07 pot pourri 01 art of timeSgt. Pepper
Art of Time Ensemble
Art of Time Recordings ATR 001 (artoftimeensemble.com)

It was 47 years ago that Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was unleashed on the planet. It was a major departure, not only for the Beatles but for the pop/rock world in general, because of its complex arrangements, overdubs and use of an orchestra. The Beatles had recently declared they were fed up with touring, so with Sgt. Pepper they were free to record whatever they wanted without the constraint of having to recreate it live later on. So the fact that Toronto’s Art of Time Ensemble has not only recreated it, but also released a live recording, is a major feat. But this is no mere copy of the iconic album. The arrangers – all 11 of them from across the spectrum of pop, jazz and classical music – have written inventive treatments of the songs, building on the great songwriting and ideas of the Lennon/McCartney/Martin team.

Andrew Burashko, the force behind Art of Time, has gathered together a dozen of the best musicians in the land from a variety of disciplines including singers from some well-known Canadian bands. Steven Page (Bare Naked Ladies), Andy Maize (Skydiggers), John Mann (Spirit of the West) and Craig Northey (Odds) all bring their individual styles to the lead parts. Covering a much-loved work such as this is a delicate balancing act – needing to be different enough to be fresh, but not too far off to be unrecognizable – and they’ve done it admirably. Anyone who is a Beatles fan – or a music fan – should enjoy revisiting this great work through this CD.

07 pot pourri 02 ault sistersTimeless
Ault Sisters
Independent AAA13001 (aultsisters.com)

The Ault Sisters are a fresh and vibrant vocal trio, featuring three youthful and charming vocalists – Amanda, Alicia and Alanna Ault. On their second outing as recording artists, longtime producer Greg Kavanagh has assembled a stellar band, including the thrilling Robi Botos on piano, George Koller on bass, Ben Riley on drums, John Johnson on saxophones, Ted Quinlan on guitar and the dynamic William Sperandei on trumpet. In addition, well-respected vocalist Debbie Fleming is responsible for all of the clever vocal arrangements (aside from a wonderful contribution by Dylan Bell on Van Morrison’s perennial Moondance).

The Ault sisters have an almost supernatural vocal blend that can only be achieved when genetics are involved – and the sisters freely and effortlessly adopt different vocal parts depending on the material. Although the repertoire on Timeless tends to travel safely down the middle of the road, the Ault Sisters’ purity of sound and musicianship easily make the most out of each neo-standard.

The peppy opener, Back to You, an original by Chris Smith and Kavanagh, sets the tone for this up-beat and entertaining recording. Other standouts include a stunning rendition of Joni Mitchell’s River, featuring the great John Johnson on soprano saxophone; a lush, romantic arrangement of Stevie Wonder’s gorgeous (and rarely performed) ballad Ribbon in the Sky and a crisp contemporary take on the Gershwins’ immortal They Can’t Take That Away From Me. These talented young artists have a tremendous future ahead of them and we should all look forward to what’s next on their mutual dance card!

Concert Note:The CD release for the Ault Sisters Timeless is March 11 at the Jazz Bistro.

07 pot pourri 03 swingle singersWeather to Fly
Swingle Singers
World Village 450025

The Swingle Singers have been around since before the cast members of Glee were a gleam in their parents’ eyes, but they are surely rejoicing in the renewed interest in group singing the TV show has brought about. The a cappella group was formed in 1962 in Paris by Ward Swingle and came to notoriety for their renditions of Bach’s Well-Tempered Klavier. Having gone through many incarnations and currently based in England, the seven-voice group now even includes a Canadian, baritone Kevin Fox.

A cappella singing presents many challenges and while the ability to blend is a coveted skill, it can sometimes result in a homogenous sound that can become tedious. So the vocal percussion on many of the cuts on Weather to Fly adds a welcome dimension. The eclectic repertoire includes a Turkish traditional song, a Piazzola tango and a cute play on a Beyoncé hit – Swingle Ladies. The 80s are represented with the Tears for Fears’ tune Woman in Chains, complete with vocally recreated synth parts, and Chick Corea’s much-covered Spain, here given an oddly antiseptic treatment that I found unappealing (and a little reminiscent of Alvin and The Chipmunks). The title track on the other hand is an example of the best an a cappella group can be – the arrangement makes the most of the voices (especially the beautiful bass of Edward Randell). The soloists Clare Wheeler, Sara Brimer and Oliver Griffiths give impeccable performances. 

07 pot pourri ladom ensembleLadom Ensemble
Ladom Ensemble
Independent 67-0295-1 (ladomensemble.com)

Ladom Ensemble’s first self-titled album is an enjoyable listening experience. The members are four University of Toronto music graduates of exceptional musical prowess. Pianist-composer Pouya Hamidi plays a sparkling piano while incorporating traditional Persian musical elements to his excellent compositions. Accordionist-composer Nemanja Pjanić’s colourful runs and rhythms add spice to the music while his Balkan flavoured compositions add a contrasting element to the ensemble’s sound. The equally soulful performers, cellist Marie-Cristine Pelchat St-Jacques and percussionist Adam Campbell, complete the ensemble.

There is a wide-ranging original sound to Ladom. Their tight chamber sensibilities are well-suited to the Piazzolla cover Fugata. The rousing Pjanić composition The Flying Balkan Dance is a short yet toe-tapping Balkan selection which features each member in a lead role and a satisfying mournful, slow, brief cello solo in the middle. Hamidi’s Goriz utilizes his Persian roots especially in the driving rhythmic sections. In contrast his Noor (meaning “light” in Farsi) is an exceptional track in that the performers seem to remove their more “classical” performance sensibilities to create a more spontaneous-sounding slower soundscape ending with Hamidi’s perfect, subtle piano tinkling. Here’s hoping the group will explore more of this aspect.

Production values are high with the live quality captured adding an additional listening dimension.  Thanks, too, for not removing the clicks from register/switch changes on the accordion! Ladom Ensemble is a great group performing great music in a new world music direction.

Concert Note: Ladom performs a matinée concert at Hugh’s Room on Sunday February 16.

As You Near Me
James Campbell; Graham Campbell;
Afiara Quartet
Marquis MAR 451

Throughout musical history, how many eminent musicians have produced musical offspring? The number may seem surprisingly low — Leopold Mozart certainly did, as did J.S. Bach. But as for musicians like Haydn, Debussy and Dvořák, there was nobody to carry on the family tradition. Closer to home, this is clearly not the case with clarinettist James Campbell, whose son Graham is a fine guitarist and pedagogue; the two have happily joined forces on this Marquis Classics disc titled As You Near Me.

Long referred to as “Canada’s pre-eminent clarinetist and wind soloist,” James Campbell has enjoyed an international career as soloist and chamber musician for more than 35 years. His son Graham earned his music degree at Humber College and has since made a name for himself as a gifted guitarist and composer in Toronto’s music community.

This is actually the second recording father and son have produced (the first was Homemade Jam in 2003). Nevertheless, with this release, Graham’s talents as a composer are also showcased, for eight of the 16 tracks bear his name. There are many things to like about this recording, not the least of which is the eclecticism; it draws from several sources, including jazz, Latin and central European. The two Campbells are joined on certain tracks by other performers such as the Afiara String Quartet and bassists Sam McLellan and Bob Mills. James Campbell’s lyrical tone combined with the skilful guitar work (either as a solo or as accompaniment) produces an appealing sound, with the younger Campbell’s own compositions proving particularly engaging.

As You Near Me is the perfect disc for relaxing to on an autumn weekend — or for that matter, any day of the week, during any season. Recommended.

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