Friday, December 24, 2010

FYI: 3 Most Powerful Words

I Love You said to anyone in any language.

Say these words and sing these words often.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Top 20 Folkloric/World Music Women Vocalists

Marta Topferova, World Village
WME Top 20 Folkloric/Traditional Women Vocalists

1. Mariza (Portugal)

2. Cristina Branco (Portugal)

3. Cesaria Evora (Cape Verde)

4. Lura (Cape Verde/Portugal)

5. Savina Yannatou (Greece)

6. Oumou Sangare (Mali)

7. Rokia Traore (Mali)

8. Lila Downs (US/Mexico)

9. Monica Salmaso (Brazil)

10. Tania Libertad (Peru)

11. Mariana Montalvo (Chile/France)

12. Barbara Luna (Argentina)

13. Marta Topferova (US)

14. Sui Vesan (Czech Republic)

15. Jenny Wilhelms (Finland)

16. Julie Fowlis (Scotland)

17. Uxia (Spain)

18. Marina Rossell (Spain)

19. Estrella Morente (Spain)

20. Omara Portuondo (Cuba)

Women or Mixed Voice Ensembles

1. Faraualla (Italy)

2. Kitka (US)

3. Corou de Berra (France)

This wasn't an easy list to compile.  Many fabulous vocalists weren't included, such as Native American, Indian classical, jazz, blues, bluegrass, or American folk artists.  I'll compile those lists at another time. 

I enjoy the music of hundreds of women vocalists so this list represents mainly artists that command our attention and inclusion in our CD collections.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

In review--Soulful Bliss

Chandrika Krishnamurthy Tandon
Soul Call
Om Namo Narayanaya

When I first heard about vocalist Chandrika Krishnamurthy Tandon’s Soul Call, I thought I’d received a kirtan CD in the mail. So I felt surprised when I received a famous healing chant set to Indian pop music. Krishnamurthy Tandon sings the same chant throughout the nine tracks that appear on the invigorating CD. It’s not surprising that the overall feel compares to a Bollywood soundtrack since the producer and musicians recorded it at a soundtrack studio, with orchestral arrangement duties handled by Tejendra Narayan Majumdar.

The Grammy-nominated album has received a devoted following at the Soul Chants website (site listed at the end of the review). Visitors cite the healing effects the chants have had on them. According to the liner notes, “The powerful healing mantra translates to, ‘I surrender all to the Divine Protector; I salute the Divine Maintainer of all; I belong to the Divine Grace that created me; Please bless me to serve The Grace at all times.’”

Also in the liner notes, “Continuous recitation of the mantra’s eight phonemes, Om Na Mo Na Ra Ya Na Ya, is said to cleanse the body of disease causing cells in eight vital centers…” I’ve listened to the recording four times and I’ve not experienced a boost to my health yet. However, I feel relaxed when I listen to Krishnamurthy’s powerful voice. Perhaps, in order for this mantra to live up to its full potential, I’m supposed to sing along, but what a fete singing along with a classically-trained Indian vocalist! Most of us would rather just listen and lose ourselves in her voice.

I’m currently producing a new workshop on Ayurvedic doshas and music and I find that the music on this recording dovetail with my mission. For instance, the first track, Bhoopali, with its slow dreamy beginning leading to invigorating beats and phrases would be ideal for someone balancing Kapha (dosha). The slower tempo Shuddha Sarang could balance Vata as well, as calm Pitta. I also recommend the second track, Bageshri for Vata and Pitta balancing. The Arabic-sounding Basanth Mukhari sounds ideal for individuals with Kapha imbalance who have trouble getting out of bed every morning.  In fact, this chant recording lends itself to a morning listening session. Winter is ruled by Kapha so many of us will feel sluggish during this time and need an extra boost that this recording provides.

I end this review sending out a blessing to Chandrika Krishnamurthy Tandon for devoting her lifework to this special chant and engaging with the healing power of music. The vocalist’s life story acts as an inspiration to any of us seeking our true life calling. First, there’s the courage to leave the old life behind, and then the determination to drift into the unknown until our feet land on the right path for us. If you seek a healing, it certainly doesn’t hurt to listen to this recording a few times. The end result might surprise you like it has the 12,000 visitors to Soul Chants website. And a Grammy nomination awarded to a recently unknown musician is significant too. Miracles happen.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

In Celebration of the Solstice Eclipse...

I'm compiling a list of songs with references to the moon or have moon in the title.  I can use your help.  Genres I'm looking at are: World, traditional, classical, Broadway musicals, movie soundtracks, jazz, and blues.

I'll get us started: "Clare de Lune," "Moon River," "Blue Moon,"....

Please leave a comment with the song titles.  Thanks.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

FYI--What's On Your Holiday Music List?

Holiday Recordings (In My Collection)

I gave most of my holiday recordings to my parents. And the list you’ll find here features Christian and pagan music. I have not received any holiday recordings from other spiritual and religious traditions, but I'm open to recordings featuring music for Kwanza and other religious traditions.

But on this list, I’ve included Corsican polyphony, Nicoise and Provencal polyphony, early music, early colonial music from Latin America, polyphony and carols from the United States (early music), choral music from Eastern Europe, and some unique small ensemble music. Of course you’ll also find a recording of Handel Messiah, which is also featured during Easter season.

I realize that these recordings don’t comprise a comprehensive collection, (Tchaikovsky’s incidental music for the ballet The Nutcracker is missing from this list). However, the loving spirit of all the recordings comes through loud and clear, especially on a good stereo system.


