EDITOR’S CORNER

 

01_quarringtonAs I prepare to write this month’s column I find myself engrossed in re-reading a book I want to tell you about – Cigar Box Banjo: Notes on Music and Life by Paul Quarrington, published posthumously under the Greystone Books imprint of D & M Publishers Inc. (ISBN 978-I-55365-438-4). In May 2009 Quarrington was diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer. For the next eight months he channelled his creative energy into a number of artistic endeavours, including his first solo CD release “Paul Quarrington: The Songs” (Cordova Bay Records CBR-0822), the documentary film “Paul Quarrington: Life in Music”, the third CD release with the band Porkbelly Futures, and this book. It is an enthralling read, a wonderful mingling of musicological musing and personal memoire, made more poignant as we aware of the ending before we begin. Although best known for his novels, Quarrington had an interest in music and an urge to perform from an early age. “Cigar Box Banjo” leads us through not only his own musical development, but also that of many popular music forms of the 20th century. Woody Guthrie, Bill Munroe and his Blue Grass Boys, Leadbelly, The New Lost City Ramblers, the Kingston Trio, Bo Diddley, the Beatles and Ed Thigpen all have cameos in the early pages, along with Quarrington’s paternal grandfather Joe, an accomplished multi-instrumentalist who played violin in the Ottawa Symphony. We follow Paul from his first instrument (mandolin) and his first band – PQ’s People with his brother Joel (later to serve as principal bass in both the TSO and the NACO) - through a juvenile songwriting partnership with Dan Hill, a lifelong musical association with Martin Worthy, an extended stint as bass player and background vocalist with Joe Hall’s Continental Drift (with older brother Tony on guitar), a collaboration with The Rheostatics on the soundtrack of the film “Whale Music” (for which he adapted the screenplay from his Governor General’s Award-winning novel) and the latter day adventures of Porkbelly Futures - a “thinking man’s bar band” - in which he sang and played rhythm guitar right up to the last days of his life. We are also treated to PQ’s warm and humourous memories of (misspent) youth, (failed) marriage and (mostly successful) parenting. Some of the most compelling stories are those of friendship. His capacity for sharing shines throughout this book and even those of us who did not have the privilege of knowing him personally are left feeling that we did. “Cigar Box Banjo” includes a CD/DVD-ROM with three of his final songs and two short videos. Make sure to check inside the back cover for the disc, and listen to Are You Ready?, an amazing testament to a life well-lived: “No one can tell me where I’m gonna be / When I sail into that mystery / I know I’m falling, don’t know where I’m gonna land / Are you ready? Are you ready? I believe I am.” (www.paulquarrington.com)

 

02_schroerOliver Schroer is another Toronto artist who took the opportunity of impending death, in this case from leukemia, to focus on creation and to return to an unfinished project. Freedom Row (Borealis Records BCD201 www.borealisrecords.com) was begun a dozen years ago as Schroer’s second album with The Stewed Tomatoes when the initial tracks were laid down. In Schroer’s words, “I whittled away at it since then. It moved with the speed of glacier…” When he returned to it a decade later “at that point the album just finished itself. It was a breeze. The last overdubs were a joy, and mixing was a pleasure.” Some of the final recordings were done in Schroer’s hospital room at Princess Margaret during his last days in 2008. His distinctive fiddling is complemented by core members of the Stewed Tomatoes Rich Greenspoon (drums), Ben Grossman (various and sundry), Rich Pell (guitar), David Woodhead (bass) and David Travers-Smith (trumpet), with a vast array of accomplished guests. Basically an instrumental album, “Freedom Row” has occasional forays into the vocal realm, notably with the exuberant chorus in All the Little Children in the World, and vocalizations by Schroer, Christine Duncan, Tanya Tagaq and Michele George on several other tracks. The music itself is mostly upbeat, combining Schroer’s lilting country and Celtic fiddling with a variety of other influences and often featuring jazzy horn arrangements by Colleen Allen. In his introductory note Schroer says “This album is a party. It is a bouncy look back and a joyful look forward. We remain ‘stewed but not subdued!’” It’s a party we’re invited to join, perhaps in the spirit of a New Orleans funeral procession – a joyous send off for an artist who will be remembered fondly. (www.oliverschroer.org)

 

03_grievous_angelOne of the most pleasant evenings I spent in recent months was at Hugh’s Room for a show from Ottawa entitled Grievous Angel – The Legend of Gram Parsons. Billed as “A theatrical concert about the original cosmic cowboy--he lived fast, died young and left a charred corpse” it featured very convincing performances by Anders Drerup as Gram Parsons and Kelly Prescott as Parsons’ young protégé Emmylou Harris. Similar in concept to the 1977 production “Hank Williams – the Show He Never Gave” which also originated in Ottawa, “Grievous Angel” was inspired by Michael Bate's March 1973 interview with the doomed singer in Boston - Parsons' last recorded conversation. The theatrical concert is produced and directed by Michael Bate, written by Michael Bate with David McDonald. A mixture of song and monologue, the well crafted production manages to convey the tragic story of Parsons’ life while presenting dynamic (and true to the original) versions of the songs which have become his lasting legacy. The excellent five-piece backup band provides a rhythm section that just doesn’t quit. Although this summer’s Hugh’s Room date was the only scheduled Toronto performance of the show, it will be performed at Montreal’s La Sala Rossa on September 17, the National Arts Centre’s Stage 4 on September 25 and Rideau Vista Public School in Westport ON October 2 before heading off on a tour which includes stops in California, Oregon and Washington this fall. A CD, optimistically subtitled “Music from the Hit Show”, is available at www.legendofgramparsons.com.

