Saturday, December 5, 2009

Bach for Sheltered Dogs

Announcement from Pianist Lisa Spector/Through A Dog's Ear


We'd like your assistance on an important community program. Can you help us spread the word about the Through a Dog's Ear Shelter Program? For free, we offer two hours of clinically tested classical piano music to non-profit dog advocacy groups (shelters, dog rescues, service dog organizations, etc.). Currently, Through a Dog's Ear music is being played in 75 shelters in three countries. Please tell your local shelters about our program.
Go to

Friday, December 4, 2009

Top Recordings of the Decade (2000-09)

A Decade of Music: Top Recordings from 2000-09

Lo'Jo, World Village
NPR (National Public Radio) came up with lists of favorite recordings from the last decade.  So I thought I would do the same, but what would be my criteria? Can I include albums produced in 2001 or 2008, if I received those albums years after the release date?

I actually have a lot more favorites than what you will see on this list.  All the recordings fall into the world music genre because that is the only genre that I have reviewed for most of the decade.  I started reviewing world music recordings in 2002 when I launched my first music website, Cranky Crow World Music.  Then I began contributing reviews to World Music Central in the spring of 2003.  I did come across older recordings (2000 and 2001), during my first few years of reviewing.  And yes, I am including recordings that I did not receive the same year they were released.  Two examples of that are Barbara Furtuna's In Santa Place (2008) and  the Galician recording Nordistina (2006), which I received in 2009.

Uxia, World Village, Folmusica
You will also find a few ties on the list.  I have reviewed hundreds of recordings in the past decade.  And if it was not for this huge exploration of music from around the world, I would have never learned about the healing aspects of music, mainly on myself, nor would I feel like a world citizen.  I learned geography, history, anthropology, and about diverse musical traditions.  On some days I relate to the Alan Lomaxes of the world.

So here's a huge salute to the past decade of music!  We made it this far, let's keep going.

2000--Gjallarhorn, Sjofn, NorthSide Records

2001--Vasen, Live at the Nordic Roots Festival, NorthSide
AND Barrio Chino, Mediterra Nostra, Tinder Records

2002--Lo'Jo, Au Cabaret Sauvage, World Village

2003--Varttina, Iki, NorthSide
AND Cristina Branco, Sensus, Decca/Universal

2004--Mariana Montalvo, Piel de Acceituna, World Village

2005--Jean-Paul Poletti & Le Choeur De Sartene, Terra Mea, Universal France

2006--Michel Camilo & Tomatito, Spain Again, Universal
AND *Abe Rabade, Guadi Galego & Ugia Pedreira, Nordistina, Falcatruada

2007--Mariza, Concerto em Lisboa, Time Square
AND Habib Koite & Bamada, Afriki, Cumbancha

2008--*Barbara Furtuna, In Santa Place, Buda Musique
AND Shastriya Syndicate, Syndicated, Sense World Music

2009--Uxia, Eterno Naviga, World Village

Thursday, December 3, 2009

In review--Norwegian Holiday

Mathias Eick, Pasha Hanjana and Ertan Tekin
The Three Wise Men
Kirkelig Kulturverksted

Stephen Brandt-Hansen
In the Light of Christmas
Kirkelig Kulturverksted

Since 2003 when I discovered the Norwegian blues musician Knut Reiersrud, holiday music released on the Norwegian label, Kirkelig Kulturverksted (KKV), has become a tradition for me. Founder of the label, Erik Hillestad and his colleagues produce holiday music with an ethnic edge, certainly the holiday records I listened to as a child did not feature Iranian nays (a reed flute) and Turkish instruments—I only wish that they had! A few years back, the Palestinian vocalist Rim Banna made her European debut on a KKV holiday recording. She would later follow up with three successful solo albums released on the label. For the 2009 holiday releases, trumpet Mathias Eick and tenor Stephen Brandt-Hansen set the stars in the firmament.

The Three Wise Men featuring three wise musicians hailing from Norway (multi-instrumentalist Mathias Eick), Iran (Pasha Hanjana on nay) and Turkish duduk (a reed instrument) player Ertan Tekin. They perform mostly familiar holiday classics, with a few exotic ones tossed in. Mathias’ arrangements of piano, trumpet, vibraphone, duduk and nay could be called exotic as well. In fact, listeners might feel tempted to light incense of myrrh and frankincense.

This beautiful global recording features traditional songs from Germany, France, England, Norway, Italy, and Palestine. The opener, a somber Scandinavian traditional song, My Heart is Always with Jesus with its East-meets-West arrangement, if you can imagine jazz trumpet backed by the nay and duduk. Hark the Herald Angels Sing, Silent Night and Little Town of Bethlehem would sound familiar to the typical American listener, whereas, listeners with global and early music interests will welcome the French traditional, Ave Maria Stella and the Sicilian O Sanctissima. Eick’s trumpet on Little Town of Bethlehem might have the late Miles Davis questioning why he didn’t produce a holiday jazz album—I am guessing.

The collection of songs could not be called rousing nor would I recommend playing this recordings as background music for a holiday party. The arrangements work best as contemplative music, curling up reading a book, meditating or reflecting over a cup of tea or hot chocolate. And this recording would be a wonderful introduction of Middle Eastern instruments to children of all ages.

Tenor Stephen Brandt-Hansen enjoys fame in Europe as a theatrical vocalist. His rendition of Silent Night, Oh, Holy Night, Noel, Noel and other favorites which appear on In the Light of Christmas are beautifully rendered. Any time I hear any version of Silent Night, I recall when I learned how to play the song on a little organ when I was a child—long before I knew about God or religion. I found the song exquisite then and I find it exquisite now. Oh, Holy Night with its vaulted melody that few people can sing well, and it must be sung well, wins the award of my favorite Christmas song. The jaunty Oh, Rest Me Merry Gentlemen with the harmonica kicks up its heels.

