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Vasen, Novalima and Lo Cor de la Plana are among global acts playing L.A.

July 19, 2009|Andrew Gilbert

Los Angeles is awash with a global array of music this summer, and several enticing acts are appearing in the Southland over the next two weeks. Here's a look at three not to be missed.



Sweden isn't usually included on lists of world music hot spots, but the trio Vasen is rapidly raising the country's profile. The group has influenced a generation of progressive American string players with a textured blend of traditional terpsichorean melodies and beautiful original compositions.

Vasen's recent surge of visibility in the U.S. is mostly due to an ongoing collaboration with renegade fiddler Darol Anger and mandolin wizard Mike Marshall, a lineup that makes its L.A. debut with a free show at the Skirball Cultural Center on Thursday.

Since their days as founding members of David Grisman's "dawg music" quintet, Marshall and Anger have worked extensively as a duo and launched several stylistically expansive ensembles.

They were already familiar with Vasen's music before they first encountered violist Mikael Marin, 12-string guitarist Roger Tallroth and Olov Johansson on nyckelharpa, a traditional Swedish string instrument, several years ago at the Lotus Festival in Bloomington, Ind.

"We flipped out, finally understanding how they make this amazing music," Marshall says. "The guitar is tuned so low that Roger plays it as a hybrid. He's improvising bass lines like a jazz musician, reharmonizing the melodies. On the CDs it's hard to tell what they're doing."

In 2007, Marshall and Anger released an eponymous album with Vasen on Adventure Music. While Marshall often doubles melodic lines with Marin and Johansson, Anger provides extra propulsion with his "chopping," a percussive rhythmic technique he perfected with the jazz-infused Turtle Island String Quartet.

The trio's influence has permeated American fiddle camps, bluegrass festivals and string workshops. "Now when you go to jam sessions people start playing Vasen tunes," Marshall says. "The stuff they write has this iconic and timeless quality."



Afro-Peruvian music first gained widespread attention in 1995 with the release of David Byrne's Luaka Bop anthology "The Soul of Black Peru." Novalima, an eight-member mixed-race electro-acoustic collective, represents new social and stylistic developments in the South American nation. The group will conclude its first U.S. tour on Saturday as part of a Grand Performances bill at California Plaza with Japanese-Brazilian hip-hop funkster Curumin. Admission is free.

Though steeped in centuries old rhythms and chants, Novalima brings a contemporary DJ sensibility to the studio, blending traditional forms with rock, reggae, jazz, dub, salsa and electronica.

The group's founders, Ramon Perez-Prieto, Grimaldo Del Solar, Rafael Morales and Carlos Li Carrillo, were high school friends raised in bohemian Lima families. Their 2002 self-titled album became a sleeper hit, introducing a new generation of Peruvians to a neglected stream of their own culture.

"This new mix and new sound has opened a lot of young people's minds who wouldn't listen to Afro-Peruvian music before," says Del Solar, who was living in Barcelona when Novalima first took shape.

After they created another album long distance, the foursome realized that for their music to take the next step they needed to create a Lima-based working band with some of the Afro-Peruvian masters.

Although numerous guest artists appear on the recent release "Coba Coba" (Cumbancha), the album is defined by the Afro-Peruvian cast of Juan Medrano Cotito, Constantino Alvarez, Milagros Guerrero and Marcos Mosquera.

A remix collection has spread Novalima's music to dance floors worldwide, but in Peru, the band is bringing black Peruvian culture into the mainstream.

"Before, Afro-Peruvian music was only heard at traditional parties and festivities," Del Solar says. "It's starting to interest a lot more people now."


Lo Cor de la Plana

Lo Cor de la Plana, a vocal ensemble that sings in the endangered Romance language Occitan, is also transforming traditional material with a multicultural agenda. Like Novalima, the French group treats its heritage as an open source body of knowledge rather than a closed school of practices that needs preservation. Lo Cor de la Plana makes its California debut with two free Grand Performances concerts at noon and 8 p.m. July 31 at California Plaza.

Based in Marseilles, the six-member ensemble accompanies its thick harmonies with rousing foot stomps, claps and hand percussion. Like vocal music from the Balkans, it surges with energy. Some of the songs reach back nearly 10 centuries to the region's troubadour tradition, but Lo Cor's music reflects the cultural currents that have swept through southern France in recent decades.

"At the beginning, Occitan singing was not polyphonic at all," says founder and composer Manu Theron. "We wanted to bring Mediterranean influences to the repertoire. We hear a lot of different sounds in Marseille. I grew up partly in Algeria and lived in Italy. I picked up rhythmic techniques from North Africa and Italian polyphony that work perfectly with scales and modes of our repertoire."

Like Vasen, Lo Cor has honed a program that seamlessly mixes new arrangements of ancient songs and original compositions by group members. They trace much of the material back to the region's religious history.

"Occitan culture is very deep, from the troubadours 1,000 years ago until now, with tons of poems and scores," Theron says. "But we're in touch with people from other worlds, classical and contemporary music and jazz."


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