Friday, January 27, 2012

CD Review: Kayhan Kalhor & Ali Bahrami Fard's 'I Will Not Stand Alone'

Kayhan Kalhor & Ali Bahrami Fard
I Will Not Stand Alone
World Village

The prominent Iranian composer and musician, Kayhan Kalhor, combines meditative and adventurous compositions on a new instrument—the shah kaman—along with Ali Bahrami Fard’s bass santoor. The earthy sound of the shah kaman resembles a darker version of the kamancheh, though it is similar in appearance. The floating melodies of shah kaman and bass santoor elicit dreamy images of Persian classical music that is reinvented for a new generation. Keep in mind, only shah kaman and bass santoor instruments are included on this album. Technical wizardry and vocals are nowhere to be found. The interplay between the shah kaman and the bass santoor come to a head on “The Laziest Summer Afternoon.” At times, the music is complex and frenzied. However, it is interspersed with quieter moments that really grab the attention of listeners. The entire album is about one-hour long with tracks ranging in length from under two-minutes to fourteen-minutes. At any rate, the Persian music listener will find solace in the punchy notes of the bass santoor and the earthy gliding of the shah kaman. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Kelly Carpenter's 'Passage'

Kelly Carpenter

The chilled and relaxing grooves of Kelly Carpenter’s piano playing combine elements of ambient rock with new age instrumental magic on his latest release, Passage. The adventurous “Summer Rain” takes on a life of its own with lush piano melodies and an ambient rock vibe that is wholly instrumental. The quick and short keys resemble falling rain. “A Distant Shore” seems more like an ode to Ireland with a pensive, yet emotive violin solo that only lasts thirty-seconds. “Whom Have I But You?” contains playful piano melodies and a little percussion to add some meat to the track. The fluttering electric sounds merge into an electric guitar medley that appropriately accompanies the piano. The rain and thunder noises of “Waiting” are accompanied by solo, meditative piano. “Saying Goodbye” contains a rousing and jazzy melody with light percussion and piano accompaniment with the unmistakable sounds of an electric guitar. This is probably the most ambient rock-type song on the album that encompasses a bit of blues and roots music thrown in. “Ascent” opens with bird sounds and a fast-paced piano with light percussion and atmospheric keyboards. “The View From Here” opens with spacey noises, atmospheric washes, and sparkling piano sounds before a little post-ambient rock guitar breaks the serenity. The last few tunes add a little more rock guitar, but it does not detract away from the new age nuances throughout. In fact, the rock guitar is a perfect addition to the instrumental music. If Passage is a journey, his piano is the vehicle. Fans of solo instrumental piano, new age and ambient rock will love it. Similar artists: Michele de Wilton, Danny Wright, and Al Conti.     

Thursday, January 19, 2012

CD Review: Seka Gong Taruna Mekar Orchestra feat. Wayne Vitale and I Made Arnawa

Seka Gong Taruna Mekar Orchestra feat. Wayne Vitale and I Made Arnawa
Makrokosma Bali
Vital Records

Initially a science-focus, Makrokosma Bali eventually centered on Balinese culture and philosophy over the four years of its development. The universal microcosm and macrocosm of human existence and humankind's orientation within the universe is showcased with the different sounds. The gamelan instrumentation is more pronounced and varied than the previously-reviewed album, also from Vital Records. The ensemble consists of twenty-five musicians. "Kerang Kering" is a vocal track with rhythmic chanting, speaking, and nature sounds without instrumental accompaniment. The five other tracks contain traditional tunes that are perfect for the Balinese student or aficionado of Indonesian gamelan music. This is a fine example of gamelan music produced in Bali with an American participating in the music-making process (Wayne Vitale). ~ Matthew Forss 

CD Review: I Made Arnawa & I Dewa Putu Berata's 'Returning Minimalism: New Works For Balinese gamelan gong kebyar'

I Made Arnawa & I Dewa Putu Berata
Returning Minimalism: New Works For Balinese gamelan gong kebyar
Vital Records

