Various Artists

Music from the Tea Lands

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Putumayo ties together the music of the vast areas of Asia and Indonesia with the tenuous thread of tea leaves. Like their 1997 companion release Music From the Coffee Lands, it's more an excuse to throw a hodgepodge of things onto a single disc than to draw any real connections between agriculture and music. There is some good stuff on this compilation, even if the concept is a little shaky. Tatarstan's Zulya kicks things off with a piece that owes more to European urban contemporary music than to Eastern tradition. Subtle kora and piano lift her sultry vocals out of her native land and into cool jazz territory. Likewise, guitarist Sanjay Mishra's "For Julia," from his Blue Incantations CD, is more new age than Hindustani, despite its tabla accompaniment. Other tracks more closely reflect their traditions, albeit in updated clothing. Erhu player Lei Qiang's "Picking Flowers" is pretty straightforward silk-and-bamboo, but with a softly rocking beat. Japan's Oki, an Ainu musician, brings his tradition into the 21st Century with his thunky, earthy "Utuwaskarap." Perhaps the more tangible thread that holds all of this together is the gentle, hypnotic nature of all of the tracks here. It's all pretty quiet and mild-mannered, with nothing to grate against the eardrums. Listen to it while sipping a cup of chai. (The recipe is included in the liner notes.)

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