7 years ago

Volume 21 Issue 8 - May 2016

  • Text
  • Toronto
  • Jazz
  • Festival
  • Arts
  • Symphony
  • Quartet
  • Choir
  • Theatre
  • Musical
  • Bach
INSIDE: The Canaries Are Here! 116 choirs to choose from, so take the plunge! The Nylons hit the road after one last SING! Fling. Jazz writer Steve Wallace wonders "Watts Goode" rather than "what's new?" Paul Ennis has the musical picks of the HotDocs crop. David Jaeger's CBC Radio continues golden for a little while yet. Douglas McNabney is Music's Child. Leipzig meets Damascus in Alison Mackay's fertile imagination. And "C" is for KRONOS in Wende Bartley's koverage of the third annual 21C Festival. All this and as usual much much more. Enjoy.

Bobby McFerrin devotee

Bobby McFerrin devotee and didn’t stop there: “I still remember the moment I got my copy of Take 6’s debut record. I ran into our music room and said to my friend Kevin Fox: ‘Stop everything, and listen to this.’” Shortly after that, Suba Sankaran and I met at York University, where we were both members – and later directors – of the student-run a cappella group Wibijazz’n’. That was in 1993, and we’ve been singing together ever since. Kevin now sings with the Swingles, and Suba and I have since made a cappella singing the cornerstone of our musical careers.” Partners in crime, Bell and Sankaran perform together as the FreePlay Duo, and I’m willing to bet that even the most ardent a cappella fan would be wowed by this act. Freeplay’s voices are as impressive as their arrangements, where Bach, bebop, solkattu and hip-hop harmoniously transcend cliché. Very much a modern group, they even add a loopstation to the mix in order to create a multilayered sound in live performance. With the help of various granting organizations, Bell and Sankaran have taken their act on the road, with stops in North America, Europe, East Asia, India and Africa. One memorable highlight: “In 2013, we embarked on our first trip to Africa, specifically Nairobi. Mary Tangelder, Suba’s former jazz choir member and voice student, wanted to create a program to explore using music as a tool for cross-cultural communication and healing. Living in a multicultural environment such as Canada, we take cross-cultural enrichment for granted: in Africa, exchanges between members of different tribes or linguistic groups can be tense or even dangerous. As part of our workshop, we taught a simple vocal counting exercise, and as part of the cross-cultural component, we had workshop participants teach each other the exercise across languages. What seemed a simple exercise for us was novel for them: the idea of teaching your language to another tribe was almost unheard of, and was an eye-opening experience for all of us. One workshop participant, hearing about our workshops, came in from eight hours away, near the border with Somalia. Being from a strict Muslim sect, he had never made music before in his life, and the experience for him, he told us, was life-changing.” Hampton Avenue: Just how did Debbie Fleming go from versatile vocalist to sought-after arranger and founder of a cappella group Hampton Avenue? “Well, to start, I had my Grade 8 piano in high school and took Grade 2 theory just so that I could have an extra subject in Grade 13. When I married my ex-husband (Gordon Fleming), he was one of Toronto’s major B3 R&B players, but couldn’t read a note. I became his copyist – so I became pretty adept at hand-writing music. Then Atari Notator came along, and I was so scared to get into computerized stuff, but damn it, it was so exciting! And suddenly, I thought, you know what? This would make the music far easier for singers to read. So because I had the computer, and I had the ideas in my head, I started to think about arranging more seriously. “Actually I was motivated to put together another vocal group thanks to David Blamires. He had come home from a tour with Pat Metheny – he was touring with him at the time as a singer – and when they were in Holland of all places, he heard this fantastic vocal group, Take 6, and you couldn’t buy them here. He brought a tape back for me and I freaked when I heard them, I thought, that is the kind of harmony I want! And one of the first things I did was, I sat down and I tried to lift the six parts that they did of Quiet Place. I thought, maybe I could do this. It was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done in my life. Hearing the outside parts was easy, but hearing all their little crunchy things in the middle – it was a trial but it was a joy, because it kind of honed my ear. “So I put together a bunch of singers who did studio work and could read really well, and one of them was Emilie-Claire Barlow, Judy Tate’s daughter. I remember Judy said, ‘Why don’t you bring Emilie in?’ and I said, are you kidding? And she said ‘Oh no she really reads well!’ and Hampton Avenue, circa 1999: (left to right) Dylan Bell, Tom Lillington, Judy Tate, Stephanie Taylor, Emilie-Claire Barlow, Larry Folk, Debbie Fleming, Tim Olfert, Suba Sankaran I thought, well okay, let’s try her. So she worked out like a dream, and we would sit around my dining room table, all these people, Elaine Overholt, Laurie Bower, and we would just love to do this. “I discovered Suba Sankaran and Dylan Bell through Phil Dwyer. I said to Phil, ‘You’re teaching up at York University and I’m always wanting to find people who can read and who like jazz harmony.’ He took me to see Suba and Dylan, they were only 19 years old, and they knew Tom Lillington because they were part of Wibijazz’n’ – they started that group. So they joined us. “We had regular rehearsals, and our first concert was at the Music Gallery, before we had recorded, which was in 1996. It was kind of hard to get people out, as it is now. I had to do a lot of promotion and publicity. In 1997 we did our Christmas CD. “By the time we were first written up in The WholeNote – 1999 I think it was – we had two concerts a year. It was happening, but it wasn’t something that hit the major population – jazz a cappella wasn’t really a huge thing. But for those who dug it, we were it. We did the crunchy harmonies – we’d hold a chord and it would be so great with sharp elevens and the whole damn thing and then there would be dead silence and you could hear everyone go ‘Ahhhh.’” (laughs) The distilled version of the group, The Hampton Avenue Four, will be performing at the SING! fest. Also this month, Fleming is thrilled to be releasing a new recording, Back to Bacharach, featuring an all-star band led by all-star pianist Mark Kieswetter. But why Bacharach? “I was at one of Laura Marks’ jams out on the east end. I got up and sang one of my all-time favourites, A House Is Not a Home, which I have been singing for years. It’s not jazz but it’s one of those songs that gets me right in my heart. Well, Maureen Kennedy was there, and she came up to me and said, ‘You know, that was really nice. I could never really sing Bacharach, because it’s really hard to do it well.’ So I thought, BINGO! I wanted to do another album, and I was looking for something that would set me apart from all the other great singers in town. There are so many who sing the American songbook like the phone book for God’s sake. But I have never fit into a slot. I’ve done everything from classical to rock ’n’ roll to country to R&B which is my heart and soul, and jazz. And this was like water off a duck’s back – yes, rangy, yes, melodic, but I could perform Bacharach with no problem. Since Dionne Warwick started off as my favourite singer, and later on Aretha Franklin, and both of them did covers of Bacharach, I thought Back to Bacharach. We recorded it at Studio Number 9 and the release is Thursday May 26 at Jazz Bistro. For all the SING! listings visit May this festival, along with the Canary Pages, inspire YOU to sing, Toronto! Ori Dagan is a Toronto-based jazz musician, writer and educator who can be reached at 12 | May 1, 2016 - June 7, 2016

