4 years ago

Volume 25 Issue 1 - September 2019

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Vol 1 of our 25th season is now here! And speaking of 25, that's how many films in the upcoming Toronto International Film Festival editor Paul Ennis, in our Eighth Annual TIFF TIPS, has chosen to highlight for their particular musical interest. Also inside: Rob Harris looks through the Rear View Mirror at past and present prognostications about the imminent death of classical music; Mysterious Barricades and Systemic Barriers are Lydia Perović's preoccupations in Art of Song; Andrew Timar reflects on the evolving priorities of the Polaris Prize; and elsewhere, it's chocks away as yet another season creaks or roars (depending on the beat) into motion. Welcome back.

The latter’s humour is

The latter’s humour is topped by a tastefully tongue-in cheek Miss Chatelaine (k.d. lang) in tango rhythm with amusing string slides, all dissolving into fairy dust at the end… But the true elixir of this disc’s arranging by under-billed Pellett is in the eloquence of River (Joni Mitchell) and the Celtic sound of If You Could Read My Mind (Gordon Lightfoot). And leader/violinist David Adams, violinist Danielle Sametz, violist Christopher Buckley and cellist Sonja Adams certainly surpass the mere “unplugged hits” world here! A sound world bathed in long non-vibrato tones, harmonics and emotionally text-conscious melody-playing, here seems to be an ideal realized by players and arranger alike. Roger Knox I’ll Be Seeing You Andrea Koziol; Bill Brennan Independent AK-BB-01 ( !! I’ll Be Seeing You, a sharp selection from the jazz songbook, features Toronto vocalist Andrea Koziol and Newfoundland pianist Bill Brennan. They cover 13 of some of the bestknown standards – sprinkled with their own songs – with nimble interpretative panache and sure musical taste. Toronto A-listermusicians Andrew Downing on bass and cello and guitarist Joel Schwartz provide a firm foundation, plus a sympathetic harmonic and melodic framework. Koziol’s interpretations are assured and tone perfect. I was stuck by her attentiveness to the lyrical meaning of the intro verse in older songs like Fly Me to the Moon. In Stevie Wonder’s strutting funky Tell Me Something Good she purrs, growls and ghosts her tone in several amazing ways. Is she perhaps channeling her inner Chaka Khan? Koziol and Brennan generously share the musical spotlight, reminding us that their friendship reaches back several decades. That generosity of spirit extends to Schwartz. He gets a lovely sustained-tone lyrical electric guitar solo in Randy Newman’s moody, thoughtful ballad I Think It’s Going to Rain Today. Brennan’s piano work avoids cliché while nailing the feel of ballad, gospel, funk or up-tempo swing. He weaves unhurried, protracted extensions to songs like Tea for Two, moving far afield from harmonic home base, and provides exciting melodic and harmonic twists to Annie Ross’ vocalese classic Twisted. I’ll Be Seeing You launched with concerts in Ontario and Newfoundland this summer. Judging from the glow emanating from this album I look forward to hearing Koziol and Brennan live in the near future. Andrew Timar In A Landscape California Guitar Trio; Montreal Guitar Trio Independent ( !! Among small chamber groups, the combination of two, three or even four guitars is not all that uncommon. So what about six guitars? Surely a guitar sextet is a little out of the ordinary, yet that’s what we have here on this disc, titled In a Landscape, featuring the combined forces of the California and Montreal Guitar Trios. While both ensembles have long-established reputations in their own right, the decision to perform together as a single group evolved from a chance meeting at an Oregon music conference ten years ago and since then, they haven’t looked back. Just as the combination of six guitars may be a little unusual, so is the music they