Friday, April 27, 2012

CD Review: Frank Herzberg Trio's 'Handmade'

Frank Herzberg Trio
FH Studio

The Brazilian trio is composed of Frank Herzberg, Alexandre Zamith, and Ze Eduardo Nazario. The trio performs jazzy compositions with lush percussion, sweeping piano melodies, and classical bass. "Don't Talk Crazy," "A Xepa," and "The Trio" are the most musical compositions with all of the instrumentation working together to create a jazz ensemble sound indicative of a North American-based lounge club. Though, traditional Brazilian sounds are kept to a minimum. The wholly instrumental effort contains three separate tracks devoted exclusively to each instrument, which are aptly-titled: "The Drums," "The Bass," and "The Piano." The lack of vocals make the songs brighten with excellent displays of musicianship. The punchy rhythms and melodies eloquently coalesce between the laid-back atmosphere of the percussion on some tracks with the rousing structures of others. Anyone with an interest in jazz, instrumental music, and neo-classical will love the natural feel of Handmade. ~ Matthew Forss 

CD Review: Lauren Edman's 'It's Always The Quiet One'

Lauren Edman
It's Always The Quiet One

The alternative pop and trip-hop ramblings of an innovative performer, Lauren Edman, bring us an excellent mix of quirky, electronic-driven songs that resemble some of the music in the trip-hop or alternative genres--with the likes of Tori Amos, The Cardigans, and Imogen Heap. However, Lauren makes the music her own by throwing in a mix of other instruments, including flutes, banjo, piano, percussion, and keyboard accompaniment for a more diverse sound. Lauren sings more than most alt-trip-hop musicians, which is not a negative. In fact, Lauren's vocals are pretty good throughout. The poetic, but upbeat "Sweet Girl" is a perfect caricature of a Cardigans repertoire. "Charge" is a more spacious trip-hop song with lush vocals and an electronic ambiance. "This Is It" is more alt-folk than trip-hop. "Wasting" contains a trip-hop beat that shimmers with electronic sounds from a range of sources. Lauren's style is reminiscent of Lolo, Endless Blue, and Portishead. As a former quiet one myself, I have no problem applauding this new release and sharing it with everyone I do and don't know. ~ Matthew Forss

Thursday, April 26, 2012

CD Review: White Canvas' 'Hundreds Of Ways'

White Canvas
Hundreds Of Ways
Ozella Music

White Canvas is vocalist Rena Meyer Wiel and guitarist Rolf Beydemueller. Together, the German duo create natural soundscapes of aural color with new age nuances and improvisational, experimental, and divine melodies. Rena's diverse, but poetic, vocal style is at times very spiritual and pleasant. The vocals are artfully constructed with a Sufi spirit, which is where the album title originates. In fact, a line from the Sufi poet Rumi describes the nature of the music. Hundreds Of Ways connotes a world of improvisation and spirituality with fine guitar strumming and soundscape embellishments. The avant-garde elements are inventive, ear-friendly, and solemn. The mournful and wistful vocals are a thing of beauty. Coincidentally, there are also a hundred ways to love this album! ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Le Vent Du Nord's 'Tromper le temps'

Le Vent Du Nord
Tromper le temps
Borealis Records

Canada's folk group, Le Vent Du Nord, is a classy, folk-fiddling, and foot-stomping group with an uncanny ability to create memorable tracks and timeless memories. Le Vent Du Nord is Simon Beaudry, Nicolas Boulerice, Rejean Brunet, and Olivier Demers. The French-Canadian songsters incorporate a range of instruments, which provide a full, folk feel. The bouzouki, guitar, hurdy gurdy, piano, piano-accordion, bass, diabetic accordion, jaw harp, fiddle, electric guitar, and mandolin round out the instrumental repertoire. The vocals are somewhat aligned with European folk, Celtic, and Scottish melodies and rhythms, which are still uniquely Canadian. Thirteen wonderful tracks highlight the group's charm and energetic, instrumental displays. This is great for clogging, dancing, and relaxing. ~ Matthew Forss

