New York Music Daily

Global Music With a New York Edge

Category: desert blues

Lavish Beauty, Depth and Relevance with Awa Sangho and the Brooklyn Raga Massive at Lincoln Center

Lincoln Center impresario Meera Dugal didn’t bother to hide how much she was looking forward to reveling in singer Awa Sangho fronting the Brooklyn Raga Massive last night. She was on to something. This show was part of Lincoln Center’s ongoing Outside India collaboration with the India Center and Brooklyn Raga Massive. Dugal promised beauty; Sangho and the band delivered their Malian/Indian mashup lavishly, poignantly and often mesmerizingly.

A moody Eric Fraser bansuri solo wafted over five-string bassist Michael Gam’s distant, low rumble as the show got underway, Sangho triumphantly raising a colorful mask to the heavens, warding off any evil spirits who might have snuck in. Violinist Trina Basu’s plaintive melody received a misterioso response from Fraser, Malik Kholy’s drums joining the nocturnal ambience along with Balla Kouyate’s slinky, chiming balafon. As the music leapt into a swinging, swaying, camelwalking groove, Kane Mathis’ spiky kora and guitarist Baba Kone’s incisive guitar joined the hypnotic mix. The instruments receded as Sangho intoned her terse, impassioned vocalese in a resonant, low midrange. A rippling balafon solo in tandem with percussionist Daniel Moreno brought the intensity higher as Sangho beamed and swayed in front of the band. That was just the first song.

Sangho dedicated her next number to her ailing mom back in Mali. Moreno opened it with a warpy wah-wah ngoni solo, the band slowly making their way in. An emphatic whack of the drums, a methodical volley of blues guitar riffs, growly bass and smoky bansuri led to a lingering Emilio Modeste tenor sax solo before the band backed away for Basu and Sangho to bring the pensive vibe back. As the waves of music rose again, the audience joined in a spontaneous clapalong.

“I’ve been fighting for 35 years for women’s rights and girls’ education,” Sangho explained, prefacing a protest song against what she termed “enforced marriage.” A resolutely vamping two-chord theme emerged as the singer’s voice grew more defiant. Pensive sax mingled with the sax and violins, Arun Ramamurthy positioned for stereo effect – and some sizzling, microtonal melismas – at stage right.

Fraser opened what he called a “condensed” duo version of Raga Yaman, establishing a suspenseful calm, tabla player Roshni Samlal raising the anticipation up to a tense, trilling peak. It was impossible to sit still. Mathis and Basu couldn’t resist joining in with their ripples and washes.

From there they segued into an animated, elegantly polyrhythmic duo piece by Mathis and Samlal with a rapidfire kora solo at the center. The cantering, vamping instrumental that followed brought to mind the Grateful Dead at their most epic, back in the 80s, For the rest of the night, the band followed Sangho’s lead meticulously, whether Kone’s aching, plaintive modalities in tandem with her exasperated “what now” delivery on a traditional tune, or Modeste’s smoky soulfulness alongside Sangho’s husky vocals in her original, Maman, which she said through tears was dedicated to mothers everywhere.

The group closed with an insistent, emphatic girl-empowerment anthem, Sangho’s uncanny ability to transcend language barriers in full effect. “Knowledge is power, stand up for your rights,” was the message. A sold-out house roared for an encore: they got a spiraling, undulating jam, an apt coda considering how close a match Indian modes can be for vampy, mostly two-chord Malian psychedelia. For Sangho and the band, it was a spectacularly successful mission.

And after a hellacious train ride, it was an awful lot of fun to cap off the evening with the tail end of Bombay Rickey’s similarly slinky set at Barbes. Frontwoman Kamala Sankaram reached for the rafters with her four-octave voice over Drew Hudgins’ slithery sax and Drew Fleming’s twangy southwestern gothic guitar, with a fat low end now anchored by former Chicha Libre bassist Nick Cudahy. Considering how much cumbia this band mashes up with Bollywood – a couple of pretty wild jams on Yma Sumac tunes, this time out – the group’s finally found their missing piece.

The Brooklyn Raga Massive plays Thursdays at around 8:30 at the Jalopy; advance tix, available at the theatre, are $10. And the next free show at the Lincoln Center atrium space on Broadway north of 62nd St. is a dance party on Feb 15 at 7:30 with Tito Puente Jr. and many alums from his dad’s legendary salsa band.

