5 years ago

Volume 23 Issue 8 - May 2018

  • Text
  • Choir
  • Toronto
  • Musical
  • Choral
  • Singers
  • Arts
  • Theatre
  • Concerts
  • Jazz
  • Festival
In this issue: our sixteenth annual Choral Canary Pages; coverage of 21C, Estonian Music Week and the 3rd Toronto Bach Festival (three festivals that aren’t waiting for summer!); and features galore: “Final Finales” for Larry Beckwith’s Toronto Masque Theatre and for David Fallis as artistic director of Toronto Consort; four conductors on the challenges of choral conducting; operatic Hockey Noir; violinist Stephen Sitarski’s perspective on addressing depression; remembering bandleader, composer and saxophonist Paul Cram. These and other stories, in our May 2018 edition of the magazine.

in 2010, the band

in 2010, the band attracted kudos early on for its debut recording Second Nature. It garnered several significant Canadian Folk Music and Independent Music awards. It’s been touring ever since. The same qualities which propelled the band to the top of the Canadian world music radio charts – Ozman’s limpid renditions of traditional Turkish folk songs and her own compositions with Turkish lyrics, accompanied by Boz’s electrofunk soundscapes – also serve Minor Empire very well in Uprooted. Exclaim! cited the music’s “slinky, duby… rhythms” while other reviewers have tagged it dreamy, trip-hopinspired and stylishly hip. However you categorize it, the star here is Ozman’s voice. Her use of characteristic Turkish vocal ornamentation in the songs, sung in Turkish, is relaxed yet focused, warm and expressive even to those unfamiliar with the language. A large part of this music’s accessibility to general Canadian audiences is no doubt due to Boz’s studio-savvy vernacular-infused settings. The presence of notable band members in Uprooted – guitarist Michael Occhipinti, bassist Chris Gartner, drummers Ben Riley and Mark Kelso, percussionist Patrick Graham and several other guest musicians – also confirms those positive assessments. Even if you don’t understand a word of Ozman’s lyrics, you’re still in trusted, satisfyingly hip musical hands here. Andrew Timar The Bee Polka Dogs Happy Day Records HDR 404 ( !! It’s been nearly 25 years since the category-defying Polka Dogs first burst onto the Toronto scene with their unique mashup of irresistible tunes, made all the more magical by their non-standard instrumentation of banjo, accordion, tuba, trombone and drums. Following their debut, the group soon became an integral part of the downtown entertainment scene, and they joyously oompah-ed, sang, blew and strummed their way into the nostalgia of post-80s hipsters. On the venerable ensemble’s brand new offering, producer/banjoist/vocalist John Millard has once again composed the majority of the material, with additional contributions from Martha Ross and Tom Walsh. The talented Polka Dogs include Colin Couch on tuba, Tiina Kiik on accordion, Millard on banjo, Walsh on trombone and Ambrose Pottie on drums. This project has been beautifully recorded by Mike Haas in Toronto, and also by John Dinsmore and Andrew Penner at the Lincoln County Social Club. The opener, Beardy Boy, has a joyous melody, snappy arrangement and clever, heart-warming lyrics. Of special note is tubaist Couch, who has superb intonation and articulation, and provides a steadfast yet pliant and swinging bass line throughout. Standout tracks include Peaceful and Quiet – rife with Brechtian nuances; The Bells, a feverish, tango-inspired tour-de-force for trombonist/vocalist Walsh; and also the sweetly nostalgic (and totally schmaltz-free) 1981. Millard’s masterful arrangement of the title track begins with an