01 Paul GreenPaul Green – A Bissel Rhythm
Paul Green & Two Worlds
Big Round Records br8955 (bigroundrecords.com) 

I was more than a bissel (Yiddish for “little”) tickled to see A Bissel Rhythm on the list of available CDs for review this month. For starters, being an unabashed lover of Yiddish, the title alone put a smile on my face. And it stayed there as I made my way through clarinetist Paul Green’s lively and engaging exploration of that most natural of fusions: the coming together of the distinct, yet equally soul-stirring styles of Jewish music and jazz.

While this is Green’s second recorded foray into the world of Jewish/jazz fusion, it is his first as composer. Green and his aptly named band, Two Worlds, perform his eight original tracks with tremendous skill, warmth and verve; it is clear they are having a lot of fun, too!

In A Bissel Rhythm, a standard jazz structure collides with a freilach; a New Orleans funeral meets a klezmer doina; the Jewish misheberach scale snakes its way around a blues. And it all works! From the joyful and virtuosic title track, and the poignant sweetness of Zoey’s Chosidl (perhaps the only time a beloved pet has been memorialized with a jazz-infused Hasidic dance), to the slinky, funky ramble of Doina and Ramble, and the waltz/ballad-like Joe’s Hurra, the album does more than simply pay homage to the two musical genres it celebrates: it wraps them in a loving embrace.

Nu? Go pour yourself a bissel schnapps and enjoy A Bissel Rhythm!

02 AKA TrioJoy
AKA Trio
bendigedig BEND14-1 (bendigedig.org) 

Coming from three continents – Europe, Africa and South America – the three virtuoso musicians of the AKA Trio have merged into the relaxed and attractive transnational musical unit we hear in the aptly titled Joy. Italian guitarist and composer Antonio Forcione has toured for over two decades, having collaborated with major musicians such as Charlie Haden, Trilok Gurtu, Angelique Kidjo and Bulgarian Voices, on the way releasing 20 albums. He brings rhythmic and tuning precision, plus a soulful expressiveness into his acoustic guitar solos on Joy’s ten tracks. Seckou Keita from Senegal, among the world’s foremost kora players, has variously been dubbed “the Hendrix of kora,” and “the Clapton of kora.” International innovation running deep throughout his work, he has collaborated with Welsh harpist Catrin Finch and Cuban pianist Omar Sosa. Born into the Senegalese griot tradition, Keita‘s warm, flexible voice is key to the melodic and emotional charm of much of Joy. Brazilian percussionist and composer Adriano Adewale has also widely collaborated, including with Bobby McFerrin and Joanna McGregor, and includes compositions for orchestra and dance theatre in his credits. Adewale brings an easy and timbrally rich percussive energy to Joy, always tasteful, never overbearing.

While Forcione, Keita and Adewale grew up in three different landscapes, speaking three different languages, formed by three different cultures and musical traditions, their musical convergence in AKA Trio is so unforced as to appear inevitable. I predict their polished arrangements will be a hit on the international world music circuit.

03 Rafael ZaldivarConsecration
Rafael Zaldivar
Effendi Records FND153 (naxosdirect.com) 

Since moving from his native Camagüey, Cuba to Montreal in the mid-2000s, pianist Rafael Zaldivar has established himself as one of Canada’s top Afro-Cuban musicians. His latest album, Consecration, released on March 15 through Effendi Records, is a celebration of Zaldivar’s Yoruba spirituality, as well as a showcase for his multifaceted musicianship: Consecration deftly blends the pianist’s Afro-Cuban musical heritage with modern jazz, fusion and classical musics. Zaldivar is joined on Consecration by electric bassist Rémi-Jean LeBlanc, upright bassist David Gagné, vocalist Mireille Boily, percussionist/vocalist Amado Dedeu Jr., conguero Eugenio Osorio and drummer Michel Medrano.

Consecration begins with A Rock con Leche, which effectively sets the pace for the album that follows: after an evocative introduction of chanting and far-off, reverb-soaked whistling, it quickly shifts into a hard-driving groove, with drums and percussion providing a strong pulse under Zaldivar’s synth solo. Afro-Cuban Warriors follows a similar trajectory, as an insistent choir of voices introduces the thunderous song and weaves throughout the rest of the piece. When I Think of You and Simple Talking both feature Boily singing wordless melodies, and are amongst Consecration’s gentler pieces, as is Rezos, which features Zaldivar alone at the piano.

Consecration is an intriguing, creative album that recalls the work of musicians such as Michel Camilo and Luciana Souza, but it stands uniquely on its own, in no small part due to Zaldivar’s unique approach to integrating a multiplicity of voices into his compositions.

04 A Good ThingA Good Thing
Blue Standard
Big Time Records BTRCD-007 (downinthevalley.com) 

It does not take much to become entranced by this disarmingly natural and eloquent performance by the duo that calls itself Blue Standard. Both vocalist Raoul Bhaneja and pianist Jesse Whiteley bring out the music’s inherent drama with deeply felt emotion (in the case of the vocals) and deft touch (in the case of the pianist) together indulging each other’s lyrical and storytelling instincts to the full. Bhaneja brings élan, intelligence and passionate engagement to these performances throughout A Good Thing. For his part, Whiteley is an immaculate accompanist, showing a particularly clean set of fingers in the dashing virtuosity of every song on the disc.

Bhaneja’s enunciation of the lyrics is funded by a deep understanding of the characters in the stories told in song. He expresses the myriad of emotions behind the phrases in each song with clarity and precision so that each imaginative speculation is based as much on intuition as on reason. This naturally ensures that the lyrics are imbued with both musical conviction and beauty of tone. Meanwhile, Whiteley too, sniffs out all of the music’s detail, expressing each in a manner thoroughly deserving of his virtuosic attention. The result is an energizing and colouristic invocation of the piano’s full melodic and harmonic potential by someone who participates equally in the creativity of this session. For this reason even an old song, like LOVE for instance, sounds as if it were newly minted.

05 13goDomestic Tranquility
13go
Independent (13gomusic.com)

The album’s title comes from the Preamble to the US Constitution which is an ambitious document tying together several political and philosophical imperatives. This album is also ambitious and brings together musicians from Canada (Aubrey Dayle, drummer and composer), Kim Ratcliffe (guitarist, miscellaneous strings and composer), Uganda (Ian de Souza, bass), and the USA (Vernon Reid, guitar on selected tracks).

Although the group’s CDBaby page describes the album as “guitar fusion music,” the first few songs demonstrate more varied sounds and textures. Boogie Down 1 is exactly what the title advertises, a solid groove with some nicely phased guitar lines and simple melodies that create and release tension. How Much Longer is faster, more intense and with some wicked guitar from both Ratcliffe and Reid and more complex drumming. Pointe-Claire is a softer and more lyrical homage to the town where Dayle grew up and Eleanor Rigby is a solid cover that combines tasteful playing with a very laid-back sense of time.

The other tracks include some spoken word segments ending with Boogie Down 2, which is very ska-influenced, and There’s Three Little Girls at the Window, a whimsical Ratcliffe composition with mandolin as the primary instrument, which is calming and definitely tranquil.

The album has a nice pacing, contrasting edgy fusion pieces with softer, more introspective works, which encourages a sustained listening experience.

Listen to 'Domestic Tranquility' Now in the Listening Room

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