08_Handel_piano.jpgHandel - Keyboard Suites 2
Philip Edward Fisher
NAXOS 8.573397

Review

The following is an excerpt from Keyed In (September 2015) which can be read in its entirety here.

British pianist Philip Edward Fisher has now followed his first recording of Handel’s keyboard music with a second instalment, Handel Keyboard Suites 2 (NAXOS 8.573397). Fisher brings a balanced sensibility to this performance, having decided clearly where he will draw the line at expressive keyboard techniques. Having been written for the harpsichord, no dynamics would have been contemplated by the composer, but Fisher introduces them with subtlety and respect. The result is very satisfying. His freedom with tempi and crisp ornamental figures adds even more to the richness of the music. Handel might have been very pleased to hear this approach. Suite No.7 in G Minor contains an especially lovely and mellow Andante as well as a couple of fast movements delightful for their articulation. The fugue in the second movement of Suite No.8 is far more full-sounding on the piano than it ever could be on the harpsichord. Fisher’s performance is refreshing and his future releases worth following.

01_Rossini_La_Gazza.jpgRossini – La gazza ladra
Moreno; Tarver; Regazzo; Praticò; Rewerski; Mastrototaro; Islam-Ali-Zade; Virtuosi Brunensis; Alberto Zedda
Naxos 8.660369-71

Review

According to the draconian laws of medieval France a servant girl was condemned to death for stealing a silver fork from her employers. She is rescued just in the nick of time however because, as it turns out, a magpie was the real culprit. The opera written by the 25-year-old Rossini is full of melodic invention, intense dramatic situations and opportunities for the voices of some seven principals. First performed in 1817 it has remained in the repertoire ever since.

This new live recording from Germany’s Wildbad festival fits in nicely with Naxos’ project of the complete 39 operas of Rossini and for this I personally thanked Klaus Heymann, founder and CEO of Naxos at the time of his Toronto visit. From the ominous rattle of the kettle drums of the famous Overture, conducted with a delightful lilt by the 84-year-old Rossini authority, Alberto Zedda, he makes the whole opera throb with life in beautifully pointed rhythms, skilful pacing, breathtaking suspense (in the Trial scene) and exhilaration in the finale when the silver spoon is finally found at the top of the belfry in the magpie’s nest.

The opera gets into its high gear when the virtuoso basso, Gottardo the evil mayor, gets into the act. Here Lorenzo Regazzo, possibly today’s best, rises to the challenge in the role that made Samuel Ramey famous. In the famous prison scene Regazzo brought the roof down in Pesaro, where even the Italians gave him a standing ovation. The innocent victim, Ninetta, is sung endearingly with some shattering high notes by Spanish soprano Maria Jose Moreno, while her lover, American tenor Kenneth Tarver, copes heroically with the hair-raising high tessitura. The four remaining principals all have their moments to shine, but we mustn’t forget the magpie, a real bird as in most Italian productions, asserting his presence loudly at crucial moments.

04_Pieczonka.jpgAdrianne Pieczonka sings Strauss; Wagner
Adrianne Pieczonka; Brian Zeger
Delos DE 3474

Review

The songs by Richard Strauss, some of the most beloved solo vocal compositions in the repertoire (next to Mahler’s), come with an almost-insurmountable caveat: They have been recorded sublimely by Elisabeth Schwarzkopf with Gerald Moore on piano. Those reference recordings are still capable of defeating any artist and Pieczonka must acknowledge their supremacy. So rather than dwell on comparisons, let’s judge this recording on its own merits.

First things first, Pieczonka is one of the best Wagnerian singers of our era. She proves that with Wesendonck-Lieder, a poetic account of Wagner’s infidelity to his wife Minna. As for the rest of the album, there are two forces conspiring against Pieczonka’s rendition of Strauss: the awkward, excessively close miking by Anton Kwiatkowski in the CBC’s Glenn Gould Studio; and the hesitant, almost withdrawn piano playing of Brian Zeger. As if refusing to be an equal partner, Zeger hides behind and blends with Pieczonka’s voice. This voice, opulent and beautiful, works best when coaxed and engaged by an equal partner, be it orchestra or piano solo. Here it sounds unusually shy and reluctant. That is too bad, because we now deserve a new reference recording and Pieczonka definitely has the talent to create such a disc.

