05_shaham_sarasateSarasate - Virtuoso Violin Works

Gil Shaham; Adele Anthony

Canary Classics CC07

By all accounts, Pablo de Sarasate must have been quite spectacular. One of the post-Paganini European virtuosi of the late 1800s, he dazzled audiences, critics and contemporaries alike, and not just with his playing. Like several of his fellow violinists – Vieuxtemps and Wieniawski in particular – Sarasate produced many outstanding compositions, and their warmth and brilliance is testimony to his playing ability.

Gil Shaham took the opportunity afforded by the centenary of Sarasate’s death in 2008 to present several concert performances of his works, culminating in the Sarasateada festival in Valladolid, Spain, last November. This latest CD on Shaham’s own Canary Classics label was recorded at the festival, and also features Shaham’s wife, the Australian violinist Adele Anthony.

Ysaÿe noted that it was Sarasate “who taught us how to play exactly”, and precision is certainly the first requirement if these pieces are going to be performed successfully. No worries here on that score. Shaham is brilliant in the four live orchestral performances with the Orquesta Sinfonica de Castilla y Leon under Alejandro Posada: the Carmen Fantasy; Zigeunerweisen; a somewhat bland Leo Blech orchestration of Zortica; and – with Anthony - the scintillating duet Navarra.

Anthony plays three of the eight outstanding tracks with pianist Akira Eguchi – Song of the Nightingale; Airs Ecossais; and Introduction and Tarantella - and certainly isn’t ‘second fiddle’ here in any respect. Shaham’s solo tracks are Habanera, Zapateado, Romanza Andaluza, Capricho Vasco, and Gavota de Mignon, and his playing standard never waivers.

Both players use a Stradivarius violin – Shaham the 1699 “Countess Polignac” and Anthony a 1728 instrument - and their richness in the lower register and brightness in the upper, while possibly more contrasted in Shaham’s playing, are very similar.

The booklet notes are by the always-reliable Eric Wen and nicely complement this delightful disc.

04_arghamanyan_lisztLiszt; Rachmaninov - Sonatas

Nareh Arghamanyan

Analekta AN 2 8762

Many years back I was fortunate to see young a Martha Argerich in concert and I recall hardly being able to sleep that night. So when I first listened to this debut recording of 20 year old Armenian pianist Nareh Arghamanyan I had only one wish and that was to see her performing in person as I had hopes of a new divine Martha. Fast forward now to the miracle of the Internet.

I‘ve already enjoyed three of her video performances seeing how she becomes symbiotic with the music, swaying her girlish, fragile body. Her seemingly gentle hands produce titanic sounds without any of the mannerisms and showiness of some pianists of great commercial appeal I don’t want to mention.

Her latest achievement is winning the 1st prize (piano) of the prestigious Montreal International Music Competition in 2008, but she has been winning competitions since age 11. In fact Analekta is fortunate in securing this young lady at this time as I predict her fame will skyrocket and the big recording giants will be clamouring to get her.

Both of the sonatas she plays are murderously difficult, “alternately passionate, desperate, energetic and tender with hurricanes of octaves seething with raw energy” (Lucie Renaud). They are prime examples of the Romantic sonata invented by Liszt and furthered by Rachmaninov. The strict sonata form is replaced by an inner subliminal logic, of ebb and flow, but it must be kept in balance. This is something only the greatest pianists like Ms Arghamanyan with her God given gifts are capable of.

 

03_fischer_schubertSchubert - Complete works for Violin and Piano, Volume 1

Julia Fischer; Martin Helmchen

PentaTone PTC 5186 347

Julia Fischer is outstanding in this Super Audio CD. The three sonatas featured on this disc – D.384 in D, D.385 in A minor, and D.408 in G minor – date from 1816, but despite being early works they exhibit all the characteristics of the mature Schubert. The Rondo Brillant D.895 from 1826 completes the disc.

Despite the constant flow of irrepressible melody there is always a sense of wistfulness and drama lying just beneath the surface of Schubert’s music, and Fischer’s beautifully-judged performance captures this perfectly, with a beautiful clear tone, sensitive vibrato, and a fine range of dynamics. The recording balance is excellent, with clean and intelligent piano support from Martin Helmchen.

The booklet notes unfortunately scream “Translation!” at times – the Pseud’s Corner column in the old Private Eye magazine would have had a field day with lines like “In truth, renewed energy slumbers within the tangled web of the dialogue interwoven in the chamber music” – but the notes that matter are on the CD… and they’re just wonderful.

