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Volume 26 Issue 7 - May and June 2021

  • Text
  • 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.

three sections set to a

three sections set to a different Hindustani raga (Indian classical melodic mode). Within that framework improvisational instrumental and vocal solos are balanced by effectively composed tutti passages and drum features. Musicians and instruments from numerous traditions playing together can prove a challenge; this album manages to avoid many of the pitfalls. Adding to the cultural diversity here, while there’s certainly an emphasis on the classical Indian soundworld, other traditions unexpectedly and delightfully come to the fore before receding back into the sonic prevalent texture. In recognition of the pandemic context the recording was made in, the three ragas were selected to “match the pandemic situation we now face. We plunged from our normal happy lives into darkness and [now] finally… we have hope.” The joyful communal sprit of In D gives me hope too. Andrew Timar #IV; Unfinished World Intersystems Waveshaper Media WSM-04CD (waveshapermedia.com) ! Over 50 years since their last release, Intersystems return like a spectral transmission from the original psychedelic era. In the late 1960s, the Toronto multi-disciplinary art collective dedicated themselves to replicating hallucinogenic experiences. Architect Dik Zander, light sculptor Michael Hayden, poet Blake Parker and electronic musician John Mills-Cockell (known for his work with the bands Syrinx, Kensington Market and decades of soundtrack composition) constructed immersive installations aiming to overload each of the five senses. Intersystems’ trilogy of late 60s albums (Number One, Peachy and Free Psychedelic Poster Inside) have become canonized experimental classics, reissued as a lavish box set by Italian label Alga Marghen in 2015. The archival efforts of compiling this collection – alongside accompanying reissues of Syrinx and Mills-Cockell’s solo work – lit a spark of inspiration as Intersystems’ surviving members reunited for a new studio project. With the new album #IV, and its accompanying CD-only EP Unfinished World, they expand their legacy as luminaries of the Canadian avant-garde. In a series of sessions at Hamilton’s famed Grant Avenue Studio, Hayden and Mills-Cockell conducted an electronic séance. Though Parker sadly passed away in 2007, they rendered the words of his poems with computerized vocalizations, drawing listeners into an uncanny valley. At times, these spookily lifelike voices take a cue from Parker’s deadpan delivery on Intersystems’ original albums. Elsewhere, their warped robotic gurgles sound like a sinister Max Headroom clone. Mills-Cockell runs wild across a playground of vintage Moogs and Mellotrons, conjuring a vast expanse of effects. The sparse ambience of Revelation of the Birds casts an otherworldly glow over Parker’s surrealist poetry about avian conversation topics. In the two parts of Sonny Abilene, the narrator’s Something in the Air Sophisticatedly Curated Box Sets Collate and Disseminate Important Music KEN WAXMAN Assembled since the first significant 78s were collected in one package, the boxed set has traditionally been used to celebrate important anniversaries or extensive projects. CD collections are the same, with these improvised music sets aurally illuminating various programs. The most meaningful collection is the seven CDs that make up Julius Hemphill The Boyé Mufti-National Crusade for Harmony – Archive Recordings 1977-2007 (New World Records 80825-2 newworldrecords.org). Consisting of 53 previously unreleased tracks, the box presents a full picture of composer and saxophonist Hemphill (1938- 1995), who was a member of the St. Louis Black Artists Group and founder of the World Saxophone Quartet. Hemphill is represented not only by numerous combo sessions with fellow sound innovators, but also by a disc of his chamber music compositions as well as multimedia creations involving solo saxophone forays and spoken word. While other tunes of his are interpreted by pianist Ursula Oppens and the Daedalus String Quartet, a more memorable compositional program on Disc 4 is of two pieces Hemphill conducted played by improvisers using traditional orchestral instruments and without solos. Slotted among Baroque, blues and bop, the tracks include achingly melodic motifs plus timbral extensions into multiphonics and swing that are unique. Roi Boyé Solo and Text is an entire disc dedicated to the vernacular trickster character the saxophonist developed in theatrical presentations where his horns comment on verbalized themes extended with Malinké Elliott’s recitation of the poetry of K.Curtis Lyle. With the rhymes personifying a variety of inner city St. Louis characters from shouting preacher to mumbling hustler, Hemphill’s flute or soprano and alto saxophone lines offer either measured cadences as affirmation or use screech mould, triple tonguing plus the addition of miscellaneous percussion to rhythmically solidify the urban imagery and underline the barbed explosiveness of the situation. However, it was as an improviser, composer and arranger that Hemphill’s identity was solidified, and these skills are expressed in cultivated and unique fashion involving numerous ensembles on the other five CDs. Hemphill’s best-known associates, bassist Dave Holland and drummer Jack DeJohnette, joined the saxophonist and longtime musical partner, trumpeter Baikida Carroll, in 1979 for one concert. Known for affiliations with Keith Jarrett and Miles Davis, the bassist and drummer easily respond to Hemphill’s music, as percussion rolls and ruffs and stentorian string plucks smack and swipe alongside light-toned grainy brass smears and an unbroken line of reed shrills. Mirrors’ squirming exposition opens up for a jumping tempo-shattering snare-and-cymbal solo without upsetting the piece’s ambulating balance. Meanwhile, the concluding Would Boogie is defined by the title as a drum backbeat; walking bass lines match lockstep horn animation which splinters the theme into atom-sized reed bites and splayed brass flutters and then reconstructs it. This down-home quality is further emphasized with two groups on CD 6 which include electric bassists and guitarists. Pops and splatters from Jerome Harris’ electric bass evolve in tandem with Hemphill’s sax squeaks or flute trills as six duo selections become harsher and more pressurized. A similar intensity is expressed when bop meet blues on Pigskin, as Jack Wilkins’ echoing guitar licks and drummer Michael Carvin’s power backbeat add mainstream swing to the saxophonist’s astringent exploration. One/Waltz/Time+ projects the group’s multiple identities as guitarists Allan Jaffe’s and Nels Cline’s bluesrock twangs and frails connect with Hemphill’s shifting split tones, 50 | May and June 2021 thewholenote.com

