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01 George CrumbGeorge Crumb Edition Volume 18
George Crumb
BRIDGE 9476 bridgerecords.com

Review

The following review is an excerpt from Editor's Corner (December 2017/January 2018) which can be read in its entirety here.

Last month a CD of late works by Elliott Carter gave me occasion to muse about the brushes with greatness I have been privileged with, thanks to my relationship with New Music Concerts. A new CD – Complete George Crumb Edition Volume 18 (BRIDGE 9476 bridgerecords.com) – gives me that opportunity once again. Although it seems more recent, I realize it has been more than a dozen years since George Crumb was last in Toronto as the guest of NMC. For several decades after NMC’s founding in 1971, a tradition developed that Crumb’s new works would receive their second performances in Toronto; in the case of the celebrated Idyll for the Misbegotten for amplified flute and three percussionists, dedicated to Robert Aitken, this city was the location of its world premiere. That tradition continued in 2003 when the composer’s daughter Ann Crumb sang the Canadian premiere of the recently composed …Unto the Hills, Songs of Sadness, Yearning and Innocence, with the New Music Concerts ensemble.

On that occasion it was my great pleasure to spend several days in the company of the 74-year-old composer and his family. In the intervening years Crumb has not slowed down much, as this disc attests, with a new work from 2012 – The Yellow Moon of Andalusia, Spanish Songbook III for Mezzo-Soprano and Amplified Piano – and recently revised versions of 1979’s Celestial Mechanics, Cosmic Dances for Amplified Piano, Four Hands and Yesteryear, A Vocalise for Mezzo-Soprano, Amplified Piano and Percussion originally written in 2005. Central to the disc is a 2001 composition, Eine Kleine Mitternachtmusik, A Little Midnight Music, Ruminations on ‘Round Midnight by Thelonious Monk for Amplified Piano, a nine-movement tribute to both Monk and Mozart performed by Marcantonio Barone. Amplification is one of the key elements of Crumb’s music, not to make it louder per se, but to make audible some of the subtle effects that the performers are called upon to execute, be it whistle tones on a flute or plucked notes or pedalled washes of harmonics inside the piano. This is very much a part of the Mitternachtmusik, along with other Crumb signature sounds and techniques, from dramatic knocks on the piano’s frame to shimmering glissandi on the strings, gentle melodies juxtaposed with brash interjections – veritable explosions of sound – and vocalizations from the pianist. Crumb’s characteristically descriptive movement titles include Cobweb and Peaseblossom; Incantation; Golliwog Revisited (with a nod to Debussy) and Cadenza with Tolling Bells.

There is another personal connection for me on this recording. The soprano in the two vocal works is Tony Arnold, who performed a stunning rendition of György Kurtág’s Kafka Fragments with violinist Movses Pogossian for New Music Concerts at Gallery 345 last season. Arnold is no stranger to Crumb’s music – she received a Grammy nomination for her performance of Ancient Voices of Children – and is in fact the dedicatee of Yesteryear. That title was inspired by a line from François Villon, “Mais où sont les neiges d’antan,” rendered most famously into English by Dante Gabriel Rosetti as “But where are the snows of yesteryear?,” a line declaimed and later whispered in the original archaic French toward the end of the 11-minute work. As the composer’s preface tells us, “the singer is vainly searching for her lost youth and beauty and laments their inevitable erosion by the relentless passage of time.” There is some ritual involved in the performance, as is often the case in Crumb’s music. In this instance, over the duration of the piece the singer moves between nine stations – spread around the concert hall in the original version but restricted to the stage in the 2013 revision.

Both Yesteryear and The Yellow Moon of Andalusia are first recordings. In the latter, Crumb returns to the poetry of Federico García Lorca, which has been the inspiration for many of his works since the 1960s, including the above-mentioned Ancient Voices of Children. While the earlier works used the original Spanish, here Crumb sets English translations of the poems. The comprehensive booklet includes both the originals and the translations. We have to thank Bridge Records for their thoroughness, not only in the preparation of this recording, which also includes the piano duo Quattro Mani and percussionists David Nelson and William Kerrigan, but for undertaking such an exhaustive catalogue of works by one of the unique voices of our time.