01_Brahms_Trios.jpgBrahms – The Piano Trios
Christian Tetzlaff; Tanja Tetzlaff; Lars Vogt
Ondine ODE 1271-2D

Review

This two-disc set of the three Brahms piano trios is very much a “family and friends” affair. Violinist Christian Tetzlaff has been performing with his sister cellist TanjaTetzlaff since their childhood in Hamburg, while pianist Lars Vogt has been a longtime musical partner for both. The result is some most conducive music-making in three of Brahms’ chamber works which have not always received the recognition they undoubtedly deserve.

The Piano Trios Op 8, 87 and 101 occupied much of the composer’s time during the 1880s. As he mentioned to a friend, at the time, “there was no further point in attempting an opera or a marriage.”

The earliest of the trios had actually been composed in 1854 when he was all of 21, but Brahms spent considerable time revising it in 1889. Hence, the music is less that of a young composer still feeling his way than one who was looking back at 30 years of creativity. From the opening measures, it’s very clear that these performers enjoy playing with each other and do it with a strong sense of self-assurance. The broad sweeping lines in the opening Allegro and again in the Finale show a distinct elegance of phrasing while the second movement Scherzo is all lightness and grace.

The second and third trios are very much the music of the mature composer, surely Brahms at his finest. And not surprisingly, the three musicians have no difficulty in capturing the myriad of shifting moods contained within – majestic, restless, elegiac and buoyant. To perform Brahms well is frequently a challenge but the combination of the two Tetzlaffs and Vogt bring it off effortlessly. The highlight for me is surely the finale to the Piano Trio No.3. How deftly the three handle the syncopated rhythms and dynamic contrasts before bringing the movement – and the disc – to a triumphant conclusion.

Well done, all three – this recording is bound to be a benchmark.

04_Gryphon_Trio.jpgElements Eternal
Julie Nesrallah; Gryphon Trio
Naxos 8.57353

Review

The Gryphon Trio, comprised of Annalee Patipatanakoon (violin), Roman Borys (cello) and Jamie Parker (piano), has just released a new album Elements Eternal. It features four very different works they recently commissioned from some of Canada’s finest composers writing today.

The CD opens with Brian Current’s These Begin to Catch Fire (2012), which suggests patterns of light reflecting on the water at Lake Muskoka. The intensity of this mesmerizing composition is heightened through a series of complex polyrhythms in the piano part, played flawlessly by Parker.

Andrew Staniland’s Solstice Songs (2011) highlights the importance of the celestial seasons in this compelling instrumental work written in three sections. The ensemble effectively communicates the wide scope of moods that range from an ethereal nocturnal atmosphere to an exciting perpetual motion finale.

In his song cycle Letters to the Immortal Beloved (2012) James K. Wright uses as its text Beethoven’s famous love letters written 200 years ago. Wright’s deeply moving composition, exquisitely sung by mezzo-soprano Julie Nesrallah, seamlessly weaves Beethoven’s own Andante favori into the third movement in further tribute to the composer.

Centennials (2012) by Michael Oesterle celebrates the centenary of the birth of three individuals born in 1912: chef Julia Child, composer Conlon Nancarrow and painter Jackson Pollock. Their contrasting personalities are captured perfectly and the Trio’s skills are particularly evident in the final movement with its extreme fluctuations of temperament that the production team has recorded with balance and clarity. An excellent CD.

05_Peacock.pngNow This
Gary Peacock Trio
ECM 2428

Review

Gary Peacock may be best known today as a longstanding member of Keith Jarrett’s Standards Trio, but the bassist, now 80, has one of the most varied and distinguished résumés in jazz. In his long career, he’s complemented everything from the concentrated lyricism of Miles Davis, Bill Evans and Paul Bley to the torrential expressionism of Albert Ayler; he’s also one of the great bass soloists, able to communicate emotional nuance with a special attention to vibrato and pitch. Here Peacock leads a trio with pianist Marc Copland and drummer Joey Baron in which his own musical conception is in the foreground.

