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Volume 26 Issue 7 - May and June 2021

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  • Musical
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Meet some makers (of musical things) - a live filmed operatic premiere of a Handel oratorio?; 20 years of Summer Music in the Garden, short documentary film A Concerto is a Conversation; choirs Zooming in to keep connection live; a watershed moment for bridging the opera/musical theatre divide; and more than 100 recordings listened to and reviewed since the last time.

the compositional flow

the compositional flow than the tremolo pressure Brennan asserts with multiple mallets or varied motor rotation. Avoiding glittering statements, Maquishti’s 12 tracks are a study in pastel blends. This unhurried program isn’t sluggish however. I Like for You to Be Still for instance, is pulled out at a near lento tempo, but the thematic thread is never broken. Brennan also extends her idiophone timbres by creating tones that could come from bell ringing or gourd scratching. In fact, Magic Square, the most spirited tune, only picks up speed at midpoint after a series of echoing pops. It reaches a crescendo of merry-goround, calliope-like sounds created by rolling mallets across the vibraphone’s metal bars, not striking them. Meanwhile the tracks built around more deliberate woody reverberations from the marimba evolve with similarly measured light touches. The cornucopia of shimmering sound timbres projected is best appreciated by responding to the cumulative affiliations of this well-paced date and not expecting to hear the equivalent of a shouted argument. Ken Waxman Hanamichi – The Final Studio Recording Masabumi Kikuchi Redhook Records 1001 (redhookrecords.com) ! The subtitle of Hanamichi is “The Final Studio Recording.” Reading this adds significant weight to the music. There’s something about the context of finality that makes a piece of art feel much more emotional, much more sensitive or fragile, and there is certainly a sombre component to this recording, though it doesn’t sound like a weathered musician looking back on his career and trying to recapture some of the magic. It could never be that simple with Poo (pianist Masabumi Kikuchi’s affectionate alias). As the great Gary Peacock said in the liner notes, “It wasn’t until a few years before he died [in 2015] that his ‘voice’ found him.” Kikuchi was never one to stagnate. When he took a solo, the direction of his music was more likely to veer into uncharted territories than to revert to its original state. His wanderlust took him to countless destinations, both in terms of his sound and his life. He constantly reached beyond his own parameters, and this recording is no exception. He takes My Favourite Things and turns it into two completely contrasting spontaneous compositions. The track titled Improvisation sounds like the most calculated piece on the set. As always, Little Abi is his calling card, while also being his mode of transportation to previously undiscovered planets. In his swan song, Kikuchi still looks forward. Yoshi Maclear Wall Uma Elmo Jakob Bro; Arve Henriksen; Jorge Rossy ECM ECM 2702 (ecmrecords.com/shop) ! In the 50 years of producing music for his ECM label, Manfred Eicher has established a rubric that almost no one thought to create before him. It is characterized by a minimalist aesthetic, with sonic works delivered in almost pristine digital sound. There is almost always superb, impressionistic cover photography, rarely any liner notes (except for the odd Egberto Gismonti album). Booklets often feature graphics and an oblique, poetic line or two that seem illuminated by a translucent and shy ray of the sun. This is exactly the feel of Uma Elmo by Jakob Bro, Arve Henriksen and Jorge Rossy. Put together, the two-word title might be