Talvin Singh and Niladri Kumar
We say: Electric raga-pop for a new century which skims surfaces
Given tabla player Singh's extensive track record in pop, rock and innovative Indo-fusion (alongside more traditional projects) and Kumar's equally diverse approaches (on acoustic and customised five-string electric sitar) it's a fair guess this collaboration might push some boundaries. And the frantic six minute opener River announces an album edging in to electro-fusion where sequencers and programming are part of the contract.
Fascinating though some of this is (the engrossing 10 minute, title track centerpiece of astral flight Indo-prog, the dreamy "The Bliss"), the quieter pieces, while quite charming and seductive, hardly extend either player and some ("Pink," "Mirror") sound like they are aimed towards evocative background music in films.
Other pieces (the delightful "Jogi") also sound like a 21st century take on the raga-rock prevalent in the early 70s. Interesting and challenging in places, but if traditional Indian ragas and folk music are your thing then there is not a lot to enjoy here and perhaps much to irritate.
From Africa with Fury: Rise
Seun Anikulapo Kuti and Egypt 80
We say: Despite the odds, the Seun also rises
As with the Lennon and Marley offspring, the children of the great Fela Anikulapo Kuti have big footsteps to follow, especially Seun and Femi, who choose their father's Afrobeat as their style also. Femi has embraced remixes and Seun delivered an exciting, if instantly familiar, debut Many Things a few years back.
This new firecracker album, which bristles with energy and indignation ("You Can Run," "Mr Big Chief," "Slave Masters" are typical titles), doesn't disgrace the lineage. Whether it adds anything is another matter, and although it has been hailed as comparing favorably with some of Fela's most incendiary work, you cannot help but feel you have heard much of this before. This Kuti's band is tighter than Fela's, Seun is equally urgent in his delivery, and politics is also to the fore. The title track and "Slave Masters" certainly step away a little from the Afrobeat formula . . . but once the music ends there isn't that same frisson of excitement, revelation and discovery which Fela's music left as an aftertaste.
We say: Understatement wins again on a collection of late afternoon moods
Now almost 70, singer-guitarist Traore has had a remarkable life. But despite acclaim in his homeland Mali in the 60s his debut album Mariama didn't arrive until 1990 while he was living in Paris. Since then his gentle playing (which often refers to the trickling sound of the kora and is highly melodic) and richly seasoned voice (also comforting) has won an international audience.
Surprisingly then, this is his first album in six years. But his sound is still utterly seductive and with French harmonica player Vincent Bucher on hand supplying a slight blues and country edge, this collection draws an imaginary line between West Africa and the low rolling grooves of people like J.J. Cale ("Mondeou"), American folk ("Minuit") and introspective blues (the aching "Farafina Lolo Lora," "Djougouya Niagnini"). Fama is a barely-there standout.
Perhaps his age and sometimes unhappy life experiences explain the reflective mood here, but this an album to immerse yourself in. Chances are you'll hit the repeat-play button often with this understated gem.
Aqui Los Bravos!/The Best of Michi Sarmiento
We say: Clear a space, here comes dancefloor pop'n'roll from Colombia
Those who know the history of Colombian music better may be better placed to fill in the details of this boiling, sweat-inducing 16 track collection of material recorded in the decade from 1967 by the hot young saxophonist and band leader Sarmiento (whose father was an in-house arranger at the famous Fuentes record label). By all accounts the young Sarmiento fused local styles with Nuyorican boogaloo and kicked things up a notch while playing in the red light district of the coastal town of Cartagena. Certainly Sarmiento and his band Los Bravos poured petrol on the dancefloor and set it alight with urgent three minute songs which were big on rhythm, his bop-styled sax and which also seems to owe a little to rollicking big band jazz. "Vamos Negra" is a live track (possibly faux-live however) which opens with hoots and cheers, "Hong Kong" has an appropriately "Chinese" musical reference and most of this will have you pulling out the limbo bar.
Music of the night which glows like burning sun.
Graham Reid is a New Zealand–based writer whose first book Postcards from Elsewhere won the 2006 Whitcoulls Travel Book of the Year Award in New Zealand. His new collection The Idiot Boy Who Flew won the Whitcoulls Reader Choice award and is available through www.amazon.com. He also hosts his own music/travel/arts website www.elsewhere.co.nz .