New World Music Reviews

Welcome to my "New World Music" page, which highlights new(ish) African, Asian, Latin American and Celtic records, and "miscellaneous" records that I had the good fortune to check out in October, 2008. This page is added to as new records come in... If you want more to read more reviews, many others are archived nearby, and there are separate sections for various kinds of world music that you might like exploring as well.

Recommended Records: October, 2008 | Review Archives

Cyro Baptista "Banquet Of The Spirits" (Tzadik, 2008)
(Produced by Cyro Baptista & Cadou Costa)

An utterly crazed, virtuoso showcase by Brazilian-born, New York-based percussionist Cyro Baptista, who has become a go-to performer on many other people's projects, but who keeps a decidedly avant edge to his own albums. This one is wild and -- literally -- all over the map, merging African, Arabic and Brazilian elements with avant-rock and difficult-listening free jazz. Some of the more lyrical passages and songs, such as "Mumakata," are beautiful, while others, such as "Macunaima" (featuring Tzadik label head and skronk-jazz legend John Zorn on saxophone) are much more challenging and chaotic. No matter where you stand on the continuum of preferences -- avant vs. alluring -- you have to admire the musical skill and depth of knowledge on display here. Collaborating with Baptista are fellow percussionist Tim Keiper, Middle Eastern oud player Shanir Elza Blumenkrantz, cellist Erik Friedlander, keyboardist Brian Marsella, and a floating cast of dozens, whose amorphous composition reflect the far-reaching musical diversity of the album itself. As ever, Tzadik (and Baptista) push the boundaries and frequently reach the sublime.

Carla Bruni "Comme Si De Rien N'etait" (Naive, 2008)
(Produced by Dominique Blanc-Francard)

On her third solo album, supermodel-songwriter Carla Bruni -- now the wife of French president Nicolas Zarkozy -- pursues a more mature musical tack, bringing in a full pop band, as well as classical instrumentation, soprano saxophone and even a sweet dash of country-flavored pedal steel. I know people who loved her first album, which was primarily acoustic-based, who dislike this one, but I find it similarly understated and alluring, and it grows on you with each new audition. Most of the songs are Bruni's own compositions, although there are some notable covers, including an English-language version of the American pop-country standard, "You Belong To Me," as well as a poem by French novelist Michel Houellebecq that Bruni has set to music. (Since Houellebecq is seem by many as a conservative, anti-immigrant political figure, this last inclusion may be an indication of Bruni's social leanings, but I'm not immersed enough in contemporary French politics to offer an intelligent opinion on that matter... The song sounds pretty, even though the harmonica at the end is a little distracting.) Along with her own cohort of talented musicians, Bruni also plays host to Benjamin Biolay one of France's younger go-to arrangers, on the track "L'Amoureuse" -- it'd be interesting to hear more collaborations from these two. Although I wouldn't say this album was as immediately arresting and enchanting as Bruni's seductive debut, it's still pretty groovy. If you liked her last two albums, you'll definitely want to check this out as well.

Elizeth Cardoso & Cyro Monteiro "A Bossa Eterna De Elizeth E Cyro" (Copacabana, 1966)
A nice reissue of a mid-1960s album from two Brazilian old-timers whose careers predated bossa nova, but who took up the bossa banner and became "elder statesmen" of the scene. This was the first of many duets records they released together over the next decade or so... Definitely worth checking out.

Archie Fisher "Windward Away" (Red House, 2008)
(Produced by Archie Fisher)

An utter delight. Since the 1960s, Archie Fisher has been a key player in the Scottish folk revival, singing first with his family band, and then as a solo artist. His early albums rank among my all-time favorites in the Celtic folk canon, and that was why, naturally, I approached this record with a wee bit of trepidation: was he an old, washed up coot? Was his voice going to be totally shot? Hardly. Fisher's great strength -- his resonant, reassuring voice, with its silken, soft-edged brogue -- is as unique and commanding as ever, giving him the uncanny ability to make contemporary folk songs sound ancient, and traditional songs sound timeless. This disc, his first album in twenty years, is an opus that took years to assemble but it sounds, for all the world, just like his best work from the 1970s and '80s. Indeed, there are eight tracks at the end that come from the long-lost master reel of a mid-'70s album that was first shelved and then misplaced for a decade or two. (Ooops!) There are many traditional tunes on here, but many more that are actually contemporary, Gordon Lightfoot-ish poetic-folk songs, whose modern origin only reveals itself after careful, intensive listening. Fisher is one of the few Celtic-trad singers I know who is so seamlessly able to blend present and past, retaining an elegant, serene acoustic sound, while never dipping into obtrusive pop crossovers This is an album that has a lot to offer and is deeply, richly rewarding. If you're an Archie Fisher fan, have no fear: you'll definitely want to check this out.

Celso Fonseca "The Leblon Sessions" (Six Degrees, 2007)
A beautiful 7-song acoustic session from this soulful Brazilian crooner. This was apparently only released online as MP3 downloads, which is a blow to the material culture freaks among us, but makes for a nice online adventure. Sweet stuff from one of Brazil's most fluid, moving performers.

