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Volume 19 Issue 8 - May 2014

  • Text
  • Choir
  • Toronto
  • Jazz
  • Arts
  • Concerts
  • Theatre
  • Musical
  • Choral
  • Singers
  • Festival
Includes the 2014 Canary Pages directory of choirs.

the three variably

the three variably scored works performedon this CD.The musical result is a constantly shifting,subtly beating soundscape reminding mestylistically of various composers: a less bellicoseearly Penderecki, Xenakis (anothercomposer inspired by the possibility ofdialogue between graphic representationand music) and perhaps certain worksby Feldman. In particular the influence ofJames Tenney, Szlavnics’ Toronto compositionteacher, appears to hover in the background.It’s revealed in elements of instrumentation(sine-wave generators), tuning (i.e. justintonation), quirky texture (multiple crossingglissandi) and an extreme sensitivity toinstrumental tone colour and its structuraland even melodic exploitation.Black graphic lines and moiré patternsdominate Szlavnics’ graphic art, liberallydisplayed on the CD cover and in the booklet;the symbiosis between her graphic andmusical oeuvre is the primary theme exploredin the thought-provoking essay “DrawingMusic” by Eugen Blume.I’ve chosen to sketch in the broad outlinesof the music on the CD but I wanted inclosing to mention the outstanding Szlavnicsensemble piece (a)long lines: we’ll draw ourown lines. The haunting work seamlesslydovetails electronically- and acousticallyproducedtimbres into a sound world that’sall her own, performed with virtuoso precisionand emotional warmth by the ColognebasedEnsemble musikFabrik. Listening to thealbum several times – please turn the volumeup to enjoy the full sonic palette – has beenan exciting personal journey. Along the way, adelightful surprise: the thrill of discovering amasterful compositional voice.Andrew TimarThrough the Looking GlassAlphaDacapo 8.226579This sonic offering presents several piecesby four of Denmark’s most celebratedSomething in the AirInnovative Writing for Strings and ImprovisersAs genres draw closer to one another, theidea of a musician from one area playing andcomposing a work in another areadoesn’t seem so far-fetched. Moreimportantly the sophistication ofmany contemporary performersmeans that these inter-genreexcursions are triumphant ratherthan merely passable. One formthat is being explored by improvisingmusicians for instance iscomposing for the bedrock of theso-called classical music tradition:string groupings.Torontonians get a chance toexperience this when the AfiaraQuartet joins pianist Uri Caineat Koerner Hall May 23 to playhis composition for jazz piano andstring quartet. Caine who has spentthe past 15 years creating intriguing postmodernvariants on works by, among others,Bach, Wagner and Mahler, provides a newtake on tunes by early jazz-classical crossovericon George Gershwin on Rhapsody inBlue (Winter & Winter 910.205-2). Althoughit features only Caine, bassist Mark Helias,violinist Joyce Hammann, reedist ChrisSpeed, trumpeter Ralph Alessi, drummerJim Black plus vocalists Theo Bleckmannand Barbara Walker, Caine’s take on familiarGershwin compositions suggests the potentialsurprises that may result at Koerner Hall.Vocalists provide novel song interpretations,especially on a deconstructed They Can’t TakeThat Away from Me where yodelling andburbling is harmonized with trumpet tripletsand percussion slaps. As well