Wednesday, November 27, 2013

CD Review: Toninho Ferragutti's 'O Sorriso Da Manu'

Toninho Ferragutti
O Sorriso Da Manu

Brazil's Toninho Ferragutti brings us a pleasant album of instrumental greatness, Latin jazz, and neo-classical brilliance. The musical repertoire includes piano, accordion, viola, clarinet, contrabass, violins, assorted percussion, and other strings. The tunes are rather light, yet contain a little flamenco embellishments, as well as jazzy undertones. The piano twinkles with jazzy brilliance, as well as the ambulating instrumentation. The music is very cinematic and all-encompassing. Nothing is overtly dance, Latin, jazz, or fusion. There seems to be a good mix of styles and instrumentation that should satisfy any Brazilian music fan. There are nine compositions in all. The melodic tunes are energetic, contemplative, and playful throughout. The music changes with the moods of the instruments. Fans of the accordion will love it. Others into Brazilian jazz and contemporary music will also love it. You can't help but love it. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Juakali's 'Feathers Too Bright'

Feathers Too Bright
Foreign Familiar

The hip hop, reggae, dubstep, and dance-infused lyrical wordplays of Juakali stem from his Trinidadian upbringing and wholehearted commitment to the electronica-injected music characteristic of dancehall rhythms and urban pizzazz. The urban sounds are upbeat, in-your-face, and revolutionary. The raw delivery is pulsating, energetic, and attitude-infused with a dose of African sun. The name, Juakali, stems from a Swahili phrase for 'fierce sun.' Yes, the beats are fierce, but in a good way. The music is stellar and trippy. There are eleven excellent tracks steeped in swirling urban beats with dubstep charisma and electronic suavity. Juakali knows how to make interesting and powerful vocal and instrumental creations. Feathers Too Bright is a perfect album for anyone interested in world fusion with an urban, dub, and dance edge. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Shirish Korde's 'Ka'

Shirish Korde

As an Indian composer and musician born in Uganda, Shirish Korde possesses and innate ability to combine the classical works of the world with South Asian melodies and rhythms. Shirish aids the help of Deepti Navaratna, a soprano singer and tamboura player, along with cellist Jan Mueller-Szeraws and tabla extraordinaire, Amit Kavthekar. The five compositions are rather spacious and steeped in swirling, South Asian melodies and neo-Classical arrangements. However, Deepti is featured on each song. The concept of Ka pertains to a unifying, musical cycle that brings together dualities--namely, Eastern and Western musics. Shirish succeeds with an astounding release of musical arrangements that are both thought-provoking and haunting. At any rate, the musical addition of chamber-like orchestrations and Deepti's mesmerizing voice, creates an unforgettable album that will span the recording devices of Western and Eastern listeners everywhere. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: The Hip Abduction's Self-Titled Release

The Hip Abduction
The Hip Abduction
Single Fin Records

Formed in Florida and seasoned with the production credits of Easy Star Records' Michael Goldwasser, The Hip Abduction creates a groovy and reggae-infused concoction that is very catchy and memorable. The twelve tracks feature the musical talents of David New, Pat Klemawesch, Chris Powers, Matt Poynter, Paul Chlapowski, David Johnson, Kevin Clark, and Pat Hernly. The album contains your typical drums, keyboards, bass, guitars, sax, trumpet, and vocals. However, the real charm is in the rarer instruments not commonly associated with reggae albums, such as the kora, kamalengoni, kanjira, nyatiti, and kora. The vocal and instrumental catchiness starts right away with "Children Of The Sun" and "Live It Right," but "All Eyes," "Holiday," and "Walk Away." The instrumental, "La Resaca" and "Kalapani" combine a funky, reggae beat with African strings and experimental charm. While some tracks possess a reggae vibe, many other tracks contain a more rhythmic pop and world fusion presence. All in all, The Hip Abduction is hip and here to stay. ~ Matthew Forss 