present on this recording. Indeed, the musicians have always shared a determination to “push the boundaries” with respect to repertoire, and this philosophy is evident in the alltoo-brief 40-minute program. Opening with the rhythmic New Horizons by MGT member Glenn Lévesque, it’s clear that these musicians enjoy playing together – what a warm and satisfying sound they produce! Flashy virtuosity for its own sake is decidedly absent – instead what we hear is sensitive and well-crafted interplay among the performers. Furthermore, the eclectic program is a remarkable study in contrasts. Arrangements of Radiohead’s Weird Fishes and David Bowie’s Space Oddity with vocals by ensemble members are juxtaposed with the moody and mysterious title track by John Cage (as arranged by Sébastien Dufour) while the mercurial Magneto – composed by Dufour – is an infectious essay in Latino brilliance. For such a comparatively short program, In a Landscape covers a lot of ground, and does so with solid musicianship – mixed with some good-natured humour – throughout. This CD is an attractive landscape indeed, one that leaves the listener wanting more. Richard Haskell A New Day Gordon Sheard and Sinal Aberto Independent GSM003 ( !! As a selfdescribed “Brazilian music freak,” it’s no surprise that Toronto jazz musician, educator and ethnomusicologist, Gord Sheard, has a group dedicated to playing Brazilian style music, Sinal Aberto. The name translates as “open signal” or “green light” and is a play on a Chico Buarque album called Sinal Fechado (closed signal/red light) made during an oppressive political time in Brazil (of which they’ve had many). So artistic freedom is the overarching sensibility for Sinal Aberto, and it shows in this beautiful collection of songs. With a level of musicianship you’d expect from the top players in the country – Mark Kelso on drums and George Koller on bass, Sheard on piano – the band deftly blends jazz and Brazilian sounds (plus a few R&B and Afro-Caribbean elements) for a sound all their own. A New Day is mostly original songs written by Sheard with lyrics by Rio de Janeiro-native Luanda Jones, who features prominently on the album as the singer, too. The album opens on a hopeful note with Samba de Primavera which, fittingly, speaks of being free and open to new experiences. (All of the songs are sung in Portuguese and many of them are helpfully translated to English in the CD booklet.) I love the energy and Jones’ virtuosic vocal gymnastics on Forrocatu, which combines Northern Brazilian forro and maracatu rhythms at top speed and is somewhat reminiscent, to these ears anyway, of the great composer, Hermeto Pascoal. The beautiful and poetic title song, Mais um Dia, is another standout track. Bossa nova fans won’t be disappointed as the band has imaginatively covered a couple of classics, including a soul-tinged version of my favourite, Dindi. The album is available from CD Baby: store. Cathy Riches Spinning in the Wheel Projeto Arcomusical National Sawdust Tracks NS-028 ( ! ! Projeto Arcomusical is “a world music sextet reimagining the Afro- Brazilian berimbau through unique and powerful chamber music.” Spinning in the Wheel is the second album by this Decalb, Illinois-based sextet co-founded by American composers, percussionists and berimbau-ists Gregory Beyer and Alexis C. Lamb. A member of the musical bow family found around the world, the Brazilian berimbau is an essential accompaniment of capoeira, the Afro-Brazilian martial art combining elements of dance, acrobatics and instrumental and vocal music. At first glance a simple instrument, the berimbau has at least six distinct parts. It includes a wooden bow and steel string, a beater to strike the string with, a small stone or coin pressed against the string to change the pitch, a gourd-like shell secured to the berimbau amplifying/ modulating the string in conjunction with the 72 | September 2019

