The demands of writing, editing, translating and syndicating hardware reviews plus covering editorials, news posts and site maintenance leave me no more time to write the type of full-length music reviews I used to write when 6moons wasn't as busy yet. Even so, readers who share my love of what generally goes by world music though that's a pretty poor term—does everything else come from outer space—keep asking for a least miniature capsule mentions so they can accompany me on my field trips into worthwhile news finds or rediscoveries in my library.

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

Professional music reviews tend to educate their readers with things like genre history, styles, key artists and core recordings which one ought to know of in any given sector. This page isn't that. All that this is are mini mentions of music I haven 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 are MArja & Henk).
For music coverage of 55 albums from June 2013 - September 2013, click on the album cover at left.
For music coverage of 53 albums from October 2013 - January 2014, click on the album cover at left.
The unapologetically gorgeous Dokunmak album is an unforgettable encounter between the elegiac guitar of Erkan Ogur, Derya Türkan's tender kemanche played upright on the knee like a miniature cello and Ilkin Deniz's redolent double bass. With its dreamy mood embedded in a minimalist setting worked over by the top-drawer appeal of immaculate musicianship, it should really be called Turkey's version of the Metheny/Haden classic Beyond the Missouri Sky. Or a distant relative to Sweden's classic Tiny Island. That'd press the point home to those who are still unfamiliar with these gifted performers. Truly, Dokunmak is one for the ages. No matter which track, there is something faintly courtly about these idyllic miniatures, like the best of stately Ottoman divan music. This begins with the slow valse of the "Elif'e Nini" opener and continues unbroken to the closer "Naci Derler". Entirely bereft of any percussive time keeping, the music is allowed to float and breathe freely. Probably switching between numerous guitars—as a download without liner notes I don't have details—Erkan Ogur manages to sound at times wispy and frail like a spinet accompanying the slightly exotic timbre of the spiked fiddle whilst at others, his tone is all woody damp smoke. Sample Dokunmak on Spotify and see whether you don't fall for it hook, line and sinker.
Mazaj Alani by oudist Charbel Rouhana opens with solo oboe against strings to set up orchestral expectations. Then a sneaky accordion alters directions, a lilting rhythm kicks in and oud and Arabian violin merge into the quasi symphonic opening lane to signal an unexpected blend of classic Western and Arabian music. In the menuet-style bridge clarinet and oboe dance with the violins before the oud whisks us back into the mixed milieu. "Just like that" opens with a traditional qanun taksim. This gets picked up by ney and oud before the orchestra sets up a slow belly-dance rhythm and violins and accordion engage in call-and-answer exchanges. The up-tempo "13th of July" uses strings and oud in a slow-mo intro before double time kicks in to make room for a soaring saxophone whilst the violins get friskily syncopated to force sax and oud into equivalently rapid replies. "Passion" introduces a fresh strutting attitude for Charbel's oud and the squeezed bellows above bass and drums to give the orchestral forces a rest. And so Mazaj Alani continues, presenting us with a variety of richly arranged moods which combine Western orchestral and classical Arabian elements in very happy and easily accessible ways yet at an advanced level of compositional sophistication. A very fine example of Middle East meets West.
Scherzo Flamenco is Spanish pianist Diego Amador following up on his earlier albums Río de Los Canasteros and Piano Jondo by once more painting between the lines of Flamenco and Jazz greats Chick Corea, Keith Jarrett and Bill Evans. Then he adds loose influences of specific symphonic composers. Hence on three tracks, one notes inspiration from melodic and harmonic material by Alexander Borodin, Georges Bizet and Modest Mussorgski to cash in on the album's title. Elsewhere he explores classic flamenco forms like the soleá, taranta and seguiriya with guttural cante jondo lyrics. This instrumental translation most directly transfer the traditional parts played by guitar to his darkly tinged piano but otherwise doesn't alter the rules of Flamenco engagement. "Brujolerías" recalls similarly moody exploits by the late Enrique Morente; "Zarmen" riffs on one of Bizet's Carmen themes replete with cajon and palmas; "Castillo de la Edad Bermeja" takes the "Old Castle" movement of Mussorgski's Pictures of an Exhibition into novel places replete with military percussion and gloomy synth pedals to close out an exciting musical piano adventure.