CD Review: Brenda McMorrow's 'Igniting The Beauty'

Brenda McMorrow
Igniting The Beauty
White Swan Records

Canada's Brenda McMorrow brings us a soul-stirring and deeply-introspective listening experience that combines ancient Sanskrit mantras, kirtan elements, and yoga pop aesthetics primarily with voice and guitar. The contemporary music is serene, inspirational, and meditative, while maintaining a soothing result that is both catchy and meaningful. Brenda incorporates keyboards, dotar, acoustic/electric guitars, bass, drums, and assorted programming in the mix. The light and carefree vocal calisthenics and scintillating guitar structures are top-notch throughout. Brenda 'ignites' not only beauty, but creativity, as well. Unlock your inner lotus with Brenda McMorrow's latest soul-quenching wanderings on Igniting The Beauty. ~ Matthew Forss

Saturday, November 23, 2013

CD Review: Gino Foti's 'Global Resonances'

Gino Foti
Global Resonances
Net Dot Music

The new work of Gino Foti's musical creations shines through in new age, experimental, and bass-infused melodies and rhythms on Global Resonances. Gino's strictly instrumental songs are poignant, contemplative, ambulatory, and engaging. The diverse bass guitar stylings are partly due to MIDI, but there are also loops and samples that fill in the melodies. There are fourteen different tracks in all that span over one hour. Some of the bass sounds are rather light and represent an East Asian flair. However, Gino's music is steeped in avant-garde and experimental styles with a world fusion element rarely seen in contemporary releases in new age genres. There are not only East Asian sounds and influences here, but African elements exist to some extent. The jazzy leanings are truly impressive on "Umoja." Global Resonances is aptly-titled, because it represents a worldly connection that brings together various cultural components that seem to mesh very well. Whatever inspires Gino, we can be sure he will make it his own and evoke a sense of magnificence and entrancement in all who listen. Play it today! ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Painted On Water's 'Chicago Issue'

Painted On Water
Chicago Issue

Based in Chicago and steeped in Turkish influences, Painted On Water is a duo project from long-time friends and collaborators, Sertab Erener and Demirkan. The new release is a five-track album with rock beats, swirling rhythms, punchy elements, and English vocals by Sertab. There are symphonic rock moments on "Hating You Loving You" and "Why Do You Love Me." The heavier tones do not interrupt the clear vocals. "Despite Ourselves" opens with a melodic and down-tempo introduction, but it is quickly interrupted with loud guitars, swishy percussion, and evocative vocals. "When I Need You The Most" is a punchy rock tune with a Garbage-esque instrumental arrangement and Shirley Manson-esque vocals that add an element of grunge and dance. "A New Me" includes a punchy beat, giddy guitars, funky bass lines, and Sertab's direct and catchy vocal repertoire. The music is engaging with a hard edge that is not too heavy or unnecessary. Fans of American rock music with a does of Turkish flair will find it heartily enjoyable. ~ Matthew Forss    

Friday, November 15, 2013

CD Review: Aradia's 'Possibilities: Light'

Possibilities: Light

Seattle-based and New York-born, Aradia combines the best of dance, electronica, trip-hop, and pop with edgy rock arrangements and experimental sounds. The blurby and dance-driven, "Trouble," provides a nice vocal accompaniment with groovy sounds and keyboard arrangements. The music is akin to a trance-induced Madonna with a little Hooverphonic. The vocals are mostly without fault, but a little direct. "Today" contains a great symphonic keyboard base and a swishy percussion beat, as Aradia's sweet vocals evoke an engaging medley of sounds akin to Leona Naess or Beth Orton. "On Fire" is an edgy, dance tune akin to the earlier work of the band Garbage. The dance music is creative and different overall. One can think of various pop artists that dip into dance music, but few know how to master the genre and still keep an audience excited about long after the song ends. Luckily, Aradia inspires this type of dance music with longevity and emotion. The 'possibilities' are endless when Aradia is in charge. ~ Matthew Forss  

