Album reviews: Jamie Cullum | Dimitrie Cantemir | Jim Hart's Gemini | Fred Morrison | Cesaria Evora | Buika Y Chucho


ALTHOUGH there has been some talk from singer/pianist Jamie Cullum that he wanted his fourth album to take him out of his comfort zone, the results don't particularly challenge his image as "Sinatra in trainers", as he flits from the straightforward jazzy interpretation of Just One Of Those Things to the uplifting piano pop of I'm All Over It.

Inevitably, it's quite a tasteful ride, even when he kicks up his heels on the freewheeling You And Me Are Gone, and there are patches of easy-listening dullness along with way. Cullum can't resist including another of his inoffensive lounge bar covers in the shape of Rihanna's Please Don't Stop The Music, but his own synthesis of pop and jazz styles on closing track Music Is Through turns into a bit of an indulgent dinner-party jam.




ALIA VOX, 13.70

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ONCE again, Jordi Savall's sense of early music adventure takes us to unfamiliar corners of the musical globe. This fascinating new disc centres on the writings and music of one Dimitrie Cantemir, son of a 17th-century Moravian ruler who was taken hostage in Istanbul in 1693, remaining there as a highly respected thinker and musician.

Savall's Hysperion XXI ensemble is joined by instrumentalists of the Sephardic and Armenian musical traditions, and the result is a beguiling and exotic mix of improvised taxims (preludes) that set the mood for Canetemir's spirited makams. Unusual instruments create an alien mysticism – particularly the sultry duduk, which is predominant in the haunting Armenian repertoire. Those familiar with Savall's performance style for his recent Edinburgh International Festival appearances will understand the appealing charm of these performances.





VIBES player (and drummer) Jim Hart grew up on a farm on Bodmin Moor in Cornwall. His debut album as leader takes its title from an old name for the spot, and aims at an informal musical evocation of the moor's landscape and moods. Gemini is a quartet affiliated to London's LOOP Collective, in which Hart – on vibraphone and marimba – is joined by alto saxophonist Ivo Neame, bassist Jasper Hoiby and drummer Dave Smith. Hart and Neame share the bulk of the soloing and complement each other well, while Smith's powerful groove-based drumming drives the vibraphonist's brightly energised compositions in propulsive fashion.

On Dark Moon and Kindred they take a slower, darker and more freely improvised approach to the material. Crunchy Country nods to an avowed influence, guitarist Bill Frisell, and Last of the Leaves brings a suitably elegiac close to a fine album.





PIPING virtuoso Fred Morrison is in full, exuberant flight once again, Highland, Irish and reel pipes blazing … but, hold on, is that, er, a banjo I hear twanging alongside? Morrison's latest musical journey takes him to Nashville, to record with bluegrass banjo ace Ron Block and Grammy-winning guitarist and mandolinist Tim O'Brien, as well as well as Scottish colleagues percussionist Martin O'Neill and Matheu Watson on guitar.

The relationship between Scots and Irish fiddle and bluegrass is well charted. Throwing bagpipes into the mix is less common, but here makes for an often exhilarating collaboration. There are soulful moments on low whistle and Morrison's lovely strathspey Seonaidh's Tune, while the "yeehah" factor gets well cranked up in the title track, with reel pipes rollicking alongside Block's banjo, or in the hell-for-leather closer, The Hard Drive.





CESARIA EVORA, the boss-eyed "barefoot diva" who single-handedly put the music of her native Cape Verde on the map is now 68 and had a stroke while on tour last year.

Her trademark style has always been in "morna" – those mournful songs of homesickness and nostalgia which relate so closely to Portuguese fado – which are unique to her country. With her swooping, swooning delivery, and her pared-down, vibrato-free sound, she was an effortless world-beater from the moment she was plucked from seemingly-terminal retirement. Radio Mindelo, her last CD, consisted of some very rough recordings done on a single mic for an obscure little radio station, but as a record of what she sounded like when she was 20 years old – with her girlish voice betraying none of the mature richness to come later – it was fascinating.

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What we have here is a determinedly upbeat collection of "coladera" dances, in which she is supported on some tracks by Egyptian strings, and on others by her old colleague the percussionist Tey Santos, and her long-time pianist and producer Nando Andrade.

There are echoes of Cuba, and of the great Oum Kalsoum; the whole thing is beautifully smooth, and shot through with the sweetest regret, but I long for her to settle back into the Cape Verdean blues with which she originally blew us away. But for that we must now go back to her early 1990s discs, and above all to her wonderful Miss Perfumado.



EW, 12.72

THIS new CD from the one of Spain's most exciting young singers is as good as we hoped. Accompanied on the piano by the incomparable Chucho Valdes, this Majorca-born singer (of Ecuato-Guinean ancestry) here pays homage to the Mexican singer Chavela Vargas; when you listen to the flamenco smokiness of her timbre, you'll understand why Pedro Almodovar has been putting her into his films.