epbanner2Volume 1 of The WholeNote EP Review covers guitarist/composer Kohen Hammond’s Fragments of Moments, and vocalist Laura Swankey’s Once More.

(For details on what this series will cover, and how to submit an EP for consideration for review, read an introduction to this project here.)

Fragments of Moments – Kohen Hammond

Fragments of MomentsFragments of Moments, the debut release from guitarist/composer Kohen Hammond, is another impressive recording to come out of the Humber College Studios in recent months. Fragments is similar, in a variety of ways, to Mingjia Chen’s recently released EP Feel Seen: both recordings are composition-led chamber-jazz outings that use a number of the same players. But, where Feel Seen is expansive and cinematic, Fragments is dark, introspective, and, well, also cinematic, albeit from a very different movie.

Fragments of Moments begins with “Serious Distance,” a contemplative, haunting piece, punctuated by dense chords and melodic cells, which are played in both the lower and upper registers (by reeds and strings, respectively). “Serious Distance” – with which Hammond won the Serge Garant 2017 SOCAN Young Composers Award – effectively sets the tone for Fragments’ six subsequent tracks, both in terms of mood and in terms of Hammond’s role throughout the proceedings. While Hammond is an accomplished instrumentalist, he only plays guitar on “Serious Distance” and “Haven’t Seen the Sunrise.” (On the latter, Hammond plays a lovely, ethereal introduction over a field recording of birdsong.) On the remaining five songs – the five-part suite “Used to Rhyme,” which uses text from the Toronto-based poet Nawi Moreno, whose words are spoken and sung by vocalist Mingjia Chen – Hammond contributes field recordings and electronics, though he doesn’t play guitar. The five sections of “Used to Rhyme” – “Play,” “Bridge,” “Language,” “Love,” and “Story” – are, like the first two tracks, assembled with a deft minimalist touch, eerily underscoring Chen’s evocative vocal delivery.

It takes remarkable restraint, as an instrumentalist newly graduated from a post-secondary music program, not to fill your debut release with all of the technical pyrotechnics you can muster; it takes something else entirely (maturity, confidence, a dedication to the craft of arranging) to allow your compositional convictions to dictate how much you will play, and not the other way around. (In this regard, a comparison can be made between Fragments of Moments and American guitarist Rafiq Bhatia’s recent release Breaking English, which affords a similar primacy to texture, orchestration, and composition over individual technical prowess.) On Fragments of Moments, Hammond has succeeded in creating a beautiful, cohesive artistic statement, by turns both ominous and comforting.

Fragments of Moments was released on August 23, 2018, and can be purchased at www.kohenhammond.bandcamp.com. To learn more about Kohen Hammond, visit www.kohenhammond.com.

Once More: for solo voice and electronics – Laura Swankey

Once MoreWhere Fragments draws on the capabilities of a chamber orchestra to create unexpected textural effects, vocalist Laura Swankey’s new EP – Once More: for solo voice and electronics – is, as the title suggests, an exploration of the depth and range of a single voice, and the expressionistic possibilities afforded by the various effects employed by Swankey over this EP’s 15-minute running time. Once More was recorded live-off-the-floor, which, for an improvising musician such as Swankey, who operates within an open, creative musical model, is perhaps not a surprise. What is notable about Once More, however, is that all of the sounds that the listener hears are being sung, looped, and otherwise triggered by Swankey in one continuous performance, rather than being overdubbed. This is significant for two reasons. The first: in much the same way that a straight-ahead jazz group might record live-off-the-floor, Swankey’s decision mirrors her live performance practice, giving a prominent place to spontaneity and improvisational subtlety. The second: it requires a high degree of technical sophistication – which Swankey has in no small supply, in both as a singer and as an effects operator – to pull off a performance of this type in a live setting; anyone who has spent any time with time-based effects knows how jarring it can be when a loop goes awry.

