01 NepomucenoAlberto Nepomuceno – Symphony in G Minor
Minas Gerais Philharmonic Orchestra; Fabio Mechetti
Naxos 8.574067 (naxosdirect.com)

As the music of the entire recording including, of course, Symphony in G Minor suggests, Alberto Nepomuceno’s map of Brazil was his glorious harmony book. The 1893 symphony predates (but only by a few years) what came to be a movement for creating an authentically Brazilian music, with less influence of European culture. In this sense, the folklore of the colourful northeastern Brazil from where Nepomuceno came was the major font of inspiration for his music.

This is not always obvious in the program at hand as we can hear in the music a struggle for Nepomuceno to pull away from his European training before drawing deeply from his northeastern Brazilian roots. His mind, newly opened to the sounds of his childhood in Recife, triggered perhaps by the influence of the French impressionists, becomes evident first in Série Brasileira (1891). It is a colourful, mysterious work and by the time we get to the fourth movement Batuque the full effect of northeastern Brazil is heard in the lyrically rhythmic infusion produced by the strings of the Minas Gerais Philharmonic Orchestra.

The mysterious splendour of O Garatuja – Prelude (1904) reverberates with the mesmeric swirling of African slave dances that Nepomuceno incorporated into his music. The full grandeur of the composer’s work is uncovered in the celebrated Symphony in G Minor where maestro Fabio Mechetti draws from the Minas Gerais Philharmonic Orchestra its fullest, winning combination of expressive power and voluptuousness yet.

02 Florence PriceFlorence Beatrice Price – Symphonies
Fort Smith Symphony Orchestra; John Jeter
Naxos 8.559827 (naxosdirect.com)

Florence Beatrice Price (née Smith) was an African-American composer born in Little Rock Arkansas in 1887. Her father was a dentist and her mother a music teacher. She received her solid musical education from her mother because the city’s best-known tutors, uniformly and unapologetically white, refused to teach a person of colour. Her mother taught her well. So well that she gave her first piano performance when she was eight and aged 11 had her first published work.

Her mother wanted her to further her studies after graduating as valedictorian from high school, and as this was next to impossible in the South, she was enrolled in the New England Conservatory. There she was tutored in all the musical disciplines under the care of a faculty that included George Whitefield Chadwick. During that time her compositions included a string trio and a symphony. In 1906 she graduated with a diploma in organ and a teaching certificate.

She returned to Little Rock and began teaching in segregated academies in Arkansas and Georgia. She married attorney Thomas Jewell Price and moved back to Little Rock. Following a lynching in 1927 and amid general unease, the family moved to Chicago where Florence was to flourish and become a recognized member of the musical community. In 1932, her Symphony in E Minor won the first prize of $500 in the Rodman Wanamaker Competition sponsored by the National Federation of Music Clubs. The work attracted the interest of conductor Frederick Stock who led his Chicago Symphony Orchestra in the premiere public performance, the first time a major American orchestra had ever performed any piece written by an African-American woman.

Her symphonies are in the usual four movements. Symphony No.1 dates from 1932 and calls to mind the symphonic music of the era, most evoked being Dvořák, Edward MacDowell, Horatio Parker and George Whitefield Chadwick whose music I continue to enjoy. The first movement is a mighty statement running over 16 minutes. The grand second is an attractive largo of 12 minutes duration. In the third movement where one might normally expect to hear a scherzo, we are treated to a Juba Dance, based on the antebellum slave style, complex body percussion (foot stomping and chest patting) and syncopated melodies. The boisterous fourth movement is an appropriate closing.

The Fourth Symphony is similarly constructed with an Andante cantabile second movement à la Dvořák. The third movement is again a Juba Dance and the final movement, a mighty Scherzo. I am very interested in hearing more of Florence Price.

03 RespeghiRespighi – Roman Trilogy
Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra; JoAnn Falletta
Naxos 8.574013 (naxos.com)

I have never forgotten as a child first hearing The Fountains of Rome at a concert conducted by a short, wiry and agile Italian, Francesco Molinari-Pradelli, who made me fall in love with the piece instantly. Over the years I found that the Fountains is by far the best of the trilogy, Pines a close second and Festivals a distant third, but generally recordings tended to establish a certain routine interpretation and sound that became an expected norm.

