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Joe Zawinal
My People
Escapade Music

As always, we get a strange and mixed bag of goods from Austrian/American keyboardist Zawinal. His schmaltz tendencies can be tiring, his propensity for smoothing out rough edges maddening. But he can also surprise and delight. My People is a Zawinal case history, filed with both leanings in quantity. The band on this recording is impressive, indeed: Trilock Gurtu, Chiek Tidiane Seck, Alex Acuna and Ousmane Kouyate are just a few of the many familiar names that join The Syndicate regulars. The core reason for the album is the addition of a world of vocalists: Salif keita (Mali), Burhan Ocal (Turkey), Bolot (Tuvan throat singer), Tahnia Sanchez (Venezuela), jodel/jazz innovators Broadlahn (Austria) and even a little spoken word from The Duke.

You have to wade through some all too typical "fusion" (the jazz term) to get to the great tracks here, but they are here in abundance. After the Ellington intro, the Syndicate wades into their cover of Keita's "Waraya" (with Zawinal doing the vocals!) and it is raw and funky. Strange then that they follow it with another Keita tune, this time with himself on the vocals, and it turns smooth and poppy. Highlights: Sanchez gets a rootsy, drum driven base on "Mi Gente," Siberian string and throat get excellent acoustics and synth treatment on the live track "Ochy-Bala," and the Broadlahn collaboration "Potato Blues."

What makes Zawinal's music important is not the number of successes or failures each album contains, it's his continued drive to experiment, to try new ideas and old, to seek out the talent the world has to offer and rather than exploit it, display it. My People displays that talent and all its possibilities. - CF
(Escapade Music, 730 Elm Street, Conshohocken, PA 19428 / 610.825.9698)

Konstantin Wecker
Global Musicon / BMG Ariola GmbH (import)

Berthold Brecht was the German satirist and poet born in 1898, known for his anarchist and anti-Nazi sentiments. In commemoration of 1998 being the Brecht Centenary, in Germany there are several projects and concerts planned in Germany throughout the year. Heading them off is the new release "Brecht" by Konstantin Wecker, a legendary performer and songwriter in the "liedermacher" tradition, one which follows Berthold Brecht himself in terms of witty, political, and socially constructive lyrics. In his usual fashion, Wecker has married words with categorically indefinable music drawing from elements of cabaret, jazz, pop, and world influences. This time, though, the songwriting credits for the lyrics go to Brecht. Wecker takes Brecht's poems, such as "Choral vom Baal" and "Das Schiff" and makes them his own. Fans of Wecker will immediately recognize the unique piano style which marked many of Wecker's earlier releases, while also bringing a world beat sound into a few songs like "Liebeslied," which is reminiscent of 1996's "Gamsig" album where he performed with an African choir. There is no choir here, but again on "Brecht" Wecker leans towards a big sound, with an eight piece band that captures much of the essence of German cabaret, especially the authentic accordion. Wecker's albums are not widely distributed outside of German-language countries but can be imported at any good music store, or purchased online. - Paula E. Kirman

Die Knödel
Die Noodle!
An Austrian big-string-horn-band ... At the core of this group are various percussive devices, hammer dulcimers in particular, that replace the more traditional drums in the roll of rhythm. Over this comes a layer of reeds, brass and guitars electric and acoustic that punctuate the whole thing with broad exclamation points as in some musical comic strip. They steal ruthlessly from jazz and pop, traditional fiddle-folk and gypsy music, but what comes out is some kind of eastern European film noir, a dark soundtrack masquerades as comedy. Since their previous album they have also added a vocal emphasis that is so strangely out of place that it again adds to the mystery and pathos of their music in surprising ways. Die Kn�del is an accident waiting to happen at every turn, and they never seem to take the turns you anticipate. It makes for an excellent ride, even if it's not where you expected to go. - CF

