The demands of writing, editing, translating and syndicating hardware reviews plus covering editorials, news posts and maintaining this site leave me no time for writing the type of full-length music reviews I used to write when 6moons was less busy. Even so those readers who share my love of what in general goes by world music though that's a pretty poor term—does everything else come from outer space?—keep asking for at least miniature capsule mentions so they can accompany me on my field trips of worthwhile new finds or rediscoveries in my library.

Here I must qualify 'new' with 'new to me'. Just because I discover something now doesn't imply it was recently released. It could be older stuff. But that's the magic of music. The good stuff is timeless. Heck, aficionados of classical music keep listening to compositions a few centuries old. Time and timing aren't of the essence. Selectivity is.

Professional music reviewers tend to educate their readers with things like genre history, styles, key artists and core recordings one ought to know in a given sector. This isn't that. All that this is are mini mentions of music I happen to have on rotation on any given month. Think of it as sneak views into somebody else's playlists - ours in this case (M&H = Marja & Henk).
For music coverage of 55 albums from June 2013 - September 2013, click on the album cover at left.
For music coverage of 53 albums from October 2013 - January 2014, click on the album cover at left.

 
Buddhattitude's Alaafiya from the Buddha Bar Spa Collection is African-flavoured groove-centric organic ambient fare. It nicely straddles the line between mindless New Age sonic wall paper and getting too involved to distract folks from paying attention to what else they're up to. In short, it's the kind of expertly sequenced fare a professional DJ would spin if tasked to provide vibe for a lounge. People want to hear each other talk and check out walkers-by whilst being surrounded by exotic vocal snippets, mellow beats and hints of foreign instruments to enjoy a fashionable atmosphere. Let's face it, sometimes that's exactly what the doctor ordered. And this kind of thing team Buddha Bar do better than most. So get off your high horse and put out some buddhattitude...
Lili Boniche and his old-timey Treasures of Judeo-Arab Music return us to the Algerian singer with sephardic roots who died in Paris in 2008 and specialized in Arab/Andalusian music blending Chaabi and French Rumba. The collection kicks off with a slinky full-strings tango, traverses glittering salon piano with Viennese strings/clarinet backdrop and mellow chaabi that had little in common with the hard-hitting electrified Rai of today. We hear saucy Russian solo violin as though from a Parisian cabaret, reedy metal clarinet suggesting a snake charmer, musette accordion and throughout it all the singer's elastic voice, at times even against call-and-answer chorus. This is a slice of old-fashioned charm: Sacher torte with Moroccan mint tea.
Joe Zawinul's Stories of the Danube is a major musical adventure and modern parallel to Smetana's famous Moldau. Burhan Öcal on oud and percussions, Amit Chatterjee on guitar, Arto Tuncboyaciyan on percussion and voice, W. Grassmann on tabours, ex Weather Report's Zawinul on keyboards and voice plus the Brno Philharmony set this stage to formally become the Zawinul Symphony N°.1 which was first performed for 80'000 at 1993's Bruckner Festival in Linz (Zawinul's Vienna grave is a 2-min. foot walk from those of Beethoven and Brahms). It traces the river's journey from the Black Forest to the Black Sea to combine symphonic tone-poem style with soaring synths, ethnic voices and drum-propelled grooves surrounded by big orchestra.
Standing the classical four-handed piano genre on its head, Katie & Marielle Labèque's de fuego, de agua album with singer Mayte Martín are two freewheeling concert grands and female Flamenco vocals. Joan Albert Amargós in charge of most transcriptions covers material by Rodrigo, Granados, de Falla, Valderrama and even Carlos Gardel and Paco de Lucia. The sensuous singer contributes three compositions of her own, then lends her emotive charms to Argentine tango as Diego El Cigala has done before. The outrageous setting of Mayte Martín surrounded by two pianos is a wicked head turner and every bit as adventurous as Miguel Poveda's related exploits. It's deeply satisfying to discover such well-trained Flamenco voices in such foreign but gorgeous new milieus.
 
Subtitled Au-delà du Fado, Maria Berasarte's Ague en la boca deals with this arch-conservative style of Portuguese song rather differently. There's Spanish not Portuguese guitar. In places there is—purists beware—mild percussion including Peruvian cajon. There's accordion and upright bass. There's clarinet. Mostly it's really a different take on the girl plus guitar genre but routine detours through broader ensemble work mix it up. Maria's delivery sidesteps the overt drama and pathos of classic Fado and with it certain unmissed mannerisms. Hers is a gentler less showy or edgy focus. Her mood preference is for downtempo dreamy introspective minimalist tunes.
With Manantial we dive into a forgotten world of duets between the wild-maned classically trained Lebanese violonist Ara Malikian and Spanish guitarist José Luis Montón. In today's more-is-merrier modality, a return to such lyrical simplicity feels like riding a time machine back into a slower era. And that's what the made-over songs of Manatial deliver. Manolo Carrasco & Ara Malikian Live! then ladles on the sauce to expand the same concept to full symphonic scale. Violin romance in two flavours.
Charlie Hayden. Paco de Lucia. 2014 saw the loss of legendary players. On Canción Andaluza, Flamenco's most famous guitarist demonstrates the tremendous breadth of his craft and why, Astor Piazzolla style, he was considered the genre's most influential reinventor and force of renewal. He de facto split its time line into before and after him. Canción sports advanced romantic Spanish guitar ballads, fiery bulerías, vintage styles with unexpected modern embellishments, contemporary female Flamenco vocals, a lovely valse with surprising time changes, the darkly hued quirky pipes of Enrique Morente whom we lost too, a fresh breeze from Cuba with the "Señorita" closer and everywhere elegant inventiveness of scene settings and detail execution. A classic!
 
