02 Harrison concertosLou Harrison – Violin Concerto; Grand Duo; Double Music
Tim Fain; Michael Boriskin; PostClassical Ensemble; Angel Gil-Ordóñez
Naxos 8.559825

This splendid CD contains two masterworks by Lou Harrison. I’m a long-time fan of Harrison and his mentor Henry Cowell, who introduced Harrison to both world music and John Cage, with whom Harrison would co-compose Double Music. (I was privileged to meet all three.)

In the first two movements of his Arabic-tinged Concerto for Violin and Percussion, the violin weaves sinuous melismas over punctuating percussion. They were composed in 1940 and revised in 1959, when Harrison added the finale, which offsets their fervent lyricism with a spirited belly-dance. Throughout much of the 20-minute concerto, Tim Fain has to play in the violin’s upper register; he does so, brilliantly.

The five-movement, Indonesian-influenced Grand Duo for violin and piano (1988) lasts 35 minutes. New to me, I found every minute enthralling. The violin’s long lines suggest a suling flute floating over the gamelan-like piano accompaniment provided by Michael Boriskin. A long, misterioso Prelude is followed by the up-tempo Stampede and gentle A Round. Air, the longest movement at nearly 11 minutes, is deeply downcast, similar in mood and impact to a Shostakovich Adagio. The Duo ends with the brief Polka, a lighthearted Europe-Indonesia hybrid. A great piece!

Double Music (1941), for which Harrison and Cage each independently wrote the music for two of the four players, is a long-standing percussion staple. Gil-Ordóñez’s meditative seven-minute interpretation takes over a minute longer than my swinging, Cage-conducted LP version. Different, but effective.

Heartily recommended!

03 Jennifer HigdonJennifer Higdon – All Things Majestic; Viola Concerto; Oboe Concerto
Roberto Díaz; James Button; Nashville Symphony; Giancarlo Guerrero
Naxos 8.559823 

Celebrated American composer Jennifer Higdon’s music has a personal voice linking to major 20th-century American composers. Her complex but meticulously scored suite All Things Majestic (2011) is more than ably represented on this disc by the Nashville Symphony under renowned conductor Giancarlo Guerrero. Hiking in the Grand Teton Range gave rise to titles and musical realizations, according to the composer. The orchestra of Music City goes from strength to strength in this work: inducing a majestic effect in the polytonal parallel chord streams of the first movement; shimmering exquisitely in different registers from which solo string figurations emerge in the following String Lake. Snake River, the third movement, is short and effective with fast runs leading into the rapids, while the closing Cathedrals features pitched percussion and harp in ethereal splendour.

Guest Chilean-American soloist Roberto Díaz’s full, well-rounded tone pervades the Viola Concerto (2014). The opening movement was to me unconvincing compositionally; its major-scale (pandiatonic) harmony seems too prevalent, as is the falling seventh interval in the viola. The second and third movements, though, are successful with witty and complex rhythms, including irregular subdivisions of the beat reminding me of today’s electronic dance music. In the pastoral opening of the one-movement Oboe Concerto (2005), Nashville principal oboist James Button’s rich timbre suffuses an extended melodic line. A contrasting motivic and rhythmic section gradually emerges with quirky orchestration, creating sparks that energize the rest of this convincing work.

04 PiccoloworksPiccolo Works
Natalie Schwaabe; Jan Philip Schulze
metier msv 28562 (divineartrecords.com)

Shrill, raucous, vulgar, strident! All too easily these adjectives seem to attach themselves to, and prejudice us against, the hapless piccolo. Yet for Piccolo Works, Natalie Schwaabe’s excellent debut CD, these notions are utterly debunked. From the outset this outstanding piccoloist of the Bavarian Radio Symphony (a world’s top-ten orchestra) presents a challenging and varied program of 21st-century delights, delivered with impeccable intonation, rhythmic precision, sensitive musicianship and finesse.

