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Orqestra Mahatma: Stay Cool

Chris May By

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A wonderfully joyous and inventive album, Stay Cool hides a wealth of scholarship and musicianship behind expansive instrumental performances of love songs and dance music from far and wide.

Generally labelled world jazz, Orqestra Mahatma's music could more accurately (if more cumbersomely) be described as folk roots jazz. Since debuting with The Young Person's Guide in '96, the group has collected folk and traditional songs from a diversity of cultures. This, the Orquestra's third album, continues in that direction, with in the main little-known (in Europe and the US anyway) tunes from Spain, the Balkans, France, Venezuela, Lebanon, and Nigeria.

To a degree, these players have inherited the Django Reinhardt gypsy jazz tradition, and their instrumentation is a slimmed down version of the Hot Club De France's lineup. But, on Stay Cool anyway, they share little of Reinhardt's pervasive melancholy—despite the inclusion of the French cafe chanson "Melancholie," which is the exception rather than the rule.

Instead, the album celebrates an easy diversity of sunny melodies and upbeat dance rhythms. Highlights include the title track, written by '60s Nigerian highlife star Victor Olaiya and showcasing Stuart Hall's delightfully loose and lazy electric guitar; "Gankino Horo" and "Bavno Pomashko," two rugged Balkan dance tunes in which violinist Sonia Slavny and percussionist Paul Clarvis shine; and the achingly beautiful Venezuelan "Una Noche Una Valse." Waltzes appear throughout, including a terrific medley launched by the traditional American "Goodnight Waltz," giving an enjoyably anachronistic feel to the album.

Hall, Slavny, Clarvis, and bassist Thad Kelly are prominent members of London's session, music academy, and jazz scenes, but the deep and lasting attraction of Stay Cool lies not in the band's collective technical facility, but in its unforced, down-home ambience and lyrical and rhythmically virile improvisations. A glowing little treasure and a balm for tired souls.

Track Listing: The Mooche; Sunrise In Montreal; Goodnight Waltz; Jota De Porto; Flower Of Mexico; Gankino Horo; Stay Cool; Moliendo Cafe; Alma Llanera; Longa Farfisa; Bavno Pomashko; Melancholie; Una Noche Una Valse; Appalachian Waltz; Alabama Jubilee; Golden Slumbers.

Personnel: Paul Clarvis: drums and percussion; Stuart Hall: guitars and violin; Sonia Slany: violin; Thad Kelly: bass.

Title: Stay Cool | Year Released: 2005 | Record Label: Babel Label

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