Wednesday, December 24, 2008

In Review--Muchas gracias!

 cover image missing

Omara Portuondo
World Village

Gracias by Cuban chanteuse Omara Portuondo (Buena Vista Social Club), celebrates 60 years of making music. The 78-year old vocalist shines on this album proving that like wine, women vocalists also grow better with age.

This charming collection of songs features delightful duets. O que Sera features Brazilian Chico Buarque, Amame como soy features fellow Cuban Pablo Milanes, the title track features Jorge Drexler and Drume negrita features Cameroon bassist and vocalist Richard Bona. So for those folks out there who enjoyed Omara's duet with the late Ibrahim Ferrer will be thrilled with this new recording. Other guest musicians include Omara's granddaughter, Rossio Jimenez, Cuban pianist Chucho Valdez, percussionist Trilok Gurta, and Cachaito Lopez, among other stellar talent.

The sunny album was produced by Ale Siqueira and Swami Jr. Omara personally chose all the tracks which include favorites from her illustrious career and other tracks from her personal wish list. I would like to extend my thanks to this wonderful vocalist who defies the aging process. Her passion is contagious too.

Whether Omara is singing a lament or a more upbeat song, her humanity and strength come through. And I cannot think of a better recording to end out 2008 then listening to this celebration of Cuban music and our elders.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

In review--Turkish modes & Sephardic songs

Kaila Flexer & Gari Hegedus
Next Village Music

It takes a global village to make an album these days, or at least culturally speaking. A few years ago fusion projects were a novelty item, but today, it appears to be a brave new world where musicians forge new paths over bridges built between cultures.

Jewish violinist Kaila Flexer and lutenist Gari Hegedus (who I first heard as part of the duo Stellamara), combined their musical passions on Teslim. On this recording, the musicians gleaned from Turkish modes, Sephardic songs, while also adding Celtic, Armenian and Greek music to the mix. This all-acoustic album which features violin, viola, various lutes and exotic percussion, also includes the Swedish national treasure, a nyckelharpa performed by Vasen's Olov Johansson (Stone's Throw). The musician popped into the studio while he was traveling through and contributed to the global village sound.

This exotic collection of songs, both traditional and newly composed, sets a melancholic mood. The musicians explore their passions while offering us a pleasurable experience. And in the press notes both musicians mentioned that they had hit dry spots in their musical endeavors until this project revived their love for music. Let this CD also revive your passion for gorgeously rendered acoustic music. Discover the world through the eyes and ears of global musicians.

In review---Norwegian Chillout

Aage Kvalbein & Iver Kleive
Comfort Me
Meditation for Cello and Piano
Kirkelig Kulturverksted

I don't know about you, but this time of year, when darkness falls on the northern hemisphere of the earth, I need more time to relax. While the heat of the summer sun lends itself to spicy Latin and African music, the winter cold, sends me seeking a warm comfortable place to rest my feet and indulge in a good novel. And also the idea of "comfort music" (similar to comfort food), appeals to me as I hunker down and wait for the first signs of spring to emerge.

Norwegian cellist Aage Kvalbein and Norwegian pianist/organist Iver Kleive were thinking along those same lines. Certainly living so close to the Arctic would send anyone seeking a good fire to toast one's feet and music to warm one's thoughts. This duo takes the chill out of winter on their second recording together with KKV,
Comfort Me (Meditation for Cello and Piano).

This chamber music album features Johann Sebastian Bach, Gounod, Albinoni, Gabriel Faure, Ennio Morricone and Edvard Grieg, as well as, traditional folk songs and ballads. The music was recorded at the church, Kulturkirken Jakob (which the label Kirkelig Kulturverksted forged a partnership), and Kleive played the church's Steinway grand piano. Its notes reverberated throughout an acoustically-perfect church and the cello contributed to the melancholic wintry mood. And yet, this wintry mood in the right setting, offers comfort in the same way that favorite food might. Music is after all, food for the soul.

In review--Return to Bethlehem

Solveig Slettahjell
with Tord Gustavsen & Sjur Miljeteig
Night in Bethlehem
Kirkelig Kulturverksted

Most of the time a title such as "Night in Bethlehem" would describe songs sung about the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem. However, Norwegian chanteuse Solveig Slettahjell's album, Night in Bethlehem literally referred to those nights in a special Bethlehem church where Slettahjell, pianist Tord Gustavsen and trumpeter Sjur Miljeteig recorded sacred songs.

The press notes recalled, "After the pilgrims had left the church for the evening and the monks in the Franciscan monastery had retired for the night, the three Norwegian artists spent some creative hours each night in the church."

And this nightly church visit in the holy city was captured in jazz-tinged Christmas carols, both traditional and contemporary. You can literally feel the hush tones of the church (built on the site where Jesus was born), along with the rich timbre of the church piano, Miljeteig's sparkling trumpet and Slettahjell's jazzy soprano vocals. Oh, Little Town of Bethlehem possesses a African-American gospel syncopation, Silent Night which opens the recording, sounds like holy jazz, but my favorite song on the recording, is Oh, Poor Little Jesus which sparkles in its jazz ambiance.

