7 months ago

Volume 26 Issue 6 - March and April 2021

  • Text
  • Contemporary
  • Orchestra
  • Album
  • Toronto
  • Quartet
  • Ensemble
  • Jazz
  • Composer
  • April
  • Musical
96 recordings (count’em) reviewed in this issue – the most ever – with 25 new titles added to the DISCoveries Online Listening Room (also a new high). And up front: Women From Space deliver a festival by holograph; Morgan Paige Melbourne’s one-take pianism; New Orleans’ Music Box Village as inspiration for musical playground building; the “from limbo to grey zone” inconsistencies of live arts lockdowns; all this and more here and in print commencing March 19 2021.

hard to pick a favourite

hard to pick a favourite from this box of gems, but Vetur öngum lánar liō (Winter aids no one) was the perfect accompaniment to my icy walks on the beach. This collection would be enjoyable either in the suggested order or as random treats that would slip easily into any playlist. Cheryl Ockrant Against Method counter)induction New Focus Recordings FCR278 ( ! The New York new music collective counter) induction celebrates 20 years of committed contemporary musical performance with the release of Against Method. The five players, augmented by guests, playing music composed by members and other guests, perform six fascinating pieces: all challenging, all worth the time and effort. As one reviewer has already commented, writing anything useful about the disc is beyond challenging; best just take the thing and hear for yourself. Clarinetist Benjamin Fingland and Caleb van der Swaagh, on cello, split the greater part of the playing. In the opening track, The Hunt by Night by Douglas Boyce, they are joined by pianist Ning Yu in a rollicking fun exploration of rhythmic, unison pointillist melody. “Ransack” describes the method: the three characters turn over every note with happy frantic energy, perhaps looking for Messiaen. The closing unisons between cello and clarinet are breathtaking. Fingland performs a solo piece for bass clarinet and loop pedal, written by his life partner Jessica Meyer. Intimate and mysterious, the repeated breath effects sound like nothing so much as sobbing. The title is a giveaway: Forgiveness. Each piece is my favourite. I love Ein Kleines Volkslied, the piano quartet by Alvin Singleton. Born in 1940, he’s three decades older than the rest, but his piece kicks it like it’s 1966. They close with the brilliant Scherzo by Argentine composer Diego Tedesco. Plucks, slaps, pitch-bends, melodic fragments, col legno… all in an ABA format. Great fun, fantastic disc. Max Christie Imaginary Landscape Stefan Hussong; Rumi Ogawa; Yumiko Meguri Thorofon CTH2664 (bella-musica. de/?s=imaginary+landscape) ! The illustrious German accordionist Stefan Hussong’s audio catalogue was launched with his audacious 1987 recording of Bach’s Goldberg Variations and has since grown to an impressive discography of some 40 albums, many of which feature his mastery of the most challenging contemporary works. This latest album opens with Magnus Lindberg’s Metal Work (1984) for percussion and accordion, originally commissioned by the pioneering Finnish accordionist Matti Rantanen. This dazzling and virtuosic work features a swiftly evolving kaleidoscopic duel to the death between the accordion and an arsenal of ten metal instruments, effortlessly dispatched by percussionist Rumi Ogawa. Among the subsequent solo works expressly written for Stefan Hussong, one finds Elena