We say: A cinematic tone poem to score the movie in your head
Minimalist, post–rock, and classical all might seem fitting labels, as would "world music" in its broadest sense. Although Kaleidoscopic comes from the imagination of a Norwegian nu–jazz horn player, this lush orchestral piece sounds more like a sprawling 37–minute tone poem than anything else. It's a delicate, swirling, symphonic piece that has elements of Steve Reich minimalism and the film soundtracks of Hitchcock collaborator, Bernard Herrmann.
Lars Horntveth, one of the founder members of Jaga Jazzist, the experimental Norwegian jazz collective, has recruited the services of the 41–piece Latvia National Orchestra for this work, providing the piano, horns and bass clarinet parts himself. Recorded live over two days in a small Riga church, Horntveth's intention was to develop the musical chronologically by way of an open, endless score that worked like a diary—adding to the score organically as it proceeded. The result is an unusual piece that begs careful listening but which can nevertheless serve as excellent chill–out music when the occasion arises.
Horntveth has stretched the dynamics of the orchestra here to produce a lengthy and varied composition that blends classical, ambient and post–rock genres to good effect. Cinematic and pastoral in parts, climaxes come and go as themes develop, fade away, and re–emerge. Quirky instrumental combinations such as pedal steel and harp, and sax, vibraphone, and guitar help create unusual textures, while contrasting atmospheres and tensions are created by stitching together musical motifs rather than following a purely melodic narrative.
As the liner notes by Sun Ra and Miles Davis biographer, John Szwed, attest, this is music in the grand cinematic manner: a work that is capable of generating visual images and evoking meaning. The resultant movie, of course, will have to take place in your own head.
Musica Colombiana Andina
We say: Andean music from southern Colombia, no poncho required
This new release from the UK–based Arc Music label showcases the talents of Colombian Niyireth Alarcón, a professionally trained singer with a pure honeyed tone. Alarcón has been performing and winning awards in her native Colombia for over 15 years and recording for the past ten, although this is her first major international release.
While this is authentic Andean music, those expecting trilling pan–pipes and bomba–thumping along the lines of "El Condor Pasa" may be disappointed as this collection contains a wide range of styles from southern Colombia, none of which seem to require the compulsory wearing of a poncho. The songs, which also steer well clear of the familiar vallenata and salsa rhythms we tend to associate with Colombia, instead showcase lesser known styles like bambuco, which has its distant roots in Africa, the waltz–time pasillo, and danza, an Andean folk rhythm related to Cuban habanera. The single exception to this is the inclusion of an Andean huayno, "Ojos de cielo", as a closing track, which will be more familiar territory to those of the pan–pipe persuasion.
The songs deal with mestiza daily life in the Huila Department region of southern Colombia that Alarcón calls home. Songs like "Mi tierra del Huila" and "Bésame Morenita" are anthems to beautiful women and gorgeous landscapes, while others, like "Alpargatas de mi tierra", praise indigenous culture and achievement.
The musical accompaniment, which shows a relaxed virtuosity, is performed on guitar, bass and traditional stringed instruments that include charango, the 12–string tiple and 16–string bandolo. Quena flute and traditional percussion complete the line–up. Alarcón's voice is warm and emotive throughout, her classical training demonstrating excellent technique while remaining homespun and true to it roots.
Warsaw Village Band
We say: Meet the new sound of…Afro–Polish!
The Warsaw Village Band's latest release tackles a broader range of material than their previous recordings, which may come as relief to those who found their earlier offerings a little too monolithic in tone. On Infinity, violin, cello, hammer dulcimer and percussion—mostly hand drums—combine effectively to produce circling, earth–scratching rhythms that are insistent and mesmeric. The vocals of cellist Maja Kleszcz and harmonies of Magdalena Sobczak–Kotnarowska and Sylwia Swiatkowska also feature heavily. They are not always pretty, but are consistently arresting with their unusual dynamics and often strident tone.
Although they respect tradition, the members of the Warsaw Village Band do not believe in merely documenting the past. Instead, they develop and reinvent traditional Polish music, adding contrasting elements that may sometimes come as a surprise: African–style chants, Delta blues, even soul and funk. You can even hear James Brown and Captain Beefheart in there somewhere if you listen hard enough—and sea shanties! Such a fusion of Eastern European village tradition with African and American styles makes this music hard to place in pure geographical terms but, whatever the musical ingredients, the outcome always manages to sound as if it really belongs to an authentic and longstanding tradition. Indeed, the track "Heartbeat", with its soulful vocals and bluesy pizzicato violin, sounds as if might well have come from some as yet undiscovered Afro–Polish community in South Chicago.
Tuml = Lebn: The Best of the First 20 Years
We say: Funky klezmer with kosher horns and attitude
This collection of everyone's favourite Grammy–winning klezmer rockers spans twenty years of the New York band's output on the German Piranha Musik label. There is nothing dry or academic about the music here: just good time klezmer dance tunes that are rooted in the lost, Yiddish–speaking shtetls of Eastern Europe and invested with New World energy. The selections range from original Frank London compositions like "Shvarts un vays" to traditional klezmer tunes such as the live closing track, "Ale Brider". It is trumpeter Frank London who is at the musical centre of things most of the time, although fellow New York luminaries John Medski (organ) and Tom Waits' sideman Marc Ribot (guitar) also put in guest appearances to good effect.
It may be a temptation but the Klezmatics manage to avoid any hint of sentimentality as they let rip on this well–balanced selection of 16 tunes, most of which are firmly uptempo. To supplement the foundation of Jewish klezmer there are also African, Balkan and Arab influences present and it is this enthusiasm to embrace such eclecticism that has kept the band fresh and pertinent for the past two decades.
We say: Propulsive dancefloor magic from Mali
Issa Bagayogo made his first recordings in the mid–1990s but a lack of instant success coupled with personal misfortune and a spell of drug addiction saw him languishing in obscurity. A move to Mali's capital, Bamako in the late 1990s heralded the eventual take–off of his musical career.
On Mali Koura, his fourth album in ten years, Bagayogo's voice and propulsive ngoni (three–stringed lute) playing combines with programmed beats to produce a joyful Afro–European electric groove that is perfect for dancefloors. Female call and response vocals, horns, acoustic guitars, keyboards and synthesizers combine with multi–layered percussion to produce an infectious, jazz and funk–influenced musical stew.
For those who know Amadou and Mariam, particularly their Manu Chao–produced Dimanche a Bamako album, Mali Koura will be familiar musical territory: sunny, good–time African R&B, influenced by American funk and jazz, and beefed–up with European studio wizardry. The slick co–production here is by Yves Wernert, a Frenchman who has been responsible for many successes coming out of Bamako for the past decade. Despite Western production values and stylings, Mali Koura's African essence shines through: like Oumou Sangare, the grande dame of modern Malian music, Bagayogo hails from the Wassoulou region of southwest Mali and you can detect Wassoulou hunting rhythms rippling beneath the percussive bedrock of every tune performed here.
Laurence Mitchell is a British travel writer and photographer with a special interest in transition zones, cultural frontiers and forgotten places that are firmly off the beaten track. He is author of the Bradt Travel Guides to Serbia, Belgrade and Kyrgyzstan and a regular contributor to hidden europe magazine. His photographic website can be seen at www.laurencemitchell.com.