However, this brilliant new recording by JoAnn Falletta, who now emerges as a star conductor and favourite of Naxos, will surprise you. She is American, original and unorthodox, and picks Festivals to play first (!), turning it into a monumental sound spectacle and making the most of Respighi’s adventurous harmonies and orchestration. Just listen to Circenses where the music is so graphic as it describes vividly ferocious lions devouring Christian martyrs and Ottobrata with its sweet mandolin solo and far away horn calls evoking my beloved countryside around Rome.

The disc gives us surprise after delightful surprise as Falletta, revelling in the rich score, brings out voices I have never heard before. Like a gorgeous sound painting of night on the Gianicolo Hill with the noble silhouettes of pines and a nightingale singing. She is so totally engrossed that the music simply doesn’t want to end. But where she really strikes home is Pines of the Via Appia, a tremendous tour de force depicting an ancient Roman army emerging from distant haze marching towards us, and the music just builds and builds. A gradual crescendo exploding in glorious fortississimo without ever becoming bombastic or overpowering. Brava!

01 InvitationInvitation – Trios for Clarinet, Violin and Piano
Christine Carter; Duo Concertante
Marquis Classics MAR 81489 (marquisclassics.com)

Having to declare an interest in the subject of a disc review is an unalloyed pleasure when said conflict involves praising the work of a former student. Together with Tim Steeves and Nancy Dahn (Duo Concertante), clarinetist Christine Carter has released Invitation, an album of trios for clarinet, violin and piano. Alongside the witty and spirited Suite by Darius Milhaud is Aram Khachaturian’s almost emo Trio; Tango, a chestnut by Canadian Patrick Cardy (1953-2005); and last of all, Francis Poulenc’s L’invitation au château.

The latter is new material to me, as I’m sure it will be to many listeners. It’s a curiosity, beautiful raw material that Poulenc never got around to turning into a suite, unlike his colleague Milhaud. Both composers wrote the music on this disc as integral backdrops for plays by Jean Anouilh, but where Milhaud sifted his score down to four movements, the Poulenc remains in its original form of 16 musical installments, some extremely short, others stretching to between one and two minutes in length.

Nothing detracts from the pleasure of listening to the performances on this disc. The Khachaturian stands out as particularly compelling, but no doubt others will find their own favourites. Tasteful style, courteous and elegant musicianship, and technical ease are featured throughout by all three performers. One supposes, or hopes, this won’t be their last such collaboration.

The liner notes are helpful, packing a good deal of information into an interview format.

Listen to 'Invitation: Trios for Clarinet, Violin and Piano' Now in the Listening Room

02 lori freedmanExcess
Lori Freedman
Collection QB CQB 1923 (actuellecd.com)

On Excess, distinguished Montreal-based clarinetist Lori Freedman presses the boundaries of contemporary musical discourse, challenging the clarinet’s, the individual composer’s and her own expressive depths. Pressing a point, she focuses on bass and contrabass clarinet, perhaps the most vocal of orchestral instruments, with every pitch ready to bend and break, a spray of overtones seemingly ever at the ready. Oh, yes, she challenges the listener as well.

The program is bracketed by its most radical and expansive adventures. British composer Richard Barrett’s Interference requires the performer to sing over a four-octave range and play a kick-drum as well as turn in a virtuosic explosion of wild burbling lines from the contrabass clarinet. It’s shamanic work, an invocation of spirits, a depth of expression that tests the limits of performance. At the opposite end of the CD, there’s French composer Raphaël Cendo’s Décombres, a work of “saturation” that fills the sound space with roaring contrabass clarinet and abrasive electronics.

In between, Freedman reaches back to Brian Ferneyhough’s daunting Time and Motion Study I (1977) and explores three recent pieces. Freedman worked closely with Vancouverite Paul Steenhuisen on Library on Fire and Paolo Perezzani on Thymos, the former mixing vocal sounds with bass clarinet, the latter the sonic potential of the contrabass, elephants and all. It’s her own Withwhatbecomes that’s most remarkable: almost unvoiced, it’s filled with the quietest, most fleeting, evanescent sounds, more challenging in its own way than anything else here.

