A Peep Into The World of Putumayo

Raul d'Gama Rose By

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The Putumayo label has been doing a remarkable job of bringing music from different corners of the world to hungry new ears, always including an element of surprise in the repertoire. Almost every album is brimful with tracks that delight and are a reminder that there are many more musicians out there than the industry is willing to accommodate. Putumayo packaging is spectacular too—brilliantly illustrated by the British artist Nicola Heindl and often including fabulously exotic food recipes from far flung parts of the world.

Various Artists
Putumayo Presents Rhythm & Blues
Putumayo World Music

On Putumayo Presents Rhythm & Blues there is a wonderful mix of artists well-known in the world of so-called rhythm and blues as well as some vital but relatively unknown ones. The Quantic Soul Orchestra is one that draws immediate attention. Not only are the antecedents of the ensemble alluring, but its music is riveting as well. Started by the British mathematics major Will Holland, the band is named Quantic after "a rational homogenous integral function of two or more variables" and it surely lives up to its name, especially where music and the sinewy voice of Panamanian vocalist, Kabir collide. The Cracked Ice version of Candi Station's "Sweet Feeling" is memorable for Susan Didrichsen's vigorous, aching vocals. So is Sam Moore's "Wang Dang Doodle," which is enriched by a slide guitar opening and by the swaggering call and response of Moore with Keb' Mo' and Angie Stone. The soulful rendition of Ruthie Foster's "'Cuz I'm Here" is hypnotic, as is "Sharon Jones and The Dap Kings" on "100 Days, 100 Nights."

But it is classics like The Emotions' "My Honey and Me," from the 1970s, when "preaching the gospel" meant plunging deep into the soul, that define this album, as is the 1996 chart, "I've Never Found A Man To Love," from Lavelle White.

Various Artists
Putumayo Presents Latin Party
Putumayo World Music

The world of Latin American music, which revisits the African origins of much American music of the 21st century all over again, is perhaps even more difficult to catalogue than rhythm and blues. It will likely take years before this is satisfactorily done in the English-speaking world. But Putumayo Presents Latin Party performs a small part of that job. There is an excellent "guajira" by the Brooklyn Funk Essentials, "Big Apple Boogaloo," to kick things off. And music by Cuban Raul Paz, who contributes "Buena Suerte," is remarkable. The track "Son De Nueva York," a Cuban son by Luis Mangual, son of the famous conguero from El Barrio, is a classic, recalling Mangual's work from his glory days with Johnny Pacheco, and is a fine example of where he is today. Cecilia Noël's "Asi Se Compone Un Son" may not be a classic, folkloric, huayno from Peru, but it is an infectious cha cha cha nevertheless. The trio of tracks from Columbia, especially "Cumbia del Caribe," brings a touch of the historic (coastal) Afro-Caribbean rhythms to the set.

But this album has a serious flaw. This is because much of Musica Popular Brasileira (MPB) or the Tropicalia movement of Gilberto Gil, Caetano Veloso, Gal Costa is missing. In fact, there is no music at all from Brazil, or Argentina, or Chile for that matter. And these are all countries where lively partying comes with memorable music too.

Various Artists
Putumayo Kids Presents Jazz Playground
Putumayo World Music

Perhaps the most significant album of the three reviewed here is Putumayo Kids Presents Jazz Playground. Produced on Putumayo Kids, a sub-label of Putumayo World Music, it promises to introduce young audiences to classic music in the jazz idiom. The program is excellent. Chris McKhool's "Spider-man," a violin-led version of the TV cartoon theme, is a fine track. The "Little Lamb Jam" is a superb take on the old nursery rhyme "Mary Had A Little Lamb," and this too, from Orin Etkin and Clarenee Wade—Israel meets the US—is absolutely unforgettable. Barbara Morrison's take on "Sing a Song of Sixpence" swings wonderfully.

But it is Selloane and Famoro Dioubaté who steal the show with their version of "Shortnin' Bread," generously inflected with rhythms that collide where jazz meets South Africa and West Africa. There are even offerings from Brazil, a breathless mix of samba and jazz in "Dois Meninos," and Japan, "Oyatsu No Jikan" by a contemporary Japanese band. This says something about the universality of jazz. The classic "Old McDonald" from Ella Fitzgerald is missing here and so are a few others from the musical stars, yet this album of little heard talent is wonderful to listen to again and again.

Tracks and Personnel

Putumayo Presents Rhythm & Blues

Tracks: I Never Found A Man To Love; 'Till Your Fool Comes Home; Sweet Feeling; Who Knows; My Hones And Me; Wang Dang Doodle; Put Me Down Easy; 'Cuz I'm Here; A Mother's Love; 100 Days, 100 Nights; Before I Find The Right Girl For Me; River Is Waiting.

Personnel: Lavelle White (1); James Hunter (2); Cracked Ice (3); The Quantic Soul Orchestra featuring Kabir (4); The Emotions (5); Sam Moore, Keb' Mo' and Angie Stone (6); Catherine Russell (7); Ruthie Foster (8); Snooks Eaglin (9); Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings (10); Rockie Charles (11); Irma Thomas and Henry Butler (12).

Putumayo Presents Latin Party

Tracks: Big Apple Boogaloo (The Sir George Radio Edit); Buena Suerte; Son De Nueva York; Electric Boogaloo; Rico Montuno; Asi Se Compone Un Son; Las Calles De Medellin; Cumbia Del Carribe; Mi Gente; Regi Bugalú Ni Tilingo Ni Titingo; Yírí Yírí Bon (Dancehall Mix).

Personnel: Brooklyn Funk Essentials (1); Raul Paz (2); Luis Mangual (3); Yerba Buena (4); Mas Bajo (5); Cecilia Noël (6); Coffee Makers (7); Fruko y Orchestra (8); A.B Quintanilla III & Kumbia Kings featuring Ozomalti (9); The Quantic Soul Orchestra (10); Orquesta Lo Nuestro (11); Ska Cubano (12).

Putumayo Kids Presents Jazz Playground

Tracks: Stomp, Stomp; Spider-Man; Cumbamba; Sur Le Pont D'Avignon; Little Lamb Jam; Gazooba; Sing A Song Of Sixpence; Zuignapje; Shortnin' Bread; Agree & Disagree; Dois Meninos; Oyatsu No Jikan; This Little Light Of Mine.

Personnel: Lewis Franco & The Missing Cats (1); Chris McKhool (2); Jose Conde (3); Triocéphale (4); Oran Etkin with Charanee Wade (5); Kinderjazz (6); Barbara Morrison (7); Trapperdetrap (8); Selloane with Famoro Dioubaté (9); The Mighty Buzznicks (10); Gui Tavares (11); Modern Conya (12); Ingrid Lucia (13).


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