Perceptive Travel World Music Reviews
January 2016 - By Graham Reid

In this issue: simple yet deeply moving music from Turkey, Asian allusions and more from Texas, music from along the Silk Road, and traditional songs from the Caucasus.



zedashe world music
Zedashe


O
Tahir Palali


We say: Understatement and quiet make for soul-filled entrancement


There seems an ineffable sadness at the heart of the vocals by London-based Turkish musician Palali, who here explores the mystical songs of the Alevi religious subculture. Playing various lutes, he is joined by his teacher Erkan Ogur on fretless guitar for two songs, the lovely "Hakk Mimarim" about the soul becoming flesh and most notably on the jazz-influenced "Ciktim Yucesine" where Palali considerably older than his thirty-something years. Singer Cigdem Aslan appears on the beautifully ethereal 17th century "Hublarin Sahi."

Throughout, Palali dials down the emotional frequencies but the effect is more powerful for it.

Palali's intimate tone invites you in to his candlelit world where the door closes quietly, the pulse slows and the mind rests. That Palali sings in Turkish means those who don't understand the language will be further transported by the mystery of it all. And despite what initially sounds like a deep melancholy, this becomes a music from beyond our time.

The standout on this debut album is the six and half minute "Pervaz" in which the sinuous, simple melody constantly appears to unfurl as his double tracked vocal lines add a slightly disconcerting quality, especially in headphones.

Hypnotic and spiritual but with its soul in solid soil.






The Universe Smiles Upon You
Khruangbin


We say: Slightlydelic world music out of Texas by way of Thailand.

Despite a name which apparently means something like aeroplane in Thai, this mostly instrumental trio from Texas keep their slow-funk feet firmly on the ground while aiming for head-lifting astral planes.

This impressively understated debut draws on their filtered, trickledown of guitar groups like Britain's Shadows in the late 50s/early 60s (the easy roll of "Dern Kala"), pre-Beatles U.S. surf bands (the gorgeous "Endless Summer" feel of "Little Joe and Mary") and just a touch of San Francisco 1967.

It is one part tripped-out vibe, but clearly has its musical origins beyond Western pop and rock, notably South East Asian funk, and Thai pop from the 70s. Although occasionally you can hear an echo of a Marvin Gaye vocal line, which only adds to the odd allure. Then again, "People Everywhere" eases you from a Philly-soul disco to a beach in Thailand and what follows ("The Man Who Took My Sunglasses") shimmers in Hawaii at sundown.

Quietly beguiling trip-hop world music, and not at all what you'd expect from the description "guitar trio from Houston."






Woven Landscapes
Karavan Sarai


We say: As the caravan rolls on it picks up musical influences.

Although in places perilously close to a kind of New Age meltdown of world music influences from countries along the Silk Road, this electro-acoustic, eight-piece collection by multi-instrumentalists Narayan Sijan and performer/producer Carmen Rizzo (as Karavan Sarai) is nonetheless enjoyable.

Sijan grew up in the American Midwest but for over a decade from the early 90s traveled through India and Central Asia and across to East Asia, along the way picking up musical instruments, melodies and ideas.

Double Grammy nominee Rizzo's background as a producer or player includes work with Seal, Coldplay, and Dido, but he also co-founded the world music act Niyaz (fronted by the excellent Iranian singer Azam Ali) and has recorded Huun Huur Tur. So the credibility brought to the project is unimpeachable.

But delightful though much of this is—and it is impossible not to be beguiled by the rolling "River Bend", the mesmerising Indo-Arabian "Desert Water" and the improvisation around a Sufi song on "Upon My Own Hand" —there is little territory here which hasn't been explored previously by others traveling similar cross-cultural paths through the regions.

Enjoyable, intelligent, sometimes penetrating and often charming, but not a game-changer.






Our Earth and Water
Zedashe


We Say: Gen X ensemble keeps ancient traditions alive in song and celebration.


Because there's so much crossover world music these days, it's refreshing to hear something deeply rooted in tradition. This vocal ensemble from the Georgian Caucasus bring a polyphonic sound which reaches back centuries and doesn't pretend to fusion, contemporary influences, or anything in the 21st century.

Bridging the secular and the sacred, some of these 26 short songs might well have been sung in a church, others—when the drums kick in—at a festival in a field. (They were actually recorded at a local vineyard and the name refers to wine buried in earthenware jars and brought out for ceremonial purposes.)

With minimal instrumental support (small drums, lutes and regional bagpipe in places) everything falls back on the tapestry of the male and female vocals which move from stately chants to joyous love songs. Even so, this is a more narrow range of vocal styles than the description might suggest and although the CD comes in a gatefold sleeve, the paucity of liner notes means an opportunity was lost in giving greater explanation about what you are hearing.

A worthy project by younger people keeping the old songs and styles alive, but not one which would have wide popular appeal.






Graham Reid is a New Zealand—based travel/music/arts writer whose first book Postcards from Elsewhere won the 2006 Whitcoulls Travel Book of the Year Award in New Zealand. His second book The Idiot Boy Who Flew won the Whitcoulls Reader Choice award and is available through www.amazon.com. He hosts his own wide-screen website www.elsewhere.co.nz and his most recent travels have been through India, odd parts of China, the Australian Outback and Jordan. He is getting to like comfort alongside discomfort..

See the last round of music reviews from Graham Reid.





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The Universe Smiles Upon You

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Woven Landscapes

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Our Earth and Water

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