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Globalfest 2018: The Best Ever?

Yeah, Globalfest this year was cold. But it’s winter. Judging from the number of midwestern and Canadian accents in the crowd last night, an awful lot of people at this year’s annual festival of sounds from around the world are on familiar terms with it. At this point in history we should be grateful that anything approximating winter still exists.

And it was reassuring to see such great throngs of people coming out on what might have been the coldest night of the year to see music from shithole countries. Neither of the two nations officially designated as shitholes by the Oval Office – El Salvador and Haiti – were represented among the dozen acts on the bill. But Iran has been on a White House shitlist for a long time, Cuba for far longer. And by today’s White House standards (if not tomorrow’s), the cities of New Orleans and Detroit can’t be far behind. So a lineup, which by European standards would have made for a good, solidly eclectic summer festival bill, was positively subversive here in the US in 2018.

Mohsen Namjoo set the bar impossibly high for the rest of the night, opening up the evening with his Persian rock band at the Liberty Theatre stage on the south side of 42nd Street. How did the Iranian setar lute player handle singing to an audience of non-Farsi speakers? Mostly by just vocalizing. “Understand it as sound,” he said with a sardonic wink to the crowd jammed at the front of the stage. Which is a step outside the box for a guy known for his incendiary lyrics.

He’s been called the Iranian Bob Dylan, although Tom Waits is a better comparison – and Namjoo rocks a lot harder than both of those guys put together. Showing off every octave of his formidable range, he prowled from gritty lows to overtone-enhanced highs, evoking a ney flute during one long interlude. His snarling band – lead guitar, bass and drums – made fanged Iranian art-rock out of Metallica, and took innumerable twists and turns through a dynamic mix of multi-part epics in 5/4, 7/4 and 11/4.

Namjoo, who has a withering sense of humor, cynically dismissed the American fixation with four-on-the-floor rhythms. His funniest moment of the night was when he played sarcastic bebop on his setar and scatted – after opening the song with a plaintive, haunting, spacious minor-key lute intro.

Later in the night there were similarly spectacular vocals from Georgia’s Iberi Choir, who are not only a choral ensemble but what could be termed an acoustic psychedelic folk band. Georgian harmonies are unlike music from anywhere else on the globe, with plenty of uneasy adjacencies but not the microtones of Middle Eastern or Balkan music. There was a brooding sensibility throughout much of the group’s set, and also a relentless, sometimes hypnotic intensity, alluding to but never hitting the kind of big minor-key crescendo you might expect from, say, Russian music.

Like Namjoo, the group members all seem to have impressive range, leaping far from monklike gothic lows within thirty seconds of the start of the set. The group’s instrumental chops were also as gripping as their vocals. Throughout a mix of dance numbers, Central Asian field hollers, laments and celebrations, various subsets of the ensemble would move to the front, accompanying themselves on a variety of lutes. In the most spectacular moment of the entire evening, the group leader played jaunty harmonies on two wood flutes at once and didn’t miss a note.

Across the street at Lucille’s, Brazilian rock singer Ava Rocha led her wickedly psychedelic four-piece band through a deliciously acidic, unpredictably shapeshifting set. South of the border, the 80s are still very much alive, but in a much darker way than they are here. American indie bands tend to ape the blithest, poppiest side of the Cure or New Order; down there, the sound tends to be much darker. Rocha’s mask finally came off three songs into her set. By then, the band had prowled through enigmatic early 80s Souxsie terrain, then a hypnotic series of interludes that were best appreciated as a contiguous whole rather than individual songs.

Tightly and methodically, the band negotiated sharp-fingernailed no wave, clenched-teeth Gang of Four skronk and insistently pulsing postrock interludes, the Telecaster player often hanging on the same tense, unresolved hook for what seemed minutes on end, at a couple of points switching to mini-synth for a series of woozy, warpy textures. The other Fender player handled the more aggressive, jagged lines over the rhythm section’s relentless drive. Rocha’s moody mezzo-soprano made a strong match with the songs’ often pained intensity, another case of many this evening where the mood of the music transcended any linguistic barrier.

That was most vividly the case in singer Eva Salina’s rapturous set of music from across the Balkans, in a rising and falling intimate duo set with her longtime accordionist Peter Stan. Where he’d animated a big ballroom full of dancers at Golden Fest a couple of nights before with his whirlwind arpeggios, cascades and looming low pulse, this time he fired off bright rivet-gun staccato riffs and similarly nimble spirals when he wasn’t lowlighting the sadder numbers.

