Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Alma Afrobeat Ensemble’s New Toubab Soul Gets the Party Started

The album title is sardonic – “toubab” is slang for “caucasian” in several African dialects. But Alma Afrobeat Ensemble are yet another illustration of how good musicians can rise the challenge of playing a style of music they didn’t grow up with just as joyously and danceably as those who’ve been immersed in it since day one. This new cd, Toubab Soul, is an expansive, hypnotic blend of funk, Afrobeat and Ethiopian grooves with the occasional hip-hop or reggaeton interlude. There are all kinds of shifts in dynamics and tempos from song to song: some of the tracks here spin energetically; others have a gentler sway. And it isn’t just secondhand Fela, either: as much as the group obviously admire him, they’re taking Afrobeat to some exciting new places. This is the second edition of the band, founded after frontman/guitarist Aaron Feder picked up and left his native Chicago for Barcelona, now featuring Joseph Adzraku and Tato Sassone on percussion, Fernando Redondo on bass, Audn Waage on trumpet, Gonzalo Levin on saxes, Octavio Hernandez on guitars and Oscar Bayester on keys.

The opening track, Taskmaster, is a command to get out on the dancefloor, a fluid Ethiopian/funk fusion with blippy horns, propulsive bass and swirling, somewhat sinister organ. They follow that with the bubbly Live Na Yeye with its muted wah guitar, crescendoing tenor sax and then a reggaeton interlude. The next track, Mali, is Pink Floyd’s Money in a very clever red, gold and green disguise, right down to its David Gilmour-inflected bluesfunk guitar followed by a delightfully balmy tenor solo that casually blows the original to smithereens.

New School starts out biting and funky and then goes hypnotic with Rhodes electric piano, growling sax and a brief rap segment, in French. Swaying with catchy call-and-response horns, Kudja switches up midway through, taking the vibe low and mellow. They pick up the pace again with the most overtly Fela-influenced number here, Yoruba, fast and insistently shuffling, then follow it with Own World which starts out with eerily echoey Rhodes piano over a Peter Tosh flavored groove but grows warmer with long, upbeat sax and trumpet solos. Shameless spins a potently dark minor-key horn riff over a scurrying bounce; this is the track you’ll be humming to yourself all the way home if you see them live. They close with the gorgeous South Africa, evoking the Skatalites with its rocksteady pulse and vividly soulful trumpet/sax interplay, followed by a surprisingly laid-back, thoughtful cover of Wallias Band’s iconic, brooding Ethiopian dance classic Muziqawi Silt. Plainly and simply, this is one of the best world music albums – and one of the best dance albums – released this year.

December 3, 2010 Posted by | funk music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: The Rough Guide to Tango Revival

Although chock-full of aching bandoneon melodies, wistful and anguished strings, the Rough Guide to Tango Revival is not a particularly rough-edged compilation – but it’s definitely a global one. Compiler Chris Moss is a former Buenos Aires resident and an enthusiastic fan of the classics but doesn’t have much use for (or seemingly much knowledge of) tango nuevo, therefore, no Avantango, let alone Federico Aubele. Most of the cuts here are instrumentals, three of them Astor Piazzolla covers; in addition to the Argentinians, the artists here hail from such unexpected places as Romania and Holland. Hardcore tango fans get plenty to sink their teeth into here (and dance to, with the exception of three numbers with uptight,mechanical drum machine rhythm): as a starting point for newcomers, it’s as good a place as any to start your journey into the heart of tango’s darkness, although you might first want to stream Radio Piazzolla.

Argentinians Selección Nacional De Tango (which translates roughly as “Tango Allstar Team”) bookend the album with a dynamic-laden, richly orchestrated version of the iconic 1917 composition La Comparsita (The Little Parade) and the even lusher, wilder abandon of their version of the Piazzolla classic Adios Nonino. Their countrymen Orquesta Color Tango De Roberto Alvarez also get two tracks here, Piqueteros (Protesters) surprisingly blithe in light of its subject matter, and – the aptly titled Quejumbroso (Querulous) – homage to legendary bandleader Osvaldo Pugliese – with the uneasy staccato of the bandoneon battling the lush strings behind it.

La Madrugada (Daybreak) by Orquesta Típica Fernandez Fierro, a cover of the Angel Maffia composition is delivered in raw, fiery fashion as befits an “orquestra tipica,” i.e. oldschool group. Hungarian group Quartett Escualo makes the connection between gypsy music and tango in the Piazzolla classic Fuga Y Misterio , guitar, bandoneon, piano and strings all shadowing each other, then morphing into a dreamy extended string passage. Dutch bandleader Carel Kraayenhof bravely tackles more Piazzolla – Libertango – and dexterously puts his own stamp on it, a marvelously echoey piano-and-percussion first verse (is that tap dancing?) giving way when the rest of the band comes swirling in. German combo 6 Australes contribute La Lujanera, setting a tongue-in-cheek hip-hop lyric over a noirish cabaret arrangement, its dramatic Weimar vibe evoking a Spanish-language Dresden Dolls. Argentinian ensemble La Camorra’s La Maroma is the most intense number here, a vividly noir evocation that builds menacing ambience with a somewhat explosively percussive staccato intensity And Romanian chanteuse Oana Catalina Chitu’s Zaraza benefits from vivid Balkan tinges, especially with the strings, enhancing the unease behind the warmth of her voice. The more modern stuff here (other than a woozily fun if totally out-of-place reggaeton track by Melingo) suffers from overproduction despite some clever manuevering: no matter how clever the composition, it’s no fun dancing to a drum machine if you know what a real milonga is like.

For those wanting more of a raw edge, it doesn’t get much more raw than the rustic, remastered bonus cd of legendary oldtime tanguero Carlos Gardel, old 78 RPM scratches and all. It’s just acoustic guitar and vocals, Gardel’s mannered vaudevillian delivery quite a contrast with the frequently sly humor of the lyrics.

March 23, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment