08 Halibut CheeksHalibut Cheeks & Other Love Songs
Leslie Fagan; Lorin Shalanko
Independent (canadianartsong.com)

Soprano Leslie Fagan and pianist Lorin Shalanko, both international performers and professors of music at Wilfrid Laurier University, are devoted to showcasing Canadian composers through their Canadian Art Song Series, which premiered with the release of Thread of Winter in 2016. This second recording in the series, which takes on the theme of love and romance, is bursting with heartfelt and melodious pieces performed with great warmth and passion. Since the prelude to romance is often a meal, the recording begins with the witty David L. McIntyre’s Creek Bistro Specials in which a sumptuous (and very Canadian) menu, from appetizers to desserts, is extravagantly presented in song. Nestled within the mains is the title track Halibut Cheeks and one can’t help but note a clever nod to Schubert’s Die Forelle in the piano part at the end of the Grilled Trout course.

In the selections that follow, the performers mine exquisite depths of emotion, first with Lionel Daunais’ Cinq Poèmes d’Éloi de Grandmont, then with Srul Irving Glick’s sensuous Seven Tableaux from the Song of Songs. Gorgeous selections by Matthew Emery and Michael Coghlan by turn frame Gladys Davenport’s Cool and silent is the lake, in which Fagan and Shalanko delicately evoke a sense of wonder at nature’s tranquility.

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01 Mahler 6 VanskaMahler – Symphony No.6
Minnesota Orchestra; Osmo Vänskä
Bis BIS-2266 (bis.se)

The enigmatic Sixth of Mahler is one of the “Wunderhorn Symphonies” (Nos.5-7) because each draws its main inspiration from Das Knaben Wunderhorn, Mahler’s most atmospheric and melodic song cycle. But the Sixth stands out because it ends in a minor key; with no triumphant fortissimo ending, it fades out into nothingness.

Hailed as “exacting and exuberant” (New York Times), Finnish conductor Osmo Vänskä at the head of the prestigious Minnesota Orchestra is putting his mark on the US’ and the entire world’s music scene with his highly original and compelling interpretations. He has a visceral sense and immediate grasp of the essence of the music and a near hypnotic grip on the orchestra. His revolutionary Beethoven cycle already caused a world sensation and now he is ready to tackle Mahler.

In this superb, spacious BIS recording Vänskä avoids all overt emotional excesses and concentrates on the musical textures and beauties of the score. In fact, in his hands the symphony is not tragic at all, but a strong affirmation of life. He leads us through a remarkable journey: the relentless, terrifying military march that dominates the first movement is relieved by a magnificent love theme (inspired by Mahler’s beloved wife Alma) into an idyllic realm of an alpine meadow, cows grazing and village church bells ringing in the distance. The Andante is one of Mahler’s heavenly creations, but military madness returns as a demonic 3/4 time Scherzo punctuated with piercing and agonizing shrieks. The 32-minute Finale is an incredible piece of music that culminates in those three giant hammer blows, the power of fate that ultimately destroys man, sure, but after what a journey and what a struggle!

02 Hanging GardensHanging Gardens – Debussy; Berg; Webern; Schoenberg
Jacob Greenberg; Tony Arnold
New Focus Recordings FCR 192 (newfocusrecordings.com)

If one went by the names on the cover of pianist Jacob Greenberg’s two-disc set Hanging Gardens, one might wonder if Debussy were the odd man out. After all, of the four composers featured Debussy was the impressionist, while Schoenberg, Berg and Webern were pioneers of the Second Viennese School, not only tending towards expressionist painting but also favouring an atonal approach to harmonic conception. However, the connection between the four men is deep and born of the desire to look beyond mainstream Western traditions as a way of expanding the vocabulary of music, the vividness of Symbolist poetry and above all an overwhelming sense of the elemental beauty of indeterminate harmonies.