Which would eventually go in all sorts of different directions. Eva Salina reminded the crowd that there’s a little bit of sadness – and happiness too – in pretty much everything, varying her delivery from delicate microtonal nuance, to lustrously sustained midrange, to lively, bounding passages. A handful of numbers – including a surreal tale of a drunk trying (or not trying) to pull his life together, and a bouncy celebration of a rotund little bride who’s eventually going to bear nine children – were taken from the catalog of legendary Romany crooner Saban Bajrmovic. Salina’s forthcoming album mines a completely different repertoire, that of the tragic but indomitable chanteuse Vida Pavlovic, most poignantly exemplified by a couple of ballads about abandonment – with and without children.

Finally, as midnight approached, it was time to move next door to B.B. King’s, the biggest room at this this year’s festival, for Mariachi Flor de Toloache. Where Eva Salina had been all about subtlety, New York’s only all-female mariachi band were all about fire and drama, breathtaking vocal acrobatics and audience participation. Bandleader Mireya Ramos played nimble basslines on her guitarron but saved her most spectacular chops for violin, in a sizzling solo during the night’s final cumbia. Her counterpart on tenor guitar also showed off a sensational top range during an unexpected and wildly successful detour into noir soul- somewhere Amy Winehouse is very jealous. With two trumpets, soaring violin and balmy flute, the group made their way through a defiant shout-out to Puerto Rico, a handful of rhythmically tricky, punchy dance numbers and a droll medley that quoted Led Zep along with other more snarky riffs.

Serendipitously, there was less of a need to triage this year than at past festivals. The only major disappointments were missing Miramar – who are playing Barbes tonight, Jan 15, at 9 – and also Indian carnatic hip-hop duo Grand Tapestry, who if they played at all, were done by half past midnight. And it would have been a lot of fun to see the whole set by slinky, shuffling New Orleans trio Delgres, who with slide guitar, sousaphone and drums played a kinetically hypnotic mashup of Mozambiquean duskcore over New Orleans-tinged rhythms. It was akin to watching Tinariwen playing R.L. Burnside tunes – with a fat low end that frequently bubbled over with distortion.

And what a difference a venue makes. What a pleasant change to see the calm, comfortable faces of the staff at B.B. King’s instead of the paranoid stares of the goons at Webster Hall, a place where just getting inside felt like trying to break into Riker’s Island. Even as transcendent as many of the past fifteen years’ worth of Globalfest lineups could be, being treated like a criminal from the git-go always leaves a bad taste.

But revenge is sweet. At Globalfest 2013, a daily New York music blog proprietor managed to sneak two bottles of wine through Webster Hall’s security gauntlet. Not to drink there – to take home afterward, and carry out through that same exit door, a raised middle finger to every little Hitler in the house.

La Mar Enfortuna Lead a Haunting Guided Tour of Sephardic Music at the Jewish Museum

There was a point last night at the Jewish Museum where La Mar Enfortuna guitarist Oren Bloedow, playing a gorgeous black hollowbody Gibson twelve-string, hit an achingly ringing, clanging series of tritones. Violinist Dana Lyn answered him with a flittingly menacing couple of high, microtonal riffs. It was like being at Barbes, or the Owl, except on the Upper East Side.

That good.

For four years now, the Bang on a Can organization has been partnering with the Jewish Museum for a series of concerts that dovetail with current exhibits there. This time out, La Mar Enfortuna’s starkly beautiful Sephardic art-rock and reinventions of ancient Jewish themes from across the Middle East and North Africa were paired with the ongoing Modigliani show.

Since the 90s, Bloedow and his charismatic chanteuse bandmate Jennifer Charles have been the core of similarly haunting, sometimes lushly lurid noir art-rock band Elysian Fields. Likewise, this show built a dark but more eclectic atmosphere. At their quietest, bassist Simon Hanes – who otherwise looked like he was jumping out of his shoes to be playing this material – switched to acoustic guitar, for a spare duo with Bloedow on an ancient Moroccan song whose storyline was a possibly hashish-influenced counterpart to the Sleeping Beauty myth.

The band slunk through a salsa-jazz verse to a ringingly otherworldly, anthemic chorus on an original, Charles singing a lyric by Federico Garcia Lorca in the original Spanish. Bloedow, who was in top form all night as sardonically insightful emcee, noted that the band had played that same song just a few yards from where the fascists had taken Garcia Lorca into the underbrush and then shot him in the back.

