachian turf of the TV series Justified. Except this high-zoot romp through concertized Blue Grass has no banjo picking. The sheer noise these three virtuoso bow men can generate from scratching, plucking, sawing, caressing, double-timing and otherwise working their strings to a shiny sweat is truly electrifying. There are mellower numbers like Cohen's "Halleluja" too but all bets of respite are off when they tear again into the crowd-pleasing fiddler standard "Orange Blossom Special".
French man Juan Carmona on lead flamenco guitar, Josemi Carmona on second, Sylvain Luc on electric guitar and another 30+ musicians light up the dense crossover panorama of Alchemya. There's African chorus singing on the far-out assemblage of the first track. There are Metheny-esque hooks on synth guitar. There are Latin Jazz numbers and echoes of George Benson. There's authentic Cante Jondo. With Alchemya JC presents his answer to the prior crossover successes of Gerardo Nuñez' Travesía, Tomatito's Soy Flamenco and Vicente Amigo's Tierra. Flamenco technique and the rhythmic complexity of Flamenco compas flood their traditional borders and bring to full fruition the fertile soils of previously unrelated musical styles. Sensationally inventive!