3 years ago

Volume 23 Issue 2 - October 2017

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  • October
  • Toronto
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In this issue: several local artists reflect on the memory of composer Claude Vivier, as they prepare to perform his music; Vancouver gets ready to host international festival ISCM World New Music Days, which is coming to Canada for the second time since its inception in 1923; one of the founders of Artword Artbar, one of Hamilton’s staple music venues, on the eve of the 5th annual Steel City Jazz Festival, muses on keeping urban music venues alive; and a conversation with pianist Benjamin Grosvenor, as he prepares for an ambitious recital in Toronto. These and other stories, in our October 2017 issue of the magazine.

jazzy musical sounds,

jazzy musical sounds, this is smart music performed by even smarter musicians. Tiina Kiik ERR Guitar Elliott Sharp with Mary Halvorson and Marc Ribot Intakt CD 281 ( ! Composer, bandleader, multiinstrumentalist, Elliott Sharp is a musician hard to classify, with equal proficiency in blues-rock, improvisation and new music. Here he concentrates on his main instrument, the guitar, on a dozen solos, duos and a trio with fellow pickers Mary Halvorson and Marc Ribot. Oddly enough, Sharp and Ribot, who specialize in more agitated sounds, both turn almost folksy in duets on Wobbly, Sinistre and Oronym. Although their chess game-like moves are both subtle and spiky on Sinistre, it’s the last track which is most distinctive. Here, one guitarist’s legato finger-picking tries to surmount the other’s canine yapping-like plucked onslaughts, until relaxed string undulations are replaced by a multiplicity of crying buzzes. Blanketing drones dominate the three Halvorson duets, with the strokes on Shredding Light so thin they break into electronic flanges. Slurred fingering and guitar-neck taps enliven both parts of Sequola, although a blanket of buzzes can’t disguise intricate dual connections. Sharp’s solo work, however, is the most representative. Nektone for instance swiftly unites Delta bottleneck picking and outerspace-like multiphonics without fissure. Meanwhile, Kernel Panic knits together so many passing chords that it’s almost opaque. Then suddenly, with no hint of overdubbing, there seem to be two guitar lines travelling in opposite directions – one with rumbling organ-like ostinato, the other snapping out arena-sized distortion. That he manages to tame these opposites into a reassuring ending that is true to narrative, logical and conclusive, is another tribute to Sharp’s multi-talents. Ken Waxman Concert Note: Elliott Sharp will play solo and interpret graphic scores with local musicians October 21 at Brandscape 1136 Dupont St. A Square Meal Atrito-Afeito Atrito-Afeito 007 ( ! As the equivalent of topping gooey Québécois poutine with piquant Portuguese sausage, this square meal is hard-edged and free-form, combining the talents of Montrealers, pianist Karoline Leblanc and drummer Paul J. Ferreira Lopes with Lisbon residents, trumpeter Luís Vicente and Hugo Antunes. Throughout, the quartet members function as master chefs for whom cooking Iberian- Canadian fare is commonplace. With A Square Meal’s flavoursome main courses, spiky extended feasts, and sonic appetizers and desserts of the same quality, the tracks are spiced with slick piano glissandi, sifted trumpet whinnies, rounded double-bass plops and drums hammered with the efficiency of a meat tenderizer. Although infused with extended techniques, these splintered and kinetic courses also have a base of ribsticking home cooking, since melodic slices are present throughout. Leblanc, for instance, may appear to be cramming too many notes into a tremolo outpouring, but like a seasoned