translated as “the splendour or tranquillity (Uma) of love (Elmo).” The music has a profound and meditative quality; songs bloom into a series of exquisite miniatures. Bro’s single-note lines are spacey; they shimmer and gleam, occasionally warmed in the blue flame of Henriksen’s horns. Meanwhile Rossy bounces brushes and sticks in rhythmic flurries and glancing blows across the skins of his drums. Songs such as To Stanko – a doffing of the hat to the late horn player Tomasz Stanko, beloved by ECM – Morning Song, Music for Black Pigeons (in memory of Lee Konitz) and Sound Flower, are typical of this musical performance in the splendid isolation of a studio in Switzerland. Purity of sound and an enduring love of artistic expression are all over the music of this album. Raul da Gama Haerae Andreas Willers Evil Rabbit Records ERR 31 (evilrabbitrecords.eu) ! As the COVID-19 lockdown settled in spring 2020, German guitarist Andreas Willers began a solo recording, the same kind of project with which he had debuted 40 years earlier. He’s playing two steel-string acoustic flat top guitars here, usually one at a time, though there are pieces when there may be two involved, and he’s playing them in a number of ways, whether traditional or employing extended techniques. Willers clearly loves the guitar as an instrument, exploring its nooks and crannies and the myriad sounds they harbour, many the kinds usually avoided: the metallic slap of detuned lower strings against the fretboard; likely the rustle of a plastic bag covering the picking hand; strings scratched longitudinally with fingernails or maybe rubbed with a moistened thumb; some hard material with some weight, probably plastic, dropped on the strings of a horizontal instrument. None of these things appear in isolation but arise in making spontaneous music, each piece developing a rich, varied life of its own in which evolving timbres and events create a sonorous whole. Sometimes he plays guitar in a conventional way, as in the three movements of langh’s arm 6-8 which abound in brilliantly articulated runs, dense chordal passages and singing, reverberant highs; there are dashes of blues, flamenco and slide with strange mergings of idioms. While its likely audience is attuned to free improvisation, there’s enough exuberant guitar exploration here to appeal to any adventurous enthusiast of the instrument. Stuart Broomer POT POURRI Good Water Leahy North 28 Music Inc. N28MR0001LP (leahymusic.ca) ! It would be redundant to attempt to summarize the incredible musical contribution that has been made to Canada, and to the world, by this award-winning, exceptionally talented Celtic-Canadian family. On this latest Leahy release, every track is a rare emerald. Although perhaps not totally in the traditional bag, it’s still a trans-world-folk family affair – featuring Denise on vocals; Erin on piano, fiddle and vocals; Frank on drums; Julie Frances on vocals, piano, keyboards and acoustic guitar; Maria on acoustic guitar, mandolin and vocals; and Siobheann and Xavier on accordion. Produced by the iconic David Bottrill, Leahy manages to blur all of the lines, and in so doing, manifests a technoorganic masterpiece. The title track has a sumptuous, angelic vocal intro followed by a contiguous, poetic vocal line of almost unbearable beauty – an uplifting feeling of an ancient one-ness… a statement that moves beyond the Irish diaspora. No doubt, the ancient Leahy DNA is rife with incredible instrumental technique, as well as the rare gift of being able to transmute and share emotion. Other brilliant tracks include Friend, which invokes the heartbeat of Mother Earth herself, blissfully intermingled with an ecstatic wall of sound and rich, layered “blood harmony” and also Star of the Sea, which is a radiant highlight of fiddling, odd measures and a 48 | May and June 2021 thewholenote.com