Peacock composed seven of the eleven compositions here, many of them with a spare, sculptural, yet mysterious sense of form that generates tremendous freedom: brief phrases with myriad suggestions pass from one member of the group to another with a liquid ease. There’s a suite-like continuity here, as if the pieces constitute reflections on a single theme, their moods ranging from the drama of Moor to the levity of Christa and the brooding Vignette. The music’s surface is consistently beautiful, with Peacock’s sound a warm centre for the three voices.

The only piece included from outside the band is Gloria’s Step, a composition contributed to Bill Evans’ repertoire by Peacock’s friend, Scott LaFaro, the brilliant bassist who changed the course of the instrument before dying in a car accident at 25 in 1961. As well as an homage to lost genius, it marks the beginnings of the kind of fully interactive trio music that Peacock, Copland and Byron realize here.

02_DeJohnette_Made_in_Chicago.pngMade in Chicago
Jack DeJohnette
ECM 2392 (ecmrecords.com)

Review

Jack DeJohnette first came to prominence in the late 1960s as the drummer in Charles Lloyd’s quartet and later Miles Davis’ pioneering fusion bands. He’s since cemented his fame with his own groups and his three-decade membership in the Standards Trio with Keith Jarrett. His roots, however, reach back to Chicago’s Wilson Junior College where in 1962 he began jamming with classmates and saxophonists Roscoe Mitchell and Henry Threadgill. Soon they were playing in pianist Muhal Richard Abrams’ Experimental Band and were present at the 1965 formation of The Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM), a dramatic assertion of African-American musical freedom and self-sufficiency.

The title Made in Chicago is multi-dimensional: it commemorates the reunion of DeJohnette, Mitchell, Threadgill and Abrams (joined by the younger Larry Gray on bass and cello); it celebrates the diversity of AACM music; and it marks its literal venue, the 2013 Chicago Jazz Festival. It is, simply, a great band, evident from the first composition, Mitchell’s Chant, a work that places the repeating patterns of American minimalism in a kind of pan-African setting, from circular-breathing saxophone stretched beyond the tempered scale to DeJohnette’s dense, sonically rich drumming.

Each work that follows is similarly an exercise in shaping, its raw materials examined and extended into forceful musical statement, like the emotion-drenched invocation of Abrams’ multi-faceted Jack 5 and DeJohnette’s own Museum of Time. Mitchell’s This presses toward chamber music, with its Bartók-like harmonic language and the lighter textures of flutes and arco cello. Throughout, there’s a sense of spacious invention and collective mastery, the music growing from a kind of spontaneous deliberation.

04_BerneCD001.jpgYou’ve Been Watching Me
Tim Berne’s Snakeoil
ECM Records ECM 2443 CD
(ecmrecords.com)

Review

Augmenting the already well-balanced sound of his Snakeoil quartet, alto saxophonist Tim Berne introduces guitarist Ryan Ferreira’s chord-shredding distortions to the seven Berne originals here, creating a fuller but no less memorable program than the quartet offered at April’s SRO appearance in Toronto. Added to the alternately luminous fluidity or strained grunting from Oscar Noreiga’s clarinet or bass clarinet are Matt Mitchell’s poised linear piano style and discriminating accents from Ches Smith’s drums, vibes, timpani and percussion; the re-imagined ensemble easily negotiates the compositions’ intricacies.

