02 Soaring SpiritsSoaring Spirits
UBC Symphony Orchestra & Choirs; Jonathan Girard
Redshift Records TK492 (redshiftrecords.org)

Jonathan Girard conducts the UBC Symphony Orchestra and Choirs in a release of newly recorded orchestral music by three of Canada’s most visible composers. Stephen Chatman’s A Song of Joys alternates between boisterous pulsations and tender interludes throughout its seven movements. The text is based on fragments of Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, and Chatman intended the work to be a companion piece to Beethoven’s monumental ninth symphony. The last movement builds to a resounding climax using the full power of the orchestra and choir. 

In Dorothy Chang’s Flight, the listener is introduced to a delicate and mysterious dream world amid darkened melodic enchantment produced by the solo flutist and supporting strings. The piece quickly takes a turn for the dramatic with raucous jabs and swirling gestures. Chang’s brilliant writing for the flute (performed by Paolo Bortolussi) and command over novel orchestral colours produces a deep artistic statement and significant contribution to the Canadian orchestral repertoire. 

Keith Hamel’s Overdrive is a ten-minute ride of intense orchestral fireworks. Enduring piano trajectories reinforce accented cross play and shimmering fissures throughout. Hamel creates a sense of temporal multiplicity that could easily be extended in a work of considerably increased length. The orchestra performs the demanding passages with a confident musicality – bringing to life what is clearly a gifted compositional voice. 

Under Girard’s baton the university orchestra delivers a recording of rather challenging repertoire with impressive musicality and a professional level of performance prowess.

03 Light Through DarkLight Through Dark
Bill Gilliam; Bill McBirnie; Eugene Martynec
Independent (gilliammcbirniemartynec.bandcamp.com/releases)

It’s clear from the first of the seven tracks of Light Through Dark that the Toronto trio of pianist Bill Gilliam, flutist Bill McBirnie and Eugene Martynec on electroacoustics possesses big ears and hearts. Each, however, has different roots. One of the city’s top jazz and Latin flute specialists, McBirnie is renowned for his outstanding technique as much as for exceptional improvising chops in bebop, swing and Latin idioms. Gilliam has been active in town since the 1980s as a composer and pianist exploring in his words the “boundaries between new music, improvisation, electroacoustic music and contemporary jazz.” Martynec on the other hand has been on the scene as guitarist and record producer for even longer. He’s mostly focused today on performing live interactive electroacoustic music with other improvisers. Both Gilliam and Martynec are core members of the Toronto Improvisers Orchestra.

The moody and languid opener Time Floats – Japanese Suite, Part 1 centres on McBirnie’s low metal alto flute melodies in which he tastefully introduces shakuhachi (Japanese bamboo flute) nuances into its warm breathy vibrato. Martynec chooses harp, koto and mbira-sounding timbres to weave around the flute throughline, while Gilliam complements with seamlessly effective keyboard work. 

The other two parts of the Japanese Suite, Icy Still and Crane Flight, continue the shakuhachi theme and sonic imagery. Collectively the trio’s music is inventive, technically adroit and elegant at the same time. Most of all, we can hear their “mutual fascination with the mystery of creating entirely spontaneous music,” as aptly stated in the liner notes.

04 Saman ShahiSaman Shahi – Microlocking
Various Artists
People Places Records (peopleplacesrecords.bandcamp.com)

Microlocking, a new release by the award-winning, Iranian-Canadian composer Saman Shahi, delves deeply into the world of microtonality. By locking in and interconnecting pitches, colours and layers of sound, he creates dialogues and open-ended statements that require an alert ear but inevitably include elements of beauty, even in the sometimes chaotic landscape.

