As a cultural ambassador to the world, Yo-Yo Ma has immersed himself in the native music of many countries and taken away charming souvenirs of his musical explorations that he shares openly and without affectation. The chief characteristic of Ma's approach is his showcasing of other talents, with a modesty and generosity on his part that makes these performances all the more appealing.
Soulful singer and guitarist Tab Benoit has never made secret his devout allegiance to the Louisiana music tradition. With The Sea Saint Sessions, Benoit, ably assisted by several Crescent City stalwarts, takes his music back to the source, setting up shop at the famed hit factory to cook up a sonic gumbo that successfully recaptures the spontaneity of the classic Sea Saint sound. Benoit's guests conjure up some of the studio's old musical magic as "Big Chief" Monk Boudreaux infuses Mardi Gras Indian spirit into "Monk's Blues," Meter man George Porter Jr. funkifies "Making the Bend," and Cyrille Neville sings on his own "Plareen Man". But it is Benoit's distinctive guitar lines–somehow both supple and hard-edged–and the impeccable elasticity of his regular rhythm section that makes the music work. Most of the material is Benoit's own, although he pays tribute to Louisiana legend Guitar Slim with a take on the classic "Sufferin' Mind" and dips into the Howlin' Wolf songbook for a rendition of "Howlin' for My Darling".
Hans Zimmer's score for Edward Zwick's samurai epic The Last Samurai mixes his own densely composed style with Japanese instruments and melodies, resulting in a brooding, atmospheric collection of music. Shakuhachi and other flutes, koto, and taiko drums make their presence known throughout the score, most effectively on compositions like "A Way of Life," which begins as a reflective duet for flute and strings before swelling into an ominous but majestic melody. "Spectres in the Fog" is another compelling mix of beauty and violence, starting with a delicate koto melody and rolling drums before crashing percussion and sawing strings turn the mood from bittersweet to battle-ready…
The final recording of the mighty Queen of Salsa's career, Regalo del Alma was certainly in keeping with the exuberant, joyful tone that her enormous fan base has come to expect from her. With stylistic influences and production value a bit more modern than one might expect from a legend whose recording career has spanned 45 years, this album will hook yet another generation on Celia Cruz's regal, earthy presence. Cruz is joined by a cast of consummate professionals including producer Sergio George, percussionists Marc Quiñones and Luis Quintero, and many of the usual suspects that one might expect to find on a record of this caliber. These contemporary masters bring a freshness to the project that is invigorating.