Balkan Clarinet Summit on Piranha Records is exactly what the name implies: a very strategic meeting of various masters of the blackwood jamming together for pure clarino harmonies. From Greece there's Stavros Pazarentsis, from Serbia Slobodon Trkulja, from Moldavia Sergiu Balutel. Oğuz Büyükberber from Turkey contributes bass clarinet, Tobias Klein represents German Jazz. Orlin Pamukov contributes Ivo Papasov's Bulgarian playing style. Claudio Puntin too plays a customized bass clarinet whilst Steffen Schorn brings his experience of conducting large orchestral jazz bands. With each performer penning two or four traditional compositions arranged by Steffen and Claudio for this novel acapella formation, the repertoire was subsequently performed in Athens, Brasov, Thessaloniki, Sofia, Beograd, Novi Sad, Sarajevo, Zagreb, Ankara, Istanbul and Izmir. While many of the folk melodies are faintly familiar, we've never heard 'em like this before. If you've needed proof that the clarinet truly is the most varied and adaptable of all the woodwinds—putting to shame the oboe, bassoon and flute—this musical summit fills a very solid page of proof (which still leaves out how this instrument is played in Azerbaijan, India and Brazil, never mind different forms of Jazz and Klezmer). It's a real cracker of an album and also deeply illuminating about the instrument's multitudinous facets.
The Stringtett is a German Manouche Jazz trio with guitarists Rainer Achterholt and, formerly with the Titi Winterstein formation, Volker Wendland; plus Winfried Bückmann on double bass. For guest stars and their first album's opener plus added tracks, the trio craftily invited the glittering monster guitarist Joscho Stephan whose unbelievable technique becomes more astonishing with each passing year. There are also vocalists Nadja Großpietsch and Nikola Materne whose stylings transport one back half a century; and Richard Alexander to uphold the male contingent of Django-fied Jazz vocals. Stephane Grappelli's part is held up by fiddler Christoph Konig whilst the obligatory musette accordion is ably pumped and fingered by Gyuri Villas. Gerd Gorke contributes snazzy harmonica whilst on "The Squirrel", Markus Paßlick adds very genre-alien congas. In various constellations then, all of these participants collide and intertwine across 17 generous tracks in a delightfully non-obsequious happy-going nod at the genre.
Still in the same groove but greased by triple-cholesterol special butter is The Alternative. This album joins at the hip three of the genre's fastest-drawing gun slingers, Jimmy Rosenberg, Biréli Lagrène and Angelo DeBarre. It's Django's version of Paco Lucia, Al DiMeola and John McLaughlin playing a Friday Night in San Francisco. Fingers are a'flying, strings are a'frying, technical limits a'vying for down the drain. Timbres, attack modes and playing styles shift each time the microphone hands over to another lead guitar whilst the other strum away la pompe or parallel each other in wicked background runs. It's three-upmanship at the highest possible level. As such particularly the hyper-speed numbers teeter far closer on the show-off edge than the equally virtuoso Romane and Jimmy Rosenberg whose three joint outings focused more on relaxed playfulness. For sheer fret board fireworks in this style however, there's really no alternative to The Alternative billed correctly as the one and only album.
Farah Siraj is a very gifted Jordanian singer/composer from Amman who began playing classical piano and delving into music theory at the tender age of three. By sixteen she'd become a known composer. Her formal music studies led her to London's Trinity College where she received a diploma in composition before graduating from Boston's Berklee College. She has recorded with Flamenco's soul singer Pitingo and her Dünya album follows 2011's Nomad which was funded by his Majesty King Abdullah II of Jordan to introduce her own compositions. Besides the Arabian influences expected by her origins, both albums also surprise with Brazilian bossa, Spanish flamenco, Jazz, Pop and Rap elements to net truly bubbling witches cauldrons of cross-cultural influences. Dünya then still raises the stakes with very crafty makeovers of Vengo's "Naci en Alamo" and the standard "Besame Mucho", the latter getting dressed in contemporary Flamenco threads. Farah's stylistic breadth is truly dazzling and clearly backed up by fully developed gifts as a trained composer to be at least as important as her vocalizing.
