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Volume 19 Issue 1 - September 2013

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  • September
  • Jazz
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Violinist Viktoria

Violinist Viktoria Mullova is joined byharpsichordist Ottavio Dantone and theAccademia Bizantina on a new Onyx CD ofBach Concertos (ONYX 4114). The two standardsolo concertos — the A Minor BWV1041and the E Major BWV1042 — are here,together with two transcriptions: the E MajorConcerto for Harpsichord, arranged forviolin in D major; and the Concerto for TwoHarpsichords in C Minor, arranged for violinand harpsichord.Mullova’s playing is simplybeautiful: crisp, clean and light,with a nice sense of space. Theslow movement of the E majorconcerto is particularly lovely. Thetwo transcribed concertos aren’tquite as successful, but are stillhighly satisfying. The C minorconcerto perhaps transcribesbetter, but both works have reallynice third movements, with someparticularly dazzling harpsichordpassages in the duo concerto.Beautifully presented in aglossy card folder, this is asimply lovely CD.The wonderful Gil Shaham isback with another outstanding CDon his own Canary Classics label,teaming up once again with hissister Orli Shaham for a fascinatingrecital titled Nigunim –Hebrew Melodies (CC10). It’s amixture of old and new, with JosefBonime’s Danse hébraïque andJoseph Achron’s Hebrew Melodyand Two Hebrew Pieces bracketing the majorwork on the CD, Avner Dorman’s Nigunim(Violin Sonata No.3). The Dorman workwas commissioned for this recording by theShaham siblings, who wanted to emphasizethe relevance of the Jewish music tradition intoday’s world, and it’s a stunning piece, thevirtuosity and quality of which quite clearlythrilled the performers.The other works on the CD are: JohnWilliams’ Three Pieces from Schindler’sList, the link to the 1940s Poland of theirgrandparents giving the music a personalrelevance for the performers; Leo Zeitlin’sEli Zion, transcribed by Joseph Achronfrom the original 1914 piece for cello andpiano; and Ernest Bloch’s three-movementBaal Shem, the terrific performance ofwhich features a particularly glorious Niguncentral movement.The Shahams grew up with this music, andit shows: the violin playing throughout themarvellous CD is rich, warm and idiomatic,and the piano playing always sympathetic andperfectly attuned.The young Czech violinist Josef Špaček hasa new CD on the Supraphon label, pianistand fellow Czech Miroslav Sekera joininghim in a recital of works by Janáček, Smetanaand Prokofiev (SU 4129-2). Both players areclearly very much at home in the JanáčekSonata for Violin and Piano and Smetana’sFrom the Homeland: Two Pieces for Violinand Piano, but Špaček shows a remarkableaffinity for the music of Prokofiev as well.The Sonata for Solo Violin Op.115 is a relativelyshort but charming work and Špačekgets it absolutely right, with aperfect mix of lyrical and spikypercussive playing in the openingmovement, a lovely Theme andVariations middle movement anda nicely contrasted — and not toofast! — finale.Both players are in dazzlingform in Prokofiev’s Sonatafor Violin and Piano No.1 in F Minor,Op.80, from the lovely wispy violinscales over the slow, deep basspiano octaves of the first movement,through the percussivesecond movement to the brilliantAllegrissimo finale and the return tothe mysterious mood of the sonata’sopening bars.The great sound and balancecontribute to an outstanding CD.Jennifer Higdon, who recentlyturned 50, is firmly established asone of the leading contemporaryAmerican composers. With EarlyChamber Works (8.559752)Naxos has