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Volume 27 Issue 3 - December 2021 / January 2022

  • Text
  • December
  • Quartet
  • Jazz
  • January
  • Musical
  • Toronto
  • Symphony
  • Theatre
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  • Composer
  • Thewholenotecom
Many Happy Returns: the rebirth of Massey Hall -- from venue to hub; music theatre's re-emergence from postponement limbo; pianist Vikingur Ólafsson's return visit to to "Glenn Gould's hometown"; guest writer music librarian Gary Corrin is back from his post behind the scenes in the TSO library; Music for Change returns to 21C; and here we all are again! Welcome back. Fingers crossed, here we go.

Searching for the

Searching for the Disappeared Hour Sylvie Courvoisier; Mary Halvorson Pyroclastic Records PR 17 (pyroclasticrecords.com) ! Swiss pianist Sylvie Courvoisier and American guitarist Mary Halvorson are distinguished members of an emergent elite, technically brilliant, creative musicians whose work freely combines improvisation and global musical materials. Searching for the Disappeared Hour – its fold-out graphic presents eerie gouache renderings of clocks by artist Dike Blair – achieves a startling, even utopian, elegance, merging their precise articulation, lyric sensibilities and refined timbres with Halvorson’s strange electronic pitchbending and Courvoisier’s percussive invention breaking through the refined surface. There’s a hint of hypnotic unease in Halvorson’s opening Golden Proportion, matching obsessive repetition with a dissonant undercurrent. Courvoisier’s Lulu’s Second Theorem postulates a common ground for bop phrasing and spectral harmonies, while her gorgeous Moonbow constructs a series of imaginary worlds in sound. The fluid dance of Halvorson’s Torrential might be the perfect complement to scenes from Fellini, until the sepulchral thrum of a piano bass note, suggesting Ravel’s infante défunte, anchors the glassy upper-register runs. Halvorson’s fondness for the clash of quarter tones against the piano’s fixed pitches is particularly lush in her own scores, as if the disappearing hours of the title might be measured in the cycles per second of her bending guitar pitches. In the improvised Four-Point Play, Courvoisier’s rhythmic knocks and clusters become the unpredictable element while Halvorson’s rapid runs become the constant. There’s a sense of the uncanny here, as Courvoisier and Halvorson seem somehow simultaneously to perfect and reveal new sonic worlds. Stuart Broomer Code of Being James Brandon Lewis Quartet Intakt 371 (intaktrec.ch) ! Tenor saxophonist James Brandon Lewis began recording about a decade ago, around the time he finished studies at CalArts with, among others, Charlie Haden and Wadada Leo Smith, two profoundly lyrical players. Since then, Lewis has become a powerful voice reflecting the jazz tradition, his controlled intensity recalling John Coltrane circa 1964 (e.g., Crescent), his broad sound and emotive vibrato suggesting David S. Ware. Like them, Lewis is suspended between the creative risk of free jazz and the explosive tension of form, here using composed melodies with freely determined harmonies. That controlled intensity is apparent from the opening Resonance, the group realizing multiple levels of activity, from pianist Aruán Ortiz’s looming chords to the press of Brad Jones’ bass and the rapid-fire, dense rush of drummer Chad Taylor’s sticks across his rattling snare and cymbals, and a pulsing hi-hat cymbal receiving simultaneous attention from foot-pedal and sticks. It’s Taylor’s special gift, rarely heard and consistently reinforced by his collaborators, to convey both majesty and mission, grandeur and struggle, wedding a nobility of