03 Stump LinshalmPetra Stump-Linshalm – Fantasy Studies
Various Artists
Orlando Records or 0033 (orlando-records.com)

The technical ability of the players on this new disc is enough to bind the listener to the chase of sounds they produce. A collection of different works for (mostly) winds, and most among them the various sizes of clarinet, the CD is named for its final multi-movement work, written by composer Petra Stump-Linshalm. This piece calls for four players dealing with 11 instruments between them (flutes, clarinets, recorders, cello, some also playing percussion). The performers produce eerily beguiling songs and dances. Tonality is a ghost of its former self, pale-to-vanishing. Stump-Linshalm is more concerned with finding voices to utter her thoughts that no one has heard yet, colours and consonants fresh from a fine-tuned imagination. Movement is mostly ordered but gradual, although some movements pop and spark with sudden furtive gestures. Nowhere is the dance faster than a lively funeral march. Fantastic indeed, and beautiful; and terrifying.

Opening the disc are eight short movements for solo contrabass clarinet, which seems to be having its moment in new music. Uisge Beatha is an exploration in sound of the variety of flavours found in good peated scotch. My unmixed love of single-malt scotch whiskey is not matched by my feelings for the contrabass clarinet. I certainly admire the playing ability of Heinz-Peter Linshalm, who is featured on most of the disc, and his mastery of the double-length bass. There’s a mad take on The Teddy Bears’ Picnic as well; I leave the listener to find it.

04 cqb simon martinSimon Martin – Musique d’art
Quatuor Bozzini; Pierre-Alexandre Maranda
QB CQB 1922 (actuellecd.com)

Simon Martin is a younger Quebecois composer whose work is intimately connected with music’s relationship to materiality. His earlier work Hommage à Leduc, Borduas et Riopelle focused on specific works of three great painters, setting each segment with a small group of like instruments: a saxophone quartet, a trio of classical guitars and the string quartet, Quatuor Bozzini. Here the quartet turns to a more ambitious Martin work. Musique d’art is similarly concerned with meaning, with relationships among music, sound and noise and the philosophical and material status of the musical work, its title a play on the expression “objet d’art.”

It’s a work of substantial scale, over an hour in length, and also great sonic mass. Quatuor Bozzini is extended to a string quintet here with the presence of double bassist Pierre-Alexandre Maranda. In some of the work’s five movements, his is the central voice. The first part moves from silence to a consonant drone that’s gradually engulfed in a gathering dissonance only to return to silence. Maranda’s role comes to the fore in the second part, his harsh, low-register bowing suggesting grinding tools. At another point, his savage, whipping glissandi feel as much like a side effect of industry as a musical technique.

The final movement alternates groups of sustained harmonics to develop a state that’s simultaneously tense and suspended, gradually creating a sense of timelessness. A kind of stable mystery, Musique d’art can only grow in significance.

05 Samuel AndreyevSamuel Andreyev – Music with no Edges
HANATSUmiroir
Kairos 0015025KAI (kairos-music.com)

Before you even read the booklet notes that speak of a late work of Marcel Duchamp in relation to Samuel Andreyev’s sublime modernist composition, you realize – in the rhythm and stroke of reeds, strings and percussion – that the Canadian composer now living in France is a visualist musician. It is clear from the very first few bars of Vérifications (2012). Then rifling through the booklet as you might be tempted to do, the discovery of his scores reveals more of his method. Of the three scores depicted, only one is on staved paper; another is on a black sheet and the third is on graph paper. The notes are meticulously written, ramrod straight. But clearly Andreyev does not mean for them to sound that way.

This is, after all, Music with no Edges. Fingertips holding bows and mallets are meant to be extensions of paint brushes, perhaps just as pursed lips on piccolos and other reeds become extensions of musicians painting with sound, rather than engaging in some aural activity. So, for instance, on Cinq pièces, Stopping, Passages and, indeed Music with no Edges, and the final Strasbourg Quartet, the steady drip, drip, drip of sound as if wet from a paint brush seems to fall from the ensemble HANATSUmiroir onto blank canvases creating vivid pictures of sound emboldened with emotion. Andreyev seems to write not only with a pencil but with his nerve endings as well.

