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Volume 27 Issue 2 - November 2021

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  • November
  • Toronto
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  • Jazz
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Live events on the up and up while creative live-and livestreamed hybrids continue to shine. October All-star Sondheim's Follies at Koerner Hall headlines the resurgence; Zoprana Sadiq brings MixTape to Crow's Theatre; Stewart Goodyear and Jan Lisiecki bring piano virtuosity back indoors; Toronto Mendelssohn Choir's J-S Vallee in action; TSO finds itself looking at 60 percent capacities ahead of schedule. All this and more as we we complete our COVID-13 -- a baker's dozen of issues since March 2020. Available here in flipthrough, and on stands commencing this weekend.

more pulses, clicks,

more pulses, clicks, washes and brief highpitched rings and conversational effects aided by such added snare sound-creating “implements” as triangle and shot glasses. Tonia Ko’s Negative Magic (2019) opens with snares turned off, as resounding deep sounds alternate with rim shots. Musical sections include drops to almost inaudibility and to more mysterious sounds. Midpiece, the snare is abruptly turned on for welcome short hits, rolls and clicks. Snares off again as rolls and scratches lead to silence. Compitello performs these solo snare drum compositional explorations with precision, dedication, control and phenomenal musicality. Tiina Kiik JAZZ AND IMPROVISED demiLAN Nicholas Adema Independent (nickadema.com) ! Torontobased composer/ trombonist Nick Adema’s latest offering is teeming with originality and confidence from front to back. Everything from the writing to the execution feels like the product of an artist who is conscious of their identity. One aspect that immediately jumps out is Adema’s astounding attention to detail. Each of his compositions contains a myriad of ideas, gradually revealing themselves over time and yet all coming together to form a satisfying whole. His melodies are intuitive enough to feel eerily familiar and yet elaborate enough to make anybody’s head spin. Much like the greats, Adema’s writing possesses immense beauty while also managing to zig where others would normally zag. Another trait of his that resembles top all-time composer/bandleaders is the rare ability to make full usage of his whole group. The effects of this tendency particularly shine through the kinetic rhythm section during the final climactic minutes of Rise, and the three-man-weave in the horn section of demiLAN. Due to the nature of Adema’s bandleading, along with the sheer talent he assembled, the most memorable moments on the album consist of celestial synergy between musicians. One definitive instance was the combination of lyricist/vocalist Alyssa Giammaria’s deeply poignant prose and the reassuring warmth of bassist Evan Gratham’s tone on the intro of the stunning Lament for the Future to Come. Ultimately, it is due to Adema’s knack for working with these parts that the whole far exceeds the sum. Yoshi Maclear Wall Sommes Le GGRIL Tour de Bras TDB9051CD (tourdebras.com) ! In 2014 I wrote my first sustained account of GGRIL, Grand Groupe Régional d’Improvisation Libérée, the largescale, Rimouski, Quebec-based orchestra devoted to free improvisation, conduction, graphic, text-based and any other kind of score that falls into its wide purview. The article was based on hearing and talking to GGRIL members at FIMAV (Festival International de Musique Actuelle de Victoriaville), and the final sentence read: “GGRIL is currently recording scores by a wide variety of composers for their next album, Collection, a three-CD set that includes the pieces by Robert Marcel Lepage and Jean Derome performed at FIMAV.” Though it’s taken longer than expected, that ambition is now realized with Sommes, a three-CD commemoration of GGRIL’s 15-year history, 11 works dated from 2013 to 2020 by Québécois, Canadian