Various Artists: Jazz Around The World (2009)
Putumayo World Music is a unique record label. It is a label of "various artists" projects, but what sets it apart from other labels that produce compilations of music is that Putumayo compilations are well off even the road less travelled. First of all, the label compiles not so much songs by artists, but music that provides a glimpse of a cultural ethos.
Secondly, Putumayo has designed the "musical-cultural" encounters to be almost like a meaningful huddle in a local café. So you get records such as Brazilian Café, French Café, Latin Café and so on. Now there is this compilation, Jazz Around the World, and it is a concept that purports to be unique. The proof, in this instance, is in the legitimacy of the hearing. And what a wonderful proof is indeed provided here.
The music is here is pure Putumayo, which means not only songs and artists of a very high standard, but also music well off the beaten track. The songs interpret the spirit of jazzfreedom, soulful renditions of narratives, lyric poetry, and the overall spirit of human triumphbut unique to each of the cultures represented. For instance the entry from New Zealand is not a swing or bebop or song of modern inflection improvised or through composed by a local artist, but the spirit of jazz interpreted by a Maori artist: Kataraina Pipi's rendition of "Te Reo o Papatuanuku" a plaintive conversation with the Maori deity, Earth Mother, and wife of Rangi-nui in a style reminiscent of Tin Pan Alley meets the Singers Unlimited.
Gershwin's classic song from Porgy and Bess gets completely transformed in style, by instrumentation and an arrangement with strings and percussion. So fingers and thumbs at the Kora and Kalimba and other a log-like xylophone turn the wistful song into a celebration under a Malian sun called "Summertime in Bamako." And "Donnalee" becomes its Cameroonian counterpartand not a bebop versioncalled "Donalina," which is more like an elegiac Afro-bossa track. The now famous, "Chan Chan" retains its melody, but is harmonically transformed by pianist, Abdoulaye Diabaté, Kora player Djeli Moussa, and percussionist Moussa Cissoko, who solo with characteristic and polytonal elegance and graceful polyrhythm.
Canada's Francophone chanteuse, Chantal Chamberland does a star turn on "La Mer," and the American, Heather Rigdon makes a dark blue entrance in "Young and Naïve." Johnny Stirling blows a sharp bell-like Harmon mute as he accompanies the French-Algerian, Kad on "J'aime Mon Lit," as the singer resurrects that certain something that only Jacques Brél had. Billy Cobham and Asere contribute a seductive cha-cha-cha. Sherele swaggers and "swoons" the blues mixed with a polka on "Polka Dot Blues" in which the Mexican, Nathalie Braux plays a fine, otherworldly clarinet solo. Hugh Masekela shows his trumpet mastery as he shuffles his way through "Open the Door."
With this record, Putumayo World Music appears to be opening that door to modern music just a tad wider, worldwide.
Track Listing: La Mer, Quiéreme Mucho; Donalina; Chan Chan; Young and Naïve; J'aime Mon Lit; Polka Dot Blues; Te Reo o Papatuanuku; Summertime at Bamako; Destinos; Open the Door.
Personnel: Chantal Chamberland (1); Niuver (2); Blick Bassy (3); Kora Jazz Trio (4); Heather Rigdon (5); Kad (6); Sherele (7); Kataraina Pipi (8); Kélétigui Diabaté with Habib Koité and Bamada (9); Billy Cobham and Asere (10); Hugh Masekela with Malaika (11).