Volume 2 is slated for release in April 2010; as the remaining Schubert works for violin and piano aren’t sufficient to fill a CD, it will apparently feature Fischer in a Schubert piano duet. Shouldn’t be a problem - she performed the Grieg Piano Concerto in Frankfurt last year!

02_bach_clavierbungBach - Clavierubung II

Alexander Weimann

ATMA ACD2 2603

Seldom can there have been a more sombre cover than on this CD. Dressed in black, soloist Alexander Weimann is photographed against a dark green/black background. One wonders why.

The theme of Clavierubung II is duality, some would say polarity. Bach chooses two works in highly contrasting keynotes but even then neither work can be described as entirely solemn.

The Italian Concerto in F Major starts with a spirited movement - for which no indication is given. It may not have been written to equal the exhilarating speed of the Presto but its demands on the player are still great. The Andante, the middle of the three movements, does demonstrate polarity within a single work. It is slow, almost out of place on this CD.

Bach’s Overture in the French style in B Minor, much the greater part of the CD, starts with an Ouverture; if anyone expects a gentle introduction to the main work, they will find this movement breath-taking.

Next are the movements named after the great French country dances of the Renaissance and Baroque. Here are the Gavotte, Passepied, Sarabande and others. All make their transition from countryside to court, recognisable for their mainly cheerful and lively characteristics.

Enjoy Bach’s interpretation of duality and Alexander Weimann’s skills which have made him one of the most sought-after baroque instrumentalists - and ignore that depressing cover.

01_telemann_gypsyTelemann - The Baroque Gypsies

Ensemble Caprice; Matthias Maute

Analekta AN 2 9919

Telemann’s compositions were so prolific they beg the question whether he turned to other influences to help maintain his output. His own memoirs contain the answer: temporary exile led to his discovering Poland and Moravia (and their “barbaric beauty...”).

Not so barbaric that he could not be captivated by Eastern European gypsy music though. How imaginative, then, of Ensemble Caprice to intersperse works by Telemann with extracts from the 1730 Uhrovska Collection of 350 gypsy melodies.

For those rarefied souls who believe that baroque music is in some way superior to contemporary folk music, this CD will shake them. The Uhrovska Collection melodies initially overshadow their more grandiose counterparts. The rousing opening track, a Romanian traditional melody, leads the way, followed by the Uhrovskaya’s haunting instrumental C91 and Netrap zradna song.

By track 10 (out of 28) we realise how much Telemann was influenced by gypsy music. The Gypsy Sonata in D Minor and Sonata à la gitane brought the vitality of gypsy music to courtly audiences by way of conventional baroque instruments: recorder, violin and continuo. Above all, Telemann’s Gigue for solo violin leaves no-one in doubt as to its inspiration.

Telemann and the gypsies weave their way through in the order assigned by Ensemble Caprice’s artistic director Matthias Maute. The Ensemble helps us share in Telemann’s own gratitude to the gypsies: “In only a week, a composer could be inspired for an entire lifetime.” These sixty-eight minutes are all that are needed to learn why.

02_koh_rhapsodicRhapsodic Musings - 21st Century works for solo violin

Jennifer Koh

Cedille CDR 90000 113

Jennifer Koh has produced another outstanding CD with Rhapsodic Musings. I’ve commented before on Koh’s intelligent and imaginative programming, and this CD is no exception, Koh noting that the recording was born out of her search for “a sense of meaning” in the aftermath of the events of September 11, 2001.

There are four outstanding works here: Elliott Carter’s suite Four Lauds, completed in 2000, includes one movement from 1984 and two from 1999, making the CD’s sub-title somewhat inaccurate; Esa-Pekka Salonen’s Lachen Verlernt from 2002 has an accompanying video by Tal Rosner; Augusta Read-Thomas’s Pulsar (2002) is a short piece bursting with energy. The longest work is John Zorn’s Goetia, written for Koh in 2002; its eight short movements each repeat exactly the same sequence of 227 pitches, although the possibilities for transposition and the huge variations in note speed, tempo, dynamics, tonal colour and technique make this virtually impossible to tell.

Koh is in her usual magnificent form in these essential and significant additions to a highly demanding performing genre.