 

04_madawaskaI did not spend the whole summer in the realm of popular music (or dead people for that matter). One of the most interesting contemporary art music discs to arrive in recent months is Prefab featuring Toronto’s Madawaska String Quartet (Artifact Music ART-039). The predominantly contemporary repertoire is complemented by Fantasia No.7 for Four Viols by Henry Purcell (1659-1695). This anachronistic inclusion may seem a strange choice, but the very forward looking Baroque piece blends deceptively well with the works that surround it. Musically the transitions are almost seamless, but I am left scratching my head as to how the Madawaska achieve the ethereal sound of viols on their modern instruments. Purcell is preceded by British composer Anthony Gilbert (b.1934) who based his String Quartet No.3 on a double hocket by Guillaume de Machaut (c.1300–1377) which in turn was an elaboration on an organum written by Perotin sometime around 1200. Soviet composer Alfred Schnittke (1934-1998) was known for his eclectic polystylistic approach and his String Quartet No.3, which follows Purcell’s Fantasia, begins with a quotation from the Stabat Mater of Orlando di Lasso (1532-1594). At eighteen minutes the Schnittke is the most substantial work on the disc. It is followed by Spanish Garland, a homophonic setting of twelve folk melodies from Spain by Montreal-based composer José Evangelista. These unadorned folk tunes also harken back to much earlier times. Although the works of Mike Kane and Bruce Russell which open and close the disc do not show any obvious connection to centuries before the 20th, Kane’s Three Short Seasons and Russell’s Madra somehow seem like perfect companion pieces to complete this very well programmed disc. The personnel of the Madawaska Quartet has recently changed, with Mary-Elizabeth Brown replacing founding violinist Rebecca van der Post, but this 2009 recording features the original line-up: van der Post and Sarah Fraser Raff, violins, Anna Redekop, viola and Amber Ghent, cello. “Prefab” is available from the Canadian Music Centre www.musiccentre.ca. Toronto audiences will have to wait until February 16 to hear the new line up in performance at the Arts and Letters Club (there will be performances in London in December and Kitchener-Waterloo in January), but in the interim the quartet continues its practice of supporting young and emerging composers, with readings of their works on September 27 and November 1.

 

05_BuczynskiFurther on in these pages you will find Janos Gardonyi’s extended article on Antonin Kubálek’s recent spate of CD releases. Mr. Kubálek has been mining the archives and has come up with some real gems for his private CD label. One that I held back for my own collection is Buczynski – Sonatas 1, 2, 3, 4 (AK03). Walter Buczynski (b.1933) has been a fixture on the Toronto scene throughout his career, first as a pianist, debuting with the TSO in 1955 with a Chopin concerto, later as a teacher at both the RCMT and U of T, and as a composer. Since 1975 Buczynski has rarely performed in public, choosing to focus on composing and teaching, and has let others, most notably Kubálek, champion his contributions to the piano repertoire. This 2-CD set includes live CBC broadcast recordings of the four sonatas from 1979, 1983, 1991 and 1993 respectively, the last three being the world premiere performances. Each work creates its own sound world and taken together they provide a broad picture of piano writing in the latter years of the 20th century and demonstrate Buczynski’s breadth of artistic vision. From the percussive “Sonata de Cameron” to the dark and mysterious “Textures”, Kubálek is obviously at home in this repertoire. His performances are fluid, thoughtful and exuberant as required, and as the enthusiastic applause attests, thoroughly engaging.

 

06a_bob_variations06b_godfrey_2Over the summer I was contacted by Patrick Godfrey, a multi-talented musician and record producer who I first met about 25 years ago when his Apparition Records label released a disc of piano music of Tim Brady performed by Marc Widner. At that time Patrick had a studio in Cabbagetown, but he has since moved his operations out to Vancouver Island where he works primarily as a film animation composer (most notably the soundtrack to the Academy Award winning NFB animation “Bob’s Birthday” back in 1993). Patrick sent along three recent releases, each presenting a very different side of his musical personality.06c_thats_why The Bob Variations is a 2010 set of piano re-interpretations of the playful “Bob Theme” in a variety of styles. Amos and the House of Stones is harder to describe. Harpsichord is front and centre in most of the mixes, but the instrumentation is varied and deceiving - surprisingly convincing synthesized string sounds, organ (sometimes masquerading as a calliope) and mallet percussion lines are mixed with sounds that make no effort to hide their electronic origins. It is an eclectic mix of pop, jazz and new age influences. That’s Why is a straight-ahead singer-songwriter mix of ballads, blues and the occasional rocker with vocals, keyboards, drums, bass and synthetic orchestrations all composed and performed by Godfrey. You can find the offerings of this true “Renaissance Man” at www.patrickgodfrey.com – it’s well worth the visit.

 

We welcome your feedback and invite submissions. CDs and comments should be sent to: The WholeNote, 503 – 720 Bathurst St. Toronto ON M5S 2R4.

