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Volume 28 Issue 6 | Summer 2023

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  • Festival
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  • August
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Fast start to the summer and it just keeps going: Luminato walks with Little Amal; the Historical Organ Society comes to town; composer Carmen Braden is keeping busy; Phil Nimmons turns 100; TSM's metamorphosis; and check out live links in ads, listings and our easy surfing directory of summer festivals. See you August 30 for Volume 29 no.1

contrasting with those

contrasting with those left unprepared. While Bacchanale (1938-1940) was Cage’s first prepared piano composition, it took him another decade to pen his definitive work for it: the hour-long 19-movement Sonatas and Interludes (1946–48). Long viewed by the music establishment as a gimmicky outsider work, it’s become repertoire that new music pianists must reckon with. Italian Agnese Toniutti’s admirably sensitive Neuma Records rendition privileges rhythmic precision, a relaxed mood, in addition to a nuanced preparation of the grand piano. This produces a delightfully delicate and rich palette of dynamics, timbres and textures. I particularly enjoyed her effective evocation of a distant bass drum, buzzy gongs and the uncanny aural illusion of the sounds of a bonang and saron (respectively a gongchime and a metalophone instrument in the Javanese gamelan), interleaved with ordinary piano sounds. There are certainly more dramatic and propulsive recorded performances of Sonatas & Interludes, such as those by (my teacher) James Tenney, Margaret Leng Tan, John Tilbury, Yuji Takahashi and others. On this album however, Toniutti makes a compelling case for a sensitive, soft-grained, quietleaning performance which I savoured. I think Cage would have too. Andrew Timar Lei Liang – Hearing Landscapes/Hearing Icescapes Lei Liang New Focus Recordings FCR360 ( ! Lei Liang’s disc Hearing Landscapes/ Hearing Icescapes could easily have opened with the voice of Captain Kirk of the Starship Enterprise as it sets off to “go where no man has ever gone before.” With a sense of deep mysticism and a philosophical and artistic leap, Liang has first pierced the celestial dome of the sky and then returned to plumb the roar of the deep. On the riveting works of this album the composer has created a sonic diptych that beckons the listener to traverse with him from celestial heights to oceanic depths. In the first work – Hearing Landscapes – Liang takes off from the terrestrial promontory guided by the invisible hand (brush, really) of Huang Binhong, a fin de siècle painter, whose landscapes prove inspirational. On the opening movement of the work the composer also gives wing to a Chinese folk song sung by the celebrated Zhu Zhonglu from Qinghai, in Northwestern China. The mournful lyric gives way to the jagged soundscape of electronics, becoming eerily speechlike at one point in the second movement, ultimately evaporating by the end of the final part of the work. Liang, though, is far from done and the album continues in the raspy rustling of Hearing Icescapes, constructed around field recordings made literally 300 metres below the surface of the Chuckchi Sea north of Alaska. On paper this sounds impenetrable. Nevertheless, the performance of the whole score carries its powerful physical weight, obviating the necessity of narrative clarity. Raul da Gama Steve Reich – Music for 18 Musicians Colin Currie Group; Synergy Vocals Colin Currie Records CCF0006 ( ! Minimalist music is a late arrival. We owe Steve Reich a debt of gratitude for freeing our ears of the tired refrains of the past. And just in time. Alex Ross recently wrote that Max Richter’s exhalations “exude a gentle fatalism, a numbed acquiescence. Don’t worry, be pensive.” But where Richter’s music lulls, Reich’s stimulates. While we refer to Music for 18 Musicians as minimalist, it certainly doesn’t bear easy reductive analysis. There’s a LOT going on, and on, and on, the timing of the changes cunningly satisfying our love of regularity. Reich’s own breakdown of the piece is included in the liner notes, an additional treasure, a revelation of his process. What to say about the playing and the production values? Both sound great in my headset, where it seems like they belong. Instruments and voices ranged about me, colours pass by on parade. I would love to hear this live, but I’d be distracted thinking about how tired the players are halfway through the 14 subparts, which run nonstop for just over an hour. I’d be envious, too, wanting to be up there working in the same groove. And no doubt I’d have a crush on at least one of the vocalists way sooner than half-way. Recorded at Abbey Road Studios in 2022, Swingle-y sung by Synergy Vocals and battened down by the Colin Currie Group, there must be at LEAST 18 of them, just going for it. Put it on and forget it. Waltz through the chores and cares, in time and rhythm, see if you don’t feel better about the dusting or the sorting of the laundry. Or if you have the luxury of leisure, put it on and slip into couch-lock mode: be massaged, be refitted, recreated. Let the shifting shades and steady pulse iron out the folds in your psyche. Go about your day, propelled and sustained. Max Christie JAZZ AND IMPROVISED Spark Bird Emilie-Claire Barlow Empress Music ( ! One of the first delights of many upon opening Emilie-Claire Barlow’s latest album, is the care that’s gone into the design. For those of us who yearn for the days of physical CDs and LPs, Spark Bird delivers with a full package, including charming illustrations by Caroline Brown. The second thing that struck me was what a happy album Spark Bird is. For a project that was mostly produced during a pandemic, one might expect a little less joy. But it seems that spending a large part of her time on the west coast of Mexico enabled Barlow to slow down, listen and be inspired by the nature around her. This gorgeous ode to our bird friends is the result. The opening tune, Over the Rainbow, with Barlow’s warm, flawless vocals, feels like comfort food in musical form. Drawing on the maestro of joy, Stevie Wonder, and sambafying Bird of Beauty, is inspired. Even the melancholic moments can be uplifting when they’re as musical as Skylark, the Hoagy Carmichael/Johnny Mercer classic. The arrangement is a masterclass in how to reharmonize interestingly without venturing too far from the original. Credit for it goes to Reg Schwager (Barlow’s long-time collaborator and guitarist) and Steve Webster (who mixed and mastered the album) as well as Barlow herself. Coldplay’s heartbreaker, O, is no less masterfully rendered, courtesy of Amanda Tosoff’s piano playing and arranging, Drew Jureka’s strings and Rachel Therrien’s haunting trumpet solo. It’s been five years since Barlow graced us with an album, but she’s been anything but idle. As head of her own record label, Empress Music, plus half of the duo, Bocana, that’s been steadily releasing singles, Barlow is a busy lady. So, as terrible as a worldwide health crisis is, the fact that it enabled artists to slow down, smell the roses – and listen to the birds – is something for which we can be grateful. Cathy Riches Playing With Fire Jane Bunnett & Maqueque Linus Entertainment 270788 ( ! Innovative and consummate reed player Jane Bunnett has long been considered an unofficial Canadian Jazz Ambassador – particularly with regard to her deep relationship with Cuba and its music. The founding 68 | Summer 2023

