3 years ago

Volume 23 Issue 7 - April 2018

  • Text
  • April
  • Toronto
  • Jazz
  • Musical
  • Symphony
  • Arts
  • Performing
  • Choir
  • Theatre
  • Orchestra
In this issue: we talk with jazz pianist Thompson Egbo-Egbo about growing up in Toronto, building a musical career, and being adaptive to change; pianist Eve Egoyan prepares for her upcoming Luminato project and for the next stage in her long-term collaborative relationship with Spanish-German composer Maria de Alvear; jazz violinist Aline Homzy, halfway through preparing for a concert featuring standout women bandleaders, talks about social equity in the world of improvised music; and the local choral community celebrates the life and work of choral conductor Elmer Iseler, 20 years after his passing.

folk music arrangement

folk music arrangement of Steve Earle’s This City. Great to hear the Heavyweights evolving both in the to-be-expected brass band funk/ Latin/jazz/R&B tradition and taking on the challenges of covers, different styles and working with special guests. All of which makes for dancing and listening hurrahs. Tiina Kiik Tambai Zimbamoto Independent ( !! Tony Montague, music journalist for the Georgia Straight and ROOTS, wrote, “Zimbamoto is the most exciting band playing African music to emerge on the West Coast for too many years.” Based on the evidence on Tambai, I have to agree. Led by lead singer, mbira, and marimba player Kurai Mubaiwa, his band Zimbamoto’s sound and energy firmly rooted in the exhilarating traditional and contemporary melodies and rhythms of Zimbabwe and surrounds. Having played the mbira since childhood in his native Zimbabwe, Mubaiwa has in the last 20 years established himself as a leading mbira/marimba musician and teacher. He has toured internationally with musicians like Cesária Évora, Chiwoniso Maraire and Vusi Mahlasela. His group Zimbamoto sings in Shona and plays with an Afrobeat sensibility. The band’s drive is firmly anchored by Curtis Andrews’ deeply West African informed and tonally-inflected drum kit playing. Vancouver guitarist Mark Campbell, bassist Greg Valou and percussionist/singer Navaro Franco round out this adept band. The lyrics of this exhilarating tensong album explore Mubaiwa’s experiences growing up in Zimbabwe. I love the moments when a song switches to cut time, as on the outstanding track Asila Mali. Other beautiful musical moments of note: harmonically textured and contrapuntal vocal response choruses, striking reggae moments, and every time a countermelody or response chorus confidently strides across the prevailing 6/8 feel. Mubaiwa chose a Shona word for “dance” for the title of Zimbamoto’s debut album and I for one can’t stop moving to this infectious and well-crafted music. Andrew Timar Old Soul Robi Botos; Larnell Lewis; Mike Downes; Seamus Blake A440 Entertainment ( !! This new release by Robi Botos, a multiinstrumentalist, composer and two-time JUNO Award winner, is personal and frank, an ode to life experiences. In his liner notes Botos explains the inspiration behind each song – a tribute to his hometown of Budapest and a childhood musician friend, a journey from Europe to North America, a favourite standard and a salutation to a tune by Prince. Recorded in one day, off the floor, this album truly keeps up with a centuries-old tradition of joyful music-making. Although a mixed bag of styles (jazz, funk, Motown, gospel, Romani folk), each tune is very much played in Botos’ style – groovy, grand, upfront and authentic. Musicians on Something in the Air Updating the Conventional Keyboard Duo KEN WAXMAN this record are exceptional and the esprit de corps is compelling. Robi Botos plays several instruments, including a lesser-known harpejji (electrical stringed instrument), but it is the magnetism of his piano solos that is the most captivating. Out of five original tunes, Budapest has the most nostalgic feel and Old Soul brings forth many of the musical traditions that influenced Botos in his career. Praise, a musical poem on being grateful, has the most mesmerizing piano motif that grabs you from the beginning and doesn’t let go. The album concludes with a tribute to Prince. Calhoun Square is a funky, full-bodied piece, with wild solos and rhythms. Skillfully crafted, emotionally intelligent, this record is distinguished by its heartfelt tunes and first-rate musicianship. Ivana Popovic Although there were vogues at points from the 1930s to the 1960s for stride and boogie-woogie keyboard teams, piano duos have never been as prevalent in jazz as in so-called classical music, starting in the late 18th century. More recently, however, with keyboardists cognizant of both notated and improvised music and with standard performance configurations liberated, duo piano pieces have become more common in exploratory jazz, as these sessions attest. The closest link to the classic(al) duo concept is piano duo Pétrole’s Créations raffinées pour deux pianos [Refined Pieces for Two Pianos] (Pépin & Plume P&P 005 The stated aim of French pianists Nathalie Darche and Carine Llobet (the former known as a jazz player and the latter specializing in chamber music) is to renew the duo piano repertoire by playing pieces by younger jazz composers. Tilts in varied directions enliven the interpretations. This is most obvious on Les pensées offshore d’Arthur, the first and longest piece. Relaxed romanticism, the adagio sequences are only slightly transformed by quick jazz-like modulations at the end. The obverse is evident on Pétrole Interlude, mostly concerned with vibrating the darkest parts of the instruments’ action and soundboard. Tremolo torque spreads the interpretation so that it’s mesmerizing as well as kinetic, with echoes created by four hands pumping at once. These are the CD’s parameters; the players’ high level of coordination allows them to slide nearly effortlessly from neo-classical, almost sugary passages that match crystalline fingering with front-parlour-like sentimentality, to bright, modernist sequences, where theme depiction is both lively and agitated. Overlapping cadenzas constantly move the melody delineation and tune decoration from one instrument to the other. Meanwhile, tremolo syncopation and overlapping piano percussiveness are taken to extremes without swing on Music in Eight Octaves (Immediata IMMO 11, by two Australians performing as the duo 176. Chris Abrahams is a member of The Necks trio, and Anthony Pateras is involved with electroacoustic and multi-disciplinary projects. If the preceding disc could be compared to a volume of tasteful poetry, then this one is a novel, with colourful melodrama on every page. One super-fast and aggressive 50-minute track, Music in Eight Octaves is the result of the two recording four takes in each octave of the piano, which Pateras then multi-tracked and superimposed over each other. Overwrought and almost opaque textures call to mind Conlon Nancarrow player piano studies and George Antheil’s original Ballet Mécanique for synchronized player pianos. Besides the sinewy speed of this performance, which rattles through pan-tonality and double 80 | April 2018

