New York Music Daily

Global Music With a New York Edge

A Lushly Gorgeous Global Party Album and a Subculture Show from Banda Magda

Banda Magda‘s previous album Amour, T’es La put a shimmery equatorial spin on bouncy vintage French ye-ye pop. Their new album, Yerakina (streaming at Bandcamp) is a lot more diverse, considerably darker, and has a much more global reach – and it’s pretty amazing. This time out, frontwoman/accordionist Magda Giannikou – who also plays the ancient Greek lanterna, a hauntingly rippling instrument – explores styles from the Mediterranean to the Amazon and many points in between. She sings in a warm, searching high soprano, much in the same vein as another A-list global songwriter, Natacha Atlas, and has a band to match the songs’ ambitious scope. They’re playing the album release show at 10 PM on Oct 4 at Subculture; advance tix are $18 and highly recommended. Much as Banda Magda’s albums are inventively arranged and lushly orchestrated, the band really kicks out the jams onstage.

The album opens with Sabia, a bubbly, shuffling, accordion-fueled mashup of salsa, Belgian musette, Mediterranean sun-song and a wry hint of cumbia. El Pescador, a hit for Colombia’s Totó La Momposina, gets done as a lush, elegant flamenco-jazz number, Giannikou’s balmy, pillowy vocals floating over stately piano and strings. Trata, a gorgeously swaying Middle Eastern-tinged Greek party tune with rippling hammered dulcimer, cheery brass and animated guy/girl vocals, takes on additional bulk and heft as the arrangement grows.

They contrast that with Luis Gonzaga’s Doralice, reinvented as a dancing miniature for Petros Klampanis’ bass, Giannikou’s vocals and a hint of tropical organ. The album’s title track is a swoony yet kinetic, lavishly orchestrated Greek ballad. The plaintively swinging lament Petite Fleur sounds like Chicha Libre in low-key, brooding mode, a psychedelic cumbia done as French chamber pop, while Karotseris blends Henry Mancini Vegas noir with creepy hi-de-ho swing and late 60s French psych-pop.

The album’s longest track, Cucurucu Paloma is also its quietest and most hypnotic, a hazy blend of rustic Brazilian rainforest folk and lingering psychedelia. With Giannikou’s rapidfire, precise Portuguese vocals, the final cut, Vinicius de Moraes’ Senza Paura keeps the equatorial flavor simmering as it picks up the pace. Whatever continents Banda Magda touch down on here, they find themselves at home; this is one of 2014’s best and most disarmingly charming albums.

Melanie DeBiasio Brings Her Haunting Jazz-Influenced Sonics to the Rockwood

Belgian chanteuse Melanie DeBiasio explains her music not as jazz but as influenced by it. Whatever genre she may fall into – torch song, soul, blues, indie classical or rock – it’s unquestionably noir. Go to DeBiasio’s bio at her webpage and see how gratuitously one writer managed to wrap up his review with a bit of dialogue from the classic film noir Ascenseur Pour L’Echaufaud…and the irony is that the reference actually isn’t gratuitous at all! DeBiasio has a second album, No Deal, streaming at Spotify and an album release show on Oct 1 at 8 PM at the big room at the Rockwood. The show is free but you have to rsvp to burexny@gmail.com.

DeBiasio straddles the line between brassy and brittle on the album’s achingly brief opening track, I Feel You against minimalist piano and swooshy cymbals, capping it off herself with a lingering bass flute solo. Singing in English with a bit of a Wallonian accent, she slinks into noir blues (in 11/4 time), dancing drums contrasting with ominously echoing Rhodes piano, on the album’s second track, The Flow.