 

David Olds

DISCoveries Editor

discoveries@thewholenote.com


01_bach_requiemBach Requiem

Les Agréments de Montréal; François Panneton

XXI XXI-CD 2 1679 (www.XXI-21.com)

 

The sheer volume and inventiveness of Bach's work is astounding to us all. Yet we often ask the question: what else would J.S. Bach have accomplished given a different set of circumstances in his life? Those exploring the same question have interpreted Bach on modern instruments, jazzed up his rhythms, and substituted new lyrics. But what would Bach have created given a wider audience than his humble life in Leipzig as organist and schoolmaster provided? What if he were granted commissions beyond the scope of the Lutheran Church? We already have a hint of this with his Mass in B minor in Latin which he composed with the intention of widening his prospects.

 

It seems that scholar and conductor François Panneton has mused long and deliberately on this very question. The result is a Requiem that Bach could have written, given the opportunity. It is indeed his music; seamlessly patch-worked together are a number of movements from cantatas, keyboard works and the St. Matthew Passion organized into the standard requiem structure. As we know from Bach's cantatas, meditations on the agony and ecstasy of death appear frequently, and every chorus, aria and duet appearing in this work is chosen for its poetic similarity to the Latin section of the Requiem that replaces it, thus preserving the character. Thoughtfully crafted, beautifully performed, this recording provides a refreshing new perspective without compromising the integrity of the original sources.

 


02_handel_bereniceHandel - Berenice

Il Complesso Barocco; Alan Curtis

Virgin Classics 6 28536 2

 

Berenice may not be as gripping as Handel’s greatest operas, such as Julius Caesar, Ariodante and Rodelinda. But by any standard it is a magnificent work, melodically rich and psychologically insightful. Yet since the rather unsuccessful premiere in 1737, it is rarely performed or recorded. So this splendid new recording by Alan Curtis and his Venice-based Il Complesso Barocco is welcome – all the more so since Curtis restores the music Handel cut in an attempt to improve the opera’s fortunes.

 

This is a lively, energetic, elegant, spontaneous yet unmannered performance, with Curtis leading from the harpsichord. Curtis has been a talent-spotter right from his ground-breaking 1977 recording of Handel’s Admeto, which was the first recording of a complete Handel opera on period instruments. Here he once again manages to offer a relatively unknown but terrific cast of young singers.

 

Klara Ek is lovely in the title role of Berenice, Queen of Egypt. Her clear, animated voice is delightful in the moving dialogue with oboist Patrick Beaugiraud, “Chi t’intende”, though her “Traditore, traditore!” doesn’t convey the delicious ferocity of Handel’s more dramatic writing. Soprano Ingela Bohlin, bass Vito Priante, and especially countertenor Franco Fagioli are all standouts. But the most exciting singer here is Romina Basso, whose passionate characterization of Berenice’s sister Selene is riveting.

 

The booklet is generous, especially by today’s standards. It contains the full libretto with English translation, informative notes, and photos of the singers as well as the superb orchestra.

 


03_canadian_song_cyclesTo Music - Canadian Song Cycles

Wanda Procyshyn; Elaine Keillor

Carleton Sound CSCD-1013 (www.carleton.ca/carletonsound)

 

The previously unrecorded song cycles from nine of Canada's finest composers are performed with intelligence and sensitivity by soprano Wanda Procyshyn and pianist Elaine Keillor in this new recording.

 

A song cycle is comprised of a number of songs interconnected thematically by the lyrics and/or music. The form was very popular in Europe during the 19th century. “To Music” showcases the evolution of the form in Canada over the course of the 20th century. With an eclectic mix of composers - Healy Willan, Gena Branscombe, Edward Manning, Robert Fleming, John Weinzweig, Jeanne Landry, Euphrosyne Keefer, Patrick Cardy and Deirdre Piper - comes an eclectic mix of topics and compositional choices.

 

My initial trepidation quickly dissipated upon hearing the interpretations. From Willan's lush To Music to Weinzweig's 12-tone Of Time and the World to the rhythmically challenging Autumn by Patrick Cardy, there does not seem to be anything that Procyshyn and Keillor cannot do. There is the occasional high pitch vocal discrepancy, and the piano may be a little too forward in the mix at times, but these little faux-pas are overshadowed by the sincere performances.

 

Most striking is the intricate love of detail that surfaces in every song cycle. “To Music” is a recording that demands careful and studied listening to be truly enjoyed and appreciated, but the rewards are well worth the effort.

 


01_mercadti_di_veneziaI Mercanti di Venezia

Bande Montreal Baroque; Eric Milnes

ATMA ACD2 2598

 

Venice’s ghetto was designed to isolate Jews but unintentionally allowed Jews from all over Europe and the Middle East to live together and share their expertise and pride in their heritage; they created renaissance masterpieces.

 

Salamone Rossi, from that very ghetto, makes his mark here with a setting of the eternally-popular Eyn Keloheinu - if ever one wanted this hymn scored for renaissance woodwind and organ this would be the definitive item. Several of Rossi’s sonatas grace this recording and yet perhaps most impressive of all is his Sonata in dialogo detta la Viena. The cornetto makes its clear mellow presence felt via Matthew Jennejohn’s sensual interpretations of Rossi’s demanding writing.

