Bela Fleck - Throw Down Your Heart(Rounder)
The African musical safari has become a prized milestone in the career of many a serious-minded Western musician, a tradition firmly established by Paul Simon's Graceland and arguably peaking with Henry Kaiser and David Lindley's 1992 exploration of Malagasy music, A World Out of Time.
The virtuoso banjoist Bela Fleck's Throw Down Your Heart is the latest instalment of the Acoustic Planet series, which has involved collaborations with jazz and bluegrass musicians. This third outing finds Fleck jamming with players from Mali, Uganda, Tanzania and the Gambia, some of whose instruments have a direct correlation with his own. The results include some enticing plucked-string interplay, but the less obvious combinations are the most intriguing, such as the Muwewesu Xylophone Group's giant marimba; the unison passages of banjo and falsetto scat-singing of Anania Ngoglia; and the buzzing lyre and percussion of Professor Warema Masiaga Cha Cha. One of the more rewarding excursions into Africa's heart of lightness.
DOWNLOAD THIS: Wairenziante; Pakugyenda Balebauo; Kabibi; Throw Down Your Heart
Yello - Touch(Polydor)
While their pioneering work with samplers and sequencers remains admired by their peers, the Swiss duo's albums rarely secure UK releases these days.
Part of the reason can be gleaned by checking the ‘moods’ sections of their allmusic.com album listings, which feature terms such as witty, quirky, campy, and clinical, characteristics not highly valued in lumpen modern pop; but it's also due to their reliance on many of the same strategies (and sounds) they were using two decades ago.
The Expert is typical, its opening passage of mouth percussion leading into an elastic-funk groove impeccably stitched together from tiny musical phrases. Elsewhere, atmospheric synth pads and sophisticated ambiences are attended by flugelhorn, crisp rhythm guitar and slick beats sculpted for cinematic evocation, but leaning dangerously close to bathtub jazz. There's also a new version of their three-decade-old debut single, Bostich, a sort of 007 makeover giving it a hard-body physique. It's still good, but it's no longer new.
DO WNLOAD THIS: The Expert; Bostich (Reflected); Out of Dawn; Tangier Blue
The Necks - Silverwater(ReR)
Everyone's favourite Australian improvising trance-jazz trio return with a piece supposedly named after an industrial suburb of Sydney best known for its prison.
The cover design suggests a more natural influence, Silverwater being evocative of running water, reflecting the progress of a river from its trickling source through a youthful turbulence marked by the sustained torrent of small percussion, to a gently meandering maturity.
It's a significant departure from the group's hypnotic style, in that Tony Buck, the drummer, is the dominant contributor, his froth of wooden percussion conjuring a babbling brook of foaming white water accompanied by undulating shimmers of organ.
Meanwhile, the occasional tolling of a bell implies a longer sense of time than that suggested by the surface activity. The addition of a rhythm guitar figure to their bass/drums/keys palette helps establish purpose, before elements are stripped away, heralding a passage of calm. It's a vibrant piece, but the impression of musicians keenly aware of each others' intentions remains a precious characteristic.
DOWNLOAD THIS: Silverwater