BALLAKE SISSOKO & VINCENT SEGAL
MUSIQUE DE NUIT (Six Degrees)
This is only the second collaboration between these two: the producer Ségal who plays cello and legendary Malian kora player Ballaké Sissoko. It's another mellow outing with the two instruments perfectly complementing one another. The first half of the album was recorded live on Sissoko's roof, then a few days later they went into the studio to wax the rest. There is a lot of understanding in the give and take between them: tempo changes are surprising but only to us. It's been six years since their previous duets on Chamber Music. But we should count their appearance on Kasse Mady Diabaté's Kirike as another encounter, and Ségal also showed up on Sissoko's solo album At Peace. Between times he has also added his cello to recordings by Elvis Costello, Sting, Cesaria Evora, and Carlinhos Brown. Sissoko has worked with Toumani Diabaté, Taj Mahal, Rokia Traoré, and others. After years of touring the previous, very successful album, their collaborations have gained in strength: there are no other instruments but in the ambient night sounds you begin to imagine birds (maybe that owl hoot is real), flutes and other strings. Both are classically trained, Ségal brings Bach's baroque chamber confidence as well as jazzy bass-plucking chops and when he drops to bowed continuo, Sissoko knows where to bring the fire. Babani Kone sings on one track, though I would not have minded if they had left it entirely instrumental. You would not expect Bamako to be this quiet at night, but maybe the magical lullaby worked to lull everyone into a happy dream.
BANDA DE LOS MUERTOS (Barbès Records BR0040)
The BBC has done stories lately about the Robin Hood-type figure, Jesus Malverde, who has become the narco-saint of the drug cartels of Sinaloa. The neighborhoods where El Chapo grew up are now booming thanks to the marijuana and opium trade and so, we image, are the local brass bands. Which brings us somehow to Brooklyn. Here are a couple of highly sophisticated jazz musicians, Oscar Noriega, a saxophonist and clarinetist who has worked with Paul Motian among others, and 'bone-player Jacob Garchik who has written charts for Kronos Quartet. Noriega comes from a musical family and has been in bands all his life, playing rancheros, boleros and cumbias which were part of his parents' generation's music. The thing that unites these guys is a love for Sinaloense brass band music, so they've created their own hybrid, with the ghosts of Diz and Machito smiling in the wings as they romp through tunes new and old. It's massive fun and also has some great solos thrown in as you would expect. Mireya Ramos sings on a couple of numbers. They kick off with a self-penned cumbia with frilly clarinets over a beefy sousaphone, pumped up by Garchik, then perform a tune written by Noriega's abuela "Te quiero tanto," in this romping rumbustious set. There's a nice take on Julio Jaramillo's evergreen "Ay Mexicanita," and a (genuinely) emotional (not cornball) reading of "Tu recuerdo y yo," which was featured in a 1953 Pedro Infante film, Anxiety. They even cover Marty Robbins' "El Paso," as well as a hit by Cruz Lizarraga. They can ham it up when needed. "Tragos amargos" reminds me of the drunken trombone you hear in Looney Tunes' scores by Carl Stalling or Milt Franklyn and I mean that as a compliment, there's a real visual quality to their playing, as well as finely honed chops.