The centerpiece of this repertoire is Schoenberg’s Das Buch der hängenden Gärten, a song cycle based on the poetry of German Symbolist poet Stefan George. The work is a telling illustration of Schoenberg’s search for new modes of expression, which though unified poetically, tend to complete a musical statement within the frame of a miniature, with miniatures succeeding one another without developing a broad narrative pattern. But Greenberg shapes this work, as Schoenberg himself declared writing it: seeking beauty and sacrificing everything to it with the ripples of atonality and dissonance that come with it. Tony Arnold’s agile, luminous soprano voice is ideal and sings with power and subtlety. The Berg Sonata Opus 1 with traces of Liszt and – unsurprisingly – Schoenberg, manipulates tiny fragments of melody and rhythm into a statement dense with dramatic gesture and emotional power. And Webern’s Variations Op.27 are packed with incident and crafted like an overture, which enhances its dramatic potential.

Greenberg appears to be ever the outstanding interpreter of fin de siècle French piano music and his wonderfully lucid and fluent pianism seems perfectly suited to Debussy’s quicksilver imagination. His accounts of both the Études and Préludes are astonishing. The Préludes indicate an affinity with the allusive world of the composer’s Images from several years earlier. The Études are more technically demanding and Greenberg, with marvellous gradations of dynamics and timbre, seems perfectly suited to this, Debussy’s most macroscopic piano music.

Violoncelle Français
Cheng² Duo
Audite 97.6987

Violonchelo del Fuego
Cheng² Duo
Audite 97.7366
(audite.de/en/ensemble/127-cheng_duo_duo)

03a Cheng2duo FrancaiseHaving heard the best of the best during more than 60 years of frequent concertgoing, I’m not easily impressed, but four years ago, when I first heard the Cheng² (Cheng Squared) Duo, I was thrilled by their prodigious virtuosity and impassioned expressivity. Cellist Bryan Cheng was then all of 16, pianist Silvie Cheng in her early 20s. I was thrilled again this past August when the brother-and-sister pair from Ottawa performed at the Toronto Summer Music Festival. Bryan combines a dark, robust tone with jaw-dropping bravura, while Silvie creates an extraordinarily varied palette of keyboard colours that enhance her imaginative, nuanced phrasing. Together, they offer remarkably fresh approaches to familiar music, making their first two CDs so very special.

The major works on Violoncelle Français, the Cello Sonatas of Claude Debussy and César Franck, are performed with unusual extremes of moody introspection and rhapsodic abandon. I’d grown tired of hearing the Franck, whether in the original version for violin or Jules Delsart’s cello transcription, but the Duo’s revelatory re-invention of this much-performed work, with myriad subtleties of tempo, dynamics, phrasing and tonal colour, surprised and delighted me.               

The CD also includes five encore-style selections, Saint-Saëns’s Allegro Appasssionato and The Swan, and three well-loved pieces by Gabriel Fauré that receive especially loving treatments – Pablo Casals’ arrangement of the song Après un Rêve and two works originally for cello and piano, Élégie and Sicilienne, both subsequently orchestrated by Fauré.

03b Cheng2duo FuegoMore encore pieces, arrangements of familiar music by Spanish composers Granados, Albéniz, Sarasate and de Falla, appear on Violonchelo del Fuego. Bryan says: “Arrangements open up a whole new world of possibilities, and you’ll hear that at times I will strum like a guitar or Silvie’s playing will imitate castanets.” “Playing” is the appropriate word for their playful, exuberant approach to this music.

Brian and Silvie add expressive embellishments to Maurice Gendron’s transcription of de Falla’s Siete canciones populares españolas, reflecting their desire to convey the meanings of the songs’ words. Bryan has also arranged the second song of the cycle, Seguidilla murciana, omitted from most instrumental arrangements, including Gendron’s. He says: “A lot of the idiosyncrasies in articulation, vibrato and colour are based on the vocal originals of these songs. It was my goal to really make the cello sing and speak as a dramatic singer would.” The results are truly exhilarating!

This wonderful CD also affords Bryan and Silvie the chance to shine as individuals, in Gaspar Cassadó’s virtuosic Suite for solo cello and Joaquín Turina’s evocative Exaltación for piano. Though only in their 20s, both Bryan and Silvie are already world-class, performing separately and together at major international venues and festivals. I can’t – and won’t – stop raving about them.

