3 years ago

Volume 25 Issue 5 - February 2020

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Visions of 2020! Sampling from back to front for a change: in Rearview Mirror, Robert Harris on the Beethoven he loves (and loves to hate!); Errol Gay, a most musical life remembered; Luna Pearl Woolf in focus in recordings editor David Olds' "Editor's Corner" and in Jenny Parr's preview of "Jacqueline"; Speranza Scappucci explains how not to reinvent Rossini; The Indigo Project, where "each piece of cloth tells a story"; and, leading it all off, Jully Black makes a giant leap in "Caroline, or Change." And as always, much more. Now online in flip-through format here and on stands starting Thurs Jan 30.

This recording, the

This recording, the first devoted solely to her compositions, offers up the altogether worthwhile experience of entering Di Castri’s adventurous sound world. There is a lot going on in these works, with their constant shifts in mood and texture. But the inventive details add up to much more than a series of engaging episodes. Each work is tautly structured, creating an invigorating momentum. Above all, these works are inescapably moving, whether on a personal level, or when confronting the global issues that concern Di Castri. The best moments are the most unexpected. Take the burst of reflectiveness at the end of the title work Tachipito. Or the way the explosive glissandi in Quartet No.1 are interrupted by magical other-worldly harmonics. In Dux, virtuosic passages of unprompted rhapsodizing create a reassuring dream state. In Cortège, from 2010 the earliest composition here, the repetition of the opening motif throughout creates a poignant sense of longing. Each work is played by a different set of musicians. The array of performers gathered here is truly exceptional, from solo pianist Julia Den Boer playing Dux to the 13 musicians of the Talea Ensemble under Lorraine Vaillancourt performing Cortège. Di Castri’s fresh, imaginative voice carries forward the vital lineage of the avant-garde at its most enjoyable. With these works she manages to both challenge and delight. Pamela Margles Our Strength, Our Song Akemi Mercer-Niewoehner; Rachel Mercer Centrediscs CMCCD 27719 ( !! In a recent issue of The WholeNote, David Jaeger wrote at length about cellist Rachel Mercer. Jaeger produced this new release with Rachel and her violinist sister Akemi Mercer-Niewoehner playing six duo works by Canadian women composers. Violet Archer’s Four Duets for Violin and Cello (1979) is a four-movement work composed “especially” for violinist Tom Rolston and his then 12-year-old cellistdaughter Shauna. Family fun galore, as the opening Brooding movement starts with a slightly grim low-pitched cello mood leading to a more reassuring violin line. Love the upbeat plucks in the dramatic Paean fourth movement. More tonal rhythmic sounds in Jean Coulthard’s Duo Sonata for Violin & Cello (1989) as repeated patterns and plucks unite this orchestralsounding piece. Barbara Monk Feldman‘s Pour un nuage violet (1998) is a welcome change of pace with nature-inspired subtle rhythmic original sounds. The Mercer sisters are phenomenal in their passionate performances of their commissioned works. Rebekah Cummings’ Our Strength, Our Song (2018) features conversational counterpoint, high and low staccatos, and dynamic shifts written in traditional Bulgarian folk-singing style. Jocelyn Morlock’s (2019) Serpentine Paths’ use of intense sound effects like high violin and low cello pitch contrasts, fast intense and slower passages, is a race to the performance finish line! Alice Ping Yee Ho’s Kagura Fantasy (2018) is an exciting listen with contemporary