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Prem's Faves, 2006
{no particular order}
KUSF San Francisco, 90.3 FM
Band/Artist Release Record Label Prem's Spew
Arpex|Conjunto de Arpa Grande ¡Tierra Caliente!|Music from the Hotlands of Michoacán Smithsonian Folkways Recordings "big harp ensemble" (conjunto de arpa grande) Arpex performs music of the Mexican countryside similar in some ways to mariachi but significantly different in orchestration and repertoire: powerful, energetic, rhythmically complex, and highly syncopated yet with a diatonically-tuned harp in place of the horns traditional to mariachi; features rapid-fire plucking on the 37-string harp (the wooden soundbox upon which we hear quick finger-tap rhythms for an element of percussion), heavy strumming on vihuela (5-string guitar with convex back, for more delicate sounds) and guitarra de golpe (5-string guitar with deep soundbox and big sound), quick nippy bowing on two violins embellishing the melodies, and high-register (though not falsetto) singing from two male vocalists who carefully intertwine snappy call-and-response with harmonization, which all together results in exciting renditions of pieces reflecting traditional song structures of son, jarabe, valona, and canción ranchera, among others
The Crooked Jades World's on Fire Jade Note Music the continually shifting lineup of The Crooked Jades on this release features founder Jeff Kazor (on guitars, vocals, Vietnamese jaw harp, harmonium, and ukelele) with Jennie Benford [(of Jim & Jennie, the Pinetops) on vocals, mandolin, and guitar], Adam Tanner [(formerly of Grotus, surprisingly) on fiddle, mandolin, slide guitar, guitar, and vocals], Megan Adie [(who also performs in the classical realm at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music) on acoustic bass and vocals], and Erik Pearson [(of Mushroom and many other bands) on banjos, banjo ukelele, slide guitar, ukulele, and vocals] as well as a number of guests including a former member of The Crooked Jades, Lisa Berman; a dark hue colors many of the tracks on this release, intersticed with friendlier tones, and Kazor utilizes darkness wisely to create the gripping tension and release that sadly lacks in much of bluegrass, drawing instead upon the complex time signatures of old-time music and the lonely desolation of the American rural poor both white and black, but injecting it all with a balancing element of hopefulness and soulfulness to create a captivating mix of originals and new interpretations of obscure material from this nation's checkered past
Mei Han Outside the Wall|New Music for Zheng ZA Discs Mei Han takes the Chinese zheng (an ancient wooden zither, alternatively known as the guzheng) into uncharted territories on this recording, blurring the lines between traditional structuring and avant-garde hybridization as she integrates wind-tunnel harmonics and aesthetics on "Bamboo, Silk and Stone," teams up with the Borealis String Quartet on "Purple Lotus Bud" for apparently the first work for this type of arrangement, brings the element of improvisation to Huan Yi's classical composition "Theme of Plum Blossom" dating back to approximately 350 A.D., and transcribes for zheng "The Greening," a Japanese classical composition written in 1967 by Minoru Miki for koto (a Japanese zither, similar in some ways to the zheng); these gripping, sometimes jagged performances do not lend themselves to comparison with easy-listening "World" (aka "New Age") background music, so if such you seek then look elsewhere [2005 release]
Performer: Iranian Orchestra for New Music
Composer/Conductor: Alireza Mashayekhi
Celebration Hermes Records Mashayekhi continues in a similar vein as the previous Iranian Orchestra release, combining indigenous instruments [tombak and daf percussion + ney (flute) + setar & tar lutes + santur hammered dulcimer + kamancheh bowed strings] with western instruments (violins, drums, cello, flute, and piano), but this time the arrangements adhere more to the concerto format, with three of the five pieces focused upon the piano and a fourth focused upon the cello, played by Farimah Ghavam Sadri and Sanam Gharacheh Daghi, respectively; the other piece, named "Sokoot" (translation: "Silence"), offers the most unusual glimpse of the inner workings of Mashayekhi's mind, interspersing the music with long pauses of silence (up to 55 seconds), and interjecting phrases of spoken word featuring the musicians speaking in synchrony
Keuhkot Toimintatapoja Olioille Ektro Records Kake Puhuu of Finland returns for yet another one-man Keuhkot project of creative mania featuring quasi-marching music (in electronified form) which carries one to the brink of insanity, mind-warpingly tremolous organ riffs, an innocent-sounding yet taunting wood flute on track 12 ever-so-slightly out of sync with the song's rhythm, interjections of English words and phrases seemingly haphazardly but more likely intentionally (including the phrase "National Security" with which track 8 begins before descending into utter madness), and what would seem to be an audial manifestation of a hapless slosh through a virtual swamp on track 13; one wonders which world (or worlds) Puhuu's mind occupies in his various stages of consciousness, and this release certainly raises more questions than any answers it may provide [2005 release]