Charles also sang in Farsi, Ladino and Arabic. The early part of the set featured more minimalist, lingering ballads; drummer Rob DiPietro sat back from his kit and played a hypnotic dance groove on daf frame drum on one of them. Matt Darriau began the set on bass clarinet; by the end, he’d also played a regular-size model and also bass flute, fueling the songs’ moodiest interludes with his sepulchral, microtonal, melismatic lines.

The closest to an over-the-top moment was when the band danced through the original Sephardic melody of a big Vegas noir ballad that’s been used umpteen times for Hollywood approximations of exoticism. The night’s most hypnotic song was another Moroccan number that strongly brought to mind Malian duskcore rock bands like Tinariwen. The high point was a slowly crescendoing original that rose to a mighty peak, fueled by Bloedow’s majestically resonating chromatic chords.

The Bang on a Can series at the Jewish museum continues on February 22 of next year at 7:30 PM with similarly otherworldly Czech violinist/composer/vocalist Iva Bittova and her ensemble; tix are $18 and include museum admission.

Mdou Moctar Brings Psychedelic Saharan Resilience and Rapture to Lincoln Center

In his New York debut this evening, Agadez, Niger duskcore guitarist Mdou Moctar told a packed house at Lincoln Center that “The desert isn’t for the Tuareg anymore.” Beyond those catastrophic implications, the Sahara’s loss is the world’s gain. With that, he let his guitar and his songs do the talking.

Like Hendrix and Albert King (and Otis Rush, Randi Russo, and many more), Moctar is a lefty, which might have something to do with how much more eclectic his sound is compared to his desert brethren. The revolutionary anthem he opened with was remarkably straightforward, building to a resolute crescendo over his drummer’s straight-up, swaying rock beat, the rhythm guitarist holding down a simple, syncopated strum. Meanwhile, Moctar fingerpicked psych-blues riffs through his wah, varied his textures and found a fourth stone from the sun. This is what the vastness of the desert inspires, especially if you’ve grown up there.

His vocals had a similar confidence and resilience. But the ache and longing in the opening riffage of his second number transcended any linguistic limitation and resounded even as the boomy triplet groove picked up steam. Llike any other jamband leader, Moctar works long serpentine solos, but with more dynamics and also more chord changes than this style is known for. Likewise, his hooks are as catchy as they get.

He’d leave a string open to resonate, raga style as he spun silky filigrees with his hammer-ons, leaving lots of space in between runs: the effect raised the impact the louder and faster he played. He kicked off one tune with gently shivery tremolo-picking, then the band hit a groove that was practically a waltz, finally hitting his distortion pedal for an almost venomous intensity. He stayed in red-flame, whirlwind mode for the next song as the two other musicians ran hypnotic triplets that echoed off the walls: at this point, it was clear that they weren’t missing anything by not having a bass player. Finally, toward the end, he left the midrange for a single shriek up high: talk about choosing your moment to make a point!

Echoes of Led Zep, a wryly impromptu drum solo and an even funnier disco interlude punctuated a long tuning episode: Moctar’s ear is so fine-tuned to overtones that he doesn’t use a digital tuner. He rewarded the crowd for their patience with the night’s most sizzling intro and then an irresistible if very subtle Paul Desmond quote.

The next stop on Moctar’s US tour is this Saturday night, Sept 30 at the Howland Center, 477 Main St. in Beacon, New York; cover is a ridiculously affordable $10. The atrium space at Lincoln Center has become one of Manhattan’s hottest spots for global music: the next free concert there is on Oct 5 at 7:30 PM with the charismatic “Duque de la Bachata,” Joan Soriano; the earlier you get there, the better.

A Rare New York Appearance By Western Sahara’s Wild, Psychedelic Group Doueh

One of the most highly anticipated twinbills of the year is happening on Sept 29 at 7:30 PM at the Poisson Rouge, where one of New York’s hottest buzz bands, intoxicating Moroccan trance-dance group Innov Gnawa open for a very rare appearance by the similarly innovative Western Saharan Group Doueh, who’ve been brought here across the desert and then the ocean by the World Music Institute. Advance tix are expensive – $30 – but this could easily be your last chance to see them in the US until after 1/19/2021.

