Friday, October 6, 2017

Ellason, Traditional Cuban Music

I've spent a good deal of my life listening to Afro-Cuban and neighboring musics. I cannot pretend to be an expert but I am profoundly influenced by it all. With a diplomatic semi-normalization of US-Cuban relations we can now hear a great deal more of what has been happening on the island. Ansonica Records is an ambitious undertaking of  Parma Recordings, aiming to bring US-Cuban musical collaborative projects to our ears as well as documenting what is happening in Cuba today.

In the latter category is the notefull passion of Traditional Cuban Music (Ansonica AR0003) as played and sung by Ellason, an excellent all-female outfit. The aim is to revive the music of Compay Segundo and Sigundo Garay and get general inspiration from the genre known as La Trova.

It is essentially in the style of 1940's Havana jazz bands, featuring especially the Charanga form with a driving heat and lyrical crispness. Lead singers and chorus are spectacularly good, and the band of bass, guitar, congas, bongos, cowbell, two clarinets and violin get a wonderful sound and heat everything up so that you surely want to dance.

I dearly love this band and their music. Anyone who digs the old sounds will revel in it all. Havana comes alive and we are there. Wonderful stuff!

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Alan Sondheim, Azure Carter, Luke Damrosch, Limit


This past September 8th I was happy to review a recent Alan Sondheim album with Azure Carter and Luke Damrosch. We have yet another, entitled Limit (Public Eyesore 138). Sondheim, you will recall, had a couple of multi-instrumental iconoclastic free improv albums out on ESP back in the day. He is going strong again, as this album attests.

Luke Damrosch plays madal and is responsible for engineering and programming, Azure Carter gives us her quirky songs and sings them with disarming straightforward candor, and Alan handles the music concepts and plays a battery of instruments as we have come to expect, in this case viola, guqin, flute, clarinet, alto clarinet, long necked saz, dan moi, ghichak, ukelele, guzheng, holeless shakuhachi, hegelung, sanshin and rebab.

The blend is spaced out at times by studio enhancements. All is plainly what it is, regardless. And what it is gives the listener plenty of pause (plus playback and fast forward)! There is at all times a provocative kind of freedom that, as is Alan Sondheim's way, never stays put in a single free idiom, instead covering free jazz and world roots in ways he has come to make his fingerprint sound.

Azure adds much with the special songs that form a vivid, whimsical contrast to the freedom swirling about her.

Limit pleases greatly if you give the music a chance to grow within you. It is not like anything else exactly. It is Alan Sondheim.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Biggi Vinkeloe Band, Aura Via Appia

Melody, song and freely stepping forward are central to the beautiful album by the Biggi Vinkeloe Band, Aura Via Appia (Omlott MLR 015 2017). It centers on the presence of the band in Rome, on the singular feeling that evokes, a songfulness, a singular directionality brought on in part by being there, or so I would suggest.

The band itself has presence. It centers around of course Biggi on flute and alto, Robert Bellatalla on double bass and Peeter Uuskyla on drums. Joining them is Nema Vinkeloe on well done vocals and violin for the two Swedish folk songs and Pharoah Sander's wonderfully familiar "Japan." Simon Uuskyla nicely brings his voice to the two versions of Mozart's "Un Aura Amoroso" and his "Speculum Dianae".

This is music that sings, and to me that is always a big part of Biggi as an artist. Her alto and flute are ever singing, as they very much are here. The entire album however does embrace a singing of a singing, in the Mozart, in the folk songs. There always is a kind of discursive logic to Biggi's soloing, a speech-song quality. And we get lots of nicely hewn Biggi here, as good as anything and that is very good indeed. The band has open forward free movement that sets Ms. Vinkeloe into a space where she can shine brightly. So she does. And the song moment only bring that to us as a reinforcement, an affirmation.

Aura Via Appia has a gentle, open joy about it. We sing along in our hearts, because the music cannot and should not be denied. You listen the more, the better it gets. Kudos to Biggi and the band. Listen to this!