Saturday, January 5, 2013

In review--Elemental Music

Ibrahim Maalouf
Harmonia Mundi

The first thing you notice about trumpeter Ibrahim Maalouf’s Wind is the packaging.  You’ll find the CD housed in a lacquered box with gray and brown tones emphasized.  When you open the box you find a booklet, not featuring much in the way of biographical notes, but the single titles of songs posted against the backdrop of abstract paintings by Jeanlou Joux.  The song titles too would give the impression that the music would lack passion or lean towards drab concrete gray--Doubts, Suspicions and Issues.

So a listener will feel greatly surprised that this “mood” music performed by Maalouf’s quintet echoes Miles Davis while also reflecting on how music shapes scenes in cinema.  Yes, this effort could be seen as arty or even philosophical despite the fact that Wind represents an instrumental album and the only words in sight are the song titles.  But even those song titles convey a subliminal message of what the listener should feel when listening to a song with that particular title.  Yet, the song with the title Suspicions actually sound sensual, and not paranoid or anxious, even if the drums and bass lean towards a heavier sound and the pianist hits a few discordant notes to convey the song’s mood.

Maalouf’s trumpet or quarter-tone horn sounds warmer on Certainty as it plays in tandem with Mark Turner’s saxophone.  In fact, the style of the music here goes back to the era of Coltrane and Davis.  It’s not as upbeat as Coltrane’s Giant Steps, but a cool as Davis’ Kind of Blue. Sensuality travels down a Latin jazz groove with pianist Frank Woeste and drummer Clarence Penn providing a light salsa effect and the trumpet and saxophone mimicking Cuban vocals. With Wind the musicians bring originality to the table in form of new compositions set to a concept album, but they also pay homage to jazz of another era--a time of mood music.

In review--Club Boniche

Lili Boniche
World Village

Karina Feredj honored her late father, the Algerian crooner and lute player Lili Boniche with the retrospective Anthologie.  While I know little about Lili Boniche besides what I’ve read in the liner notes, the songs on this album, especially the Arab-Andalusian songs such as Ana Fil Houb sound familiar to my ears.  Have I heard these songs on Putumayo or Rough Guide compilations? Did Souad Massi cover these songs? It’s a mystery.

I can see why international audiences, especially in France and Algeria revered this singer back in the day, and even in more recent years.  He possesses plenty of style, not to mention sings in different styles and he’s a master of vocal phrasing.  The music here dazzles with snaky saxophone solos, jangling ouds, and delicious polyphonic beats.  The ballads of yesteryear still resonate today with glittering pathos and unrestrained passion.  Anyone who enjoys hearing a master musician perform the classics of his day will enjoy this retrospective. I liked the recording immediately upon hearing the opening track.

Just listen to Boniche’s  melismatic vocals laced by Jewish violin on Elli Ghir and your teeth might ache from the emotions expressed.  Bambino has an Arab-Caribbean flare with golden age percussion rippling in the background and a chorus of husky men’s voices engaging in a call & response.  N’Oublie Jamais Tes Parents aches with the sadness recalling tangos or fados in intensity.  The strings emphasize the sadness that drips from Boniche’s vocals.  Fortunately, the rousing song Alger Alger follows and just in time.  The swirling accordion on the track, contributes a Parisian appeal.  All and all, this represents a wonderful body of work that will sound perfect to a newcomer to Lili Boniche’s repertoire and his old friends.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

In review--Galician Ladies Sing Out

Cantigas de Mulleres (Songs of Women)
(Compilation of Galician Songs)

I’ve acquired a small collection of Galician recordings mostly featuring jazz and folkloric music.  The latest CD to come my way is a compilation, Cantigas De Mulleres featuring Galician women musicians such as bigger names Uxía, Cristina Pato, Gaudi Galego and Ugía Pedreira and upcoming talent such as 16-year old Sonia Lebedinsky whose mature vocals defies her youth and a musical elder Señora Carmen, age 86.  While the musicians focus on folkloric songs, the treatment of the songs range from medieval DOA’s Levousa Fremousa (which you can find a video on YouTube) to Celtic pipes (Susana Seivane’s Xoaniã) to ultra-modern (Mercedes Peón’s Derorán).

Marful (Ugiá Pedreira) brings in a warm jazzy element mixed with folkloric elements on the song Tris Tras.  Whereas, SOAS (Cristina Pato and Rosa Cedrón) brings in Celtic piano, lush strings and aching vocals.  Leilía (a group of 6 percussionists-singers) shows a more rousing side of Galician music, as does the women’s collective Malvela on the track, Pola Rua de San Pedro.  Slowing it down, the group Sés performs Fala de Mel with solo vocals and acoustic guitar. It’s the closest the album comes to a singer-songwriter track.  I have enjoyed listening to the acoustic folk or jazz songs and I find the electronic tracks distracting, though I can understand how these songs might reach younger audiences and people searching for the “cool” or hip factor.  I’m just not among that crowd and I prefer folkloric songs performed on original instruments or at least acoustic ones.  Otherwise, I hit the skip button.

This brings up a question that has been scratching my brain lately.  For music audiences outside of a tradition or culture, how do we know which part of the music production comes from the tradition and which part is hybrid? How do music journalists decipher the traditional elements of the music from the more modern sound if we had not heard the traditional music in a pure form? And how can we preserve music traditions if we water them down with other influences?

Granted, musicians have been exchanging songs and musical instruments from the beginning and it is doubtful that the ancient Greeks did not trade musical ideas with ancient Egyptians.  Then there’s the Silk Road to consider where musical ideas were exchanged along the routes.  So in 2013 let these questions guide us on the quest for music preservation.  What exactly are we preserving? And is there any culture on the planet not influenced by another one?  Musical exchange is healthy, in my opinion, but I think we need to be careful when using the word “traditional” especially when many of the traditions (such as types of work, festivities, and lifestyles) behind certain music were lost between the industrial and technological ages.

