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Jazz Plus: World Music Edition

deleonDeLeon, Tremor Fantasma (Deleon)

Sephardic rockers DeLeon’s third release smartly combines vintage European folk sounds with contemporary production and influences. Multi-instrumentalist and conceptualist Daniel Saks is the driving force in this ambitious set cut in Mexico City. An intriguing secondary story is that the band squeezed recordings around a series of earthquakes and a volcano that hit the area during their stay. But the environmental problems didn’t affect their work. DeLeon does its songs in Ladino (Judeo-Spanish) and Hebrew. The menu ranges from stirring hymns like “Ya Ribon Alam” to spry, upbeat romps like “Barminan,” an updated variation on a vintage Turkish moral tale. For listeners with little or no prior exposure to Sephardic folk or traditional Jewish music, try initially focusing on DeLeon’s frenetic pace and often furious rhythms. Then enjoy unexpected pleasures like a banjo underlining harmonies, or the ska/reggae underpinning of “Hamavdil.” It’s challenging and enticing fare, and for many will be a grand introduction to material not played in much of America.

bombaBomba Estereo, Elegancia Tropical (Polen)

Before the release of their new disc, Colombia’s Bomba Estereo generated plenty of excitement on these shores courtesy of an appearance on NPR’s “Alt. Latino” show. “Elegancia Tropical” continues its cultural collision mode. Lead vocalist Lilana Saumet’s sensual sound is buttressed by driving backdrops that mix and match African and Latin beats with rock and electronic melodies and textures. Guitarist Julian Salazar brings a swashbuckling attitude to his solos and accompaniment, while the group’s idiomatic penchant extends beyond cumbia into Afro-Caribbean and Brazilian territory. “Mozo” and “Rocas” are gritty, emphatic tunes, while “El Alma y El Cuerpo” samples ’70s funk, and “Pa Respirar” takes them into more introspective, ambient frameworks. Still, Bomba Estereo is at its best when energized, and that’s the direction the best pieces on “Elegancia Tropical” take. These are intense, engaging tunes that reference Colombia’s – indeed all Latin America’s – foundation sounds, while simultaneously beckoning to the present and future.

balkanRobert Soko/Balkan Beats, BalkanBeats Soundlab (Piranha)

Robert Soko’s among Eastern Europe’s most popular DJs. His sets hook and excite dancers with a host of selections that continually blend, juggle and sometimes offset Eastern and Western elements. “BalkanBeats Soundlab” is the first time Soko’s brought his club formula into the studio, and he’s assisted by another beats master, keyboardist/DJ Florian Mikuta.  The array of tunes and nations referenced include France (“We Are One” from the Watcha Clan), Vienna (“Georgian Lessons of !Deladap), Hungary (“Chango Leany” from Besh o Drom) and the Ukrane (“I Like To Move It” from Los Colorados’). Mikuta’s contribution is “Giampara,” a heady concoction that meshes guitar and vibes into a setting that sandwiches jazz and funk licks. The disc contains 15 main tunes and two bonus cuts, none longer than five minutes. Keeping in mind this is dance music and geared for participation rather than introspection, Soko definitely achieves his primary goal. These songs unfold in buoyant, percolating fashion. So long as the club is where they’re heard, they soar and excel.

leniLeni Stern, Smoke No Fire (Leni Stern Recordings)

Vocalist Leni Stern’s best known within the jazz world for sultry, expressive interpretations of standards and equally outstanding blues renditions. But she’s also a fine guitarist and ngoni (Malian lute) player. While on tour in Mali, she joined several top players for the tremendous session featured on “Smoke No Fire.” With the city (Bamako) in lockdown and a coup raging, Stern and company didn’t spend much time doing polite, contemplative numbers. While singing passionately in English and Bambara, Stern’s soaring voice got supple, intense support from icon Salif Keith’s band. Participants included Bouba sacko on n’goni and n’goni bass, Madou djembe on calabash and djembe, and Mamadou kone on calabash. They zipped through romantic (“djarabi (my love) tunes, spry workouts (“awn te kao ya (so far, so fast)) and even a Stern excursion into rap (“Djilama” (water)”) that resulted from her collaborations and friendships with Bamako DJs. Though the frequently somber sensibility reflected the hard times many in the city were undergoing, Leni Stern and comrades found a way to make spirited exuberant music. “Smoke No Fire” has a hard edge, but there’s ultimately a hopeful sensibility invoked by Stern’s and the band’s brilliance.