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

CD Review: Various Artists' - 'Folk Album'

Various Artists
Folk Album
Sketis Music

Folk Album contains a dozen and-a-half tracks from several musicians across Russia, Yakutia, and even Japan that participated in the European Broadcasting Union folk festivals, EBU Christmas and Easter Projects, and other Radio Russia events. This recording features folk music, throat-singing, guttural vocals, classical elements, and some pop forms. The Moscow Balalaika Quartet, Sergey Starostin, Stepanida Borisova, The Trigon Group, The Hide-Hide Group, The Yat-Kha Group, Pavel Ukhanov, Zhili-Byli Group, and many others lend their musical talents to this great project. There are nearly fifty-five minutes of music to keep one occupied. Fans of Russian folk music and ethnic music will find joy in this exciting recording. Buy a piece of musical history today. Folk is where it's at! ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Bubamara Brass Band's 'Zemlja Bubarumija'

Bubamara Brass Band
Zemlja Bubarumija
Sketis Music

The Bubamara Brass Band hails from Russia, which is a far-cry from Balkan music land. However, the band presents a mix of Balkan-styled tunes from Yugoslavia, Bosnia, and other areas for our listening pleasure. Some of the tracks are vocal; while others are not. At only forty-minutes in length, Zemlja Bubarumija is not the longest album, but it makes up for it with complex tracks and energetic instrumentation from a youthful, playful, and urban style. The upbeat tracks are similar in style and tone to Klezmer music. Anyone with an interest in brass band, gypsy, Klezmer, Balkan, and instrumental tunes will love the Bubamara Brass Band. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Potir's 'Gothic City' Recreates The Music of The Middle Ages

Gothic City
Sketis Music

Potir is a Russian group composed of Andrey Nazarov, Razana Rustom, Ivan Chernov, and Svetlana Petrova that brings back the music from Europe's Middle Ages with festive dirges, street music, and historic compositions. The music is performed with bassoon, viola, psalter, Bran's citra, dutar, peasant lute, citar, province drum, darbuka, aura, percussion, vocals, flutes, and bagpipes. Some of the instruments are up to three-hundred years old. The one-hour album contains sixteen tracks with instrumental, vocal music, and street music with all the commotion and noise of urban environments--minus the cars and trucks, of course. This is excellent music for anyone interested in the music of the Middle Ages, Renaissance fairs, and European folk music. Go back in time to the dark ages of civilization with the lighthearted music of Potir. ~ Matthew Forss

Friday, April 20, 2012

CD Review: Mara & David's 'Once We Were Gods'

Mara & David
Once We Were Gods
Ozella Music

Germany's Mara & David brings us a warm world of cozy, alternative folk songs with a classical and pop vein. Mara's vocals accompany the acoustic guitar work of David, but Stephan Braun adds some cello and double bass to round out the repertoire. The folk leanings are contemporary in a similar company with Katie Melua or Heidi Talbot without drum accompaniments. Mara's soothing, almost sultry voice, carries sweetly throughout the album. Eleven songs highlight a relatively quiet, simple, and rustic sound. The intimate recording may be recorded in Germany, but the lyrics are in English with more resemblance to English or Scottish compositions. Some of the songs contain poetic verses with very little singing, while others contain more elaborate vocal displays. The punchy strings and lively guitar are neo-classical or alternative pop overall. Mara & David are 'gods' when it comes to music-making. ~ Matthew Forss

Friday, April 13, 2012

CD Review: Choban Elektrik's Self-Titled Release From The Balkans By Way Of Brooklyn

