Sunday, February 23, 2014

2-CD Review: Alejandro Almenares' 'Casa De Trova Cuba 50's'

Alejandro Almenares
Casa De Trova Cuba 50's [2-CD Set]
Tumi Music

Cuban composer and singer, Alejandro Almenares, presents us with an exciting two-CD set with one CD devoted exclusively to instrumental tunes and another with vocal tunes. The music is steeped in Cuban son and bolero in true troubadour fashion. The romantic melodies and intimate instrumentation are staples on both albums, but Alejandro's voice ties everything together. The album title is named after a house of troubadours in Cuba. There are thirteen tracks on the vocal album and fourteen on the instrumental. Each album contains almost the same tracks, but in a different order. At any rate, this is excellent Cuban music from a talented performer. Fans of Cuban music will be pleasantly-surprised. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Various Artists' 'Herb Records 2013'

Various Artists
Herb Records 2013
Herb Records

Psychedelic beat-masters at Herb Records brings us a thrilling compilation of funk, groove, and down-tempo dance music with several top artists. You will hear Hydrophonics, Congo Sanchez, Groove Status, and a few featured artists, such as Gil Scott Herron, Das Beats, Jeremy Schon, and J. Robert Opeenheimer. The funky, groove-laden beats are hip, psych-infused, and dance-rich. The sensual vibes and laid-back tones are thought-provoking and modern. As a mostly instrumental collection, the vocals are few-and far-between, but that does not diminish their intensity. The label's founder has ties to Thievery Corporation, which is something that only adds to the multi-faceted recording. Most of the tunes are dance-friendly and trip-hop-heavy without the need for loud and aimless dance beats. Anyone with a knack for down-tempo, trip-hop, and psych-funk-dance music will love Herb. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Amanda Homi's 'Till I Reach Bombay'

Amanda Homi
Till I Reach Bombay

London-born and New York-based, Amanda Homi's Indian descent and world travels shines through on her latest release, Till I Reach Bombay. The danceable elements of "Dancing Girls" is very fitting and addictive. The classy pop-infused "Samba Feliz" brings to life a tropical and Latin medley. The upbeat "Shoes" is a marvelous and quirky Latin-themed composition with comedic lyrics. The South Asian-infused, "Till I Reach Bombay," is a dance-themed track with contemporary elements. There are Latin, Middle Eastern, Central Asian, and Mediterranean elements throughout. Vocally, Amanda has an operatic side, but there are plenty of pop, dance, and neo-classical components. Nothing is awry here. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Danny Rivera and Nelson Gonzalez's 'Obsesion'

Danny Rivera and Nelson Gonzalez
Marmara House Records

Puerto Rican-singer, Danny Rivera, and tres virtuoso, Nelson Gonzalez, bring us a page out of a Latin American songbook that is filled with great singing and great percussion. The eleven-track release contains jazzy, Latin-inspired songs with laid-back compositions and bolero-esque elements. "Obsesion," "Cristal," "Franqueza," and "Capullito De Aleli" are some of the album's highlights. The classic ballad sound is prevalent throughout, but the vocals are full of life, wisdom, and desire. The historic connection is very relevant. The heartfelt vocals are prominent and mature. There are cinematic strings and classical elements, which provides a dramatic and emotive result. Fans of classical jazz, Puerto Rican music, and Latin music will find Danny and Nelson very intriguing. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Habib Koite's 'Soo'

Habib Koite

Mali's Habib Koite releases a stunning album, Soo, which means "home,"  that brings to life the music of North Africa and Mali in particular. Habib is the lead vocalist and guitarist on the album, but he is joined by other instruments, including bass, keyboards, calabash, kora, n'goni, doun doun, djembe, banjo, and others. The eleven-track release traverses the Saharan spectrum of musical ingeniousness. The rhythmic tunes combine with Habib's soulful vocals in Bambara, Dogon, Malinke, and Khassonke, to provide a fascinating listening experience overall. The poignant and catchy "L.A." is an excellent example of trans-cultural musical exchange with the banjo taking center stage with Afro-Latin percussive elements to boot. The sounds emanate in a beautiful delivery without fault. Anyone familiar with Habib Koite's previous works will love this new, adventurous release. Fans of Malian contemporary music will be pleased, too. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Mehmet Sanlikol's 'whatsnext?'