Shahi keeps making surprising turns in his compositional career. His musical trajectory is firmly based in classical music but has included explorations of world music, rock and electronics, all featured on this album. The compositions are vibrant and compelling, especially in the way Shahi treats the solo instruments. Microlocking I, II and III have a distinct character, progressing from spacious to denser textures. Microlocking I, written for six digital pianos (three of which are tuned a quarter-tone sharp) mesmerizes with the constant ripples of ostinato sounds. The colours resulting from uneven pitches bring in the sense of the past, nostalgia. Microlocking II, on the other hand, is very much rooted in the present immediacy of the sound. Written for solo electric guitar, it is a dreamland of techniques and effects, and soloist Andrew Noseworthy pulls it off with flair. Microlocking III for solo accordion (Matti Pulkki) and electronics (Shahi) pushes the boundaries of the sound even further, as if imagining the sound of the future. The surprising but fitting conclusion comes in the form of a remix of Microlocking I by electronic music producer Behrooz Zandi, binding together the aspects of Shahi’s music – the expressiveness and probing sonority, wrapped up in minimalism.

05 Flute in the WildFlute in the Wild
Jaye Marsh; Darren Hicks; Heidi Elise Bearcroft; Andrew Morris; John Rice; Christina Marie Faye; Richard Herriott
Centrediscs CMCCD 28921 (cmccanada.org/product-category/recordings/centrediscs)

A solo flute in lofty, avian dialogue with recorded loon calls: this CD’s opener, Diane Berry’s five-minute Calling (2013), inspired Ontario-based flutist Jaye Marsh to ask three friends “to express their experience of our shared landscapes” for her debut disc, producing four works completed in 2021.

Two are by the well-established Elizabeth Raum. In her 16-minute Northern Lights, flute, harp (Heidi Elise Bearcroft) and percussion (Andrew Morris) generate phosphorescent sonorities mirroring the aurora’s ephemeral, glittering pulsations before fading into afterimages. Bassoonist Darren Hicks joins Marsh and Bearcroft in the sweetly nostalgic, 17-minute Bridal Veil Falls, five movements illuminating sonic snapshots from Raum’s childhood visit to Manitoulin Island: A Walk along the Path, Morning Rain, Mist over the Falls, Porcupines (delightfully gawky music!) and Kagawong River.

Narrator John Rice, a Wasauksing First Nation elder, tells of traditional harvests, songs and dances in Richard Mascall’s five-movement, 23-minute Niibin (Summer) but the music, for flute and piano (Christina Marie Faye) seems bland and understated; I miss the character and energy that made Mascall’s earlier Georgian Bay Symphony commission Manitoulin, which also incorporated Indigenous melodies and rhythms, so powerfully stirring.

Virtuoso pianist Richard Herriott accompanies Marsh’s alto flute in his five-minute Twilight Song of Trinity Bay that “reveals,” writes Herriott, “a lonely church…at fog-ridden twilight.” The flute’s drifting, searching melodies, underlined by the piano’s bell-like tolling and rippling arpeggios, immediately transported me to a Newfoundland coastline, remote and shrouded. 

Kudos to fine flutist Jaye Marsh for this (mostly) enchanting CD!

06 BlackwoodLost and Found
Leaf Music SCCD n006 (leaf-music.ca)

The last piece on Lost and Found is titled Welcome, Peter-Anthony Togni’s attractive slow jazz number. But here, I’ll use that title to segue into comments: this disc of compositions by Togni and Jeff Reilly is indeed welcome; and as the debut release of the Blackwood Duo –Reilly, bass clarinet and Togni, piano – it is most welcome, one of the best things I heard in 2021. Ave Verum by Togni and Reilly is remarkable for the bass clarinetist’s rich sound in the low register, followed by wide registral leaps and dives, and soft non-vibrato tones fading into overt key clicks. Togni’s evocative piano joins the lower instrument with a chant passage in the male voice register. Recorded effectively at the reverberant Trinity St.-Stephen’s church in Amherst, Nova Scotia by engineer Rod Sneddon, it gives me an impression of unmeasured vastness. 

In Reilly’s much different title track, Lost and Found, his clarinet opens expressively, taking off with virtuosic runs, trills, sharp attacks and crescendos or diminuendos while the piano repeats chords suggestive of jazz. His humorous self-describing Suddenly, Snow begins with both instruments in a wild staccato passage, after which the piano’s running bass and comping coincide with an extremely agile bass clarinet; this piece reminds me that brevity is a feature in the pacing and texturing of this disc’s eight works. In contrast, Reilly’s To Dream of Silence opens with long tones in both instruments, including exquisitely controlled pianissimos. Bravo!