string effects, theatrical feel, dance-like sections and Asiatic folk-music influences. The Mercer sisters are inspirational to both musicians and families alike. Tiina Kiik Focus Adam Cicchillitti; Steve Cowan Analekta AN 2 8792 ( !! Canadian guitarists/friends Adam Cicchillitti and Steve Cowan formed this duo in 2015. Their dedication to performing, commissioning and collaborating with living composers from contemporary classical to popular music styles is heard here in five works by Canadian composers. A wide cross-section of styles can be heard. The duo’s Canada Council commission Focus (2018) by Harry Stafylakis is a unique mix of pop, jazz, and classical. The first movement is more pop-sounding while the more classical second movement, based on a theme from Beethoven’s seventh symphony, opens with a singlepitch melody and develops through contrapuntal writing to a strumming rock-like closing. Andrew Staniland’s Brazilianinspired Choro: the Joyful Lament for Villa- Lobos (2017) is a virtuosic rhythmic work. Cicchillitti and Cowan’s 2017 arrangement of José Evangelista’s five-movement Retazos (2010) is impressionistic, with reflective, haunting, mellow tonal melodies and contrasting florid fast runs. Their commission Ombres et lumières (2017) by Patrick Roux has a grief-stricken lyrical first movement and a contrasting faster rock-groove-flavoured second movement. Originally for two harps, composer Jason Noble impeccably arranged his more atonal programmatic two-movement River and Cave for the duo in 2018. The opening water rippling effect is achieved by delicate repeated pattern playing. The slower low-cave section emulates cave echo effects with lower strums, longer silences and staccato drips. Cicchillitti and Cowan are fabulous duo guitarists who perform together to perfection in all styles. No wonder this recording is on CBC’s Top 20 Canadian Classical Albums of 2019! Tiina Kiik Boston Symphony Commissions – Timo Andres; Eric Nathan; Sean Shepherd; George Tsontakis Boston Symphony Orchestra; Andris Nelsons Naxos 8.559874 ( ! ! Four recent (2016-2017) works by American composers receive their premiere recordings on this disc. The episodic structure of the brightly scored, 11-minute Everything Happens So Much by Timo Andres (b.1985) suggests, as per its title, a variety of things happening, as in a play, film or ballet. Similarly, the colourful episodes of another 11-minute piece, the space of a door by Eric Nathan (b.1983), also hint at a sequence of unseen events. Both of these compositions seem, to me, not quite self-sufficient, yet well-suited as soundtracks for something to be watched. The 13-minute Express Abstractionism by Sean Shepherd (b.1979) invites visual accompaniment by its very nature. In four movements inspired by artists Alexander Calder, Gerhard Richter, Wassily Kandinsky, Lee Krasner and Piet Mondrian, Shepherd’s quirky, cleverly scored music would be even more persuasive if performed together with projected slides of the artists’ works. The longest (24 minutes) and most substantial music on the disc, needing no visual support, is by the oldest and best-established of the composers, George Tsontakis (b.1951), visiting composer in 2008 at the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Music. His four-movement Sonnets – Tone Poems for English Horn and Orchestra, inspired by Shakespeare, is a lyrical, moody gem, its solo part beautifully played by the BSO’s Robert Sheena. It’s an English horn player’s worthy alternative to Sibelius’ Swan of Tuonela, which it closely resembles in overall impact, though boasting Tsontakis’ individual, memorable melodic expressivity. Michael Schulman 76 | February 2020

