Issue 17 12/2000

FolkWorld CD Reviews


Travelin'Companion 1 "A Musical Journey to Poland"
WeltWunder Records; 501-2; 1999; Playing time: 55.46 min
In 1999 the German label WeltWunder Records started an excellent new series of various artists CDs. The series is called 'Travellin' Companion' - and the listener is guided with expertise through not very well known regions of folk music. Most of the companions during your travels are more or less young bands, presenting the traditions of their region in a fresh and innovative way.
The first journey of this series was to discover Poland - a more or less unknown region of European folk music. But unknow does not mean uninteresting; WeltWunder could easily find enough very interesting bands and musicians from Poland.
12 different acts are found on the album (two are presenting each two tracks). Among them are the excellent Crakow band Kroke playing Jewish music; the Saint Nicholas Orchestra - an important band during the start of the new revival presenting their traditional music of Poland in a very fresh manner; the Polish Rock-music star Grzegorz Ciechowski combining fragments of ancient folk songs with samples and modern music forms - the one track on this album reminded me on the first album of the Scottish/Brazilean project Nahoo. Other interesting bands are the young Kapela ze wsi Warszawa (read the article about them in this issue, where you can win this CD...), Chudoba and the young gypsy musician Dziani.
All in all an excellent album to get an insight in the scene of Poland.
The second album of the serie is already out - it is a journey to Italy. I am looking forward to the next albums of the Travelin' Companion serie - thank you WeltWunder for the chance to travel on these new pathes to unknown music cultures...
WeltWunder Records
Christian Moll

Riccardo Tesi "Banditaliana"
Label: Dunya Records/Felmay Warehouse; fy8022; 1999; Playing time: 48.09 min
Three out of the first four numbers of this album are Italian traditional songs, yet this should not give the wrong impression, as it is basically a melodeon album. Riccardo Tesi is an accordionist of the same caliber of a Kepa Junkera, having also developed his very own style based on Tuscany traditions and very diverse influences from all over the world, and not only from trad, but also from Jazz music. Being a celebration of the first 20 years of Riccardo Tesi's musical career, the album combines new tracks with newly recorded old tunes familiar to the fans from his earlier albums.
Riccardo shows a lot of improvisational talent, his playing is witty and innovative and makes a lot of fun. Most of the tunes are composed by the melodeon player himself. The "Banditaliana" is an exciting band, combining with Riccardo's melodeon a guitar and a charismatic singing voice (Maurizio Geri), saxes (Claudio Carboni) and percussion and vibes (Ettore Bonafè). Additionally, there are a couple of guests on this recording.
This is virtuosic music, rich of musical ideas and full of fun and enjoyment. Banditaliana is definitely one of the great Italian bands, and Riccardo Tesi is definitely one of the great melodeon players of Europe.
Felmay , e-mail Riccardo
Michael Moll

Cormac Breatnach "musical journey"
Label: Peer Music; CD001; 1999; Playing time: 53.33 min
Cormac Breatnach is one of the masters of flute playing. Many will know him by his groundbreaking Folk-Jazz experiments in the trio Deiseal. The musical journey on this album takes us to Folk-Jazz tunes, to good old Irish traditionals, and even to Spain. Not only during his own compositions the feeling is like being in Cormac Breatnach's very own country, like being taken along through his dreams. The music is highly imaginative, drawing beautiful images that change their shades every moment into unexpected new colours. Cormac plays mostly low whistles, but he turns out to be also a fine singer, most notably in the Spanish song La Molinera.
This is by no means a real solo album; quite a few friends join him on his musical journey to unknown grounds. There is his Deiseal colleague Niall O Callanáin on bouzouki, Maire Breatnach on fiddles, Steve Cooney on guitars and bass, Paul McSherry on guitar, Karen Tweed on accordion, and more. Full marks for an album full of fresh innovation.
Peer Music , Mail to Cormac
Michael Moll

