03 Mikkel PlougDay in the Sun
Mikkel Ploug
Songlines SGL1635-2 (songlines.com)

The Danish guitarist Mikkel Ploug recorded this collection of 14 pieces for solo acoustic guitar last December. I loved every track on this album: introspective, inventive, tasteful and positive. If you enjoy playlists like “Acoustic Guitar Chill” but you wish the tracks were just a bit more intellectually satisfying, this album is for you. 

The style is, as Ploug himself says, genreless: it sits somewhere near the intersection of jazz, folk, minimalism and classical. In fact, one of the pieces is Ploug’s take on a nocturne by the contemporary Danish composer Bent Sørensen. The playing is nuanced and heartfelt and I’m happy to say the producers kept things real by not trying to cover up the sounds of finger slides and the occasional twang. 

Most of the tracks are recorded on Ploug’s steel string guitar but on two of them he uses a flamenco guitar with gut strings: gorgeous. The title is perfect; this album feels like a sunny day spent with a good friend.

04 El Violin DoradoEl Violín Dorado, El Violín Arabe
Pablo Picco’s Bardo Todol
Full Spectrum Records (fullspectrumrecords.bandcamp.com)

Sound exploration is at the core of the ongoing Bardo Todol project by Argentinian composer and sound artist Pablo Picco. Bypassing linearity and direction in favour of capturing what is heard in each moment, Picco creates a wonderful sense of immediacy that is not urgent but encompassing, and spontaneity that is raw and unfiltered. 

El Violín Dorado, El Violín Arabe is the recent addition to this experimental series of ongoing recordings; it focuses on the subject and implementation of desert as a soundscape. Picco centers his compositions around field recordings, which he acquires on daily walks with his children. The simple instruments they play on the walks then become a part of the big organic sound and that sound is further manipulated digitally. Improvisation is an essential part of this process and adds to the unique expressiveness of the overall sound. Silence between the main blocks of sound then becomes a thread that connects them into the sonic story.

El Violín Dorado, El Violín Arabe (The Golden Violin, The Arab Violin) focuses on distorted violin, other string instruments, drums, Arabic devotional music and grainy vinyl textures. Both soundscapes have an element of bleakness and distortion. The sound morphs constantly, through a clever use of spatiality as well as through what is not heard. The noise is intercepted and transmitted throughout, allowing us to hear both concrete and imaginative projections of what the desert is. Inventive, immediate, this gem requires active listening.

Note: this release is a limited edition cassette or high quality digital download via select online retailers.

05 Xiomara TorresLa Voz Del Mar
Xiomara Torres
Patois Records PRCD028 (xiomaratorres.com)

The African Diaspora transported a variety of seminal musics and rhythmic forms to the Americas, which have also contributed heartily to North American blues and jazz. This luminous project (translated as The Voice of the Sea) honours the Afro-Colombian musical tradition, and was deftly produced by San Francisco-based vibraphonist Dan Neville and Colombian vocalist Xiomara Torres. All of the consummate arrangements were created by Neville, and the recording itself was done entirely in Cali, Colombia. In his profound collaboration with vocalist Torres, this CD stands as a living tribute to Torres’ esteemed uncle, master marimbist and international “Music de Pacifica”/Afro-Colombian icon, maestro Diego Obregon.

Torres lovingly embraces her traditional roots here, while travelling seamlessly through a number of contemporary Latin motifs. First up is Me Quedo Contigo. Torres’ timbre is soft and sensual here, and her vocals are also pitch perfect, vibrant and filled with emotional gravitas. Neville has insured that she is never overwhelmed by the potent and complex rumba Guaguancó arrangement, which is rife with horns, vibes/marimba and incendiary percussion. 

Tarde Lo Conoci is a totally delightful Vallenato – a musical form that one could easily hear in the barrios of Cali, Colombia or Queens, NY – featuring accordionist Miguel Salazar, while Tio is a family affair, written by Diego Obregon and featuring his son David on bass and daughter Michel on chorus vocals. The lively tune begins as a currulao and segues seamlessly into a Colombian rumba. Irresistible stand-outs also include La Puerta, a romantic and ethereal bolero (ballad) and the spinetingling closer – the traditional Filomena – a surprising jazz/Pacific Coast Music fusion featuring the iconic Nidia Góngora and muy hermosa marimba work by Neville.

06 Roxana AmedUnánime
Roxana Amed
Sony Music Latin 19658748082 (roxana-amed.com)

This inspired, gorgeous, relevant project from multi-Grammy nominee Roxana Amed is a joyous celebration of the works of both contemporary and historic Latin-American composers, as well as Miles Davis, Edward Perez and Martin Bejerano. 