Terry Robbins

01_rubbing_stoneRubbing Stone - Music by David Eagle, William Jordan, Hope Lee, Michael Matthews, Laurie Radford

Jeremy Brown

Centrediscs CMCCD 14909

Calgary-based saxophonist Jeremy Brown compiles works by composers living in Alberta on his newest disc, Rubbing Stone.

The title track refers to a glacial erratic in Calgary used as a resting place by migrating buffalo. In this solo work, composer Hope Lee sets out to achieve a sense of “timelessness; the result is reminiscent of the music of Scelsi. Her other work, Days Beyond, is more fantasia, conjuring dreamlike reflections of nature for saxophone and piano (Ami Longhi).

David Eagle’s Intonare 2 combines the colours of the saxophone, piano and various percussion instruments, alternating chromatic stasis with primal rhythmic drive and Messiaenic homophony. Percussive electronic sounds battle for prominence with the saxophone in …que la terre s’ouvre… by Laurie Radford.

William Jordan has two sonatas on this disc: the one for alto is more saxophonistic, using jazz elements and accompanied recitative; the more playful soprano sonata was originally conceived for oboe.

Michael Matthews wrote perhaps the most ambitious work on the disc, The Skin of Night. What begins as a simple melodic cell becomes a roller coaster of flourishes, followed by a lengthy weighted decay. Both Brown and Longhi are impressive.

Recitative and fantasy as a compositional device permeate all the works, but it places Brown – the protagonist – at centre stage; his colourful sound and expressive vocabulary never tire.

Wallace Halladay

The new Jazz Icons series from Naxos is its fourth incarnation with an eight-DVD boxed set full of surprises as well as shedding beneficial light on under-rated performers. As always, the sound on these 10-plus hours of music is superb.

01_anita_odayThere’s one vocalist – but would you expect Anita O’Day (2.119015) to follow earlier Icon releases of Ella, Sarah and Nina rather than, say, Billie or Carmen? However, this archaeological treat discovered at two Scandinavian concerts show off her vibrato-free, horn-like tones, crafty phrasing manipulation and breezy confidence to great effect. The Norwegian session, featuring a French piano trio is best, highlighting sophisticated interpretations of standards including a brilliant up-tempo Tea For Two, a scat-happy Four Brothers and a lovely Yesterday/Yesterdays medley.

 

02_woody_hermanThen there’s Woody Herman (2.119016), taped in London, with his jazziest big band, the 1964 Swinging Herd. It’s an explosive thrill, the clarinettist boss sticking to old school playing but encouraging troops to revel in blistering pace and exquisitely-detailed section work. It’s compelling throughout, with close-ups of exciting bandsmen like tenor Sal Nistico and trombonist Phil Wilson but fewer looks at the A-grade rhythm team – pianist Nat Pierce, responsible for most charts, bass Chuck Andrus and drummer Jake Hanna.

 

03_erroll_garnerWhy Erroll Garner (2.119021) remains shunted aside in the piano pantheon is a mystery. His two 1960s concerts presented here are as good as 1956’s Concert By The Sea, showcasing dazzling improv out of the stride tradition, whirling enthusiasm - with a smile permanently on display - and close support from bass Eddie Calhoun and drummer Kelly Martin. The self-taught keyboard wiz who couldn’t read music achieves superlative heights here with favourites such as Fly Me To The Moon and, of course, Misty.

 

 

05_jimmy_smith04_art_farmerArt Farmer’s hour of fame (2.119019) is a master-class on flugelhorn from 1964 that’s even better since bandmates are guitarist Jim Hall, bass Steve Swallow and drummer Pete Laroca. It’s a real keeper, as is the 90-minute Paris outing by Hammond B-3 organist Jimmy Smith (2.119018), a stunning display that underscores his position as organ jazz top dog.

 

06_art_blakeyDrummer Art Blakey’s 1965 Paris concert (2.119017) has a quintet billed as his New Jazzmen. Its stars are trumpeter Freddie Hubbard and pianist Jaki Byard on just four tracks that fill one hour. It’s Hubbard who’s the focus with his shiny tone, smooth delivery, restless imagination and ability to stir listeners while Byard offers outside playing to counter his straight ahead colleagues.

 

 

 

07_coleman_hawkinsTenor maestro Coleman Hawkins is not in great form at Belgian and British concerts totalling 140 minutes (2.119020), mostly preferring to coast through dreamy ballads rather than letting fly with rumbling roars despite strong company including Sweets Edison, who sounds best of all, Sir Charles Thompson and Jo Jones. Not until Stoned does the maestro awaken.

