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International Flavors

Geno Thackara By

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It's a tour through several spots around the globe with this batch—sometimes a leisurely tour, sometimes a whirlwind, but with each stop offering a wealth of lovely sounds and tones.

Gilfema
Three
Sounderscore
2020

Lionel Loueke, Massimo Biolcati and Ferenc Nemeth have an impressive number of musical endeavors and collaborations between them, as figuratively wide as the miles covered by their respective backgrounds (Beninese, Swedish and Hungarian). Still, vast as the territory is, Three brings a world's worth of jazzy Afro-bop fusion all into one happy backyard. Wickedly tricky-yet-infectious rhythm stays at the heart of the session, while the dressing can happily include anything from anywhere. Gilfema doesn't cross styles so much as mince them.

"Têkê" kicks things off with bubbly sunshine, Biolcati's electric bass hopskotching around Nemeth's crackling percussion while Loueke bends his guitar strings to some weirdly fun squeals. It's a long way from wild Jimi Hendrix wailing, and yet there's enough of the same DNA in here that it feels natural to drift straight into a leisurely Afro-blue read of "Little Wing." With "Happiness" the group tosses in some wiry theremin-like wave noise over a bed of wah-wah funk; the likes of "Aflao" and "Lé" give them a little more breathing room to play nimble rhythmic games with effortless cheer.

Loueke's clean-toned guitar is as sunny as his singing and scatting, alternating wonky sounds with sharp-as-darts plucking. His fretwork is no less rhythmic than the others' bouncy beat-swirls, somehow making an overall whole that's impossibly approachable for how intricate it is. Three never loses the infectious vibe, making for the most smart and frisky world-dance party you'll hear all year.

Sudeshna Bhattacharya and Tanmoy Bose
Sangeet
Losen Records
2020

Plain duo format and familiar song cycle: the setup might seem as straightforward as can be, but straightforward doesn't mean simple. Classical Indian music has endless onion layers of complexity and allows for endless shades within its traditional forms. It's always worth appreciating an outing in the hands of skilled players, and these are two of topmost quality.

Sangeet is named for Sudeshna Bhattacharya's young son, and fittingly the tone is one of subtle joy and hope. Her touch on the sarod (a instrument with resonant strings) is full of resonant twangs and deft slides; Tanmoy Bose's tabla playing likewise shows exquisite care with the smallest thumps and taps. The performance follows a satisfying traditional arc—patient free-drifting alap (introduction), extensive hypnotic jhaptal, and climactic teental where the dynamic rises and falls pay off in warm resolution. Both share the tradition's humble virtuosity: all the exquisite care is in service of communication and subtle celebration.

Torben Westergaard
The Gori Project
Self Produced
2020

"I'm fascinated by how we can use music in a wider perspective and in a more mindful way," Torben Westergaard explains as part of his thinking behind The Gori Project. This is no surprise from a European bassist who's explored all kinds of folk traditions in addition to jazz and tango. The title at hand eminently lives up to this philosophy: spanning half the globe will certainly give you a wide perspective, and this quintet of Dutch and South Korean players (brought together to mark the 60th anniversary of their nations' opening of diplomatic relations) is indeed mindful in the extreme.

Westergaard's pieces dip into patient Asian drone alongside classy European melodic sense. The album's central highlight "Indigo" has its breezy Asian melody underrun by a cute light-bouncing jazz line that adds playfulness to complement the thoughtfulness. In other spots the resonant strings of the gayageum weave with light synth or trumpet like the most natural of playmates. The group-composed "Make No Gaps" floats over tranquil thumps like a Jon Hassell trance dream, while "Courage" closes out in a haze of voices as well as the instruments, everyone almost competing to make their contribution as unobtrusive as possible. The session all stays sparse enough that one would hardly think there are three percussionists in action. (Paying attention just to the rhythm players' teamwork is a fun and worthwhile listening exercise in itself.) It's an exercise in patient restraint that blossoms most beautifully.

Per Oddvar Johansen
The Quiet Cormorant
Losen Records
2020

Per Oddvar Johansen is also as patient as the tides—in his case, the nature-scape around the Fordypningsrommet Fleinvær (or Arctic Hideaway) on the north Norse island of Sørværet. These musical ideas over a solitary week in that simple retreat, and the results bring those natural images and moods to life in a series of beautiful miniatures. Much of The Quiet Cormorant floats freely in rubato time with the players letting each piece breathe according to what feels right.

For a drummer, Johsansen here is uncommonly subtle and quiet. He works in shadings and splashes as much as actual beats. Helge Lien's piano feels most like the lead part (if there is one), drifting and swelling under Torben Snekkestad's lazy-gliding saxophone lines. Befitting nature's own looseness and organic structure, rhythm is flexible and time is fluid. Nature can get pretty wild as well, as represented with a shot of loud guitar in the roiling "Love, Peace & Currywurst," but for the most part speaks for itself with no need to shout. Cormorant's subtle immersive feel is one of slow simple majesty.

Tracks and Personnel

Three

Tracks: Têkê; Little Wing; Lé; Happiness; 13th Floor to Heaven; Brio; Fleuve Congo; Algorhythm and Blues; Dear J.L.; Aflao; Left Undone; Requiem for a Soul; Until.

Personnel: Lionel Loueke: guitar, vocals; Massimo Biolcati: double bass, electric bass; Ferenc Nemeth: drums, vocals.

Sangeet

Tracks: Rageshree, Alap; Rageshree, Jhaptaal and Teentaal; Khambaj, Teental.

Personnel: Sudeshna Bhattacharya: sarod, mohan vina; Tanmoy Bose: tabla.

The Gori Project

Tracks: Far (Blandt Graner); Orange; Turns; Indigo; Make No Gaps; The Blues in You; Beyond (Criticism and Praise); Courage.

Personnel: Eunhee Choi: gayageum; Byunggil Choi: Korean percussion, vocal (7); Jacob Andersen: percussion; Torben Westergaard: bass, keyboard, voice; René Damsbak: trumpet and electronics, voice (8).

The Quiet Cormorant

Tracks: The Quiet Cormorant; Waltz for Hire; Brown House (by the Sea); The Njalla Suite; Island Movies; Love, Peace & Currywurst; The Still; Sørvær Major Manor; A Ballad in Popular Keys; Sunshine -After Fog; Current Tides; Where Did You Go?; Around & About the Roundabout.

Personnel: Per Oddvar Johansen: drums, vibraphone; Torben Snekkestad: tenor & soprano saxophone, bass clarinet; Helge Lien: piano; Hedvig Mollestad: guitar (3, 6).

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