DeBiasio’s stoic but wounded vocals on the album’s rainswept title track draw a straight line back to one of her big influences, Nina Simone, while the terse, pensive piano and outro atmospherics look back to Pink Floyd’s Richard Wright. Resonant piano and brushy drums build a Lynchian suspense on the instrumental With Love, followed by the swaying, syncopated noir blues Sweet Darling Pain, another vividly Nina Simone-influenced, hypnotic one-chord jam of sorts. Then DeBiasio does the same thing with I’m Gonna Leave You, a woozy electronic loop oscillating in the background. The album’s final, longest and most minimalist cut is With All My Love, eight-plus minutes of resignation and apprehension from DiBiasio against a brooding backdrop of spacious, distantly eerie drum rolls, piano and electronic atmospherics. Monochromatic? Absolutely: black and white and every shade of grey, like a good film noir.

A Methodically Riveting Laurie Anderson/Kronos Quartet Collaboration at BAM

If you’d assumed that Laurie Anderson and the Kronos Quartet had collaborated before now, you’re not the only one. Anderson recently joked that she’d assumed as much. But the iconic minimalist violinist/composer/wit and the long-running ensemble actually haven’t worked together until now. They’re in the midst of a run through Sept 27 at BAM’s Harvey Theatre, whose barewall space, believe it or not, is very sonically welcoming to their performance of their new work, Landfall, a somberly matter-of-fact suite of sorts. While Anderson wrapped up writing it during the hurricane here a couple of years ago, its scope is considerably wider, touching on such weighty questions as one’s legacy as an artist, the failures of memory and the quirks of language that Anderson has explored throughout her career, among other things.

And much as Anderson may be best known for her acerbic sense of humor and stiletto punchlines, her work since day one has always had a sober, socially aware undercurrent. That rose to the surface with her Iraq war parable, Homeland and has remained front and center ever since, most notably throughout her searing, enveloping 2011 opus The Real New York. This new project with Kronos embodies many of these artists’ familiar tropes: hypnotic electroacoustic textures; crafty improvisation; tongue-in-cheek multimedia and sardonic narrative bits. And it’s as dark as you would imagine.

At Wednesday’s performance, the suite began with a lithely apprehensive theme over a slowly vamping backdrop. Throughout the show, Anderson alternted between her electric violin, a small keyboard on which she played moody neoromantic riffs, and a series of laptop triggers. Midway through the set, violinist John Sherba stood up and took a percussive solo, in the process activating a rapidfire projection of the words to one of the night’s most harrowing comments, one that Anderson perhaps preferred not to articulate herself.

Shortly afterward, Sherba and violinist David Harrington anchored one of the night’s several short segments in unison with the whisperiest possible staccato pedal note, a task that easily could have been assigned to one of Anderson’s machines, but which took the mystery to another level considering how much nuanced intensity the two players put into it. Cellist Sunny Yang intertwined muscular, slinky pizzicato phrases with violist Hank Dutt a little later on against Anderson’s signature, misty, brooding atmospherics. And the group built a couple of austere, horizontal vistas to unexpectedly angst-fueled crescendos, Anderson working the dynamics for all it was worth. This evening appeared to be sold out, but as of today, believe it or not, there are still a few seats left.

Dale Watson Brings His Crusade for Real Country Music to Midtown

Dale Watson‘s Tuesday night show at Slake, in the old Downtime/Albion space a couple of blocks south of Madison Square Garden, did not begin well. Much as the honkytonk outlaw has a great band, the Lone Stars – Don Pawlak on pedal steel, Chris Crepps on upright bass and Mike Bernal on drums – watching those guys without hardly any of Watson’s vocals in the mix was akin to watching George Jones lipsync. And Watson has an axe to grind. Later in the set, when at last the vocals had been brought up to audible level after repeated complaints from the crowd, he recalled being backstage at the Country Music Awards a few years back and overhearing Merle Haggard and George Jones talking. A guy in a CMA shirt walked by, and one said to the other (Watson couldn’t remember which), “CMA, that stands for Country, My Ass.”