1. Stile Antico, Puer natus est (Tudor Music for Advent and Christmas), Harmonia Mundi

2. Corou De Berra, Christmas Carols from Southern France, Buda Musique

3. Jean-Paul Poletti & The Men’s Choir of Sartene, Messa Sulenna (Corsican chants), Universal France

4. San Antonio Vocal Arts Ensemble, La Noche Buena (Christmas Music of Colonial Latin America), World Library Publications

5. Polyphony/Britten Sinfonia/Stephen Layton, Handel Messiah, Hyperion (UK)

6. Anonymous 4, The Cherry Tree (Songs, Carols & Ballads for Christmas), Harmonia Mundi

7. The Terra Nova Consort, Renaissance in Provence (folkloric Christmas songs), Dorian Recordings

8. Kitka, Winter Songs, Diaphonica (Holiday Songs from Eastern Europe)

Small Ensembles (mostly instrumental)

1. Rolf Lislevand, Jul I gammel tid (Norwegian), Kirkelig Kulturverksted (KKV)

2. Mathias Eick, Pasha Hanjani & Ertan Tekin, Three Wise Men, KKV

3. Loreena McKennitt, A Midwinter Night’s Dream, Verve

4. Solveig Slettahjell, Little Town of Bethlehem, KKV

Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Practice: Healing with Holiday Music

Healing with Holiday Music; Practicing Cultural and Spiritual Diversity

Depending on your cultural and spiritual perceptions, holiday music can provide healing through nostalgia, relaxation, and joy. However, this includes a few caveats. An overdose of holiday music (heard in shopping malls, banks, and post offices), could lead to overkill and brainworms (a song hook repeating itself incessively).  Nostalgic elements work best with people who have happy memories of the holidays, but those individuals who lost love ones or suffered a tragedy during the holiday season won't find holiday music particularly healing.  They might avoid it entirely.

Don't make the mistake of thinking that everyone practices the same religious rituals as you do. Holidays from a variety of religious traditions, including Judaism (Hanukkah), Christianity (Christmas), South African (Kwanza), Islamic, and pagan (Solstice) are practiced by people among us.  Each of these traditions have their own ritualistic and celebratory music.  Yet, when we visit shopping centers or other public arenas during this season, we mainly hear Christian hymns, which in itself could leave people feeling uncomfortable, not to mention tense.

However, perhaps we could view all this music from a vibratory level.  All of this music was composed with love, compassion, and good intentions in mind.  All of this music provides healing power and potential, if we can move past religious connections and views of religions, other than our own.  Bridges can be built and cultural exchange can result by sharing diverse music. An open mind equals and open heart in my opinion.  I don't practice a religion, yet I enjoy music with spiritual inspiration.  Medieval and renaissance Christian music from the Catholic Church enchants and heals on a deep level, but so do folkloric holiday songs from these periods of history.

So how can we employ holiday music to bring peace and healing in our lives? First, keep an open mind.  This doesn't imply that you toss out your religious beliefs in favor of another, it just means that you feel open to diversity, peace, and brother/sisterhood.  Second, if the nostalgic element of certain holiday songs brings pain, sit with that pain or grief.  If you see a therapist, work with this music in therapy as a cathartic avenue.  Use it as music therapy and you could experience deep healing.

Third, if someone you know is a resident at a hospital or nursing home during the holidays, ask them if they would feel comfortable listening to holiday music during this time.  Ask them what type of holiday music they prefer and don't push your own taste or culture on them.  This could cause resentment on their part.  For hospice workers, consider holiday music to help with your patient's transition--again listening skills are crucial in selecting the appropriate music for the patient.  After all, this is their passage into the next realm, which they need to orchestrate.

For those of us who feel joy listening to holiday music and aren't reminded of a tragedy or painful event that happened during a holiday season in the past, use holiday music for relaxation purposes.  Perhaps you wish to chill out after a long day at work or warm your limbs after experiencing cold or stormy weather.  Curl up with a good book or good friend, with your favorite holiday music playing in the background--light a few candles.

If you work in retail and hear holiday music playing in the background to the point of ad nauseum, choose renaissance or classical pieces (classical guitar, harp, or a string quartet), or something obscure that you would never hear in a shopping mall type situation.  Try listening to one of the Putumayo holiday music from around the world recordings or some other world music recording featuring a diversity of holiday music.

Whatever your background, holiday music can lift your heart and create a warm environment for a holiday gathering.  Invite musicians to perform at an office party, hospital bedside, or go caroling in places where people receive little human contact. This holiday season may your heart fill with joyful music and may you find healing for yourself and your loved ones, and maybe a new friend.

By the way, Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker Suite and Handel's Messiah provide powerful and beautiful holiday music.  I didn't fully appreciate Tchaikovsky's ballet music until I researched it and learned the history behind it.  Yes, I agree too many companies have used music from Nutcracker Suite to sell products during the holiday season, but if you listen to the music for music sake, it will take your breath away.

I'll post a list of some of my holiday favorite recordings in the near future.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

In review--Sugar & Spice

Gregory Porter
Motema Music

As the flood waters recede in western Washington, debut jazz artist Gregory Porter’s Water plays in the background. Similar to the stormy weather alternating with the sun peeking through thick clouds, Porter’s recording, rides a wave of emotions too. From tender love ballads like the opener, Illusions and Pretty to the bombastic socio-political 1960 What? that recalls Martin Gaye’s What’s Going On, Porter covers all the bases here.

Porter composed and co-arranged the bulk of the recording and his lyrics cut straight through the heart. The arrangements with passionate horns, and saxophone anchored down with piano, bass, and drums, wed to Porter’s visual text. Porter’s vocals hit the spot too, again portraying a palette of emotions, outrage on 1960 What? and sensual on Pretty, when Porter sings, “Her hand strokes the drum. She plays so fast I can’t find the one…”

On Magic Cup the musicians introduce Latin jazz funk and Wisdom features a blend of jazz and gospel, and Porter ends the recording with an a cappella blues piece, Feeling Good. His vocals radiate throughout the recording. His passionate delivery of the classic Skylark promises to turn heads. As far as debut recordings go, this among the hottest I’ve come across in my 24 years of reviewing music—highly recommended.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Top 10 Recordings from the Americas for 2010

1. Jovino Santos Neto, See the Sound, Adventure Music

2. Mario Romano Quartet, Valentina, Alma Records

3. Catherine Russell, Inside this Heart of Mine, World Village

4. Benjamim Taubkin, Piano Masters, Vol. 1, Adventure Music

5. Roberto Occhipinti, A Bend in the River, Alma Records

6. Marcos Amorim Trio, Portraits, Adventure Music

7. Jon Manasse and Jon Nakamatsu, Bernstein, Gershwin, Novacek, and d’ Rivera, American Music for Clarinet, Harmonia Mundi

8. Ricardo Silveira, ‘Til Tomorrow, Adventure Music

9. Estun-Bah (Native American), From Where the Sun Rises, Canyon Records

10. Gregory Porter, Water, Motema

Best Folkloric Retrospective: Mike Marshall, An Adventure, 1999-2009, Adventure Music

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Tis the Season to Tra, La, La

Happy Holidays from Whole Music Experience!

