03a_fiset_melodiya03b_fiset_ophelie

Melodiya
Marianne Fiset; Marie-Eve Scarfone;
Orchestre Radio-Canada Musique;
Jean-Philippe Tremblay
Analekta AN 2 9962

Ophélie – Lieder et Melodies
Marianne Fiset; Louis-Philippe Marsolais;

Michael Mahon
ATMA ACD2 2628

 

The province of Quebec has had of late its disproportionate share of great young vocalists. It could be argued that the commitment to culture and classical music is much stronger there and a greater number of competitions and musical festivals allow the young new stars to shine brighter. It is not just a funding issue, however. The artistic sensibility of both the artists and the audiences there is different. Frequently, European artists make Montreal or Lanaudière their first foray into North America. You can call it a certain je ne sais quoi, but it seems to be working. Case in point – Marianne Fiset. To say that the young soprano burst onto the scene is to understate it. Four awards in a young vocalist category and a Juno nomination for her first record “Melodiya”, a collection of Russian songs and operatic excerpts on the Analekta label, speak for themselves.

On her ATMA disc, “Ophélie”, Fiset lets her voice shine – literally. Juxtaposed against the brilliantly played horn of Louis-Philippe Marsolais, the young Quebecer’s beautiful instrument dialogues through a thoughtful selection of music by Berlioz, Donizetti, Strauss, Schubert and Lachner. The interpretations are engaged, full of understanding and delicacy and the rare combination of horn and voice delights the ear. Much as her Juno nomination is well deserved for “Melodiya”, “Ophélie” (recorded 6 months later) showcases a young artist whose craft is getting better with each outing. Bravo!


02_carissimi_oratoriosCarissimi – Oratorios
Les Voix Baroques
ATMA ACD2 2622

Charles Darwin wouldn’t be the least surprised by the evolution of early music performance practice. After emerging from the post-romantic brine with proto feet and oh-so-strict ideas about how things must sound, the species now displays an elegance of balance and sensibility that may have brought us to the pinnacle of the art form.

Les Voix Baroques is an ensemble of young voices with a remarkable ability to create startling colours in ensemble passages. Only artful listening can make this happen – obviously something the members of Les Voix do extremely well. These four Carissimi oratorios have far less chorus than solo material, so the shift in texture from solo passages to harmonically rich part singing is dramatic and highly effective.

The singers’ solo work also merits comment. We’ve placed much value on straight tone (vibrato-free) singing for early music repertoire, and there’s certainly plenty of it in this recording. Unusual, however, is the freedom for individual singers to move into a vibrato at specific points in phrases. This contrast between vocal styles gives emphasis to key moments in a text or musical line. It’s a wonderful effect and feels quite natural.

Particularly lovely is Suzie Leblanc’s “Plorate filii Israel”. Her vocal style is immediately recognizable and exquisitely captures the anguish of the plaintive text.

The eight member instrumental ensemble is superb in its supportive role and relishes its several orchestral moments. They are remarkably consistent in their early music tuning (temperament) teasing us with harmonic intervals placed just slightly askew of where our modern ear expects them to be.

A very satisfying disc… Viva Les Voix Baroques!


01_cacciniFrancesca Caccini – O Viva Rosa
Shannon Mercer; Luc Beauséjour; Sylvain Bergeron; Amanda Keesmaat
Analekta AN 2 9966

Francesca Caccini, daughter of composer and Florentine Camerata member Giulio Caccini, enjoyed a brilliant career as a renowned performer and composer in the Medici court. Admired by Henry IV of France and Claudio Monteverdi, she was often referred to as “La Cecchina” (The Songbird). Caccini’s vocal compositions reflect her great artistry as a singer, incorporating impossibly long melismas and exquisite ornamentations that few mere mortals can manage. But suggest this repertoire, as harpsichordist Luc Beauséjour did, to a singer like Shannon Mercer and she will set to work and rise beautifully to the challenge. Not just technically, but emotively as well. For this music also requires an extremely sensitive interpretation of its delicate sensuality and oftentimes anguished vulnerability.