Their  2012 album Zayna Jumma – streaming at Bandcamp – is a feral, careening live performance from Dakhla in Western Sahara from a couple of years before. It sounds like it was recorded on somebody’s phone, too close to the lead guitar amp, which it probably was – Americans aren’t the only ones who go to a concert and then share files. The celebratory title track sets the stage: bandleader and patriarch Doueh playing frenetically spiraling variations on a catchy central riff, his wife Halima just as ecstatic on the mic with her trio of backup singers over son Hamdan’s boomy drumbeat. It’s a wild update on the region’s saharoui trance-dance music, something akin to a higher-register gnawa.

Doueh’s guitar blasts through a wah pedal over his son El Waar’s lo-fi organ as Ishadlak Ya Khey pounces along: – it sounds like the Stooges playing a Grateful Dead song with a woman out front.  Zaya Koum is just as catchy but with a harder-hitting funk beat.  Doueh leaves his wah wide open, the drums keeping perfect time as the sound oscillates around.

He takes over lead vocals on Met-Ha – without the guitar, the swooping, smartly terse bass comes into focus alongside the organ, percussion and chorus of voices, both onstage and off. His axe back on, he fires off volley after volley of machinegunning hammer-ons as the organ shadows him throughout Jagwar Doueh.

The band brings it down to a slow, loping duskcore ttriplet groove for Aziza: Doueh throws off a tantalizingly short, lightning-fast solo, his distortion pedal off so the notes ring out, Vieux Farka Toure-style. They stay in that same vein but pick up the pace with Ana Lakweri  and bring the show full circle with the catchiest number in the set, Wazan Doueh, a clanking, circling mostly acoustic saharoui folk theme. A band couldn’t want better advertising for their live show than this. And if the Poisson Rouge is wiling to pay for a competent sound engineer – which at the prices they’re charging, they really ought to – you’ll be able to hear everything this album alludes to.

Mdou Moctar Brings His Mysterious Saharan Duskcore Sound to Lincoln Center

The Lincoln Center atrium space on Broadway just north of 62nd St. has become as fertile a breeding ground for paradigm-shifting musical collaborations as any other venue in New York. Booking is as eclectic as it gets: with the exception of autotuned corporate schlock, there doesn’t seem to be any style of music that’s off limits here. If the longterm plan is to build a new customer base that draws pretty equally on every demographic, nationality and neighborhood in this city, Lincoln Center’s going to be mighty busy over the next several years. For that reason, this blog’s sister site chose the atrium as the best Manhattan venue of 2017.

What’s more, shows at the atrium are always free. The latest in the ongoing parade of global talent to swing through here is Niger duskcore guitarslinger Mdou Moctar, who’s playing on Sept 28 at 7:30 PM. Because the space is popular and security never lets it get uncomfortably crowded, getting there early is always a good idea.

Moctar’s latest album, Sousoume Tamachek, is due out momentarily and soon to be streaming at Bandcamp (there are a couple of tracks up already). As with a lot of music from his part of the world, his long, expansive songs have a nocturnal quality, a welcoming sonic oasis to get absolutely lost in, artfully layered guitars over simple calabash percussion. Interestingly, Moctar often eschews the swaying, camelwalking gait typical of Saharan Tuareg psychedelia for a hypnotically circling triplet beat.

Anar, the opening cut, clocks in at over six minutes of lingering and biting contrasts between guitar multitracks. With its aching, unselfconsciously beautiful, vamping melody,  it’s akin to a desert rock take on Australian psychedelic legends the Church (who happen to be playing that same night at the Bell House).

Moctar layers starry, glittering electric and acoustic tracks over a hypnotic, gently insistent triplet groove on the album’s title cut, sparkling with quick hammer-ons and pulloffs. Tanzaka has a similar, slow pace but with a much darker, blues-oriented tune, a simmering cauldron of lusciously interwoven textures.

Ilmouloud is hushed and suspenseful, Moctar’s vocals calm and slightly flinty. He takes his time opening Allagh N-Tarha with spare, spiky blues phrases and then follows an even sparser, mysterious, droning path. With an almost imperceptibly crescendoing trajectory, Nikali Talit comes across as more of a lullaby.

