Thursday, July 30, 2009

CD Review: Huun Huur Tu and Carmen Rizzo...or Bust!

Huun Huur Tu and Carmen Rizzo
Electrofone Music

Huun Huur Tu are throat-singing masters from the Republic of Tuva located in southern Russia. There name can be translated from Tuvan to mean "sunbeams". They have been wowing crowds with their vocal mastery since the early 1990's. The addition of electronic musician, Carmen Rizzo, adds a modern flair to the historical instrumentation of igil (two-stringed instrument), guitar, doshpuluur (lute), flute, byzaanchi (spike fiddle) and drums performed on Eternal. Additional instrumentation is provided on violin, cello, trumpet, cumbus, and bass. "Ancestors Call" is the opening track that begins with an ambulatory drum-beat indicative of galloping horses roaming the taiga. Vocals, although present, are interspersed throughout the album. "Mother Taiga" is an inviting track with all the elements of a great Huun Huur Tu track. Carmen's electronic sounds and ambient backdrops propel the songs into an otherworldly place. Yet, the unfamiliarity is broken by the slightly guttural; but hauntingly beautiful and unmistakable vocals of Huun Huur Tu. Vocals are provided by Kaigal-ool Khovalyg, Sayan Bapa, Radik Tyulyush, and Alexey Saryglar. Eternal is an album that will last for the ages. It's a perfect beginning for those seeking contemporary throat-singing. ~ Matthew Forss

Friday, July 24, 2009

CD Review: Tinariwen +|O:|

Imidiwan: Companions + DVD

The release of Imidiwan, which is Tamasheq for 'companions', is another superb musical journey from the Saharan blues-guitar group. Fans of their previous release, Aman Iman from 2007, will find all the tracks easily enjoyable. The opening, 'Imidiwan Afrik Tendam', is a catchy, invitational ode for African people everywhere. An equally engaging song, 'Tahult In', is only a few lines, but funky enough to please anyone. The entire album incorporates their signature use of tinde drum, female ululations, bluesy-guitar riffs, and lyrics describing the Saharan spirit with the rest of the world. Tinariwen never disappoints; and Imidiwan is no different. It's an album that stays with you long after the final track fades out. A special feature of this release includes a half-hour documentary of candid Tinariwen moments playing guitar, singing and traveling through the desert. For those unfortunate to have never experienced Tinariwen live, I have included a link to my concert review here to satiate your appetite: English subtitles are utilized, though sparingly, since this documentary is predominantly and observational examination of the music. Anyone familiar with the videography of Sublime Frequencies releases can attest to the very similarly observational, non-narrative nature of their musical documentaries. The liner notes are in Tamasheq and English to aid in following along, as Tamasheq language resources are relatively non-existent outside communities of indigenous speakers. As with Aman Iman, Imidiwan is also available on vinyl, but for an extremely limited pressing of 350. Come join Tinariwen as 'companions' on their musical journey across the globe. ~ Matthew Forss

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

CD Review: 70 Years Of Cuba's Orquesta Aragon

Orquesta Aragon
The 70th Anniversary Album 1939-2009 [4 CD BOX SET]

Orquesta Aragon's humble beginnings began when Rufino Roque (piano), Rene Gonzalvez (violin), Filiberto Depestre (violin), Paulito Romay (vocals), Noelie Molejon (guiro), Efrain Loyola (flute), Orestes Varona (timbales) and Orestes Aragon (double bass) came together in Cuba in 1939. The result has been an extraordinary musical journey to the soul of Cuba's musical spirit. Clearly a band for the world, Orquesta Aragon has been enchanting crowds throughout Europe, the Caribbean, Africa, Asia and the USA. The four cds in this attractive long box set include hours of classic, Cuban music that made Orquesta Aragon so popular with listeners and dancers alike. In addition, a 24-page booklet tracks the band's beginnings and line-up changes throughout the years. Perhaps fans of the Buena Vista Social Club should make Orquesta Aragon a part of their listening repertoire. Of course, traditional Cuban music fans probably already own music by Orquesta Aragon, but this set should be on the top of everyone's list. Enjoy the summer with the sounds of Orquesta Aragon! ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Sofia Jannok Melts Hearts With 'By The Embers'

Sofia Jannok
By The Embers (Assogattis)
Caprice Records

Northern Sweden's Sofia Jannok presents us with an introspective look at the contemporary Sami culture. The sungs are sung in Sami and incorporate elements of yoik, which is akin to Native American chanting. Sofia's voice is accompanied by drums, guitar, piano, bass, trombone, trumpet, violin, viola, and cello. The region's close affinity with nature is mentioned in many of the songs. For those familiar with contemporary Nordic music, Sofia's songs are more structured than Gjallarhorn (Finland), less aggressive than Garmarna (Sweden), and more melodic than Angelit (Finland). This is purely a modern release that transcends age and culture. The music never delves into boring repetition, dance-beats, or other impediments found in too many world music releases. By The Embers is a heart-warming introduction to contemporary Sami music for the casual to advanced world music traveler. The liner notes include English and Sami song translations. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Sea Sew Is Not So So

Lisa Hannigan
Sea Sew
ATO Records

Ireland's folksy crooner, Lisa Hannigan, brings us a set of simple and sweet songs to chew on. With some diverse song titles ranging from "Venn Diagram", "Splishy Splashy", and "Pistachio", she offers a glimpse into her avant-garde, musical repertoire. Lisa's voice is similar in tone and range to Heide Talbot (Ireland) and Karine Polwart (Scotland). The instruments used include harmonium, guitar, drums, xylophone, bass, trumpet, glockenspiel, violin, cello, and organ. Lisa's voice is also indicative of former-trip hop singer, Lamb. I think a vocal comparison with a combined talents of Beth Orton (UK) and Leigh Nash (USA) of Six Pence None The Richer fame, represent a not too far-fetched comparison. Moreover, Sea Sew contains a touch of downtempo, a handful of folk, and a hint of avant-garde. Put simply, an amalgation of styles is packed into one album. However, the primary musical vein of Sea Sew is best described as folk, and it never feels inorganic or forced. In short, Sea Sew is anything but so-so. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Tea Time With A Side Of 'Dreams'



Teajuana Music

A multi-instrumental and multi-talented group of musicians collate into the band known as Tea. The band's repertoire is composed of member's from Benin, Cameroon, Senegal, Congo, Nigeria (by way of a Fela Kuti connection), France, and the US. The songs are contemporary musings reflective of a world traveler. A jazzy ambiance permeates a few of the tracks. Others incorporate a more downtempo or trance-like musical foundation. Many of the songs could easily fill a soundtrack to a major motion picture released in Africa. The instrumentation includes traditional components, though a major portion of the sounds are created by bass, b3 organ, sax, and guitar. Tea is unique enough to warrant few comparisons to other artists. However, some artists that come to mind include, Salif Keita and Daby Toure. Tea is a group best served for any mood. It's an exhilarating mix of chilled-beats and warm sounds that intoxicate the listener into a 'dream'y state of veneration. ~ Matthew Forss