James Galway & Tiempo Libre "O'Reilly Street" (Sony-BMG/RCA Red Seal, 2008)
(Produced by Steven Epstein)

This is an odd album, in some ways... Renowned flautist Sir James Galway has a long history of exploring world music, recording records with Asian and Celtic themes. Here he works with a youthful modern Cuban ensemble, Tiempo Libre, who provide sympathetic if genteel backing, and there are passages where their voices intertwine quite nicely. Cuban music has a long history with the flute as a lead instrument, dating back to at least the start of the 20th Century, when old-fashioned tipica bands were often led by flautists. But instead of tackling some of this older Cuban repertoire, Galway enlists this Havana band to lend a Latin-jazz touch to classical and jazz works from outside of the Cuban sphere, compositions by pianist Claude Bolling and by Johann Sebastian Bach. The results tend towards the florid and fragile -- there's nothing wrong with it, but the album does have an uneven feel at times, slipping in and out of the groove and occasionally stopping on a dime. There are also a trio of tunes by Tiempo Libre's bandleader, Jorge Gomez, and these have a brisker, livelier feel. This is worth checking out -- nice to see Galway still so full of pep -- and it might lead you to check out some of Tiempo Libre's albums as well.

Seckou Keita Quartet "The Silimbo Passage" (World Artventures, 2008)
(Produced by Seckou Keita)

A beautiful album of modernized Senegalese kora music, performed by expatriate Seckou Keita and his UK-based quartet. For the most part, the songs follow a traditional-sounding path, with fine vocals from both Keita and Ms. Binta Suso, who personifies the cutting, keening, Arab-influenced quality of many West African vocal styles. There's a lovely interplay between the voices and the gentle persuasion of the music... Also in the mix is the lively violin of Samy Bishai, who brings in both European and Arabic influence. If you're looking for one of those records you can listen to again and again, one that fits (or shapes) many moods, this mellow yet haunting set is certainly worth picking up. Recommended!

Annbjorg Lien "Waltz With Me" (Compass, 2008)
(Produced by Annbjorg Lien)

An odd, unusual, compelling collaboration between Norgwegian folk modernist Annbjorg Lien and American bluegrass/old-timey avatar Bruce Molsky... This album is both dour and playful, with a spooky edge accentuated by Lien and Molksy's haunting duet performances on the powerful-sounding hardanger fiddle, and a willingness by both musicians to venture to the edges of their own musical horizons. The album is notably bold and adventurous (particularly for Molsky, who is best known for his mastery of hypertraditional mountain music, but who has recently edged into avant-folk, with the Four Fiddlers ensemble) but clearly anchored in deep folk roots. World music fans who are looking for bold experimentalism and raw emotional power -- there are moments that are a bit mannered, but the impressions that will stick with you are those of musicians out on an artistic precipice, singing aloud into the void below. Definitely worth checking out.

Tito Puente "The Complete 78's, v.1: 1948-1955" (Universal, 2008)
A swell 2-CD set that gathers some of Tito Puente's earliest -- and best -- recordings. Puente recorded scores of scorching 78s in the post-WWII era, laying the foundation of modern Latin jazz and dance music. These tracks from the legendary Tico label have been reissued elsewhere (notably on the ever-fab Tumbao label), but it's always nice to see a classy archival release from the major label vaults. And does the "Volume One" label mean more goodies are still to come? Let's hope so! It doesn't get much better than this.

Tito Puente "Live At The 1977 Monterey Jazz Festival" (Monterey Jazz, 2008)
While I'm on the subject, I might as well mention this one as well -- sure to be a sizzling set, played live at a time when Puente was fairly low on the radar, but the salsa scene was booming. Haven't heard it yet, but when I do, I'll give you the full report.

Os Ritmistas "Os Ritmistas" (Dubas, 2007)
(Produced by Dany Roland)

In this permutation of Brazil's innovative +2 collective, drummer Domenico Lancellotti teams up with electronicists Dany Roland and Stephane San Juan (along with other +2 usual suspect pals, such as vocalist Thalma De Freitas, bassist Kassin and guitarist Pedro Sa) This is one of the odder, darker outings in the group's ouvre: it starts out sweetly enough, with some understated updates of the classic Brazilian bossa nova sound and a few hints of the salsa-lounge leanings of De Freitas and Kassin's sometimes-goofy Orquestra Imperial. But midway through the tone becomes more sombre, the arrangements harden and the songs begin to get weirder and deliberately more challenging, entering into the "difficult listening" territory that is an offshoot of the ambient music scene. Which is not to say this isn't a rewarding album, in its own way, but it might not be quite what you expect if you've been tuned into the carefree retro-Latin poptronics of the previous +2-related albums. It's an unusual album, and not just for Brazil. Worth checking out.

