Postcards from Italy (43): Torino

Rubén González - Introducing... (1997)

«Rubén González was one of the last of Cuba's great Afro-Cuban piano players. Although he had played and recorded with the band led by Enrique Jorrín, the creator of the cha-cha, for a quarter of a century, he had retired from music by the mid-'80s. Things began to change when González recorded with the Afro-Cuban All Stars in 1996. The album, A Toda Cuba Le Gusta, released the following year, helped to inspire an international fascination for Afro-Cuban music and brought González to the attention of a global audience. His performance on the Ry Cooder-produced album Buena Vista Social Club made him an international phenomenon. Signing a contract with Cooder's label, World Circuit, González released his debut solo album, Introducing...Ruben Gonzalez, at the age of 78. Although he did not even own his own piano at the time, he plays brilliantly, performing a variety of traditional melodies plus two originals, often quoting other songs and really stretching himself. His chord voicings are distinctive and very inviting, his control of the piano is quite impressive, and the music sings its heart out. The CD was recorded spontaneously over a two-day period with Gonzalez mostly being the lead voice, assisted by trumpeter Manuel Mirabal (who has some fine solos), bassist Orlando "Cachaito" Lopez, several percussionists, and occasionally three background singers.

Showing great promise, as a pianist, from an early age, González graduated from the Cienfuegos Conservatoire in 1934. Although he briefly attended medical school, hoping to become a doctor, the lure of music proved unsurmountable. Leaving school, González moved to Havana to become a full-time musician in 1941. After recording with influential multi-instrumentalist Arsenio Rodriguez, González joined Orquestra de los Hermanos, a group featuring Cuban percussionist Mongo Santamaria. Following an extended period in Panama and Argentina, during which he worked with tango musicians, he returned to Havana and played with a series of cabaret bands. In the early '60s, González joined Enrique Jorrín's band, remaining with the group until Jorrín's death. Although he assumed leadership of the band, González was forced, by arthritis, to announce his retirement. He maintained a low-key presence until 1996. During his return, however, González enjoyed the fame that was long overdue. The octogenarian pianist died in December of 2003 in his home of Havana, Cuba.» (AMG)

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Wim Wenders - Alice in den Städten (1974)

The Soul of a Man (The Blues, Part 4 - 2003)

A small homage to Wim Wenders (and to the blues, obviously…)

«In The Soul of A Man, director Wim Wenders looks at the dramatic tension in the blues between the sacred and the profane by exploring the music and lives of three of his favorite blues artists: Skip James, Blind Willie Johnson and J. B. Lenoir. Part history, part personal pilgrimage, the film tells the story of these lives in music through an extended fictional film sequence (recreations of '20s and '30s events - shot in silent-film, hand-crank style), rare archival footage, present-day documentary scenes and covers of their songs by contemporary musicians such as Shemekia Copeland, Alvin Youngblood Hart, Garland Jeffreys, Chris Thomas King, Cassandra Wilson, Nick Cave, Los Lobos, Eagle Eye Cherry, Vernon Reid, James "Blood" Ulmer, Lou Reed, Bonnie Raitt, Marc Ribot, The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, Lucinda Williams and T-Bone Burnett.

Says Wenders: "These songs meant the world to me. I felt there was more truth in them than in any book I had read about America, or in any movie I had ever seen. I've tried to describe, more like a poem than in a 'documentary,' what moved me so much in their songs and voices."

The documentary is the first in a seven-part series called "The Blues," which features films by Mike Figgis, Charles Burnett, Clint Eastwood, Marc Levin, Richard Pearce and Martin Scorsese (who also executive produced the series). (More at wim-wenders.com)

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Shadows & White Lines


Charlie Haden Liberation Music Orchestra - Not in our Name (2005)