CD Review: Sonny Spectrum's Self-Titled EP

Sonny Spectrum
Sonny Spectrum EP
Artisans Label

Sonny Spectrum's new self-titled, four-track EP, is a collection of pop and dance-inspired songs that incorporate down-tempo, funk, rock, and electronica. The EP starts out with "Get Freaky," which begins with a classic dance beat inspired by Michael Jackson and Maroon 5. The swishy beats, electronica-driven sound, and dance vocals are anything but dull. The song precedes "Trust," which opens with an atmospheric wash that leads right into a steady, dance beat and blurby, electronica-filled delicacy. "Be The One" is a dance tune with a soulful elegance and electronica brilliance. The tune encapsulates a little down-tempo characterizations, but the main defining genre appears to be dance. The final tune, "Free Life," contains a sparse rhythm and instrumentation early on with a few vocals. The dance elements still retain a primary importance with a little more funk than the others. At any rate, Sonny's dance explosions will electrify your feet and ears with nothing but good vibes all night long. ~ Matthew Forss   

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

CD Review: Cole Hermer & The Ravens' 'Quoth The Raven'

Cole Hermer & The Ravens
Quoth The Raven

Hailing from Ontario, Canada, Cole Hermer & The Ravens resurrect vocals and melodies of good 'ol rock music from the 1980s and 90s with all original material, a guitar, a voice, and a dream. Cole's vocals fall somewhere between Axl Rose and Fuel. The five-track release contains rock/metal-infused tunes with "California Breakdown," "Exploitable," and "Teenage Creed." These tunes contain big guitars, punchy rhythms, great vocals, and great licks with spectacular electric guitar solos. For a lighter side, Cole's ballad creations take the stage on "Friends" and "Maybe." The vocals are still great, as well as the instrumental arrangements. These latter songs represent a more intimate picture to the musical mix. Quoth The Raven has everything from hot licks to hot vocals that leave an impression. Fans of good rock music will love it. Everyone else will love it, too! ~ Matthew Forss  

Sunday, November 3, 2013

CD Review: Boban & Marko Markovic Orchestra's 'Gipsy Manifesto'

Boban & Marko Markovic Orchestra
Gipsy Manifesto

Boban & Marko Markovic Orchestra's music is steeped in the upbeat brass of Serbia's most popular music form. The fast vocals and musical deliveries are paramount in Balkan brass today, which is especially prominent on "Turbo Diesel" and "Caje Sukarije." There are sixteen songs, but the last one is a radio edit remix of "Sljivovica." Vocals are in English, Romani, and Serbian. Anyone familiar with the punchy, brass-laden tunes of this region will be pleasantly surprised by the intelligent lyrics and dance-heavy elements. Balkan brass is not known for being very smooth or fluid and Gipsy Manifesto is yet another good example of this. However, Balkan fans need not 'balk' at this recording. If you are seeking wild rhythms, brassy sounds, and punchy dance music from Serbia (or surrounding countries), then this one is for you. ~ Matthew Forss

2-CD Review: Black Bazar's 'Round 2'

Black Bazar
Round 2 [2-CD]

Conceptualized by writer and producer, Alain Mabanckou in 2012, Alain incorporates guitar rhythms and melodies from Cape Verde, West Africa, and Central Africa. The upbeat songs are dance-laden and possess a wealth of instrumental ear candy. There are even Caribbean and Latin American influences, which are part of the larger African Diaspora. At any rate, Alan employs a host of guest musicians, including Ferre Gola, Soleil Wanga, Flamme Kapaya, Olivier Tshimanga, Roi David, Karashika, Wole Sentimenta, Ize Teixeira, and Tabou Combo. There are thirteen long tunes that are quite contemporary, highly-rhythmic, and purely African concoctions that are full of soul, love, and melody. Anyone familiar with giddy guitar ramblings from the heart of Africa will love it. Black Bazar includes a bonus CD that is a music video of the first album track, "Black Bazar Round 2." ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Turiya Nada's 'Arakara: Ecstacy Of The Awake'

