Short Takes; Encapsulated News on Recent Releases
by Dan Liss

Samplers of World Music

  A few sampler albums that can give you a great taste of world music are organized by themes. One is Passion Planet, a compilation of songs that contribute to global warming. Included are cuts by Claudia Gomez, Milton Nasciemento, Assarouf, Loreena McKennitt, Ravi Shankar, Paban Das Baul and Sam Mills. They represent some of the best from a variety of cultures and styles, and the songs are sequenced for smooth transitions. So taste some spicy treats. Then, for all those people who have been taking dance lessons so that they can keep in touch with someone special or find a way to get closer to a new acquaintance, The Rough Guide'sTango has 20 cuts by a variety of great artists.

Amazing, this trend in old music becoming popular again. Dancing is the key, and Tango is hot. One of the greatest of them, the late Astor Piazzolla, who is included on this set, also had Tango: Zero Hour, which he claimed was his finest album, recently reissued on CD. Another collection which lends itself to dance is North Africa, featuring Hamza El Din, Hossam Ramzy, Rasha, Drummers of the Nile, Sheehan & Othmani and more. As with the previously mentioned collections, we have reviewed several of these artists when their individual albums came out. So if you were holding back because you weren't sure you'd like it, samplers are an easy way to go. In this part of the continent, the music is lighter percussion, stringed instruments, flutes and Arabic vocals.

If you like belly dancing music, this is the family of sound it's in, rather than the big drums, the djembes of West Africa. One of the contributors to this set also has a new album. A Wish by Hamza El Din is a fine album of traditional music, with songs that speak of arranged marriages, farmers, friends, the environment and village life. El Din's homeland of Nubia, much of which was flooded to make way for a dam and is now divided between Egypt and Sudan, traditionally had only tar (frame drum), handclapping and voice as their ways to make music. New influences came from their neighbors, and it was he who introduced the oud (lute) to the Nubians, and is now regarded as a master musician of his region, even though he has lived in the U.S. and toured the world for many years. Sweetly melodic with elegant fingerwork on the tar, oud and flute with Arabic/Nubian vocals that bend as gracefully as a summer breeze, make A Wish a pleasure to hear. The lyrics of the title song refer to a wish that his homeland could rise up from the bottom of Lake Nasser, and it is also a wish for peace in the world.

Sarah Brightman ' Eden'
and Barbara Lewis 'Hara's Quest'

Two women who have operatic backgrounds and now offer albums that are both romantic and metaphysical are Sarah Brightman and Barbara Lewis. Brightman, who became known for her singing in Phantom of the Opera, is more eclectic in her sources on her album, Eden, singing in English, Italian, Spanish and French. Passionate, melodic torch songs. Lewis, who writes her material, has performed on stage in shows such as Book of Dreams. Hara's Quest tells the story of a woman who searches for her true home and on her way meets spirits, dolphins, ETs and others as she visits both past and future cities. Quite a journey, carried by a powerful voice.

Most of the musicians who have become famous for playing the Native American wood flute have been men. However, women also play. Musician and writer Marina Raye has five albums out. On her latest, Womanspirit, she collaborates with Nigerian percussionist Olabayo to evoke the Divine feminine spirits. Throughout the recording, nature sounds play in the background. She and the drummer play softly, the compositions forming layers of sound that seem to grow organically from the earth, each element stimulating the other to make its presence known. This sensuous, heartfelt album is one that could make an excellent choice for relaxation, meditation or massage.

Journey to the Amazon with guitarist Sharon Isbin, who played Atlantarecently as part of the Guitar Summit. She is joined by Paul Winter on saxand Thiago de Mello on percussion. This marvelous CD captures the spirit ofthe rainforest with a fusion of classical, jazz and Brazilian flavors. Withthree musicians of this calibre, you would expect the composition andexecution to be tight, and it is. A sense of frolic, joy, exploration and discovery permeate the atmosphere when their music plays. Isbin notes thatthe great Brazilian composers represented on this album engaged her in alove affair with music, and on this excursion, it is clearly she who is inthe lead among the three, reigniting the spark. Whether your tastes run tosmooth jazz, easy listening or world music, Journey to the Amazon is alighthearted, thoroughly satisfying voyage with a group of pros who make the creation of sophisticated, earthy music sound effortless.


