Music

Lila Downs y La Misteriosa: En Paris - Live à FIP

Like the late Mercedes Sosa, Lila Downs is keen to promote a sense of pan-Latin-American solidarity, recognizing the ability of the Spanish language and declarative song to create and maintain social bonds in audiences well-versed in each other's cultural traumas.


Lila Downs y La Misteriosa

En Paris - Live à FIP

Label: World Village
US Release Date: Import
UK Release Date: 2010-04-26
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Back in 1996, the Mexican-born, US-based singer-songwriter Lila Downs issued a raw live recording that featured a mix of Spanish popular songs and English language jazz standards. Following on from her cassette-only debut recording, it presented the singer as seemingly torn between her Mexican roots and one of the musical languages of her home north of the border. Not long afterwards, with Mexico and its music more firmly in her sights, Downs began releasing a series of albums made in collaboration with her musical and life partner Paul Cohen that managed a far more successful, broader-ranging fusion of musics, adding Mexican folk and pop songs, American blues, Caribbean rhythms (including, increasingly, reggae), and pan-Latin styles to her repertoire.

Downs has become known to an ever-wider audience, especially since her appearance in the film Frida in 2002. Live à FIP presents a program of songs recorded in 2009 for the French radio station FIP. It draws on material stretching from 1999's La Sandunga, the album where Downs really found her style, to her most recent album, the wide-ranging Shake Away / Ojo de Culebra (2008).

It's an excellent selection of songs, including ones written by Downs and Cohen, some well-chosen covers, and seven traditional folk songs that represent various regions and cultures of Mexico. Downs's international band, La Misteriosa, is on top form throughout, accompanying the singer with a mixture of horns, guitars, Latin percussion, and accordion. Multi-instrumentalist Celso Duarte is kept particularly busy, contributing harp to eight of the tracks and violin, guitar, and charango to others. Cohen is responsible, with Downs, for the arrangements and also contributes clarinet and tenor saxophone.

Downs' interest in reggae is less on display here than on her recorded albums, though the influence can be heard on "La Linea", which also benefits from Duarte's Andean-sounding strings. The Zapotec-based song "La Martiniana" is given a sensitive reading, Rob Curto's accordion merging wistfully with Cohen's understated clarinet. "La Cumbia del Mole" mixes instrumental textures (accordion, horns, harp) and infectious rhythms as joyfully as the mole recipe its lyrics recite. "Get cinnamon and banana, get cloves and oregano", the song commands, "grind the chocolate, grind it".

Harp and accordion work brilliantly together in "Los Pollos", a traditional song from Veracruz that includes improvised lyrics. Percussion (especially the cajón) is brought to the fore for the call-and-response number "Arenita Azul", while voice takes center stage in Downs's stripped-down version of Tomas Mendez's "Paloma Negra". She uses the song to engage in some impressive vocal work, stretching the middle syllable of "parranda" over twenty dramatic seconds midway through, then devoting another ten seconds to the word at the finale.

The migrant blues lament "Minimum Wage" is delivered in English, as it is on Shake Away. The blues boogie rhythm is ably offset by Cohen's bright saxophone, Dana Leong's trombone, and Juancho Herrera's electric guitar; Curto's accordion, meanwhile, offers up occasional trills to "Mexicanize" the proceedings. Herrera is again on excellent form (this time on acoustic guitar) for the version of Chuy Rasgado's song of abandonment, "Naila".

There is more than a hint of the late Mercedes Sosa when Downs introduces her and Cohen's song "Justicia" with the dedication, "Por Bolivia, por Honduras, por Panama, por Peru, por Argentina, por Mexico, por Costa Rica". Like Sosa, who guested on Shake Away's "Tierra de Luz", Downs is keen to promote a sense of pan-Latin-American solidarity, recognizing the ability of the Spanish language and declarative song to create and maintain social bonds in audiences well-versed in each other's cultural traumas. Elsewhere, Downs's singing also echoes Sosa's, showing a similar sincerity, clarity, and maternal authority.

Downs' version of Lucinda Williams's "I Envy the Wind" is just as wonderful here as it was on Shake Away. Downs maintains Williams's elegant minimalism and sense of space, delivering the lyric first in her Spanish translation, which works brilliantly and sounds as though it was supposed to be sung in the language. Leong provides a suitably evocative trombone solo before Downs switches to English for one of the verses. The result is a beautiful matching of talents.

Downs long ago reclaimed "La Cucaracha" from its cheesy misuse as touristic shorthand for Mexico, reasserting its purpose as a song of protest. It's given a vigorous reading here, with plenty of spiky contributions from all the instrumentalists. Downs delivers a half-sung, half-rapped lyric that offers defiant shout-outs to Pancho Villa, Emiliano Zapata, and the murdered Chilean folk singer Víctor Jara.