Turiya Nada
Arakara: Ecstacy Of The Awake
White Swan Records

Hypnotic, sensual, and mesmerizing tunes, beats, and arrangements are at the forefront of yogi Turiya Nada's latest release. The album is rich with yogic melodies and spiritual leanings that combine repetitive chants with instrumental greatness for a truly satisfying musical journey. There are eleven long tracks tied to Sanskrit chants and liturgies. Turiya Nada is the chief vocalist, but Winston Raval plays keyboards, Rob Kholer plays electric bass, EdWing Sankey plays electric guitar, zither, and butterfly harp, Jeronimo Sexton is on cello, Ena Vie is a backing vocalist, and Howard Lipp is a programmer, synth player, and flutist. A variety of earthy arrangements create a wonderful world of musical sound that is as spiritually transcendent and evocative as anything from Tulku or Enigma. However, the music tends to be more primitive, ancient, and yogic without modern beats or urban grooves. Nevertheless, Turiya Nada knows how to meld these seemingly opposite worlds together without venturing too far into the modern world. Overall, Arakara... is a contemplative and trance-inducing album with loads of yogic charm and spiritual tendencies. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Various Artists' 'Peru Maravilloso: Vintage Latin, Tropical & Cumbia'

Various Artists
Peru Maravilloso: Vintage Latin, Tropical & Cumbia
Tiger's Milk Records

With a focus on the tropical music of Peru in the 1960s and 70s, Peru Maravilloso... attempts to resurrect a long-forgotten medley of music. The music combines cumbia, tropical, and Latin beats with organic vocals and instrumentation rarely heard outside Peru. Compiled by Martin Morales, Duncan Ballantyne, and Andres Tapia, Peru Maravilloso... encapsulates the sounds of a bygone era. While not particularly rock, psych, or dance, the music does include big band sounds and folksy melodies steeped in Peruvian history and culture. However, there are instances where garage rock or psych shines through. There is a bit of classical, jazz, experimental, and funk elements in most of the songs. At any rate, there are fifteen delectable tracks that should not be ignored. Fans of vintage cumbia, rare Peruvian sounds, and tropical music everywhere should heck out Peru Maravilloso... ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: EarthRise SoundSystem's 'Rock Beats Paper'

EarthRise SoundSystem
Rock Beats Paper
Yoga Organix

EarthRise SoundSystem is David Schommer and Derek Beres' brainchild that includes a slew of talented guest artists that know how to create percussive, urban, and dance grooves incorporating world melodies and sounds. You will hear the music of Srikala, Davi Vieira, Lucy Woodward, Camille Armstrong, Ramin Sakurai, Shahar Mintz, Marti Nikko, Dave Eggar, Go-Ray, Renata Youngblood, and many others. The upbeat tracks include Rhodes, tabla, horns, cello, violins, sitar, guitars, mandolin, kora, timbau, dulcimer, drums, electronic arrangements, and others. This is not a one-sided album with only one kind of musical beat. Moreover, there are South American, Caribbean, South Asian, and American influences throughout. This is a percussive dreamscape with engaging vocals and instrumentation. Anyone seeking a truly global musical concoction will find it here on Rock Beats Paper. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: DJ Drez' 'Jahta Beat: Chanting With Tigers'