The repertoire is chosen from Caccini’s Il primo libro delle musiche (1618), and the were songs likely originally accompanied by theorbo alone. This recording features a fuller continuo, with Beauséjour (harpsichord), Sylvain Bergeron (lute, baroque guitar, theorbo) and Amanda Keesmaat (cello) who are featured in additional instrumental selections, some by father Giulio. While the liner notes provide an excellent historical survey of the composer, I was a little disappointed that the lyrics and their translation were not included, though there is a note that they are available on the Analekta website. That being said, this CD is an exquisitely executed offering of truly rare gems in the vocal repertoire.

Included in the list of composers whose anniversaries are celebrated this year are two of the greatest and best loved masters of the Romantic Era, Frédéric Chopin and Robert Schumann, both born 200 years ago. It is only good business then for recording companies to issue and re-issue fine performances to feed, they hope, the heightened demand for the birthday boys’ music.

 

01_chopinFirst up is Chopin (March 1) whose entire published works fit nicely on 16 or 17 CDs. The absolute pick of the packages comes from Deutsche Grammophon (4778445, 17 CDs) which also happens to be at an attractive price, particularly for German pressings. Every opus number is represented here in excellent to superlative performances. One could not hope for a better group of artists, mainly pianists, of course, than DG has assembled from their own catalogue plus Decca and Philips. Krystian Zimerman’s acclaimed 1999 performances of the two piano concertos with the Polish Festival Orchestra are on the first disc. Zimerman is heard again in the Ballades. Claudio Arrau is the soloist in the other concerted works. Maurizio Pollini plays the Etudes, the Polonaises, the Scherzos and the 2nd and 3rd Sonatas. Maria João Pires plays all the Nocturnes and Vladimir Ashkenazy plays the complete Mazurkas, the Waltzes, and a host of miscellaneous pieces. The Beaux Arts Trio plays (you’ve guessed it) the Trio in G minor. Also heard from are Anatol Ugorski, Martha Argerich, Lilya Zilberstein, Yundi Li, Mstislav Rostropovich, Anner Bylsma, and others including Polish soprano Elzbieta Szmytka in the songs. The reasonably informative booklet includes a brief chronological table of Chopin’s life, plus recording data. All in all, this is a most pleasing and very recommendable collection.

 

02_argerichRobert Schumann was born in Saxony on June 8, 1810 and his output was many times that of his Polish contemporary including compositions in every form. Don’t expect to see a “complete” edition from any of the majors but new compilations have appeared this year from DG and Sony, neither of which I have seen or heard. EuroArts has issued a Blu-ray disc of on earlier DVD featuring Martha Argerich playing the Schumann Piano Concerto with Riccardo Chailly and the Leipzig Gewandhausorchester (EA2055494). Recorded “live” in June 2006 the Blu-ray disc presents the entire concert, adding the opening work, the Adagio and Allegro brillante from Etudes Symphoniques op.13, orchestrated by Tchaikovsky. The concerto emerges as an inspired collaboration between soloist and orchestra, without peer in this medium for sensitivity and intelligence. For an encore Argerich plays Of Foreign Lands and People from Kinderszenen, op.15. Following the intermission, the orchestra plays Ravel’s orchestration for Nijinsky of four pieces from Carnaval, op.9 followed by an enthusiastic and vital performance of the Fourth Symphony. The dynamics throughout are effortlessly true-to-life, making this a you-are-there experience.

 

03_wandThere is also a Schumann Fourth in a new boxed set from Profil featuring the late Günter Wand conducting the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin in performances between April 1993 and April 1996 (PH09068, 8 CDs). One of the succession of famous conductors and music directors that has endowed this world-class orchestra - founded in 1946 by the American Forces in Berlin as the RIAS Symphony Orchestra - with a proud heritage, Wand looked beyond the printed score. His performances reflect the deepest commitment and focus so that it appears, at least to this listener, that in performance nothing exists but the composer’s creation. His Schumann unfolds organically with steady tempos and a true pulse. Amply dynamic, it is elegantly detailed and unusually compelling. So are three Beethoven Symphonies, one, three and four; Brahms First and Fourth; Bruckner’s Fifth and Ninth; and Schubert’s Eighth and Ninth. Brilliantly recorded, these are all from Wand’s favoured composers and his signature is on each one.

 

In addition to the revelatory DVD My Life and Music that traces Günter Wand’s life including his last interview (RCA 828766388893, 2 DVDs), there are two essential 4 DVD Wand sets from TDK containing live Festival performances of Bruckner’s Fifth, Sixth, Eighth and Ninth, Haydn’s 76th and the Schubert Eighth (TDK cowandbox1) and Leonore III, Bruckner Fourth, Schubert Five, Eight and Nine, and Brahms First (TDK cowandbox2). The late master at work!

