Tradition in Transition
Quantic and his Combo Barbaro
We say: Restless DJ and musician hires "a barbarian combo" in Cali
The British DJ and multi–instrumentalist known as Quantic (William Holland) has never been an easy one to pin down. Still, this organic, live–sounding recording is an adventurous step for someone who has at times been perceived as an electronica king—someone more at home in discos than salsa clubs. Like Dylan going electric or Kanye West becoming a soul singer, this is an album that redefines the artist—who now lives in Cali, Colombia. Featuring a jazzy live combo that is playing mostly upbeat salsa and meringue music with horns and percussion, Tradition in Transition is aptly titled. It's fun, it's danceable, and it's familiar, but it still pulls you in new directions and is surprising enough to hold up to multiple listens after the party is over.
For those who only got a small taste of Latin America in Quantic's albums earlier this decade, this new collection may leave them scratching their heads. That puzzlement may increase when the 12–piece string section, Panamanian soul singer, and Indian chanteuse Falu start showing up on tracks. There's no denying though that this is a terrific showcase of musicianship, without a sample or drum machine to be heard. Let's hope it does well enough to launch an in–depth tour that goes beyond the current dates in Europe. (See http://www.quantic.org/ for a schedule.)
We say: No sophomore slump from this adventurous Brazilian songstress
I was one of the many reviewers who went gaga over Brazilian singer Céu's debut album in 2007. With stunning looks that matched the smooth voice and a confidence that was infectious, she seemed ready–made for Starbucks–assisted world music stardom.
Thankfully that wasn't a fluke. Vagarosa (which translates to "slow, easygoing, and leisurely") is equally assured, with a musical swagger that shows she and her producer aren't afraid to push beyond the easy hit path and make each song more interesting than it had to be. The album takes the elements that make Brazilian music so distinctive and then twists them into something that sounds as refreshing as a chilled caipirinha in July. There are still a fair number of the deft electronic touches that made Céu's debut stand out from the pack, but they blend in seamlessly with acoustic guitars, percussion, flutes, trumpets, and even a circus organ on "Ponteiro." Between the stop–and–start kick–off of "Sobre o Amor e seu Trabalho Silencioso" to the conga drums and tropical bird calls of "Espaçonave," this is a collection of interesting songs that will solidify this Brazilian star's reputation as a top–tier global artist.
Putumayo Presents Brazilian Café
We say: Background music for an afternoon of nostalgia
If you're looking for Brazilian popular music that stretches the boundaries, pick up Ceu's new album. If you're looking for an album of easygoing Brazilian samba and bossa nova that won't get in the way of your conversations, pick up Brazilian Café. The best way to describe this collection is a retro trip back to the music of 50 years ago, but with current artists and modern production. It's an homage to an simpler era, with various artists performing their own version of a mid–tempo bossa nova song from back when Sergio Mendes was all the rage. I haven't been to any Brazilian Cafes yet, so I can't tell you if they're really still playing this kind of music in any of them. I'll take the liner notes' word for it that they are and maybe stir up a batch of the coffee pavê recipe they included next time I put it on the CD player.
We say: One name, one generic title, one small combo.
While Buenos Aires is known as the home of tango, the music has long had roots in Uruguay as well, with Vayo as one of its best–known proponents. This is an album of tango stripped to its essence, with just a few instrumentalists and a singer sounding as if he's carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders. (And even if you don't know Spanish, you can tell that he thinks things are only going to get worse.)
This is the mournful, bandoneón–dominated tango that you hear in the small clubs and milongas frequented by real enthusiasts, those who spend their evenings dancing until the wee hours. You won't hear this music in trendy cocktail lounges and it won't show up as background for a clothing commercial. If you want a collection of definitive tango music for listening or dance practice, this is the real deal.
Huun Huur Tu and Carmen Rizzo
We say: Throat singing goes electric
Carmen Rizzo has worked with plenty of big–name pop acts in the studio and been a part of the groups Niyaz and Lal Meri. Here he dives into a new kind of project, remixing the already mesmerizing sounds from Tuvan throat singers Huun–Huur Tu with samples and loops to produce a whole new sonic soundscape. "Ancestors Call" and "In Search of a Lost Past" have a driving Deep Forest feel to them, but most tracks are more "new age" sounding, downbeat and reflective. Overall though, the textural sound is unique enough to appeal to some fans of edgier artists like Juana Molina, Sigur Ros, or Bjork. The original sound of Huun Huur Tu's music stands well on its own without making any listeners run for the door, but Rizzo's treatment gives it enough sheen to widen the group's audience beyond adventurous world music fans.
Perceptive Travel editor Tim Leffel is author of several books, including The World's Cheapest Destinations, now in its 3rd edition. He once wrote bios and marketing copy for now-forgotten rock bands, but he currently spits out more heartfelt raves on the Cheapest Destinations Blog and the Practical Travel Gear Blog.
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