Brothers Mychael & Jeff Danna deliver another masterpiece with their new album, A Celtic Romance, which continues in the same style as their last, A Celtic Tale. Using orchestral arrangements and traditional instruments,they evoke a setting for the epic tale of Liadain & Curithur. Without recounting the entire saga for you now, let's just note that it containsthe familiar epic elements of war, longing, loyalty, love and magic.Included with the album is a booklet containing the story which you canread while the music plays, letting a movie unreel in your mind's eye. The combination of story, art and music is exactly the way the bards of old would have presented it.

If you are one of the growing legions of fans of the didjeridu, or if you're just curious to check out some new sounds, Cross-Hatch by AlanDargin (didjeridu) and Michael Atherton (percussion) will envelop you insonic waves that exceed any preconceived notions about what to expect fromthese instruments. During the last several years, I've heard manyrecordings that employ these incredible primal instruments, and theseperformers are clearly among the best. The techniques of these two mastersactivate the senses and open portals for astral travel. They are joined onsome cuts by guest artists who provide synths and additional percussion,and all of it enhances the pathways opened by the didjeridu. Incredible.

 Dominic Miller, a guitarist who played with Sting, Tina Turner, ThePretenders, The Chieftans, and Phil Collins, now has his own exceptionally smooth solo album, First Touch. His relaxed, soulful, introspective stylecaptures the listener's attention with hints of intimacy and subtle beauty.His soft touch on the strings displays a sense of calm, delicacy, and closeness. Miller's deftness in handling his instrument is what gave someof these other musicians, particularly Sting, a distinctive sound. Theguitar, in the hands of one who appreciates its nuances as well as its power, is capable of weaving magical melodies that enhance the mood of aquiet evening, warming the atmosphere with tender, lyrical passages thatseem to melt in the air.

 The albums named Drum Spirit and Percussive Environments accurately describe what you'll find when you play them. Jim McGrath is the drummerbehind the recordings and they are great for trance dance or vigorousphysical workouts. And if you enjoy going to drumming circles or just playing the drum at home for meditative purposes, and are looking for waysto sharpen your skills, you can put these on and work out with them. Where his album Soul Dancer was faster paced, Percussive Environments keeps moreof a medium tempo that moves at a steady pace. The variety of drums andpercussion instruments he uses set up the interlocking rhythms which openthe way to trance. On all his recordings he uses vocalists to add another non-verbal layer to the tracks, but he makes the most use of them on DrumSpirit, which also has the greatest variety of pacing among the tracks. His mix of elements is very tribal and shamanic.

 Imagine, if you will, a woman with a hauntingly beautiful voice, singingItalian lyrics in a classical Indian style. The voice belongs to theamazing Amelia Cuni who was raised in Italy then traveled to India to learn the dhrupad method of giving voice to a song. This is one of the mostsoulful, inspirational types of singing. Danza d'Amore (The Dance of Love)is her new album. You may remember her from the album Monsoon Point withAl Gromer Khan. English lyrics are included in the liner notes, detailingthe pathways of mystical love. The arrangements of flutes, tablas, violin,bass, sitar and percussion support her voice with a marriage of Indian andEarly European instrumentals. Elegant, delicious and satisfying, with orwithout translation.

As we let our thoughts return again to India during this 50th anniversary year of their independence from England, it's worth listening to Snakes and Ladders (named after a game), a two audiotape set by Gita Mehta, to hear a contemporary oral history of the country. She recounts her interviews with a number of people, from ragpickers to poets, and presents a concise perspective on Indian culture and politics. If you are curious about the progress of current events on a global scale, the evolution of third world economics, or the mutation of ancient spiritual traditions in contemporary culture, Mehta's real life examples make for amazing, insightful storytelling.