DJ Drez
Jahta Beat: Chanting With Tigers
Black Swan Sounds

DJ Drez creates a swirling mix of Indian rhythms, urban grooves, and down-tempo beats that are mystical, magical, and deeply-rooted in South Asian instrumentation. The contemporary approach is both instrumental and vocal with electronic embellishments that are unforgettable. DJ Drez employs the help of various artists, including Kirtaniyas, Domonic Dean Breaux, Marti Nikko, Arjun Baba, Kirti Srinvastava, Sheela Bringi, Trae Sevin, and Masood Ali Khan. There are filmic undertones, dance tracks, hip-hop instrumentals, kirtan tracks, and world fusion works that combine South Asian instrumentation with urban grooves and beats that cannot be ignored. Fans of contemporary kirtan, dance, yoga, Sanskrit tunes, and similar music will find DJ Drez soulfully-appealing. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Alim Qasimov And Fargana Qasimova's 'Intimate Dialogue'

Alim Qasimov and Fargana Qasimova
Intimate Dialogue
Dreyer Gaido

Azerbaijani father and daughter, Alim Qasimov and Fargana Qasimova, respectively, showcase their instrumental and vocal talents on Intimate Dialogue. There are only four songs in all, but the album runs nearly one-and-a-half hours long. The first song, "Mugham Shushtar," features Fargana's melismatic vocals with Ra'uf Islamov on kamanche, Ali Asgar Mammadov on tar, and Alim Qasimov on daf. "Mahur" features Alim Qasimov on vocals and abovementioned instrumentalists. "Mugham Bayati Shiraz" and "Eraq Tesnifi" contains both Alim's and Fargana's vocals, along with a stirring mix of instrumental arrangements that are very up-tempo in spots. The entire album was recorded live at Morgenland Festival Osnabruck in August 2009. The final round of applause at the end of the album sums it up quite nicely. ~ Matthew Forss 

CD Review: Various Artists' 'Afrobeat Airways 2: Return Flight To Ghana 1974-1983'

Various Artists
Afrobeat Airways 2: Return Flight To Ghana 1974-1983
Analog Africa

Ghanaian funk and dance music is explored on Analog Africa's latest venture, Afrobeat Airways 2: Return Flight To Ghana 1974-1983. These are thirteen rare funk tracks that showcase the not-so-common musicians of the country. You will hear rare music from K. Frimpong, Nana Ampedu, Gyedu-Blay Ambolley, Ebo Taylor, Rob, Uppers International, Los Issufu And His Moslems, Waza Afrika 76, and others. The music is psychedelic, funky, dance-laden, and organically-rhythmic. The percussion is very enthralling throughout. The vocals are equally impressive with solo and group vocals used intermittently. The instrumental sections are especially intriguing and addictive. The rhythms and melodies are punchy and swirling with African elements and entrancing infusions of sound. Anyone with an interest in African funk and psych music should check out Afrobeat Airways 2..., as well as other recordings on the label. Your feet and ears will thank you. ~ Matthew Forss 

Saturday, November 2, 2013

CD Review: Kheswa & Her Martians' 'Meadowlands, Stolen Jazz'

Kheswa & Her Martians
Meadowlands, Stolen Jazz

Kheswa & Her Martians bring us a writhing mix of South African jazz grooves abundant with piano, guitar, trumpet, sax, bass, drums, and some vocals. The opener, "Tshona," is an instrumental delight with giddy grooves, punchy sax, and classic piano chords matched with swishy percussion and South African charm. "Ntyilo Ntyilo" is a classic jazz song with great vocals and a bouncing piano melody that sparkles with post-Apartheid soul. "Malaika" is a popular song throughout Africa with many covers done over the years by many different artists. This tune is slow, classic, and jazzy with little instrumentation. "Simon" is a richly-textured with up-beat, jazzy rhythms. Vocally, Kheswa is akin to Benin's Angelique Kidjo. The entire album was recorded live at Joe's Pub in New York City on July 14, 2013. Fans of South African jazz, world jazz, and African music in general will love Kheswa & Her Martians. ~ Matthew Forss 

Friday, November 1, 2013

CD Review: Ruut's 'Glimpse'


