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Magda Piskorczyk – Afro Groove
Self Release 2011
Magda Piskorczyk – Mahalia
Afro Groove - 9 tracks; 43.09 minutes + bonus CD 3 track 18.44 minutes
Mahalia – 15 tracks – 64.58 minutes
Here is a real job lot of music from Poland! Afro Groove was recorded live in concert at Tarnobrzeg during a festival called Satyrblues in September 2010. Mahalia is a Warsaw studio recording with a larger ensemble aimed at a celebration of Mahalia Jackson’s gospel music. Apart from Magda herself the only common musician is guitarist Aleksandra Siemieniuk. On Afro Groove Magda handles bass duties with Marcin Jahr on drums and Adam Rozenman on bass. Memphis harp player Billy Gibson is the special guest on the CD and plays harp and sings on several tracks. On the gospel set Roman Ziobro plays acoustic bass, Maksymilian Ziobro drums, Stanislaw Witta piano and organ and Jacek Namyslowski plays trombone on one track. A gospel choir features on four tracks.
Afro Groove. Magda has participated twice in the IBCs and that may well be where the connection with Billy Gibson was established. Fans of Billy’s energetic personality might want to look out this CD for his contribution as he plays on most of the album, exceeding the normal role of a ‘special guest’. Magda sings in English, Polish, Tamashek and Bambara and draws influences from Africa as well as the blues of the USA. The CD opens with a version of Tracy Chapman’s “Save Us All” which certainly displays the amalgam of her influences, with the opening section being solo guitar with some North African feel before African percussion and harp join in. Magda has a deep voice which works well with the material; there is some trace of accent, but that does not detract from the listener’s enjoyment. Mississippi Fred McDowell’s “The Kokomo Medley” follows in similar vein and clocks in at over 10 minutes. A similarly extended version of Bo Diddley’s “I’m A (Wo)Man” (via Koko Taylor) follows a more familiar bluesy approach with electric guitar and tough harp, the main African feel being in some of the percussion rattles.
Billy Gibson takes over the vocals for a trio of songs, starting with Willie Foster’s “Love Everybody” followed by his own and David Bowen’s “Mississippi”, an amusing song based on a nursery rhyme for children to encourage them to remember how to spell the name of their state. David Bowen’s “One More Time” is more uptempo before Magda returns to the microphone on Eric Bibb’s “Too Much Stuff”. The track starts off with percussion that is almost Latin in feel and a catchy guitar motif. Billy’s harp subtly underlines Magda’s vocal lines. Of course, as a non-Polish speaker the stage announcements and band introductions are lost on me, but it IS a live album!
The main CD closes with two tracks that are definitely more African in feel. “Mansane Cisse" is credited as traditional and sounds a little like The Doors “The End” with sweeping cymbal flourishes and tolling guitar chords. Magda’s voice is really strong on this one and Billy’s harp manages to fit in very well. “Cler Achel” comes from the open of Ibrahim Ag Alhabib and opens with that rippling guitar that is so often heard in African tunes, as well as some scary vocal flourishes that are very African in feel. The audience can be heard clapping along with the rhythm and are clearly enjoying the show!
I do not understand why the set has been split into a CD + Bonus when the total time of both is well below the maximum size of a CD these days. The bonus CD starts with a second Tracy Chapman tune, “Crossroads” that again has that African guitar and percussion vibe. “Down Home” is another David Bowen/Billy Gibson composition, a tribute to Beale Street, Memphis and it seems odd to hear it played so far away in Poland. Billy’s harp is the main featured instrument and he really goes for it on this track, as well as delivering the vocal about his home town. The final track was not recorded on the same date but is a studio recording, a Polish poem set to music by Magda.
This is a well presented CD with nice artwork, including excellent caricatures of Magda and Billy which adorn the CDs and the sleeve. It is good to hear the blues being reinterpreted by artists from other countries and the fact that Billy Gibson has become involved in this project suggests that it is worth a listen.
Mahalia. Mahalia Jackson would have been 100 on October 26 2011 and this CD is a celebration of her great gospel songs which Magda heard as a child. The versions are respectful covers of many of the gospel songs that we all know: “He’s Got The Whole World In His Hands”, “Go Tell It On The Mountain”, “Just A Closer Walk With Thee”, etc. “Go Tell It On the Mountain” starts with the crackle of an old 78 and is the first track to add the choir which adds to the overall sound on four tracks. Most of the material consists of traditional gospel tunes, apart from Gershwin’s “Summertime” which is given a slow and moody interpretation, with the trombone adding to that feel in the middle solo.
Gospel music is not my strongest knowledge area. This CD has clearly been well recorded and is offered as a tribute to one of the great voices of the twentieth century and I accept it in those terms.
Reviewer John Mitchell is a blues enthusiast based in the UK. He also travels to the States most years to see live blues music and is currently planning a visit to the Tampa Bay Blues Festival.