7 years ago

Volume 20 Issue 4 - December 2014

  • Text
  • December
  • Toronto
  • Jazz
  • January
  • February
  • Symphony
  • Arts
  • Bloor
  • Theatre
  • Orchestra

The World in Christmas

The World in Christmas Music:Aaron Davis at WorkANDREW TIMARIt was a dark and snowy afternoon Wednesday, November 19, 2014.The first significant snowfall of the year blanketed the city sidewalksand the air was decidedly crisp. I subwayed to Hugh’s Roomon Dundas West for the launch of Toronto diva Measha Brueggergosman’snew album Christmas (Warner Music Canada)and its 19-date Canadian tour. It was a treat to witnessthe New Brunswick native, so at home in concertrecitals and opera, in such an intimate dinner clubconcert setting. Though only in her 30s, she is thatrare breed today: Canadian classical music royalty.Brueggergosman is a glittering diva combining superbvocal and acting chops, a bona fide classical celebrityin a country where the two words don’t usually cropup in the same sentence.As thrilling as it was to witness the Grammynominated,JUNO-winning star deftly workingthe music – and her fans in the room – I wasprimarily there to see the singer’s musical director,arranger and pianist Aaron Davis at work. Butfirst, full disclosure: my path crossed Davis’ atYork University’s Music Department back in themid-1970s. He was deeply immersed in jazz thenand I in everything but. We did however sharesome common ground in the study of the music ofseveral West African, Caribbean, and South Asiancultures.The next morning I spoke to Davis over theMeasha Brueggergosmanand Aaron Davisphone. This wasn’t meant as throwback Thursday nostalgia, but ratherto ask about elements of the “world” in his subsequent music career.What do I mean? The closer I listened to and considered Davis’music, the more parts of it appeared to be a case study of one vectorby which musical features found originally outsidethe North American vernacular mainstream can enterits commercial core. I wanted to know how rhythms,grooves, feels, modal tonalities and timbres from fourdecades of world music exploration have inspired andpenetrated his prolific and successful band-leading,composing and arranging career. (An example: hisscores for more than 100 films have garnered threeGenie award nominations and four Gemini awards.)“In 1979 I co-founded the Toronto world beat-jazzband Manteca, for which I wrote music and playedkeyboards,” Davis began “In 1981 I formed my ownband and a year later released the album, NouvelleAfrique.” The LP, while rich with musicians with solidjazz cred like Toronto saxophonists John Johnson,Alex Dean, Ron Allen, and drummer Mike Sloski, alsofeatures the South African singer Vusi Mahlasela onthe Davis song “Mandela.” Another track “CalypsoDumpling” has Caribbean affiliations.Davis is perhaps still best known as the long-timepianist and arranger for jazz singer Holly Cole, withwhom he formed a trio along with bassist DavidPiltch in 1986. “Measha Brueggergosman grew up14 | December 1 2014 - February 7, 2015

listening to the Holly Cole Trio and around 2006 asked me to workwith her,” recalls Davis. Then two years ago “when we were at Banff,Measha said ‘let’s make the Christmas album we always wanted tomake.’ I’d already produced two different Christmas [jazz] albumswith Holly,” so it felt like a natural progression.But what features of world music – Davis is comfortable withthe term – are embedded in his Christmas song arrangements? Hewent through the set list from the night before, much of it from thenew Chrismas album. “I arranged ‘Do You Hear What I Hear’ witha contemporary guitar-based folk feel, [but spiced it up] with aBollywood-style mixolydian modal unison string interlude. On theother hand I gave an Afro-beat treatment to ‘Afrosonic/I Could HaveDanced All Night.’ ‘The Most Wonderful Time of the Year’ got a poparrangement with a gospel breakdown in the middle, and I use severalAfrican American genres including 1970s funk in ‘Sleigh Ride’ and ‘IfYou Can Dig It.’ Yet jazz, in ‘Wade in the Water’ and ‘Our Love is Hereto Stay’ is also certainly very present in these arrangements.”Among the most exciting arrangements is ‘The Christmas Song’(a.k.a. ‘Chestnuts Roasting’). It “is set in a gentle 12/8 African metricgrid, like those I first came across at a 70s Ghanaian music workshopat York U., but counterpointed with a repeated descending, gappedmelodic motif imitating a European church bell.” Davis pointed outhis intentional transcultural gesture, superimposing the church bellmotif onto the West African bell rhythm the shaker is playing in hissetting.Measha Brueggergosman’s tour of Christmas, with Aaron Davisdirecting his worldly arrangements from the keyboards, continues itsway across Canada through the month, wrapping on December 20 inSt. John’s, NL.A REMARKABLE CONCERT SERIESIN NATuRAL ACOuSTICS 2014INTERNATIONALdIvASIIIAndrew Timar is a Toronto musician and music writer, andfrequent contributor to The WholeNote. His regular World Viewcolumn may be found on page 23.iiiSunday December 21, 8pmRITA CHIARELLI • LARA SOLNICKITHE AULT SISTERS • SHARLENE WALLACEMARYEM MARYAM HASSAN TOLLAR • HISAKAproducer & artistic director - GeorG e Kollertrinity-st. Paul’s December 1 2014 - February 7, 2015 | 15

Volumes 21-25 (2015-2020)

Volumes 16-20 (2010-2015)

Volumes 11-15 (2004-2010)

Volumes 6 - 10 (2000 - 2006)

Volumes 1-5 (1994-2000)