03_gypsyphilia.jpgNight Swimming
Gypsophilia
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.

 


04_Heartstrings_Yang.jpgHeartstrings
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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02_Andria_Simone.jpgEvolve
Andria Simone
Independent GKM 1018
(andriasimone.com)

There’s been a major resurgence of R&B/soul singers in the last several years, led by the fabulous and tragic Amy Winehouse. Many singers have tried to imitate Winehouse’s singing style and production
techniques and, as a result, most blue-eyed soul records released lately sound very similar and, frankly, tired. So it’s a real pleasure to hear a relatively new singer who is treading her own path. With the aptly named Evolve, Toronto-based singer Andria Simone is developing a style all her own. That said, there are influences apparent in her big, gutsy voice, but how can you be a blues and soul singer and not have greats like Janis Joplin and Aretha Franklin show up?

Evolve establishes Simone not only as a singer to be reckoned with, but as a songwriter of note too. The majority of the tracks are co-written by her and producer Greg Kavanaugh and there are touches of a variety of styles in the mix, but all are hard-driving. The one cover, Sunshine of Your Love, burns with the heat of a thousand suns. Simone’s backing band – and I hesitate to call them a backing band since they contribute so much to the overall musicality and funkiness of the record that they’re more like collaborators – consists of bassist Mark Wilson, guitarist Dave Kirby, saxophonist Brian Dhari, drummer George Nikolov and keyboardist Anthony Brancati. Evolve doesn’t break brand new ground, but it delivers solid groove and energy.

 

Author: Cathy Riches
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01_Eliza_Pope.jpgCall Me a Fool
Eliza Pope
Independent (elizapope.com)

Review

Talented vocalist and songwriter Eliza Pope’s debut CD is a delightful potpourri of re-conceptualized Broadway show tunes, jazz standards and original compositions. The project was co-produced by Pope and yeoman keyboardist/arranger Mark Kieswetter, who also performs magnificently on the CD. To say the least, this recording is an auspicious opening salvo for an emerging artist.

Included is a soulful take on Harold Arlen and Yip Harburg’s 1939 Oscar-winner Over the Rainbow. Kieswetter’s contemporary chord substitutions are the perfect complement to Pope’s tasty vocal line. With facile use of her head voice, Pope soars delicately over, around and above the well-known melody, pushing it right into 2015. Also of note is the jaunty Depression-era original Where Will I Find Love, which evokes a historical mode without becoming derivative of it – no easy task! Eric St. Laurent’s well-placed acoustic guitar work is exceptional on this track, calling to mind a young Charlie Christian. Another fine original is Try, which explores a more pop-oriented aspect of Pope’s versatile vocal and writing style.

A standout is Feeling Good, penned by Anthony Newley and Leslie Bricusse for their hit Broadway show, The Roar of the Greasepaint – The Smell of the Crowd. Pope makes wonderful use of her lower register here, and resists the temptation to convert this tune into an overwrought cabaret anthem. Pope also displays her ability to swing, with a thoroughly delightful rendition of Fats Waller’s Crazy ’Bout My Baby. Noted bassist Ross MacIntyre provides the necessary backbone here, and truly shines on this groovy cooker. Of particular beauty is the gorgeous ballad Little Girl Blue, written by Rogers and Hart for the 1935 Broadway musical Jumbo and rendered by Pope with the full intent of the genius composers firmly in place.

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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.

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Madly Riding

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Dark Red Ruby

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Ah Ya Zein

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Author: Andrew Timar
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