01 Costas guitar and fluteCostas – Works for Guitar and Flute
Duo Beija-Flor
Big Round Records BR8953 (bigroundrecoreds.com)

The days of November are increasingly colder and grayer, so what better way to dispel any pre-winter gloom than a flute and guitar duo performing music with a strong Mediterranean focus. The Montreal-based Duo Beija-Flor – guitarist Charles Hobson and flutist Marie-Noëlle Choquette – began playing together during their student days at Concordia University and officially became a duo in 2010. Since then, they have performed throughout Canada, the United States and Argentina.

This disc, titled Costas – referring to the Latin coastlines of the Atlantic – is a delight, featuring music by such diverse composers as Manuel de Falla, Astor Piazzolla, Celso Machado and Roddy Ellias. What is particularly striking from the very beginning is the wide variety achieved with respect to style, mood and tempo within a thoughtfully chosen program.

De Falla’s set of Seven Spanish Folksongs was originally arranged for soprano and piano in 1914 and this transcription is particularly convincing. Less familiar is Celso Machado’s languorous Quebra Queixo. Machado, a world music guitarist now based in Vancouver, wrote the piece in homage to a popular Brazilian candy!

Not all works on Costas are by Hispanic composers. Roddy Ellias is a Canadian performer and composer whose piece Havana Street Parade was especially commissioned by the duo. Its quirky and syncopated rhythms are an intriguing blend of jazz and Latin elements, performed with much aplomb.

Throughout the disc, the addition of extraneous effects – percussive tapping on the guitar and the sound of wind created by the flute – further heightens the listening experience. Infectious rhythms, a diverse program and superb playing by both performers make this CD ideal not only for a cool gray day but any time of year – highly recommended.

02 Dreams Laid LowDreams Laid Down – New Music for Classical Guitar
Alan Rinehart
Ravello Records RR7996 (ravellorecords.com)

“Poetic” is surely the word for British Columbia-based classical guitarist Alan Rinehart’s new solo disc. For example, the six pieces of the title work Dreams Laid Down (2013) by American composer Michael Karmon are each based on a poem from a collection by Rinehart’s wife Janice Notland. And Vancouver composer David Gordon Duke states that his own Soliloquies and Dreams (2003, evocative miniatures written for Rinehart) “alternate between the declamatory and the lyric” while the guitar “speaks as an actor, musing on ideas and thoughts.” In my view, these words also apply to Rinehart’s sensitive expression and tone.

Of the disc’s three other compositions, the Rinehart-commissioned Ancient Heroes Suite by composer and guitarist John Oliver is a major work honouring poetic (e.g. Rumi) and guitar-connected greats. Couperin’s Ghost draws the connection between the French clavicinist and lute music. Especially attractive is Passacaille, which evokes not only the variation form but the dance’s steady tread and patterns. Richard Gibson’s Variaciones sobre una tema de Juan Lennon (2013) effectively brings together John Lennon’s song Julia and the classical guitar’s Spanish tradition. Finally, Canadian guitarist and composer William Beauvais’ Beginning of the Day (2017, dedicated to Rinehart) asserts the improvisational aspect of the instrument, extending it with exciting metrical intricacies. For several decades Rinehart has been a key performer, educator and, as we have seen, supporter of new repertoire; it is now a pleasure to recommend this disc.

03 Bekah SimmsBekah Simms – impurity chains
Various Artists
Centrediscs CMCCD 26118 (musiccentre.ca)

Bekah Simms released impurity chains in early September this year. On it are three tracks between six and seven minutes, three between ten and fifteen. Microlattice is controlled chaos. Like many of these works, it follows an ABA structure. Tonally it neatly divides into three roughly equal lengths. Bells announce new sections. A coda juxtaposes the two tonal areas, the closely layered pitches generating a new colour. Metre is shrouded by the expansive pace.

Next are two quartets, both using material derived from folk songs. Slept Unwell is for SATB vocal quartet featuring gasps, whispers and cries, the voices slightly extended with electronic effects. Newfoundland folksong The Maiden’s Lament is the source code; listen carefully. Swallow/Breathe, for string quartet, is a fresh take on the much-loved She’s Like the Swallow. Her coda quotes the melodic source material exactly, like a serving of dessert.

Granitic is for larger ensemble, but of a shorter length. The piece is an ominous sonic mobile, the ten voices suspended in space slowly rotating about, gradually revealing the discernible pulse and in the electric guitar, rock-like riffs. The title may well be a pun. Is there a Kid A (National Anthem) quote in the closing section? This is my favourite.

