3 years ago

Volume 23 Issue 5 - February 2018

  • Text
  • Toronto
  • February
  • Jazz
  • Arts
  • Performing
  • Theatre
  • Musical
  • Symphony
  • Orchestra
  • Quartet

insethealgorithm at The

insethealgorithm at The Rex (from left): Larnell Lewis (drums), Luis Deniz (alto sax), Robi Botos (piano) and Rich Brown (electric bass) crowd when he started singing the standard I Can’t Give You Anything But Love, which featured a bluesy, muted cornet solo from MacLeod, and an athletic guitar solo from Quinlan. I Like The Sunrise – another Abene arrangement, with lyrics by Elling – paired Elling with Brian O’Kane, in a winning turn on flugelhorn. The set ended with Tutti for Cootie, a swinging, medium-tempo piece that switched between minor and major, and served as a showcase for the talents of bassist Kieran Overs and drummer Larnell Lewis. Elling – Grammy-winning, DownBeat Critics’ Poll-topping, Obama Administration White House-performing – is a star, and maintains a far-reaching international tour schedule. It is a testament to the calibre of the Humber Faculty Big Band, and to Elling himself, that his appearance in the first set felt like a real collaboration, and never, as can sometimes be the case in such situations, like a hired gun going through the motions. As mentioned above, Elling has a history with the program, and both he and the band exemplified a dedication to excellence, a generosity of spirit, and an engaging sense of fun that set the tone for the rest of the evening. After a brief intermission, the second half of the concert commenced with Rik Emmett (of Triumph and later solo fame) and Dave Dunlop performing their instrumental piece Red Hot. Emmett and Dunlop have been frequent collaborators, and the two have performed as the duo Strung-Out Troubadours since their eponymous debut album was released in 2006. Emmett introduced the next song – Triumph’s popular 1981 hit Magic Power – by opining, to ample cheers, that the Humber faculty has always stood for the “magic power of the music.” Following Emmett and Dunlop, singer-pianist Laila Biali took the stage to perform her funky, odd-metre original Upside Down, with the help of Lewis, bassist Rich Brown and the horn section of Colleen Allen, Shirantha Beddage, Brian O’Kane and Kelsley Grant. Elling and Pat LaBarbera returned to the stage to join Biali for Randy Bachman’s Undun, on which LaBarbera took, perhaps, his most compelling solo of the evening. Rich Brown’s rinsethealgorithm were up next, taking the stage to perform Brown’s melancholy Promessa, on which the bandleaderbassist took a beautiful, compelling solo. Brown is a masterful player, with a rare combination of great tone, time, melodic sense, and tastefully deployed chops, and it is fitting that rinsethealgorithm – a band lovingly emulated by Toronto jazz students in practise rooms for well over ten years now – had a place of prominence on the bill. Forward Motion, their second song, showcased the remarkable talents of saxophonist Luis Deniz and pianist Jeremy Ledbetter, in addition to a thrilling drum solo by Larnell Lewis. Lewis – a recent Grammy winner with the American band Snarky Puppy, Humber alumnus, and current faculty member – is a joy to listen to, and, it should be noted, was on stage for 12 of the evening’s 14 songs, sounding just as comfortable playing big band swing as he did playing rinsethealgorithm’s fusion-forward repertoire. It should be noted that Humber has four distinct music programs: a BMus in Jazz and Commercial Music, a Certificate in Jazz Performance, a Graduate Certificate in Music Business and a Graduate Certificate in Music Composition. Enrolled in these four programs are approximately 400 students, whose training, provided by “a faculty of 17 full-time and 80 part-time teachers,” includes “performance, production, songwriting and composition in jazz, pop, R&B, Latin and world music.” It is imperative for a good music program to foster both individual talents and to create a productive, healthy community in which these talents can thrive; the success of the former cannot, generally, exist without the health of the latter. In this regard, Humber seems to be performing admirably: as 2016 JUNO Award-winning alumna Allison Au puts it, Humber succeeded in providing her with “an incredible network of musical mentors and peers,” and gave her “the tools and confidence to find [her] own voice in both composition and performance.” In addition to its postsecondary music program, Humber’s School of Creative and Performing Arts operates the Community Music School, founded in 1980, and “originally established to offer children and youth an alternative form of music education to traditional classical lessons.” The Community Music School is a rarity in the Canadian educational landscape; while analogous programs exist within the classical world, such as the RCM’s Phil and Eli Taylor Performance Academy for Young Artists, pre-college mentorship opportunities for students interested in jazz and commercial music – beyond, of course, private lessons – are somewhat limited. These opportunities are typically found in high school band programs, or in ensembles associated with music festivals, such as the National Youth Jazz Combo and the Conn-Selmer Centerstage Jazz Band (MusicFest Canada), or the TD Jazz Youth Summit at the Ottawa Jazz Festival. (The JAZZFM.91 Youth Big Band, a free weekly program for qualifying students, is also an important group.) But the Community Music School, which, for senior students, has weekly private lessons, faculty-guided small ensembles and instruction on improvisation, provides the kind of scaled-down college environment that prepares students for success in postsecondary music-program studies. Programming an event like Humber at 50 is challenging, as administrators must balance artistic concerns with the necessity to showcase a representative cross-section of institutional talent. While the Humber Faculty Big Band played the full first set, the second-set acts – Rik Emmett, Laila Biali, and rinsethealgorithm – played two songs each before passing the baton, detracting (probably inevitably) from the concert’s momentum. And yet, as the concert progressed, the importance of the programmatic variety became clear. Neil Young’s Heart of Gold was billed as the “Grand Finale” – a kind of built-in encore, as Bailey reminded the audience during the standing ovation that followed – and with Biali, Elling, Brown, Lewis, Emmett and the horn section of LaBarbera, Allen and Beddage, it served as an intergenerational, genre-fusing representation of the music program as a whole. While the description may seem like a cliché, the Humber music program really does give every indication that its strength lies in its diversity: by giving students both a solid grounding in tradition and the encouragement to create new works, the school has created a strong community of musicians who are doing great things. As the concert drew to a close, it became clear that there was another important benefit of hosting the celebration at Koerner Hall: the central location, amongst older institutions such as the Royal Ontario Museum, the University of Toronto, and the Royal Conservatory itself, served as an apt reminder that Humber College – at a comparatively young 50 years – has achieved remarkable success in a relatively short amount of time. Colin Story is a jazz guitarist, writer and teacher based in Toronto. He can be reached at, on Instagram and on Twitter. 12 | February 2018