Born in Finland and based in Baltimore, Ruut brings infectious folk music grooves to the forefront with vocals akin to Dala Girls, Tori Amos, and the Beu Sisters. The folk repertoire is steeped in swirling guitar melodies, bass, keys, piano, accordion, and percussion. Each track is catchy and worth repeated listens. "Hourglass" is a more introspective tune, because it is rather slow and sparse on instrumentation. However, Ruut's voice is still a gem throughout. Additionally, "Church Bells," "Heartbreak," and "No One Will Ever Love You" are slower tunes. In contrast, "Glimpse," "Make It Good," and "Last One" are more up-tempo and pop-focused. Overall, Ruut's tender vocals are meaningful and pop-centric. Fans of folk music with a pop edge will love Ruut. For a 'glimpse' into a musical world that is filled with redeeming values, Ruut will satisfy all those seeking really, really good music. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Juaneco y su Combo's 'The Birth Of Jungle Cumbia'

Juaneco y su Combo
The Birth Of Jungle Cumbia
The Vital Record

Juaneco y su Combo is the first band to produce a new type of music - jungle cumbia. Peruvian-born, Juaneco y su Combo create psych-funk brilliance with the eighteen tracks on the album. The swishy percussion, bubbling guitar licks, and scintillating sounds are mostly instrumental. The vocals are mostly in the background, but some come to the forefront. The rhythmic psych-funk concoctions are what will make this band famous now throughout the world. The melodies are memorable, repetitive, and dance-worthy. Taken from the ultra-rare original recordings, The Birth Of Jungle Cumbia does exactly what it says and more. Anyone familiar with cumbia, which is a type of Latin-beat music, will find it all very worthwhile. Discover what the jungle has to offer with Juaneco y su Combo today! ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Afrolicious' 'California Dreaming'

California Dreaming

Afrolicious releases yet another fine Afro-beat album containing heady rhythms and punchy melodies with a touch of dub, soul, and R&B. Every track explores throbbing beats and danceable rhythms that enlist the help of percussion, bass, sax, flute, trumpet, keys, and various electronic arrangements. The vocals create an exciting accompaniment throughout the album. All the tracks are produced by Pleasuremaker and some with the help of Rob Garza. At any rate, the dub beats are funk-laden and dance-driven, which makes for an interesting listening experience that is anything but dull and boring. Fans of contemporary Afro-beat music and dance will find enjoyment in the tracks on California Dreaming. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Pierre de Gaillande's 'Bad Reputation Vol 2'

Pierre de Gaillande
Bad Reputation Vol. 2
Vermillion Records

The quirky, comedic, and spoken wordplay of Frenchman, Pierre de Gaillande, is channeled through the original artist, George Brassens. The folkish melodies are quaint and occasionally punctuated with brass horns, guitars, and drums. The carousel-esque ride of a musical journey begins from the beginning of the first track and all the way to the end of the album. The poetic vocals are somewhat sung, but poetry seems to be Pierre's strong-point. The punchy accordion and light guitar accompaniment showcase a variety of poignant stories in a humorous manner. The eleven songs are soulful and unique. Bad Reputation Vol. 2 should receive a good reputation after each listen. ~ Matthew Forss

2-CD Review: Shujaat Khan/Abhiman Kaushal/Katayou Goudarzi/Ajay Prasanna's 'Spring'

Spring [2-CD]

The two-disc set, Spring, is a combination of Persian vocals and Indian instrumentation that promises to be an adventurous and mesmerizing ride. Both discs contain the same musicians with their respective instruments and vocals. Shujaat Husain Khan plays sitar and provides vocals, Ajay Prasanna plays flute, Katayoun Goudarzi provides vocals, and Abhiman Kaushal plays tabla. The music combines Persian vocals, Indian melodies, and South Asian rhythms that are fresh and classical. Each disc contains five different songs that follow the same musical influences. The instrumental portions are very dreamy, engaging, and vibrant. You can almost smell the incense in the air when the tracks resound with blissful notes of heaven. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Bombay Dub Orchestra's 'Tales From The Grand Bazaar'

