New World Music Reviews

Welcome to my "New World Music" page, which highlights new(ish) African, Asian, Latin American and Celtic records, and "miscellaneous" records that I had the good fortune to check out in Late Spring/Summer, 2011. This page is added to as new records come in... If you want more to read more reviews, many others are archived nearby, and there are separate sections for various kinds of world music that you might like exploring as well.

Recommended Records: Late Spring/Summer, 2011 | Review Archives | World Music Index

Alexander Abreu y Havana D'Primavera "Haciendo Historia" (Ahi Nama, 2011)
(Produced by Juan Manuel Ceruto)

A Cuban trumpet player with a tight, relentlessly uptempo dance band... Similar to Ruben Blades and Irakere... slick stuff, but full of fire. A little more aggressive and speed-oriented than I like my Cuban stuff, but a strong band nonetheless - certainly worth a spin!

Beoga "How To Tune A Fish" (Compass, 2011)
(Produced by Beoga & Mudd Wallace)

Another lively set from one of Northern Ireland's most inventive Celtic-fusion bands. This album starts out with a bit of creaky, old fiddle, and the trad side of their music is always present, even as they go soaring away on energetic, sometimes provocative flights. As on earlier albums, the main focus is on the accordionists, Sean Og Graham and Damien McKee, who rip through these tunes with dazzling technical prowess... Singer Niamh provides counterpoint with her fiddle and vocals, showing a likeminded mix of modern and traditional sensibilities. Beoga are quite upfront about not being a band for world-folk purists, although I think there's enough of a trad flavor here to appeal to a wide range of Celtic music fans. I personally would prefer more quiet moments, but man, I sure would like to see these guys live!

Carlinhos Brown "Diminuto" (Sony-Brasil, 2010)
A mellow set from this Brazilian neo-tropicalista percussionist/popstar... Haven't heard it yet, but I look forward to checking it out someday soon!

Les Chauds Lapins "Amourettes" (Barbes, 2010)
(Produced by Les Chauds Lapins & Pat Dillett)

A delicious update of old-school French chanson and musette from Brooklyn acoustic hipsters Meg Reichardt and Kurt Hoffman, whose affection for this antique music comes through on every track. The repertoire leans towards the songbook of 1930s diva Mireille, and echoes her lighthearted approach. The arrangements include some instruments that are unusual for the genre, such as cello, viola, banjo and ukulele -- they sound cool but also signal that Hoffman and Reichardt aren't tying themselves down to a fossilized, museum-y idea of what French Chanson has to sound like. Indeed, they readily admit that they aren't all that fluent in French itself; they just really like the music. New York jazz/klezmer luminary Frank London chimes in on trumpet, adding his talent to a very satisfying, freewheeling romp through classic French pop. (And if you like this album, you might want to check out my French Pop section as well...)

Yamandu Costa & Hamilton De Holanda "Live!" (Adventure Music, 2011)
(Produced by Richard Zirinsky, Jr.)

A zippy live album featuring cavaquinho whiz Hamilton De Holanda and seven-string guitarist Yamandu Costa in a whirlwind set of Brazilian choro music. All but one of the tunes are originals by Costa and/or De Holanda but they match he intensity and melodic wit of choro classics by artists such as Jacob do Bandolim, Luperce Miranda and Turibio Santos

Carmen Cuesta "Mi Bossa Nova" (Tweety Records, 2011)
(Produced by Carmen Cuesta & Chuck Loeb)

Romantic singer Carmen Cuesta, an expatriate of Madrid now living in New York, expresses her passion for the bossa nova sound of the 1950s and '60s, with sensitive, elegant covers of classics by Antonio Carlos Jobim, Ronaldo Boscoli and Luiz Bonfa. The sound is rich and multi-textured, bridging the gap between the early bossa style and more modern "smooth jazz" production. Cuesta had originally wanted to translate the songs into Spanish, but discovered the Jobim estate now only allows artists to record his work in the original Portuguese, which she sings eloquently, though with the clarity and precision of a well-versed non-native speaker... She contents herself with a pair of her own Spanish-language compositions, "Tormenta" and "Jobim," a tribute to the genre's master composer... All in all, a sweet album which should pull fans of modern jazz back towards the rich heritage of Brazil's most sensuous music. Recommended!

Dolores Duran "Os Anos Dourados De Dolores Duran" (Box Set) (EMI-Brasil, 2010)
The late Dolores Duran (1930-1959) was one of Brazil's most highly-regarded singers of the pre-bossa nova era, and remained popular after the bossa revolution swept the old styles aside. This massive, 8-CD box gathers vintage recordings made for the Copacabana label -- the old stuff on which her legend was made. Also included are a couple of dozen tracks written by Duran and later recorded by some of the singers who came in her wake, such as Elizeth Cardoso and Nelson Goncalves. A real treasure trove of Brazilian popular song from the "radio singers" era, and the early bossa nova scene.

