Friday, September 17, 2010

VARIOUS ARTISTS Sound of the World Presents: Anywhere On This Road (Warner Classics & Jazz)

The poignant introduction by Charlie Gillett’s daughter informs us that the finishing touches to his eleventh annual scoot around the world’s sounds was one of the final actions the great man took before his sad and far too premature passing. And so we approach the final Sound of the World release with a mixture of loss and celebration that’s reflected by much of the music within.

As for Suzy Gillett, so for many us the joy of these illuminating, ear-opening, occasionally quirky, sometimes even frustrating but always challenging choices lays in the guesswork of that first blind run-through, wherein a solid backbone of world music big-hitters and/or CG-championed semi-regulars (amongst which this time Tinariwen, Ojos de Brujo, Yasmin Levy and Fat Freddy’s Drop) mingle with myriad mysterious, obscure and newly-celebrated names.

And so a shot of Ribot-esque guitar links British Latin-Americana with mid-European art-pop, parping Balkan trumpets bleed into pure African soul, and strummed Argentinean acoustic guitar links to the wild picking of the Colombian harp.

Absorption in the sharply-observed sleeve-notes (ably augmented and gap-filled by Gillett’s assistant Lilly Ladjevardi) imbues new favourites with deeper meaning; almost unbearably so in the case of Lhasa’s eloquently emotive subtitle-track, the Canadian singer having herself been cruelly cut down far too young at the turn of the year. Elsewhere can be found more in the way of celebration, notably the Congolese commotion of Staff Benda Bilili and funky Malawians The Very Best.

It’s not all going to work for everyone. For this listener the album is slightly overburdened with interchangeably pretty, and at times pretty bland, ladies; and certain geographical blind-spots will frustrate others. Conversely, the personal touch brings wonderful surprises such as a hair-raisingly eerie piece of Korean folkloric music. And continental Europe as ever is gratifyingly well-served.

The second of two choices by pianists who summarise the compiler’s broadcasting path is the greatest revelation of all. Allen Toussaint’s inclusion is a decent enough nod back to Gillett’s early days as a documenter of rock and roll’s rich history, but the closing tune - a solo piece by Ethiopia’s Emahoy Tsegue-Maryam Guebrou - possesses such exquisite poise and melodic sensitivity it seems almost perverse to leave it to the end. It’s a fitting coda to a remarkable life, one which constantly brought magic moments like this to the airwaves.

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