Nejat Özgür plays exotic accordion in the heavily embellished flickering style of Azerbaijan. Sermest—presumably Butterfly in his native tongue but I can't be sure—is an album dedicated to exploring its various facets. As such it quite transcends focus on just one solo instrument; or better, places it into a wide variety of contexts. We thus also get to enjoy piano-led song, a chorus of duduks opening up a folk dance, the low-pitched tanbur which often shows up around Uzbek singer Sevara Nazarkhan, electric bass played like a saz, cello in the Turkmen style, formal string quartet and many of the limping valse tunes specific to the land of fire. In very rare moments, some of them (seem to) exhibit ghostly parallels to Cajun music. Far more often one senses opulent operatic elements to envision exotic costumes and groups of dancers undergoing whirling movements in festive venues.
DuOuD combine the duelling ouds of the Tunisian Jean-Pierre Smadja and the Algerian Mehdi Haddab who today live in France. It's in their self-imposed exile that the two met to concoct their particular recipe of effects machines, computer beats, electrical or acoustic oud and the occasional stringed addition like Nedim Nalbantoglu's Balkan violin on acid. Far more frenetic and daring than Le Trio Joubran but as such also harder to digest, DuOuD's attempts at renewing 'old' music—the Arabian oud dates back to the Ottoman courts—can at times be bracing. Yet they're never less than adventurous. Wild Serenade hints at that by title alone. From trippy Gnawa influences to turning the oud into a Berber-style electrified rock instrument in deep overdrive; from odd-metered endlessly revolving modal exploits above blitzing tablas to darkly gothic descents into rattling infra sounds, Wild Serenade has something for everybody. Or not. But unlike the next two entries to follow, Wild Serenade reminds us. Music has many different functions. One of those is to break down boundaries, experiment, deconstruct and reassemble. That's the playground of this particular DuOuD effort.
If you're fond of the Armenian duduk—an ancient apricot-wood precursor to the modern oboe—as well as gorgeous Azerbaijani melodies, Alihan Samedov's Balaban 6 has your name all over it. It kicks off with an insidiously catchy BuddhaBar-type slinky lounge number in which the oboe trades call-and-answer style with Hüsnü's Turkish G clarinet over a plucky bass line. "Today is history" continues with one of those plaintive melodies best suited to the duduk's narrow range. It conjures up remote landscapes and forgotten monasteries, with the spacy instrumental context still ambient lounge. "Today is history" becomes a bouncy club cut with pounding bass above which the humble duduk soars like an extraterrestrial. Unlike fellow dudukis Djivan Gasparyian and Levon Minassian who favour more subtle electronic enhancements if any at all, Alihan Samedov's Balaban 6 goes full-hog Club Ibiza. Traditionalists, purists and depth divers will shudder and groan. Meanwhile the young, beautiful and sun-tanned groove and get it on. Is you is or is you ain't?
Still fishing in the same shallow but sexy pond gets us at Wassim's Desert Safari signified by that plush red leather club chair in the middle of nowhere. Unlike Balaban 6, this lounge effort makes no pretenses at pretty melodiousness at all. Instead it's all about spinning percussive grooves with plenty of flickering synth enhancements to establish rhythmic layers with nary an acoustic instrument in sight. The occasional vocal samples are heavily processed, too. This isn't so much music to listen to as it is aural incense. One inhales it down into the blood chemistry to alter its composition with subtly erotic beats and the hypnotic nature of cyclical patterns. If you space out to elsewhere, that's exactly the intended destination.
Previously with albums published under just her first name Amira, on her latest the Bosnian singer adds her family name Medunjanin and is accompanied by Franco-Serbian pianist Bojan Z. plus guitar, qanun, oud and double bass. Her repertoire on Silk & Stone sounds like folk songs, dances and lullabies from the wider Balkan region including Russia in the north and Turkey in the south which have been attractively transformed into chamber music. Referred to in reviews as the songstress of Blues from Sarajevo, her vocal delivery is indeed laden with minor-key melancholia and a certain world weariness. Not understanding her lyrics—few outside her country will—poses no hurdles to enjoying these bitter-sweet downtempo moody tunes, the gorgeous instrumental backdrops with occasional instrumental solos of great beauty and of course Amira's gentle but heavily emotive vocals. It would be no surprise if this album eventually ranked high in the world music charts. It really deserves it!