Moctar picks up the pace with the anthemic Amidini, a return to a mini-constellation of ringing guitars. The album’s closing track, Amer Lyn, slowly coalesces out of an exploratory intro to a catchy, circular vocal call-and-response and fast hammer-on guitar phrases. Lyrically, the songs – in Moctar’s native Tamachek – run the gamut: love songs, sad breakup scenarios, spirituality and in the album’s title track, longing for peace and unity in the desert. More rapturously low-key than Moctar’s countryman Bombino but more guitarishly adventurous than, say, Etran Finatawa, it’s the best and best-produced album Moctar has made, an entrancing ride for fans of psychedelic sounds.

Innov Gnawa and Amadou & Mariam at the Peak of Their Psychedelic Powers at Prospect Park

“It’s hot all over,” guitarist/singer Amadou Bagayoko remarked to the Prospect Park Bandshell crowd last night in his heavy-lidded, Malian French drawl. On the hottest night of the year so far, one of the other things he noticed that was all over the place was weed. See, Amadou is blind. His other senses are working overtime.

But it hardly took a sensitive nose to pick up on what was wafting from the slope out back: this was a show for the smokers. And the place was packed: from personal experience and a survey of random concertgoers who’ve seen multiple shows here recently, the only act who’s drawn as much of a crowd as Amadou & Mariam was Jamaican dancehall star Chronixx. Psychedelic music has never been so popular as it is in 2017.

Which is no surprise. Amadou & Mariam are arguably the world’s most individualistic psychedelic rock band. Over the years, they’ve inched further and further from their original mashup of sprawling two-chord Malian desert rock jams and bouncy central African pop, to a much more western sound rooted in the 1960s. And they’ve never sounded so interesting, or eclectic as they are now.

Mariam Doumbia – Amadou’s wife and childhood sweetheart – sang in her enigmatic, uneasily bronzed, sometimes gritty delivery in both French and Bambara, often harmonizing with Amadou’s balmy croon, going through a couple of costume changes in the process. Behind them, their drummer alternated between stomp, slink and funk while their bassist played tasteful, serpentine riffs and countermelodies, their keyboardist adding lushness and lustre on organ and several synth patches.

They opened with Bofou Safou, their driving, biting new single, sending a message that this show was going to rock pretty hard. From there they made their way methodically through a couple of leaping dance-funk numbers that brought to mind mid-80s Talking Heads, a starry nightscape with majestic Pink Floyd echoes, several similarly mighty blues-based anthems and a deliciously creepy detour into late 60s Laurel Canyon psychedelia.

It was on that allusively menacing number that Amadou took his longest, wildest, solo of the night. While his playing sometimes brings to mind the feral icepicking of Albert Collins, the twangy sparkle of Mark Knopfler and the machinegunning hammer-ons of Vieux Farka Toure, he doesn’t seem to be influenced by any of them, and with the exception of his countryman and younger colleague Toure, may not have even heard those guys. Winding up and down and around, he brought his long trails of sixteenth notes home to a final comet tail and wild applause. The band have a new album due out next month: if this concert is any indication, it’s going to be amazing.

Brooklyn’s own Innov Gnawa, whose career has taken a meteoric rise recently, opened and got a full hour onstage, a rarity at this venue. The sea of fans they’d brought to the show might explain why. Fresh off a Coachella appearance and a marathon series of New York club gigs, it’s hard to imagine a hotter band in town right now.

The only gnawa band in the world west of Morocco, they play the original drum-and-bass music. With roots in sub-Saharan, pre-Muslim central Africa, transplanted to the north, many of their hypnotic, pulsing, crackling themes date from over a thousand years ago. It’s party music, for sure, but it has even more cultural resonance for healing and spiritual purposes. With limited time (for them – this band can jam for hours) and a big stage to work with, they clanked and boomed and snapped their way through a dynamic mix of straight-ahead dance jams and trickier, turn-on-a-dime rhythms, winding up with frontman/sintir lute player Hassan Ben Jaafer running his basslines faster and faster as his chanting choir of bandmates whirled their cast-iron castnets, encircling him and bringing the show to a peak that would have been daunting to most headliners other than Amadou & Mariam.

Amadou & Mariam continue on US tour; their next show is on July 24 at 6:30 PM at Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park in Chicago; admission is free. Innov Gnawa are uptown at Ginny’s Supper Club on July 27, with sets at 7:30 and 9:30  PM; your best deal is standing room at the bar for $15.

