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Volume 27 Issue 3 - December 2021 / January 2022

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  • December
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  • Jazz
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Many Happy Returns: the rebirth of Massey Hall -- from venue to hub; music theatre's re-emergence from postponement limbo; pianist Vikingur Ólafsson's return visit to to "Glenn Gould's hometown"; guest writer music librarian Gary Corrin is back from his post behind the scenes in the TSO library; Music for Change returns to 21C; and here we all are again! Welcome back. Fingers crossed, here we go.

Open House The Fretless

Open House The Fretless Birthday Cake BDAY037CD (thefretless.com) ! Canadian Juno award-winning string quartet The Fretless is Trent Freeman (fiddle/ viola), Karrnnel Sawitsky (fiddle/ viola) Ben Plotnick (fiddle/viola) and Eric Wright (cello). Each member is a technical and musical virtuoso. Together they transform stereotypical classical ensemble instrumental and roots music sounds into new sonic forms. The Fretless continue their musical explorations in this, their sixth release, collaborating with vibrant powerful singers on ten tracks of carefully chosen, arranged, performed and produced covers. The arrangements are clearly influenced by a wide range of styles. Retrograde, featuring Ruth Moody, is a slower work with held string notes, melodies and plucks colourfully mixing with Moody’s vocals and closing humming. Dirty Work is a short dramatic new take on the Steely Dan tune with Freddie & Francine singing fast clean vocals against repeated instrumental grooves and a guitar solo reminiscent background strings. Less intense instrumentals put the spotlight on The Bros. Landreth singing their own Let it Lie, another more straightforward roots rendition. Alessia Cara’s Stay gets upbeat, rocking wailing by Nuela Charles as the quartet supports with repeated chordal textures and held low-note swells. Closing track Fall Away Blues, with guests Red Tail Ring, including its composer Laurel Premo, has classical music reminiscent of background strings and countermelodies until a fast flourish mid-section with a bit of welcome instrumental improv showcasing the quartet’s diverse talents. Thank you to The Fretless for providing the vocalists the opportunity to develop and record songs with them. Outstanding music. Tiina Kiik Grateful Caroline Wiles Independent (carolinewiles.com) ! Ontario-based, self-taught musician and songwriter Caroline Wiles performs her musical heart out with lush lead and harmony vocals, and clear guitar/harmonica playing in her fifth release, Grateful. Nine tracks are her own compositions, which run the sound spectrum from 60s-70s-80s’ flavoured pop to country, and one Gordon Lightfoot cover, all recorded by her longtime Hamilton, Grant Avenue Studio producer/bassist/multi-instrumentalist Bob Doidge. Wiles’ melodies and storytelling lyrics are heartwarming. A highlight is the earworm title track Grateful, dedicated to her sister, featuring positive real-life sentiments like “I am so grateful for you,” a feeling we can all relate to. Make a Memory with Me is an upbeat 70s tune with wide-ranging high/ low pitched vocals and singalong la-la-la sections. What Could Have Been is a radiofriendly pop song with a solo voice alternating with her own group vocals singing “I may never win” to a final held note. Country style Lovey Dovey, has solo and full harmonic sung sections and full band instrumentals featuring Shane Guse fiddle backdrop and solo interludes. It is so admirable that Wiles has recorded her first-ever cover, Gordon Lightfoot’s Talking in Your Sleep, as a respectful tribute to the Canadian icon. Her perfect diction and vocal colours