01_Quadrophenia.jpgPete Townshend’s Classic Quadrophenia
Alfie Boe; Billy Idol; Phil Daniels; Pete Townshend; Royal Philharmonic Orchestra; Robert Ziegler
Deutsche Grammophon 479 5057

British rock icon Pete Townshend has embarked on a project to arrange his music into orchestral scores for future generations to perform. The album Quadrophenia was first released in 1973 by The Who. Written by Pete Townshend, the rock opera is set during the 1960s Mod movement and tells the story of the troubled youth Jimmy. Composer, orchestrator and Townshend’s life partner Rachel Fuller took on the monumental task of arranging it for symphony orchestra, choir and singers. The resulting Classic Quadrophenia is an intriguing mix of rock anthem, movie soundtrack, Broadway musical, opera and classical symphonic overture.

Tenor Alfie Boe sings with a satisfying mix of operatic passion and rock star angst in the role of Jimmy, originally sung by Roger Daltrey. Boe makes the part his own, especially in the closing Love Reign O’er Me where his powerful expressive singing against the colourful choir washes, tinkling piano and thundering percussion transforms the rock anthem into an operatic showcase. Billy Idol as Ace Face sings with his trademark gruff presence; Phil Daniels is convincing in the part of Jimmy’s dad; while Townshend as the Godfather makes satisfying yet way too brief vocal and guitar appearances. The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra under Robert Ziegler and the London Oriana Choir under Dominic Peckham perform with joyful conviction. An accompanying DVD supports with visuals and informative commentaries.

Missed here in performance is the Who’s rock stadium energy, stage presence and spontaneous musicality, yet Classic Quadrophenia soars as a more classical music alternative.

02_ASIA_BEAUTY.jpgAsia Beauty
Ron Korb
Humble Dragon 2015 (ronkorb.com)

Ron Korb’s new CD, Asia Beauty, is a charming hybrid – sad, sweet melodies with a Chinese and sometimes a Celtic feel – played on a variety of instruments, traditional and modern. Korb’s melodies are accompanied by small ensembles which include an astounding 27 musicians playing 15 different plucked, bowed or hammered Chinese, Celtic and Western string instruments, one of which is always the piano, playing harmonic progressions recognizably of the Western tradition.

Reflecting on this amalgam of East and West, Korb muses in the liner notes, “In the 1930s...Hong Kong, Shanghai, Singapore and Hanoi were meeting places between East and West. ...I wondered how the cultures intermingled and all the secret romances that must have occurred.” Later he writes about the “bittersweet feelings” and “sublime romantic tragedy” expressed by both traditional and contemporary pop Asian music. The same atmosphere is to be found on most of the tracks on this CD.

Most intriguing, however, is the Celtic influence, which never seems far away in Korb’s music, helped along at times by, but never dependent on, Sharlene Wallace’s Celtic harp and Korb’s penny whistle. In fact the Chinese bamboo flute (dizi) and the traditional Chinese clarinet (bawu) seem made for the Celtic idiom, which mysteriously and frequently appears.

Both Eastern and Western musical currents are part of who Ron Korb is as a musician and as a man. He has totally assimilated the musical language of both traditions; the result is music which is really neither one nor the other but both.

Author: Allan Pulker
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01_Quartetto_Gelato.jpgAll Original – 100% Canadian
Quartetto Gelato
QGPI Records QGPI-010 (quartettogelato.com)

There are lots of tasty delights for the ear in this new release from one of Canada’s favourite ensembles. Featuring the music of five Canadian composers, the stylistic differences of each work challenge Quartetto Gelato to pull out all the stops and prove yet again that the group can perform anything presented to them with perfection.

The current members are all musically gifted and brilliant technicians. Founding violinist/tenor Peter De Sotto, accordionist Alexander Sevastian, oboist/multi-instrumentalist Colin Maier and cellist Liza McLellan play with mutual musical respect and appreciation to detail. Cellist Lydia Munchinsky and percussionists Mark Inneo and Kevan McKenzie are welcome special guests on the tracks where they play.

The satisfying more traditional lush classical sound of Rebecca Pellett’s Una storia d’amore is chamber music at its best. In contrast, Maier’s banjo pickings support De Sotto’s happy singing in Howard Cable’s On The Crowsnest Trail. A driving rhythmic feel and dance groove highlight Hilario Duran’s Latin-flavoured Aventura Afrocubana Suite. The appealing underlying improvisational sentiment of Michael Occhipinti’s music makes his Sirocco and Ballu Di Gelato an intriguing listening experience. The ensemble shines in Jossy Abramovich’s Gypsy Fantasia with more great vocal work by de Soto and  Sevastian’s accordion finesse. More awe-inspiring zippy accordion music shines on Charles T. Cozens’ Celtic Dances.