Slettahjell sings in both Norwegian and English. Her clear tones possess a road-weariness and a great deal of compassion. I would imagine that this was a dream project for the musicians. And certainly they had set a reverential atmosphere as they performed timeless gems.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

In Review---The Strings are the Thing

 image missing

Kayhan Kalhor
Brooklyn Rider
Silent City
World Village

I have over the years heard several recordings by Iranian kamanche master Kayhan Kalhor. The first recording to capture my ears was the recording, Rain by Ghazal which casted an enchanting spell over me. I have also heard his work with The Dastan Ensemble and his recording The Wind with Erdal Erzincan. Kalhor has proven not only his mastership over his exotic instrument, but also his adaptability to a variety of musical genres. That is not to say that he performs his instrument in a variety of genres, but that he fuses his tradition with those from other cultures. And since I have grown to admire Kahlor's work, I feel excited when I see his name gracing yet another CD cover.

On Silent City, once again we see Kalhor fusing Persian classical music with another music tradition--European classical meets the Silk Road. The musicians in Brooklyn Rider fall into an experimental-avant-classical style, that recalls Kronos Quartet. According to the press notes, "The origins of Silent City trace back to the summer of 2000, when cellist Yo-Yo Ma convened his fame Silk Road project at the Tanglewood Center at Lenox, MA. There three of the four gifted young musicians who would later form Brooklyn Rider-Colin Jacobsen, Jonathan Gandelsman, Nicholas Cords and later Eric Jacobsen--first encountered Kalhor while performing one of his compositions."

The story of how the musicians met, fused and recorded their musical traditions can be found in the CD liner notes. The story is as long and elaborate as the music that flows off the CD. The opening track, Ascending Bird resembles rousing gypsy meets Mongolian music and it contrasts with the moody title track that follows. The title track comes off as dissonant and desolate, which I am sure were the emotions the musicians were capturing at the time. I am reminded of a jazz recording, (which also speaks about a city lost to devastation), Terence Blanchard's A Tale of God's Will. Silent City runs over 29 minutes, which is not unheard of in either Persian or European classical music.

Even though I do not see it credited in the liner notes, you can hear the jangly sound of an Iranian setar on the third track, Parvaz (the setar is a sample from a previous work by Kahlor). The strings take on an exotic Silk Road sound. It builds slowly and gathers intensity, in the fashion of Silk Road classical tradition. Parvaz is the most beautiful of the four pieces that appear on the recording. The final track, Beloved, do not let me be discouraged possesses a haunting lyrical quality and it beautifully weaves the string quartet's instruments with the kamanche (spiked fiddle).

Silent City feels like pioneering work, despite the European classical-world fusion recordings already released by Kronos Quartet, cellists David Darling and Yo-Yo Ma. And in fact, Silent City acts as a new chapter for this type of cultural exchange. And I doubt discerning music lovers will grow tired of these fusion projects any time soon.

(not credited on the CD cover is Siamak Aghale on santoor).

In Review---Kora Master

Mamadou Diabate
Douga Mansa
World Village

Regular readers of this blog will know about my fascination with West African griot music and instruments. I was quite pleased to receive a review copy of Malian griot kora player Mamadou Diabate's Douga Mansa. It falls into West African classical music with Diabate playing solo kora throughout. And yet, with this single instrument, Diabate coaxes a rich tapestry of moods from his harp, not to mention an array of striking rhythms.

The press notes cited, " Diabate's hands, the kora proves capable of infinite variation, encompassing delicately articulated structures, swirling eddies of glissandi, pounding vertical rhythms and roaring cataracts of arpeggio." Which sounds a lot like a review of European classical music and why I am treating this CD as African classical music.

West African is not short of virtuoso kora players, a category in which Mamadou finds himself. His cousin is Toumani Diabate, another fabulous kora talent. Mamadou currently makes his home in the U.S. and he has collaborated with such greats as Taj Mahal, Eric Bibb, Zimbabwean Thomas Mapfumo, Irish singer Susan McKeown and others.

If you love kora music, Douga Mansa offers well over an hour's worth of instrumental music. I think it is too dynamic to be called relaxing and the playing is too mesmerizing to be played as background music. No doubt, both emerging and renowned kora players will be listening closely to this disc. There is a lot here to glean from a master performer.


In Review--Egyptian Diva Delights

Natacha Atlas
Ana Hina
World Village

I have admired Middle Eastern vocalist Natacha Atlas' rich vocals for a long time, but not until now am I able to hear those vocals in an acoustic setting. Her newest album, Ana Hina, produced and arranged by Harvey Brough is a gem. Atlas' vocals find themselves backed by a lush east-west orchestra. And the choice of material covered also spans east and west with covers of Fairuz, Rahbani Brothers, Abdel Halim Hafez and Nina Simone.

I have enjoyed listening to Ana Hina from the first moment I placed it in my CD player. The beautiful melodies sung in Arabic, Spanish (on La Vida Callada), and English provoke a spellbinding quality--a magic carpet ride, if you will. Hearing the Appalachian folk classic, Black is the Color (once covered by Nina Simone as a piano solo), certainly adds another dimension. And the inclusion of a poem by Mexican artist, Frida Kahlo which becomes a musical dialogue between Atlas and multi-instrumentalist Clara Sanabras conjures a beautiful whirling circus.

Atlas paints images and emotions with her voice. Similar to a paintbrush, her voice strokes and brushes each note she sings. The album with its array of musical riches brings an immediate intimacy and acts as a musical embrace. I have heard a lot of gorgeous music this past year, and Ana Hina lands at the top of my list. It is certain to please even the most discriminating palettes. Atlas has proven herself to be a first class vocalist and world class citizen.


