Saturday, August 18, 2012

In review--Didgeridoo where are you?

Dream Time
The Didgeridoo of the Australian Aborigines
Arc Music (2010)

Want to get your root and sacral chakras open?  Listen to didgeridoo, a percussive-wind instrument made from eucalyptus trees hollowed out by termites.  More than likely, if you listen to global indigenous, new age, or world music, you have come across didgeridoos.  The players mastered circular breathing as they blow into the tubular instrument, often decorated with Australian Aborigines symbols (Dream Time).  Face it, this is an instrument with indigenous mysticism attached to it, but it is an almost rare occasion that you hear Aborigines music played on the didgeridoo in context and by performed by Aborigines musicians.  Dream Time opens a window to music of the Australian bush.  And listeners also get exposed to traditional vocals, percussion, and dance rhythms.

So what does this music sound like?  The stickman-vocalist pounds out quick rhythms on a clave-like (hollowed out wood sticks banged together) instrument and he sings in a shouting manner with the drone of the didgeridoo creating a trance rhythm.  The album features several duos (a stickman/vocalist and didgeridoo player) in the Wongga dance style and vocal and percussive music called Djunba which features no didgeridoo, but several singers and percussion.  For listeners used to hearing more melodic didgeridoo recordings, Dream Time will sound more like a field recording in which it was intended.  However, for anyone learning didgeridoo or just fascinated with the instrument, this authentic recording could provide a learning experience.  Personally, I enjoy field recordings for educational purposes and I’m curious about the original intent and purpose of ancient instruments.  If you have a similar musical mission, then pick up this recording.

In review--Ouds of Iraq

Ahmed Mukhtar & Sattar Al-Saadi
Music from Iraq (Rhythms of Baghdad)
Arc Music (2010)

I have listened and watched oud players (an Arabic lute) from Lebanon, Turkey, and other countries, but Rhythms of Baghdad marks the first oud album by Iraqi musicians.  Here we have a duo of Ahmed Mukhtar (oud) and Sattar Al-Saadi on percussion (riqq, tar, dombak and other drums) performing sensuous modes and rhythms.  The robust opener, Souq Baghdadi features “a very old Iraqi rhythm called Gorgena,” but even listeners unfamiliar with the scales, and other architecture of traditional Iraqi music, will find this piece uplifting and full of light.

The second piece Mantasf-al-lil carries a darker message.  “It describes a scene of Iraqi refugees on the ocean in the middle of the night looking for land to seek refuge in.”  The slow tempo and melancholic melody played on the lower end of the spectrum wed to tense percussion, convey the sadness and longing of the refugees.  A traditional dance Raqsat Albedoi based on an Iraqi rhythm used by Bedouins and Arab musicians lightens up the atmosphere once again.  Mukhtar delivers a playful melody while showing his masterful oud playing.

The entire album offers a delightful listening experience and also features the various rhythms demonstrated in several drum solo tracks.  Sadly, most Americans and probably people from other countries have only heard war stories about Iraq and have missed out on rich cultural, historical, and musical exchanges.  Partake in this beautiful offering from Iraq and I’m certain your heart will open wide with wonder and compassion.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

In review--Russian masterful

Daniil Trifonov, Valery Gergiev
Mariinsky Orchestra
Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 1
Mariinsky label
Distributor--Harmonia Mundi

While I returned to college in 2007, I relied on classical music for memory retention and for stress-reduction.  I recall listening to the first movement of Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto, No. 1, along with pieces by Mozart.  The famous concerto seemed as familiar to my ears as melodies from the composer’s Nutcracker Suite.  Now, I’m listening to a new recording by a young Russian virtuoso Daniil Trifonov, who also performs songs by Schubert, Schumann, and Chopin’s Barcarolle.  Certainly, I feel impressed with Trifonov’s wide emotional palette and great dexterity as he interprets Romantic era music representing several countries.  Joining with the Mariinsky Orchestra conducted by Valery Gergiev (no stranger to me), the program’s focus on the recording, Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 1, lands on the piano and the twenty-something talent behind the keyboard.  And yes, Trifonov makes quite an impression.

As a listener, I felt exasperated several times while trying to keep up with all the changes of pace, of intensity, and dare I say, style in the first movement of Tchaikovsky’s first piano concerto.  Most famous is the opening with its sweeping romantic mood, but this theme is never repeated, despite its endearing qualities.  Similar to Indian ragas (but not in sound or style or genre), Tchaikovsky explored his musical terrain while painting moods with his orchestration and never easing up on the pianist who requires physical endurance to make it to the end of this movement.  It’s not quite the athletic event as playing Rachmaninoff or Prokofiev’s piano concertos, but it still must feel like running a marathon with fingers.  Alternating between fiery romantic and dreamy light, this movement runs 20 minutes and then it ends on timpani rolls, and horns playing elongated notes.