Once More’s first track, “You Need/ She Had A Garden,” begins with Swankey’s voice, reverb-soaked and on its own, singing a simple melody; the last note of the melody is then frozen, becoming a drone, as percussive elements are added in and the melody is restated. The song builds to a climax before quick, delayed sounds and ominous lower-pitched notes transition the listener to the next section, a rumbling, droning section featuring parallel vocal harmony over a lush harmonic backdrop. “Alone Now (liar),” the EP’s second track (but its third song – the first track really is two songs with an interesting transition) starts off with another percussive vocal part, before Swankey artfully layers in the melody and a variety of textural cells on top of the song’s stuttering 3/4 heartbeat. Although Once More is a project for solo voice and electronics, one of the EP’s most interesting features is that Swankey’s arranging choices are actually fairly traditional: melodies are stated and developed, harmony gradually becomes more complex, textures get denser, activity is balanced with passivity, and so on. What makes Once More special is that all of its musical features are being generated by one person – in a format that is both new and surprisingly accessible.

Once More: for solo voice and electronics was released on October 4, 2018, and can be purchased at https://lauraswankey.bandcamp.com. To learn more about Laura Swankey, visit https://soundcloud.com/lauraswankey.

Colin Story is a jazz guitarist, writer, and teacher based in Toronto. He can be reached through his website, on Instagram and on Twitter. For EP-related pitches, email him at epreview@thewholenote.com.

epbannerThe WholeNote EP Review will be a new online series dedicated to the celebration of the EP, a release format that has seen an increased presence in the creative music community over the past few years. For myriad reasons – logistical, financial, artistic – EP production is booming, and we’d like to pay this welcome trend the attention it deserves.

In Volume 1 of The WholeNote EP Review, we take a look at two local projects: vocalist/composer Mingjia Chen’s recent release Feel Seen, and bassist/composer Mark Godfrey’s upcoming EP, Prologue.

(For details on what this series will cover, and how to submit an EP for consideration for review, read an introduction to this project here.)

Feel SeenFeel Seen - Mingjia Chen

Feel Seen, the debut EP from vocalist/composer Mingjia Chen, is a brief marvel, both for its technical sophistication and for its expansive, cinematic mood. Accompanying Chen on this EP is the Tortoise Orchestra, a thirteen-piece chamber ensemble that she leads (and which is conducted, for this session, by Tom Upjohn). Feel Seen draws strongly on a creative chamber tradition that limns the border of jazz and classical music, and which has been a significant part of the Toronto improvised/creative music scene since the early 2000s; fans of the work of Andrew Downing, or of Christine Duncan (with whom Chen has studied) will recognize some familiar influences. What makes Feel Seen so satisfying, however, is the way in which Chen is able to synthesize these influences into a unique, modern style.

“I had a mouth once,” the first track on Feel Seen, begins with an urgent, lush rubato section that rises to a dramatic climax before the pulse kicks in. Chen, whose voice is tracked multiple times in complementary layers that are panned throughout the mix, tends to favour a frank, unaffected delivery that allows melodic content to shine. This is not to say, however, that it lacks colour; Chen has excellent dynamic control, both as a singer and composer. “Floatwalking,” the EP’s second track, celebrates the excitement of adventurous travel, and, fittingly, begins with a melody whistled in unison with the piano. With overtones of Aaron Copland, “Floatwalking” alternates between sections of 11/4 and 5/4, with percussive, pizzicato strings providing a rolling moment throughout the arrangement. “Friends,” the third track, features over 20 distinct voices speaking in monologue about love and friendship; the piece is assembled as something of a collage, with short snippets of each vocal recording overlaid on top of one another. “Friend,” the fourth (and final) track, begins simply, with Chen accompanied by solo piano before other instruments gradually creep in. “Friend” is close to double the length of any other track on Feel Seen, and Chen uses the space to great effect, patiently yoking together rich orchestration and evocative lyrical narrative.

Feel Seen would be a noteworthy achievement in the career of any musician, but as a debut release it is remarkable. Beautiful, mature and exceptionally coherent, it is well worth the listen.

Feel Seen was released on August 23, 2018. Check it out and purchase it at the following link: http://mingjia.bandcamp.com. Learn more about Mingjia Chen at www.mingjiamusic.com.

ProloguePrologue – Mark Godfrey

Bassist/composer Mark Godfrey has been a fixture on the Toronto jazz scene as a sideperson for the better part of ten years. A regular performer with Barbra Lica, Teri Parker, Joanna Majoko, the Toronto Jazz Orchestra and a host of other artists, he was awarded the Grand Prix de Jazz at the Montreal International Jazz Festival in 2014 as part of the co-led group Pram Trio. To those familiar with his credentials, it may come as something of a surprise that Prologue – a new EP featuring the talents of alto saxophonist Allison Au, pianist Chris Pruden and drummer Nick Fraser – is Godfrey’s debut release as a leader. The wait, however, is worth it: on Prologue, Godfrey presents a clear vision of communicative, modern jazz, which privileges melodic inventiveness and group interplay during even the most fiery moments (of which there are plenty).