07 Louise BessettePort of Call: Curaçao
Louise Bessette
Analekta AN 2 9845 (analekta.com/en)

Acclaimed Canadian pianist Louise Bessette launches her admirable new recording series of solo piano works, A Piano Around the World. Here, in Port of Call: Curaçao, she is the first to record these 22 pieces from Antillean Dances composed by Curaçao composer/pianist Wim Statius Muller (1930-2019), nicknamed the Chopin of Curaçao. After studies at Juilliard and teaching at Ohio State University, Muller worked over 30 years at security and counterespionage, returning to Curaçao and music after his retirement!

Muller’s music resonates and combines influences of Caribbean folk music and Chopin, whose music was introduced to Curaçao in the Netherlands Antilles in the 19th century. Opening track Tumba di Johan Op.2 No.1 is a mix of classical and popular as Bessette’s controlled playing with rubato, left-hand rhythms and right-hand melodies create a dance feeling. Piet Maal –Valse Op.2 No.13 is a more Chopin-like waltz performed with melodic subtle colour shifts, clear phrasing and balance between the hands, as is Muller’s renowned romantic Nostalgia – Valse Op.2 No.22. Bessette plays the more dance-along South American sounds with perfection, like in Kalin-Tumba Op.2 No.19, reminiscent of Piazzolla, and faster modern Chuchubi – À la rumba Op.4 No.5.

Bessette must be commended for taking on such a complex illustrious solo project. Her world-class virtuosic playing and understanding of classical and folk styles, clear production values and order of tracks bring uplifting sonorities and lasting vitality to Muller’s wide-ranging piano works.

08 Vintage AmericanaVintage Americana
Christina Petrowska Quilico
Navona Records nv6384 (navonarecords.com/catalog/nv6384)

The towering Canadian piano virtuoso Christina Petrowska Quilico performs six works on her latest release, Vintage Americana. This absorbing display of musicianship leaves no doubt that she can interpret works from any compositional aesthetic with world-class execution. Lowell Liebermann’s Apparitions is an anguished work with abundant opportunity for expressive interpretation and Quilico brings a very personal touch to phrasing the work. The four Fantasy Pieces by David Del Tredici highlight her range on the instrument. The Turtle and the Crane composed by Frederic Rzewski is a whirling flurry of repeated notes and rising harmonic pillars that are continuously interrupted by tip-toeing islands of contrasting moods that seem to be menacingly at odds with the more mechanical material.  

In a work by the only Canadian on the disc, American ex-pat David Jaeger delivers a substantial tone poem of considerable expression and artistic depth. Utilizing electronics in the work, Jaeger produces highly compelling and dramatic atmospheres, drawing the listener into a dark sonic landscape. Titled Quivi Sospiri (taken from the third canto of Dante’s Inferno), Jaeger depicts a shadowy journey through a series of remarkably cogent moments of piano wizardry above deep and enigmatic electronic ambiences. 

Mario Davidovsky’s Synchronism No.6 (also using electronics) is a brilliant work. The immediately arresting nature of artistic expression gives pause and it is no wonder this work was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1971. Petrowska Quilico performs Davidovsky’s masterpiece with stunning mastery and her interpretation can easily be considered among the most significant among the many recordings of this important work. In her seemingly inexhaustible efforts toward releasing recordings of the highest quality, Petrowska Quilico delvers yet another gift for our ears.

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09a Dai Fujikura Glorious Clouds jpegDai Fujikura – Glorious Clouds
Various Artists
Minabel (daifujikura.com/#discography)

Dai Fujikura – Koto Concerto
Nippon Columbia (daifujikura.com/#discography)

Prolific London-based Japanese composer Dai Fujikura (b.1977) used to dream of composing music for the movies. His studies at Trinity College of Music of the scores of Pierre Boulez, Tōru Takemitsu and György Ligeti, however, propelled him decisively in another direction: toward the concert stage. Fujikura’s compositions have since been championed by musical notables including the London Sinfonietta, Ensemble Intercontemporain, Boulez and many others. In Toronto, Arraymusic, Thin Edge New Music Collective and the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Music coproduced the Dai Fujikura: Mini Marathon concert in 2020, showcasing “one of the most active composers on the international stage.” 

