Thursday, 6 June 2013

Niyaz - Nine Heavens (2008)

Format: flac + cue + log
Genre: Electronic, Folk, World, & Country
Original Release Date: 2008
Label: Six Degrees

By any measure, Niyaz has come very far, very fast. The trio's 2005 debut featured a convincing blend of Sufi mysticism and trance electronica, and quickly established them as a standout ensemble in a very crowded world music field. A worldwide tour followed. Now, Niyaz returns with Nine Heavens, which doesn't just cross cultural and stylistic boundaries, but the centuries as well. Drawing on medieval Persian poetry and 300-year old Persian folk songs, Niyaz has created a 21st century global trance tradition. This may seem like a tall order for a band that's barely three years old - until you realize who these musicians are. Vocalist Azam Ali co-founded the best-selling world music duo Vas in 1996; her unmistakable voice has graced numerous recordings and major film scores. Loga Ramin Torkian is a multi-instrumentalist whose group Axiom of Choice brought the ancient sounds of Persian classical music to Western listeners in the 1990s. And producer Carmen Rizzo, a multiple Grammy nominee, has worked with Coldplay, Seal, Ryuichi Sakamoto, and many others. Small wonder then that the trio hit the ground running with its self-titled debut. Now, with Nine Heavens, Niyaz breaks new ground in a two-disc format: the first is an adventurous, spiritual exploration of the ties that bind Persian, Indian, Turkish, and Western dance music. The second is the same set of songs, in a purely acoustic setting. Nine Heavens begins with the irresistible ТBeni Beni," which marries an 18th century Turkish Sufi poem to a traditional Turkish folk song and some beautifully integrated electronics and programming. ТIt's a modern kind of Sufi music," Azam explains. ТBoth Loga and I are influenced by Turkish music, and there are many connections between Turkey and Iran." The steady, trance rhythms support layers of Turkish and Persian lutes, all topped by a new instrument known as the kamman, a larger, lower-pitched version of the traditional Persian fiddle. Niyaz draws even more connections between Iran and India. The word niyazК means Тyearning" in both Farsi, the language of Iran, and Urdu, a major language of northern India and Pakistan. Over the centuries, the cultures of Persia and India have shared not only words, but musical and spiritual traditions - and people. Azam Ali is one of them, born in Iran and raised in India; and two of the songs on Nine Heavens are by Amir Khosrau Dehlavi, a 13th-century Persian mystic and poet who was also raised in India. (The album title comes from his ТSong of Nine Heavens.") Amir Khosrau founded the style of Sufi music known as Qawwali, made famous in the recent past by the great Pakistani singer Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, and some claim he invented the Indian tabla drums as well. But his poems, including ТMolk-e-Divan" and ТSabrang," are in the great tradition of Persian mystics like Rumi. Т'Molk-e-Divan' was the first song we wrote for the new album," Azam says. ТLoga and I found the poem and wrote the music together; he did the main melody and I did the vocal line." Then, the whole thing was shipped off for Carmen to work his magic, which in this case consists of some highly processed drum programming and a rich tapestry of Near Eastern lutes and electronics. Both Amir Khosrau texts can be read either as love poetry or as devotional songs to God. Of course, an English-speaking audience may be more likely to respond to the songs' earthy, throbbing rhythms. That's fine with Niyaz; Azam Ali points out that the sacred nature of the texts makes them a surprisingly good fit for Western dance music. ТThe common thread is putting yourself in a higher state. Even with club music, I think that's what people go to it for. The only problem was that it was void of Тsoul," the spirit of acoustic trance music. We always felt there was a way to bring the two together that blurs the line between the acoustic and the electronic." A good example is the song ТTamana," an 18th century Urdu poem that unfolds over a slow opening - much like the slow alap section of a raga performance. The electronic drones give way to the silvery tone of the Turkish cumbus, a type of lute, and as with a raga performance, the energy builds with the addition of percussion - in this case, both tabla and programmed beats. ТWe've been working so long now that this sort of fusion happens on a more intuitive level," Loga adds. ТThe steady rhythm of the tabla blends naturally with the dance grooves - it just makes sense." So what about that Тunplugged" disc? ТIt wasn't intentional," Azam recalls. ТAs it was coming together, we felt we had a real gem with the acoustic sessions. After we finished mixing both versions, we realized it would be a shame not to let people hear them." The result is a rare opportunity to get inside the music, as the acoustic versions reflect the songwriting talents and mystical leanings that Azam and Loga bring; then the Тfinal" versions showcase the organic way Carmen's electronics fit both the rhythms and the mood of these deeply-rooted works. Other highlights of Nine Heavens include ТIman," a lullaby written by Loga and Azam for their infant son. Essentially a musical prayer, it offers a pause in the album's rush of rhythmic excitement. And ТFeraghi - Song of Exile" is close to the hearts of the two Persian migrs, now living in California. At a time when most Americans have a distorted view of Iran and Iranian culture, Niyaz have been doing workshops to raise awareness of the contributions of Iranians in the US and of Persian culture in general. ТOur Iranian identity is important," Loga says. ТOn the first Niyaz album, we were just trying to find our place here. Now, with this second record, the Persian elements are used with more confidence." For example, ТFeraghi" uses a Persian 5-beat rhythm, which most Americans would find difficult to dance to - but the blend of traditional and programmed beats is so persuasive that many would try. Dance or trance - the music that Niyaz makes on Nine Heavens can serve either purpose. ТThe function of music in society has changed," Loga points out. ТIt's very different from one or two decades ago; people now listen on iPods, or in their cars; music is not their primary focus. There's not as much sitting and listening to music. So the goal is for the music to stand on its own in different contexts."