Everything Is… Distorted, brings back the slow pace of terror I felt in the opening track, while impurity chains is a 15-minute long solo for electric guitar via vocoder. This is a tough slog, and, to quote the helpful liner notes, marked by “various abstruse texts…embedded into the timbral fabric.”

Listen to 'Bekah Simms – impurity chains' Now in the Listening Room

Canadian Composers Series Nos.6-10
Various Artists
another timbre (anothertimbre.com)

Canadian Composers on Another Timbre: Another Timbre is a distinguished English label that specializes in a particular range of contemporary music that draws from the indeterminacy and minimalism of John Cage and Morton Feldman and intersects regularly with the textures and practices of European free improvisation. In 2017 it released five CDs by Canadian composers (reviewed by Raul da Gama in these pages in May 2017) and has just released five more, all ten discussed in a 116-page book of interviews with the composers that’s available with the CDs (anothertimbre.com). 

04a CC Cassandra Miller Just SoAmong the highlights of the series are two CDs by Victoria native Cassandra Miller. Just So (at129, Canadian Composer series #9) presents string quartet pieces performed by Montreal’s Quatuor Bozzini, varied works that possess a rare, original lyricism, in which traditional materials are fragmented and recast, including the delicate bird songs of Warblework and the strangely still About Bach in which transcribed materials are evidently undone by computer glitches, while the first violin part is performed in a stratospheric upper register. 

04b CC Cassandra Miller O ZomerMiller’s O, Zomer! (at126, CC series #6) presents her work for varied ensembles, including an octet form of the group Apartment House performing the title work (from 2007, it’s Miller’s earliest work here), a minimalist piece that moves from a kind of light tapping to insistent ensemble reiteration of the same tones. Philip the Wanderer, composed for pianist Philip Thomas, wanders until it ends on a simple, and repeated, major scale. Her unusually titled Duet for Cello and Orchestra, performed by Charles Curtis and the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, includes a cello part that is radically minimalist, at one point posing a two-note phrase against a busy orchestral melody. As with many of Miller’s works, it’s much more than merely unusual, creating great drama and depth from truncated materials.

04c CC Lance Austin OlsenLance Austin Olson is a 75-year-old painter (his paintings appear on many of the CDs in the series) and sound artist who lives in Victoria. Dark Heart (at128, CC#8) focuses largely on graphic scores and field recordings and various mergers of the two. Performances of his work range from two different realizations of a graphic score, Theseus’ Breath, by members of Apartment House, to Olson’s extended explorations of others’ materials and graphic scores, creating soundscapes that mingle guitar, voice, field and found recordings as well as amplified copper plate and park bench. These works are far more engaging than one might expect: an ancient wax cylinder in A Mediation on the History of Painting sounds like a voice from another world.

04d CC Alex JangAlex Jang’s momentary encounters (at127, CC#7) inevitably suggests Feldman and Christian Wolff. He literally lets the world in on the title piece, a clarinet solo performed outdoors amidst birds, children, a dog and a consistent hum. Other pieces include a grey, bent interior horizon, beautifully realized by guitarist Cristián Alvear.

04e CC Linda Catlin SmithLinda Catlin Smith, the artist most extensively represented in the series, adds Wanderer (at130, CC #10), another set of often limpidly beautiful, evanescent chamber works performed by Apartment House, to the two-disc Drifter in the first five-CD batch.

05 Legends and LightLegends and Light – New Works for Large Ensemble
Moravian Philharmonic Orchestra; Croation Chamber Orchestra
Navona Records NV6187 (navonarecords.com/catalog/nv6187)

Four melody-saturated neo-Romantic works offer lots of “good-old-fashioned” musical entertainment.

Dutch composer Hans Bakker (b.1945) calls his ten-minute Canzona III: “Hidden in Her Light” a “hymn to the sun,” but I found this music far from hymn-like, its propulsive rhythms, blazing brass and ringing percussion suggesting instead an ancient martial saga.

