10 October 2010

Ten tens for 10-10-10

Being blessed with a near Biblical flood of new releases, I'm going to take this rare date (the kind of thing that happens every 1,000 years [not counting next year's 11/11/11 and the following year's 12/12/12, of course]) to draw your a10tion to 10 new global CDs by talking about track 10 on each album.

This may not have the positive global impact of the actions being taken by friends of 350.org today, but it will help alleviate my own rising sea level of incoming mail.

"Bajo La Luna" is the 10th and final track on the new Cuban Cowboys album Diablo Mambo (Muy Nice Music, out Nov. 9, 2010), which sounds something like a harder-rocking version of Ry Cooder's Chavez Ravine. Edgy, attitudinal, bilingual guitar rock, on this track singing about how "one day the sun was hung over drunk."


The Cuban Cowboy is not a tipico cowboy in the mold of a cheesy-quesoso Hollywood Western. Horses? He has none. His bovine encounters are limited to the meat aisle. He (or she) sleeps on a mattress, rides a subway train, and owns no rifle. The Cuban Cowboy is a breed apart--a hy-breed. The tools of his trade are a musical instrument, a silvery tongue and a pair of twitchy hips. He is the bastard love-child of Ricky Ricardo and Tom Waits...

"Aitys" is a song suitable for your creepy Halloween soundtrack, with a creepy assortment of clashing bells, howling wind, and growly throat-singing. Until it becomes a happy bouncy pop tune with operatic vocals. Then back to the creepy, then back to the happy. A truly strange bipolar song from the Kazakh group Roksonaki, the song appears on the album Nauryz (Mosaiqa, 2008). Much of the rest of the album sounds more like traditional the Central Asian folk music you might expect, with native rhythms, strings, and vocals -- though there's always a modern edge from this group that has is no stranger to jazz, rock, and opera.

"Guaguancó Arsenio" will make you want to move. As will the rest of the new compilation Salsa Explosion: The New York Salsa Revolution 1969-1979 (Strut, 2010). The 15-track album includes crisp, excellently mastered recordings from many of the big names of salsa including Celia Cruz, Eddie Palmieri, Ray Baretto, and Willie Colón. This track -- with crisp horns, deep bass, and intricate rhythms -- comes from no other than bandleader and timbale king Tito Puente, with Azuquita. Azucar!

"A Mi Hermana" may make you rethink the details of the Spanish legacy in the Americas. This fiery traditional flamenco album happens to be the work of Arizona guitarist Chris Burton Jácome. He began his musical career as a rock guitarist, but quit his band after hearing Spanish guitarist Gerardo Nuñez and soon headed to Spain to learn the language, music, and culture of flamenco. Jácome's album Levanto (CBJ Music, 2010) shows just how thoroughly he absorbed flamenco. The 11-minute track 10 is dedicated to the sisters of Jácome and Martin Gaxiola (artistic director of Calo Flamenco).

"Waterwheel" is a song about irrigation from the Nile river, a crucial aspect of Egyptian civilization. Track 10 of Riad Abdel-Gawad's album Egypt, Mother of the World (City Hall, 2010), the song finds Abdel-Gawad's violin and Saber Abdel-Sattar's qanun lightly prancing parallel melodic paths with riqq accompaniment. This instrumental album is a fantastic presentation of sorely underappreciated Arabic violin traditions, of interest to classical and world music fans alike.


"Pasaje" (or perhaps "El Gallo Gringo" or "Pueblo Vivo") There's some confusion about the track numbering on this album. A promo sheet shows 12 tracks with #10 being the title track, while the CD case lists only 20 tracks while 21 show up to play. "El Gallo Gringo" is actually a 14-second snippet of a child explaining bilingual roosters, so instead we'll target "Pasaje" as our representative from La Otrabanda's album Pueblo Vivo / Vibrant People (self-released, 2010). The Venezuelan group calls their music folk-pop, though there's a bit of indie rock creeping in as well. Fans of Lila Downs, Cuban Cowboys, and Manu Chao will dig their sound and their direction. On "Pasaje" they sing of their role: "I am treading new paths / ... with my cuatro I strum in verses / burning pains of the soul at the bonfire / spark and flame of restoration."

"Yavo Ha-Goel" When Tzadik says they are a record label promoting "radical Jewish culture," they mean it. So does Jewlia Eisenberg, whose group Charming Hostess enjoys taking on big topics in unexpected ways that can challenge listeners. Their new album The Bowls Project (Tzadik, 2010) grew from Eisenberg's fascination with the texts that accompanied earthenware "demon bowls" that were buried beneath houses in Babylonia some 1,500 years ago. Along with wrapping your head around that premise, get ready to embrace musical influences ranging from country to traditional folk to heavy metal to a capella harmonies. Our track 10 is a bit of a mystery, the only song for which the lyrics aren't presented on the band website. Some secret incantation, perhaps? In any case, I like it, with its deep rhythm, chant-like vocals, and clarinet. An odd yet mostly compelling album for the adventurous (and thoughtfully spiritual) listener.

"Ventunodieciduemilatrenta" is a word I'm not going to pronounce for you. Though it's a lovely song by Sicilian-born Carmen Consoli, the last cut on her album Elettra (Universal Music Italia, 2009). This album was my introduction to her music, though apparently she's the most successful female Italian singer-songwriter ever. My Italian being what it is, I'll have to take others' word for it that her lyrics "examine broad themes of love, illness, solitude and friendship from a feminine -- and feminist -- perspective." All with a clean acoustic sound that is north of bossa, east of fado, and just around the block from Carla Bruni.


"Cumba del Desierto" is a cumbia, yes, so there's that. But since it's from the album The Roots of Chicha 2: Psychedelic Cumbias from Peru (Barbes, Oct. 12, 2010) you get some bonus goodness. The song is by Los Destellos, whose band photo looks like four federal agents posing as The Beatles, though their members included Enrique Delgado, widely accepted as the creator of Peruvian cumbia. Traditional Latin rhythms meet clangy guitars, and we're all better for it. A tasty cut from a mouth-watering compilation of nearly lost music recorded between 1968 and 1981.

"Silent Song" isn't, actually, silent. That would be silly. The #10 and closing song on the album Scent of Reunion: Love Across Civilizations (Kirkelig Kulturverksted, 2010), it brings together two unusual musical partners, Persian singer Mahsa Vahdat and American soul blues singer Mighty Sam McClain. While both singers are astounding and soulful, I'm not wowed by every track on this album. Several of the songs just don't add up, their divergent cultural elements never quite coming together. Fortunately for us, this concluding track is one that does work well, with the two alternating lyrics (and languages) singing about silent, secret places that nourish and sustain.


Happy 10th.

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