 

04_dichterliebBut back to Schumann... Music and Arts has issued an inspired two CD set containing historic recordings with three performances each of two song cycles from 1840, Dichterliebe and Frauenliebe und -leben (CD-1235). Dichterliebe is heard firstly by Aksel Schiøtz, the Danish tenor who recorded this cycle with Gerald Moore in 1946 just months before a necessary surgery left his face partially paralysed. Swiss baritone Charles Panzera is accompanied by Alfred Cortot in a 1935 recording that was, for many collectors, the criterion... yet Gerhard Hüsch, the German baritone, accompanied by Hanns Udo Müller, having the advantage of singing in his native tongue, sounds the most comfortable and expressive with Heine’s texts. Frauenliebe und –leben with texts by Adalbert von Chamisso is for female voice. Three singers, each indisputably legendary in the very best sense of the word, are each so individual in style that comparisons would indeed be odious. Here is Lotte Lehmann live in recital with Paul Ulanowsky in New York in 1946 and contralto Marian Anderson with Franz Rupp in 1950. Finally, Kathleen Ferrier is heard live at the Edinburgh Festival in 1949 accompanied by... no in collaboration with... her mentor, Bruno Walter. Excellent transfers make listening a pleasure. Comprehensive liner notes are included.

Proliferation of CD burners, sequencing and editing software and the exponential growth of the Internet have opened up new possibilities for disseminating music. This is especially germane for improvised and other minority sounds. By avoiding the expenses of mass distribution and manufacturing music can reach more interested listeners. Formulae have been developed to do so and each of these fine sessions uses one.

             

01_EricNormandRimouski, Quebec-based bassist/audio artist Éric Normand, who performs at Somewhere There this month, allows listeners to download sounds from his website www.tourdebras.com. One example of this is Une Règle de Trois (Tour de Bras tdbouebe002). A hand-drawn CD cover can be downloaded as well. Recorded live, this is a super-session of sorts featuring collaborations among improvisers from Rimouski, Montreal and Montpellier, France. Most of the sounds balance on steady crunches and crackles from three turntablists, with wiggling flanges and flying spiccato reprises from fiddler Catherine Massicotte and guitarist Christophe Devaux, plus puffs and bellows from Robin Servant’s diatonic accordion. Normand adds aleatoric and agitato smacks bringing the discursive theme in-and-out of aural focus, as the motor-driven clicks and clatters create a pedal point foundation.

 

02_RosenA more sophisticated version of downloadable CDs comes from the French Sans Bruit label. Featuring improvisers pianist Noah Rosen, trombonist Yves Robert and bassist Didier Levallet, Silhouette (Sans Bruit sbr007 www.sansbruit.fr) not only captures the trio live, but also provides a professionally designed front and back cover with recording details. Rosen and his confreres’ disc is as swinging as it is kinetic, highlighting an impressive admixture of timbres, not least of which includes modern gutbucket styling from trombonist Robert. Super staccato, Aesthetic Form for instance is less aesthetic than acrobatic, as Robert’s rubato whinnies slink and sway alongside Rosen’s two-handed pump in the piano’s lowest register, until he slips to the edge of the keys to link up with Levallet’s sul tasto runs. Elsewhere Rosen’s hunt-and-peck technique predominates, along with the trombonist’s triple-tonguing and mouth gymnastics. The session culminates with Bon, bref et puis… with allegro additions from each partner expressed in slaps and pumps from the bassist, cascading comping from the pianist plus foreshortened and jagged bass-pitched slurs from Robert.