I Made Arnawa and I Dewa Putu Berata are two musicians that make up the Seka Gong Taruna Mekar and Cudamani Ensembles from Bali, Indonesia. Returning Minimalism... is an extension of Terry Riley's 1964 work, "In C", a pivotal piece--and arguably the first minimalist composition. Track one, "In Deng," by I Made Arnawa, is a twenty-four minute composition that includes gamelan instruments, such as reong, trompong, gangsa, suling, jublag, jegogan, gong, kempur, and kenong. The metallic overtones are arranged in a fast-paced rhythm with shimmering gamelan sounds that mimic a metal balafon or vibraphone with starkly, higher-pitched sounds. The music is instrumental and it takes on a new approach to performance, since the album accentuates improvisational and creative energies that defy traditional modes. "In Ding" is the second and final track, but it is performed by I Dewa Putu Berata. This track was mostly instrumental, except for vocal accompaniment by Emiko Saraswati Susilo. "In Ding" was more improvisationala range of one tone. The crystal clear tones of the gamelan instruments are iconic, trance-inducing, and meditative. The music is ideal for Balinese musical studies and graduate students with a background in musical notation. Extensive liner notes are included in English. ~ Matthew Forss  

CD Review: Buika's 'En Mi Piel' [2 CD]

En Mi Piel [2 CD]
Warner Music

Hailing from Spain and born of Equatorial Guinean parents, Buika (pronounced BWEE-kah) is a vocalist with sincerity that seeps through every part of the album. The 2-CD set includes a lively, Spanish-infused concoction of brooding love songs, emotional deliveries, and danceable song structures. En Mi Piel, which means, 'in my skin,' is an evocative title that represents her comfortable and emotive songwriting skills and personal stories. The Spanish-language album contains upbeat tunes on percussion, piano, acoustic guitar, and a variety of strings and horns. The intense vocalizations are more varied than Cape Verde's Lura; not as smooth as Ethiopia's Saba; and almost reminiscent of Uzbekistan's Yulduz Usmanova. At any rate, the writhing percussion and swirling vocals wrap around the listener like the warmth of a Mediterranean sunset. The inviting repertoire is similar to fado or flamenco stylings--both of which are popular music forms in the global music community. The African music links are less than evident on this recording. As a result, fans of European fado and flamenco-type music with a little Andalusian embellishments and jazz will find solace and fun in En Mi Piel. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Trio Bravo's Self-Titled Release From Germany

Trio Bravo
Trio Bravo
Ozella Music

Though a Trio, there are several musicians on this exciting recording from Germany. The instrumental album contains cross-genre music incorporating North and South American, European, and Asian influences. Some instruments utilized include violin, piano, double bass, drums, marimba, cello, kontrabass, and assorted percussion. The fluid piano playing and spritely strings combine perfectly with the other instruments. Many of the songs are easy to imagine on a soundtrack. The gitty and jazzy "Wiener Wuerstchen" is a downtempo gem with violin work and folkish melodies. The klezmer-esque tunes are appropriately-matched with the upbeat strings and Eurocentric leanings. Nineteen tracks take on many characteristics of the classical and fusion worlds. Keep in mind the music is not amped up with guitars or keyboards, which is fine for a recording of this sort. The entire album can be summed up in one word: ausgezeichnet! ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Roger Matura's 'World Gone Wrong'

Roger Matura
World Gone Wrong
Ozella Music

Nearly an hour of music sets the stage for a wonderful folk album of inner peace and outer joy. World Gone Wrong is a wry, witty, and charismatic recording of folk music with hints of harmonica, piano, sax, flugelhorn, violin, bandoneon, and assorted percussion. Roger's raspy voice is Dylan-esque, but more defined. Roger's German upbringing shines through the tracks, but the music is in English and some of the melodies resemble folk tunes from the streets of Paris or Dublin. The twenty-two songs represent a host of emotions, relationships, and thoughts that culminate into a broad-scoped recording of intelligent writing and evocative delivery. Roger's seemingly reserved vocal range appropriately matches the bluesy, folksy, and jazzy rhythms. Fans of singer/songwriter music will love Roger's new work. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Doctor L's 'The Great Depression'

