Jyotsna Srikanth and more...
Call of Bangalore
Jyotsna Srikanth and her violin make the classical waveform of carnatic music sound idiosyncratic and even cranky or slangy. The other carnatic albums I heard this year tended to be lovely, but Srikanth’s so smart that she can speak in the vernacular. Is it her side-projects in jazz and folk that give her this insouciance? Is it the confidence you get from working on an insane number of South Indian filmi soundtracks? It was the almost ugliness in her gāyaki that grabbed my attention. She hasn’t changed the shape of the music but she’s granted it her character. If she has a signature sound on this album, then it’s a slur linked to a twiddle, the bow going between one extreme and another like 20 different diagrams of the same vibrating particle. Patri Satish Kumar and N. Amruth are a pair of beauties on percussion. Deanne Sole
Surprising absolutely nobody on earth, Mali continued to produce outstanding musicians and great records in 2013. None was more satisfying than the debut from Samba Touré, which incorporates plenty of fluid guitar playing, full-throated vocals, call-and-response harmonies, multilayered percussion and mesmerizing rhythms. Opening track “Be Ki Don” is a standout, but the album overflows with fluid grooves and fine musicianship. David Maine
Three Mountain Pass
Three Mountain Pass is a unique oddity, a reimagining of traditional Vietnamese music by Vân-Ánh Vanessa Võ, who has been working with the 16-string đàn tranh zither since the age of four. It says something when the most normal-sounding track on your album is your collaboration with the Kronos Quartet. Their “Luu Thuy Truong” seems so routinely deconstructive, all angled and pithy with its ensemble of strings, but Võ‘s own đàn bầu/đàn tranh version of Erik Satie’s “Gnossienne No. 3” is like a theremin muttering to itself underneath a blanket. No surprise that she likes Satie, that experimental humourist. Her Vietnamese instruments are regenerated objects. “The dan Bau is traditionally a solo instrument,” she explains, so she put three of them together to see what would happen. Something like throat singers on springs is the answer. The album is not only a rethinking of established modes, it’s also a series of experiments with scale. She’s probing at the boundaires of the appropriate merger. Does a massive Japanese taiko drum belong with a little t’rung? No, so let’s do it. Her descriptions of her own motives in the booklet are so very very modest. Deanne Sole
Dabke: Sounds of the Syrian Houran
The DJ hey-heys the crowd, the equipment bleeds a harsh ruckus of squealing reeds and percussive brickbat, and the integrity of everything is wrecked and shattered, the sounds are not separated into their feeds, reeds not cleanly in one place, percussion not shamefully in another but all mashed and mingled in helpless non-integrity and incontinent violence. Who is responsible? Mike Gergis put it together, of course: Gergis of Sublime Frequencies and the band Neung Phak. Today he is being Sham Palace. “Culled from cassettes and discs found in the cities of Daraa, Suweida and Damascus, Syria between 1997-2010,” it explains, and I wonder about the skill of the ear that searches through a heap of cassettes and picks out “Deg Deg Dagdeglo” by Abu Wafsi. “Dagdeglo!,” yells Wafsi, rising drunk and skittish on a spume of noise, the human being as a self-powered commodity feeding off its own energy, perpetual motion machine of the Syrian wedding party circuit. Of all the albums I listened to this year, Dabke: Sounds of the Syrian Houran was the one that most gave the illusion that I was in the same room as the music itself—not the secondary recording of the music, but the original, time-growing atmospheric and vibrational occurrence. Deanne Sole
Live from Festival au Desert, Timbuktu
The Festival in the Desert, held annually in or near Timbuktu since 2001, originally was a local affair that highlighted the arts and cultural traditions of the nomadic Touareg people. Just a few years after its founding, the festival opened to the world, attracting musicians from other African countries, Europe, and the Americas. (Robert Plant was an early visitor from the West, performing there in 2003.) But in 2012, the future of the festival seemed in jeopardy, as political upheaval broke out in Mali—a coup d’état in the capital Bamako and horrendous violence perpetrated by militant Islamists, who banned music wherever they took power and infiltrated (and to some extent usurped) the Touareg independence movement. The festival didn’t happen in 2013, but this year the UK-based label Clermont released a live album from the 2012 event. The sound quality isn’t the best and the audience is mostly inaudible. But the artists demonstrate the richness and diversity of Malian music, from electric guitar-driven “desert blues” to more traditional sounds. There are tracks by musicians well-known to world music fans—Habib Koite, Tartit, Bassekou Kouyate, and Tinariwen—as well as lesser-known artists who deliver fervent and gripping performances. Guitarist Oumar Konate shreds like a demon on “Bismillah”, and Tinariwen, the internationally-renowned Touareg band, backs the Indian-Canadian vocalist Kiran Ahluwalia on her version of “Mustt Mustt”, a ghazal (poetic love song) made famous by the late qawwali singer Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. George de Stefano
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// Marginal Utility
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