             

03_MeshesA more cerebral trombone trio is on Meshes (Another Timbre Byways at-b05 www.anothertimbre.com). This CD-R, with its well-designed cover, demonstrates another method of distribution. Certain that young improvisers wouldn’t need the number of discs in a standard official CD run, the British label created its Byways CD-R series. Certainly this gritty and pressured microtonal program from trombonist Mathias Forge, electronics manipulator Phil Julian and cellist David Papapostolou is one justification for the experiment. During two lengthy improvisations, the interaction and texture-blending is such that it’s frequently impossible to match particular timbres to individual instruments. With Julian’s electronics segmenting into chunky signal- processed lines, pulsating reverb and flat-line drones, multiplied shrills flash through the narratives like rain showers, when the static isn’t undulating underneath. Extended passages of extreme stillness also alter the tonal centre so that whistling squeaks from the cello – often hewn from the strings below the bridge – or blurry triplets strained from the trombone bell, tongue pops and flat-line blowing without valve pushes are more conspicuous. Although discontinuous in spots, the combined undulations made up of cello strings held to maximum tautness, rubato grace notes plus tremolo pedal tones from the trombonist, and electronic drones eventually reach a crescendo of inter-connected friction climaxing with a conclusive whistle and pop.

             

04_GordonAllenBrass and an electronic variant are also prominent on All Up In There (MrE Records 2 www.myspace.com/gordonallen) by Montreal-based, former Torontonian, trumpeter Gordon Allen, who often plays here. Figuring this concert with Frank Martel on theremin and drummer Michel F. Côté was worth preserving, Allen initially created 79 copies of the disc. With liner notes handwritten on a paper bag and the record packaged in a hand-sewn cloth bag, D-I-Y is taken to its logical extreme. But the strength of the performance suggests that more copies may eventually be needed. Sounds are cohesive and wedded to jazz-improv. Although when all musical cylinders fire at once the results appear as a solid textural block, there’s ample room for individual expression. Revealed are Côté’s anything-but-regular rhythms, the trumpeter’s choked-throat growls, and pitter-pattering string-referencing thumps from the theremin. These bass-like strokes are even more prominent midway through, when joining the drummer’s assertive backbeat, they create a solid base, allowing Allen’s plunger tones, grace note squeaks and bovine lows to float above.

             

Proving conclusively that quantity does not mean quality, each session uses unexpected means to get to its intended audiences.

01_jensen_treelinesCanada owes Nanaimo, B.C. for raising artists like Diana Krall and the Jensen Sisters for its national jazz team, a thought underscored by Christine Jensen’s newest recording, Treelines - Christine Jensen Jazz Orchestra (Justin Time JTR 8559-2 www.justin-time.com). The leader, known more for her composing than sax playing, has been based in Montreal for some time and here recruits a top-flight 17-piece Quebecois band for her fourth recording as leader and first with orchestra. Within seconds of the opening tune of eight lengthy, thoughtful and stunningly-stylish compositions (Dancing Sunlight) you’re thinking here’s the nation’s answer to America’s vaunted Maria Schneider unit – and when Ingrid Jensen’s dreamy, lyrical trumpet solos starts you might well exclaim “it’s Kenny Wheeler”. In short, this is an astoundingly good album, one that surely will be a 2011 Juno contender, with seven Jensen tracks including four describing B.C. tree types. Charts are often striking, section work is sharp, subtlety abounds in the thick harmonies and there’s acres of room for effective soloing – Joel Miller on soprano sax (Western Yew), Ingrid (Dropoff) and the boss herself on Seafever and by pianist Steve Amirault throughout. Curmudgeons might sneer that there’s excessive sameness to these mini-epics - ignore them.

 

02_happy_palsWant to keep the post-Olympic spirit? The latest disc from The Happy Pals who’ve reigned for years at Grossman’s on Spadina every Saturday afternoon, is all you need. Folk are in fine fettle here, band and audience both, enjoying music played over the 6th annual two-day Kid Bastien Forever Kick-Ass Jazz Festival – Bastien, who died in 2003, was chief Pal for more than 30 years. Moonlight Bay (New Orleans North cd-010 www.happypals.ca) has 14 tracks, good old stuff with most of the heavy performance listing falling to Patrick Tevlin’s brash trumpet and esteemed New Orleans guest Michael White’s thrusting clarinet, with big assists coming from trombonist Kid Kotowich and drummer Chuck Clarke. Enthusiastic, erratic vocals are spread around but the jollity index stays high, with upbeat slams on Je Vous Aime, Everybody Loves Saturday Night and Dinah while there’s surprising sophistication in their spin on I’ll Never Smile Again.