Cunningly arranged so that each voice is heard clearly while the polyphonic nature of the tunes is emphasized, the final False Impressions is a fine example of this. As the guitarist’s angled flanges attempt to disrupt the proceedings, the theme is driven steadily forward by the pianist’s arpeggio-laden power. Perhaps the track is so named because the piece is finally resolved as a thoroughgoing swing line. Further manoeuvres are expressed in the manner of a magician only fleetingly letting you peek at his strategies, as on Semi-Self-Detached where a balanced block of patterning piano and blended horns is followed, after a dramatic pause, by a triple-tongued solo from Berne, whose alto sounds as if it’s reaching for humanly unattainable notes. In contrast, Embraceable Me, which has no obvious resemblance to the standard Embraceable You, goes through several distinct sequences that present bouncy music-box-like emphasis from Mitchell, broken-chord slamming from the guitarist and the clarinetist’s tremolo precision before a crescendo of united horns and piano timbres are roughly buzzed away by the altoist.

At 18 minutes long, the extended Small World in a Small Town is the CD’s centrepiece. Possibly composed as a concerto for himself, Berne spins out intense reed variations that range from swift laughing bites to sombre, near-ecclesiastical drones, as the sparse accompaniment is limited to infrequent piano or vibe voicing. With Noriega’s near-Oriental tone providing an intermezzo, backed by brief piano pumps, Berne returns thickening his subsequent lines with intense multiphonics, until craftily, but not unexpectedly, the initial theme is recapped as a convincing summation by sax and piano.

Creating more memorable releases each time out, Snakeoil is no nostrum but an elixir whose salutary qualities improve each time it’s sampled.

01_Eliza_Pope.jpgCall Me a Fool
Eliza Pope
Independent (elizapope.com)

Review

Talented vocalist and songwriter Eliza Pope’s debut CD is a delightful potpourri of re-conceptualized Broadway show tunes, jazz standards and original compositions. The project was co-produced by Pope and yeoman keyboardist/arranger Mark Kieswetter, who also performs magnificently on the CD. To say the least, this recording is an auspicious opening salvo for an emerging artist.

Included is a soulful take on Harold Arlen and Yip Harburg’s 1939 Oscar-winner Over the Rainbow. Kieswetter’s contemporary chord substitutions are the perfect complement to Pope’s tasty vocal line. With facile use of her head voice, Pope soars delicately over, around and above the well-known melody, pushing it right into 2015. Also of note is the jaunty Depression-era original Where Will I Find Love, which evokes a historical mode without becoming derivative of it – no easy task! Eric St. Laurent’s well-placed acoustic guitar work is exceptional on this track, calling to mind a young Charlie Christian. Another fine original is Try, which explores a more pop-oriented aspect of Pope’s versatile vocal and writing style.

A standout is Feeling Good, penned by Anthony Newley and Leslie Bricusse for their hit Broadway show, The Roar of the Greasepaint – The Smell of the Crowd. Pope makes wonderful use of her lower register here, and resists the temptation to convert this tune into an overwrought cabaret anthem. Pope also displays her ability to swing, with a thoroughly delightful rendition of Fats Waller’s Crazy ’Bout My Baby. Noted bassist Ross MacIntyre provides the necessary backbone here, and truly shines on this groovy cooker. Of particular beauty is the gorgeous ballad Little Girl Blue, written by Rogers and Hart for the 1935 Broadway musical Jumbo and rendered by Pope with the full intent of the genius composers firmly in place.

03_Netrebko_Strauss.jpg

Strauss – Four Last Songs; Ein Heldenleben
Anna Netrebko; Staatskapelle Berlin; Daniel Barenboim
Deutsche Grammophon 4793964

Review

If, as they say, Verdi murdered sopranos then Richard Strauss simply adored them. His operas are all about women, the soprano being the heroine, their very essence. (Rosenkavalier has no less than three of them!) Interestingly the great Anna Netrebko, who became a shining star in the Italian, French and Russian repertoire, had never sung Strauss, but even so DG chose her to celebrate his anniversary. Netrebko, always up for new challenges, once again surprised everyone with a rapt, luminous account of the elegiac Vier Letzte Lieder (1948), Strauss’ last and greatest contribution to this genre. Her voice of unique colour, sumptuous beauty, lovely intonation and musical intelligence makes her interpretation stand up favourably to the formidable competition of great German sopranos of the past, not to mention the tremendous contribution of Barenboim’s lush and luxurious orchestral support that will silence all snobbish prejudice once and for all.