Doreen Virtue's Chakra Clearing tape features a pair of morning and evening meditations, with wonderfully supportive accompaniment on piano and keyboards by Randall Leonard. Her voice gently leads the listener through empowering exercises, one to begin and one to end your day. This is an easy way to begin a healthy daily habit. Her voice is calm, reassuring and a steady guide and her phrasing makes clear the importance of mental and spiritual, as well as physical, hygiene.

Stephen Kent's Family Tree demonstrates his amazing versatility on the didgeridoo, fitting it in beautifully amid synthesizers, jazzy vocals, harps, guitars, percussion, clarinets, and all manner of other things. Disc one of this 2CD set contains nine tracks selected from his large body of work with a number of bands, most notably with his fellow musicians who also record for the City of Tribes label. Disc two contains three original deep space tracks which can really take you out there to ride on a comet. Use them to enhance bodywork or meditation. Incredibly fine for introspective moods. Kent easily ranks as one of the best didgeridoo players anywhere.

Adam Rudolph rewards the listener with a high voltage blend of jazz and world music that moves through a range of emotions and styles, expressing itself in melodies and rhythms that range from the complex, careening jams to tender, fragile interludes. The interplay between drums, guitar, reeds and wind instruments moves in contrasting patterns, setting up counter-melodies and parallel lines. His latest, Contemplations, credits Buddhist teachings, nature, and a dancer who keeps moving to inspire their playing.

A CD/book set, Angels in the Mirror, Vodou Music of Haiti is fabulously illustrated with museum quality color photos and text that includes interviews, essays, English translations of the lyrics and even a few recipes. Hear what happened to the African religious traditions after they came to the Caribbean and mixed with the Catholic religion. Percussion and voice, central components of these practices, take on new accents in the new world, influenced from their interactions with the Spanish and French colonists. The book is an excellent introduction to this often misunderstood religion, and drummers may want to study this set to learn new rhythms. Others may appreciate it as a National Geographic type journey with a soundtrack.

In the flood of albums released over the last few years by Celtic harpists, there seems to be roughly three types: new presentations of traditional songs, ambient harp with nature sounds and synthesizers, and a hybrid of new world music in which we find the harp in contemporary settings joined by an array of other instruments and voices. This last is where we find Emer Kenny's Advance Music. Her classical training provides a strong foundation for her music, which is joined by traditional Celtic instruments such as the bodhran, pipes, flute and American steel guitar. She sings with intense emotion and a feverish, hallucinatory flair, and a sense of abandon. From track to track she moves from reels to pop to world beat, merging it all seamlessly and soulfully.

An album of traditional Sufi healing music, Rivers of One by Oruc Guvenc & Tumata, presents the sound of the flute, lute, frame drum, oud and fiddle in soothing tonal music composed to emulate the rhythms of water. Two master musicians play all these instruments in a carefully composed sequence designed to enhance calmness, improve the flexibility of limbs and stimulate clear thinking. Lay down and enjoy the feeling of floating away. This healing meditation is exceptionally effective.

A bard of the Irish tradition reaching back to the myths of the nation's founding, Aine Minogue's songs celebrate the ancient Celtic holidays of Imbolc, Beltane, Lughnasadh and Samhain. Her new album, Between the Worlds, is a hypnotic, etheric album of music which whispers its way into your system, magically enveloping you in a swirling breeze of sweet airs, jigs and ballads. Her style of playing harp is classical and gentle; her voice seems to call from a place that could at once be both far away and deep inside. Sung in Gaelic and English, the musical journey from birth to death, from old to new, from this world to the next, is captured in her spellbinding high-pitched voice. Here she reveals that the old Simon & Garfunkel hit, "Scarborough Fair," really was a makeover of a much older courtship ritual song, "Rosemary Faire." Another pleasant surprise is the smoothness of the fit of an old Beatles song, "Across the Universe" among the more ancient and mythical odes. Minogue is accompanied by a first class group of musicians on acoustic guitar, cello, violin, whistle, flute, bass, percussion and voices. Fans of traditional Celtic ways and poignant, heartfelt, soulful music will not want to miss this one.