Bombay Dub Orchestra
Tales From The Grand Bazaar
Six Degrees

The Bombay Dub Orchestra is project of composers Garry Hughes and Andrew T. Mackay. The nine track release contains a plethora of instruments, including sitar, sarangi, bansuri, qanun, baglama, oud, strings, synth, keys, table, santoor, sarod, French horn, guitars, cello, kalimba, harpsichord, and others. The music ambulates along with many instruments shining and glimmering with sparkling tones, filmic undertones, and traditional elements. The music is contemporary with floating vocals used at times. The music is very dreamy and instrumental with a strong Indian presence, but filmic ambiance, too. The music is slightly electronic with some dance elements, but this is primarily a groovy album with atmospheric washes, cultural instruments, and a sonic beat. Fans of Six Degrees albums will love it and anyone with a passion for Indian fusion. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Paula Santoro's 'Mar Do Meu Mundo'

Paula Santoro
Mar Do Meu Mundo

Brazil's newest star emerges from the mix of South American female singers to come out of the region. Paula's sincere vocals are fluid and heavenly. They are a perfect match for the light and giddy percussion, drums, piano, and bass. There is an element of jazz and chamber music throughout. There is also a classical component, but the Brazilian charm shines through most. "Arabesco" and "Flor" showcases her jazzy side, while  "Sambura de Peixe Miudo" and "Luz da Terra" display a more textured palette of sound representing a Brazilian edge. Whatever the song may be, it won't be a disappointment. Fans of female, Brazilian singers, jazz music, and South American pop will love Paula's mature and distinctive voice of sound. It's magical to say the least. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Tev Stevig's 'Jeni Jol'

Tev Stevig
Jeni Jol

Jeni Jol, which means 'new path,' is a perfect album that explores the experimental, instrumental, and fusion music of the Mediterranean and the Balkans. Tev incorporates the fretless nylon string guitar, fretted steel string guitar, and gourd banjo. The music is instrumental and sparkles with Turkish delight. The heady mix of sounds swirl around sensual rhythms and fluid guitar calisthenics. The music is very fitting for fans of alternative guitar music, Middle Eastern instrumentals, and world fusion with guitars as the primary instrument. The spacious sounds are ripe with lively cultural textures that are not very superficial. The new and traditional compositions reflect a thorough understanding of cross-cultural instrumental music. Fans of the late-Bob Brozman and Shawn Lane will be pleased. No one will be dissatisfied with this release. It's that good. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Childsplay's 'As The Crow Flies'

As The Crow Flies
Childsplay Records

Fiddle fans will rejoice with this one. Childsplay features singer, Lissa Schneckenburger and fourteen talented fiddlers that showcase instrumental greatness from Celtic and Irish origins. The sweeping melodies are organic, pleasant, and rustic. The sweet sounds emanate from the fiddles with glorious results. The meandering polka, "Childspey Strathsplay/Black Diamond Polka/Putney Mountain Polka," is a very soothing song that ends in a punchy and edgy manner, as all the instruments combine to provide a richly-textured result. "Leave No Millionaire Behind" opens with light guitars, symphonic strings, and light percussion that set the stage for a beautiful vocal set. A dozen tunes represent a good mix of jigs, polkas, waltzes, and folk fiddle tunes that incorporate some vocals. All in all, Childsplay is a great group for fans of folk, fiddle, and instrumental music. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Bill O'Connell & The Latin Jazz All-Stars' 'Zocalo'

