various artists,
A New Groove
(Putumayo, 2007)

Putumayo, a label known for its explorations of folk music from around the globe, is stretching the definition of world music with this album of dance grooves. As noted in the introductory notes to this collection, "the advent of Internet radio ... has allowed cultural exchanges to span oceans in a matter of seconds. Not surprisingly, this technological revolution has had a profound impact on the ways in which we both create and listen to music."

Confining itself, for the most part, to European and North American club beats, A New Groove is a less ambitious disc than it might have been. That's not to say this is a dull collection; there's plenty of intriguing music here from artists including Thievery Corporation, Cat Empire and k-os. But why is there no African groove? Where is the Asian dance beat?

In a time when artists frequently borrow musical ideas from a wide range of other cultures, perhaps it's anachronistic to expect a collection of this sort to include musicians based in particular geographic locations. After all, k-os isn't native Canadian nor, despite his referencing of the Tragically Hip's "Ahead by a Century," does his music fit into the mold that Neil Young, the Guess Who and Rush established as Canadian. Canada in the early 21st century is a cultural mosaic and k-os is part of a new Canadian musical identity that also embraces the Arcade Fire, Great Big Sea and Bedouin Soundclash.

So if this disc's premiere reggae influence arrives mixed with rap and jazz overtones via a Canadian recording artist, does the album really need to include a Jamaican national? Perhaps not, but the range of styles on A New Groove is still narrower than it could have been. And at less than 40 minutes in duration, Putumayo has unnecessarily limited the scope of this disc. Another 20 minutes worth of musical smorgasbordism would have provided the opportunity for broader cross-cultural representation, an indication that the musical revolution being celebrated isn't a one-way flow from the third world into the urban centers of the first.

Where this disc succeeds in demonstrating a cross-pollenation that is truly invigorating is in the juxtaposition of adjacent tracks. Following hard on the heels of the Latin-influences of Puerto Rican-born, Belgium-based Gabriel Rios ("Unrock") are Australia's Cat Empire, who mix rap and ska into a musical gumbo ("The Lost Song"). Next up is Alice Russell from Suffolk in the UK, who brings a jazzy, lounge feel to the disc via "High Up on the Hook." And from there the disc moves on to "Crabbuckit" by the aforementioned k-os.

The best tracks on A New Groove employ subtle world music influences. Bitter Sweet utilizes a Latin break on "Dirty Laundry" but the song's major musical influence might best be described as Shirley Bassey '60s pomp. The horn line is actually drawn from Charles Aznavour's 1965 recording "Parce Que Tu Crois." Germany's Radio Citizen (Niko Schabel) creates a retro, laidback club groove on "The Hop" that's reminiscent of Portishead's Dummy album. France's Jehro (Jerome Cotta) channels a bit of Bob Marley on "Everything" before the disc closes with a track by American groovemasters Thievery Corporation. Can't say that there's anything really worldly in the production of "Until the Morning" despite the song's wonderful vocal by Icelandic chanteuse Emiliana Torrini. But the song is a near perfect chill-out track by one of the leading proponents of the electronic music scene and it's an ideal closer to a terrific disc that doesn't quite live up to its back cover instruction to file under: World/Putumayo.

review by
Gregg Thurlbeck

30 June 2007

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