Doctor L
The Great Depression

Doctor L is a fusion fellow with roots in Ireland, France, and Africa. The latter country is of utmost importance for his latest release, The Great Depression. Doctor L incorporates soothing downtempo hooks, a punch bass line, afro-beat funk, and world voicings into the mix. Various artists are captured on the album, including The Nairobi Descendants, Vodoo John, Allonymous, Tony Allen, Asa, Kiala Nzavotunga, Unknown Poets, David Walters, and Antibalas. The remarkable repertoire is heavily influenced by jazz, funk, improvisation, and global beat music with various languages spoken and numerous instruments make rhythms from all corners of the world. The upbeat, modern arrangements contain a variety of vocal samples, rock-driven segments, and funkadelic tunes that are so hot they melt the CD player...figuratively, of course. A plethora of male and female vocals, spoken word, rap, electronic noises, and mesmerizing arrangements put this album to the top of any global music chart with ease. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Randi Tytingvag's 'Let Go'

Randi Tytingvag
Let Go
Ozella Music

Norway's Randi Tytingvag is joined by Anders Aarum on piano and glockenspiel; Espen Leite on accordion; Jens Fossum on double bass; Ola Kvernberg on violin; and Morten Michelsen on clarinet. The classy, English vocals are performed in a jazzy, pop standard fashion with some folk instrument accompaniment that gives it a North American feel. The sweet melodies, soft piano, and gritty violin make Let Go seem like a sunny recording of utter happiness for any cloudy or rainy day. The sweet vocals by Randi are somewhat reminiscent of the U.K.'s Katie Melua. In any case, the eleven tracks showcase Randi's pleasant voice and simple instrumental repertoire that build upon a folk base with some jazz and improvisational music thrown in the mix. Fans of Norwegian and Scandinavian folk and vocal music will love it. Listeners young and old will love the sincere lyrics and jaunty musical arrangements. An addtional recording by Tytingvag purchased separately contains the exact same songs, but they are instrumentals on Let Go: Instrumentals (Ozella Music, 2011). ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Temesgen's 'Traditional Favorites'

Traditional Favorites

Born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Temesgen has since relocated to Michigan, USA. Temesgen plays a krar--a five-or-six-string bowl-shaped lyre from Ethiopia. The harp-like and meditative quality of the krar is a soothing accompaniment to Temesgen's low, gruff voice. The music is relatively rudimentary with no electric accompaniment. In other words, Traditional Favorites is a traditional romp through the folk music of northeast Africa. The thirteen tracks are calming, memorable, and easy to listen to with some light backup vocals, too. Whatever the occasion--relaxing, studying, dining, cleaning, or reading--Temesgen is a perfect addition to your household. Fans of harps, Ethiopian folk music, and African music in general, will love the vocals and sounds. This is my traditional favorite. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Istiklal Trio's Self-Titled Release From Israel

Istiklal Trio
Istiklal Trio
High Fidelity
The instrumental music of Istiklal Trio is appealing, energetic, and contemplative--all at the same time. The trio is Yaniv Taichman (oud, guitar), Ariel Qassis (kanun), and Noa Vax (percussion). The modern trio does not incorporate dance-club tunes or electronic compositions notable in the trance world. Instead, the Trio performs renditions of classical pieces with up-to-date song structures perfect for fans of improvisational music, world music, folk music, instrumental music, and percussion. The scintillating rhythms reflect a South Asian, South American, and Central Asian sensibility with the charm of the Middle East thrown in for good measure. The fourteen tracks contain a few taqsims--Arabic maqams--and one rendition of the Godfather movie theme. The Trio makes instrumental music interesting and lively enough without resorting to banal rhythms and mindless melodies. Each instrument is given plenty of air-time throughout. Let Istiklal Trio ignite the musical passion in all of us. ~ Matthew Forss

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

CD Review: Bekay's "Livin' My Dream"