02 Jordan PalInto the Wonder
Jordan Pal, Gryphon Trio, Thunder Bay Symphony Orchestra, Arthur Post
AN 2 9521 analekta.com

Review

The following review is an excerpt from Editor's Corner (December 2017/January 2018) which can be read in its entirety here.

I am pleased to note that this month we have reviews of four Analekta discs, and that they all feature contemporary (or at least 20th-century in the case of André Mathieu) composers. I point this out because although this Quebec label is highly respected for its releases, for the most part they stick to more conventionally classical repertoire, even though some of their artists are renowned for their commitment to contemporary music. The Gryphon Trio has been a major “exception to this rule.” The Gryphon’s 19-title discography includes half a dozen Analekta releases of contemporary music, so kudos to them. The most recent of these is Into the Wonder (AN 2 9521 analekta.com), on which they join the Thunder Bay Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Arthur Post to perform the music of Jordan Pal. Described by Ludwig van Toronto as “the country’s current it-boy composer,” at 34, Pal is currently the RBC affiliate composer of the Toronto Symphony and his music has been performed by every significant orchestra across Canada.

Starling – Triple concerto for violin, cello, piano and orchestra was commissioned by the Gryphon Trio and the Thunder Bay Symphony in 2013. It is a scintillating work in three movements, opening with an orchestral flourish that develops into a 15-minute flight, a “murmuration” with only brief moments of respite, mostly in the form of lyrical cadenzas from the solo trio. It is exhilarating how Pal sustains the momentum throughout. The Largo second movement begins in dark brass timbres that once again give way to gorgeously lyrical passages from the soloists, especially in the cello lines. But one word of caution, or at least a cautionary tale for me. Many years ago I discovered how close the sound of a cello can be to that of a saxophone when I first heard Kabalevsky’s Cello Concerto No.2. About midway through, the solo cello gives way to an alto saxophone cadenza so seamlessly that it takes several seconds for the ear to recognize what has just gone on. I had a similar experience when I first listened to Starling, which I did on small computer speakers. I was convinced I was hearing saxophone at several points in the recording and emailed Pal to ask if this was the case because I did not see any saxophonists credited in the list of orchestra members. He assured me that he had not included saxophone in the instrumentation and subsequent listening on proper speakers has confirmed this. That’s why I make a point of listening on my stereo system before passing judgement on discs – basic computer systems simply don’t provide accurate sound. The finale, Presto – Electric and Wild is simply that, a moto perpetuo once again reminiscent of a thousand starlings soaring and swirling together in the sky.

I think I will let the composer speak for himself about the title piece, also commissioned by the TBSO, which at half an hour comprises just under half of the disc. “Into the Wonder celebrates the creative will of our universe. Evoking birth and death, creation and destruction, universal interconnectedness and the rapture of love, this piece seeks to capture the mystery, awe and wonder of life. Nature’s own great works of art are reminders that we are a part of this magnificent range of possibilities, that we are part of something much greater. This symphony celebrates all that is beautiful.” Is this simply the naïve vision of a young man couched in slick orchestral finery? This is certainly not “new music” in the sense of Carter or Crumb, but it is genuinely attractive, well-crafted and brilliantly executed. Does it succeed in its aspirations? I welcome you to judge for yourselves.

04 Dubeau RichterPortrait: Max Richter
Angèle Dubeau and La Pietà
Analekta AN 2 8745

Review

The following review is an excerpt from Strings Attached (December 2017/January 2018) which can be read in its entirety here.

Angèle Dubeau and La Pietà are back with another CD in their Portrait series, this time featuring music by Max Richter, who has been particularly active in film, theatre and television (Analekta AN 2 8745).

Previous Portrait CDs featured Philip Glass, Arvo Pärt, John Adams and Ludovico Einaudi, and Dubeau says that the more she listens to composers gravitating around the minimalist movement the more she wants to interpret their music: “I enjoy the moments of introspection that these works bring.”

