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Volume 23 Issue 3 - November 2017

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  • Toronto
  • November
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In this issue: conversations (of one kind or another) galore! Daniela Nardi on taking the reins at "best-kept secret" venue, 918 Bathurst; composer Jeff Ryan on his "Afghanistan" Requiem for a Generation" partnership with war poet, Susan Steele; lutenist Ben Stein on seventeenth century jazz; collaborative pianist Philip Chiu on going solo; Barbara Hannigan on her upcoming Viennese "Second School" recital at Koerner; Tina Pearson on Pauline Oliveros; and as always a whole lot more!

comprises seven Cuevas

comprises seven Cuevas original tunes and three she co-wrote with producer/keyboardist Jeremy Ledbetter who also did the arrangements. Central to the recording is Yonathan “Morocho” Gavidia and several percussionist colleagues who Cuevas met through Aquiles Báez, a Venezuelan guitar-and-quatroist who performed in Toronto last year and who is also featured here on several tracks. I confess I am at a disadvantage in that, although lyrics are included in the booklet, there are no translations and I don’t have much of a Spanish vocabulary. Fortunately the press release that accompanied my copy of the disc includes an explanation of the title. Cuevas says “‘Golpes’ means hit, often referring to rhythms, while ‘flores’ means flowers. To me, the title suggests a combination of the sophistication, beauty and gentleness of flowers and the strength and force of the Afro-Venezuelan rhythms.” There is one song in English, A Tear on the Ground, inspired by a visit to India, where Cuevas “spent a few days doing yoga at an ashram that was right by a lake that had a sign warning people to be careful of the crocodiles.” The song includes the lyric “crocodiles will swim in our tears / and our hearts will pound together without fear,” giving a new take on the phrase “crocodile tears.” In addition to a number of Venezuelan musicians there are several familiar names from the local jazz scene including Mark Kelso, Rich Brown, George Koller and Daniel Stone. As mentioned, infectious rhythms abound and it’s hard to sit still while listening. One exception is the lush and lovely Mi Linda Maita inspired by Cuevas’ grandmother. With rich string sonorities and Cuevas’ pure voice it is breathtaking, but even here we end up swaying to the beat that builds as the song develops. Golpes y Flores, her fifth release, will further cement Cuevas’ place in Toronto’s World Music firmament and, I expect, will go a long way in bolstering her international career. It is a dandy! Concert Note: The Eliana Cuevas Ensemble performs at the Rex, 198 Queen St. W. on January 4 and 5 at 9:30pm and at the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts on January 10 (one set only at 5:30pm; free). I will briefly mention one more pop-inspired disc that I’ve been enjoying this month, Let’s Groove: The Music of Earth, Wind & Fire, Cory Weeds’ latest venture on his Cellar Live label (CL041017 First off, I love the cover. I don’t know if it will come through in the miniature version shown here, but it’s worth a trip to the website just to check it out. I’m not sure it would be safe to “groove” in those oversized shoes, but it’s a great picture! The project was the brainchild of pianist and organist Mike LeDonne who did the arrangements of the iconic R&B band’s tunes and plays soulful and funky Hammond organ throughout. I was always a sucker for EWF vocal gymnastics, missed here, but the saxophones of Weeds (alto) and colleague Steve Kaldestad (tenor) are a satisfying substitute, especially their tight