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 Updated: 7/02/14 | © 1999 - 2014 Cool Bunny Media | Da Cool Bunny sez 'Spank that Plank, Baby!'
 
#3

Craig Urquhart - First Light
(Heart Earth Music HEM093538)

I think this is composer/pianist Craig Urquhart eighth album and the second to be reviewed here at The Borderland. His previous album was Within Memory [click here to read review]. While nominally New Age for marketing purposes, First Light is to my mind contemporary classical, it shares that same rich vein of high romanticism that Chopin and Liszt mined centuries ago. Stylistically it may be an updated version of that romanticism, but emotionally it shares a strong link to those composers and others who used the piano to reveal their more intimate thoughts. The album contains eleven tracks, all of which unfold in a slowish tempo and take their time to make their presence felt - the majority of tracks last between four to five minutes plus. The track titles are: Contentment, Hymn, In Memorium, Summer Waltz, The Wanderer, Round And Round, Autumn Wind, Little Lullaby, A Father's Love, First Light, My Angel. Mr Urquhart is a terrific pianist and his compositions have an emotional heft to them, while he instils a lyrical magic within each performance. First Light is one of those albums that burns with a slow fire, taking its time to ensnare the listener. The music is beyond New Age and its rather soppy sentimentality - if you want music to relax to then this is it but it also offers more than that, it has a heart and soul too. Recommended.

For more information about this artist, album and availability visit: www.craigurquhart.com

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Lis Addison - Crown In The Sky

Lis Addison - Crown In The Sky

This is the second album by composer/vocalist/keyboard player Lis Addison that has arrived at The Borderland. As with The Grace of the Green Leaf [click here to read review], the music is chilled out new age electronica with dreamy vocals, though the new album seems to be a tad more commercial sounding and more approachable. Sounding a bit like a blissed out mixture of Kate Bush and Enya, Ms Addison has an appealing voice and her lyrics about protecting and respecting Mother Earth have an added resonance in these days of global warming and increasing levels of pollution. It is nice to see someone wearing their commitment on their sleeve... There are several musicians collaborating with Ms Addison on this album, adding to the opulent sounds coming from my speakers. They are: Dean Foster - bass/beats, Kit Walker - keyboards/bass/beats/synths, Christopher Krotky - beats/bodran, the Kamba women and children - vocals. Crown In The Sky contains ten tracks, mostly mid-tempo electronica with some world beats and acoustic instruments. The track titles are: Voice Of The Tree, New World, Look Into Your Eyes, Bring Her Light, Hearts & Bones, Turn To Gold, Crown In The Sky, Carry Me, How Deep, Mother Gaia. I have to say that I found this album more cohesive and enjoyable, the songs being more focused. There is much to like on Crown In The Sky and Lis Addison is an artist that is improving with each album. Recommended.

For more information about this artist, album and availability visit: www.lisaddison.com

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Catherine Marie Charlton - River Flow - Sanctuary

Catherine Marie Charlton - River Flow - Sanctuary

When you have an album that is designated a live album it can mean many things: a live concert recording, music that was recorded in one take without dubs and remixing and, more rarely, a complete album of material recorded in one take. That is the case with composer/pianist Catherine Marie Charlton and her latest album River Flow - Sanctuary. Recorded in one uninterrupted session of sixty minutes Ms Charlton performed a twelve part sequence of instrumental piano music. I assume that the basis of this was already in her head but much of it was improvised spontaneously as she played. While doing this for five or ten minutes at a time may be impressive, a full hour of live music must be almost unheard of. At the top of my head I can think that only Mozart or Duke Ellington could achieve something as meaningful as this. As for the music, well it may be improvised but it isn't Jazz - New Age or Contemporary Classical is a better description, though I favour the latter myself. The music has a timelessness to it, floating in the air or indeed a river in this case. Some of the sections just seem to drift with the flow and have a definite ambient feel. Split into a dozen sections River Flow runs continuously, but here are the section titles: Prelude, Bluebirds Of Happiness, On My Wing, Stars Awaken, Sleep To Dream, Be Still My Soul, Release, Learning To Fly, Twilight, Whispered From Within, River Flow, Epilogue. While this a relaxing 'listen' this music is intensely personal and emotional, a manifestation of Ms Charlton's emotional state on that night in September 2012 when she slipped into her home studio as her family slept and created this special album. Recommended.

For more information about this artist, album and availability visit: www.catherinemariecharlton.com

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Bill Wren & Frank Ralls - Journey Around The Sun: A Mayan Odyssey

Bill Wren & Frank Ralls - Journey Around The Sun: A Mayan Odyssey

Bill Wren is a composer who makes albums without performing on them - by that I mean that he composes the music and finds the best musicians possible to perform and record his albums for him. In this instance Journey Around The Sun: A Mayan Odyssey is a collaboration with multi-instrumentalist and arranger Frank Ralls. From the album's title you may be expecting an album of exotic sounding music derived from the Mayan culture, but in reality you have a set of fourteen tracks of impressionistic instrumentals, based on Mr Wren's romantic view of the Mayans. To be honest I don't think anyone really knows how Mayan music sounded. That aside, this is a wonderful selection of highly atmospheric sonic sketches that is rich in audible detail, lush melodies, and classic musicianship. For me I would classify this more as 'easy listening' in the original usage of the term rather than 'new age'. There is more emotional depth in the music than the usual pallid new age stuff that is designed to get you zoned out. There are far too many people involved as performers for me to mention in the space I have but Frank Ralls is the man responsible for most of the orchestrations and arrangements, and provides keyboards, synths, percussion and programming. The track titles are: Winter Solstice 2012, Between Heaven & Earth, Water & Flame, Journey Around The Sun, Apocalypse Island, Mayan Prophecy, Mayan Moonlight, The Lost City of Maya, The Voyage, Vessel of the Seven Lords, Road To Chichen Itza, Beyond The Misty Veil, New Heave New Earth, Eternal Hope. The CD also contains two bonus videos of album tracks. Journey Around The Sun: A Mayan Odyssey is an album that rises above categorisation, it is as much an event as it is a collection of tunes. It deserves to be widely heard and enjoyed, and it wouldn't surprise me if someone like the Discovery Channel don't come knocking on these gentlemen's doors wanting to use this music on their documentaries. Highly recommended.

For more information about this artist, album and availability visit: www.journeyaroundthesun.com, www.billwrenmusic.com, www.frankralls.com

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Lia Scallon - Crystal Keys
(Sounds Of Sirius SOS009)

One of the key tenets of new age music is that it heal wounded souls and provide a positive charge against the negativity of modern life. The subtitle of Lia Scallon's new album Crystal Keys is "Songs To Awaken and Heal", and it seems to be ready-made for that task. Over ten tracks Ms Scallon utilises her expressive voice in a variety of chants and vocal gymnastics, set against a series of drone-like or low-key melodic sequences. The musical palette is a rich one, featuring instruments from the mystical Far East and Aboriginal Australia: Crystal bowls, kalimba, chimes, keyboards, didgeridoo, flute, bells and Tibetan bells. The musicians performing on the album are: David Jones, Mark Mannock, David Hudson and Nigel Pegrum. The track titles are: Pearl, Sapphire, Amethyst, Smokey Quartz, Citrine, Clear Quartz, Emerald, Ruby, Gold and Diamond. The tracks are names after the colour of the alchemy crystal bowls used on the album. The sleeve notes make much about expanding your consciousness, and that music similar to this was used in the healing temples of ancient Egypt, Atlantis and Lemuria - well, I'll let you make your own mind up about that. You really need to be a spiritual person to receive the benefits of this music, I'm not and I have to admit it didn't really appeal to me. However, if you have a need for spiritual music to help in your healing process then I suggest you visit the website listed below and explore any sample tracks there.

