t is a mastery, elegant and elegiac, of the “the cultivated and the popular,” in an album of “thirteen pieces exemplifying Cuba’s major musical genres, starting with the emergence of a recognizably Cuban music in the mid-19th century,” in which the songs “are presented more or less chronologically—contradanza, danza, danzón, bolero, guaguancó,” an album that promises to become a pleasure and a defining reference for others, as much as it has been a joy for pianist Bebo Valdés.
Listening to Fishbone’s Still Stuck in Your Throat, I hear punk rock, jazz, Caribbean rap, rhythm and blues, and even something I might call a ballad, but I hear little that I can recognize, even generously, as funk: which to me signifies not only a heavy, thick musical groove but the most expansive sensuality. Fishbone is a lot of things, including sexual, but sensual? I don’t think so.
Toussaint’s voice is softly inflected, masculine, and neither heavy nor light, somewhere in between, with a nice firmness and tone, and he sings “Yes We Can Can” supported by vivid percussion, amid an appealingly idiosyncratic rhythm. The song has become just weeks ago, and now, one of my favorites.
Terje Isungset’s Two Moons is the kind of work that compels one to ask, What is music? Is it all sound, any sound? Is it whatever sound is intentionally made; and made by a self-described musician? Is it organized sound? Sound intended to be pleasing to the ear; or, simply, sound intended to be contemplated as music?
The collection Refined Sugar has the quick-beat, party song “Somebody Scream,” and the reflective and slow-beat “Life Goes On,” a song of the acceptance of disappointment, though there the narrator, the singer, is still wondering: “Maybe someday you’ll tell me why, why you had to hurt me,” a wondering that suggests an incomplete acceptance.
Smokey Robinson’s music is not haunted or helmed in by gospel pieties, blues grievances, or social conflicts, but, instead, his music is the music of the open, questing spirit, the sensitive heart, the sensual body: a modern man, liberated, loving, and thoughtful.
I do not know the language, or languages, in which Vieux Farka Toure’s songs are written so I cannot discuss their meaning: I can only suggest something of what they sound like and their effect on one listener. This is music of many delicate notes, notes like softly splashing rain, refreshment for a dry season.
Transcendence is not what Rux’s music offers: instead, in a world with spirits and no gods, one feels as if one has a companion for one’s journey, someone to share the struggles—and some of the pleasures—with.
Love, instinct, doubt, and the wonder of nature: all part of life, all objects of contemplation—do not deny them, do not simplify them, advises Werner. On “Don’t Explain It Away,” Werner’s singing is well modulated, with a nuance that is the exact opposite of what one expects of a rhetorical inclination or tone; and although the album does not sound explicitly rhetorical it is rhetorical.