Gelato fans should be thrilled with this new musical flavour from the always-entertaining Canadian concert stage stars!


02_jesse_cook.jpgOne World
Jesse Cook
eOne COH-CD-5812 (jessecook.com)

Virtuosic, globally inspired guitarist/composer/producer Jesse Cook is known for his stellar, cross-cultural musical motifs and collaborations. His previous JUNO-nominated recording projects have sampled the sonic landscapes of such far-flung locations as Cairo, Colombia and Lafayette, Georgia. On his ninth CD, One World, the usually peripatetic, Paris-born and Toronto-raised Cook has chosen to stay in his own back yard, while still incorporating into his compositions a tasty ethno-smorgasbord, which includes sitars and violins, as well as powerful techno bass sequences and other well-placed and masterfully engineered technology.

Cook’s considerable skill as a highly trained classical, flamenco and jazz guitarist is evident throughout this fine, well-produced recording and on each composition he metaphorically crosses the Bosporus – weaving Eastern and Western musicality and instrumentation into a joyous celebration of alpha wave stimulation and artistic globalism. In describing his project, Cook has said, “The idea is that there really is just one world. If you pull your focus back far enough, you start to see all music as being branches of the same tree….”

Standouts include Shake – a pulsing and virile flamenco, infused with raga-like rhythmic patterns and dynamic percussion; the wild and trippy sub-continent techno journey of Bombay Slam and Taxi Brazil, which conjures up cinematic images of a heady cab ride through Rio. Also of note is the mystical and sensuous Steampunk Rickshaw and the Iberian-infused Beneath Your Skin. The closing track, Breath, features Cook’s pure, warm, crystalline solo acoustic guitar, leaving the listener refreshed and restored – the perfect end to this multi-sensory journey through vibrant and delightful musical exotica.


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03_gypsyphilia.jpgNight Swimming
Forward Music Group FMG051 (gypsophilia.org)

In their first studio-produced release, Halifax-based band Gypsophilia grooves in many tempos and musical moods in original compositions by five members of the seven piece ensemble. From jazzy swinging tunes like Cake Walk to the klezmer/world music influences of Insomniac’s Dream and RiTiB, producer Joshua Van Tassell has captured the band’s upbeat spontaneous off-the-stage sound that has drawn big crowds to their live shows. The happy music played by the effervescent musicians is toe-tapping fun!

The producer uses his superb listening ear to create subtle instrument balances, and to add atmospheric electronic sound effects. From the guitar reverb in Boo Doo Down to the washes of electronic sound in the dark mysterious bass opening of RitiB, a new band sound evolves. The slower Deep Water is especially successful with these effects. A gorgeous opening violin solo line is supported by a wash of wind-like sounds to create a sitting-outside-by-the-lake effect that the other instruments evoke as the work progresses.

All the players are great, with special mention to trumpeter Matt Myer in the opening wah-wah section of Long Shadows, and double bassist Adam Fine, both in his solos and his backing lines in each track. Though running around 40 minutes, this short yet sweet and bopping Gypsophilia release showcases a great tight creative band developing into an even greater one.


Xuefei Yang
Decca 8888182

The renowned Chinese-born guitarist Xuefei Yang released her latest album Heartstrings with Universal Music in June 2015. Nineteen pieces ranging from Chinese folk melody to jazz hits and Spanish guitar classics have been included in her first album for the Decca label.

The whole disc seems like a collage as Yang chooses not to follow a certain topic or theme to connect the pieces. This, to some degree, coincides with the cultural characteristics of the Canadian mosaic. All of the pieces, although drawn from various cultural backgrounds, are lovely, delicate and easy on the ear. Some talk about love affairs (e.g. Takemitsu’s Secret Love and Elgar’s Salut d’ Amour) while others depict natural and mental landscapes.

Yang, with her outstanding technique and her “East-meets-West” experience, gives an indubitably charming performance in Piazzolla’s jazz-styled Milonga del Angel and popular Spanish guitar pieces. However, the most attractive selection on the album is her transcription and interpretation of Fisherman’s Song at Eventide, a piece of traditional Chinese music. Widely popular in North China, Fisherman’s Song is a three-part piece played on a guzheng, a Chinese plucked zither. It depicts a sunset scene with a fisherman going back home after a tiring but fruitful day. The guzheng player imitates fishermen’s songs and the sound of waves, and builds up a jovial and warm atmosphere. In the process of transcribing it into a guitar piece, Yang makes utmost efforts to sustain the Oriental elements as well as to respect characteristics of the classical guitar. It is a challenging attempt and happily she finds a subtle balance between the two instruments.

Having previously recorded albums of Bach and Britten, on this disc Yang has chosen to explore her own cultural roots, managing to bring different narratives and styles together with great success.


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