For more information about this artist, album and availability visit: www.soundsofsirius.com

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Sean Jelinek - Common Tones

This album explodes from the first seconds of Do I Dare - a question most musicians must ask themselves when deciding to become a solo artist. This is, I think, Sean Jelinek's debut album as bandleader, and his drums are erupting throughout the first track. Jazz, of course, and post bop in style, Common Tones is an extraordinarily forthright album. The twelve tracks literally sizzle with energy and musicianship, thanks to a band who, I imagine, have been playing together for some considerable time. The rest of the band are: Marques Carroll - trumpets and flugelhorn, Christopher McBride - alto sax, Melvin Butler - tenor sax, Greg Spero - keyboards, and Kurt Schweitz - electric bass. And Mr Jelinek's drums are certainly not shy in coming forward on most tracks - thankfully, their appearance is always bang on and propels the music onwards. As for the ten tracks, I was quite taken with the upbeat and tuneful In The Path Of The Tornado, and as I said above Do I Dare is full of the energy and enthusiasm that comes when recording a new album. Pisces Moon heads in a more mellow direction, with some nice piano by Greg Spero. Common Tones is a very confident sounding album, there is nothing hesitant about the music, and in a live setting I can imagine this music connecting with the audience. If you like your jazz brash but still holding a good tune then I think Common Tones may be the album you are looking for. It is available from CD Baby and you can find out more about Sean Jelinek on facebook.com, just search for his name there.

For more information about this artist and album and availability email: jellydrum7@yahoo.com

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Bobby Avey - A New Face
(JayDell Records CD0312)

This new album by pianist/composer Bobby Avey certainly opens with a lot of movement and propulsive rhythms. Late November [track 1] is about as in your face as you can get with a piano. Indeed, the entire album, all eight tracks of it, is extremely pushy - it's as if the music can't abide to be still and reflective for more than a few moments. It's a bit like watching a huge cloud of starlings skewing here and there across the twilight sky before roosting for the night. In terms of style this is modern jazz, very post bop and almost avant-garde in its dissonances, indeed classical music composers Bartok and Messiaen are strong influences for the pianist/composer. The band are David Liebman on sax, Thomas Kneeland on bass and Jordan Pearlson on drums. The tracks are: Late November, In Retreat, Delusion, A New Face, Half Is Less Than Half, Influence, Insight, and Time Unfolding. All eight tracks have been written by Mr Avey, and all have an uncompromising attitude to stretching the idea of a melody to a near infinite point in time. Jazz is a broad church nowadays and A New Face is beyond my comfort zone. But if you enjoy cutting edge music then this album and these musicians are the ones to impress you - visit the website below and seek out any sample tracks before buying.

For more information about this artist and album and availability visit: www.bobbyavey.com

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Ann Sweeten - Just This Side Of Spring
(Orange Band Records OBR061894)

There is something of a bittersweet taste to pianist Ann Sweeten's new album, Just This Side Of Spring. The music on the album is tinged with the sadness of the loss of her dog, Nicki, to cancer, and her own ongoing battle with breast cancer for the second time. Being a long term pet owner myself I can understand and share that sorrow in losing a loved pet, but I can only wish Ms Sweeten success in finding the strength to survive her own ongoing fight. Having said that you expect Just This Side Of Spring to be an album of anger and loss, but the overriding feeling is of bittersweet loss and hope for the future. In terms of sound, this is a simple album, mostly acoustic piano, and occasional strings, guitar [by Will Akkerman], violin, bass and flute. The eleven track titles are highly evocative: December Snow, Light From A Narrow Window, True North, A Light Rain, Crossing Over and of course, Nikki's Song. The music on this album is rather 'wintry' in tone but also extremely rich in atmosphere and emotion, as you might expect, and inspirational for any long term health sufferers. It is a very soothing collection of music, ideal for relaxation and meditation, but it also has that emotional depth and edge that lifts it above mere easy listening. I must also add that the inlay booklet has some wonderful landscape photos, a beautiful portrait of Nikki and Ms Sweeten's heartfelt sleevenotes.

For more information about this artist and album and availability visit: www.annsweeten.com

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Isaac Shepard - The Renewing

This is the third album by pianist Isaac Shepard but the first received here at the Borderland. In style I think Mr Shepard's music falls into the New Age or simply Instrumental categories - perhaps even just Relaxation if that exists. The ten tracks on The Renewing have a distinctly meditative atmosphere to them and most have a slow tempo mood suitable for just kicking back and relaxing to. Track titles are: Tears Can Fall, Let Me Sleep, Good Company, Doors Of Life, Countdown, Simple Moments, Pretty Finger, All Smiles, Dimming The Light, and Slow Down. While most of these tunes just sort of flow by, Doors Of Life is a little more energetic and forceful. Mr Shepard has been creating music for nearly twenty years and there is an unmistakable maturity to the music on this album. It has a ebb and flow which is very soothing to the listener - I can't say that the tunes are memorable in the sense of whistling them around the house, but than I don't whistle. However, this is music to chill out to and in the current recession and political confusions this music may at least offer some peace if you allow it. It is also pleasant to hear the acoustic piano played with conviction and accuracy while conveying strong emotions. I think The Renewing is an album worth seeking out if you need some peace in your life.

For more information about this artist and album and availability visit: www.isaacshepard.com

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The Children - Play
(Touched Productions, TP010)

I've never heard of The Children before, and the group's name is a rather nondescript one which doesn't give any clues to the type of music they play. As it turns out The Children perform a hybrid made up from elements of rock, folk and jazz. The overall sound and musicianship is understated rather than the usual overblown vapidness of other 'mix and match' projects. This is aided by the semi-acoustic nature of much of the music here which helps keep the album intimate. The personnel of the group seem to shift between tracks but the core appear to be Armorel Weston on vocals, John Gibbons: Guitars/vocals, Alfredo Genovesi: guitars/pedals, Frank Hall: drums, Anne Wood: violin, and Gail Brand: trombone. Legendary jazz trombonist Annie Whitehead guests on a couple of tracks. Play is such a listenable album that picking out selected tracks is difficult, though Get Shaggin' and Boychild stick in the mind. If I had to off a thumbnail description of The Children's sound then imagine The Beautiful South with added irony and wryness plus a set of cool jazz licks. Nice!

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Adiemus - The Journey
(Virgin CDV946)

I'm not sure who or what Adiemus is, though I think the music is composed by Karl Jenkins, late of the Soft Machine. The reason for my uncertainty is that the CD I'm listening to is a pre-release version with no inlay booklet. Be that as it may, the Adiemus sound is a well known one, played all the time on Classic FM, used for tv ads for BA etc. If you hear this CD you'll recognise at least a handful of the tunes. For anyone who hasn't heard of Adiemus then you'll be in for treat - what we have here is something akin to modern classical music: orchestral, with a global rhythm section, and a female chorus. The track titles are mostly in latin and mean bugger all to the lay[wo]man, musical influences cover the world - you'll hear bits that remind you of Africa, the Balkans, the arab world, India... The Journey is a compilation from the previous two or three Adiemus albums, and it is both restful and invigorating, and you'll be humming a lot of these melodies after just a few listens. Good stuff.

