New Reviews: January 15, 2004

Reviews by Tom Orr

Jane Birkin
Narada (70876-18041-2-6, 2003)

I must admit I was not entirely familiar with Jane Birkin until this cd came my way. Birkin, by all accounts, gained considerable cult status in Europe with an acting and music career that began in the '60s. She was married to French composer Serge Gainsbourg for a time and enjoyed a successful creative partnership with him as well. His 1991 passing resulted in Birkin walking away from show business for a while and immersing herself in charity work. Now, with Arabesque, she once again steps up to the microphone with a selection of songs penned by Gainsbourg and performed live in France in 2002. The overall musical feel of the disc rests somewhere between jazz, carbaret and Arabic, unfolding through a backdrop of keyboards, strings and percussion. It's sensual, mysterious sounding stuff that might put you in mind of a romantic novel or a movie soundtrack. The vocals are entirely in French (with some acapella spoken interludes that have no impact if you don't know the language), which Birkin is able wrap her voice around nicely without overreaching. While at first I was uncertain what to make of this album, I must say it has grown on me. A lot. It's a bit of an oddity, but it's a good oddity.

Suzanne Teng and Mystic Journey
Miles Beyond
Autumn Light Productions (ALI 99902, 2003)

This is a mystic journey indeed, and a highly enjoyable one. Suzanne Teng plays flutes from all corners of the globe, sideman Gilbert Levy does likewise with percussion, and additional participants provide instrumentation ranging from the familiar (guitar, bass, keyboard) to the exotic (sitar, oud, didgeridoo). Musically, there's a lot of ground covered in these instrumental pieces. Breezing through narious points in Africa, Latin and Native America, India, Indonesia, the Far East and on and on, the tracks are nonetheless remarkably cohesive, well arranged and musically and rhythmically engaging. Listen to how "Babylonians" unfurls majestically before dancing off into the sun, the dark continent cool of "Motherland" or the airy melancholy of "Sierra" and the title track. If you're not completely blissed out after the first sampling, don't blame Teng and her highly skilled crew. They know how to make "world" music in the best sense -- unpretentious, attuned and with an obvious love for the cultures they tap into. An absolutely wonderful album.

Tom Orr is a Southern California-based freelance writer, actor, percussionist, 9 to 5-er, husband, daddy, and aspiring deep thinker. He acquires more music than he has time to listen to, and feels the only solution is to acquire even more.