The 15-minute Suite for Strings by Ottawa native Jan Järvlepp (b.1953) begins with Changing Times, a merry dance featuring abrupt changes in metre. Shifting Cargo is more dramatic, with strong, syncopated ostinatos. The elegiac A Thoughtful Moment reminded me of Grieg, while Dance of the Monkey Man is a rustic romp, complete with foot-stomping.

Clive Muncaster (b.1936) left England to study in the U.S., where he remained as composer, teacher and music-therapist. His 21-minute Redcliffe Gardens Suite for Strings comprises the cinematically sentimental Petronella, the gently rocking Pastorella and Stella, Fuga Romantica (in which the “romantica” dominates the “fuga”) and the sprightly Girandole.

American Shirley Mier (b.1966) teaches at Century College in White Bear Lake, Minnesota. Her 19-minute Of Lakes and Legends presents four local scenarios: Legend of the White Bear depicts a tragic tale of lovers from rival Indigenous tribes; Ride on the Rails evokes the inaugural train journey from St. Paul to White Bear Lake in 1868; a nostalgic waltz, Parlor Recital, recalls “intimate concerts” at a piano-teacher’s home; Regatta (White Bear Yacht Club) celebrates the region’s boat-racing community.

A highly enjoyable disc!

06 Miguel KertsmanMiguel Kertsman – Three Concertos; Chamber Symphony No.2 “New York of 50 Doors”
Marina Piccinini; Orsolya Korcsolán; Martin Kuuskmann; Gergely Sugar; London Philharmonic Orchestra; Dennis Russell Davies
Naxos 8.573987 (naxos.com)

Brazilian/American Miguel Kertsman utilizes his artistic musical experiences as a composer, keyboardist, producer, audio engineer and music executive to compose classification-defying symphonic music that ranges from classical to atonal to mainstream/modern jazz to rock to folk.

The passionate performances by the London Philharmonic Orchestra under conductor Dennis Russell Davies support the soloists. Flutist Marina Piccinini performs colourful long-held notes, melodies and rhythmic sections in the Concerto Brasileiro for Flute, Strings and Percussion. Noteworthy are her virtuosic closing first-movement flute cadenza-like coda, and the third movement rhythmic folk/orchestral Repentes dance featuring flute and string conversations with percussion flourishes. Concerto for Violin, Horn, Shofar and Orchestra is an exciting four-movement exploration of styles, tonalities and rhythms. Journey for Bassoon and Orchestra is a geographical/musical trip. The outer movements are named after the composer (and soloist bassoonist) Martin Kuuskmann’s hometowns – the Tallinn movement features a lyrical Nordic-flavoured bassoon line, while the final Recife movement develops from an extended string fugato to a lively Brazilian dance frevo. Kertsman’s time in New York influences the jazzy middle movement highlighted by laid-back bassoon and xylophone conversations, and a driving rhythm section. Two brief solo bassoon extended-technique Inträludiums between movements are exceptional. The jazzy Chamber Symphony No.2 “New York of 50 Doors” uses two main themes from an earlier work with a repetitive chromatic four-note melody, and extended synthesizer use adding unique sounds.

This original disc is a high-quality listening experience!

07 Julius EastmanJulius Eastman – Piano Interpretations
Kukuruz Quartet
Intakt Records CD 306/2018 (intaktrec.ch)

In his relatively brief career, Julius Eastman (1940-1990) inhabited a kind of no man’s land as an African-American composer/performer in the classical wing of the American avant-garde, an associate of Cage, Feldman and Foss and a practitioner of a minimalism that embraced traditional chordal sequences. His titles were deliberately provocative – for example, Crazy Nigger and Gay Guerrilla – and he endured both drug addiction and homelessness. By the time of his death at 49, his work seemed slated for oblivion, and a rebirth of interest only began around 2010. Here the four pianists of the Kukuruz Quartet (Philip Bartels, Duri Collenberg, Simone Keller and Lukas Rickli) provide interpretations of four of Eastman’s compositions, works that possess drama and luminous power, resonating at once with work by Terry Riley and John Coltrane.