are emotional as bandmember Amy King’s vocal harmony/solo piano stylings keep the mood. Lightfoot has complimented Wiles for all her performances here. Precise intonation, smooth rich vocal colour, enthusiastic instrumental performances and easy listening songs make Grateful a release for listeners of all ages. Tiina Kiik Songs from Home Polky Independent n/a (polkyband.com) ! Polky – “Polish women” in English – is a Canadian folk band started by three Polish- Canadian musicians, singer Ewelina Ferenc, dancer/singer Alicja Stasiuk and multi-instrumentalist Marta Solek. This is their first full-length recording and the six-piece band, with four special guests, energetically perform uniquely passionate music drawing on their Polish musical roots, various Eastern/Central European musics and that of the multicultural Canadian setting they call home for their musical influences. Featured are nine Polky arranged/ composed traditional Polish compositions. Opening track Hej z pola z pola is an eloquent introduction with Ferenc’s written chantlike vocals above guest Wojciech Lubertowicz’s haunting duduk drone. Then an upbeat fast polka change of pace in an arrangement of traditional Polish Oj Musialas. Vocal solo, choral full answer, energetic vocal squeals, full bass and drum cymbal rings add to its fun feel. Slow instrumental start, full vocals and sudden shift to fast polka in Jewish Polka, with Georgia Hathaway’s violin and Tangi Ropars’ accordion adding to the joyful sound. Rain, one of two original tunes, is composed by Solek. String plucks, repeated wind notes, bass groove and vocals build to final quiet instrumental rain drops. Bassist Peter Klaassen drives and holds the band together in the closing more traditional upbeat polka rendition of Wishing Kasia with his strong groove supporting group vocals and alternating instrumental solos to the closing loud accent. Polky musically incorporates the love of all their homes’ traditional music into their own luminous original sound. Canadian Folk Music Awards 2022 nominations in three categories! Tiina Kiik Folk for Little Folk Volume 1 Gordie Crazylegs MacKeeman Independent n/a (gordiemackeeman.com/ site/albums) ! Uplifting joyous energetic musical surprises abound as superstar East Coast fiddler/singer/ dancer/composer Gordie “Crazylegs” MacKeeman directs his musical energies to kids and their families in 17 songs. MacKeeman is a father and, when not performing, has worked for ten years as a daycare teacher seeing, as he writes in the liner notes, “a lack of variety in children’s music.” I too spent years teaching daycare music and agree, kids enjoy musical variety. I love what MacKeeman has accomplished here, as he sings and fiddles in many styles like folk, bluegrass and country. He is joined by numerous musicians, including two Gordie McKeeman and His Rhythm Boys bandmates, Peter Cann (guitar) and Tom Webb (banjo/pedal steel). All Around the Kitchen has upbeat traditional East Coast old-time MacKeeman fiddling, and hilarious cock-a-doodle-doo female vocals. More traditional fiddling with high-pitch fiddle sections in Listen to the Mockingbird. Fiddle and guitar solos between MacKeeman’s robust singing in his really fast rendition of Hokey Pokey encourages boisterous listener participation. Classic singalong rendition of Log Driver’s Waltz sets the mood for “chair dancing.” A cappella vocals and sounds of trickling/splashing water create a hilarious change of pace in Dancing in the Bathtub. MacKeeman’s composition Boogie Woogie Baby uses the title words as lyrics, making it easy for kids of all ages to sing and dance to its walking groove feel. His relaxing waltz Dreamland closes with tinkly piano. MacKeeman’s children’s release is perfect! More please! Tiina Kiik 52 | December 2021 thewholenote.com