06 Giya KancheliGiya Kancheli – Sunny Night
Frédéric Bednarz; Jonathan Goldman; Natsuki Hiratsuka
Metis Islands 2019 MI-0009 (metis-islands.com)

I get particular satisfaction from listening to an album rendered stylishly by gifted Canadian musicians. A good example is Sunny Night, a collection of 17 miniatures originally scored for the cinema and theatre by Giya Kancheli (b.1935) recorded at McGill University in Montreal by the duo of Frédéric Bednarz (violin) and Natsuki Hiratsuka (piano).

The well-known Georgian composer Kancheli, currently living in Belgium, is an unabashed romantic when it comes to composing music. “Music, like life itself, is inconceivable without romanticism. Romanticism is a high dream of the past, present, and future – a force of invincible beauty which towers above, and conquers the forces of ignorance, bigotry, violence and evil,” states Kancheli in the liner notes.

The highlights on Sunny Night are the two works for violin, piano and bandoneon (Jonathan Goldman), an instrument closely associated with the tango. Earth, This Is Your Son for the trio is episodic and dramatic, dominated by minor key tonalities. At just over five minutes it is also the most substantial work on the album. It’s more a concert piece than incidental music.

Not only unapologetically melody-driven, romantic and tonal – often gently drawing on early 20th-century vernacular genres such as the tango – the musical language on Sunny Night also seeks to capture a single mood befitting the music’s original theatrical function. In that it succeeds admirably, though sometimes the effect verges on overt sentiment. There are times however when that is just what’s needed.

07 Reiko FutingReiko Füting – Distant Song
Ensemble Vocal & Instrumental
New Focus Recordings FCR216 (newfocusrecordings.com)

Composer Reiko Füting (Germany b.1970), a faculty member of the Manhattan School of Music, offers an intriguing study of a juxtaposition of ancient and modern practice. The first two pieces on Distant Song, performed by AuditiVokal Dresden and Art D’Echo are als ein licht/extensio and in allem Fremden/wie der Tag/wie das Licht, based on works by Heinrich Schütz. The motet Verleih Uns Frieden Gnädiglich is framed by dynamic percussion, spoken word and lush, dissonant vocalizations meant to illustrate, in the composer’s own words, a “continuing compositional interest in time and space.” Meant as an epilogue to the first two pieces, eternal return (Passacaglia) features the Byrne:Kozar:Duo, in an alarmingly engaging duet for soprano and trumpet using text from Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra. Next is mo(nu)ment for C, on the 2015 attack on Charlie Hebdo in which the ensemble loadbang reiterates “Je suis,” “Ich bin” and “I Am.” Dutch ensemble Oerknal performs Weg, Lied der Schwäne, a “swan song” on the subject of euthanasia based on Arcadelt’s renaissance madrigal, Il bianco e dolce cigno. The same ensemble backs vocal quartet Damask in versinkend, versingend, verklingend which recalls Debussy’s La cathédrale engloutie and quotes the 15th-century German folk song Gesegn dich Laub.

In listening to Füting’s compositions, it becomes clear that while focusing on contemporary issues, he brilliantly incorporates musical fragments of memory which bridge present and past.

08 Cage Empty WordsEmpty Words by John Cage
Varispeed
Gold Bolus GBR035 (goldbolus.com/empty)

Long before John Cage created Empty Words, he was already encouraging the performer of his music to “let go of his feelings, his taste, his automatism, his sense of universal, not attaching himself to this or that, leaving by his performance no traces, providing by his actions no interruption to the fluency of nature.” In their recording of this epic vocal piece the quintet Varispeed, together with ten supporting musicians, seem to have absorbed Cage’s radiant words as they plough through the shard-like composition completely absorbing its incandescence into their hearts and minds – as Cage would have it – to create a deeply committed and meticulously prepared performance, produced with magical results.

Cage’s monumentally challenging work calls for invention over and above that precise quality that the composer built into his work. On Empty Words – literally words stripped of meaning – the ensemble uses male and female human voices propelled on a collision course with acoustic (woodwinds, strings, percussion and piano), electronic boards and prepared (glass) instruments. The result turns Cage’s effect of splintering and pointillist sound into an exploitation of a wide range of sonorities, some bright, some bell-like, others more delicate and subdued. Rhythmic motifs and patterns recur, producing an incantory and hypnotic quality.

