Wednesday, May 27, 2015

CD Review: Ola Fresca's 'Elixir'

Ola Fresca
Pipiki Records

Cuban-American singer, songwriter, arranger, and producer, Jose Conde, spices things up with a heady mix of Latin sounds and rhythms with his band, Ola Fresca. Steeped in a rich history of Cuban son, rumba, timba, salsa, Puerto Rican influences, and related styles, Elixir attempts to convey a tropical message of percussion-heavy, musical tunes. The nine energetic tracks are marked by great vocals, heavy percussion, sweeping piano, and traditional instrumentation for a truly magical experience. The Latin horns are equally enthralling and cement Ola Fresca's musical presence in Latin, Caribbean, and tropical genres. This is ideal for tropical, beach parties, lounging, weddings, or other special occasions. It is even suitable for lazy, unproductive days when you can't (or won't) do any chores! Available as a download, CD, or LP. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Adham Shaikh's 'Basswalla'

Adham Shaikh
Black Swan Records

Adham Shaikh's dedication to ambient and electronic music forms began nearly twenty-five years. Basswalla is an interpretation of earlier songs, but new tracks appear, too. The instrumental gems are punctuated by sporadic vocals throughout. However, the instrumental prowess of Adham's music is at the forefront. There are urban elements, South Asian fusion, electronic wizardry, and trance-driven honey that flows from creative places within Adham's soul for all to enjoy. There are some atmospheric moments, as well as percussion-driven displays of superior musicianship in places. Most of the tracks are fairly long: many songs over five minutes, which are great for a worthwhile and value-packed album. The various songs are permeated with South Asian percussion, wind instruments, and electronic blurbs that are wrapped around a delicious, urban beat that stands alone. Every track is great. Buy it today! ~ Matthew Forss

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

CD Review: Novalima's 'Planetario'

Wonderwheel Recordings

Afro-Peruvian musical connections have been Novalima's mainstay. Planetario is no exception, as the group continues to perform and preserve Afro-Peruvian and Afro-Colombian stylings, while maintaining a unique identity. The cumbia beat of "Beto Kele" represents a very earthy and infectious track with great percussion and vocals. The entrancing and addictive "Memekume" is more contemporary, but full of trippy elements and sporadic percussion. Novalima brings in artists as far away as the UK, Colombia, and Spain for a globetrotting, musical result that is anything but boring. If edgy, modern, and world-infused musical concoctions are what you seek, then Novalima's Planetario is a must-have. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Brooklyn Gypsies' 'Sin Fronteras'

Brooklyn Gypsies
Sin Fronteras
Wonderwheel Recordings

The diverse sounds of Brooklyn's streets and neighborhoods have never been highlighted like this before. There are urban stylings, flamenco sounds, North African music, Middle Eastern melodies, and of course, gypsy elements. The result is a rather modern recording incorporating the talents of Carmen Estevez, Takuya Nakamura, Tina Kristina, Brandon Lewis, Troy Simms, and Zeb. With songs rich in Spanish, English, and even Russian vocals, you know this is going to be an interesting recording. If gypsy music originated in Brooklyn, Sin Fronteras would be the end result. There are dancehall, reggae, dub, electronica, and Arabic influences that add authenticity and depth. The syncopated beats, modern Middle Eastern infusions, and brass textures gives new meaning to the term gypsy music. Ten great tracks comprise the album. Brooklyn Gypsies know how to make music. ~ Matthew Forss

Friday, May 15, 2015

Song Review: Freddie Atlas' "Wicked Game"

Freddie Atlas
Song: "Wicked Game"

Freddie Atlas, a very talented musician born in Montreal, Canada, now lives in New York and dedicates his life to creating masterful pieces of musical art with slight influences stemming from the 1990's chamber pop sounds and sweepingly beautiful neo-classical orchestrations. The music of "Wicked Game" is no different. However, this is not an original tune, as it was originally conceived by Chris Isaak in 1989. Still, the result is a spot-on vocal twin to Chris, but the music is more breathtaking and slightly slower overall. The down-tempo approach allows for Freddie's vocals to magically waft through the air in a poetic harmony never-before-created by today's contemporary musicians. The music is simply backed by piano without any additional instrumentation. Freddie's vocals are also comparable to Ed Kowalczyk (of Live-fame). Overall, the four-and-a-half-minute remake contains a good amount of sweeping piano melodies and spot-on vocals that are unforgettable. 5 Stars (out of 5). ~ Matthew Forss

Friday, May 8, 2015

CD Review: Ustad Dildar Hussain Khan and Party's 'Sur Sangeet'

