01 Inuit hymns

Pillorikput Inuit – Inuktitut Arias for All Seasons
Deantha Edmunds; Karrie Obed; Innismara Vocal Ensemble; Suncor Energy String Quartet; Tom Gordon
Memorial (mun.ca/mmap/back_on_track/pillorikputinuit)

Review

Musicologist and pianist Tom Gordon, professor emeritus of the School of Music at Memorial University in St. John’s, NL has long been fascinated by the sacred music performed by the Inuit Moravians of Northern Labrador. Unlike other Christian denominations, Moravian missionaries not only placed a high value on personal piety and missions, but also particularly encouraged the place of music in worship. Digging to understand this music’s history, Gordon sifted through hundreds of manuscripts in Moravian church archives along the Labrador coast.

What emerged was a rich musical practice with roots back to the 1770s and 1780s when European Moravian missionaries founded settlements in Northern Labrador at Nain, then Okak and Arvertok, the first (of many more) Christian missions to the Inuit in what is now Canada. They came to preach Christianity and one of their prime tools – and legacies – was music.

Quite rapidly the music imported from Europe evolved, in the words of Gordon, as an “expressive practice re-conceived to reflect the spirituality and aesthetic preferences of Inuit musicians.” It was music heard almost exclusively within the modest clapboard walls of Labrador Moravian churches. There it remained, almost unknown to the outside world, until now.

From these communities’ extensive repertoire of brass music, congregational singing and choral music, Gordon has chosen 16 tracks of solo sacred arias and duets, reconstructing them from church manuscripts. The result is the impressively documented and performed CD Pillorikput Inuit (Behold, the People), true not only to the letter of the source manuscripts but also to the Inuit spirit of its performers and tradition-keepers. The music chosen celebrates key annual liturgical events like Christmas and Easter, as well as the community celebrations of Married People’s Day and Church Festival Day.

Featuring the classically trained Inuk soprano Deantha Edmunds and Moravian Inuit music expert Karrie Obed, both singing in Inuktitut, the repertoire includes music by two leading European composers of their day, Handel and Haydn. As expected, songs by lesser-tier yet fascinating Moravian composers such as Johann Daniel Grimm (1719–1760), the American John Antes (1740–1811) and the English clergyman Christian Ignatius Latrobe (1758–1836) are also well represented. Organ, wind and string instrumental accompaniment, and the Innismara Vocal Ensemble from St. John’s provide suitable period support throughout.

What is unique in these performances? It’s not so much the repertoire or the conventional instrumental forces employed. It is rather the deeply heartfelt renditions of these European songs in Inuktitut representing a hybrid Inuit performance practice dating back over 225 years in Canada’s North that I find so moving. It seems to me Pillorikput Inuit represents the tip of the iceberg of the rich Inuit musical heritage the rest of us in the South are just beginning to discover, and enjoy.


09 Rebirth of a NationDJ Spooky – Rebirth of a Nation
Kronos Quartet
Cantaloupe CA21110

If ever there was a potent time to release this masterfully crafted new soundtrack to the D.W. Griffith classic, Birth of a Nation, it would be now during the tumultuous rebuilding of post-George W. Bush America by its extraordinary protagonist Barack Obama. Oblique parallel lines could be drawn through the similarities of situation, except that the country is not fighting a civil war to – among other things – end slavery. However a sharply divided people and flare-ups of discrimination along racial lines, unpopular wars and a dramatic decline in civility towards the presidency might be a likely background for such a soundtrack to what DJ Spooky, the irreverent composer aka Paul D. Miller, calls the Rebirth of a Nation.

The Kronos Quartet seem to be a perfect fit for this musical adventure and the quartet seems to come to terms with DJ Spooky’s mindset as if they were one and the same brain. Their transcendent musicianship, a result of great empathy between the players, provides not just memorable accompaniment to the dramaturgy of Griffith’s visuals but also discreet, seductive and eloquent continuo for Spooky’s own musical instruments that remain stark and dominant throughout the unfolding visuals. Yes, visuals! The soundtrack is accompanied by a wonderfully produced DVD so it is possible to hear the music work in conjunction with the original silent moving picture as well. I like, also the laser-bright instrumentation by Spooky.


01 Daniela Nardi

Canto
Daniela Nardi; Espresso Manifesto
eOne REA-CD-5826 (danielanardi.com)

Review

Toronto singer Daniela Nardi continues the Espresso Manifesto project with this latest album, Canto. Espresso Manifesto originated with a collection of Paolo Conte songs (Via Con Me) released in 2012, which Nardi recorded in Umbria with mostly Italian personnel. Canto on the other hand is a celebration of Italian songwriters from a range of eras recorded in both Naples and Toronto with a mix of Italian and Canadian musicians. The other new aspect of Canto is the addition of producer Antonio Fresa who lends a fresh yet often retro sound to the tracks with his inventive arrangements. Wurlitzer, clarinet, trumpet and a string section all enrich the album and Nardi's warm expressive voice.