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Phil Beer, Ashley Hutchings & Chris While - Ridgeriders
(HTD Records HTDC 103)

This is essentially a soundtrack album for a tv documentary series on a series of ancient roads, ridgeways, that criss-cross southern England. Providing the music is folk legend Ashley Hutchings and a number of musicians who are members of his Albion Band. In terms of music this is modern folk - new songs drawing on the heritage of English traditional music and the legends of these near mythical ancient roadways. As well as being a tv soundtrack these songs also carry on the folk tradition of social commentary, so while there's nothing here that constitutes a 'pop' song, the material is very accessible without seeing the tv series. Songs such as The Drover's Song, Turnpike Reel and Shapes on the Landscape all evoke strong images of Southern England, of the past and the now. The performances are everything you would expect of such high quality musicians, and Chris While's beautiful voice floats over everything with lambent tranquility. This is a beautiful album that deserves more notice than being simply a tv soundtrack. If you enjoy quality songwriting and musicianship seek this CD out.

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The Carnival Band - Hoi Polloi
(ParkPRKCD 51)

The Carnival Band - Hoi Polloi

This band of folk/roots/world musos are new to me, but what a pleasurable introduction to make. Hoi Polloi is one of the most entertaining albums I've heard in a long time. The musicians here have selected a wide range of traditional tunes from around the world, embracing 1920's American jazz [Bear Cat Mama] and folk [Old Joe Clark], European renaissance [Praetorious' Bransles De Poictou] and a variety of tunes from Macedonia, the Ukraine, the Sudan and Sweden. Played on a mixture of acoustic instruments ancient and modern, the only other group that comes anywhere near this is the late lamented Gryphon, from back in the '70's. This is a good humoured album, the musicians play with gusto, refraining from adding too many modern brushstrokes, though a few tracks have some ambient keyboard washes, and there are some hints of dub and latin rhythms here and there. All in all Hoi Polloi is an album to cheer the soul up after a dispiriting day at the workpit.

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Chaka Khan - I'm Every Woman: The Best Of Chaka Khan
(Reprise/Warner 9362 475 072)

Chaka Khan - Best Of

Chaka Khan is that little funky little pintpot with the ginormous voice, a soul diva stuffed full of soul. This excellent compilation, a renamed reissue, is a pretty convincing career profile, starting with some cuts from her days with Rufus and then straight into her solo career: Ain't Nobody, I Feel For You, I'm Every Woman, Tell Me Something Good, What Cha Gonna Do For Me and a clutch of classic album cuts too! The dame picked good songwriters as well: Stevie Wonder, Prince, Ahford/ Simpson, Bruce Hornsby, Dizzie Gillespie, Christine McVie. Essentially this is a party album, with enough soul and disco classics to keep the soulboys happy. Great stuff

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Deep Purple & Orchestra of the Light Music Society - Gemini Suite Live
(Purple Records PUR 304)

Several of the rock bands from the late 60's and early 70's toyed with orchestral music and symphonic backings - especially prog rockers such as Barclay James Harvest and ELP. It surprised everyone when Deep Purple did so - they weren't exactly famed for purveying the bloated overkill of pomp-rock. This recording is truly for DP fans and true collectors, it is the live recording of the debut performance of Jon Lord's second orchestral work, way back in September 1970. According to the excellent sleevenotes, none of the group, apart from Lord himself, were really committed to this music, and the orchestra, conducted by Malcolm Arnold, had barely rehearsed the three movement piece before this world premiere. And yet, despite these shakey foundations, there is power in the music on this CD. I have to admit that it isn't really to my taste, but one can't ignore the commitment of the musicians when they finally came to perform it. Whether this is rock or classical music I leave others to judge - for me there is a lack of interconnection between the orchestra and the group. Each element performs separately most of the time, with hardly any integration of the rock instrumentation with that of the orchestra. This was one of many experiments to meld rock and classical together, and I guess they will continue until someone gets it right. According to the sleevenotes Jon Lord has revised and re-recorded this work several times, but this CD contains the original version. Like I said, one for the collectors only, I think.

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Iarla Ó Lionáird - I Could Read The Sky
(Real World CDRW 84)

Iarla Ó Lionáird - I Could Read The Sky

The music on this album was written for a movie of the same name, and while it isn't the direct soundtrack I assume it faithfully represents the soul of the movie. Iarla Ó Lionáird is not a name I know but he is a composer/musician who seems to straddle many musical categories all at the same time. While I Could Read The Sky is nominally an Irish traditional album it also incorporates elements of rock, trance, drum 'n' bass, celtic, and afro/indian music. So much so that it becomes a true WORLD music album. Contributors include Sinead O'Connor, Martin Hayes, Dennis Cahill, Noel Hill, Caroline Dale, and Ri-Ra. As far as I can make out the music is based around the story of Irish workers coming to England to work as navvies and builders. The overriding atmosphere throughout the album is of alienation and isolation - this is not a happy, feelgood album - and ultimately, violence. Instrumentally richly layered, Iarla Ó Lionáird has created something very extremely memorable, though I don't think I Could Read The Sky will find a wide appeal with many listeners, it's just too downbeat and depressing.

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Hollydrift - Hail the Frozen North
(Cuba Club Media CCM002)

Holydrift - Hail The Frozen North

This CD single is something of an oddity - it consists of three tracks ["Smile For Me!, "Lost In Flight", "Buried By The Briar"] that are essentially soundscapes built up from a variety of sampled sounds, music clips and voice samples. If you think The Orb but without the trippy beats and loops then you will have a glimpse of what I mean. The only name on the inlay listed as composer is M. Anderson, so the CD retains its anonymity, which is pretty fitting considering the strangeness of the music here. As it stands I can't detect any reason for these particular samples to be married together in this way - these tracks aren't conventional 'pop' songs, they strike me as being more like sound installations, and these tracks are mere excepts of much longer versions. That said, I actually enjoyed all three tracks, unlike most techno music these are quite restful and set up a relaxed ambience and leave you wanting to hear more. Not many singles or albums do that to me these days!

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Cheb Mami - Meli Meli
(Virgin France 8 48116 2)

Cheb Mami - Meli Meli

Cheb Mami is a Rai singer from Algeria, but now living in exile in France. For those who've never hear of Rai it is a secular version of Islamic devotional music and performing it can bring a death sentence in hard-line fundamentalist Islamic states. You might have seen Cheb Mami recently performing alongside Sting on his Desert Rose single. But Meli Meli is Mami's fourth album, full of infectious arabic pop music, mixed with modern dance beats and ethnic instrumentation. The eponymous title track is a belter of an opening track, part spiritual and part rave beat fest. Bledi is a heartfelt tribute and plea to his country to find peace. Most of the songs deal with love and variations on that theme, and while the lyrics may be simplistic to reach a wider arabic audience, the music is a pure joy. The album also includes some extra tracks of dance remixes, and these [if they had a chance] could be dancefloor hits here. Meli Meli is one of the best albums I've heard in a long time - don't worry about the arabic lyrics, just let the great music wash over you.