Choban Elektrik
Choban Elektrik

Choban Elektrik, which means 'electric shepherds,' is a rousing recording with Balkan gusto and instrumental tunes that are steeped in Bulgarian, Macedonian, Albanian, Greek, Armenian, and other styles. The use of Hammond organ, rhodes, electric guitar, accordion, piano, synth, bass, drums, kanjira, marimba, riqq, pandeiro, and violin, make Choban Elektrik stand out from the crowd, due to its folksy, psychedelic, and funky dance grooves that eloquently bridge the gap between traditional and contemporary. The rock guitar elements of "Moj Xhemile," represent an almost Saharan rock guitar arrangement--but this is not an African music recording. This only solidifies Choban Elektrik's uncanny ability to use different rhythms, styles, and instruments in their creative purposes for a meaningful and memorable result. Though, this is mostly an instrumental effort, Eva Salina Primack adds her vocal talents on "Moj Xhemile" and "Cobankat." This is a perfect album for fans of Balkan folk, rock, psych, and dance without all the brass that is typically associated with Balkan music. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Jef Stott's 'Arcana'

Jef Stott
Six Degrees Records

The San Francisco-based multi-instrumentalist and producer, Jef Stott, releases a glorious work of world sounds in both traditional and contemporary arrangements. Arcana refers to the major arcana within the Tarot world. As a term that signifies a higher purpose or deeper meaning in life, Arcana fits that void almost magically. The groovy and danceable tracks traverse the Middle East, North Africa, Siberia, and South Asia. Jef plays the oud, darbuka, daff, riqq, bendir, qarqarba, acoustic guitar, electric guitar, hammered dulcimer, bass, keyboard, and special effects throughout the album. Other highlights are Sonja Drakulich's throat-singing on "Deep Playa," MC Rai on "Le Club Lebanon" and "Gnawa Jam," and Eliyahu Sills on Bansuri flute on "Hero's Return" and "White Tara." The free-floating melodies and rhythms with rich instrumentation makes Arcana a bonafide oasis in the crowded world of fusion, dub, dance, and electronica. ~ Matthew Forss

Thursday, April 12, 2012

CD Review: Various Artists' 'Desert Dwellers DownTemple Dub: Remixed'

Various Artists
Desert Dwellers DownTemple Dub Remixed
Black Swan Records

The instrumental and vocal worlds come together on the latest release from Black Swan Records, which includes dub and bass genres with contemporary yogic beats. Vocals are provided by Pandit Birju Maharaj, Yamuna Wali, and Sarah West. The South Asian-inspired grooves contain a good dose of chill, psych-trance, and luscious melodies with a definitive dance beat. The yogic mantras will create musical tantrums in the listeners, because it is very inspiring and awesome in sound. The atmospheric washes and electronic beats are not heavily showy, but the grooves do contain a nice amount of urban, contemporary leanings that are cinematic, thought-provoking, and soul-stirring. The instrumental grooves take on some characteristics of Enigma. The eleven long tracks are a must-listen for contemporary yogic music fans. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Boban i Marko Markovic Orkestar's 'Golden Horns'

Boban i Marko Markovic Orkestar
Golden Horns

Golden Horns is an album that features the best music from Serbia's Boban i Marko Markovic, as well as his son, Marko, and other hits composed by Husnu Senlendirici, Ljiljana Kolakovic, Lajko Felix, T. Lato, T. Kukurba, and others. The Balkan brass hits are compiled by DJ Robert Soko, who also contributes to the bonus tracks, ''Cinnamon Girl" and "Go Marko Go." The rousing brass and dancefloor melodies are Romani-influenced and Gypsy-celebrated with plenty of majestic horns, whirling rhythms, and catchy tidbits that are a must-have for any celebratory situation. There is even a little rap on "Sljivovica." The music is great for parties, enjoying music from Boban's highlighted career, and learning a bit about Romani music. The mostly instrumental tunes do contain some vocals, though the instrumentation is the real winner here. Fifteen tracks round out the album. Vocals in English, French, and Serbian. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Zita Swoon Group's 'Wait For Me'

Zita Swoon Group
Wait For Me

The Belgium-based world-beat group, Zita Swoon, is a cosmopolitan band representing a host of musical styles that cross the wide, Saharan expanse of North Africa and the Western European region of France, Belgium, and England. The engaging rhythms are showcased on a number of instruments, including drums, balafon, guitar, horns, various folk instruments. The wide-ranging vocals and incredible repertoire of Awa Deme, Mamadou Diabate Kibie, and the Paul Simon/Bob Dylan singing-leadership of Stef Kamil Carlens, produces a solid recording of memorable songs. The balafon and horns represent a West African and Ethiopian sound on the same album. The world music created by Zita Swoon Group is a form of fusion, but it almost works too good to be called fusion. Instead, the music is just great--no matter what you call it. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: DJ Drez' 'Jahta Beat: The Lotus Memoirs'

