Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Playlist 04-01-06

Joseph Arthur- Redemtion's Son- CD Redemption's Son

One of the most promising of Peter Gabriel's Real World label protégés came not from some dusty, Third World village, but from that American tire and rubber mecca, Akron, Ohio. But while Arthur's previous Gabriel-inspired adventures netted him considerable critical kudos and even a ‘99 Grammy nod for his self-created album art, he turns an even neater trick here. The frameworks for Arthur's 16 poetic, alternately introspective and impressionistic songs may be more firmly rooted in traditional folk and singer-songwriter formula than ever, but the influence of Gabriel seems even more pronounced on the album's evocative, often hypnotic sonic textures. Densely layered yet deceptively organic, it's a record of endless production subtleties in service of songs that trickle and dart like a playful stream of consciousness. Whether putting his own peculiar spin on romantic foibles in the dirge-turns-anthem "Favorite Girl," the upbeat energy of "Let's Embrace" and "In the Night," or conjuring more intriguing existential imagery on the fragile "You Are the Dark," Arthur has produced an album that reveals itself anew on every listen. --Jerry McCulley (Amazon review)

Afro Celt Sound System- CD Anatomica
From Real World Records:
Afro Celt Sound System’s fifth studio album sweeps an incredible sonic range, from their unmistakably beat-driven and cinematic dance epics to emotive, melodic ballads radiant with the band’s trademark fusion of soaring Celtic reels and syncopated African vocals and drum. Guests include Rwandan singer Dorothee Munyaneza (featured on the soundtrack to Hotel Rwanda) and Uzbeki star Sevara Nazarkhan — and lead vocalist Iarla Ó Lionáird turns in marvelous performances in both Gaelic and English. Recorded at Pink Floyd’s old Islington studios and self-produced by the Afro Celts, this joyfully danceable soundscape showcases the extraordinary musicianship and richly articulated vision of this great band, celebrating ten years of unparalleled innovation on the cutting edge of world music.

Afro Celt Sound System with Sinead O'Connor- Release- CD Stigmata S/T

Djelemedy Tounkara - Diaoura / Gnima Diala- CD Sigui
Mali has one of the most intensely musical cultures in all Africa, and among that country's greatest musicians is the guitarist Djelimady Tounkara. While he's not nearly as well known as his compatriot Ali Farka Touré, he has been a driving force in Mali's rich music scene since the early 60s.
Djelimady's Super Rail Band is one of the most popular bands in West Africa. Founded in 1970, the band plays a Malian style of Afro-pop, but which also contains elements of Cuban music.
For this first solo album, Djelimady Tounkara wanted an acoustic concept (unplugged!) with old friends and acquaintances and young musicians with whom he has created strong ties and found affinities. He has made a band which privileges strings and vocals with a very light accompaniment on percussions. His compositions and arrangements reveal a subtle melodist and refined composer, in short a complete musician.
Released in 2001.

