01_Yael_naimShe Was A Boy

Yael Naim; David Donatien

tot ou tard 3231742 (www.yaelweb.com)

Having one of your songs hand-picked by Apple CEO Steve Jobs to represent the launch of a new product is a little like winning the lottery. It can be a blessing and a curse, but French-Israeli singer-songwriter Yael Naim and partner David Donatien took advantage of the windfall brought by New Soul to hole up in their Paris apartment and take time and care producing “She Was a Boy,” the third album in Naim’s young career.

At first listen, the collection of 13 songs sounds much like a lot of releases by female singer-songwriters these days: quirky, cute and catchy. But if you dig into the lyrics a bit you’ll hear depth and anguish that belie the bouncy melodies. (I guess having the Israel Defense Forces as your musical training ground will do that to a girl.) The opening track Come Home speaks of the pain and guilt of being independent from one’s family, accompanied by a lively New Orleans-style party track.

Naim also accomplishes what many musicians attempt but few achieve: a true melding of musical cultures. Man of Another Woman beautifully marries Indian melody with Western modality and the laid-back bluesy lament Never Change sounds like a modern, humbler Billie Holiday. One of the main strengths of “She Was a Boy” is the light-handed use of an arsenal of instruments which enhance but never overwhelm the charm of the songs.

02_fanfare_pourpourDanse des Bresloques

Fanfare Pour Pour

Monsieur Fauteux m’attendez-vous? MFMV? 18 (www.actuellecd.com)

In a bad mood? Listen, laugh and dance to the uplifting “Danse des brelogues” by Fanfare Pourpour. This is happy music from an eclectic happy “big band” of 20 performers well versed in musical idiosyncrasy, style, wit, and technical know-how (not to forget a superb taste in haberdashery!). Nothing atonal here, as the styles range from French waltzes to jazz to Klezmer-like tunes to tango and samba beats to everything in between played on trumpets, saxophones, clarinets, guitars, banjo, accordions, violins, percussion, euphonium, and musical saw, plus vocal soloists and a choir.

Under the direction of Jean Derome and Nemo Venba, the players are a smorgasbord of Quebec musical masters – Altobelli, Babin, Belanger, Bourque, Derome, Duguay, Del Fabbro, Guilbeault, Hubler, Lajeunesse, Letarte, Menard, Nicolas, Nisenson, Poizat, Proulx, Sabourin, Tanguay, Venba and Vendette. A number of these great musicians provide the fifteen original compositions featured on this, the band’s fourth release. The works are group specific or originate from dance, theatre or film. The arrangements of the tunes are so strong, and designed to illuminate the group’s tight ensemble sense while maintaining a continuous improvisational feel. There are also a few tiny aural treats to remind one that the performers are “new musicians” as well.

Sound quality is superb. The French language only liner notes are thorough. Time to take out whatever moves you and boogie along with Fanfare Pourpour’s freewheeling musical spirit.


03_AzulDe la nuit au lever du jour

Azam Ali

Terrestrial Lane Records 013111 (www.azamalimusic.com)

I suppose it shouldn’t be surprising that a collection of lullabies isn’t a terribly upbeat album, but “De la nuit au lever du jour” also has an unexpected solemnity and stateliness to it. These aren’t your everyday cute little bedtime ditties, at least not to my Western ears. Iranian-Canadian singer Azam Ali has chosen songs from a variety of Middle Eastern cultures, plus a few of her own compositions, and sings them in Persian, Turkish, Arabic, Kurdish and Azeri. Unless you understand these languages (or the French the lyrics are translated into in the liner notes), you’re free to enjoy these songs from a purely musical standpoint and Ali’s skill and beauty as a singer are undeniable. Her childhood spent in India and her comfort with the quarter-tone are also apparent in some of her compositions, such as Tendresse, written for her son, and the Kurdish Lai Lai. Ali has enlisted expert musicians from each of the regions to accompany her on traditional instruments, such as oud and saz, as well as the contemporary, Montreal-based Bozzini String Quartet. “De la nuit au lever du jour” is a meditative, transporting work.

