The first disc to cross my desk this month was one of a plethora of new releases from the Canadian Music Centre. Launched with a concert at the Enwave Theatre at the end of May, pianist Eve Egoyan's Simple Lines of Enquiry (Centrediscs CMCCD 14609) features a cycle of 12 interrelated pieces by Ann Southam. I had the pleasure of being at that concert and have enjoyed revisiting these works on the CD in the weeks since then. Unlike Southam's other piano cycles where we are presented with pieces of contrasting textures, dynamics and tempi, this evocative set encompasses variations on a single contemplative mood. The melodic material is likewise similar from movement to movement, all based on the tone row that has been the underlying cornerstone of Southam's music for several decades. While this might seem a recipe for boredom, if one is willing to relax and let the music take you away for an hour, there is a wonderful journey to be had here. With her patient attention to detail and willingness not to rush the space between the notes, Eve Egoyan is the perfect guide.
Arriving too late to find its way into the hands of one of our more bona fide jazz reviewers, bassist Mark Zubek's twentytwodollarfishlunch (Fresh Sound Records FSNT 323) was such a treat that I decided to tell you about it myself. Zubek is a Toronto native who has recently moved back home after studies at Boston's Berklee College, 10 years in New York performing and producing recordings, a number of world travels and collaborations with the likes of Betty Carter, Wynton Marsalis, Jack DeJohnette and Dave Holland. The quintet featured here includes Zubek on upright bass, Avishai Cohen trumpet, Mark Turner and Seamus Blake on tenor saxophones and Mark's brother Kevin Zubek on drums. All the tracks are originals composed by Zubek and original they are, notwithstanding the perceptible influence of Mingus, and perhaps surprising for a band without a keyboard, Monk and McCoy Tyner. The instrumentals are all hard edged post-bop compositions but there are three vocal tracks which show the influence of time spent producing singer/songwriters and rock recordings. But like the jazz tracks, there is nothing smooth here. The first time we hear Zubek's voice, it is through a megaphone in the song Paradox and curiously we are left with the impression of that distortion in the other vocals even in the absence of that mechanical device. Check www.markzubek.com for samples.
Another disc with which I felt right at home was Concours Molinari 2005/2006 (ATMA ACD2 2368) featuring the winners of the Molinari Quartet's third international composition competition. Guest jurors joining the members of the quartet were composers Isabelle Panneton and Serge Provost. Their daunting task was to select four winners from the 92 string quartet entries by composers under 40 received from 32 different countries. As in past years the results were truly international, with the first prize ($3,000) going to Kazutomo Yamamoto (Japan), second ($2,000) to José Luis Hurtado (Mexico), and a tie for third ($500 each) to Luca Antignani (Italy) and Stephen Yip (Hong Kong). To my ears this is "good old-fashioned" new music, uncompromising stuff which doesn't bow to recent trends of trying to befriend the listener. Personally I would have awarded the prizes in the reverse order, with Yip's more abrasive Yi Bi my preferred work. Kudos the Molinari quartet for their dedication to expanding the string quartet repertoire, and for reminding us that Western Art Music is alive and well in just about every corner of the earth.
Yalla Yalla is the latest offering from a different sort of string ensemble, Toronto's Sultans of String (www.sultansofstring.com). I won't say too much about this one because you can read all about a concert performance of the same material in Cathy Riches' blog. Produced by six-sting violinist (?!) Chris McKhool, the group which also features Kevin Laliberté and Eddie Paton on a host of guitars, Drew Birston on bass and Rosendo Chendy Léon on drums, effectively meshes traditional string-band sensibility with world music influences. Self described as "an energized adventure of Latin, Gypsy-jazz, Middle Eastern and folk rhythms, celebrating musical fusion and human creativity with warmth and virtuosity", the Sultans of String are all this and more as "Yalla Yalla" aptly demonstrates. McKhool and Laliberté share writing credits on most of the tunes, with a little help from Erik Satie and Pete Townsend along the way. Special guests in this eclectic mix include, among others, the vocals of Maryem Tollar, George Gao's erhu, Basham Bishara's oud, Andrew Collins' mandolin and a Cuban trumpet section. Evidently a good time was had by all!
The last disc I'll mention is the latest addition to the Centrediscs catalogue. Ming (CMCCD 14409) features works for solo percussion by Alice Ping Yee Ho. Beverley Johnston is featured on marimba and vibraphone in the dramatic and virtuosic Forest Rain, and a full array of percussion instruments on the title track. She is joined by the University of Toronto Percussion Ensemble on Kami, based on Japanese mythology and involving a host of vocalizations, and by the Penderecki String Quartet for Evolving Elements, where at some moments subdued pizzicato strings and at others strident bowing blend with marimba to produce some surprising effects. Much of Ho's music finds its inspiration in her Asian heritage and this is the case with Ming. The extended work develops out of quiet with Buddhist-like chanting through a variety of increasingly enervated gestures using pitched and unpitched instruments, ultimately culminating in a dramatic Peking Opera style cadenza replete with characteristic caterwauling before subsiding again into the original calm. This is an exhilarating addition to the discography of both Ms Johnston and Ms Ho.
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