 

A bonus DVD with tunes by Garner, Smith and Hawkins comes with the set.

 

Holiday-themed CDs usually have as much to do with the sentiments of good will and earthly peace underlying the season as do greeting cards. Yet without – except in one case – mentioning the season, the following improvised music sessions demonstrate the intuitive harmony which the season should reflect.

01_christmasChristmas Concert (Leo Records CD LR 520 www.leorecords.com), notes the occasion of its recording in St. Petersburg – December 15 – rather than Christmas. The Russian trio, trumpeter Vyacheslav Guyvoronsky pianist/percussionist Andrey Kondakov and bassist Vlaminir Volkov mix Nordic sensibility, ferocious technique and intuitive understanding of notated and improvised sounds into a program that’s fierier than a Yuletide log. Unlikely to replace White Christmas as a standard, Christmas Waltz consists of rumbles from inside the piano, scraping bass timbres and showy triplets from Guyvoronsky when he’s not enunciating half-heard phrases. Although there are references to the waltz’s romanticism, any fear that this tone poem will turn to mood music are put to rest as Guyvoronsky whinnies, Volkov slaps his strings and Kondakov fans low-frequency cadences. Mixing balalaika-like plucks, Impressionistic piano expositions plus tremolo lines from the trumpeter throughout, the group’s tour-de-force is the descriptive Arabesque. Dynamic and decorative without being showy, it is built on trumpet grace notes, swelling keyboard arpeggios and the bassist’s feline lope. Rhythmic and kinetic, the piece accelerates to a crescendo of staccato, splayed and fortissimo textures.

02_arms_spreadAnother notable trio performance is that of Canadian pianist Marilyn Lerner with New Yorkers, bassist Ken Filiano and drummer Lou Grassi on Arms Spread Wide (No Business Records NBCD 5 www.nobusinessrecords.com). It’s obvious that there would be no Christmas – or Christianity – without Judaism, and the most affecting performance here, Hommage à Coco Shulmann, honours a German-Jewish guitarist and Holocaust survivor. His statement that “once a man learns to swing, he can never march again” not only describes much of the fine music here, but underlies the pacific message of Christmas. Musically, Grassi’s clanking strokes and Filiano’s pumping bass complement the jaunty narrative, during which Lerner moves from andante swaying to high-frequency key tickling with an angled bass line. Mercurial in her playing, exhibiting uneven rhythmic pulses and moving in-and-out of tempo with cascading tone clusters and singular clipped notes, Lerner treats the title tune lyrically and dramatically. Following an initial hunt-and-peck keyboard exploration, she works up to super-fast vibrations and dense, tension-filled runs. With Grassi’s press rolls and tom-tom strokes plus Filiano’s spiccato string-slashing, she eventually downshifts to gentle patterning.

03_istanbulIn the West, December holiday sounds reflect the Christian and Jewish musical traditions, but further east Arabic and Islamic textures are exposed as well. One place that has long been the crossroads for many traditions, musical and otherwise, is Istanbul. Toronto guitarist Eric St-Laurent’s Dimensions d’Istanbul (Katzenmusik KM-01 (www.ericst-laurent.com) is an unbeatable portrait of the Turkish metropolis. St-Laurent, who frequently plays local clubs, composed and arranged this sonic travelogue aided by two Turkish musicians: percussionist Bikem Küçük and Turgay Hikmet who plays both keyboards and bass clarinet. Utilizing the textural and melodic allusions available, St-Laurent links his rapid guitar licks plus electronic processing to the others’ instrumental prowess which include tones from the clarinet-like mizmar, the dumbek or goblet drum and the 12-string cümbüş which combines banjo, mandolin and bass tones. With clarity and chromatic motions the guitarist makes a place for himself in this multiphonic bazaar. If formal melodies are exposed they’re shaded with synthesizer runs; while hoedown-styled twangs face stop-time, contrapuntal pitch slides from the Turkish instruments. On Yeralti Camii for instance, slinky electronic pulses meet hand drumming, while whistling and fluttering reed trills intercut guitar lines. Spectral and sequenced the CD evokes Istanbul’s shifting individuality.