Varispeed’s experience as improvisers makes their presence felt in this tactile articulation of Cage’s driving rhythms and percussive “ungrooves” with uncommon perfection ranging from the lyrical to the difficult and disturbing.

01 Cynthia TauroMoments
Cynthia Tauro
Independent (cynthiatauro.com)

There can be no doubt that emerging jazz pianist and vocalist Cynthia Tauro is a stunning, talented breath of fresh air. Her debut CD is a clever juxtaposition of interesting standards, and Tauro’s original, irresistible compositions. With a musical pedigree that goes back generations, Tauro has a wealth of musical technique, as well as a recognizable and appealing vocal sound – alternatingly soft as velvet and sharp as a razor. On her debut recording, Tauro has put together a talented ensemble, led by eclectic, brilliant and intuitive producer/composer George Koller on bass and A-list jazz players Ted Quinlan on guitar, Davide DiRenzo on drums, Perry White on tenor saxophone and Colleen Allen on soprano sax, clarinet and flute.

The CD kicks off with Tauro’s original tune, Dancin’ On My Own. Interesting chord changes, superb musicianship and a no-nonsense lyric make this track a standout (including Perry White’s Hank Mobley-esque solo). Another excellent choice by Tauro is her version of 1937’s Someday My Prince Will Come. Tauro’s pitch-pure soprano sails over the lyric, imbuing it with a contemporary emotional edge, while her piano work is both substantial and swinging.

Without question, Cara Valente is sung with skill and precision in luscious Portuguese. Tauro’s deep, innate rhythmic feel, as well as her vocal timbre and fluidity are nothing short of breathtaking – bringing to mind the late Elis Regina. The CD’s bilingual closer, One Note Samba, is a triumph. Despite her jazz ingénue status, Tauro is already a fully realized pianist, songwriter and vocalist, and it will be fascinating to see what’s next for this talented artist!

02 Fuat TuacLate Bloomer
Fuat Tuaç
Independent (fuattuac.com)

With the release of his debut CD, Turkish/Canadian vocalist, Fuat Tuaç has presented an intriguing, multicultural jazz recording, comprised of freshly arranged, under-trodden standards and Tuaç’s original title track. He is joined here by a superb group of musicians, including Paul Shrofel on piano, Dave Watts on bass, Richard Irwin on drums and Dave Turner on saxophone. Tuaç is equally comfortable singing in English, French, Turkish, Portuguese and Italian – easily capturing the lyrical essences of each language.

Manha de Carnaval (A Day in the Life of a Fool) is a standout. The rich, rhythmic arrangement is enhanced by Turner’s warm, mellifluous alto lines, which soon metamorphose into a gymnastic and powerful solo; Tuaç’s acoustic, unvarnished, exotic sound is beautifully complemented in this Luis Bonfa classic. Another highlight is Ellington’s Caravan. Profound, throbbing bass lines from Watts and Eastern rhythmic patterns succinctly executed by Irwin define this interpretation, as Tuaç seamlessly segues between straight ahead bop and heady pentatonic vocal motifs. The scent of exotic spices and the sight of auburn-tinged Bedouin tents are almost palpable here.

Two additional highlights include a vigorous and contemporary rendition of Chick Corea’s Spain, in which Shrofel’s luminous musicianship and Irwin’s inventive, Iberian and rock-steady propulsion are featured; and also the cinematic Rendez-vous vers huit heures (Drault), which is an elegantly performed possible movie theme in search of a black and white French film – Tuaç is reminiscent of the late Charles Aznavour here... musical, mysterious, evocative and très sensual!

