Although I hail from Britain – a place where so much musical originality originally originated, and a country firmly considered as part of the West – I’ve never been a big fan of the label ‘world music’.
The term ‘world music’ implies that when it comes to music, you have everything that’s created by Western (i.e. usually American or British) musicians dominating the landscape, and then you have everything else, wherever it might be from, shoved away into a tiny ignored corner of your local record store (assuming your town has one left) and an even smaller fraction of the music-listening public’s awareness of the unimaginably vast actual range of music available today at the touch of a mouse, trackpad, or touch-screen. Really, it just serves to treat non-Western musicians as somehow inferior, weird, and/or not really worth paying much attention to.
This arrangement is, to put it mildly, very silly. After all, what we today consider ‘Western’ music has roots outside the West, and ‘outside’ influences continue to creep into British and American music today. With the advent of the ‘global village’ facilitated by the Internet, and the ease of access to information about music’s evolution over time, it can’t really be denied that all the music we listen to is, in a very real sense, ‘world’ music. But still, the vast majority of the Western music-listening population continues on as if none of the above were true.
Shlomi Cohen’s album Breather is a case in point. Breather is a great album, full of virtuosic saxophone playing. Cohen delivers everything you could want from a gifted sax player: slow subtle melodies that could make Kenny G weep into his breakfast bowl; rich flowing lines underpinned by unorthodox chord progressions; soulful notes that bring the listener to the brink of blissful sedation; and a good few funk-fusion moments, including my personal favourite tracks Tzur, and Cohen’s rearrangement of Dick Dale’s classic surf-guitar workout Misirlou. Breather is not just a sax sessioneer advertising his chops, but a talented musician making music and expressing himself. In a world of Coltrane clones torturing listeners with migraine-inducing squeals and cluttered flurries that fall far short of the great man’s masterful improvisations, Breather is a much needed oasis of calm.
But still. Although Breather is fantastic, an exquisitely human album, that ‘world’ tag is likely to put paid to any chances of a wider audience giving it the time it deserves. And that’s a crying shame.
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