 

03_del_dakoFour things make Del Dako’s My New Hat (www.deldako.com) particularly distinctive: It’s the recording debut as leader of vibesman Dako as opposed to baritone saxist star Dako; the liner notes by Jack Chambers are just about the best I’ve ever read; the determination of Dako to renew his career here is front and centre; and the choice of repertoire is extraordinary – such as the purloining of Beethoven’s 7th Theme from the Seventh Symphony and the two versions of avant pianoman Don Pullen’s Big Alice which suggest Ornette Coleman is on board. Perhaps it’s best just to say this is fascinating jazz with a vibes sheen that underlines the uniqueness of it all. The music’s drawn from two sessions, both with drummer Jeff Halischuk, one with guitarist Reg Schwager, pianist Bernie Senensky and bass Duncan Hopkins, the other with rising star guitarist Nathan Hiltz, bass Tyler Emond and reedman Alex Dean, whose bass clarinet work is terrific.

 

04_norm_amadioPianist Norm Amadio has been around for ever, still happily tinkling after more than six decades as a pro and that’s just one reason why he’s so comfortable on Norm Amadio And Friends (Panda Digital ODCD00265 www.pandadigital.com), a classy, stylish treatment of a dozen songs (remarkably, seven of them originals by producer Andrew Melzer). As well as vocalists Marc Jordan and Jackie Richardson, Amadio’s buddies include elegant-as-ever Guido Basso, Phil Dwyer, Reg Schwager, and Rosemary Galloway plus, on three cuts, a string section. The result is top quality jazz, ornamented with unexpected zesty freshness. Catchy newcomers include I Love You That Way, Out Of The Cool and She Smiled. One oddity: Why was it necessary to include three tunes recorded in 1966?

 

05_attila_fiasHungarian-born pianist Attila Fias seems to have done it all during a long musical career - including playing, teaching and organizing all types of music – except make a jazz record though his work is on more than 80 discs. He’s remedied that with Stories (ESPCD-101 www.attilafias.com), 10 original compositions supported by bass Pat Kilbride and drummer Richard Brisco. A graduate of U of T’s jazz program, Fias – who on occasion is as fiery as countryman Robi Botos – hews close to mainstream’s core but he incorporates rich, rolling rhythms, elements of rock, country, classical and ethnic genres and sometimes dips craftily into free jazz. The intricate Growth Cycle threesome is the best of a bright lot.

06_SpectrumSpectrum

Muhal Richard Abrams; Roscoe Mitchell; Janáček Philharmonic

Mutable 17536-2 www.mutablemusic.com

 

Veteran American improvisers, pianist Muhal Richard Abrams and saxophonist Roscoe Mitchell get a rare showcase for their notated works on this notable performance by the Janáček Philharmonic of the Czech Republic, conducted by Petr Kotik. Surprisingly enough for two sound explorers identified with the avant-garde Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (ACCM), both commissions, Abrams’ Mergertone, and Mitchell’s three-part Non-Cognitive Aspects of the City, use the full resources of the orchestra to add lush, impressionistic colouration to the many harmonies and timbres exposed.

             

A fantasia, Mergertone does exactly what the title suggests, layering and contrasting multiphonics. Moderato, it exposes individual instruments as the theme advances. Pounding kettle drums, insinuations of Ragtime piano plus marimba and xylophone clatter share space with cushioning strings, a slinky oboe line, pan-tonal horn parts and a smooth and soothing tutti finale.

             

Featuring the cultured tones of baritone Thomas Buckner, the Mitchell piece, initially composed for his Art Ensemble of Chicago group, gains added gravitas from Buckner’s parlando, which mixes outright recitation with a suggestion of plainsong. As the baritone uses melisma to alter the lyrical line, orchestra cadenzas sympathetically scene set, embellish and subtly follow the tempo changes. Chromatic massed reed flourishes, string undulations, metronomic piano patterning and grace notes from the French horns also turn repeated phrasing from mere accompaniment to partnership.

             

As a prelude to the extended philharmonic performances, the two composers unite on Romu, the CD’s first track, a brief, low-key improvisation.

 


05_ranee_leeRanee Lee Lives Upstairs

Ranee Lee

Justin Time JUST 230-2 (www.myspace.com/raneeleemusic)

 

The multi-talented Brooklyn-born, Montréal-based singer, actor, dancer, author and television host Ranee Lee is a recent recipient of the Order of Canada (2006). Notably, she began her musical career touring North America in the 1970’s as a drummer and tenor saxophonist. Wearing the vocalist hat, Lee has always exhibited a fervent loyalty both to the jazz tradition and its regal torch-bearers; captured live at Montréal’s premier jazz clubs UPSTAIRS, her 10th release on the Justin Time label is no exception.