The next show at Prospect Park Bandshell is tomorrow night, July 22 at 7:30 PM and opens auspiciously with Innov Gnawa percussionist Amino Belyamani’s similarly innovative, mesmerizingly rhythmic dancefloor minimalist trio, Dawn of Midi. Jury’s out on the headliner: are Mashrou ‘Leila the Lebanese Cure, or just another lame corporate dance-rock act?

Vieux Farka Toure Releases His Best Studio Album, with a Brooklyn Show Thursday Night

The second-eldest son of Ali Farka Toure – the best-known founding father of Malian desert rock – Vieux Farka Toure is one of the world’s greatest lead guitarists. His signature style blends lightning-fast hammer-ons into a reverb-drenched resonance: he gets an orchestra worth of sound out of his custom-made amp. This global road warrior’s definitive album remains his 2010 live album, but his new one, Samba – out April 7 and due to be streaming at Bandcamp – is the best thing he’s recorded since then. Meaning “second” or “second-born in his native vernacular, it’s a welcome return to the endless volleys of electric flame that he’s made a name for himself with onstage. He’s playing Bric Arts on April 6 at around 9; as a bonus, the only Moroccan gnawa band in the US, Brooklyn’s mesmerizingly danceable Innov Gnawa open the night at 7:30. Advance tix are $15.

Spiraling multitracked guitars (Toure plays all of them here) flavor the loping, aptly titled opening track, Bonheur, Abdoulaye Kone’s ngoni harp adding yet another rustling layer to the thicket of sound. These songs are long, and there’s so much going here that it doesn’t hit you til the very end that it’s a one-chord jam.

Maffa Diabate takes over on ngoni on the next track, Mariam, and then on most of the rest of the album, joining a subtly conversational interchange with the bandleader’s spiky guitar. It’s a fond dedication to Toure’s youngest sister. Then the group hits a scampering groove with Ba Kaitere, anchored with a brisk blues bassline, eventually rising to a long, blazing guitar solo, Toure blasting with his usual blistering, icy tone.

Toure electrifies the ominously modal Malian folk song Samba Si Kairi, an uneasy anthem of strength and resilience:with the album’s most haunting guitar solo, it’s the album’s high point. The pairing of ngoni and guitar are akin to the Byrds taking a detour into the desert with their twelve-string guitars.

The band goes back to a purposeful stomp with Homafu Wawa and its echoey call-and-response, springboarding off a familiar Bob Marley riff. They vamp delicately on a catchy descending guitar hook throughout Maya and then bring back a harder-hitting drive behind Toure’s anthemic blues riffage in Nature. Kone’s ngoni harp returns to blend with the bandleader’s bristling jangle and clang in Reconnaissance, a Malian counterpart to talking blues.

Ouaga comes across as a much higher-voltage take on toweringly anthemic Alpha Blondy-style reggae, the rhythm section – Mamadou Kone on drums and Souleymane Kane on calabash, with Marshall Henry, Eric Herman and Cheikmane Ba sharing bass duties, keeps things close to the ground. The album winds up with a brief jam that sounds like it survived the cutting-room floor. All this is great advertising for Toure’s legendary, uncompromising live show. 

A Rare Chance to See Fearless, Intense African Rock Trailblazer Noura Mint Seymali

The second track on Noura Mnt Seymali’s latest album Arbina – streaming at Bandcamp – is a psychedelic Islamic gospel song. It’s an incredible piece of music. Seymali’s husband and lead guitarist Jeiche Ould Chigaly plays warpedly blues-infused lines through a wah pedal in an offcenter scale that’s somewhere between American rock and an uneasy Middle Eastern mode, Seymali supplying elegant rhythm on her ardine, a kora-like, smallscale harp. The scion of a famed Mauritanian musical family. Seymali is a fearlessly feminist trailblazer from a part of the world where that kind of stance can earn you a death sentence, family ties or not.

Now imagine if a reality tv bully and failed casino owner tried banning Muslims from entering the US in order to placate his political party’s Christian supremacist lunatic fringe. If that happened, we’d never get to see Seymali and her wildly psychedelic band, who are playing the album release show at Littlefield on March 2 at 7 PM. $20 advance tix are available, and considering the political climate, this may be your last chance to see her here for the next four years. The World Music Institute get credit for booking this show as part of their ongoing desert blues series. 