Kavita Seth's Trance with Kushrow moves our lighter Qawwali singer with her jubilant pipes into a mellow clubby milieu of low bass beats and synth washes to leave behind a traditional Qawwali party of dual harmoniums and plenty of backup singers. What would have been sacrilege a few decades ago became fully acceptable and enormously successful when Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan demonstrated how to push this religious music's envelope without profaning its central sacred focus. Successors like Rahat Ali Khan and Faiz Ali Faiz have continued to reset stylistic boundaries, the latter even venturing into collaborating with Flamenco singers like Duquende and Miguel Poveda. On the female front, Kavita Seth now shows that her time has come to cross bridges into what to younger Westerners is probably the closest musical equivalent to trance music. Unlike Gaudi's deconstructionist efforts with Nusrat, Trance involves no sampling or looping that would extricate the vocals from their original context. That makes for a more cohesive vibe which mostly stays clear of that dreaded disco-fied hollowness. If you're older and beyond visiting clubs, try Kavita's Bulleh Shah instead.
This version of saxophonist Ilhan Ersahin's Wonderland guest stars Hüsnü Senlendiri and, for vocals each on their own track, Gilberto Gil plus Jane Birkin and Seyyal Taner. In modern session style, we observe the intertwining of snappy bass, rollicking drums, slinky violin, funky keyboards, riffing qanun, warbling or spitty trumpet and watery clarinet. This is set against mostly driving grooves with conventional percussion and a plethora of hand drums. Jane Birkin offers up a dose of French talk song over organ-style synth keyboards with unexpected oriental snippets. The Seyyal Taner cut goes massed Middle-Eastern strings versus funky rhythm section with glistening qanun interludes. Gilberto Gil's abstract vocal stylings and scatting also overlay a groovy string melange. "Misirli Duke" is a very night-clubby downtempo number with raunchy saxophone alternating with trumpet cries. "Harikasin Sen" sets up a woodwind duel between Ersahin's smoky saxophone and Senlendirici's reverb-enhanced snake-charming clarinet. That makes Wonderland a definite slice of modern world music.
When flamenco singer Diego El Cigala embraced tango, it was a logical evolution of his previous and globally awarded encounter with Cuban songs at the virile hands of octogenarian pianist Bebo Valdes. When Concha Buika followed in the crayfish's foot steps, we had a female version of Flamenco commingling with the Americas. Now Yasmin Levy, protector of her father's extensive collection of sephardic songs, enters the Tango milieu with full orchestral backing. Far less sharply edged, abstract and modern than Piazzolla's nouveau tango, this is heavily romantic saucy stuff on a grand symphonic scale captured in front of a live audience. From a production perspective, the vocals might be too embedded and overshadowed by the backing forces but this doesn't detract from the music's innate sweep and power.
Cafer Nazlımaş' Feryad-ı Kemane celebrates the spiked fiddle, an instrument which is probably best known to us from classical Persian music. Except that Cafer plays his in a decidedly Turkish style. He even surrounds himself with the right guest stars to underline that: Göksel Baktagir on qanun, Ismail Tunçbilek on saz, Hüsnü Senlendirçi on clarinet, Ismail Altunsaray on vocals and remixologist Mercan Dede for a revamp of one track. If one didn't have the album cover to cheat, one would in fact be most apt to mistake his kemanche for a violin such as played by Adnan Karaduman for example. An eventual giveaway to the contrary is the timbre of the higher registers. Despite often being triggered as quasi flageolet, they're wispier and less scratchy. In these settings of mellow Turkish folk songs, the kemanche makes for a most unexpected but quite ravishing and very fitting soloist. With its limited dynamic range but ability to execute serpentine embellishments with various degrees of overtone padding, it's a thing of very ephemeral dreamy beauty, like spider webs with dew drops glistening in the sunlight. In its genre of light Turkish instrumental music, Feryad-ı Kemane seems like a predestined classic.
Safar's Imed Alibi, formerly of French fusion rockers Les Boukakes, combines the Tunisian drummer with Zé Luis Nascimento's Brazilian percussion, Zief Zouari's slinky violin, Justin Adam's muscular guitar and Stéphane Puech's cinematic orchestration, with guest vocals by Kelmti Horra's Emel Mathlouthi. Further colours mixed into this North-African diaspora project come from Michel Marre's trumpet and the qanun and ney of Suzdil Ahmad and Nabil Ghannouchi. There are instrumental whiffs of Natacha Atlas, dark rusty grooves interleaved with darbouka patterns and e-guitar distortion. "Fanfare d'Alexandrie" with its stately minor-key trumpet and pounding drums feels like a movie score. Densely layered modern Arabian semi-programmatic music of distinction!