player’s body, and a small rattle held in the stick hand. Using all these sound modifiers the berimbau is capable of a large range of expression, especially when several musicians are involved. Arcomusical’s six berimbaus allow the production of an extended number of tones making possible extended-range melodies, harmonies and spatial effects. In only a few years it has toured widely and commissioned over 30 new scores. Chief among them is Roda (2016) by American composer Elliot Cole. An engaging and impressive four-movement, 20-minute work, it’s the most substantial musical statement on Spinning in the Wheel. I was initially drawn to the novelty of Arcomusical’s instrumentation, but after just a few minutes of listening to Spinning in the Wheel I found its music clearly conceived and passionately performed. Andrew Timar Something in the Air Adapting Poetry to Jazz and Vice Versa KEN WAXMAN Although the sentiment conjured up by the phrase, “poetry and jazz,” is one of scruffy beatniks intoning verse to the accompaniment of a stoned bongo player, the intersection of poetry and improvised music has a longer history. As far back as the 1920s poets like Langston Hughes integrated jazz energy into their work and subsequent interaction involved whole groups of literary and musical types, with notable instances in San Francisco, Liverpool and Vancouver up until the present day. Some of the discs here extend the idea of sounds complementing words, while others work on the more difficult task of integrating both elements. A particularly fascinating instance of this is Readings Gileya Revisited (Leo CD LR 856 On it, Russian-born, Cologne-based pianist Simon Nabatov has created musical settings for poems from members of the Gilya group, a Russian Futurist movement that thrived just before, and for a time, after the Russian Revolution. The pianist’s associates are Germans, reedist Frank Gratkowski and electronics master, Marcus Schmickler, American drummer Gerry Hemingway and most importantly, Dutch vocalist Jaap Blonk. While Schmickler’s skills are used sparingly, as on the penultimate track where granular synthesis and processing deconstruct a sample of one of the original Futurist’s recitations, and then are superseded by resounding pattering from the drummer. In another instance, on A Kiss in the Frost oscillated aviary echoes share space with Blonk’s double-tracked theatrical recitation of a Futurist poem, completed by reed buzzes and piano patterns. But the nub of creativity is most thoroughly expressed in the ways in which Blonk’s phrases plus piano-reed-and-percussion sounds interact as equals. For instance the gargles and yells that express the budding of Spring are met by hard keyboard comping and drum pops following an introduction of ethereal flute puffs. Imagist stanzas that warble and plead are extended with reed bites and press rolls on And Could You?, while harmonized keyboard tinkles and formalistic clarinet trills do as much to define the theme of Palindrome as matched nonsense syllables from Blonk. Most crucially, with the boisterous dynamics that characterize Shokretyts, composer Nabatov and the others confirm that Futurism is as much an instrumental as a vocal art. After Blonk intones “when people die they sing songs,” Gratkowski’s tenor saxophone response is almost (Stan) Getzian in its lyricism, although it’s followed by dynamic key crunches and sprays of notes from the pianist, and bass drum pounding and wild-boar-like snorts and altissimo screams from the saxophonist, until all four shout out the track title. As the players’ instruments replicate the syllables, Blonk intones them to complete the poem. Approaching the idea differently, American trio Big Tent, with pianist/vocalist Jerome Kitzke, bassist Steve Rust and percussionist Harvey Sorgen add poems by Beat forefather Lawrence Ferlinghetti among the trio’s advanced improvisations on I Am Waiting (NotTwo MW 989-2 Kitzke’s low-key, tongue-in-check recitation makes clear the contemporary relevance of this sardonic mid-20th-century verse. For instance, the exaggerations turned on their head in I Am Waiting “for the rebirth of wonder” including Elvis Presley and Billy Graham changing places, are underlined with swelling bass string pumps and alternating splashing or tinkling piano chords. Meanwhile a bop fable about Christ, Sometime during Eternity, uses banjo-like twanging to signal Jesus as “real dead” and stentorian plucks to contrast his teaching with the subsequent ignoring of it by his so-called followers. Without words the trio’s improvising is also nuanced. Facing kinetic drum rolls and piano string strums on Trio in a Bottle, Rust constructs a sequence that vibrates from the bass’ scroll to its spike. Kitzke bends tones and patterns in the kinetic exposition that is Blues Afield, harmonized with the bassist’s stylized pings. Meanwhile ground bass lines and mid-range keyboard swing on Sweet for the Eternal Spring giving Sorgen space to boisterously roll out sprays of percussion power, advancing the theme rhythmically and finally calming it with paradiddles. A more difficult stanza interpretation is expressed on Pneuma’s Who Has Seen the Wind? (Songlines SGL 1629-2 songlines. com). Not only does Montreal-based vocalist Ayelet Rose Gottlieb personalize the oftentranslated (by herself) words of Japanese, Iranian and English poets, but her only accompaniment is the three clarinets of Vancouver’s François Houle and Americans, James Falzone and Michael Winograd. With one clarinetist usually playing chalumeau for continuum, Gottlieb confidently cycles through moods ranging from wistful to lighthearted, with her lyric soprano harmonized and used as much as an instrument as the woodwinds. This is particularly obvious on the suite of brief Japanese poems where a single image or mood is conveyed by the timbre of Gottlieb’s voice rather than the words. Another instance is Passing Through/Lament for Harry, honouring her deceased grandfather, where emotion is expressed by melodic warbling linked to coloratura clarinet peeps and trills. In the same way, the impressionistic title track, from a poem by Christina Rossetti, harmonizes the clarinets in a near-baroque manner. The melded timbres flutter up the scale, but not enough to detract from the poem’s gentle imagery. In contrast James Joyce’s Alone brings out emphasized melisma as Gottlieb swallows the lyrics with low tones as the clarinets move upwards. Trembling/Light is an erotic poem, but that may be masked as the response to her vocalization is thumping tongue stopping and echoes from the bass clarinet. Finally Neither You Nor I/Conversation with Ora, which she composed after the death of a close friend, is no dirge but a defiant September 2019 | 73

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