01_Red_Chamber.jpgGathering
Red Chamber
Za Discs N17 mei-han.com

Review

Red Chamber is not your typical Chinese string band. The Vancouver-based group has seriously eclectic, transcultural tastes. Led by the zheng scholar and virtuoso Mei Han, the group includes Guilian Liu on pipa, Zhimin Yu on zhongruan, daruan, and Geling Jiang on sanxian and zhongruan. They are all masters of their respective plucked Chinese string instruments.

Already well established as professional musicians in mainland China, these women sought a second home on Canada’s west coast where they have expanded both their careers – and ears. Mei Han reflects on this process of cultural awareness: “[As we] travelled around the world and collaborated with artists from a wide range of cultures, we have grown to become more open and aware.”

Gathering, their second album, exhibits influences of diverse musics discernable in the inclusion of instruments such as the tabla, djembe, dumbek and gong. Multiethnic melodic layers are also in ample evidence. The scores variously draw on Chinese, Arabic, West African, Klezmer, Greek, Turkish, Cape Breton and Métis sources, performed on Red Chamber’s Chinese plucked strings. The latter range from the brittle high-trilled notes of the pipa to bass daruan tones.

The album’s success owes much to Vancouver composers Moshe Denburg, John Oliver and Randy Raine-Reusch. They each contributed scores, exploring this transcultural terrain, which were then skillfully articulated and extended by the musicians. Just one example: while Ah Ya Zein, an Arabic love song arranged by Raine-Reusch, is culturally anchored by Gord Grdina’s moody oud expositions, it is MeiHan’s inspired mercurial zheng solo that provides the most unexpected musical thrill.

I saw Red Chamber live at Toronto’s Music Gallery in 2010. I was mightily impressed not only by the individual virtuosity of the musicians, but also by their tight ensemble and culturally inclusive repertoire. Until they grace a hall near you, this enjoyable record is the closest to a transnational musical Silk Road journey you can experience.

Listen

Madly Riding

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Dark Red Ruby

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Ah Ya Zein

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Video

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Author: Andrew Timar
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02_Purcells_Revenge.jpgPurcell’s Revenge – Sweeter Than Roses?
Concerto Caledonia; David McGuinness
Delphian DCD34161

Listening to this CD, I felt as though I’d mysteriously stumbled onto the playlist of a stranger who had searched using the keywords “Purcell, Scottish, early music, folk, crossover, James Oswald.” Anyone looking for multiple ways to reinvent Purcell and traditional tunes connected to him will find much to enjoy in the broad swath that this program cuts; but cohesive it’s not.

James Bowman makes a cameo appearance singing Sweeter Than Roses with viol consort, and Jim Moray sings a convincing and innocently folky Fairest Isle. Olivia Chaney’s singing in her wonderful arrangement of There’s not a swain on the plain reminds me of the great Maddy Prior; and Pamela Thorby does an excellent job of whistle-izing a recorder. The connection between Purcell’s New Scotch Tune for solo harpsichord and a hook harp version of the tune speaks elegantly for itself, as does a broken consort version of Purcell’s Fantazia 11, and there are a couple of delightful new pieces by Chaney and Ana Silvera.

But some of the other material left me cold, such as the revamp of Purcell’s Evening Hymn, the original of which is so gorgeous I don’t know why anyone would want to mess with it. Elsewhere there’s some very good harmonica playing, and “rock on” amplification, of which I’d have liked either more, or none. There’s much cleverness and musical delight here, but this particular “anything goes” program doesn’t quite satisfy.

 


05_Pot_Pourri_01_Zee.jpgZ [zee] 
Zeynep Ozbilen
Independent (zeynepozbilen.com)

Where would the 1969 Blood Sweat and Tears’ jazz fusion hit Spinning Wheel by Canadian singer David Clayton-Thomas receive a caliente Latin-inflected remake by Toronto bandleader and arranger Roberto Linares Brown (leaning heavily on the original influential Grammy Award-winning arrangement by Fred Lipsius), but infused with Turkish lyrics by the singer Zeynep Ozbilen? In Toronto, that’s where. Titled Donme Dolap, the song is among the delights of Z [zee].

While the individual tracks were recorded in cities emblematic of the music genres represented – Istanbul, Miami, NYC and Toronto – the album was produced, mixed and mastered in Toronto. I mention the geography and its implied cultural shifts because it accurately reflects the hybrid musical aesthetics and artistic ambitions of Ozbilen, aided by her producer and band leader Brown.

This album with the single consonant title (given the American pronunciation), is the newest project of Turkish-born, now Toronto-based singer and songsmith Zeynep Ozbilen. For over a decade she was the lead vocalist for the Latin All Stars, the first and best-known Latin group in Turkey. Her warm throaty alto is equally at home in jazz and musical standards as in Anatolian, Balkan and Ladino songs. The lyrics on Z [zee] underscore this multiculturalism, smoothly negotiating between Turkish, English and Spanish.

The skillful fingerprints of Roberto Linares Brown are all over the album too, infusing his knowledge of multiple Latin styles into skillful horn-rich arrangements and delivering understated keyboard performances. While not every song here will make it into my personal heavy rotation, the album as a whole encourages my hybrid musical heart to sing – and to kick off those winter boots and dance.