Patchwork by Jerez-Texas is as aptly named as the band itself. With cello and light rumba flamenco-styled guitar as repeat protagonists, the general vibe reminds of Willie & Lobo and the proximity of the Mexican border. Some African rapping against backup chorus on the title track shows early arranger smarts and taste. The Cajun bayou accordion of the following cut with Latin lyrics continues the happily groovin' border-crossing theme, with the cello stepping into the role usually taken by an upright. Variety, jazzy whistling, talk song, scatting vocals, cello in unexpected places and decidedly good times continue unbroken to the end of this spicy spread of musical finger foods.
The unexpected Clychau Dibon encounter is between the British Catrin Finch and her 47-string/7-pedal concert harp; and the Senegalese griot Seckou Keita's African 21-string kora plus a second double-necked hybrid. It's the string theory and future strings of an album whose haunting opening track is fittingly dedicated to kora legend Toumani Diabeté who participated in their first concert. "Combo Celtaidd" combines the Welsh word for 'celtic' with the Mandinka term for 'mist' and makes for a perfect catch-all of their serene duetizing whose lack of percussion relies on rhythmic string patterns instead. This is magical quasi hypnotic music whose harmonic simplicity soon reveals a wealth of light and shadow play which, watched closely, can become a bit mind-altering.
Sabina Rakcheyeva is an award-winning Azerbaijani concert violinist from Baku whose ensemble performs UnVeiled, a riveting collection of ethnic music performed in a highly virtuoso thematically complex concertized style. We come across meandering Arabian oud, Kinan Azmeh's glistening Syrian clarinet, piano, guitar, odd-metered bass lines, rollicking percussion, unexpected thematic deconstructions and worked-over folk music motifs. UnVeiled is a real treasure trove which applies sterling conservatory technique and training to contemporary heavily ornamented ethnic chamber music of the highest order like The Secret Trio. Also check out online Sabina's Deco Ensemble whose talented quintet is dedicated to Nouveau Tango. This is an artist to keep close tabs on!
Rojda's Kezî opens with plaintive duduk. This instantly sets our inner compass in the general direction of ancient Armenia. Once Turkish-born Rojda Aykoç begins singing, we're most directly and very powerfully reminded of Aynur Dogan. No wonder, both are Kurdish and sing in the traditional melismatic style. Here it isn't dressed up in Pop threads like most of Yulduz Usmanova and Sevara Nazarkhan. These arrangements are sparse and 'primitive' rather than glossy. They conjure up authentic roots music from a region most of us are unfamiliar with. That singing Kurdish folk songs in their original language can upset Turkish authorities was brought home by Rojda's 2010 arrest and 1-year prison sentence for doing exactly that.
Buddhattitude's Alaafiya from the Buddha Bar Spa Collection is African-flavoured groove-centric organic ambient fare. It nicely straddles the line between mindless New Age sonic wall paper and getting too involved to distract folks from paying attention to what else they're up to. In short, it's the kind of expertly sequenced fare a professional DJ would spin if tasked to provide vibe for a lounge. People want to hear each other talk and check out walkers-by whilst being surrounded by exotic vocal snippets, mellow beats and hints of foreign instruments to enjoy a fashionable atmosphere. Let's face it, sometimes that's exactly what the doctor ordered. And this kind of thing team Buddha Bar do better than most. So get off your high horse and put out some buddhattitude...
Lili Boniche and his old-timey Treasures of Judeo-Arab Music return us to the Algerian singer with sephardic roots who died in Paris in 2008 and specialized in Arab/Andalusian music blending Chaabi and French Rumba. The collection kicks off with a slinky full-strings tango, traverses glittering salon piano with Viennese strings/clarinet backdrop and mellow chaabi that had little in common with the hard-hitting electrified Rai of today. We hear saucy Russian solo violin as though from a Parisian cabaret, reedy metal clarinet suggesting a snake charmer, musette accordion and throughout it all the singer's elastic voice, at times even against call-and-answer chorus. This is a slice of old-fashioned charm: Sacher torte with Moroccan mint tea.