While the pieces operate on similar principles, using overlapping repetitions of short cadences, each has its own identity. The opening Fugue No.7 (1983) resembles church bells that echo and decay, building density through repetition and thickening, accumulating dissonances. Evil Nigger (1979) refines and expands elements of African-American church music. Buddha (1983) is a quiet change of pace, an extended foray into delicate textures as the four pianists focus on their instruments’ strings. The concluding Gay Guerrilla (1979) begins with repeated single notes, developing force through its half-hour length to its final triumphant, ascending figure.

There’s a rare strength to this music, its very methodology assuming a kind of defiance as the work develops its compelling identity.

01 Natashia dagostinoEndings Rarely Are
Natasha D’Agostino
Independent (natashadagostino.com)

What a bold move for Natasha D’Agostino to begin Endings Rarely Are, a debut album, with an original song in a minor key and sung with a seemingly endless line of wordless vocalastics. It immediately sets the tone for a very unusual album. But the young Vancouver-based Canadian is not only an audacious vocalist who has decided to buck the conventional trend, but also leaps off a musical cliff time and again when singing her own compositions, and also four wonderful jazz standards.

D’Agostino’s agile, luminous voice seems ideal for this kind of derring-do and she sings with power and subtlety. Immediately after two originals, including the aforementioned show-opener Flutter, she serves notice that she will worship at the altar of originality by swinging Earl Brent’s Angel Eyes at a blistering pace, turning the 1946 original on its proverbial head. And we find her taking a similarly bold and angular approach to the rest of the standards, especially in an intoxicating version of You Go to My Head and a touching rendition of I’ll Be Seeing You.

But the highlight of the album are D’Agostino’s originals, each of which she illuminates with wonderful control not only of narrative and emotion but also of lyricism and texture of word and line, which boasts some beautifully controlled singing in the deft tapering of quiet dynamics. Her resonant timbre deepens in Home, where she engages a wonderful band completely attuned to her artistry.

02 Joani TaylorIn A Sentimental Mood
Joani Taylor (featuring PJ Perry; Miles Black; Neil Swainson)
Cellar Live CL111517 (cellarlive.com)

After the sudden passing of her husband and musical partner, followed by a brutal (but victorious) battle with leukemia, veteran Vancouver-based jazz vocalist Joani Taylor was in no mood to record an album of standards. Fortunately for jazz listeners everywhere, Taylor was ultimately coaxed back to the microphone by iconic saxophonist (and lifelong friend) P.J. Perry. As the project began to take shape, inspired pianist, Miles Black, created arrangements of Taylor’s personally-selected tunes that framed her voice like a Tiffany setting, and fully embraced the considerable talents of multi-saxophonist Perry and bassist Neil Swainson.

Each of the 12 tracks are rife with skill, inspiration, and of course, Taylor’s sumptuous alto voice. There is no gratuitous, ill-informed scat-singing here – just superb musicianship, flawless and fluid interpretation, as well as a voice that reflects a lifetime in jazz. The CD kicks off with the Rodgers and Hart classic, This Can’t Be Love. The sound is authentic, warm and swinging – as is Taylor! The fine title track is a languid trip to the smokiest, hippest jazz boite in town. Taylor’s voice is full of power and intent, and her phrasing wrings every last emotional drop out of each Ellingtonian phrase.

A true standout is Taylor’s rendition of the Vincent Youmans hit, More Than You Know. Black and Swainson move contiguously through the bluesy, musical landscape while Taylor’s voice lilts and wails like a horn, until Perry enters the scene with a sax solo that elevates the tune to a whole new level. No doubt, this is one of the finest jazz vocal recordings of the year, and should be a required part of any serious jazz curriculum.

03 Amy CerviniNo One Ever Tells You
Amy Cervini
Anzic Records ANZ-0062 (amycervini.com)

No One Ever Tells You, released this summer on New York’s Anzic Records, is Amy Cervini’s fifth solo album, and marks the singer’s continuing interest in exploring the connections between jazz and other kinds of American roots music. Where her previous release – 2014’s Jazz Country, also on Anzic Records – featured intelligently arranged, acoustic guitar-driven versions of country songs from artists such as Hank Williams and Carrie Underwood, the focus of No One Ever Tells You is on the link between jazz and rock-inflected blues, with a decidedly more electric feel than its predecessor. While this new album is as much Susan Tedeschi as it is Blossom Dearie, Cervini maintains a distinct small-ensemble vibe throughout, with all of the nuance and communicative interplay that one would expect from Cervini’s seasoned band (Jesse Lewis, guitar, Michael Cabe, piano, Matt Aronoff, bass, Jared Schonig, drums, with special guest organist Gary Versace on four tracks).