The opener, Levante Gyöngyösi’s Sonata for piccolo and piano (2007) (rapidly becoming a staple of the canon), shows ample clarity and energy of ensemble playing with collaborator Jan Philip Schulze. This sparkling, polished team has much to offer in interpretation and excitement. Amidst the other composers’ works are two originals composed for Schwaabe: Gert Wilden’s sometimes sorrowful, sometimes jazzy, always melodic two and a half piece and Kanefzky’s charming Pied Piper of Hamelin for flute/piccolo and narrator. Here the piccolo appears only as the magical voice of the piper’s instrument while Schwaabe’s nuanced command of the flute belies any myth that piccoloists are somehow less accomplished flutists. Unfortunately for unilingual audiences, Schwaabe’s narration is in German.

Mower’s Sonata, the perilous multiphonics of Donatoni’s NIDI Mikalsen’s starkly brutal Huit ilium where Schwaabe’s fluid control of even the highest notes is dazzling, and the Canadian Derek Charke’s wrenchingly sad Lacrymose round out this utterly brilliant CD. If this recording were to become essential listening, it would surely unfetter the piccolo from its enduring prison of prejudice.

06 FarahTime Sketches
John Kameel Farah
Neue Meister 03009045NM (johnfarah.com)

John Kameel Farah is a composer, pianist and visual artist who these days makes his home in both Toronto and Berlin. His piano-centric compositions have long attracted attention. During his University of Toronto music student years he twice received the Glenn Gould Composition Award.

Farah’s musical influences are extremely broad and cosmopolitan. They embrace the musics of Renaissance keyboard composers, J.S. Bach, Arabic maqam, Schoenberg and Ravel, as well as that of the minimalists, free improvisation and vernacular genres such as drum and bass. He performs all of them with precision and panache. Even more surprising, perhaps: in Farah’s live solo concerts he often deftly mixes many of these seemingly disparate elements, performing on piano, harpsichord, organ, synthesizer and computer. While his concerts primarily focus on his signature hybrid of composition, improvisation and electronic music, he often adds classical works, lending his programs a Euro-American historical perspective.

There is much to listen to and savour in Time Sketches. The relatively contained Behold! for piano and pipe organ is the example I’ll choose to talk about today. Set in a 20-beat metric cycle, it echoes the musical vocabulary developed mid-century by the American minimalists. The effect of the music is somewhat counterintuitive; it’s lilting and soft-spoken. Ending on a single, surprisingly gentle, middle-octave B-flat on the piano, it reminds this listener of mid-career Terry Riley’s keyboard music. Farah had private lessons in 1999 with that pioneer minimalist master, and Behold! is a worthy miniature addition to the minimalist music canon.

I recommend Time Sketches as a worthy addition to your quality listening time.

Grace
Evergreen Club Contemporary Gamelan with Jennifer Moore & Sanctuary
Artifact Music ART 041 (artifactmusic.com)

Bridge
Evergreen Club Contemporary Gamelan
Independent (evergreenclubgamelan.ca)

07a Evergreen Grace30 plus years of performing, composing and commissioning works together has completely immersed the Evergreen Club Contemporary Gamelan in the sonic possibilities of their unique orchestra. Two recent CD releases provide ample evidence of the maturity of their sonic palette.

Grace is a live collaboration with the Sanctuary Trio (bass clarinet, cello and pipe organ). These very unique timbres create an inspiring range of compositional possibilities that are fully explored in the three pieces that make up this recording. Bill Parsons’ Translating Grace immediately pulls us in with a softly insistent, offbeat time-keeping underpinning a series of two-note motifs on the gamelan’s various tuned percussion instruments. The texture becomes quietly denser as drums, higher melodies and suling (bamboo flute) all join in. It all slowly unravels and ends with a percussive burst that repeats and fades, echoing into the distance. We have now entered another realm… Low and ominous tones from the cello and bass clarinet underpin the sober truth-telling of the vocalist. This static, sombre mood alternates with blithe suling interjections over gamelan textures, and a loping, Dolphyesque bass clarinet solo.  Dreamlike textures and odd time signatures keep us adrift. The vocalist reminds us: “Before Grace, everything slips away.”

