05 Vaughan Williams TSOVaughan Williams – Piano Concerto; Oboe Concerto; Serenade to Music; Flos Campi
Louis Lortie; Sarah Jeffrey; Teng Li; Toronto Symphony Orchestra; Peter Oundjian
Chandos CHSA 5201 (chandos.net)

I was present at the TSO concert in which these works were played. At that time a CD release was promised and here it is. It does not disappoint. There are four works on the disc: the Serenade to Music for four singers (performed here by Carla Huhtanen, Emily D’Angelo, Lawrence Wiliford and Tyler Duncan), chorus and orchestra; a concerto for oboe and strings; Flos Campi, a suite for solo viola (beautifully played by Teng Li, the TSO’s principal violist), small choir and small orchestra (based on the Latin translation of the Song of Songs); and a concerto for piano and orchestra. All of these had originally been dedicated to musicians admired by Vaughan Williams: the Serenade to Music to the conductor Sir Henry Wood, the oboe concerto to Leon Goossens, Flos Campi to the violist Lionel Tertis and the piano concerto to Harriet Cohen. That gives these works a semi-private quality.

Of the works on the disc I liked the piano concerto least. It struck me as loud and strident, an impression which even the virtuosity of the pianist (Louis Lortie) could not efface. On the other hand, I loved the oboe concerto. It needs a first class soloist to do it justice and we have such an outstanding player in Sarah Jeffrey, the TSO’s principal oboist.

06 Charke Cormier DuoEx Tempore
Charke - Cormier Duo
Leaf Music LM220 (leaf-music.ca)

Flutist Derek Charke and guitarist Eugene Cormier perform with intelligence and passion in their debut release. Both teach at Acadia University, and are well respected Maritime musical personalities. Here they play, produce, engineer and master terrific, clear, stylistically diverse music.

The track Ex Tempore, composed by Charke, is a composed/improvised work for bass flute and guitar that lives up to its title. Note-bending during lengthy dramatic extended-technique bass flute phrases is heard against the guitar-driven rhythm and tonality, all in a spontaneous yet controlled direction, until the final satisfying guitar tone fades. Turning back the clock, Cormier’s arrangement of four Scarlatti harpsichord sonatas allows the duo’s tight ensemble playing to shine especially in the slow, true-to-Baroque quality, Sonata in F Major, K296, L198. Likewise the Presto of the Sonata in F Major K445, L385 features melodic interchanges between the instruments and well-placed lower guitar detached notes. Cormier arranges Peter Maxwell Davies’ 1980 Farewell to Stromness into a straightforward Scottish folk music-tinged piece with Celtic subtleties.

Nesyba’s arrangement makes for a sensitive performance of Debussy’s piano classic La fille aux cheveux de lin, while Mosoczi’s take on Handel’s four-movement Sonata in A Minor HMV 362, Op.1, No. 4 showcases detached note effects. Machado’s Musiques populaires brésiliennes are six 1980s works for flute and guitar based on traditional Brazilian music encompassing toe-tapping, happy sounds.

This is a fabulous debut!

07 La Patrie Our CanadaLa Patrie/Our Canada – Canadian Orchestral Music 1874-1943
Symphonova Orchestra; Shelley Katz
Centrediscs CMC CD 25618 (musiccentre.ca)

Bringing unrecorded music to life is exciting, but this disc’s innovative means make it miraculous! Remarkable UK-based Canadian conductor and inventor Shelley Katz leads the Symphonova Orchestra, employing proprietary technologies developed for digital baton control and acoustic design that augment the playing of solo musicians up to the sound of a full orchestra. La Patrie/Our Canada: Canadian Orchestral Music 1874-1943 shows Symphonova making significant and intriguing heritage repertoire available to us for the first time. One example is Ernest MacMillan’s Overture (1924, written for the Toronto Symphony), a substantial post-Romantic work with a Scottish tinge, beautifully harmonized and orchestrated, with sound convincing enough that I was fully drawn into the work.