Genticorum "Nagez Rameurs" (Mad River Records, 2011)
(Produced by Pascal Gemme & Olivier Demers)

An outstanding set of soulful French Canadian folk music, presented by a trio of young men who may well represent the future of this style in the same way that bands such as Planxty and the Chieftains led the Celtic folk revival of the 1960s and '70s. Led by fiddler Pascal Gemme, Genticorum excels at vocal harmonies with a haunting, somber, droning feel; fans of Gallic trad artists such as Gabriel Yacoub, Malicorne, Kornog and Pierre Bensusan will definitely want to check these guys out. There are several vigorous instrumental romps -- reels, mostly -- but as with European trad, I tend to focus more on the vocal numbers, all of which were excellent. Now that I'm hip to these guys, I'm going to make a point of tracking down their earlier albums.

The Jolly Boys "Great Expectation" (Entertainment One, 2011)
The Jolly Boys are one of Jamaican music's historical treasures, a group with a decades-long career, dating back to the pre-reggae, pre-ska era of the 1950s. Here the band -- nowadays made up of many newer members -- tackles a raft of classic rock-and-roll cover songs, stuff like "Should I Stay Or Should I Go" by the Clash, Blondie's "Hanging On The Telephone," "You Can't Always Get What You Want" from the Stones, Amy Winehouse's "Rehab," and suchlike. Although they bring some of the mento style's peculiar sound (including a pleasantly plunky banjo) this is a pretty slick-sounding set, with plenty of modern-sounding production and of course the repertoire is hardly tilted towards the traditional, either... Personally, I'm not big on cover-tune gimmickry, and while there are some interesting musical contrasts, by and large I'd point you towards their old stuff (and I mean the really old stuff instead. I guess this is useful as a signpost to the past, though -- mento music can be pretty fun, if you find the right stuff.

Amjad Ali Khan & The Scottish Chamber Orchestra "Samagam" (World Village, 2011)
Sarod player Amjad Ali Khan collaborates with Welsh conductor David Murphy and the Scottish Chamber Orchestra on an ambitious, multi-layered Indian/Classical crossover. The results are intriguing, and often beguiling -- the album opens with a trio of gentle solo acoustic ragas, tunes of pure beauty that serve as the introductory alap for this album. The orchestral numbers waver between subtlety, innovation and an occasional clash of styles. Some tracks sound, for all the world, like the Help-era sitar-and-strings compositions of George Martin and the Beatles, others offer more surprises and unexpected texture. I would have to say that the faster numbers are more of a challenge -- the sarod blazes through muscular riffs that separate it from the velvet cushion of the orchestra, but in all fairness, I often find this true of fast movements in more traditional Indian classical music as well: when they start to drag race through the melodies, I often find myself pulled out of the moment. That being said, this album offers far more moments of magic than of discord, and I was particularly charmed by tracks where Western orchestral instruments such as the clarinet and bassoon are bent into non-Western modalities. If you're looking for some new sounds and cross-cultural explorations, this highbrow outing might be a real delight.

Marcelo D2 "...Canta Bezerra Da Silva" (EMI, 2010)
Brazilian hip-hopper Marcelo D2 pays homage to bad-boy samba star, Bezerra Da Silva, who took Brazil's "malandro" (gangsta) tradition and brought it into the modern era of drug kingpins and automatic weapons. Interestingly enough, Marcelo steps out of his usual rap/soul mode and goes mostly old-school samba on this one, keeping close to Bezerra's rootsy sound.

Matuto "Matuto" (Self-released, 2011)
(Produced by Scott Kettner & Rob Curto)

One of the boldest, most exuberant world music crossover albums in recent years... Clay Ross is a jazz guitarist originally from South Carolina, who in his youth rejected the bluegrass and mountain music that he saw as redneck-y and reactionary but came back to it after years of musical exploration in other genres. Here he seamlessly melds modern jazz (including some '70s-style fusion) with regional Brazilian music, mainly choro, forro and baiao, with a touch of twang swirled into the margins. This is an updated version of an album Ross first released in 2009, with several new tracks that place heavier emphasis on the Brazilian vibe, giving a lot of the spotlight to accordionist Rob Curto, who plays some absolutely blistering riffs that will thrill fans of Braz-jazz old-timers such as Sivuca, Hermeto Pascoal and forro legend Luiz Gonzaga. On the country side of things, there's also a nice version of Norman Blake's "Church Street Blues," underscoring the relationship that Ross discovered between Brazilian and Appalachian melodies... A catchy, dynamic and very adventurous album... (For more info, check out Clay Ross' MySpace page and this profile on public radio)

Paulo Moura "Alento" (Biscoito Fino, 2010)

Joao Nogueira "Espelho/Vem Quem Tem" (Biscoito Fino, 2010)
Two early-1970s albums from a neglected figure on the Brazilian samba-pop scene... 1977's Espelho and his second album, Vem Quem Tem, from 1975, which is a very sweet, smooth offering from the peak years of the 'Seventies samba revival. Definitely worth checking out!