added a fascinatingretrospective CD to its AmericanClassics series, presentingpremière recordings, made in associationwith the composer, of five works from theformative years of Higdon’s career. They areall finely crafted and very accessible.The Serafin String Quartet opens the CDwith a short but lovely setting of AmazingGrace, followed by the Sky Quartet, a fourmovementwork inspired by the immensityand beauty of the Western U.S. sky. The quartet’sviolist Molly Carr is joined by pianistCharles Abramovic for the early — and reallybeautiful — Sonata for Viola and Pianofrom 1990, and bassoonist Eric Stombergjoins a standard piano trio line-up for DarkWood, a short piece that Higdon describes asexploring the bassoon’s virtuosic abilities aswell as respecting its soulful nature.Members of the Serafin Quartet performthe earliest work on the CD, the String Triofrom 1988; it’s a terrific work that draws aninteresting comment from Higdon, who saysit “reveals a young composer in the process offinding her own voice. The language is restlessand searching, and even the arrival pointsdo not feel quite settled.” She calls it “a goodplace to be if you are a developing composer.”And an even better place to be if you are aninterested listener!Always find more reviews online at thewholenote.comMODERN & CONTEMPORARYFrançaix – Music for String OrchestraSir Georg Solti Chamber Orchestra,Budapest; Kerry StrattonToccata Classics TOCC 0162!!Sometimes allit takes is a letterto provide furtherimpetus for a newdisc. At least, thatwas the case withCanadian conductorKerry Stratton who,upon searching forsome fresh material, contacted JacquesFrançaix, son of the eminent composer JeanFrançaix, asking if there was any music byhis father that had never been recorded. Yes,came the reply, the score for the ballet DieKamelien and the Ode on Botticelli’s Birthof Venus. Two years later, both pieces are tobe found on this fine CD of music for stringson the Toccata Classics label featuring the SirGeorg Solti Chamber Orchestra.2012 marked the centenary of Françaix’sbirth — he lived until 1997 — and over thecourse of his lifetime, he quietly carved outa niche as a gifted and prolific composer,completing more than 200 pieces innumerous genres. The disc opens with theSymphony for Strings, written in 1948.Containing more than just a touch of Frenchinsouciance, this is elegant music, elegantlyplayed, with the GSCO’s strongly assuredperformance further enhanced by a warmand resonant sound. Less well known is theballet music Françaix wrote for Die Kamelien(The Camellias), loosely based on the 1848play by Alexandre Dumas, which premieredat New York City Centre in 1951. The score isa study in contrasts, from the eerie openingto the highly spirited fifth movement, ImSpielsaal. Also receiving its premiere on CDis the brief Ode on Botticelli’s Birth of Venusfrom 1961, a haunting and evocative homageto the Renaissance Italian painter. Here, thedelicately shaped phrasing goes hand in handwith a wonderful sense of transparency.Kudos to Kerry Stratton and the GSCO, notonly for some fine music-making, but foruncovering some unknown treasures thatmight otherwise have been overlooked.—Richard HaskellAllan Gordon Bell – Gravity and GraceLand’s End Chamber Ensemblewith James CampbellCentrediscs CMCCD 19013!!Gravity and Grace is a collection of recentchamber works by Alberta composer AllanGordon Bell, featuring Calgary’s Land’sEnd Chamber Ensemble with guest JamesCampbell on clarinet. Bolstered by greatperformances by the core piano trio andguests, Bell’s music shimmers and shrieks,grumbles and growls.64 | September 1 – October 7, 2013 thewholenote.com