Watts, Goode And The Evolution Of Jazz Style STEVE WALLACE The development of jazz has largely been fuelled by innovators who blazed new musical trails – Louis Armstrong, Sidney Bechet, Bix Beiderbecke, Duke Ellington, Coleman Hawkins, Lester Young, Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Bill Evans, Ornette Coleman – to name but an obvious few. These men were so compellingly original that they changed not only how their respective instruments were played, but also how jazz itself would be played or thought of; they altered its overall aesthetic landscape. Although jazz has undergone many changes since the 1970s, these have not largely been effected by one or two game-changers such as those mentioned above; it’s been more of a collaborative, evolutionary process rather than one involving radical change. This has not stopped the jazz media from a desperate and misguided search in recent years for the next “new, big thing” – several figures or bands have had this hallowed status conferred upon them, both prematurely and inaccurately. It’s entirely possible there won’t be a next “new, big thing” in jazz ever again, and it’s just as possible the music doesn’t need one, for several reasons. First, when a field grows stronger and wider from its relatively narrow origins, it becomes harder for any particular individual to dominate it, and this is true with jazz today. Second, jazz now has a sufficient back history and wealth of stylistic influences, morphing and cross-pollinating with increasing speed and frequency, that coming up with anything new in any major sense may no longer be possible, or even necessary. In terms of impact, jazz may never again see the likes of recordings like West End Blues, Ko-Ko or Lonely Woman, each of which set the course for an entire generation or more. But the music will continue to change and grow by mixing various elements of its past with more contemporary influences and with borrowings from other musical styles and cultures, which continue to spin off in new directions. We might call this mixing and matching of the old and new “hybridism.” This musical cross-breeding can be a mixed blessing. It can yield music that’s confusing and of no particular character, but also music that’s exciting and refreshingly beyond the pigeonholing of genre classification. The difference seems to lie with the quality of the musicians who are playing and whether or not they achieve an integral cohesiveness – some chemistry – while assimilating various musical influences. It’s now possible to go to a live performance by a band and over the course of the evening hear music that blends elements of bebop, free improvisation, the blues, New Orleans trad, R&B, hip-hop, modal and folkloric elements with Latin American, European or other world music influences. The improvisational element and rhythmic vibrancy may mark it as jazz, though you may not know what to call it. And you might not care, because you could well walk away feeling energized and inspired, more open-minded and less concerned with musical labels. Watts/Goode: Such genre-busting diversity should be expected from the Ernie Watts Quintet featuring Brad Goode and Adrean Farrugia, appearing in the May 21 JPEC (Jazz Performance and Education Centre) concert at the George Weston Recital Hall, as each of the principals has a very eclectic and wide-ranging musical reach. Ernie Watts is a two-time Grammy Award winner who plays soprano, alto and tenor saxophone and flute, but most often tenor. He’s such a versatile musician that he’s been described as an R&B player as often as a jazz one, not entirely without accuracy. He was born on October 23, 1945 in Norfolk, Virginia, and attended the Berklee College of Music on a DownBeat scholarship. He toured for two years with the Buddy Rich band in the mid-1960s and visited May 1, 2016 - June 7, 2016 | 13

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