So Watson wrote a song about it, and the rest is history. His contempt for the lightly Americana-flavored corporate pop coming out of Nashville is well known – he played that one, and bookended the set with I’d Rather Be an Old Fart Than a New Country Turd, his kiss-off to Blake Shelton. That virtriol resonated with the crowd, and Watson – a guy who knows which side his bread is buttered on – fed off it, taking requests in between sharing rounds of shots for the band furnished by liquored-up customers. He calls his music Ameripolitan rather than country since that term has been hijacked and misused in the same way that irony has been by the matching-manpurse-and-socks crowd. And when he wasn’t shilling for Lone Star Beer – his Telecaster has a Lone Star sticker on the pickguard – he was shilling for the Ameripolitan Awards, a celebration of genuine, original Americana sounds that you can participate in and vote for your favorite artists in honkytonk, rockabilly and other styles.

In between requests – a pretty thundering version of the cheating song Exit 109, the scampering cry-in-your-beer anthem Fox on the Run and others – Watson mixed up the hits with new material from a forthcoming album, which he’ll be touring with Rev. Horton Heat next year. The biggest crowd-pleaser was I Lie When I Drink – the best track on Watson’s 2013 album El Rancho Azul – inspired by a comment from a heckler responding to one of Watson’s shout-outs to Lone Star Beer.

Much as Watson’s songs can be buffoonish, he’s actually a very sophisticated, nuanced singer, pulling on and off the mic with the subtlety of a jazz singer – which, when you think about it, Watson actually is, since he plays western swing. And much as that souful baritone is what he’s best known for, he’s also an excellent guitarist, flatpicking through a Gentle on My Mind soundalike with a nonchalant expertise. He traded riffs animated with Pawlak, and gave the rhythm section plenty of space to flex their chops as well.

The rest of the set was an eclectic mix of styles: the western swing shuffle South of Round Rock; a handful of hypercaffeinated Jerry Reed-style numbers from Watson’s latest album The Truckin’ Sessions Trilogy; an “obligatory” Merle cover, Silver Wings, and an unexpectedly moody new ballad before the final boisterous outro. It made sense in a city whose default music is, as Watson calls it, Ameripolitan. Who would have thought that ever would have happened, twenty years ago?

Haunting, Angst-Fueled Anthems and a Drom Show by Philly Art-Rockers Barakka

Philadelphia-based Turkish art-rock band Barakka deserve to be vastly better known than they are. Even though the majority of their lyrics are in Turkish, their relentlessly intense, mostly minor-key anthems are memorable and often haunting, transcending any language barrier. They’re playing at Drom on Oct 2 at 7:30 PM, opening for another more psychedelic (and controversial) Turkish rocker, Ahmet Muhsin. Advance tix are $20 and very highly recommended because the diaspora comes out in full force for shows like this.

Barakka’s brilliant album – streaming at their Reverbnation page – is titled Uzaklardan, meaning “far away” or “from a distance.” It’s a feeling echoed in the music’s persistent unease and frontman Baris Kaya’s recurrent themes of longing and loss. More often than not, the lead instrument is Roger Mgrdichian’s incisive, rippling oud, joining in a rich interweave with Kaya’s web of acoustic and electric guitars, William Tayoun’s elegant piano and Chris Marashlian’s kinetic bass. Multiple drummers contribute to the project, including the band’s current stickman, Jim Hamilton and the New York Gypsy All-Stars‘ Engin Gunaydin.

The opening track, Agit sets the stage, piano paired against the oud as the lithely dancing minor-key intro gives way to a crunchy, intense, anthemically swaying drive: as it crescendos, the band creates a dynamic that’s both towering and eerily rustic. The second track, simply titled X builds to a similarly angst-driven peak out of a strummy acoustic waltz. Kayip is the most American-sounding, and ironically the least musically dynamic track, winding down to down to the piano over Joseph Tayoun’s clip-clop darbouka groove.,

The bittersweet Gri Sokaklar is the gentlest number here: once again, Mgrdichian leads the band up and the piano follows. Hedye kicks off with a flurrying darbouka solo and quickly builds to a moody, haunting anthem with a tricky tempo, the wounded ache in Kaya’s voice echoed potently by Mrgdichian’s tense, upper-register oud solo. The steady, precise Yalniz Kahraman is every bit as haunting, with Kaya’s spare, echoey, bell-like guitar accents behind the oud’s stoic intensity.