Roberto Ribeiro "Arrasta Pova/Roberto Ribeiro" (EMI, 2010)
A much-welcome reissue of two long out-of-print albums from 1970s samba star Roberto Ribeiro... This combines Arrasta Pova, from 1976, and Roberto Ribeiro, from 1979 -- both completely killer sets, with some of the richest, purest 'Seventies samba you'll ever hear. Highly recommended!

Smoke Fairies "Through Low Light & Trees" (Year Seven Records, 2011)
A weird, magical album... Although this is mostly a rock record, this gauzy, mysterious mix has obvious nods to lofty English trad artists such as Shirley & Dolly Collins in the '60s, and the Unthanks, more recently. Mixed in is a strong dose of hypnotic rock, with droning repetitions that bring Stereolab to mind, as well as their krautrock and prog-rock forebears such as Can and Brian Auger. It's an alluring album - my conscious, critical mind would say, oh, this is too pretentious, but my ears and my heart would keep listening, and every time the album played from end to end, I enjoyed it a lot. If you like weird, wonderful indie-freak folk hybrids, then this album is for you!

Various Artists "PUTUMAYO PRESENTS: RUMBA, MAMBO, CHA-CHA-CHA" (Putumayo, 2011)
A swinging set of highly danceable music... one of the most flat-out fun albums in the Putumayo catalog. If you want to get a party started, but this disc on and start to sway. Latin dance bands from Cuba, Colombia, San Francisco, Chicago, Scotland and Eastern Europe all get funky and sleek, with classic-sounding salsa and rumba riffs. What more can I say? This is a really nice collection, well worth checking out.

Various Artists "RED HOT AND RIO 2:" (Entertainment One, 2011)
An impressive lineup of indie/pop/electronic artists step up for this tribute to the wild, eclectic Brazilian tropicalia scene of the 1960s and early '70s. Many of the original tropicalistas are on board as well, notably Caetano Veloso, Tom Ze, Rita Lee and the recently-reformed Os Mutantes. They inspire and interact with an avalanche of modern talent, including non-Brazilian hipsters like Beck, Of Montreal, Alice Smith, Mia Doi Todd (and numerous electronica artists) as well as younger Brazilian stars, such as Apollo Nove, Ceu, Bebel Gilberto, Seu Jorge, Curumin, Vanesa de Mata and others... Presiding as elders over this great cross-cultural confluence are Caetano Veloso (whose cosmic, ambient "3 Mellowtrons In A Quiet Room" update of "Terra" is an album highlight) and his longtime friend David Byrne, whose expansive, enthusiastic "Brazil Classics" series sparked popular interest in a wide variety of Brazilian styles back in the '80s and '90s: they do a groovy duet on "Dreamworld/Marco De Canaveses," while numerous artists cover Veloso's work. High marks go to Marisa Monte (always a fave) for her version of "Nu Com A Minha Musica," Superhuman Happiness for their electro-JPop take on "Ile Aye," and Curumin, who really nails it on his reggaefied version of Gilberto Gil's "Ela." Marisa Monte contributes a typically gorgeous performance on "Nu Com A Minha Musica" (a duet with Devendra Banhart) and Mia Doi Todd's contributions are also pretty solid. Not all of this 2-CD set appealed to me -- the stuff on the more electronic and R&B end of the spectrum wasn't my cup of tea (particularly John Legend's jazzy, well-intentioned "Love I've Never Known") but hey, variety is the spice of life, as the tropicalistas cheerfully taught us, lo those many decades past. Some cool stuff on here, with a little bit of something for everyone. Worth a spin!

New To Me...

Bastien Lallemant "Les Erotiques" (Tot Ou Tard, 2005)
(Produced by Albin de la Simon)

Finally tracked this one down, and it's pretty fun. An eclectic, twee pop romp from French indie artist Bastien Lallemant, with help from a few familiar names: producer Albin de la Simon also plays piano and organ throughout, Emily Loizeau sings on several tracks, and Pascal Parisot puts in an appearance as well. Fun, creative material, sometimes elegant, sometimes daft. If you enjoyed Mathieu Boogaerts, you might dig this, too!

Various Artists "LES ZAZOUS - SWING OBSESSION: 1938-1946" (Fremeaux, 2005)
A delicious, delightfully playful 2-CD set of vintage French swing, with bouncy dance tunes and bluesy novelty songs galore. Includes several chanson superstars -- Charles Aznavour, Charles Trenet, Yves Montand -- who adopted the style on some of their songs, and others such as Fred Adison, Johnny Hess, Irene Trebert and Ray Ventura, who built their careers around swing. Also a hefty dose of gypsy jazz from Django Reinhardt and his cohorts, as well as accordion-wielding musette instrumentalists who dug the jive as well. There is considerable overlap on this collection and various single-artist releases by Fremeaux (and other labels) but it's hard not to love this well-curated, compact overview -- it's a really fun, enjoyable record! And if you don't have any of this music already, then this is a definite must-have. Highly recommended!

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