All Ears 

Alegranza!
El Guincho
(Young Turks/XL)

Music lovers who headed out in search of Roma bands after the Accordion Fest’s recent spotlight may have been surprised at the bounty of new names in their favorite store’s international section. It’s true that Roma music continues to be hot, with accessible entry points ranging from anthologies (like Princes Amongst Men, on Asphalt Tango) to single-artist discs benefiting from higher-profile guest stars: Gogol Bordello’s Eugene Hütz sings three songs on Acquaragia Drom’s Rom Kaffe (Dunya), including one, “Mafia,” that borrows heavily from the Clash’s “Should I Stay or Should I Go.” But new artists (at least to most American ears) hail from every corner of the world.

From Spain come two very different discs that could fit comfortably (but not redundantly) into American musical niches: Alegranza! (Young Turks/XL), the debut by El Guincho, offers the kind of art-pop beats so dense with samples you wonder if there’s any original material buried within. But that’s irrelevant given the way the elements (from Esquivel to steel-drum bands) are built into Carnaval-esque grooves that repeat relentlessly until you give up and start dancing in your chair. Buika’s Niña de Fuego (Warner Latina), on the other hand, serves as a sultry cool-off — flamenco that slinks into the room under cover of soul. The singer gets extra points for an impossibly slow but gorgeous rendition of “Volver, Volver.”

La Vuelta del Malon
Tango Negro Trio
(Felmay)

In South America, the Tango Negro Trio continues that music’s evolution, adapting it to a muscular jazz setting instead of trying once again to mimic or smooth out the groundbreaking style of Astor Piazzolla. Though their compositions clearly descend from the master, the trio is far enough from the tree that they don’t even cover one of his tunes on the new live disc La Vuelta del Malon (Felmay). Pianist Juan Carlos Caceres serves as the group’s singer, and there’s enough velvet passion in his delivery to ensure continued musical employment even if arthritis were to strike his fingers tomorrow.

Guitars From Agadez
Group Inerane
(Sublime Frequencies)

Africa continues to be a bottomless well of underexposed music, both new and old. On Guitars From Agadez (Sublime Frequencies), Group Inerane epitomizes the “Tuareg Guitar Revolution” that served in the ’80s and ’90s as a means of communication in Libyan refugee camps. Part of the music’s aim was to cloak political messages, so it’s probably appropriate that English-speaking listeners can enjoy it with no context, interpreting choral ululations as purely festive cries, and fuzzy electric guitars as the simple meeting of early American rock and African folk styles. European colonialists were quicker to hear threats in the ritual music drawn on by Kasai Allstars, a super-group that has appeared on the popular Congotronics series but makes its full-length debut with a Crammed disc whose unwieldy title is In the 7th Moon, the Chief Turned Into a Swimming Fish and Ate the Head of His Enemy by Magic.

Less prone to be interpreted as black magic is the self-titled album by Seprewa Kasa (Riverboat/World Music Network), a friendly disc of songs highlighting the seprewa, an instrument similar to a kora but with a body shaped like a box instead of a gourd. Once hugely popular in Ghana, the seprewa was evidently almost forgotten until a few of its remaining players happened to discover each other and set out to revive it. The result is a kind of roots-highlife effort that is hard to dislike.

In a Town Called Addis
Dub Colossus
(Real World)

On to Hybridlandia — John Zorn’s Tzadik label gives us Pitom, an electric-guitar-driven rock band that puts traditional Jewish music through a meat grinder. Familiar-sounding melodies sprout thorny, extravagant solos that would make a metal maniac proud while tracks like “The Robe of Priestly Proportions” exploit the manic violin energy familiar to klezmer fans, then harness it to Marshall-testing angst.

Finally, there’s In a Town Called Addis by Real World artist Dub Colossus. A marriage so obvious one wonders why we haven’t heard it before, the record applies thick reggae grooves to the varied musical traditions of Ethiopia, whose former leader Haile Selassie is worshipped by Rastifarians. The mix is gorgeous, from the bluesy “Shegye Shegitu” and spooky, film-score vibe of “Yeka Sub City Rockers” (incorporating organ sounds familiar to fans of the Éthiopiques series) to “Neh Yelginete,” whose easy jazz vibe would make Van Morrison smile. I’m hoping reggae catches this trend, and that next year we’re wading through Marley/Mulatu Astatqé  mashups. •


More by John DeFore

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