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POP NOTES : A world of cultural music is at listeners’ fingertips

Around the world in eight CDs....
   First stop, Cuba (1). Many Americans discovered Cuban music when 1997’s Buena Vista Social Club (Nonesuch) became an international hit. Cuban music continues to lure American ears, and singersongwriter Pedro Luis Ferrer is one of Cuban music’s best. His latest, Natural (Escondida) showcases a rich baritone voice that is warm and earthy. The rootsy instrumentation soaks under one’s skin, as Ferrer and two female singers create an intimate, homey aura of a gathering of friends.
   Next, Brazil (2 and 3). The expressively elegant singer Marisa Monte has released two CDs this year, Infinito Particular and Universo Ao Meu Redor (both on Metro Blue). On the former, Monte works with Carlinhos Brown and Arnaldo Antunes (from her Tribalistas CD). Brazilian percussion, creamy atmospherics and Monte’s luscious voice cast an irresistible spell. Her first album in four years shows musical maturity and emotional depth. The latter, an all-samba disc, is more daring. She revives some classic sambas and adds originals. Co-producer Mario Caldato (Beck, Beastie Boys) adds modern, atmospheric touches while staying near samba’s soul and Monte’s wonderful singing. A particularly striking track is “Statue of Liberty,” a duet with David Byrne that uses beat box, Theremin and Brazilian percussion.
   Now Toronto (4): Tired of waiting for new work by Massive Attack? Then Andrew McPherson’s thrilling creation Eccodek may be what you need. More Africa in Us (White Swan) has cool multicultural beats, tribal-inspired electronica and layers of dub sounds that embrace a wide variety of African rhythms and influences such as reggae and Afropop. A global music that is danceable, peaceful and inspiring.
   The islands of Cape Verde (5), off the coast of west Africa, hit the musical map with the “barefoot diva” Cesaria Evora. Sara Tavares, who now lives in Portugal, integrates her heritage and influences well on Balance (Times Square). Her sweet, lovely voice and easily accessible pop songs have touches of Afrobeats and reggae. Not as emotionally substantive as Evora, Tavares’ style and presentation are closer to a Norah Jones or Les Nubians.
   On to Paris (6) for Lebanonborn Marcel Khalife. His latest, Taqasim (Nagam/Connecting Cultures), is three pieces of music inspired by the work of Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish. The pieces are duos for oud (a Near Eastern lute) and double bass. Khalife, an oud master, is accompanied by Peter Herbert on double bass and son Bachar Khalife on percussion. The music is uplifting, expansive, beautiful and sometimes unsettling. How does one approach this traditionally rooted, but contemporary Arab music? Khalife suggests “deprogram yourself and explore the universe with your innate mind.” Taqasim (which means improvisations) is a challenge, but one with many rewards.

Now we touch down in Iran (7) through the music of Iranian-American Shahrokh Yadegari’s new recording, Migration (Lilasound). Its four recital-like compositions by Yadegari are intimate, haunting and almost unbearably lovely. Using a computer software program he created, Yadegari recorded Iranian violinist Keyavash Nourai, played it back and recorded again and again using loop, delay, feedback and more. The four works evoke traditional Persian music and find harmonies in the mixing of melodies. Migration will appeal to fans of Kronos Quartet and Brian Eno.

 Finally, we arrive at New York City (8) for Hazmat Modine’s outrageously entertaining Bahamut (Gekophonic). The band’s truly singular approach embraces many pre-World War II sounds — blues, jazz, calypso, ska, klezmer and more. Amazingly, it works. “Yesterday Morning” has a New Orleans funeral/reggae fusion, while “It Calls Me” has a strong Mississippi blues feel joined with Tuvan throat singers Huun Huur Tu.
   Exotic, multi-national instrumentation that circles the globe keeps ears guessing where this band will go next. Contemporary and ancient at the same time, Hazmat Modine is a spirited, invigorating adventure and loads of fun. Those who appreciate experimental rock bands such as the Squirrel Nut Zippers will find much to like here. E-mail :

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