Those moments are possibly the result of the lack of any real development: each of the 16 short pieces here (15 are less than five minutes) essentially sets a mood and keeps it, with little opportunity for anything other than “Here’s an idea…”

Apart from the really lovely Mercy for solo violin and piano, and Winter II, recomposed by Richter from Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons, all tracks are arrangements by François Vallières and Dubeau of pieces from Richter’s solo albums Memoryhouse, The Blue Notebooks – Disconnect, Songs From Before and From Sleep, the films Waltz with Bashir and Perfect Sense, and the television scores for The Leftovers and Black Mirror-Nosedive.

As always, playing and recording standards are absolutely top-notch. It’s essentially easy, pleasant – and, yes, introspective – listening that will be warmly welcomed by Dubeau’s many regular admirers.

05 Nune MelikHidden Treasure: Rediscovered Music from Armenia
Nuné Melik, Michel-Alexandres Broekaert
DOM Forlane FOR 16886 domdisques.com

Review

The following review is an excerpt from Strings Attached (December 2017/January 2018) which can be read in its entirety here.

Violinist Nuné Melik makes an impressive recording debut with the CD Hidden Treasure: Rediscovered Music from Armenia with pianist Michel-Alexandres Broekaert (DOM Forlane FOR 16886 domdisques.com).

Born in Siberia of Armenian/Georgian/Jewish heritage, Melik moved to Montreal in 2009 and began to explore the music of composers from her upbringing; this recital program grew out of the resulting Hidden Treasure project. Judging by her playing here, it’s clearly been an emotional and rewarding journey.

The central work on the disc is the Violin Sonata in B-flat Minor by Arno Babadjanian, written in Russia in 1959 and criticized as “formalist” by the Soviet authorities. Babadjanian’s close friend Dmitri Shostakovich thought highly of it, and his influence is clearly felt; there are hints of Prokofiev in the slow movement, too.

Lovely short pieces by Komitas Vardapet, Aram Khachaturian and Alexander Spendiarian complete the disc. There’s passionate, rhapsodic playing from Melik and sympathetic support from Broekaert, who also has a short solo.

06 Fewer KnoxJ.S. Bach: Sonatas for Violin and Harpsichord BWV 1014-1019
Mark Fewer, Hank Knox
Leaf Music LM 216

Review

The following review is an excerpt from Strings Attached (December 2017/January 2018) which can be read in its entirety here.

J.S. Bach: Sonatas for Violin and Harpsichord BWV 1014-1019 with violinist Mark Fewer and Hank Knox (Leaf Music LM 216) is the third set of these works I’ve received in recent years, following the outstanding releases from Catherine Manson and Ton Koopman (harpsichord) and the Duo Concertante pairing of Nancy Dahn and Timothy Steeves (piano).

Although there is accomplished playing here the harpsichord is prominent and rather heavy, and its lack of dynamic range tends to give the performances a somewhat mechanical feel, with the violin sounding more like a separate voice than an integrated partner. Koopman’s sound is much softer and much more attuned to Manson’s playing.

There are occasional significant differences in interpretation too, notably in the Adagio of the F minor sonata, where Fewer – unlike Manson and Dahn – opts to separate and shorten the eighth note double-stops.

As always, it comes down to personal taste. If you prefer these works strong and bright and with harpsichord there is much here you will enjoy, although Manson and Koopman and Duo Concertante both offer more sensitive readings.

11 Madeleine MitchellViolin Muse
Madeleine Mitchell
Divine Art dda 25160

Review

The following review is an excerpt from Strings Attached (December 2017/January 2018) which can be read in its entirety here.

On Violin Muse the British violinist Madeleine Mitchell presents a program of world premiere recordings of works by British composers (Divine Art dda 25160).

The major work here is the two-movement Violin Concerto “Soft Stillness” by Welsh composer Guto Pryderi Puw, commissioned by Mitchell and heard in a live BBC Radio recording from 2016. It’s an effective piece, with Mitchell accompanied by the BBC National Orchestra of Wales under Edwin Outwater.

Mitchell is joined by Cerys Jones in Judith Weir’s delightful Atlantic Drift – Three pieces for two violins, based on Gaelic folk tunes.

Pianist Nigel Clayton is the accompanist in the remaining works: Geoffrey Poole’s Rhapsody; David Matthews’ Romanza Op.119a; Sadie Harrison’s lovely Aurea Luce; Michael Berkeley’s Veilleuse; and Michael Nyman’s Taking it as Read.