Tribute to Rick Wilkins Ensemble Vivant with Guido Basso; Brian Barlow; Mike Murley Opening Day ( !! Ensemble Vivant is just the chamber group you would want when you need music to sound symphonic. And when you add the husky seduction of Guido Basso’s horn, the cool eloquence of Mike Murley’s tenor saxophone, the rumbling majesty of Jim Vivian’s bass and the percussion colouring of Brian Barlow, what you get is absolute magic. This is exactly the case with Ensemble Vivant’s live Tribute to Rick Wilkins, a fitting homage to the prodigious composer, arranger, conductor and tenor saxophonist. He was a pillar of such legendary bands as the Canadian Brass and the orchestra of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (among many others), and onetime music director of CBS, Los Angeles – credentials surely deserving of the rhapsodic homage accorded the 81-year-old by the Ensemble here. This is chaste and faultless Wilkins-arranged repertoire ranging from Kern and Gershwin to J.S. Bach and Ernesto Lecouna, presented on DVD (directed by Darryl Lahteenmaa) and on CD (captured with muted serenity by Chad Irschick). Led by pianist and artistic director Catherine Wilson and comprising violinist Corey Gemmell, violist Norman Hathaway and cellist Sybil Shanahan, the music (recorded at Grace Church on-the-Hill in Toronto) sheds fresh light on Wilkins’ work. An obsessive perfectionist, he polished these works into gleaming gems. As a composer who also played piano, he seems to have written for the instrument idiomatically and this is heard in everything, most especially on Ragtime from “Divertissement”. Ensemble Vivant parleys with the familiarity of old friends, yet their playing always retains a sense of gracious etiquette associated with the noble chamber ballroom for which this music was intended. Nothing is forced, exaggerated or overly mannered; tempos, ensemble and balance all seem effortlessly right. The string sound is lucid, while the trumpet, flugelhorn and saxophone add great warmth and swing. These are, in sum, sincere and poised accounts, a fitting tribute to the musical character of Rick Wilkins. Raul da Gama counterpoint, higher pitches suggest marimba timbres. Transitions in the piece are only obvious when both pianists cease playing in either the higher- or lower-pitched keys, leaving some breathing room, which quickly upsurges again to almost unyielding friction. Consistently pulse-quickening, the effects mash together Cecil Taylorlike kinetics and Oscar Peterson-like comprehension so that the combination of tempo changes and thickened discord becomes exhausting as well as exhilarating. Following its own logic, the session never climaxes; it just stops. The next two CDs were recorded in concert: To Pianos (Clean Feed CF 448 CD with Paris-based Eve Risser and her Slovenian associate Kaja Draksler; and Octopus (Pyroclastic Records PR 03, featuring Canadian Kris Davis and American Craig Taborn. Interestingly enough the eight tracks on the first disc and six on the other are split between compositions and improvisations, except for a (different) Carla Bley tune on each, and Davis and Taborn also assaying Sun Ra’s Love in Outer Space. By contrast, the Risser-Draksler duo begins the concert in inner space, with ringing bell-like reflections, then diffuses the program in double counterpoint with ambulatory or more settled creations. Among the improvisations, To Pianists is notable for innerstring plucks and e-bow vibrations which play up the instruments’ percussiveness; inchoate drones and wood-echoing thumps almost turning the piano into 88 tuned drums. Unlike the inconclusive scenesetting of that track however, To Women’s key rattling and stopped strings, filtered through changing tempos, moves a hushed interaction from stiff to swinging. The duo’s