Mehmet Sanlikol

Hailing from Turkey and based on the East Coast of the U.S.A., Mehmet Sanlikol takes a cinematic side of jazz-inspired, lounge tunes with lively trombone, trumpet, sax, piano, bass, drums, and Central Asian/Middle Eastern percussion. The instrumental tracks are long, varied, and very moving. The edgy percussion, horns, and dramatic overtones resemble the suspenseful spy film soundtracks of the 1970's. The album contains nine diverse tracks with varying degrees of jazzy ambiances that possess avant-garde nuances and swishy, percussion-heavy interludes punctuated by punchy horn-driven arrangements. The swirling melodies and rhythms are energetic and engaging without a lack of direction and substance. All of the tracks are instrumental in form. The jazz-noir melodies are poignant and creative without negative side effects. Anyone with an interest in instrumental jazz and Turkish fusion will love Mehmet's compositions. The entire album is dedicated to Aydin Esen. ~ Matthew Forss

Sunday, February 16, 2014

CD Review: Various Artists' 'Sembeh Ma Fa Fe: Roots Volume'

Various Artists
Sembeh Ma Fa Fe: Roots Volume
Stronghold Sound

The San Francisco-based label, Stronghold Sound, continues to pump out some great African tunes on Sembeh Ma Fa Fe: Roots Volume. The new album continues in the tradition of Guinean folk rhythms in a contemporary context. The sixteen-track album contains music by Guinea's great, including Blondi, Saran, Bosta, Aisha, Alassane, MyBaby, Cissoko, Captain Planet, J-Boogie, Dub Snakkr, and Balandougou Kan. The contemporary music is Afro-pop-based with killer percussion moments, rippling guitars, and crooning vocals. Fans of Stronghold Sound already know about this album. Anyone with an interest in Guinean music, West African music, and African music in general, will find it very fascinating and ear-friendly. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Boris Kovac & La Campanella's 'Eastern Moon Rising'

Boris Kovac & La Campanella
Eastern Moon Rising
Riverboat Records/World Music Network

Balkan jazz artists, Boris Kovac & La Campella, know how to entertain the masses with their latest release, Eastern Moon Rising. Steeped in Balkan rhythms and gypsy melodies with jazz music at its core, Boris Kovac brings to life his Serbian roots on a marvelous quasi-classical and folk product. The album incorporates indigenous rhythms and melodies with equally-relevant instrumentation to create a truly remarkable world music recording. The folks at Riverboat/WMN know a thing or two about world music and the result is nothing short of spectacular. Eastern Moon Rising is a Balkan jazz and European music winner with vibrant strings, horns, percussion, and miscellaneous instrumentation. However, the loud, energetic, Balkan music most people know and love are not really found here. Think of the lighter sounds of the late-Cesaria Evora's band. Nearly an hour of music marks the album's eleven tracks. Fans of Balkan music, jazz, gypsy music, and world fusion will love the mostly instrumental tunes. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Mighty Mystic's 'Concrete World'

Mighty Mystic
Concrete World
VP Records Music Group

U.S.-based reggae musician, Mighty Mystic, gives us a fresh, Jamaican-inspired groove that contains a bit of rock, hip hop, and urban elements. The reggae-infused beats saunter with such deliciousness that it is impossible to dislike. The jazzy, reggae, and urban-infused "This Train" and "Cali Green" are two of the best tracks on the new fourteen-track album. "Concrete World" adds a reggae-dance dimension to the mix with great guitar stylings and blurby electronics. "Next Generation" continues a little dance ambiance with a pop-rock-infused song. It seems reggae is only one type of music that graces the tracks on Concrete World. Fans of dance, electronica, urban, hip hop, and rock will find something to love about here. ~ Matthew Forss

Saturday, February 15, 2014

CD Review: Jonathan Sprout's 'American Heroes #4'

Jonathan Sprout
American Heroes #4

Jonathan Sprout's tenth release, American Heroes #4, celebrates historical information in a musical and educational setting for children. The eleven-track release brings to life the historical significance of several, notable icons, including Theodore Roosevelt, Albert Einstein, Mary McLeod Bethune, William Penn, Rachel Carson, Juliette Gordon Low, Samantha Smith, Roberto Clemente, Theodore Suess Geisel, and Walt Disney. Jonathan incorporates a soft rock, jazzy, lounge, and pop-focused approach that is fun, playful, and educational. However, the music is largely focused on the children, but that shouldn't discourage parents and others from singing along. "I See A Hero" is a lovely ballad with a soft beat and inspirational lyrics. "E=mc2" is an homage to Einstein with power pop and rock elements that are anything but ho-hum. "Come With Me!" is a dance-inspired tune with a colonial-inspired edge. "Through The Eyes Of A Child" is a catchy rock/pop ballad with uplifting vocals and sweeping piano elements. Overall, the music is upbeat and intelligent with catchy hooks and a meaningful message that everyone will enjoy. ~ Matthew Forss

Sunday, February 9, 2014

CD Review: Catrin Finch/Seckou Keita's 'Clychau Dibon'

Catrin Finch/Seckou Keita
Clychau Dibon
Astar Artes Recordings

The Welsh harpist, Catrin Finch, joins forces with Senegal's kora master, Seckou Keita, for an unforgettable and instrumental journey devoted exclusively to string music. The West African kora culture meets the Welsh harp culture for truly great results. The strings are effervescent, soothing, and timeless. The glorious melodies are peaceful and meditative without additional instrumentation or vocals. The wholly instrumental work is a thing of beauty that is rarely created in today's society. The seven long tracks encompass the listener with crystalline melodies and slightly organic musings that are very sweet, sensual, and complimentary. Anyone with an interest in harps, koras, and related instruments will love the new work, Clychau Dibon, from two of the world's best string musicians. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Baird Hersey & Prana's 'Sadhana'