Joe Zawinul's Stories of the Danube is a major musical adventure and modern parallel to Smetana's famous Moldau. Burhan Öcal on oud and percussions, Amit Chatterjee on guitar, Arto Tuncboyaciyan on percussion and voice, W. Grassmann on tabours, ex Weather Report's Zawinul on keyboards and voice plus the Brno Philharmony set this stage to formally become the Zawinul Symphony N°.1 which was first performed for 80'000 at 1993's Bruckner Festival in Linz (Zawinul's Vienna grave is a 2-min. foot walk from those of Beethoven and Brahms). It traces the river's journey from the Black Forest to the Black Sea to combine symphonic tone-poem style with soaring synths, ethnic voices and drum-propelled grooves surrounded by big orchestra.
Standing the classical four-handed piano genre on its head, Katie & Marielle Labèque's de fuego, de agua album with singer Mayte Martín are two freewheeling concert grands and female Flamenco vocals. Joan Albert Amargós in charge of most transcriptions covers material by Rodrigo, Granados, de Falla, Valderrama and even Carlos Gardel and Paco de Lucia. The sensuous singer contributes three compositions of her own, then lends her emotive charms to Argentine tango as Diego El Cigala has done before. The outrageous setting of Mayte Martín surrounded by two pianos is a wicked head turner and every bit as adventurous as Miguel Poveda's related exploits. It's deeply satisfying to discover such well-trained Flamenco voices in such foreign but gorgeous new milieus.
Subtitled Au-delà du Fado, Maria Berasarte's Ague en la boca deals with this arch-conservative style of Portuguese song rather differently. There's Spanish not Portuguese guitar. In places there is—purists beware—mild percussion including Peruvian cajon. There's accordion and upright bass. There's clarinet. Mostly it's really a different take on the girl plus guitar genre but routine detours through broader ensemble work mix it up. Maria's delivery sidesteps the overt drama and pathos of classic Fado and with it certain unmissed mannerisms. Hers is a gentler less showy or edgy focus. Her mood preference is for downtempo dreamy introspective minimalist tunes.
With Manantial we dive into a forgotten world of duets between the wild-maned classically trained Lebanese violonist Ara Malikian and Spanish guitarist José Luis Montón. In today's more-is-merrier modality, a return to such lyrical simplicity feels like riding a time machine back into a slower era. And that's what the made-over songs of Manatial deliver. Manolo Carrasco & Ara Malikian Live! then ladles on the sauce to expand the same concept to full symphonic scale. Violin romance in two flavours.
Charlie Hayden. Paco de Lucia. 2014 saw the loss of legendary players. On Canción Andaluza, Flamenco's most famous guitarist demonstrates the tremendous breadth of his craft and why, Astor Piazzolla style, he was considered the genre's most influential reinventor and force of renewal. He de facto split its time line into before and after him. Canción sports advanced romantic Spanish guitar ballads, fiery bulerías, vintage styles with unexpected modern embellishments, contemporary female Flamenco vocals, a lovely valse with surprising time changes, the darkly hued quirky pipes of Enrique Morente whom we lost too, a fresh breeze from Cuba with the "Señorita" closer and everywhere elegant inventiveness of scene settings and detail execution. A classic!
On Thierry Mallard Trio's Alchemist, the seasoned Jazz pianist and composer, Yoann Schmidt on drums and Matyas Szandai on bass surround themselves with a string orchestra of 12 to introduce classical elements and write big-band type accompaniment for their string section. For yet more colourful accents there are The Hadouk Trio's Didier Malherbe on duduk and various flutes, Djemai Abdenour on oud, Bruno Bongarçon on guitar and Dorothé Cornec on harp. The added forces and new timbres rather explode the usual piano trio format into something more ambitious, architecturally complex and stylistically unpredictable. The 9-minute "Albatros" even reminds one of the Dhafer Youssef quartet's highly syncopated odd-metered workouts. Sit down and listen stuff!