Arun Shenoy - Rumbadoodle

Arun Shenoy - RumbadoodleI can't think of a better example of how musical styles have travelled the world than Rumbadoodle - Indian-born and Singapore-based composer/producer Arun Shenoy has created an album of music based on Flamenco and Afro-Cuban rhythms and melodies, performed by a collection of musicians from around the world. In other words Rumbadoodle is a true 'world music' album. I have to say that I found myself attracted to this album immediately it started playing - while the basis is Flamenco the international group of musicians bring some of their own ethnicity into play and it becomes a very rich mix of flavours throughout. It is a very heady affair and it reminds of the shock the first performance of River Dance had for music and musicians from the Irish Celtic diaspora. In this case the showcase is on Gipsy and Latin music. Mr Shenoy's talents shine throughout as composer and producer, but that doesn't take anything away from the valuable contributions the musicians make, especially the guitarist Glenn Sharp, whose flamenco and electric guitars lead the way throughout most of the album. Other musicians include: Ian Cameron - violins, Jonathan Wesley - piano and string arrangements, Owen Gurry - string arrangements, Jerry Chua - drums, Ramil Duke Purisima - bass/percussion, Lonnie Park - keyboards, Edward Roth - piano/organ, Shamoon Khatri - keyboards. The album contains eleven tracks and these are: Rumbadoodle, My Ballad Days, Prance, Rock And Rigmarole, The Violin Song, Fireflies, Blue Sky Happiness Part I/II, Sleepy Town, Wanderlust In Keys, Rhythm Of The Sun. As albums go Rumbadoodle is a joy throughout - the music is upbeat and uplifting, and more importantly it is fun. The Flamenco and Gipsy influence is strong throughout, but the Afro-Cuban rhythms also slide up and hit you in a good way. I love this album, it is going into the private library and will be played often. Highly recommended and most definitely an album of the year.

For more information about this artist, album and availability visit: www.arunshenoy.com

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The Dave Lalama Big Band - The Hofstra Project

The Dave Lalama Big Band - The Hofstra ProjectThe title of this album refers to the Hofstra University located, I think, in the New York area. Here, jazz composer/pianist Dave Lalama is a professor of music and on this album he has brought together alumni of the university and many of its music teachers into a jazz big band. Hence The Hofstra Project. And what a band it is, this is a full-throated big band flexing its muscles across a selection of material by Mr Lalama along with his arrangements of pieces from the classic American jazz songbook. Thanks to the muscular drumming of Tony Tedesco I'm reminded of Buddy Rich, but the brass and reeds take me back to classic Ellington... That aside this is a blazing big band and one that must be incandescent when seen live. The musicians are: saxophones - Dave Pietro/Jonathan Holford/Ralph Lalama/ John Marshall/Jeff Lange, trumpets/flugelhorns - Leon Petruzzi/Mike Rubenstein/Mike Carubia/Glen Drewes or Nathan Warner, trombones - John Mosca/Brent Chiarello/Joey Devassy/Justin Comito, piano - Dave Lalama, bass - Pete Coco, drums - Tony Tedsco. There are thirteen tracks and the titles are: Full House, Where Are You, No Evidence, Duke Ellington's Sound Of Love, Inner Urge,Pent_Up House, Moody's Mood For Love, St Thelonius, Tricotism, The Song Isn't You, The Peacocks, Blues For..., Evansville. I think The Hofstra Project is as close to classic big band jazz as you can get and it will revive so many good memories for big band fans. Highly Recommended.

For more information about this artist, album and availability visit: http://people.hofstra.edu/david_s_lalama/

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Olivia Fosch - Perennial Dreamer

The days of having to be signed to a record label to 'make it' seem to be gone now. So many independently minded musicians have taken that giant step of going it alone and releasing their own albums via the internet and independent record shops. That is the case here with jazz vocalist Olivia Fosch, a much travelled student of music who has taken that first leap into the marketplace. Perennial Dreamer is a set of thirteen tracks, a mixture of self written songs and covers of old favourites that mean a lot to Ms Fosch. She has a very attractive voice, her phrasing reminds me a little of a mixture of Astrud Gilberto and Blossom Deary - a sort of brittle romanticism, if you will, mixed with wistfulness. Thankfully she is surrounded by musicians who can match the magic of her voice with their own wizardry. The musicians on the album are: Miki Hayama - keyboards, Michael Olatuja - bass, David Rosenthal - guitar, Ulysses Owens Jr - drums, plus Gregoire Maret - harmonica, Mike Cottone - flugelhorn, Stacey Dillard - tenor sax , Cory Pesaturo - accordion. The track titles are: Here's That Rainy Day, I Adore You, Disillusionment, Everything Happens To me, Daydream, Alone Together, Bridge, Legend Of The Purple Valley, A Gramadora, No Moon At All, My Ideal, Donna, Secrecy And Lies. There is a warm heart at the core of Perennial Dreamer and Olivia Fosch is a talent that will blossom even further in the future, but for now this is a wonderful introduction to a new and very talented singer. Highly recommended.

For more information about this artist, album and availability visit: www.oliviafosch.com

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Troy Roberts - Nu-Jive 5 (XenDen Music)

This is the sequel to saxophonist Troy Roberts' previous album Nu-Jive, also reviewed here at The Borderland [click here to read review]. Nu-Jive 5 takes the process of mixing in other popular music elements into the jazz base to a higher level. This is a very funky album with bits of electronica, scratching, old school r'n'b and soul incorporated into the mix. And what a heady mix it is - the sound of the album reminded me a bit of an edgier sounding Crusaders mixed with Weather Report. All ten tracks are instrumental, most of them quite lengthy [10 minutes plus down to less than 2 minutes], enough for everyone in the band to showcase their considerable musicianship. Along with Troy Roberts - sax/composer, the other musicians are: Tim Jago - guitar, Eric England - bass, David Chiverton - drums, Silvano Monasterios - keyboards. Nu-Jive 5 also exhibits a wide range of moods from joyous flights of fancy to slow dreamy ballads and mid-tempo meditations in-between. The ten tracks are: Convertible Burt, Ghetto-Rig Master, Night On The Town, Team Jago, One Day Wonder, Master Ghetto-Rig, Mono Stereos, Dr Stein, CasaEnglewood, Stoner. Troy Roberts is an exceptional sax player, while he can honk with the best of them he also shows restraint and ensemble playing is something to enjoy. I can see Nu-Jive 5 being an album that will cross over to other markets and listeners who are perhaps not jazz fans. Highly recommended.

For more information about this artist, album and availability visit: www.troyroberts.com

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Renée Yoxon & Mark Ferguson - Here We Are Again
(RRY002)

On Here We Are Again we have a meeting of like-minded musicians who both have their own [unified] take on modern jazz. Vocalist/composer Renée Yoxon and piano/trombonist/composer Mark Ferguson have created an album of very cool jazz songs, and I mean 'cool' in the original sense of the word. The fires on this album are kept low but burn very brightly indeed. There is a lot of deep-felt drama in both the music and lyrics, but the occasional flash of latin fire helps to burn away the reserve that some of the songs contains. Ms Yoxon has a fine voice - intense and full of clarity and resolve. This is matched by Mr Ferguson's piano and trombone and together they have certainly created something very special as a debut album. The other musicians on the album offer equally intense support - they are: Joel Kerr - bass, Jeff Asselin - drums, René Gely - guitar, Craig Pedersen - trumpet, Frank Lozano - sax. Here We Are Again contains a dozen tracks and the titles are: So Far, Drinking Coffee, Here We Go Again, Watching, Just Say The Word, Just As We Are, Sao Paulo, Canary, 1-2-3, Have We Been In Love Before?, Don't Go, There's Only You. This is a slow burn of an album and it may take more than a single listen before you are entranced by the talents of these fine musicians and songwriters. But in the end you are won over and end up being very impressed - and then you settle back and play it again. Highly recommended.