Sairin Celiskisi sets anthemic mitteleuropean angst to a catchy, unexpectedly tropical pop tune with a little Middle Eastern spice. The stomping, vamping, crunchily hypnotic Hey On Besli pairs the clattering darbouka with bagpipe-like guitar – it’s the most Mediterranean-inflected track. The slow, pensive Son brings back the grey-sky anthemic ambience.The album’s final cut, Hit & Run has a metal-tinged, chromatically-charged intensity, Kaya’s eerie fuzztone lines matching the menace of the lyrics. As lushly and intricately arranged as these songs are, they sound like they’d be real showstoppers in concert.

New York Bands We Take For Granted: The Perennially Fun Chicha Libre

Musicians call it the curse of the residency. In New York, after all, bands typically don’t build a following: you play to your friends. Book yourself into a weekly residency for a month and see everybody come out for the first and last shows…if you’re lucky. Chicha Libre have managed to beat the odds, on a Monday night, of all nights. By all rights, the Brooklyn chicha revivalists would be entitled to weekends at Barbes, considering that the frontman/cuatro player and lead guitarist own the joint. But they graciously let other bands play Fridays and Saturdays and do their weekly residency/live rehearsal on a Monday…which is genius in a way, since it turns a dead night into a crazy party that probably earns the bar just as much as a Saturday.

Chicha Libre get extra props for singlehandedly spearheading the psychedelic cumbia revival: without them, it’s probably safe to say that the wild, trippy sounds of legendary Peruvian bands like Los Destellos, Los Mirlos and Juaneco y Su Combo would never have made it out of Peru. What Chicha Libre does is exactly what those cult acts were doing forty years ago, mashing up Colombian cumbia, British psychedelia and American surf rock into a trebly, trippy, intoxicating, indelibly Peruvian stoner blend. It works just as well as dance music as it does stoner music; that Chicha Libre are recognized as giants of the genre in Peru speaks to how well they’ve assimilated it. “Sorry we’re late,” cuatro player Olivier Conan told the crowd packed into the back room there a couple of Mondays ago, “It’s our only claim to authenticity.” He was being modest.

They opened and closed their first set with the silly stuff: first Flight of the Valkyries reinvented as a droll cumbia, complete with a long, echoey, dubwise intro from Josh Camp’s wah-wah electric accordion. He would go on to reference 70s arenarock schlockmeisters Styx not once but twice – this band can do funny as well as they do trippy and creepy. The last song was a cumbia version of the mid-70s instrumental novelty hit Popcorn, which they ended with a good-natured shout-out to good weed and the corn liquor (sort of the Peruvian equivalent of Olde English) from which the band takes their name. In between they did the surreal, creepy stuff, lots of it, one of the best sets they’ve ever played on their home turf.

The apprehensively Satie-esque 11 Tejones (a tejon is a badger) had echoey, resonant, tersely spaced Vincent Douglas Telecaster licks mingling with Camp’s swirly, funereal organ lines. The trickly shapeshifting Depresion Tropical – third world economics as oncoming storm – kept the uneasy slink going, followed by Papageno Electrico with its irresistible, bittersweetly ominous chorus. For diehard chicha fans, it takes a slinky early 80s style synth tune ten years back in time, when Los Destellos and their compadres were doing it much more organically and psychedelically.

After that the band treated the crowd to a long, trippy take of the Los Mirlos classic Sonido Amazonico, the title track of Chicha Libre’s brilliant 2008 debut album, Camp’s lighthearted salsa organ solo handing off to a long, hallucinatory, sunbaked one from Douglas. From there, they segued into a couple of covers, the second being another Los Mirlos tune, the scampering Muchachita Del Oriente, Douglas’ spaghetti western guitar set against a long, hypnotically crescendoing twin solo from timbalera Karina Colis and an invigorated sub conga player. They wound up the set with a raw, rugged cumbia take of the Clash’s Guns of Brixton and then a similarly edgy, sarcastic original, La Danza Del Millionario.