No Blues Farewell Shalabiye Rounder Europe a group from the Netherlands, surprisingly, No Blues combines the traditions of Western folk and blues with Arabian music ("Arabicana"), bringing together Ad van Meurs (guitars, vocals) and Anne-Marten van Heuvelen (acoustic bass, vocals) with Haytham Safia (oud, vocals) and an assortment of guest musicians on additional vocals and percussion; quite an atypical release for any country--particularly the Netherlands--it features English and Arabic vocals intermingled, as well as the oud (a lute common to Middle-Eastern music) in a blues context, juxtaposed with slide guitar and more on both original compositions and renditions of such classics as "Wayfaring Stranger" and "Nobody's Fault But Mine"
Polysics Now Is the Time! Tofu Records a blast from Japan that leaves you wired and may induce the type of seizures associated with Japanese video games; with a mix of poppety punk rock, zappety electronic music, and theatrical attitude (the last of which you'll have to catch at one of their live shows, as I did, when all band members were adorned with the very same red jumpsuits and sci-fi sunshades as on the cover of this album), the Polysics start an electrical storm in your brain with chunky electric guitar and electric bass riffage, twerpy male and female vocals, pounding drums, and a whirlwind of blippety bloopety electronics [2005 release]
Rube Waddell Greatest Hits Hotel Episode Records blues, Americana, Irish folk, mariachi, marching music, and lowing cows all collide on this release, featuring a flotilla of instruments (ukulele, sousaphone, acoustic and electric guitars, accordion, drums, tabla, toy piano, flutes, whistles, trumpet, harmonica, marimba, banjo, musical saw, junk percussion...) and lyrics sung or shouted; a volatile band with a penchant for adroitly comingling traditions with an air of insincerity while juxtaposing the conventional with the absurd, Rube Waddell (true to its namesake) dishes out powerfully entertaining music that leaves you in question of the sanity of the entertainers...
SunnO))) & Boris Altar Southern Lord dark, looming rock, but not exactly what you'd expect from either of these two bands, considering the number (12) of guest musicians involved, including guitarist Kim Thayil (Soundgarden), Joe Preston (Melvins, Earth, etc.), and others; mostly steering clear of metal (even bringing the piano and an eerie female vox provided by Jesse Sykes into the mix on one track, "The Sinking Belle") and featuring a more haunting vibe than just about anything by either SunnO))) or Boris, these songs deceptively lull you into a trance, then flood your mind with impurity [note: a limited edition of this release features a second disc containing one very long track only]
Talat The Growl Tzadik a band steeped in the traditions of jazz, klezmer/Yiddish musics, and middle eastern structures, Talat immediately brings to mind John Zorn's Masada (particularly the releases of the Masada Chamber Ensembles), Frank London's band Hasidic New Wave, the earlier material of New Klezmer Trio, Paradox Trio, and several other related groups; led by pianist/organist Alon Nechushtan and featuring saxophonist Marc Mommaas, drummer Jordan Perlson, bassist Matt Pavolka, and trumpeter Matt Shulman, Talat weaves together a great many influences in a manner that sounds natural if not a bit ominous, grooving if not a bit swinging, and often reminiscent of a somber freylekh
Chad VanGaalen Skelliconnection Sub Pop folk rock meets oddball wonderment on this quirkily demented release, cleverly combining the more traditional elements of acoustic guitar, banjo, harmonica, and drums with synths, beats, electric guitar and bass, junk percussion, xylophone, toy piano, cello, whistle, and more while Chad VanGaalen's odd quiverry high-pitch vocals (and overdubbed shadow backing vocal harmonies) take the spotlight; though VanGaalen plays most of the instruments himself, he carefully overlays seemingly divergent themes, influences, and styles in a manner which will easily fool you into assuming that his output involves a full band
Xiu Xiu The Air Force 5 Rue Christine though Jamie Stewart appears to be the only remaining member of the original Xiu Xiu lineup, the streak of brooding hyperdepression continues without abatement from previous releases, bringing into play guest musicians Devin Hoff, Greg Saunier, and others to assist in facilitating the creative flow; a variety of instruments turn up in the mix this time, including the expected elements such as guitars, bass, drums, synths, and electronics as well as violin, flute, glockenspiel, accordion, recorder, harmonium, mandolin, and more--even a koto--all placed into new and unsettling contexts, as one might expect to be the case with regard to this band
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