In Review---Dowland Revisited

Monika Mauch (soprano)
Nigel North (lute)
A Musical Banquet
ECM New Series

It took awhile before I became a fan of English renaissance lutenist John Dowland's work. I had already been enjoying renaissance lute and vocal music which reminded me of medieval troubadour songs as well as, more contemporary blues. Yet, Dowland was not the easiest pill to swallow, since often, but not always, his lyrics seemed melancholic. Never mind that that was the rage at that time of Elizabethan, England.

Many of the Dowland recordings, with the exception of Sting's Songs from the Labyrinth (which is quite edgy), feature bel canto vocals set over the shimmering strings of lutes. Soprano Monika Mauch and lutenist Nigel North bring us a collection of lute songs on their recording, Musical Banquet. The pieces were originally published as a collection called Musical Banquet by Robert Dowland (John's son), in 1610. I do not know how the original pieces were set or how they sounded. But on this contemporary recording, Mauch's clear and bright soprano vocals along with North's gorgeous lute create a warm, inviting atmosphere.

Similar to his father, Robert Dowland also played the lute and composed music for the instrument. He acted only as a compiler on the collection, which included lute songs from Italy, Spain, France and England by anonymous and well-known composers. Dowland Sr.'s pieces also pepper this new recording of the collection, with the famous In Darkness Let Me Dwell appearing towards the end of the CD. Mauch sings the song in an even temper without relying on any dramatics to emphasize the harsh lyrics that accompany the music. If you listen to Sting's version of the song, you will be able to hear a wilder interpretation of the song.

Lute & vocal music bodes well for a number of activities ranging from listening pleasure to background music for work that takes concentration. However, with this recording, I recommend listening to it for pleasure. The spectacular performances by the musicians needs to be center stage and not relegated to the background. And you will find Mauch's vocals drawing you back into each delicious moment.


In Review---Schumann's Violin Sonatas

Carolin Widmann (violin)
Robert Schumann The Violin Sonatas
ECM New Series

The legendary Romantic era composer Robert Schumann was born during at time when amorous affairs could and often did lead to venereal disease. Since antibiotics had not been discovered yet, many artists, composers, etc succumbed to various disabilities, including deafness, and madness as consequences of the disease. Schumann suffered from madness towards the end of his life, I read due to a venereal disease he had contracted earlier.

Married to another legendary figure, Clara Schumann, you might often encounter this musician-composer couple when reading about classical music. Or you might encounter the couple when attending a symphony or chamber music house party. That sadly, is about all I know about the Schumanns at this point. However, the new ECM recording, Robert Schumann The Violin Sonatas, performed by German violinist Carolin Widmann and Hungarian pianist Dènes Vàrjon, acts as my baptism into the Schumann's world.

Schumann composed three violin sonatas in which his wife, Clara performed the piano role. However, according to Widmann interviewed in the press notes, Clara held Sonata #3 from the public because she felt it revealed her husband's deteriorating sanity. "Even from today's perspective I somehow understand why Clara Schumann held back the third sonata and some of Robert's late compositions for a such a long time. She must have feared that they would expose just too much of this mentally ill man whose--then quite unstable reputation she had to protect."

The second sonata is my favorite on the recording, (which appears as the final tracks on the CD). The sonata expresses delight, melancholy and a gamut of emotions, along with offering the musicians some real musical challenges. There is a lilting melodic line that appears throughout the first section that I enjoy. The second section can be called punchy and it marches along until it reaches the slow, third section which comes off as brooding. I am reminded of a later work, Maurice Ravel's Piano Concert in G major (middle section). The fourth section of Schumann's second sonata possesses a Hungarian gypsy feel in its wildness.

The musicians perform these sonatas with fiery wild abandonment and great sensitivity, creating what otherwise could have been a melancholic listening session, into an intense and exciting one. I also feel that the musicians give great consideration to Schumann as a fellow musician and human being with frailties and vulnerabilities, as well as virtuoso talent.

I am not certain how this recording would fit into a healing regime except that it might act as a balm to moodiness or assist with releasing repressed anger/frustration in a healthy manner. I find that a lot of the Romantic era music works in this way, and I have often listened to Beethoven's music to release anger and reclaim my power. So give it a try and listen to the recording.

Dènes Vàrjon (klavier)

Sunday, November 16, 2008

In Review--Music for Campesinos

Skruk and Katie Cardenal
Mass for the Man in the Street
Kirkelig Kulturverksted

The Norwegian choir Skruk and Latin American singer-songwriter Katie Cardenal's Misa Campesina (Mass for the Man on the Street), possesses an inspiring message, I just don't know what it is. While the music with its Caribbean warmth, good will and splendid vocals create a unique listening pleasure, I wish that English translation had been provided.

However, despite my lack of foreign language skills, the Norwegian choir and Nicaraguan musicians have created a beautiful setting for composer Carlos Mejia Godoy's Nicaraguan mass for the common people. I am well-read on the late Chilean poet, Pablo Neruda and his words about the common person, so I find myself enjoying this lively mass. And I am all too familiar with the ups and downs of Latin American politics and social causes so this recording hits home with me.