At close to two and a half hours of music, Fujikura’s ambitious album Glorious Clouds comprises 15 substantial works for orchestra, ensembles and soloists, embracing concerti, chamber music, art song, instrumental solos and electronic genres. Sadly, I can only touch on a few samples of this rich musical horde here.

The impressive orchestral Glorious Clouds, evocatively performed by the Nagoya Philharmonic Orchestra, was inspired by the interconnected microbiomic networks found everywhere on Earth, rather than by the atmospheric phenomena suggested by the title. Recounts the composer: “I thought, Ah!!! Various small microorganisms make the survival of the whole world possible – just like processes within an orchestra.” Glorious Clouds maintains a dynamic tension between floating, swirling sonic textures and an overall harmonic structure and thematic progression. My ear was initially reminded of Debussyan orchestral sonorities and colours, yet soon enough Fujikura’s emerging strident effects, sonic shapes teetering on melody, plus novel orchestration and formal balances were reminders that we’re in another century entirely.

Sparkling Orbit for electronics and electric guitar follows, incisively performed by Daniel Lippel. Opening with atmospheric passages, it turns abrasive and edgy, the guitar repeating in the last section a rhythmically complex distorted chime-like overtone pattern over electronic craquelure. Serene, derived from Fujikura’s Recorder Concerto, is quite distinct again. Its three solo movements are given a powerfully dramatic performance by recorder virtuoso Jeremias Schwarzer on three contrasting recorders. I found the middle movement opening, scored for the sopranino, evocative of the nohkan, the characteristically bracing, high-pitched Japanese transverse bamboo flute commonly played in Noh and Kabuki theatre. While a recent work, I can see Serene being widely adopted as a standard recital piece; it’s that good. 

Finally for this review, Motion Notions features Mari Kimura’s brilliant violin playing. In addition, she’s also strapped a motion sensor to her bow arm wrist. It sounds like it controls various types of synthesized sounds and perhaps also live processing. The result is an interactively polyphonic, slithery texture, an unusual, and very effective, musical dialogue between the violinist’s acoustic music and the electronic sounds directed by her motion sensor. It’s another album favourite of mine.

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09b Dai Fujikura Koto ConcertoFujikura shares album credits on a second release with rising star LEO (Leo Konno b.1998 in Yokohama) who the label calls today’s “hottest koto artist.” The record features the premiere recording of the substantial single-movement Koto Concerto with the Yomiuri Nippon Symphony Orchestra conducted by Masato Suzuki, plus three related solo works for koto, all scored by Fujikura. 

While the 25’42” concerto is an impressive work judicially illustrated with the composer’s signature deft orchestration, the three solos make a strong case for the koto achieving its finest, most delicate, satisfying musical moments in a solo capacity. 

All the works here are rendered with sensitive bravura by LEO and vibrantly recorded by Nippon Columbia’s engineers. Bravos all around.

10 Adam RobertsAdam Roberts – Bell Threads
andPlay; Hannah Lash; Bearthoven; Erik Behr; JACK Quartet
New Focus Recordings FCR312 (newfocusrecordings.com)

American composer Adam Roberts delivers a selection of his chamber music demonstrating an expressive compositional voice and creating engaging instrumental spaces. Roberts’ approach is focused with a brave sense of acoustic adventurousness and, using top-notch ensembles and soloists, this release enraptures ear and mind. Whether through timbral exploration or enchanting stasis, Roberts has a propensity to secure his structures with a continuous and recognizable motif while shifting focus toward other musical narratives. The result is one of clever design and intent: the music unfolds with an initial sense of random moments, but is grounded by carefully constructed and recognizable gestural frameworks. 

