Global Beat Fusion: Four for the Dance Floor

10/17/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

While I try to stay on top of all the music I download from publicists--a blessing, in that less physical clutter in my mailbox, and easier deletion if it does not suit my iTunes playlist, and a curse: I'm nostalgic and enjoy the feel of an actual album in my hands--I suffer from the one-click syndrome. It's too easy to assume and pull onto your desktop. Such was the case when I received an email regarding Luciano's newest album. Considering I have seven records by the soulful reggae singer, I figured he had a new publicist, which would not surprise me considering how many different labels he records for. The first song title, "Los Ninos De Fuera," seemed somehow off (I was waiting for "Kingdom of Jah"). A few seconds in, I understood I had pegged the wrong man.

Tribute to the Sun (Cadenza), which could easily be a reggae album's title, is actually the product of Swiss-Chilean DJ Luciano, worlds apart from the Jamaican crooner. I've come across his remixes before, like the one he did for Malian singer Salif Keita, and I will certainly be coming across him more often. The first track, a playful, handclap and chant fueled bottom-heavy banger, will certainly make it into my own DJ sets; it is one of the more interesting dance floor numbers I've heard in years. He goes on to cut up Keren Ann and invite Martina Topley-Bird in songs that are creatively ingenious. They are not your expectable four-on-the-floor standards, but percussively intricate cuts that reference global rhythmic patterns. Another handclap-driven number, "Africa Sweat," invites Senegalese vocalist/kora player Ali Boulo Santo in for another killer track.

The new 2020 Soundsystem record, Falling (2020 Vision), focuses on the foursome's live set, which has evolved over a period of years from live instrumentation with DJing--not a new concept, but also not nearly as well done as they pull off. Ralph Lawson and Danny Ward reinvigorated their sound with the addition of two Argentines, Fernando Pulichino and Julian Sanza, to produce a diverse and ambitious twelve-track record with a focus on the original duo's vocals. At times it gets a bit New Orderish--agitated Brit pop--but the production and playing is phenomenal. They do percussive house ("Broken") well, even when they tend towards progressive house, which, with their affinity to synthesizers, can sound a bit dated. When they nail it, they are spot on: "Satellite" builds like a great Beat Pharmacy track, and "Way of Life" closes the record on a high note--simple, clean, excellent bass build, solid beat, dependable vocals. A nice effort all around.

While Forro in the Dark has evolved greatly over the years, I still maintain that their recorded works do not do justice to their live sets. Something about forro and other Brazilian folk musics does not allow that to happen. I've seen this band on late, steamy nights in a packed Nublu, and they tear the place apart. Their latest, Light a Candle (Nublu/Nat Geo Music), represents the band's sound, yet comes nowhere near matching the experience of a concert. It's obvious these are two different mediums, and I'm not trying to argue that point. With this band, you just can't compare the two.

Not that their recorded works are bad; in fact, they are quite good. This latest features the best production the foursome--Mauro Refosco, Davi Vieira, Guilherme Monteiro, and Jorge Continentino--have thus far encountered. The guitar playing, delivered by Monteiro, is better than ever. The unique flutes (Continentino's pifano) combined with Refosco and Vieira's exceptional percussion rounds out this very distinctive Latin American sound. They temper it with reggae ("Nonsensical"), and invite local friends aboard: Brazilian Girls' Sabina Sciubba adds a chanson vibe to "Silence is Golden," while Jesse Harris closes the record on a bluesy-country tip with "Just Like Any Other Night." Those last two are the most reflective these guys get. The rest of the time, it's a full-on throwdown on the dance floor.

One thing I've learned over nearly a decade of DJing is that Balkan music can light up a club if played to the right audience. Over that time, Americans have warmed their ears and hearts to the beats of the Balkan trail, not to mention increased their awareness of our own brass traditions. Slavic Soul Party! serves both functions in fusing Balkan and Americana in a frenetic display of soulful head music, as they do on their fourth outing, Taketron (Barbès). It is aggressively refined music meant to stir and shake what's inside of us on contact.

Some of the songs remind me of high school football games, only with juice and push; others, of seeing bands like Boban Markovic rocks audiences live. This Brooklyn-based outfit has played alongside Arcade Fire, Sufjan Stevens, and Les Claypool, and every Tuesday night cram into the tiny Barbès a few blocks from my apartment to rock Ninth Street until the wee hours. They have always been well represented on record. Their latest only adds to that sentiment, and adds so much at that.

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