JAZZ AND IMPROVISED Taking Flight Mike Murley Cornerstone Records CRST CD 150 ( !! Around 1998, saxophonist Mike Murley formed a trio with guitarist Ed Bickert and bassist Steve Wallace. The group only endured until Bickert’s 2001 retirement, but it represented a high point for chamber jazz: a debut CD, Live at the Senator, won the 2002 JUNO for best jazz recording; Test of Time, a later release of 1999 material, won the 2013 JUNO. The spirit of the group has found continuing life in the Murley Trio with Wallace and guitarist Reg Schwager. Taking Flight adds the superb expatriate Canadian pianist Renee Rosnes to the mix, with Jim Vivian substituting for Wallace on four of nine tracks. The group emphasizes the quiet end of the dynamic spectrum, but it does so with resilient firmness and determined invention. The group covers a spectrum that’s tailormade to its gifts. The late Kenny Wheeler, both partner and inspiration, is represented by Winter Suite and Phrase 3, models of introspective collaboration. The former begins with just Murley’s tenor, before it’s joined by Rosnes’ floating accompaniment. Wayne Shorter’s Penelope has its own evanescent glow, and the spinning lines of Charlie Parker’s Bird Feathers feels Tristano-like in this context, emphasized by Rosnes’ rapid invention. The CD concludes with Nikolaus Brodszky’s I’ll Never Stop Loving You, played by the trio of Murley, Schwager and Wallace and dedicated to the memory of Ed Bickert, who passed away a couple of weeks before this March 2019 recording session. No tribute could be more fitting. Stuart Broomer Intention Marilyn Lerner; Ken Filiano; Lou Grassi NotTwo MW995-2 ( !! Marilyn Lerner is one of Canada’s most creative pianists, from ventures into klezmer to the avant-garde playfulness of Queen Mab Trio with Lori Freedman and Ig Henneman. Her most intense and inventive project, though, may well be the longstanding and virtuosic trio with two veteran New York free jazz musicians, bassist Ken Filiano and drummer Lou Grassi. The group’s first CD, Arms Wide Open, was recorded in a Brooklyn studio in 2008. The next two ‒ Live in Madrid (2012) and Live at Edgefest (2013) ‒ documented festival appearances. Intention comes from a 2018 New York concert with the trio achieving ever higher levels of empathetic creation. Taking a conversational approach, there’s a certain pointillist playfulness to the soundoriented Plink Plunk, complete with hand drums, isolated piano string plucking and sudden bass glissandi; but even in this mode the group is a dynamic collective, suddenly mustering episodes of dense interactivity. Each musician might open a dialogue with a solo foray, a series of suggestions and motifs, as Grassi does in his multi-directional opening to No Farewell. Before long the group is embroiled in another collective composition, in this case a particularly pensive episode, a layering of distinct yet interactive parts, distinguished by bright piano trebles, rich arco bass and varied metal percussion. While jazz piano trios once resolved into pianos with accompaniment, Lerner, Filiano and Grassi are full partners, the trio pressing dialogue into meteorological events, the tempestuous, the torrential and often the impending. Stuart Broomer Higienôpolis James Hill’s Local Talent Projectwhatever Records ( !! Local Talent is the newest project from James Hill, a Toronto-based pianist who has surely and steadily established a presence for himself on the national music scene. In many ways, Local Talent’s debut release, Higienópolis, is a continuation and expansion of the work that Hill has done in two other notable Canadian groups: the jazz trio Autobahn, with drummer Ian Wright and saxophonist Jeff LaRochelle, and the hip-hop/jazz band BADBADNOTGOOD, with whom Hill has played for the past several years. Wright is back in the drum throne on Higienópolis; rounding out the trio is bassist Rich Brown, who, at this point in his career, may be Canada’s preeminent voice on the electric bass. Higienópolis begins with the title track, a mixed-metre affair that unfolds carefully over the song’s six-minute runtime. Busy, snare-drum-driven sections are juxtaposed with compelling solo piano passages, whose sparseness becomes expansive through the intelligent application of reverb and other time-based effects. When a solo does start, halfway through the song, it seems like a welcome inevitability, rather than a demonstration of athletic prowess. Local Talent’s commitment to patience, as demonstrated both in Hill’s compositions and in the band members’ individual artistic choices, is one of Higienópolis’ most charming features. At its best, as on the title track, on The Silent Cry, and on Sailing At Night, the album evokes a sense of theatre, of the familiar refracted and re-presented as something new. Highly recommended. Colin Story Bliss Station Eric St-Laurent Katzenmusik KM10 ( ! ! Torontobased guitarist Eric St-Laurent’s new album, Bliss Station, is a continuation and expansion of the work that he has done on past releases, including Dale and Ruby, both of which feature his longstanding trio of bassist Jordan O’Connor and percussionist Michel DeQuevedo. Both DeQuevedo and O’Connor join St-Laurent on Bliss Station, as does trumpeter and pianist Sebastian Studnitzky. Though drums are more common in guitar trio/quartet settings, Bliss Station benefits from swapping out a drum kit for DeQuevedo’s percussion (as on previous outings). Of the many effects that this exchange produces, the most prominent is that of intimacy: without cymbals, snare and bass drum splashed across the sonic spectrum, the acoustic nuances of each instrument become more clear, and small moments acquire greater weight. Another, more subtle effect, the rhythmic interplay between band members, comes to the fore. St-Laurent plays the guitar with deep metrical commitment, whether on melodies, supportive riffs, chords or solos. Bliss Station’s title track provides a great example of this, as St-Laurent moves through melodic statements and a solo with a propulsive, unerring sense of momentum. The funky Mustard Arizona is no different, though it is also remarkable for Studnitzky’s ability to make his trumpet sound nearly as breathy and understated as a flute. The fun of Bliss Station is in the band’s interactivity, as well as in the sense of immediacy, fun and rhythmic joy that the performances succeed in evoking. Colin Story February 2020 | 77

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