 

Next, a composer and virtuoso cornetto player who also lived in the Venice ghetto: Giovanni Bassano, Rossi’s contemporary and neighbour, pioneered baroque improvisation as early as 1585. Margaret Little (Recercata Ottava, treble viol), Francis Colpron (Recercare Terza, recorder) and Jennejohn (Dimunitions sur Ung Gay Bergier, cornetto) more than meet the challenges set by this virtuoso improviser. Enjoy, too, the last two selections on the CD from Bassano’s 1591 Variations which bring together the full plethora of instruments listed above.

 

Rossi and Bassano were highly respected by Venetians in or out of the ghetto. This recording opens the door to their music - ajar but open enough for us to want more.

 

Lastly, music composed by Jews in a country where they were not supposed to exist but did so by concealing their identity. From 1550 to 1604, Augustine Bassano, very probably Jewish, served as a Musician in Ordinary for Recorders at four very different English courts. His Pavan & Galliard, enhanced by some fine recorder playing, stand with anything native English composers could offer.

 


02_stjohns_mozartMozart - Sinfonia Concertante; Violin Concertos 1 & 3

Scott & Lara St. John

Ancalagon ANC 136 (www.larastjohn.com)

 

Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante for violin and viola has long been a favourite concerto of mine, and right from the opening bars of this wonderful recording it was clear that here was something very special. The St. Johns (with Scott on viola) have been performing this work in public since they were 12 and 10, and it shows in their sensitive interpretation; they understand every nuance and clearly think and feel as one, both when playing together and in the dialogue passages. Just as critical is the superb contribution of the New York ensemble The Knights under conductor Eric Jacobsen. The accompaniment is beautifully balanced, warm, articulate and refined, and Jacobsen’s choice of tempo is perfect. From the majestic opening Allegro, through the achingly beautiful Andante, to the joyous Presto, this is a breathtakingly fine performance. The ‘romantic’ element in this concerto is often over-played, but the performers here never fall into that trap, keeping things moving and striking exactly the right mood with warm, expansive, but never overstated playing. I simply can’t imagine a more satisfying recording of this glorious work.

 

Scott and Lara share the two solo violin concertos included here, Scott playing No.1, and Lara playing the more popular No.3, The latter features a long and interesting cadenza in the slow movement that almost seems to look back to the solo works of Bach. Again, top-notch playing from both soloists, with excellent accompaniment. The sound quality is superb throughout. An absolutely outstanding disc.

 


03_goodyear_beethovenBeethoven - The Late Sonatas

Stewart Goodyear

Marquis 81507 (www.marquisclassics.com)

 

Just as there’s more than one way to eat an Oreo cookie, there’s more than one way to listen to a recording of late Beethoven piano sonatas.

If I were you, and I’d just acquired Stewart Goodyear’s new 2-CD release of Sonatas 28-32, I’d start at the end, with the second movement of Sonata No. 32 (track 8 on disc 2). Here, you’ll hear Goodyear at his best: there’s a simple piety to the theme; a nice rocking lilt to the dotted passages, delightfully delicate pianissimos, trills to die for, and a sweeping arc that gives the movement a secure and convincing climax.

 

Next, I recommend listening to the final movement of Sonata No. 30, to enjoy Goodyear’s tender, almost dreamy, touch. Finally, I suggest the final movement of Sonata No. 29 – a tour-de-force of dexterity and contrapuntal clarity. After that, you’re on your own, with many more treasures to discover on these discs.

 

I wouldn’t say, however, that I agree with all of Goodyear’s interpretative ideas. Occasionally, when Beethoven calls for sudden forcefulness, Goodyear resorts to pounding on the keys. These moments – for instance, in the first movement of Sonata No. 29, or the third movement of Sonata No. 31 – sound heavy-handed and detract from the music’s architecture.

 

And speaking of the last movement of Sonata 31, there’s one flaw I can’t ignore: about one minute in, there’s a repeated A-natural that’s slightly out of tune. It’s a small point – but why wasn’t it caught and corrected?

 

Concert Note: Stewart Goodyear’s international touring schedule includes concerts at Philharmonic Hall in Liverpool and Barbican Theatre in London in January and a number of dates in the U.S. in the following months. Toronto audiences can hear this native son in an all-Beethoven program at Koerner Hall on November 28.

04_kuerti_schumannSchumann - Piano Sonata No. 2; Fantasie in C Major

Anton Kuerti

DOREMI DDR-6608 (www.doremi.com)

 

We are fortunate to have, living in Toronto, an internationally renowned pianist who is also a most respected Schumann interpreter, Anton Kuerti.

 

On July 20th we had the pleasure of attending the opening recital of the Toronto Summer Music Festival in Koerner Hall in which Kuerti mesmerized a sold-out house playing an all-Schumann program. This was a memorable event by any standards.

 

As a card-carrying Schumann zealot I have been collecting recordings of his music for half a century. As an admirer of Kuerti’s earlier recordings I was pleased that so many of the audience took advantage of the opportunity to acquire this new CD in a post-concert signing event, especially as the Fantasie, opus 17 had just been heard live. Or should I say experienced, as the influence of an admiring and appreciative audience inspired a more personal reading.

 

As with all great artists, no two performances can be exactly the same. Notwithstanding such vicissitudes, the recorded version of the Fantasie is outstanding and a fine souvenir of the live performance. The Sonata is presented by Kuerti in a rather sensible and novel way: he includes, as added movement, the original finale that Schumann had replaced because Clara declared that it was unplayable, being just too difficult. The movement was published posthumously simply as Presto für Pianoforte and Kuerti inserts it between the third and fourth movements. Well, Clara was wrong as Kuerti demonstrates in spectacular fashion in this five movement version of Schumann’s opus 22.