harmonies in unison passages and the flights of fancy in their solos. The excellent rhythm section includes LeDonne’s longtime associate drummer Jason Tiemann, percussionist Liam MacDonald and guitarist Dave Sikula. My favourites are the title track, Getaway and Shining Star. If you’re in the mood to Groove, you can’t top this. We welcome your feedback and invite submissions. CDs and comments should be sent to: DISCoveries, WholeNote Media Inc., The Centre for Social Innovation, 503 – 720 Bathurst St. Toronto ON M5S 2R4. We also encourage you to visit our website where you can find enhanced reviews in the Listening Room with audio samples, upcoming performance details and direct links to performers, composers and record labels. David Olds, DISCoveries Editor STRINGS ATTACHED TERRY ROBBINS There seem to have been several CDs lately featuring outstanding Canadian classical guitarists, and you can add another one to the list with Verdi’s Guitar – Fantasies for Solo Guitar by J. K. Mertz based on operas by Giuseppe Verdi, performed by British Columbia guitarist Alan Rinehart (Ravello RR7975). Operatic transcriptions were very popular throughout the 19th century in the days before recordings and radio, and were usually made with home performance in mind. These Mertz transcriptions, though, were clearly not aimed at amateurs, gifted or otherwise. The technical challenges of reproducing operatic scores within the limitations of the guitar must have been daunting, but Mertz – an important figure in the development of the Romantic guitar style – produced an Op.8 Opern-Revue that consisted of 34(!!) transcriptions of operas by composers from Adam to Wagner. The six Verdi transcriptions – all included here – are from Ernani, Rigoletto, Nabucco, Il Trovatore, La Traviata and I Vespri Siciliani. They are delightful fantasia-style works, with familiar arias popping out from time to time: Ernani, involami; Caro nome; Questa o quella; and La donna e mobile. Rinehart’s playing is clean and stylish throughout, especially in the tremolo passages in Ernani and I Vespri Siciliani, a technique later used to great effect by Francisco Tárrega. Now, if we could only hear Wagner’s Flying Dutchman… Another very interesting Canadian guitar CD is Transcendencia, the debut disc from Alberta flamenco guitarist, Holly Blazina (iTunes; Spotify; Originally trained as a classical guitarist Blazina has a solid grounding in the traditional flamenco technique and has been composing her own pieces in the genre for more than a decade, workshopping them with noted flamenco masters Paco Fernandez in Seville and Ricardo Diaz in San Francisco. They are in traditional flamenco forms – Alegría, Bulería, Abandolao and Farruca, for instance – and mostly with the traditional accompaniment of male and female voices, palmas and percussion, but often introduce instruments from other musical worlds, such as violin (on three tracks), and saxophone, piano and Persian santur dulcimer (on different single tracks). The result is not so much a mixing of genres as an extension of the flamenco musical style with an added dimension, and it’s very effective. Blazina’s playing is clean, crisp and idiomatic – especially in Invocación, the solo final track with its excellent tremolo – and the contributions from the nine other musicians fit in seamlessly. A lovely recorded sound adds to a highly entertaining disc. Transcriptions form the entire program of another Canadian CD this month, as bassist Joel Quarrington is back with another recital disc of transcriptions for double bass and piano (his Brothers in Brahms was reviewed here in September 2013), this time in Schubert “AN DIE MUSIK” with pianist David Jalbert ( 68 | November 2017