In the disc’s opener, Calixa Lavallée’s charming concert overture La Patrie (first performed in 1874), it took time to adjust to the string tone: cooler and with less bow presence than that of an orchestra section. But after that, listening went smoothly: Rodolphe Mathieu’s early atonal Trois Préludes (1912-15) are attractive with a hint of mystery; I was ready for the convincing string writing in Georges-Émile Tanguay’s Pavane (1936) and Murray Adaskin’s Serenade for Strings (1934). And now gaps in our knowledge of major Canadian composers are being filled with Violet Archer’s witty, never-played Capriccio for Hand Timpani (1939) and John Weinzweig’s radio suite Our Canada (1943). Seeking out archival-quality orchestral recordings of seldom-heard works I’m used to. But acoustically this CD brings more listening pleasure, and I look forward to listening again.

08 Michael BridgeOverture
Michael Bridge
Independent MB2001 (michaelbridgemusic.com)

Canadian accordionist Michael Bridge triumphs technically and musically in all styles in his debut solo album, a recent CBC Album of the Week.

Bridge plays two different accordions, a Pigini Nova acoustic free bass, and a Roland digital instrument. His acoustic accordion features single tones on the left hand, allowing for wide pitch range/combination possibilities. Both Makkonen’s original Tango-Toccata and Friedrich Lips’ transcription of Khachaturian’s Tokkata are virtuosic accordion repertoire mainstays. Their tricky technical and dynamic challenges are performed with ease. Bridge’s composition Intoxicating features upbeat, tango-flavoured dance qualities. All the other tracks are Bridge arrangements. A solid contrapuntal feel, balance of lines, precise ornamentation and steady rhythms make his transcription of Bach’s French Suite No.5 a contemplative listen. Avetisyan’s Tzaghgatz Baleni is a lush dramatic tune with the same mood transcending into Cohen’s widely covered Hallelujah, as an interesting low-pitched start soars higher for more grounded accordion vocalizations. Mancini’s Moon River drifts from simple line statement to flourishes, left-hand chords and a rubato feel fitting to Bridge’s personal take.

Listeners unfamiliar with the Roland’s synthesizer abilities will be shocked to hear how close to the original full symphonic sound one accordion played by one performer in one take is in Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture, the more laid-back jazz band drums and bass in Garner’s Misty, and the brief self-explanatory Orchestral Tuning.

As an accordionist myself, what I really appreciate and admire in Bridge’s playing is his conviction, tenacity and dedication in all he plays. Bravo!

Listen to 'Overture' Now in the Listening Room

01 KorngoldKorngold – Violin Concerto; Much Ado About Nothing; Suite Op.23
Benjamin Schmid; Wiener Philharmoniker; Seiji Ozawa
Oehms Classics OC 537 (oehmsclassics.de)

This is a set of live performances from the Salzburg Festival of 2004 entirely devoted to Erich Wolfgang Korngold, a composer of extraordinary talent, whose music was forbidden in the Nazi era. He escaped Austria in 1937 and settled in the USA and had a successful career in Hollywood writing film scores, but gave it up and continued writing symphonic and chamber music of the highest calibre – as proven by this recording. Korngold was also the last bastion of tonality, continuing the Romantic vein of Richard Strauss and Mahler as opposed to Schoenberg, Webern and Berg, the atonalists.

I came to Korngold via his opera Die Tote Stadt (1920) a post-Romantic masterpiece that haunted my imagination for years, but his Violin Concerto is a later work written in 1947 and I would rate it after the Sibelius as one of the best in the 20th century. It starts off with an enchanting, heavenly melody on the solo violin that makes us fall in love with it immediately. And the love affair lasts through the wonderful first movement and the ensuing extraordinary harmonies of the celestial Romance and exuberant Finale. It was premiered by Jascha Heifetz, but here Benjamin Schmid gives a more subtle interpretation with his “Lady Jeanne” Stradivarius that “sings and pipes, hops and thrills, languishes yearningly and sings dreamily.” Not to mention the Wiener Philharmoniker under Seiji Ozawa’s subdued and brilliantly integrated support in a performance to be cherished through the ages.

