8 years ago

Volume 21 Issue 3 - November 2015

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  • November
  • Toronto
  • Jazz
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  • Performing
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"Come" seems to be the verb that knits this month's issue together. Sondra Radvanovsky comes to Koerner, William Norris comes to Tafel as their new GM, opera comes to Canadian Stage; and (a long time coming!) Jane Bunnett's musicianship and mentorship are honoured with the Premier's award for excellence; plus David Jaeger's ongoing series on the golden years of CBC Radio Two, Andrew Timar on hybridity, a bumper crop of record reviews and much much more. Come on in!

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ecordings made by Childs’ quartet during two 2013 gigs, cut together as one cohesive set. Included are excellent, underplayed selections from the standard repertoire such as The Man That Got Away and It’s All Right With Me, as well as some original Childs compositions. Such tunes are often tributes to eras past, such as Theodore, a playful tune with a Caribbean vibe that evokes St. Thomas, and Parting of the Rocks, a composition of barely contained righteous anger, reminiscent of jazz protest songs by black composers of the 1960s. That title is an English translation of Attawapiskat; Childs wrote it as “a response to the lack of response by the Harper government to the crisis at Attawapiskat.” In both the composition and the group’s approach, John Coltrane’s classic quartet comes to mind. From ballads to scorchers, this album immaculately captures the energy and sound of the group’s live performances; the rest is up to you. Grab a cold drink and enjoy. Bob Ben Meltframe Mary Halvorson Firehouse 12 FH12-04-01-021 (firehouse12. com) !! In her mid-30s, Mary Halvorson has distinguished herself as the most original jazz guitarist of her generation. A veteran of numerous ensembles led by Anthony Braxton and a regular musical partner of Marc Ribot, Halvorson has touched on the radical fringes of folk and rock as well as jazz and has created a remarkable series of CDs leading a trio and quintet. Meltframe is her first solo CD, and it goes very close to the heart of what makes her such a compelling musician, her rare ability both to reach back to jazz traditions and forward to the possibilities while setting everything in an insistent present. Whether it’s her embrace of Duke Ellington and an absurdly full-size hollowbody archtop guitar, or Ornette Coleman and an effects pedal that carries pitch bending to the stratosphere, Halvorson is at ease with fundamentals, corollaries and contradictions. They’re all here, from the dense electric roar with which she approaches Oliver Nelson’s Cascades to the (lightly amplified) flamenco touch she employs on Annette Peacock’s Blood. McCoy Tyner’s delicate Aisha occasionally surrenders to grunge rock. It’s more for those who like to be surprised than those who hate to be disturbed. Coleman’s Sadness arrives amongst wildly bending arpeggios, while Ellington’s Solitude is a reverie in artificial reverb that moves at a glacial pace toward microtonal dissolution. Halvorson can create great drama with minimal means, evidenced in her treatment of Carla Bley’s Ida Lupino, which develops a kind of intense inevitability through deceptively simple strumming. Works by Peacock and Carla Bley may suggest their first advocate, pianist Paul Bley, whose stark keyboard lines and manipulations of timbre are paralleled here. Stuart Broomer Telling Stories Sonoluminescence Trio Art Stew Records ASR 003 2015 !! A band whose improvising is as enlightening as its name, which refers to light produced as sound waves pass through liquid, this trio combination confirms that fluid musicianship can easily overcome geography and separation. A tale of three cities – baritone saxophonist David Mott lives in Toronto, percussionist Jesse Stewart in