Blues/Soul

eddieEddie C. Campbell, Spider Eating Preacher (Delmark)

Eddie C. Campbell’s among the last of the West Side blues greats. His new disc fully reveals Campbell’s charms and assets. These include a robust voice, wonderful sense of humor, and unwavering stamina. The title track, “Boomerang,” and “I Don’t Understand This Woman” reveal a razor-sharp wit and tremendous insight into humanity’s inevitable flaws and failings. “Playing Around These Blues” and “My Friend (For Jim O’Neal)” offer on one case the musings of a veteran reflecting on his tenure, while on the other he pays homage to a longtime associate and comrade. The instrumental “Starlight” is a relaxed, impressive outing, while “Soup Bone (Reheated)” and “Call My Mama” are other session gems. Keyboardist Darryl Coutts and drummer Robert Pasenko are other regulars. A corps of first rate blues types participate on various cuts, among them wonderful guitarist/vocalist and harmonica player Lurrie Bell, bassists Vuyani Wakaba and Barbara Mayson, and a nice horn duo (tenor saxophonist Chris Neal and baritone saxophonist Aaron Getsug). It’s inspiring that Campbell’s still around, and even better that he still makes records this good.

darrenDarren Jay & The Delta Souls, Drink My Wine

Memphis-based vocalist Darren Jay’s latest release has a foot in two camps. One is electric blues, the other Southern soul. Other than energetic reworkings of Willie Dixon’s “Hoochie Coochie Man” and Robert Geddins’ “Tin Pan Alley,” Jay does original material. Legendary trumpeter and longtime Memphis Horns’ trumpeter Wayne Jackson is among the guest stars, as well as drummer Robb Bland (son of the great Bobby “Blue” Bland). But its Jay’s core band (bassist Laura Cupit), drummer Hubert “H-Bomb” Crawford and keyboardist Tony Thomas who add the spice to sterling numbers like “Workday Blues,” “River’s Edge” and “Lovin’ Man.” Jay’s also a topflight guitarist, but it’s the alternately poignant and powerful vocal treatments that are the major lure of “Drink My Wine,” along with good arrangements and cohesive support from a band that’s both complementary and challenging in its support of Jay’s effusive performances.

mitchMitch Woods, Blues Beyond Borders – Live In Instanbul (Club 88)

Propulsive, engaging boogie-woogie pianist, vocalist and bandleader Mitch Woods and his Rocket 88 band’s 2010 tour of Turkey was a great success. They played 26 shows in 20 cities during their five-week stint. Many of the best nights from that run are on this new CD/DVD set. Woods certainly does highly creditable covers of classics. Their versions of “Rocket 88,” “Down Boy Down,” “Third Degree” and “House of Blue Lights” are enjoyable. But Woods’ own numbers remain the best thing in his shows. His rollicking singing and playing, as well as the band’s, on “Solid Gold Cadillac,” “Boogie Woogie Bar–B-Q,” “Long, Lean and Lanky” and “Queen Bee” obliterate questions over whether an ensemble doing everything  in English can be a hit with foreign audiences. The DVD includes one bonus cut (“The Journey”). Added extras are band accounts of extra-curricular activity on the road and scenes from Turkish Independence Day. It’s an excellent portrait of a premier contemporary blues unit at its best.

Holiday bonus

chrisMChris McDonald and Friends, Jingle Bell Mambo! (Constant Dreamer)

This new session from trombonist Chris McDonald (who produced and arranged it as well) is a nice holiday alternative. Jingle Bell Mambo puts a Latin and big band touch on the Christmas season, with several unusual, nicely played versions of contemporary and vintage holiday-themed compositions. Whirlwind vocalist/percussionist Lalo Davila jump starts the proceedings with his jovial performance on the title cut. Susana Allen shares singing honors with Chris Rodriquez on “O Come Emmanuel,” then get the solo spotlight on “Pidiendo Posada/Noche De Paz,” the CD’s last tune. Rodriguez gets his turn on “O Holy Night.” Other songs feature a host of the city and region’s best swing, jazz and Latin musicians delivering prime solos and accompaniment. The list includes saxophonists Mark Douthit and Jeff Coffin, trumpeters Jeff Bailey, George Tidwell and Mike Haynes, keyboardists/pianists Pat Coil and Stephen Kummer, and percussionist Glen Caruba. Before so many Christmas carols get played everyone seeks relief, enjoy “Jingle Bell Mambo.”

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About Ron Wynn

Ron Wynn is a music critic, author and editor. His features, reviews and articles have run locally in the Nashville Scene, The City Paper (Nashville) and on ArtNowNashville.com among others. Wynn is currently sports editor for the Tennessee Tribune and a contributor to Jazz Times. He is former editor of the New Memphis Star and former chief jazz and pop music critic for the Bridgeport Post-Telegram and the Memphis Commercial Appeal. Wynn has contributed to such publications such as Billboard, The Village Voice, Creem, Rock & Roll Disc, Living Blues, The Boston Phoenix, and Rejoice. He was the editor of the first edition of The All Music Guide to Jazz (1994), and from 1993 to 1994 served as the jazz and rap editor of the All Music Guide. Wynn is the author of The Tina Turner Story. He has contributed liner notes for numerous albums; his liner notes for “The Soul of Country Music” received a 1998 Grammy nomination.