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Volume 20 Issue 8 - May 2015

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Something in the

Something in the AirVarying Definitions of “Ethnic”-orientedImprovised MusicWhen it comes to welcoming immigrantsto North America, Canadaand the United States have long haddifferent policies. To Americans the ideal isthe melting pot with all foreigners persuadedto become true-blue Yanks. Modern Canada,once it shook off fealty to Britain, has longpromoted multiculturalism, where immigrantsbecome Canadians without giving uptheir homeland identity. Generalities shouldbe avoided, but it’s informative to see theseconcepts played out in improvised music.Thus Neelamjit Dhillon, born in Vancouver ofSikh background, has created a notable CDbased on the infamous 1914 incident when376 mostly Sikh immigrants were refusedentry to Canada. To do so he mixes traditionalIndian instruments with Western ones. Incontrast, American performers who are hiscontemporaries, and with similar immigrantroots, have recorded sessions exclusivelylinked to the un-hyphenated jazz continuum.A notable work, thatevolves through ninerelated sequences,Komagata Maru(neelamjit.com)manages to tell thisshameful story ofanticipation, betrayal,violence and ultimately hope for the futurewith only four musicians, admixing Indiansub-continental and Western sounds. BesidesDhillon, who plays alto saxophone, tabla andbansuri, a transverse bamboo flute, the othersare bassist André Lachance and drummerDan Gaucher plus Chris Gestrin, who playssympathetic, whimsical piano throughout;and who produced, recorded and mixed thedisc. With Gestrin’s strong accompaniment,Dhillion’s proficiency allows him to createswinging, unforced jazz lines throughout, nomatter which instrument he’s playing. Eventhe tabla’s distinct timbres are used to makespecific points rather than for exoticism. OnShore Committee: Bonds of Ancestral Kinshipand later on British Clash at Budge Budge, forinstance, the Carnatic drum’s texturescontrast sharply with Gaucher’s martialstyleddrumming, together symbolicallydepicting a full-scale riot on the first tune;and add to the sonic bellicosity of the second,further intensified by keyboard clips andharsh reed slurps. In the same way the expansiveMunshi Singh: Trial for a SanguineTomorrow has its relaxed mood, set up byLachance’s double-time strumming,disrupted by contrapuntal screeds, althoughthey come from the bansuri rather than analto saxophone. Crucially as well, the sonicrepresentation of police-passenger combat onDebris from the Sky: Confront with the ToolsKEN WAXMANat Hand, relies on the divergence betweenvery Westernized double bass strokes and thedistinctively Indian tabla patterns. Finally, theunforced Lee Konitz-like saxophone riffsDhillon uses to underline the exposition herenot only relate back to the introduction butportend the concluding Reconciliation: Evokethe Fallen and Persevere. Part elegy and partanticipation, the tune’s mellow hopefulnesssuggests why incidents like that of theKomagata Maru are rare in Canadian history.As well this meticulously crafted CD positsthat Dhillon and company will soon becreating more intriguing sounds, eitherstraight ahead or with a sub-continental lilt.Yet another variationon this themeshows up on For TheBlue Notes (OgunRecords OGCD 042ogunrecords.com).Although the musiciansfeatured haveancestral backgroundsfrom Martinique, Guyana and South Africaas well as parts of the United Kingdom, theseancestral memories are subsumed in thissalute to the combo that left Apartheid-eraSouth Africa to mingle high-life rhythmswith British free jazz, creating an unmatchedhybrid sound. Led by percussionist LouisMoholo-Moholo, the last surviving Blue Note,the octet’s repertory was mostly composed byoriginal Blue Note members. What that meansis that tracks such as Sonke and Zanele arefully in the South African style even thoughthe associated vocals are by French-born(of Martinique background) Francine Luce.When she trades licks with the horns as well,the end product is high quality jazz that soarswithout labels or hyphens. Furthermore,listening to other creations like the titletrack, it’s bassist John Edwards’ solid timekeepingand pianist Alexander Hawkins’kinetic chording that drive the undertaking asmuch as tie keening solos from saxophonistJason Yarde and Ntshuks Bonga. Closer to theAmerican rather than the Canadian concepthere, the ancestral background of the playershardly influences the notable sounds issuingfrom their instruments.As