Ooh I do loves me some Cane Sugar (Louisiana Red Hot Records) by Honey Island Swamp Band. Aaron Wilkinson (acoustic guitar/mandolin) and Chris Mulé (electric guitar) were stranded in San Francisco after Hurricane Katrina washed them right out of New Orleans. It was in the Bay Area where they met fellow NOLA evacuees bassist Sam Price and drummer Garland Paul at John Lee Hooker’s Boom Boom Room on Fillmore Street. They ultimately moved back home with their “Bayou Americana” fully formed. This is their third album and it begs to be heard in a live setting. With four-part vocal harmony, some funky swamp stomp rhythms and the addition of Trevor Brooks on Hammond B-3 organ, this is a powerful package recalling the high-point eras of Little Feat, The Band and Delbert McClinton into one Southern-fried, honky-tonkin’ blues ‘n’ boogie funk rock ‘n’ roll. There’s as much Mississippi in this as Louisiana and why not? The two states border and the Honey Island Swamp is a real place along that stretch. If Dr. John had joined Grateful Dead and got ‘em to go a little harder like early Skynyrd, it might’ve sounded something like this. I have a new favorite band.

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An old favorite piano player has just blown me away again. I was 22 when Chick Corea’s Return To Forever altered my musical landscape forever with the complexities of jazz-rock fusion. 40 years later, Corea’s The Vigil (Concord) is the name of the CD and the new band, a band filled with youngsters who, amazingly enough, are able to hold their own with the venerable 72-year-old keyboard legend. The music pops big time with surprising twists and turns. The tenor sax, soprano sax, bass clarinet, flute, electric guitar, acoustic guitar, bass and drums adventurously meander around a wide swath of road paved by Corea to show their strengths. Depending upon the track, you can add extra percussion, a lulling female voice, plus guests Ravi Coltrane on sax and bassist Stanley Clarke. “Portals To Forever” recalls RTF. “Pledge For Peace” is John Coltrane-inspired. The seven cuts show a dazzling display of inventive chemistry and interaction, enough to hear new things every time in the first dozen listens.
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“The music of Jajouka is trance music, ecstatic music, a music narcotic,” says filmmaker Jim Jarmusch in his liner notes to The Road To Jajouka (Howe), a tribute to the Master Musicians of Jajouka led by Bachir Attar. For here, in the southern Rif mountains of Morocco, this magical music flows like smoke. It has long enticed free-thinking western musicians for decades. Producer/bassist Bill Laswell reminds that author William S. Burroughs loved it as did original Rolling Stone Brian Jones whose 1971 solo record was Brian Jones Presents The Pipes Of Pan At Jajouka. All proceeds from the sale of this CD go to The Jajouka Foundation, a non-profit built to “foster awareness and preservation of this ancient ceremonial music.”

Grateful Dead’s Mickey Hart joins with Bronx-born turntable guru DJ Logic on “Baraka.”

“Djebala Hills” has East Indian singer Falu with avant-garde saxman John Zorn, Billy Martin of Medeski Martin & Wood plus Red Hot Chili Pepper Flea on bass.

Lee Ranaldo from Sonic Youth is an obvious choice to participate. His Moroccan Journal memoir was written in 1995. “Boujeloudia Magick” tells the tale of the feral goat-boy Jeloud who danced to this same music thousands of years ago. Ornette Coleman is on “Jnuin,” showing off his highly-idiosyncratic brand of improvisation he calls “harmolodics” which fits like a glove over the pounding heartbeat rhythms and the strange caterwauling of the ghaita, a reed instrument with a series of holes that permeate the sound with unearthly emotion.

“Al’Aita” closes things out with no less than the London Philharmonic.

There may be more challenging, exotic and esoteric CDs out there but I sure haven’t found ‘em. The Road To Jajouka, admittedly an acquired taste, is cerebral, mysterious and sensual, the most far-flung slice of entertainment to cross my desk in years.

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