There’s excellent playing throughout by all concerned.

01 David JalbertStravinski – Prokofiev Pétrouchka, L’oiseau de feu, Roméo et Juliette – Transcriptions pour piano
David Jalbert
ATMA Classique ACD2 2684

Review

The following review is an excerpt from Keyed In (December 2017/January 2018) which can be read in its entirety here.

David Jalbert already has five recordings in the ATMA catalogue. His newest is Stravinski – Prokofiev Pétrouchka, L’oiseau de feu, Roméo et Juliette – Transcriptions pour piano (ATMA Classique ACD2 2684). It shows why he’s considered one of the younger generation’s finest pianists. His performance of Danse russe from Pétrouchka explodes into being with astonishing speed and alacrity. Jalbert possesses a sweeping technique that exudes ease and persuasive conviction.

The three extracts from L’Oiseau de feu require, and Jalbert obviously has it, complete command of the keyboard for the Danse that begins the set. Equally demanding is the introspection necessary for the following Berceuse. The Finale builds to a colossal orchestral finish that loses nothing in this transcription for piano.

According to the disc’s informative liner notes, the ten pieces from Prokofiev’s ballet Romeo and Juliet Op.75 are from Prokofiev’s original piano score, and owing to the composer’s facility with the instrument, are highly idiomatic. One of the set’s most engaging pieces is The Montagues and the Capulets, driven rhythmically by its relentless bassline. Jalbert has a complete understanding of these three stage works and the contemporary language their composers used to tell their stories.

02 MathieuAndré Mathieu – Concerto No.3
Alain Lefèvre, JoAnn Falletta, Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra
Analekta AN 2 9299

Review

The following review is an excerpt from Keyed In (December 2017/January 2018) which can be read in its entirety here.

Alain Lefèvre has recorded an intriguing work with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra under Joann Falletta: André Mathieu – Concerto No.3 (Analekta AN 2 9299). Written at age 13 while marooned with his family in North America by the outbreak of WWII, unable to return to France where he had been studying on a scholarship from the Quebec government, the work was intended to launch Mathieu’s career with the influential decision makers of the New York music scene. Unfortunately, not much came of it until 1946, when a newly created Quebec production company approached Mathieu for the rights to use his Concerto No.3 in a film (La Forteresse/Whispering City) to be shot entirely in Quebec. As things turned out, only major portions of the second movement were used in the film score. Until recently, this had been the only record of the work. Mathieu himself recorded it in 1947, and this same version, revised by Marc Bélanger, was recorded by Philippe Entremont in 1977 and made famous by Alain Lefèvre in 2003. Eventually renamed the Concerto de Québec, the recording by Jean-Philippe Sylvestre with the Orchestre Métropolitain and conductor Alain Trudel was reviewed here in October.

In 2008 the original autograph score for two pianos was discovered in Ottawa. Since then, composer and conductor Jacques Marchand has prepared a critical edition that is faithful to the original manuscript. This is its first full recording. It has all the sweeping gestures of its period and a devilishly difficult piano part. Lefèvre’s performance at the keyboard is masterful. He and the BPO perform the work with astonishing authenticity, restoring a fascinating chapter to Canadian music history of that period.

04 Piano a deuxFrance Revisited: Music by Onslow, Debussy and Poulenc
Piano à Deux
Divine Art dda 25132

Review

The following review is an excerpt from Keyed In (December 2017/January 2018) which can be read in its entirety here.

Robert and Linda Ang Stoodley style themselves as Piano à Deux. Their new disc, France Revisited – Music by Onslow, Debussy and Poulenc (Divine Art dda 25132) is an example of piano four hands performance at its very best. One of the disc’s many treats is the appearance of music by George Onslow. Because his oeuvre is largely for chamber strings, his very few piano works tend to be overlooked. The unique voice of this 19th-century composer is deeply intriguing as heard in the Sonata for Piano Four Hands No.1 in E Minor Op.7. It’s surprisingly forward looking despite its early catalogue entry.

Petite Suite delivers all the rich impressionistic orchestrations with which we associate Claude Debussy, and Piano à Deux are consistently excellent in how they portray the composer’s lightly programmatic intent.