Spaccanapoli "Lost Souls (Aneme Perze)"
Label: Real World/Virgin Records; 2000; Playing time: 51.40 min
A real treat, this one. Spaccanapoli are a new band from Naples, having grown out of the band E Zezi, formed in 1974 and having been the "channel of expression" for more than 100 musicians, singers and dancers. Spaccanapoli's music is something completely new to me, and I am excited about it: Full of passion and southern temper and vibrant energy, full of innovative arrangements, of moving songs, of intriguing melodies.
The band features two passionate, yet contrasting singers: Marcello Colasurdo with his strong dark lamenting voice, and Monica Pinto with a very clear voice, yet also carrying some lament in it. The actual band features besides these singers the very distinctive violin and piano playing of Antonio Fraioli, acoustic guitar and bass from Oscar Montalbano and acoustic and electric guitar from Emilio de Matteo. But there are also a couple of guests on this recording.
Spaccanapoli present on this album a couple of numbers from the E Zezi time, added by several traditional Italian songs and tunes. Although the music reflects the melting pot of Mediterranean cultures that Naples offers, Spaccanapoli's music sounds very distinctive and characteristic. Typical of Spaccanapoli is the innovative percussion, that is obviously steeped in the traditions, yet having a very fresh and modern appeal. And then the unusual arrangements; often a fiddle in the center of instruments, but then at times also a flute or a clarinet. There are a lot of highlights on this wonderful album, yet my personal favourite is the second number, "O Mare", starting off with quiet singing backed by the sound of the waves of the sea, leading into a lively and angry song telling about the human destroying of the sea, offering some exciting fiddle and clarinet parts, and leading unexpectedly into an energetic rough brass orchestra part finishing off the track.
One of the most attractive and exciting albums I have heard this year.
Realworld , Contact the band at Fax +39-081-8375141
Michael Moll

Mercedes Peón "Isué"
Label: Resitencia; RESCD 106; 2000; Playing time: 38.47 min
'Isué' ('That's it') is the debut CD of the young Galician singer / gaitero / traditional percussionist Mercedes Peón. It is a very special one!
Although young of age, Mercedes has done already a lot of research in Galicia, visiting the old people to find out more about the ancient traditions. On this album the traditions are not presented in a pure manner, she combines them with modern sounds and with influences from different regions - especially from the south. Mercedes says "I have had the pleasure to discover music from other ethnic groups. especially from North Africa, and find in them so many affinities, both in rhythm and expression, with our melodies that I have good reason for wanting to look further south for musical connection and communion."
The album is a genius melange somewhere between traditional and modern Galician music with lots of influences. Centerpiece is the powerful voice of Mercedes (she has no problems to sing against a bagpipe...). The songs and melodies are partly traditional, partly written by Mercedes - many of them are earwigs, even if you do not understand a word.
Mercedes has gathered for this album an excellent backing band. An absolute stunning debut CD, leaving you waiting for more....
Voted by FolkWorld as second best album of 2000!
mail to Resistencia
Christian Moll

Helmut Debus "Twuschen Ankamen un Afscheed"
Label: Thein; 2000; Playing time: 49.01 min
Helmut Debus is - in my opinion - the best singer/songwriter from Germany. He comes from the north of Germany and he sings in 'Platt' the dialect in northern Germany.
His style is somehow a bit melancholic - suiting to the flat and wide surrounding landscape - but also full of emotions. All songs except two are written by Helmut. Those two are songs 'translated' into Platt by Helmut: 'Se sitt un tööft' is originally written by Allan Taylor and 'Un is't denn dien will' by Leonard Cohen.
On this album Helmut's backing band consists of Jörg Heinemann (violoncello), Rüdiger Schulz (sax, bandonion), Allan Taylor (guitar) and Abi Wallenstein (e-guitar, waldzither, dobro). The setting suits perfectly to the mood of the album, presenting often a quiet backing, and sometimes influences of Jazz and other music styles.
My personal highlight is the song 'Dognight' with highly original text and brilliant earwig-chorus. A brilliant album with lots of atmosphere.
If you don't know Helmut by now you should change this soon...
Helmut Debus, Am Weserdeich 23, 26919 Brake, Germany Tel.+49 (0)4401-7669
Thein, Blumenthalstr. 8, 28209 Bremen, Germany, Tel.+49 (0)421-348048

Christian Moll

Alex de Grassi & Quique Cruz "Tatamonk"
Tropo Records; TRD 1002; 2000; Playing time: 50.29 min
Guitarist extraordinaire Alex de Grassi and the Chilean multi- instrumentalist Quique Cruz have joined forces together with a complete jazz rhythm section (Michael Blumstein, piano; Jon Evans, bass; Dan Foltz, drums) to record a very special album of fusion music. Traditional music of the Andes is combined with jazz and the kind of "new acoustic music" which was created by the likes of Alex de Grassi.
Some of his work in the last years seemed more tranquilizing than exciting to many listeners. Nevertheless "Tatamonk" is a wonderful lively album. (The name of the title track is a reference to Thelonius Monk, who is regarded very highly by both de Grassi and Cruz, and to the traditional melody "Tata San Juan") The different musical styles join together without losing their character.
The music remains full of colour and emotion and never bulky, like some could expect because of the reference to Monk. The moods range from joy of life to melancholy. The playing is wonderfully balanced and the production took care that nothing gets lost - notice that guitarist de Grassi produced the album himself. On some selections the guest appearences of Jeff Beal (trumpet & flugelhorn) and Ian Dogole (percussion) give additional colour. The whole CD is designed very beautifully and comes with interesting notes by the artists. Highly recommended!
Alex de Grassi Homepage; Quique Cruz Homepage
Ansgar Hillner