04_self_madeAlso unique are the sounds literally Self Made by Indian-born, Montreal resident Ganesh Anandan and Wuppertal, Germany’s Hans Reichel (Ambiances Magnétiques AM 192 www.actuellcd.com). Playing instruments of their own design – Anandan’s shruti stick or 12-string electric zither, plus marimba-like metallophone; and Reichel’s daxophone or bowed friction source – their dialogue is by turns mechanical, otherworldly, animalistic and satisfying. Vocal as well as visceral, the daxophone produces werewolf yowls and bel-canto vibrations with equal facility. Anandan matches these nasal outpourings with metallophone resonations that could come from tuned church bells or suspended kulingtang gongs. His facility with the shruti means that skittering rebounds are available to bond with Reichel’s dissonant shrieks for distinctive polyphony. Although recorded in March, the concordance Anandan and Reic

01_bill_mcbirneyTwo-by-fours are a bedrock element of Canadian vocabulary and clearly have resonance with the country’s top flutist Bill McBirnie, whose terrific new album surpasses his recent acoustic hits “Nature Boy” and “Paco Paco”. On the indie release Mercy (EF02 www.cdbaby.com) the Bill McBirnie Duo/Quartet offers a dozen-track, dazzling display of technique, dynamic range and stunning musicality. In the duo setting it’s pianist Robi Botos, joined in the quartet by rhythm stalwarts with the right stuff, bass Pat Collins and drummer John Sumner, in genre forays - bossa, ballads, bop and more. This is not neo-jazz comfort food but a feast of elegantly executed ideas with a live concert vibe. Highlights abound - the emotion dredged from Willow Weep For Me, the florid flute-piano onslaught on Airegin, the wit on Monk’s rare Stuffy Turkey, and a brilliant reimagining of Moment’s Notice. Add quick-witted interplay, adventurous flow, bluster and sophistication and this disc’s a keeper. Only the elegiac title piece seems misplaced.

 

 

02_dave_youngBass guru Dave Young, he of the flying fingers and big thick notes, pushes all the right wake-up buttons on his indie album Mean What You Say (MFA 17267 www.daveyoung.ca) with his classy quartet forging steely forward momentum for the 11-cut mix of standards, jazz classics and a trio of tunes by the boss. His solos are never just an afterthought – they’re formidable, imaginative yet always to the point with a huge woody sound and impeccable timing. The band emulates him, with pianist Robi Botos, his drummer brother Frank and in-demand trumpeter Kevin Turcotte chomping at the bit. The pianist never misses the chance to roar, notably on Will You Still Be Mine which also features a stunning arco bass contribution. Young’s melodic statement on his Sandhu is grand, his robust strength and loping lines an inspiration especially to Turcotte with his exuberant swoops and sculpted notes. Seven Minds swings powerfully with intense chords and tense vitality that shows the group at its best, all urgent eloquence.

03_barry_rombergRandom Access loves wallowing in collective improv but under the leadership of drummer Barry Romberg and his trademark dexterity, their rambunctious rough-housing is disciplined, often attractive, and very accessible. On Was, Shall, Why, Because (Romhog 118 www.barryromberg.com) his cast of thousands - actually 15 of Hogtown’s leading lights - demonstrate ideas with substance, power and frequent fleeting logic that amounts to a stimulating fusion of pioneering jazz forms. Intro is a chase starring Romberg and slick electric bassist Rich Brown, but the following items (Urban Landscape, I Was A Celestial Body) are vehicles for power ensembles and fierce solos from the likes of Kelly Jefferson, Brian O’Kane and Peter Lutek. This huffing and puffing is merely a warm-up for Romberg’s epic seven-movement, 40 minutes-plus Suite For The Wolfman, a totally improvised creation by the Random Access core – violinist Hugh Marsh, saxman Kirk MacDonald, guitarist Geoff Young, trumpeter Kevin Turcotte, Brown and Romberg. It has delicate playing, work that’s sly and sprightly and a consistently invigorating spontaneity.

04_tim_posgateGuitarist Tim Posgate indulges new fancies with Banjo Hockey (Black Hen BHMCD0065 www.guildwoodrecords.com), playing banjo and enjoying tuba, for the latter recruiting nimble maestro Howard Johnson. Add the exploratory tastes of trumpeter Lina Allemano and reedman Quinsin Nachoff and the result is a foursome’s worth of bright, light and lively jazz that’s unusual and surprisingly subtle in its working of the leader’s 11 originals. There’s free jazz expressiveness, writing complex but clear, playful genre-bending and spirited soloing that includes Johnson doubling on baritone sax. The funky guitar, clarinet and tuba joust on Moosamin Eh! is splendid, as enticing as the other tunes that underline Posgate’s restlessly ambitious imagination which seeks to marry contemporary immediacy to jazz tradition.