of Maqueque, a burning, allfemale ensemble, occurred a decade ago, following a jam session in Havana with an array of talented, musician/composers and graduates of the Cuban Conservatory. The seasoned, award-winning group has travelled the world, and now includes vocalist Joanna Majoko from Zimbabwe, as well as artists from the Dominican Republic, Latin America, Spain and Lebanon. Produced by Larry Cramer, this latest release is beyond stunning. First up is Human Race (Bunnett/Grantis), a solid groove replete with a facile soprano solo from Bunnett and fine support from bassist Tailin Marrero and Donna Grantis on electric guitar. A standout track is Bud Powell’s Tempus Fugit, featuring pianist Dánae Olano as well as gymnastic vocal scat sections from Majoko and Bunnett on flute. The lighter-than-air Daniela’s Theme, composed by and featuring Olano on piano, with her sister Daniela on violin, also includes a fine group vocal accenting traditional rhythmic motifs. Turquesa/Turquoise (Bunnett/Grantis) is a percussive, vocal and lyrical tour de force replete with another fine solo/call and response between Bunnett and Majoko. Other delights here include Marrero’s Bolero a un Sueno, a ballad of rare luminous beauty and Charles Mingus’ Jump Monk – marvellously arranged to reflect upon and celebrate Monk’s and Mingus’ mutual quirky approach. Percussionist Mary Paz is absolutely incendiary on this track. The closing title song, also written by Bunnett and Grantis, features the ensemble in a composition of complexity and multiple musical motifs, coalescing in an exuberant expression of energy, power and pure joy. Lesley Mitchell-Clarke Moonlighting – AstroJazz Vol.1 Astrocolor Amelia Recordings AML0012CD ( ! Fittingly timed with the extraordinary events taking place in regards to space travel at the moment, this latest record by Western Canadian Music Awards Instrumental Artist of the Year, Astrocolor is a perfect spacey, otherworldly musical foray. A mellow, ear-pleasing journey is exactly what these tunes call to mind, with an additional contagious repetitive rhythmic groove that just leaves the listener wanting more. With a lineup of great musicians such as Neil James Cooke-Dallin on synths, guitar, etc., Andrew Poirier on guitar, William Farrant on bass to name a few, these original compositions are propelled to great new heights. Astrocolor has managed to create a completely new niche for themselves in the jazz world, “blending elements of jazz, psychedelia and electronica — …resulting in the aptly dubbed [genre] ‘AstroJazz.’” The feeling throughout the album is as if you’re straddling the border of the modern and new, the traditional and contemporary; floating in this pleasant, almost trance-like musical state of mind that you don’t want to emerge from. It’s a complete, immersive musical experience quite unlike anything else, where the psychedelia of the past meets with the technology of the here and now. “Moonlighting imagines an exploratory trip into deep space… recalling the influence of late 90s electronic acts…” through layering fantastic synthesizer melodies and programming over a traditional band setup. For those who have been itching for something completely new and unique, this is the find you’ve been looking for. Kati Kiilaspea Underdog Redline Trio Chronograph Records CR 102 ( ! Between the self-deprecating title Underdog and the extinct Dodo bird with one leg cut off as a cover image, the message being beamed at the listeners antennae could well be: “Help! We’re stuck in the past.” In truth, however, the forward-thinking musicians of the Calgary-based Redline Trio and their celebrated British Columbia associates, present their set, tongue firmly in cheek. The only thing that this music harks back to is a kind of creativity sans gratuitous virtuosity, which is often seen as a thing of the past. Unfolding in six short songs, each with a simply (sometimes) evocative title, is the imaginative music captured on a recording of considerable creativity. Composed by all the band members – saxophonist Mark DeJong, bassist Steve Shepard and drummer Jeff Sulima, and guests, trumpeter Brad Turner and pianist Steve Hudson – the musical stream of ideas unfolds with energy and vitality. The Redline Trio is harmonically anchored by pianist Hudson and the horns soar with acoustically aerodynamic figures and patterns, gliding along nicely. Shifts occur through rapid changes in direction of rhythmic temperature. (Cue No Limes for Jeffery, The Waltz and the album’s pinnacle Underdog that closes the set.) The group’s source of inspiration is Summer 2023 | 69

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