Barenboim was 11 when he was introduced to Furtwängler, who premiered the Four Last Songs, and now some 60 odd years later the “boy” is taking over. And how! He was first noticed as a young pianist, but now the celebrated music director of two most venerable opera houses (Milan and Berlin), with some recent, simply earth-shaking performances of musical genius, here gives his account of Ein Heldenleben, a problematic score that’s notoriously given headaches to Strauss apologists. Even Karajan’s stellar version descends sometimes into cacophony and bombast, but Barenboim instead chooses understatement, clarification of orchestral detail and, with each part subservient to the whole, emphasizing compositional strengths (rather than weaknesses). Unquestionably first choice.

Because of Billie
Molly Johnson
Independent 253787133
(mollyjohnson.com)

Coming Forth By Day
Cassandra Wilson
Legacy 888750636225

To Lady With Love
Annie Ross; Bucky Pizzarelli; John Pizzarelli
Red Anchor Records CAP1047

Reviews

02a_Molly_Johnson.jpgKnown for her conversational approach to singing and a voice both raspy and authoritative, Molly Johnson has been aptly compared to Billie Holiday; Because of Billie is her response to that compliment. On this heartfelt tribute, the Toronto native recalls Holiday in her heyday, swinging with sparkling intelligence and digging deeply into every lyric. Fans of the original versions will likely enjoy this straight-ahead set, exquisitely arranged by bassist Mike Downes and featuring some of Canada’s finest jazz players, including pianist Robi Botos, whose solo on What a Little Moonlight Can Do invites repeated listening. Johnson and the band have some fun on an extended version of Them There Eyes, manage a memorable take on the iconic Strange Fruit and take some exciting liberties with Lady Sings the Blues and Now or Never, both tunes co-penned by Lady Day herself. Proceeds from the album go to the Boys and Girls Clubs across Canada.

02b_Cassadra_Wilson.jpgReminiscent in scope of Holiday’s penultimate Lady in Satin, Coming Forth By Day was produced by Nick Launay of post-punk experimental rock outfit the Bad Seeds. While ardent swing-era traditionalists might be less than impressed, loyal fans of Cassandra Wilson will not be surprised by this audacious project, especially since it was made possible by a triumphant crowdfunding campaign. Wilson’s witchy contralto finds itself nestled within Van Dyke Parks’ haunting string arrangements, augmented further by Robby Marshall on reeds, guitarists Kevin Breit and T Bone Burnett, and original members of the Bad Seeds on bass and drums. Songs such as All of Me and The Way You Look Tonight are stripped of their swing feel, but not their poetry. The effects are melancholic and mysterious; miraculously, it all works. More appealing with each listen, this album is a fascinating, courageous work of art that captures Holiday’s spirit. This is intoxicating music that begs to be turned up.

02c_Annie_Ross.jpgIn the prime of her career Annie Ross possessed one of the most elastic voices in jazz. Uniquely suited to the intricacies of bebop, her horn-like instrument back in the day was skyscraping in range and weapon-like in precision. A half-century later, decades of hard living and the inevitabilities of time have transformed this mythical vocalist, actress and lyricist down to human size. A real-life friend of Billie Holiday, on To Lady With Love the frail 84-year-old Ross bares her naked heart for the listener in a fashion Lady Day would have treasured. The minimalistic accompaniment of phenomenal father/son duo Bucky and John Pizzarelli adds immensely to the album’s musical intimacy. On torch anthems such as It’s Easy to Remember and I’m a Fool to Want You phrases sting like iodine on a fresh wound. This unforgettable album was, without a doubt, a cathartic experience for Ross. Listen with headphones and you might cry, too.

01_Red_Chamber.jpgGathering
Red Chamber
Za Discs N17 mei-han.com

Review

Red Chamber is not your typical Chinese string band. The Vancouver-based group has seriously eclectic, transcultural tastes. Led by the zheng scholar and virtuoso Mei Han, the group includes Guilian Liu on pipa, Zhimin Yu on zhongruan, daruan, and Geling Jiang on sanxian and zhongruan. They are all masters of their respective plucked Chinese string instruments.

