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Volume 25 Issue 9 - July / August 2020

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  • Orchestra
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  • Toronto
  • August
  • Jazz
July/August issue is now available in flipthrough HERE, bringing to a close 25 seasons of doing what we do (and plan to continue doing), and on stands early in the week of July 5. Not the usual bucolic parade of music in the summer sun, but lots, we hope, to pass the time: links to online and virtual music; a full slate of record reviews; plenty new in the Listening Room; and a full slate of stories – the future of opera, the plight of small venues, the challenge facing orchestras, the barriers to resumption of choral life, the challenges of isolation for real-time music; the steps some festivals are taking to keep the spirit and substance of what they do alive. And intersecting with all of it, responses to the urgent call for anti-racist action and systemic change.

More recently, in the

More recently, in the trial of WikiLeaks whistleblower Bradley (now Chelsea) Manning, a prosecution witness is crossexamined about Manning’s idealism. The texts, in French, German and English, are taken from transcripts of actual interrogations. At odds with their matter-of-fact banality, the music packs a real punch. All six roles are sung with relentless theatricality by the virtuosic soprano Anu Komsi. Canadian soprano Barbara Hannigan gave the world premiere in London in 2015, and Komsi sang the North American debut in Toronto two years later in a memorable concert with the Toronto Symphony, one of six co-commissioners. The versatile Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra, led by Hannu Lintu, gives a dynamic account of the dangers lurking beneath the ominous orchestral textures. But there is hope – in the resilient pizzicato strings, the defiant brass fanfares, and, at the end, the sublime vocalise with the soprano abandoning words altogether. It’s a brilliant coup de théâtre. Lindberg wrote Accused in 2014, but its timeliness is uncanny. Here it has been effectively paired with Lindberg’s inventive Two Episodes, written two years later. Fortunately, texts and translations are included. Pamela Margles John Aylward – Angelus Ecce Ensemble; Jean-Phiippe Wurtz New Focus Recordings FCR261 ( ! The title of John Aylward’s recording Angelus is derived from its Christian incipit – those first few words of the text: Angelus Domini nuntiavit Mariæ (The Angel of the Lord declared unto Mary). Perhaps the angels called upon by these ten musical prayers are in fact more ancient mystical creatures of the Abrahamic Universe; or an even older one. No matter which you choose to believe – and even if you do not “believe” – otherworldly visions of your own are bound to ensue upon listening to this exquisitely ethereal music. Aylward’s Angelus is a series of reflective supplications and declaratives. They are prayers and inner meditations on, or with, spirit beings, albeit in the material world. They are also dialogues and existential arguments with the spiritual self. The composer makes no effort at all to disguise this in these works. In being drawn to this kind of contemplation, Aylward – like Luciano Berio – explores complex interactions of music and text; of recitation, singing with unusual and often complex instrumentation. Vocalist Nina Guo’s performance is wonderfully sprite; at times even marvellously deranged. Her declamatory cries in Angelus Novus and metaphorical conjuring in Dream Images is absolutely breathtaking. Meanwhile, the performance of the Ecce Ensemble is an inspired one. Their musicians intertwine their individual sensuous utterances playing winds, reeds, strings and percussion to make Aylward’s ghostly compositions shimmer