eerie brass drone and skeletal banjo riffs, until the group creeps in with intervals of fourths, embodying contemporary existential angst and a general disconnect from nature. This is a truly satisfying recording that captures vital and relevant musical artists in motion – engaging the future. Lesley Mitchell-Clarke Concert notes: The Polka Dogs have three concert dates in early June: at the Burdock in Toronto on June 2; at Artword in Hamilton on June 7 and at Silence in Guelph on June 8. Soar Catrin Finch; Seckou Keita ARC Music ( ! ! Listening to the music of Welsh harpist Catrin Finch and the Senegalese kora player Seckou Keita on their disc Soar, you immediately become part of a soundscape that mixes beauty and visceral energy. It seems as if the multitude of fingers – and the voice of Keita – combine with an ethereal sense of harmonic delineation so that Téranga-Bah (for instance) unfolds with visceral passion and musicality, overt embellishments oscillating between insightful amplification of emotions and mellifluous distractions. Finch’s supple facility for rapid passagework is also to the fore in Bach to Baïsso, as is Keita’s contrapuntal communicative articulacy, and there is pathos aplenty in Listen to the Grass Grow. The virtuosic performances by both musicians are breathtaking during the three-quarters of an hour of music, as it continues to echo in the perfection in the strings’ intonation as their youthful volcanic talents play with theatrical tautness and élan. Combining ancient modal drones, classical elegance and avant-garde subversion, this duo creates a compelling sound-bed for what often appears to be a myriad of voices of contrasting character. Finch and Keita masterfully work the music of their respective – Welsh and Senegalese – traditions that have seldom come together so gloriously. This is perfect stuff from Finch, a celebrated harpist whose firm lithe voice and Olympically agile technique allow her to combine dazzling virtuosity with dramatic expression. The same can be said of Keita, whose accuracy and ethereal falsetto seem perfect for this musical collision. Raul da Gama Climb Up Elon Turgeman Independent ( !! The music on Climb Up by the Israeli guitarist Elon Turgeman oozes youthful impetuosity and yet is remarkably poised, bereft of empty pyrotechnical displays or sentimental indulgence. Rather, it is rigorous and driven throughout by architectural acuity, which is why for those of us who have not heard of the guitarist it will come as a welcome surprise to hear how well integrated this work sounds, for the most part at least. Turgeman’s approach to the electric guitar is well-formed and despite his young years it sounds very erudite. The guitarist plays in a style that for all its frequent rambunctious phrases and lines is deceptively limpid, as if his wrists were almost disconnected from the rest of his arms – held together by hyperactive nerve ends that, in turn, control hyperactive fingers that could be urged to dart up and down the fret board almost at will. This is wonderfully displayed on the title song Climb Up and, again, on Paco, a song presumably dedicated to the late Andalusian flamencostyle genius Paco De Lucía. With the added support of Avi Adrian on piano, Yorai Oron on bass, together with Mark Rozen on tenor and soprano saxophones and the percussion colourist Adam Nussbaum on drums, Turgeman raises the level of his game to a rarefied realm with these painterly, impressionistic studies. Throughout this program Turgeman plays with insightful colours, translucent introspection and fantasy – and instrument and recording are beautifully married too. Raul da Gama 78 | May 2018