The usual musical structure of a mass (kyria, gloria, etc) are included but performed with a Latin American band complete with rollicking marimba and plenty of sun drenched vocals. This is one of, if not the happiest recorded masses I have ever heard. For those wanting to celebrate the new era in which the Americas are embarking (an indigenous president in Bolivia, a woman president in Argentina, and a African-American president in the U.S.), this recording contributes to the human spirit. I would guess that this mass reflects on what the common person can achieve in a spirit of oneness.

Kirkelig Kultureverksted

Sunday, November 9, 2008

In Review--Transcendental India

Kala Ramnath and Rupak Kulkarni
The Divine Wheel
Sense World Music

Indian classical violinist Kala Ramnath is no stranger to my ears. I have heard several of her delightful recordings and I am especially fond of her jugalbandi recordings. On one of her latest recordings, The Divine Wheel, she teams up with bansuri flute player Rupak Kulkarni.

Recorded live at the Saptak Festival in India, the musicians perform Raag Jog and Raag Des. Most of the tracks are short enough for radio play with the exception of the longest track, Vilambit Gat in Ektaal which runs 23 minutes. Kulkarni's bansuri flute compliments Ramnath's violin and these two players take their listeners to transcendental heights. The live recording adds to the excitement. Listeners of this disc might wish they enjoyed front row seats at that festival performance.

I have tried to listen to this CD at bedtime, but find it too active. It is definitely a daytime listening experience for me and one that captures my undivided attention. For those listeners who enjoy both bansuri and violin, this CD offers a rare and wonderful treat. Indulge!


In Review--Ancestors of the Red Earth

courtesy of Ixtlan Recording Consortium

Kevin Locke
Earth Gift
Ixtlan Recording Consortium

Lakota flutist, storyteller and dancer Tokaheya Inajin (Kevin Locke), has tirelessly promoted culture and music to both adults and children throughout the years. His newest recording, Earth Gift offers a profound connection to this great planet through the songs of the Lakota. The recording shows Locke paying homage to the earth, to his ancestors, animal spirits, and collector of Native American songs, Frances Densmore.

Producer and musician Tom Wasinger (Joanne Shenandoah & Mary Youngblood), offers his expertise on this disc. Besides producing Earth Gift, he also played cymbalom, percussion, udu and zither, not to mention instruments made directly from the natural world. Locke (rattles, vocals and flute), joins up with Doug Good Feather (lead vocals and drum), Gracie RedShirt Tyon (accompaniment vocals) and Wasinger. The end result is a recording that connects heaven and earth thus creating balance.

I have only heard one other recording by Locke, First Flute (Makoche), in which the flutist performed outdoors with the sound of nature swirling around his flute. Earth Gift possesses the Wasinger signature with some loops of natural sounds combined with international and Native American instruments. Locke brings a lot of passion to his flute as do the other musicians to their respective instruments. And the key word here is "respect" for nature, for Lakota legends, traditions, songs and Mother Earth.

Locke sums up the whole listening experience in the liner notes that can be found in an exquisite CD booklet. "The use of sound as preparation for the journey to a higher state of being is a cross-cultural concept. From Buddhist chantings to Aboriginal didgeridoo, sound brings us to the sacred. In Lakota, the sound of a song is a prayer, a means of connection back to the place of oneness. The screech of an eagle, the explosion of thunder..."

A collection of traditional songs related to eagle, thunder, animals and other natural realms appear on this CD flowing into each other similar to a river into a lake. Here too, many thoughts and emotions flow into a lake we call oneness or unity. I can hear a lot of thought, feeling, passion and compassion that went into this soulful recording. I highly recommend it to anyone choosing to experience oneness in their everyday existence. This truly is music for a new age, a new dawn for this continent and throughout the earth. or

Friday, November 7, 2008

In Review--The Venezuelan Solution to Youth Violence

Gustavo Dudamel & Simòn Bolìvar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela
Beethoven 5 & 7

Deusche Grammophon

The connection between Venezuelan youth and Beethoven might not seem an obvious one at first. Imagine, a youth orchestra comprised of children once at-risk, but now leaving an impression on international classical music lovers. Conductor Gustavo Dudamel (25 years old at the time of this recording), revealed his connection to the Great German composer Ludwig van Beethoven in the liner notes.

"As a six-year old, Gustavo Dudamel's favorite game was to line up his toy soldiers in orchestral formation to conduct them in an imaginary performance of Beethoven's 5th Symphony. By the time he was twelve, he was conducting his local youth orchestra. Two years later he had his own chamber orchestra. At 17, he became chief conductor of the Simòn Bolìvar Youth Orchestra…"

According to the liner notes, Dudamel grew up in Barquisimeto, the capital of the state of Lara. "In a country where 75% of the population lives below the poverty line, crime and violence are a way of life for many. If it had not been for music, Dudamel freely admits, he might have ended up on the streets." And he's not the only young musician that might have or formerly went that route. You will find others and their stories mentioned also in the liner notes.

In Venezuela (population of 22 million), exists 125 youth orchestras, 57 children's orchestras, and 30 adult professional symphony orchestras. Noted musical figures such as Claudio Abbado, Zubin Mehta, Placido Domingo and the late Luciano Pavarotti have worked with Venezuelan orchestral talent. And all of this began with one visionary, Josè Antonio Abreu, (organist, economist and politician), who resolved to do something about the problems in his country 30 years ago.