Ottawa and bassist William Parker in New York – the Sonoluminescence three don’t play together very often. But when they do, intercommunication is paramount, because exposing unique sonic patterns is more important to all than sporting showy techniques. Mott and Stewart are particularly cognizant of this. One feels the drummer would sooner lock himself in an airless crypt than shatter this partnership with blasting beats. As opposed to other baritone players who plunder its lower depths like deep-sea divers in the ocean, Mott emphasizes his horn’s moderato facility. He could be playing a tenor, save for some infrequent rhino-like snorts. As for Parker, he’s cognizant that the double bass can be treated as many instruments simultaneously. This is expressed as early as Echoes of Africa, the CD’s first track, where the patterning from Parker’s strings could come from a berimbau or an ngoni and Stewart’s rhythms from a combination of a wood drum and a conga. Mott’s response isn’t further exoticism however, but comprehensive tongue flutters and expressive peeps. A comparable transformation appears on There’s the Rub, where the sum total of thickened bass string strums, timed percussion clatters and selective reed breaths add up to a New Music-like interlude, with the trio’s storytelling facilities intact. The three are also capable of outputting non-stereotypical rhythmic activity as on the slyly named Rumble for Jackie Chan. But the resulting hard-hitting beat is strained through sardonic 21st-century sensibilities, so that the metrical syncopation is brainy rather than merely brawny. Mixing speedy rhythms, standard tune references and technical extensions when needed for additional colour and emphasis, the Sonoluminescence Trio does just what is promised in the title. It tells unusual stories energetically, with subtlety, but without artifice or showboating. Ken Waxman Wind and Sand Bruce Lofgren’s Jazz Pirates Night Bird NB-4 ( !! With the release of this exceptional recording, talented Los Angeles-based guitarist, composer and arranger Bruce Lofgren has once again established himself as one of the most innovative and relevant jazz artists currently leading large ensembles. Lofgren has surrounded himself here with “Jazz Pirates” that include the crème de la crème of West Coast musicians, including two French horn players (reminiscent of the late Rob McConnell’s Boss Brass). Lofgren’s prestigious career as a composer/arranger (Airto, Flora Purim, Buddy Rich), as well as his instrumental skill, has informed every note of this project with a tasty smorgasbord of tempos, styles and feels. The CD kicks off with a re-imagined take on Invitation and segues on to the clever Bop Talk with a vocal by Karen Mitchell, whose lovely soprano is all about the beauty of the melodic line – with each vocal nuance perfectly placed. Mitchell adds her voice to two additional tunes on this recording, (including the stunning bossa nova, Find a Place) with equally wonderful effect. A true stand out is Lofgren’s composition, Far Far Away, which has deeply personal significance to him, and the writing conjures up an almost childlike quality of innocent longing. The addition of Glen Berger’s soprano solo is nothing short of breathtaking. The title track is another stunner – utilizing Lofgren’s superb rhythmic skills and musical vocabulary – as a guitarist, composer and arranger – and speaking of rhythm, Café Rio delivers everything that it promises as well as a face-melting keyboard solo from the gifted Charlie Ferguson. Wind and Sand is arguably one of the most significant large ensemble jazz recordings of the year, rife with musical gems. It’s a must-have. Lesley Mitchell-Clarke A Serpent’s Dream Michel Godard & Le Miroir du temps Intuition INT 3440 2 ( !! Michel Godard may be the rarest and best kind of musician, filled with curiosity and energy and without prejudice. A master tuba player and member of the French 72 | Nov 1 - Dec 7, 2015