cook that output fits succulently. The quartet’s replication of agile line cooking is most apparent on the 23-minute Creature Comforts. Open-ended with welcoming piano chords and a languid shuffle beat from the drummer, the narrative is swiftly shaded and sharpened with aggressive, doubletongued brass rasps, paced by string crackles from the bassist and active drum smacks. Just when it appears that Vicente can’t slur any more dissonant tones from his instrument, Leblanc’s steady comping pushes the trumpeter to mid-range blowing and joins him to return to the near-romantic theme of the beginning. A Square Meal may be unusual fare, but it’s undoubtedly musically nourishing. Ken Waxman POT POURRI The Edge of Time – Paleolithic Bone Flutes of France & Germany Anna Friederike Potengowski; Georg Wiland Wagner Delphian DCD34185 ( ! Toward the end of the last Ice Age modern humans began to settle Europe. From fragmentary cave finds and a few complete instruments, it appears that as early as 40,000 years ago these people made and played flutes of various kinds, primarily fashioned from hollow bird bones. These prehistoric flutes could well be the oldest known musical instruments fashioned by human hands. As such they represent the oldest evidence of music production, so closely associated with our species, on our blue planet. Reconstructing these ancient flutes, and re-imagining their music, is problematic at its core, yet this contested terrain is precisely where the 16 tracks on The Edge of Time – Paleolithic Bone Flutes of France and Germany takes a stand. Classically trained German flutist Anna Friederike Potengowski began to study the four reconstructed bone flutes used on this album and their possible playing techniques in 2010 and formed VentOs with percussionist and composer Georg Wieland Wagner. Their program of compositions and improvisations reflects an aesthetic deeply rooted in European classical music, the heritage of the two performer/composers. It’s seen in the choices of music vocabulary, extended instrumental techniques, breathing, phrasing and general performance practice. No surprise then that the flutes as played by Potengowski generally closely adhere to tones in the modern standard 12-tones-per-octave scheme, pitched at A=440 Hz. Make no mistake however; Potengowski gives virtuoso performances on her instruments. Echoing melodies (the original flutes were all found stashed in caves), bird-like calls and breathy nature sounds are sometimes performed solo, but in most cases are accompanied by Wagner splashing water against stones, rustling grasses, chanting and playing marimba arpeggios and bombastic tympani rhythms. The longest, and for me the most successful, complete work is a performance of John Cage’s Ryoanji (1983-85) score, a haunting study of breathy glissandi by all four bone flutes and two insistent, though asymmetrically beating, stone flints. Yet I still wonder how the music played on these flutes might have sounded in the hands of their Ice Age creators. Andrew Timar Ruckus Beyond the Pale Borealis Records BCD245 ( ! The acoustic Eurofolk ensemble, Beyond the Pale, has been an important voice on the world music scene in Toronto for nearly 20 years. Known for their ability to blend genres in interesting ways, the group continues on that path with their fourth release, Ruckus, their first in eight years. Instrumental mastery is a hallmark of the album but it comes through in the musicians’ – Bret Higgins (bass), Aleksandar Gajic (violin), Milos Popovic (accordion), Eric Stein (mandolin), Martin van de Ven (clarinets) and Bogdan Djukic and Max Sennit (percussion) – heartfelt and cohesive playing rather than a lot of show-offy, lightning speed runs. That said, there are some displays of virtuosity here 70 | October 2017

