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Volume 16 Issue 10 - July/August 2011

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  • Jazz
  • August
  • Toronto
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Something in the Air |

Something in the Air | Sackville ReturnsBesides gaining a reputation for itsdemographically diverse and eminentlyliveable neighbourhoods, when it cameto improvised music starting in the early1970s Toronto was actually a world-classcity in more than civic boosterism. That’sbecause on the initiative of photographer/musician Bill Smith, Sackville recordswas issuing LPs by some of the most significantavant-garde players from NewYork, Chicago and St. Louis. Recordedfor the most part in local studios,these discs — and affiliatedconcerts — documented theseemerging stylists and designatedToronto as part of the internationalfree jazz firmament.Now Chicago’s Delmark label isdistributing CD reissues of theoriginal Sackville records.Probably the most significant session wasthe label’s one two-disc package, saxophonistand flautist Julius Hemphill’s Roi Boyé & theGotham Minstrels (Sackville SKCD2-3014/15www.delmark.com). It’s a solo session that’sa pioneering example of using multi-trackingto create a compelling audio drama. Bestknown as a founder of the World SaxophoneQuartet (WSQ), Hemphill (1938-1995) wasinterested in programmatic story tellingnot reed bravado. One observation is thatthe often-delicate timbres of the reedist’soverdubbed flutes were showcased at a timewhen the cliché of advanced jazz imaginedevery player a discordant eardrum-assaulter.Even when playing astringent alto saxophone,as on the second track, Hemphill is so incontrol of his material that he doesn’t lapseinto glottal punctuation. Instead he replicatesa New York subway journey through anKEN WAXMANoverdubbed choir of yelping saxophones.Exactly one year later, Hemphill and hisWSQ colleague Oliver Lake recorded the duodisc, Buster Bee (Sackville SKCD2-3016www.delmark.com) in Toronto. As notableas their teamwork was, it lacks therevolutionary force of the solo set. On “RoiBoyé” for instance, Hemphill devotes thefinal track to a narrative about a black artist’slife in a materialistic society, punctuating hisstory-telling with harsh squeals, discordantwhorls and split tones. Anothertrack replicates a butterfly’sattraction through stacked andharmonized reed tones thatmeander linearly; while a thirdis practically a capriccio, withthe theme bouncing along,propelled by carefully stacked,overdubbed horn vamps, whilereed-biting and pressurized vibratos fromthe alto saxophone come in-and-out of auralfocus for contrast, ending with a distinctivecontralto textural upturn.Hemphill doesn’t neglect jazz’s bedrock,the blues, either. One extended piecepositions a soulful alto saxophone riff, bassolip-bubbling from the flute and a heavilybreathed soprano saxophone line that couldcome from a country blues harmonica,while discordant pitches slide contrapuntallyamong them. Eventually the track reflectsboth the guttural despair and altissimopromise of the music.for a discussion of other Sackvilleclassics by trombonist George Lewis,saxophonist Roscoe Mitchell and drummerBarry Altschul see the continuation ofthis column at www.thewholenote.com.with ease and colour. Production qualities aresuperb. Fans of storytelling should be impressedby “Unspoken Dreams — Stories fromRumi.” The rest of us open minded enough togive this Balevi/Beauvais collaboration a listenshould be pleasantly surprised. The disc isavailable through the Canadian Music CentreDistribution Service (www.musiccentre.ca).—Tiina KiikThat Certain ChartreuseLori CullenIndependent LC2011 (www.loricullen.com)Lori Cullen is asteadfast presenceon the music scenein Toronto, consistentlyproducingfine albums andappearing in andputting togetherlive shows thatbring together dozens of talented local artists.Although her songwriting is strong, Ilike her best as a song stylist and her latest,“That Certain Chartreuse,” is dominated byexamples of that unique talent. Along withguitarist/partner Kurt Swinghammer, bassistMaury Lafoy, drummer Mark Mariashand keyboardist David Matheson, everyonefrom the Bee Gees to Suzanne Vega to KingCrimson gets the careful caress of Cullen’sinterpretations. Rainy Day People is givenan emotional depth it never had at the handsof Gordon Lightfoot (as un-Canadian as thatmay be to say). While Baubles, Bangles andBeads gets a delightful and crazy mix ofsitar-like guitar sounds, a hint of OptimisticVoices-style vocal arrangements, and trumpetplaying, courtesy of Bryden Baird, thathas the distinct Cullen/Swinghammeresqueimprint. The Shania Twain hit that she wrotewith her now very ex husband, Foreverand For Always, is done without irony andrestores our faith in the possibility of loveand loyalty.—Cathy RichesPOT POURRIUnspoken Dreams – Stories from RumiAriel Balevi; William BeauvaisIndependent WLCD 012010Storyteller ArielBalevi and guitarist/composer/improviserWilliam Beauvaisare a creative teamto be reckonedwith. “UnspokenDreams — Storiesfrom Rumi” is concurrentlyperplexing and interesting in itscontent and presentation.Balevi “reads” five stories from theMasnavi, a collection of stories and storieswithin stories that Rumi, the 13th centurySufi poet and mystic, used in his teachings.Balevi’s diction is clear, and his timing isimpeccable. Most surprisingly, he has theuncanny knack of drawing the listener deepinto the text when least expected to createa powerful listening experience. He is anexcellent storyteller with a distinctive voicethat brings the stories he so loves to life.At times, Balevi risks becoming a bitover the top in his sentiment. This is whereguitarist William Beauvais weaves his magic.Clearly relishing his musical supporting role,Beauvais’ improvisations, compositions andperformance provide the perfect backdrop/soundscape while simultaneously creatingclear boundaries to prevent a sonic crash.Between stories as musical interludes, hisrenditions of the simple Yoruban and Bantusongs are beautiful moments which preparethe listener for the next story.The sound of the voice and guitar blend68 thewholenote.comJuly 1–September 7, 2011

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Volume 26 (2020- )

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