On the opening track, Punto, the flute doubling the vibes evokes mid-century whimsy but there's also a little Afro-Caribbean flavour stirred in. Surprising touches like these thread their way through the album – songs are reworked in French and English and there's even a little Brazilian style added with a cool Bossa Nova treatment of Gira e Rigira and Vinicius De Moraes' songwriting on Sensa Paura. The exceptional Canadians, Kevin Barrett, Mike Downes and Ron Davis (Nardi's husband) come to the fore on Amami Ancora arranged by Downes and co-written by Nardi in emulation of the great song tradition of her heritage. View a video on The Making of Canto at danielanardi.com.

Author: Cathy Riches
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02 Judith LanderFrom My Life
Judith Lander
Independent (judithlander.com)

Vocalist, composer and pianist Judith Lander has achieved wide international acclaim as a consummate classical cabaret and theatrical performer. With the release of her debut recording (produced by Lander and bassist Tom Hazlett), she achieves a level of meaning that can only be reached through rich life experience and the intuitive use of a profound emotional vocabulary in symbiosis with fine musical compositions. Lander has wisely selected material here that not only wraps around her warm contralto perfectly, but also reflects her career and pays tribute to some of the legendary theatre artists with whom she has worked, such as Jacques Brel and Lotte Lenya. Included in the collection are potent tunes by Stephen Sondheim, Stephen Schwartz, Kurt Weill, Brel, Michael Leonard, Lennon and McCartney and Lander herself.

Most beautifully rendered are Weill’s haunting September Song (rarely performed from a female perspective); a particularly lithe and graceful take on Sondheim’s title tune Anyone Can Whistle (arranged by the great Gene DiNovi) and Jacques Brel’s La Chanson des Vieux Amants, sung “en duo avec” Ghislain Aucoin. Weill’s My Ship is a true stunner, with a clever, fresh arrangement and first rate trio work from Bruce Harvey on piano, Tom Hazlett on bass and Tom Jestadt on percussion. Also of note is Stephen Sondheim’s heart-rending ballad of longing and loss, I Remember (originally heard in the 1967 black-and-white television production of the musical Evening Primrose). This gorgeous, well-produced and well-conceived CD is not only the auspicious (and long overdue) debut of one of our most treasured performing artists, but a must-have for any serious devotee of cabaret and musical theatre.


Ozere FindingFinding Anyplace
Ozere
Independent (ozere.ca)

Finding Anyplace by the Canadian band Ozere is a gem of a CD that deftly combines elements of classical and various traditional and folk musics. Founded and led by classically trained violinist Jessica Deutsch in 2012, Ozere’s rich instrumental tone, interesting rhythms and inspired compositions create a music that feels profoundly comfortable and yet also very fresh and different. The core group of instruments is a new take on the quintessential classical string quartet, but here with violin, cello, mandolin and upright bass – the brainchild of Deutsch whose vision was to blend folk and art music. With the addition of vocals, guitar and some non-Western instruments we sometimes move into other musical realms, including Middle Eastern and even jazz. Of course, many bands cross these kinds of stylistic and cultural boundaries, yet not always with Ozere’s elegance and finesse.

All of the 11 tracks are composed by Deutsch and vocalist Emily Rockarts except two traditional songs – Wayfaring Stranger and MacArthur Road. Each track brings something new: for example, The Sun Ain’t Down and Song for Tina are mostly Celtic in style with attractive violin and mandolin parts; Anyplace is an instrumental number that begins in quasi-Middle Eastern style, then segues into something more jazzy and Celtic; and Wayfaring Stranger is a catchy Klezmer-influenced interpretation.

With its fine musicians, well-crafted songs and arrangements, and incredible variety, this is definitely a CD to recommend and a band to watch.

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04 PayadoraPayadora
Payadora Tango Ensemble
Independent (payadora.com)

The popularity of tango music is no surprise. The diverse compositional strengths, wide-ranging musical sentiments and driving rhythms offer something for all listeners, regardless of their musical tastes. Toronto-based Payadora Tango Ensemble showcase their enormous respect for the style and their phenomenal performing talents in a jam-packed 12 tango release.

Payadora’s musicians are each superstars in their own right. Pianist Tom King shines in his flourishes and gutsy glissandos. Violinist Rebekah Wolkstein plays sultry long tones and melodies with equal dynamism. Double bassist Joseph Phillips performs with a rich tone while holding the group together in a tight sense of pulse. And accordionist Branko Džinović flies over the keyboard with rapid colourful phrases and chord punches executed perfected by the master of bellows control. Together they each remain as soloists yet with superb individual listening skills blend tightly as an ensemble. Superb production qualities add to this recording’s live sound.

A welcome diverse collection of tango music is represented here, each performed with detailed musical nuances. Highlights include the traditional El Choclo in an uplifting rollicking rendition with jazzy undertones. The two Astor Piazzolla compositions are performed with his musical intentions in the forefront, complete with a dramatic finale in Retrato de Milton. Julian Plaza’s Payadora is the perfect showcase with its swelling dynamic shifts, a mournful accordion and violin opening section, and a joyous, toe-tapping, dance-tango section. Enjoy this timeless release!


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