05_yannick_rieuQuebec saxist Yannick Rieu has been a force for decades, and the live Montreal show Spectrum (Justin Time JTR 8546-2 www.justin-time.com) illuminates his sinewy soprano playing and composing skills in a program that draws on rock’s energy, funky fusion and structures so loose you’d think it’s every musician for himself. The package is a CD with eight Rieu tunes and eight musicians plus a five-song DVD taped in Beijing last year with guitarist Jocelyn Yellier, bassist Remi-Jean Leblanc and drummer Philippe Melanson. Odd meters and anthemic passages meld with lightweight atmospheric accompaniment. Cutting edge it’s not, despite effortless cunning interplay, but the writing is boldly original with classical accents and spacey, wintry stylings. The DVD has bigger impact – and the audience is much more enthusiastic.

 

06_terry_clarkeVeteran drummer Terry Clarke has been recorded on more than 400 albums but his first as leader has just arrived. The title, It’s About Time (BlueMusicGroup.com BMG 7028 www.bluemusicgroup.com), has a few droll meanings but you have to wonder why it’s taken almost 10 years for these excellent 78 minutes of throbbing music to emerge from the vaults. Four of the seven long, live tracks are from the Montreal Jazz Festival, three from the Ontario Science Centre. The Montreal tunes, which include bristling exchanges on Feel Free and a lilting calypso inspired by guitarist Jim Hall, feature Joe Lovano on tenor and later alto Greg Osby on two tracks each. Hogtown tenor duties are handled by Phil Dwyer in bruising mode, especially on Passion Dance and his own Flanders Road. Ever-present is Don Thompson, lively on bass or piano, while Clarke, who ratchets up intensity with quick turns of phrase and impish flights, is at his versatile best throughout as a relaxed, intricate time signature combatant, subtle accompanist and inquisitive, invigorating soloist.

 

03_diane_pantonPink

Diana Panton Trio + 1

Independent DP009CD1 (www.dianapanton.com)

On “Pink” Diana Panton is staying the course she plotted with her first two well-received albums. She’s working once again with a small group – although when one of the band members is genius multi-instrumentalist Don Thompson you get a lot of bang for your musician buck. Reg Schwager is also back, accompanying with his customary artful and sensitive playing. A new addition, and a completely fitting one given Panton’s languid style, is trumpet and flugelhorn player, Guido Basso. His fills and solos add rich warmth to the mix, like honey drizzled over an English muffin, filling in all the nooks and crannies.

Panton has carefully chosen a collection of well-crafted songs that she can mine for lyrical gold. She is foremost a story teller - not a flashy or emotionally overwrought singer - Panton simply and deftly presents the songs so the listener can take them in without being distracted by vocal pyrotechnics. With her soft, sweet voice and sincere delivery you can really believe it when she sings “This is my first affair” on Please Be Kind and on Wouldn’t It Be Loverly when she pines for “a room somewhere, far away from the cold night air” you just want to run right out and find her one!

If you’re a fan of Panton’s, or if you’re looking for an album of thoughtful, accessible songs, beautifully sung and played, “Pink” would be a wonderful addition to your collection.

 

02_blipsBlips and Ifs

Gino Robair; Birgit Ulher

Ratascan Records BRD 062 (www.ratascan.com)

Percussion doesn’t have to involve bombast, beats or even a full drum set. That’s the idea of Californian Gino Robair who played with Toronto improvisers at Somewhere There the last week of November.

Robair, a Free Music veteran who uses drums as resonators for bowed, scraped and rubbed objects and amplifies his instrument using circuit-bending electronics, demonstrates the resulting sonic freedom on the onomatopoeically titled “Blips and Ifs”. Partnered by German trumpeter Birgit Ulher, whose understated brass timbres are processed through radio speakers, the two express the cited sounds and many others in seven improvisations.