«Charlie Haden brings back yet another incarnation of his Liberation Music Orchestra to tape. This intermittent project began at the height of the Vietnam War in 1969 and was recorded for Impulse. Carla Bley has been the only constant member of this project. She plays piano and does the arranging of these eight tunes. Other members include trumpeter Michael Rodriguez, Curtis Fowlkes on trombone, guitarist Steve Cardenas, drummer Matt Wilson, Miguel Zenon on alto, Chris Cheek on the tenor horn, Joe Daley playing tuba, and Ahnee Sharon Freeman playing French horn. The music is a lively and diverse set of covers, except for the title track – composed by Haden – and "Blue Anthem" by Bley. The seamlessness with which Bley melds her aesthetic to Haden's is remarkable. The tone and timbre is warm throughout. The reggae-fueled "This Is Not America" – written by Pat Metheny, Lyle Mays, and David Bowie – dryly quotes from "Battle Hymn of the Republic" at its end. The hinge piece of the album is the nearly-17-minute "American the Beautiful" that contains a wondrous, stately, if somewhat dissonant, read of Samuel Ward's famous tune, bursts into post-bop before a fine solo by Zenon, and then slips into Gary McFarland's jazz opus by the same name. The tune travels – with solos by virtually everyone – then to the African-American gospel church where it stops at "Lift Every Voice and Sing" by James Weldon Johnson, and winds up at a cross between the original tune and Ornette Coleman's elegiac slipstream dream anthem "Skies of America" before returning full circle to the original theme. The Liberation Music Orchestra goes even deeper into the national consciousness with a bluesy, New Orleans brass band-inspired version of "Amazing Grace." Then they dig into the gorgeous "Goin' Home," Antonin Dvorak's largo theme from the New World Symphony – with jazz liberties taken, of course. The set ends with the adagio from Samuel Barber's "Adagio for Strings." Again, Bley's arrangement is stunning, understated, and finessed, yet full of dynamic reach. This is a beautiful album, one that makes a case for vision, creativity, and concern. Not in Our Name pulls together a wide range of aesthetic possibilities that all reflect the American consciousness and simultaneously mourns the passage of it while resisting with a vengeance that nadir. While a jazz recording, this album crosses the boundaries of the genre and becomes a new world music, a new folk music: one to be celebrated, perhaps even cherished.» (AMG)

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Putumayo Presents: Acoustic Brazil (2005)

«Acoustic Brazil is Putumayo's fourth installment in its popular regional series which includes Brasileiro, Samba Bossa Nova and Brazilian Groove. Focusing again on bossa nova and samba canção, the compilers have put together a heady mix of old and new, with legendary performers like Gal Costa, Caetano Veloso and Chico Buarque crooning alongside more contemporary voices like Teresa Cristina, Lucas Santtana and Márcio Faraco. As usual, Putumayo has included extensive liner notes in English, Spanish and French, as well as numerous photos. Fans of Antonio Carlos Jobim, Milton Nascimento or just bossa nova in general will find Acoustic Brazil not only warm and relaxing, but also teeming with life.» (AMG)

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Crimson Jazz Trio - King Crimson Songbook, Volume 1 (2005)

Dedicated to Ian Wallace.

«A jazz piano-bass-drums trio performing the songs of the rock group King Crimson? That's what the Crimson Jazz Trio accomplished on this intriguing CD, King Crimson Songbook, Vol. 1. By re-harmonizing the music a bit, adding vamps, and digging into the grooves, the Crimson Jazz Trio transforms the pieces from rock anthems into viable devices for jazz improvisations. Electric bassist Tim Landers has nearly as much solo space as pianist Jody Nardone; the trio (which also includes drummer Ian Wallace) works together very closely and they not only create new versions of unexpected material, but show that they have developed their own group sound. Recommended, particularly to listeners who are familiar with King Crimson's recordings.

The band were working on a second album, The King Crimson Songbook, Volume Two, with assistance from Jakko Jakszyk and Mel Collins (Wallace's colleagues in 21st Century Schizoid Band; Collins is also a King Crimson alumnus) when Wallace died on February 22, 2007.» (AMG & Wikipedia)

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Iness Mezel - Wedfel (1999)

«Iness Mezel is of Berber (Kabyle) origin. She has been developing a musical identity, firmly rooted in her dual culture, since 1995. After the usual classical musical studies – singing, piano – she went on to learn jazz improvisation and various singing styles different from the Berber style like African (Elik Tara) and classical-contemporary (Tamia).

Her voice has a rare and bewitching tone; singing a cappella, it becomes delicate and serene; then suddenly it lets itself go in pieces full of festivity, brightness, warmth and innovation.

The composer and singer Iness Mezel has chosen a musical approach which stems from the need to create links between cultures. Her research is nourished by inventive peregrinations between tradition and modernity with the aim of taking African and Berber rhythms out of their usual context. This means broadening the traditional concept of Berber music by opening up onto a harmonic space, in which the melodies make child's play of the major and minor modes, thus giving her music a touch of jazz or blues, unusual phrasing.

The music she composes is like a spark that flies when her personal feeling of what it means to be Kabyle comes into contact with the harmonies and rhythms she has gathered.