Monday, December 6, 2010

FYI: Article on Music for Early Childhood Development

My article regarding music for early childhood development has been published in the Skagit Food Coop newsletter. (click on December 2010), p. 6 & 12.

The article features Oran Etkin, Hilary Field and Gary Kvistad of Woodstock Chimes.

Top 10 Classical Recordings of 2010

Top 10 Classical of 2010

1. Javier Perianes, Blasco de Nebra Piano Sonatas, Harmonia Mundi

2. Valery Gergiev & The London Symphony Orchestra, Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet, London Symphony Orchestra label

3. Jon Manasse and the Seattle Symphony, Mozart and Spohr Clarinet Concertos, Harmonia Mundi

4. Anna Prohaska, Bernarda Fink, Akademie Für Alte Musik Berlin, Giovanni Battista Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater, Harmonia Mundi

5. Dino Saluzzi, El Encuentro Live, ECM

6. Staier and Sepec, Robert Schumann Sonatas for Piano and Violin, Harmonia Mundi

7. Christophe Rosset, Louis Couperin, Harmonia Mundi

8. Stephen Hough, Chopin Late Masterpieces, Hyperion

9. Imani Winds, Terra Incognita, E1 Entertainment

10. Stile Antico, Puer Natus Est, Harmonia Mundi

Best Crossover Recording, Altan, 25th Anniversary Celebration, Compass

In review--Ole!

Adam del Monte
Asì lo siento yo

I’ve found over the years that flamenco music must possess authentication, either the musician was born into an Andalusian family of flamenco origins or lived in Andalusia at some point and studied with the flamenco masters. Years of listening, observing and practicing flamenco follow until the flamenco musician is ready to strike out on his or her own with enough passion in tow. Flamenco more than anything revolves around feelings and emotions. A musician might have the chops, but if he or she can’t take you to that place called duende, then the musician loses the heart of flamenco. Today you will find both old flamenco with its rustic pastiche and nuevo flamenco pioneered by Tomatito, Paco de Lucia and others. You’ll even hear flamenco fused to Cuban son, rock and jazz music.

So how does someone such as me, not trained in flamenco, review a flamenco album? I’ve probably journeyed to the place of duende several times as a music listener, and I know an array of strong emotions firsthand. So this is the place where I begin. Besides, when I’m reviewing American musicians who perform flamenco music, I feel more at home. Take for instance, flamenco guitarist-composer-arranger Adam del Monte who on his album asì lo siento yo fuses flamenco guitar with Latin jazz sensibilities. I was reminded of Paco de Lucia’s work several times while listening to this recording, especially on the tracks with Guadiana’s vocals, the titular track (bulerìa), and Ecos Ladinos (granadìna).

The opener, Puntào (rumba), with its saxophone, bass, percussion, and palmas could have come straight out of the documentary Calle 54, due to its innovative approach. And certainly it ignites the album sending listeners on a sizzling journey. The most beautiful tracks are Ecos Ladinos with vocals, cello, and guitar and Sombras del paradise (minèra), in which del Monte strips everything away except his guitar. By contrasting the solo guitar with the arranged pieces, listeners get a glimpse of del Monte’s talent as a composer and a guitarist. Certainly, I would imagine that Adam del Monte received a seal of authentication from all the great talent he’s collaborated. And I applaud his music. Truly this is beautiful music with heart and soul.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

WME Artist of 2010

Best Artist of 2010

Jovino Santos Neto

For his vision and versatility

WME Best of Awards for 2010

Best Music DVD:

Marina Rossell, Classics Catalans..., World Village

Best Children's Album:

Randall Paskemin, Goodnight Sweet Dreams, I Love You, Canyon Records

Best Book on Music:

The Cello Suites, Eric Siblin, Grove Press/Atlantic Press

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Essay: I Like to Be In America (Healing Power of "Westside Story" Soundtrack

Heal Me with a Latin-Jazz-Classical Vibe

You wouldn't think I'd find the soundtrack music of Westside Story healing with its jagged edges, slight dissonance portraying teenage angst, and sarcasm (both in the music and the text), but I do.  Similar to Beethoven's Fifth Symphony, the music from this Broadway musical and feature film, works through anger, frustration, and then ultimately triumphs.  The love songs in both the text and music (with its vaulting melodies), possess a sense of destiny and toy with metaphysical elements. 

The text revolves around the theme of belonging somewhere, to someone, and to a community.  The melodies too combine ethnicity such as American jazz of the 1950s, mixed with Puerto Rican elements, and even European classical elements, after all, Leonard Bernstein composed this famous music.  The song, America for instance provides a poignant contrasts between immigrants who assimilate into a new culture, and those who defiantly hold out, "No, it was better back home on the island."  This proves healing to anyone experiencing alienation or feeling homesick, but especially pertinent to the immigrant experience.

Fight scenes with built up tension and musical dissonance (reminds me of Prokofiev's ballet music for Romeo and Juliet), alternate with soaring love songs sung by Tony and Maria. And when I mentioned metaphysics and destiny earlier, I was referring to the song Something's Coming, haven't we all felt that tinge of intuition when something wonderful is about to come into our lives? Unfortunately for Tony, that something was short lived.