with something resembling an extraordinary awakening of real and imagined beings in the flesh and in the spirit. Raul da Gama Affinity Sharon Isbin; Elizabeth Schulze; Isabel Leonard; Colin Davin; Maryland Symphony Orchestra Zoho ZM 202005 ( ! Musical greats, in any genre, tend to possess a studious knowledge of musical tradition, channeled into a unique personal voice. It is this distinctive, mature, yet vivacious sound we hear when listening to guitarist Sharon Isbin, and it only takes a cursory glimpse at her discography or biography to confirm a thorough education in classical guitar lineage. Her 2020 release Affinity is an impressive undertaking that offers a modern take on recurring themes from her prolific career. Most notably, her virtuosity and commitment to broadening the repertoire of the instrument through commissioned works. The recording takes its name from Affinity: Concerto for Guitar & Orchestra, by Chris Brubeck. Brubeck’s writing showcases Isbin in both technique and grace, providing an opening to the disc that is exciting, while not devoid of tender moments. At first I expected to hear more guitar, but after continued listening, Brubeck’s orchestral writing balances perfectly with its soloist. A mature rendition of El Decameron Negro, written for Isbin by Leo Brouwer, is heard here a quarter century after Isbin’s first recording the piece. The second unaccompanied guitar number we hear is by Grammy Award-winning Chinese composer Tan Dun, and has a more abstract sound, providing a welcome contrast to the aforementioned pieces and Antonio Lauro’s Waltz No.3. The album’s wellprogrammed closer, Richard Danielpour’s Of Love and Longing, is a succinct yet compelling song cycle that truly keeps a listener on their toes until the last note. Sam Dickinson Is This ~Nois ~Nois Independent ( ! Is this ~Nois (pronounced “noise”) opens with an intense performance of a riveting work: Hans Thomalla’s Albumblatt II. The sounds are both discordant and beautiful with half the quartet playing long vibrato-less tones alongside the others who play extremely drawn out multiphonics. The contrast and volume builds for most of the piece’s four and a half minutes. It is a no-holds-barred introduction to this young quartet from Chicago. Craig Davis Pinson’s Dismantle has all four players on alto saxophone and combines effective use of pad slapping, multiphonics and altissimo register in a very percussive and rhythmic piece. Niki Harlafti’s Vaisseau Fantôme has the quartet playing seven saxophones over its length and is inspired by Ornette Coleman’s album Free Jazz. The quartet is “dedicated to the creation and performance of contemporary music” and has commissioned several of the pieces on the album. Most works utilize extended ranges, multiphonics and use of different saxophone configurations outside the standard soprano, alto, tenor and baritone quartet. This album is fresh and intense and I have to compliment the quartet on their bold and unique commitment to saxophone repertoire. Let’s have more ~Nois! Ted Parkinson Dawn Chorus Grand Valley State University New Music Ensemble Innova Recordings 044 ( ! Since 2014, the New Music Ensemble at Grand Valley State University (Allendale, MI) under director Bill Ryan has commissioned 20 American composers to respond musically to U.S. national parks, with the ensemble subsequently touring to perform at these sites. In their fifth release, the eight astoundingly talented student musicians perform 11 of these commissioned works. The musical styles travel across many musical paths. Title track Dawn Chorus by Phil Kline features birdsong-like flute, clarinet and flamboyant glockenspiel parts in slightly atonal counterpoint, emulating springtime early morning birdsong in Badlands National Park. More Badlands 54 | July and August 2020