The pairing of the ECCG with the Sanctuary Trio in this setting creates a wonderfully lush and warm environment. Jeff Reilly’s Meditations on Innocence delves deep into the textural possibilities of this pairing, while using ample space in the music to fully exploit the acoustics of the cathedral used for this live recording. Space is a palpable part of the texture of a slow gong ostinato, over which bass clarinet and cello take turns giving voice to the silence.

Mark Duggan’s Language of Landscape begins deliberately off kilter, sounding like the wind pushing through chimes. Though the work stays very abstract, it is no intellectual exercise. It is full of feelings of questioning and yearning, expressed mainly by the cello and bass clarinet. Repetitive textures imply urban or mechanized environments. A slow one-note chiming mantra is the underpinning of dense organ clusters reminiscent of the Japanese shō. This all gives way again to fragments and gestures and is brought to a close by the organ.

07b Evergreen BridgeThis recording is a great document of the musical sensitivities the two ensembles bring, not only to each other but to the environment in which they performed.

The ECCG’s recording Bridge is an ambitious project, years in the making. Citing various Indonesian sources as inspirational starting points, original lyrics were composed, and arrangements using the gamelan as well as western strings, guitars and turntables were written. The music is definitely accessible to those not familiar with the sounds and structures of Indonesian music; striking the right mood between instruments and sensibilities is the real accomplishment here. However, the inclusion of an arrangement of Joni Mitchell’s Both Sides Now seems transparently aimed at getting airplay (Canadian content x2!). Though cleverly arranged, it is rather saccharine, and I find it disruptive to this collection of otherwise interesting experiments.

01 Avery RaquelWithout a Little Rain
Avery Raquel
Independent GKM 1029 (averyraquel.com)

Review

On her sophomore recording, young vocalist Avery Raquel has not only created a satisfying follow-up to her 2016 debut but has matured into a fine, contemporary songwriter. Collaborating with producer, arranger and musician Greg Kavanagh (and vocalist Sophia Perlman), Raquel has co-authored six tracks, and in so doing, has established her own, unique voice as both a composer and singer – no easy trick.

Joining Raquel and Kavanagh (who plays guitar on this project) is a strong lineup of musicians, including Adrean Farrugia on acoustic and electric piano, Ross MacIntyre on bass, Joel Haynes on drums, Ben Lemma on guitar, Amoy Levy on backing vocals, Kaelin Murphy on trumpet/flugelhorn, Brandon Tse on alto sax, Emma Haynes on percussion and special guest, the iconic David Clayton-Thomas (of Blood, Sweat & Tears) on the Disney classic from Toy Story, You’ve Got a Friend in Me – which is a fresh, jazzy, soulful take on this Disney standard, featuring excellent bass work on this track by Jaden Raso.

Other notable tracks include the catchy and engaging title tune, Without a Little Rain; the funky Your Mouth Is the Door, which not only boasts a clever lyric, but displays Raquel’s vocal power and control as the song builds in intensity. Without question, Dreaming (co-written with Perlman) is one of the strongest compositions on the recording – not overly arranged, as well as rhythmic and appealing, the song seamlessly highlights the lovely gossamer lightness of Raquel’s vocal quality. Sophisticated chord voicings and wonderful flugelhorn work by Murphy are the icing on this irresistible cake.

Concert Notes: Avery Raquel has a busy schedule this summer with performances June 11: Barrie Jazz Festival – Bradford West Gwillimbury Public Library; June 24: Children of the Forest Fundraiser – The Duke Live, Toronto; June 29: Music on the Waterfront – Hamilton; July 20: Summer Concert Series – Goderich; July 22: Jazz at the Museum – Haliburton; August 19: South Coast Jazz Festival – Port Dover; and August 20: Riverfest – Elora.