Sunday, 26 May 2013

Hossam Ramzy Jose Luis Monton - Flamenco Arabe 2 (2006)

Format: flac + cue + log
Genre: Flamenco, Ethno
Original Release Date: 2006
Label: Arc Music

Replacing Rafa el Tachuela with guitarist José Luis Montón, Hossam Ramzy is back for another round of fusion between Middle Eastern sounds and flamenco. Montón has some very nice runs on the guitar, but the Spanish influence here is more in the style of the arrangements than in flamenco guitar. Qanun, oud, and nay feature prominently, with the guitar abruptly entering from time to time for a solo. Where in the first Flamenco Arabe there was an exploration of the fusion of styles coming from two more or less independent aesthetics clashing together into one somewhere around Andalusia, here the aesthetic is more of a Middle Eastern one with a bit of a Spanish beat. The performers are all fine, but the mix isn't careful enough to produce the interesting features that one might hope for. This fusion concept is on fertile ground, but the execution has to be just right to make it Adam Greenberg

Saturday, 16 February 2013

Hughes de Courson - Mozart In Egypt 2 2005

Mozart in Egypt is a 1997 album by various artists, and arranged by French musician Hughes de Courson. It represents a fusion of Mozart's work with the sounds, rhythms and instruments typical of contemporary Egyptian music.The album saw considerable success in continental Europe, especially France, but had only limited success elsewhere. In August 2005 a second volume was released in Europe only, entitled Mozart in Egypt 2.

Format: flac + cue + log + DR
Genre: Classical, Oriental
Original Release Date: 2005
Label: Virging Classics

When the Eastern music joined the most beautiful topics of Mozart... Taking again the same principle that Vol.1, one finds the tubes of Mozart interpreted by more than 200 musicians mixing symphony orchestra and traditional instruments. This album was released in August 2005, in Europe only.

"Mozart in Egypt" is a 1997 album by various artists. It represents a fusion of Mozart's work with the sounds, rhythms and instruments typical of contemporary Egyptian music. The album saw considerable success in continental Europe, especially France, but had only limited success elsewhere. In August 2005 a second volume was released in Europe only, imaginatively entitled "Mozart in Egypt 2"."

"Hughes' albums are all large-scale works. He is an arranger rather than a soloist. On many he combines electronic effects with medieval or baroque instruments. Mozart in Egypt takes works by Mozart and emphasises the oriental elements in them. The 25th symphony is played with a much-enlarged orchestra. Unfortunately his recordings are rarely available in the English-speaking world."