The Bollywood Brass Band "The Bollywood Brass Band"
Emergency Exit Arts; BOLLCD 2001; 1999; Playing time: 42.00 min
Eight years into their career, the Bollywood Brass Bands are rapidly winning fans all over Europe with their unconventional brass band / Indian dhol drum arrangements of popular Indian music (mostly film hits and wedding songs). Like all brass bands, they tread the fine line between tunefulness and cacophony, between glorious sound and dreadful racket. This has its greatest impact when witnessed live in the great outdoors, but it transfers surprisingly well onto CD.
For a start, the tunes are great - unusual to Western ears (albeit less exotic than the original songs), but tuneful and gripping - they would hardly have become popular hits in India if they weren't! Then the driving beat of the dhol drums, more usually heard in bhangra music, gets those dancing feet moving in no time. And the elaborate interplay of the saxophones, trumpets, trombones and Alice Kinloch's massive sousaphone makes sure that the tunes never get boring.
As a bonus, the CD includes two remix tracks - a "Sambhangra" mix of "Gur Nalon Ishk Mitha" and a "Snake Eyes Mix" of "Khena Hi Kya" - which add another dimension by transporting the tunes into an Asian nightclub sphere; an unlikely, but again successful transformation.
If you only ever buy one brass band album, this should probably be it.
Bollywood Brass Band c/o Emergency Exit Arts, PO Box 570, London SE10 0EE, England; Tel. +44 (0)20 8853 4809 Fax +44 (0)20 8858 2025
Anja Beinroth

Kanerien Langazel "Digor an oade: la barrière ouverte"
Coop Breizh; CD 905; 2000; Playing time: 69.41 min
Kanerien Langazel is a quartet of male singers from Britanny consisting of Raymond Lichou, Jean-Yves le Duff, Jean-Fañch Kervella and Fañch Kastell. Their CD presents 20 unaccompanied (apart from some very basic percussion on some tracks) songs. They are "dance songs": intended to serve as music for dancing to at the traditional "fest-noz" gatherings in place of instrumental music.
The basic format is consistent throughout the album: one singer takes the lead, the others repeat each line in an alternating call-and- response style. The four singers take turns in leading the singing, but within each song, they stick to their roles. This makes the overall effect rather repetitive, especially for listeners who can't follow the French and Breton lyrics. The booklet provides full transcripts of those, as well as French translations to the Breton lyrics and some illustrative drawings.
One for fans and perhaps language students only, I think.
Coop Breizh, F 29540 Spézet, France; Tel. +33 (0)2 98938314 Fax +33 (0)2 98938797
Anja Beinroth

Menestra "Dog of Pride"
Coop Breizh; CD 906; 2000; Playing time: 44.44 min
Menestra present the instrumental side of Breton dance music. The basic line-up is hurdy-gurdy (Gurvan Kerboeuf), acoustic guitar (Fabien Robbe), bass guitar (Tanguy le Doré) and djembe/derbouka percussion (Iltud le Doré), with guests supplying additional guitar, bombarde, saxophone, piano and drums.
What they play is dance music, based on traditional dances (rond, an dro, hanter dro, gavotte, mazurka, bourrée...), but in unconventional arrangements: for instance, the guitar can sound quite jazzy, and the oriental percussion adds another unusual flavour.
A whole album of hurdy-gurdy-led tunes won't be to everyone's taste, but it certainly is an interesting combination of skilled players and inventive arrangements, taking Breton dance music in new directions with just about the right mix of respect and boldness. Why they choose to call it "Dog of Pride", though, is beyond me.
Menestra, 16 rue des besaces, F 22680 Etables sur Mer, France
Anja Beinroth

Les Assemblées Gallèses "20 Ans"
Coop Breizh; CD 907; 2000; Playing time: 59.05 min
Apart from Breton, Britanny has a second native language more closely related to Latin: Gaulish (or should that be Gallic? The booklet calls it "le gallo" in French). "Les Assemblées Gallèses", the Gaulish assemblies is the name of a week- long festival of Gaulish culture held in rural Britanny once a year, with presentations of music, dance, theatre, poetry,storytelling but also cooking, architecture and the like, plus workshops, debates and multiple opportunities for cultural exchange, and a fest-noz to close the evenings. The album celebrates the twentieth anniversary of the festival in 1999.
Included is a varied and entertaining selection from the performances: male singers, female singers, with bands or unaccompanied, solo or in groups, and a couple of storytellers/poets (?) and instrumental groups as well. The booklet provides extensive notes on the cultural background, the festival and the individual performers, but only in French, which will limit its international appeal.
Les Assemblées Gallèses, 9 rue de l'Argoat, F 22210 Plumieux, France
Anja Beinroth

