Wednesday, May 16, 2018

World Mash-Ups: Valeria Matzner and Molly Tigre

South American songwriter Valeria Matzner. (Photo:

Two new releases have brought me great joy over the past couple of weeks for their excellent production values and spirited performances. Valeria Matzner’s album called Anima (Triplet) offers up some enthusiastic tracks with an eclectic music mix. New York’s Molly Tigre is an instrumental band with a difference: no guitar player. The band’s self-titled record on the VSR label is inspired by the desert blues entrails of Mali mixed with the street rhythms of New York City. While these two new releases won’t shatter the earth upon their release, they do inspire hope for the continual fusion of world music mashed-up with regional sounds.

Valeria Matzner currently lives in British Columbia, but has embraced the community of musicians from South America who’ve immigrated to Vancouver and Toronto over the past 25 years. She was born in Montevideo, Uruguay into a musical family. She heard a mix of sounds from the region, such as bossa nova from Brazil, blended with American jazz and rock 'n' roll. Anima is marvelous set of Latin sounds featuring songs in Spanish, but the real stand-out among all the eight tracks that make up the album is her version of Radiohead’s “Lotus Flower,” first heard on the British band’s album The King of Limbs, self-released in 2011. It’s a great reinvention of the song compared to the original electronic pop recording. Clearly Matzner’s skill as a songwriter goes far beyond the conventional, much like her album. Scott Metcalfe (piano) is credited with all of the arrangements on the album and he’s kept it simple, with just enough harmonic interest to support Matzner’s limited yet passionate voice. Anima is beautifully recorded with a rounded sound that creates just the right feel for Matzner’s phrasing. It’s a dreamy album that won’t put you to sleep.

Molly Tigre is the self-titled debut from a heavy-duty 5-piece band from Brooklyn, NY. The band’s name is a play on words: Mali + Tigray, two of the principal regions in Africa most famous for West African blues, commonly known as "desert blues." One of the best-known exporters of the desert blues sound is Tinariwen. But unlike Tinariwen, Molly Tigre doesn’t have a guitar player in the band, relying on drummer Joey Abba and percussionist Ibrahima Kolipe Camara to deliver the one-two punch. Nevertheless, the results are amazing, reminding me of the World Saxophone Quartet crossed with the rhythms of Ethiopia.

Molly Tigre is led by Mitch Marcus and Ezra Gale, who clearly love the raw recordings from the seventies known as Éthiopiques, a multi-volume set of albums from the urban and rural areas of the African country. Marcus and Gale decided to analyze the rhythmic components of the music and write their own tunes. Consequently, electric bass, drums and percussion set the foundation for the saxophones and grant the horn section a chance to wail away. They sound much bigger and bolder than a quintet. The band’s street-wise feel for the urban sounds of New York grabs the ears immediately, as if you were walking into a spontaneous sidewalk performance. Highlights on the group’s second album include “Slush Fund” and “Hello Bolly.”

John Corcelli is a music critic, broadcast/producer, and musician. He's the author of Frank Zappa FAQ: All That's Left To Know About The Father of Invention (Backbeat Books).

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