02 Reg Schwager SongbookSongbook
Reg Schwager
Jazz from Rant 1751 (jazzfromrant.com)

In his latest release, consummate Canadian jazz guitarist Reg Schwager acts brilliantly as producer, composer and arranger. The well-conceived and performed recording comprises all original compositions by Schwager, with collaborations from: his talented sister, jazz chanteuse Jeannette Lambert; luminous Brazilian vocalist Luanda Jones; and certainly one of Canada’s finest jazz singers, John Alcorn.  The superb cast of performers on the CD also includes William Sperendai on trumpet, Allison Au on alto saxophone and flute, Mike Murley on tenor saxophone, Brodie West on alto saxophone, Don Thompson and Amanda Tosoff on piano, Steve Wallace on bass, Michel Lambert and Fabio Ragnelli on drums and Manino Costa on percussion.

Schwager’s elegant, crisp style and harmonic sophistication are reminiscent (but not derivative of) guitar legends Jim Hall and Emily Remler, and this recording is certainly a portrait of an artist at the peak of his creativity and skill.

Every track here is a work of art, but of particular note are Kisses of Summer – a winning combination of Alcorn’s sensuous and evocative baritone, sumptuous compositional ideas, Schwager’s incomparable guitar work and jazz legend and multi-instrumentalist Thompson on piano. Co-written with Jones, O que tinha que dar features Schwager’s considerable Brazilian chops on full throttle, as vocalist Jones effortlessly draws the listener into her lovely web of bossa rhythms and sexy nuances. Au on alto and Tosoff on piano also shine. On the gorgeous ballad Splintered Dream, co-writer Jeannette Lambert channels the spirit of Peggy Lee with this romantic and melancholy song worthy of the silver screen.

03 Campbell Shirley HornLoving You – Celebrating Shirley Horn
Peter Campbell
Independent (petercampbellmusic.com)

Vocalist Peter Campbell’s introduction to the stylings of the great vocalist/pianist Shirley Horn was during his undergraduate days at McGill University. After hearing her 1992 recording Here’s to Life, he was greatly impressed and influenced by her musical expressiveness. In this celebration of Horn’s recordings, Campbell utilizes her influence as he performs 13 Horn songs with clarity, musicality and respect while simultaneously creating his own sound.

Campbell performs with clear diction, phrasing and vocal colour. He is accompanied by a stellar group of musicians – pianist Mark Kieswetter, guitarist Reg Schwager, bassist Ross MacIntyre and trumpeter Kevin Turcotte. In the opening track A Time for Love, Campbell’s effortless wide vocal range is supported by Kieswetter’s solid piano stylings and a colourful Turcotte trumpet solo. Bass and guitar provide tasteful solos and support to an emotional vocal performance of Sharing the Night With the Blues. Loving You is highlighted by subtle vocal colour changes in the longer held notes against a sparse piano accompaniment – it’s almost like two soloists having a musical chat over beverages! A straightforward ballad rendition of the Piaf classic If You Love Me is memorable for its simplicity and lyric storytelling.

No drums here in the mix, but the rhythmic sense is never lost with the band members’ sense of time. Inventive arrangements by Campbell and Kieswetter, and smart instrumental improvisations support Campbell’s moving renditions to make this a great musical gift to his musical hero Shirley Horn.

04 Rebecca HenneseyTwo Calls
Rebecca Hennessy’s FOG Brass Band
Independent RH002 (rebeccahennessy.com)

If the term “less is more” ever elicited a vivid example to go along with it, this disc Two Calls by Rebecca Hennessy’s FOG Brass Band would be it. Rarely do performers shine in all their radiant apparel, creating an unmatched nimbleness of sound, as Hennessy and her ensemble. This is no stripped-down interplay but a fulsome recreation of the evocative dialogue between a trumpeter and her band. The ebullient arpeggios and brilliantly gilded glissandi played by Hennessy mimic perfectly the melisma of a singer, only in this instance the trumpet or flugelhorn, in all its brazen or hushed spookiness, recalls the ghosts of masters as Hennessy shines forth.