The disc begins with Shift Differential, an excited and energetic duet for violin and viola performed by andPlay. Roberts experiments with many successful timbral spaces that create momentum through constantly evolving, almost improvisatory, passages. Next, the Oboe Quartet performed by soloist Erik Behr and the JACK Quartet, shows Roberts’ more lyrical side in a work that is decidedly classical in its fast-slow-fast form. 

The gem on the disc is a piece titled Rounds for solo harp, performed by Hannah Lash. Cascading apparitions of sound permeate amid gentle clusters and multi-layered auras. Lash’s performance is stunning, with a musicality that is rare and captivating. Happy/Angry Music, a trio performed by Bearthoven, draws upon polystylistic material and utilizes repetition to propel the music forward. Lastly, Bell Threads, a work for solo viola performed by Hannah Levinson, produces a sinuous and mysterious soundworld that is unique on the disc. This haunting work is the perfect bookend to a truly impressive collection of chamber works.

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11 Amanda GookinForward Music Project 2.0 – in this skin
Amanda Gookin
Bright Shiny Things BSTC 0156 (brightshiny.ninja)

Having enjoyed the first release of cellist Amanda Gookin’s Forward Music Project 1.0, I was richly rewarded by its sequel. From the front cover, with a photo of Gookin perilously close to cutting her own tongue with a pair of scissors, we know this CD means business. “… in this visceral journey towards radical expression… This flesh is where we live… We are powerful in this skin.” 

In this second installment of FMP, four more composers are invited, not as guests, but as the key tellers of the layers and complexities of women’s stories, each in their own way. Gookin takes each one as a precious gift, playing them with perfection and ferocity that makes clear her undeniable belief and dedication to every word. Translated sonically through her cello and her own vocals, with occasional added voices and electronics, there is simply no track to be missed. Paola Perstini’s To Tell A Story was in itself a fascinating journey of how the power of storytelling can be misused and appropriated, with sound artist Sxip Shirey’s backdrop of an 1983 interview with Susan Sontag creating brilliant sonic graffiti. 

Not only executed with stunning prowess, Gookin’s dedication to each composer’s voice channels the direct, hard-hitting messages of the compositions, her virtuosity powerfully propelling them even further, reminding us that these are all our stories to be told. She delivers them with authenticity, never taking over. This is not an ego project. This is cello playing at its height; delivering art.

Forward Music Project is an undertaking that continues to leave me breathless.

12 Wild at HeartWild At Heart
Pauline Kim Harris
Sono Luminus DSL-92253 (sonoluminus.com)

The second release in Pauline Harris’ Chaconne Project, this album explores interconnections between time, individual worlds and music. According to Harris, each commissioned composition is a reincarnation of J.S. Bach’s Chaconne for solo violin and each composer has expressed their unique individual connection to this piece. 

The music on this album is wild in the best sense of the word – an uninhibited violin wonderland of extended techniques, powerful, ingenious and enterprising. There are no memorable melodies here but instead a universe made of fragments, textures and gestures, all centered around Chaconne. The depth of sound is astonishing and Harris’ violin is so sonorous that one feels an incredible sense of expansion listening to this album. Harris has impeccable command of her instrument. She is an artist with a wild imagination, great stamina and extraordinary control. 

The opening piece, Yoon-Ji Lee’s Shakonn, is a volcano of sound and energy built over a held bass note, pulling Chaconne apart and transforming it. Morsels by Elizabeth Hoffman follows, a web of lovely harmonics that create both the rhythms and textures. Sequences of single gestures are juxtaposed with empty spaces, forming delicate balances. Annie Gosfield’s Long Waves and Random Pulses has a powerful energy and occasional Gypsy flavour. Using extensive research of jammed radio signals as a foundation, Gosfield alternates whirls of notes with a ghostly noise to build the mystery. 

The album closes with a grand C-H-A-C-O-N-N-E, John King’s composition that explores the form to the extreme through sequences that move from complex to simple. An imaginative and highly recommended album.