Something in the Air Japanese Improvised Music Has Taken and Still Takes Many Surprising Forms KEN WAXMAN Since at least after World War Two, the skill of Japanese players of every type of music has been unquestioned, and it’s the same for jazz and improvised music. However since non-notated music’s bias has been North American and European-centred, except for the few who moved to the US, numerous Japanese innovators are unknown outside the islands. But these discs provide an overview of important players’ sounds and the evolution of the form. Although arriving from a dissimilar tradition, free-form experiments were common in 1960s Japan with several avant-garde ensembles throughout the country. One player who tried for more international renown was trumpeter Itaru Oki (1941- 2020). He relocated to France in 1974 and was soon playing with locals. Occasionally he returned to gig in Japan, and Live at Jazz Spot Combo 1975 (NoBusiness NBCD 143 nobusinessrecords.com) reproduces one of those visits. Playing with drummer Hozumi Tanaka who was part of his Japanese trio, bassist Keiki Midorikawa and, crucially, alto saxophonist/flutist Yoshiaki Fujikawa, Oki’s quartet roams through five themes and improvisations. The trumpeter’s truculent flutters set the pace with speedy arabesques in counterpoint to slithery flute flutters. While keeping the exposition horizontal, the trumpeter prolongs intensity with triplets and half-valve effects. Backed by sul tasto bass string rubs and percussion slaps, Fujikawa is even more assertive beginning with Combo Session 2, where initial saxophone concordance with trumpet puffs soon dissolves into strangled reed cries and irregular vibrations. Dragging an emotional response from Oki, both horns are soon exfoliating the narrative, seconded by cymbal shivers. But the four stay rooted enough in jazz to recap the head after cycling through theme variations. These opposing strategies are refined throughout the rest of this live set. But no matter how often the saxophonist expresses extended techniques such as doits and spetrofluctuation, linear expression prevents aural discomfort. In fact, the concluding Combo Session 5 could be termed a free jazz ballad. While Oki’s tonal delineation includes higher pitches and more note expansion than a standard exposition, at points he appears to be channelling You Don’t Know What Love Is. That is, until Midorikawa’s power pumps, Tanaka’s clapping ruffs and the saxophonist’s stentorian whistles and snarls turn brass output to plunger emphasis leading to a stimulating rhythmic interlude. With trumpet flutters descending and reed trills ascending a unison climax is reached. Flash forward 15 years and more instances of first generation Japanese free music are on Live at Jazz Inn Lovely 1990 (NoBusiness NBCD 135 nobusinessrecords.com). In one way it was a reunion between two pioneering improvisers, guitarist Masayuki Jojo Takayanagi (1932-1991), who began mixing noise emphasis and free improvisation in the mid-1960s with in-your-face groups featuring the likes of saxophonist Kaoru Abe and pianist Masabumi Puu Kikuchi (1939-2015). Kikuchi evolved a quieter style after moving to the US in the late 1980s and this was the first time the guitarist and pianist played together since 1972. Problem was that this was a Takayanagi duo gig with longtime bassist Nobuyoshi Ino until Kikuchi decided to sit in, creating some understandable friction. Agitation simmers beneath the surface adding increased tautness to the already astringent sounds. This is especially obvious on the trio selections when the guitarist’s metallic single lines become even chillier and rawer. Initially more reserved, Kikuchi’s playing soon accelerates to percussive comping, then key clangs and clips, especially on the concluding Trio II. For his part, Ino serves as a bemused second to these sound duelists, joining an authoritative walking bass line and subtly advancing swing to that final selection. On the duo tracks, he and the guitarist display extrasensory connectivity. He preserves chromatic motion with buzzing stops or the occasional cello-register arco sweep. Meanwhile with a minimum of notes, Takayanagi expresses singular broken chord motion or with slurred fingers interjects brief quotes from forgotten pop tunes. On Duo II as well, Ino’s string rubs move the theme in one direction while Takayanagi challenges it with a counterclockwise pattern. Still, fascination rests in the piano-guitar challenges with Kikuchi’s keyboard motion arpeggio-rich or sometime almost funky, while Takayanagi’s converse strategies take in fluid twangs, cadenced strumming and angled flanges. Abandoning chordal instruments and concentrating on horn textures, Live at Little John, Yokohama 1999 (NoBusiness NBCD 144 nobusinessrecords.com) provides an alternative variant of Nipponese free music. Backed only by the resourceful drumming of Shota Koyama, a trio of wind players creates almost limitless tonal variants singly, in tandem or counterpoint. Best known is tenor saxophonist Mototeru Takagi (1941-2002), who was in Takayangi’s New Direction Unit and in a duo with percussionist Sabu Toyozumi. The others who would later adopt more conventional styles are Susumu Kongo who plays alto saxophone, flute and bass clarinet, and Nao Takeuchi on tenor saxophone, flute and bass clarinet. No compromising of pure improvisation is heard on this CD’s three lengthy selections, although there are times when flute textures drift towards delicacy and away from the ratcheting peeps expelled elsewhere. Whether pitched in the lowing chalumeau register or squeaking clarion split tones, clarinet textures add to the dissonant sound mosaic. This isn’t anarchistic blowing however, since the tracks are paced with brief melodic interludes preventing the program from Spirits Van Stiefel A collection of his own performances of layered compositions developed in his home recording studio. thewholenote.com/listening American Discoveries Lansdowne Symphony Orchestra Celebrates previously unrecorded orchestral repertoire, featuring music by three female composers: Priscilla Alden Beach, Linda Robbins Coleman, and Alexandra Pierce. thewholenote.com December 2021 | 53

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