"Eight years after joyeusement having fitted Turkish slippers inhabitants of Cairo with famous toupee Viennese, insolate it Hughes de Courson repeats! It goes even further, because what it gives to listen to seems to be written by a type-setter named Al Amadeus Mozar-abe, so much the union is now perfect between the extracts of parts signed by this rascal of Wolfie and the traditional airs Egyptian. The first volume of the project Mozart the Egyptian was also a success, but its project superintendent had not dared to go also far in the mixture. Sure that the world success which accomodated the exit of this disc gave wings to its project superintendent. But what a job! It is necessary to think Courson knitting its partitions: a mesh with the East, a mesh in the Occident... It had to throw unplayable things of them, because if the selection of the titles presented here always surprises, it never runs up against the ears of the honest music lover. Recorded on Cairo, in Sofia, in Paris, in Madrid and London this Mozart the Egyptian, the return, required hours and working hours in studio. Two hundred singers and musicians were recruited, in particular those of the Whole of Cairo and the Bulgarian Symphony orchestra. And yet, all that remains light and fluid, imaginative and professional. It should be said that Hugues de Courson is not with his first attempt as regards informal agreements. In addition to the first Mozart the Egyptian, one indeed owes him Lambarena (Bach and Gabonese musics), conceived with Pierre Akendengue and O'stravaganza (Vivaldi and Irish music), carried out with the unit It Gardino Armonico... Then now, with which it turn? Will Courson send Schubert to Cuba and Beethoven at Papous?"

Sunday, 15 July 2012

Duo Jalal - A Different World (2011)

Format: flac + cue + log
Genre: Contemporary Classical, Ethnic
Original Release Date: 2011
Label: Innova Records

by Karli L. One of the most interesting - but somewhat intimidating - chamber ensembles of the 21st century is probably the pairing of the viola and percussion. The dark sonority of the viola is a pleasing harmonic compliment to the various textures that percussion provides as a background. I say intimidating because in theory, it's hard to imagine the two types of instruments coming together well. With some compositions it isn't successful. But this is certainly not the case with this album. The vibrance of the compositions comes through in both the compositions and execution of them. The sound is at times reminiscent of Klezmer, at others various music from across the middle east. In all the tracks there is fantastic energy and interesting sounds that are uplifting and engaging, and I find myself listening to this album frequently in the car when I'm in the mood for something upbeat and without words. Definitely an album that challenges the somewhat negative concept of nontraditional ensembles!

Thursday, 26 April 2012

Amine-Hamza - Perpetual Motion 2011

Format: flac + cue + log
Genre: World
Original Release Date: 2011
Label: Network

By Bill Tilland Tunisian brothers Amine and Hamza M’raihi, who play the oud and qanun (zither), respectively, are seasoned musical veterans well versed in the Arabic classical tradition. But their curiosity has prompted them to pursue a vision of contemporary world music which, as they state, “attempts to break down borders and barriers.” Perpetual Motion came out last year, but you probably haven’t heard of it, because it comes without the marquee value of world-music projects attached to superstars like Paul Simon, Peter Gabriel or Sting. Experiments of this sort often have mixed results, especially when stars from various cultures are thrown together into a kind of jam-band format with few guidelines and limited rehearsal time. But this fully realized effort has no such issues or deficiencies. The M’raihi brothers are the primary instrumental focus throughout, Hamza’s qanun bringing a bright sound similar to the eastern European version of instrument, although here it is plucked and strummed rather than beaten with hammers. It pairs nicely with the deeper, darker sound of Amine’s oud. To embellish individual tracks, the brothers enlisted a handful of skilled, sympathetic musicians on vocals, guitar, clarinet, flute, percussion, and the Boston String Quartet, arranged by Polish pianist Nikola Kollziejczyk. He uses the strings effectively – even dramatically at times — but always in a supportive role, providing sensitive backing for the M’raihi brothers’ sparkling melodic oud-qanun interplay. The blend is seamless, with no musical element calling undue attention to itself. One piece, “All the Things You Are Not,” utilizes only a cello; another, “Vis-à-vis Tunis,” employs just a touch of clarinet, flute and wordless vocal to support Hamza’s melody line on the qanun. When the full string quartet appears midway through “My Secret Garden” and “Challenged,” its entrance is altogether natural and unforced. Two slower tracks, “Ya Nari” and “Meni Nessi,” utilize a beguiling combination of improvisational interplay from the brothers, soulful vocals from Maroua Kriaa and haunting ensemble playing from the strings and, in the latter piece, piano. Another track, the flamenco-influenced “Omar,” gives guitarist Quentin Dujardin a chance to shine as he interacts with the brothers.

Sunday, 22 January 2012

Mercan Dede - Seyahatname 2001

Format: flac + cue + log
Genre: Sufi, Ethno
Original Release Date: 2001
Label: Doublemoon

"I can't explain in words,"
says a voice a couple of times, in one of the songs. I think the same thing is valid for the satisfaction one gets from the whole albume. Mercan Dede uses the rhythms and the moods present in sufi music, and creates an above-all-feelings music that just becomes an eternal delight to listen. It's important to note that Mercan Dede believes in sufi philosophy and shows his appreciation throughout his original electronic style. For those, who are trying to choose which of his albumes to purchase, I'd recommend 'Seyahatname'. Mercan Dede made two more albumes after 'Seyahatname', 'Nar' and 'Su', released lately. 'Nar' is also recommended highly.