Die Knödel
Overcooked Tyroleans
Rec Rec Music, via Koch International

At long last this wild and nutty band from the Tyrolean Alps hits the streets of America. Tuba covers zither, clarinet cuts dulcimer, flugelhorn breaks violin, and nobody wins against the bassoon. Harps, violins and viola vie for a place on the table. The whole album is infused with weirdness, laughter and serious fun, the musicianship is fantastic, the arrangements run from elegant to skewed beyond all hope. This record has been a steady favorite on my WPKN show for two years, and WFMU has practically enshrined it. Take it to your ears. - CF

Hoelderlin Express
Electric Flies
(akku disk / [email protected])

They defy my prejudices on their second release, . Perhaps it's the fact that the band's sound is centered on Elke Rogge's hurdy-gurdy, the eerie voiced drone and crank fiddle that in it's own acoustic world has a sound like a synthesizer run through an electric blender set to frappé. Hoelderlin Express take full advantage of this, slamming in synths, electric guitars, pounding kit drums along side Arabic percussion and violins. Folks who know this band from their earlier, mostly acoustic release, Hölderlin Express (note the spelling change) may at first be a bit taken aback by the unrepentant electric-rock sound of Electric Flies, and while I personally miss the accordion that ran through the earlier work, there's only mild complaints from me about the new direction. There are some tracks that border on trivial dance pop, but for most of the album they take a bold look at Euro-folk, and should sit well beside Hedningarna and their companions on the new folk music scene. - CF (akku, , Saarstraße 8 D-72070, Tübingen, Germany)

Instinctive Traveler
Blue Jackel Entertainment

Instinctive Traveler is instinctive in that the band is not doing anything that different from their past efforts and the traveler represents their attempt to pack too many exotic sounds in one album.

The familiar core of western pop synth and beats is layered with instruments from the Middle East and India as well as crammed full of vocals from Hawaiian, Indian, Arabic and Ojibwe singers. The end result is too many things at once, having little focus; a haphazard collection of great bits that are barely more than curiosities together.

The German based group has been creating world beat music for seventeen years. While the overall sound has only changed minutely over the past decade, the addition of a new member has added a somewhat unifying element. Bajka, the daughter of Dissidenten's bassist Uve Mullrich offers up English vocals for much of Instinctive Traveler, tying the package together more than the instruments or other vocals can. Even though her vocals help reel the often loose ends in, at times her R&B core fails to work with the total sound.

Even if some individual songs are not too scattered, as a whole the album is. "Broken Moon" is a dance piece driven by distorted guitar, powerful indigenous Hawaiian vocals and intermingled with Bajka's interpretation via R&B and rap. "Blue World" is a simple blues number with Middle Eastern instrumentation and Hindu and Arabic vocals. Other songs cover the gamut from upbeat dance to sparse, crawling songs with only a few ethnic highlights tossed in.

Overall, Instinctive Traveler is an interesting conglomeration, but is not likely to hold a spot in many CD players for repeated listens. Perhaps Dissidenten is way ahead of the pack, fusing diverse sounds together into music for a united world, but some of us are still hoping to get to know the bits on their own before they get watered down in the stew. - Paul Harding

The Jungle Book
Worldly Dance Music/Triloka

First off, here's a playing tip to enhance your listening: program your player to skip cut 2, the hit single of the album. Then you stand a chance of understanding what this fusion of disco, funk and Indian-music-by-a-German band is about. Dissidenten have made a variety of recordings in the past, from colonial major label tripe to some good work with Morocco's Lem Chaheb. Coming from the cultural stew of Berlin, with its large Arab and Indian populations, it is a natural for this band to take their hard, guitar driven rock into the markets of the east.

This trip, they concentrated on the Indian sub-continent, joined by a cast of excellent Asian and European extras. When it's right, it hits the target dead on. They manage to make the 4/4 beat and the fuzz box sound like they belong on dusty streets of Bombay. It's a pleasure to hear a band stretch the idea of east-meets-west beyond the usual "trance-dance/new age" dross, so even when they miss the mark, they can be somewhat forgiven. This is not a set of hits (no matter what the record company may want) but a record of experiments, some that fail, some that show promise, a few that succeed. Listen carefully,there is beauty and elegance to be found. - CF

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