And a show back in August where Conan was AWOL featured a second lead guitarist firing off lightning-fast flurries of tapping and seriously metal cumbia in his place. Maybe because the guest guitarist was more familiar with iconic chicha material than Chicha Libre’s songs, that set featured a lot more stuff by Los Destellos and Juaneco. You never know what you’r going to get with this crew. And everybody was dancing. Are Chicha Libre the funnest band in New York or what? They’re back at Barbes next Monday, Sept 29 at 9:30 or so and pretty much every other Monday this year: check the Barbes calendar.

Muddy Ruckus Bring Their Darkly Inventive Americana to the Rockwood

Portland, Maine trio Muddy Ruckus call their music “stomp and swing punk.” They’re bringing their uneasy guy/girl harmonies and unique blend of string-band swing, Tom Waits-inspired circus rock and oldtimey blues to the small room at the Rockwood on Sept 27 at 9 PM. They’ve also got a stylistically diverse, carnivalesque debut album streaming at Bandcamp.

The opening track, Crawl on the Ceiling sets the tone, a brisk noir swing romp fueled by Brian Durkin’s steady bass pulse, Erika Stahl’s torchy vocal  harmonies enhancing the darkly phantasmagorical ambience. The band work their way up from skeletal to anthemic on Come with Us, lowlit by Marc Chillemi’s torchy muted trumpet. Ruby Red rises from a doomed, slow-burning electrified minor-key blues groove to a frantic sprint to the finish line, frontman/guitarist Ryan Flaherty channeling pure desperation with an unhinged solo.

Mother Mud blends oldschool 60s soul with a string band sound from forty years previously, driven by Phil Bloch’s violin. The scampering swing shuffle Bulldozer will resonate with anyone who can’t wait to get out of the “shitty town” where they grew up, as Flaherty puts it. “I don’t need your family money or drugs, ’cause I’m high on all the lies I told myself as I grew up,” he drawls sarcastically.

Butterfly Bullets adds a little cynical hip-hop edge to Waits-ish noir blues. Worse Things mashes up lazy indie rock and oldtime blues: it’s a kiss-off to an evil boss and dayjob drudgery in general. “There’s no romance that compares to the rug that’s pulled out from under your prayers,” Flaherty insists.

Convalescent Angel builds from creepy oldtime gospel ambience to anthemic menace. Infinite Repair returns to the noir swing, with a neat, flatpicked guitar solo that’s part Appalachian, part Romany jazz. Lightning, a slow waltz, mines an oldtime fire-and-brimstone vernacular anchored by Durkin’s stygian bowing. Stahl sings Bag of Bones, a dancing, dixieland-flavored swing tune. The album’s final track, On and On, is a loping, hypnotic rock nocturne: thematically, it’s out of place, but it’s not bad.

Another Fun Album and a Jalopy Show by the Two Man Gentlemen Band

For about the past ten years, the Two Man Gentlemen Band – tenor guitarist Andy Bean and bassist Fuller Condon – have entertained crowds with their irrepressible, toe-tapping oldtimey sounds. Their previous album Two At a Time was a collection of drinking songs and will probably go down in history as a classic of its kind, if you buy the premise that drinking songs can be classic. Their latest release, aptly titled Enthusiastic Attempts At Hot Swing and String Band Favorites (streaming at Spotify), is a bit, um, more serious. Its unifying theme is old songs about US states and specific locales. Much as the two gents’ cred as connoisseurs of early swing, blues, jazz and hillbilly sounds is well known, the album is sort of a resume that you can dance to. It’s something a booking agent can use to score a gig at a fancy sit-down jazz club, and also something you can enjoy over cocktails at home without paying fancy sit-down jazz club prices. The two gentlemen – who are likely to be joined by other gentlemen onstage- have a gig coming up on Sept 26 at 9 PM at the Jalopy; cover is $15. It’s the obvious place to see these guys, not only since they’ll probably take advantage of the venue’s penchant for using a single, central onstage mic, just as the band recorded these songs, live to analog tape.