Caitríona O'Leary & Dúlra "Taím Sínte ar do Thuama (I am stretched on your grave)"
Deutsche Harmonia Mundi / BMG; 05472 77393 2; 2000; Playing time: 69.01 min
An Irish CD packaged to appeal primarily to the classical music fan. Singer Caitríona O'Leary is a (clearly classically-trained) soprano who sings a selection of poetic laments in the Irish-Gaelic language. Instrumental accompaniment - on strings (violin, viola) and uillean pipes/flute - is low-key, almost minimalistic, and used to emphasize the mood of the songs (which is generally very sombre): "stripping away cluttering layers and bringing into focus the music's innate beauty", as it says in the notes.
The extensive booklet gives explanations and full transcripts of the song lyrics in a remarkable four languages: Irish, English, French and German. Thus the album is a wonderful tool for students of the Irish language, as well as a pleasant, if intense listening experience.
BMG Classics
Anja Beinroth

Gordon Gunn Band "Shoreside"
Greentrax; CDTRAX 204; 2000; Playing time: 57.06 min
The Gordon Gunn Band is really a trio of Gordon Gunn (mostly fiddle), Phil Anderson (guitar, bass, keyboards) and Billy Peace (keyboards, accordion), all of whom have played together in the Ruby Rendall Band, with guests on double bass and piano. Their album is purely instrumental; they play a mix of traditional and recent compositions, some their own, some from colleagues such as Phil Cunningham, Aly Bain, Ivan Drever and others (all properly credited).
The basic formula of leading fiddle to piano/keyboard and low-in- the-mix guitar backdrop often appears somewhat tiresome over the course of a couple of dance tune sets, so that the few slow numbers are a welcome relief. There's nothing obviously wrong with the musicianship or choice of material, but the album lacks that magic spark that lifts the truly great instrumental albums into a league of their own.
Contact the Gordon Gunn Band
Anja Beinroth

Kathryn Tickell & Ensemble Mystical "Kathryn Tickell & Ensemble Mystical"
Park Records; PRKCD 57; 2000; Playing time: 48.01 min
Don't be misled into thinking this is just another new Kathryn Tickell album. It is, as the name suggests, very much an ensemble-piece. And what an ensemble it is! First of all there's Kathryn herself with her Northumbrian pipes and fiddle, then Julian Sutton, the melodeon player from her current band, harpist Mary MacMaster, cellist Ron Shaw and wind player John Kenny who contributes anything from trombone via alphorn and recorder to the weird and ancient carnyx (a scary-looking bronze boar-headed horn).
The instruments are inventively combined in as large a variety of arrangements as you could come up with, on a range of little-known tunes, many of which have seasonal Christmas-time connotations. And there's songs as well, with Kathryn and Mary revealing their vocal skills, and even a dialect poem from the Coquet valley with tasteful fiddle accompaniment.
The overall sound is very unusual, slightly medieval in feel and at all times pleasing. An album to add warmth and colour to gloomy winter days. Highly recommended.
Album info from Park Records
Anja Beinroth

Wayfaring Strangers "Driftwood"
Steeplejack Music; SJCD 003; 2000; Playing time: about 44 min
This is a quiet album, which took a while to wind its way into my affections, but I do like it a lot now. The music of this Anglo-German duo is wholly acoustic, mostly string-accompanied songs (Neil Grant on guitar and Martin Ahrndt on mandocello/mandolin/bouzouki, both sing) with a few additional instrument such as fiddle, accordion, bass, concertina and slide guitar.
The fiddles, bass and concertina are contributed by the English duo Show of Hands (Phil Beer and Steve Knightley), whose organizer-cum-sound engineer Gerard O'Farrell has produced this album. A clever move: whereas it might have been just another one of the many albums that sells at concerts and remains otherwise unnoticed, the significant input Show of Hands have had on the recording should widen its appeal considerably.
The songs are a mix of original compositions and hand-picked cover versions - Brian McNeill's "Back of the North Wind", Phil Shackleton's "Fisherman's Tale" and Steve Knightley's "Sit You Down" plus a tune set and a superb acoustic rendition of Queen's "Show Must Go On". Finally there is a hidden live track in the basic Wayfaring Strangers duo line-up, just in case you've ended up wondering what they really sound like without the help from their more famous colleagues...
Recommended to Show of Hands-supporters, naturally, and to anyone who still likes acoustic guitar-based singer-songwriters.
Wayfaring Strangers website
Anja Beinroth

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