By Burak Kilic

Saturday, 17 December 2011

Wardruna - Runaljod - gap var Ginnunga 2009

Format: flac + cue + log
Genre: Folk
Original Release Date: 2009
Label: Indie Recordings

Sowing New Seeds, Strengthening Old Roots
Wardruna is a Norwegian musical constellation set out to explore and evoke the depths of Norse wisdom and spirituality. Musically Wardruna has its main focus on the cultic musical language found in the near-forgotten arts of galder, seidr and the daily acts of the cultic life, mixed with impulses from Norwegian / Nordic folk music and music from other indigenous cultures.

The upcoming album entitled ‘gap var Ginnunga’ will be the first in the planned Runaljod trilogy that will interpret the runes of the elder futhark. The subsequent albums will be entitled ‘Yggdrasil’ and ‘Ragnarok’. Each album will feature eight runes, but not in accordance with the order of the three aettirs (families), which is most commonly used. ‘gap var Ginnunga’ will feature the following runes:

Hagal Bjarkan Thurs Jara Laukr Kauna Algir Dagr
Recordings partly take place outdoors at locations relevant to the different runes. The instruments we use are mainly old and historical instruments, such as deer-hide frame drums and ceremonial drums, mouth harp, clove / hoof rattles from deer and goat, bone flute, goat and cow horns, Hardanger fiddle and bowed lyres. More unconventional inputs like trees, stones, water, fire etc. are also employed to enhance the nature of the rune being ‘portrayed’.
-Kvitrafn, 2007

Gaahl (Vocals)

Kvitrafn (Vocals, All Instruments, Samples, Lyrics)

Lindy Fay Hella (Vocals)

Hallvard Kleiveland (Hardanger Fiddle)

Review by Henry Lauer

Runa means mystery, and to me the word mystery conjures a dark, cloud-stained horizon, a pregnant foreboding, a sense of awe in the face of the wilds of nature. This album is an exploration of the spirit of the runes (eight of them to be exact), and insofar as it evokes exactly these same images…I have to pronounce it a brilliant success.

Despite the black metal background of several of Wardruna’s members, this music bears little resemblance to metal, excepting insofar as it shares black metal’s ability to evoke the misty horizon of mystery. The music is woven from repetitive beats, layers of droning tones (flutes, keyboards, and who knows what else), and some very powerful singing. It brings to bear traditional European musical forms, elements of what I would call “world fusion,” and also more modern music production techniques.

Thus we have the mournful ecstasy of Hardanger fiddle; a range of percussive forms that take down-tempo or world-fusion in a very organic, primal direction; and vocals that range from powerful recitations (almost like runic rapping) through to some compelling throat singing (which again sends the aesthetic and appeal of this very Northern album’s reach well beyond the borders of Europe).

The music is intensely ritualistic, with cycling rhythms and circling patterns of drone and melody subtly building to intense effect. It easily draws the listener into trance, head nodding gently, feet stamping, wordless chants on lips. As waves of naturalistic samples, chimes, mouth harp, horns, and throat-sung runes caress the listener’s ears a sense of mythic time becomes all-enveloping.

Therein lies the genius of this album: in fusing traditional and non-traditional elements Wardruna have afforded themselves the perfect musical toolkit for invoking a mythic sense of history. This distillation of mystery conjures an epoch that almost never was…yet one that always seems to hover nearby, ineluctable but palpable, if we can but still our minds for a moment.

Otherworldly yet earthy, dream-like yet compelling – this album gathers paradoxes with a deft touch, drawing us away into the depths of ancient memory. The passion, reverence, and sincerity of its treatment of something as sacred as the runes is to be greatly admired, and this album is pretty much a must-own for anyone interested in the pre-Christian roots of Europe (and for everyone, really).

The best part is that Wardruna have promised this to be the first in a trilogy of albums, so we can be virtually assured that we can look forward to much more of this brilliant band’s creative output.