COLORS OF BRAZIL (Tumi Music TUMI239)
It's been a decade since we last heard from Cabruêra outside their homeland on the sensational Probido Cochilar album, subtitled "Sambas for Sleepless Nights," on Piranha. They come storming back with a vivid landscape that sounds like a rock and roll movie soundtrack. It's hot and bright, like the title suggests, and spills over in all directions requiring two albums to present it all (The first of the two discs, titled Visagem came out in Brasil in 2010; the second, known as Nordeste Oculto was released in 2013). The band was created in Northeastern Brasil, in the city of Campina Grande, Paraiba, to reinvigorate local folk music. In addition to the core group of founder Arthur Pessoa on vocals, accordion (that's the traditional aspect!) and his trademark ballpoint-pen guitar, which is a vibrato-like tremelo sound he has invented, bassist Edy Gonzaga, drummer Pablo Ramires and second guitar Léo Marinho, there are twenty or so guests, notably trumpet and trombone, but also sitar, more percussion, more vocals, more guitars, keyboards, and more brass. Their name means herd of goats (referring to the wild critters who chew up the dry landscape of their homeland), but it is also a slang term and suggests the gang of famous outlaw Lampiao, the Robin Hood of Northeastern Brasil, much celebrated in popular literature, the Livros do Cordel, which I have written about elsewhere. Speaking of the cordels, which are printed versions of sung cutting contests or doggerel poems about current events, a typical song, "Embolada," has elements of samba with a reggae guitar and funk bassline, and seems related to the cordel tradition. Between rapidfire lyrics, Pessoa plays a lyric accordeon. But then the bic comes out for the guitar wobble and an electronic intro turns into a ska rave with frevo overtones on "A Pisada." Disc two, "Nordeste Oculto," starts with the sitar and tabla tracks, a bit of hippie nostalgia, reminiscent of "See My Friends," and a respite from the heavy stuff, but not altogether a success. Little bursts of declamatory poetry with guitar interspersed on disc two suggest that indeed Cabruêra is presenting some of the repentistas (authors of the cordels), as well as his more atmospheric tracks. We go gentle into the night with more twanging sitar and some fuzztone distortion. The second disc is more of a showcase of other performers in contrast to the driving rock of the main act. It's certainly colorful.
Indian classical music, in the form of ragas, took the world by storm in the 60s. It wasn't just that it broke the mold of Western classical forms and the rigid 4/4 of pop music, it suspended time, took another approach to tempo and rhythm. When you added the narcotic effect of incense, it provided an escape to other worlds which were the domain of the imagination, a musical dream time that we all share yet is unique to each of us. Ravi Shankar was not only the ambassador who brought Indian classical music to the rest of the world, he was its greatest exponent. The hallmarks of his career are hard work and shared joy. His final Indian concert is presented here, both in a double CD set and a DVD of the performance. We don't know about the status of women in Indian classical music though Bollywood movies would suggest that only courtesans were trained as entertainers. However Shankar trained his daughter as inheritor of his mantle and she carries the concert and shows how well he invested her with his skill in improvisation. Via the DVD we can see that he is frail and apologetic, and leaning on his daughter throughout the first number. But then he announces one of his favorite compositions, "Tilak Shyam," and starts into it. It's almost like he is teaching her again, he plays a phrase and she repeats it, then he improvises on it and she does too, back and forth. As the tempo builds he starts trading faster, more complex licks with Anoushka and the tabla player, Tanmoy Bose: the years drop away, suddenly he is ripping it out and creating blistering runs and she looks amazed. After 25 minutes we know he is eternally young, he inhabits the music and it tells his fingers where to go. It's a three hour show, performed in the grounds of the Bangalore Palace two months before Shankar's 92nd birthday. As a bonus the DVD includes another full set from Anoushka, the opening from the Palace show. She not only inherited her father's mantle, it fits her to a T.
STUDIO ONE DANCEHALL
SIR COXSONE IN THE DANCE: THE FOUNDATION SOUND (SoulJazz SJRCD281)
