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Volume 19 Issue 9 - June/July/August 2014

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Frederic Rzewski –

Frederic Rzewski – Piano Music: Fantasia;Second Hand; De ProfundisRobert SatterleeNaxos 8.559760It has been mypleasure to reviewthese fine CDs by twoexcellent pianists inmusic by one of myfavourite composers,Frederic Rzewski. ThePeople United WillNever Be Defeated is a masterpiece worthy ofother major sets of variations such as theGoldberg Variations, Beethoven’s DiabelliVariations and Brahms’ Handel Variations.The work opens with a theme from SergioOrtega’s Chilean resistance song El PuebloUnido Jamás Será Vencido! Similar to theGoldbergs, Rzewski structured his work bygrouping it as a theme plus three sets of sixvariations, a break, and another three sets ofsix variations plus a reprise of the theme,which makes six sets of six variations.However, pianist Corey Hamm performs thework as a whole instead of sectioning themusic into short pieces. This creates anintense, dramatic journey and compels thelistener to follow the creation of this masterpiecefrom the opening theme to the closingreturn. Hamm has a crisp, articulate touchand blazes through the virtuosic music withtechnical brilliance. There is a lot to admire inthis performance. His sensitivity to nuanceand expressive details gives the work a varietyof tonal colours that is needed in a majorwork of an hour in length that is performedwithout a break. This was a mesmerizing andthoughtful performance.Robert Satterlee is the pianist in the secondCD by Rzewski.This is a collectionof three works,Fantasia (1989-99)Second Hand, orAlone at Last (SixNovelettes for piano,left hand) (2005)and De Profundis,for Speaking Pianist (1992). In the composer’sown words for his second version ofFantasia “I…changed the music to obscurethe tune, putting in lots of wrong notes andkind of stomping on and smudging everything.”I love composers with a sense ofhumor and I love this piece, which was playedwith elan and style by the pianist. Somehow,the wrong notes and smudging soundedjust right. The works for left hand aloneare a set of six virtuoso etudes written forRobert Satterlee. Rzewski writes: “I had neverseriously explored its subterranean universe…I found that my left hand was capable ofexecuting all kinds of complex maneouvers…it is in fact able to execute the mostspectacular acrobatics.” I echo these sentimentsin my comments about the performance.You would never imagine that only theleft hand was playing. It speaks volumes tothe technique of the pianist’s left hand. It isan amazing performance and the music was arevelation. These pieces should be a requirementin all music schools. De Profundis,according to Rzewski, is a “melodramaticoratorio,” with a text by Oscar Wilde froma long essay written to his lover Lord AlfredDouglas during Wilde’s imprisonment inReading Gaol. The pianist has to recite, sing,hum, whistle, hit the body and the piano, andplay a Harpo horn, all while playing exquisitemusic expressively. Bravo to the pianist forthis heart-wrenching performance, filledwith sensitive playing and an operatic anddramatic fervor. It truly was an incrediblefeat.Christina Petrowska QuilicoGlenn Kotche – AdventurelandGlenn Kotche; Kronos Quartet; eighthblackbird; Gamelan Galak TikaCantaloupe CA21098No doubt about it,Adventureland is aproduct of a curiousand singular musicalmind. Glenn Kotche,most widely knownas the drummer ofthe Chicago alternativerock band Wilco, is as well a percussionistand a very active composer of well-receivedpostmodernist concert works. While on thisalbum he wears his well-worn composer hat,his approach as a drummer and percussionistto composition and sonic textures permeatesmuch of his Adventureland suite.Kotche was commissioned in 2006 bythe Kronos Quartet to compose the sevensectionstring quartet plus percussion scoreAnomaly. Seven additional movements wereadded for this album. One of the most juicysavouryelements in this musical gumbo isexperiencing the constantly shifting instrumentaltextures. For example Chicago’s eighthblackbird ensemble, Kronos Quartet and electronicsare featured in the dreamlike TripleFantasy. Interwoven throughout the suite arethe five movements of The Haunted, scoredfor “two pianos vs. percussion,” which pitnon- and semi-pitched percussion soundsagainst the pianos’ range of single and clusteredtones.A standout both in timbre and performanceare the Balinese gamelan sounds performedby