Marcel Khalife-Granada- CD Caress

Marcel Khalifé was born in 1950 in Amchit, Mount-Lebanon. He studied the oud (the Arabic lute) at the Beirut National conservatory, and, ever since, has been injecting a new life into the oud.
From 1970 to 1975, Marcel Khalifé taught at the conservatory and other local institutions. During that same period, he toured the Middle East, North Africa, Europe and the United States giving solo performances on the oud.
Oud playing was traditionally constrained by the strict techniques that governed its playing. Highly talented and skillful musicians such as Marcel Khalifé were, however, able to free the instrument from those constraints and thus greatly expanding its possibilities.
In 1972, Marcel Khalifé created a musical group in his native village with the goal of reviving its musical heritage and the Arabic chorale. The first performances took place in Lebanon. 1976 saw the birth of Al Mayadeen Ensemble. Enriched by the previous ensemble’s musical experiences, Al Mayadeen’s notoriety went well beyond Lebanon. Accompanied by his musical ensemble, Marcel Khalifé began a lifelong far-reaching musical journey, performing in Arab countries, Europe, the United States, Canada, South America, Australia, and Japan.
Marcel Khalifé has been invited several times to festivals of international fame such as: Baalbeck, Beit Eddine (Lebanon), Carthage, El Hammamat (Tunisia), Timgad (Algeria), Jarash (Jordan), Arles (France), Krems, Linz (Austria), Bremen (Germany), ReOrient (Sweden), Pavia (Italy), World Music Festival in San Francisco, New York, Cleveland (the USA).
He has performed in such prestigious halls as the "Palace of Arts" in Montreal, "Symphony Space" and "Merkin Concert" in New York, "Berklee Theatre" and "New England Conservatory" in Boston, "Royal Festival Hall", and "Queen Elizabeth Hall" in London,"UNESCO Palace" of Beirut, Cairo Opera House (Egypt), "Reciprocity","House of the Cultures of the World" and "UNESCO Hall" in Paris, "Central Dionysia" in Rome, "Yerba Buena" in San Francisco,"Sõdra Teatern" in Stokholm.
Since 1974, Marcel Khalifé has been composing music for dance which gave rise to a new genre of dance, the popular Eastern ballet (Caracalla, Sarab Ensemble, Rimah, Popular Art Ensemble)
Marcel Khalifé has also been composing soundracks for film, documentary and fiction, produced by Maroun Baghdadi and Oussama Mouhamad among others.
Marcel Khalifé has also composed several purely instrumental works like The Symphony of Return, Chants of the East, Concerto Al Andalus "Suite for Oud and Orchestra" "Mouda'aba" (Caress), Diwan Al Oud, "Jadal" Oud duo, Oud Quartet, "Al Samaa" in the traditional Arabic forms andTaqasim, duo for oud and double bass.
Marcel Khalifé’s compositions has been performed by several orchestras, notably the Kiev Symphony Orchestra, the Academy of Boulogne Billancourt Orchestra, The San Francisco Chamber Orchestra, the Orchestra of the city of Tunis, and the "Absolute Ensemble".
Since 1982, Marcel Khalifé has been writing books on musicthat reflect his avant garde compositions and the maturity of his experience.
His challenges, however, are not only musical in character. Interpreter of music and oud performer, he is also a composer who is deeply attached to the text on which he relies. In his association with great contemporary Arab poets, particularly Palestinian poet par excellence, Mahmoud Darwish, he seeks to renew the character of the Arabic song, to break its stereotypes, and to advance the culture of the society that surrounds it.
His lyrical recordings adds up to about 20 albums, the likes Promises of the storm, Ahmad Al Arabi, Weddings, Peace Be With you, Ode To A Homeland, Arabic Coffeepot, The Children and Body(Al Jassad,) to name a few.
On his journey, Marcel Khalifé invents and creates original music, a novel world of sounds, freed of all pre-established rules. This language elevates him to the level of an ambassador of his own culture and to the vanguard of Near Eastern music in search of innovators.