sound with underlying tension and tumult that threaten disintegration. The emotional complexity extends to Every Atom Glows, a glacially slow, utterly beautiful piece that expands through its fragility. The title track is highlighted by Ortiz’s densely inventive solo, its complex lines overlapping and compounding in a welling mystery that suggests Andrew Hill, specifically, but also the whole ethos of those mid-60s musicians who first fused the energies of post-bop and free jazz. Stuart Broomer I Insist Kazemde George Greenleaf Music GRE-CD-1087 (kazemdegeorge.com) ! A musician’s debut album as a leader requires ample planning before ever seeing the light of day, and artists are often hyperconscious of small details since these albums provide a formal introduction to listeners. Kazemde George’s release I Insist resists overcomplicating things musically or programming repertoire that is exceedingly eclectic for the sake of variety. Instead, listeners are treated to a balanced ten tracks of music that showcase the young saxophonist’s playing and composing, and a stellar cast of his New York colleagues. Tracks like Coasts, I Insist and This Spring, conjure up the hard swinging rhythms and dense harmonies heard in Miles Davis’ second quintet, still sounding contemporary next to today’s improvised music. Haiti and Happy Birthday are groove-based numbers, apropos on George’s debut album given his beatmaking alter ego KG,B and experience playing neo-soul alongside his fiancée, vocalist Sami Stevens, in The Love Experiment. The remaining tracks exist within the modern jazz idiom, while varying in style and arrangement, offering the listener a well-rounded album from start to finish. When first listening, the mix/blend achieved at Big Orange Sheep in Brooklyn was not my favourite. However, this grew on me over time. The band acts as one cohesive unit throughout the album, and it is no surprise that the pieces presented have been performed live time and time again prior to entering the studio. Enjoy I Insist now and expect to hear more great things in the future from George! Sam Dickinson Station Three Quartet Diminished Hermes Records Her 092 (quartetdiminished.com) ! Despite the repressive theocratic regime that governs Iran, some form of music is still being performed, even progressive improvised music – as this decisive CD proves. Iranian-Canadian guitarist Ehsan Sadigh and his cohorts, soprano saxophonist/ clarinetist Sohil Peyghambari, pianist Mazyar Younessi and percussionist Rouzbeh Fadavi make up Quartet Diminished. The band recorded its four extended group compositions in Tehran in a style that mixes jazz-rock fusion and purer improvisation with Persian musical overtones. From the first track while guitar flanges, sliced string chording and cascading piano licks relate to Western music, there are also sections where Fadavi’s measured thumps take on doumbek-like resonations and Peyghambari’s pinched glissandi project neylike characteristics. At the same time, there’s no attempt to shoehorn textures from either tradition onto the other, merely to work out a mutual blend. So, for instance, the title track is as focused on drum press rolls, calliopelike trills from the reeds and buzzing guitar twangs as on any Middle Eastern inflections. Other tracks project R&B-like sax snarls, arena-rock-like guitar shakes, modulated drum ruffs and an exploratory interlude on Rhapsody which vibrates between piano key plinks and Morse code-like reed bites. Overall, the sophistication of the performances suggests the quartet’s name is a misnomer. Rather than diminishing sounds, the band is augmenting all timbres into a satisfying Persian-Western fusion. Ken Waxman 50 | December 2021 thewholenote.com