more immigrants or children of immigrantsbegin to fill the ranks of Canadianimprovisers it will be instructive in the futureto observe whether an American-inflectednational style takes hold, or if Canadianmusical sensibilities will still includedistinctive overseas links.To see how Americans RudreshMahanthappa and guitarist Rez Abbasi dealwith similar situations read the continuationof this column at thewholenote.com.and pianist Håvard Wiik, Atomic pressesforward on strong personalities and rare flexibility,with the aggressive brassy presence oftrumpeter Magnus Broo defining the ensemblesand bassist Ingebrigt Håker Flaten thegroup’s molten core. While Ljungkvist’s Majorswings hard and continuously, Wiik’s LaternaInterfuit touches down on many bases, agentle folk-like opening, a brashly dissonantfanfare and improvised passages that rangethrough collective blowing from the hornsand Wiik’s own airy, post-bop interlude.That quicksilver creativity extends toLjungkvist’s descriptively titled Start/Stop,from its eerie and slightly muffled nightmusic beginning to its eventual rapid themefilled with wide intervals and accompanyingclusters. Negotiating a shifting groundbetween composition and improvisation anda host of sounds, moods and methodologies,Atomic is devoted to keeping themselves andthe audience engaged.Stuart BroomerTwo Piano Concert at the PhiladelphiaMuseum of ArtMichael Snow; Thollem McDonasEdgetone EDT 4148 edgetonerecords.com!!Besides distinguishinghimself asone of Canada’s mostlauded filmmakersand visual artists,Toronto’s MichaelSnow maintains aparallel career as animprovising pianist. Most frequently workingas a charter member of the local CCMC, onoccasion he matches wits with outsiders. Abonus as part of the Philadelphia Museumof Art’s retrospective of his work Two PianoConcert featured a duet with peripateticAmerican improviser Thollem McDonas.Although both are pianists, the selectionsclearly outline the individuality of eachso-called avant-garde player.With the metronomic 176-key assault onlybrought to the fore for emphasis, the mostfrequent strategy in this three-track recital isfor one pianist to squirm and skip a theme toa certain point where it’s either embellishedwith arpeggios and strums or challenged athalf speed with contrapuntal asides by theother. Besides this, the keyboardists oftenconverse like an old married couple, finishingeach other’s phrases. More like hearing twoCecil Taylors, rather than any conventionalpiano duo, the two utilize all parts of theirinstruments. Shrill key clips and tremolobackboard echoes are only part of this; so arewood-rending scratches and harp-like innerstring strums. Snow identifies himself mostclearly on Two even as McDonas pounds outsardonic Chopstick-like rhythms or identifiablebop runs. Unexpectedly, the Canadian,who apprenticed playing classic jazz, soundsout a perfect stride piano lick which wouldhave done James P. Johnson proud. McDonas’72 | May 1 - June 7, 2015 thewholenote.com

esponse is to swell his glissandi to such anextent that they fill every molecule of theresulting soundscape. That challenge met, thefinal track features a satisfying return to carefullytimed sympathetic patterning.There’s no way Snow will ever have to fallback on his second career, but Two PianoConcert confirms that his keyboard inventivenessand professionalism allow him to holdhis own with – and sometime best – a fulltimeimproviser.Ken WaxmanPOT POURRIGatheringRed ChabmerZa Discs N17 mei-han.com!!Red Chamberis not your typicalChinese string band.The Vancouver-basedgroup has seriouslyeclectic, transculturaltastes. Led by thezheng scholar andvirtuoso Mei Han, thegroup includes Guilian Liu on pipa, ZhiminYu on zhongruan, daruan, and Geling Jiangon sanxian and zhongruan. They are allmasters of their respective plucked Chinesestring instruments.Already well established as professionalmusicians in mainland China, these womensought a second home on Canada’s west coastwhere they have expanded both their careers– and ears. Mei Han reflects on this process ofcultural awareness: “[As we] travelled aroundthe world and collaborated with artists froma wide range of cultures, we have grown tobecome more open and aware.”Gathering, their second album, exhibitsinfluences of diverse musics discernablein the inclusion of instruments such as thetabla, djembe, dumbek and gong. Multiethnicmelodic layers are also in ample evidence.The scores variously draw on Chinese, Arabic,West African, Klezmer, Greek, Turkish, CapeBreton and Métis sources, performed on