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Album reviews: Scott Walker | BMX Bandits | Ke$ha | Classical | Jazz | Folk

Koo Nimo: Highlife Roots Revival

Koo Nimo: Highlife Roots Revival

THE rest of this week’s album releases reviewed by the Scotsman’s music critics

POP

Scott Walker: Bish Bosch

4AD, £12.99
Star rating: * * *

Disease, dictators, Attila the Hun’s jester – all typically atypical lyrical fodder on this latest eccentric opus from Scott Walker, proudly perverse purveyor of black humour (and, in one case, distinctly brown humour) delivered with a straight face in a lachrymose operatic baritone. The first half of Bish Bosch is more diverting than the second, particularly the industrial declamation of See You Don’t Bump His Head and the danse macabre between tubax (a bassy cross between tuba and sax) and Latin rhythms on Epizootics! but eventually the Hitchcockian stabs of horror horns and strings give way to the usual suspicion that Walker is having a high old time in the studio at the expense of the listener.

FIONA SHEPHERD

BMX Bandits: BMX Bandits In Space

ELEFANT, £12.99

Star rating: * * * *

It cannot be said of many bands that their 16th album is one of their most cohesive and ambitious to date, but this lovingly arranged (and packaged) space pop opera is a collaborative work to be proud of, with returning Bandits Jim McCulloch and Sean Dickson, longtime associate Norman Blake and guest artists from Japan and Argentina orbiting around mainman Duglas Stewart and his twee paeans to the revitalising effects of tea and friendship.

BMX Bandits In Space is both a soothing and melancholic mix of old school classicism – which finds expression in the swooning melody of All Around The World and old time country waltz of And While We’re Dancing – and twinkling, languorous electronica, shot through with a taste for 1960s Gallic pop and retro-futuristic lounge music.

FS

Ke$ha: Warrior

RCA, £12.99

HH

Rather than be worked like a pit pony by her record company, bratty singer/rapper Ke$ha took some time out between her debut album and this follow-up to work as an ambassador for the Humane Society and make a documentary for National Geographic, of all the unlikely pursuits.

But don’t worry, despite collaborating with Iggy Pop, The Flaming Lips’ Wayne Coyne and Black Keys drummer Patrick Carney and expressing her intention to bring the rock to Warrior, she still sounds like the strident, nasal pop equivalent of Eminem braying more of the same inane party pop (Die Young) and processed paeans to idealised lovers (Supernatural, co-written by Nik Kershaw) as the equally plasticky Katy Perry.

FS

CLASSICAL

Villazón Verdi

Deutsche Grammophon, £12.99
Star rating: * * *

The most satisfying aspect of Mexican tenor Rolando Villazón’s anticipatory homage to Verdi – the composer’s bicentenary falls next year – is the actual choice of music, which presents snapshot arias encompassing his lifespan, and also includes works outside the operatic canon.

So we begin with the gorgeously Italianate Ciel, che feci from Verdi’s early opera Oberto, and end with music from his last one, Falstaff, with such jewels as the dark-hued Eccomi prigioniero from Il Corsaro lighting up the intervening journey. Villazón, accompanied by the Orchestra Teatro Regio Torino, offers passion and thrills aplenty, enough to offset the odd rough-hewn phrase. And he does put the drearily monochromatic Andrea Bocceli where he belongs – well in the shade.

KEN WALTON

JAZZ

Odean Pope: Odean’s Three

IN & OUT RECORDS, £12.99

Star rating: * * * *

I SUSPECT American saxophonist Odean Pope is more likely to be familiar from his work with other musicians, notably Max Roach, than as a leader in his own right, but he is enjoying a very impressive late surge as he moves into his mid-seventies.

His earlier projects include a nine-horn saxophone choir, while his last release featured an Octet, but this powerful session places him in the very exposed setting of a trio with bassist Lee Smith and the great Billy Hart on drums. He rises to the challenge in wholly convincing style. Although he plays a number of instruments, he stays with tenor saxophone for this outing. His muscular but lyrical approach is complemented in exemplary fashion by Smith and Hart in a set that features Pope’s own compositions (and one cover) in styles ranging from post-bop and blues to free jazz.

KENNY MATHIESON

FOLK

Various Artists: Fonn Ratharsair/Sounds of Raasay

Brechin all records, £11.99

Star rating: * * *

THIS album consists not so much of music from the island of Raasay – which, the sleeve notes assure us, has a rich musical heritage – but largely contemporary tunes and Gaelic songs inspired by the island and prompted by a fine new Community Hall.

It features a crack squad of musicians from the Highlands and elsewhere, including fiddlers Bruce Macgregor, Ronan Martin and Jonny Hardie, piper Angus MacKenzie, accordionists Sandy Brechin and Blair Douglas and singer-guitarist Brian Ó hEadhra.

Material ranges from ensemble pieces to a brief harp solo from Aiofe MacLeod, but the snappy Raasay Rant sets the general mood, followed by a jog-along Blair Douglas call to the dance, Duisg! Duisg!, sung by Iain Smith, but the core of the album is the four-part Raasay Suite written by Hardie and Martin, ranging from its sweet opening air on fiddles and piano (Brian McAlpine) air to more urgent sequences given a fine edge by MacKenzie’s piping.

JIM GILCHRIST

WORLD

Koo Nimo: Highlife Roots Revival

riverboat, £11.99
Star rating: * * * * *

I had not come across “hip-life” as a musical category until I read the excellent liner-note to this CD. Not that this is hip-life at all: that coinage denotes the currently modish amalgam of hip-hop and highlife, and highlife is our business here.

Koo Nimo was born in 1934 in the Ashanti region of Ghana (then the British colony known as the Gold Coast) and he spent his childhood absorbing Asante traditional music, to the preservation of which he has since dedicated his life. By his early twenties he had become a respected acoustic guitarist, but went to London to study science, flamenco guitar, and Western classical music; at this stage he also became a devotee of the music of the American pianist Thelonius Monk. As he has explained, although he became adept at scales and arpeggios he didn’t want to be a Segovia – he wanted to harness his new skills to African music – so he 
went back home to play “palmwine”.

With its roots in the krio culture of late-19th-century West Africa, this melded the guitar tradition brought by Portuguese sailors with the African harp and lute tradition; sea shanties mixed with calypso and indigenous song. Palmwine musicians began to entertain colonial audiences and, incorporating waltzes and mazurkas, their music acquired concert status, and the more imposing title ‘highlife’; by the 1950s it had percolated as far as London.

As one of the earliest modern genres to meld European and African music, highlife is now venerated, but what we get here is its ‘roots’ version, evoking the palm-wine-fuelled open-air gatherings of its origin.

Backed by the polyphony of a large acoustic ensemble, and bathed in the warm resonance of a live recording, Koo Nimo’s guitar-playing is wonderfully subtle, and his songs tell of timeless tribal matters.

MICHAEL CHURCH

 

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