Livin' My Dream
TSOB Records

Bekay's amped-up rap-infused tracks from Brooklyn, New York are in-your-face and ready to take America by storm. The twelve tracks are actually five different tracks with various remixes (both clean and explicit) of each track. At any rate, Bekay's lyrical delivery is a bit slower than Eminem, but no less fascinating. Interestingly, only three tracks are original: "Grab Someone," "Livin' My Dream," and "Fuk U." The original songs and remixes include hard-hitting lyrics about relationships, partying, urban lifestyles, and celebrating rap/hip hop culture. "Open The Door (Let 'em In)" is a rap cover of Paul McCartney's song. Also, "Where Brooklyn At" is a cover of the late-Old Dirty Bastard's hit song. Bekay incorporates a bit of shout-outs, indiscriminate vocals, and a party-like atmosphere with electronic wizardry, tight percussion sets, and urban dance grooves. Fans of rap and hip hop will love the music of Bekay, even though the album is a little short and if it includes seemingly senseless remixes and edits. Start a party on the streets with Bekay today! ~ Matthew Forss  

CD Review: Haikaa's "Work Of Art"

Work Of Art

Haikaa's Brazilian, Japanese, and American upbringing is multicultural, but the music is pure gold. Haikaa's English lyrics and upbeat, pop/rock beats contain a bit of Celtic, European, and J-pop melodies that are catchy and very high quality.  Haikaa's vocal clarity of an angel resembles Orla Fallon, Nina Gordon, and Trish Murphy. The title track includes a pop-focused percussion, heavenly vocals, and light guitar accompaniment. The slower "Everything I Know About Love," contains a little dobro twang with the vocal likeness of The Corrs, amidst a more expansive musical arrangement. The music borders on a bit of Canadian Inuit pop, too. Specifically, the music of Susan Aglukark comes to mind. "Call Me By My Name" features Haikaa's young-sounding vocals in a catchy, vocally-driven track with a march-like percussion set-up. "Happy" is a nice tune with alternative guitar format with the charisma of Michelle Branch or Trish Murphy. The nine tracks contain sweet melodies, catchy rhythms, and guitar-pop foundations that surpass anything previously-released by comparable musicians. In short, Work Of Art is a work of great artistic achievement.   

CD Review: Meghan Cary's "Building This House''

Meghan Cary
Building This House

Philadelphia-based singer/songwriter, Meghan Cary, is a beacon of light in the world of female folk music. Building This House, which may seem like a nod to Shawn Colvin's These Four Walls, is vocally-similar to the likes of Stevie Nicks and Shawn Colvin. Domesticity references aside, Meghan produces an album that results from a culmination of life experiences--notably marriage, children, and home ownership. The Nicks-esque title track contains a peppy, folk melody with reverberating B-3 sounds, vocal interplay, and punchy bass lines. "Lost You In The Light" is a jazzy tune with piano and effervescent vocals resembling a classy, lounge song with pop standard written all over it. "Thursdays" is a folk tune with sparkling acoustic guitar sounds and Meghan's soulful voice from an angelic source. Moreover, the song can be played everyday of the week--not just on Thursdays. "Responsibility" is a bluesy tune that contains piano, percussion, and folksy guitar styles. This is a Colvin-esque tune. "Darker Song" opens with metallic percussion and deep, piano sounds with haunting vocals that are a departure from other tracks. Nevertheless, the song's Nicks-esque vocals are a throwback to classic folk music from the 1970s. The final track, "Live!," is an upbeat, folk tune with B-3 and good 'ol bluegrass/gospel charm. If female music fans add this one to their collections, then their house would be complete. ~ Matthew Forss 

Monday, January 16, 2012

CD Review: Dave Cirino's 'Dragon Theory'

Dave Cirino
Dragon Theory

Based in New Jersey, Dave Cirino incorporates a plethora of hip hop, dance, rap, electronica, and alternative leanings from a host of urban influences. Dave's Jamaican and Puerto Rican background adds another aspect of creative cultural attributes that primarily draws upon a refreshing foundation of ingenuity. The music is not Latin-esque or reggae-based, for that matter. Instead, Dragon Theory is a spacey, electronica, and hip hop-focused album of groovy beats and intelligent lyrics delivered in a smooth vocal style with assorted backup vocals and percussive rhythms. The echoing vocals of "Time Travel" include a female voice and dance-laden arrangements with hard-hitting vocals and electronic embellishments. Dave's rap is faster than on other tracks. At any rate, the song is urban, contemporary, and fresh. "First Kiss" opens with a few shout-outs before the song merges into a sauntering hip hop set of grooves with piano and electronic accompaniment with some percussion. "Phantom" is a scratchy tune with a heavy, dance-beat and fast rapping. "Blue" is a laid-back, soul track with slower raps and sultry grooves. All in all, sixteen tracks round out the album. Some of the tracks contain similar musical elements, but that is not particularly bad here. Each track contains enough rap, hip hop, and alternative elements to make it worthwhile. If you are looking for rock, pop, Latin, or jazz music, then you have to look elsewhere. Dragon Theory is more than a's a fact. ~ Matthew Forss