Brandt-Hansen goes beyond just doing justice to the song, he sings grace notes in the most difficult passages, almost giving it a baroque treatment and then when the choir comes into back his vocal phrasing, I doubt any listener will not shed a tear for the sheer beauty of it. Iver Kleive (organ/piano), Anders Engen (percussion), Sigmund Groven (harmonica) and a choir directed by Marian Lisland round off the stunning arrangements.

In the Light of Christmas (also the title of a song on the recording penned by Erik Hillestad), could be played in the background of a small dinner or sedate get-together, but it too falls into the contemplative listening scenario. Listeners that prefer vocally-led holiday music would relish this one, but the songs are sung in Norwegian and create a world music listening experience.

I wish everyone in Norway and beyond a happy holiday season. Let 2010 be the year in which we all come together and create peace on earth. Then the real healing can begin.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The Whole Music Experience Top Ten Lists of 2009

The bulk of recordings I received in late 2008 and 2009 were of classical and traditional (world) genres. Since I had a large pile of classical recordings, some of those recordings ended up on the Top Ten Healing Recordings.

I received only a small collection of jazz recordings and some of the recordings I received in 2009 were actually recorded in 2008. Since my biggest discovery of the year was Galician (Spain) music, I included two recordings on the list below, a 2008 jazz recording and a 2009 world music recording. I feel fortunate to have received high quality recordings by some of the best names in classical, jazz and world music. The lists are random, meaning there is no number one spot—all being equal.

Best Jazz Recordings (2008-09)

1. New Orleans Jazz Orchestra, Book One, World Village
2. Mario Adnet & Philippe Baden Powell, Afro Samba Jazz, Adventure Music
3. Mathias Eick, The Door, ECM (2008 recording)
4. Vaamonde, Lamas & Romero, Vellas Artes, Falcatruada, (Galicia, 2008)
5. Ablaye Cissoko & Volker Goetze, Sira, ObliqSound, (2008 recording)
6. Benjamim Taubkin, Sèrgio Reze & Zeca Assumpcao, Trio +1, Adventure Music
7. Trio Ifriquiya, Petite Planète, World Village
8. Ithmara Koorax & Juarez Moreira, Bim Bom, Motema
9. Daniel Santiago, Metropole, Adventure Music
10. Tom Lellis and the Metropole Orchestra, Skylark, Adventure Music

Best World & Traditional Recordings (2008-09)

1. Toto La Momposina, Bodega, Astar
2. Marta Topferova, Trova, World Village
3. Uxìa, eterno navegar, World Village
4. Cesaria Evora, Nha Sentimento, Lusafrica
5. The Wailin’ Jennys, Live at The Mauch Chunk Opera House, Red House Records
6. Oreka tx, Nomadak tx, World Village
7. Maria del Mar Bonet, Raixa, World Village
8. Joana Amendoeira, À Flor Da Pele, World Village
9. Chango Spasiuk, Pynandì, World Village
10. Marina Rossell, Gran Teatre Del Liceu de Barcelona

The next category might surprise folks. My interpretation of healing music includes both physical healing and community healing. For instance “Playing for Change” represents community healing whereas, Marjorie de Muynck’s “Vibrational Healing Music” represents individual healing. Of course, any of the top jazz, classical and world recordings could easily fall into these catagories.

Best Healing Recordings (2008-09)

1. Marjorie de Muynck, Vibrational Healing Music, Sounds True
2. Barbara Furtuna, In Santa Pace, Buda Musique
3. Playing for Change, Songs Around The World, Concord Music Group
4. Anonymous 4, Four Centuries of Chant, Harmonia Mundi
5. Arianna Savall, Peiwoh, Alia Vox
6. Nancy Vieira, Lus, World Village
7. Louie Gonnie, Rhythms Within a Turquoise Dream, Canyon Records
8. Doug Cox & Salil Bhatt, Slide to Freedom 2, Northern Blues
9. Alex E. Smith, Cheevers Toppah and Nitanis Landry, Rain in July, Canyon Records
10. Symbiosis, Aotearoa (Beautiful Sounds of Nature from New Zealand), Symbiosis Music

Honorable mention: Songs across Walls of separation, Kirkelig Kulturverksted

Ten Best Classical Recordings (2008-09)

1. Till Fellner, J.S. Bach Inventionen und Sinfonien, ECM New Series
2. James DeMars, Guadalupe, Our Lady of Roses, Canyon Records
3. Rolf Lislevand and Ensemble, Diminuito, ECM New Series
4. Angela Hewitt, Plays Handel and Haydn, Hyperìon
5. Stile Antico, Song of Songs, Harmonia Mundi
6. Polyphony/Britten Sinfonia/Stephen Layton, Handel Messiah, Hyperìon
7. Isabelle Faust & Alexander Melnikov, Beethoven Complete Sonatas for Piano & Violin, Harmonia Mundi
8. Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Ravel Daphnis et Chloè, CSO-Resound
9. Richard Egarr & Academy of Ancient Music, Bach Brandenburg Concertos, Harmonia Mundi
10. Thomas Zehetmair, Niccolò Paganini 24 Capricci, EMC New Series

Honorable mention: Philippe Herreweghe and Collegium Vocale Gent, J.S. Bach Jesu, deine Passion, Harmonia Mundi

Five Significant Labels of 2009

1. World Village
2. Canyon Records
3. Adventure Music
4. ECM Records
5. Harmonia Mundi

Honorable mention to Motema (For its fundraising efforts for healing music)