Her approach is guided by her musical curiosity, which she shares with the musicians who accompany her in quest for a true cultural exchange and, something that is extremely rare, it is a Kabyle woman, Nora Abdoun, who plays the Berber percussion instruments (bendir, karkabou, etc.)

Iness Mezel writes poetry, which wends its way like the wind, silent yet remarkably intense; poetry in which the imagination, friendship, a people 's sense of responsibility towards its memory, its language, its destiny, are as many clues, keeping one from losing one's way on those unfrequented paths, along which she takes the Kabyle language. Then a free, new voice is raised which carries far, far.» (iness-mezel.com)

«Iness nous révèle, grâce à la richesse de sa voix chargée d’émotions, les secrets d’une Afrique berbère, urbaine, aux fortes impressions afro jazz, y incarnant un état d’esprit et un style résolument modernes et ouverts sur le monde, libérée de ses traditions.» (afrik)

Many thanks again to my friend Giuliano for this post.

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Dominic Kakolobango - African Acoustic (2000)

«Kakolobango is a Zambian guitarist, raised in Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo), where he learned a guitar style that is now "relegated to the local equivalent of the 'oldies' bin," as the liner notes so aptly put it. The resulting album, in its updated traditional style and grassroots sound, recalls not only the legendary Jean-Bosco Mwenda, and Euro-American folk and blues singers, but diverse modern artists from the continent like Cameroonian Francis Bebey and Malian Neba Solo. While the style is inherently charming and intriguing, the appearance of this album is also made possible by recent releases of other African artists who play more contemplative music; Gabin Dabire, Habib Koite, and Geoffrey Oryema to name a few. In addition to paying homage to the style's greats on songs such as "Masanga" and "Doris," Kakolobango takes on "Take Me Back" by Texan Mance Lipscomb, and shows an adroitness on songs like "Baba Na Mama," both recalling blues themes and structure as well as Zimbabwean chimurenga in the staccato picking style. Throughout, Kakolobango's acoustic guitar is supported by the electric guitar lines of soukous sideman Dizzy Mandjeku and Belgian blues harpman Ludo Beckers.» (Craig Tower, Rootsworld)

«Dominic est le seul artiste dont les enregistrements rejoignent le style de la musique acoustique des années 50-60 de l’Afrique centrale et Sud-est. D’origine zambienne, il a vécut très jeune au Congo et a appris la musique avec les maîtres comme Jean Bosco Mwenda, Masengo, Losta Abelo, guitaristes jadis les plus populaires en Afrique. Il en est arrivé à un style unique et personnel. Dès sa jeunesse, il montre un intérêt particulier aux vieilles musiques régionales. Mais c’est son amour pour la guitare qui lui fait fréquenter et jouer avec les grands guitaristes de l’époque. Il a ainsi continué la tradition locale d’absorber les nouvelles influences, s’ouvrant à un nombre incroyable de styles, tels que la pop sud–africaine, le reggae, la soul, la country, la chanson anglaise et française… et le blues. Une telle mise en perspective nous permet de remarquer l’évidente unité d’un style est-africain et de la musique en général qui n’ont que faire de frontières coloniales absurdes. Dominic vit depuis quelques années en Belgique et se produit régulièrement en solo ou en groupe.» (Afrik)

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Lhasa (de Sela) - The Living Road (2004)

One of my favorite albums of the new millennium.
Simply W-o-n-d-e-r-f-u-l.
Best wishes, Lhasa, and thanx for existing!

«Lhasa de Sela's debut album, La Llorona, appeared quietly 6 years ago.Her voice on that record came over like some ancient matriarch in a Gabriel Garcia Marquez novel; heartbroken songs from a long life of exodus and lost love, offering ominous warnings of the weirder, darker corners of the human heart. Incredibly, Lhasa was only 19 at the time of its release, and now, after a long wait, its successor has arrived. It's a more ambitious record, with a very different feel. There's still the irresistible languid ache and yearning in Lhasa's voice, but the album's overall sound is more contemporary.

Her collaborators on this record, Montreal-based musicians Francois Lalonde and Jean Massicotte, have blended an impressive variety of styles to complement Lhasa's intimate, beguiling voice.Arrangements of the songs move between surging orchestral settings and electronic pulses and breaks, with sounds of the sea, the circus, and the wild west. It's music to conjure rich and magical imaginings by.