Something in the Air Rethinking the Large Ensemble KEN WAXMAN Just as definitions of various forms of music have changed over the decades, so has the interpretation of what exactly constitutes a large jazz or improvised music orchestra. Sure, there are still plenty of bands that stick to the popular Ellington-Basie mode with a fixed number of players and tunes. But that’s no longer the norm. As music becomes more open and global, orchestral and so-called exotic instruments beef up the sections; a pre-determined number of players in each section is ignored; and the use of electric instruments and electronics has soared. Equally outstanding in execution, here are some instances of how uniquely constituted large ensembles operate. In this context, the Scandinavian Large Unit is the most traditional. The group on Fluku (PNL Records PML 038 includes three reed players, three brasses and a rhythm section. The reed players double or triple among saxophones and clarinets; the brass section is a trumpeter, a trombonist and a tubaist; rhythm is divided among an electric guitar, two acoustic/electric bassists, and two percussionists, including leader/ composer Paal Nilssen-Love; plus there are electronics from Tommi Keränen. Using the ensemble’s elements to maximum effect, the band creates passages that rebound from presenting everyone in full flight to individuals, such as Thomas Johannson’s clean trumpet leads or the gnarly this-side-of-metal shronk from guitarist Ketil Gutvik. Extended tracks such as Playgo and Fluku emphasize divergent aspects of the band. A Latin-inflected swinger, Playgo highlights contrapuntal reedbrass textures, and then divides into duets: almost human vocalized smears from trombonist Mats Äleklint matched with slap percussion; heraldic trumpeting with rippling sax riffs; and finally, crying alto saxophone vibrations challenging vigorous ruffs from drummers Nilssen-Love and Andreas Wildhagen. Keeping the theme consistent is one of the Unit’s three alto saxophone players; a Bolero-styled counterline intersects, and synthesized wave form crackles finally subsume the narrative. Almost 27 minutes long, the title tune develops in several seemingly incompatible directions, initially suspended between Gutvik’s rough twangs and Keränen’s twisted drones. Interjections from other instruments make the performance murkier, until a distinct theme appears one-third of the way through and stays audible until the end. As Per Åke Holmlander’s tuba burbles open and shut, petal-like, to add or subtract low-pitch ballast to the creation, dollops of swing infuse the narrative via patterning vamps from baritone and tenor saxophones plus near-funk drumming. Concentrated riffs are finally pushed into a crescendo of polyphonic solidness pierced by harmonized brass flutters moving up the scale and latterly pulled aside to allow for a slurred showcase from the guitarist, accompanied by subtle drum beats that eventually harmonize with the theme that has been there all along. With the same number of players but different instrumentation, Le Tombeau de Poulenc (Yolk Records J2069 provides a contrasting view of ensemble orchestration. Invoking the Concerto for Two Pianos and Orchestra by French composer Francis Poulenc, the group’s three composers – pianist Jean-Christophe Cholet, saxophonist Alban Darche and Mathias Rüegg – created 12 themes which slyly interpolate swing into formalist concepts, ending with a tight, rhythmic program, making this group sound twice the size of Large Unit. Tracks reflect each composer’s perceptions. For instance, the exposition of the supple and multi-hued 2nd Convergence by Cholet, who shares piano duties with Nathalie Darche, is a keyboard continuum that melds with munificent string harmonies as backdrop to laughing saxophone vibrations and graceful trumpet tones, with the parallel counterpoint climaxing as it’s pushed by bass string rubs and prodded by drum pulses. Meanwhile, the chromatic gusts propelled by Pascal Vandenbulke’s flute on Cholet’s 3rd Convergence are as formal as a chamber piece, until cabaret-style keyboard clipping and a low-key alto saxophone solo alter the moderato theme to animate pastel-like orchestral colours. Rüegg is most interested in instrumental layering. On Dans les Idées de Poulenc, a matching three-dimensional sonic picture is created though speedy keyboard bravura plus ascending saxophone counterpoint. Layering the tones of trumpet, trombone and tuba on Dans le Sens de Poulenc (with Matthias Quilbault’s tuba as prominent as the others), proves that such instruments can swing without expected call-and-response patterns. Closest to mainstream jazz, the blues inflections which enliven the choppy piano lines of the Darche-composed Le Tombeau de Poulenc 1 find violinist Marie-Violaine Cadoret’s contributions sliding from precise romanticism to silent-movie-like melodrama to double-stopping dissonance. Clanking claves and Latinized piano-fills on the concluding Le Tombeau de Poulenc 4 (another Darche piece) extend the polyphony enough so that subsequent showcases for saxophones and brass can trade orchestral strictness for musical freedom. This CD banishes the spectre of a jazz-classical pastiche and confirms the group’s and the composers’ ability to create rousing sounds that don’t stray that far from European precision. Larger than the former group and more obvious in its use of strings, percussion and electronics is Montreal’s Ensemble SuperMusique (Ambiances Magnétiques AM 239 CD The tracks on Les porteuses d’Ȏ are also less homogeneous than on other discs. Although these single compositions by ensemble founders, percussionist Danielle Palardy Roger and saxophonist Joane Hétu (plus one from Vancouver’s Lisa Cay Miller) utilize a mixture of notation and improvisation, the results are undeniably divergent. Ostensibly about Canadian drinking water rights, Miller’s Water Carrier is multi-sectional, with strident tutti interludes. Otherwise, the narrative depends on contrasts between upbeat concert band-like melodies from the horns and Guido Del Fabbro’s delicately formal violin elaboration, with the churning rural landscape characterized by Bernard Falaise’s clanking guitar effects, plus primitivist slashes from Alexandre St-Onge’s electric bass and electronics. Additional strength is given to the track’s political message by repeated scrapes on bare acoustic strings plus Ida Toninato’s gusty baritone saxophone. Describing a journey among the planets, Roger’s En arrivant par le nuage de Oort uses electronic crackles and pops to underscore the extraterrestrial journey. With echoing percussive swats from her kit and that of Isaiah Ceccarelli, rugged reed smears and May 2018 | 79

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)