For more information about this artist, album and availability visit: www.reneeyoxon.com

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Marc Enfroy - Dreams Of The Forest
(Dream Score Music DSM0612)

Marc Enfroy - Dreams Of The ForestMarc Enfroy's previous album Unconditional scored a 'highly recommended' a year or so back, so his new album Dreams Of The Forest was a welcome visitor to the letterbox. The instrumental music on this new album has a theme, and that is of a dream of being in a forest glade lost in your own bubble of peaceful thoughts, soothed by the music of the trees. Yep, it's a new age album, but I don't say that sneeringly as Mr Enfroy is actually one of the more interesting composers around. The music is quasi-classical [romantic school], lushly produced and chock full of melodies worth listening to. Apart from Jack Chen playing the flute and piccolo parts, every other instrumental part is performed by Mr Enfroy, using a bank of synthesisers and acoustic piano. Perhaps because I am listening to this on a rare British summer's day with warm balmy breezes easing away some of the Sun's strong heat, this all sounds pretty magical to me. Dreams Of The Forest is a gentle album, no question of that, and an opulently romantic one. The fourteen tracks conjure up some evocative feelings in the listener. The track titles are: The Forest Awakens, Waiting For Sunrise, Miracle In The Glade, Woodland Waltz, Nocturne, Fireflies, Goodbye Summer, Reaching For The Sky, Pines In The Mist, After The Rain, In The Still Air, The Return Of Spring, Fawn's First Leap, Postlude. So, an album of dreamlike music, music to meditate or rest to, and another highly recommended.

For more information about this artist, album and availability visit: www.marcenfroy.com

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Maria Jameau & Blue Brazil - GEMA
(Challenge Records Int CR73304)

Maria Jameau & Blue Brazil - GEMAI have to admit that my heart skips a beat when I open a jiffy bag and find an album of Latin Jazz within - I really love music from Brazil and Latin America. It is even more welcome when it arrives in the middle of the so-called English summer, and the sun actually lit up when I started playing the said album. I'm sure you can guess that I am talking about Maria Jameau's new album, GEMA. Eleven tracks of guaranteed sunshine, the album ranges across latin, jazz, funk, Spanish flamenco and Africa for its sources, but thanks to the musical genius of Ms Jameau's band Blue Brazil it is all blended together into something that wouldn't be out of place on a beach at Rio. The band are: Pablo Rodriguez - guitar/vocals, Nate Lopez - electric 8-string hybrid bass and guitar, Jacob Harris - percussion/vocals, Bob Afifi - flute, and Ms Jameau on lead vocals. The whole album is performed with an ease and charm that is overwhelming - GEMA is an album that wants to hug you. The eleven tracks are: Gema, Tristeza Pe No Chao, Fatou Yo, Mas Que Nada, Casinha Pequenina, Triste, Malaika, Sonho Meu, Girl From Ipanema, A La Nanita Nana, Gracias A LA Vida. While the band may be great Ms Jameau's voice is a revelation - exuding warmth and good humour, it has an unforced charisma that will win even the most hardhearted listener to thinking of flying to Miami Beach or the exotic delights of Rio. GEMA is one of the most enjoyable and uplifting albums I have heard in some time. It has to be one of my albums of the year, without a doubt.

For more information about this artist, album and availability visit: www.mariajameau.com

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WJO (Westchester Jazz Orchestra) - Maiden Voyage Suite

WJO (Westchester Jazz Orchestra) - Maiden Voyage SuiteOver the history of Jazz there have been many major performers and composers instantly recognisable by their first name [and the signature style of their music, of course], and Herbie Hancock has long been one of these. One of the first of his solo albums that became a landmark in Jazz was Maiden Voyage, back in the mid-1960's, long before he became a chart name with his fusion of jazz, hip-hop and rock in the 80s. The Westchester Jazz Orchestra have spent several years bringing together their version - a re-imagining, as current marketing parlance would have it - but essentially a newly rearranged version of the original music. I have never heard the original album so I can't compare the two versions, but something tells me that Herbie Hancock would be very pleased with this new version. The WJO consists of seventeen musicians and they make an extremely impressive sound - tight, exceptionally focused and punchy as hell. The music is big band bebop, and it has a filmic quality that extends out of the speakers. The band also swing mightily, and I have the distinct feeling that this is the forerunner to the jazz music featured in the crime movies of the late 60s and early 70s [think Clint Eastwood and the Dirty Harry series of movies, and the French Connection]. The track details are: Prologue, Maiden Voyage, Eye of the Hurricane, Little One, Interlude, Survival of the Fittest - Part 1, Survival of the Fittest - Part 2, Dolphin Dance, Epilogue. The music was arranged by Mike Holober, Pete McGuinness, Jay Brandford, and Tony Kadlek - all members of the WJO. Maiden Voyage Suite stands up as an excellent jazz album in its own right, and I'm sure Herbie Hancock fans will love it too. Highly recommended.

For more information about this artist, album and availability visit: www.westjazzorch.org

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Grupo Falso Baiano - Simplicidade: Live At Yoshi's
(Massaroca Records MR20111)

Grupo Falso Baiano - Simplicidade: Live At Yoshi'sI have always enjoyed live albums, for me they represent the artists in their truest location on stage, sans studio trickery - though I know this has been flouted many times with rock albums that required much TLC after-production. But the best live albums simply capture the artists on stage doing what they do best. And that is the case with Simplicidade: Live At Yoshi's by Grupo Falso Baiano [GFB]. This quartet of American musicians with guests play acoustic Brazilian traditional music in all its intimate and embracing glory. I believe the style is called Choro, and predates the Bossa Nova. The overriding feeling I had from listening to this CD was the lightness of touch of these musicians and their dedication to the music itself. The musicians are: Zack Pitt-Smith - sax/flute, Jesse Appelman - mandolin, Brian Moran - 7 string guitar, Ami Molinelli - percussion - the guest musicians are Jovino Santos Neto - piano/accordion/flute and Brian Rice - percussion. The location of the recording is in Oakland, California, some way from Brazil, but these local musicians have caught the style and sound of the music as well as any Brazilian can. I assume Yoshi's is a small bar or club, as the audience sounds small but appreciative and refrain from the usual American vocal gymnastics. The ten track titles are: Caminhando, Simplicidade, Cheguei, Feira Livre, Kenny É Você, Rosa Cigana, Bem Brazil, Deixa O Breque, Doce De Côco, Forró Na Penha. Simplicidade: Live At Yoshi's is a wonderful album, full of good humour and musical fireworks that light up the CD and raise it well above the average. Highly recommended.

For more information about this artist, album and availability visit: www.grupofalsobaiano.com

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Acoustic Ocean - Reflections On Still Water

Acoustic Ocean - Reflections On Still WaterThis is the second Acoustic Ocean album I have received in recent years and most welcome it is too. For the uninitiated Acoustic Ocean are Peggy Morgan on Celtic harp and vocals and Bette Phelan on a multiplicity of other acoustic instruments, plus guest musicians Kay Aldrich on cello and Anne Berliner on flute. While this music is 'new age' in category, there is a strong traditional or 'folk' feel to the music, in particular the sounds of Ireland [thanks to the use of the Celtic harp], but thankfully not of faux Ireland. The music here just evokes the images of rural Ireland and of other peaceful soundscapes. It is a bit ironic that many of the tracks were inspired by locations on Hawaii, the musicians' home - but it still sounds more Irish to me, but that could be just my British ears! Track titles include: Night Flight, Moon Over Mauna Kea, Rainbow Falls, Dancer Of The Deep, Motherless Child, Devas In The Garden, Place Of Refuge, Voyager, Reflections On Still Water, and Safe Journey. As with their previous album, Light Returning, Reflections... is an oasis of calm and melody, a haven for the harried [and hurried] soul in these mad days. This is just a wonderfully restful collection of tunes, an ideal tonic for so many of us who need to find some peace in our lives. Highly recommended.