Cho by Choying Drolma and Steve Tibbetts is one of the most surprising CDs of the year. The unlikely pairing of an electric jazz guitarist and a group of singing Tibetan Buddhist nuns sounds like a mismatch, until you hear the music. The voices of the nuns are pleasing and melodic, quite a different sound from the guttural overtone chants of the Tibetan Buddhist monks. Singing the lyrics in Tibetan, Choying Drolma's voice has an edge, an intensity that cuts through (the title refers to cutting away the layers of ego). Yet there is a sweetness; her voice carries the melodies in the upper registers with a tremolo effect, contrasting smoothly with the harmonious voices of the other nuns and the acoustics of the sacred spaces where they were recorded. Tibbetts' unusual but inspired choice of instruments (guitar, bouzouki, percussion, cello, viola de Gamba, English horn, viola, violin, bass) supports the voices beautifully, while adding emphasis to the delivery.

Lux Nova is a brilliant debut by a new artist, actually a duo, consisting of Bobby DeVito on guitars and Mike Meengs on synthesized sounds. They travel a musical road similar to composer/performer Steve Roach, who loves to combine electronics with ethnic instruments, like on his album Suspended Memories, Forgotten Gods. In a way you could say they started out by doing their homework. DeVito was studying music in college when he decided to do his final as a recording instead of a paper. Surprisingly, he considers the beginning of New Age music to date back to Erik Satie and other composers of about a hundred years ago, who built on carefully constructed repetitive phrases that induced a hypnotic effect. When he and Meengs aren't playing together, DeVito plays guitar in a straight ahead blues band in Florida, where he lives. That influence gives this recording its defining character, with lyrical instrumental hooks and muscular riffs driving the beat. Launching from a distinctively urban blues/rock base, they orbit fresh territory with the spacey electronic engineering of Meengs. The title of the CD is Latin for new light; it suits this energetic and fresh approach. Great to hear the infectious blues riffs minus the downbeat, depressing lyrics, merge with multi-layered soundscapes that hold up well to repeated listenings.

Assarouf is an album whose lyrics speak of community and communication with the Divine, yet if you are looking for an album that has a great beat for belly dancing, delivered with passionate vocals to fuel the erotic fire, here it is. Steve Shehan, a percussionist who has worked with Leonard Bernstein, John McLaughlin, Gypsy Kings, Herbie Hancock, Brian Eno and Vangelis, here collaborates with Baly Othmany, a member of the nomadic Tuareg culture of the Sahara Desert region. The songs are sung in a language called Tamachek (the title translates as forgiveness or pardon). English translations by Shehan are in the CD jacket. The sound is Middle Eastern, inspiring movement, and the bluesy sort of call and response nature of the vocals gives the sound an earthy, emotional vibe. Traditional Tuareg songs rely primarily on vocals, handclapping, a drum and a single string violin. Shehan and Othmani have expanded it beyond that origin, bringing us the sound of a tribal music which may be on the verge of extinction. Othmani, through his music and storytelling, is doing his part to preserve his culture. Shehan, who speaks 14 languages and has collaborated with musicians on every continent, is well matched to this task. Captivating, sensuous, inspired music.

We have heard many fine albums of Native American flute with nature sounds and drums. Nakai expanded the boundaries of this format further by making albums of not only ethnic folk melodies, but jazz, classical and rock as well. Now Robert Mirabal pushes the edges of the envelope again. Previously, we have reviewed his albums Song Carrier and Warrior/Magician, which were primarily flute and nature sounds, although on his second album, he added didgeridoo, bullroarer, clapsticks, keyboards and guitars, moving it away from the most conventional formula. On his latest, Alter-Native, he takes it even farther. His voice becomes the primary instrument on every cut, rather than the flute. He also makes prominent use of electric guitars and drums, although flute, wind instruments and percussion are still an important part of the mix. His lyrics are introspective and plaintive in "Medicine Man;" expressing optimism in "Hope" and "The Dance." Yet others are possessed by dark poetic visions and hook-laden melodies, sounding like Jim Morrison, John Mellencamp or Midnight Oil, in "Little Indians," "Tony & Allison" or "Cyberspace Warrior." Mirabal's work expresses a bold, personal vision. Each of his recordings marks explores new territory. This album will not be for those who simply want pretty music.

by Dan Liss

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