inspiration as Bite the Dust composer Molly Joyce uses faster, slightly dissonant piano pulsing, loud, full-orchestration held notes and descending intervals to describe its disappointing land erosion. Repeated low dark atonal pitches and circular minimalist fluttering flute star patterns recreate Arches National Park’s night sky drama in former GVSU ensemble member Ashley Stanley’s Night Sketches. Patrick Harlin’s more traditional Wind Cave, inspired by Wind Cave National Park, features wind sounds painted by rapid violin swirls, tonal orchestral melodies and closing ripples. Big fun sound surprise in closing track Canvas the Bear, as composer Niko Schroeder sonically recreates a childhood sighting of a Yellowstone Park bear while riding in his granddad’s jeep, using jazz/pop melody overtones, toe-tapping bear-walking rhythms, and unexpected ensemble one-two-threefour mid-piece vocal count. Works by Biedenbender, Deemer, Herriott, Gardner, Matthusen and Biggs complete this nature-inspired sound painting release. Tiina Kiik JAZZ AND IMPROVISED Speak Your Name HiFiLo (Todd Pentney) Independent ( ! Speak Your Name is the debut solo release from keyboardist/ producer HiFiLo, better known as Todd Pentney. Pentney is probably best known for his role in the JUNO-award-winning Allison Au Quartet, though he’s active in many genres from modern straight-ahead acoustic jazz to indie, pop and hip-hop. In many ways, Say Your Name can be understood as a synthesis of Pentney’s various musical experiences: sweeping, stereo synths give way to dense harmony; athletic solos are juxtaposed with sections of sparse, ethereal melody; relaxed backbeats coexist with pulsing, danceinflected moments. In and of themselves, these qualities are not new. Over the last 15 years, many recordings that fall under the expansive umbrella of jazz have contained some combination of these features, and Speak Your Name shares some similarities with recent works by Thundercat, Mehliana and Knower. What is unique about Speak Your Name is that Pentney is doing all of this on his own. With the exception of three special guests (flutist Rob Christian, vocalist Alex Samaras and guitarist Robb Cappelletto) – and some uncredited vocals on the album’s final track – Speak Your Name is all Pentney. The end result speaks to a model of musical production that has more in common with modern artists like Flying Lotus and Kaytranada than it does with the kind of jazz fusion that the mention of synths might evoke. With Speak Your Name, Pentney has crafted a beautiful, expansive album, and has thoughtfully reimagined the role of the producer in a jazz setting. Colin Story Ascension Robert Lee Independent ( ! Up-and-coming Toronto acoustic bassist, composer and bandleader Robert Lee, has released this delightful debut album, an energizing and unique foray into the contemporary jazz world. The record maintains an interesting balance showcasing Lee’s talent as a composer and bassist while putting the spotlight on the other fantastic musicians featured throughout, such as JUNO Award-winning saxophonist Allison Au, well-known guitarist Trevor Giancola and vibraphonist Michael Davidson. The album takes inspiration from songwriters such as Bon Iver, Christian McBride, Brian Blade and Iron & Wine, making for a unique musical blend of “modern chamber music, jazz and contemporary folk.” Whether the listener likes traditional or more modern jazz, each piece brings forth elements of both, making this a downright treat for the ear. The title track starts off the album and is a deeply personal and introspective story about “searching for the greater meaning in life” which is reflected in the wandering, yet positivity inducing saxophone melody and a general sense of discovery felt throughout the piece. Burton’s Bounce is a great, swing-style piece with nimble movement in Lee’s pizzicato bass line and the dancing saxophone, vibraphone and guitar solos. Closing out the album is Cardinal on the Cobblestone, a beautiful track in which Mingjia Chen’s captivating voice, Ginacola’s soft guitar riffs and Lee’s gracefully plucked notes meld together for an uplifting and wonderful end to this musical journey. Kati Kiilaspea Franken Horn Audrey Ochoa Chronograph Records CR-080 ( ! Surely many jazz enthusiasts who have kept up on contemporary artists have come across famed Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews and his unique style of trombone-centric jazz, but Canadian Audrey Ochoa’s newest release proves yet again that we have our own northern version of the aforementioned golden horn talent. Ochoa manages to successfully blend the old and the new, invoking feelings of nostalgia while introducing elements of modernism through electronic remixes of some tracks by electronica DJ Battery Poacher alongside more traditional pieces. Genre boundaries are cast aside here as we travel through sultry Latin-flavoured tracks to chamber music and unique string arrangements by Ochoa herself thrown into the mix. Swamp Castles starts off the album with a driving drum and bass groove which is overlaid by an energetic trombone line supported by a beautiful and captivating counter melody within the strings. Benchwarming takes the listener into a Latin musical world with smooth trombones, Chris Andrew’s diverse chord progressions on the piano and Luis Tovar’s sizzling conga rhythms pulling everything together. The track The Huggy Dance is a personal favourite as it really showcases how electronica can be successfully brought into the jazz world to add a fascinating contemporary flavour that is just delightful to listen to, a lo-fi groove that pulls you right in. A true breath of fresh air suitable for anyone getting into the jazz scene or just looking for something new. Kati Kiilaspea Rats and Mice Lina Allemano’s Ohrenschmaus Lumo Records LM 2019-10 ( ! Splitting her time between Toronto and Berlin, local trumpeter Lina Allemano now has a European combo to complement her longstanding Canadian bands. Rock-solid German drummer Michael Griener and agile Norwegian electric bassist Dan Peter Sundland bring startling originality to the trumpeter’s compositions which broaden from Allemano’s cunning use of extended techniques. Frequently shadowing Allemano’s lead, the bassist’s thumb pops and moderated slaps perfectly augment trumpet timbres whether they’re spit out at a speedy pace or as grounded gurgling growls. As for the drummer, his tasteful side clips and rolling ruffs ensure the tunes maintain a steady pulse. Allemano’s lead encompasses everything from creating expanded multiphonics, spitting out shrill brass runs, hand-muted effects and unexpected basso snarls. She exhibits a variety of effects on a track like Ostsee. Mixing textural advances and heraldic overblowing, positioned drum cracks help July and August 2020 | 55

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