7 years ago

Volume 21 Issue 4 - December 2015/January 2016

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  • December
  • Toronto
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  • February
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What's a vinyl renaissance? What happens when Handel's Messiah runs afoul of the rumba rhythm setting on a (gasp!) Hammond organ? What work does Marc-Andre Hamelin say he would be content to have on every recital program he plays? What are Steve Wallace's favourite fifty Christmas recordings? Why is violinist Daniel Hope celebrating Yehudi Menuhin's 100th birthday at Koerner Hall January 28? Answers to all these questions (and a whole lot more) in the Dec/Jan issue of The WholeNote.


THE REASON ’TIS THE SEASON STEVE WALLACE Music is an essential part of Christmas and with that time of year fast approaching, I thought I’d offer a look at some records that might enhance our enjoyment of the season. These are all personal favourites; most, but not all, are jazz-oriented. Hopefully there’s something here for all tastes, from the religious to the secular, for those who like their Christmas music straight and those who like it, well…not so straight. To organize things a bit, I’ve arranged the selections into four loose categories: JAZZ INSTRUMENTAL Three Suites – Duke Ellington. One of the three suites is Ellington’s adaption of a holiday staple, The Nutcracker, to his unique musical world. While he and Billy Strayhorn remain quite true to the original, the highly individual voices of such Ellington veterans as Johnny Hodges, Paul Gonsalves, Harry Carney, Ray Nance and Lawrence Brown cast Tchaikovsky’s score in an entirely new light, to say the least. The majestic swing of the Overture is especially thrilling; as far as I’m concerned the Christmas season hasn’t begun till I’ve heard it. As an added bonus the other suites are Grieg’s Peer Gynt and Suite Thursday by Ellington and Strayhorn, after John Steinbeck’s novel Sweet Thursday. A Charlie Brown Christmas - Vince Guaraldi. A delightful essential for the inner kid in all of us. Linus and Lucy, Christmas Time Is Here and other favourites from the timeless cartoon are all here, but the strongest track is still the jazz treatment of O, Tannenbaum by Guaraldi and his trio-mates Monty Budwig and Colin Bailey. Christmas Cookin’ – Jimmy Smith. From 1964, this features Smith’s funky and high-octane organ in a program of festive songs with a powerful brass ensemble of New York’s finest, arranged by Al Cohn and Billy Byers. It’s one of the more ebullient and hard-swinging jazz Christmas albums, as you’d expect with Kenny Burrell, Art Davis and Grady Tate in the rhythm section. Have Yourself a Soulful Little Christmas – Kenny Burrell. Duke Ellington’s favourite guitarist acquits himself gracefully in this 1966 album with a large band directed and arranged by Richard Evans. Originally on Cadet, it was reissued as a CD by Verve a few years ago. Merry Ole Soul – Duke Pearson. This beautifully recorded 1969 Blue Note is one of the most crisp and fresh-sounding of Christmas albums, but is unfortunately hard to find. Pearson was an incisive, lighttoned pianist who also functioned as an in-house arranger, composer and producer for the label and here he presents a marvellous integrated program with a very cohesive trio using his favourite bassist and drummer – Bob Cranshaw and Mickey Roker. There are some uncommon tunes and a highlight is their surprisingly unhurried and lyrical treatment of Sleigh Ride, with the leader alternating between celeste and piano on the melody, and some interesting open vamps that are quite reminiscent of Ahmad Jamal’s classic 1950s trio. Holiday Soul – Bobby Timmons. Another great festive trio record, with the iconic hard-bop pianist, bassist Butch Warren and Walter Perkins on drums and percussion. It’s almost impossible to find, because as far as I know it’s never been issued on CD, but it turns up occasionally in used vinyl bins. If you see it, buy it – it’s worth having for Perkins’ deft handling of sleigh bells alone and it grooves from start to finish. Paul Desmond & The Modern Jazz Quartet. Not a Christmas album per se, but a fortuitous recording of the MJQ’s Christmas Day concert at Town Hall in 1971 – an annual affair, but with Desmond sitting in after the intermission that year. Greensleeves is the only piece with any Yuletide connotation, but the musical interplay between Desmond and the MJQ, playing together for the first and only time, feels like the birth of something special. Big Band Christmas – Rob McConnell & The Boss Brass. Some Steve Wallace wonderful McConnell arrangements, by turns zesty and sensitive, beautifully performed by his great band. A highlight is a heartfelt version of Johnny Mandel’s A Christmas Love Song. Also priceless is the cover photo of Rob dressed as Santa Claus. And...Fans of big-band jazz might also enjoy A Merry Christmas! by Stan Kenton and five Christmas albums by the USAF’s first-rate big band, The Airmen Of Note – Noel, Santa Claus Is Comin’ To Town, Christmas Time Is Here, A Holiday Note From Home and Cool Yule. Half of the first and third and all of the second comprise charts by the brilliant Mike Crotty, one of jazz arranging’s best-kept secrets because he spent 26 years in the military. He now lives in Arizona and works as a freelance composer-arranger. These are available for listening at: VOCAL Christmas Songs by Sinatra Recorded during Sinatra’s early association with Columbia and musical director Axel Stordahl, it’s just his third album as a leader. The CD reissue expands the ten-inch, 1948 LP with bonus tracks from both before and after the original sessions. His better-known A Jolly Christmas on Capitol from 1957 is also very good, but I prefer the freshness and restraint of the earlier record. 12 Songs of Christmas – Etta James. Although the repertoire is firmly seasonal, this 1998 effort is about as close to a pure jazz record as the powerhouse R&B singer ever came. This is largely due to the excellent band of stalwarts including Red Holloway, George Bohannon, Cedar Walton, John Clayton and the immortal Billy Higgins. A Swingin’ Christmas – Tony Bennett and The Count Basie Orchestra. I first heard this in a record store while Christmas shopping a few years ago and enjoyed it so much I bought it right on the spot. From 2008, well after Basie’s death, but otherwise there’s nothing not to like about it. Bennett, the band, the charts and the soloists all sound terrific and it swings effortlessly. Sold. Ella Wishes You a Swinging Christmas This one is relentlessly upbeat and some of Frank De Vol’s writing veers toward the schlocky, but who cares? It’s ELLA and she’s infectious and irresistible, particularly on Let It Snow, where the warmth and purity of her voice bring an unfettered joy. Christmas with Dino – Dean Martin. I wasn’t expecting much from this one, but it’s a very solid merging of two Martin albums – A Winter Romance, done for Capitol in 1959 and The Dean Martin Christmas Album, done for Reprise in 1966. There are some interesting seasonal repertoire choices here, such as I’ve Got My Love To Keep Me Warm, A ANNA MALANDRINO 10 | December 1 2015 - February 7, 2016

