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German label Galileo, which focuses on folk, jazz and world music, has released a number of new albums since I last wrote about the label.

I first became aware of Harald Haugaard via the albums Om Sommeren and Lys, which he recorded in the early 2000s as part of the duo Haugaard & Høirup. Having enjoyed these works, I was pleased to receive the latest album he appears on, Strømmen, by the HELENE BLUM & HARALD HAUGAARD BAND. Blum's voice lacks the rough edge of some folk singers, and would fit just as comfortably within a pop environment. Songs like the title track and Så Mange Forskellige Hænder have something of a pop sensibility to the song structure too, though the musical setting is firmly folk, with Strømmen's instrumental section bridging the gap between the Nordic and Celtic folk traditions. Angst is as bleak and on-edge as its title suggests, and aptly incorporates a mournful traditional melody alongside the modern composition. En Yndig og Frydefuld Sommertid is a traditional song with a stately, 19th century feel to the melody, accompanied by a broad range of fiddling from Haugaard which ranges from an ecstatic, triumphant folk style to a glacial, atmospheric chill. In addition to the vocal tracks, there are also several instrumental pieces. Boy Under Lime Tree has a laid-back summer afternoon mood, and features cymbals that evoke the sound of a soft breeze through leaves. Carls Vals perfectly demonstrates Haugaard's virtuoso fiddling techniques, with a lively, intricate traditional-style folk waltz segueing into an arty, angular mid-section and back again. Den Hvide Hjort incorporates stomping percussion conjuring images of the heavy-hoofed march of the titular animal, while the combination of folky fiddle and the guitar's country twang is reminiscent of Nordic bluegrass outfit Frigg. A superb folk album showing considerable musical sophistication.

Finnish harmonica quartet SVÄNG have covered a wide range of music over the years, exploring the folk traditions of various countries, tango, film themes, and the works of Sibelius. Their latest album, In Trad We Trust, is dedicated entirely to the traditional music of their home country, replacing the fiddle, kantele and jouhikko you may expect to hear in Finnish folk with an array of harmonicas: chromatic, diatonic, bass, and harmonetta. Fun artwork shows the band in cartoon medieval garb, being roared at by the Devil who then proceeds to astonish them with his harmonica skills. This sense of playfulness can be heard in pieces like Korsbäck Schottis, where the rhythmic use of bass harmonica evokes the galumphing gait of a giant. Pajod is a medley of Karelian pieces, beginning with a stately, hymnlike tune learned from a choir, and following up with two dance tunes, the last of which is hauntingly beautiful, its melancholic melody sped up to create an ecstatic whirl. Minä Yksin Kuljen is a mournful and touching melody from a Roma song whose title translates as Alone I Wander. Euran Polkka ja Mollipolkka is a medley of two joyful polkas, bringing a big smile to the face. Kirkonkellot ja Maanitus brings together a church bell-inspired melody with a frantically spinning dance tune, the playing technique aptly described in the sleeve notes as "dividing the melody for three harmonicas to throw around like a rhythmical ball game". The music here is clearly traditional Finnish folk, though the use of harmonicas gives it an innovative new spin. Top stuff as usual from this band.

Polish-Yemeni singer/songwriter RASM ALMASHAN celebrates both of her homelands on her album Yemenia, which brings together traditional Arabian influences with Western pop, as well as the African musics she had absorbed from Sudanese, Ethiopian and Kenyan classmates as a child. Child Again looks back to her childhood in Yemen, pairing English lyrics with words from Tunisian poet Anis Shushan, the music an effective melange of pop, traditional Arabic music, African chanting, and evocative piano. Yemenia is another excellent synthesis of Arabian and African music and Western pop, with powerful chanting celebrating female strength alongside a mix of intricate jazz guitar, ethereal keyboard, and Middle Eastern stringed instruments. Im Nin'Alu is a tribute to Ofra Haza, the famous singer born in Israel to Yemeni parents. The piece sets a rabbi's words to a traditional melody, opening with a heady mix of Middle Eastern sounds and brooding drones recalling Dead Can Dance, before segueing into upbeat, celebratory Middle Eastern pop. Beyhan is an original, expressive mixture of Middle Eastern music and jazz, incorporating flowing sax and jazz bass, while the hypnotic and airy keyboard introduced later lends spacey and proggy touches to the piece. Elsewhere on the album, lyrics lament environmental destruction and war, and celebrate human happiness and togetherness. Inventive, eclectic music with an admirable message.

HARRYCANE ORCHESTRA fuse Middle Eastern music and jazz on their album Dark Makan. Cara in Vain is an almost 11-minute epic that opens with a Middle Eastern-style melody played on clarinet over the soft hum of a harmonium. Middle Eastern stringed instruments, chanting and percussion are introduced along with sweeping, cinematic orchestration, the clarinet taking on a jazzier touch at times. Holy Rocket is an effective synthesis of jazz and Turkish song, a powerful piece that sounds intense even during its more laid-back moments. In Love With 7 Hills is a paean to a far away Istanbul, Tarkan Yesil's voice alternating between impassioned Turkish chanting and joyous jazz scat, over an expressive style of jazz informed by Middle Eastern musical motifs.

UPDATE: A couple more albums from Galileo have arrived that are worthy of mention. RÃO KYAO brings us a Portuguese tribute to Gandhi, combining influences from India, Portugal and beyond, in pieces whose titles reflect Gandhi's philosophy on peace, independence, and respect for nature. Respeito Pela Natureza is a really nice Indian-influenced piece combining meditative and celebratory moods, taking in Portuguese guitar alongside bamboo flute, harmonium and Indian percussion. Regreso Às Origens is a lively world-fusion piece opening with a rousing, primeval tribal rhythm then combining aspects of calypso music with Mediterranean-style accordion and guitar, the overall sound creating a summer party atmosphere. In Misericórdia, an evocative Middle Eastern intro gives way to a Latin jazz piece tinged with Portuguese folk. Vaishnav Jan To Tene Kahiye Je is an instrumental version of Gandhi's favourite bhajan, composed in the 15th century by Narsinh Mehta. The use of bamboo flute reminds us that this is an Indian piece, though it is otherwise played like a Mediterranean folk tune on guitar and accordion, while the marching bass line gives the piece a country-ish flavour. Mahatma is slow, meditative Indian/Portuguese fusion, featuring the chiming bell-like tones of the Portuguese guitar. An effective mixture of musical influences, the mood of the compositions spanning the gentle and spiritual and the celebratory.

DIANA RASINA from Romania explores the two meanings of Romance on her album of that title, with love songs sung in an assortment of languages from the Romance linguistic group, both major languages and regional dialects. There is a mixture of traditional pieces and songs by known composers, ranging from the troubadour tradition to Jacques Brel. Diana's voice is accompanied by the classical guitar of Alex Kohtaro Yoshii and accordion from Miroslav Jankech. Highlights include the nicely melancholic traditional Catalan La Dama D'Aragó; the traditional Romansh Jeu Sun D'Amur Surprida, a light and airy song arranged with a bossa nova touch, taking in a scat vocal section and jazz accordion and guitar solos; Una Furtiva Lagrima, by Italian composers Gaetano Donizetti and Felice Romani, which combines folk with the drama and complexity of opera; and my overall favourite, Reis Glorios, a truly beautiful 12th century Old Occitan song by Giraut de Bornelh, having the medieval troubadour sound you'd expect.

For more info visit www.galileomusic.de


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