agitated delivery of nightmarish imagery combined with looping minor-key melodies is reminiscent of minimal wave outsider John Bender. The album concludes on an ominous note of acceptance with The End of the World, as swirling arpeggios drift across 12 minutes of dystopian poetry. In Parker’s vision of the apocalypse, human skins peel off like snakes, while bodies ascend into heaven on electric light. As Mills-Cockell once said, “If it wasn’t disturbing and profoundly weird, it wouldn’t be Intersystems.” Jesse Locke String of Pearls Annabelle Chvostek Independent (annabellemusic.com) ! It has been six years since JUNOnominated, versatile singer/songwriter Annabelle Chvostek released a recording. The reason being is that Chvostek suffered significant hearing loss, the result of a massive feedback blast during a soundcheck. This would be a challenging experience for anyone – let alone a musician. This new CD is a direct result of Chvostek’s desire to create a project that would be enjoyable and accessible to those with hearing loss – and in keeping with this directive, she decided to produce an alternate monaural version of the recording specifically for people with hearing issues, available digitally at annabellechvostek. bandcamp.com. There are three co-producers on String of Pearls: Chvostek, David Travers-Smith and Fernando Rosa, two of whom are hearing impaired. Rosa was born deaf in one ear, and by 2015 Chvostek was also. Through his brilliant engineering (and excellent hearing), Travers-Smith has created crisp, bright, satisfying digital tracks in stereo, and also in monophonic sound, a modality long gone but lovingly repurposed to allow people to experience the music in a new, authentic way. Joining Chvostek on this journey is a large cast of uber-talented characters, including violinist Drew Jurecka, guitarists Debi Botos and Tak Arikushi, vibraphonist Mark Duggan, bassist Rachel Melas and drummer Tony Spina. The majority of the material here was written by Chvostek, with the exception of a tasty Tom Waits tune, Just the Right Bullets, rendered with a highly creative “High Noon” horn-bandoneon-percussion-laden interpretation. The title track boasts a clever lyric that eloquently explains Chvostek’s journey, with a bit of a nod to the Boswell Sisters. Huge standouts include Je T’ai Vue Hier Soir (I Saw You Last Night) – an unabashed love song, performed in gorgeous, sibilant French and perfectly presented in a “Hot Club de France” style. Violinist Jurecka shines here, out-Grappelli-ing Grappelli! Also the sumptuous Firefly (You Just Love), replete with a delicious arrangement and equally delicious performances from Chvostek and the ensemble. Easily, this recording is one of the most enchanting and innovative of the year. Brava! Lesley Mitchell-Clarke moving the piece from the hotel ballroom to the honky tonk. Country blues energy coupled with urban experimentation also enlivens the multiple bands that Hemphill led under different names featured on Discs 1 and 3. Usually including Carroll, Dimples: The Fat Lady on Parade is unique because the trumpeter’s strangled blows and the saxophonist’s foaming glissandi are moderated when joined by John Carter’s nasal clarinet tones. With the woodwind’s gentle trilling taking on the storytelling role, Hemphill’s soprano creates a sweet obbligato. As sprightly harmonies then unite over drummer Alex Cline’s ambulatory beat, the narrative resembles the topsy-turvy echoes of a retreating circus band. Cline and Carroll are part of the trio called The Janus Company on Disc 3 where boppy themes do-sido among the band members. Spectacular drum rumbles enliven #4 as Hemphill’s supple cries buzz across the sequence while Carroll’s capillary screeches vibrate to a Pop Goes the Weasel burlesque until the two horns finally