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Global Folk and Fusions

Geno Thackara By

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It's a wide world out there, yet as vast as it gets, there are always players finding common ground between its most far-flung corners.

Naïsaam Jalal and Rhythms of Resistance
Un Autre Monde
Les Couleurs du Son
2021

Ten years is an impressive tenure for any musical outfit, so Naïssam Jalal pulled out all the stops marking the occasion with her adventurous quintet Rhythms of Resistance. The group has covered substantial ground since forming in 2011, both thematically (creating works for theater, dance and a musical homage to the Syrian revolution) and musically. The decade has also been a time of growth for the leader, including her first experience composing for an orchestra. Un Autre Monde (Another World) encompasses all of those things with a sweeping global reach and even wider vision.

Jalal's compositions here traverse her own personal history, which stretches from France to Syria, Egypt and across the Middle East. She has no problem incorporating both patient mantric trance, jazzy improvisation, Indian percussion, orchestral strings, elaborate arrangements and wild solos. Every combination is expertly blended into something exotic and dynamic. The double set of Un Autre Monde is constructed the same way: a disc of impressionistic pieces by her main quintet and then some of the same material expanded into a suite for orchestra on the second.

The "other world" imagined in the title is a future version of ours, particularly the state of things after capitalism, which makes the experience turbulent yet ultimately hopeful. Jalal's expressive flute embodies the spirit of each composition to a T: flitting and fluttering over the gamelan patterns of "Un Monde Neuf" to express the open spirit of new possibilities, slowing down to speak from the heart for "Un Sourire au Coeur" with its theme of love, and most startlingly, screaming of a world in pain at the close of disc two. If the work covers some vastly different tones and themes, Jalal's multicultural fusion is positive and inclusive enough to show that unity can always overcome any divisions.

Zhivko Vasilev
Places
Self Produced
2021

At a glance, Zhivko Vasilev's overall setup resembles the one on Jalal's disc: flute as the lead instrument, a small jazz combo for backup and an eclectic ensemble joining them to expand the sweep of thing for part of the album. Vasilev is just as restless, and his roaming path is just as endlessly colorful. The flute is a particular voice, an east-European variety called the kaval, while his most direct rootsy elements come from Bulgarian folk. Of course, those are only the basic starting points.

Places zips among happy dancing and fast-and-furious roiling. The rhythms play irregular hopscotch rather than settle into obvious repetition, but the session's drummers make it flow effortlessly as the shifting ensemble glides along. The core group is a thrillingly tight unit that never stops sparking off each other. Dimitar Gorchakov's piano makes a particularly fiery foil for Vasilev's capering. The roster of guests adds a wealth of textures, from classy string quartet to Balkan percussion, without anyone feeling crowded.

The travel theme is immersive from the first minute, as droning contrabass sets an airy tone, piano and percussion begin lightly chugging to suggest an arriving train, and the leader steps in to start things rolling. Wherever Vasilev's pieces go on the genre map, propulsive energy churns throughout this session (undoubtedly crackling a little extra due to being recorded live). Barring a couple of breathers, most tracks end up hitting some kind of explosive peak. "Leprechaun's Dream" has clouds of violin broken up by a flute showcase that goes off the wall. "EBuenek" almost feels like it could wrap things up with the brightest of sambas, but the actual closing track takes an extended jump into the greasiest electric funk. It's a wild ride that somehow packs an entire whirlwind global tour into just one thrilling hour.

Nomadim
Nomadim
Unit Records
2021

Marc Crofts and his violin are no strangers to traveling musically or otherwise. With Nomadim, they may have found their most eclectic setting. Strong roots in gypsy folk give his playing an easygoing silkiness suitable for a relaxed evening around a campfire, although the electric tones of his trio mates create a texture flexible enough to go well beyond that mood. Railo Helmstetter's guitar has the classic clean tone made for the most soothing of jazz, while Blaise Hommage switches between acoustic and judicious use of electric bass. By the time he gets around to some funky string-slapping on "Eastern Road Trip," Nomadim has wandered so far afield that it's not even startling.

Such eclecticism is just the right approach for what they call "nomad jazz." Friend Marcel Loeffler drops in on accordion to craft a particularly enchanting waltz, while "The Fox's Strut" channels Bela Fleck to lightly bouncing results. The sophisticated melodic feel of Eastern European folk has room alongside straightforward Western-style grooves and bossa nova rhythms from the opposite hemisphere. Good luck trying to pin Nomadim down to any style or even any continent. Somehow, these three minds find a way to cover all of them.

Tracks and Personnel

Un Autre Monde

Tracks: CD1: Buleria Sarkhat Al Ard; Hymne À La Noix; Un Sourire Au Cœur; Un Monde Neuf; Samaaï Al Andalus; Promenade Au Bord Du Rêve; D'ailleurs Nous Sommes D'ici. CD2: Paysages De Notre Destin; Un Sourire Au Cœur; Un Monde Neuf; Samaaï Al Andalus; Almot Wala Almazala.

Personnel: Naïsaam Jalal: flute, voice; Mehdi Chaïb: saxophone; Karsten Hochapfel: cello; Damien Varaillon: acoustic bass; Arnaud Dolmen: drums.

Places

Tracks: The Emigrant; It's Raining in 7; Roterdam Rooftop; Transcending; Triple Tension; Leprechaun's Dream; Rachenitsa; Eight Sheep; Sunrise with Zori; EBuenek; Trite Pati.

Personnel: Zhivko Vasilev: kaval; Dimitar Gorchakov: piano; Mihail Ivanov: contrabass, electric bass; Borislav Petrov: drums; Martin Hafizi: drums; Alexander "Sani" Kunchev: percussion; Lukas Pamminger: electric bass; Soil Ivanov: drums; Borislav Iliev: guitar; Miroslav Ivanov: guitar; Stoimen Peev: violin; Orlin Tsvetanov: violin; Viktor Mitsev: viola; Viktor Traykov: violincello; Vasil Hadzhigrudev: contrabass.

Nomadim

Tracks: Zaza; Novembre; Carousel; Our Secret Room; La Goulue; Portokali; Eastern Road Trip; William's Southern Lullaby; The Fox's Strut; Baby Bossa.

Personnel: Marc Crofts: violin; Railo Helmstetter: guitar; Blaise Hommage: bass; Marcel Loeffler: accordion on "La Goulue."

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