Electronica and world roots music are sometimes unlikely and uncomfortable bedfellows, but definitely not mutually exclusive concepts and this fascinating project from Portugese-Angolan DJ Mpula (Aka Pedro C) of music that would normally circulate on the streets of Angolan capital Luanda in pirated form is merely a foretaste of what is likely to become an increasingly dominant trend, fusing acoustic and electronic sounds. The question as ever is how successful is the musical métissage and here the answer is a success with a few qualifications to hand. Where the underpinning rhythm is traditional as on the melodic rhythm guitar led piece ‘Tirei o chapéu’, the shuffling beat works beautifully and the harder edged vocals of Ikonoklasta do not seem out of place. Even rootsier is another contribution from the aforementioned singer on ‘Cuka’ and the use of electronica serves to enhance the traditional flavours. Less successful is on the cold intro to ‘Puxa’ which may alienate fans of acoustic roots before a sudden shift in pace while there are uneven attempts at combining genres on ‘Yumbale’ which, to these ears, sounds like an in-between of Trinidadian soca and rap. New fans to roots music who are more at home with contemporary dancefloor grooves will find much to appreciate in the repetitive drum patterns of ‘Bazuka’ and in the ambient and dub effects that are present on ‘Alegria’ with nifty guitar licks. The fusion of acoustic and electronic music within the sphere of world roots is still only in its infancy globally and therefore it should not be a surprise that the balance struck is not always the right one. Other musicians as disparate as Congotronics and Céu have found winning combinations and Angolan music will ultimately take on board these developments in due course. This a departure from roots unearthing specialists Soundway and they are to be applauded for taking the risk of focusing on new artists who are more street-wise in orientation. Long-time African music fans would do well to listen to these new sounds for they are only going to encourage a new generation of music listeners to check out the golden oldies while tapping in to new artists, and that can only be a positive outcome for all concerned. Tim Stenhouse
Brazilian singer Leila Pinheiro has been performing in her native land for some thirty years or more and this pairing with guitarist Nelson Faria is like a trip back in time to the 1970s and recalls that genial pairing of Elis Regina and Tom Jobim from 1974. Indeed Pinheiro most resembles in voice that of arguably Brazil’s greatest ever female voice in Elis Regina and that is no mean feat, though she is no mere vocal stooge. The repertoire spans the whole gamut of what one could justafiably call the great Brazilian songbook (in opposition to the great American songbook) and this takes in some of the most inventive writing duos in contemporary music. An immediate winner is the song that Joao Bosco and Aldir Blanc composed for the former ‘Bala com bala. Whereas the original version featured a gorgeous samba percussion in the background, here Pinheiro comes into her own with vocal gymnastics that Annie Ross could have laid down in her prime and in a Brazilian setting that Tania Maria and Joyce have at times attempted. This funky ditty is all the more memorable for the guitar licks laid down by Faria. In general the album is quite melancholic and indeed reflective in nature and this side to Brazilian music is often overlooked in the UK. Far Out are to be commended for showcasing this additional dimension to Brazilian music which makes it all the richer. The duo are best heard when the bare bones beauty of the songs is revealed as on ‘Doce presença’, or on the meditative Bach-sounding ‘Embaraçao’, a joint composition by Francis Hime and Chico Buarqué. Nelson Faria can best be described as a similarly intimate sounding Joe Pass and certainly one imagines that both singer and guitarist have been influenced by the albums Pass recorded with jazz singers of the calibre of Ella Fitzgerald and possibly also the Brazilian album ‘Tudo Bem!’ that Pass recorded with percussionist Paulinho da Costa among others. Further uplifting hues can be heard on the title track composition by pianist-singer Johnny Alf (a major influence on Tania Maria’s approach and well worth investigating the albums of) where voice and guitar combine to perfection. A classy set from a singer who has not received her full due outside Brazil. Hopefully this album will go some way to re-addressing the imbalance.