"At the time, there were just two symphony orchestras in Venezuela, both employing largely European musicians. Abreu gathered eleven youngsters in an underground car park, and told them that they were making history. At the next rehearsal, there were 25 musicians, the following day, 46; and the next day after, 75." And so began a fabulous venture that not only saved children's lives through musical expression, but also put Venezuela's symphony orchestras on the map.

Dudamel chose Beethoven's 5th Symphony because he thought that the symphony travels from anger in its first movement to hope in its last majestic movement. He chose the 7th Symphony because it represented hope to him. He also mentioned the popular "fate knocking on the door" theme of Beethoven's 5th Symphony.

So instead of playing the usual rock music to deal with repressed anger and hopelessness, listen to Beethoven's 5th Symphony. And never give up hope that music can change the world, and in fact, it is already doing that. In Venezuela, it is one youth at a time and this same recipe can apply to youth internationally using traditional and classical music. or

Sunday, October 26, 2008

In Review---Classical CD sampling

image of Mozart from Wikipedia

Emmanuel Pahud (flute), Marie Pierre Langlamet (harp) and Sabine Meyer (clarinet)

Mozart (Flute Concerto 1, Concerto for Flute & Harp, and Clarinet Concerto
EMI Classics

Narciso Yepes
Guitarra Espanola Vol. 2
Deusche Grammophon

Great Moments from La Traviata
Cheryl Studer, Luciano Pavarotti
Deusche Grammophon

Nikolaus Harnoncourt
Handel Messiah
Sony BMG

Valery Gergiev & Kirov Orchestra
The Nutcracker

Although classical music contributes wonderfully to a person's CD collection, health and well-being, these CDs can be expensive. Also it takes time to explore various composers and compositions before each listener finds his or her musical medicine or favorites. Therefore, I recommend a trip to a local library where an array of famous and not-so-famous works can be explored for free. Libraries in larger cities offer a wider variety, but even in a small town, you can find a few gems.

I have been perusing the shelves of local libraries in my area and I would like to share some findings with you. Some of you reading this blog are already experienced in healing yourself and others with classical music, but some of you, might not have ventured in this direction so I will give my impressions of a number of recordings in this article.

Let's start with a recording of three of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's concertos (Mozart). This recording features Swiss flutist Emmanuel Pahud performing Flute Concerto No. 1 and Concerto for Flute and Harp along with French harpist Marie-Pierre Langlamet. German (?) clarinetist Sabine Meyer performs Clarinet Concerto in A, KV 622 (a favorite of mine), and Claudio ABBADO conducts, with the Berliner Philharmoniker.

We already know that Mozart's music has proved to be healing in a variety of circumstances and that it is dog-friendly (see and Don Campbell's series regarding the "Mozart Effect". Harp and flute bring clarity, not to mention some lofty emotions. The soloists on this recording perform this music exceptionally well and certainly their passion for this material comes through.

Sabine Meyer performs the Clarinet Concerto on its original instrument, a basset-clarinet. The early music instrument which had disappeared since Mozart's era, has been reconstructed with a gorgeous expanded low range. Julian Haylock explains in the liner notes, "The concerto was originally composed, according to Stadler's (friend and patron of Mozart-ed.), specific instructions, for the basset-clarinet, an instrument which had an extended lower range of four semitones down to a written C (sounding A) and a mellower sound than the usual instrument."

Sabine Meyer is one of a few modern clarinetists to perform this instrument so her recording of Mozart's Clarinet Concerto in A contributes an extra healing effect. Plus hearing the piece performed closer to its origins adds charm.

I find this recording relaxing, good for morning wake up music and also relaxing before bedtime. I also enjoy writing, researching and doing other work that takes concentration with this music in the background. I recommend this recording to students as it is wonderful for homework, writing papers and studying for exams. In fact, the Clarinet Concerto helped me greatly when I returned to college in 2007. Of course, I was listening to a different recording of the concerto.

Next on the library list, Spanish guitarist and composer Narciso Yepes' recordings for Spanish guitar has been produced as a series. Volume 2 features the work of Albeniz, Granados, Tarrega, Falla, Turina, Bacarisse and Yepes. This single instrument recording flows at a nice, slow even pace with a few passionate outbursts here and there. But Spanish guitar or Spanish classical guitar should never be confused with Flamenco guitar, even if a distinct Spanish character comes through.

Volume 2 and the remainder of the series delves into the works of a variety of Spanish composers, who I had not heard of until recent years. The Spanish character, textures, colors, rhythms and vibrant melodies, enchant the mind. This music provides fodder for daydreaming, but also contributes to a healthy work environment. I have enjoyed listening to these CDs before bedtime. I would imagine this single instrument recordings (with the exception of a few dissonant pieces I heard on one of the CDs), would be dog-friendly. However, you might wish to refer to Joshua Leeds' work in regard to dog-friendly music.

I recently saw a local production of Giuseppe Verdi's La Traviata and fell in love with its music, especially Violetta's arias. So while I was at the library, I picked up a more recent recording (1991) of La Traviata featuring Cheryl Studer (Violetta), Luciano Pavarotti (Alfredo), Juan Pons (Giorgio) and Wendy White (Flora) and conducted by James Levine with the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and Chorus.