The second and third movements are not as memorable, but at least give the musicians some respite, especially the lyrical folksy second movement.  If I had to choose two more musical pieces on the recording as favorites, I would choose, Chopin’s Barcarolle which feels relaxing even with its intensity increasing in volume and passion. And I would choose the Schubert song Auf Dem Wasser Zu Singen (don’t ask me to interpret the title), a calm nocturnal piece that recalls Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata.  All and all, Daniil Trifonov and the Mariinsky Orchestra deliver solid work that’s bursting to the brim with Russian passion.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

In review--Hungry for Italian Music

Orchestra Popolare Campana
Directed by Emilio Di Donato
CM (Caserta Musica) Records

According to the liner notes for Orchestra Popolare Campana, “Few places are more musical than Campania” of southern Italy (Amalfi Coast, Naples, Capri).  I’ll have to take writer Augusto Ferraiuolo’s word because I know little about regional music of Italy.  Certainly, I have heard traditional tarantata (tarantula) songs, in which a rousing one, Tarantella Tosta opens this album.  However, my experience with Italian orchestra music is relegated to movie soundtracks, such as the circus-like Fellini soundtracks composed by the late Nino Rota.  And of course, I have listened to Italian renaissance and baroque music.  Orchestra Popolare Campana threads sacred Christian chants with a carnival lament and primal tarantata into wondrous musical tapestry--the past and the present intermingling.

Lead by the early music reed pipe, Ciaramella (which you’ll also find in Corsican music), frame drums and tambourines, accordions, lutes, and the usual orchestra instruments fill in the gaps, not that there are many.  Vocals range from solemn polyphonic to rousing monophonic backed by the heartbeat of drums such as on Bbascio Pantano to trembling lutes and chirping crickets on Nenna Ne’(this song reminds me of ballads from Provence).  The shimmery La Favola Dell’Auciello Grifone portrays a fairy tale complete with Italian narration (get out your Italian-English dictionary).  And since everything from fairy tales to sacred chants appear on this disc, the brief Catholic chant Miserere/Magnificat (from Sardinia) offers a spiritual retreat midway through the recording, even with its discordant vocals.  I prefer Corsican sacred chants.

As imagined, this orchestra allows listeners to sample diverse music traditions of Campania and beyond.  This album offers a lively introduction performed by 30 talented musicians and directed by Emilio Di Donato.  The orchestra provides a thick booklet for anyone seeking guideposts on this journey through Southern Italy.  And now, I feel hungry for southern Italian cuisine.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

In review--Island boys

Narasirato Pan Pipers
Solomon Islands
Cry of the Ancestors
Arc Music

If you follow traditional/folkloric music of the world, you have most likely come across panpipe players from the Andes and from Eastern European countries such as Hungary.  I have heard those pipes, but pan pipers from the Solomon Islands have only recently caught my attention on the CD Cry of the Ancestors.  Narasirato represent the Are’are people of Malaita Island and these musicians who sing, play panpipes, and traditional percussion perform music that oddly sounds like a deep forest circus rolling into town or resembles the panpipes of Andes musicians.

When vocals appear, (such as on the track Prophetic Word), they are delivered in raspy voices that soar to the heights of Native American pow-wow vocals.  Call & response voices compete with the jagged panpipes and drums that sound like a heartbeat slapping against one’s chest.

Side Step with the Toes (an odd title), features poly rhythms played on a hollowed wood hit with sticks. Similar to the animistic Wulu Bunun people of Taiwan and the Baka people of Cameroon and the Congo, the Are’are musicians play music that grabs its inspiration from the natural world and blends in with their forested environment.  Overall, this harmonious and peaceful music played on 100% sustainable instruments, possesses accessible qualities that invigorate.  When I listen to this recording, I feel like heading to the woods to spend time in nature.

In review--Big Greek music

Best of Greece
(The Athenians, Michalis Terzis, Kriteos...
Arc Music

Listening to Greek music reminds me of eating in Greek restaurants, Zorba the Greek and the movie My Big Greek Wedding.  I know as a music reviewer who has covered the Mediterranean I should know more about Greek music than bouzoukis and brief encounters with Greek blues known as rembetika.  I actually taste spanikopita while I listen to Best of Greece.  The acoustic instruments bouzouki, baglama (a Mediterranean lute), drums, and vocals set an exotic backdrop for winding up a summer’s day.  The music of several bands, The Athenians, Michalis Terzis, Kriteos, and Talking to Charos uplift and we visualize dancers working themselves into frenzies.

This 2-CD set creates a dining or dancing atmosphere.  Listen to it alone or preferably in good company of friends and family.  Ugandan musician Samite once told concert attendees that in Uganda it’s not music unless people dance.  I’m thinking it’s the same for Greek music.  Songs such as the first 4 tracks on CD one, kick up danceable rhythms, and the song Diawatis performed by Kriteos & Romiosini (from Crete), offers a respite with this sad lament.  The booklet notes describe this artist as “Kriteos had such a lovely voice even when he was a little boy that the people of his home village asked him to sing for them at church, at weddings and just for fun.” And for now you get Kriteos and other Greek favorites all to yourself.  Enjoy this warm music delivered with gusto and zest.