The healing elements I find in this soundtrack include, tension and release of tension (in staccato passages), soaring melodies (legato) with uplifting lyrics (some of the most beautiful love songs ever written as far as I'm concerned), a sense of spiritual connectedness in the love songs, Tonight, Maria, and Something's Coming.  Songs that can assist in releasing anger and frustration include, The Jets Song, the introduction, the music at the high school dance, and America. (I don't have the CD at the moment so I'm unable to look up titles).

The best way to use this soundtrack for healing purposes is to listen to it without any distractions.  Use headphones if that helps, but keep the volume low. If you need to uplift your moods, but feel tense and angry, listen to one of the more dissonant tracks first, and then follow up with the love songs.  Or you could listen to the love song towards the end of the soundtrack which features multiple singers performing vocal polyphony (three or four different vocal lines occuring at one time).  End your listening with Tonight since this song closes with consonance.  You can also end your session with the love song, Maria.

When you complete your listening session sit in silence for at least 30 minutes.  Allow the music to absorb into your cells and digest it.  You can take this time to reflect on the lyrics, the melodies, Latin-jazz rhythms, instrumental solos or motifs.  Then check in with your physical and emotional reactions.  Write them down in a journal.  You'll find that each session brings up different emotions or physical sensations.  You might find that you can only listen to this soundtrack at a certain time of day or when you're in a specific mood or environment. Just make a note of those things.

I recommend the original soundtrack of Westside Story with the original Broadway cast.  This recording is readily available and most likely you can pick it up at your local library. And if you're a theatrical performer, vocalists or musician, you can experience the ultimate healing experience by appearing in the theatrical production.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Top 10 World Music Recordings for 2010

Top 10 for 2010 World-traditional-Folkloric

1. Lokua Kanza, Nkolo, World Village

2. Ana Moura, Leva-Me Aos Fados, World Village

3. Salif Keita, la difference, Universal Music

4. Rahim Alhaj, Little Earth, UR Music

5. Huun Huur Tu, Ancestors Call, World Village

6. Mayte Martin, Al Cantar A Manuel, World Village

7. Sierra Maestro, Sonando Ya, World Village

8. Susanna Owiyo, My Roots, Kirkelig Kulturverksted

9. V.M Bhatt and Matt Maley, Sleepless Nights, World Village

10. Sondre Bratland and Annborg Lien, Alle Vegne, Kirkelig Kulturverksted

Best Folkloric Album: Michèle Choinière, La Violette, independent release

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Essay: Swinging those Moods

Lifting Off (Employing Music to Relieve Melancholy)

I've felt my share of melancholy.  And I'm thankful for the gift of sadness because without experiencing it, I wouldn't have experimented with music to uplift my mood. And of course, I understand that the music that uplifts my mood, might not uplift someone else's.  Clinical depression and other mental illnesses are out of my domain so please read this essay with that in mind.

When I'm in a cranky or depressed mood, I back away from life for a short period to find my center.  I practice yoga and meditation during these times, and I catch my breath.  I've found that specific types of music uplift my moods and transform my thoughts from negative to positive.  I have a small stack of Brazilian bossa nova and Mozart CDs for this purpose.  But Bob Marley's greatest hits or Exodus work just as well in getting me back on track.

I don't suffer from seasonal affective disorder, however, living in the northern US where the fall and early winter days fall on the dark and gloomy side, I feel sleepy and lethargic on some days. I take 2,000+ mg of vitamin D3, get plenty of rest, eat a healthy diet, go for walks (when it's still light outside), and I listen to tropical music.  But on days when tropical music feels like a jolt to my system, I start with Scandinavian, American blues, jazz, and introspective music. Then I work my way to samba and bossa nova, then to Cuban son and other Latin music.

If you look at the "on rotation" posts on this blog, you'll find lists of songs specifically for setting and changing moods. The practice begins with tracking your physical and emotional responses to music.  Keep a journal.  And when a certain mood hits you, try out different types of music.  When you find what transmutes depression into peace of mind, stick with it. Create a music medicine chest so you have these recordings handy when you need them most.

There are times when you can ride out a mood and listen to it.  Emotions teach us about ourselves and point us in the right direction. If we feel low energy after hanging out with a person or group, then pay attention. If your energy flags halfway through the day, pay attention, and see a doctor for health concerns (get your thyroid hormone levels checked).  Music augments whatever healing practice or modality you already have in your life.  Never substitute music for medicine or other healing modalities without medical expert advice, unless you're a trained healer.

Music acts on many levels.  When we enjoy an activity such as listening to a specific type of music, we feel uplifted.  But even beyond that, some types of music empower us, slow us down, or give us a boost.  We shouldn't take the intangible powers of music for granted. Depending on its vibration, music either heals or harms us.  So keep this in mind as your journey deeper into music consciousness.

List of Melancholic Music:
(You might start where your emotions are at)

Cape Verdean music (some)
American blues
African blues
Torch songs (from Broadway musicals and jazz)
Romantic Era classical
French Impressionist
Erik Satie
Celtic ballads

Uplifting Music:

Brazilian samba and bossa nova
Cuban son and salsa
Bluegrass (swing)
Hot Jazz or gypsy swing
New Orleans jazz
Celtic reels and jigs
Quebecois music
Marching bands
Pow-wow songs
Putumayo  compilations
Mozart (some)

In review--Arrivals and Departures

Barrier Falls
5-String Productions

I don’t know how many Irish ballads I’ve heard with the title John Riley since I began covering world music, but a few. And since each ballad has its own distinct signature, I visualize Irish phonebooks containing pages of John Riley. The version that appears on Boston-based Celtic quintet Annalivia’s Barrier Falls, delights my ears. Lead vocalist/guitarist Liz Simmons possesses one of those voices, clear, immaculate, and chockfull of delicate emotions that does the Irish tradition proud.