A lot of the songs here are ones you know, like the characteristically jaunty take of My Blue Heaven that opens the album. Back Home in Indiana is much the same; These Foolish Things, as you would expect, is more low-key, in a plaintive Matt Munisteri vein. The funniest track is Beale Street Mama, capped off with dixieland-flavored clarinet and banjo; the most surreal, and surprisingly, period-perfect number here is Chinatown, My Chinatown.

Time Changes Everything features cocktail drums – as do most of the songs here – along with mandolin and accordion. Likewise, Some of These Days also has acccordion on it, adding a Romany jazz edge. The shuffling Palm Springs Jump has wry trombone-ish vocalese and a flurrying Bean guitar solo. They do On the Sunny Side of the Street and I Can’t Give You Anything But Love as droll Gatsby swing crooner tunes, while Sweet Irene from Illinois bounces along with a rustic 20s string band feel.

There are also a trio of excellent instrumentals: a spiky swing through The Dallas Rag, a version of Jackson Stomp that’s so tight it ticks, and a lively take of East Tennessee Blues. All this further cements the group’s reputation as one of the most reliably fun vintage Americana acts out there.

Great Storytelling and Tunesmithing on Wormburner’s New Third Album

Wormburner draw a lot of comparisons to Bruce Springsteen. Like the Boss, they play anthemic, four-on-the-floor meat-and-potatoes rock  narratives with great lyrics (we’re talking the Nebraska and before-era Springsteen, ok?). And they’ve got an infinitely better singer in charismatic frontman Steve “Hank” Henry. They play respectable midsize venues and get good gigs, often as a supporting act for artists from the Springsteen era. They’ve got an especially intimate one coming up on Sept 26 at 8:30 PM at the Mercury, which will be the release show for their long-awaited third album, Pleasant Living in Planned Communities. $12 advance tix are very highly recommended since it’s a good bet that this show will sell out.

The album title is characteristically sarcastic. It’s a collection of character sketches among the down-and-out – again, the peak-era Springsteen comparison. The A-side of the first vinyl single from the album, released last year, was Today Might Be Our Day. At the time, this blog called it “on the Celtic side of anthemic 80s rock, U2 without the strident vocals and empty slogans. And it’s got a story, in this case a smalltime hood on the run from the law. Is that a swoopy synth solo or a guitar running through a wah? The band has both. The B-side, Parliaments on Sundays, is a wry janglerock anthem like the Figgs at their most tuneful, told from the point of view of a guy who likes his liquor but only smokes or does the other stuff if it ‘helps to dull the edge, and anything to keep you off the ledge.’” Those two are a good start, and it gets better from there.

Over drummer Jim Spengler’s percussive, stomping Clash City Rockers beat, Hopscotch Gunner has Henry relating a tale of airborne combat gone horribly awry, with his usual intensity, against a backdrop of burning guitar from Paul McDaniel and Alex Senese, bassist Terry Solomone taking flight on the chorus. Somewhere Else To Be nicks a very, very familiar New Order riff and hitches it to a shiny Stiff Little Fingers-style punk-pop drive; it’s the first appearance of Daniel, a lapsed Catholic and gay prostitute who will appear later on.

Drinks at the Plaza Hotel opens with a morosely crescendoing, goth-tinged theme that brings to mind Ninth House, two would-be scam artists gloating about how clueless their marks are…or are they? Made-for-TV Movie (an original, not the Twin Turbine classic about the Columbine massacre) contemplates bridge-and-tunnel alienation and anomie, over blazingly anthemic, insistent powerpop. The band starts out with a strut and builds to a stomp on Dolores, If You Please, an angst-fueled 21st century depression scenario.

