Alpha Blondy rocks the reggae on latest album
Reviews of recent CDs from foreign countries. (And if you say, hey, New Orleans isn’t a foreign country, well, you could use a trip to New Orleans.)Alpha Blondy, “Merci”(Shanachie)Ivory Coast singer Alpha Blondy, as anyone who saw his Jazz Aspen Labor Day Festival performance two summers ago can attest, presents reggae music in dramatic, large-scale strokes. His backing outfit, for instance, usually goes by the name the Solar System Band. That’s thinking big. Blondy sings in English, Hebrew, Arabic, French and Dioula.”Merci,” Blondy’s first studio album in four years and a follow-up to last year’s sensational live album “Paris Bercy,” finds the singer in standard form. There’s a big horn section, a chorus of backing vocals, guitars and percussion, even a string section, which is pretty much unheard of in reggae music. It’s a studio album, but sounds as though it might have been recorded in a stadium.But Blondy is pretty good at this. “Merci,” cranked up loud as party music, is worth hearing. And never mind that you’re hearing songs about dispossessed children, street conflicts and other woes of the world. In a phrase: roots reggae, rocked!Ibrahim Ferrer, “Buenos Hermanos”produced by Ry Cooder (World Circuit/Nonesuch)Ry Cooder, the American guitarist who done so much for and with Cuban music, does it again. The name of septuagenarian singer Ibrahim Ferrer, a member of the Buena Vista Social Club, is on “Buenos Hermanos.” But Cooder is all over this CD, as producer, instrumentalist and driving force. He even contributes his son, drummer Joachim, to the proceedings. This is not to sell Ferrer, a great vocalist, short. But “Buenos Hermanos” – which translates to “good brothers” – is a band record. The wide-ranging cast includes pianist Chucho Valds, drummer Jim Keltner, accordionist Flaco Jimenez, bassist Orlando “Cachato” Lpez, the Blind Boys of Alabama and many more. And Cooder is clearly the one marshaling the forces here. It is a far different recording than 1999’s plain-spoken “Buena Vista Club Presents Ibrahim Ferrer” – also produced by Cooder – which sold 1.5 million copies. But it is even more enjoyable, with songs ancient and brand-new getting playful, soulful treatment.This is Cooder’s second major achievement of the first half of 2003. “Mambo Sinuendo” – which Cooder recorded with Manuel Galbn, who also appears on “Buenos Hermanos” – was already one of my favorite CDs of 2003. This ranks alongside it.Muy bueno, hermanosLos Hombres Calientes, “Vol. 4: Vodou Dance”produced by Irvin Mayfield and Bill Summers (Basin Street)Los Hombres Calientes, an ensemble built around trumpeter Irvin Mayfield and Headhunters percussionist Bill Summers, continues its mission to illuminate the sonic connection between their home base of New Orleans and the Caribbean islands. Recording sessions took place in Trinidad, Jamaica, Haiti, Cuba and New Orleans. Like the sprawling ensemble that Mayfield and Summers have built – dozens of musicians play on “Vodou Dance,” from Meters bassist George Porter Jr. to groups of Caribbean bamboo players and Haitian cornetists – this album is all over the place. There are 27 tracks, from numerous brief interludes of indigenous chanting to fire-breathing Latin jazz jams to a New Orleans-esque, a cappella version of the traditional gospel tune “I’ll Fly Away.” But thanks to the musicianship of Mayfield, almost all of it actually belongs here. “Latin Tinge” is six minutes of intense trumpeting; a cover of George Duke’s “Brazilian Sugar” is more relaxed island listening. And smack dab in the middle are a pair of tunes – “Old Time Indians” and “Wild Tchoupitoulas” – which feature New Orleans singer Big Chief Bo Dollis and deliver you to the heart of the Big Easy.Hot stuff. And lots of it.JAKA, “Balance”Bones & JAKAJAKA, a six-piece band that relocated recently from Santa Fe to Colorado, makes the world a smaller place. JAKA mixes the familiar sounds of Western music – electric guitars and English lyrics – with marimbas, steel drums, and the African thumb piano known as the mbira. On “Balance,” the band’s third CD, the music is lively, uplifting and played with an undeniable belief that this kind of integration is good for the soul. The songs are on the preachy side: “Feeling only need … we can do better/Feeding greed … we can do better” opens “What Do You Support?” But there is a good heart – and a good beat – behind it. And criticizing music this high-spirited can’t be good for one’s karma.JAKA plays Saturday, May 10, at Feral Cafe in Glenwood Springs.More bright than balancedMassive Attack, “100th Window”produced by Robert Del Naja & Neil Davidge (Virgin)Electronica. The word itself sounds cold, suggesting music that is remote, disconnected and artificial. Not so with “100th Window,” the latest from Massive Attack, the Bristol, England group led by Robert “3D” Del Naja. (Massive Attack’s other member, Grant “Daddy Lee” Marshal, took parental leave for the making of “100th Window.”) Their fourth album, a follow-up to the guitar-heavy, 3 million-seller “Mezzanine,” is no massive attack, but a swirling, spacey and even warm, embrace of electronica. Sinad O’Connor sings ethereally on three tracks, and there are touches of strings that lend an Eastern feel to the album.A welcome electric invasionVarious artists, “Straight From the 6th Ward”produced by Lee Frank (Tipitina’s Records)Not long ago, the New Orleans brass band tradition had ground to an artistic halt. When the Dirty Dozen Brass Band came along in 1977, folding r&b, funk and jazz into the traditional sound, gigs were scarce. Anyone who wanted to book a brass band, according to Dirty Dozen co-founder Gregory Davis, wanted the old-style brass sound and nothing but. But the Dirty Dozen found an audience for its innovative approach, spawning an artistic revival for New Orleans brass. In the last few years, the sound has flourished further, as brass bands bring hip-hop and hard funk flavors into the mix.”Straight From the 6th Ward” documents that vitality. The disc features newly recorded tracks from four new-school brass outfits – Lil Rascals, Rebirth, Treme and Newbirth – plus two tunes from the 6th Ward Allstars, a group of players from the other bands. The Lil Rascals’ “Get Your Mind Right” and Rebirth’s “Feel Like Funkin’ It Up” are new ways of making funk, barely nodding at the past. A remix of the Lil Rascals’ “H.I.T.” by Soulive guitarist Eric Krasno, added as a bonus track, doesn’t quite fit. Among all the new sounds, old-school tunes like Treme’s “Wolverine Blues” reminds one where the brass band style originated. A brass ball
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I try to remember to give thanks every day I spend outside, whether it be floating the Colorado or Roaring Fork, fishing an epic dry fly hatch on the Fryingpan, or teasing up tiny brook trout on a remote lake or stream. We’re spoiled rotten here, so it’s easy to be thankful.