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This month’s issue •
Come Write Me Down
A sampling of reviews from the current issue
MOR KARBASI La Tsadika Gibraltar Productions/Alama Records ALAMA 003
Photo: Judith Burrows
When Elizabeth Kinder interviewed the emerging Mor for fRoots back in 2008, on the eve of the release of her debut CD, the artist said that she didn’t think she would always be singing Ladino or other traditional folk songs. “I’m young and foolish,” she said, “I’ve got plenty of time to do other things. I don’t want to be categorised into one thing. I want to keep my options open.”
Well, if she’s going to take a side trip into her hip hop or country & western options, she ought to get a shift on because all – all! – she’s done on this, her third album in six years, is get even better at those musics she’s concentrated on from the outset. Which is quite an achievement if you’ve followed the story so far.
Once again co-produced by her guitarist partner Joe Taylor, this album manages that really difficult trick of being sophisticated but maintaining an edge. Two-thirds of the material is traditional Sephardic from Morocco, the rest are originals, some co-written with her mother Shoshana Karbasi. Her wonderfully elastic, soulful, fluttering vocals are beautifully placed in inventive arrangements, perfectly sequenced so that, for example, the classic big ballad La Blanca Paloma with evocative clarinet and touches of bouzouki is followed by the urgent, pulsing Aunque Le Dí La Mano with Taylor on electric guitar, and after that the reflective, string-laden Sol La Tsadika centred on skilled Spanish box. Elsewhere Viva Ordueña is entirely percussion driven, whilst Mi Niña Me Trajo La Mar with its muted trumpet, piano and appropriately restrained vocal, hints at Mediterranean jazz. The a cappella Ay Si Te Fueres A Bañar Novia is a vocal tour-de-force of layered Karbasi and Taylor that manages to be Spanish, barbershop, Balkan and monastic all at the same time: a small classic.
The lyrics are all translated into English in the booklet and are something else too: Yo Me Levantara Un Lunes (I Arose One Monday) would give any traditional English weirdlore ballad a run for its money!
When Mor first emerged, some begrudgingly put her down the pecking order from that other fine Ladino songstress Yasmin Levy. But with La Tsadika, I think the Karbasi/Taylor team have completely established her as a distinctively different force who more than deserves to be considered as a major artist with equal stature. So all in all, I’m really not hoping for that country & western diversion. This direction does just fine.
• www.morkarbasi.com | Buy from Amazon.co.uk
MARIT AND RONA Turas Watercolour Music, WCMCD051
Marit & Rona
The Scottish folk-roots scene is buzzing with cross-cultural collaborations. One element of this is a growing influence from Scandinavian music. The Nordic cultural connection to Scotland goes back a long way, and not just in Shetland and Orkney. Today’s Gaelic-speaking heartlands of the Outer Hebrides were ruled by the Vikings for over 400 years (even today, the islanders of Lewis speak Gaelic with a Scandinavian accent). Scottish Highland and Nordic cultures retain some similarities: stoicism, laconic wit, and vivid, evocative poetry and music.
Marit Fält and Rona Wilkie won the Danny Kyle Award at Glasgow’s Celtic Connections Festival. This, their debut album, blends tunes and songs from their different traditions to create a fresh, original sound. Marit comes from Norway, of Swedish parents: she plays låtmandola (Nordic mandola), cittern, percussion and she provides the ringing Scandinavian vocal. Rona, from Oban in Argyll, plays fiddle, viola, Hardanger fiddle and provides the sweet, soft Gaelic vocal. Guesting on several tracks are the Cantilena String Quartet and percussionist Allan Òg MacDonald.
Throughout this CD, Marit and Rona display an exuberant, restless variety of instrumental playing styles, switching from melody to accompaniment and back again, employing an exhilarating range of percussive, chopping and pizzicato techniques. The duo plunge with purposeful gusto into Nar Som Flickorna/Bodach Innse Chro, a powerful pairing of Swedish and Gaelic tunes and songs, with loads of bite and muscular attack on the låtmandola, fiddle and Swedish vocal. The vigorous, rhythmic dance-song Tobar, Tobar, Siolaidh/A’Cur Nan Gobhar As A’Chreig has ferocious, driving låtmandola-playing from Marit (familiar to anyone who’s listened to her work with the trio Vamm) and richly-textured, soaring fiddle from Rona.
The pair can also be reflective and lyrical. In Psalm 107, the echoey, mystical-sounding låtmandola combines with a sonorous viola that sounds like a mournful horn, creating a fittingly profound accompaniment to the biblical Gaelic words. Tha Bo Dhubh Agam has a meditative depth and resonance, and an epic sweep, courtesy of the elegant, graceful string quartet accompaniment. The traditional Ebbe Braha Polska conjures a spooky, haunted sound, with plaintive, unsettling high notes on the fiddle, which then switches into Rona’s glorious, uplifting Kilmartin Glen.
The album was produced by musician and broadcaster Mary Ann Kennedy, and recorded on her Watercolour label, which is devoted to brave new ideas in Gaelic music. This music is brave, original and full of new ideas.