Prologue begins with the title track, a solo bass piece that functions as an intro of sorts to the second song, “Scott’s Garden (Let Us Not Tarry).” It speaks to the nature of Godfrey’s project that the “Prologue” (the track) is an understated, melodic affair that patiently builds in intensity, rather than an unrestrained technical showcase. In a similar fashion, Au begins her solo on “Scott’s Garden” in duet with Fraser, further establishing a mood of exploration and creativity that runs through all of the music on Prologue. “La Lucha” features a beautiful solo from Pruden that begins in a sparse, impressionistic style, before building to a climax with Godfrey and Fraser before the transition to Au’s solo. “Departure,” a swinging, 3/4 song, is as close to a standard as Prologue gets; equal parts Bill Evans and early-2000s Mark Turner, it is also a tidy encapsulation of Godfrey’s compositional influences.

Prologue is an accomplished, well-balanced EP, with confident, generous playing from Godfrey, Au, Pruden and Fraser. Melodically and texturally captivating from beat one, it is notable both for its compositional inventiveness and for the high level of musical execution from all involved.

Prologue will be released on September 28, 2018, with an EP Release Show at The Rex. When the time comes, check it out and purchase it at the following link: https://markgodfrey.bandcamp.com. In the meantime, learn more about Mark Godfrey at www.markgodfreybass.com.

Colin Story is a jazz guitarist, writer, and teacher based in Toronto. He can be reached through his website, on Instagram and on Twitter. For EP-related pitches, email him at epreview@thewholenote.com.

As August gives way to September, change is in the air: students prepare to go back to school; t-shirts and shorts are replaced by sweaters and jeans; the grim spectre of responsibility, kept at bay by sunshine and patios, fixes its unforgiving grimace on us all once again. Here at The WholeNote, however, a new light has been lit to help you negotiate the coming months of darkness: The WholeNote EP Review.

“But what,” you might ask, “is The WholeNote EP Review?”

The WholeNote EP Review will be a new online series dedicated to the celebration of the EP, a release format that has seen an increased presence in the creative music community over the past few years. For myriad reasons – logistical, financial, artistic – EP production is booming, and we’d like to pay this welcome trend the attention it deserves.

“I’m confused,” you say. “I thought The WholeNote already did reviews, both in print and online. How is this different?”

You’re correct: The WholeNote publishes reviews of full-length albums, both in print and online. If you are releasing an album, please contact David Olds at DISCoveries (discoveries@thewholenote.com) and submit it for review. If you are releasing an EP, however, please submit it to me here, at epreview@thewholenote.com. Please note that your EP must be available online, in one form or another, for fans to purchase and/or stream.

“But,” you say, “My next project, while not a full-length album, is also not quite an EP. It may be a series of videos, or one long suite, which I have titled ‘Marigold.’ Also, what exactly does ‘creative music’ mean? It sounds deliberately vague.”

You’re correct again: the term “creative music” is deliberately vague, but only because we wish to cast a wide net. If you are releasing an EP or similar project featuring jazz, contemporary/classical, improvised music, new music, vocal, instrumental, electronic, or, really, anything that exists slightly left of the Billboard Hot 100, please send it in. All submissions will be considered, although not all will be selected.

“Excellent,” you say, beaming. “I will send in my project right away. What format do you prefer?”

Generally, we’d like to have a listen in advance of your release – though recently released EPs are also worth submitting! A private streaming playlist (on SoundCloud, for instance) works best; download links (on DropBox or other file-sharing services) can also work, although streaming is preferred. When in doubt, just contact us.

“Great,” you exclaim, smiling. “I’m excited, both as a musical artist and as a reader of The WholeNote.”

Glad to hear it! So are we.

Please send all submissions/questions/comments to epreview@thewholenote.com.

Colin Story is a jazz guitarist, writer and teacher based in Toronto. He can be reached at www.colinstory.com, on Instagram and on Twitter.

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