File Under 'World'

I have never been entirely at ease with the term 'world' music. Where else could it come from? Nevertheless, both of these cds can be found in that section in the stores. If nothing else they demonstrate some of the diversity that dwells beneath the categorisation.

Andy Kershaw reckons that Taha and his musicians sound like The Clash reconvened as an Algerian rai band. Perhaps. His performances are full of energy and attitude, mixing the traditional rhythms of his own country with massive guitar riffs that could have come from a Led Zep album.

This set was recorded in Paris and you just know you're in for something special when the opening of 'Menfi' shifts from the drama created by Hamik Hamadouche's acoustic luth to the sharp power chords of Francois Delfin's electric guitar. The whole band tear into the song with relish and Taha growls and exhorts with a passion. I've no idea what he's singing about and it doesn't matter.

The same sort of fiery energy drives 'Nokta' with strings, presumably keyboard generated, adding another darker texture over which the snaky guitar writhes. Tracks like 'Bent Sahra' and the gutteral 'Barra Barra' are equally driven. The former has one of the most exhilarating rhythms on the album as well as some tantalisingly brief guitar breaks from either Delfin or guest, Steve Hillage. In fact Hillage appears on several tracks and shares composing credits with Taha along with taking care of the arranging and production duties. Remember when he wore woolly hats and contributed to songs about pot-head pixies ? So some old hippies don't fade away, the just mutate.

Not everything on the album is powered by rock influences, however. There is another spine-tingling introduction on 'Ya Rayah' featuring Hamadouche on luth, the notes cascading out into the near silence. And on 'Ala Jalkoum' another collaborator joins the band. Femi Kuti's vocals and sax set up a more mellow groove and even Taha sounds calm and reflective here.

In total contrast 'Voila Voila' use some rhythms and electronics that wouldn't be out of place on certain types of dance music. These rhythms pulsate behind Taha's impassioned rant and again some liquid guitar slides in and out of the mix. It's obviously a crowd pleaser as they chant along with it. The final track 'Garab' takes the frenzy further with voices and rhythms reaching an ecstatic climax to the set.

There are plenty of striking vocalists in rai but Taha's is one of the most exciting and commanding. Mix that with endlessly inventive percussion and the stunning balance between guitar and luth and you have a very compelling combination.

The title of this second cd conveys, to an extent, what the music is like. The trio consists of Raoul Bjorkenheim (guitars), Ingebrigt Haker Flaten (basses) and Paal Nilssen-Love (drums) and if ever the term 'power trio' needed a definition then this is where you'd find it. Label founder Rune Kristoffersen draws parallels with Hendrix's Band of Gypsies but that doesn't really come close. I thought briefly of Brandon Ross' trio Harriet Tubman. I listened to them again. But no. This is real power. And it is an inspired teaming up of talents, joining the Finnish/American with the two younger Norwegians. They drive the demonic guitarist's explorations further. If you liked his work with Edward Vesala or his more recent cd 'Apocalypso' then you should investigate this.

As a 'live' studio recording it is more visceral and raw than anything you'll usually find in that environment. 'Oikosulku' sets the scene with seething swathes of drums and bass providing a wall of sound into which Bjorkenheim's guitar drills. Then on 'Salaa' the guitar slides and wobbles over the energetic drumming creating shifting, sometimes harsh textures. A more acerbic sound bombards the listener on ''Taajus' as Bjorkenheim becomes virtually unrecognisable amid the welter of effects and distortion. The three musicians crackle and fizz throughout the piece without much respite and the resultant music defies categorisation. Much of 'XXX' projects busy percussive layers of sound where it is virtually impossible to separate each instrument and say who is playing what. This is the most free-form outing as well as one which allows solo space for bass and drums.

By way of contrast, 'Vittula' is a spacey excursion with muted electronic winds and storms which squall across a bleak landscape. Not conventional guitar and bass music.

This set is full of high octane improvisation which in a couple of places is almost in danger of drowning in the headlong flood of its own invention. Nevertheless this is some of most exciting and abrasive trio playing released this year and is an unmissable addition to the work of all three players.

© Paul Donnelly 2002

Rachid Taha : LIVE (ARK 21 Records. ARKCD1010)

Bjorkenheim/Haker Flaten/Nilssen-Love : SCORCH TRIO : (Rune Grammofon. RCD 2025)