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As chief bottle washer for these pages, my various duties include writing my own equipment reviews whilst translating and/or editing and laying out all others in HTML, handling image processing, writing news announcements and industry features as well as covering site maintenance and finances. It should also include writing music reviews. But time conspires against it. A number of readers who share my crooked musical tastes have asked for mini reviews to follow my exploits. Penning a feature of music files that were on heavy rotation this year shall be my response to their request. Every single mention—be it in the merest passing or brightly lit—was put there deliberately to get your compass a'quiver pointing at Google, YouTube, Spotify and the usual suspects to do some aural research of your own.

From classical to Pop, I adore much Turkish music. A popular instrument is the qanun, a type of zither related to the Rumanian cymbalom. Göksel Baktagir's three volumes of Hayal Gibi are perennial favorites as is Hayat 1 Hayat by Hasan Isakkut who performs on most of Omar Faruk Tekbilek's albums. Aytaç Doğan is the celebrated Taksim Trio's qanun player and his solo album Deva is my latest discovery in this sector. Straddling the edge of occasional kitsch and the type of minor retro disco-groove accents which also appear on Hüsnü Senlendirici's latest Hüsn-ü Hicaz, most of Deva's 14 tracks are simply gorgeously minimalist takes on well-known Turkish songs.

Due to my classical clarinet conservatory background, I've an abiding fondness for the instrument in all manner of settings. In Turkey, Hüsnü Senlendirici is one of the greatest but Serkan Çağri, Göksun Çavdar, Bülent 'Kirpi' Altinbaş and Corlulu Savaş have brilliant CDs as well. Whilst politics between Greece and Turkey tend to be edgy, Hüsnü's Ege'nin Iki Yanı could care less. It's an absolutely fabulous collaboration between his clarinet, Aytaç's qanun and the Greek Trio Chios on bouzuq, violin, guitar and vocals. Fittingly the cover art shows a green and black olive on the same branch. For a classic symphonic tip still in Turkey, consider Fazil Say's Istanbul Symphony and Hezarfen Concerto for Ney and Orchestra both on the same Naïve CD.
The Armenian duduk is the classical oboe's precursor. Whilst Djivan Gasparyan might be the instrument's most famous export, Frenchman Lévon Minassian must be noted as well and his collaborative track with the immortal Pakistani qawwali Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan is timeless. Then there's Suren Asatryan. In the latter's solid and extensive oevre Veda:Farewell stands out for featuring this monster player on both duduk and clarinet and not in the typical Armenian classicist setting but with some very tasteful electronic ambiance reminiscent of what Hector Zazou did for the Usbek singer Sevara Nazarkhan whose first two albums far outclassed her third.

From Turkey to Arabia is a mere stone's thow and Wael Jassar's Fe Hadret Al Mahboub is a particular favorite. I've tried whatever else I could find by him—very limited from Switzerland I should expect—and nothing came close. I'd love to be proven wrong by the right reader. Amr Diab has a stunning voice and would probably do classical Arabian music wonderfully yet the stuff I've been able to find is bubble-gum shaabi from Cairo. Still, certain of his most famous Pop tunes are pure gold. To counter politics again, let's jump to Israel and Yasmin Levy. I have all her albums and whilst some of her earlier stylings got too affected, with a voice like hers all is forgiven. If you can find the YouTube concert duet with Kubat singing "Ince Ince", you'll be in for a different treat.
Thierry 'Tit' Robin's entire discography is a regular here in Villeneuve as is Renaud Garcia-Fons'. The former is a non-Gypsy guitar/bouzuq player with strong ties to Rajasthan and French/Catalan rumba flamenca; the latter the Paganini of the upright bass. Another solidly installed artist in our library is oudist/singer Dhafer Youssef whom we heard live again in Lausanne, this year with a 15-piece Balkan string orchestra. I just discovered some YouTube concert cuts with Dhafer and Hüsnü predictably right up my alley. For something completely different, I'll now mention Hughes de Courson and his two Mozart l'Égyptien installments plus Lambarena which extends the concept to J.S. Bach and Africa.