The album closes, as the show does, with the fairground ride of "Perro Negro", which allows the instrumentalists to take solo turns over the frantic beat. The song itself, with its echoes of Bertolt Brecht, Kurt Weill, and Tom Waits, is a great way to sign off. It was equally carnivalesque on Shake Away and, if there's any doubt to be cast over this excellent live album, it is only that many of these songs have been given just as much life on the wonderful studio albums from which they come. Those already in possession of those albums may find Live à FIP an unnecessary indulgence. However, for those who are new to Lila Downs or who have lost contact with her since Frida, it provides an excellent overview of a vibrant, border-crossing artist.

7

From drunken masters to rumbles in the Bronx, Jackie Chan's career is chock full of goofs and kicks. These ten films capture what makes Chan so magnetic.

Jackie Chan got his first film role way back in 1976, when a rival producer hired him for his obvious action prowess. Now, nearly 40 years later, he is more than a household name. He's a brand, a signature star with an equally recognizable onscreen persona. For many, he was their introduction into the world of Hong Kong cinema. For others, he's the goofy guy speaking broken English to Chris Tucker in the Rush Hour films.

From his grasp of physical comedy to his fearlessness in the face of certain death (until recently, Chan performed all of his own stunts) he's a one of a kind talent whose taken his abilities in directions both reasonable (charity work, political reform) and ridiculous (have your heard about his singing career?).

Now, Chan is back, bringing the latest installment in the long running Police Story franchise to Western shores (subtitled Lockdown, it's been around since 2013), and with it, a reminder of his multifaceted abilities. He's not just an actor. He's also a stunt coordinator and choreographer, a writer, a director, and most importantly, a ceaseless supporter of his country's cinema. With nearly four decades under his (black) belt, it's time to consider Chan's creative cannon. Below you will find our choices for the ten best pictures Jackie Chan's career, everything from the crazy to the classic. While he stuck to formula most of the time, no one made redundancy seem like original spectacle better than he.

Let's start with an oldie but goodie:

10. Operation Condor (Armour of God 2)

Two years after the final pre-Crystal Skull installment of the Indiana Jones films arrived in theaters, Chan was jumping on the adventurer/explorer bandwagon with this wonderful piece of movie mimicry. At the time, it was one of the most expensive Hong Kong movies ever made ($115 million, which translates to about $15 million American). Taking the character of Asian Hawk and turning him into more of a comedic figure would be the way in which Chan expanded his global reach, realizing that humor could help bring people to his otherwise over the top and carefully choreographed fight films -- and it's obviously worked.

9. Wheels on Meals

They are like the Three Stooges of Hong Kong action comedies, a combination so successful that it's amazing they never caught on around the world. Chan, along with director/writer/fight coordinator/actor Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao, all met at the Peking Opera, where they studied martial arts and acrobatics. They then began making movies, including this hilarious romp involving a food truck, a mysterious woman, and lots of physical shtick. While some prefer their other collaborations (Project A, Lucky Stars), this is their most unabashedly silly and fun. Hung remains one of the most underrated directors in all of the genre.

8. Mr. Nice Guy
Sammo Hung is behind the lens again, this time dealing with Chan's genial chef and a missing mob tape. Basically, an investigative journalist films something she shouldn't, the footage gets mixed up with some of our heroes, and a collection of clever cat and mouse chases ensue. Perhaps one of the best sequences in all of Chan's career occurs in a mall, when a bunch of bad guys come calling to interrupt a cooking demonstration. Most fans have never seen the original film. When New Line picked it up for distribution, it made several editorial and creative cuts. A Japanese release contains the only unaltered version of the effort.

7. Who Am I?

Amnesia. An easy comedic concept, right? Well, leave it to our lead and collaborator Benny Chan (no relation) to take this idea and go crazy with it. The title refers to Chan's post-trauma illness, as well as the name given to him by natives who come across his confused persona. Soon, everyone is referring to our hero by the oddball moniker while major league action set pieces fly by. While Chan is clearly capable of dealing with the demands of physical comedy and slapstick, this is one of the rare occasions when the laughs come from character, not just chaos.

6. Rumble in the Bronx

For many, this was the movie that broke Chan into the US mainstream. Sure, before then, he was a favorite of film fans with access to a video store stocking his foreign titles, but this is the effort that got the attention of Joe and Jane Six Pack. Naturally, as they did with almost all his films, New Line reconfigured it for a domestic audience, and found itself with a huge hit on its hands. Chan purists prefer the original cut, including the cast voices sans dubbing. It was thanks to Rumble that Chan would go on to have a lengthy run in Tinseltown, including those annoying Rush Hour films.

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