On Thierry Mallard Trio's Alchemist, the seasoned Jazz pianist and composer, Yoann Schmidt on drums and Matyas Szandai on bass surround themselves with a string orchestra of 12 to introduce classical elements and write big-band type accompaniment for their string section. For yet more colorful accents there are The Hadouk Trio's Didier Malherbe on duduk and various flutes, Djemai Abdenour on oud, Bruno Bongarçon on guitar and Dorothé Cornec on harp. The added forces and new timbres rather explode the usual piano trio format into something more ambitious, architecturally complex and stylistically unpredictable. The 9-minute "Albatros" even reminds one of the Dhafer Youssef quartet's highly syncopated odd-metered workouts. Sit down and listen stuff!
Disfruto Flamenco by Antonio 'El Titi' Abardonado is advanced modern Spanish guitar music performed at a very high level. Palmas, cante, jaleos and the complx rhythms of the bulerias, rumba and seguirya forms combine with unexpected time changes and stylistic detours. Growling electric bass is as much part of Titi's ensemble as are chorus vocals and hints of smooth Jazz peeking through "Como Fusion" with its e-guitar trading solos with the acoustic guitar, traverse flute riffs and sax before a salsa piano takes things in a Cuban direction. There's even an angular tangos called "Azucar y Canela" - sugar and cinnamon. Disfruto is top-tier very adventurous Flamenco from a player whose name may not be familiar but belongs with the greats.
Rocky Gresset on Jazz Manouche guitar, Antonio el Titi on Flamenco guitar and Louis Winsberg as a guitarist comfortable in multiple genres make up the acoustic guitar trio of Gipsy Eyes. With "Chez Loulou", "Chez Rocky" and "Chez Titi", each gets to set the dominant tone of his core genre. Beyond that things mix up and intertwine deeply. "Take Five" is a Dave Brubeck jam, "Caravan" riffs on a classic Latin melody with unexpected solo breakouts. "El Tigre" is a lengthy serpentine workout that does for this stylistic clash what Romane & Stochelo Rosenberg have done for contemporary French gipsy jazz - revitalize it by erasing lines in the sand. Gipsy Eyes are 18 dueling strings for some unexpected, adventurous, scintillating and resolutely genre-crossing tunes.
Borders Behind sees oudist Adnan Joubran break out of the established award-winning Le Trio Joubran formation with his brothers Samir and Wissam to fly solo. Two years in the making, this brilliant effort teams the Parisian resident with Prabhu Edouard on tablas, Valentine Moussou on cello, Javier Sanchez on cajon/palmas and Jorge Pardo who made his fame with Flamenco legend Paco de Lucia on flute and sax. The resultant blend of Indian, Flamenco, Jazz and Classical really does leave borders behind. It puts Adnan Joubran on his very own track between Anouar Brahem's introspective lyricism and Dhafer Youssef's energetic outgoing crossover music. Borders Behind is carefully crafted, beautifully played, very well produced and a real gem all around!
Plaza Francia - A new Tango song book is singer Catherine Ringer of the famous French rock band Les Rita Mitsouko and Eduardo Makaroff and Christophe H. Müller of the Gotan Project. With it the Argentine, French and Swiss collaborators bridge Tango and Pop on a smooth arc built by arranger Gustavo Beytelmann who goes for a rather more organic lighthearted mood than the edgily clubified, deliciously subversive, heavily saucy Gotan productions. For those to whom South-American vocal Tango is too ethnic and alien, Plaza Francia opens a new easier avenue of approach whilst staying true enough to the traditions to appease the purists.
Zoobazar 2 are the further adventures of John Amir Haddad's Madrid-based quartet whose members come from prior work with Radio Tarifa, La Musgaña, Eliseo Parra, Javier Paxariño, Chambao and Mastretta. Mediterranean and Middle-Eastern tunes acquire a mildly dark rockier makeover and even Funk, Jazz and Indian elements end up in their wily mash. The main duelists are Arabian oud, Turkish saz, drums, percussion and violin. The multi-talented string maestro in the lead so fluent in advanced Flamenco for his solo albums here shifts into slightly grittier mode but keeps the full dose of heavy metal for his Members of Parliament outfit.
The Congolese singer Gasandji started as dancer and choreographer for performers like MC Solaar, Princess Erika and Cut Killer and produces French shows with guest artists like Lokua Kanza, Kezia Jones and Imany. A self-professed lover of soul, Gasandji's lilting debut album with typical vocal backup stylings combines down-tempo Afro Soul with Pop and some mild Reggae sung in English, French and Lingala. This is mellow light-filled music whose vocal layers can suggest happily chirping birds at times. The thematic of the lyrics revolves around love and hope as the chosen focus of a lady whose name literally means 'bestower of consciousness'.
iLenKa on the 2xHD label is perhaps best dubbed modern New Age or Adult Contemporary. Stylistically it plays between later David Arkenstone and the symphonic crossover grooves of Øystein Sevåg. iLenKa is trumpeter and composer Robert Len and his stage scenarist Carole Meneghel. They usually work a "multi-disciplinary spectacle" though there's also an acoustic trio version with percussionist Gérald Bissonnette. Yet their debut album is far grander in scope and even has the Chante-Joie Choir participate in the end. This is beautiful very varied and creatively arranged music of the programmatic type. It includes evocative soundtrack hymns, smooth Jazz ballads between muted trumpet and violin, even Lord of the Dance celtic reels. Very cool stuff!
Joana Jiménez is a singer from Seville who began her studies at the music conservatory at the age of 9 followed by numerous awards in vocal competitions. On her eponymous album she sings in heavily emoted Flamenco mannerism full of sufrimiento. The often piano-carried songs include a memorable duet with Miguel Poveda and a truly scorching nightclub ballad with Spanish super pianist Dorantes. Joana's stylistic affectations recall the younger Yasmin Levi on Flamenco material. This requires breaks lest one suffer an overdose of melancholia. In proper measure it's suitably intense and impressive. Joana is a very gifted promising vocalist who with growing maturity should learn that in the long run less can be more to not try quite so hard.
 