Already well established as professional musicians in mainland China, these women sought a second home on Canada’s west coast where they have expanded both their careers – and ears. Mei Han reflects on this process of cultural awareness: “[As we] travelled around the world and collaborated with artists from a wide range of cultures, we have grown to become more open and aware.”

Gathering, their second album, exhibits influences of diverse musics discernable in the inclusion of instruments such as the tabla, djembe, dumbek and gong. Multiethnic melodic layers are also in ample evidence. The scores variously draw on Chinese, Arabic, West African, Klezmer, Greek, Turkish, Cape Breton and Métis sources, performed on Red Chamber’s Chinese plucked strings. The latter range from the brittle high-trilled notes of the pipa to bass daruan tones.

The album’s success owes much to Vancouver composers Moshe Denburg, John Oliver and Randy Raine-Reusch. They each contributed scores, exploring this transcultural terrain, which were then skillfully articulated and extended by the musicians. Just one example: while Ah Ya Zein, an Arabic love song arranged by Raine-Reusch, is culturally anchored by Gord Grdina’s moody oud expositions, it is MeiHan’s inspired mercurial zheng solo that provides the most unexpected musical thrill.

I saw Red Chamber live at Toronto’s Music Gallery in 2010. I was mightily impressed not only by the individual virtuosity of the musicians, but also by their tight ensemble and culturally inclusive repertoire. Until they grace a hall near you, this enjoyable record is the closest to a transnational musical Silk Road journey you can experience.

01_Hilary_Hahn.jpgViolin Concertos: Mozart 5 Vieuxtemps 4
Hilary Hahn
Deutsche Grammophon 4793956

Review

The following is an excerpt from Strings Attached (May 2015) which can be read in its entirety here.

The wonderful Hilary Hahn has a new CD that features two concertos that have a strong personal resonance for her. On Violin Concertos: Mozart 5 Vieuxtemps 4 (Deutsche Grammophon 4793956) Hahn plays two concertos that she first learned at the age of 10. The Vieuxtemps Concerto No.4 in D Minor Op.31 was the last work she learned with Klara Berkovich, her first main teacher, and Mozart’s Concerto No.5 in A Major K219 was the first work she learned with Jascha Brodsky when she moved to the Curtis Institute of Music later the same year.

Hahn notes that both works have been pillars of her performance repertoire ever since, and her familiarity with and deep understanding of these works is evident throughout the CD, the Mozart in particular benefitting from her usual crystal-clear tone and her immaculate and intelligent phrasing.

The Vieuxtemps Concerto No.4 has always lived in the shadow of his Concerto No.5 in A Minor, and will probably be new to most listeners; I don’t recall having heard it before. It’s somewhat unusual in that it has four movements instead of the customary three, although Vieuxtemps did indicate that the Scherzo third movement could be omitted in performance. You can perhaps understand why: the Scherzo has a very strong ending that sounds for all the world like the end of the concerto,while the Andante opening to the actual Finale feels more like the start of a completely new work. Still, it’s a fine concerto, with a particularly effective slow movement, and it’s difficult to imagine it receiving a better performance.

Hahn is accompanied by the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen under Paavo Järvi, whom she describes as “musical partners for a long time.” It certainly shows in these terrific performances.

05_not_the_music.jpgNot the Music
Philippe Lauzier and Eric Normand
Tour de Bras (tourdebras.com)

Review

The following is an excerpt from Jazz, 'eh (May 2015) which can be read in its entirety here.

Éric Normand is another fount of creativity, working from his unlikely home base in Rimouski to form both a large improvising ensemble, the Grand Groupe Régional d’Improvisation Libérée, and the wide-ranging Tour de Bras record label, as creative in its design as in its music. While a recent GGRIL release appeared as a red vinyl LP, Normand takes a diametrically opposed route to packaging for Philippe Lauzier and Éric Normand’s Not the Music / do (Tour de Bras, tourdebras.com), issuing the CD in a brown paper lunch bag with a printed cover. The music is just as provocative – sustained minimalist improvisations in which Lauzier’s soprano saxophone and bass clarinet extend from single tones to circular breathing against a backdrop of Normand’s electric bass and a snare drum that Normand sometimes plays and often uses as a vibrating surface.