Mendoza’s Découpé (2017), an essay derived from the Dadaist tradition of the random cutting and mashing up of fragments of text, or in this case, a random jumble of hackneyed clichés that, for my taste, went on a bit too long. Much more compelling is Martin Smolka’s intimate Lamento metodico (2000), in which strongly contrasting melodic elements are paired against each other in an expressively memorable composition. Two Canadian works are featured from the husband-and-wife team of composers Hope Lee and David Eagle. Lee’s work, Imaginary Garden V (2016), scored for accordion with Yumiko Meguri on piano, is part of an ongoing series of works under that title; this instalment features seven contrasting scenarios demonstrating an admirable stylistic diversity that kept this listener thoroughly engaged. Eagle’s innovative Refracted Tones (2016) for solo accordion involves replacing the normal reed ranks of the accordion with inserted sets of quarter-tone tuned reeds, creating an exotic, hallucinatory 24-tone octave guaranteed to bend your ears. Betwixt these two we find Heera Kim’s finely crafted The Art of Shading II (2019), which adroitly exploits the deepest registers of the accordion interspersed with percussive assaults on the instrument. Hats off to Herr Hussong for yet another well-balanced and compellingly performed album. Daniel Foley Songs for the End of Time Volume 1 Founders Independent ( ! What might a purist think of this reimagining of one of the 20th century’s most totemic works of chamber music? Fortunately for me, I’ll never have to answer that question, and instead can allow myself to take delight in the creativity of the young gang who call themselves Founders. Olivier Messiaen wrote his Quatuor pour la fin du Temps while languishing in a Nazi prison camp. The work has taken on a mystique beyond what is usually accorded musical works that remain in the repertoire, owing especially to that circumstance. So what brazen chutzpah this quintet has shown (!) by introducing implied harmonies into originally unison lines, or playing call and echo in the Abîme des oiseaux, which turns into a bluesy duet for clarinet and trumpet. Not only do they not have a pianist on board, they all put aside their instruments (add violin, cello and bass to the other two) to sing quotes from the Apocalypse and the Dies Irae. And wait a goshdarned second, did they just introduce humour into the whole thing with that wacky Interlude? SMH. Millennials! They offer the work in homage to Messiaen, and I’ll allow it shows us a way to hear the original piece with fresh ears. It is also cheeky and, while never disrespectful, playfully affectionate. The writing is smart and the playing skillful. The quintet ranges easily back and forth between “popular” and “classical” idioms. You’ll be forgiven if you find suddenly you’re hearing something by Miles Davis, or for that matter, Darius Milhaud, or Guillaume de Machaut. Max Christie Louis Karchin – Five Compositions (2009- 2019) Various Artists Bridge Records 9543 ( ! American composer/ conductor/professor Louis Karchin has composed for such musical genres as orchestra, chamber music, vocal and opera. Here, five contrasting instrumental works written from 2009 to 2019 are performed. Karchin conducts The Washington Square Ensemble in his three-movement Chamber Symphony (2009). He writes he was able to explore a range of colours and fluidity in this group of “approximately one of each 44 | March and April 2021