For more information about this artist and album and availability visit: www.acousticoceanmusic.com

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Chie Imaizumi - A Time Of New Beginnings
(Capri #74104-2)

Chie Imaizumi - A Time Of New BeginningsChie Imaizumi is a New York-based, Japanese-born, composer and arranger and A Time Of New Beginnings is her second album. In the way of Duke Ellington she has written nine instrumental pieces for the big band format. These are, for want of another description, tone poems about the world around her, reflecting her dual homelands of Japan and America. From the album's cover photos you could also say that this album is a love letter to New York. As with Ellington's more serious work this music transcends the simple category of jazz and big band - these nine tracks have a much richer subtext to them. They conjure up images and feelings beyond the usual groove and vibe, there is something strongly cinematic about this album. The track titles are: My Heartfelt Gratitude, Information Overload, Fear Of The Unknown, A Time For New Beginnings, Run For Your Life, Today, Sharing The freedom, Many Happy Days Ahead, and Fun And Stupid Song. The band is big, a ten piece with some of the musicians playing more than one instrument, so there is a richness of sound throughout that makes this music stand out from the crowd. While Ms Imaizumi may not perform on this CD, her music is brought to vibrant life by these musicians - one can sense their admiration and commitment throughout. A Time Of New Beginnings is a marvellous album, rich in musical imagery and not short of a good tune or three. Highly recommended.

For more information about this artist and album and availability visit: www.caprirecords.com

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Sylvia Bennett - Smile
(Out Of Sight Music OSM2525)

Sylvia Bennett - SmileIt is amazing how versatile the Great American Songbook has become - and, of course, how much of an important resource for jazz vocalists and musicians it has become. That is the case with vocalist Sylvia Bennett - she has selected fourteen popular songs, many famous from usage in movies and musicals, and given them a Latin feel to update them. On the whole this works very well, even those normally associated with a swing beat. So, along with a sultry version of the title track, Smile, the other tracks include: Look Of Love, Witchcraft, Shadow Of Your Smile, The very Thought Of You, Make Someone Happy, Night & Day, Fly Me To The Moon and several more. What is surprising is how rich the instrumental sound is, despite there being a core of only six musicians in the band [Mike Levine, piano; Chuck Bergeron, bass; Richard Bravo, drums and percussion; Sammy Figueroa, Shaker; Jeremy Miller, additional violin overdubs], plus the Vienna Strings on many of the tracks. Together they make a luxurious and extremely full sound - some judicious double tracking, methinks. The magician here who deserves credit is producer, engineer and guitarist Hal S. Batt, who has given the album a sheen and sound reminiscent of those old Capitol Records albums by Dean Martin, Nat King Cole and Frank Sinatra. And finally, but not least, there is Ms Bennett's voice, light enough to glide effortlessly over the music, and also to be so completely wistful at the same time. This is an excellent album, rich in melody and rhythm and it reinforces that clichéd idiom that 'they don't write them like that anymore'!

For more information about this artist and album and availability visit: www.sylviabennett.com

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Yuko Ito - Mania De Voce
(Funny Baby Face Records FBFR 0901)

Yuko Ito - Mano De VoceThere is something rather enticing about Brazilian music - especially when one is still freezing their backside off in what is a recalcitrant winter that doesn't know spring has arrived. Those golden Rio beaches and the tanned lithe überbabes... I'm a bloke, I can fantasise! So, the warm vibes of this new Brazilian jazz album by Japanese vocalist Yuko Ito are very welcome. From the first flourishes of latin percussion on the opener, Berimbau, Mania De Voce charms and dazzles the listener into thinking they are on one of those beaches drinking something fruity and cold. Ms Ito has a lovely voice, beguiling, sexy, but also with a little grit in there when required. Her septet band of Brazilian musicians are equally superb, supporting her voice with a sympathetic flourish and lashes of latin insouciance, and just a hint of restrained funkiness when required. The ten tracks on this CD constitute a masterclass on how to sing the Great Brazilian Songbook [Jobim, Djavan, Baden Powell, Carlhinos Brown] the right way, and its interesting that this is the second successful album by a Japanese vocalist singing Latin American jazz [in Portuguese] to reach me this month - there's obviously something going on in the Japanese air! Tracks on this album include Smile, Girl From Ipanema, Dindi, Corcovado, Qui Nem Jiló and many others. Mania De Voce is a gorgeous album, a work of luscious joy for romantics everywhere, and a harbinger of the summer to come. One of my albums of the year without any doubt.

For more information about this artist and album and availability visit: www.Yukosings.com

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Carol Morgan Trio - Opening
(Blue Bamboo Music BBM015)

The main idea behind this new album by jazz trumpeter Carol Morgan was to record a tribute to the music created back in the 50s and 60s on the famous Blue Note label. It began as a series of successful club gigs and then evolved into a recording project and ultimately, this CD. Of the eight tracks two are definite covers of Blue Note artists, Horace Silver's Nica's Dream, and Bud Powell's Celia, plus there's a cover of Jimmy VanHeusen's Like Someone In Love - the rest are homage's written by the band members. The band are Carol Morgan on trumpet, Harvie S on bass, Rich Derosa on drums and guest Woody Witt on tenor and soprano sax. In style the music performed by the trio is bop and post bop, not really my kind of jazz, if I'm truthful. But the band play with verve and fluidity, and a strong conviction that this music is the true music. If you enjoy this area of jazz I suggest you visit the band's website [listed below] and listen to any sample tracks there - if you like what you hear think about buying the album and supporting these musicians.

For more information about this artist and album and availability visit: www.carolmorganmusic.com

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Fred Fried & Core - Core 3.0

I hadn't realised until recently just how many strings a guitar can have - some of the permutations can be quite perplexing - the acoustic guitar that Fred Fried plays on this album has eight. And what a mellow, subtly muscular sound it makes. This isn't the first album by Mr Fried [though it's the first I've encountered], but it is his first with his new band, Core. I say band, but actually comprise Michael Lavoie on bass and Miki Matsuki on drums. Having said that, the three musicians make a lovely, warm sound, completely acoustic, no electronic enhancements outside the actual recording equipment used. All nine tracks on the album are written by Fred Fried, and it is a joy to hear melody and tunes coming from those fingers and any improvisation is restrained within those melodies. In many ways I think this album is for the fan of the guitar as much as it is for the jazz fan. There is much to enjoy here - not least the simpatico support of the drums and bass, and then there is the marvellously warm and accurate sound of the recording. Kudos to the studio sound engineer [Peter Kontrimas] who has managed to record the guitar and not the scrapes and ticks of the fingernails that can be so distracting on guitar recordings. I find it difficult to pick out highlight tracks for you to check out on the website, but Leanne's Number and Cloud Dancer should hook you into this terrific album. I think Core 3.0 is a warm-hearted piece of work and I can't recommend it highly enough.

For more information about this artist and album and availability visit: www.fredfried.com

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Ras.Al.Ghul - Spatial Pulseheight (Edition Neumann)
Sonic Yonic (Aquatica)

Ras.Al.Ghul - Spatial PulseheightRas.Al.Ghul are a Portugese electronica group [Fernando Cerqueira and Paulo Rodrigues] that I've heard of by reputation only so when Richard Wileman of Karda Estra passed these two cds on to me I was very interested to hear them. Others have mentioned that Ras.Al.Ghul are the 'missing link' between the melodic electronica of Tangerine Dream and the more dance oriented beats of Kraftwerk, and having now heard both cds I can understand that analogy, yet there also seems [to me] to be a strong vein of world music influences running throughout the music. This appears most strongly in the percussion sequences: synthesised ethnic drum rhythms and time signatures from Africa, South America and Asia.