Boston’s skilled 18-musician GamelanGalak Tika, directed by Evan Ziporyn in “TheTraveling Turtle” movement.In places, Kotche’s music may remind youof Steve Reich’s motivically constrained additivestrategies. By way of contrast however,it also possesses more frequent and abruptchanges in melody, harmony and metre, aswell as more flow, form, texture and moodthan does the minimalist master’s. Kotcheaptly summed up his musical rollercoasterride: “I called this Adventureland becausebesides being something that’s fun, it’s alsokind of weird and mysterious, and at the sametime scary and intimidating.”JAZZ AND IMPROVISEDFreeplayCharlie RingasSupermono Records XOR0003(charlieringas.com)Andrew TimarCharlie Ringas isan inventive musician/composerin theToronto creative musiccommunity. Freeplayis a ten-track discwhich combines thefeel of free improvisationwith a solid compositional sense. Howso? As the liner notes explain, Ringas wasworking on a text when he rediscovered twopast live concert improvisations and decidedto add new improvisations to them. Afterdividing these into ten pieces, he brought inviolinist Ivana Popovic and double bassist BretHiggins to improvise over this past material.Only these string parts were then extensivelyand successfully edited to create bedtracks to which Mike Skinner (saxophones,flutes), Garnet Willis (terpstra keyboard andproducer) and Ringas (percussion) improvised.Trombonist Eugene Watts’ improvisationfrom an earlier unrelated session wasthen edited into these pieces. Finally vocalistPeggy Jane Hope added the text both improvisedin spoken and sung forms.Sounds like too much work but the effectis best described in the final line of text in thelast track: “Liberation from holding forms.”All the improvisers are highly skilled musiciansobviously chosen for their inventivenessand superb listening skills and their artisticopenness to trust Ringas to rework theirmaterial. Their performances are brilliant andtheir musical personalities continue to shineeven after Ringas has respectfully editedeach part to meet his personal compositionalsense.Freeplay is tough music to grasp in itsfree tonalities and at times jagged sectionsbut worth the effort in its memorable walkthrough the musical mind of Charlie Ringas.Tiina KiikBeverly Taft meets the Nathan HiltzOrchestraBeverly Taft; Nathan Hiltz OrchestraIndependent BT-002 (beverlytaft.com)With the releaseof this ebullientparfait of a vocal jazz/big band CD, somemuch-needed joie devivre has been transfusedback into thecurrent jazz scene.The well-producedproject conjures up images and sounds of the80 | June 4, 2014 – Sept 7, 2014 thewholenote.com

Since relocating from Toronto to SanFrancisco to study compositionat Mills College, DarrenJohnston has emerged as a trumpeterof depth and vision, qualitiesevident in return visitsplaying with pianist David Braidat various local venues. Namedby DownBeat as one of “25Trumpeters for the Future” (along withToronto’s Lina Allemano andVancouver’s Brad Turner),Johnston has recently focusedon large-scale composition: hischoral work Letters to Home, itslibretto written using phrases fromletters by Bay-area immigrants, wasrecently debuted by the Trans-Global People’s Chorus. Theactivity may have kept Johnstonfrom recording his own smallgroups lately, but he’s a distinguishedpresence on numerousrecordings, ranging from largelycomposed to entirely improvisedmusic.Multi-reed player/composer StevenLugerner has created somethingvery unusual in For WeHave Heard (Primary RecordsPR013 primaryrecords.org),a series of works largely basedon the text of the Book of Joshuafrom the Torah in which Lugerneruses gematria, a system to convertwords into numbers which in turn arere-encoded into musical notation. Lugerneremploys Johnston, pianist Myra Melford anddrummer Matt Wilson to create work that isbeyond genre. Lyrical, determined, profound,often sombre, its themes are expanded,prodded and even undermined by the spontaneouswit of improvisation. WitnessJohnston’s solo on Us and Our Fathers, itssound mutating from clarion declaration topuckish aside.Vijay Anderson leads the Touch and GoSextet on Live at the Novara Jazz Festival(Nine Winds NWCD0314 ninewinds.com). As a composer, Anderson sometimescreates densely contrapuntal rhythmic andmelodic figures that as a drummer he drivesforward with bassist Lisa Mezzacappa, oftenfomenting fast and furious collective improvisationsfrom the four winds, Johnstonand three reed players. There’s often a raw,Mingus-like energy