as operatingin different metres and tempos, Caine’ssolo uniquely shades How Long Has ThisBeen Going On. But it’s the title track whichis the CD’s showpiece. With an ensembleone-quarter the size of Paul Whiteman’sband which premiered the concerto in 1924,not only do Caine and company provide aKEN WAXMANsophisticated jazz sensibility, but his 22-anda-half-minute-arrangementaugmentshitherto unexplored nuances inGershwin’s score. Capturing thefamous introductory glissandi,Speed’s clarinet tone includesKlezmer inflections while Alessi’slater call-and-response withthe clarinetist adds Latinesqueechoes and genuine emotion tothe program. At one point whenthe trumpeter’s apex of excitedlymodulated tones is coupled withpseudo-stride piano, it suggestshow much more interestingRhapsody in Blue might havebeen if initially performed byLouis Armstrong and James P.Johnson. True to the score, especiallyduring Hammon’s violin parts, the sextetreaches an appropriately exciting climax atthe 20-minute mark as Black’s thoroughlymodern rollicking swing spurs the soloists.By the conclusion, as the underlying beatturns to a witty march rhythm, the theme isextended with jabbing keyboard lines.Also emphatically meeting the stringwritingchallenge is pianist Vijay Iyer, whoseMutations (ECM CD 2372) is based aroundten compositional fragments for stringquartet, piano and electronics. More prominentduring the solo piano pieces whichframe this chef d’oeuvre, electronics gentlyquiver during Mutations I-X as Iyer generouslyshares interpretation space with violinistsMiranda Cuckson and Michi Wiancko,violist Kyle Armbrust and cellist Kivie Cahn-Lipman. Named for incremental geneticchanges, the Mutations sequences are linked,but the through-composed material is structuredin such a way that cerebral stringimprovisation is encouraged and blendedboth with piano cross-pulsing and recordedsamples of the string playing. Concludingwith a triumphant eruption of frenziedstaccato string passages with an affiliatedrhythm in Mutation X: Time, theseMutations cycle through many propertiesas they evolve. Latterly suggesting canonlikecohesion, earlier variants display skitteringstring harshness layered as frequentlyas harmonic cohesion. On Mutation IV:Chain for instance, keyboard patterningand string glissandi cross and re-cross oneanother following a heartbreaking solo violininterlude, saved from ur-romanticism byCarnatic-like percussion pumps from thelower-pitched strings. Tone laddering anddetaching is present throughout the suite,with Iyer maintaining interest by includingenough jocular and linear passages to keepthe composition organically whole no matterhow many sinewy string curves or processedextrusions are involved. A cohesive explorationof the possibilities available from focusedcomposing, Mutations’ shimmering colourpalate fittingly expands the steaming bluesjazzinferences in the solo piano tracks whichprecede and follow it.From Léandre’s frenzied sawing coupledwith sibilant whispers to the emphasis onnew roles for mass string ensembles advancedby Salamon, these sessions outline some ofthe paths to couple improvisation with theliberating compositions for strings. Caine willlikely supply yet another concept.To read how German trombonist NilsWogram, Slovenian guitarist SamoSalamon and French violist Théo Ceccaldiface similar challenges see the continuationof this column at thewholenote.com.82 | May 1, 2014 – June 7, 2014 thewholenote.com