In the chamber Suite Op.23, with a left-hand-only piano part, Korngold is playing with traditional forms in an entirely original manner but with “imagination full of powerful imagery” and “sweet melodies that suggest a R. Strauss-Puccini even Lehár connection.” (Gottfried Kraus)

02 Gloria CoatesGloria Coates – Piano Quintet; Symphony No.10 “Drones of Druids on Celtic Ruins”
Kreutzer Quartet; Roderick Chadwick; CalArts Orchestra; Susan Allen
Naxos 8.559848 (naxos.com)

Gloria Coates’ mesmerizing music combines Penderecki’s complex textures from the 1960s – glissandi, clusters and microtones – with the trance-inducing repetitions of age-old ritual music, as adopted by today’s “mystical minimalists.” Coates, who turns 80 this October, was born in Wisconsin but has lived in Munich since 1969. She’s composed prolifically across all genres, including 16 symphonies and ten string quartets, many available on Naxos CDs, her abstract-expressionist paintings reproduced on their covers.

In the four slowish movements of her 22-minute Piano Quintet (2013), the Kreutzer Quartet, half of them tuned a quarter-tone higher than the others, sustain solemn, wordless, monkish chants over sporadic bass chords from pianist Roderick Chadwick, evoking a bell tolling each stanza.

Coates’ 36-minute, three-movement Symphony No.10 (1989), subtitled Drones of Druids on Celtic Ruins, is scored for brass and percussion, the second movement for percussion alone. Coates writes of “reading how the Celts keened and clapped over their dead with wild, trembling voices.” The symphony ends, she says, “with frightening keening and anxious drumming that seem to harbour the screams and crying of the banshees.”

Every movement of the Quintet and the Symphony has a title taken from Emily Dickinson’s poems. Coates describes how they connect to the music, but I couldn’t hear the connections, hearing only her truly enthralling sonorities. Moreover, not being mystically inclined, I found that even these, eventually, became somewhat tedious.

Hear her unique music, judge for yourself.

04 Harbison RugglesJohn Harbison – Symphony No.4; Carl Ruggles – Sun-Treader; Steven Stucky – Second Concerto for Orchestra
National Orchestral Institute Philharmonic; David Alan Miller
Naxos 8.559836 (naxos.com)

The University of Maryland-based National Orchestral Institute Philharmonic brings together outstanding young musicians who, based on this disc, produce exceptional results. Contemporary American music expert David Alan Miller conducts the orchestra in Carl Ruggles’ classic Sun-Treader (1931) followed by two works by Pulitzer Prize-winning composers dating from 2004: John Harbison’s five-movement Symphony No.4 and the late Steven Stucky’s three-movement Second Concerto for Orchestra. The highly dissonant Ruggles even now has an abrupt in-your-face quality, though the composer’s road to completion was long. Achieving consistency of melodic, harmonic and rhythmic aspects in a new idiom is difficult, yet Ruggles achieved it. Great brass buildups to a brutal refrain of pounding timpani symbolize the sun’s power in “giant steps,” alternating with briefer moments of repose. Kudos to the excellent brass and percussion players.

I have always enjoyed Harbison’s bracing music and the Symphony No.4 demonstrates his expanded orchestral mastery. After an invigorating Fanfare, the Intermezzo features enticing pitched percussion and harp in dialogue with declamatory strings, leading to paradisiacal wind and string solos. But a jumpy Scherzo interrupts; the following Threnody is the work’s emotional core.

From Harbison to Stucky we arrive at an overtly virtuosic orchestral showcase of first-rate music-making in every sense of the word – Ravel carried much further! In the Second Concerto for Orchestra, the precision and energy of conductor Miller and the orchestra, and the beauty and variety of sound pictures realized, are breathtaking.