Annalivia with its Celtic chamber sound comprised of banjo, dual fiddles, acoustic guitar, double-bass and vocal harmonies, hits the spot on this rainy Sunday afternoon. The band performs both melancholic love ballads and heartwarming jigs and reels, hailing from Cape Breton, the British Isles, and the US. The musicians polish each track, adding a few twists and 3-part vocal harmonies in the opening and closing tracks. I envision this band playing a double bill with The Wailin’ Jennys.

Overall, I find the album full of timeless and uplifting music. Traveling Case with Flynn Cohen on lead vocals, and The Times is Up with its gorgeous melody and warm guitar, stand out as my favorites thus far. The musicians grab their inspiration from Irish, Scottish, and American bluegrass and remind me of the Finnish-Norwegian band Frigg at times. When I listen to Barrier Falls, I hear a Celtic classic in the making. and

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Essay: Got Rhythm?

Rhythm: Gotta Have It

For many years I felt self-conscious about keeping rhythm with other musicians. I thought I lacked a sense of rhythm because a male musician had spread ugly innuendos about me in regard to rhythm, which I won’t describe here. Then I met a woman at a new age shop who wondered why I mentioned that I had no sense of rhythm. Impossible, she said. Then she asked, do you breathe, does your heart beat?

We all have a sense of rhythm. Every creatures on this earth from the dog wagging his tail to the rhythms of Bob Marley’s reggae to the squirrel running in staccato up and down the tree. The fish swimming slowly in the murky pond has rhythm, and as we know, George Gershwin got rhythm too, so did Fred Astaire. If you breathe, if you have a heartbeat, brainwaves, and if you walk, talk, sing, dance, run, crawl, or eat, you do so with rhythm.

Back in the mid-1990s I came across Gabrielle Roth’s five rhythms, which included among them, “flowing” and “staccato,” to name two of them. She too mentioned that everyone has rhythm and to become conscious of those rhythms and use their energy to empower you. Coming from the world of dance and metaphysics, she knew her stuff. And I enjoyed learning about her sense of rhythm and dancing my way into my own.

For many years now, I have felt drawn to percussion instruments from diverse musical traditions. It’s not enough for me to watch master drummers, I feel a strong urge to pick up a drum and keep time, and explore rhythms. As a guitarist, I’ve played rhythm, never the lead. I find myself tapping my hands to music and sometimes drumming on my thighs or table in front of me. The world of beats calls to me. And I notice and listen to a whole range of rhythm from the simple heartbeat of a Native American drum to the complexity of an Indian raga beat cycle or the tapping and clapping of flamenco in full swing.

And let’s ask ourselves just how we define certain musical genres. Disco, Cuban son, salsa, rumba, tango, Native American pow-wow songs, and Indian ragas all possess beat signatures. We know the difference between a rumba and bossa nova by rhythm. Think of any musical style in the folkloric or world music genres and you’ll find a determining rhythm. Sometimes I wonder which rhythms carry the highest vibration and bring us the greatest well-being, but perhaps that varies with each listener.

The rhythms that lift me out of a funk include reggae, Indian raga beat cycles, gentle heartbeat of Native American contemporary songs, bossa nova, and samba. For you, the list will differ. So that leaves me to wonder about our own unique rhythmic signature. Our hearts all beat the same, but what about the dancing of cells in our bodies, or our brainwaves? Do those differ from person to person? And how does rhythmic entrainment fit into the way we listen to music and the way our bodies hear the music? And how does culture determine our sense of rhythm? I often wonder.

I didn’t hear any pop or rock music for the first few years of my life. My parents aren’t baby boomers and didn’t listen to rock music. Sure I probably heard fragments of Elvis Presley or the Beatles in passing, but my father listened to country western music, and my mother played classical, jazz (mainly crooners and swing era), and Broadway show tunes in the home. I didn’t get interested in rock music until I turned ten.

And how I would have loved to have lived Mickey Hart’s childhood when he discovered mysterious music of the African pygmies. Nothing so exotic came across my ears, unless I would have heard music from a far off land on the National Geographic television show. But I knew rhythm and I knew the vast world offered treasures that I would someday discover.

But let’s return to rhythm. I type this essay to a rhythm as I listen to a greatest hits album by Mike Marshall. And if I chose to listen to Bach piano pieces instead, or West African blues, then I would type with a different rhythm, the cells in my body would orchestrate to that music, and my brainwaves, heartbeat and natural rhythms would speed up or slow down to entrain to those rhythms. Personally, I’m fascinated with what I can’t see, but still experience. Sometimes rhythm acts like an invisible force pushing us to explore the world further and deeper.

And you know what? Someday I’m going to get me a drum. Every shaman should have one and I’m no exception.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Essay: Animala Musica

Did you know that animals enjoy human music? Yes, I realize that you probably already know that various creatures enjoy their own music.  Wolves and coyotes enjoy howling, whales sing their songs, and we can add crickets, bees, birds, and frogs to this list.

I often wondered about a connection between human musical expression and the animals themselves.  Then I started observing birds and squirrels, especially around various types of music.  For instance, when I lived in my last apartment in Seattle, I befriended a family of squirrels.  These squirrels would find delight in listening to Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto #3. At first, I thought hmmm, what a coincidence.  But every time I played that piece of music on my CD/cassette player, the squirrels would run back and forth on the roof and even let out gleeful cries, if no better words to describe the experience.

They also like traditional guitar music from the Dominican Republic. The music matched the energy of the squirrels.  The crows didn't go for Rachmaninoff, but they would sit in the trees listening to bagpipe recordings. But neither the squirrels or the crows enjoyed an atonal piece of music by Maurice Ravel (thankfully Ravel's only piece like that).  When I played that musical piece three times, the crows and squirrels knocked over the water dish in the backyard and the crows actually dive bombed the house.  Okay, already, I get the message.

The creatures probably enjoy music I don't enjoy.  Such is life, but the fact that creatures are responding to music at all, leads me to wonder if humans actually are more evolved than the other creatures. Not long ago, we learned that crows make and use tools, something we thought only primates did. It turns out that squirrels possess great intelligence, though you probably just see them scavaging in your garbage can and think of them as dumpster divers.