 

Recalling both Ella and Sarah, she has selected a very effective, sympathetic rhythm section that always supports and never overpowers her: Richard Ring on guitar, John Sadowy on piano, Morgan Moore on bass and Dave Laing on drums. The program is comprised mostly of love-themed standards such as Beautiful Love, In Love In Vain and I Just Found Out About Love, spiced up by unique choices such as James Taylor's Fire and Rain and Pat Metheny's Crooked Road. One of the highlights is a medley from Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess that starts tenderly with I Loves You Porgy and concludes memorably with a beautifully phrased Summertime. The latter is a testament to Lee's artistry, as she takes admirable risks, playing with the song's musical possibilities without ever compromising its meaning. That the audience reacts most enthusiastically to her original blues The Storm is a genuine compliment. This recording is rightfully among the nominees for this month’s Juno Awards in the category of Best Jazz Vocal Album.

 


04_elizabeth_shepherdHeavy Falls the Night

Elizabeth Shepherd

Do Right Music DR041CD (www.elizabethshepherd.com)

Elizabeth Shepherd has a roving musical spirit that has seen her move from playing saxophone, to classical piano, to jazz piano, then add singing and songwriting to her considerable arsenal of skills. With her third album she has landed on what can most closely be described as jazz-funk, but there are tinges of all kinds of genres here. “Heavy Falls the Night” - as the name implies - has a somewhat dark, pensive feel to it, owing largely to Shepherd's fondness for minor keys and tightly-voiced, dissonant vocal harmonies.

 

The opening track, What Else, sets the serious tone as it describes the frustration and pain of having a suicidal loved one. But there are lighter musical moments too, such as the breezy retro feel of Seven Bucks - reminiscent of KOOP - and High with its drum’n’bass undercurrent. Shepherd has a pretty, breathy voice with Rickie Lee Jones influences, especially on A Song for Dinah Washington which is based on a poem by James Strecker. Her longtime bandmate Colin Kingsmore, is an inventive drummer and percussionist, while the lyrical bass work is divided between Scott Kemp and Ross McIntyre. The final track, Danny’s Song – yes the Anne Murray hit – ends the album on a note of sweet incongruity that gives us a glimpse into yet another side of Shepherd's multi-faceted musical personality.

Concert Note: The Elizabeth Shepherd Trio plays April 29 at the Mansion House in Kingston and April 30 at House of Jazz in Montreal.

03_christopher_plockBlue Skies for Loveday

Christopher Plock

Independent CP 002 (www.christopherplock.ca)

 

Accomplished on multiple instruments including various horns, clarinet, flute, guitar and percussion, for the most part multi-talented Christopher Plock’s second release as a leader emphasizes the musician’s abilities as a singer and saxophonist. On this recording he “limits himself” to vocals, woodwinds and congas, backed by a sublime band that includes Eric Boucher on piano, Jack Zorawski on bass, Chris Lamont on drums, William Sperandei on trumpet and a particularly memorable Kevin Vienneau on guitar. Guests include Marcus Ali and trombonist RJ Satchithananthan, who also contributes two spirited arrangements. The program: a dozen selections that vary from familiar standards (A Foggy Day, Paper Moon, Stardust) to surprising selections, including a groovy rendition of Kenny Burrell’s Chitlins con Carne and an instrumental version of Neil Young’s Only Love Can Break Your Heart.

 

One track that isn’t really jazz (not that there’s anything wrong with that) is a cover of John Hiatt’s Feels Like Rain, delivered with ample heart. On all other vocal tracks, Plock’s crooning is effectively simple and simply effective; he sings with measured sentiment, musical phrasing and a solid swing feel. Confident and especially convincing, I’ve Got the World on a String is a standout among the vocal cuts. Of the instrumentals, the Jersey Bounce is a straight-ahead bouncer that’ll swing you to good health!