POT POURRI Forever Bill McBirnie; Bruce Jones Extreme Flute EF09-EP (extremeflute.com) ! This is the third Extreme Flute release, and on this new musical salvo, all of the compositions were penned by Bruce Jones, who also produces, performs on guitar, percussion and synths. Co-producer Bill McBirnie performs masterfully here on flute and alto flute, along with Robin Latimer on electric bass. As COVID was in full throttle during the actual recording of this CD, the production process was complex, and involved countless exchanges of sound files between McBirnie and Jones. The material here has a lovely Brazilian bent – purposely chosen by McBirnie and Jones for the music’s healing and optimistic properties in a time of global pandemic. First up is Criole Blessing (Saravá Criola), a lilting, reggae-infused samba that generates pure joy and features gymnastic soloing from McBirnie and a potent rhythmic background from Jones. Also a stunner is the legato and sensual samba, dedicated to McBirnie’s wife, Song for Svetlana (Um Choro Para Svetlana) which is rife with lovely exchanges between alto flute and guitar. Of special mention is the delightful, contemporized bossa, It’s the Time (Saber Se Amar) in which McBirnie soars over the chord changes and rhythmic patterns of this thoroughly elating tune, and also Dreams and Light (Canta Canção) a beautiful balladic bossa with a thrilling rhythmic backbone and mystical percussion. The closer, Full Moon Blue Wolf (Lua Cheia Lobo Azul) features deep Brazilianinspired vocals by the multi-talented Jones and McBirnie’s dynamic and elastic soloing in concentric circles of melody and percussion. Lesley Mitchell-Clarke In Relation To Big Space Independent (bigspaceband.com) ! The latest Big Space album, In Relation To, is equal parts technically impressive and refreshingly easy on the ears. Tastefully incorporating elements of math-rock, post-rock and funk into their blend of fusion, the trio’s firm grasp of the songwriting process is consistently on display. Despite recording live in studio with no overdubbing, the airtight rhythm section, composed of drummer Ashley Chalmers, bassist Ian Murphy and guitarist Grant King, manage to remain in near-perfect lockstep with each other throughout. Thankfully, their outstanding proficiency as a unit doesn’t end up as a vehicle for listless noodling. Instead, it greatly enhances the overall clarity of the musical ideas. The track Relevator is a masterclass in tension and release. Largely buoyed by the tandem of Chalmers and Murphy, Big Space repeatedly establishes a memorable, stripped-down groove that eventually builds to multiple, expertly realized climaxes. During these synchronized bursts of sublime energy, King’s commanding solos manage to spearhead the band’s gargantuan sound without once crossing the line into overplaying. The musicians’ combination of precision and restraint along with their knack for melody writing gives In Relation To a distinct, beguiling quality. Yoshi Maclear Wall Amir ElSaffar – The Other Shore Rivers of Sound Orchestra; Amir Elsaffar Outhere Music OTN 640 (outhere-music.com) ! Amir ElSaffar’s exquisite recording begins – most appropriately – in the wispy smoke of a prayer (Dhuha), heralding that time when the sun is at its zenith. The ululations of his near falsetto voice are the perfect setting for this supernatural music. ElSaffar is an astute composer, vocalist and trumpeter who also plays the santur, a Middle Eastern version of the zither. What is most remarkable about this music is its swirling, alchemical fusion of mugami modes, mystical, microtonal music that stands in stark contrast to the Western pentatonic scale. That ElSaffar has managed to gather together a group of musicians from diverse backgrounds who play his proverbial Zen – or Sufi – creations with idiomatic brilliance is a testament not just to the musicians who play it, but also to the fact that ElSaffar can write music from such a deep niche while still having universal appeal. Part of the reason for that is that humanity is riven by a universal, existential angst that has literally ripped humanity apart. ElSaffar intends for us to listen with our hearts; to make amends and be transformed into more spiritual beings. To this end his suite leads us onward and upward. His swirling dervish-like Concentric drives us to what Plato once called divine madness. The composer suggests this magical state may be attained with Medmi, the mesmerizing contemplative finale of this singularly eloquent and symphonic work that takes us to The Other Shore. Raul da Gama What we're listening to this month: thewholenote.com/listening The Space in Which to See Borderlands Ensemble Tucson based Borderlands Ensemble formed to foster connections across disciplines and music communities that have traditionally been separated. The Sky's Acetylene David Fulmer Commissioned and premiered by The New York Philharmonic as part of their CONTACT! series, this EP release celebrates this kaleidoscopic work Mangetsu Duo Della Luna Remarkable versatility and integrated ensemble approach to a rarefied instrumental combination, with both musicians taking advantage of their impressive range. Unsnared Drum Michael Compitello Reframes how people think about, perform, and practice the snare drum, freeing the drum from its historical and idiomatic chains. thewholenote.com December 2021 | 51

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