 

Recorded in the Willowdale United Church in August 2009, the sound is clear, appropriately dynamic, and well balanced.

 


 

EXTENDED PLAY – AK(A) Antonin Kubálek

 

Antonin Kubálek and his independent recording label AK were introduced in the July issue with Richard Haskell’s review of his Brahms set (AK 01) so I need not add anything further on Mr. Kubálek’s origins, career, performing history and credentials other than to say that he is a multifaceted virtuoso with the highest degree of technique, expression, subtlety and sensitivity. Although these recordings are all remastered from LP’s of the 1970s we are richly compensated by the quality and insight in these performances. Furthermore, his choice of repertoire is adventurous and full of surprises. Serendipity is the best word to describe them.

 

01_early_recordingsTo start with, there is the Mozart Rondo in A minor (Early recordings AK 06). This is a fairly late work, almost contemporaneous with the G minor symphony, No. 40. Minor keys are rare in Mozart and this piece is melancholic, played with a wonderfully gentle touch, well differentiated in its parts and in a nowadays sometimes frowned upon romantic manner. Be that as it may this is just right for me. This early disc is particularly rich and rewarding, also featuring works by Beethoven, Janáček and Hindemith. Janáček’s elegiac On an Overgrown Path is a long-time favorite of mine with its influences of nature, folk melodies and Czech language accents. It opens a new avenue in pianism. Each piece is a small masterpiece like “The Madonna of Frydeck” where the ruling minor key changes into major turning infinite pain into gentle sweetness that reminds me of Schubert. “Tears” has a typical Janáček kind of exquisite melody and “The Barn Owl Has Not Flown Away!” is so charming with the flurry of wings grounded by two repeated descending notes. Needless to say this music belongs to Kubálek and very few others can play it as beautifully as he. Hindemith’s Suite “1922” is formidably difficult, dissonant, tongue in cheek, sometimes jazzy, syncopated and inspired, or rather horrified, by early 1920s dance crazes. Hindemith, however, brilliantly intersperses these with dark toned Nachtmusiks perhaps forecasting events to come. “Boston” with its hollow bells and echoes is a particularly strong and despondent uttering.

 

02_chausson_faureThe original LP of AK 02 was recorded in the 1970s by the CBC in the now defunct Eaton Auditorium with wonderful acoustics, where I heard such legends as Wilhelm Kempff and Annie Fischer (but alas not Rachmaninov, Kreisler and Gould who also performed there!). For the Chausson Concert for violin, piano and strings, Op.21, the Orford Quartet is augmented by Otto Armin so that first violinist Andrew Dawes can join Kubálek in the title role. Here is a performance that truly pushes to the limits; powerful, complex, passionate and rhapsodic. The same can be said for the César Franck Piano Quintet played here with the Vaghy String Quartet. The Quintet caused some uproar upon its debut, and the story goes that Marcel Proust, the notably eccentric French author, hired a group of musicians to play the Quintet for him incessantly day in, day out.

 

03_paderewski04_souzaSkipping Paderewski (AK 04), who in spite of being a legendary virtuoso and a great statesman – the prime minister of Poland at one time - never was much of a composer no matter how well Kubálek plays his incredibly difficult pieces, I will proceed to Sousa Arrangements (AK 05). This is a most enjoyable disc where Kubálek shows a completely different side of his talent. I can just see him in a bar playing these marches, waltzes and polkas with flying fingers and great delicacy as an entertainer par excellence. The great Arthur Fiedler would be pleased, for this is not “music of the boring kind”.

 

Editor’s Note: Antonin Kubálek’s recordings are available in Toronto at L’Atelier Grigorian and online at www.grigorian.com and www.cdbaby.com

01_henderson-kolkBach; Ravel; Castelnuovo-Tedesco; Lhoyer

Henderson-Kolk Duo

Independent (www.hkguitarduo.com)

 

The British rock star Sting is quoted as having once said, “An uncle of mine emigrated to Canada and couldn't take his guitar with him. When I found it in the attic, I'd found a friend for life.” Guitarists are a breed apart, frequently forming a deep personal bond between themselves and their instrument. Indeed, they often seem happiest when performing either alone, or else in tandem, as in this fine new recording by the Henderson-Kolk Duo. Formed in Toronto in 2004, the duo, guitarists Drew Henderson and Michael Kolk, is quickly establishing itself as one of Canada’s finest, regularly appearing throughout Canada and the US, and having made its European debut at the Mediterranean Guitar Festival in Cervo, Italy in 2006.

 

This recording, their second, is a delight, and features their own arrangements of keyboard pieces by Bach and Ravel in addition to original compositions for guitar by Antoine de Lhoyer and Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco. What a warm and intimate sound they achieve! This is evident not only in the tasteful arrangements of Bach’s Italian Concerto and selections from Ravel’s Le Tombeau de Couperin, but also in such pieces as the Lhoyer’s Duo Concertante in D minor. The reconstructions are particularly convincing, and sound as idiomatic for the guitar as they do for the keyboard.