03 Antheil violin and pianoSpecter – The Music of George Antheil
Duo Odéon (violin/piano)
Sono Luminus DSL-92222 (sonoluminus.com)

Praised in 1927 by Ezra Pound, who spoke of him in the same glowing terms as he did the painter Pablo Picasso, sculptor Henri Gaudier-Brzeska and writer Wyndham-Lewis – members of the Vorticists – George Antheil was hailed as revolutionary for his methods of harmonic conception. According to Pound, Antheil was annoyed with the term “architecture” when applied to music; he instead preferred the term “mechanisms” to describe his unique structural style.

Antheil, however, remained on the fringe of French music of the early 20th century and, despite attempts by performers to redress this situation, much of Antheil’s music remains very much in the shadows. This impressive disc might just change the equation if enough commercial muscle is put behind its promotion. Duo Odéon, comprising violinist Hannah Leland and pianist Aimee Fincher, have – first and foremost – selected important repertoire from Antheil’s canon. The dramatic Sonatina for Violin and Piano, together with the diabolically challenging Concerto for Violin and Orchestra – originally written for Pound’s violinist-mistress Olga Rudge – and the lyricism of Valses from Specter of the Rose present Duo Odéon in devastatingly good form throughout.

Every layer of Antheil’s inventive orchestration can be heard in Leland’s fiery double-stops which make the music leap off the page, and with the remarkable physicality of Fincher’s pianism, Duo Odéon brings Antheil’s genius to life again in an utterly memorable performance of his works.

05 John Robertson SymphonyJohn Robertson – Symphony No.1
Janáĉek Philharmonic Orchestra; Anthony Armoré
Navona Records NV6167 (navonarecords.com)

Judging from this CD, the music of Kingston-based John Robertson has long been unfairly neglected in his adopted country. Arriving in Canada from New Zealand in 1967, Robertson, who turns 75 this October, was a late bloomer, receiving no significant public performances until 1987, when the Nepean Symphony presented his Variations for Small Orchestra, Op.14.

The 18-minute Variations opens with an original theme filled with quirky pauses, syncopations and intervallic leaps. The six variations that follow feature prominent solos for clarinet, trumpet, French horn and timpani. There’s a tango and a waltz leading to a triumphant finale containing reminiscences of earlier variations.

Robertson’s 34-minute Symphony No.1, Op.18 dates from 1988 but was unheard until a 2014 performance in Bulgaria. Two brightly scored, energetic movements bookend a gorgeous slow movement, music that should be welcomed by Canadian orchestras and audiences.

The 25-minute Suite for Orchestra, Op.46, was premiered in 2010 by the London (UK) Gay Symphony Orchestra. The opening Fanfare for brass and percussion is followed by the Waltz, at first wistful as played by woodwinds and strings, becoming raucous when the rest of the orchestra joins in. Elegy, the longest movement, again shows Robertson’s lyrical gift, while the March ends the Suite in celebratory fashion.

In these neo-Romantic works, Robertson displays a sound of his own – colourful and inventive scoring, unpretentious and essentially cheerful. This music deserves to be heard and heard again.

Emergence Trilogy Vol.2: Elegeia
Flicker Ensemble
Flicker Art Collaboratory FAC 201702

Emergence Trilogy Vol.3: Spectral (Golden) Lyric
Flicker Ensemble
Flicker Art Collaboratory FAC 201703

06a Ken Newby ElegeiaI first encountered BC composer Kenneth Newby’s ambitious Emergence Trilogy, consisting of three albums of his compositions, online. I reviewed Chambers: Volume 1 in The WholeNote summer 2018 issue. Flicker Art Collaboratory has now released all three albums on CD, prompting me to explore the fascinating, multivalent music on Volumes 2 and 3.

Newby’s discography reaches back to the early 1990s when he co-founded the group Trance Mission. The San Francisco world fusion quartet incorporated elements of fourth world, ethno-ambient, improvisation and jazz, releasing four albums. Faint echoes of some of those elements still reverberate in Newby’s music today. In addition, his compositions make reference to 20th-century modernism, various branches of electronic sound synthesis and acousmatic music, plus his in-depth studies and performance of Balinese and Javanese gamelan music.