and there that really dazzle. The disc contains a mix of traditional and original compositions, with most of the band members contributing originals in true ensemble fashion. The songs alternate between plaintive ballads and rousing dance and celebration songs. Being a sucker for a low clarinet, the opening track, Atlas Revolt, grabbed me right off the bat. Ruckus in Ralja with its evocation of dance halls of Eastern Europe and the moody restraint of Andale are other standouts. The instrumentation is essentially the same throughout and although using a variety of techniques and approaches brings some distinctiveness, I have to say that about halfway through the album the songs started to sound somewhat the same. But fans of this style of music will no doubt find plenty to enjoy and will revel in the soundscape of the “Old World,” in the hands of inventive “New World” musicians. Cathy Riches An Dàn – Gaelic Songs for a Modern World Mary Ann Kennedy ARC Music EUCD 2737 ( ! On this inspired recording, Glasgow gal Mary Ann Kennedy wears a number of exquisite hats, including vocalist, pianist, composer, arranger, lyricist and co-executive producer. The CD title, An Dàn, translates as A Song or perhaps the more apropos A Destiny. The project is comprised of 11 brilliantly arranged songs – some ancient, some contemporary – and all rendered in flawless Scots-Gaelic, with an array of traditional instruments and thrilling vocals in tow. It’s not necessary to be a Gaelic speaker to appreciate this collection, as the sheer musicality and emotional depth of the project transcend any cultural or linguistic barriers. An Dàn is a marvelous affirmation of the survival of Gaelic languages – even in the face of the most oppressive 19th-century imperialism and near cultural genocide. The opening track, Seinn, Horo, Seinn (Sing!) is rife with gorgeous string lines as well as Kennedy’s lovely, diaphanous, pitchpure, soaring soprano. Next up is Óran do dh’lain Dómhnallach (Song for John MacDonald) which features a poem by the 20th-century Gaelic literary giant, Irig MacDonald. Gaels have a real poetic tradition of both eulogy and elegy, and nowhere on the CD is this more evident than on this composition. A tribal, male chorus adds to the track, reflecting MacDonald’s postwar life in Ghana and South Africa. Kennedy wrote the song in that tradition, and she also utilizes a sample of a vocal sequence from the Tswana and Sotho Voices. Dàn Ur do Fhlóraidh NicNill (A New Song for Flora MacNeil) is arranged with sophistication and dissonance, and invokes ancient, Iron Age musical motifs. Finlay Wells’ light and clear guitar work is enhanced by Jarlath Henderson’s pipes – and with the addition of the strings, a sort of Celtic wall of sound is created. Two other standouts include Grádh Geal Mo Chridhe (My True Love) – a complex and masterfully produced track featuring superb choral segments and Air Leathad Slèibhe (On a Hill-land Slope) with lyrics by another 20th-century Gaelic literary giant, George Campbell Hay. This heady tune conjures up a vision of ancient Celtic settlements enveloped in mist and magic, as well as deeply-rooted spiritual connections to Mother Earth and reverence for her cycles. Lesley Mitchell-Clarke Something in the Air Music Appreciation as a Single Serving or Seven-Course Meal KEN WAXMAN Marketing considerations aside, how best can a musician mark an important milestone or significant creativity? With recorded music the result is usually multiple discs. In honor of French bassist Joëlle Léandre’s recent 60th birthday for instance, there’s A Woman’s Work … (NotTwo MW950-2, an eight-disc boxed set. Almost six hours of music, the 42 tracks were recorded between 2005 and 2016, comprising one solo disc and the rest intense interaction with such associates as trumpeter Jean-Luc Cappozzo, tenor saxophonist Evan Parker, violist Mat Maneri, guitarist Fred Frith, percussionist Zlatko Kaučič, pianists Agustí Fernández or Irène Schweizer and vocalists Lauren Newton or Maggie Nicols. With improvisers from six different countries working alongside, the bassist’s charm, humor, vigour and adaptability are highlighted. Solo on CD 6 from 2005, Léandre’s improvisations are as mesmerizing as they are mystifying. Consisting of bow slaps resonating with woody ballast, her circular attack is solipsistic enough to confirm its singularity, but so alive with twists that she sometimes seems pleasantly taken aback by what’s produced. As she plucks or saws her strings, at points she could be two bull fiddlers working in counterpoint. The climax is reached on the final track when, like a marathoner getting an energy boost, she extends still further, working some romantic beauty into her arco splays, while at the same time mocking it with vocalizing ranging from guttural growls to bel-canto gurgles. As unlike as a chocolate chip sundae and a tofu pudding, the bassist’s two 2016 vocal duets are equally valid. Eight performances with the American Newton on CD3 are the most traditional. With silky voice, the singer hopscotches among scat, lullabies, octave jumps and keening cries, as Léandre’s mischievous side appears. Besides sharpened slices that create spiccato echoes, she verbalizes an ironic obbligato to Newton’s singing. Under her breath, Léandre bawls out unexpected noises that are sly without being disruptive. Léandre, the Swiss Schweizer and the Scot Nicols have been Les Diaboliques for more than 25 years, and their performance on CD1 is cohesive, since Léandre’s disruptive tendencies can’t dominate when the others are textural dissectors as well. The showdown is mostly Léandre- Nicols, with the bull fiddler mumbling and projecting mercurial string buzzes as a divergent sideshow to the vocalist. More stream of consciousness than self-involved, Nicols could be playing all parts in a radio play, encompassing crone cackling, infant cries, feline purrs and canine yelps. Sliding from brouhaha to babble, she opens up the performance enough for instrumental virtuosity to make her vocal gymnastics stand out. More concentrated levels of instrumental dexterity are the main thrusts of Léandre’s 2011 meeting with Maneri on CD2; her match-up with Frith in 2016 on CD5; her 2015 tête-à-tête with Cappozzo (CD4); and the meeting of minds with Kaučič from 2015 (CDs 7 and 8). Frith’s alt-rock background makes that duo the most distinctive, if not the most frustrating. Committed to knob twisting, Frith sashays among rock, country and outer-space-like tones. Léandre’s acoustically dynamic thrusts almost dare him to use his mechanized equipment to gain the upper hand, then volley October 2017 | 71

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