The duo has also transcribed the Poulenc Chansons de l’amour et de la guerre, and done so with a gifted ear that preserves the wistful nostalgia that Poulenc infused into each song.

06 MathiesonJohann Mattheson 12 Suites for Harpsichord
Gilbert Rowland
Athene ath 23301.1 divineartrecords.com

Review

The following review is an excerpt from Keyed In (December 2017/January 2018) which can be read in its entirety here.

Harpsichordist Gilbert Rowland has completed a substantial project with his recording Johann Mattheson 12 Suites for Harpsichord (Athene ath 23301.1 divineartrecords.com). The three-disc set is a valuable document shedding some light on the music of a hitherto obscure composer. Mattheson was a contemporary of Handel and came to know him well as a friend and colleague. He is said to have written numerous operas, oratorios, sacred works and music for organ. Most of these manuscripts were kept in Hamburg, where Mattheson lived and worked for much of his life. Allied bombing of the city during WWII destroyed most of the Mattheson documents, leaving little for modern scholars to study. Fortunately, the 12 Suites for Harpsichord, dating from 1714, have survived. They are well-conceived mature works written in the French dance suite style. Rowland plays a 2005 copy of a French instrument from 1750 by Goermans.

07 Operatic PianistThe Operatic Pianist II
Andrew Wright
Divine Art dda 25153 divineartrecords.com

Review

The following review is an excerpt from Keyed In (December 2017/January 2018) which can be read in its entirety here.

Andrew Wright has recorded a second disc in his series of operatic transcriptions, The Operatic Pianist II (Divine Art dda 25153 divineartrecords.com). Opera transcriptions were, in their day, the equivalent of pop song covers. They also provided travelling pianists with ample popular repertoire for performance. Liszt may be the best-known contributor to the form, although a great many composers dabbled in the genre. Wright clearly has a wonderful working grasp of this repertoire and knows how to bring forward the vocal line as well as how to portray the orchestral colour that any given emotional moment requires. His playing is consistently fabulous, whether he’s pounding out Liszt’s Rienzi Fantasy or Saint-Saëns’ Concert Paraphrase on Thaïs. It’s easy to understand how these transcriptions achieved “hit” status in the time before the gramophone and digital access to opera performances.

08 Janacek BachJanáček, Bach - In concert
Misuzu Tanaka
Concertant Classics CD PR201601 concertantclassics.com

Review

The following review is an excerpt from Keyed In (December 2017/January 2018) which can be read in its entirety here.

Misuzu Tanaka has, at first blush, twinned a pair of unlikely composers in her new release, Janáček, Bach - In concert (Concertant Classics CD PR201601 concertantclassics.com). She admits, however, that in the process of the recording she discovered that both were having the same effect on her. Tanaka’s performance of the Bach Partita No.6 in E Minor BWV 830 reveals her strict adherence to the perfection of Bach’s structure. It also uncovers the emotional richness of the minor key. This last consideration is where she makes the link to Janáček. His Moravian heritage and his links to Czech folk music are reflected in the emotional content of On an Overgrown Path, Books 1 and 2. Minor keys are prevalent. Melancholy is pervasive. In its own way, this shared feature is, for Tanaka, the point of connection.

Tanaka approaches Janáček with an intent to uncover the inspired simplicity of his music. She moves through the numerous parts of Books 1 and 2 with thoughtful deliberation, capturing the essence of the composer’s evocative titles: Words Fail, Unutterable Anguish, In Tears, for example. Her playing is as perfect for Janáček as it is for Bach. What a wonderfully unlikely pair.

02 LuxLux
Choeur de l’eglise St. Andrew and St. Paul; Jean-Sébastian Vallée
ATMA ACD2 2771

Review

While this CD obviously represents a Christmas disc, it is rather more than that. The program is anchored by modern arrangements of traditional carols such as Once in Royal David’s City and O Come All Ye Faithful. But much of the material is more adventurous and many pieces were composed only recently. Of particular interest is In the Bleak Midwinter, a setting of a poem by Christina Rossetti. Singers and their audiences will be familiar with this piece either in the setting of Harold Darke or in the much finer one by Gustav Holst. But this CD gives us a contemporary alternative by the Welsh composer Paul Mealor. That anthem is very fine, as are a number of others. An older kind of music is represented in the songs of Mendelssohn and Herbert Howells.