Elegeia showcases Newby’s quest for discovering complexity and multicultural identities in his work. It extends to the instrumentation of the five works here. Swarm I is scored for string octet; Snark for muted trumpet and orchestra; Swarm II for string octet and brass; Khôra for Pauline Oliveros for mixed ensembles, and Crépuscule for Barbara for prepared piano and strings. Not unexpectedly, the effect of the works varies tremendously. For example, the asymmetrical melodic motifs – methodically organized via numerical sequences found in English bell ringing – in Symmetries II, movement IV of Khôra for Pauline Oliveros, are performed exclusively on the Semara Dana. A type of Balinese gamelan, it’s the sole work for gamelan on these albums. The sensuously recorded Crépuscule for Barbara directly appropriates the piano preparations from John Cage’s Sonatas and Interludes (1946-48). Newby then cannily adds what sounds like pizzicato and harmonics played on high orchestral strings. The result is an elegant Cagean tribute – with a Newby twist.

06b Ken Newby SpectralThe last album, Spectral (Golden) Lyric, with ten works in total, is even more eclectic in instrumentation than the others. The brief Orchid March, scored for Chinese erhu, guzheng and percussion, is another instrumental cultural outlier. On the other hand, given that these Chinese instruments effectively perform Newby’s personal compositional language, this work exemplifies his 21st-century transcultural musical aesthetic. Adopting a less overt approach, Newby has given several works titles borrowed from Javanese gamelan performance practice. There are four (spectral) pathetan, a palaran, and the last string quartet is titled Toccata and Imbal. Imbal refers to a technique in Javanese gamelan music in which two (or more) players perform interlocking melodies, thereby producing a dense, highly energized musical texture.

Newby’s Toccata and Imbal was for me the particular high point of these three exhilarating albums.

Listen to 'Elegeia' and 'Spectral (Golden) Lyric' Now in the Listening Room

07 Ittzes FluteThe Great Book of Flute Sonatas Vol. 5 – Soviet and Hungarian Works
Gergely Ittzés; Péter Nagy; József Gábor
Hungaroton HDC 32777

The mid-career Hungarian flute virtuoso, teacher and composer Gergely Ittzés lists over 20 albums on his bio. Perhaps the most ambitious item is his seven-volume CD set The Great Book of Flute Sonatas, beginning with J.S. Bach’s Flute Sonata in B Minor. Volume Five is dedicated to four mid-20th-century Soviet and Hungarian flute and piano sonatas. Except for the well-known neoclassical Prokofiev Flute Sonata in D Major (1943) they are new to me. Ittzés superbly renders the lyricism of the Prokofiev, as well as in sonatas by Edison Denisov (1929-96) and Otar Taktakishvili (1924-89). But it’s the László Lajtha album opener that is the real discovery for me here.

Hungarian composer, ethnomusicologist and conductor Lajtha (1892-1963), a younger contemporary of Bartók and Kodály, produced a considerable body of high-quality work. His Sonata en concert for flute and piano (1958) is surprising, dramatic – almost cinematic in scope. After WWII, performances of Lajtha’s compositions were effectively repressed by Hungary’s Communist regime due to Lajtha’s anti-Soviet views (especially his support for the 1956 Revolution). In recent years however his place among leading 20th century Hungarian composers has begun to be restored.

Lajtha’s Sonata is a sheer bravura delight. I hear echoes of his Magyar folk music research, his Parisian composition studies, evocative tone painting, as well as the influence of the advanced early 20th-century harmonic language of his illustrious Hungarian compatriots. The Sonata concludes with a light-handed musical joke. No spoiler alert here: you’ll have to listen to Ittzés’ brilliant rendition of this gem to enjoy it.