13 Bissill PanoplyRichard Bissill – Panoply
Artists from the Guildhall School of Music & Drama
Three Worlds Records TWR0011 (three-worlds-records.com)

The opening two-minute Philharmonic Fanfare for brass and percussion, commissioned by the London Philharmonic Orchestra, boisterously heralds this CD’s many forthcoming pleasures. Richard Bissill, former LPO principal horn and longtime professor at London’s Guildhall School of Music and Drama, enlisted students and fellow faculty members to perform the music recorded here, all composed between 2001 and 2016.

Bissill himself appears in his eight-minute Trio for horn, violin and piano, two warmly lyrical sections embracing a graceful, lively scherzando. Episodically varying tempi and moods make the nine-minute Twisted Elegy for flute, viola and harp much more “twisted” than “elegiac.” Bissill’s ten-minute Sirens for violin and piano vividly evokes the mythical temptresses with music that’s playful, sensuous and urgently seductive.

There are two 15-minute, three-movement pieces. The jazz-tinted Triangulation achieves heightened impact through its unusual textures – dense and gritty – produced by seven bassoons and one contrabassoon. Panoply for flute and piano, with its quicksilver first movement, languid, Debussy-inflected central movement and theatrical finale, is a fresh, delectable addition to the flute repertoire.

The 12-minute The Magnificent Seventh for eight horns, piano, bass and drums, based on the interval of a minor seventh, moves from fanfares and busy syncopations to a slow, bluesy middle section before the piece, and the CD, ends in a burst of triumph.

Bissill’s inventively varied, thoroughly engaging music – “progressive-conservative” in the best sense – deserves widespread exposure to international audiences. Recommended!

14 Sara SchoenbeckSara Schoenbeck
Sara Schoenbeck; Harris Eisenstadt; Roscoe Mitchell; Mark Dresser; Peggy Lee et al
Pyroclastic Records PR 16 (pyroclasticrecords.com)

As a pioneer of contemporary bassoon, Sara Schoenbeck’s self-titled album of duet collaborations reads almost like a list of party invitees who just happen to be the who’s who of modern improvisers.  

Longtime friendships and musical partnerships culminate in a colourful quilt as Schoenbeck travels to recording studios across North America during a global pandemic to reach each collaborator.  While her pairings are unique and intimately connected with each artist, Schoenbeck shares that her “deepest musical relationship is with the bassoon itself, the kernel of [her] inspiration.” It might be obvious by now, but it is worth noting that no more important a relationship can be intensified than an artist with their instrument during a pandemic, and each collaboration shines a spotlight on Schoenbeck’s skillful microtonal and multiphonic explorations. Long, arcing tones of bending, creaking, edgy vocalizations and melodic expressions are showcased across a wide and beautiful canvas of both scored and improvised duets. 

The haunting and beautiful Lullaby with improvising guitar legend Nels Cline is soaked with a darkly sublime blend of bassoon and ambient electronic extensions that at times feels like one voice, where Suspend A Bridge, with cellist Peggy Lee, seesaws a fine balance between intertwined harmonies and vast textural space. The Sand Dune Trilogy, with Nicole Mitchell on flute, seductively reminds us of Schoenbeck’s symphonic past while simultaneously teasing it apart. 

Other collaborators include Harris Eisenstadt, Roscoe Mitchell, Mark Dresser, Matt Mitchell and Wayne Horvitz. The closing track, Robin Holcomb’s Sugar, is a beautiful and unexpected finale – but then, parties do sometimes end with the most interesting, quiet conversations.

01 Alex BirdYou Are the Light and the Way
Alex Bird and the Jazz Mavericks
Independent (alexbird.net)

Award-winning singer-songwriter Alex Bird has done it again on his newest release, showcasing his vocal prowess as well as great compositional skills. Along with pianist and songwriting partner-in-crime Ewen Farncombe, the pair has penned 12 new tracks with string and horn arrangements courtesy of the latter. Backed by the stellar Jazz Mavericks and several guest musicians this time around, Bird’s sound has grown to newer and greater heights with this record. This album would be a valuable addition to the collection of any jazz lover who’s looking to dive into the deeper and darker crevices of the genre. 