 

I also find appealing the skilful sense of programming, which focuses on strictly classical and neo-classical repertoire – not a fandango to be heard! The excerpts from Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s Les Guitares Bien Tempérées are a study in contrasts, requiring a particular precision and virtuosity which the duo brings off with apparent ease. In all, this disc is a welcome addition to the guitar catalogue, featuring music both familiar and less than familiar. Well done, gentlemen - let’s hear from you again!

 


02_ebony_bandPolish Masterpieces

Barbara Hannigan; Ebony Band; Werner Herbers

Channel Classics CCS 31010 (www.channelclassics.com)

 

I have to admit that this recording started for me as an enigma. Having been born, and for the most part, educated in Poland, I consider myself relatively well versed in my homeland’s musical heritage. Alas, the names of Jozef Koffler and Konstanty Regamey were completely unknown to me. Much to my relief, I found out I was in good company. The manuscripts of Jozef Koffler, including his haunting Die Liebe – Cantata Op. 14, sung beautifully here by the Canadian soprano, Barbara Hannigan, were gathering dust in the archives of the Music Library of the University of Warsaw. It is a revelation to hear music composed according to Schoenberg’s principles infused with both Jewish and Polish culture. Why this national extension of dodecaphony is not wider known - now, that’s a true enigma. The works by Regamey, although apparently better known, are also restricted in their circulation – due mostly to the fact, that after the war, the composer left Poland for Switzerland.

 

Kudos to the Ebony Band (players from the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra) for bringing these composers to our attention. One could argue, albeit not very successfully, that the technical demands of their music prevent its frequent inclusion in concert programs. Here, in a live recording, Werner Herbers and friends bring it with great panache to an enraptured audience. You don’t have to consider yourself an aficionado of the modern musical idiom to experience the wonder and the gratitude at discovering these unknown, true masterpieces.

 

01_NOJO_ExploresTheDarkSideOfheMoon_largeExplores The Dark Side Of The Moon

NOJO

True North Records TNE5032 (www.truenorthrecords.com)

 

NOJO, the enterprising Toronto-based improvising orchestra, tackles a classic in its latest efforts to examine the jazz potential of great rock tunes. They’re examining the work of groups like Led Zeppelin and Rush, but here, in their first digital only release, it’s a seminal album from 1973, Pink Floyd’s “The Dark Side Of The Moon”. That was one of the best-selling discs of all time, a concept album that used advanced technology of its era such as multi-track recording, plus sound effects, continuous music and songs satirizing contemporary English society. NOJO can’t supply the quartet’s vocals by Roger Waters, David Gilmour and Richard Wright (though drummer Barry Romberg is far better than the Pink’s Nick Mason), but it has taken nine of the 10 pieces on the original and made them work with new arrangements, excellent section work and some fierce soloing from its 16 musicians. There’s no information as to who solos, though co-leaders Michael Occhipinti and keyboardist Paul Neufeld are prominent, but the overall teamwork is exemplary, with pleasing melody amid the complex harmonies. Sometimes the sound’s so smooth that it echoes Duke Ellington, at others free jazz, circus music and reggae rhythms reign. Money, Us And Them and Breathe are best. Recorded before a live Lula Lounge audience, the show lasts 86 minutes, twice the length of the original album.

 


02_bern_brodyTriophilia

Bern, Brody & Rodach

Jazz Werkstatt JW 071 (www.recoprds-cd.com)

 

Putting your stamp on traditional material is one goal for musicians; composing tunes that fit with it is another. This trio excels in both.

 

Consisting of accordionist/pianist Alan Bern and trumpeter Paul Brody, respectively the musical director and one soloist of The Other Europeans – a Klezmer/Lautari band performing at the Ashkenaz festival September 4 – plus guitarist Michael Rodach, the three not only play Yiddish and Roma music, but create it. “Triophilia” is notable since the smaller group allows the three to celebrate more musical currents.

 

Take Rodach’s Tango Valeska. Positioning the Argentinean theme song within Eastern Europe, the three emphasize its Old Country roots by the means of expansive polyphonic slurs from the trumpeter, quivering accordion licks and the expected clinking guitar rhythms. It the same story with Bern’s Angel Blue and Brody’s Heschel. On the latter, sharp, downwards guitar strums that could have emigrated from Bessarabia come up against moderato, formalist trumpet cadenzas, creating a melody that is both melancholy and charming. On the former the rhythm is more sway than swing, but Bern’s expanded glissandi still contrapuntally play off against Brody’s grace note sluices and blues lick suggestions from Rodach.

 

Brody’s Bartoki, saluting the Hungarian composer whose study of his country’s musical history affected his compositions, is the crowning achievement. Putting a modernist cast on Magyar-Roma roots, jazzy, rhythmic guitar frails and harsh syncopated piano runs are added to Brody’s mellow theme. Emerging repeatedly from the mix of strained string fills and slinky keyboard rebounds, the narrative attains its climax with high-pitched trumpet tones.