Bill O'Connell & The Latin Jazz All-Stars

Anyone with a knack for Latin jazz and instrumental magnificence will appreciate the jazzy and Latin leanings of Bill O'Connell and his Latin Jazz All-Stars. Zocalo contains nine long tracks rich with energetic percussion and jazzy pizzazz. Bill is a pianist that enlists the aid of Steve Slagle on alto/soprano sax, Conrad Herwig on trombone, Richie Flores on congas, Luques Curtis on bass, and Adam Cruz on drums. The heady opener, "Big Sur," is a great mix of instrumentation with lively percussion and entrancing horns. "Nothing But The Truth" is a very up-tempo number on piano, percussion, and horns. The rapid musical textures are jazzy and Latin-esque. This is definitely not a lazy tune. "Eric's Song" is a stark contrast from "Nothing But The Truth," because the music is slower, softer, and more spacious. The twinkling piano keys, brushy percussion, and sauntering horns provide a relaxed sound. There is something for everyone on Zocalo. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Passafire's 'Vines'

Easy Star

The Savannah, Georgia-based quartet, Passafire, presents a new album with surf-rock and reggae-tinged songs with chart-topping qualities and catchy characteristics. Passafire is Ted Bowne on guitar/vocals, Will Kubley on bass/vocals, Mike DeGuzman on keys/guitar, and Nick Kubley on drums. The up-beat songs are rock, pop, and reggae-based without any clear genre distinctions. The vocals take on a little reggae influences, but there is some dance, electronica, rock, and pop concoctions that help the music move in different ways. There are some extended instrumentals that are especially engaging and diverse. In addition, there seems to be a fluid transition between rock, folk, and reggae throughout. Just when you think you've put your finger on the specific genre in question, they surprise us with something seemingly indefinable. At any rate, Passafire is on fire with this catchy release. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: MWE's 'Second Wind'

Second Wind

Hailing from San Francisco, MWE brings together Balkan brass and Turkish rhythms with heady, instrumental arrangements for a lively good time. Paul Bertin on alto sax, Gregory Jenkins on clarinet, Calvin Lai on zurna, Morgan Nilsen on clarinet, Sean Tergis on davul, darbuka, daf and riqq, Marco Peris on tupan, and special vocal guest, Eva Salina Primack, round out the ensemble. The rhythmic and punchy opener, "Ashkhabad," is pure Balkan brass with a side of Turkish folk and Middle Eastern deliciousness. Eva provides vocals on one tune, "Kara Gozlu Cingenem," which sounds like a traditional Turkish tune. "Tea High" resounds with the loud, clear tones of the zurna, which is quickly accompanied by rhythmic percussion. The buzzing and swishy tones are very punctual and slightly classical. "Agresia" incorporates a variety of skittish tunes, Balkan brass, and Turkish percussion that cannot be ignored. Fans of Balkan brass, Turkish music, world fusion, and instrumental music will love its beautiful charm. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Leni Stern's 'Jelell'

Leni Stern

German-born and US-based, Leni Stern, brings us an inviting mix of North African guitar songs with hearty percussion and bluesy grooves. Leni plays the guitar, baritone guitar, n'goni, and provides lead vocals. However, additional musical accompaniment is provided by Mamadou Ba on bass, Alioune Faye on djembe, calabash, and percussion, Sabar Percussion Ensemble, Haurona Samake on camele n'goni, Leo Genovese on keys, Idriss Diop and Jazz on vocals, and Marieme on backing vocals. The music is recorded in Senegal, mixed in Mali, and enjoyed by the world-over. "Babacar" is a carefree romp through the desert with ambulating beats, experimental blues guitar stylings, and a myriad of other intriguing sounds produced in subtle ways. "Jelell," which means 'take it,' contains heady percussion and jazzy nuances with Leni's vocals leading the charge. "Dimbali Ma" begins with up-tempo percussion and folksy vocalizations by Leni. Her smoky vocals and emotive deliveries are paramount. The sweet guitar sounds emanate with such a strong life force on this track and others. There is a good mix of instrumental and vocal tracks throughout, but the combination of traditional percussion and up-beat guitar, bass, and keys move the music into another dimension. Great stuff. ~ Matthew Forss