My Top Ten Favorites of 2002
Umani, I Muvrini (AGFB/EMI)
I Muvrini's latest release Umani (Humans) is a gorgeous collection of pop songs sung in Corsican, Spanish, and French. Although the album contains no traditional polyphonic songs, it does feature the usual stunning vocals from brothers Jean-François and Alain Bernardini along with members of the group -- Joséphina Fernandez, Martin Vadella, Stéphane Mangiantini and César Anot. There are also guest appearances with M.C. Solaar on "A Jalalabad" (a song about the women of Afghanistan also sung with two Afghani sisters, Zarina and Manila Fazel), Luz Casal on "Erein eta Joan" (a hidden track on the CD), and Stéphan Eicher on one of the most beautiful and poignant songs "Un Sognu Pe Campà/Un Rève Pour Vivre". Umani features two characteristic slow passionately sung songs--the aforementioned one with Stéphan Eicher and the exquisite Baià, sung solo by Jean-François. Still, it is one of the most joyous sounding recordings that I Muvrini have ever done. See my other reviews of I Muvrini's CDs at: popmatters.com/music/reviews/i/imuvrini-leia.shtml and popmatters.com/music/reviews/i/imuvrini-st.shtml
Milagro Acustico, Il Storie Ò Cafè Di Lu Furestíero (Tinder)
The premise of Il Storie Ò Cafè Di Lu Furestíero is an imaginary cafè on a small Sicilian island where foreigners come to drink, eat, play music, listen to music and to tell their stories. The leader of Milagro Acustico, Bob Salmieri, is a musician, composer, poet, storyteller, and world traveler. He composed all the pieces on this CD except for Dioulo, which was written by Papa Kanouté, kora player and guest musician on this recording. The tracks segue together as one long story with 11 very compelling chapters. Like a good book that is hard to put down, Il Storie Ò Cafè Di Lu Furestíero will live in your CD player for quite some time as you linger over each tale. I also believe that this CD would win the most beautiful "Cover for a CD for 2002" award.
Pham Duc Thanh, Vietnamese Traditional Dan Bau Music (Oliver Sudden)
Music from Southeast Asia is some of my very favorite. I frequently tell listeners to my radio show that it is akin to "blues from another delta." The dan bau is a monochord with one steel string attached to a piece of wood and has a flexible handle carved out of a buffalo horn. The instrument is played by plucking this steel string with a bamboo pick, while the player moves the flexible handle; thus even though the instrument has only one string, the instrument has about three octaves. Pham Duc Thanh is a master of this instrument as well as many others. He has one other CD on this label simple titled Vietnamese Traditional Music where not only does he play many other traditional instruments of Viet Nam but his wife, Nguyet Lan, sings. Oliver Sudden is a label based in Canada and although there are few recordings that they have released, every one of them is superb and of the highest quality both in the music, graphics, and liner notes for each of their CD's.
Radicanto, Lettere Migrante (CNI/Compagnia Nuove Indye)
This is the third recording by Radicanto, a group from the Apulian region of Italy. Their music is characterized by very fine vocals, excellent musicianship and an innovative style. Though Radicanto's music is firmly based in the Italian tradition, they compose much of it themselves and add not only instruments from other parts of the world, but other traditions as well. This one ventures more into the realm of jazz than their other two CDs (Terra Arsa -- Corde Pelli E Papiri and Echi Di Gente). Lettere Migrante is a project examining the various cultures of immigrants in Italy whom are known as "The Others." These are people who are often looked on with fear and suspicion. With Lettere Migrante, Radicanto hopes to open people's eyes to the beauty and rich heritage that the mingling of cultures can create. I believe that they have successfully done this with this extraordinary recording.
Miguel Poveda, Zaguan (Harmonia Mundi)
Award winning Miguel Poveda is definitely one of the finest of the young flamenco singers in Spain today. His rich and emotionally packed voice conveys all the suffering, passion and sorrow that is flamenco music -- known in Spanish as duende. Miguel does not fall in to the current "rumba" flamenco craze made popular by The Gypsy Kings and other groups who have added the element of pop music to flamenco. Instead, he utilizes just guitar or piano accompaniment and sometimes a light use of trap drums in the background -- and of course, palmas, the hand-clapping that is so distinctive to flamenco music.
Owain Phyfe and The New World Renaissance Band, Tales From the Vineyard
Owain Phyfe has to possess one of the most compelling voices around -- his voice is sweet and expert without sounding overly trained. Tales From The Vineyard was the first recording that I had heard by him and I was immediately enchanted -- harp, viola da gamba, cello, recorders and other such instruments abound. On this recording, Owain sings songs from the Renaissance of Europe and one incredibly beautiful song from the Ukraine. This (and all of the recordings on this label) are just made for those long cold winter nights where you are curled up by a fire, on a comfortable chair with your cat in your lap and a glass of fine, dry French wine at your table side. (Or if you are not in the mood for wine, I also love curling up with this recording and a glass of hot steamed milk with just a wee bit of maple syrup in it).
Masters of Persian Music, Without You (World Village)
The masters of Persian music are Kayhan Kalhor who plays the kemençe (spike fiddle), Hossein Alizadeh on setar (plucked lute), Mohamed Reza Shazarian, vocals, and Mohamed's young son, Homayoun on tombak (goblet drum) and vocals. These "masters" play the classical music of Iran which is traditionally based on poetry set to music. Without You is a stunning live performance featuring the works of the great Persian mystical poets Taher, Attar, Mowlavi (Rumi) and Hafez. Persian music is based on certain modes; but the players explore these modes through improvisation. The singing is characteristically intense. I was fortunate enough to see a performance of these great masters in a concert in Santa Cruz, California this year.
Formatta Valea Mare, Departe De Casa (M A Recordings)
Nobody plays music faster than Romanians -- especially Romanian gypsies! Formatta Valea Mare are no exception. The owner and producer of M A Recordings, Todd Garfinkle, met this wild group of guys on the Paris Metro. He was so impressed that he recorded them at a cathedral in Orléans shortly after. The album begins with a rather humorous scat singing of the tune that they are about to play on their instruments. This was a suggestion of Todd's, they thought it rather silly, but did it anyway. The result served to break the ice as they sing and giggle their way through; then they come in on their instruments and take off with no looking back! Besides being virtuoso musicians, they are thoroughly infectious and guaranteed to raise even the gloomiest of spirits. They make it difficult to sit in a chair and merely listen, one finds themselves getting up and doing a sirba or a briul right along with them. (Just a note on M A Recordings for the serious audiophile, not only is the quality of the music superb; but each recording on the label is done with only two omnidirectional microphones in locations such as cathedrals, etc. giving them not only perfect acoustics but adding "space" as another element to the music).
Ambrozijn, Kabonka (Wild Boar Music)
Wonderful group from Belgium joined by vocalists Sylvie Berger and their producer Gabriel Yacoub. If you liked the French group Malicorne, you will like Ambrozijn even better.
Pangéo, Northern Borders (Regional Music of Greece)
Danubius, Danubius (Web of Mimicry)
Hungarian and Romanian Music very well played by this group of Americans.
Anoush, Sweet! (self-released)
Greek and Albanian Music
I Campagnoli, Versa di Vita (self-released)
Peter "Puma" Hedlund, Vägen (Allwin)
Master nyckelharpa player from Sweden
A Filetta, Intantu (Saravah)
Group from Corsica-if you saw the Bruno Coulais film titled Himalaya then you heard this group of singers on the soundtrack.
Anouar Brahem, Le Pas Du Chat Noir (ECM)
Superb Tunisian oud music combined with the piano of François Couturier and the accordion of Jean-Louis Matinier.