The album starts off with the sultry title track You Are The Light and the Way, bringing the listener on a journey through the intriguingly seedy underbelly of the jazz world where the traditional and raunchy merge. The unique theme that carries throughout the record is a musical “path that blends the light and dark” in a way that holds the attention of the listener to the last note. From melancholy songs such as Way Back Home to positively toe-tapping pieces such as Old Soul and Back To You, Bird and the Mavericks bring a scintillating spark and charm that liven up these dreary winter days. This golden-voiced vocalist, reminiscent of Sinatra and Elling, brings the album to a close with the touching Honey Bee Lullaby, a promise of much more to come from this young talent in the near future.

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03 Roddie Elias Kellylee EvansNot This Room
Roddy Ellias Free Spirit Ensemble featuring Kellylee Evans
Independent (roddyellias.com)

With this latest recording, eminent guitarist Roddy Ellias shines not only as a gifted musician, but as a fine and facile composer and arranger. Every song in this collection was written by Elias, and the compelling, and often haunting lyrics were written by noted Canadian poetess Sandra Nicholls. Both the music and lyrics here require the participation of very special artists, and joining Elias on this deeply personal project is the inspired vocalist and lyrical interpreter, Kellylee Evans, as well as a lineup of skilled musicians, including Ellias on acoustic steel string guitar, Marc Copland on piano, Justin Orok on nylon string guitar, Chris Pond on bass, Jose Garcia on percussion, Petr Cancura on reeds and mandolin, Guy Pelletier on flute, Richard Page on bass clarinet and Pierre-Yves Martel on viola da gamba.

Evans’ emotional intelligence permeates the stunning title track, and beckons the listener to participate in the journey ahead. As the tune segues into a more rhythmic section, the ensemble playing, including Garcia’s subtle and driving percussion, is nothing short of breathtaking. These artists are clearly listening to each other and are creating every musical nuance in synchronicity – like a single-celled being,

Of special note is the moving and thought-provoking Draw Me a Circle, in which Evans’ warm and sinuous voice effortlessly scales the pure notes of her upper register, diving into her cello-like tones (the perfect complement for Martel’s gamba). Other gems include the stark and mystical Blood and Bone and the haunting, Middle Eastern-modality-infused Suddenly. The touching and uplifting Prayer is the perfect closer for this evocative project of nearly unbearable beauty and fragility.

04 Greg AmiraultNews Blues
Greg Amirault; Steve Amirault; Adrian Vedady; Jim Doxas
CUPFA GGA002 (gregamirault.org)

For his third release as a leader, Montreal-based guitarist/composer/producer Greg Amirault has brought forth an intimate, swinging, potent recording – comprised of seven of his own well-constructed tunes, as well as two tasty standards (both arranged in gorgeous solo guitar formats). He is also joined here by longtime collaborators, including his uber-talented brother Steve Amirault on piano, the deft Adrian Vedady on bass and Jim Doxas on drums.

The title track – a sassy, up-tempo blues – features superb soloing from Greg on guitar, while the rest of the rhythm session cooks like an incendiary device as Steve performs a consummate solo, utilizing his ridiculous chops and musical pumpitude. A true standout is Sweet Way (a tip of the hat to Dave Brubeck’s In Your Own Sweet Way), which is a groovy 5/4 cooker that brings to mind the Mundell Lowe-esque L.A. guitar sound of the late 1950s, replete with a contemporized perspective. Doxas drives everyone down the pike with an unwavering urgency – always making the right percussive choice – always listening and enhancing. 

Also intriguing is the sweet, folk-inspired Song for Nova Scotia – a heartwarming divergence, celebrating the Amirault brothers’ Yarmouth roots. Steve’s melodica and Greg’s guitar solo are perfect in their pristine simplicity. Other highlights include the bittersweet ballad, Meeting the Master, which is dedicated to the memory of the late, great John Abercrombie, featuring a moving and facile bass solo from Vedady and a solo guitar performance of Tad Dameron’s rarely performed classic, If You Could See Me Now. Greg’s brilliant interpretation invokes a hint of Jim Hall, and captures both the longing and hopefulness of the timeless lyric in a performance to remind us that Amirault is one of the most significant jazz guitarists/composers on the scene today.

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