 


01_underhillHere’s another winner from the Richard Underhill stable, a sure candidate for assorted end-of-year awards and, for once, a CD and DVD package that works. It’s a studio session so passionate you could believe it’s live, plus a DVD recorded at Lula Lounge last October that entertains for more than 90 minutes, plus a bonus segment containing the leader’s incisive jazz opinions. Make sure you experience Free Spirit (Stubby Records SRCD-7734 www.richardunderhill.com). The CD line-up’s interesting with Underhill’s alto and the trombone of Ron Westray, late of the Lincoln Center Orchestra and now at York. Their companions are pianist Dave Restivo, who plays with marked intensity, plus hardworking bassist Artie Roth and all-action drummer Larnell Lewis. All nine tunes are by Underhill, whose snarling horn sound on This House and Hustle Up might raise your neck hairs. Westray’s speed is remarkable and skittish, both horns swinging hard, dabbling in exhilarating free jazz outbursts. Great inventions are the clever Positive Spin and the anthemic Be Strong, Be Strong. The DVD session allows more solo room and also brings in edgy, rock-influenced guitarist Eric St. Laurent and for three tunes djembe (hand drum) exponent Michel DeQuevedo. Consistently sharp and engaging, the groove’s ever-present with delightful forays on Blakey’s Bounce and Bike Lane. This is challenging, complex and robust music, ranging from lyrical to incendiary, yet still communicating with pleasing ease.

 

Concert Note: Underhill performs at the Southside Shuffle in Port Credit on Sept. 11.

 

02_lerouxQuebec jazzman André Leroux is known primarily for his solid tenor sax but on Corpus Callosum (Effendi FND089 www.effendirecords.com) he’s into soprano, flute and bass clarinet, performing with long-term associates Normand Deveault (piano), Frederic Alarie (bass) and Christian Lajoie (drums on eight cuts). Astonishingly it’s Leroux’s first album as leader but clearly he’s comfortable directing musical traffic in what he calls “a group therapy session” recreating the spirit of Coltrane through his band’s own compositions. This he does with warm tones and technical aplomb, kicking off with earnest tenor and outside playing on Speed Machine followed by penetrating, fluent soprano on the stern Sa Ka Vin, followed by a hard-charging Elvin’s Mood that’s both earthy and eloquent. The resourceful Ode A John has unconventional chord voicings, while mournful solo tenor on Cadenza For Nationz precedes a return to exotica with the lengthy Offertoire, somewhat spoiled by overdubbing.

 

03_kaldestadThe West Coast scene remains active, despite an apparent divide between avant-gardists and hard boppers. Hear the latter with Steve Kaldestad on Blow-Up (Cellar Live CL053109 www.cellarlive.com). He’s recruited local pulse heavies Judi Proznick and Jesse Cahill and the Montreal pair of trumpeter Kevin Dean and pianist André White – all with McGill U connections. The leader penned four of seven long pieces that also include a tension-breaker in A Flower Is A Lonesome Thing. Kaldestad’s Shimmy!, an offspring of Honeysuckle Rose, shows strong influences from the 60s ‘Blue Note’ years and the music, live at Vancouver’s Cellar Club, breaks no new ground though it’s executed efficiently enough, the standout player without doubt Dean, who regularly delivers surprise in emotional solos. His rambunctious blues So Long Cerulean is the highlight of this no-frills set.

 

04_davisProlific pianist Ron Davis has released his seventh trio album – My Mother’s Father’s Song (Minerva Road/Davinor Records 600977 www.rondavismusic.com). The title family reference recalls his grandfather’s 1930s Warsaw restaurant and is commemorated three times here – by trio, bass and piano – among the 13 tunes including four originals plus rarefied standards such as La Mer and My Shining Hour plus covers of hits by Stevie Wonder, James Taylor and Coldplay (the opening Viva la Vida ). Davis and ace colleagues bass Mike Downes and drummer Ted Warren skip through the genres yet ensure his compositions hold up well, like The Climb with strident chords and the boogified insistence of Sergio’s Shuffle. There are occasional surfeits of notes and too-heavy touches. Davis can’t remake La Mer but he tears up My Shining Hour and his own Tumba Ron Rumba with his percussive attack.

 

05_duranThe tight threesome led by Hilario Duran is in sparkling mode (with one horrible exception) in the up-tempo, eight-tune collection comprising Motion (Alma ACD11102 www.almarecords.com). The boss, bassist Roberto Occhipinti and drummer Mark Kelso are totally in sync here, matching intricate lines with spontaneous playing of the highest order. Duran has musical chops to spare but though we enjoy occasional guests he should have stood firm against the vocal and, worse still, the syrupy strings on Havana City. Fortunately there’s compensation with the bouncy For Emiliano, the flying title track, the lively Tango Moreno and the speedy version of Timba en Trampa.

Characteristically adventurous, the 17th annual Guelph Jazz Festival (GJF) September 8 to 12 presents respected sound explorers in novel musical situations.

 

Probably the most notable GJF visitor this year is American trombonist/composer George Lewis. On September 11 he’s part of a trio with pianist Muhal Richard Abrams and multi-reedist Roscoe Mitchell on a double bill at the River Run Centre with the Sangam ensemble. Additionally throughout the festival, the MacDonald-Stewart Arts Centre hosts Ikons, which integrates computer software, created by Lewis, with Eric Metcalfe’s sculptures that reflect visitors’ movements. Sour Mash, with Lewis and sound designer Marina Rosenfeld on duelling laptops, is an example of Lewis’ software programming, while More News For Lulu exhibits his trombone skill with guitarist Bill Frisell and alto saxophonist John Zorn.