The Choir of the Church of St. Andrew and St. Paul, a Montreal church, is an impressive body of 45 singers, in part professional, in part amateur. I recognized two names: that of the lead baritone Nathaniel Watson, whom we have often heard in Toronto, and that of the alto Duncan Campbell, who is the son of the soprano Kathryn Domoney and the baritone David Campbell. The choice of material is adventurous. It achieves the rare feat of presenting traditional Christmas music but also so much more than that.

08 Patrick CarrabreCrazy - Songs by T. Patrick Carrabré
Naomi Forman; Mary Jo Carrabré
Winter Wind Records WWR 2017-01 (tpatrickcarrabre.com)

Review

In his song cycle Crazy, T. Patrick Carrabré, dean of music at Brandon University, explores “border territory… mental illness or other demons” afflicting “composers who have lost their grounding in the ecstasy and anguish that is creativity.”

The first three songs – Death, Murder and Lust – reveal Carrabré having something powerful to say and not at all timid about saying it. His wife, pianist Mary Jo Carrabré, inhabits the keyboard’s left half, reinforcing the songs’ darkness while supporting the passionate vocalism of soprano Naomi Forman. Composer Carrabré adds what I consider unnecessarily intrusive electronics and percussion; the bass-heavy piano alone would have been more appropriate for the songs’ stark beauty.

The sombre mood changes with the fourth song, Burnt, evoking Spanish guitar music. Things go much further afield in the final song, Pain, a wailing rock song over the relentless loud thump of electronic dance music. An additional, speakers-bursting EDM “Audiation Remix” of Pain ends the CD, which also includes a stand-alone song, The Garden, for soprano and piano, thankfully sans electronics.

I’m mystified by Carrabré’s jolting venture into rock; the other songs display a genuine expressive talent that belongs in the concert hall, not the rock-concert arena.

At only 32 minutes, this CD left me wanting to hear more of Carrabré’s “classical” works (I’d previously heard only one), but glad to have heard the five non-rock songs. The texts, by Rilke, Tasso, Goethe, García Lorca and Marvell, are available, with translations, on the composer’s website.

02 Encount3rsEncount3rs
National Arts Centre Orchestra; Alexander Shelley
Analekta AN 2 8871-2 (analekta.com)

Review

This past April, three new abstract ballets (lacking storylines), each lasting about half an hour, premiered at Ottawa’s National Arts Centre. This 2CD set presents their scores, created by three Canadian composers already-prominent in their 30s and 40s.

According to Phi, Caelestis choreographer Jean Grand-Maître, “Ten seemingly nude dancers” perform “a whirlwind of raw, emotional, primal and often erotic gestures before a backdrop of contrasting aesthetics.” The first movement of Andrew Staniland’s atmospheric score is steadily motoric; the next two are slow and solemn, creating the intended striking contrast between the dancing and the music.

Nicole Lizée’s colourful orchestral score for Keep Driving, I’m Dreaming utilizes “archaic” electronic devices, including turntables and reel-to-reel machines. It’s a collage of many stylistically unrelated episodes, with bits of pop music and science-fiction sound effects. The audience members, if not the dancers, were probably kept on their toes, wondering what they would hear next.

Dark Angels, writes choreographer Guillaume Coté, reflects “the resistance and struggle that one can experience living in new territory.” Kevin Lau says his score “resembles a symphony in scope and form,” beginning and ending with a “hammer” of six repeated notes. It’s surely more symphonic than balletic, in three connected sections – a powerful Allegro, a slow middle highlighting a heartfelt cello solo and a propulsive, percussion-heavy finale.

Alexander Shelley and the NAC Orchestra give these disparate, attention-grabbing-and-holding scores the committed, high-energy performances they richly deserve.

03 Ben ReimerKatana of Choice
Ben Reimer
Redshift Records TK456 (redshiftrecords.org)

Review

Virtuoso Montreal percussionist Ben Reimer has made a name for himself as a leading drum soloist, shredding works by elder statesmen of the jazz drumset (Baby Dodds, Tony Williams), as well as works by leading art music composers such as Nicole Lizée and Lukas Ligeti. Reimer reinforces that reputation in Katana of Choice his inaugural album (available on vinyl and digital download).