The resulting duo recital is equal parts pressured air, droning pulses, unexpected pauses and circuitous wave forms. Throughout the two expose unique timbres which see-saw during contrapuntal improvisations. Ulher combines mouthpiece kisses, static air wafting and, tongue thumps with suggestions that she’s masticating each tone individually. Robair’s contribution includes blurry machine oscillations, intermittent rumbles, slide whistle-like peeps and percussive timbres that could arise from dominos clacking against one another, sticky door hinges yawning, or unyielding metal being rubbed by blunt objects.

Circular and contrapuntal, the CD reaches its climax with the lengthy Rings Another Rust. Mesmerizing, the Ulher-Robair face-off depends on the ramping tension engendered accelerating in short bursts and then subsiding. Since almost no instrumental timbre is instantly identifiable by its expected properties, the pleasure of this exercise in abstract improvisation lies in itemizing how frequently and how surprisingly new and unexpected connective textures are exposed.

Ken Waxman

01_ori_daganS'cat got my tongue

Ori Dagan

Scatcat Records ODCD01 (www.oridagan.com)

Toronto-based singer, Ori Dagan has released his debut CD, “Scat Got My Tongue, and he is one of the few new singers I’ve heard lately who has a true grasp of what it is to be a jazz singer. Dagan hasn’t simply chosen a bunch of standards, hired some jazz musicians for back up and called it a jazz album. He has immersed himself in the genre, learned his craft and re-imagined these songs in his own way. Not that this is a serious, studious album - far from it. There’s lots of playful interaction, especially with the cream-of-the-crop female singers he’s enlisted for duets. Heather Bambrick gets all Louis Armstrong on Swing’s the Thing, Julie Michels is at her earthy best on Old Mother Hubbard and he and Sophia Perlman have great fun trading wicked fast scat solos in S’Qua Badu Bop, an original composition. Dagan can also croon out a beautiful ballad as in Dinde, a gorgeous, but lesser-known Jobim tune and ‘Round Midnight, with Bernie Senensky’s masterful accompaniment on piano. Dagan’s penchant for scooping can at times veer a little too far into Las Vegas lounge singer territory for my liking, but when he takes a controlled approach and cleanly attacks the notes as he does on Here’s That Rainy Day, his abundant talent shines through.

Musical Season’s Greetings and a Happy New Year to you and yours with some of these new Christmas recordings out in time for the holidays.

01_love_came_downThe Choirs of St. James United Church in Toronto perform with enormous holiday spirit in Love Came Down at Christmas. The ethereal angelic opening track O Come All Ye Faithful has the choir in superb form. From carols to more secular songs like Santa Claus is Coming to Town, the choir and Music Director Clive R. Dunstan have assembled the perfect mix of repertoire with an eclectic mix of organ, piano and flute accompaniment. Some high notes need to be tweaked but high marks for an excellent recording. You can email stjames_uc@rogers.com or call the church at 416-622-4113 to purchase the disc.


02_lullabye_snowy_nightMaria Dolnycky's Lullaby for a Snowy Night (www.mariadolnycky.com) features piano performances of holiday music from around the world. All is well played, perhaps a bit too percussive at spots, but well worth a listen, especially for Dolnycky’s intriguing take on Bela Bartok's Romanian Carols, and her touching rendition of Pietro Mascagni's Christmas Pipe Tune.

 

03_cormierI knew that Toronto-based baritone Bruno Cormier (www.brunocormier.com) is a very fine singer in the operatic genre. A huge Christmas present surprise for me was finding that he is also an accomplished composer. His L'arrivée du Christ is a slightly atonal yet lyrical tradition-based six part song cycle. It is the highlight of the CD Dans le silence de la nuit, a collection of French Christmas songs arranged by Bruno, and performed by him and his sister, mezzo-soprano Aurélie Cormier. This is a very professional and musically moving release. Both singers have the soul and the technique to dazzle, and are accompanied by a tight instrumental ensemble.

 

04_chatmanThe Canadian Music Centre (www.musiccentre.ca) has another Christmas star with A Chatman Christmas (Centrediscs CMCCD 15509), a collection of holiday choral music by UBC professor Stephen Chatman. Chatman's original works and arrangements of classics feature traditional harmonies with a fluid tonality, all astutely performed in this “composer-supervised recording” by the University of British Columbia Singers conducted by Bruce Pullan, with a number of special guests. Make sure to hear Jumalisten joucko, with medieval drummer Quennie Wong. This is a memorable and very idiosyncratic Christmas song.