 


01_irene_atmanNew York Rendezvous             

Irene Atman             

Independent (www.ireneatman.com)

 

The first thing that strikes you when you hear Irene Atman sing for the first time is that she's apparently spent a lot of hours listening to Barbra Streisand. Fortunately for those of us who aren't huge Streisand fans, she's emulated the good stuff – excellent control, pitch and a big range – and discarded the tendency to turn every tune into a three-act opera. Toronto-born but now New York-based, Atman gives the impression of someone who has been around the block a few times – in a good way. Listening to “New York Rendezvous” you feel you're in the hands of a complete pro. Her bandmates add to that experience as piano player Frank Kimbrough, Jay Anderson on bass and Matt Wilson on drums assuredly make their way through this collection of late era standards. Songs like Taking a Chance on Love and Time After Time are light, swingy treats, but Atman is at her best on the ballads such as Why Did I Choose You and Alfie as she beautifully conveys the sentiments of the songs without tilting over into schmaltz.

 

Concert Note: Atman teams up with Guido Basso and other Toronto jazz luminaries for a CD release event at Jane Mallett Theatre on April 16.

05_mc_mcguireMC Maguire - Trash of Civilizations

Max Christie; Mark Rogers; Trevor Tureski; Ryan Scott; MC McGuire

innova 742 (www.innova.mu)

 

The world as MC Maguire hears it is what “Trash of Civilizations” is all about. It may not necessarily be the same world the listener inhabits, but a fascinating world it is. On CPU, Maguire manipulates, reverses and expands his electronic samples to create a wall of sound backdrop to live musical performances. He may not be of the caliber of my esteemed colleague sound master John Oswald, but Maguire's tough guy aural stance makes for powerful and eclectic listening.

 

The Spawn of Abe is the stronger of the two double concertos featured here. Derived from an earlier work The Bride of Palestine, Maguire heaps a bundle of samples from singing to Arab pop music to Klezmer bands to helicopters to amass a jungle of sound to accompany live performances by Max Christie on B flat clarinet and Mark Rogers on oboe. Lots of excitement and lots of noise.

 

Narcissus auf Bali is almost 40 minutes of mutating rhythms performed with perfection by Trevor Tureski on vibraphone and Ryan Scott on marimba. A rewrite/remix of an earlier ballet work for choreographer Lee Su-Feh, the CPU layering encompasses a gamelan flavour. Too bad that often it just doesn't make sense – perhaps too much of a good noise thing combined with a lack of dance visuals makes the work drag. But dedication pays off in the final eight minutes of crescendo and sound hype.

 

MC Maguire's music is not for everyone. It's really weird yet highly original and rewarding for those who dare to listen.

 


04_Frank_HorvatA Little Dark Music

Frank Horvat

Independent LTLP02 (www.frankhorvat.com)

 

Released deliberately to coincide with Earth Day, Horvat’s new CD, on which he plays all the sounds with piano and electronic keyboards, will make waves musically. This is borne out further as he prepares to go on an extensive tour.

 

The opening Working With The Sun is startling with the prepared piano sonority (sheets of bond paper on the strings) impacting immediately. But it is a sunny piece, certainly the most upbeat of all of them. The Week After employs a keyboard sounding very much like an old Fender Rhodes in polyphony with the big Steinway, through the medium of the studio overdub. In this piece Horvat employs a repeating idée fixe of arching chord progressions. Another idée fixe is a feature of Poverty, with its chromatic bass line that seems a distant cousin to Shostakovich’s 7th Symphony.

 

In Earth Hour, Horvat allows himself more freedom in a long improvisation that explores tonalities, sonorities and rhythms. I’m curious as to why this improvisation is divided into a dozen tracks one could pick out one’s favorite segments, I suppose – but Earth Hour really should be heard as one continuous piece, a journey, really, which is its strength.

 

Recorded in CBC’s studio 211, the piano is as near to perfect as those expensive microphones can possibly reveal: there’s not even a pedal squeak. Engineer Dennis Patterson quietly excels behind the glass.

 

Highly recommended

03_fibonacci5 X 3

Trio Fibonacci

Centrediscs CMCCD 15710

 

“5 X 3” is a spectacular release on which Trio Fibonacci – violinist Julie-Anne Derome, cellist Gabriel Prynn and pianist Anna D'Errico – have chosen five works from their extensive repertoire of original Canadian compositions. This is Canadian music at its finest, from performance, compositional and production viewpoints.