Susheela Rahman- Light Years / Idi Samayam- CD Music For Crocodiles
As an artist, Raman continues to develop and explore issues of identity with new sounds that celebrate multiplicity. She draws her collaborators from across Europe, Asia, and Africa: Cameroonian bassist Hilaire Penda, Guinea-Bissau born percussionist Djanuno Dabo, American drummer Marque Gilmore, British-Asian tabla player Aref Durvesh, and of course British guitarist and producer Sam Mills are at the heart of this album as they were on Salt Rain. Paradoxically, Music for Crocodiles is both more English and more Indian than either Salt Rain or Love Trap. More than half the songs are in English (her first language) and Raman emerges as a formidable songwriter (listen to What Silence Said and The Same Song). And where on the previous albums there were musicians from everywhere playing Indian songs, here we have musicians from India playing songs in English. A new dimension came from recording in India, as well as in the UK and France. The Indian presence adds joy, light, and depth to the record. tric East African groove and Raman's blues based vocal could be from Addis Ababa, Mumbai, or Chicago. Incidentally the amazing Hammond organ is played by Malian Chek Tdjen Seck, the musical godfather of Paris. Light Years recorded in Madras, is a South Indian melody transmuted here into a sublime English love song. Meanwhile is Raman's melody, sung in English but based on the rare South Indian raga, Kanyakangi, which infuses its sultry, seductive atmosphere. For the first time, Susheela also sings in French on L'ame Volatile. The album was produced by Sam Mills and engineered by Stuart Bruce in the same room at Real World studios as Salt Rain. With much of the same band on the album it was a flashback to recording Ganapati. The buzz and feeling really reminded the whole team of Salt Rain. Everybody had that same feeling of excitement and revelation. Raman and producer Sam Mills put everything they had into this record. They took several months off to prepare for the studio and make sure they had the material they wanted and it's paid off: The buzz the record has created is like Salt Rain too - Raman and Mills have had a hard time keeping hold of their listening copies as people eagerly requested the album. Now we can all hear it.

Smadj- Sel / Vogue- CD Take It And Drive
tunisian born musician jean pierre smadja has been making and recording music since the early nineties, but this album seems certain to bring him to the attention of a wider audience. the first release on a new label backed by the enormously successful restaurateur mourad ‘momo’ mazouz, take it and drive fuses the haunting and ancient sound of the oud, an arab precursor of the guitar, with the latest in experimental electronic music. aphex twin meets a wandering sufi uptown...

while the world/fusion category of contemporary music has been debased by dubious projects involving pan pipes and psychedelic trance, smadj’s melding of tradition and experimentation seems born of a genuine urge to innovate, rather than a desire for his work to grace the sound systems of hippy cafes at summer festivals. the complex, delicate melodies of the oud sit equally happily over bass heavy rumblings and engaging, kinetic, jazz influenced drum patterns. the most meditative and intimate tracks on the album (betty and sel, for example) exploit the possibilities of restrained minimalism. the combination of the oud and smadj’s computerised rhythms is perhaps at its most potent and fascinating when it is uncluttered and sparse – on tristan, the final track, the ebb and flow between the two is compelling.

but the majority of tunes on take it and drive see smadj enlisting a stellar cast of collaborators. the vocals of malian torch singer rokia traore float ethereally over the bass heavy beat (king tubby would be proud of its dubbed out vibes) and distorted vocal samples of he said and add a sense of keening urgency to fatwords. another man who has successfully fused dance music with global influences, talvin singh, weighs in with his tabla to enhance the abstract techno feel of vogue. meanwhile, c’est comme si features more of the distorted vocal samples beloved of electronica pioneers boards of canada over a grinding beat which is offset by a funky guitar lick. amit chatterjee guests on drive with vocals and guitar and the track’s combination of a propulsive beat, oud and indian influenced singing brings to mind transglobal underground at their best. the african chanting and handclaps of meeting with the bushmen (did he actually meet them? i’d love to know) combine with the oud and a driving rhythm to conjure an eerie ambience which evokes the rituals of this almost mythical indigenous people.

take it and drive defies any simplistic categorisation and, while radio 3 will undoubtedly lap it up, the inventiveness and high production values it displays should ensure its wide appeal. from the point of view of the sometimes bland and earnest world of experimental electronica, the warmth of the live instruments and vocals which smadj employs is refreshing, evoking as they do far older musical cultures and traditions.
(review from