 

05_czech_massJakub Jan Ryba's Czech Christmas Mass (Archiv Produktion 477 8365) features mezzo-soprano Magdalena Kozenà in this re-release of a 1998 recording. Ryba (affectionately known as Hey, Mister after the mass' opening line) wrote this Czech language masterwork in 1796. A holiday tradition to this day, the charming sound is so very much in the style of the music of the time. The childlike innocence that we all associate with Christmas is perfectly captured in both words and music as the humour and loving story of Czech shepherds at the manger unfolds. Great performances by the Capella Regia Musicalis under Robert Hugo too.

 

06_christmas_voicesFinally, what would Christmas be without Luciano Pavarotti singing O Holy Night, Joan Sutherland’s Joy To The World or Renati Tebaldi’s take on Schubert's Ave Maria? The two CD compilation Christmas Voices: The World's Greatest Voices, The Essential Sacred Songs (Decca 478 2093) give us these and other famous voices in timeless performances that will keep you in the holiday spirit for generations to come!

01_curtis andrewsThe Offering of Curtis Andrews

Curtis Andrews

Independent (www.curtisandrews.ca)

I’ve been smiling more than usual today, bopping around the apartment to this joie de vivre-filled CD by Curtis Andrews, Newfoundland’s globe-trotting percussionist and composer.

Very ably aided by fellow islander musicians Patrick Boyle (outstanding on trumpet), Bill Brennan (keyboards), Chris Harnett (saxes and flute), Brad Jefford (electric guitar) and other fine players, Andrews’ very eclectic world roots are clearly on display here.

The music is self-described as world jazz and the tag fits. Drawing from Andrews’ studies in South Asian, West Africa and North America music, The Offering of… merges all those influences in an energy-rich field, couched in mainstream jazz forms improv-rich solos and melodic-harmonic language. With such a rich multi-cultural banquet, I must admit it took me several listening to fully clue into the multi-layered inter-cultural musical goings on.

Equally at home on mrdangam (South Indian classical drum) and Ewe (West African) percussion as on drum set, Andrews sets a high musical standard for his collaborators. Not indulging in mere musical exoticism Andrews impresses with his good humour in Genghis Khanda Blues (yes, it is in 5/4), and shear musical ambition on exhibit in his virtuoso mrdangam solo in Malabar. One of my favourite tracks is Camel Ride, an enigmatic though easy-going east-coast feel post-Shakti bebop. Kaju Fenny (titled after a reportedly wicked Goan cashew liquor) is another outstanding chart. A tip: if you want to join the players in their fun, just be sure to keep tapping a slow 7 beat cycle throughout its convoluted beat groupings. That way you can land on the downbeat with them.

The Offering of Curtis Andrewsmarks the debut of an important and accessible new world-conscious compositional and percussion voice. Visit the website to preview the album, download the free charts, and hum or play along!

 

60_NotationsNotations 21
by Theresa Sauer

Mark Batty Publisher

318 pages; $78.00

“We live in an incredible time in music history,” writes Teresa Sauer in her preface to this beautiful book. Sauer has collected scores from a broad range of contemporary composers to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the publication of John Cage’s own collection, Notations. These scores are all remarkably eloquent – even for those who don’t read music. In any case, most of these works do not use traditional notation at all.

 

Some, like Canadian composer Hope Lee’s Tangram are more readily playable than works like Steve Roden’s Pavilion Score, in which the performers are “mapping the space in sound” and “the audience would be listening to a drawing in sound of the space that they were sitting inside of.” Peter Hölscher’s Das Licht im Dunkel der Wolke and Douglas Wadle’s Amphiboly, work as pieces of visual art. Some made me laugh, like John Stump’s Love Theme from Prelude and the Last Hope in C and C-Sharp Minor. Teresa Sauer’s Parthenogenesis features a picture of a Komodo dragon, whose genetic code forms the basis of her piece. Canadian composer Chiyoko Szlavnics uses the evocative untitled drawings reproduced here as inspiration for her traditionally notated compositions. The notation of A Rose is a Rose is a Round by the influential American composer James Tenney, who taught at York University for many years, reflects back on the form of the piece itself. Two works by Canadian R. Murray Schafer, Epitaph for Moonlight and Snowforms, like many of his scores, show his graphic skills.

 

Like Cage, Sauer has arranged the scores in handy alphabetical order. But she adds an index and biographical sketches. Whereas Cage’s collection was in black and while, many of the scores in this volume, like Cage’s own Aria, make use of vivid colours.

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