KOERNER HALL IS: “ A beautiful space for music “ THE GLOBE AND MAIL Academy Chamber Orchestra SATURDAY, DECEMBER 12, 7:30PM MAZZOLENI CONCERT HALL FREE (TICKET REQUIRED) String students from The Phil and Eli Taylor Performance Academy for Young Artists come together as the Academy Chamber Orchestra to perform this special concert. Sinatra @ 100 SATURDAY, DECEMBER 12, 8PM KOERNER HALL CBC’s Tom Allen hosts this all-Canadian celebration of Frank Sinatra’s life and legacy, featuring Joe Sealy, Brent Carver, Barbra Lica, Jackie Richardson, Retrocity, Matt Forbes, and Justin Bacchus. Come fly with us! Joaquin Valdepeñas Conducts TUESDAY, JANUARY 26, 7:30PM MAZZOLENI CONCERT HALL Toronto Symphony Orchestra Principal Clarinet and Royal Conservatory Orchestra Resident Conductor Joaquin Valdepeñas conducts Glenn Gould School students in a program of chamber works . David Geringas SUNDAY, JANUARY 31, 2PM MAZZOLENI CONCERT HALL The internationally acclaimed cellist and conductor, known for “his rich tone and performing intensity,” (The Washington Post) will perform Corigliano, Bach, Penderecki, and Kancheli. Guest faculty and students join him forpieces by Couperin and Senderovas. The Glenn Gould School Concerto Competition Finals WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 2, 10AM KOERNER HALL FREE (TICKET REQUIRED) Hear the talented solo performers of The Glenn Gould School compete for the opportunity to perform a concerto with the Royal Conservatory Orchestra during the 2016-17 season. Taylor Academy Showcase Concerts SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 6, 4:30PM MAZZOLENI CONCERT HALL FREE (TICKET REQUIRED) The Phil and Eli Taylor Performance Academy for Young Artists presents a concert by the leading young classical musicians in Canada. Hear the stars of tomorrow! GREAT GIFT: KOERNER HALL CONCERT TICKETS AND GIFT CARDS More than 40 extraordinary classical, jazz, pop, family and world music concerts to choose from! TICKETS START AT ONLY ! 416.408.0208 273 BLOOR STREET WEST (BLOOR ST. & AVENUE RD.) TORONTO

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