Jamaican DanceHall style is a unique blend of karaoke and improv. In the 70s a new generation of artists emerged and used the B-sides -- instrumentals and dub plates -- of well-known Studio One rhythms from the sixties to express themselves. When some of these artists started to gain popularity & rerecord Studio One rhythms with other bands, Coxsone Dodd took an unusual step: instead of suing them for copyright infringement, he brought them aboard and promoted them. Additionally he revamped his back catalog with a new group of talents, like Sugar Minott, Lone Ranger, Eastwood & Saint, Johnny Osbourne, Freddy McGregor, and let them loose over "Rockford Rock" and other tracks. The best part was, while other labels were hiring bands to recreate the Studio One rhythms, Coxsone could give his new artists the original tapes to play with, creating version upon version. When Sugar Minott released "Vanity" over a rhythm that had hit for Alton Ellis as "I'm just a guy," he threw in the nursery rhyme: "Mary Mary quite contrary, how does your garden grow?" Michigan & Smiley versioned it as "Mary Mary quite contrary, how does your rub-a-dub flow?" While there may seem to have been an endless supply of great music coming out of Jamaica in the heyday of reggae we surely have heard the best of it by now. Still, anyone with a soft spot for "name that tune" or who likes to hear new takes on old faves will bask in aura of this disc. "Nice up the dance" only begins to suggest the fun in store, however it belies the reality of the times as violence wracked the island and the lyrics took a more sinister turn as even the escapism of sound system nights gave way to economic bad times and fear in the air. But the moment can always be suspended in time via music: one of the joys of finding a compilation like this, that flows beautifully. And since it begins and ends with Ernest Wilson (half of the Clarendonians), you can easily put it on repeat and it becomes seamless. Known as "Soul," Wilson has a quaver in his voice, a bit akin to Horace Andy. You've probably never heard of Windel Haye, who delivers two cuts here, "Flood victim" and "Haunted house." The latter reuses Cornell Campbell's "Conversation"; the former versions the omnipresent "Real Rock," both in extended mixes. Although Sugar Minott soon left to form his own label, Coxsone had enough material in the can to release three albums of the talented lad's performances over classic Studio One rhythms. "Real Rock" is also the basis of Johnny Osbourne's smash "Lend me the Sixteen" (i.e. 16-track mixing console) which features here, along with his "Time a Run Out." The great trombone could be Don Drummond, unless it was rerecorded, then it has to be Vin Gordon. To update the music, overdubs were done by keyboard player Pablove Black, alongside bassist Bagga Walker and guitarist Eric Frater. Osbourne had spent ten years in Toronto and returned in 1979 full of ideas and cut a series of smash hits for Coxsone, leading to his Truths and Rights album. But in 1980 the mounting violence caused Dodd to quit Kingston and relocate to Brooklyn, New York. "Peace and Love" is the message of Lone Ranger on his classic "Noah in the Ark," the lead cut on his album The Other Side of Dub. Doreen Schaffer (who now lives in New York) was originally a vocalist with the Skatalites. Here she gives us "I don't know why" which for my money is as great as anything that came out of Motown. Sugar Minott delivers "Peace Treaty Style" and, in a clever twist, we get a new version of "Uptown Top Ranking," the brilliant smash hit of British teenagers Althea and Donna, called "Peace Truce Thing." Here was Coxsone taking back what was rightfully his. The Joe Gibbs-produced "Uptown Top Ranking" used Alton Ellis' "I'm Still in Love with You," which was a Studio One rhythm, so Coxsone had the Brentford Road Disco set update it and "adapt" the lyrics. It's a really great re-adaptation and a better approach than a tired attack like "Straight to Joe Gibbs' Head." (Incidentally, Top Rank was a chain of ballrooms in Britain so they turned it into a verb, like Hoovering.) You'll hear echoes of "Picture on the Wall," but most curiously "Rebel Disco," by the Brentford Disco Set (another name for the house band), uses the hook from an old Scottish folksong, "The Campbells are Coming." Was this something taught in the Alpha Boys School by their bandmasters? Another possible link for future scholars of Jamaican musical roots to ponder. After the death of Bob Marley in 1981 the cultural life of Jamaica went down the chute as cocaine replaced ganja, and guns and gangstas took over. Lewd lyrics became the norm as slackness possessed the singers. Here, in the late 70s, the Disco Set give us instrumentals and dubs and the riddim stretches out while we relive the last of the good times.
