Friday, August 17, 2007


(In addition to these two reviews, I've also got a one-page feature on producer/guitarist David Torn, which accompanies a CD review written by someone else.)

Panamericana (ESL)
This album is sung entirely in Spanish, but the label name, ESL, doesn't mean English as a Second Language. It stands for Eighteenth Street Lounge, a collective of Washington, D.C.-based DJs and programmers, with the most notable members being the Thievery Corporation.

The ESL "house sound" - a mix of dub, electronica, lounge and trip-hop - is represented in Aubele's work as well, although there are plenty of elements from his own Argentine background. Guests, too: legendary ska-funk band Los Fabulosos Cadillacs loan their horn section, and vocal cameos abound from Natalia Clavier, Vernie Varela, and Amparo Sanchez of Amparanoia. The album, from its title to its compositions, is meant to reflect the panoply of experiences that make up modern Latin American identity, and indeed, there's a strong feeling of cultural mixing and blending here, especially when the Spanish guitars and gentle, yet passionate, vocals are combined with dubby harmonica and horn parts and thick bass lines.

Jazz fans should know with no doubt that this isn't in any sense a jazz album. It's a programmed electronic disc with some live instruments and a collection of cool vocalists on top. But once accepted on its own merits, it's a thoroughly enjoyable journey up and down a highway that leads from tango to trip-hop and beyond.

The Enchantment (Concord)
An album of piano/banjo duos might not initially seem like the most logical project, but Chick Corea and Béla Fleck are in fact highly complementary musical spirits. Each man uses relentless displays of virtuosity to suck all the fun out of music, and neither Fleck's Ken Burns-esque hairstyle nor Corea's Scientology beliefs inspire enough laughs to tip the balance back.

Sure, there are some moments of relative levity here, bt for the most part, it's two poker-faced masters of their instruments tapping and plucking away for 54 minutes and change, sometimes following concurrent paths but more often wandering afield of each other.

Another drawback to The Enchantment is its strict "two instruments only" formatting - the utter lack of guest stars makes it very difficult to tell one track from the next, never mind livening up matters with, say, a kazoo or washboard solo. Except for the weird and honestly quite beautiful take on the old standard "Brazil," that is.

That track is a genuine standout. Corea plays the melody line and embellishes it organically, while Fleck hovers in the background like some kind of tiny robot hummingbird, only briefly taking the lead role himself. That's followed by the title track, though, which brings us back to the pattern of simultaneous monologues, punctuated by cursory acknowledgement by each player that there's another musician in the room.

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