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Volume 25 Issue 8 - May / June 2020

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  • Choir
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"COVID's Metamorphoses"? "There's Always Time (Until Suddenly There Isn't)"? "The Writing on the Wall"? It's hard to know WHAT to call this latest chapter in the extraordinary story we are all of a sudden characters in. By whatever name we call it, the MAY/JUNE combined issue of The WholeNote is now available, HERE in flip through format, in print commencing Wednesday May 6, and, in fully interactive form, online at Our 18th Annual Choral Canary Pages, scheduled for publication in print and flip through in September is already well underway with the first 50 choirs home to roost and more being added every week online. Community Voices, our cover story, brings to you the thoughts of 30 musical community members, all going through what we are going through (and with many more to come as the feature gets amplified online over the course of the coming months). And our regular writers bring their personal thoughts to the mix. Finally, a full-fledged DISCoveries review section offers cues and clues to recorded music for your solitary solace!

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form throughout that period. Jordan indulges in what can only be described as a spontaneously intuitive unleashing of these melodies. There is no gratuitous ornamentation, no playing to the rock gallery; no fuss; just the raspy hardness of her vocals unfolding with enormous colour and emotion song after song. There is never any room for shallowness with the blues and Jordan seems not only to understand that perfectly, but to find places to reach deep within her chest to deliver on the emotion that the songs demand. She is appropriately intimate on My Babe, relentless and unforgiving on One Way Out and rivetingly plaintive on Still Got the Blues. The reason she can breathe life into those songs and the others on the disc is because she seems to inhabit them as if they were hers and hers alone, despite the fact that other musicians actually penned these classic tunes. Part of the allure of this recording comes from the fact that the musicians who support Jordan on her journey are fully attuned to her artistry. Together with Jordan they make this a recording to die for. Raul da Gama hope with such self-knowledge and dignity. Roger Knox Power Women of the Blues Vol.2 – Prove it on me Rory Block Stony Plain Records ( ! The last (and only) time I saw Rory Block perform was at the Winnipeg Folk Festival in 1985. But I remember being blown away by what I heard, and how she rocked that workshop stage! So, 35 years and six Blues Music Awards later, I am happy to report that Block continues to rock! With her recent album, Prove it on me, the second in her Power Women of the Blues series dedicated to the groundbreaking women of the blues, Block “proves it on us” why she is considered one of the world’s finest blues artists. While the first album of the series honoured the legendary Bessie Smith, this second volume celebrates some of the more obscure, yet immensely talented women of the blues; the well-known title track by Ma Rainey, and Memphis Minnie’s In My Girlish Days are the exceptions. Each carefully chosen track features the “Rory Block Band,” that is, Block on vocals, all guitars, all drums and percussion. Her signature raw energy, soulfulness, authenticity and scorching vocals breathe new life into sassy tunes like Helen Humes’ He May Be Your Man, It’s Red Hot by Madlyn Davis, Rosetta Howard’s If You’re a Viper and Milk Man by Merline Johnson. Other names to look out for: Arizona Dranes, Lottie Kimbrough, Elvie Thomas. Block has always paid homage to those who came before her. Prove it on me secures the place of these founding women of the blues in the annals of blues history. Sharna Searle I Bless the Wounds Don Bray Independent DBCD2006 ( ! Ottawa-based, singer-songwriter Don Bray’s selfproduced sixth recording succeeds on several levels. It features Bray’s appealing soft baritone and fine guitar work. Subtle, concise contributions of backup singers and tasteful ensemble players are impressive, especially those from guitarist/ vocalist Terry Tufts. Most outstanding of all are Bray’s original songs. He states he was “born to an abusive father, and a rape victim; that set me up for 27 years in the Toronto Fire Department.” He continues to cope with complex PTSD, and this disc’s 13 songs include a wealth of life insights expressed in lyrical-musical work of a high order. Bray does not shy from the rough and rude, as in Don’t You Think It’s Time, which ironically applies a warm melody plus gentle fingerpicking to voicing the need for leaving a house party horror show. In the confidently uptempo I Don’t Get Out Much, the singer comments wryly on a life of procrastination and isolation. Time to Go is an attractive country waltz with pedal steel and mandolin – but about abuse. Best of all for me is the exquisite I Bless the Wounds, which is well chosen as the title track. Here I find the progression from darkness to light haunting, as