ERNEST RANGLIN & AVILA
BLESS UP (Avilastreetrecords.com)
There's not a lot of info on this CD, apart from song titles. From those we figure that Ernie or his crew have been listening to Abdullah Ibrahim, since they start out with "Bra Joe from Kilimanjaro." There's also a cover of Ibrahim's "Blues for a Hip King" (though less successful), so I suspect the keyboard player Jonathan Korty (or is it Eric Levy?) has been practicing his big walking left hand for some time. On the title cut the sax player (Michael Pelloquin) steps up, so you don't really notice that it is a guitar album. In fact it is a mellow jazz-inflected album, and Ranglin is just a member of the band which, considering his advanced age, is a nice way to hear him rather than the pressure that would result if you expected all guitar all the time. He comes out riffing on track 6, "Joan's Pen," and shows he has not slowed down. Overall the feel is of a very accomplished Jamaican jazz session, but better recorded! Musically too it recalls the pre-Skatalites era, back when the Alpha Boys School grads were a jazz group recording Jazz Jamaica from the Workshop. That album was an early release of Studio One records (August 1962, issued especially for Independence) and featured young Ernie Ranglin "regarded as the most exciting player outside the United States today," according to Sonny Bradshaw. Since then Ranglin went on to appear on countless Jamaican music dayes (including Millie Small's "My Boy Lollipop" which exploded Ska onto the British scene in 1964, sessions for Bob Marley, Jimmy Cliff, the Maytals, etc), and more recently a notable tour and album (In Search of the Lost Riddim) with Senegalese star Baaba Maal. This is not a repeat of Below the Bassline, his triumphant 1996 return, because that was based on some well-known Jamaican tunes ("Satta," "54-46" and his instrumental hit "Surfin") and featured legendary sidemen, including Monty Alexander on piano and Roland Alphonso on sax. That summit of giants is a landmark album. This is him in a relatively new setting. I am always wary of pickup bands, because I have suffered through plenty of reggae shows where a headliner just came to town alone and called the tunes while a bunch of local kids thought they could skank it in de back yard. But Ranglin has nevertheless put together a creditable band here, with tough horns and the requisite thudding bass (Yossi Fine, producer of Hassan Hakmoun) and (uncredited) Sly-Style drums. There's a tango! "El Mescalero," with harmonica, muted trumpet, Hammond B3 and some dribbling runs on guitar. Yes Ernie, the high octane octogenarian, is still tip top.
BORDERS BEHIND (World Village 479084)
I recently got a promo or rather a download link to an intangible set that featured Trio Joubran, backing an Arab artist (actually a Belgian via Jordan) who shall remain nameless. Since I really liked their earlier CDs I was keen to hear it, but sadly it turned out to be rubbish, pure and simple. Why mess with a winning formula? The audience doesn't tire, it expands (maybe stretches a bit, but doesn't yawn). So I was pleased to get a new disc solely by Adnan, one of the Joubrans, and am glad to report it is spot on. There is a clarity to this, a sharpness, a real acuity as if they are listening as much as playing. When I say "they," I should point out there is only one of the Joubran brothers on here, Adnan on oud (also on percussion and voice), and a line up that includes tablas, cello and cajon, with a guest appearance from Jorge Pardo, renowned Spanish jazz/flamenco accompanist, on sax and flute (on four tracks). The mixture of Spain and Arabia is a natural one: Pardo has played with the al-Andalusian Ensemble as well as the recently deceased Paco de Lucia, and you sense Adnan is keen to show he can riff with the best of them on this outing. The title at first glance suggests Joubran's native Palestine, but then you think of the musical borders he has crossed to perform with Indians and Spaniards, but ultimately the borders are metaphysical ones, between what's been accomplished and what can be imagined. Lovely, lovely, lovely.
UNITY (Healing Records)
Maybe not the best, but perhaps the most famous Moroccan musician playing today, Hassan Hakmoun has taken the traditional Gnawan music he grew up with in Marrakesh and gone rock n rolly with it. In the past he has collaborated with Peter Gabriel, Don Cherry and, of course, the Kronos Quartet. In 1987 he played Lincoln Center in New York and was so well received that he decided to move to the US. He plays a three-stringed lute called the sintir, a bassy instrument. In 1991 his Gift of the Gnawa stormed the world music charts but since then he has been acting and backing other performers. Here he take almost a Led Zep approach to the music, with blues harp, crunching electric guitar and tumultuous drumming. Apart from his wood and camelskin axe, there are some other traditional instruments on here: karkaba, two sabar drummers and a Fula flute. The Mali/Senegal connection makes sense because the Gnawa were originally black slaves imported to Morocco from West Africa and I suppose the rock connection is there because Hakmoun is now an American. The album sounds live and spontaneous (it was recorded in three days) and bristles with energy. Producer is Yossi Fine who played bass with an outfit called Ex-Centric Sound System and is also in Avila. He wanted it to sound like it was recorded in Africa years ago, i.e. with an overmodulated bottom! The most "traditional" tracks like "Boudarbalayi" are fine; a couple of the rock tracks seem excessive. The Soul K Remix of "Balili" is also unnecessary: it just throws incessant soukous-style drumming on top of the track until you yell Uncle.