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Orchestra Baobab - On Verra Ca! (1992)

Format: flac + cue + log
Genre: Afro-Pop, Afro-Cuban, Cuban Traditions, African Traditions
Release Date: 1992
Label: Melodie

Review by Don Snowden
Recorded in Paris in 1978, On Verra Зa is the first recording by the fully matured Orchestra Baobab. The rumba influence is pronounced on the opening "El Son De Llama," but mostly the Latin tinge has now been absorbed into a distinctive group sound, with upbeat, sprightly songs like "Africa" built around choppy, syncopated riffs flavored by horns and a galloping rhythm guitar. "Sibam" follows that blueprint, but the tempo is faster and there's a stronger percussion presence than the light norm here. The title track is the masterpiece in this vein the vocal blend makes the endlessly repeated riff broken up by brief solos not only bearable, but so totally hypnotic it sticks in your head for days. The slow, mournful "Tante Marie" boasts two-sax horn parts and a moody guitar melody the opening to Barthelemy Attisso's solo opening even sounds a little bit like something from the third Velvet Underground album, of all things. "El Fuego" has more of a Latin lilt and exceptionally good voices, while the horns and those vocal harmonies again really cut through on the highly infectious "Digon." It's hard to pinpoint precisely what makes Orchestra Baobab's vocal squad sound so special probably a combination of the quality of the different voices and the unforced naturalness and sincerity of the singing. The highly compressed sound that prevents the music from punching hard probably keeps On Verra Зa from being a great album, but it's a highly enjoyable one and certainly put Orchestra Baobab on the road to the Bamba bomb.

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Japanese Traditional Music - Percussion 1990

Format: wv + cue + log
Genre: Taiko- Drummers of Japan, Ethno
Release Date: 1990
Label: KING Record

Saturday, 10 September 2011

Africando - Ketukuba 2006

Format: wv + cue + log
Genre: Mambo, Salsa, Cuban Traditions
Release Date: 2006
Label: Stern's Africa

After a year of musical soul-searching Africando have returned with arguably their best recording so far. It is hard to know if it is because the multi-cultural band was galvanised by the premature losses of Alfredo Rodriguez (who arranged three of the album’s songs) and Beninois crooner Gnonas Pedro. Or is it the result of the maturity they have accumulated in the last 15 years, allied to the injection of new blood, in the form of Senegalese singers Basse Sarr and Pascal Dieng, and American salsero Joe King?

Be that as it may, this is a wonderful descarga (jam session), full of improvisation and bite. It once again brings North American salsa back to its African roots, via the studios of Miami, Paris, Abidjan, Bamako and Dakar. This is appropriately summed up in the album title, since “Ketukuba” means “from the origins to Cuba” (in one of Benin’s numerous languages).

One of these origins is the West African percussion patterns that went on to become the “clave” in Cuba. This 3-2 rhythm is at the heart of Cuban “son”, a beat that evolved in the music cauldrons of New York’s Spanish Harlem and Puerto Rico. Africando have reaped the cumulative riches of these successive migrations. They distil them in eleven tracks that maintain a breakneck yet refreshing tempo. They are perhaps the only band in the world capable of allying Mandingo melodies with salsa and present them in the Lingala, Mandingo or Wolof languages.

“Viens Danser sur le Son Africando” epitomises this graceful osmosis. This Mandingo salsa is the most African of the songs and is illuminated by the clarion-like voice of Sekouba Bambino. But there is also the scintillating “Mario”, a song from Kinshasa that the legendary Franco made into a transcontinental hit. The salsa transformation of a classic rumba is likely to hit dance floors on three continents - though few will understand that it is about the misadventures of a Latino gigolo abandoned by all the women he attempts to seduce.

The lyrics vary from tales of a beautiful Fulani woman (“Coumba Peul”) to hardnosed warnings to leave the singer alone (“Bogne Sirala”). Yet it is the warm pleas for friendship, humanity and tolerance that stand out. There is the moving “Fatalikou”, an “African lament” about a sterile woman that is my personal favourite; the Wolof tune “Dieguema” calls for support in moments of solitude; the salsa-driven “Ker” is an ode of gratitude to a father from his son (“you are my tree, my shadow”); while the guaguanco song “Sagoo” is a rallying call for peace and solidarity between humans. Unfortunately, the slightly cheesy arrangements here betray the lofty message.

But this album’s merry mixture of guajira, guaganco, rumba and salsa is a rich enough message in itself, and it glosses over such quibblings. Latino swing married to African voices … what more can the aficionados and the non-initiates ask for as the European winter gloom invades our horizon? Well, the genteel Gnonas I met in December 2003 would have been pleased with his warm farewell gift.
~Daniel Brown