the songwriter finds love again in waltz time. There is always risk in self-disclosure, and we are fortunate that Bray has brought forward these timely meditations on loss and Something in the Air Reissues Keep Genre-Defining Sessions in Circulation KEN WAXMAN A well-known improviser once stated that “My roots are in my record collection” and most serious fans cite seminal discs that helped them define their commitment to favoured music. That’s why the reissuing of musical classics is so important, especially with improvised music so related to in-the-moment communication. Not only does listening to these innovative discs confirm the fond memories of those who heard them when first issued, but they also provide valuable insights for those hearing them for the first time. For instance, Albert Ayler Quartets 1964 Spirits to Ghosts Revisited (ezz-thetics 1101 and Sun Ra Arkestra’s Heliocentric Worlds 1 & 2 Revisited (ezz-thetics 1103 are newly remastered versions of discs that helped define the free jazz revolution of the mid-1960s. Moreover the sets are each made up of two LPs initially issued on ESP-Disk. Fifty-six years on, tenor saxophonist Ayler’s basic melodies swirled out in rasping, ragged blasts can still be upsetting when first heard. Especially with tunes that begin with sonic excess and climb upwards from there, the saxophonist seems to be repeatedly thrashing out similar elementary themes over and over. Yet these versions of some of Ayler’s best-known tunes are unique in that his foil in both cases is a trumpeter, the little-known Norman Howard on the first four tracks and Don Cherry, famous for his association with Ornette Coleman, on the rest. With Howard’s flighty obbligatos decisively contrasting with Ayler’s wide snarls, they pair perfectly. Sunny Murray’s drum smacks make Holy Holy and Witches and Devils the standout tracks, especially during those times when the 50 | May and June 2020

saxophonist’s Ur-R&B screams are actually pitched higher than the trumpeter’s clarion growls. Always ready to default into favourite motifs, Ayler works in the melody from Ghosts, his best-known composition, during the first track, and following a thumping bass solo, even layers a mellow turn into his solo on the second. Still, the performances were conventional enough to include recapped heads at the end of each tune. Cherry, on the other hand, brings advanced harmonies to his six tunes, with his soaring brassiness contrasting Ayler’s rugged slurs on the first titled version of Ghosts. At the same time, while the trumpeter sticks to fluttering song-like variations, Ayler uses glossolalia and split tones to deconstruct the tune still further, aided by plucks deviations and col legno pops from bassist Gary Peacock. This contradiction is also obvious on Mothers, the closest to a ballad track in this set. While bowed bass backs Cherry adding operatic highs to his otherwise moderato solo, buzzing strings fill in the spaces alongside Ayler’s sardonic peeps and squeaky altissimo shakes when he takes over the lead. As well, the concluding Children may start off stately and neutral, but after Murray’s doorknocking smacks and echoing double bass thumps quicken the rhythm, both horn men create an explosion of brassy brays and skyrocketing saxophone slurs. Ayler drowned himself at 34 in 1970, after only eight years of recording, but Sun Ra, who claimed to have been born on the planet Saturn, passed from this planet in 1993 at probably 80 earth years. However, he recorded with various versions of his Arkestra from 1956 on, and with the band still functioning today innumerable discs are available. Heliocentric Worlds from 1965 is particularly noteworthy though, because these were the first LPs massively distributed and which firmly situated Ra in the centre of the improvisational avantgarde. Earlier and later recordings subsequently proved that these exploratory excursions were just one part of his burgeoning oeuvre though. Listening to the suite that takes up the first seven tracks, then and now easily refutes those who claimed the New Thing was no more than random, inchoate noise. Ra’s complex program is as adroitly orchestrated as any symphony with meticulous shading and balance among bass clarinet slurs, piccolo trills, multiple percussion bangs and split-tone showdowns between trumpet and piccolo and sliding alto saxophone and plunger trombone. Massed explosions from the five woodwind players are often followed by col legno emphasis from bassist Ronnie Boykins. When Ra finally asserts himself on Other Worlds, his witty alternation between roadhouse-style piano exuberance and electronic space sizzles underlines the composition’s duality. Jimhmi Johnson’s tympani resonations match the higherpitched brass throughout, at the same time as five other musicians add clanking claves and small percussion fillips alongside Ra’s relaxed comping and Boykins’ ambulating line. If the penultimate Nebulae highlights free-form blowing from saxophonists, then the concluding Dancing in the Sun could be a Swing Era trope with vamping section work pushed ahead by John Gilmore’s tenor saxophone, Marshall Allen’s alto and a showy Cozy