This recording features fabulous vocals, all the drama you could want (who needs TV?), and a storyline that features a courtesan with a heart of gold. Why this beautiful music did not heal Violetta from her disease, who knows. Certainly the best application for this CD is to sit down and listen to it. Listening to this recording is not the same as sitting through a listen of the entire opera with the libretto in hand, since it only features excerpts from the opera. However, after listening to these excerpts no doubt listeners will want to hear the entire opera if not see a production of it. And its wonderful to hear the late Pavarotti's vocals creating a bittersweet moment for many.

Just in time for the holidays, the next two CDs, featuring Handel's Messiah and Tchaikovsky's score for the Nutcracker ballet also can take people away from their television sets. Best to cuddle up to the stereo with these two recordings.

Nicolaus Harnoncourt's Handel Messiah featuring soloists, Christine Schafer, Anna Larsson, Michael Schade and Gerald Finley along with the Arnold Schoenberg Choir, offers some compelling material performed in an equally compelling manner.

Friderick Handel hails from the Baroque era and was a contemporary of Bach. He composed both secular and spiritual music since he was a freelance musician. Messiah (not The Messiah), was collaboration with writer Charles Jennens (composed the libretto from Biblical passages, both new and old testaments and his own text). Since Biblical passages were not permitted by church officials to be presented in plays (considered blasphemy), the work was presented as an oratorio and eventually was called a "sacred oratorio". The premier of the work was in Dublin in 1742 and has expanded and transformed considerably since that time.

Handel's Messiah is told in three sections, the first prophesying the coming of the savior, the second featuring the persecution of Christ and his brutal death, and the third section reflecting on the resurrection and redemption. Since Handel's Messiah features stories, it is best to sit and listen to this recording, instead of playing it in the background. The English annunciation is not so great on this recording (it is sung in an ornamented baroque style), so you might wish to read the libretto while listening to it.

However, I saw that this recording was highly recommended on a classical music site ( and the production itself, vocals, baroque orchestra sound fabulous. And this recording features the complete oratorio, on two discs. The Hallelujah chorus that ends Act II is absolutely splendid. I find the entire performance heart provoking and soulful.

Although I am not a fan of The Nutcracker ballet itself, the musical score offers a real banquet. The instrumental arrangements, dance rhythms, and sublime musical passages create many pleasurable listening moments. While I am not a Tchaikovsky expert by a long shot, I have been told that he combined elements of the Romantic era with the Classical era. He adored Mozart and played homage to the Austrian composer. And like Mozart, Tchaikovsky could and did create some enchanting and playful music.

Although The Nutcracker has been overproduced in recent decades to the point of numbness, this delightful music should not be overlooked. Nor should any great classical music have ever been used to sell products or boost people's egos, which sadly has been the case for a lot of this great music. Give Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker score a chance to lift your spirits. It might even prove helpful for those who suffer from holiday depression (Tchaikovsky himself was said to suffer from depression).

For more information about these recordings, check the labels' websites, Wikipedia or Also check out various sound healer and music therapy sites.

Friday, October 17, 2008

In Review--Sublime Crossover Classical Music

Lee Ritenour and Dave Grusin
Decca Records

I have never been a fan of Lee Ritenour's work and I associated it with smooth jazz. However, on Lee Ritenour (guitar) and Dave Grusin (piano) classical crossover album, Ampora, I am actually quite pleased with the music. I would even call it sublime. Musical guests include the folk singer James Taylor singing an early music folk song Since First I Saw Your Face, solo violinist Joshua Bell on Gabriel Faure's Pavane, Op. 50 and Antonio Carlos Jobim's Olha Maria (Ampora), soprano Renee Fleming also on the pavane and George Frideric Handel's Duetto: Scherzano Sul Tuo Volto, which she performs with classical trumpeter Chris Botti.

The recording starts off with nuevo tango that recalls the late Astor Piazzolla and continues with a suite of Latin American dances. This is followed by a pavane, then English folk songs, a Brazilian piece, Ravel's Ma Mere L'Oye (Mother Goose Suite) and ends with baroque music. The arrangements with guitar, piano, an orchestra and the guests soloists, offers listeners some heavenly musical moments. For fans of nuevo tango, early music, and exquisite soprano vocals, Ampora fits the bill.

This classical crossover album receives high ratings from me. And I will be featuring tracks from it on my radio show, Global Heartthrob. I also think that all of the music on this recording rates high as healing music, with the baroque music contributing the most linear music and the nuevo tango, the most sensual.

Decca Records

Thursday, October 16, 2008

In Review--Beethoven Sonata Cycle Completed

Andras Schiff
Ludwig Van Beethoven The Piano Sonatas
Volume VII (Sonatas opp. 90,101 and 106)
ECM Records

Andras Schiff
Ludwig Van Beethoven The Piano Sonatas
Volume VIII (Sonatas 109, 110 & 111)
ECM Records

Hungarian concert pianist Andras Schiff took on the great task of recording all of Beethoven's 32 piano sonatas in chronological order. The pianist completed the cycle with The Piano Sonatas Volume VII and Volume VIII. Now, while I did not travel the entire journey of the 32 sonata cycle (I only heard 5 of the 8 CDs), I still experienced quite an adventure.

As you might imagine, Schiff embodied the Romantic Era composer since he was spending so much time with the sonatas and the composer. One read through the liner notes that accompany these recordings, reveals the deep and thoughtful, even heartfelt relationship that Schiff developed with Beethoven. He performs these sonatas from the inside out, which was something the late Canadian pianist Glenn Gould did with J.S. Bach. Certainly this is my favorite way to hear classical or any music. Schiff, like Gould had the confidence to follow his own instincts instead of relying too heavily on his musical predecessors or Beethoven scholars. Music is more about feeling and following gut instincts than it is about thought and analysis.