Reimer puts his cards on the table in Drum Dances by New Zealand composer John Psathas (b. 1966), the first four tracks on the album. Arranged by Ben Duinker, these sleekly crafted pieces, framed by the brilliant keyboard percussionism of Montreal’s Architek Percussion Quartet, are an apt frame for Reimer’s abundant technique and musicality.

The intense Ringer by Nicole Lizée – found only on the digital version of the album – is a tour de force for drumset soloist. Vernacular drum references are handled with sensitivity by both composer and performer, notwithstanding the aggressive pairing of high-octave glockenspiel melodies and high-frequency, high-hat rhythms.

The lengthy Katana of Choice, also by Lizée and featuring the accomplished TorQ Percussion Quartet, is perhaps the most ambitious work on the recording. Reimer’s drumming here is fully incorporated into the ensemble texture. The work is inspired by duel-based narrative video games and wuxia martial arts films, as the composer’s notes state. The music moves unrelentingly from one imaginary scene to another “with unexpected twists in which [musicians] trade off, pushing one another technically and sonically.” Katana of Choice is an exhilarating musical ride – as is the entire album.

04 Poems DancesPoems and Dreams
Rebecca Jeffreys; Alexander Timofeev
Independent (rebeccajeffreys.com)

Review

Flutist Rebecca Jeffreys, though not well known in this part of the world, has accomplished a great deal as a performer, teacher and music director. She was a founding director and member of Virginia’s Woodbridge Flute Choir, teaches privately in Peperell, Massachusetts near Boston and at St. Anselm College in New Hampshire, and performs with guitarist, Mike Loce. On this CD she premieres the work of five contemporary composers, ably accompanied by pianist, Alexander Timofeev. The notes make it clear that Jeffreys has a personal connection with most if not all of the composers. For example, composer Kevin Walker is the owner of the recording studio where the recording was made, and was co-executive producer of the CD with Jeffreys. The CD also makes it apparent that Jeffreys is part of a lively and creative musical circle, from which, I hope, there will be more to come.

Of the five, the works which stood out for me were the second movement of Jeffrey Hoover’s Romantic Sonata – Poems of Light, with its lyrical writing for both instruments, and Walker’s Flute Suite in D Major, a very accomplished piece of work. Adrienne Albert’s Acadian Dreams utilized Cajun music and was a tribute to Jeffreys’ father’s Acadian ancestry. It is encouraging to see evidence like this of a vibrant music culture hidden from view in the United States. May it continue to prosper.

01 dogs breakfast hrDog’s Breakfast
Barry Elmes Quintet
Cornerstone Records CRST CD 147 (cornerstonerecords.com)

Review

Drummer Barry Elmes first formed his quintet in 1991, and through the years it’s been a showcase for Canada’s finest proponents of mainstream modern jazz as well as the leader’s engaging compositions. Through the years, the group has had few personnel changes, adding to its sense of a collective personality.

The latest incarnation establishes its authority immediately with a performance of Freddie Hubbard’s Little Sunflower, a modal anthem of the 60s imbued here with new vigour, from bassist Steve Wallace’s pulsing ostinato through a string of sharply focused solos from trumpeter Brian O’Kane, guitarist Lorne Lofsky and tenor saxophonist Mike Murley, all of it carried along by Elmes’ secure and lively drumming which comes to the fore at the conclusion.

The material is divided between Elmes’ recent compositions and jazz standards. The former includes the witty title track, a subtle cool jazz episode that could readily substitute for a Mancini movie theme, while the floating Terminal 2 and the funky Pierre Berton’s Pig bring distinctly Toronto inspirations to the proceedings. The absolute highlights, though, are two standards. Murley brings a fine balance of silk, grit and lyricism to Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most, while Lofsky’s touch is unerring, compounding a glassy electric guitar sound with a striking melodic conception on Beautiful Love, a sustained trio performance with Wallace and Elmes that makes one hope for a CD devoted to the three.