New Orleans music has never really been out of fashion and this handy overview of the scene old and new will help to to place neophytes in the right direction. Joe Liggins and the Honeydrippers are among the stars of the show with the CDs most impressive outing being ‘Goin’ back to New Orleans’. If the superb vocals are old school with jazzy brass (featuring clarinet and baritone saxophone no less) that Ray Charles circa 1959 would have been proud of, this contemporary recording hits all the right spots and then some. Legendary pianist-singer Professor Longhhair, better known as the Fess cooks up some fine gumbo on the title track with his oh so distinctive piano licks and trademark whistling. Anyone who has not yet investigated his back catalogue should do so with immediate effect. Another Fess classic, ‘Tipitina’ is reworked by Bo Dollis and the Wild Magnolias with a version that is heavy on percussion and brass. Brass bands are an integral ferature of New Orleans music and in recent decades the Re Birth Brass Band have been at the forefront of promoting the city’s rich musical heritage internationally. Here they offer a decidely funky ‘Do watcha wanna Pt. 3’. Time-wise, at forty-five minutes this compilation is a tad stingy and a further twenty minutes would have been welcome. No disputing the quality of the music on offer, though. Tim Stenhouse
In the last few albums Dr. John has unquestionably been reinvigorated and recorded some memorable sides, but on this latest set he has surpassed even those high standards by serving up a musical Cajun stew that promises to be one of the very best of his career. Indeed it is in many respects a return to the ‘Gris Gris’ era, though with contemporary influences adding to the cosmopolitan nature of the project that include both Afrobeat and Ethio-jazz flavours. For dancefloor delight, it is difficult to outdo the superb ‘Get away’ which has featured heavily on radio play while New Orleans style soul has rerely been better executed than on ‘God’s sure good’, another album highlight. What is surprising here are the new influences such as the Ethiopian jazz inflections on ‘Revolution, another winner of a song, or the Afrobeat brass that underpins ‘You lie’. For the more subtle side to Dr. John’s extensive repertoire, look no further than the subtle keyboard work displayed on ‘My children, my angels’. This pulsating series of songs is no less than a late period masterpiece. Tim Stenhouse
Singer-songwriter Krystle Warren’s 2009 CD ‘Circles’ was a breath of fresh air and covered a lot of stylistic ground. If anything, the new album is even more eclectic than before and delves to a greater extent into the sub-genres of Americana, though still manages to maintain a cohesive whole. This being said, much of what worked on the previous album has been retained. Thus jazzy flavours permeate the waltz-like ‘Tuesday morning’ with both brass and strings in evidence while the uplifting ‘You can take me with you’ is an example of the pared down side to the songwriter with catchy lyrics and female background vocals to the fore. Krystle Warren sits somewhere between Tracy Chapman and Phoebe Snow in approach (the latter especially in the range of influences) and the breathy vocals on ‘Little wonder’ lend a folksy feel to this particular song. Americana surfaces once more on ‘I worry less’ which is a potential single. Not averse to taking a risk or two, ragtime jazz meets pop to good effect on ‘Five minutes late’ while even more daring is an adaptation of a William Blake poem ‘The clod and the pebble’. This album is quirky enough to attract an audience in search of something different and Warren has an imediately recognisable voice. With a UK tour forthcoming in May, a wider public will finally have access to her work and live Krystle Warren’s diversity will surely come to life even more.
Singer-songwriter extraordinaire Chico Buarqué de Hollanda to give him his full title is a key figure in the development of what is now termed Brazilian Popular Music or MPB and it is surprising that no-one has previously seen fit to compile an anthology of his works in the UK so this is a welcome addition indeed. While he has long been popular in both Italy and Portugal, it took a French fizzy drinks commercial on a Rio beach in the summer of 1989 to the accompaniment of an old Buarqué samba from 1970 ‘Essa moça te diferente’ to catapult him back into the public’s imagination in Europe and this precipitated both a tour and new recordings. In Brazil, however, Chico Buarqué had already become one of the rising young stars by the mid-1960s, at first aping the then still in vogue bossa nova, but he was soon at the forefront of new sounds for a younger generation that became politically active in the face of repression from the military state. Indeed many of Buarqué’s most enduring songs contained within managed to overcome censorship at the time with carefully crafted allegories and he is adored all the more for his wordsmith talents in this respect alone. While some knowledge of Portugese significantly enhances the listening experience since the lyrics are imbued with a poetic quality and full of meaning, everyone else need not despair because the music is highly rhythmic and works perfectly well on that level alone. Among his most loved songs, ‘O que será’ (A flor do terra)’ is known by just about every Brazilian on the planet and was even translated into French by Claude Nougaro and became a hit all over again. Other major hits included ‘Construçao’, ‘Vai passar; and ‘Vai trabalhar vagabundo’, but Buarqué’s importance to Brazilian music goes well beyond simply chart sucess. He is one of the most influential of singer-songwriters of all time. For those in search of a rootsier Afro-Brazilian groove, they need look no further than ‘Apesar de vocé’ while ‘Fado tropical’ has a quasi-Portugese folk flavour which one might expect from a homage to that nation’s predominant traditional style. Samba inflections flow on the excellent ‘Samba do grande amor’ and even more so on the 1974 duet with guitar legend Toquinho who together offer a ‘Samba pra Vinicius’, in homage to another musical poet, the great Vinicus de Moraes. In fact there is also an unusual tribute to a thief ‘Homenagem ao Mallandro’ which interestingly was the very same subject of an Astor Piazzolla composition and it would come as little surprise if Buarqué had been inspired by the tango maestro, such are Chico’s wide-ranging musical tastes. If this anthology has whetted your appetite, the earlier mid-1960s recordings are equally well worth investigating and exist in several volumes on CD in France and Brazil. Tim Stenhouse