At least one of two things occur when listening to these recordings. The first possibility is that a listener can deeply get in touch with their own emotions through traveling through Beethoven's vibrant moods. The second possibility is that listeners who might have just thought of Beethoven in passing, might grow enamored with the composer after listening to Schiff's honest and vulnerable performance, or should I exchange the word channeling for "performance"? Schiff brings Beethoven into listeners' stereos in such a way that it could only be mentioned as a spiritual experience as far as I am concerned. One might even feel Beethoven standing in the room with them.

After reading the liner notes for Volume VII and especially the section about Sonata No. 29 in B-flat major, op. 106, also known as, "Hammerklavier," I was not so sure I wanted to listen to the recording. I thought that it was going to be a dark and painful experience in which I would have lost my way through the complex sonata. Even the liner notes mentioned the daunting complexity of the piece for both musicians and listeners.

However, even though I would not describe the sonata as lovely, I certainly would describe it as powerful and cathartic with sublime moments. The entire recording features athletic musical finesse on the part of the pianist. While I doubt any musician is going to have a nervous breakdown performing the piece as intended by Beethoven (as the pianist in the movie, "Shine" did with one of Rachmaninov's piano concertos), I imagine that the pianist must have felt spent or invigorated after performing it.

Volume VIII is much easier on the nervous system, but also features some mind-blowing sonatas. I know after listening to the 5 of 8 CDs of this cycle, I have come to know Beethoven a little better, not just as a master composer, but also as a human being whose emotions ran the gamut from utterly vulnerable, to victorious and even humorous.

I look forward to hearing more of Andras Schiff's recordings. In the way that he developed great respect for Ludwig Van Beethoven, I have developed great respect for Schiff.


Wednesday, October 15, 2008

In Review--The Spirit of India

Gundecha Brothers and Pushparaj Koshti
Temple Voices
Sense World Music

Pushparaj Koshti
Sense World Music

The ancient vocal form Dhrupad seemed to be in slow terminal decline according to the liner notes for The Gundecha Brothers' latest recording, Temple Voices. Also in the liner notes, "The Gundecha Brothers are at the forefront of the revival in fortune that has overtaken the ancient vocal form, Dhrupad." It had fallen victim to the popularity of the Khayal tradition. Also from my understanding of it, Dhrupad had also suffered the reputation of being painfully slow, and one writer for The Rough Guide to World Music, Volume 2 had compared Dhrupad to watching paint dry.

I actually appreciate this ancient Indian vocal style. Yes, it unfolds slowly, but for those with patience (which is not many these days), this gentle unfolding does pay off. The vocal fireworks that contributed to the popularity of the Khayal form are not present in the same regard. Dhrupad is more subtle, and its journey more contemplative. Its liken to the journey where one stops to smell the roses, drink in sunlight and retreat a little from the chaos of living. And I even would go as far as to recommend listening to Dhrupad to increase one's attention span and patience. I have found it helpful in that regard.

If you listen closely to the Gundecha Brothers sing on Temple Voices, you will hear a rich polyphony of two voices, with some vocal overtones, especially when the brothers sing in baritone voices. You will also hear masterful performances that reward its listeners. (For more information about their education, garana and biographical details of these vocalist, please visit

The liner notes describe a Dhrupad performance as, "hugely concentrated expressive force but largely unadorned except for connecting slides and pitch-bending, rather buried beneath layers of ornament and frisky invention as you might hear in another Alap...Compared to many performers who like to show off their prowess as early as they can, a dhrupad singer will make you wait; but the payoff is all the more thrilling for the length of build-up."

Surbahar (akin to a bass sitar) player Pushparaj Koshti performs on the Gundecha Brothers' Temple Voices and performs solo on his recording, Surbahar. He performs instrumental Dhrupad--starting out on the lowest end of his instrument and eventually stretching out to higher notes. I will admit that it would be easier for newcomers to this form of classical Indian music to begin with vocal Dhrupad and work their way towards the instrumental form.

However, this rare Surbahar performance accompanied by the double-ended pakhawaj drum played by Manik Munde, has its spellbinding moments as well. The liner notes mention, "A degree of patience is required of a listener, or at least a will to let the big picture build over time. For followers of Western classical music the natural comparison would be with a symphony by Anton Bruckner, as opposed to a piano piece by Franz Liszt."

I might also add that a Dhrupad listening experience compares to a slow blooming flower that does not dazzle our senses right away, but chooses the right moment, when we have found a stillness of mind.


I would like to thank Robert Maycock for his informative liner notes. Certainly these notes assisted me in enjoying these two recordings.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

In Review--Musica Colombia!

Lucia Pulido
Luna Menguante
Adventure Music

Ever since I heard Marta Gomez and Toto La Momposina's tracks on Putumayo Presents Women of Latin America, I have fallen in love with the rich polyphonic rhythms, vocal styles and instruments of Colombia. Then after listening to Marta Topferova play these rhythms on her cuatro, my love for this music grew even more immense.