here, but there are alsomoments of limpid beauty, like the delicatetrumpet and woody clarinet texturesdeveloped by Johnston and Ben Goldbergon Delusions. Johnston’s splintering linesand shifting timbres contribute much to theSTUART BROOMERmoody Swift Horse.If these CDs emphasizeJohnston’s interpretiveskills, Spectral(Aerophonic AR006 aerophonicrecords.com)reveals histalent for wholly spontaneous,interactivemusic in a co-oper-ative trio with twoveteran improvisers:Chicago alto saxophonistDave Rempisand Bay-area tenorsaxophonist LarryOchs. Free improvisa-tionis always a challengingart, whether it’scombative, contrarianor empathetic. This trioemphasizes the latter,using the meetingfor spontaneouscomposition, creatingcollective counterpoint,exchangingcries, mirroring oneanother’s lines andpairing up to createpatterned accompanimentto a solo voice,suggesting that theriffing horns of the 1930s Basieband might be distant ancestors. WrinkleWrankle covers a host of musical languages,incorporating touches of blues, chaos andperhaps even vaudeville, and Johnston bringsa plaintive, quavering, village brass bandquality to Cheek and Bones.Bassist Artie Roth is a fixture of Torontojazz, whether providing a springy beat thatkeeps a band moving or soloing with theconfidence and fluency of a horn. His abilitiesas composer and bandleader are alsostrongly apparent on Currently Experiencing(artieroth.com) by his current quartet. Thegroup speaks a distinctly contemporary idiomwith a texture of its own. Rhythms can bedriving or floating and sometimes even both,as in the opening Blues for All That Is LeftUnspoken. It’s a special quality that arisesfrom Roth’s writing and the band’s makeup:Geoff Young’s guitar tones may hang in spacewhile saxophonist Mike Filice (an emergingtalent to listen for) and drummer AnthonyMichelli churn it up and Roth creates linesthat strategically mediate the contrast.The Toronto quartet One Big Song (EP108.01 onebigsong.com) has been togethersince 2009 and builds on a longer collaborationbetween reed player Ernie Tollarand percussionist Paul Fitterer. Along withguitarist Mario Potestio and bassist Wes Neal,they create a musical web that extends outinto world music, with the myriad instrumentsof Tollar and Fitterer picking up huesof Latin America, Africa and Asia. Briefcollective improvisations minglewith longer forays, like Tollar’s ragasuffusedDream Alap or his wittyPolka-Reggae.The trio of piano, string bass anddrums is one of the classic formats ofjazz, a mini-orchestra that can createdense rhythms and harmonies withgreat range and timbral variety.These recent CDs demonstrate someof the range achieved by the form.Tom Van Seters developed in theMontreal milieu, spent severalyears in Toronto and is currentlyresiding in Edmonton. OnVariables (VSM003, tomvanseters.ca),histhird CD as a leader, Van Setersstresses controlled complexity,his compositions assembled outof detailed interlocking partsthat provide effective inspirationto creative dialogues with hispartners, bassist Jim Vivian anddrummer Anthony Michelli. VanSeters’ finest moment, though,may come on an unaccompaniedelegy, The Creeping Crab.Matt Newton’s Within Reach(FTM906 mattnewton.ca) practicesa cool minimalism withroots that reach back throughthe resonant Nordic school of ECM tothe understatement and evasive harmoniesof fBillEEvans. Less is more, and ideas andmoods flower through inference and implication.Often there’s a dream-like ambiencehere, with Newton floating over the turbulenceof Dan Fortin’s bass lines and EthanArdelli’s drums on Stepping into the Lightand Fortin’s Ends.The Mike Janzen Trio is at its best onMetronome (MJ005 mikejanzentrio.com)when the emphasis is on rhythm and interplay,taking its cues from African High Lifeand Township patterns, funk or Caribbeaninspirations, with splashes of keyboard colourfrom the leader and plenty of idiomatic inputfrom bassist George Koller and, especially,drummer Larnell Lewis. At times, though,when a string quartet appears or Janzen overdubsother keyboards, it veers toward themechanical cheerfulness of rush-hour radioprogramming.Concert note: The Mike Janzen Trio performsat the Paintbox Bistro in Toronto on June 6and the New Life Reformed Church in Guelphon June 7, with appearances later thissummer at the TD Toronto Jazz Festival, theWreckhouse International Jazz Festival andthe Port Hope All-Canadian Jazz Festival.thewholenote.com June 4, 2014 – Sept 7, 2014 | 81

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