• www.maritandrona.co.uk | Buy from Amazon.co.uk
ADRIAN RASO & FANFARE CIOCARLIA Devil’s Tail Asphalt Tango CD-ATR 4414
Photo: Chris Piccinetti
Romanian brass ensemble Fanfare Ciocarlia are masters of musical re-invention. “How many times do I want to hear breakneck-paced brass blowouts” I always wonder when each new release from them hoves into view. And yet they always find a way to add new ingredients to their basic recipe, whilst remaining resolutely themselves. (Tinariwen manage a similar trick with their rolling desert blues.)
And they’ve done it again with Devil’s Tail, which finds the twelve-piece trekking over to chilly Toronto for musical discussions with French Canadian jazz guitarist Adrian Raso (a new name to me). Don’t let the word ‘jazz’ put you off the scent, Raso is no noodler. His roots are in the gypsy jazz stylings of Django Reinhardt. So we’re looking at a gypsy-brass-meets-gypsy-strings musical summit here.
The opening Urn St Tavern totally wrong-footed me with its stately pace and New Orleans/St James Infirmary feel. However Fanfare do get to up the throttle on the pacy Swing Sagrese and C’est La Vie, while at other points there are echoes of Spaghetti Western soundtracks, funk and Southern Italian tarantella. But the twin pulses running through all twelve tracks are the bubbling brass of FC and Raso’s swinging guitar. Guests include guitarist Rodrigo (of ‘…and Gabriela’ fame) and accordeon man Florin Ionita, who adds some tasty manouche-style playing to Charlatan’s Waltz.
A fine album then and one which makes me eager to discover more about Monsieur Raso and find out how Fanfare Ciocarlia plan to pull off that great reinvention trick next time round.
• www.asphalt-tango-de | Buy from Amazon.co.uk
TINARIWEN Emmaar PIAS
It’s hard to believe ten years have passed since Tinariwen’s breakthrough record Amasskoul
. It was with Amasskoul
that the desert rockers really caught, for the first time, the imagination of a global audience. Since then, many have come in their wake and the unique sound of the Tuareg blues has been firmly scoured into the global collective unconsciousness.
And, while there are many fantastic pretenders to the throne, with Emmaar Tinariwen prove that they are still the grand-daddies of the desert blues. From the slow, hypnotic opening salvo of Toumast Tincha to the upbeat scattergun riffs of Chaghaybou, this is a record that proves Tinariwen can still blow your mind.
There are definite nods however to other elements of the Tuareg scene. The sublime acoustics of Tahalamot are reminiscent of some of Bombino’s work. Other stand-out tracks include Imdiwanin Ahi Tifhaman, an infectious fusion of bluegrass fiddle and Saharan soul, and Sendad Eghlalan, an intonation of the deepest of blues. Aghregh Medin also is not only a beautiful track, but a lesson in how to make the humble acoustic guitar sound like something from another world.
Sometimes it can be hard for elder statesmen in music to grow old and bow out gracefully. And, when Ibrahim Ag Alhabib chants in English about walking through the desert, some might be put off by Tinariwen’s uncritical engagement with their own mythology. The sheer musical ability on display however allows them to get away with it – a luxury lesser artists wouldn’t enjoy.
• www.tinariwen.com | Buy from Amazon.co.uk
AND THE REST… The albums - good, adequate and plain bad - which didn't get the full-length treatment, contributed individually by a selection of our various reviewers cowering under the cloak of collective anonymity. For example…
Layla McCalla: Vari-Colored Songs (Dixie Frog DFG CD8752)
What a great fusion of cultures. Haitian heritage, New York educated resident of New Orleans, singer, cellist offering musical arrangements to the poems of Langston Hughes alongside, traditional songs. Plus a real gem of her own, the outstanding in every way When I Can See The Valley. Sings and plays like a dream. www.bluesweb.com
Jackson C Frank: Jackson C Frank (Earth Recordings EARTH001)
LP re-release of the tragic genius’s sole, Paul Simon-produced, Jansch & Drake-endorsed 1965 album. No bonus tracks this time, but guitar-poet classics Blues Run The Game, Milk And Honey and You Never Wanted Me remain utterly indispensible. Available from Amazon.
Donso: Denfila (Comet COMETCD056)
A hypnotic, dubby collaboration between Malian acoustic and French electronic musicians, this sounds good if a bit aimless. www.facebook.com/officialDonso
Korrontzi: Tradition 2.1 (Baga-Biga BBCDDVD110-111)
Big project, nicely book-packaged, from Agus Barandiaran on trikitixa and txalaparta, with musicians including Eliseo Parra, Riccardo Tesi, Justin Vali, Asturian José Manuel Tejedor, Galician Susana Seivane, Leturia, Ibon Koteron, Mike McGoldrick, Phil Cunningham, Javier Limón, Arabic strings, Sardinian tenors, Sicilians, Zimbabweans, in still Basque-sounding tunes and songs. www.baga-biga.com
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This month’s issue •
Come Write Me Down