Bell is afflicted withdelight in sonorityand fascinated bythe physical fact ofconsonance, usingan effective range ofdissonance as a foil.He expresses a kindof gratitude to theworld around him in all these works. He is astrongly visual composer; in one piece soundscreate images of falcons rising on thermalsabove the prairie or cascades of watertumbling into pools. In Field Notes he beginswith a depiction of two rivers meeting andfinishes with a sunset. Sweetgrass wrapspaired contrasting images of the prairiearound a still central movement that takes apage out of Béla Bartók.The album title derives from the final workon the disc. Trails of Gravity and Grace,for clarinet cello and piano, was commissionedby Toronto’s Amici ensemble. Asgood as the title is, it is the weakest part of astrong collection. The limited palate doesn’tsuit the composer, and I must confess thatat times I found Mr. Campbell’s intonationquestionable.Apart from that, the playing is solid andcommitted; I especially enjoyed Sweetgrass,(written in 1997, the earliest of these pieces)for a sextet requiring three guests: Calgarymusicians flutist Mary Sullivan, Ilana Dahlon clarinets and Kyle Eustace on percussion.Bell is wise to write for some commongroupings in the contemporary idiom: hereit’s “Pierrot plus percussion.” Field Notes iswritten for the same group as Quartet for theEnd of Time.Both Bartók and Olivier Messiaen couldbe fellow travellers with Bell. They shared asimilar mystical regard for the natural worldand made efforts to incorporate that worldinto their music. Bartók’s Contrasts and theMessiaen Quatuor would ride alongside FieldNotes quite comfortably.—Max ChristieWoman Runs with WolvesBeverley JohnstonCentrediscs CMCCD 18913!!This new releaseby Canadian superstarpercussionistBeverley Johnstonhas everything alistener loves — stellarperformances, strongcompositions andclear sound quality.The title track, Woman Runs With Wolvesby Alice Ho, is based on the myth La Lobafrom Women Who Run with the Wolves byClarissa Pinkola Estes. It is a dramatic work,with Johnston vocalizing a text of an inventedlanguage while playing hand-held percussioninstruments. The work also involvesacting and movement but Johnston’s preciserhythmic patterns and surprising range ofvocal colours make it moving even withoutthe visuals.Christos Hatzis’ In the Fire of Conflict is atwo-movement solo marimba and audio playbackversion of an earlier work also featuringcello. The marimba part adds a contrapuntalmelodic line to the haunting rap tracks byBugsy H. (aka Steve Henry) and tape effects,while the rhythmic component breaks downthe boundaries between classical and popmusic. Hatzis’ Arctic Dreams also featuresflutist Susan Hoeppner and soprano LaurenMargison in a soundscape of jazzy marimba,trilling flute and lush vocals against a wilderness-evokingtape part.David Occhipinti’s moving marimba soloSummit, and three duets with pianist PamelaReimer — Tim Brady’s rhythmically drivenRant! (based on a Rick Mercer “Rant”),Micheline Roi’s Grieving the Doubts ofAngels and the film score-like Up and DownDubstep by Lauren Silberberg — add compositionalcontrast and colour.Johnston’s sense of phrase, tone colour andrespect for the composers shine throughoutthis perfect release from a perfect musician.—Tiina KiikJAZZ & IMPROVISEDWomanChildCecile McLorin SalvantJustin Time JTR 8580-2justin-time.com!!When theAmerican singerCécile McLorin Salvantwon the prestigiousThelonious MonkInternational JazzVocal Competition in2010, the buzz aroundher was massive.Relatively young and coming seemingly outof nowhere, she impressed the judges withher poise and talent. The praise then andsince has been effusive (on a recent cover ofJazz News she was referred to as simply “TheVoice”) and it’s all well deserved.The sounds of many legendary jazz singerscan be heard in Salvant’s voice — most apparentlySarah Vaughan — in particular in thepure, horn-like quality that is one of the hallmarksof a great vocal talent. Confident andsure-footed in both traditional and modernstyles, she gets basic and loose on the bluesySt. Louis Gal and the New Orleans-styleNobody, then edgy and outside the boxon the title track, WomanChild, her owncomposition. Her sophistication quotient goesup even a few more notches when she singseasily and naturally in French on Le FrontCaché Sur Tes Genoux.The overall feeling of the album is masterfuland that owes a lot to Salvant’s band mates.She has chosen to work with some veryexperienced players — like Rodney Whitaker,bass, Herlin Riley, drums, and James Chirillo,guitar and banjo — who bring a steady handto the mix, while piano player Aaron Diehlis, like Salvant, a rising star in the jazz world.For fans who may worry about the artform’s future, this album is a sign it’s in verygood hands.—Cathy RichesOur Second SetJohn MacLeod & His Rex Hotel OrchestraIndependentjohnsjazz.ca!!Further proof — ifindeed it isneeded — of the astonishingquality of musiciansin Toronto canbe found on this, thesecond CD by thisorchestra, recordedJanuary 3 and 4, 2013,at the Humber College recording studio. Thearrangements, all by John MacLeod exceptfor Melancholy Baby which is by RickWilkins, are works of art and the program is acomfortable mix of standards and originals.The standards are a high energy Indiana,a richly textured arrangement of EverythingHappens To Me, what MacLeod describes asa “mash up” arrangement of O Pato and TakeThe A Train and the lovely Wilkins arrangementof Melancholy Baby mentioned above.The originals are beautifully played by whatcan truly be described as an all-star gathering.The musicianship throughout is exemplary,the soloists are at the top of their respectivegames and I would hardly be able to singleout any one of them. Having said that I wouldbe remiss if I didn’t take my hat off to leaderJohn MacLeod who is the catalyst providingthe chemistry that brings it all together.Running a big band involves a lot of time andeffort, especially if you are also doing the bulkof the writing.If you like big band jazz you need to addthis recording to your collection.—Jim GallowayDa Bang!Billy BangTum Records TUM CD 034tumrecords.com! ! Billy Bang cameof age amidst theCivil Rights movementand free jazz.Having studied violinas a child, he returnedto the instrumentafter combat duty inVietnam, a harrowingexperience later revisited in recordings likeVietnam: Reflections. From his first recordingsin the late 70s, he emerged as themost compelling jazz violinist of his day,combining the robust swing of 1930s violinistslike Stuff Smith and the visionary powerof John Coltrane.thewholenote.com September 1 – October 7, 2013 | 65

Volume 26 (2020- )

Volume 26 Issue 1 - September 2020
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