Lhasa's roots extend through Mexico, Canada and the States, and the songs on The Living Road reflect this. With lyrics in French, Spanish and English, as well as a very natural-sounding combination of all kinds of musical traditions, it crosses borders in various ways. There's a weariness in all the wandering though, and an undercurrent of cultural dislocation. It's as if the record is an attempt to find harmony in the bewildering chaos and pace of a modern, urban world.

Apocalyptic shadows darken Lhasa's songwriting. In the prayer-like "Soon This Space Will Be Too Small" (the album's last song), she asks to be released from the cruelties of the world. The song is performed with a passion that is Lhasa's hallmark and this passion is the reason her music will one day reach a much wider audience.» (BBC World)

Spanish review here

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Albrecht Dürer – Pond in the Woods (1496)

Uttara-Kuru - East Wind (1999)

«Uttara-Kuru had an astounding debut in 1998 through their combination of sutra recitation and digital music which created a highly original style. In addition, pop style elements seem fundamental to their music. Their concept has been to create a new kind of music by combining the instruments, melodies and other features of traditional Japanese culture with western harmonies, synthesizers, computers etc.. Music which focuses on great themes can easily be difficult to understand, but Uttara-Kuru’s work is melodious and funky, with power and gentleness. It stirs the listener’s feelings. Of course, their success comes not just from their extraordinary talents, but also from their fundamentally pop style.

Their previous release, Prayer, was mainly sutra recitation. On this album the Shakuhachi (a vertical bamboo flute), Koto (a long Japanese zither with thirteen strings), other traditional folk instruments and traditional Japanese folk songs are featured in various pieces. The featured instruments and voices are excellent, and every song’s world is strongly expressed and created. In particular, the sound of the Shakuhachi captures the spirit of the album’s title, East Wind.
Like Uttara-Kuru’s previous album, this one shows us the tolerance and strength of people who live in heavy snowfall areas and wait quietly through winter, thinking of spring time and summer festivals. Anyway, this is a wonderful album which reminds us of the depth which Japanese folk instruments and traditional melodies have.» (Pacific Moon)

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Playing Backgammon in Istanbul

Photo: Cri & Chris

Orhan Gencebay - Yargisiz Infaz (2006)

«Orhan Gencebay is the pioneer in Turkish music as he combined Arabic motives with the elements of Turkish classical and folk music. His music includes also psychedelic notions since he's also familiar with rock and jazz music and is a close friend of the world famous psychedelic guru Erkin Koray. During the 1970s he released many singles in a new genre that is a fusion of traditional Turkish Folk music, Turkish classical music, Western classical music, jazz, rock, country, progressive, psychedelic, Indian, Arabic, Spanish, and Greek music styles. Even though some musical societies such as TRT named that kind of World fusion music recordings as Arabesque music, Orhan Gencebay refused the term arabesque in case of complaining about it being inadequate to define his style. He is a virtuoso in playing the Turkish folk instrument “saz”. In addition to his very successful musical career, he also played in more than 30 films, mainly focusing on the concepts he issued in his songs.» (RYM & Wikipedia)

«Orhan Gencebay è una delle più grandi star della Turchia. È l’Elvis della musica arabesca, l’eroe dei tassisti, l’icona popolare. Ha venduto milioni di album sin dagli anni ’60 ed è stato un noto attore di cinema quando l’industria cinematografica turca iniziava a fiorire. Il suo strumento è il liuto dal lungo collo detto “saz” e ne possiede un’intera collezione. Quello più grande che ha usato per comporre le sue canzoni porta il suo nome. È parte di lui, il suo mistero. È un vero virtuoso di questo strumento; nessuno ha sviluppato la musica arabesca così intensamente come Orhan Gencebay con il suo saz.
Quando la musica turca è stata vietata alla radio nel 1934, la popolazione islamica ascoltava le stazioni arabe. È per questo che la musica turca è stata fortemente influenzata dalla cultura araba e che è stato coniato il termine “arabesco”. Più tardi Orhan Gencebay ha contribuito moltissimo al suo orientamento. Non è un performer e non ha mai suonato dal vivo. Si è concentrato sulla ricerca di musica popolare, artistica e orientale, vecchie canzoni dalle belle melodie. È un perfezionista, uno chef gourmet della cucina musicale. Ma mentre pensava di offrire un servizio alla sua cultura, gli intellettuali conservatori lo hanno accusato di aver tradito la loro identità culturale. Così il termine arabesco ha assunto un accezione negativa. Orhan Gencebay ancora oggi si sente incompreso. […]» (Fandango)