03 TurbopropREV
Ernesto Cervini’s Turboprop
Anzic Records ANZ-0089-2 (ernestocervini.com)

Review

In 2015, entrepreneur, composer and drummer Ernesto Cervini introduced his North American Sextet, Turboprop, featuring a cross-section of noted contemporary jazz musicians, including Tara Davidson on alto and soprano sax, Joel Frahm on tenor, William Carn on trombone, Adrean Farrugia on piano and Dan Loomis on bass. Their debut self-titled CD was a huge success.

Cervini and company’s brand-new offering includes five original pieces (two composed by Cervini – who also acts as producer here), two pop covers and one vintage Tin-Pan-Alley-era jazz standard. The project is also masterfully recorded by John “Beetle” Bailey, capturing all of the dynamism and excitement of a live performance, and mixed on the hot side, with a definite New York City sensibility.

Farrugia is without question one of the most extraordinarily talented young jazz pianist/composers on the scene today, and his composition The Libertine is a perfect opener for REV. The tune kicks things off with a tasty drum intro from Cervini, followed by seamless section work and non-Euclidean penetrating lines, rife with dynamics and sonic colours, as well as a complex and percussive piano solo by Farrugia and burning tenor work from Frahm. Another standout is Cervini’s Granada Bus, which strives to capture the essence of Spain, and shines with a stirring solo on soprano from Davidson.

Other strong contributions include the full-throttle, post-bop title track, Radiohead’s The Daily Mail, featuring a stellar bass solo from Loomis, and the swinging and soulful Med Flory-ish Pennies From Heaven. Truly something for everyone!

The Greatest Invention
Harley Card
Independent DYM003 (harleycard.ca)

Hypnagogia Polis
Simon Legault; Jules Payette; Andrew Boudreau; Adrian Vedady; Louis-Vincent Hamel
Effendi Records FND146 (effendirecords.com)

Two new and strikingly different albums by Canadian jazz guitarists demonstrate the health and diversity of that instrument in this country. 

Review

04a Harley Card

Harley Card has been active in the Toronto music scene since 2003 as a sideman, composer, teacher and bandleader. The Greatest Invention is the third album under his own name and features Card on guitar with Jon Maharaj (bass), Matt Newton (piano), David French (saxophone) and Ethan Ardelli (drums). The “invention” is the bicycle and the album opens with the title tune, containing a repeating riff reminiscent of spinning gears or wheels. The orchestration is sophisticated, with Card’s guitar and French’s resonant tenor saxophone weaving throughout most of the piece, sometimes in harmony, other times with alternating melodies while the drums and piano punctuate the piece with their own counterpoint. This initial song sets the tone for the album, which highlights Card’s compositional skills. The song is four and a half minutes but the only solo (guitar) lasts 90 seconds; the rest is intricate ensemble playing.

Card’s liner notes add insight to our listening and he mentions studying with Phil Nimmons, an influence that is heard throughout. It is a treat to listen to a jazz album that develops compositional and ensemble ideas at length rather than the more typical head/solo(s)/head structure. The most ambitious piece is The Shadows of Shea Pines, which is almost nine minutes with three movements. It begins with a slow saxophone and acoustic guitar ballad (with a touch of Epistrophy) then moves into smooth jazz and finishes with a melodic bossa nova-inspired section.

04b Simon LegaultHypnagogia Polis is Montreal guitarist Simon Legault’s third album and the first with a quintet. Hypnogogia is the transitional state from wakefulness to sleep and many of the songs have a hypnotic, luminescent quality. The opening Aethereal Spheres begins with a wickedly tight ostinato pattern set up by the piano (Andrew Boudreau) and bass (Adrian Vedady). Then the saxophone (Jules Payette) and guitar enter with a contrapuntal unison melody while Louis-Vincent Hamel’s drums underpin the action. This sophisticated playfulness permeates the album. Euphemized Blues has a groovy lilting melody which loops around several times before Legault takes off on one of his lyrical and swirling solos.

Legault’s album benefits from the virtuosity of the soloists. The tunes are inventive and reminiscent of Metheny or Scofield, but the highlights are the freewheeling improvisations, particularly with Legault’s fleet lines and Payette’s wailing and lyrical sax. Boudreau adds some fine piano work as well and it all makes for a clever and sophisticated disc.

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