 

Author: Andrew Timar
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01_Blues_Violin.jpgThe Blues Violin
Lenny Solomon
Independent #301 (thebluesviolin.com)

After the international success of his show Bowfire, Lenny Solomon is returning to his roots with his newest release The Blues Violin. This JUNO Award-winning Toronto musician has built a solid reputation as a jazz violinist, though he has a lengthy classical and pop background. The music on this album journeys through different blues styles but that is not all – Lenny Solomon adds jazz, funk and rock elements with the craftsmanship of a mature artist. The rhythm section (Marc Ganetakos, guitar; Shelly Berger, bass; Mark Lalama, keyboards; Steve Heathcote, drums and percussion) provides a wonderful landscape for the savvy violin solos and shines in solos of their own. Greg Kolchinsky, who recorded and mixed this album, did a fine job bringing out the variety of electric violin sounds.

The recording opens and closes with lively jazz numbers - Jumpy gives a nod to the Jump Jive sound and features fluent violin solos and buoyant horns while Jojo, in addition to the impressive violin improvisations, offers the spotlight to the rhythm section. In between are mellow compositions such as Winter Tears and Slow Side into Blues (this one evocative of Stephane Grappelli’s style) and more animated ones – Half Full Blue, with its majestic opening and a rock beat, and Spooky Blues, with clear violin lines over funk guitar. Edgar’s Blues stands out for its wah-wah violin effects – the violin sound is stimulated with electronics and controlled by the movement of the player’s foot, creating an expressive tone that mimics the human voice.

Highly recommended for escaping the winter blues.

 

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02_Shirley_Eikhard.jpgMy Day in the Sun
Shirley Eikhard
Independent SEM2014 (shirleyeikhard.ca)

Shirley Eikhard is one of the most significant, contemporary singer/songwriter/composers that Canada has ever produced. She has created hit songs for a variety of international artists – blurring the lines between musical genres and embracing elements of country, blues, pop and soul. Eikhard’s Grammy-winning song Something to Talk About became a megahit for the incomparable Bonnie Raitt and she has also penned material for such diverse artists as Rita Coolidge, Anne Murray, Emmylou Harris, Cher and Chet Atkins. Eikhard’s latest project, My Day in the Sun, is rife with her trademark lyrical and melodic skill. Each track is an original Eikhard composition, and a synesthetic treat – in other words, a satisfying delight for the head, heart, eyes, ears and spirit.

The Reggae/Ska-influenced opener Pray for Rain features clever multi-tracked vocals (as well as an appropriate Farfisa-like keyboard patch), and sets the stylistic tone for the entire CD on which Eikhard not only sings all the parts but also plays all the instruments. Her rich, warm, alto voice easily wraps itself around the soulful, rhythmic tracks and effortlessly imbues each song with her distinctive lyrical poetry and profound emotional content. The title track explores her very personal journey as a mature artist… a journey that has not only wended its way through a long and meaningful career, but a career that is as artistically relevant now as it has ever been. It is a joy to hear Eikhard singing in her own, authentic voice – with more than a little positivity, power and truth (elements often lacking in today’s simplistic pop tunes). Of particular note is What Could Have Been – an anthem about putting the past in perspective and moving ahead into a joyous future.

 

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06 Pot Pourri 01 Mike HerriottOff the Road
Mike Herriott; Arturo Sandoval
MHP Records MHPR1301
(mikeherriott.com)

Although perhaps best known as a classical trumpeter who extends into a number of milieus, Mike Herriott is also a multi-gifted, multi-instrumentalist who regularly acquits himself brilliantly on trumpet, French horn, trombone, electric and acoustic bass, piano, percussion and more. On Off the Road, Herriott has utilized a melange of styles, approaches and instrumentations – blurring the lines between jazz, classical, rock and Latin musics. Not quite a one-man-band, Herriott’s talented support on the CD includes percussionist Richard Moore, guitarist Sean Harkness and Canadian Brass trombonist Achilles Liarmakopoulos, as well as his special guest – iconic Cuban trumpeter Arturo Sandoval. Herriott contributes the bulk of the compositions here, with additional material from the eclectic likes of Pete Townsend of The Who, J. S. Bach and 18th-century composer Gottfried Reiche.

Prepare to be thrilled from the solo trumpet opener Abblasen Fanfare, through the stirring, swinging, bop-infused Dear John (a Freddie Hubbard tune, featuring Sandoval), to the final selection – Herriott’s incisive take on Bach’s Adagio, Sonata in G Minor for Solo Violin (performed on trumpet, of course!).

Other complex and challenging gems include the plaintive Stay Thirsty, My Friend (a tribute to his dear friend Alex Mitchell); the cinematic opus Home Suite Home (featuring the exceptional drumming/percussion of Moore) and the Latin cooker, Cancion de Kyra (with some face-melting guitar work from Harkness). Off the Road is not only an immense technical achievement, but the work of a deeply emotional artist clearly at the apex of his creativity and skill.

 

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