Yasmin Levy
4QRecords FQT-CD-1821

Israeli singer Yasmin Levy has been performing since 2002 and for her latest release, “Sentir,” has somewhat cast herself in the role of musicologist. Taking up the mantle of her father, who was a cantor and Ladino preservationist who died when she was just a baby, Levy has collected and reinterpreted a handful of folk songs from that ancient culture. Ladino is a Judeo-Spanish language dating back to the 1492 diaspora that has been gradually dying out but is enjoying a bit of a renaissance as young musicians, such as the respected Israeli jazz bassist, Avishai Cohen, and local singer Aviva Chernick integrate these songs into their modern repertoire. Historical stuff aside, this is an album that can be enjoyed purely from a musical standpoint. And since the liner notes have the lyrics translated into English and French, we even get to understand what the songs are about, which, for the most part, is love and loss. The album has a pan-Latino/Middle Eastern feel to it as Levy and producer Javier Limon have fused many of the songs with flamenco attributes. Also there's a lilt to much of the music that reminds me of Argentinean tango and the more passionate moments veer into Portuguese fado territory. There’s even a Canadian component on “Sentir” as Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah gets reworked with Spanish lyrics and flamenco-esque touches, which, rather than adding fire, render it bland and easy-listening. In general, the instrumental work on the album is precise and pretty, so what gutsiness there is comes from Levy as her warm, emotive voice alternates between a purr and a plea.

01_gamelan_java _5Gamelan of Java - Vol. 5: Cirebon tradition in America
Various Artists
Lyrichord Discs LYRCH 7461 (www.lyrichord.com)

This is a unique album. Cirebon is an old city and cultural centre located on the north coast plains of the island of Java, Indonesia. This CD is the first commercial recording of all five types of traditional gamelan music still practiced in the courts of the Cirebon Sultans today. For most listeners it will be a fresh window on the aristocratic and ritual music of a 500-year-old culture little celebrated or known even in its own home country.

As we hear on this album, Cirebon gamelan music is made primarily by an ensemble of tuned and un-tuned percussion instruments, occasionally embellished by the suling, the bamboo ring flute. Vocalisations by the musicians also sometimes delightfully peek through and enliven the instrumental texture. Overall the voices of these gamelans are more intimate than either of its larger and better-known South Central Javanese or Balinese gamelan cousins.

The Californian musicians of Gamelan Sinar Surya under the skilled and dedicated direction of Cirebon gamelan expert Richard North (he has been playing this music for a remarkable 35 plus years) bring out the best in each type of repertoire. They provide a welcome variety in mood, emotional value, sound quality, tonal organisation, tempo, timbral texture and note density. More than providers of entertainment, some gamelan (sets) represented here are valued for their deep spiritual associations. Such sets include the Gong Sekati, the Gong Renteng, and the magically imbued gamelan called Denggung on which is played the outstanding track Wawa Bango.

If I were forced to pick a single favourite track, it would be Pacul Goang (Chipped Rice Hoe). It is full of the sort of vibrant musical life I associate with gamelan Cirebon performance, the hallmarks of which include the dynamic playing of the kendang and larger bedug (drums), the characteristically sweet suling riffs in the soft slower sections, and the alok vocalisations of the musicians imbuing life and special Cirebonese flavour to the instrumentals.

Being the first CD to lift the musty, dusty tarp off this special gamelan repertoire, it is a requisite for any world music course, world music student or casual enthusiast.

02_sounds_of_HIVAlexandra Pajak - Sounds of HIV
Sequence Ensemble
Azica   ACD-71260 (www.azica.com)

I have to admit – at first, expressing nucleotides of the genome of a virus as pitches of the melodic scale struck me as a gimmick. Yes, one could draw a connection between adenosine and A, between cytosine and C and so on, but to what end? Once the music started, however, this approach became much harder to dismiss. Applying scientific rigour to music is nothing new and has been done in the past with math (both Satie and Bartok used the golden ratio for their works), so why not with biochemistry? Alexandra Pajak, native of Athens, Georgia studied both composition and sciences and her work reveals a fascination with both subjects. Then there is a general sense of unease, creeping in. This undeniably beautiful music expresses HIV, a virus responsible for the destruction of much beauty and art. On one hand, it’s tempting to assume that nature’s creations achieve a high level of symmetry and beauty and a virus should not be exempt from that principle. On the other hand, what terrible beauty is there to be found should we glimpse inside the genome of the plague, syphilis, smallpox or even flu? These ruminations tend to accompany listening to this oddly-concordant composition, performed with aplomb by the Sequence Ensemble. A special mention goes to Timothy Whitehead, whose piano decodes the protein connections with an astonishing clarity. This strange and disturbing recording reveals itself to be much more than just a mere gimmick!


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