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

CD Review: Vintage Blue's 'Strike The Mics'

Vintage Blue
Strike The Mics

The Chicago-based band, Vintage Blue, was formerly known as Tanglewood. Now the name is shed, but the tunes are better than ever. The ska-influenced, "Set You Free," is a mix of roots and rock music with luscious vocals and reverberating sax. The more rock-driven "Unchained" is partly influenced by Creed, but on a much lighter, vocal scale. The wailing guitars are not too loud or unnecessary. The folksy, ballad, "California Road," contains a good folk rock beat with reverberating B-3 and the horns give the song a little retro-class. "Sleep On This" is strikingly-similar (at least vocally and structurally) to circa-2000 Ed Kowalczyk from the band, Live. The folksy-rock ballad contains backup vocals, horns, and B-3 charisma. The Southern-rock-style piece, "Here To Stay," is a post-grunge anthem with vocals and guitar arrangements reminiscent of Stroke 9. "Against Time" is another song seemingly inspired by Stroke 9. The opening lines of "Just Breathe" beckons the spirit of the band Filter. The most divergent song is the classical, ballad-esque, "Great Divide." Throughout, Vintage Blue delves into various rock, ska, pop, and ballad-driven hooks with intelligent lyrics and classy grooves. Anyone interested in folk-rock, roots, post-grunge, and classy music with style and swagger, than look no further. ~ Matthew Forss       

Friday, January 6, 2012

CD Review: Lila Rose's 'Heart Machine'

Lila Rose
Heart Machine
RTFM Records

Born in Canada and based in California, Lila Rose's upcoming album, Heart Machine, will set the stage for creative energies in the genres of alternative, electronic, and pop music. Lila's vocal and musical arrangements are very similar to the U.K.'s Katie Melua and The Cranberries lead singer, Dolores O'Riordan. Comparisons aside, Lila's arrangements are built on futuristic palettes of innovation and foresight that does not sound like anything previously-released by any other artist. The somewhat danceable track, "Like Champagne,'' contains melodies and instrumentation typical of Euro-pop with a fluttering flute and noisy percussion with vocals imitating a Finnish dance group. The dreamy, "Unbroken," contains a wash of fine vocals and pensive piano playing with backup vocals and a backdrop of electronic radiance. The quieter, "Give You My All," is an introspective song with guitar and voice. "Get Gone Again" is a vocally-quirky song with luscious keyboards and ballad-esque instrumental arrangements. Throughout the album, Lila presents us with a theatrical production of stellar instrumentation, a wide vocal range, and a diverse lyrical set of music that is nothing short of miraculous. ~ Matthew Forss

Thursday, January 5, 2012

CD Review: Gerard Edery's 'Edery Sings Yupanqui'

Gerard Edery
Edery Sings Yupanqui
Sefarad Records

Gerard Edery's influential work on the Sefarad Record label is unsurpassed in the sephardic music genre. However, on this release, Gerard celebrates the life and music of Argentina's writer, singer, guitarist, and composer, Atahualpa Yupanqui. A worldwide performer, Yupanqui was considered the most influential Argentine folk musician in the 20th century. Gerard knows how to tap into this musical legacy with commanding vocals, light percussion, and airy guitar stylings that are intimate, meditative, and alluring. The folksy rhythms are equally dosed in rays of Latin sunshine without the addition of Argentina's most popular instrument--the accordion. The rumba, flamenco-type melodies ensnare the listener to come closer and relax to the sounds of Argentina's greatest musician. The thirteen tracks are folk melodies that come from the soul and strike the heart with utter tenderness and solace. Gerard should be applauded for this effort, especially since 2012 marks the 20th anniversary of Yupanqui's death. ~ Matthew Forss