Disfruto Flamenco by Antonio 'El Titi' Abardonado is advanced modern Spanish guitar music performed at a very high level. Palmas, cante, jaleos and the complex rhythms of the bulerías, rumba and seguirya forms combine with unexpected time changes and stylistic detours. Growling electric bass is as much part of Titi's ensemble as are chorus vocals and hints of smooth Jazz peeking through "Como Fusion" with its e-guitar trading solos with the acoustic guitar, traverse flute riffs and sax before a salsa piano takes things in a Cuban direction. There's even an angular tangos called "Azucar y Canela" - sugar and cinnamon. Disfruto is top-tier very adventurous Flamenco from a player whose name may not be familiar but belongs with the greats.
Rocky Gresset on Jazz Manouche guitar, Antonio el Titi on Flamenco guitar and Louis Winsberg as a guitarist comfortable in multiple genres make up the acoustic guitar trio of Gipsy Eyes. With "Chez Loulou", "Chez Rocky" and "Chez Titi", each gets to set the dominant tone of his core genre. Beyond that things mix up and intertwine deeply. "Take Five" is a Dave Brubeck jam, "Caravan" riffs on a classic Latin melody with unexpected solo breakouts. "El Tigre" is a lengthy serpentine workout that does for this stylistic clash what Romane & Stochelo Rosenberg have done for contemporary French gipsy jazz - revitalize it by erasing lines in the sand. Gipsy Eyes are 18 duelling strings for some unexpected, adventurous, scintillating and resolutely genre-crossing tunes.
Borders Behind sees oudist Adnan Joubran break out of the established award-winning Le Trio Joubran formation with his brothers Samir and Wissam to fly solo. Two years in the making, this brilliant effort teams the Parisian resident with Prabhu Edouard on tablas, Valentine Moussou on cello, Javier Sanchez on cajon/palmas and Jorge Pardo who made his fame with Flamenco legend Paco de Lucia on flute and sax. The resultant blend of Indian, Flamenco, Jazz and Classical really does leave borders behind. It puts Adnan Joubran on his very own track between Anouar Brahem's introspective lyricism and Dhafer Youssef's energetic outgoing crossover music. Borders Behind is carefully crafted, beautifully played, very well produced and a real gem all around!
Plaza Francia - A new Tango song book is singer Catherine Ringer of the famous French rock band Les Rita Mitsouko and Eduardo Makaroff and Christophe H. Müller of the Gotan Project. With it the Argentine, French and Swiss collaborators bridge Tango and Pop on a smooth arc built by arranger Gustavo Beytelmann who goes for a rather more organic lighthearted mood than the edgily clubified, deliciously subversive, heavily saucy Gotan productions. For those to whom South-American vocal Tango is too ethnic and alien, Plaza Francia opens a new easier avenue of approach whilst staying true enough to the traditions to appease the purists.
Zoobazar 2 are the further adventures of John Amir Haddad's Madrid-based quartet whose members come from prior work with Radio Tarifa, La Musgaña, Eliseo Parra, Javier Paxariño, Chambao and Mastretta. Mediterranean and Middle-Eastern tunes acquire a mildly dark rockier makeover and even Funk, Jazz and Indian elements end up in their wily mash. The main duelists are Arabian oud, Turkish saz, drums, percussion and violin. The multi-talented string maestro in the lead so fluent in advanced Flamenco for his solo albums here shifts into slightly grittier mode but keeps the full dose of heavy metal for his Members of Parliament outfit.
The Congolese singer Gasandji started as dancer and choreographer for performers like MC Solaar, Princess Erika and Cut Killer and produces French shows with guest artists like Lokua Kanza, Kezia Jones and Imany. A self-professed lover of soul, Gasandji's lilting debut album with typical vocal backup stylings combines down-tempo Afro Soul with Pop and some mild Reggae sung in English, French and Lingala. This is mellow light-filled music whose vocal layers can suggest happily chirping birds at times. The thematic of the lyrics revolves around love and hope as the chosen focus of a lady whose name literally means 'bestower of consciousness'.
iLenKa on the 2xHD label is perhaps best dubbed modern New Age or Adult Contemporary. Stylistically it plays between later David Arkenstone and the symphonic crossover grooves of Øystein Sevåg. iLenKa is trumpeter and composer Robert Len and his stage scenarist Carole Meneghel. They usually work a "multi-disciplinary spectacle" though there's also an acoustic trio version with percussionist Gérald Bissonnette. Yet their debut album is far grander in scope and even has the Chante-Joie Choir participate in the end. This is beautiful very varied and creatively arranged music of the programmatic type. It includes evocative soundtrack hymns, smooth Jazz ballads between muted trumpet and violin, even Lord of the Dance celtic reels. Very cool stuff!