playful mash-up of Bley’s Walking Woman and Batterie, with swelling variations on the theme(s), adds a springy sheen to the proceedings. Detours into funereal pacing and key slapping affect some other tunes, but To You, the concert encore, finds the two synthesizing their balanced approach. This moderated, meditative piece is both expressive and energetic, with sympathy as well as strength in evidence. Davis and Taborn work through material recorded at three concerts, ranging from the equivalent of Risser/Draksler’s supportive phrase-making to Abrahams/Pateras’ keyboard fluctuations, and a mid-course involving as many instances of adaptation as advances. Prone to Bill Evans-like meditations elsewhere, they demonstrate on tracks like the Davis-composed Ossining and Chatterbox their capacity for popping and plucking sequences where, by the tunes’ completion, harder voicing takes its place alongside a connective tonal blanket. Especially telling is the latter, with syncopation shifting between the two until singular paths evolve into unison tremolo and a final dual crescendo. Bley’s Sing Me Softly of the Blues mixed with Taborn’s Interruptions Two is supple and effervescent, with the piece becoming brighter as it evolves and the countermelody slyly appearing in a darker tempo and then transitioning without interruption into a more genteel theme before backing into a simple ending as contrasting expositions are joined. Played with more sweetness than the original, with tolling arpeggios and line extensions, the Ra composition almost becomes a lullaby. Once the melody is delineated, however, key clipping returns the dynamic upsurge. Ra’s cosmic explorations might serve as a starting point on Applied Cryptography (pfMentum CD 106 since Tim Perkis’ electronics are the foil to the piano of Scott Walton. During the 11 tracks, ranging in length from 90 seconds to almost six minutes, the strategy of the California-based players involves the pianist pinpointing a formalist theme and Perkis’ processed whooshes and burbles advancing it in unexpected directions. That’s advancing, not accompanying, though. So while the Perkis/Walton concept may appear somewhat celestial compared to the other duos’ terrestrial expositions, both players’ creativity is as evenly matched as the duo work on the other discs. On a track such as Naked Egg, for instance, what begins with Walton’s precise narrative meeting unruly buzzes and signal-processed flanges from the electronics soon changes to treble frequencies from the piano that elaborate the theme in the bass clef, as Perkis’ twangs and chirps expand the sound palette. Conversely, Perkis’ elaboration of pressurized sound envelopes on Subliminal Channel and other tracks is framed with key rattles and modulated glissandi from Walton. With the pianist predisposed to concentrate on the instrument’s lyre in order to either pluck harpsichord-like tones (as on Possible Objects B) or bellicose scratches and stops (as on Normal Form), the subsequent musical drama is evoked as much from Walton’s dynamic movements as the blurry textures from Perkis’ laptop-directed machine. By the climactic Blind Signature, as electronic drones fluctuate, kinetic key flourishes allow Walton to interject timbres with the same intensity, adding up to a process where it’s impossible to imagine the incisive tune expressed without droning oscillations or without the clear linear process from the piano. To be memorable, a keyboard duo must blend exploratory concepts so that the two instruments are nearly indistinguishable, while maintaining individual identification. Each of these duos demonstrates that this can be done. April 2018 | 81

Volumes 21-25 (2015-2020)

Volumes 16-20 (2010-2015)

Volumes 11-15 (2004-2010)

Volumes 6 - 10 (2000 - 2006)

Volumes 1-5 (1994-2000)