DJ Drez
Jahta Beat: The Lotus Memoirs
Black Swan Records

California-based yogic extraordinaire and down-tempo beat-maestro, DJ Drez, dazzles listeners with a splendid release of contemporary beats, South Asian drones, and electronic sensibility with tranquil percussion and magnificent mantras. The fifteen tracks traverse worlds of Indian beauty, sonic explorations of yogic styles, and vocals that are Krishna-centric and blissful. Various singers and/or instrumentalists are featured, including Marti Nikko, Kirtaniyas, Domonic Dean Breaux, Arjun Baba, Joey Lugassy, and Deepak Ramapriyan. The typical kirtan dance instrumentation is here, but a good dose of dub beats and contemporary dance rhythms are also present. There is also a hint of jazz thrown in on ""Wind Talker." The tabla percussion, sitar drone, and various instruments are mostly electrified, but there is still an inherent beauty in the raw, wholesome delivery of the songs. Anyone interested in Black or White Swan Records will probably already know about DJ Drez, but now it is time for others in the world to discover his talents. ~ Matthew Forss 

Thursday, April 5, 2012

CD Review: Batida's Self-Titled Release From Portugal and Angola


The rousing beats of electronica are composed with an Angolan and Portuguese presence, which evokes classical rhythms and dance tunes with a dash of kizomba thrown in for good fun. The ten tracks feature a variety of beatmasters and vocalists, including MCK, Ciruito Feixado, Ikonoklasta, Beat Laden, Ngongo, and others. The twisting rhythms and hyper-percussive foundation is ideal for parties and urban celebrations. There are hints of cumbia and some soukous leanings, too. Fans of Portuguese and Angolan music will love Batida's carefree and contemporary dance forms. Available in CD, LP, and digital formats. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Afrolicious' 'Pleasuretime'

ESL Music

With the success of Dub For Mali, Afrolicious attempts to create yet another mesmerizing mix of groovy, dub-laden tracks with a strong African and dance club vein. The result is a jazzy, groove-laden mix of swirling beats and melodies that are perfect for relaxing or dancing. The influences of Africa and the Caribbean are evident with a light dose of dub-n-bass, funk, and electronica. The use of ngoni, trumpet, congas, sax, flute, drums, bass, keyboard, and various programming provides a good instrumental package for the songs. The mostly instrumental tunes only run for about thirty-minutes in length, but the short journey of funky, hip beats are both pleasurable and afrolicious. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Shazalakazoo's 'Karton City Boom'

Karton City Boom
Eastblok Music

The contemporary electronic group from the Balkans, Shazalakazoo, is an innovative band with a strong mixture of diverse musical styles, vocals, and rhythms. For instance, the Serbian band incorporates a bit of Latin, Middle Eastern, and Mediterranean influences into their repertoire. Though, the electronic elements are not particularly evident--instead, the urban, almost hip hop vocal deliveries, contain an inherent popular feel without resorting to rock or pop idioms. The fifteen tracks are inspired by the cardboard or shanty towns of the Balkans and other areas of the world. The danceable rhythms and melodies reflect an upbeat tone throughout. The powerful melodies and instrumental prowess of Balkan brass or Klezmer music is not particularly absent here. Fans of urban, Balkan, and electronic bass music will love the hip tunes of Shazalakazoo. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Edzayawa's 'Projection One'

