Perceptive Travel World Music Reviews
August 2014 - By Laurence Mitchell

In this issue: Flamenco jazz that's a little too L.A., Ethiopian dub via Tel Aviv, percussion inspiration from the Philippines, and newly produced by retro Nigerian Afrobeat.



Soleángeles
Sir Sultry

We say: Smooth West Coast Flamenco-jazz fusion.

Sir Sultry is an LA-based jazz quintet led by guitarist and vocalist Ethan Margolis. On this recording the intent is to blend the improvisational solos of jazz with flamenco rhythm and harmony, hence the title, which fuses Soleá (one of flamenco's deepest and oldest styles) with the Angeles that is the "A" of LA. Fittingly, on a recording that purports to create a fusion of the two musical traditions, two recording studios were used, one in Los Angeles and another in Seville in southern Spain's Andalusia region.

Margolis is hardly the first to attempt such a fusion as Miles Davis was experimenting — highly effectively, it must be said — along similar lines back in the late 1950s. Soleángeles is successful in parts: "The Fool" is wistful, more jazz than flamenco perhaps, but with a bittersweet Andalusian feel. "La Referencia" is more straightforward in approach, with flourishes of rapidly strummed guitar and plenty of musical chiaroscuro in the best flamenco tradition, the impassioned vocal only coming in three-quarters of the way through its eight minutes playing time.

To these ears, despite its undoubted sincerity and adherence to flamenco tradition, Soleángeles seems more redolent of south California than southern Spain. This is not really a criticism and may simply be due to a lack of the rough edges that are normally associated with "authentic" flamenco. Saxophones, and flutes — in the West Coast jazz tradition especially — tend to come with their own musical baggage and, on tracks like the inconsequential "Love Bubbles" for example, can come across as a bit too "cocktail jazz" for the raw emotions of flamenco. The title track itself gets the balance about right, with staccato piano and drums behind an adventurous roving saxophone, but elsewhere it can sometimes seem as if feeling has been sacrificed for the sake of seamless "fusion". A little more raw emotion would probably be no bad thing. This album is anything but raw — it is as smooth and refined as a glass of amontillado — but given that the musicianship is excellent throughout it is highly listenable nevertheless.






Anbessa Dub
Zvuloon Dub System

We say: Ethiopian-Jamaican crossover dub straight out of Tel Aviv.

You wait years for an Ethiopian dub band to emerge from the shadows then two come along in relatively quick succession. The best known protagonists of this distinctive style are undoubtedly the excellent London-based Dub Colossus but they are not the only contender these days as a recent addition to the genre is Israel's Zvuloon Dub System. Israel may not seem an obvious location for Ethiopian music but strong connections developed between the two countries in the mid 1980s when a large number of Ethiopian Jews migrated there during East Africa's troubled drought years. The family of Zvuloon's lead singer Gili Yalo was among these.

Before they acquired their singer in 2009 Zvuloon Dub System was a regular roots reggae outfit but following Yalo's arrival the odd song in Amharic, Ethiopia's principal language, started to find its way into the band's repertoire. The transformation is now complete and Zvuloon Dub System's current oevre is a seamless blend of 1970s Ethiopian soul and roots reggae of around the same period. So expect to hear a brass-heavy result that is reminiscent of both Marley's late Exodus period and the classic Éthiopiques series work associated with Addis-based superstars like Mahmoud Ahmed, who actually performs guest vocals here on one of the tracks, "Ney Denun Tieshe." Another track, "Endemenesh," features another renowned Ethiopian vocalist, Zemen Melesse.

For those that already know Dub Colossus's work much of this will be familiar territory. The result here is perhaps a little more slick, more down-the-line roots reggae with a little less of the elliptical rubbery rhythms that characterize the classical Ethiopian recordings. Nevertheless, Anbessa Dub is hugely enjoyable and sounds totally authentic. What we really need now is for a Jamaican klezmer band to emerge. . .






Drum Codes
Electric Kulintang

We say: Gong-based world music with Cuban and Filipino connections.

Electric Kulintang is based around a duo of percussionist-composers — Filipino-American, Susie Ibarra and Cuban-American, Roberto Rodriguez — who came together though playing with John Zorn. Following Ibarra's influence, the compositions on this recording are inspired by traditional Filipino kulintang gong music of the Maguindanaon, a matriarchal Muslim Minority from the island of Mindanao.

While the Filipino source is firmly at this music's rhythmic root, Drum Codes is far more than just a faithful exposition of a traditional style and two well-chosen guest collaborators each bring their own influences: Greek-American clarinetist Elefterios Bournias who adds a distinctive Middle-Eastern woodwind sound, and Israeli-American guitarist Oz Noy who imposes structure and additional flavor by means of acoustic and electric guitar. Chiming beneath this spacey jazz-rock veneer are gong rhythms that sound a little like Indonesian Gamelan music. The result is a pleasing amalgam that at times can seem reminiscent of early 1970s electric Miles Davis or krautrock bands like Can from around the same period. The minimalist compositions of Terry Riley ("In C" for example) also spring to mind.

The opening track "Drum Code 1 — Of the Invisible," a long piece that is melodically meandering but rhythmically insistent, sets the scene for the rest of the recording. "Drum Code 3 — The Dream," as its title suggests, is a more dreamy flight of fantasy, while the following track, "Drum Code 4 — Indigo Banded Kingfisher" is almost trance-like. Overall this is soothing, gently driving music of understated complexity.






Jaiyede Afro
Orlando Julius with the Heliocentrics

We say: Retro Nigerian Afrobeat with a modern twist.

There's an Ethiopian connection on this recording too, albeit tangentially, as the London-based Heliocentrics have regularly performed and recorded with Ethiopian bandleader Mulatu Astatke. Here the band looks to West Africa instead as they play back-up to veteran Nigerian saxophonist and singer Orlando Julius. Actually "play back-up" is to do the Heliocentrics a disservice as, with a killer rhythm section and the funkiest of horns, the band members are all second-to-none players in their own right.

Orlando Julius made a name for himself way back in the 1960s with his early take on Afrobeat and Afro funk kicking off a long career that saw him perform with artists as diverse as Louis Armstrong, Hugh Masekela and the Crusaders. On Jaiyede Afro he goes back to his roots revisiting some of his early compositions like "Omo Oba Blues" and "Be Counted." The songs may be old but the sound is anything but dated, with slick modern arrangements that occasionally lurch into good-natured psychedelia as on "Sangodele." The 21st-century recording technology comes courtesy of the Heliocentrics' own London studio — fully analog naturally. The combination of retro rawness and ultra-modern production values works really well here and there's a compelling languid feel to Jaiyede Afro that brings to mind a sultry chaotic Lagos far more than the chilly streets of north London where it was recorded. Fun, funky and danceable — this comes highly recommended.






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, Slow Norfolk & Suffolk and a regular contributor to hidden europe magazine. His website can be seen at www.laurencemitchell.com and his blog at eastofelveden.wordpress.com.

See the last round of music reviews from Laurence Mitchell.

Also in this issue:


Soleangeles

Buy Soleángeles online here:
Amazon US
Amazon UK



Anbessa Dub

Buy Anbessa Dub online here:
Amazon US
Amazon Canada
Amazon UK





Drum Codes

Buy Drum Codes online here:
Amazon US



Jaiyede Afro

Buy Jaiyede Afro online here:
Amazon US
Amazon Canada
Amazon UK



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