Jayme Stone & Mansa Sissoko "Africa To Appalachia" (Self-Released, 2008)
(Produced by David Travers-Smith)

This collaboration between Canadian roots-bluegrass performer Jayme Stone and Malian griot Mansa Sissoko came out of a two-month journey to Africa, in which Stone explored the African connections to Appalachian mountain music, and in particular to his own instrument, the banjo, an African instrument that came into the American backwoods via minstrel shows and the slave economy of the pre-Civil War era. While in Mali, he met and recruited Sissoko, who adds the haunting vocals and kora harp that have become so well known in world music circles -- Sissoko's playing is beautiful, and the tracks where he takes the lead are standouts. The integration of the two styles isn't always consistent -- Sissoko often plays what sound like essentially unaltered griot ballads, while Stone leaps into improvisational bluegrass flights that make nods towards Tony Rice and others, but aren't always clearly African influenced. When Stone slips the banjo and fiddle into songs such as "Tree To Tree," however, it's pretty groovy, and while a whole album's worth of genre-bending experiments might have done more to make the case for a connection between the two styles, the entire album is quite lovely and meditative... A nice record, very creative and filled with sweet, lulling melodies. Recommended!

Michalis Terzis/Various Artists "Best Greek Songs" (Arc Music, 2008)
An outstanding collection of songs by composer Michalis Terzis, as interpreted by George Dalaras, Dimitra Galani, Anna Vissi, Niki Valsami and others... Many of the musical themes are familiar -- the melancholy vocals, the buoyant-yet-sorrowful bouzouki -- but what is less expected is the softness and melodic grace of these modern-era recordings. This ain't your grandpa's standard-issue gyro restaurant background music. An alluring set of contemporary Greek pop, with the same sort of universal emotional appeal that is shared by all the best "world music" artists. Recommended!

Zuco 103 "After The Carnaval" (Six Degrees/Dox-Netherlands, 2008)
(Produced by Zuco 103)

Brazilian electro-pop from the Zuco crew, who have always been a bit on the clubby side, but had a strong grounding in contemporary Afro-Brazilian styles as well. They get super-technoed out on a few tracks, particularly the aggressively house-y, Euro-flavored "Beija A Mim," one of the first songs on the album, but then delve deeper into samba and soft-soul as the album goes on. Lead vocalist Lilian Vieira has a reedy, Sade-ish feel which hardens when she turns to more samba-flavored material; each of these styles will find their fans, as this is an album that offers a variety of tempos and tones. If you enjoyed their earlier albums, you'll want to check this out as well... Overall, it'll probably have the greatest appeal for the club-kids contingent, but Braziliophiles will dig it, too.

Various Artists "BATANGA HISPANIC HERITAGE SAMPLER" (Six Degrees, 2008)
FREE MUSIC! Yup, that's right: free! Free, I tell you! The Six Degrees label, in conjunction with, is offering ten tracks, free via iTunes from now through October 21st, to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month which, oddly enough, spans both September and October. Featured artists include Bobi Cespedes, CeU, Da Cruz, Ojos de Brujo, The Spanish Harlem Orchestra, Sonantes, Beto Villares and others. Not familiar with any of these artists? Well, now's your chance to check 'em out. (One quibble: doesn't the term "hispanic" properly refer to the lighter-skinned, more aristocratic Spaniards? Does Brazilian and Afro-Cuban music really fit under this heading? Oh well: the music is great, regardless.) For more info, go to or just head straight to iTunes and download the stuff you like. Tell 'em Joe sent you.

Ah, vinyl. (Or, if you prefer, digital downloads...) Here's a vinyl-only (or, if you prefer, digital download...) homage to Luaka Bop's fab, seven-album series of compilation albums devoted to the wonders of Brazilian music. This album distills a baker's dozen of favorite songs from the Brazil Classics discs, stating with Jorge Ben's earthshaking soccer anthem, "Umbabarauma," then easing into great tracks by Chico Buarque, Gal Costa, Martinho Da Vila, Luiz Gonzaga, Marisa Monte and others... The only downside to this bounty of beautiful music is that these really are the creme-de-la-creme of classic Brazilian pop: you'll have to look long and hard to find the other stuff that's this good!

A groovy collection of cute, perky, early 1970s pop songs from various Spanish labels. These artists take their cues from pop-psychedelic "sunshine pop" bands such as The Association, The Cyrkle, The Left Banke, et al. and all the wacky, baroque production values of their Americana and British counterparts are present here... Swirly, glimmering, kaleidoscopic, multicolored sonic curlicues, although not all out psychedelic freakout tedium... Nope, this is a true pop set, with clean-cut melodic structures and bright, cheerful choruses... It's a bunch of bands no one has ever heard of: Angeles, Caoba, Dulces Anos, Ellos y Ellas, Licia, Nuevos Horizontes, Oveja Negra, Reaccion, Tiza, Voces Amigas, Los Yetis, and others. It's not just an obscuro-fest, though -- this is a really fun record, sweet-sounding and all the innocence of a bygone era. If you can track it down, snatch it up! (You might try specialty mailorder services like Aquarius Records, Other Music or the Bomp Store...)

World Music Index
Other Recent Reviews

Copyright owned by Slipcue.Com.  All Rights Reserved.  
Unauthorized use, reproduction or translation is prohibited.