Do Right is Sari Kessler’s debut album, and it’s an impressive one. Although a scan of the track list with its frequently covered songs initially didn’t give me high expectations, right off the top we get a nicely reimagined treatment of the Bacharach-David hit, Walk on By. Arranged by James Shipp, with a darker feel than the original, young trumpeter Nadje Noordhuis adds to the noir. The album continues in its tastefully inventive vein as Kessler and Shipp’s arrangements breathe new life into tunes like Sunny and provide an appropriately contemplative take on I Thought About You. One of the lesser-known songs on the album is The Gal From Joe’s by Duke Ellington, handled with understated poignancy by Kessler and the band. Based in the U.S., Kessler took up a career in jazz singing a little later than some, and that’s given her an ability to inject some genuine depth and soul into her delivery. Coached by the wonderful Kate McGarry (who also co-produces the album) Kessler has a fine voice with a warm tone, spot-on pitch and jazzy phrasing. The creative and able playing of the musicians, including John di Martino on piano, guitarist Ron Affif and sax man Houston Person, round out this skilled collection of songs.
Long Time Leaving
Black Hen Music BHCD0079 (christacouture.com)
With the release of her fourth CD, Edmonton-based, eclectic, roots-inspired chanteuse, pianist and gifted composer Christa Couture has recorded a brilliant career-defining project. Featuring all original music, and described by Couture as a “celebration of ordinary heartache,” she has almost cinematically plumbed the depths of her own inspiring journey (teenage cancer, the unimaginable loss of two children and more) and transmuted those experiences into a pan-relatable, uplifting and delightfully quirky project. Recorded in Nashville and skillfully produced by JUNO-winning guitarist/multi-instrumentalist Steve Dawson, the CD includes members of Blackie and The Rodeo Kings, notably Dawson on pedal steel and electric guitars, John Dymond on bass, Gary Craig on drums and venerable Nashville-based fiddler, Fats Kaplin.
There is no wallowing in self-pity here. In fact, the instrumentation, arrangements, compositions and Couture’s lithe, sheer, roots-influenced vocals all underscore the unconquerable human spirit – and make this recording an appropriate listening choice for almost any mood or activity.
Of special note are The Slaughter, with its haunting, almost childlike, echo-infused vocals and a lyric that ponders breakups with both men and women; Michigan Postscript – a melodic travelling song with a lilting vocal and stunning slide work by Dawson; Zookeeper – replete with fine acoustic piano and heavy surf guitar saturating this insightful and witty ode to couples therapy; and Lovely Like You – a sweet stunner featuring the honeyed tones of fiddler Kaplin. Also memorable is the closing track, Aux Oiseaux – a charming, pristine and deliciously melancholy anthem of survival and the art of learning to embrace life again – no matter what has transpired.
When DISCoveries editor David Olds approached me about reviewing a CD of satirical songs written inside the Theresienstadt concentration camp, we both expressed our reservations about it. But curiosity (and the fact that the World Jewish Congress sponsored the project) got me to listen.
KAMP! Songs and Satire from Theresienstadt is the first English recording of songs written and performed by some (of the many) Jewish poets, composers, musicians and cabaret stars imprisoned in Theresienstadt (1942-44), and marks the 70th anniversary of the liberation of that infamous “model ghetto.”
These songs were brought to light, given life and presented in a cabaret-like setting in Vienna in 1992. Russian-Jewish pianist and composer, Sergei Dreznin, served both at the piano and as music director. Dreznin, who also wrote several new melodies to existing poems, went on to direct an English version called KAMP! in 1994. The eponymous CD is the culmination of Dreznin’s 20-plus-year-resolve to keep alive this material created as a means of survival, a way for prisoners to mock their unbearable circumstances and maintain their sanity.
The material is indeed subversive and unsettling. It is also brilliantly executed by Dreznin and singing actors Amelia DeMayo and Curt Buckler.
If nothing else, KAMP!, with its gallows humour and shades of Tom Lehrer, G&S, Weill, Brecht, Brel and Brooks (Mel), deserves a listen for its celebration of the human spirit. To quote Dreznin, “I hope you will laugh. You will cry. And you will definitely learn.”
Sephardic Journey is the result of a 20-year exploration taken by the Cavatina Duo – the husband and wife team of Bosnian-born guitarist, Denis Azabagic, and Spanish-born flutist, Eugenia Moliner – into their Sephardic Jewish heritage. In 1996, Azabagic learned that a great aunt of his was a descendant of Sephardic Jews who left Spain at the end of the 15th century. Later, Moliner discovered her own connection: to avoid being expelled, some Jews living in medieval Spain converted to Christianity, taking on last names according to their vocations; a miller, for example, adopted the name “Moliner.”
From this shared background comes a compelling CD of new works commissioned specifically for the Cavatina Duo, all drawing on traditional Sephardic folk tunes – mostly love songs with their often-dramatic, Ladino (Judeo-Spanish) texts – for inspiration.
The recording is infused with gorgeous, evocative melodies, soulful and plaintive laments, lyrical flights of fancy, sultry twists on the tango, startling percussive passages and an exhilarating energy. Azabagic and Moliner are virtuosic, passionate musicians, deftly accompanied by David Cunliffe on cello, Desirée Ruhstrat, violin, and the Avalon String Quartet.
Joseph V. Willams II’s Isabel is the lone flute and guitar duo on the CD; the remaining four works include trios by Alan Thomas and Carlos Rafael Rivera, and sextets by David Leisner and Clarice Assad. I was particularly struck by the third movement of Leisner’s Love Dreams of the Exile, which juxtaposes a jarring, percussive introduction with a generous, heartachingly beautiful quote from the beloved Ladino ballad, Tu madre cuando te parió (Adio Querida).
I wholeheartedly recommend joining the Cavatina Duo on their journey.
The music scene in Toronto is jam-packed with talented, inventive and courageous musicians. So Long Seven, a multifaceted collective comprised of composer/banjoist Tim Posgate, composer/guitarist/mandolinist Neil Hendry, composer/tabla star Ravi Naimpally and violinist William Lamoureux, is one of our city’s cream of the musical crop. Their self-titled debut CD features eight tracks of joyous, at times complex, original tunes with melodious world music, blues, jazz, pop, symphonic, classical and folk-flavoured nuances.
Each track is composed yet features lengthy, storytelling improvisations. Highlights include Hendry’s Torch River Rail Company which opens with a tight group melodic section punctuated by brief stops followed by a touching violin improvisation. Postgate’s MSVR (My Swedish Viking Roots) rocks with his lyric and groove banjo playing and a big band group crescendo ending. Naimpally’s Aarti features special guest, South Asian singer Samidha Joglekar, soaring to lyrical and complex rhythmic heights while the ensemble creates both conversational backdrops and instrumental interludes.
There is such a positive glowing musical force driving the sound. Each performer is a star when soloing and improvising. Great production values add a live off-the-floor ambiance. Brilliant original songwriting creates a unique band sound. Yet the group’s real strength lies in each member’s ability to share and understand the importance of close ensemble listening and the intricacies of musical interplay. So Long Seven is a release that absolutely every music aficionado needs to hear over and over and over again!