and international composers, all newly recorded in fall 2020 by an edition of GGRIL that includes 21 musicians and a guest appearance by Quatuor Bozzini. That original Lepage work, the 14-minute Alice, appears on disc one, an abstracted comedy reimagining Lewis Carroll’s work as a series of jagged, pecking dialogues between individual instruments, frequently in the bass register, occasionally reshaping the scenes with rapid-fire percussion. A brief solo episode, Chat de Cheshire, becomes a leitmotif through the set, appearing first as a bass prelude by Luke Dawson, then twice on each succeeding CD, by classical guitarist Pascal Landry, trombonist Gabriel Rochette- Bériault, cellist Rémy Bélanger de Beauport and electric bassist Éric Normand, the GGRIL founder and firebrand whose modesty limits his credits here to electric bass and a single conducting appearance. Fifteen years in, GGRIL’s achievement seems extraordinary, a miraculous collaboration of state arts funding, local isolation and rare vision, involving composers from across Canada and Western Europe as well as Quebec. Alison Cameron’s In Memoriam Robert Ashley, a work of startling evanescence, drips beauty; Martin Arnold’s Éistphéist, featuring Quatuor Bozzini and the composer’s banjo, turns the gestural phrases of folk music into a 25-minute dreamscape. The ensemble’s devotion to chance and the unique realization is apparent in the textural surprises of Lori Freedman’s playful Chances Are and in two distinct realizations of England-based saxophonist Caroline Kraabel’s Une note n’écoutant qu’elle-même. Other composers represented are Lisa Cay Miller, Malcolm Goldstein, Michel F. Côté, Jean Derome (his La courbe du moment from 2014) and Gus Garside. The most ambitious performance here may be the opening one, French pianist Frédéric Blondy’s Îlots turgescents, a work of segments (“islands”) that demonstrates the orchestra’s range and power, from sudden, airliner-like, ascending glissandi to an extended, shifting drone that might model the ultimate funerary chord, stretching out to perpetuity until it includes within it an extended, gradual upward glissando increasing in amplitude. Weird Polynesian lounge jazz follows. Stuart Broomer Klotski Gordon Grdina’s Square Peg Attaboygirl Records ABG-2 (gordongrdina.bandcamp.com) Pendulum Gordon Grdina Attaboygirl Records ABG-1 (gordongrdina.bandcamp.com) ! Over the past decade, Vancouverbased composer/ guitarist Gordon Grdina has emerged as one of Canada’s most prolific jazz musicians. He has formed and recorded with a series of distinct bands, including New York-based ensembles – his eponymous Quartet with Oscar Noriega, Satoshi Takeishi and Russ Lossing and the trio Nomad with Matt Mitchell and Jim Black – and such Vancouver groups as his string-dominated Septet and the Arabic music ensemble Haram. All that activity has now led to Grdina’s own label, Attaboygirl Records, which launches with two releases, one introducing a new international quartet, the second a program of solo music for classical guitar and oud. Each testifies to Grdina’s remarkable capacity for growth. With Square Peg, Grdina blends his electric guitar and oud with two Americans, violist Mat Maneri (a long-standing explorer of quarter-tone improvisation) and bassist Shahzad Ismaily (also making adept contributions on synthesizer) and German drummer Christian Lillinger, a rising star in Europe who brings a special animation to any ensemble of which he’s a part. Klotski is a 53-minute work in eight parts, modular pieces that can be introduced by any member of the group and which are linked by collective improvisations. At the core of the music is the strong rapport of Grdina and Maneri who share a fondness for nuances of pitch and subtle shifts in repeating motifs. At times the musical thought is so close that one may cease distinguishing between oud or guitar and viola, as if they’re being played by a single mind, particularly evident in the kind 48 | November 2021 thewholenote.com