08 John AdamsJohn Adams
Berliner Philharmoniker; Gustavo Dudamel; Alan Gilbert; Kirill Petrenko; Sir Simon Rattle
Berliner Philharmoniker Recordings BPHR 170141 (berliner-philharmoniker-recordings.com)

This set of recordings is uniquely presented in an elegant, creatively designed package of quality. In his forward, Simon Rattle writes “John Adams is the Berliner Philharmoniker’s first official composer-in-residence during my 15 years as chief conductor of the orchestra. We have known each other for more than 30 years. I was in my late 20s when I first became aware of his music. Ed Smith, who ran the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra with me, played me Harmonium. It made a huge impression on me. It’s one of his earliest works for orchestra and chorus and it packs a huge and ecstatic punch. His music has unbelievable energy and joy and hunger for life that transmits itself to people of all ages…. John is such an open, generous, self-deprecating person that it’s sometimes hard to believe that he is a great composer as well. He’s managed to keep a special depth of humanity, and I think that comes through in the music.”

There are seven works in this collection, including the three larger works on CD, all duplicated with extras and documentaries on the Blu-ray video discs. Harmonielehre, for orchestra is conducted by Adams and the dramatic symphony, Scheherazade.2 has Adams in charge with an astounding Leila Josefowicz, violin. The Gospel According to the Other Mary is an oratorio in two acts devised by Peter Sellars who selected the texts. Rattle conducts three prime soloists, three countertenors, chorus and orchestra.

It is predictable that a conversation between Adams and Sellars would be both fascinating and enlightening as they discuss The Gospel According to the Other Mary. The meaning and message of the oratorio’s text and its impact inevitably leads to reflections on much of the world today.

Here is what the others batoneers did: Alan Gilbert, Short Ride in a Fast Machine and Lollapalooza; Gustavo Dudamel, City Noir; Kirill Petrenko, The Wound-Dresser.

This is a most enjoyable creative concept, with authoritative performances in state-of-the-art sound and vision.

01 Alex LefaivreYUL
Alex Lefaivre Quartet
Multiple Chord Music (alexlefaivre.com)

YUL, a new release from bassist/bandleader Alex Lefaivre, is a modern jazz album whose compositions take inspiration from the “dreamy, hazy summer vibes” and “gritty, metropolitan edge” of Montreal, the city in which Lefaivre is based. For those unfamiliar with Lefaivre, he has been an active member of the Canadian music scene for well over a decade, both as part of the award-winning Parc X Trio, and as a founding member of the independent jazz label Multiple Chord Music.

Joining Lefaivre on YUL are Erik Hove, alto saxophone, Nicolas Ferron, electric guitar, and Mark Nelson, drums (Lefaivre plays electric bass throughout). It speaks both to the open quality of Lefaivre’s compositions and to the group’s instrumentation that there is ample room for each player’s individual voice to come through clearly, and, consequently, for a compelling group dynamic to emerge. This is certainly the case on the album’s first track, the medium-slow 3/4 time The Righteous, which features dynamic solos from Ferron and Hove, set atop patient, supportive comping from Lefaivre and Nelson. Even during YUL’s most bombastic moments – such as the breakbeat-heavy song The Juggernaut – there is considerable attention to balance and to dynamic detail. The album closes with the title track, a 5/4, straight-eighths song that contains some of the most exciting moments of the outing from all four band members, including a short, memorable drum solo from Nelson. YUL is a cumulative success – reflecting Lefaivre’s mature, cohesive musical vision.

02 Chantal de VilliersÀ travers le temps…
Chantal De Villiers; Burt De Villiers; François Bourassa; Taurey Butler
Independent CDV042018 (chantaldevilliers.com)

With the deeply meditative and profoundly beautiful quality of her playing on À travers le temps, saxophonist Chantal De Villiers displays courage and maturity way beyond her years. Courage, because it is an enormous leap of faith for an emerging soloist to expose her musicality in the intimacy of a series of duets with pianists several years her senior. Her instrument’s voice has an elegant sensibility. And her maturity is suggested by the elevated sense of gravitas and erudition of her playing; the stretching out to explore ideas with melodic and harmonic invention that many – even established players – might find challenging.