RECORDAR: LATIN AMERICAN SONGS OF LOVE & PROTEST (La Nana Music)
From Victor Jara to Violeta Parra, and from Cuarteto Mayarí to Os Mutantes, many Latin artists have recorded songs that have become classics while having significant lyrics, either poetic or protesting social injustice. Some of these artists risked their lives to bring their message to their audience. Ani Cordero, founder/drummer of the Mexican rock band Pistolera, has gone through the songbook from the 1930s through the 1970s, researching artists and political movements, to gather some of the greatest Spanish and Portuguese songs of love and struggle from Latin America. Puerto Rican-born Cordero now lives in Brooklyn and has played with Os Mutantes, the Brazilian psychedelic rock group who emerged as part of the Tropicalismo movement spearheaded by Gil and Veloso. Os Mutantes went through several breakups and reunions, the one constant being singer and guitarist Sergio Dias who remains an influential figure in Brasilian music. Cordero took up the percussion role once ascribed to Rita Lee in the band, but on this disc she is the frontman and is backed by Dias on bass and electric guitar. He was also able to bring in his own suggestions, for arrangements as well as instruments (I suspect that's him with the occasional atmospherics). So in addition to her own playing and her core group of piano, guitar, drums and percussion, she has ngoni, cello, accordion, trumpets and flugelhorn, to add limitless variety. The guest musicians have played with Lee Perry, David Byrne, The E Street Band, Vieux Farka Touré, and others. The lyrics are not included in the disc but can be found here, complete with English translation! Comparing Cordero's version to some of the originals on youtube I have to say she really occupies them and has made them her own. Latin American music fans, in particular, will cherish this disc.
MAX MASSENGO & LE NEGRO-BAND
1958-2013 RE-EDITION DES MERVEILLES DU PASSE (Cyriaque Bassoka /or/ KOS & Co)
Something I don't understand is people who claim to be into "Afrobeat" or some esoteric musical form like African psychedelic or funk but say they don't "get" Congolese rumba. I think these people are not really fans of African music at all, but twisted rock fans who have just gone off track. I love all African music with a few exceptions, but close to my heart is the pulsating throb of early Congolese bands with Latin percussion and one or more hornmen out front. However I got a little carried away by my enthusiasm here. Two competing companies have this compilation on line for download at 320 kbps. It's anyone's guess who has the rights, I suppose it's the typical African free-for-all that also has needle-drop albums of Docteur Nico appearing from the "Sukisa" label. (The latest is called Hommage à Tabu Ley, but curiously there is not one single track on there with Tabu Ley! Note for anyone interested: disc one tracks 1-10 are SAF LP 50042 with titles changed; tracks 11 -22 are Sono CD 36516, also syl 823463) While the sound could be better on this Negro Band comp (most tracks are truly thrashed), this is not merely another reissue of someone else's compilation, but collects rare tracks from singles and EPs that came out in the 50s and 60s. Sadly they seem to have come from old, decayed tapes. You can check the sound clips on line, but believe me they are rough. One for the hard-core collectors, but otherwise skip it. (Cyriaque Bassoka Productions also have a late-80s double Franco Live set on Amazon for download, if anyone is interested. Do let me know if you spring for it; I am once burned, twice gone.)
most recent reviews:
(click on maps at the top of the page to get to continent of choice)
Zanzibara 7: Sindike vs Ndekule is found in Tanzania part 2
Aziza Brahim from Algeria is filed under Arabia
Atash's Everything is Music is filed under USA
New version of the Rough Guide to Mali is filed in Mali part 2
Thomas Blondet's Future World can be found in Old World misc section
Alejandro Almenares' Casa de Trova is filed in Cuba part 4
as is Ernesto Oviedo's Siempre Clasico
Studio One Rocksteady can be seen in Jamaica part 3
Charles King's Champeta Fever is filed under Colombia
Tiecoro Sissoko's Keme Borama went to Mali part 2
as did Aminata Traore's Tamala
The Rough Guide to the Best African Music You've Never Heard is filed under Africa Miscellany
Jaako Laitinen & Väärä Raha's Lapland-Balkan can be found in Old World Miscellany
Angola Soundtrack 2 can be found in Angola & Cabo Verde
Randy Weston & Billy Harper The Roots of the Blues is filed under USA
as are the Rough Guide to Blues Legend: Blind Blake,
and Sonny Boy Williamson's Keep it to Ourselves
Rokia Traore in Concert is filed in Mali Live,
while her new CD Beautiful Africa can be found in Mali part 2
Latin Noir is from all over but I stuck it in Cuba part 4
Sembeh Ma Fa Fe (Roots) is file under Guinea
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My Top Twelve of 2012 is HERE.
My Top Ten of 2011 can be found HERE.
My Top 9 of 2010 is online HERE
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Click HERE for my top 11 of 2006
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BACK IN PRINT (Second edition, November 2012)
A DISCOGRAPHY OF DOCTEUR NICO
Poltroon Press, 2012, expanded to 88 pages; list price $19.95.
By Alastair Johnston
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