I Don’t Know, the album’s opener (and the sole Cervini original), is a groovy, smouldering 12/8 blues, with strong solos from Versace and Lewis, and aptly establishes the mood for the nine tracks to come. Please Be Kind and You Know Who! hew closer to the jazz end of the blues-jazz spectrum, and Bye-Bye Country Boy – something of a feature for Lewis – is a fun highlight. Also a highlight: the album’s penultimate track, a beautiful rendition of One For My Baby, which Cervini performs in duet with Versace.

04 TurbopropAbundance
Ernesto Cervini’s Turboprop
Anzic Records ANZ-0063 (ernestocervini.com)

Is there a more perfect time to release a CD titled Abundance than amid the lush colours of October and the overflowing riches of the fall harvest? Drummer, bandleader and composer Ernesto Cervini’s JUNO-nominated sextet Turboprop’s third CD, released on the eve of the Thanksgiving weekend, is a study in abundance and gratitude.

A seasoned, thoughtful (and grateful) bandleader, Cervini consistently draws out the best in his bandmates. Featuring Tara Davidson on alto and soprano saxophones and flute, Joel Frahm on tenor sax, William Carn on trombone, Adrean Farrugia at the piano and bassist Dan Loomis, the CD’s eight tracks include innovative originals from Davidson, Farrugia, Loomis and Cervini, as well as inventive takes on three classics, Dameron’s Tadd’s Delight, Arlen’s My Shining Hour and Smile by Charlie Chaplin, the latter showcasing some absolutely lush trombone work by Carn.

Davidson’s The Queen is a driving tour de force; The Ten Thousand Things by Farrugia opens with Loomis’ rich and resonant bass work; Cervini’s Gramps is a lovely, contemplative ballad dedicated to his late grandfather; and his Song for Cito celebrates legendary Blue Jays manager, Cito Gaston (remember those back-to-back World Series titles in 1992/93?). Evident throughout are Farrugia’s stellar piano solos, Davidson’s and Frahm’s saxophone mastery and Cervini’s always-tasteful work on the drums.

In the liner notes, Cervini expresses heartfelt gratitude to several important and inspiring people in his life. However, it is we, the listeners, who should be abundantly grateful for the existence of this outstanding album.

Listen to 'Abundance' Now in the Listening Room

05 Alexis BaroSandstorm
Alexis Baro
G-THREE GT0015 (alexisbaro.com)

Released in August on G-THREE Music, Sandstorm is the newest album from Havana-born, Toronto-based trumpet player Alexis Baro. An accomplished musician, Baro’s résumé includes performances with a wide range of artists, such as saxophonist Paquito D’Rivera, organist Joey DeFrancesco and producer David Foster. Inspired by Baro’s experiences living in a big city, Sandstorm is framed as a celebration of “the vibrant energy of diverse cultures living together in a rapidly changing urban environment.” Nine of the album’s eleven compositions are Baro’s; of the remaining two, one is a reworking of the traditional Latin American lullaby Drume Negrita, and the other is a cover of The Beatles’ Come Together. In addition to Baro, Sandstorm features keyboardists Jeremy Ledbetter and Anthony Brancati, bassists Yoser Rodriguez, Roberto Riveron and Andrew Stewart, and drummers Amhed Mitchel, Anthony Daniel, and Larnell Lewis.

After an exploratory, searching intro, in which Baro demonstrates the range of his melodic and timbral control, Sandstorm’s hard-driving title track begins with a repeated 5/8 motif that is woven throughout the song. The B Side of A, one of the album’s funkier entries, sees Baro playing with a filtered, electric trumpet sound while trading with Brancati, with a strong drum solo from Lewis. Baro’s trumpet glides smoothly atop the programmed drums in Drume Negrita, and Come Together is arranged with a sophisticated, understated groove. Central to Sandstorm is Baro’s sound: warm, articulate and confident in both the lower and upper registers, reassuring and surprising throughout the album.

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