Nuala Kennedy and more...
Ignore the opening track of this record, the weakest of the whole set, and let Nuala Kennedy’s evocative singing and supple pipes transport you the rest of the way. Mixing whimsical instrumentals like “Love at the Swimming Pool” with traditional fare like “Lord Duneagle”, Kennedy manages to breathe new life into old traditions. “Lord Duneagle” is a show-stopping tune, but it’s not the only highlight: “Paddy’s Lamentation”, “The Banks of the Roses”, and the two-part instrumental “Asturias” are all outstanding as well. Kennedy’s voice is as adept at gentle ballads as more forceful fare, and her crack band of backing musicians serves her well. This is her third release since her 2007 debut, and it’s to be hoped that it will find her the wider audience she deserves. David Maine
It’s not so much that this young Ethiopian pianist has learned how to adapt his country’s music into a jazz context, and vice versa. After all, Mulatu Astatke and other geniuses have been doing that for years. His real genius lies in his willingness to go beyond these templates into some very strange and beautiful places. He covers old-school Chicago psychedelic soul classics, he goes for nine-minute Jarrett-like piano excursions, and he leads a kickin’ band through songs that hop from bop to free at a moment’s notice. Yirga—who defied his family’s wishes to study music—learned a lot in his internship with Addis-based Dub Colossus, but he is destined to walk his own path. This bandwagon will be VERY full in a year or two, but there are still some spots open. Jump on! Matt Cibula
Bouger le Monde!
When we first met this group from DR Congo, everyone talked about their excellent backstory. It is pretty compelling that these musicians, rejected by others because of their disabilities, formed their own band and rehearsed in the Kinshasa Zoo. But now, with the follow-up, it is clear that the real story here is what absolute groove monsters they can be. There are a lot of guitars on these tracks—some electric, others acoustic, and one constructed from a tin can—and they all make a huge sound on tracks like “Kuluna/Gangs” and “Apandjokwetu”. But the groove is never lost at any point, even when SBB slows things down. If you’re looking for icy perfection, keep going… but if you’re looking for the most soulful music being made anywhere, better park it here for a while. Matt Cibula
The Tel Aviv Session
I said in January that this would be my album of the year, and nothing I’ve listened to since has changed my mind. Toure’s fluid guitar lines and Raichel’s delicate keyboards combine to mesh into a perfect cocoon of sound, and occasional contributions from other musicians just serve to accent the rock-solid collaboration at its core. Toure and Raichel met by chance before trying out this impromptu jam session, and the joyous spontaneity oozes from every track. With half the album’s tracks clocking in at six minutes or longer, the pair has plenty of time to stretch out the tunes and explore them in a way that manages to be leisurely without ever being lethargic. It’s been said already but it bears repeating: you are unlikely to hear a better album this year. David Maine
Songs for Desert Refugees
Even if this weren’t a benefit album for a good cause, this would still be one of the best world music records of the year. Tinariwen kick off the proceedings with a slinky, whammy-bar-bending rendition of “Amous Idraout Assouf d’Alwa”, and other big guns like Tamikrest and Terkaft contribute as well. But it’s the lesser-known musicians who are the real gold here: Ibrahim Djo Experience’s “Blues du Desert (Part 1)” is a swampy, syrupy number that builds to a powerful crescendo, while Nabil Baly Othman offers a live version of “Teswa Tenere” that is as trance-inducing as it is booty-shaking. Bombino contributes a 13-minute live version of “Tigrawahi Tikma”, but Toumast’s “Aitma” is frankly every bit as compelling. With the bulk of these tracks being previously unreleased, there is plenty of interest here even for a fan of these bands or of desert blues in general. The fact that proceeds go to the assistance of war refugees in the western Sahara region just makes the deal that much sweeter. David Maine