A Consumer Guide to the Trailing Edge: February, 2010

Recycled Goods (#71)

by Tom Hull

I've been having a tough time finding appropriate and interesting reissues. Fewer find me than at any time since I started this column. And while I've somewhat made up for the shortfall by searching out things on Rhapsody, the lack of documentation makes many otherwise interesting items less worthwhile. I still don't see much point in seeking out a reissue without some useful history on how the record came to be.

That leaves world music, which has been slowly accumulating on my shelves. Most of these records are more/less new, but I found long ago that it's hard to draw a sharp line between new and old world music, and there may be no real value in doing so. I keep going back and forth on how best to handle it, but this month it came to the rescue of an otherwise thin list. February is short, and this one has been pretty unpleasant. Glad it's over.

Afghan Star (2009, Silva Screen): Original soundtrack recording to a documentary which won a couple of Sundance awards. The subject is an Afghan TV show, a talent search show, sort of Afghanistan's answer to American Idol, most likely without the smarmy judges. About the only thing I (or hardly anyone) knows about Afghani music is that the Taliban did their damnedest to suppress it. But an educated guess would be that it absorbs Iranian classical music and Pakistani Qawwali, with dashes of Arabic improvisation and Bollywood schmaltz, and that's about right -- except for the closer, which picks up bits of rock and what sounds like Scottish bagpipes. Still a place where tradition runs strong, but if the Obama can keep from serving the country up to the Taliban on a silver platter, in a decade I figure the tide will turn toward hip-hop and baila funk. B+(**)

Goran Bregovic: Welcome to Goran Bregovic (Best Of) ([2009], Wrasse): Don't know when these widely scattered tracks were recorded: could be as early as his 1974 group Bijelo Dugme or as late as the title cut to his recent live party album Alkohol, or any time in between. A Serb from Bosnia, based in Belgrade, best known for soundtracks which may or may not exploit Gypsy music. Some cuts are pure soundtrack, some are trad wedding music, some deep Balkan, some borrowed from elsewhere, including a "Ya Ya" segment wrapped up as "Ya Ya Ringe Ringe Raja." B+(*) [R]

Betty Davis (1973 [2008], Light in the Attic): Born Betty Mabry, 1945, Durham, NC. Picked up her surname by marrying Miles Davis, which lasted about a year but featured her pic on the cover of Filles de Kilimanjaro. Skinny legs, big afro, not much of a voice but plenty of attitude and grit. Cut four funk albums 1973-76. None very successful, but these days obscure soul records have a certain vogue, enough so that she's become a cult star. Her first album is in thrall to the rhythm -- no surprise given Larry Graham and Greg Errico on bass with Merl Saunders on keyboards. She hangs tough too, with songs like "Game Is My Middle Name" and "Anti Love Song." B+(***) [R]

Boban i Marko Markovic Orkestar: Devla: Blown Away to Dancefloor Heaven (2009, Piranha): Balkan brass band, handed down from old lead trumpet Boban Markovic to new lead trumpet Marko Markovic, the transition effectively complete here -- the dancefloor more generalized and more welcoming than was the case with the old wedding band. Brass may be toned down a bit too, but that's only because the pace has picked up. A-

Tinariwen: Imidiwan: Companions (2009, World Village): Tuaregs from the north of Mali, which is to say the Sahara, where the residual calm of an individual guitarist like Ali Farka Touré can be likened to American blues, and where a full-fledged multi-guitar, multi-vocal group averages out into something that transcends blues individuality into collective trance. Fourth album, all pretty much the same, this one even more elemental, which for once beats idiosyncratic. A-

Ali Farka Touré & Toumani Diabaté: Ali and Toumani (2005 [2010], World Circuit/Nonesuch): Touré, Mali's quintessential blues guitarist passed away in 2006, shortly after these gently seductive sessions were cut. Diabaté may or may not be Mali's greatest kora player, but he is certainly the most effectively networked one, showing up on everyone's album, including 2005's In the Heart of the Moon, a previous duo with Touré. This isn't quite bare: the late Orlando "Cachaito" Lopez plays bass on five cuts, young Vieux Farka Touré plays congas, and several others add backing vocals and percussion, but nothing much roughs up the gentle roll. B+(***)