So next time you play some tunes, either a recording or live, watch the animals and observe how they respond.  Personally, I find this animal-music connection fascinating.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

FYI--Seeking Traditional/Folkloric Recordings for Review and Research

I'm already looking at 2011 and what I seek regional music of France (and Corsica), Italy, Spain, Finland, Norway, and the Americas (especially Brazil, Colombia, and Argentina). I encourage labels that release this regional music to contact me by e-mail and then we'll go from there.

I look forward to exploring this music.

By the way, I'm always interested in acoustic music from Mali, Senegal, and Cuba.


Sunday, November 14, 2010


I found the Film Movement series movie, The Wind Journeys at my local library.  Directed by Colombian Ciro Guerra and featuring accordionist Marciano Martinez, a road flick marries music exploration. While the Colombian rural music, vallenata takes centerstage, other regional musical traditions appear in the movie.  Highly Recommended. (Especially for the students who enrolled in my Songs of the Americas course).

Sunday, November 7, 2010

In review--Sultry Jazzy Nights

Mario Romano Quartet
Alma Records

Opening with the chestnut, Night in Tunisia, Mario Romano Quartet brings a “Latin tinge” to the debut album, Valentina. It’s hard to imagine that a man who runs a construction company in Toronto, Mario Romano also possesses an extraordinary gift as a pianist. In fact, the press notes cite that Romano waited 40 years before following through on his passion for music. In a way that ‘s a shame, given that jazz audiences waited 4 decades to enjoy Romano’s musical gift.   But on the other hand, he brings maturity, grace, and elegance to his debut album. Sometimes we just have to wait.

Romano’s Latin-style piano playing is immersed in Pat LaBarbera’s stunning tenor saxophone, Mark Kelso’s syncopated drumming; and held down by Roberto Occhipinti’s bass. The four musicians travel through mostly jazz standards such as Dizzy Gillespie’s Night in Tunisia, the Beatles’ Norwegian Wood, Jacques Pervert Autumn Leaves (perfect timing guys!), Miles Davis’ Nardis and others. Romano and Occhipinti both contribute original songs to the classic mix.

The interpretations and arrangements feel spot on to me, with thick chunky Coltrane-like saxophone, Latin jazz piano, and a tight rhythm section. I’m a fan of melodic jazz, but I don’t mind a few twists and turns, as long as the players return me to familiar territory. This quartet takes that more adventurous route, the one with notes hanging over a cliff’s edge, a few wild hairpin turns, but then a return to safe ground, musically-speaking. The interpretation of Norwegian Wood follows this recipe, and I bet John Lennon turns over in his grave, asking why the Beatles’ didn’t take the more bohemian route.

The Autumn Leaves on this recording portrays a melancholic feeling (during the introduction), that would bring tears to Edith Piaf’s eyes. The piano ripples along with a plaintiff saxophone which performs the melody, then the piano takes off with a Latin jazz groove along with drums and bass—gorgeous! Romano’s original, Those Damn I Love Yous features album mate, Kristy (Cardinali) on vocals, and a lush string arrangement. Overall, this vibrant debut is going to turn heads and receive its share of kudos.  But I have to ask, Mario Romano, why did you make us wait?

Monday, November 1, 2010

In review--They Got Rhythm

Jon Manasse and Jon Nakamatsu

Bernstein, Gershwin, Novacek, D’Rivera
American Music for Clarinet and Piano
Harmonia Mundi

The clarinet either rubs people the wrong way or in the right hands, enchants its listeners. The reed instrument finds itself in the right hands with Jon Manasse when he pairs up with pianist John Nakamatsu, performing compositions by Leonard Bernstein, George Gershwin, John Novacek and Paquito d’Rivera. On the recording, American Music for Clarinet and Piano, listeners (even those who don’t enjoy the clarinet), find themselves immersed in a diverse range of musical genres, from blues to nuevo tango, jazz, and of course, American classical.

Bernstein and Gershwin of course need no introduction unless you’re reading this review from a remote part of the world. But outside of Pan-Latin jazz, Paquito d’Rivera might be new to listeners’ ears (though hardly new to mine), and John Novacek (the youngest composer on the recording, in his 40s), actually waxes nostalgia on the recording, while presenting some wild rags (ragtime). The diversity alone is worth mentioning, but also the large sound performed by only two instruments. Listeners might make the same mistake I have and imagine an orchestra performing the various suites. Take a listen to d’Rivera’s second piece of The Cape Cod Files, “Bandoneòn” and you might actually hear the ghost of Astor Piazzolla’s bandoneòn. I did and as it turns out, that’s my favorite piece on the recording. D’Rivera and Piazzolla both possess the ability to wrap their music around listeners’ hearts. “Bandoneòn” only reminds me of this rare talent.

While I’m sure that Manasse found quite a workout from the pieces on the recording, listeners’ ears will also find the music physically challenging because of the diversity and the virtuosity of the composers and performers. So if you know of someone who claims to despise the clarinet, play this disc for him. The recording ends with Gershwin’s lively I’ve Got Rhythm and if that doesn’t send listeners off whistling, nothing will.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

In review--Women Power

Suzanna Owiyo
My Roots
Kirkelig Kulturverksted

Skruk and Mahsa Vahdat
In the Mirror of Wine
Kirkelig Kulturverksted

The Norwegian label Kirkelig Kulturverksted champions women and has been doing so for decades. In the few years that I’ve been reviewing recordings produced by KKV, I’ve come across several compilation albums that brought women musicians from around the world together to fight injustice and celebrate their womanhood. The women that appear on the label lean towards community organizing, championing worthy causes, and employing their musical gifts to better the world, especially their corner of it.

I’m thinking of Palestinian vocalist/composer Rim Banna who visits the refugee camps and loans her talents to furthering peace for the Palestinians, and I’m thinking of the Iranian sisters Marjan and Mahsa Vahdat who defied the ban on Iranian women singing in public and gave a concert at the Italian Embassy in Tehran (Songs from a Persian Garden). And I’m thinking of the African women musicians that teamed up with European musicians to bring to awareness the plight of African women and protest violence against women and female circumcision, for example (Women Care).