Tenzing Tsewang & Liew Kiek- Let's Gallop On The Horse Young Lady / Dance Away...In triple Worlds- CD Lotus Hands Tibetan Grooves
With a combination of haunting flute improvisations, ancient Tibetan chanting and mythical Tibetan folk songs, Tenzing Tsewang’s music takes the listener on a profound journey through the Himalayas and into the soul.
Tenzing and Llew are very proud to announce the release of their new CD “Lotus Hand”. Written and recorded over the last 2 years, the album draws on their widely differing backgrounds in folk, rock, reggae, chanting, early music, sampling and sequencing to deliver an aural palette of immeasureable depth. The album features Tenzing's superb and diverse vocal range, from a playful lyricism through rich Tibetan folk textures to his unearthly low monastic chanting. Tenzing is also a master of the unique Tibetan drumnyen (three string lute) which is rarely heard in the west. We hope that this album will reveal it as significant instrument which can be integrated into broader contemporary musical contexts.

Together with Llew's virtuosic baglama and electric guitar, the plucked string textures on this album bring Tibetan and western traditions to a thrilling conjunction. This is underpinned by superb keyboard sounds, a vast array of samples, and percussion ranging from traditional Tibetan ritual instruments, Balkan and Arabic drums, to masterful rock kit played by the inimitable Chad Wackerman.

It is Tenzing's intention to expand the reach of Tibetan music and art beyond his own circle, making it relevant to the time and place in which he lives. In order for his culture to survive long-term, Tenzing believes it has to be brought into the mainstream rather than be isolated. For that, meeting Llew was a perfect and timely karmic connection.

Aditya Verma-Raga Puriya Dhanashri- CD Sarod-Traditional Music From India
Aditya Verma is a charismatic sarod player based in Canada and India. A disciple of legendary sitar player Pandit Ravi Shankar and renowned sarod master Ustad Aashish Khan, Verma has also trained under Ustad Ali Akbar Khan, India's leading exponent of the instrument. Verma grew up in Montreal and started playing the tabla at an early age under the guidance of his father, Dr. Narendra Verma, and Ustad Zakir Hussain. From 1987, he has lived in India studying Hindustani classical music and specializing in the sarod. In recent years, Verma has won the admiration of audiences across North America, Europe and India with electrifying performances that reveal his emotional aesthetics and virtuosity. Besides playing concerts on stage, television and radio, Verma also gives lecture demonstrations, teaches and composes music of different styles for recordings and film. He is the recipient of numerous awards.

Debashish Bhattacharya- CD Calcutta Slide Guitar
Pandit (master) Debashish Bhattacharya is one of the world’s most remarkable slide guitarists and this album represents the culmination of a lifetime of intensive study, performance and innovation. All the guitars heard on 3: Calcutta Slide-Guitar are unique instruments designed by Debashish himself, a Trinity of Guitars – Chaturangui, Gandharvi and Anandi – representing three generations of instruments, while also continuing a thousand-year tradition of music. 3: Calcutta Slide-Guitar dazzles the listener with hypnotic patterns and stunning music shaped from Debashish’s original three-finger picking technique.

‘Each instrument possesses a sound of its own, from the joyous innocence of the smallest to the complexity of the largest, on which he uses a unique three-finger picking technique that gives him lightning speed and creates hypnotic flurries of notes that it would take a battery of special effects to produce from a Western guitar. The results are as beautiful as they are extraordinary.’ The Times, UK – 4****stars

The notes to this CD reveal that one Tau Moe, described as a Hawaiian guitar legend, played in Calcutta in 1929 and sparked a vogue which lasted into the 1940s. Debashish, born 1963, met Tau Moe in the year 2004, by which time he had himself come a very long way (or several very long ways).

His father had some time before accepted a Hawaiian lap guitar in settlement of a debt, and at a very early age Debashish started trying to play it. At the age of four he gave an infant prodigy concert on the instrument on All India Radio, and the story thereafter can't be done justice to at the length permissible in a review. It would be necessary to talk not merely about Pandit Brij Bhushan Kabra, "founder of the Indian raga slide guitar", but about the lessons Debashish had on orthodox Western guitar and on sitar; and about the considerable learning and apprenticeship which takes raga playing beyond questions of mere technical proficiency.