This is most clearly evident on all of the tracks on Spatial Cluster, but most notably on the first few tracks: Galaxy Cluster, Partial Plastic Flow and Logarhytmic Plot. I'm very impressed, this short album [approx 33 minutes] was all over far too quickly and I wanted to hear more. Its mix of cosmically ambient soundscapes and chilled out dance beats is simply invigorating.

Ras.Al.Ghul - Sinmatic LayersSonic Yonic is the newer album and it pretty much carries on with the same winning formula though the dance beats are a bit more industrial sounding and less ethnic-sounding this time. Planar Modulator is an infectious cosmic shuffle beat pared down to just the basic sounds which slowly evolve into new patterns before the track ends. Floating Zone is a jazzy crystallo-sounding piece, almost funky. Low Multiloop begins as a piece of ambience with gently looping percussion that takes the track to its conclusion. For a slice of cosmic ambience you can't better Coil Wound - nearly seven minutes of shifting ambience and shuffle beats. The rest of Sonic Yonic is much the same mix, all very listenable and more imaginative than you might expect.

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Ras.Al.Ghul - Sinmatic Layers (This.Co)

Sci Fi Industries - Dead People On Stylish ChairsAnd here all the way from sunny Lisbon is the latest album from Ras.Al.Ghul. Sinmatic Layers has ten tracks, Diplexter opens in mid-tempo drum 'n' bass style, along with some spritely synth layers, topped by a trumpet in the Herb Alpert Style. Bicrystals is similar but sans the trumpet, but with treated voices. Thankfully by the time we get to Cooling Cycles the strident beats have moderated somewhat and we're approaching Kraftwerk territory with beats and a melody. With Matrix Precursor, the beats have again been moderated, with some additional shuffle rhythms and changing time signatures to make it interesting. Radius Ring and Spectral Symetries are probably my favourite tracks: slow beats, spacey synths, assorted bleeps and beeps - much more to my taste.The remaining tracks continue in a more spacious way, and certainly preferable on my ears than the opening half of the album. In fact the D'n'B vibe seems to permeate most of the album tending to make it much more upfront than previous albums - which is a shame as I prefer the more spacey-sound of the earlier albums. I can see club DJs playing this in the 'chill out' rooms, or whatever they are called now, to bring the dancers down.

For more information about this artist and album and availability visit: www.thisco.net or write to: Ras.Al.Ghul can be contacted at ThisCo, R.S.Marçal, 75 R/c 1200-419, Lisboa, Portugal.

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Sci Fi Industries - Dead People On Stylish Chairs
(Ultravioletta VAN2002CD)

As far as I can make out from the Portuguese sleevenotes Sci Fi Industries is composer/musician and studio wizard Luis Filipe Seixas. Dead People On Stylish Chairs is a collection of hard edged electronica, veering from thumping techno drum 'n' bass, to industrial and ambient. Opening track Looking Thru is a prime example of the techno genre, but it has enough quirky sounds in its deep space echo mix to make it listenable, and even hummable after a few listens. Organismo II follows, a more lightly percussive piece with sampled dialogue clips mixed in with the synths and drum machines. A throbbing pulse opens Positiva, which opens out into a cavernous ambient soundscape, with sounds flying between the speakers. Listen to this with the headphones on and and it'll do your head in! The remaining tracks on this 12 track cd follow similar blueprints, this is cutting edge techno, and depending on the cd programming, is suitable for the dance floor or the chill-out room. In small doses I enjoyed some of these tracks, but I found listening to the whole album in one sitting very wearying.

I'm not sure who will be stocking Dead People On Stylish Chairs here in the UK. Try your usual import specialists, or contact van@netcabo.pt, or check out www.bairroalto.net/ultravioleta. You could also try www.thisco.net.

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Various Artists - Voices of the Real World
(Real World CDRW81)

Voices of the Real WorldThere are many labels promoting 'world' music but few are as well known as Real World, founded by musician Peter Gabriel. Real World is now ten years old and to celebrate the label have issued this excellent compilation of the most superlative vocal music it has released in that decade. Musicians featured include Shu-De, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan & Peter Gabriel, The Holmes Brothers, Toto La Momposina Y Sus Tambores, The Dimitri Pokrovsky Ensemble, Remmy Ongala & Orchestre Super Matimila, Sheila Chandra, Papa Wemba and a host of others. There are eighteen tracks altogether and the music comes from all over the world, with every continent represented. The abiding emotion throughout this CD is of joy - for life, love and the planet. If you've never really investigated 'world' music then you couldn't do better than start here.

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Hawkwind - EpochEclipse:
The Ultimate Best of...
(EMI 521 7472)

Hawkwind - EpochEclipseIt was spacerock legends Hawkwind's thirtieth anniversary this year, but the group have been over-anthologised in recent years. However, this CD does contain the essential tracks that gave the group their early identity. A subset of a new boxset, even so it gives a good account of the hits and near misses the group had back in the late 60's/early 70's. Silver Machine, Master of the Universe, Urban Guerilla, Assault & Battery, Motorhead, Quark Strangeness & Charm, Motorway City, and many more excellent slabs of space rock. Hawkwind have been an easy target for the sneer merchants over the years, yet they have stuck to their [ray] guns and kept on rocking, outlasting many a pimply rocker and boy band who have had their one minute of fame and vanished. As with many 60's rock bands, Hawkwind have managed to keep an extremely active fanbase going over the decades, fanatical in their devotion and providing the reason for Dave Brock and the lads to keep rocking. This is a superb compilation, EMI have digitally remastered all the tracks, and provided a pretty decent inlay booklet full of photos and in depth bio. The ultimate Xmas pressie for a 'wind fan - unless you can afford the box set.

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Ashley Hutchings - Along The Downs
(Mooncrest CRESTCD 055 Z)

Ashley Hutchings - Along The DownsAshley Hutchings is simply a national treasure, his efforts to bring tradional English folk music to a wider audience created a new musical genre - folk rock - several groups of international repute [Steeleye Span, Fairport Convention and the Albion Band], he has brought many excellent new folk musicians into the limelight [Phil Beer, Chris While, Julie Matthews and Cathy LeSurf] and discovered many seams of English music that had lied dormant for decades. This excellent compilation brings together some of his best recordings from the last couple of decades with the theme of the countryside, and it features contributions from Martin Carthy, Simon Nicol, Dave Swarbrick and John Tams. It is bloody difficult, if not impossible, to pick out highlights from this album - every track is a highlight! But push come to shove, listen to Shapes Of The Landscape, The Oak, Speed The Plough, Life On The River for just a few gems. The only downside is the meagre inlay booklet Mooncrest have provided, a compilation like this really would have benefited from some in-depth notes or article along with detailed track notes. That aside I recommend wholeheartedly this album for the discerning music lover fed up with monotonous dance beats. This is quality stuff and no mistake!

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Gordon Giltrap - Fear of the Dark, Perilous Journey, Visionary
(Voiceprint LCVP 112/3/4 CD)

Ace guitarist Gordon GiltrapMike Oldfield started something when his Tubular Bells and subsequent albums were all monster hits. No-one had thought instrumental rock albums would sell, but his did, and former folksinger Gordon Giltrap found similar success with his own series of instrumental albums during the mid-70's. Voiceprint have now reissued these albums, and all of them have extra tracks, many of which are rarities for the fans.