Harpist and vocalist Rachael Gladwin has pursued two separate careers. One working as strictly an accompanyist on harp to spiritual jazzers Matthew Halsall and Nat Birchall; the other as a leader on some folk meets world beats. It is in this latter capacity that we find her on this album which showcases her songwriting talents. The fusion of cello, harp with various African and Latin percussion from cajón and dejembe through to the kora works to perfection on songs such as ‘They pray’ which is a definite album highlight while as a vocalist Gladwin puts in a fine performance on ‘Fade to brown’ which is where the folk influences are most evident. Rachael Gladwin possesses a gentle, lyrical tone and one that is ideally suited to the folk idiom. On this particular song the use of a trombone solo is unexpected, yet convincing. Elsewhere the vocal duet on the brisk cello-led ‘Right now I know’ impresses as does the gentle, melodic opener that is ‘Song for Reuben’ with the sound of the harp underpinning the vocals. Already garnering radio play, expect this album to linger on the ear. Tim Stenhouse
In Greek popular music the boundaries between folk and pop/rock music are more blurred than elsewhere in Europe and this can result in some interesting fusions that chart nationally whereas in other countries folk music would tend on the whole to be relegated to the margins. Young Greek-Cypriot singer-songwriter and guitarist Alkinoos Ioannidis typifies the open-minded approach to music in the country and this compilation of his albums spanning the period 1997-2009 is an example of the cross-hopping of genres that is quite commonplace. If the balance is not always in favour of folk elements and at worst ends up being a mish-mash of folk-rock as on ‘With so many lies’, this is thankfully the exception rather than the rule here. At best, however, the acoustic guitar and other instrumentation of top session musicians including Yiogos Kaloudis can lead to some scintillating music as illustrated on the impassioned vocals that accompany ‘Plea’ while the lyricism of the choir and lyra on ‘Afternoon at the tree’ is a sheer delight. Ioannidis possesses a soft, melodic voice that is best suited to a gentler musical backdrop and on the whole this is precisely what we hear with the additional use of strings on a song such as ‘The pilgrim’ blending well with the other instruments. Inner sleeve notes written by the musician in English help us to better understand the motivation behind the music, especially for the more politically and socially inspired pieces, most notably on ‘Homeland’. While what we ideally need is a meaty anthology of new and emerging Greek musicians with detailed notes by a Greek music authority aimed at an audience outside the country, this compilation of one of the finest of the new generation of musicians will do just fine for the time being.
Another volume in the ever expanding series from African rare groove specialists Analog Africa, this latest offering from Benin group Le Super Burgou de Parakou offers a musical métissage of influences that spans the whole gamut of African music from Mali to Congo and on to Nigeria. The Afro-Beat backdrop to Wegne Nda M’Banza’ with 1970s style keyboards is a definite winner while the repetitive groove of ‘Guesi-Guéré-Guessi’ with joint lead vocals is only just marginally less compelling. Cuban and Congolese influences combine on the melodic guitar lines and nasal vocals on ‘Me ton le gne’ whereas Malian flavours surface on ‘Gandigui’ with a sudden surprise shift in tempo upwards halfway through. For those in search of a subtler Afro-Beat undercurrent, A na gan garo ka nam’ features some delicious lilting guitar. Le Super Borgou de Parakou started life covering other styles, notably Congolese, but soon developed their own identity and this welcome first anthology in Europe demonstrates why.
With this their fourth album and a follow up to the critically acclaimed ‘Alive’ album from 2010, Phronesis return with another beautifully crafted release that at least in terms of the equal distribution of roles between the trio’s constituent members, merits parallels with the Bill Evans trio. The trio were formed in 2005 when Danish bassist Jasper Hølby settled in London and the regular set up of British pianist Ivo Neame and Swedish drummer Anton Eger are back for an enthralling re-instalment and one that was actually recorded in Copenhagen. This begins with the shuffling beat on drums and driving bass of the incredibly catchy ‘Suede trees’ while ‘The economist is bursting with energy from its introduction and there is a flurry of activity. Possibly the finest ensemble playing is reserved for last with ‘Eight hours’ a perfect summation of the trio at this point in time while the sheer simplicity of style on the surface is evidenced on the lovely ‘Upside down’. For a more contemplative side to the trio, ‘Passing clouds’ fits the bill to perfection. Having already performed alongside the Wayne Shorter quartet, Phronesis have definitely sampled the pantheon of jazz musicians and are comfortable in such esteemed company. Their extensive UK tour in May following on from European dates promises to be one of the year’s live highlights. Tim Stenhouse