Among the choicest encounters on this disc are Birds for Free and Why Are You So Sad Booker Little? The rest of the melodically exquisite songs are also beautifully crafted; a combination of ingenious writing and inspired improvisation on the part of Hennessy and her ensemble. The vitality and brilliance of each invention shines forth in the strongest and most appealing orchestral colours. The dynamic range and balance between the instruments is achieved by each artist never seeming to tread on the other’s turf. It’s almost as if soloing is done in a series of shy dance moves, as saxophone comes into the spotlight while piano is in the shadows; then switching roles as if by magic so that another instrumentalist is highlighted.

05 Audrey OchaAfterthought
Audrey Ochoa Trio
Chronograph Records CR 055 (chronographrecords.com)

As any dictionary search shows, “feeling” is a word with multiple meanings: a function or the power of perceiving by touch; any particular sensation of this kind; the general state of consciousness considered independently of particular sensations; thoughts affected by emotion… To say that trombonist Audrey Ochoa sets about creating feelings is to suggest, therefore, that somehow she does all of these. All the ingredients are there: tempo, dynamics and emotion, activated by the vibrations as her lips engage the air from her lungs singing, and her fingers extend the gliding tubing. This is the means by which Ochoa creates fine texture and timbre; her sense of spatial scale creates equal parts grace, rhythmic energy, and pure emotion in a kinetic response to combative, hair-trigger dynamic musical contrasts.

For proof of all of the above, look no further than the present recording, Afterthought, a mesmeric album full of swagger, swing and beckoning genius. Audrey Ochoa’s inventions are redolent of light-handed glissandos and mercurial arpeggios played with quintessential charm and wit. The disc consists of eight works of unsurpassed beauty. Each song is alive with personal magic and happily shared imaginative possibility. Ochoa’s compositions are graceful, fluent and affectionate. Titles such as Low Interest Rate and Doppelgangers are bursting with surprise. Underpinning this excellence is the work of bassist Mike Lent and drummer Sandro Dominelli, whose superb playing adds a feeling of considerable largeness to this fine recording.

06 Erik HovePolygon
Erik Hove Chamber Ensemble
Independent (erikhovemusic.com)

Montreal-based alto saxophonist and composer Erik Hove is a musician of startling persistence and ambition, as ready to challenge himself as his listeners. In 2014 he released Saturated Colour by his ten-member Chamber Ensemble, a well-rehearsed group playing complex compositions that merged the microtonal methodologies of spectral composition à la French composers Gérard Grisey and Tristan Murail with a jazz rhythm section and improvised solos, an approach also pioneered by New York-based saxophonist/composer Steve Lehman.

Now, simply put, Hove has done it again, with just three personnel changes in the ensemble of four reeds (including flutes, clarinets, oboe and saxophone), trumpet, string trio, bass and drums. He has an increasingly assured and innovative command of his complex materials, happily mixing microtonal chords, machine-like arpeggios and complex rhythms. On Metal Clouds, Hove, flutist Anna Webber and violist Jean René solo with aplomb, matching their own quarter-tones with those of the accompanying chords. His gifts as an orchestrator come increasingly to the fore as the program continues, with Inversions developing eerily sustained mixes of strings and reeds.

Hove uses improvisation selectively and structurally: Inversions is already a well-developed piece before it welcomes a passage of collective improvisation, while Tetrahedron begins as a feature for Andy King’s jazz-fueled trumpet, eventually evolving into a composition for full ensemble. Hove’s finest moment as an improviser comes at the end as he solos on the brief Octagon, lifting its evanescent textures while adding further mystery.