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Jablkon - Machalaj (1995)

«The adventurous, highly risk-taking Jablkon has turned out to be one of the more long-lasting bands on the Czech music scene. Formed in what is now the Czech Republic back in the late '70s, Jablkon was around during the Cold War […] and the group is still going strong long after the fall of communism and the demise of the Eastern Bloc. Jablkon's music is not easy to categorize; perhaps their work is best described as an experimental, far-reaching mixture of avant-garde rock, progressive rock, European classical, jazz and Eastern European folk. Their lyrics are in Czech, but musically, Jablkon has a lot of non-Czech influences. Because Jablkon is so original, it can be difficult to pinpoint exactly who their influences are; suffice it to say that leader Nemec sounds like he has listened to everyone from Béla Bartók and Sergei Rachmaninov, to jazz greats Charles Mingus and Ornette Coleman to ambitious rockers such as King Crimson, Frank Zappa and Pink Floyd. Nemec obviously appreciates rock's more complex side, but at times, his group has shown an awareness of punk's gritty, in-your-face toughness. And for all its eccentricity and abstraction, the band is quite musical – Nemec and his colleagues aren't known for simplistic, easy-to-absorb music, but they are melodic nonetheless.» (AMG)

«Quatrième disque du groupe avec un petit changement de personnel, en effet le guitariste et principal compositeur, Ingo Bellmann est remplacé par Dusi Burmec. L’album est encore une fois flamboyant, ceux qui n’est pas le cas des enregistrements suivants, à l’exception du Symphonic. En effet même absent Ingo est encore le compositeur de 80% des titres. La pièce maîtresse, Machalaj est à l’image de l’album, inventif, rayonnant, innovateur et léger à la fois. Une belle part d’humour agrémente ce superbe enregistrement du meilleur groupe de folk-rock bancal. Un indispensable!» (moo)

Many thanx to Giuliano for this post!

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Pictures of Greece: Kimis Theotokov Church, Santorini, Cyclades Islands

Courtesy of JTC


Abaji - Oriental Voyage (2003)

«Musicien d’origine arménienne né au Liban et exilé en France, Abaji est un déraciné heureux. Son blues, ponctué d’éclats de rire et nourri de nomadismes, se moque des frontières comme des catégorisations. Ce troubadour des bédouins s’accompagne d’instruments insolites qu’il manie en virtuose. Si le oud et le bouzouki qu’il maîtrise n’ont rien de stupéfiant, sa guitare sitar ou son saxophone de roseau sont déjà beaucoup plus hallucinants.

Son maître mot est l’improvisation: avant un concert ou même avant de monter sur scène il ne sait rien de ce qu’il va jouer, chaque instant est unique. Une flûte à la bouche, une guitare entre les mains et des percussions de grenailles nouées aux mollets, Abaji est un homme-orchestre totalement indépendant. S’il se passe sans problème de musiciens d’accompagnement, ce solitaire n’aime rien tant que croiser son chemin avec celui de virtuoses aux univers riches et ancrés comme ceux du roi du doudouk arménien Djivan Gasparyan, du maalem gnaoua marocain Majid Bekkas, ou encore du percussionniste indien Ramesh Shotham» (TV5Monde)

«Una delle grandi scoperte musicali del best seller Desert Blues 2, definito dalla stampa il trovatore dei beduini, Abaji è nato a Beirut da una nota famiglia di musicisti le cui radici culturali sono un’affascinante miscela armena, libanese, turca, greca e siriana. Per questo avvincente viaggio in Oriente Abaji è andato alla ricerca delle sue origini riuscendo a distillare un caleidoscopio di sonorità ispirate dalle sconfinate distese del deserto, dalle fertili vallate e dai rigogliosi colori delle oasi suonando strumenti assolutamente inusuali: un antico liuto a due manici da cui sgorgano melodie simili a quelle dell’arpa, tamboura, vari strumenti a fiato, un sax di bambù e un incrocio tra chitarra e sitar costruito appositamente per lui, talvolta suonato con l'archetto alla maniera mediorientale. In Oriental Voyage c'è anche spazio per il rembetiko greco, per le musiche tradizionali che accompagnano le poesie arabe che Abaji interpreta con una voce straordinaria e per le percussioni che serpeggiano sinuosamente in alcuni brani. Musicista di culto in Francia e Germania, Abaji è un’imperdibile proposta musicale del sud del Mediterraneo.» (Evolutionmusic)

English Review here

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