instrument.” Sparkling opening arpeggiated tonal flourishes and tempo and instrumental contrasts lead to a march-like section with intermittent horn lines building tension. The slower second movement, scored for smaller ensemble, has calming tonally diverse pitches and piano-pedalled note vibrations. Karchin’s accurately self-described “rambunctious” third movement is in modified rondo form with energetic instrumental chordal interplays, flourishes and dramatic low-pitch held notes. Rochester Celebration (2017) is a solo piano commission celebrating Karchin’s undergraduate Eastman piano professor, Barry Synder. A “must listen to” virtuosic Romanticfeel composition for all pianists, as Karchin’s thorough piano high/low pitch sounds and effects knowledge are captured in Margaret Kampmeier’s exquisite performance. Postlude (2019) has Sam Jones on trumpet with bucket mute play beautiful slower melodic lines with resonating high-pitch held notes to pianist Han Chen’s accompaniment. Love Alice Teyssier’s flute trills emulating Ashley Jackson’s harp rolls in Quest (2014). Violinist Renée Jolles and harpist Susan Jolles drive the exciting closing track Barcarole Variations (2015) forward with their sensitive instrumental effects. Louis Karchin is a fabulous contemporary composer with thorough instrumental knowledge. Tiina Kiik Paolo Marchettini: The Months have ends Various Orchestras and Conductors New Focus Recordings FCR280 ( ! The notes D, E-flat, F and G walk into a bar… this set-up describes the opening of Mercy, from a collection of the orchestral music of Paolo Marchettini. An E-natural creeps in, bringing ambiguity with it. Sometimes the E sounds a note of warmth, other times it harshly clashes with two neighbouring pitches. Where is mercy, one might ask? The walls of this perfect fourth confine the ear, or protect it: prison or sanctuary? The gentle tone, and palette limited to the colours of strings, senza vibrato, gives way to menace in the middle section, brassy bombast overpowering the opening textures. Mercy is deferred until the final minutes, where a violin solo offers kindness. The Months have ends sets five Emily Dickinson poems for soprano and orchestra. Alda Caiello has the necessary vocal power to match the forces accompanying her, but the mix sometimes favours the instrumentals to the point of overpowering the voice. I find the brashness of the music at odds with my feeling for Dickinson’s words, but it is bracing to hear her poetry brought into the contemporary idiom. There are audible artifacts of live performance here and elsewhere, some emanating from the podium! Notturno follows the pattern of Mercy, exploring relationships of pitches and tone within a limited frame, here juxtaposing a perfect fourth against a contrasting wholetone dyad. Marchettini performs ably as soloist in his Concertino for Clarinet, an effective introspective addition to the contemporary rep for the instrument. The orchestra of the Manhattan School of Music mostly keeps their end of the bargain in these two pieces. Aere perEnnius is an homage to Marchettini’s compatriot colleague, Ennio Morricone; it alternates between melancholia and bombast. Max Christie JAZZ AND IMPROVISED MUSIC Honeysuckle Rose Aubrey Wilson Quartet AW Music AWM001 ( ! Vocal standards albums get a worse rap than they should. Sure, it can sometimes be monotonous to hear the same old songs sung by a vocalist who sounds like about a thousand other vocalists. However, I would argue that for every derivative example there’s an original take on the style, and the latter can be some of the more exhilarating music that exists. Aubrey Wilson and company’s renditions may help refresh the listener’s memory of what makes these standards so standard in the first place. In terms of staying faithful to the tunes, starting with the opener Nature Boy, it becomes pretty plain that this is a group that won’t allow the pressure to compromise their sound. The quartet of Wilson, pianist/arranger Chris Bruder, bassist Tom Altobelli and drummer Sean Bruce Parker have been going strong for nearly a decade and they have honed an effortlessly prodigious feel for each other. Bruder’s arrangements are tight, danceable and audacious. The band’s interpretive abilities are most notable during the melancholic title track, completely turning Fats Waller’s masterpiece on its head in a way that would almost be sacrilegious, if it didn’t work so well. That isn’t to say there are no bones thrown for the more traditional-leaning consumers, but even when the ensemble isn’t subverting, they’re grooving. Wilson constantly impresses, both with her improvisational savvy and chutzpah. Well executed all around. Yoshi Maclear Wall Monday Nights Sophie Bancroft; Tom Lyne LisaLeo Records LISALEO 0901 ( ! Scottish singer/ songwriter/guitarist Sophie Bancroft and her husband, Canadian bassist/ songwriter Tom Lyne, are respected UK-based musicians whose latest release was inspired by their weekly COVIDisolation, Monday night livestream sessions from their living room begun in spring 2020. The five originals and five covers here were recorded perfectly at Castlesound Studios. The covers are their own very personal take of famous tunes. Highlights include Cole Porter’s You’d Be So Nice To Come Home To, with a moving bass backdrop supporting the virtuosic scat singing and subtle vocal back phrasing; and a happy and positive feel for our difficult times in their rendition of Lerner and Lowe’s On The Street Where You Live. Bancroft sounds like she is singing only to her husband in the folksier emotionally charged Tom Waits’ tune Grapefruit Moon. Lyne’s composition, Far From Mars, is a great jazz tune featuring his electric bass playing. Wish it was longer!! Bancroft’s Fragile Moon is slow, peaceful and delicately performed. Her Miles Away is so COVID isolation, with its storytelling lyrics about love at a distance and pitch leaps adding to the feeling of loneliness. Blue Room is mellow and enticing. Comfort, with more folky singalong qualities and repeated descending vocal melody, has a stress-busting calm, controlled feel. Bancroft and Lyne are first-class jazz performers, improvisers and songwriters. Their performances here are upbeat, musical and subtle, and surprisingly made me totally forget our COVID outbreak isolation lockdown. Tiina Kiik Vegetables Lina Allemano Four Lumo Records ( Permanent Moving Parts See Through 4 All-Set! AS014 ( ! These two CDs, both recorded by jazz quartets in Toronto in winter 2020 at Union Sound Company, both featuring trumpeter Lina Allemano as a lead voice, suggest very different approaches to March and April 2021 | 45

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