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Béla Fleck

Throw Down Your Heart: Tale From The Acoustic Planet, Vol. 3 - Africa Sessions

(Rounder)


Béla Fleck
Throw Down Your Heart: Tale From The Acoustic Planet, Vol. 3 - Africa Sessions



While banjo player Béla Fleck’s most recent global journey features a long title, the actual album is more expansive and thought provoking than what those 13 words allow. The record blew out my head on first listen, when my fiancée bought it on iTunes before I had a chance to get it from the label. To claims it is an “all star” project is an understatement and undermines the integrity of this diverse roster of artists: D’Gary, Afel Bocum, Vusi Mahlasela, Oumou Sangare, Richard Bona, Baaba Maal, Toumani Diabate, Bassekou Kouyate, Djelmady Tounkara—it would take the status and stature of this banjo player to even pull such a thing off, not to mention even thinking up such an ambitious undertaking. Yet pull it off Fleck does, eloquently, gracefully, beautifully. Treat it more like a compilation and you’ll understand: there is no linear voyage to be found. The distance between D’Gary and Sangare itself is a bit of a hop; the next step, to the childlike Anania Ngoglia, requires even more of a step of faith. Some tracks, Fleck is the most prominent feature; at other times, he steps back and lets his guests take center stage. There is a power to this that the entire ensemble exudes. The title track, featuring n’goni player Kouyate and the Haruna Samake Trio, is heartbreaking. Sangare sounds like the queen she is. I haven’t heard D’Gary sound this good in years, especially on the song that bears his name, “D’Gary’s Jam” (which also features another dozen artists). Fleck should be commended for these 18 efforts. While every one does not hit the mark, the mere scope of what he’s accomplished is honorable, and 80 percent of the time spot on.


 

 



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Bebel Gilberto

All in One

(Verve)

Review [27.Sep.2009]


Bebel Gilberto
All in One



Bebel Gilberto slipped into the American imagination with Tanto Tempo in 2000 and has refused to leave. The efforts that followed—Bebel Gilberto and Momento—felt like extensions of that North American debut; beautiful in their own right, and never without taste, yet safely embedded within the same paradigm. It’s not surprising, given that she is the musical and genetic progeny of two great Brazilian singers. I wouldn’t say that All In One, her Verve debut, points in a completely new direction. But it certainly surprises. Her music has always reached for the romantic in her listeners, a nuance continual in the global understanding of Brazilian sounds. This is quite a paradox considering the social and economic strife inherent in many of the country’s urban areas. From the Brazilian musicians I’ve talked to over the years, it seems that the music is not only an “escape”, which is what bossa nova has come to represent in certain circumstances; it is also a social and artistic balm that glues people together. This is a worldwide truism in music; it’s just that certain artists really grab hold of one’s creative faculties, pushing past the bounds of the everyday into a dream-like state—the visionary, the daydreamer. There is really no other way of describing Giblerto’s sound, crediting equally her producers as her voice. The expectable Bebel tracks are present: airy odes like “Far From the Sea” and “Port Antonio”. She tackles her father’s domain with cuts like “Bim Bom” and “Chica Chica Boom Chic”, songs that take you back forty years, before Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil slid electric guitars and political messages into the music. Things get more interesting when she tackles two giants and succeeds on both: Bob Marley and Stevie Wonder. Flipping “Sun Is Shining” into Portuguese and back into English was a smart move, adding a layer of sensuality to the bass-heavy midtempo track. Bob is sacred territory to many; previous accolades have meant death to a singer. Bebel handles it, along with everything else here, perfectly.



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Orchestre Poly-Rythmo De Cotonou

Volume Two: Echos Hypnotiques

(Analog Africa)


Orchestre Poly-Rythmo De Cotonou
Volume Two: Echos Hypnotiques



Orchestre Poly-Rhythmo de Cotonou: Vol. 2 comes from Analog Africa, a label running side-by-side with Soundway at unearthing a wealth of amazing material from decades ago. Five years back, the label received a track from this Benin-based band, and fell in love. Volume One compiled more obscure tracks in Benin; this one focuses on their time in a bigger studio in Lagos (the sound quality shows). Volume Two focused on the decade from 1969-79, a fertile time on African soil, where jazz was influencing and being influenced by the motherland, the heyday of Bronx Salsa brought awareness of Puerto Rico and Colombia to the larger world, and James Brown was being cued by Fela Kuti and broadcast to the world. Rooted in Vodoun ceremonial music and heavy on percussion and guitars, with thick, luscious bass lines and melodies as trance inducing as the rhythms, this is an irresistible find. A fine collection through and through, the call-response “Noude Ma Gnin Tche de Me” hooked and sunk me deeply into this African groove. You won’t be disappointed doing the same.


 

 



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Various Artists

Tumbélé! Biguine, Afro & Latin Sounds From The French Caribbean, 1963-74

(Soundways)


Various Artists
Tumbélé! Biguine, Afro & Latin Sounds From The French Caribbean, 1963-74


One of my favorite labels to emerge over the past years is certainly Soundway Records; the UK-based operation has unearthed a rich library of Caribbean, Afro-Latin, and Tropical music from three or four decades back. Their website, soundwayrecords.com, features an excellent selection of DJ mixes, great companions to their exceptional compilations. This latest look at the islands of Guadeloupe and Martinique slides right into action. Like their larger counterparts overseas, the music being made on these islands was heavily influenced by jazz, Afro-Latin rhythms, calypso, and most likely, James Brown. The drumming prowess of bands like Le Ry-co Jazz, along with the heavy guitar- and brass-fueled groove that Ensemble La Perfecta finds, leave the listener craving a dance floor. “Ti Fi La Ou Té Madam’” is a soulful stomper. Finding twenty tracks of this stature without a disappointment in the bunch is a rare find indeed.


 

 



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Vieux Farka Touré

Fondo

(Six Degrees)

Review [31.May.2009]


Vieux Farka Touré
Fondo



If his self-titled debut announced to the world that Malian guitarist Ali Farka Touré had a son, and that that son could play the hell out of the guitar and sing like it was nobody’s business, Vieux’s follow-up certifiably makes him his own man. His father’s traces were all over the last record, including his appearance on two songs (the last recordings he did before passing away), and two from close family friend and mentor Toumani Diabate. He returns with producer Yossi Fine (Ex-Centric Sound System) to a much more sparse, intricate, and delicate album—the last adjective working only in certain circumstances, because the boy can shred through some chords at any time. Credit Fine for allowing the man’s voice and guitar playing, already more than able, to shine. Fine keeps the bass, his instrument of choice, tasteful yet in the background, pulling the occasional reggae trick from his deep bag, helping Touré capture the integrity and depth of African blues. While upbeat songs like “Sarama” and “Chérie Lé” chug along, the real winners occur when he steps up solo: the exquisite, lonesome strains of “Souba Souba”, as well as “Slow Jam” and “Paradise”. Those are the ones that stop you in your tracks and listen, possibly inquire about the name of this artist you might not have heard of. If you have, I’m preaching to the choir: you are already aware of Touré’s magic, and this review is only verification of what you hear on your stereo every time you put it on.


 

Derek Beres is the author of five books, including Global Beat Fusion: The History of the Future of Music, an insightful gaze into the new world mythology being created by global electronica, and the novel, Mysterious Distance. His photojournalism has appeared in dozens of magazines, focused on the international music scene. He is also a NY-based yoga instructor, as well as DJ and producer in EarthRise SoundSystem.


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