FEATURE The Craft of Ēriks Ešenvalds BRIAN CHANG “Overpow’ring light burst upon my startled senses!” – Northern Lights, Ēriks Ešenvalds At a certain point in the blended storytelling, music, and video multimedia monument Ēriks Ešenvalds calls Nordic Light Symphony, he has singers wet their fingers, running them against the rims of glasses filled with various amounts of water. The movement causes ethereal pitches and overtones, evoking one of the greatest natural phenomena beyond our planet - the Aurora Borealis. The Aurora Borealis has long captured the imagination of Ešenvalds, as it has countless others for millennia. This striking magnetic effect, also known as the Northern Lights, is inseparable from the people who live in the Northern regions of the planet. Stories, spirituality and life itself have been built around and through these stellar experiences. But they are a visual experience, without sound. “Keep in mind this is the Earth’s largest atmospheric optical phenomenon,” Ešenvalds told Inga Ozola of Latvian Public Broadcasting. “When it overcomes the starry skies above you, your vision alone cannot take it all in.” Ešenvalds comes to Toronto as part of a visit organized by the Orpheus Choir of Toronto for the Canadian premiere of his Nordic Light Symphony. Premiered in 2015 with the Liepāja Symphony Orchestra and State Choir Latvija, conducted by Māris Sirmais, the work was awarded the Latvian Grand Music Award, the highest musical honour of the composer’s home country. This was Ešenvalds’ third time receiving the award for choral compositions in his career. Laura Adlers, of the Ottawa-based Adlers Agency, is a core part of the team that has led to Ešenvalds coming to Canada. She was with him in 2015 when he gave the keynote at the Singing Network in St John’s, Newfoundland (and kissed the cod, which as the story goes makes him an official Newfoundlander). A lot of what interests him is the “connection of nature and faith,” sentiments well-shared with inhabitants of The Rock. Nature strongly shapes his musical and creation process; and he is incredibly careful with his craft. “I have learned first to find the idea or story of the piece,” he said in an interview with choral conductor, composer and music journalist Andrea Angelini on her website. “Then I go to the library to find perfectly suitable lyrics; and only then I have my nibbled pencil and a blank music sheet and at my piano I compose the piece.” Nordic Light was an expedition of love. The work is the result of four years of research and the culmination of a very careful thought process inherent in his unique approach to storytelling. Overlapping with a two-year appointment at Trinity College, Cambridge University, UK, completed in 2013, Ešenvalds studied 150 books and spoke with experts on the Aurora Borealis. “I was fascinated by their dimensions, the versatility of their colours, and forms, and the mystical legends rooted in Northern folklore (including folksongs),” he said on Part of Nordic Light relies on the storytellers themselves as part of the multimedia experience of the narrative. By video, 22 storytellers bring life to the music directly from the North from the Iñupiat and Inuit peoples, and people from Iceland, Latvia, Finland, Norway, and Estonia. In total, Nordic Light explores 33 distinct stories about the lights. In a TEDx Talk given in Riga, Ešenvalds explains the diverse stories he learned. He acknowledges that many of these stories are gone, lost: “The unique cultural heritage had disappeared.” Yet, a multitude of stories remain in many places where the lights are perceived QUICKSILVER PRESENTS FANTASTICUS April 13 & 14 at 8pm Tickets on sale now at February 2018 | 13

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