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Hot Picks Archive 2004

Komanania by Ankata

I receive many promo CDs and buy even more so I often don't listen to many of them more than once. I've played this one over and over and over. It is spellbinding.

This recording brings several different members of the n'goni harp-lute family together. The liner notes liken it to an African string quartet but it is not in the least bit classical. This is terrific acoustic African music that swings and bounces. A few songs are very close to the Wassoulou tradition but most are fusions of styles. Many have delectable vocals featuring the wonderful voices of Sambou Sinayoko or Aboulaye Sidibe.

It's on the Playasound label distributed by Melodie in France. This is a bit tough to find. I discovered it through a review in Songlines. I ordered it through Stern's online, which means us poor serfs in Bush's America must pay almost $30 for the disk. It's worth it, at least until someone decides to import it. (reviewed 12/6/04)

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Cantada by Adiana Calcanhotto

This woman has a gorgeous and agile voice. Her dreamy, drawn out enunciations of the Brazilian vowels in Eu Espero are lovely. The backing music is excellent and varied. A touch of accordian here, some low pitched berimbau there. Some tunes are sparse, just piano and voice, and some are fat with a lovely bottom. The variety makes the CD continually interesting.

I found this through a cut on the wonderful Putumayo compilation Women of Latin America, which is widely available. I was so taken with Justo Agora, I went hunting and found that Amazon Germany has samples of all the tunes available for audition. If you're in the States, don't buy it from Germany as the exchange rate is horrible. On the Ariola label distributed by the giant BMG. Should be relatively easy to get. (reviewed 12/6/04)

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African Guitar Summit

Todd Fraracci of the CBC in Toronto is a lucky and perspicacious man. The CBC gathered nine fabulous African musicians, mainly guitarists, together as a project for their On Stage radio program. Todd had the insight and/or good fortune to record the group and he produced a true gem.

Alpha Yaya Diallo, Naby Camara, Pa Joe, Theo Yaa Boakye, Kofi Ackah, Adam Solomon, Mighty Popo, Donne Robert and Madagascar Slim combine to play some of the best African guitar music of the year. Most of these artists have little name recognition in the States but your ears will tell you what we've been missing.

Swirling sinuous guitar lines snake through almost every track on this CD. The three Malagasy pieces by Donne Robert and Madagascar Slim are worth the price of the CD alone. But they are by no means the highlight. If you love African guitar, you have to buy this CD. Available very reasonably from the CBC online shop. (reviewed 12/6/04)

In Praise of Dreams by Jan Garbarek

My friend Michael Hanson, a jazz programmer at Wisconsin Public Radio for years, now retired, once quoted a jazz musician to me, who said, "Writing about music is pointless." This CD is a case in point. The title cut is phenomenal. It touches my spirit so deeply, I hear it for days afterward. I've listened to this CD repeatedly sitting with headphones in a dark room looking at the cold grey pre-winter landscape and been transported away. I feel like I'm babbling as I write this, sounding like some new age airhead going on about Andreas Vollenweider. I don't have the words to describe this music. You must hear it and then you'll see all my words are pointless.

On the ECM label, which is widely available in the States. (reviewed 12/6/04)

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Bowmboi - Rokia Traore

A phenomenal artist from Mali. Easily her best CD yet. She fills this disk with gorgeous vocals over great and varied accompaniment on traditional instruments.

Songs range from plaintive tunes with quiet piano backing to rollicking danceable beats with passionate vocals. A great album

Finally released in the States by Nonesuch and available for reasonable money. This is a stunning, must have CD. Widely available. (reviewed 12/6/04)

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World 2004

Another great compilation from the fine ears of Charlie Gillett of the BBC. Gillett has a knack for finding catchy tunes by obscure artists, like Party Lany by Amorf Ordogok and Oudaiwa by Aiwa. His compilations are always fresh and unique. They stand out from all the "best of" compilations that recycle the same tunes in different combinations. A close second to last year's World 2003, also by Gillett, as the best compilation I have heard. Highly recommended.

Now available in the States distributed by Rock, Paper, Scissors. (reviewed12/6/04)

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Alors?...Voila! by Tchavolo Schmitt

Incredible CD of Gypsy swing/jazz by a woefully under-recorded artist. This guy can play the daylights out of the guitar. The backing band is equally fantastic. Schmitt is well know among lovers of Gypsy swing and plays regularly in small bars and jam sessions in Europe. He chooses to live with family and avoid the pressures of a professional career. Previously he appeared on one LP and two CDs, never as a featured artist. He was persuaded to enter the recording studio by Romane, who appears as a rhythm guitarist and wrote five original tunes on the disk.

Great music, masterfully played. On the Iris Music label from France distributed in the US by Harmonia Mundi. I was able to order it locally at B Side on State Street. (reviewed 8/15/04)

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Dunya by Malouma

Outstanding CD by one of the best female vocalists on the African continent. A skilful blend of modern and traditional styles and instruments. Several songs have a distinct American blues feel with Mahma El Houb featuring a harmonica prominently in the mix and Mreimida including searing electric guitar work. This is crossover music of the highest order, bringing multiple musical sensibilities into a cohesive and compelling whole. Highly recommended.

You can listen to snippets of five of the tunes at www.amazon.fr (search for Malouma), but American customers should seek to buy it elsewhere as the US government's tight money policies have made the overseas exchange rate exorbitant. (reviewed 7/11/04)

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Taffetas

This is a heavy favorite for most beautiful CD of the year. I haven't heard anything as wonderful since Tunde Jegede's Lamentation. Taffetas consists of Ibrahima Galissa of Guinea on kora and Swiss musicians Marc Liebeskind on guitar and Christophe Erard on double bass.

The tunes are all originals but woven together with many cultural influences. The music is deceptively simple but the playing is intricate and crafty. They clearly have been playing together for years. It is the first CD I've listened completely through four times in two days in a long time. It is superb.

On the Most label started by Momo's Restaurant. Impossible to find in the US. I ordered mine from the UK arm of Amazon. Be warned that the exchange rate makes it pricey. (reviewed 5/13/04)

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tuva.rock by Yat-Kha

Awesome combination of traditional Tuvan tunes and originals. Ranges from lovely traditional tunes like "Amdy Baryp" played on acoustic instruments to driving rock originals like "Come Along." Must be heard to be believed.

Yat-Kha is the work of Albert Kuvezin, widely hailed as the deepest baritone to grace a tune. His basement pitched vocals lend an eerie otherworld feel to his deft guitar playing.

tuva.rock can be hard to find. Check the Yat-Kha website (reviewed 4/27/04)

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Altre Latitudini - Gianmaria Testa

A wonderful album of laid back jazzy originals featuring Testas' lovely deep voice.

Great arrangements and beautiful singing highlight this album. I was hooked halfway through the first cut. There is more to Italian culture than Tony Soprano and great food.

On the French label Le Chant de Monde and available in the US through Harmonia Mundi. (reviewed 4/21/04)

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