Listen to 'Late Bloomer' Now in the Listening Room

03 Dave YoungLotus Blossom
Dave Young
Modica Music (daveyoung.ca)

Lotus Blossom is a fine disc that was recorded immediately after One Way Up, the acclaimed previous album by Dave Young and his band. I enjoy hearing these top Canadian jazz artists in fine form, interacting and supporting each other with spontaneity and precision. At the centre is distinguished acoustic bassist Dave Young, whose playing I would not label a harmonic and rhythmic foundation because from high-up thumb position to the lowest bass tones his style is so melodic. In Dexter Gordon’s Fried Bananas, his solo is richly lyrical, followed by the fluent playing of guitarist Reg Schwager. Terry Clarke accompanies with a wet cymbal wash preceding his own dry turn on the theme. On the jazz waltz title track, Young’s plaintive bass and Clarke’s cross-rhythms are affecting for me while pianist Renee Rosnes displays a mastery of touch and tone, creating a pensive, languorous mood in dragging the tune’s return. The tasty interplay between Schwager and her on Modinha, along with Clarke’s playful drumming and Young’s convincing solo, make this track a highlight.

By contrast to Rosnes, pianist Bernie Senensky’s energetic style on Bolivia and I Thought About You is chord-rich, with blazing riffs and hard swinging in the latter that evoke Oscar Peterson (who Dave Young played with regularly). Finally, trumpeter Kevin Turcotte and tenor saxophonist Perry White join in with able two-part counterpoint on Softly as in a Morning Sunrise. Highly recommended.

04 jean deromeSudoku pour Pygmées
Jean Derome
Ambiances Magnetiques AM 242 CD (actuellecd.com)

Composer, saxophonist and flutist Jean Derome has been a central voice in Quebec’s musique actuelle movement for decades, along the way creating works that fuse improvisation with larger structural forms. Here he leads his quartet Les Dangereux Zhoms and nine other musicians in a cross-country retrospective of works commissioned by Canada’s landmark mixed-method contemporary ensembles.

The title track, originally performed by Halifax’s Upstream in 2010, uses the idea of the Sudoku puzzle to create polyphonic canons of pentatonic scales in a way that suggests Pygmy vocal music. It’s a scintillating work, leavening its complexity with sonic transparency and some brilliant reed soloists, most notably Derome on baritone saxophone and André Leroux on tenor. 7 danses (pour <<15>>), originally performed by Toronto’s Hemispheres in 1989, demonstrates Derome’s longstanding interest in creating hybrid works, juxtaposing popular and serious genres that mingle Bernard Falaise’s rock-inspired electric guitar with abstract harmonies.

The concluding 5 pensées (pour le caoutchouc dur), composed for Vancouver’s Hard Rubber Orchestra in 2001, encompasses a range of moods and inspirations and highlights some of the group’s strongest voices. The playful second pensée, suggests Thelonious Monk’s work, with Lori Freedman’s bass clarinet approaching comic speech, while the third invokes Duke Ellington’s sacred music, with a pensive, reflective lead provided by trombonist Scott Thomson. The concluding Pensée matches a rapid hoedown with anarchic collective improvisation, literally an ultimate stylistic collision, and the ideal conclusion for this boundary-blurring set of works.

05 JV BoogalooGoing to Market
JV’s Boogaloo Squad
Flatcar FCR-009 (jvsboogaloo.com)

In 2015, Toronto-based keyboardist Joel Visentin got together with fresh, younger talents, guitarist Adam Beer-Colacino and drummer Jeff Halischuk, to form JV’S Boogaloo Squad. Their long-awaited debut album has finally reached eager audiences and is a soulful, funky kick in the pants that will get anyone bopping and tapping their foot on the dreariest and coldest of winter days. Visentin’s riffs and solos on the unique and instantly distinguishable Hammond B3 organ are the powerhouse and driving force behind the music. All pieces except for one are original works by Visentin.

Slacktivison starts off the record with a great groove and catchy beat provided by Beer-Colacino and Halischuck respectively. As we move through pieces such as Fashionably Lazy, Forty Filth and Different Times, it is apparent that the fluidity and cohesion between musicians is fantastic and that the talent concentrated within this group is immense. The collective has been mentioned as having a “vintage yet modern sound” and that is clearly showcased by the timeless sound of the B3 throughout the pieces. Yet, modernity comes into play when paired with the sultry riffs of Beer-Colacino and Halischuck’s contemporary beats. A personal favourite is Squadzilla, which has a true funkiness and energetic quality to it with a smooth hint of tenor saxophone contributed by Kelly Jefferson.

In a music scene where pure funk and soul have been slightly pushed aside, this record is a true breath of fresh air.

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