Briefly Noted

Albert Ammons/Henry Brown/Meade Lux Lewis/"Cripple" Clarence Lofton/Pete Johnson/Speckled Red: Boogie Woogie Kings (1938-71 [2009], Delmark): Your basic boogie woogie piano sampler with some vocals; Lofton's six cuts are the oldest; Red, with four cuts including a previously unreleased (and relatively mild) "Dirty Dozens" is the most recent; Lewis gets three sharply played cuts, plus one with the Ammons-Johnson-Lewis triumvirate. B+(**)

Mulatu Astatke: New York-Addis-London: The Story of Ethio Jazz 1965-1975 (1965-75 [2009], Strut): Broader than the overlapping Addis-only Éthiopiques 4 collection, mostly with swipes at Latin jazz, but the globetrotting Ethiopian percussionist never found a groove he couldn't incorporate, or spice up with the flavor of his homeland. A-

Anouar Brahem: The Astounding Eyes of Rita (2008 [2009], ECM): Dedicated to the late Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish, whose poem posits a rifle between him and his love; the music itself flows in a gentle groove, oud over bass and darbouka or bendir, under a gentle breeze of bass clarinet. B+(***)

Goran Bregovic: Alkohol (2008 [2009], Wrasse): A live album which serves as a better intro (or maybe I just mean a more consistently enjoyable album) than his best-of, mostly because it's louder and rowdier, traits to look for in Serbian music -- in this case guitar-driven. A- [R]

Betty Davis: They Say I'm Different (1974 [2008], Light in the Attic): Cover pic shows her with a huge collar framing her afro like a lizard puffed up in a bold display, but her lower half is long and leggy -- but scrunched up, insect-like; the album has the usual sophomore faults -- less distinctive songs, less starpower in the band -- but the bonus cuts reiterate four songs that become more iconic the second time around, maybe because they're stretched a bit. B+(**) [R]

Betty Davis: Is It Love or Desire (1976 [2009], Light in the Attic): Fourth album, or would have been had it been released; easy to see why it wasn't, with the funk splayed wide and not all that tight on the one, and Davis's voice more croak than coo; holding it back for 33 years elevates it from inept to idiosyncratic, not that you have to indulge her. B+(*) [R]

Scott LaFaro: Pieces of Jade (1961-85 [2009], Resonance): A belated souvenir of the legendary bassist, dead in a car crash at age 25 shortly after blossoming on Bill Evans' remarkable 1961 Village Vanguard sets; five fine piano trio cuts with Don Friedman and Pete LaRoca, a 22:44 practice tape with Evans, an Evans interview from 1966, and a Friedman solo from 1985, appropriately called "Memories for Scotty." B

Memphis Nighthawks: Jazz Lips (1976-77 [2009], Delmark): University of Illinois students formed a trad jazz group, recycling the name of an obscure 1920s group, cut an long-forgotten album for a Chicago label, and disbanded; in some ways this is like every other trad jazz revival project, but the horn layering -- clarinet, trumpet, trombone, bass sax -- is subtle and powerful, and the guitar-drums rhythm cooks. B+(***)

Nneka: Concrete Jungle (2005-08 [2010], Decon): German mother, Nigerian father, splits her time between Lagos and Hamburg, gets a US debut by recycling cuts from two German albums; less Afro-Pop than Neo-Soul, although individual cuts fold in funk or reggae or hip-hop and start to get interesting as they pick up speed. B+(*) [R]

Tierra Negra & Muriel Anderson: New World Flamenco (2009 [2010], Tierra Negra): German group specializes in dueling flamenco guitars, while the American strums along on classic and harp guitar, with a dash of percussion to keep everything moving along at a nice pace. B+(**)

Legend: B+ records are divided into three levels, where more * is better. [R] indicates record was reviewed using a stream from Rhapsody. The biggest caveat there is that the packaging and documentation hasn't been inspected or considered.

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Copyright © 2010 Tom Hull.