allistic arco attack that channels the Tuatha de Danann themselves. Of special significance is My Old Man – a lush, sonorous, melodic reverie, filled with ethnic memory and longing. This gorgeous track is a tribute to the Leahy patriarch from two generations prior – singing out from the passing of time – blessing his descendants as they live their authentic musical traditions, creating fearlessly into the future. Lesley Mitchell-Clarke Speaking Hands Curtis Andrews Independent (curtisandrews.ca) ! Among the first reviews I wrote for The WholeNote was The Offering of Curtis Andrews (December 2009). “I’ve been … bopping around the apartment to this joie de vivre-filled CD by Curtis Andrews, Newfoundland’s globe-trotting percussionist and composer,” I enthused. “The music [draws] from Andrews’ studies in South Asian, West African and North American music … [merging] all those influences in an energy-rich field, couched in mainstream jazz forms and improv-rich solos...” Relocated to Canada’s West Coast, Andrews has continued his musical journeys inspired by those same global elements. And he’s joined on his sparkling new album, Speaking Hands, by 20 talented musical colleagues from across Canada, USA and Africa. Manifesting a mature musical voice, this sophomore release features nine Andrews’ compositions and one by Carnatic percussion master Trichy Sankaran, their tricky metric landscapes negotiated with aplomb by the Vancouver-based ensemble, The Offering of Curtis Andrews. Though recorded last year, Speaking Hands reflects two decades of travel, study and collaboration with master musicians on three continents. Andrews’ compositions intertwine “rhythms and polyphonies of vodu-derived traditional music of West Africa, the micro and macrocosmic play of time and pitch found in Carnatic traditions of South India,” and jazz harmony and improvisation. It’s the novel intersection of all these seemingly disparate elements into a cohesive and highspirited musical statement that marks the album as something special. The album title? Andrews explains it was inspired by the practice of the Carnatic recited rhythmic language known as solkattu. “It is the voice that gives rise to rhythm before the instrument does… the hands ‘speak’ what the voice (mind) creates.” This album certainly speaks to me. Andrew Timar Roots of Strings – The oud at the crossroad of Arabic, flamenco and Indian music Nazih Borish Analekta AN 2 9173 (analekta.com/en) ! Syrian-born Nazih Borish is a respected oudist and composer. While establishing and running his Syrian oud school, this alreadyrenowned artist began to expand and embrace a wide variety of musics, including Arabic, flamenco, blues and jazz. In 2016, Borish arrived in Canada, where he seamlessly continued his international work as a composer and performer. On this energized program of original compositions, Borish has collaborated with two equally accomplished and gifted artists: bassist Roberto Occhipinti and acclaimed world-music percussionist (darbuka, req, ketim and dahola) Joseph Khoury. Every well-produced track underscores the one-ness of mankind. From the most elemental bass notes of Mother Earth’s heart to the intensity of shared human emotional experience – this recording is a journey of profound meaning. The opening track, Nazihawand (Nahawand taksim), is a resonant, mystical composition… with sonic elements that are steeped in human experience – sounds from a timeless place, in a place-less time – eventually segueing into a wider, more languid sequence, punctuated in an inspired way by Occhipinti and Khoury. The title track is heady with exotic spices, exploring the deep and ancient relationship between the indigenous music of Spain, Iberia, Portugal, the sub-Continent and the Arabian peninsula, followed by Ataba (Bayat taksim) – deeply moving, with rich, lustrous tones; the facile skill of Borish is breathtaking. I can hear this universal music echoing off the walls of the Blue Mosque, the Taj Mahal or Carnegie Hall! Ali Baba Dance is a stunner – and Damasrose (Rast samai) is a sensual, Masala-flavoured trip, displaying complex string technique by Borish, all the while expressing the subtleties of several different instruments of antiquity – even hints of the Japanese koto. Lesley Mitchell-Clarke Roots Ventus Machina Leaf Music LM239 (leaf-music.ca) ! Ventus Machina is a classical wind quintet based in New Brunswick which makes “excursions” into other genres. Roots is an inventive album containing arrangements of folk songs, fiddle tunes, Celtic music and a few iconic Canadian singer-songwriter staples. The majority of arrangements are by James Kalyn who plays clarinet and saxophone in the group. The album begins with Our Roots Medley which has five movements including an arrangement of some of Bach’s Goldberg Variations (The Goldberg “Variegations”), a Swedish folk song (Koppången) and Gordon Lightfoot’s The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald. Kalyn’s arrangements are complex and use the full acoustic and technical resources of the quintet to present a unique perspective on these diverse selections. The Goldberg “Variegations” are quite contrapuntal, while Edmund Fitzgerald uses a majestic French horn to announce the theme amongst the other swirling instruments. Bird on the Wire has Kalyn playing bass clarinet, tenor saxophone, singing and using slap tongue techniques for rhythmic purposes. On Joni Mitchell’s The Circle Game the quintet is augmented by the Atlantic String Machine and a small children’s choir. For the three fiddle tunes, Traveller’s Breakdown, Doin’ Repairs and Calm Before the Storm, they are joined by the composer Ray Legere, playing fiddle and mandolin, with Christian Goguen on guitar; the music gets lively. The underlying delight present throughout Roots is having familiar music reinvented in an unusual and intriguing context. This is Ventus Machina’s second album and I look forward to more musical adventures with them in the future. Ted Parkinson In D Brooklyn Raga Massive Independent (brooklynragamassive.org) ! Terry Riley’s iconic minimalist composition In C (1964) is scored for an indeterminate number and kind of instrument or voice. A dronelike pulse on the note C synchronizing the ensemble guides its performance, while superimposed repeated phrases give the work a phasing effect. (Riley had been deeply influenced by his studies with Hindustani classical vocalist Pandit Pran Nath.) Hailed as “Leaders of the Raga Renaissance” (The New Yorker), Brooklyn Raga Massive was founded in 2015 by sitar player and composer Neel Murgai. Given the diversity of instruments and musical backgrounds of the group, BRM chose Terry Riley’s adaptable In C to record in 2017. Then at Riley’s suggestion in 2020, BRM members took inspiration from In C’s form and composed a new work. It is interpreted by 25 musicians on the album In D, each of the thewholenote.com May and June 2021 | 49

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