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The University of Hartford

Voices from the Village
World Music at WWUH
By Brian Grosjean

N. Scott Robinson
Things That Happen Fast
New World View Music


If all the instruments played on this wonderful album were piled together, they still couldn't match of the pile of cultural influences evident. Robinson begins with simple percussion on one of his myriad of instruments - frame drums, djembe, berimbau, udu, or cajon. Then the improvisations begin. They can be simple takeoffs on his riff, or combine with the talents of Nolan Warden and Joe Kaminski into complex twists that never seem to end. Songs like Pegasus raise world music crossovers to new ground. Harmony vocals by Malcolm Dalglish and Moira Smiley combine a strong Celtic melody, Dalglish's unique hammered dulcimer tapping out a counter melody, and simple and effective percussion. This recipe strips world music back to its basics for recombining as a new source of inspiration. One wishes more of the album were like Pegasus, especially after five or six minutes of percussion improvs. But best of all, it works.

Brian Whistler and Pablo Rodriguez
Forgotten Voices
2001 Tingklik Music


On this first album under his own name, San Francisco - based Brian Whistler collects a stellar backup group to record his jazz/world concepts. First impressions are of Lyle Mays of the Pat Metheny Group or some Weather Report with influences of Bali, Japan, and other Far Eastern destinations. Pablo Rodriguez fronts these enjoyable compositions with his tenor jazz vocals reminiscent of Al Jerreau or Bobby McFerrin. On closer inspection, lyrics attack social issues in a jazz context - a radio friendly cut remembers the forgotten voices of the homeless and disposed of. Whistler is backed by a retinue of jazz/world journeymen, including Kit Walker and Goeffrey Gordon from Jai Uttal's group and Alfredo Reyes from Santana's early group on drums. When not supporting Rodriguez's vocals, Paul McAndless's reeds take over the songs, but it turns the heading farther back to home. With this pedigree, songs slide along on more than competent musicianship, but do not challenge or assault. Ambient openings like on This Little World betray Whistler's training with Harold Budd. Highly recommended for jazz/world explorers.

The World That Surrounds You

Janah is a rock group who's songs tread over Middle Eastern and Asian influenced percussion. Although the melodies and lyrics are basically Western, the connection with frontman Keith Johnston's sojourns in the Middle East are unmistakable. Taking mostly from the Bono and XTC schools of singing and songwriting, Janah creates new music, more Western than Jai Uttal, and (much) more interesting than Enya. The technically very talented sidemen add layers of texture. Ron Cochran's substitution of a variety of hand drums for a traditional trap kit gives Janah a unique sound, polished by Bill Douglass on an array of exotic instruments, Michael Martin on classical guitar, and Steve Atwell on bass. It's hard not to like this combination, and, with an impressive stage show, the band is one to watch.

Un Paso A La Eternidad
Universal Music Argentina

It's about time hip hop returned from its trip to South America. During its sojourn, it picked up Puerto Rican salsa, Brazilian jazz, remnants of flamenco, and Argentinean bad attitudes. While the turntable and raps from the four frontmen predominate, South America is the natural destination for hip hop and its affiliation with the young and disaffected. During its journey from Miami's clubs to the South American barrios, it reconnected with them, but lost some of its angry force. Although my daughter helped translate some of the raps into English, I am still at a disadvantage in not understanding their entire force. But anyone can enjoy this album, and Sindicato possess the fire and the talent to succeed in returning this music to us, changed for the better.

Various Artists
Spiritual Beauty

Mixing techno dance with Arabic instruments, rhythms, and quarter tone chants, has become commonplace and no longer adventuresome. One must now do it well. Allowing the underlying music to work its own charm while waiting in the wings with synth washes and melodic cues takes nerve and trust. Using Sussan Deyhim's voice, Bill Lasswell show's his ultimate trust in the original music, allowing it to take center stage and western influences to follow. This compilation of recent crossovers by Middle Eastern artists now in San Francisco - Cheb Sabbah, Omar Faruk Tekbilek, Simon Shaheen along with their coworker Bill Laswell achieve a height of meld. "Amorphous" is a gorgeous layering of Arabic vocals and percussion on a bed of ambient washes and sandy wind. Next best are a fascinating vocals providing an aching tremolo over Jah Wobble and Temple of Sound's walking bassline on the track "Hayati". I like it less when western percussion is overlaid with Arabic roots like "Bouhala". It seems like the roots are atop the stem, and doesn't work as well.

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 Copyright©WWUH: July/August Program Guide, 2002


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