Lucia Pulido hails from Colombia so those rhythms and vocal styles swim in her blood. She and the musicians in her band reside in New York City, where I hear a strong South American community exists. Her recording, Waning Moon (luna menguante), combines sultry urban jazz with traditional music. Pulido contributes not only spellbinding vocals, especially the magical vocals that resemble Baka pygmy yodels, but she also plays that wonderful South American lute, the cuatro, along with percussion.

Of course when I say maracas, and we are talking about maraca playing from places like Venezuela and Colombia, I must mention that the players from those countries are virtuoso. Sebastian Cruz comes on board with guitar, maraca, cymbals, Adam Kolker plays a mean clarinet and flute, Stomu Takeishi brings in that jazzy bass and Ted Poor plays drums and tambora. As you can see from that instrument lineup, this is not your traditional Colombian fare. It feels much more international, fresh, raw and alive--and that is saying a lot.

The Thatch-roofed Canoe, The River King and the South American favorite, Full Moon Song stand out as favorites for me. However, I am enjoying this entire album, its twists and turns, its percussive grooves (if I can use that word), and Pulido's vocal phrasing. The rich timbre of her voice alone creates a worthwhile musical journey. And she will take her listeners all over the place--some times she send them soaring. It's a journey you don't want to miss.


In Review---Afro-Celtic Fusion & Beyond

Baka Beyond
Baka Live
March Hare Music

Call of the Forest
Favorites Of The Baka Beyond
White Swan

What is not to love about the international Afro-Celtic fusion group Baka Beyond? In this day and age of doom & gloom, these musicians get people on their feet dancing to acoustic African groove married to shimmering Celtic fare. Not only that, founders of the BB, Su Hart and Martin Cradick should be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for all of the work they have done with the Baka Pygmies of the Cameroon forest. Well, maybe another year...

In the meantime, Baka Beyond & Baka Gbine's Baka Live gives listeners a chance to hear electrifying performances. The gaps between indigenous and non-indigenous people, Celtic and African music have all been bridged. We end up with a rich celebration of cultures and a friendly vibe that can only leave smiles on people's faces. I know that I smile a lot when I listen to these recordings. You can almost hear the dancing going on and certainly the excitement from this Afro-European brew. Kind of leaves me wondering why imperialism happened in the first place, when something softer like musical exchange would have left people less stressed out.

Live versions of Bambole, Sad Among Strangers with its gorgeous lilting vocals, Kobo, Bokissa and Boulez, Boulez, just to name a few soar off of this CD. Martin's guitar work and the tight musicianship of these players might entice listeners to catch this band in concert. (Which I will be doing next month).

Call of the Forest acts as a compilation of Baka Beyond favorites taken from studio albums ranging from 1995 to 2004. This is a fundraising album for the nonprofit One Heart-Global Music Exchange. The back cover reads, "Through Global Music Exchange--dubbed 'One Heart' by the Baka women-Baka Beyond give back to the rain forest culture that inspired them."

So if you feel like spreading kindness in the world, start by gifting yourself with one of these CDs and know that your money is going towards a fantastic cause.


Monday, September 29, 2008

In Review---Julie Fowlis Preserves Scotch Gaelic Culture

Photo from
Photography by Ashley Coombes

Julie Fowlis (Scotland)

Shoeshine Records and Cadiz Music

Hailing from one of the westernmost points of Europe, on the island North Uist, vocalist Julie Fowlis shares ancient and contemporary Scotch Gaelic songs with an international audience on her recording, Cuilidh. This crossover artist and music-preserver prefers to sing the songs in Scotch Gaelic, a language spoken only by 60,000 people and on the remote island where Fowlis resides.

The Scotch Gaelic dialect bodes well for these lilting melodies reflecting on scandals, shipwrecks and defiant women who either walk out on their own wedding or marry someone against their parents' wishes. According to the press notes, the songs on this album range from 10 years ago to several 100 years ago. The songs are sung in a clear lyrical voice backed by traditional Celtic/Gaelic instruments and the songs range from rousing to melancholic ballads.

And also in the press notes, "North Uist is one of the few places in Scotland where this age-old song line has been broken and where a majority of people still speak Gaelic as their first language. Long denigrated by Scotland's overlords and neglected by modern cultural authorities, Scottish Gaelic was not recognized as an official language in Scotland until 2005…" As late as the 1950s and 60s, children were forbidden to use the language at school. Thankfully, these songs also keep the language alive and well along with stories of ancestors of the people living on North Uist--and what beautiful songs they are.

Some of the songs on Cuilidh (pronounced Kul'i), are working songs, for churning butter, rowing, hay making and other tasks. I even found that these working songs help with modern urban tasks like washing the dishes, typing reviews and whatnot. Since I like to do my chores with music playing in the background, I find Fowlis' CD contributes to joyfully completing my tasks.

In fact, this even brings up the idea that many cultures have songs that derive from various farming, milling, sewing and other daily chores. The Swedes even have a tradition where musicians accompany them while they go for strolls. You can collect these songs from Scotland, Ireland, Eastern Europe, Estonia, Finland and other places and then listen to the songs while you work.

I have often thought that blasting 70s and 80s hard rock while painting or doing chores is unhealthy so what if people listened to old working songs while completing those chores? Wouldn't this be a healthier route to go? Even shopping at natural food or grocery stores can drain my energy when nostalgic rock music blasts through the store sound system.

Two missions are accomplished when we adopt these old work songs in our daily routine. First these old songs are preserved for the future and two, we pursue the songs' intended uses.

For more information go to or or