Fear of the Dark was the first of Giltrap's hit albums, and it is easy to see why: layered guitars, keyboards and a string section to give it a lush sound. For an ex-folkie it is surprising that these albums didn't draw on traditional music, like Oldfield did, but went for something a lot grander. The extra tracks on this album include a pretty fine version of Peter Green's Oh Well, and the single version of Fear of the Dark. Perilous Journey is more of the same mix of acoustic guitars and quasi-orchestral backing, this time the extra tracks include a version of Parry's Jerusalem, and a fifteen minute demo track of the album, featuring all the main themes. 1977's Visionary still featured the acoustic guitar, but was a little more electronic, with synths coming to the front more. The extras this time include a fully orchestra version of Quest, the demo of Heartsong and a twenty-one minute compilation of the demo tracks, with Giltrap calling out the chord changes - something any guitarist will find useful if trying to learn these pieces.

Okay, crunch time - I love these albums, I did when they first came out, and that hasn't changed but it is interesting to hear them together and see just how much they were cut from the same cloth. These three albums sound as if they could have been recorded at the same sessions - most of the same musicians, arrangers and production team are involved on each album, and it makes it hard to distinguish one album from another. But then, with musicianship this high, who cares!

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Klaus Schulze - X Vol 1
(Thunderbolt CDTB 200)

Klaus Schulze - X pt 1In the world of electronic music there are none more renowned than German Klaus Schulze: a founding member of Tangerine Dream, he left before they broke through with Phaedra to start a lengthy solo career. X dates back to 1978, and is part of a double album [though for some reason Thunderbolt are releasing the CDs separately] subtitled "Six Musical Biographies". The opening track is a portrait of Friedrich Nietzsche, the philosopher, and is a twenty-five minute epic of high class music. Swirling lines of synths and sequencers take you on a very spacey journey, but it's always anchored by a strong percussive riff, supplied by a real drummer rather than a drum machine. Harald Grobkopf supplies the drumming for all the tracks, and it gives the music a very human beat to march with. George Trackl is the next portrait, though the name is unfamiliar with me - this is a much shorter track, very ambient and laid back after the previous storm. We're off into space again with Frank Herbert, a musical portrait of the author of Dune - again the sequencer riffs set the pace, and this is a stomping piece of electronica where you can almost imagine the sandworms of Dune slicing through that arid planets' surface. The final track is dedicated to Freidemann Bach, and is more adventurous, exploring the musical character of one of that family of great composers. The music is almost gothic, with a screechy synthesised violin and string section rampaging through an echoey old house. This is a great album, certainly on a par with the best of Tangerine Dream from that period.

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Bill Foreman - Building St. Petersburg
(General Ludd Music)

Bill Foreman - Building St. PetersburgWe are repeatedly told that the current state of popular music is dire, that the homogenised corporate mentality of the major labels is stifling creativity. That may be true for the major labels, but there is a new underbelly of small, vibrant independent labels which have bypassed the traditional retail outlets for distribution and now sell their wares via the Internet and through specialist networks. One of these labels is General Ludd Music, co-founded by songwriter/poet Bill Foreman, and Building St. Petersburg is his new album [not sure if it's his debut album, if so then it's a very assured one]. Most of the songs on this CD are pretty acerbic about the good life in the USA, and Bill's performing style should appeal to those who like Loudon Wainwright III and Jonathan Richman - it's a voice of character, it might waver a bit on the odd note but it is honest and true and warm. If you want to categorise the style then I guess modern folk or Americana is the most appropriate. Best songs include Building St. Petersburg, the spoken Talking Ballroom Blues, and The Good Life. Bill keeps the instrumentation simple, mainly acoustic guitar, a little piano and penny whistle, and that makes for as refreshing change where many others fill every nano-second with sounds. A little silence and space works wonders at times. This is a good album worth seeking out if you have an adventurous spirit.

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Bill Foreman - Seventeen Miles Past Indio
(General Ludd Music LUDD012)

Bill Foreman - Seventeen Miles To IndioSongwriter Bill Foreman's latest album Seventeen Miles Past Indio is a round-up of the best of his work, collated into a nicely packaged and produced album that acts as a superb showcase for his talents as writer, performer and acerbic commentator on American life. I guess that here in the UK his style of rootsy music would be classed as Alt.Country, and if you enjoy Lambchop, Wilco and the Handsome Family then you should go for this album in a big way. There's no indication which previous albums these songs originate from, but as many of these were low printrun tapes I guess the intention is to make ...Indio the breakthrough album to push Bill's music into the professional arena.

So how does ...Indio stand-up? Pretty damn well, if you ask me - there are a variety of styles here, from Dylanesque rant Can't Wait To Be Free, the gently understated St Louis, Byrd's-style 12-string folk/country Queens, and short, almost jazzy instrumentals The Professah and Smile, to joyous dance tune The Sun Is A Mighty Lamp. All told there are a dozen tracks here and they cover a wide variety of moods, opinions and styles. On some tracks Bill Foreman provides all the instrumentation and on others he is joined by a small band of musicians who provide sympathetic and extremely tight support. The bottom line is that ...Indio doesn't sound like a compilation of tracks from a number of years, the songs work together and create a pretty good picture of Bill Foreman's talents as musician, songwriter and performer. If you enjoy songs that have some bite to them I don't think you'll find better this year than Seventeen Miles Past Indio.

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Bill Foreman - Chevy w/ Balding Tires
(General Ludd Music)

Bill Foreman - Chevy w/ Balding TiresThe latest collection of ten songs by Californian songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Bill Foreman shows that he is still on top form when it comes to writing songs full of sharp observations and barbed wit. Utilising a mostly acoustic format, with occasional flourishes of Mexican music, Bill just lets his voice rip and roar over the music, sometimes spitting the lyrics out and sometimes gently crooning them. Like the UK's very own folk punk Billy Bragg, nobody could describe Bill's voice as that of an angel but it is stuffed full of character and commitment, and is the ideal vehicle for these songs. If there is a recurring theme to this set of songs it is that they are all set in and around Bill's home town of Riverside, California. I'm not going to single out a few tracks for the usual commentary as the quality is consistently high, besides, part of the fun is exploring this album yourself. I will however list a few personal favourites: A Man & His Laboratory, the ramshackle instrumental My Favourite Recipe [For Dawn], and To An Angry Pot Farmer. Chevy w/ Balding Tires falls ssomewhere within that marketing category of Alt. Country or perhaps Americana, about as far away from Top 40 as possible and all the better for it. Originality comes with a price - pay it!

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Bill Foreman - Poison Against Poison:
Recordings 1990-2003

(General Ludd Music)

Bill Foreman is not a stranger to these review pages as I've had the pleasure of hearing several of his highly idiosyncratic albums over the last few years. Bill is a prolific songwriter and with a home studio that means everythings is recorded, so this triple cd anthology acts as both a 'Best Of', sampling from all of his albums plus a collection of the best of the rest, including a bunch of alternate takes of album tracks. Bill is changing his life, moving from the USA to work for the foreseeable future in Senegal in Africa. So this beautifully produced booklet of cds and lyrics is a clearing of the decks for a new life. It would be an easy generalisation to say that Bill comes from the Dylan school of writers and performers, but he has his own style which is rough and ready and the opposite of the slick major studio artists - which is one reason why I like his music. This isn't music for the charts, it's there to resonate with its audience and find an honest home with those who put the song first. And that's why I strongly urge you to check this out and perhaps try before you buy by visiting Bill's website and download a few sample tracks first.

You can visit the General Ludd Music web site at www.generalludd.com/, and order the above CDs or listen to selected tracks via mp3 or RealAudio.

You can contact General Ludd Music by email: generalludd@generalludd.com.

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