of profound reverie that arises in a work like Bacchic Barge, in which the music’s ultimate effect includes both the intertwined strings and the metallic glitter of Lillinger’s snare and cymbals. On Pendulum, his third solo CD, Grdina concentrates on classical guitar and oud. On guitar he creates mysterious tonal intersections out of contrasting cultural references, a quality immediately apparent on the opening Koen Dori, initially written for a Japanese ensemble. The solo performance here hangs between East and West, idiomatic pentatonics and a broad vibrato on slow passages emphasizing the former within a context of richly European harmonies. The effect is not dissonant, however literally that might be applied, but concordant, similar to the quality achieved with Square Peg. Western harmonic conceptions strongly colour the glassy reverberating chromatic weave of Contra, while Wayward, the longest track here and one of two oud pieces, is characterized by rapidly shifting dynamics, an expressive intensity and a movement from traditional modality to increasingly complex pitch distortions and relations. Stuart Broomer If There Were No Opposites Nick Fraser Independent (nickfraserthedrummer.com) ! Drummer/ composer Nick Fraser’s eponymous quartet is amongst the most distinctive Canadian bands to emerge in the past decade, maintaining consistent personnel that includes New York saxophonist Tony Malaby as well as Fraser’s longtime Toronto associates, bassist Rob Clutton and Andrew Downing, here playing cello rather than his more customary bass. If There Were No Opposites is the group’s fourth CD since 2012, and it marks another step in their evolution, with a kind of telepathy arising in the collective handling of Fraser’s compositions and sketches. Fraser’s subtle sense of form adds a special element to the program. The CD begins with Improvisation (Part 1), a flurry of upperregister pizzicato, soon joined by gruff tenor saxophone and a high-pitched keening string melody; within a minute, it shifts to a somber ballad, the tenor tamed and mingled with bowed strings and cymbal washes. The CD’s concluding piece, Improvisation (Part 2), which begins with unaccompanied drums, is literally the continuation of the first, a clever bracketing of the composed pieces within the spontaneous, inverting the traditional jazz pattern of enclosing improvisation within form-defining statements. In between there are five Fraser compositions, each a distinct springboard for the band’s often tumultuous creativity, lines and timbres constantly assembling, dissolving and reassembling in ways that are at once loose and precise, whether it’s the rapid-tempo explosion of Sketch #50 or the piquant, transformations of The Bulldog and the Capricorn. This is exceptional music making. Stuart Broomer Off the Carousel June Garber Vesuvius Music VMI-005 (junegarber.com) ! Luminous chanteuse and performer June Garber has just released a compelling, emotionally and musically profound recording. A deeply personal project, every track is like a small, perfect piece of cinéma vérité – a journey through the commonality of the human experience through Garber’s autobiographical musical lens. Musical genius Lou Pomanti produced and arranged the recording, and also performed on a variety of keyboards. As the CD was created when it was impossible (due to COVID) to record together in the studio, under the expert direction of Pomanti the tracks were created individually and remotely, and then assembled. The talented musicians here include Steve Heathcote on drums, Marc Rogers on bass, Jake Langley on guitar, Drew Jurecka on strings, William Sperandei on trumpet and Robyn Black on background vocals. The moving opener, He Never Mentioned Love, sets the tone for this romantic, emotional journey of an album, where Garber acts as both muse and tour guide. Langley’s soulful guitar solo moves in and out of the languid string lines of almost unbearable beauty as Garber captivates with every note and nuance. Of special, remarkable beauty and delicacy is the inspired composition of the Bergmans and Michel LeGrand, Windmills of Your Mind. Garber fearlessly sails through this melodically and lyrically challenging tune on the wings of a truly inspired arrangement by Pomanti. Every track on this recording is a luscious listening experience – from Lil Hardin’s sexy, bluesy Just for a Thrill (with special guest Jackie Richardson) to a unique, rhythmically infused take on Chick Corea’s Spain, where Garber’s rich, warm tones elicit pure joy! Of special mention is the rarely performed Johnny Mercer/Barry Manilow ballad, When October Goes, performed here to perfection with pristine guitar and voice. The deep emotional honesty in Garber’s interpretation is nothing short of breathtaking. Lesley Mitchell-Clarke A Prayer for Lester Bowie David Sanford Big Band featuring Hugh Ragin Greenleaf Music GRE-CD-1086 (greenleafmusic.com) ! Lester Bowie, co-founder of the Art Ensemble of Chicago and one of the leading lights of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, was a legendary trumpeter known for his adventurous and often humourous music. Beneath this veneer was his avant-garde, deeply Africanized vision for jazz. Referencing everything that the trumpeter stood for, composer and arranger David Sanford empowers his big band to evoke the spirit of Bowie through high-octane performances on A Prayer for Lester Bowie. Each of eight exquisite charts is especially rewarding for the quality of the performance, advanced by stellar soloists featuring trumpeters Hugh Ragin and Brad Goode, saxophonists Anna Webber and Marc Phaneuf, trombonists Jim Messbauer and Ben Herrington among several other virtuoso musicians. While the centrepiece of the album is the song that gives it its title, written by – and featuring – Ragin on trumpet, the other charts are equal, in the fabulous richness of orchestral texture, to the album’s principal song. In fact, about three of the most miraculous minutes of the album can be heard on popit (also featuring Ragin) as well as the balletic Woman in Shadows and the dark-toned Soldier and the CEO. Throughout the repertoire on this recording the musical chemistry between the musicians is seamlessly intuitive. Woodwinds, brass and rhythm sections sparkle in ensemble with eloquence and vigour while judiciously placed solo movements are always poetically declaimed. Raul da Gama Out Here Mary LaRose; Jeff Lederer; Tomeka Reid; Patricia Brennan; Nick Dunston; Matt Wilson) little(i)music (littleimusic.com) ! After his twoyear stint with Chico Hamilton’s band, clarinetist, flutist and alto saxophonist Eric Dolphy rose to eminence in the iconic bands of Charles Mingus, John Coltrane and Booker Little, becoming known as much for his forward-thinking harmonic and rhythmic conception, as for his lyrical, human-speechlike solos on bass clarinet and flute. thewholenote.com November 2021 | 49

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