The material on the rest of the album is just as strong as that second cut. The title track opens it, part swaying funk, part Malian-style desert rock jam, Chigaly’s alternately punchy and slinky microtonal lines over a tight groove from bassist Ousmane Toure and drummer Matthew Tinari. Seymali’s indomitable mezzo-soprano voice channels a guarded triumph, at one point opaquely encouraging the women around her to “get a injection” in the event they get sick. Baby steps today, giant steps tomorrow.

The third track might be the most high-voltage lullaby ever recorded, rippling with intertwining ardine and guitar. Suedi Koum is slower and more resolute, a rather tender shout-out from one musician to another, Seymali reassuring the star who’s left the stage that she’s got his back no matter what dangers might be lurking in the crowd.

A cover of a defiantly triumphant anti-imperialist hit by Seymali’s father,  Seymali Ould Ahmed Vall, shifts back and forth between a catchy singalong chorus and shapeshifting desert rock. Ghiana is as hypnotic as it it anthemic: Chigaly’s dulcimer-like lines bring to mind Richard Thompson in extreme folk-rock mode. Seymali shifts toward more wary ambience with Ghizlane, an understatedly desperate escape anthem.

Ya Demb is a spiky, undulating electric update of a funny, traditional Moorish wedding song, a sort of emperor-has-no-clothes scenario. After a misterioso improv intro, Soub Hanak – the most straight-up rock number on the album – speaks starkly to the solace of music amid the ravages of war. The final cut, Tia, a prayer, slinks along Tinariwen style amid Chigaly’s alternately staccato and resonant guitar multitracks.

A shout to No Grave Like the Sea’s Tony Maimone, whose masterful mastering job captured the growliest lows of Toure’s downtuned bass without throwing the rest of the mix off wack.

House Concerts in New York: A Rare Trend Worth Following

One of the most redemptive developments in live music in this city over the past year has been the slow but steady trend away from the money-grubbing concert venue model toward artist-supportive house concerts and community-based performances. Three of this year’s best concerts have been staged not with monitors and smoke machines but with barbecue smoke in the background, or hamburger smoke wafting through the courtyard, or amidst a haze of various kinds of smoke (as of this date, it’s still legal to do that in your own apartment).

We’re talking transcendent, all-acoustic performances by Greg Squared and Rima Fand’s haunting Balkan/flamenco/Middle Eastern group Sherita, the similarly haunting Great Plains gothic songwriter Ember Schrag, theatrical art-rock band Goddess, mesmerizingly atmospheric guitarist/composer David Grubbs, astonishingly improvisational resonator guitar/viola duo Zeke Healy and Karen Waltuch and African psychedelic jamband 75 Dollar Bill.

You might not think that a band as wildly popular as 75 Dollar Bill, who played Bowery Ballroom last month, would play a house concert – well, they did. In fact, if you know where they played, there just might be another party there this Saturday night and while 75 Dollar Bill aren’t on the bill, if you know the owners of that space, you can text them and join the party. And if you don’t, you can be the next person to book your favorite band in your space, if you have the room and the beer or whatever it takes.

75 Dollar Bill occupy a place somewhere between the camelwalking desert trance music of Tinariwen, the bubbles of soukous and the uneasy modes of the Middle East. It was interesting to see them actually veer away from chromatics toward microtones when guitarist Che Chen introduced his brand-new guitar, which Brooklyn Lutherie guitar maven Mamie Minch had refretted masterfully for halftones and whatever nuance can be bent away from a string when you’re in between notes to begin with – in the western scale anyway. The jangling, chaming richness, underpinned by Rick Brown’s similarly hypnotic, subtly polyrhythmic drums, held the party faithful rapt.

Opening the night at that party, resonator guitarist Zeke Healy and violist Karen Waltuch distinguished themselves as both the most original oldtime Americana act and jamband in town. On one hand, their country blues had a comfortable familiarity that drifted off into space as each player diverged, with gentlly shapeshifing rhythms and long, nebulous, time-stands-still interludes that had more in common with the Art Ensemble of Chicago, than, say, Laura Marling. What was coolest to watch was how each player complemented each other, Healy’s incisions and rhythm against Waltuch’s resonance and intensity, nobody stepping on each other.no matter how far outside each of them took the melodies. And then they’d reconverge again, bringing three hundred years of string band music full circle.

Zeke and Karen’s next gig is at Bar Lunatico in Bed-Stuy on Dec 13 at 8 PM. 75 Dollar Bill have a weekly Sunday night residency at Union Pool this month, with remaining shows on Dec 11 and 18 at 8 PM; cover is $10.