 

01_sour_mashSimilar to Ikons, Sour Mash (Innova 228 www.innova.mu) features looped textures which alter each time the composition is performed. On this version there’s no separation between the two creators’ input(s). Interspaced with episodes of sampled footfalls, mumbling voices and slide-whistle-like vibrations, the piece’s focus is on the sonic contrasts produced as both programs evolve simultaneously and languidly. Simmering and shimmying, buzzing sequences, blurry crackles and speedy whooshes share space with wind-chime-like pealing, watery bubbling and abrasive rustles. Defined with flanges and granulation, the processes evolve so that linkage is apparent, but with enough unexpected pauses, drones and beeps to keep the ever-shifting texture fascinating.

 

02_more_newsEqually fascinating is More News For Lulu (hatOLOGY 655 www.hathut.com). Here the trio provides an explicitly POMO take on 14 Hard Bop classics. Kenny Dorham’s Lotus Blossom for instance is reconstituted as Frisell’s gentle picking finally succumbs to the pressure from Zorn’s screeching altissimo runs and tongue slaps to introduce guitar neck-hand-tapping and amplifier buzzes. Meanwhile Lewis concentrates on a tremolo retelling of the head, which is eventually recapped by all three. Similarly Hank Mobley’s Peckin’ Time evolves in triple counterpoint with the saxophonist’s agitated lines mated with the trombonist’s moderato vibrations while the guitarist’s steady chording propels the narrative. Lewis’ strategy on other tunes such as John Patton’s Minor Swing consists of providing a huffing contrapuntal ostinato over which Zorn’s screeches thrust intensely. Braying upwards the trombonist eventually corners Frisell’s double-timed licks and the saxophonist’s split tones so that all three lines converge.

 

03_crispellThe pianism missing from the aforementioned CD is present on One Dark Night I Left My Silent House (ECM 2089 www.ecmrecords.com), which matches pianist Marilyn Crispell with clarinettist David Rothenberg. Crispell plays solo in Co-operators Hall September 11. Here she tries various sonic strategies to partner Rothenberg, a philosopher/naturalist interested in bird songs. While no tone is wholeheartedly onomatopoeic, aviary allusions abound. On Still Life with Woodpeckers for example, Crispell strokes the piano’s inner strings and hits the instrument’s backboard and bottom frame with percussive taps as the clarinettist flutter-tongues and chirps daintily. In contrast, on The Hawk and the Mouse, she sweeps across, plucks and strikes the strings as Rothenberg circles her cadences with growling obbligatos, snorts, honks and tongue slaps. Committed for the most part to parallel improvising, the two emphasize tonal connections. That’s why the moderato and andante Evocation references Impressionism, with the low-pitched reed line and the low-key octave patterning create what could be a neo-classical étude.

 

04_oliverosA so-called classical composer of the electro-acoustic variety, accordionist Pauline Oliveros plays twice at the GJF. On September 8, in Rozanski Hall, she and trio of Guelph musicians perform simultaneously via a telematic link with other improvisers in Bogotá, Colombia and Troy, N.Y. Then on September 11 at a yoga centre, Oliveros’ accordion timbres are transformed by using Expanded Instrument System (EIS) computer software. Examples of both her musical cooperation and programming skills show up on Music in the Air (Deep Listening DL 43-2010 www.deeplistening.org). Here EIS and signal processing mutate the sounds from Oliveros’ conch shell, percussion and accordion plus Chris Brown’s piano. Recorded in real-time without overdubs, tracks such as Trohosphere demonstrate how granular synthesis comments on and alters the piano’s speedy glissandi plus slippery accordion smears. Spread across the audio surface, processed signals contrapuntally change the piano’s dynamics as well as adjust accordion timbres to staccato and dissonant. When auxiliary bellow pumps enter the mix alongside a flat-line conch drone, Brown almost replicates a formal composition, so intent is he on maintaining harmonic patterns without raising the volume. With the modifications sometimes depicting variants of previously sampled timbres, sharp string slaps and key pumps provide live tonal additions. Eventually the dense interface is resolved as quivering voltage ramps slide downwards, introducing octave jumps and pressure from both keyboards.

01_neemaWatching You Think

NEeMA

NEeMAste (www.NEeMA.ca)

 

Very few people would say they listen to Leonard Cohen’s music for his singing. Most of us put up with his half-spoken rumblings in order to get to his songwriting, in particular his lyrics. The same can be said about NEeMA. Granted her singing is much prettier than Cohen's – who is one of the producers of “Watching You Think” – but that's not why you should get this album. You should get this album – immediately – for the really, really good songs.

 

Lyric writing is NEeMA's strongest suit and for the most part she's not telling us anything we don't already know and would say ourselves if only we were half as clever. “Some things are better left unspoken, better left unsaid. Some stories better left unwritten, letters left unread.” We understand that and all the other 11 songs NEeMA has written. (The twelfth track is a cover of Mark Knopler's heartbreaker, Romeo and Juliet). Bone To Pick With Time cleverly expresses what we all feel about our “very little window to do what we must do” and “a twisted little jack-in-the-box” is the evocative image in Jealousy.

 

Sensitively produced, the songs are enhanced but not overwhelmed by the arrangements: a cello here, a tabla there and, mercifully, nary a ping from that overused darling of the modern female singer-songwriter, the glockenspiel. Borrowed from a cross-section of Montreal scenes the musicians include Arcade Fire's Howard Bilerman and Tim Kingsbury, and Joe Grass and Miles Perkin who played with the late Lhasa de Sela. Check neema.ca for tour dates.

 


Back to top