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V/A - Black Mirror: Reflections in Global Musics

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Artist: V/A

Album: Black Mirror: Reflections in Global Musics

Label: Dust-to-Digital

Review date: Nov. 29, 2007


Marika Papagika - "Smyrneiko Minore (Greece)" (Black Mirror: Reflections In Global Musics)


World music compilations can be divided by point of view. First came academic collections that cloaked their presumptions in an aura of third person omnipotence. Historically, they have focused on folk and classical traditions at the expense of popular music; volumes that prioritized authenticity and documentation over the quality of performance have given this category a bad name. But for every hour-long compilation of tubercular didgeridoo blowers there’s a splendid Folkways volume that offers a grainy black and white tripod photo shot of another musical world.

It’s harder to stomach those second-person collections that seek to cosset and reassure you, the targeted customer, with a safely exotic listening experience that conforms to James Taylor and Sade-level standards of production and goes quite nicely with that scarf you’re buying, dear. Putamayo, I’m talking about you. And then there’s the first person approach, in which one soul takes you by the proverbial elbow and says this is what you gotta hear – now listen! Although Harry Smith’s Anthology Of American Folk Music is, obviously enough, not a world music collection, its enduring cultural import makes it the first person’s 2001 Monolith. The Sublime Frequencies label is totally devoted to it, and Dust-to-Digital’s recent Black Mirror: Reflections In Global Musics is a worthy addition to the first person’s ranks.

All 24 of Black Mirror’s selections come from polymath Ian Nagoski’s collection of 78-RPM records. Nagoski has already earned respect as a writer (where is my issue number five of Halana?), electronic musician (Recorded.com), and record store proprietor (True Vine Record Shop); he does not dishonor himself here. He makes no pretense to comprehensive scholarship, although the generous and ingratiating liner notes show that he has done his homework. Nor has he targeted this album at some researched and delineated demographic. Rather, he wants you to hear the past through his ears, see something as marvelous as he sees in his mind’s eye, and fall in love like he has with whatever you hear and imagine.

No slouch in the programming department, Nagoski has frontloaded Black Mirror with love-at-first-note stuff that flows across continents, decades, and traditions with skewed but unassailable logic. Brooklyn-based, Syrian-born violinist Naim Karakand’s “Kamanagah” is as regal and spirited as a prize show horse; its closing blow strokes flow like quicksilver into the opening keening of the Thewaprasit Ensemble’s “Phleeng Khuk Phaat, Part 2.” Although it’s from Thailand, this dazzling torrent of metalophones and reeds segues into Gong Belaloewana Bali’s proto-gamelan “Kebyar Ding, I” so easily, you might not notice that it happened. Then Pipe Major Forsyth’s “Mallorca” brings you up short, first with the marvel of its dignified beauty, then perhaps with thoughts of the myriad places and times around the world when Northumbrian pipes signaled the oppressor’s onslaught, and finally with recognition that colonials and colonists now sit side by side in the World Music Marketplace.

Nagoski takes pleasure in tweaking that marketplace’s blindered presumptions. There’s an epic Serbian poem recorded in the same Chicago studio that Blind Lemon Jefferson frequented, and music from Syria, Poland and Greece that was recorded in New York. He submits that rembetika singer (and New Yorker) Marika Papagika is a great American singer in the same league as Jimmy Rogers, and her hyper-romantic weeper “Smyrneiko Minore” is certainly just as morbid and gorgeous as anything The Singing Brakeman ever did. Edwin Fischer’s unbridled performance of “Handel’s Chaconne, Teil I” is every bit as impassioned, and does come from another part of the world, so why shouldn’t it be here. And what about Fischer’s pompadour? Look out, Little Richard! Even hotter is M. Nguyen van Minh-Con’s “Nam Nhi-tu,” a stinging dan bau (Vietnamese monochord) solo that sounds like it situates the birthplace of the blues in the Mekong delta, not the Mississippi’s.

Dust-to-Digital has standards to uphold when it comes to presentation. While Black Mirror lacks the coffee table fetishistic overload of the Fonotone box, which also bore the thumbprint of Susan Archie, it does look and sound great. Nagoski’s annotation imparts facts and myths with such fluency and transparency that you might not notice that he’s filtered it all through deeply personal, loving enthusiasm.

By Bill Meyer

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