RASTAFARI: THE DREADS ENTER BABYLON 1955-83 (SoulJazz Records CD 312)
As an evangelical atheist I spend a lot of time studying comparative religion. Zen koans keep me up at night; the King James Bible has some lovely passages (e.g. "The Sermon on the Mount," "Psalm 23"), but it it mostly fantasy and revenge literature; I have little patience with those sons of Abraham (the three-headed demon of Zion, Islam and Xtianity) who are at each other's throats, and less for the fundamentalist assho*es (to use a redundant term) who dominate the political discourse in the USA. In the past I have been unduly harsh on the philosophy of Rastamen, based on their belief in being a Lost tribe of Israel (nigh impossible) and paying spiritual allegiance to Haile Selassie (a crackpot tinpot ruler). Nevertheless I find a lot of pleasure in Nyabinghi, Burro drumming and Grounation, to use the terms that describe their music. This new rather choppy compilation seeks to define the various styles associated with the movement and includes an excellent, elegant 40-page companion booklet that covers the story. If you know anything about the history of Jamaica, Marcus Garvey's Back to Africa movement and the rule of Selassie I, then you probably have the gist of the story. What is not mentioned is the role of Islam in Jamaican music though SoulJazz do include the wonderful "Salaam" by Bongo Herman and Les. This is a favorite track by the Crystalites' rhythm section; I am still trying to figure out the opening greeting, Ambassada Oudah? Their other cut here, "African drums," is a true gem. Other highlights include Ashanti Roy's "Hail the Words of Jah," and "Zion I" by Ansell & Winston with the attendant version (over "My mission is impossible") by the Techniques All Stars. Count Ossie & the Mystic Revelation of Rastafari's music is excerpted and jumps about quite a bit, when it needs to be experienced at full length. Though often compared to Coltrane, Sun Ra or Albert Ayler, Count Ossie (with Leslie Butler) here turns in a bizarre organ-driven cover of Sinatra's "It was a very good year" called "Soul drums." This is a case of the CD needing the booklet to explain it and the booklet needing the CD for musical exposition. However it is a bit didactic and once you have heard the Ras Michael and Mutabaruka tracks once you probably wont need to listen to them again, same goes for Count Ossie's monologues "Tales of Mozambique" and "Narration." It's not chronological so the weaker early tracks are buried in the middle. It's curious more than spiritual; and may be instructive for neophytes or those with a passion for Caribbean history, otherwise not one you will put in heavy rotation.
MALAWI MOUSE BOYS
DIRT IS GOOD (IRL 084)
When you are traveling through rural Malawi looking for lunch you wont find KFC or Taco Bell at the roadside (not that I think for a minute you patronize those places), but you might find a villager selling a roast mouse on a stick. When not chasing mice these youngsters relax and sing with homemade instruments: percussion made from plastic bottles and guitars made from tree limbs and sheet metal. Ian Brennan, an itinerant music producer heard them and immediately had the idea of bringing them to Europe to perform. So for the first time a group of these lads got on a plane and for the first time they left Malawi. They gave up fighting black mamba snakes and wild boars for mice to performing in front of 10,000 at the WOMAD festival where they stormed the place. This is their second album and comprises 15 short songs, which, from the titles, seem to be religious songs, since Jesus is invoked in several of them. Another first: the Chichewa language has been recorded and heard outside Malawi. Brennan said of his encounter with them: ''With vocal-powerhouse Zondiwe Kachingwe, 22, playing Sam Cooke to 27 year-old Nelson Muligo's Keith Richards, the only obstacle to catching lightning-in-a-bottle musically with these eight young men were tiny spiders that kept crawling into the hard-drive and crashing the mobile system as I recorded on the clay-ground beside their hut.'' It's rural gospel music, sometimes accompanied only by clapping, rocks clashed together, or whistling, othertimes with very primitive sounding accompaniment, like someone sawing on a rusted hinge. They manage a reggae feel on their buzzy gut-bucket bass on a couple of numbers, like "Mwayenera (You really are good)". The singing is excellent, the energy level is high and carries you along on the wave despite (or because of) "Sins," "Truth," "Betrayal" and the Blood of Jesus.
KID & THE FIRST PEOPLE
TIWARENGE (Dakar Sound DKS023)
Great to see Dakar Sound is still active (or was when they issued this), and also to find they have branched out from Senegal again. This time they have gone (theoretically) to Malawi for an upbeat contemporary pop album by Kid Mkandawire and his band. Kid was born in Zambia and then moved to Malawi where he was in a couple of major bands before relocating to Denmark where he carries the flame of world music to the cool Danes. It's Zambian in spirit, so if you like Shalawambe you will dig it. The liner notes are in tiny type, maybe to hide the fact that his band are a bunch of Danish kids, I can't tell! But they acquit themselves creditably. Kid plays guitar extremely well and sings, and the rest of the band bring some modernistic touches to the music without straying off the traditional course (even the boopy synth on "Lero" sounds authentic!). The slower acoustic numbers are quite introspective and create a good flow to the set. The up-tempo numbers have good interplay between the two main guitarists and solid drumming driving them along.