07 Stir Tour de BrasStir
Yves Charuest; Agustí Fernández; Nicolas Caloia; Peter Valsamis
Tour de Bras TDB 9021cd (tourdebras.com)

The group involved in Stir begins as an unrecorded Montreal-based trio called Still that consists of alto saxophonist Yves Charuest, bassist Nicolas Caloia and drummer Peter Valsamis, then adds the titanic Spanish pianist Agustí Fernández. It’s a collective performance by a compound ensemble devoted to free jazz, but there’s also a sense of traditional roles, with Charuest and Fernández frequently in the foreground.

Charuest runs counter to expectations for free jazz saxophonists, his playing consistently lyrical, often understated, his brief, sometimes elliptical lines conveying intense passion and thought, but rarely cascades of notes or distorted timbres. His original models likely included Lee Konitz, but Charuest, who began his career in the 1980s and spent a creative stretch in Europe, long ago sublimated his influences into a distinctly personal style. Charuest’s meeting with Fernández can suggest some of the David-and-Goliath dialogue of Jimmy Lyons and Cecil Taylor, but the telepathic interaction practised by the two is remarkable, with even short, simultaneous phrases sounding like they might have arrived via manuscript paper.

The collective improvisations Stir presents here are titled (Un)fold I-VI, and range from brief episodes (the delicate I and the pensive VI) to extended forays. The group’s raw power and investigative reach explode on (Un)fold II, while III is a foray into sounds in which Caloia and Valsamis, always creative in support, come forward, sometimes mingling indistinguishably with the interior of Fernández’ piano. This is free jazz of the first order.

08 Trouble Kaze JuneJune
Trouble Kaze
Circum-Disc HeliX LX009 (circum-disc.com)

Kaze first launched in 2011 as a quartet of Japanese and French improvisers, matching the husband and wife team of trumpeter Natsuki Tamura and pianist Satoko Fujii with trumpeter Christian Pruvost and drummer Peter Orins. That brassy instrumentation may suggest an overdose of trumpet pyrotechnics, but Tamura and Pruvost’s virtuosity includes extended techniques, radically altering their palettes, while the band’s invention and energy create real excitement. Trouble Kaze expands the group to a sextet with the addition of two more French musicians, pianist Sophie Agnel and drummer Didier Lasserre, the name punning on the resultant triple duo or double trio.

The five-segment performance eschews formal match-ups for a loose, intuitive shape with a meditative and ceremonial character. Parts I and II have a serene and distinctly Asian quality, combining small cymbals with the sounds of prepared piano strings; as the work progresses, it literally engages the sound of its space, allowing instruments to approach and even reach silence or, alternatively, to make dramatic and singular sonic gestures. Part IV has a lengthy and lyric muted trumpet solo, likely Tamura, a rare occasion for a familiar trumpet timbre, while Part V begins with a fine approximation of a crying baby. By its conclusion, the piece has become isolated drum strokes, trumpet blasts and piano chords along with what sounds like a beeping alarm endowed with the ability to change pitch.

It’s more powerful than any description might suggest.

10 DuoCD0021Trandans
Duo Baars Henneman & Dave Burrell
Wig #25 (stichtingwig.com)

Having played together in many contexts for more than a quarter century, Dutch reedist Ab Baars and violist Ig Henneman are like draft horses, so long in harness that they can respond to each other’s motions before they even happen. Although this mixture of strained, sul tasto resilience from the fiddler and outpourings that range from shrilly atonal snarled blares to mere breaths, depending on Baars’ use of clarinet, tenor saxophone or shakuhachi, would be distinctive in itself, they up the ante on Trandans by playing with veteran American pianist Dave Burrell, with whom neither had previously recorded.