 

Ana Sokolovic's Portrait parle is a shimmering soundscape of musical ideas based on an odd synoptic table of physiological traits from the French police circa 1900. Paul Frehner’s Quarks Tropes is a two movement work in which he superimposes violin and cello parts to his solo piano work Finnegans Quarks Revival. The brooding first movement with its mournful cello part is especially noteworthy. Analia Llugdar's haunting Tricycle explores resonance as a compositional tool with its sliding string lines and ringing piano part.

 

Trio Fibonacci is also known for its performance of classical repertoire. Fitting then that the other two works have the composers draw from it. Jean Lesage's The Mozart Project, subtitled “the author questions himself on the complexity of styles and the mixing of genres”, combines a bit of Mozart with a bit of Lesage to create a fascinating mix of musical styles. In Chris Paul Harman's Piano Trio, material from Bach's E Major Partita for solo violin is modified so that the three players play as one through the clever use of intervals, canons, rhythmic and pitch shuffling.

 

Trio Fibonacci plays with passion, accuracy and in-depth understanding of interpretation. “5 X 3” is a recording that should be heard by everyone.

 


02_feldman_babbittFeldman; Babbitt - Clarinet Quintets

Mark Lieb; Phoenix Ensemble

innova 746 (www.innova.mu)

 

Both Milton Babbitt and Morton Feldman have had a powerful impact on the music of our time. But these two American composers, born ten years and ninety miles apart, are rarely heard together, since their music comes from such different artistic worlds. This pairing of their clarinet quintets is revelatory.

 

Feldman’s soulful, tender and understated lyricism has a direct appeal. His Clarinet and String Quartet from 1983 still sounds audaciously visionary today, twenty-three years after his death.

 

Babbitt’s music is undoubtedly complicated by his use of serial techniques for all aspects of a piece, from the pitches to the rhythm and dynamics. But the Quintet for Clarinet and Strings from 1996 is warm, jazzy, and charming. This is not wholly surprising since Babbitt, who is now ninety-four years old, once wrote a Broadway musical, as the booklet notes tell us, and analyzed Jerome Kern’s All the Things You Are in lessons, as former student Steven Sondheim once recalled.

 

Clarinettist Mark Lieb uses the chameleon qualities of his instrument to weave in and out of the four strings, whose immaculate and expressive playing responds to the clarinet’s wealth of colours.

 

This is an important and exciting disc, and it offers the first recording of Babbitt’s quintet. So it deserves better than the unattractive yellowy-brown cover art which spills onto each page of the booklet, making the notes and bios – welcome as they are – difficult to read.

01_gurdjieffGurdjieff/Hartmann - Music for Piano Definitive Edition, Vol. 1 - Asian Songs and Rythms

Patrice Lare

XXI XXI-CD 2

 

This is an intriguing CD set on several levels. First off, the very idea of co-composition, in this case the enigmatic G.I. Gurdjieff (1877? - 1949) and the Russian composer Thomas de Hartmann (1885 - 1956), is rare in the Western classical tradition.

 

While Gurdjieff’s musical roots are vague, de Hartmann studied with three of Russia’s leading composers: Rimsky-Korsakov, Anton Arensky and Sergei Teneyev. The 22 year old de Hartmann first made a name for himself with his 1907 ballet The Pink Flower, produced by Diaghilev at the Russian Imperial Opera.

 

Gurdjieff on the other hand is known primarily as a mystic, philosopher and spiritualist, though his musical practice, informed by his theories on life and energy, did take centre stage at various times in his career. The very distinct paths of these two men overlapped when de Hartmann became a Gurdjieff disciple during the First World War. They co-penned some 200 short works for the piano – or at least it seems that Gurdjieff whistled or picked out melodies he imbibed during his 20 year peregrination, which de Hartmann then scored for piano.

 

Another fascinating spin on this collection of 49 brief piano pieces is that they were meant to accompany “sacred dances” choreographed by Gurdjieff. The 1979 Peter Brook movie Meetings with Remarkable Men shows a scene of such a dance. Another example can be viewed online: http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=3926028940560435071&hl=en#

 

How do these brief piano pieces work as listening music? A few have an innocent, evanescent charm. Much of it sounds like early 20th century parlour music with a Middle Eastern twist. The Montreal pianist Patrice Lare plays them with élan.

 

For seekers who wish to dive even deeper into the deep well of Gurdjieff’s music, there is a 19 hour compilation “Harmonic Development: The Complete Harmonium recordings 1948-1949” on the Basta Music label from The Netherlands.

 


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