Amed views “Latin” as a very open concept, as well as the unifying geno connection that the title implies, and she has made this concept of unity the focus of a stirring and deeply magical recording. The Argentinian emigre has surrounded herself with some of the most exceptional Latin musicians on the planet, including her long-time collaborators, Cuban/American pianist and arranger Bejerano, bassist Perez and drummer Ludwig Afonso.

First up is a re-envisioning of Miles Davis’ Flamenco Sketches in which Amed’s sultry and evocative tones wrap themselves around the listener in waves of warm, horn-like sonic joy. The emotionally moving arrangement manifests a sacred vibration and Niño Josele’s viscous soloing on acoustic guitar speaks to us at the very molecular level. Brazil’s legendary Egberto Gismonti is feted here with a potent version of his composition Agua y Vino. The dusky tones of Amed’s sumptuous voice weave a haunting web, while Chico Pinheiro’s guitar transports us to another realm. Of special note is Los Tres Golpes, a song from Cuban icon Ignacio Cervantes featuring the volcanic Chucho Valdés on piano. The deeply moving closer, Adios a Cuba, is another beloved Cervantes composition, rendered to perfection with the angelic collaboration of Amed and Valdés. 

07 Minyeshu NetsaNETSA
mcps EUCD2945 (arcmusic.co.uk)

The path stubbornly antithetical to globalism is often littered with civilizations that remain almost supernaturally mysterious. One such civilization and culture is the land of Ras-Tafari and, double-entendre, an amusing example the latter ensconced in a sign at Addis Ababa airport that says: “Welcome to Ethiopia, Centre of Active Recreation and Relaxation.” A scrunched-up brow, no matter how deep the furrows, provides no respite. Neither might the repertoire on Netsa by the eminent effervescent vocalist, Minyeshu Kifle Tedla. 

The great Bill Laswell – in typically Homeric manner – first approached Ethiopia through what he famously described as “cultural collision”. It was Laswell who enabled us to peer – magically, through a glass darkly – into the ontological works of Hakim Bey, the Moroccan sojourns of Paul Bowles and Brion Gysin. Laswell’s cultural collisions also presented the ancient-future of the ineffably brilliant Ejigayehu Shibabaw – and with her mystical music the washint and the kirar (ancient Ethiopian flute and harp respectively), the latter of which was believed to be played by King David when he composed the Psalms. 

Minyeshu, to her enormous credit, has brought the ancient-future of Ethiopian music – indeed Ethiopian culture – to a kind of wonderful artistic maturity. Her majestic vocal ululations propel, with irresistible kinetic energy, music redolent of colourful tone textures and transcendent rhythms to conjure a kind of musical magisterium formed – as it were – out of the vivid red clay of the land of Ras-Tafari. Maddening seduction is imminent.

01 Cats CradleCat’s Cradle
Arnab Chakrabarty
Independent (arnabchakrabarty.bandcamp.com/releases)

Musicians from around the globe have chosen to make Toronto home ever since the days it was colloquially tagged for hogs and muddy streets. Virtuoso sarod player Arnab Chakrabarty, a representative of the venerable Hindustani raga classical music tradition, is a relatively recent and welcome addition to the ranks of Toronto-area music professionals.  

No novice, over the last two decades Chakrabarty has played hundreds of concerts on stages around the world. Indian newspaper The Hindu reported that Chakrabarty is “known both for his emotive virtuosity and cerebral approach,” believing not in “simplifying music to cater to popular tastes as much as revelling in ‘manipulating the operative rules of the ragas to create interesting expressions.’” 

Chakrabarty aims to make classical raga performance accessible to today’s audiences without compromising its fundamentals. And his third full-length album Cat’s Cradle, featuring sarod renderings of five classical ragas, reflects this balanced approach. Eschewing flamboyant ornamental passagework, he rather focuses on the core values of the raga at hand which come to life in the alap, the introductory melodic improvisation.

The gat, a melody set in a specific raga and tala (time cycle) the latter rendered on the tabla, follows. On this album the gats are Chakrabarty’s compositions. They in turn inspire improvisation, the outcome of a spirited dialogue between set rules and the musician’s imagination freed up.

Cat’s Cradle gives full scope to Chakrabarty’s in-depth understanding and imaginative exploration of each raga complex, plumbing their signature phrases and emotional tenor while never losing sight of the rich Hindustani traditions of raga performance practice.

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