Joana Jiménez is a singer from Seville who began her studies at the music conservatory at the age of 9 followed by numerous awards in vocal competitions. On her eponymous album she sings in heavily emoted Flamenco mannerism full of sufrimiento. The often piano-carried songs include a memorable duet with Miguel Poveda and a truly scorching nightclub ballad with Spanish super pianist Dorantes. Joana's stylistic affectations recall the younger Yasmin Levi on Flamenco material. This requires breaks lest one suffer an overdose of melancholia. In proper measure it's suitably intense and impressive. Joana is a very gifted promising vocalist who with growing maturity should learn that in the long run less can be more to not try quite so hard.
Serious Jazz fusion might be a thing of the past but with the re-release of Featuring Ourselves via Bandcamp, the group around guitarist Alex Machacek proves that quality can easily span a 15-year gap. With Tibor Koevesdi on bass, Flip Philipp on percussion and drummer Harri Ganglberger, the guitarist works through ten tracks each with a distinctive association. Holdsworth, Zappa, Bruford, Henderson – you name them, they all show up not in copycat fashion but in true tribute style. There are many cloners but very few musicians capable of capturing the essence of a favorite artist to work that inspiration into an original composition. Machacek is one of those few. Hopefully this re-release gets the attention it deserves and lacked in the past. M&H via Bandcamp
Veteran drummer Lenny White’s Anomaly is now available on Bandcamp and can best be described as high-class heavy jazz rock. White was one of the new electric Jazz co-founders when he participated in Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew and explored the genre further in Return To Forever. On the 2010 Anomaly release White is joined by a wealth of musicians he played with in various settings and different styles before. Some are young, some are well seasoned. Together they make Anomaly into a stand-out album and welcome continuation of a great musical tradition. All 12 tracks differ enough to make the entire recording a gripping feast - here and there heavy, soulful or even bombastic. M&H via Bandcamp
Maybe it will be an exception in these pages but we really like the now immensely popular Stromae and his album Racine Carrée. Yes it is a clever mix of Hip Hop, dance and ambient beats. Yes it is a combination of samples and beats from a box all mashed up in Pro Tools. But Stromae is a true child of Brussels who blends all manner of African popular musical elements into his tunes which makes for a thrilling outcome. Add to that the fact that his lyrics are not the usual macho-laden rhymed curses and misogynism for which Hip Hop and Rap are infamous for or that the words alone tell it like it is. Stromae instead asks questions to reach for answers which he and a lot of his generation are grappling with. M&H
Malika Zarra was born in Morocco, raised in France and today operates out of NYC. On Berber Taxi many musical influences from these diverse environments come together in harmony. Zarra sings in Arabic, Berber, French and English. Think Sade, Souad Massi or Natasha Atlas and you get the idea. The singer is blessed with a clear and fresh voice that easily switches between normal and head voice. Berber Taxi is a great blend of Western jazz, North African and even Native American folk music in melody, rhythm and instrumentation. M&H via Qobuz
Sietze Bouma released his first album Strings ’n Air in 2011 already but we only just discovered it. Bouma is one of Holland's most talented guitarists. He is also a sought-after guitar teacher who runs and co-owns a music school. On this album Sietze is accompanied by a string quartet, bass, bandoneon, piano and percussion. All ten tracks are pleasantly fleet-footed and played in the picking finger style. The recording is free from unnaturally close-up miking and also leaves plenty of dynamics in the mix. For those who like Harry Sacksioni, this Strings 'n Air release will be a welcome addition to their collection. M&H via Bandcamp.
Sietze Bouma released his first album Strings ’n Air in 2011 already but we only just discovered it. Bouma is one of Holland's most talented guitarists. He is also a sought-after guitar teacher who runs and co-owns a music school. On this album Sietze is accompanied by a string quartet, bass, bandoneon, piano and percussion. All ten tracks are pleasantly fleet-footed and played in the picking finger style. The recording is free from unnaturally close-up miking and also leaves plenty of dynamics in the mix. For those who like Harry Sacksioni, this Strings 'n Air release will be a welcome addition to their collection. M&H via Bandcamp.