None of these projects are huge money-makers, but they do have the power to effect decision-makers who lead our nations into the 21st century. They do have the power to reach women who seek solidarity and men too through the healing power of music. And if labels such as KKV don’t take on these worthy efforts then who will?

Kenyan Suzanna Owiyo fits snuggly into the genre of empowered women. Like many of her African vocalist sisters, she sings about real issues and situations that challenge women throughout the world. She doesn’t flinch when it comes to using her musical talents to better the planet and I’m certain many women and men can sympathize with the topics of her songs. And while the lyrics with their weighty topics deserve attention, so does the warm, inviting, and stripped down production mainly acoustic guitars, African percussion and the Kenyan stringed-instrument, nyatiti, which was once forbidden to women that frame Owiyo’s empowered vocals.

The opening track Gonya features the lilting nyatiti and sets an atmosphere of gentle Kenyan grooves. Owiyo who possesses a maternal demeanor that alternates between comforting and cautionary delivers her text in a direct-to-the-point voice. While she doesn’t obsess about societal ills, she addresses them in the manner of a West African griot. For instance on the uplifting hip-swaying Anyango she advises a young woman to get an education first and marry later.

Owiyo possesses an ear for invigorating musical production too. On the track Osiepna (My Friend) she opens with effervescent a cappella vocals which are later combined with a warm percussive groove and backup vocals. On the track Don’t Lose Hope, we hear stunning interlocking guitars of Eric Desire Buchumi and Tobi Imani. The track Acceptance showcases a duet with Oliver Mtukudzi which contrasts his sandpaper vocals to Owiyo’s honeyed voice. The songs on My Roots flow together seamlessly, and yet each song possesses its own beauty and grace.

As mentioned earlier in this review, Iranian vocalist Mahsa and her sister Marjan Vahdat are among the most courageous women in the world. The sisters agreed to appear on a the compilation Lullabies from the Axis of Evil (Kirkelig Kulturverksted) a few years ago and more recently the sisters defied a ban in Iran of women singing in public when they gave a concert at the Italian Embassy in Tehran. Could we call it a miracle that the sisters’ vocals have been recorded for posterity and that many of us outside of Iran were given the opportunity to hear such beautiful soulful voices sing the poetry of Rumi and Hafiz?

The latest recording that offers this opportunity, In the Mirror of Wine brought the world-wise Norwegian choir Skruk lead by Per Oddvar Hildre together with Mahsa Vahdat in celebration of the ancient poetry of Hafiz and Rumi. The press notes describe the musical marriage as, a “powerful encounter between traditional Persian songs and Norwegian church music and jazz.” It sounds to me at times like Gregorian chants meeting Persian Sufi poetry. The lush choir and piano that frames Vahdat’s soulful vocals set a melancholic atmosphere that also leans towards spiritual transcendence.

The songs feel haunting yet meditative and anyone seeking a musical experience that speaks to the soul-mind-heart will find it on this recording. The album feels at home during this inner time of reflection when summer gives way to the poignant darker autumn months (in the Northern Hemisphere). Anyone seeking a spiritual experience through music will find In the Mirror of Wine deeply rewarding. And for others who enjoy applauding the efforts of courageous women, they’ll find listening pleasure as well.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

In review--Catalan!

Marina Rossell
Clàssics Catalans…
Gran Teatre del Liceu de Barcelona
World Village

Only an accomplished vocalist/folkloric interpreter could open a concert with a fragile love song sung a cappella (Touch Me) and nearly bring the house down. However, Mariana Rossell, a Catalan folkloric specialist delivers a commanding performance ripe with heartfelt emotions. On her CD, Gran Teatre Del Liceu from the concert released in 2009 on World Village, I could already hear Rossell’s immaculate phrasing, and felt amazed at the life she breathed into 100 year old songs. The DVD concert offers an hour and half of sheer pleasure as the collection of songs reflecting about love, death, patriotism for Catalonia, and defiance. And if that’s not enough, Rossell treats each story as if they’re her own and she’s a consummate storyteller too.

The DVD, Clàssics Catalans provides the entire sold-out concert along with a 30 minute documentary about a handful of the songs Rossell performed. In the documentary we see Rossell entering a shop specializing in archival sheet music. And we witness her excitement as she discovers old gems, mainly dance music (sardana) or sits at the piano once owned by a composer of these old songs—his ghost lingers around Rossell who in turn glows at her discoveries. But mostly the documentary supplies viewers with passion for these old songs.

The concert footage proves that when carefully arranged and with an array of musical guests, not to mention top-notch musicians, folkloric music provides exciting entertainment. I know that when I watched the concert tears welled in my eyes several times and by the end of the concert, when all the musicians, including a girl’s choir (Cor Vivaldi), a drum troupe (Coetus Or questra de Percussions), Enriq Orti and Xavier Molina (tenores) and a Basque accordionist (Kepa Junquera) to perform a reprise of Mother of the World the tears broke through the dam. Prior to the finale, Rossell performed a defiant a cappella song, Virolai and footage of audience members rising out of their seats to salute both the singer and the song’s sentiments brings on a heart-shattering moment.

Rossell, who shares a birthday with Saint Anthony (she mentions this in the concert) and donkeys, possesses a talent that holds her audiences captive. As a music interpreter, she’s in the same category with Greek musician Savina Yannatou, both of these women deserve the title of musical alchemist as they transform old, even forgotten songs into their own works of beauty. They possess the ability to reach the hearts and souls of their listeners with each carefully sung phrase and the ability to attract the best musicians for their work.