In review--Songs for the Road

Chris McNulty
The Song that Sings You Here
Challenge Records

If you didn’t know the story behind Chris McNulty’s album The Song that Sings You Here, you might find the album romantic and sensual.  And it is those things, but the irony of McNulty’s son’s death and the story that McNulty includes in the liner notes contributes pathos that hovers over both the covers and original tunes that grace the album.  For instance, when you hear the jazz chanteuse croon the words to One Less Bell to Answer (Bacharach/David), you feel McNulty’s heart breaking.  Then the vocalist closes the album with the titular song she composed before the death of her son.  She sings, “Just like the sun, an ageless flame.  Just like the moon and sand. Just like your eyes that shine forever here through all time, love’s a long road home.”

Backed by a stellar band that includesUgonna Okegwo on bass, Marcus Gilmore on drums, Paul Bollenback on guitars, Andrei Kondokov and Graham Wood on piano, Igor Butman on saxophones and Anita Wardell on guest vocals, McNulty works from a rich palette of moods and emotions.  There’s not a phrase here that she doesn’t color and claim as her own and every word she sings feels ripe with the spirit of living.  However, most listeners will grab onto the sexy lyrics such as on the opening track, How Little We Know (Springer/Leigh) where two tingles come together and mingle or the text on The Lamp is Low (De Rose/Shefter) or on Fats Waller’s Jitterbug Waltz which gets the full blues vocals effect here.

Overall, McNulty and her band remind us that jazz is about the art of living as well as, overcoming hardships through musical expression.  The cathartic set of songs that range from the hopeful On the Street Where You Live (Loewe/Lerner) to the mesmerizing Letter to Marta (McNulty) to the anguish-laced One Less Bell, this album indeed sings us all home to our souls.  And for anyone looking for a jazz vocalist who celebrates this thing we called life, McNulty fits the bill.

In review--Sirens of Sardinia

Franca Masu
World Village

Poetry reflecting the coming and going of the tide and sailors, lost loves, and the fragility of life pour from the songs on Franca Masu’s Almablava.  Hailing from the Italian island Sardinia, Masu possesses a powerful voice ten times bigger than her petite frame.  She paints a Sardinian landscape with an emotional palette fueled by longing, melancholy and hope.  In 2011, I reviewed a live album by the performer which reminded me of two Catalan favorite vocalists--Marina Rossell and Maria del Mar Bonet.  However, on her new studio album, Masu explores tango and other musical traditions along with Catalan and Sardinian songs.  Masu composed contributed poetic lyrics which she sings with great conviction.

Laced with accordion, guitars, double bass, piano and percussion, the songs sound both warm and melancholic with Masu’s voice grabbing the spotlight.  The only sore thumb for me is Un Tango which sounds too modern to my ears with programming and in my humble opinion interrupts the flow of the acoustic songs.  I will add that I frown on programming that appears on any folkloric album.  However, focusing on the positive I think Vida sounds delightful with Fausto Beccalossi’s accordion mingling with Masu’s vocals.  The titular track features Alessandro Girotto on Spanish guitar with Masu singing in a softer flamenco style.  My favorite song is Mariposa (Butterfly) in which Masu tenderly gazes at her daughter, “You will awaken and I will garnish your heart.”

Masu delivers a feast for all the senses and her voice no doubt will take its listener places beyond the usual horizon.  With these songs, we imagine fishermen lost at sea, lovers waiting on the shores and the stuff that awakens souls from deep sleep.  During the next full moon, you’ll want to slip this CD into your player.

In review--Good Vibes

Trish Hatley
Sing, Ask and It Is Given
Independent release

Trish Hatley, a super fine jazz vocalist, first told me about her affirmations CD in 2010.  Since I had heard unsatisfactory affirmation recordings set to cheesy programmed music, I wasn’t too keen on reviewing a new affirmation songs CD.  I also balked at any mention of the law of attraction which I didn’t jive with at that time.  Fast forward to the tail end of 2012, when I invited Hatley to appear in my book Whole Music and she mentioned the affirmations CD--a gentle reminder.  Since I was further on board with law of attraction, I agreed to give the CD a listen.

Hatley’s CD swings and she joins her regular band of jazz players who defy the new age music genre.  The songs you hear on Sing, Ask and It Is Given represent Hatley’s first time as a songwriter where she combines catchy lyrics with driving melodies.  The songs have style to burn too from swing to jazz ballads and bossa nova.  Hatley writes real lyrics, not mantras and she gives space to her players to perform solos so you hear sparkling horns, jazz drums, guitar and bass.  And you can listen to these songs anytime--while driving, while working, or even during a romantic dinner and you’ll keep a positive vibe going.

I can’t tell you how many times I have heard a gorgeous melody or even a catchy melody with negative lyrics.  And as a music researcher, my main concern is raising people’s physical, emotional and spiritual frequencies.  A catchy melody helps, but the words we listen to have a more powerful effect our consciousness than most people admit.  Words carry vibration so it’s not enough to compose beautiful melodies, harmonies and luscious rhythms without uplifting lyrics to match, if your goal is to lift vibration.

Musically speaking, Good Good Vibration, I’m Gettin’ Better Every Day and Attitude of Gratitude beg us to dance.  And you’ll find yourself singing along before you know it too.  And by chance if the songs create a groove in your consciousness in the form of an earworm, at least you change old habits and beliefs.  I highly recommend this swing CD for people wishing to attract good vibes in their lives.  Beats the alternative.