National Orchestra since 1988, he’s even more distinguished as an explorer. Taking up the tuba’s ancestor, the serpent, he plays jazz on it as well as ancient music. His most distinctive work may be in the unusual hybrids he constructs between jazz and renaissance music, like A Serpent’s Dream with his quartet Le Miroir du Temps. The band’s sounds are distinctly beautiful, blessed by a dry and ancient clarity in the case of Godard’s serpent and Katharina Bäuml’s shawm, though Bruno Hestroffer’s theorbo (a long-necked lute) sounds lightly amplified (at least with a microphone close to the steel strings) and Godard’s occasional electric bass is by definition. Percussionist Lucas Niggli employs a host of instruments to add colour, but it’s his hand drumming that comes to the fore. There’s nothing of the purist in Godard’s approach: most of the works heard here are his own compositions, and he’s just as happy setting them beside the ancient and anonymous In Splendoribus as Charlie Haden’s Our Spanish Love Song, with its distinctively contemporary – or at least romantic – harmonies. Godard’s ensemble manages to reveal a subtle sense of order, some of it gleaned from archives and some just coming into being. Presented with the opportunity to play a serpent made in 1830 that is decorated with an ornate, gilded sea monster with scales and tail, Godard elects to play the blues, the traditional, specific and appropriate Old Black Snake Blues. It’s impossible not to be charmed. Stuart Broomer Leo Records 35th Anniversary Moscow Gratkowski; Kruglov; Nabatov; Yudanov Leo Records CD LR 719 ( !! Anniversaries of record companies usually only serve as a reminder of the longevity implicit in cannily peddling particular products. But the commemoration associated with this CD is more profound. Recorded at the initial Moscow concert of a quartet consisting of two Russians – Alexey Kruglov playing alto saxophone and basset horn and percussionist Oleg Yudanov – plus Germans, pianist Simon Nabatov and alto saxophonist/clarinetist Frank Gratkowski, the five tracks pinpoint the cooperative skills of players from both countries. Providing a forum for Russian free improvisers to demonstrate their advanced expertise was one of the reasons Londonbased Leo Records was founded 35 years ago. That neither the Eastern nor Western players can be distinguished on the basis of talent or sound on this celebratory disc is a tribute to the label’s ideas. Russian-born and American-educated Nabatov provides the perfect linkage among the band members. The grandeur of his cascading runs on Our Digs for instance, creates emotional underpinning for the reedists’ atmospheric whispering; plus his emphasized wooden key stops provide the climax. At the same time he clatters phrases on the keys and slams the instrument’s frame to amplify the piano’s percussiveness on Homecoming, locking in with Yudanov’s smacks and rolls, never unduly forceful in themselves. Marathon-speed chording also adds to the saxophonists’ expositions that mix harsh Aylerian smears with reed textures as broad as wide-bore scanners. While as indistinguishable as corn stalks in a field, when alto saxophone bites emanate from both players, identifying resonation distinguishes Gratkowski’s bass clarinet and Kruglov’s basset horn on the reed showcase Hitting It Home. Exchanges between the Russian’s warbling yelps and the German’s sonorous hums that could be sourced from an underwater grotto are ornamented by the pianist’s ringing timbres and shaped into a pleasing narrative. Since outsiders rarely associate Germans or Russians with humour, House Games is particularly instructive, when the woodwind players’ choked yelps and snarling pants make the exposition sound like an aural Punch and Judy show – and just as violent. However this tongue splattering and note spewing is eventually harmonized into a manageable melody by the pianist’s romantic interludes. Overall, Leo’s more than three-decade-old promise is fulfilled with a connective session such as this one. Ken Waxman POT POURRI Persian Songs Nexus; Sepideh Raissadat Nexus 10926 ( !! Persian Songs, the 16th album on its own Nexus label (there are numerus others in addition), provides an interesting dual portrait of the veteran Torontobased, internationally renowned group’s musical roots and multi-branched evolution. It’s also an exhilarating listening experience. Two musical suites are featured on the album, both skillfully arranged by Nexus member and University of Toronto music professor Russell Hartenberger. They provide insights into his – and the group’s – career-long investment in two (often complementary) threads: on one hand 20th century American music, and on the other, music performed outside the Euro-American mainstream. First up is Moondog Suite, a mellow tribute to the compositions of Louis T. Hardin (1916–1999), a.k.a. Moondog, the outsider American composer, street musician and poet. His music has been cited as an influence on the development of New York musical minimalism. Hartenberger’s caring and crafty arrangements, rearrangements and adaptations for keyboard-centric percussion provide a disarmingly straightforward presentation of Moondog’s tonal contrapuntal melodies. The Suite is capped by Suba Sankaran’s cameo appearance singing the cheery I’m This, I’m That, set in a classical passacaglia form. The album’s centerpiece is the eight-part Persian Songs, featuring arrangements of songs by the award-winning contemporary Iranian stage director, novelist and songwriter Reza Ghassemi. Musical interpretations of poems by giants of the Persian classical literary period, including Hafez, Sa’adi and Rumi, these songs are evocatively sung and accompanied on the setar by the Iranian vocalist Sepideh Raissadat. Steeped in the rich Persian music tradition from an early age, she has been called “a key figure in the new generation of classical Persian song interpreters.” In 1999 Raissadat took the bold step of giving a solo public performance at the Niavaran Concert Hall in Tehran, the first female vocalist to do so after the 1979 Iranian revolution. Raissadat is currently pursuing her doctoral studies in ethnomusicology at the U. of T. with Dr. Hartenberger among others, just one of the fascinating interconnecting threads on this album. Hartenberger’s arrangements, Raissadat’s singing and Nexus’ precise performances culminate in eight and a half minutes of glorious music making on Az In Marg Matarsid; Bouye Sharab. It’s a powerful illustration of the vibrant and rich transcultural musical tapestry being woven right now, right here in Toronto. Andrew Timar Subcontinental Drift Sultans of String; Anwar Khurshid Independent MCK2060 (sultansofstring. com) !! World music Canadian superstars Sultans of String continue to expand their musical journey with the addition of guest sitar master Anwar Khurshid in this release. Khurshid adds energy and Eastern flavours to the already diversesounding flamenco, Arabic folk, Cuban rhythm, East Coast fiddling and you-nameit-sounding band. The result is perfect, joyful music performed by perfect musicians. Founding members violinist/bandleader Chris McKhool and guitarist Kevin Laliberté along with guitarist Eddie Paton, bassist Drew Birston and Cuban master percussionist Rosendo “Chendy” Leon have created the band’s signature successful blend as heard on the rhythmical percussion-driven Nov 1 - Dec 7, 2015 | 73

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