A look at music on the rise and causing waves around the globe.
Carwyn Ellis & Rio 18 – Olá!
Welsh-Brazilian samba might seem an unlikely musical match; even less so with the addition of the BBC National Orchestra of Wales. But, give Yn Rio a try and you might be as pleasantly surprised
as this reviewer was. It’s the third such South American-influenced album produced by this
singer-songwriter from Cardiff, following Joia! (2019) and Mas (2020). It all started when Ellis was invited to join the Pretenders’ line-up in Rio in 2017, and was instantly inspired by the city’s famous musical creativity.
With familiar COVID-19 restrictions, however, for Yn Rio Ellis was forced to record his vocals and guitar alongside the orchestra in one take, adding the Brazilians’ tracks separately. The result is an upbeat fusion of samba, bossa nova and tropical rhythms, with soaring orchestration and Ellis’ smooth Welsh lilt. Some tracks don’t quite hit the mark; others, in particular Botafogo Blue – named for the area of Rio in which Ellis recorded the first two albums – and Olá!, released as a single, are euphoric and infectious. Ellis explained that Yn Rio was based on one day spent in Rio, and could be the next best thing to being there, recreating, ‘days so idyllic you just want to be able to jump back into them at the touch of a button.’ – Songlines
Vanessa Wagner – Etude N°16 (Philip Glass)
Hailed as “the most delightfully singular pianist of her generation” by Le Monde, Vanessa Wagner is interested in establishing a new, modernist canon of writers that understand the merits of true minimalism and the serene clarity that unfussy themes can elucidate. With her new album, Study of The Invisible, she brings together fifteen pieces by composers from the last half-century, many of them rare or even unpublished works.
Wagner is able to translate her rich and deeply felt playing style to the full gamut of composers
Do not mistake minimalism for simplicity; what elevates Wagner’s playing here is not the dizzying blur of her fingers or any reinvention of form, but the character that she imbues into these pieces. There is great skill in inhabiting other people’s compositions this personally, with the emotional expression of internal character somehow having to translate into something audible. When every motion is felt intently and every decision is made with a profound understanding of the material, like it is across Study of the Invisible, then you are knocking on the door of transcendence. – Loud & Quiet
The Sure Fire Soul Ensemble – Step Down
The Sure Fire Soul Ensemble are definitely on a roll coming off of their third LP, Build Bridges, which debuted at #1 on Billboard’s Contemporary Jazz Chart. Their new and fourth LP, Step Down, is a direct reflection of the heavy times they were written and recorded in. Covid-19, two Presidential impeachment trials, the George Floyd murder and resulting social unrest, a seditious attempt to subvert the democratic process at The Capitol…
With titles like Step Down, The Other Side, Time To Rebuild, Omnificent, Love Age, and In Common, The Sure Fire Soul Ensemble uses their music to beautifully paint a picture of societal woes, but also points toward the solution and a better world. Heavy Cinematic Soul, spiritual Jazz-Funk, upbeat Afro-Funk, and deeply introspective rare-groove cuts lace this ten-track transmission vessel. The Sure Fire Soul Ensemble is deeply defined by the sum of their influences, but always have their eye focused beyond the horizon as well. – Bandcamp
Charlie Halloran and The Tropicales – Voltige Antillais
From the opening upbeat notes on the jubilant song The Rhythm We Want, Charlie Halloran and The Tropicales prove that they have the goods to deliver a rollicking time via their New Orleans-based sound, directly influenced by 1950’s era Trinidad and the French Caribbean offerings.
Shake the Rum, released on Hi-Tide Recordings, presents eleven tracks that effervescently course through the ears and make it hard to sit still while the horns blow, low-end rumbles, and guitars strum.
The Tropicales, led by Halloran on trombone, are Tomas Majcherski on sax, John Maestas and Joshua Starkman on guitar, Pete Olynciw on bass, Doug Garrison on drums, and Cesar Bacaro providing percussion. The calypso and beguine fire flows throughout the album, musically tying together his love of New Orleans and the Caribbean. Shake the Rum is a joyous musical concoction that overflows with strong musicianship, dance-inducing tunes, and a feeling of happiness much needed during