In a nutshell, the former two imagine what might have happened had Mozart been invited to some Oriental pasha's court. He'd certainly have used the local musicians to perform his own works. How de Courson and his orchestral forces combine Mozart with Egyptian music is sublimely inspired stuff. Who else would have thought to interweave a Sufi zikr with Mozart's Requiem?

Whilst we're with sacred music, let's mention Rahat Fateh Ali Khan. Like Nusrat he doesn't merely do traditional qawwali but also crossovers including Bollywood hymns. With a truly golden voice Rahat is in much demand and sorting through his output is both daunting and checkered but worthwhile. Faiz Ali Faiz also steps outside traditional qawwali boundaries and in particular his crossover efforts with Flamenco singers Miguel Poveda, Duquende and guitarist Chicuelo are inspired. Would it surprise you that there's also a CD between him and Titi Robin? For female semi-crossover qawwalis I love Kavita Seth and am on my third album by her. Now skip to India, classical music and—truly—electric guitar. Uppalapu Shrinivas with Samjanitha should have your attention.

Back to singer Miguel Poveda, like Diego El Cigala and Concha Buika crossing Flamenco with other genres is in his blood and Coplas del Querer a particularly brilliant effort. In a similar vein but now on Flamenco guitar, Niño Josele and Josemi Carmona each mine unique cross-genre blends of which I don't seem to tire. String wizard Gerardo Nuñez' latest Travesia is very memorable too. And if you've never considered Piano in a Flamenco context, look to Dorantes on Sur, Orobroy and Sin Muros. From here I'll skip to Asita Hamidi, an artist living in Switzerland playing the electrified harp in a world-music context like trailblazer Andreas Vollenweider and thus unlike Deborah Henson-Conant who remains more embedded in the Jazz milieu.
When I'm in a chill-out mood, I often turn to a mellow playlist of Øystein Sevåg's neo-classicist Norwegian grooves or his Visual album with Lakki Patey, ambient sitarist Al Gromer Khan or kirtan prince Jai Uttal's Music for Yoga and other Joys and Bhakti Bazaar. Pushing the boundaries in this milieu are Mercan Dede and Cheb i Sabbah, my two all-time favorites in what I call organic ambient music. And there's always Norse saxophonist Jan Garbarek in his minimalist ECM settings.
For audiophile-approved female vocals there's fadista Dulce Pontes and Norwegian Kari Bremnes. For saucy Brazilian samba I love vintage Alcione. For expertly played café music anything from Quadro Nuevo is a top pick. For anything in the general Gypsy music vein, nobody does that better than French super group Bratsch who move seamlessly from Roma doïna to Greek rembetiko, from Manouche jazz to a Yiddish song. For blistering Gypsy swing guitar duels who could top Romane & Stochelo Rosenberg whose formal output on CD goes from strength to strength? The German Joscho Stefan has the most monstrous technique in this genre that's far from short on pyrotechnics but when it comes to pure vibe, Angelo Debarre on guitar and Ludovic Beier on accordeon are the shizzle.

Rumanian and Bulgarian accordeon are another personal weakness. For the former my top pick is Roberto de Brasov whose every album I've finally managed to collect. For the Bulgarian tale on the subject the surely darkest wizard of them all must be Petar Ralchev as the Ivo Papasov of the otherworldly Quetschkommode. For some additional names to throw into this cauldron, consider the Karim Baggili Quartet, Azerbaijani songstress Sevda Alekperzadeh and Azeri singer Ilqar Muradov. That now gives you a proper fistful of qualified leads to pursue. If the typical audiophile stuff seems missing, that's by design. You already know where and how to find that. What's on this page could be a bit different. If so, that was the whole purpose of the exercise. Happy fishing. Let me know if you catch a whale...