Baird Hersey & Prana
Bent Records

The multiphonic, yogic, and kirtan-influenced vocal traditions of Tuva, Nepal, Tibet, and India are showcased with a variety of singers from different backgrounds on Sadhana. The new album, which means 'practice,' is a deeply-meditative romp into the yogic center of the universe clearly inspired by vocal traditions and nothing else. However, a few instruments pop up from time to time. Notably, drums, konnakol, ghatam, kanjira, and other percussion. Some of the singers include Amy Fradon, Kirsti Gholson, Baird Hersey, Julie Last, Julian Lines, Julie Parisi, Joe Veillette, Peter Buettner, and Bruce Milner. The trance-inducing vocal melodies are fairly angelic and spiritual with extended vocal-lines and various pitches that flow seamlessly throughout. As a bonus, Krishna Das is featured on the final track, "My Foolish Heart." Fans of world chants, tantric music, Central Asian music, kirtan, yoga, meditation, and spiritual music will find Sadhana divine beyond belief. ~ Matthew Forss    

CD Review: Naomi Wachira's Kenyan Roots On Her New Self-Titled Release

Naomi Wachira
Naomi Wachira
Hearth Music

Kenyan-raised and Seattle-based, Naomi Wachira brings us a soulful, bluesy, Afro-pop release with folksy guitar accompaniment and limited percussion. The release is a strong vocal production with gospel roots and vocal harmonies. The lilting guitars are great accompaniment with the vocals. The percussion is limited, which is not a big negative overall. The mature, soulful vocals awaken the spirit and entrance the listener with a talented sound emanating from all of the tracks. A few songs are mostly vocal without any additional accompaniment. There is a classy feel to some of the songs, which seem to evoke singer-standard compositions of the 1930's to the 1950's. At any rate, Naomi knows how to inspire listeners with her voice. Fans of female vocal music from Kenya, by way of the USA, will love it. All of the songs are in English. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Ferenc's 'Gypsy Dream'

Gypsy Dream
Mesa/Bluemoon Recordings

Classically-trained and world famous, Ferenc is a violinist with a gypsy soul and a fusion touch. The instrumental recording brings together acoustic guitar, violin, piano, acoustic bass, tambura, tabla, viola, percussion, and violincello for a somewhat jazzy, gypsy, and flamenco-tinged result. Ferenc's violin is rather folksy and energetic, but always emotive. The music ebbs and flows with such a musical intensity that it is difficult to ignore for any length of time. The music is jazz-based with a folklore foundation bridging Ferenc's Hungarian roots with the classical world in a jazz setting. The flowing piano melodies are appropriately-accompanied by skillful percussion sections and a medley of strings, guitars, and acoustic presence. Fans of instrumental gypsy music with a world fusion, jazz, and folk backbone will definitely find happiness in the tracks of Gypsy Dream. ~ Matthew Forss

Friday, February 7, 2014

CD Review: Hannah Gill's Self-Titled EP Finds Similarities To The Voices Of Katie Melua With Beth Orton

Hannah Gill
Hannah Gill

The Maryland-native, Hannah Gill, brings a voice to the mix that takes on vocal similarities to Beth Orton, Katie Melua, Adele, and Zero 7--to name a few. However, Hannah combines jazzy horns, folk arrangements, and progressive pop sensibilities with mature vocals that evoke feelings of happiness and contentment. The rather short EP contains six songs that showcase her talent quite well. The opener, "Whisper," is a fitting introduction to the album, but it is not a quiet song. It still is a pop song with some rock arrangements and a great melody. The next track, "I Feel Awake," follows in the same footstep, but it contains some jazzy trumpet and piano. The jaunty, cafe music-tune, "Story Of A Man," is a breezy little ditty that seems to evoke the French music of Francois Hardy, Carla Bruni, and other similar singers. "Two Way Street" is a song rooted in Adele's intimate vocal calisthenics and a vibrant progressive and experimental instrumental backbone. "Medicine" is a rock-infused tune with punchy power pop melodies. "Distance" is a more solemn ditty steeped in beautiful vocals and sweet melodies. Simply amazing! ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Fernando's Kitchen's 'Musica Fina'

Fernando's Kitchen
Musica Fina

London's Fernando's Kitchen brings us a medley of world fusion sounds that traverse the Spanish shores to West Africa, Latin America, and beyond. The music is inspired by world rhythms and the group's worldwide origins with members coming from Argentina, South Africa, Italy, Greece, and Spain. The music is flamenco based with organic guitars, effervescent percussion, sweet melodies, instrumental arrangements, and Afro-Latin-tinged compositions. The music bubbles with a jazzy spirit full of lush horns and swaying melodies and rhythms. The easy-going tunes, infectious grooves, world fusion sounds, sensual vocals, and moving rhythms celebrate the group's iconic repertoire and message. Fans of flamenco and world fusion with a side of jazz will love the eight-tracks on Musica Fina. ~ Matthew Forss