Debashish no doubt has the fingers for a lot of things. I can't say exactly what music he might be playing at any time. It is clear that he had the option of proceeding into something called "World" music, which enthusiasts envisage as a combining of traditions into something ever richer and more complex -- rather than wondering whether, having found affinities between one historically worked music and another, the result might just dissolve into things in common between two traditions; a sort of muddying like what happens to flavour when food's severely over-spiced: mediocrity cum monotony. Mention of Tau Moe's appearance in Calcutta all those years ago, and its reported effect, could at least stir some awareness that Debashish's preference for other than the typically modern way represented depth rather than restriction of experience.

In any event, Debashish took to the high art of raga, which he does not identify with the culture of an upper class. Raga is of great musical and spiritual depth, not to be regarded as any longer -- or ever -- the prerogative of the moneyed, or the inheritors of title and privilege. There is also no question of watered down or halfway or mixed or chased raga as an alternative. In playing slide guitar, his concern is fundamentally to do the same thing, play raga, by different means: a difficult thing worth doing and very important. The art involves restoration, the music's anything but stale, the performance is fresh.

Rather than plucking strings with some fingers and bending the same strings with other fingers, Debashish works with a three-finger plucking style and bends notes with the slide. In very rough terms the same way as Hawaiian guitarists, or for a notable case, B.K. Turner, "The Black Ace", the Texas bluesman Paul Oliver rediscovered in 1960. Ace used a straightforward guitar, not the Hawaiian lap steel guitar (The little table with strings across it. For wild and African-Western use of that instrument, see or better hear the "Sacred Steel" [very, very] hot gospellers well represented on the Arhoolie label).

Debashish has moved from different standard sorts of guitar to create (I suppose design, since I shudder to think of his fingers doing carpentry) his own guitars. The ones he seems to use nowadays, and plays on this set, are three in number.

One of them is scarcely more than a ukelele, and he says playing it is ike holding a baby. It has four strings and he uses it here in playing a six-minute or so prelude based on a raga associated with (to paraphrase) romantic peace and pathos. Trying here to translate out of any specialised discussion, the point to be made is how far this gentle string music avoids sophistication, for all its breathtaking demonstration on a mechanically simple but sonically complex four-string instrument.

The first of the two ragas which follows uses a 14-string instrument, which sounds in the occasional short phrase almost like a 12-string, but in areas that even the Georgia bluesmen Willie McTell, Barbecue Bob, and Charlie Lincoln did not investigate even with their own slides (although McTell played some amazing things). Mention of occasional resemblances between this instrument's sounds and those of flamenco guitar or veena or sarangi or saz needn't be taken as indicating that the 14-string Gandharvi (as this guitar is called) is somehow a bumper version of all of them put together in one package. You might be inspired to listen a little more to the 12e-string bluesmen, or Ramon Montoya, and hear where they are, once you've heard Debashish. This second item of his programme is an evening raga, noted for "peace, humour and amazement".

The 22-string guitar with which the recital ends is a morning raga, and the increments of strings from four to 14 to 22 represent no great outward unfolding of bigger and better capacity. The physical and mechanical extensions amounted to a slow and careful build, and the big range of the many-stringed guitar has nothing to do with easy-to-play. Any increase in opportunity must be matched with increase in sensitivity and control and dexterity. The trinity of guitars, as Debashish calls them, are devoted to raga, and serve it in a real sense by presenting the music without the aspects of sitar sound which have been too easily parodied. The actual movement of the music forfeits nothing in significant colour, and the ear more attuned to the guitar as "normal" is spared confusion by echoes of the exotic.

John Abercrombie comes to mind as a guitarist who seems to have ventured into some of the sonic realm explored here. This is a remarkably satisfying recital, and a review essayed in a "for beginners" style should conclude by saying that while trying to sell the music is the last thing I'd expect of the performer here, well, this should strike outside ears as very approachable. Peace.

— 27 May 2005