Serious Jazz fusion might be a thing of the past but with the re-release of Featuring Ourselves via Bandcamp, the group around guitarist Alex Machacek proves that quality can easily span a 15-year gap. With Tibor Koevesdi on bass, Flip Philipp on percussion and drummer Harri Ganglberger, the guitarist works through ten tracks each with a distinctive association. Holdsworth, Zappa, Bruford, Henderson – you name them, they all show up not in copycat fashion but in true tribute style. There are many cloners but very few musicians capable of capturing the essence of a favorite artist to work that inspiration into an original composition. Machacek is one of those few. Hopefully this re-release gets the attention it deserves and lacked in the past. M&H via Bandcamp
Veteran drummer Lenny White’s Anomaly is now available on Bandcamp and can best be described as high-class heavy jazz rock. White was one of the new electric Jazz co-founders when he participated in Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew and explored the genre further in Return To Forever. On the 2010 Anomaly release White is joined by a wealth of musicians he played with in various settings and different styles before. Some are young, some are well seasoned. Together they make Anomaly into a stand-out album and welcome continuation of a great musical tradition. All 12 tracks differ enough to make the entire recording a gripping feast - here and there heavy, soulful or even bombastic. M&H via Bandcamp
Maybe it will be an exception in these pages but we really like the now immensely popular Stromae and his album Racine Carrée. Yes it is a clever mix of Hip Hop, dance and ambient beats. Yes it is a combination of samples and beats from a box all mashed up in Pro Tools. But Stromae is a true child of Brussels who blends all manner of African popular musical elements into his tunes which makes for a thrilling outcome. Add to that the fact that his lyrics are not the usual macho-laden rhymed curses and misogynism for which Hip Hop and Rap are infamous for or that the words alone tell it like it is. Stromae instead asks questions to reach for answers which he and a lot of his generation are grappling with. M&H
Malika Zarra was born in Morocco, raised in France and today operates out of NYC. On Berber Taxi many musical influences from these diverse environments come together in harmony. Zarra sings in Arabic, Berber, French and English. Think Sade, Souad Massi or Natasha Atlas and you get the idea. The singer is blessed with a clear and fresh voice that easily switches between normal and head voice. Berber Taxi is a great blend of Western jazz, North African and even Native American folk music in melody, rhythm and instrumentation. M&H via Qobuz
Sietze Bouma released his first album Strings ’n Air in 2011 already but we only just discovered it. Bouma is one of Holland's most talented guitarists. He is also a sought-after guitar teacher who runs and co-owns a music school. On this album Sietze is accompanied by a string quartet, bass, bandoneon, piano and percussion. All ten tracks are pleasantly fleet-footed and played in the picking finger style. The recording is free from unnaturally close-up miking and also leaves plenty of dynamics in the mix. For those who like Harry Sacksioni, this Strings 'n Air release will be a welcome addition to their collection. M&H via Bandcamp.
Nisia are the Belgian duo of singer Emanuel Lodato and bassist Vincent Noiret. With Eredità they explore the Sicilian song tradition not merely by interpreting old songs but by composing new ones inspired by the Sicilian tradition. As she says, Lodato came to Brussels because love called on her. In this new environment the longing for her small village near Palermo never left. With the Nisia project she and Vincent realized a way to express that sentiment. The songs are sung in the Sicilian dialect and composed for two voices, percussion and bass. Old lullabies and poetry mix with other traditional elements like the tarantella. The scarce instrumentation leaves lots of room for the lead vocal to express emotions in small detail. Highly recommended. M&H via Bandcamp.