Sabra Sounds: Toy Vivo Duo; Orlika

TOY VIVO DUO Laughing With Angels: Live Concert (Nada Records) A musical journey awaits those who listen to Avshalom Farjun's latest album, Laughing with Angels. The self-taught musician has hooked up with percussionist Avi Agababa for this 10-track voyage. The leader of the now defunct world music group Bustan Abraham, Farjun wows with his musicianship on this latest release. He plays the Qanun - a flat ancient wooden zither with 90 strings - in a non-traditional manner that incorporates musical inspiration from both the East and West. Middle Eastern sounds mesh with Indian, Spanish and African styles in these compositions. Listeners who close their eyes might well imagine a full orchestra playing onstage. Over the course of the CD, Farjun magically manipulates the Qanun to sound like an oud, mandolin, piano, guitar and harp. Agababa gives the spotlight to Farjun while unquestionably adding his own groove to the mix. His fingers move at an awe-inspiring rate throughout the album, and especially on "Fountainhead." Musician Gershon Weisserfirer appears as a guest on Andalusian classic "Muwashah" and Spanish tune "Por Manuel." The musicians also offer new versions of Bustan Abraham songs including "Suite For Deyzi" and "Canaan." One of the album's standout tracks is "Simple Love," in which Farjun performs a colorful solo on the Qanun. Laughing with Angels was recorded live during a concert in Brussels in 2005, with songs ranging in length from four minutes to nearly 10. Farjun, Agababa and Weisserfirer complement one another nicely on the album, creating a rich and beautiful sound. ORLIKA Self-Titled (Hatav Hashmini/imusic) When a wave of nostalgia hit Korin Allal as she put together 2004 album The Blue Color of the Sky, she decided to record in French - and turned to Orlika for help. Two years later, the French-Israeli singer has returned the favor, turning to Allal and a host of other top Israeli musicians for help with her self-titled Hebrew debut. In Europe, Orlika is known for her piano and singing skills, especially among world music fans. Her songs here are a mix of ethnic pop, classic Hebrew and French songs, as well as world music styles. The daughter of a French father and an Israeli mother, Orlika appears to have been equally influenced by music from the two countries - Orlika showcases classic Israeli songs but spices them up with a French vibe. A couple years ago, she made a name for herself in Israel with her song, "Je M'envole," the French version of the popular "Al Kav Hazinuk" ("On the Starting Line") by Hahaverim Shel Natasha. That song is included on this album, as is "Mon Petit Bout," a French adaptation of Allal's "Shir La Shira" ("Song for Shira"). The French adaptations are appealing but don't offer improvements on the original Hebrew versions, while original material on the album includes a song in both French and Hebrew, "Lechiot Beyahad" ("Living Together"), one of Orlika's finest original compositions. All Orlika's songs feature simple melodies showcasing the singer's pleasant voice and talent. But on this particular effort, Orlika lacks the distinctiveness and energy to make her stand out in the increasingly popular world music arena.