Projection One

The Ghanaian funk of the 1970's is captured brilliantly on Edzayawa's first and only LP. The newly release CD and LP versions showcase a heady, contemporary mix of funk 'n' roll music with a nice vocal range throughout. The eight long tracks incorporate rhythms and styles from Ghana and Togo, which infuse less rock elements than other regional music. However, Edzayawa knows how to kick in the beats with rousing percussion and groovy bass lines. The psychedelic elements of reverberating B3's and steady, but languid guitar stylings, signify a great range of musical enjoyment. Despite the few tracks, the music is top-notch and a vital release for any funk, Ghana, Nigeria, Togo, and West African guitar fans infatuated with 1970's Africa. Step back in time with our friends, Edzayawa! ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Gadjo's 'Gadjistan Zizany'

Gadjistan Zizany

The Barcelona-based group, Gadjo, is a dynamic musical experience incorporating a number of instruments, styles, and origins extending across the Mediterranean, Spain, and Eastern Europe. The Balkan influence is highly-present, as well as a bit of polka, ska, cumbia, Latin, dance, and swing music. The party-like atmosphere created by a cacophony of instruments and vocals is rather structured, but it creates the impression it is more improvisational than it really is. The quirky horns, rousing percussion, lively vocals, and groovy tunes traverse the world's traditions in one place. The playful styles and sounds do not get boring and they are contemporary, but not electronic, in their approach. The witty "Two Left Feet" is a Balkan brass great with fun vocals and Khmer-esque, jazzy grooves that are more likely to come from Dengue Fever or Ersatzmusika, than a Balkan or Spanish group. Still, the fifteen songs are diverse, energetic, and playful throughout. Grab Gadjo's latest release for an hour of good times. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: The Funkees' 'Dancing Time: The Best Of Eastern Nigeria's Afro Rock Exponents 1973-77'

The Funkees
Dancing Time: The Best Of Nigeria's Afro Rock Exponents 1973-77

Nigeria's premier funk music group, The Funkees, were purveyors of contemporary music and a formidable force for hey-day, Lagos-based bands, MonoMono and BLO. Eighteen happy grooves sweating with killer tunes selected by Miles Cleret from their two full-length albums and several 45s. The Funkees were also featured on Soundway's Nigeria Special and Nigeria Rock Special recordings within the last few years. The writhing and raw melodies are produced by some of the finest guitar work and percussion examples to come out of Nigeria in years. The extended instrumental pieces are especially evocative. The pulsating grooves and Nigerian styles are funk-driven, rock-driven, and percussion-laden. Fans of Joni Haastrup, Femi Kuti, Lijadu Sisters, Prince Nico Mbarga, MonoMono, Chief Stephen Osita Osadebe, Sir Warrior and His Oriental Brothers, and Tirogo will probably already know about The Funkees. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Veretski's Pass' 'The Klezmer Shul Live'

Veretski Pass
The Klezmer Shul Live
Golden Horn Records

The California-based, Veretski Pass, is an instrumental group that reinterprets centers of musicmaking--shuls--which were synagogues that were originally created as gathering places for craftspeople, tailors, stonecutters, and musicians. Utilizing styles and melodies from various lands of Jewish inhabitants, Veretski Pass uses classical, avant-garde, and free jazz genres from Czech Republic, Moldova, Romania, Ukraine, Hungary, and Poland. The instrumental nature of the music is vibrant, reflective, and calming throughout. The twenty-three different compositions are divided into four different poetic groups movements or groupings: Without Beginning, A Sign Upon Your Head, Remembrance, and The Wonder of Being. Cookie Segelstein plays violin, Joshua Horowitz plays button accordion and piano, and Stuart Brotman plays bass cello and the rarely heard tilinca--an end-blown flute from the border of Romania and Ukraine. Anyone with an interest in Klezmer classical music will love it. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Sarah Aroeste's 'Gracia'