RedChamber’s Chinese plucked strings. The latterrange from the brittle high-trilled notes of thepipa to bass daruan tones.The album’s success owes much toVancouver composers Moshe Denburg, JohnOliver and Randy Raine-Reusch. They eachcontributed scores, exploring this transculturalterrain, which were then skillfullyarticulated and extended by the musicians.Just one example: while Ah Ya Zein, anArabic love song arranged by Raine-Reusch, isculturally anchored by Gord Grdina’s moodyoud expositions, it is Mei Han’s inspiredmercurial zheng solo that provides the mostunexpected musical thrill.I saw Red Chamber live at Toronto’s MusicGallery in 2010. I was mightily impressed notonly by the individual virtuosity of the musicians,but also by their tight ensemble andculturally inclusive repertoire. Until theygrace a hall near you, this enjoyable recordis the closest to a transnational musical SilkRoad journey you can experience.Andrew TimarPurcell’s Revenge – Sweeter Than Roses?Concerto Caledonia; David McGuinnessDelphian DCD34161!!Listening to thisCD, I felt as though I’dmysteriously stumbledonto the playlistof a stranger whohad searched usingthe keywords “Purcell,Scottish, early music,folk, crossover, JamesOswald.” Anyone looking for multiple waysto reinvent Purcell and traditional tunesconnected to him will find much to enjoy inthe broad swath that this program cuts; butcohesive it’s not.James Bowman makes a cameo appearanceOld Wine, New BottlesFine Old Recordings Re-ReleasedIt is Friday afternoon and my daughterAdrienne just called me and asked what Iwas doing now. “I’m having a wonderfulafternoon, wallowing in the music from a boxof mono recordings.”The Decca Sound The Mono Years 1944-1956 (Decca 4787946, 53 CDs) is a treasuretrove of exemplary performances ofsymphonic and instrumental music by artistsin the Decca stable at the time. FFRR, theear and ffrr logo, standing for “full frequencyrange recording,” were registered trademarksand their appearance on the labelinformed the consumer that this recordingsounded better than anything else on themarket. For sure, the tipping point into theclassical market was when Ernest Ansermetcame to London and recorded Petrouchkawith the London Philharmonic Orchestra tobe released on five 78rpm records. Recordsare what recordings were called at the time.In November 1949 Ansermet recordedPetrouchka once more, this time in Genevawith the orchestra he had founded in 1918,L’Orchestre de la Suisse Romande. Issued, asbefore on ten 78rpm sides, it also appearedas Decca’s first Long Playing Microgrooverecord in June 1950 (years ahead of EMI, asusual) and three months later on, yes, as five78s. As American Columbia, who developedthe LP, had trademarked the name and the lpBRUCE SURTEESsinging Sweeter Than Roses with viol consort,and Jim Moray sings a convincing and innocentlyfolky Fairest Isle. Olivia Chaney’ssinging in her wonderful arrangement ofThere’s not a swain on the plain remindsme of the great Maddy Prior; and PamelaThorby does an excellent job of whistle-izinga recorder. The connection between Purcell’sNew Scotch Tune for solo harpsichord anda hook harp version of the tune speakselegantly for itself, as does a broken consortversion of Purcell’s Fantazia 11, and there area couple of delightful new pieces by Chaneyand Ana Silvera.But some of the other material left mecold, such as the revamp of Purcell’s EveningHymn, the original of which is so gorgeous Idon’t know why anyone would want to messwith it. Elsewhere there’s some very goodharmonica playing, and “rock on” amplification,of which I’d have liked either more, ornone. There’s much cleverness and musicaldelight here, but this particular “anythinggoes” program doesn’t quite satisfy.Alison Melvillesymbol, other companies could not call theirLPs, LP. Phillips, who was Columbia’s partnerin Europe, for example, coined “mini-groove.”Eventually however LP became generic.That Geneva Petrouchka elevated Deccaas a label and equally important spotlightedAnsermet and his orchestra. The Petrouchkais on the first disc in this Decca box alongwith their Le Sacre du Printemps recordedin October 1950. Both are fine performancesthat are still admirable, dynamic andcleanly recorded, the harbinger of the manywonderful, highly sought-after Decca recordingsto come from Ansermet conducting theSuisse Romande and other orchestras in anastonishingly wide repertoire. Included hereare Roussel’s The Spider’s Feast; Ravel’s Lethewholenote.com May 1 - June 7, 2015 | 73

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