Excellent set of salsa dura. You wouldn't know this band is from Australia, they do such a good job of channeling their influences: Willie Colon, Eddie Palmieri, Hector Lavoe, Ruben Blades. As children of Latin-American immigrants to Melbourne they grew up listening to the music of their homeland, the classic Puerto Rican/New York salsa. Sergio Botero has the requisite rough-hewn voice of a streetwise salsero. The conguero, timbales player and baby bass, who form the core of the group, are all so deep in the pocket they might be lint. They are embedded in the groove. Cuban brassista Lazaro Numa brought a bit of old Havana in his luggage, along with his trumpet. If you like the non-slick analog sound of Tico and Fania albums -- not too jazzy, just a load of groove and sparking attitude from metal being hit or skins being slapped, punctuated by crisp horns -- this is one for you. Check them out on their website, linked above, where you can download the title track for free, or on Youtube. And hey, yes, it is didgeridoo-free.
the year so far:
(click on maps at the top of the page to get to continent of choice)
Amadou Balaké's In Conclusion is found in Burkina Faso
Toto la Momposina's Tambolero went to Colombia
Banning Eyre's Lion Songs can be read about in the bookshelf
Kanaku y el Tigre are found in Peru
Lula All Stars are filed in Salsa
Amara Touré is found in Senegal part 2
Bomba Estéreo's Amanecer went to Colombia
Les Ambassadeurs' Rebirth is filed in Mali part 2
I don't have an appropriate world fusion category for Fatoumata Diawara and Roberto Fonseca's collab so it's filed in old world miscellany
Brian Chilala and Ngoma Zasu's new disc is filed under Zambia
Derek Gripper's album One Night on Earth has found an honorary spot in Mali part 2
Lenine's Carbono is filed in Brasil 2
Tal National's Zoy Zoy can be found in Niger
Novalima's latest is under Peru
Chico Trujillo can be found in the new Chile section
Aziz Sahmaoui went to Arabia
Bunny Lee's latest comp is filed in Jahmaica part 3
RG2BBQ Bob is found in the Blues
Ghanaian Pat Thomas is in the Nigeria/Ghana page, part 2
Ustad Dildar Hussain Khan's Sur Sangeet is filed in India & Pakistan
Bassekou Kouyate & Ngoni Ba's Ba Power can be found in Mali part 2
Buena Vista's Lost & Found has been found in Cuba part 4
Mbongwana Star's from Kinshasa is filed in Congo part 3
In May I reviewed SIX digital reissues of Vercky's productions, so have created a new page for them called Congo Classics part 2
Lenine's Chão ao vivo is filed in Brasil Live
Taraf de Haidouks' Of Lovers, Gamblers & Parachute Skirts is filed in Balkans/Gypsy (Old World)
E T Mensah King of Highlife Anthology is filed in Ghana
Ndikho Xaba and the Natives went to the Southern Africa section
Samba Touré's Gandadiko and
Boubacar Traoré's Mbalimaou are both filed in Mali part 2
Rough Guide to Blues Legends: Blind Boy Fuller and
the Rough Guide to Unsung Heroes of Country Blues are in USA
Trio Chemirani can be found in Iran, which is in the Arabian sector
Rough Guide to Psychedelic Salsa filed under Salsa (New World)
Rough Guide to African Rare Groove is filed under Miscellany (Africa)
Bamako Quintet can be found in Mali part 2
and Debashish Bhattacharya's latest is filed in India
I created a new page called Latin Essentials, and have added more to it. Found in the New World section.
My Top Ten of 2014 can be found HERE.
My Top 12 of 2013, with best reissues, etc, is online HERE.
My Top Twelve of 2012 is HERE.
My Top Ten of 2011 can be found HERE.
My Top 9 of 2010 is online HERE
Click HERE for my top 10 of 2009
Click HERE for my top 9 of 2008
Click HERE for my top 10 of 2007
Click HERE for my top 11 of 2006
MY BEST-SELLING BOOK!
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BACK IN PRINT (Second edition, November 2012)
A DISCOGRAPHY OF DOCTEUR NICO
Poltroon Press, 2012, expanded to 88 pages; list price $19.95.
By Alastair Johnston
Available now. Click here for details.
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