As meditative and whimsical in his hunt-and-peck narratives as the other two are penetrating, as demonstrated on his mostly solo musings on Korsekebacken, Burrell’s basso-directed fills are low-key in both senses of the word. Yet as tracks such as Fyllevägen and Laggareno demonstrate, his unflappable keyboard command adds a certain formality when involved in counterpoint with the duo. Especially illustrative is Laggareno, since the harshness engendered by the fiddler’s tempered-blade volatility, in broken octave concordance with altissimo reed shrieks, is warmed to a finer-tuned narrative via the pianist’s even-tempered chording. On their own as captured on Rassel runt Brunnen, the duo follows multiphonic paths the way a grizzled guide uses trail markers. They’re never lost and are constantly interesting, since Baars’ crying split tones or lows from the tenor saxophone’s bottom notes help regularize the near-atonal exposition, even as Henneman brings her own spiny individualism to the tune.

11 HeadsCD0071Heads or Tails
Hamid Drake; Sylvain Kassap
RogueArt ROG-0072 (roguart.com)

Facility, rhythm and invention unite in the playing of Chicago’s Hamid Drake, one of the go-to percussionists in improvised music. That’s because Drake is both Clark Kent and Superman: able to power the most extravagant free-blowing ensemble as well as use subtle beats to advance a narrative. At his best in small groups, the drummer is absorbingly paired with a reedist of equal skill on this 2-CD set.

Parisian Sylvain Kassap, master of almost every clarinet extant, slides fluidly between playing notated and improvised music, with detours into theatre and electronics. Heads or Tails is illustrative of this duo’s art, with one CD of extended performances and the other of 13 studio sessions. Putting quick-change artists to shame, the duo demonstrates faultless command of moods and inferences throughout the second disc. Whether it’s temple-bell-like resonations atop a buzzing reed ostinato on Everyone Holds Its Breath, the clarinetist’s agile slide from bagpipe chanter to flute-like timbres on Stubborn Old Folks, Drake craftily shifting drum vibrations from irregular to steady on Heavy Traffic, or a piquant duet in near-swing rhythm on Downtown Riots, singly and together the two are as in-sync as trapeze artists.

Discerningly titled Mutual Respect, CD 1’s over-24-minute showcase could be termed the 3D version of the standard films on the other disc. Enthusiasm is maintained with an ever-shifting landscape, with watery trills or sweet puffs on Kassap’s part succeeded by hard slurs or separate melodies from a deconstructed clarinet, aptly paced by Drake’s rolls, paradiddles, frame-drum throbs and pauses.

01 RakkatakSmall Pieces
Rakkatak
Independent RA017 (rakkatak.com)

Toronto tabla player Anita Katakkar founded Rakkatak as a solo project in 2009. Abetted by a laptop and sequencer, hers was a mix of classical Hindustani music and electronica performed with a pop-music aesthetic. For Small Pieces, Katakkar invited into the studio bassist Oriana Barbato, sitar player Rex Van der Spuy who’s been playing sitar in Toronto since 1989, plus eight guest musicians. Collectively they represent a cross-section of what has been tagged the Toronto Gharana – local musicians pursuing music rooted in the classical Hindustani tradition. The larger ensemble on the album also effectively broadens Rakkatak’s aesthetic focus to embrace a more inclusive sonic palette.

Of mixed Indian and Scottish ancestry, Katakkar noted that “I heard plenty of Indian music growing up from my grandmother.” She began studying tabla with the Toronto Tabla Ensemble’s Ritesh Das, and later in California and Kolkata with the pre-eminent tablist Pandit Swapan Chaudhuri. As she matured as a creative musician Katakkar found she “had stories to tell.” Eesha’s Song, track five on Small Pieces, featuring the sitar of Joanna Mack and violin of Jessica Deutsche, was meant as an elegy to a friend’s daughter who passed away much too young. In it, Katakkar’s tabla solos “were inspired by running up a big hill and barely being able to keep up, sort of like Eesha’s heart.”

The album closes with Riffing on 9, a solo for Katakkar, bringing the album back to her early career working with just tabla and laptop. It’s a stripped down salute to the Asian Underground movement that initially inspired her on her fascinating creative journey.

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