I’m not through with this DVD yet. I plan on showing it to family and friends. Too bad my Spanish grandmother passed away over a year ago. She would have enjoyed this Catalan music and certainly the bit about lace-making. My grandmother also made lace, worked as a seamstress, and loved Latin poetry. These heartfelt songs would have brought tears to her eyes, I’m sure. Though I’m not sure she would have understood the Catalan language in which the songs are sung. In any case, viva la España!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

In review--Play time! (Native American music for children)

Randall Paskemin
Good Night Sweet Dreams to You, I Love You
Native American Lullabies and Songs for Children
Canyon Records

Navajo Songs for Children
Canyon Records

Plains Cree Indian and a loving father of several children, Randall Paskemin brings us a collection of gentle songs which can be sung to children at bedtime or anytime. Sung in a round dance style with the calm pulse of the mother earth heartbeat drum, Paskemin sings mainly in English and has provided lyrics to the songs on his album Good Night Sweet Dreams to You, I Love You.

While these songs feel sweet and simple enough for a young child to grasp and even sing along, I believe that the tranquility presented in each song could also assist adults in relaxing after a challenging day. Use these songs as de-stressors for the entire family (provided you don’t have teens that rebel against the idea). Therapists of all stripes could also apply this love-felt music to healing the inner child. While the songs provide sweet and loving lyrics, they won’t cause a gag reflex in adults who prefer not to listen to children’s music.

And studies mentioned in books such as Daniel Levitan’s This is Your Brain on Music suggests that children need simple music that they can follow. And the music created for children, when done right helps the brain to develop and provides an outlet for music appreciation. When adults feel overwhelmed with stress, our nervous systems also respond to gentle, slower tempo simple songs. So pull this CD out, and relax with your child as you put her or him to bed.

Already a NAMMY nominee at the age of 17, Talibah Begaye performs for the little ones on her recording Navajo Songs for Children, though she sings most of her lyrics in the Dinè dialect with a few English phrases peppered throughout. Right now I hear her singing about a superhero. She accompanies herself on a frame drum set the heartbeat of our Earth Mother and her chants have a trancelike feel to them, with phrases repeated in a mantra fashion.

Running at 49 minutes, the music here probably wouldn’t work well for bedtime music. But perhaps, your child would enjoy waking up to these up tempo songs. The Prayer Song and Walk in Beauty teach children how to appreciate their Creator and the natural world, and these songs could also provide a wonderful way to start or end the day. I imagine that this recording would be educational for both Native and non-native children. Nothing like delving into ethnic cultures at a young age.

As Talibah shows respect to her elders and the young ones too, she shares her Navajo traditions. With so much talent, I wonder what this young woman will have achieved by the time she reaches my age. When I turned 17 the only accomplishment I could boast was graduating from high school, and this young woman has already been nominated for a prestigious Native American Music Award. Someone special must have sung some fabulous songs to her when she was a child.

In review--The Ancestors are Calling Collect

Huun Huur Tu
Ancestors Call
World Village

There are few musical cultures left on the planet that take us to a deeply primal place and even some of those cultures, mainly hailing from indigenous people have been swallowed up by electronic music or turned into popular culture in the form of world music. But for any of you who have listened to an a cappella Saami yoik, a traditional Navajo chant, Aboriginal didgeridoo, Tibetan nomadic music, or Tuvan throat-singing have experienced that deep primal place. Your root chakra opens.

Shamanism and music were wedded to each other hundreds of thousands of years ago. The first flutes, drums, harps, etc were put to shamanic use, as were many of the early singing traditions. These shamans knew about the power and intent of sound and put it to good use either healing others in some way or put it to bad use through sorcery to trip up an adversary. But even without any prior knowledge of shamanism or ancient musical practices, a music listener can experience their rootedness to the natural world listening to primal music. This certainly proves true with the Tuvan quartet Huun Huur Tu’s latest recording, Ancestors Call.

The CD liner notes speak of this natural connection and for many listeners an experience of merging with the natural world, whether a rock, a stream, or the sky feels like a real possibility. Listening to Ancestors Call provides an adventure into the unknown, even if the listener is already familiar with Tuvan throat-singing and culture. Many of us aren’t that familiar with this Central Asian country, its nomadic people, or its music which only lends to further fascination. And the desire to delve further in the exploration of something truly foreign feels like a compelling need to some of us.

Daniel Levitan writes in his book, This is Your Brain on Music, that our musical tastes are formed by the time we reach 20 years of age. However, as a caveat, he mentions a separate group of humans who possess more adventurous taste in music and the musical journey becomes the equivalent of lifelong education, at least it is for me. I didn’t grow up with Tuvan throat-singing or anything closely resembling it and how does a person make the leap from Disney tunes to rock music to exotic world music or the music of indigenous people? The word "indigenous" didn’t even enter my vocabulary until I was 28 years old when a downstairs neighbor introduced me to a collection of indigenous chants released by Ellipses Art. And yes, Tuvan throat-singers appeared in the collection of field recordings. However, at that time, I wasn’t ready to listen. Now I am.

Ancestors Call feels more like a universal spiritual experience than a recording. Yes, the CD contains music, but sounds so exotic that it feels more like entering a sacred space and as the title implies, connecting with ancestors, but not just of humans, of every creature. The only other time I felt this deeply connected to nature through music was when I first discovered Saami yoiks. And by the way, Saami yoikers also practice throat-singing.

While I don’t want to give the wrong impression, throat-singing appears on this recording, but along with singing and traditional instruments. The singing at times sounds similar to the Tibetan nomads or traditional Chinese folksongs. I imagine that the legendary Silk Road and itinerant musicians have something to do with the Chinese modes and scales, even vocal inflections appearing in the Tuvan music. But then who really knows about who taught who how to sing?  Love songs appear alongside songs of defiance. Horses and women are honored in these songs, as well as, the ancestors in the haunting closing track.

I recommend this recording for anyone fascinated with folk cultures from around the world, but also shamanic practices that employ music/sound. The most amazing aspect of discovering a new type of vocalization (this one is ancient), is that it allows us to move away from the European well-tempered scale and the Bel Canto singing style that most of us have come to accept as normal. The world offers so much more to those who enjoy quests. Take this one, it's well worth it.