harmonize. Cellist Abdul Wadud joins the trio for a finger-snapping version of Dogon A.D., one of the saxophonist’s bestknown compositions. Including guitar-like frails from Wadud, highpitched bugling from the trumpet and a hearty drum backbeat, this variant combines a march rhythm, blues notes and splintered multiphonics. Wadud, who was on the saxophonist’s first recording, also partners Hemphill on Disc 2’s six tracks. Exemplary selections such as Syntax and Downstairs demonstrate how much energy and expression two simpatico players can generate. Hemphill’s alto saxophone curls out nearly ceaseless sound variations using techniques that range from Charlie Parker-like brusqueness to extended runs of doits, split tones and flattement. Meanwhile the cellist bends notes to not only propel the beat, but also to twang a pinched continuum that cements jagged detours and tone experiments into a connective narrative. Another box set celebrates not one man’s musical vision but those of 13 musicians and the record label that disseminates their works. After releasing adventurous music for 20 years, in 2018 Krakow’s Not Two label organized a three-day-anniversary celebration in the Polish village of Wleń featuring players who regularly record for it. Not Two … but Twenty Festival (NotTwo MW 1000-2 nottwo.com) is a five-CD box that preserves those performances. They consist of different combinations featuring saxophonists Mikołaj Trzaska of Poland, Peter Brötzmann from Germany, Ken Vandermark from the US and Swede Mats Gustafsson; bassists Barry Guy of the UK, Joëlle Léandre from France and Pole Rafał Mazur; drummers Paal Nilssen-Love from Norway and Zlatko Kaučič from Slovenia; plus Swiss violinist Maya Homburger, American trombonist Steve Swell, Swedish tubist Per-Âke Holmlander and Catalan pianist Agustí Fernández. Ranging in length from four minutes to over 20, none of the 28 tracks disappoint, with a few more outstanding than others. Demonstrating inventive flair for instance, Léandre is in her element whether it’s in a trio with Swell and Fernandez, a quartet with Guy, Kaučič and Swell or going one-on-one with Guy or Trzaska. The quartet set demonstrates that resonating pumps from two sophisticated bass players can stretch enough horizontal and splayed patterns to either provoke or accompany as many crashing percussion or slurring tailgate brassy smears as the others can produce. Swell’s almost ceaseless scooping tones and Fernández’s metronomic keyboard vibrations set up a trio challenge at even greater length, but Léandre’s concentrated string stropping with tandem vocalizing is so powerful and percussive that her string buzzing consolidates the exposition from allegro interaction to andante solidity. Solo, her string traction is such that she can create speed-of-light spiccato jolts from the bass’ highest-pitched strings with the same textural innovation with which she pushes the narrative with bottom-aimed sul tasto stops, all the while spanking the instrument’s wood and verbally gulping and crowing additional onomatopoetic colour. Her duet with Guy shows both in top form(s) as they harmonize or test one another, constantly switching arco and pizzicato roles, splintering shrill notes or modulating deeper pitched ones, so intermittent melodies share space with pressurized movement. Baritone saxophonist Gustafsson constantly challenges clarinetist Vandermark or alto saxophonist Trzaska in their meetings, but in each instance the reeds are part of an additional kaleidoscopic brass or percussion-affiliated canvas. With the clarinetist, contrapuntal reed trills and bites become shriller and more dissonant as Swell and Holmlander spread cascading burbles below them until thewholenote.com May and June 2021 | 51

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