Although transcriptions served a specific purpose in the pre-gramophone days, making otherwise unavailable music available for home performance, in many instances since then they have served primarily to enlarge the repertoire for certain instrumentations, not always with complete success. Any misgivings you may have in that respect are simply blown away by Quarrington’s playing, however, with his astonishing agility, his sensitivity and delicacy and the warmth and richness of his tonal colour dispelling any lingering doubts. Granted, part of the attraction is listening to him doing the impossible on what is usually considered a large and unwieldy instrument, but his performances go way beyond the novelty attraction – this is pure music-making of the highest order. The title track is one of seven short pieces here, but the two major works are the “Arpeggione” Sonata in A Minor D821 and the Violin Sonatina in D Major D384. Both are completely satisfying in all respects, with the final Allegro vivace movement of the latter providing a simply dazzling end to the disc. With the sensitive accompaniment of David Jalbert the CD is an absolute delight, as well as an absolute wonder, from beginning to end. Concert Note: Pianists David Jalbert and Wonny Song perform music inspired by dance, theatre and visual art on January 14 for Mooredale Concerts and Music & Truffles at Walter Hall. The American Euclid Quartet presents two works separated by almost exactly 100 years on American Quartets, featuring works by Antonín Dvořák and Wynton Marsalis (Afinat Records AR1701). The Dvořák is the String Quartet No.12 in F Major Op.96, “American,” written during the composer’s three years as director of the National Conservatory of Music of America in New York and first performed in 1894. The performance here is warm, effusive, vibrant and dynamic. It seems a long journey from such a completely familiar and frequently heard work to the Marsalis String Quartet No.1 “At the Octoroon Balls,” written at the request of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center in 1995, but what a fascinating contrast it presents. The quartet is named for the legendary 18th- and 19th-century balls in the composer’s native New Orleans, described in the booklet notes as being “…given as a way to facilitate long-term relationships between wealthy White men and usually fair-skinned women of colour.” The work has been called Marsalis’ conscious exploration of the American Creole contradictions and compromises – cultural, social and political – exemplified by life in New Orleans. It’s a long (almost 45 minutes) but utterly engrossing work of seven sections, the longest of which – at ten minutes – is the astonishing opening Come Long Fiddler for solo violin, recalling, in dazzling fashion, the old Black country dance fiddle tradition. Blues, jazz, African, folk, spiritual and ragtime influences abound in the remaining sections, with simply terrific writing and playing: Mating Calls and Delta Rhythms; Creole Contradanzas; Many Gone; Hellbound Highball; Blue Lights on the Bayou. Finally, with Rampart St. Row House Rag, here we are at what Dvořák envisioned and encouraged – the use of New World musical material as the basis for classical composition. It makes perfect sense of an apparently diverse program on an outstanding CD. There are another two excellent sets of the cello suites by Johann Sebastian Bach to add to the already extensive list: Six Cello Suites BWV 1007-1012 by the Australian cellist Richard Narroway (Sono Luminus SLE-70010); and Suiten für Violoncello by the Swiss cellist Thomas Demenga (ECM New Series 2530/31). There are several immediate differences: at the time of the recordings (2015 and 2014 respectively) Narroway was 24, Demenga 59; it’s the first recording of the suites for Narroway, the second for Demenga; Narroway uses a modern cello and bow, Demenga a Baroque bow and gut strings on 18th-century instruments; Narroway plays at modern pitch, Demenga down a full tone. There are also similarities though: both players are fully aware of early performance issues and have made extensive study of contemporary sources; and both see these works as essentially dance suites, with lively – but not necessarily fast – tempos. Narroway has a lovely rich sound that never overwhelms, with beautiful phrasing and a fine rhythmic sense that is given room to breathe and expand. It’s all bursting with life and sounds quite effortless. Demenga’s tone can sound a bit tight at times, but again there is freedom in the phrasing and rhythms. On the down side, there is a fair amount of noise from the left-hand fingers hitting the fingerboard. You may or may not find that to be distracting, but it does mean that with Demenga you are frequently aware of the presence of the performer; with Narroway, however, rarely if ever are you aware of anything but the music, and it’s his recordings that I will keep returning to. There’s more immensely satisfying quartet playing on Last Leaf, a recital of Nordic folk tunes all arranged by the Danish String Quartet (ECM New Series 2550). There’s a wide range of sources for the 16 short pieces here, from ancient hymn tunes and medieval ballads to L/R The L/R Ternion Quartet Anne Mette Iversen Original, global, modern jazz. Unconditionally here and now! Silke Eberhard, Geo roy De Masure, Anne Mette Iversen, Roland Schneider. Brooklyn Jazz Underground Records. SHOSTAKOVICH Altius Quartet Following on its genre-bending release DRESS CODE, Altius Quartet puts the tuxedo back on for Dmitri Shostakovich’s string quartets. Tafelmusik Beethoven Symphonies 1–9 Box Set Tafelmusik’s cycle marks the first time a North American orchestra has recorded all nine Beethoven symphonies on period instruments. Toy Piano Composers The debut album from a Torontobased collective that presents imaginative new music to curious audiences in a playful concert environment. November 2017 | 69

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