Cole-like drum solo from Johnson. This musical intricacy is confirmed on the subsequent tracks that were Heliocentric Worlds 2. With the Arkestra shrunk to an octet, arrangements emphasize ear worms such as Allen’s piccolo shrills, what sounds like electrified saxophone runs, and the constant leitmotif of Ra’s tuned bongos. Cosmic Chaos confirms its post-modernism as Boykins’ rhythmic swing contrasts with Allen’s multiphonic reed smears, and Robert Cummings’ bass clarinet puffs are as prominent as heraldic calls from trumpeter Walter Miller. Meanwhile Ra’s percussive output is as much Albert Ammons as Cecil Taylor. Finally, the supplementary percussion complete the composition, with gong resonation and bongo-thwacks. However The Sun Myth, a nearly 18-minute concerto defines Ra’s skills even more. Sonorous and contrapuntal, mournful bowed strings are heard at one point and clashing junkeroo-style percussion at another. After the bagpipelike multiphonic tremolo created by the four reed players presages the finale, Ra’s piano solo with its echoes of Blue Rondo à la Turk confirms the band’s subtle swing groove. If swing’s the thing, what about the New Acoustic Swing Duo’s sardonically titled eponymous session (Corbett vs Dempsey CD 0066 With Willem Breuker playing five different woodwinds and Han Bennink a music store’s inventory of percussion instruments, it was the first issue on the ICP label and one of the sessions that confirmed that European improvisers had the same inspirational skills as their North American counterparts. Now New Acoustic Swing Duo is a two-CD set that includes not only the Amsterdam duo’s original 1967 LP, but six newly discovered 1968 live tracks from Essen. Later known for his leadership of the more precise large Kollektief, Breuker (1944-2010) was at his loosest here, squeezing, slurring, shrieking and snarling in free form from all his horns. Bennink, who would soon become a linchpin of the ICP Orchestra, was at his loud ferocious best as well. Constantly in motion, he mixes primordial yelps and cries as he crashes cymbals, beats hand drums, sets snares and toms reverberating, rings bells, smacks and rattles small idiophones and creates undulating tabla drones. The saxophonist puffs out nephritic gut spilling without a real blues line on Singing the Impalpable Blues, moves between squawks and sensitivity on Music for John Tchicai and fires so many broken tones at the percussionist on Mr. M. A. De R. in A. that Bennink’s stentorian responses would enliven an entire street parade. At 21 minutes plus however, the aptly named Gamut is the novella to earlier musical short stories. Working up from overblowing with wrenching vigour, the tenor saxophonist craftily settles on multiphonic slurs and glossolalia to push his ideas, as the drummer pounds along on anything that shakes, Despite snuffling bass clarinet asides at midpoint, Bennink’s relentless bangs and pops bring back altissimo smears, reed bites and sighing flutter tonguing to cement drum bombast and reed explorations into a multi-hued exposition. Interestingly enough, the extended Essen 3 finds Breuker augmenting his reed lines to penny-whistle-like airiness in double motif variation, with the antithesis low-pitched bass clarinet solemnity, while Bennink’s percussion discussion references jazz-swing. Furthermore the fife-and-drum band groove both reach on that track is given more expression on the final Essen 6. As the cacophony of duck-like quacks and air-raid siren shrills from the reedist and drum bangs and slaps give way to a more serene middle section, the concluding bouncy parade sounds find Breuker emphasizing the tongue-in-cheek melody burlesquing he would perfect with the Kollektief, while Bennink’s drum strategy sticks to the jazz affiliations emphasized by the ICP Orchestra. On the other hand Baroque Jazz Trio + Orientasie/Largo (SouffleContinu Records FFLCD057 from 1970, is a session that could only have been created at that time. That’s because the eight selections take on influences from so-called classical and world music, rock and ethnic sounds. Furthermore the members of the Paris-based trio are cellist Jean-Charles Capon, who often plucks his instrument to create guitar-like fills and drummer Philippe Combelle, who spends much of his time on tablas. Since then both have stuck pretty close to the mainstream jazz and instrumental pop music worlds. However the third member is harpsichordist Georges Alexandre, the alias of pianist Georges Rabol, who besides being a notated music recitalist, also composes for ballet, theatre, film, radio and TV. While as with most artifacts of the psychedelic era there are some groovy soundtrack-like suggestions, when Capon’s pseudo lead-guitar stabs, Combelle’s back beat and harpsichord clashes sway together, the references are more towards Led Zeppelin and The Doors and avant-rock freakouts than anything else. Adding tabla interludes and connecting keyboard harmonies, this leaning is most obvious on Delhi Daily and Latin Baroque. However the real demonstrations of the combo’s versatility are Cesar Go Back May and June 2020 | 51

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