Her reinvention of the traditional pop song-turned-standard Dear Old Stockholm – almost always associated with Stan Getz and his iconic version – is quite breathtaking. Here De Villiers explores – through gorgeous forays into the song’s choruses with Taurey Butler – playful, elegant and ingenious harmonic exchanges that elevate the warmth of her saxophone playing to new levels. In I Loves You Porgy, De Villiers engages François Bourassa with intense, elementally seductive balladry. Of the tracks she shares with her father, Burt De Villiers, the poignant Canadian Sunset is truly alluring, one in which saxophonist and pianist provide a perfectly judged musical context for a song with many heart-on-the-sleeve moments.

All in all, À travers le temps… reflects De Villiers’ determination to never play a note or phrase that does not have songful significance; hers is already a unique, expressive voice.

03 Jeremy LedbetterGot A Light?
Jeremy Ledbetter
Alma Records ACD61582 (jeremyledbetter.com)

Got a Light?, released internationally in July by Toronto-based Alma Records, is the debut album from the Jeremy Ledbetter Trio, which includes electric bassist Rich Brown and drummer Larnell Lewis, in addition to pianist/bandleader Ledbetter. If it is somewhat surprising to read the phrase “debut album” in relation to this group of musicians, attribute the feeling to each trio member’s ubiquity on the local (and international) jazz scene; Ledbetter, Brown and Lewis all perform frequently in a variety of popular creative projects, both individually and together.

Musically, the group shares some DNA with the Michel Petrucciani Trio and the Michel Camilo Trio; similarities can be found in the Ledbetter Trio’s technical firepower, use of electric bass and, especially in the case of the Camilo trio, a propensity for Latin jazz grooves. Moreover, as demonstrated on the title track of Got a Light?, it is the trio’s highly developed sense of dynamic control that provides an effective counterpoint to bouts of high-speed improvisational flurries. This sense of contrast works on a larger scale, too: Got a Light? is paced well, as gentle, contemplative pieces like Her New Wings (with vocalists Eliana Cuevas and Leila Ledbetter) and Suspirito (with batá drummer Reimundo Sosa) are balanced against the up-tempo 7/8 About Climbing Mountains, and The Pepper Drinker, the album’s burning penultimate song. A bold, exciting album, Got a Light? feels less like a debut than a coherent artistic statement from an experienced band.

Listen to 'Got A Light?' Now in the Listening Room

04 TJO 2020
Toronto Jazz Orchestra
Independent TJO004 (thetjo.com)

One of the more exhilarating jazz listening experiences is the sound of a well-rehearsed big band firing on all cylinders and this is what we get with the Toronto Jazz Orchestra album 20. The recording and production is impeccable, so we hear the full aural effect of the dynamics from a tight rhythm section with clear bass, drums and piano fills, to full brass and saxophone harmonies. The album title refers to the band’s 20-year history, and where previous releases included several live recordings and used different Canadian composers, 20 was recorded completely in the studio and features the compositions and arrangements of artistic director Josh Grossman. An album highlight is 4 PN, a tribute to jazz icon Phil Nimmons on his 90th birthday. This piece’s four movements encompass several moods, from straight ahead swing, to an introspective third movement (Birdsong) and a very funky final section (Flat 10 Strikes Again). The first movement, The Land of 2 and 4, contains an excellent bop trumpet solo by James Rhodes that has a touch of Jack Sheldon to it. Ben Ball’s drum solo navigates us to the second movement, Under a Treeful, which contains a wonderful and idiosyncratic clarinet solo from Paul Metcalfe that I believe Nimmons would appreciate. Overall, 20 is full of catchy melodies and arrangements that leverage the big band pallette of sounds; the ensemble and solo musicianship is excellent. We can hope there are at least another 20 years in this band’s future.

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