Sarah Aroeste
Aroeste Music

American-born Ladino singer, Sarah Aroeste, continues to create contemporary rock and pop compositions with a Middle Eastern, Mediterranean, and Spanish element. The Ladino-language songs touch on Jewish history, love, and relationships amidst a background of symphonic strings, Middle Eastern percussion, and contemporary arrangements. "Scalerica De Oro/Dodi Yarad" is strikingly similar to the music of the late-Ofra Haza. The Middle Eastern instrumentation and spiritual vocals make the song unique and evocative. The rock-laden "La Comida La Manana" begins with a fiery, poetic introduction that leads to a rock beat with full-guitar sound and strings. "El Leon Ferido" is another rock-laden song with haunting vocals. There are quieter, almost cinematic moments in "Ensuenyo Te Vi" and Spanish guitar beats in "Las Estreyas." A remix of "Scalerica De Oro" contains a more classical vein. Overall, Sarah hits high marks with a new release of contemporary Sephardic music. ~ Matthew Forss  

CD Review: Stevin McNamara's 'Shanti Guitar'

Stevin McNamara
Shanti Guitar
White Swan Records

Ragas of Indian music are inspired and improvised on Stevin McNamara's latest incarnation, Shanti Guitar. Based on traditional Indian scales, Stevin adds his own touches of brilliance on the nylon-string guitar, sitar, and various percussion. Stevin is joined by frame drum, dumbek, madal, udu, djembe, cymbals, clay urn, gourd, shakers, bells, tabla, violin, tamboura, and other instruments. The entire album only contains six tracks, however, the album's total length of over 70 minutes makes up for the few songs. As one can imagine, the serene and meditative musings of instrumental music with an Indian influence create calming worlds of peace and tranquility. Stevin knows how to create these worlds with a commanding passion and sincere delivery. "Anam," "Song of the Sun," and "Doorway to Eternity," and "Journey to the Crystal Mountain" are also available on his earlier release, Yogitar. Still, Shanti Guitar is a great, instrumental recording for the inner being of everyone. ~ Matthew Forss 

CD Review: Brownout's 'Oozy'

Nat Geo Music

As a split personality with their other notable group, Grupo Fantasma, Brownout sets out to hit the road with a compelling, funkadelic mix of psychedelic grooves from the great state of Texas. The gritty and funky "Flaximus" cements their reputation for creating spacious riffs, horny accompaniment, and classic guitar work. The wholly instrumental tune contains some Latin percussion to keep it interesting. The funky "Stormy Weather" is a classy 70's-era vocal tune created in today's age. The rootsy, earthy sound is unsurpassed by comparable artists of today. The Latin-titled "Andy Y Dando" is a funky, horn-driven delicacy with booming bass and crunchy guitars with some vocals to match. The remaining songs contain quirky electronic embellishments that bridge the gap between the worlds of funk, roots, psychedelic, soul, Latin, and jazz. The result is a groove-laden adventure with fun for the whole family. When the lights go out, Brownout will brighten your day. ~ Matthew Forss 

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

CD Review: Martina Downey's 'Sign Post'

Martina Downey
Sign Post

New Jersey-based, Martina Downey, brings to life the psychedelic and R&B-driven sounds of America's golden age of rock, soul, and ambient music during the 1960's and 70's. This sophomore release of ten new songs represents a lively set of music that combines various genres and influences for an adventurous, urban, and gospel-centric audience. The dreamy instrumentation, punchy percussion, and jazz or rock idioms are also presented here. Martina's vocals are joined by back-up singers, but the  instrumental arrangements are equally-compelling. Notably, the entire album contains vocals, but the genre-bending instrumentation provides a good selection of melodies, rhythms, and influences to enjoy. The jazzy "Close To Her" opens with a piano and sax with Martina's unconventional high tonal range, but the song is extremely catchy. "Dark Caverns" is a classic, pop track with R&B funk, gospel joy, and rippling guitar sounds throughout. "Finer Things" is another pop classic with rousing vocals and punchy guitar work with keyboard strings. The folk-rock tune, "Hurricane," is a tune with Top-40 potential and a good, gritty rock mix of styles bordering folk, alternative pop, and jazz. The entire set of songs runs the gamut from jazz, folk, rock, R&B, gospel, jazz, and psychedelica. Martina Downey is a woman full of creative energy and a compendium of songs that more than suit her vocal abilities. Sign Post is a mile marker of artistic achievement. ~ Matthew Forss