The band evokes the Jam circa Setting Sons with Catherine, the searing tale of an Iraq War vet: the chorus is a clinic in how to take an anthem as far up as it can possibly go. The Sleep That Never Comes offers the point of view of an even more shellshocked veteran, this guy from the Vietnam era: the sarcastic faux-martial brass is a neat, Phil Ochs-like touch. The final veterans’ tale is Doxology:

That’s the thing about sin
First the clouds roll in
Then it’s like the world’s about to end
And somebody’s guessed
What you won’t confess
Least of all not then,

Henry explains. It’s sort of the album’s Jungleland, but a whole lot less romantic. There’s also a brief instrumental titled Billy’s Topless, which may or may not be a shout-out to a Flower District space that once housed a notorious titty bar but which is now a deli and reputedly better off as one. Memorable stories, brilliant tunesmithing, what more could you want? The album’s not out yet, hence no Spotify or Bandcamp link, but should hit the interwebs shortly.

An Astonishingly Eclectic, Global Album and an Auspicious Laurie Anderson Collaboration at BAM from the Kronos Quartet

The original indie classical ensemble, the Kronos Quartet – violinists David Harrington and John Sherba, violist Hank Dutt and cellist Sunny Yang – are teaming up with Laurie Anderson for what promises to be one of the year’s best, and potentially one of the decade’s most auspicious runs at BAM next week. They’lll be performing their collaboration, Landfall, which explores Anderson’s experiences during Hurricane Sandy here in New York a couple of years ago. The concerts run from Sept 23 to Sept 27 at 7:30 PM. $20 balcony seats are still available as of today. You’ve been given the heads-up – this could be major.

The Kronos Quartet’s latest album, A Thousand Thoughts – streaming at Spotify – is also pretty major. It’s basically a survey of string music from around the globe, accent on intense and substantial. It’s also an unusually successful take on a format that’s often overrated and underwhelming: pairing a famous group with a bunch of equally famous special guests. But the Quartet has always been a mutable unit, as these fifteen tracks – recorded across the years, with every Kronos Quartet lineup – prove over and over again. They literally can play anything, yet always manage to put their own individualistic, out-of-the-box stamp on it. Celtic traditional music reinvented as ambient soundscape? Check. The Blind Willie Johnson delta blues tune Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground remade as Vietnamese art-song, with eerily quavering dan bao from Van-Anh Vanessa Vo? Doublecheck.

Maybe what’s most enjoyable here is that virtually all of these performance are acoustic. To be completely fair, when the Kronos Quartet have employed electronics, those effects aren’t usually gratuitous: the group tends to use them for extra atmospheric bulk and heft when a piece calls for it. But these performances are intimate, with an immediacy and vivid chemistry among the ensemble and with the guests. The Quartet teams up with Syrian star Omar Souleyman for a Bollywood-ish jam with biting accents and swirling microtones over a steady, hypnotic beat. Vo returns to join her countryman Kim Sinh for another alternately spiky and swooping Vietnamese number. A suspensefully crescendoing, rather epic Ethiopian theme by Ethiopiques sax legend Gétatchèw Mèkurya is one of the album’s highlights.

A far more stark, haunting highlight is Sim Sholom, by klezmer legend Alter Yechiel Karniol. A long, dynamically rich, slowly unwinding take of a Turkish classical theme by early 20th century composer Tanburi Cemil Bey might be the best track of them all. Or it could be the spare, haunting Greek gangster blues tune Smyrneiko Minore. Or for that matter, a rare. achingly beautiful excerpt from Astor Piazzolla’s Five Tango Sensations featuring the great bandoneonist/composer himself.

There’s also a shapeshiftingly lush Terry Riley piece featuring the vocals of Le Mystere Des Voix Bulgares; a Homayun Sakhi Afghani rubab tune that straddles the line between Middle Eastern and Indian music; a scampering collaboration with Chinese pipa virtuoso Wu Man on a rousing traditional song; and a little gentle Bollywood and Irish folk at the end. It’s an apt summation of this group’s hall of fame career, one that simply refuses to stop.

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