Ustad Dildar Hussain Khan and Party
Sur Sangeet
Kanaga System Krush Records

The essence of Qawwali is eloquently presented on the latest recording from Ustad Dildar Hussain Khan and Party. The Pakistani-based musical style is devotional music of Sufism with an entrancing and hypnotic flavor. For the most part, Sur Sangeet is filled with harmonium, tabla, and hand-claps, but vocal utterances signal the real strength of the music. However, "Dhamaal," is a completely instrumental tune. The melodies and rhythms are more varied on Sur Sangeet than traditional Qawwali music. Still, a historic thread binds the past with the present throughout the songs. There are eight long tracks with diverse vocalizations, steady percussion, and Punjabi elements. Specialists in South Asian music will want to try some Qawwali. This is a good place to start. It's soul-quenching. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Cesaria Evora's 'Greatest Hits'

Cesaria Evora
Greatest Hits

After passing away in 2011, Cesaria Evora's music continues to be important for the people of Cape Verde, but everyone should be aware of her music. Thankfully, the folks at Lusafrica understand the importance with the release of Greatest Hits. There are twenty hits here, including one of the best songs ever to come out of Cape Verde: "Sangue De Beirona." The percussion and vocal medleys are tantalizing beyond belief. The emotive drums, strings, guitars, and wind instruments are very intriguing and representative of the country's social and cultural spirit. This is the latest review of her work since a Best Of release in 1998. Anyone familiar with Portuguese music, Cape Verdean grooves, African music, and world jazz with a Latin tinge will love Cesaria Evora's Greatest Hits. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Yeznig Zegchanian/Jason Hamacher's 'Forty Martyrs: Armenian Chants From Aleppo'

Yeznig Zegchanian/Jason Hamacher
Forty Martyrs: Armenian Chants From Aleppo
Lost Origins

Recorded in Forty Martyrs Armenian Orthodox Church in Aleppo, Syria, by Jason Hamacher, a drummer and noted fan of music from far-off places. The recording contains the solo chants of Rev. Yeznig Zegchanian without any instrumentation or additional vocals. The sub-twenty-minute recording is rather short, but it is vocally strong. The religious chants are sung in West Armenian. The remarkable aspect of the music does not pertain to the music at all; rather, the manner in which it was recorded. For example, the music was recorded in one take. The quality is strong and very resonant with the church as a backdrop. At any rate, fans of Syrian and Christian chants will love it for it's beauty and rarity, as West Armenian is rarely covered in recorded music today. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Iemanjo's 'Medicina'

Black Swan Sounds

Iemanjo, so-called after a Brazilian goddess of the sea, brings together a fusion of South American grooves, Afro-Latin rhythms, psychedelic cumbia, and everything in-between for a truly remarkable debut. The ten-track album is lush with earthy grooves, enchanting vocals, and amazing melodies that have developed out of Iemanjo's cultural upbringing in Berkeley and Seattle--two world music powerhouses. The slightly urbanized "Wintertime," is a bluesy, languid mix of vocals and sparkling electronica with heady bass. The rousing, "Ciencia Ancestral," is a dance-friendly tune touched by the hands of Brazilian beatmaker and producer, Adriano Magalhaes. The contemporary tune contains punchy horn sounds, lush percussion, and a driving beat indicative of South Pacific traditional music. "Reality" is a jazzy tune with urban elements and quirky percussive tones. Overall, Medicina is a good album with tracks that span the world music spectrum, but remain cohesive enough to delight electronica, South American, and Latin music fans. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Nicole's 'Roots'

Soundbrush Records

What do you get when you combine Yiddish music with Brazilian chutzpah? You get Roots. Nicole, the lead progenitor surrounding this uncanny concoction, showcases her Ukrainian self via New York and Sao Paulo. The outstanding vocalist adds a variety of modern accouterments, including accordion, mandolin, electric guitars, electric bass, percussion, violin, trumpet, clarinet, and other instruments. The berimbau is also included on a few tracks with its unmistakable, tinny string melodies. There are a few Yiddish standards and traditional songs, but a few new tunes are also included. The psychedelic and syncopated beats of "Quem Que Sobra" are very indelible and memorable. The traditional tune, "Batatas," is included as a remix and a traditional tune. Some of the tracks are characteristically Brazilian with breezy melodies, down-tempo percussion, and wafting accordion overtures. Special guests, Frank London, Isra-Alien, Renato Thomas, Michael Winograd, Jake Shulman-Ment, and Danny Blume add their expertise to the album. There is a little bit of everything for the Brazilian and Klezmer aficionado. ~ Matthew Forss