living composers,as re-visioned byAlpha, a trio playingrecorders, saxophonesand percussion. TheCD opens in sparklingfashion with two shortpieces by Poul Ruders.Alpha’s version of hisrhythmically energetic Star Prelude makesclever use of high recorders and pitchedpercussion, and the fun continues with thesame composer’s Love Fugue in which saxophoneplays a more central role. Later onin the program, Bolette Roed gives a greatrendition of his funky Carnival, originallyscored for alto flute. Hans Abrahamsen’sFlowersongs, originally composed forthree flutes, gets a broader stroke of colourfrom Alpha’s musical paintbrush, and PerNørgård’s Heydey’s Night is sweet andhumorous. Saxophonist Peter Navarro-Alonso’s arrangements of Nørgård’s Isterniaand Bent Sørensen’s Looking on Darknessprovide some welcome contemplative turnsto this generally chipper program.There is much to admire in Alpha’s elegantplaying, both as individuals and as anensemble. With a fairly minimalist slant thisprogram might not be to everyone’s taste,but it proves that things are vibrantly aliveand well in contemporary Danish music.Unfortunately though, while the bookletnotes describe Alpha in glowing terms,there’s no information whatsoever about theoriginal composers or the pieces reworkedhere. I didn’t particularly mind googlingthem, but considering that these composersnot only created the original material but alsogave their blessing to this project, this omissionseems quite regrettable.Alison MelvillePianist/composer Kris Davis has followeda musical path from her native Vancouver toCalgary to the University of Toronto and on toBrooklyn, where she’s a key member of one ofthe world’s most creative jazz scenes, playingsolo, leading her own ensembles and workingin a number of bands and ad hoc ensembleswith other notable musicians like saxophonistsIngrid Laubrock and Tony Malaby andguitarist Mary Halvorson.A recent highlight is Waiting for You toGrow (Clean Feed CF292 cleanfeed-records.com)by her triowith bassist John Hébert anddrummer Tom Rainey. Recordedin May 2013 after the group hadjust completed a European tour, theCD demonstrates both developedempathy and a keen familiaritywith the nuances and possibilitiesof Davis’ compositions. Attimes, Davis and her partnersseem to be redefining the pianotrio in percussive terms that seeinstruments playing essentiallyrhythmic patterns, often elaboratingdense polyrhythms. Ifthat suggests an explorationof the roots of jazz in African music,it’s also aligned here with the earlypercussion music of John Cage.The sonic explorations of anotherexperimental composer are referenceddirectly in Berio, a complex,analytical work that suggests thecompound methodologies of lateserialism as much as the free playof sonic particles.Those references to modern concert musictake even greater prominence with MassiveThreads (Thirsty Ear THI57208-2 thirstyear.com),Davis’ second CD of solo pianomusic. It’s somber and playful, spontaneousand inevitable, an outstanding CD in anygenre to which it might be assigned. The titletrack moves from ponderous bass clustersSTUART BROOMERin alternating hands, eventually progressingupward in pitch, becoming quieter all thetime, until it disappears. Many of the piecesare built around similar ideas of transformation.In the remarkable Ten Exorcistsfor prepared piano, Davis initially createscomplex rhythmic dialogue around a singlepitch. Dancing Marlins is playfully pointillistin the extreme, its random Morse code eventuallyturning into phrases thatwould be at home in the blues.Thelonious Monk’s Evidencereveals itself in evanescent bits,finally emerging as a continuoustwo-handed improvisation inmultiple meters.Davis’ position at the forefrontof current jazz is furtherapparent in hermembership in tenor saxophonistMatt Bauder’sDay in Pictures onNightshades (CleanFeed CF289). Theidiom is post-bop, withroots in the mid-60sBlue Note school of SamRivers and Andrew Hill,but it’s also informed byafurther 50 years ofimprovised music,with both traditionsfirmly in place,whether in the foregroundor lurkingin the shadows. Davis’ lines areat once limpid and precise onBauder’s Starr Wykoff, a balladthat might have been penned by TheloniousMonk in 1958. Apparently named for theBrooklyn coffee shop called Wykoff Starr, itmight even be a Monk title. Elsewhere suddenrandom runs from Davis and explosions ofmultiphonics from Bauder and trumpeterNate Wooley (the two Americans are alsothe frontline in expatriate drummer HarrisEisenstadt’s Canada Day) confirm this isinsistently current music.Cory Weeds’ policy of bringing in guestartists to perform at Vancouver’s Cellar Jazzclub has created some memorable collaborations.David “Fathead” Newman & theTilden Webb Trio’s Cellar Groove (Cellar LiveCL090113 cellarlive.com) is definitely oneof them. Newman, who died in 2009, wasalready 71 when this was recorded in 2004.Best known for his work with Ray Charles,Newman was an adept saxophonist andflutist who could hold his own with hard bopmasters like Lee Morgan when the opportunityarose. Here he tours the terrain ofbop (Dizzy Gillespie’s A Night in Tunisia),hard bop (Hank Mobley’s This I Dig of You)and modal jazz (pianist Webb’sRoundabout), clearly enjoying thesuperb accompaniment of Webb’strio with bassist Jodi Proznick anddrummer Jesse Cahill, a band initself that propels Newman andhis enthusiasm alike.Another Vancouver band thatshows the positive effects ofworking regularly is the Mike AllenQuartet with pianist Miles Black, bassistAdam Thomas and drummerJulian MacDonough. Embracinga broad modernism, the grouphas hosted the official jamsessions of the Vancouver Festivalfor years and they’re also the jazzensemble-in-residence at WesternWashington University where saxophonistAllen directs the jazz program. OnPanorama (Cellar Live CCL121013), trombonistHugh Fraser, whose suave bluster haslong graced Vancouver jazz, is the featuredguest. Allen has his own sound, at onceforceful and muffled, and it gives his workimmediate dimension, but every musicianhere contributes to a consistent senseof substance. The opening Get Back maybe playful jazz funk, but Allen’s Let Gothewholenote.com May 1, 2014 – June 7, 2014 | 83

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