April_Editor_scans_06_McBirnie.jpgGrain of Sand
Bill McBirnie; Bruce Jones
EF07 extremeflute.com

The following is excerpted from David Olds' April 2015 Editors Corner

Review

And in closing, something completely different – the latest from Mr. “Extreme Flute” Bill McBirnie. On Grain of Sand (EF07 extremeflute.com) McBirnie once again teams up with Latin multi-instrumentalist Bruce Jones, revisiting a partnership which resulted in the 1998 album Desvio. Jones wrote all the music, some of the tunes in collaboration with McBirnie, and the results are predominantly Brazilian-inspired samba and bossa nova style with plenty of Jones’ distinctive nylon-string guitar and vocals. Although only the two musicians are involved they have used the recording studio to good advantage, creating a multi-layered offering that is especially effective in the flute duet over guitar and ambient drone in Lembrando Paul Horn (Remembering Paul Horn). Other influences include hip-hop and funk and the end result is a diverse mosaic ranging from the mellow Vai Bem Devagar  (Proceed with Caution) to the bouncing Cê Tá Com Tudo (You Are Everything), while maintaining an integral continuity. McBirnie’s flute, although not particularly “extreme” in this instance, is lively and lilting as it soars over the bed tracks laid down by Jones, in the forefront in the instrumental tunes where it has the dominant melody and tastefully in the background or heard in duet with Jones’ voice in the songs with lyrics. I only wish they had included the words and translations in the package. This is good time music, well played and obviously enjoyed by McBirnie and Jones. It takes me back to my introduction to this genre back in the 1970s when I first heard Brazilian icon Jorge Ben (Jor). Thanks for the memories!

Robbins_01_Vivaldi_Avital.jpg
Vivaldi
Avi Avital
Deutsche Grammophon B0022627-02

The following review is excerpted from Terry Robbins April 2015 Strings Attached 

Review

If you listen to Classical 96.3FM on anything resembling a regular basis you’ve probably heard the Israeli mandolinist Avi Avital’s astonishing rendition of Monti’s Czárdas (if you haven’t, you can always watch it on YouTube). It certainly meant that I approached his latest CD, Avi Avital Vivaldi (Deutsche Grammophon B0022627-02) with keen anticipation, and I wasn’t disappointed.

The mandolin has its roots in 17th- and 18th-century Italian music, and is particularly well suited to the style of Vivaldi. The composer’s one concerto for the instrument, the Concerto in C Major RV425, is featured here along with three concertos, a sonata and a short movement all transcribed for mandolin by Avital.

Two of the concertos – the A Minor RV356 and the G Minor RV315, “Summer,” from The Four Seasons, were originally for violin, and work particularly well on the mandolin, the two instruments sharing the same tuning. The Concerto in D Major RV93 was originally for lute. These are not huge pieces – the RV356 and RV425 concertos are both three-movement works less than eight minutes in length – but the predominantly upbeat tempos and Avital’s clean, agile playing along with the lovely, light and airy accompaniment by the Venice Baroque Orchestra make for delightful listening.

The Trio Sonata in C Major RV82, originally for violin and lute, features a beautifully full continuo sound contributed by harpsichord, lute and cello. The short movement is the Largo from the Concerto in C Major RV443, originally for flautino.

Avital is joined by tenor Juan Diego Flórez in a beautiful rendition of the traditional Venetian song La biondina in gondoleta, which provides a lovely end to an extremely pleasant and entertaining CD.

04_Jazz_04_LiteraCD003.jpgLiteral Lateral
Crofts - Adams - Pearse + Hemingway
SuddenlyLISTEN (suddenlylisten.com)

Review

Adding just enough emphasis to boost this free-flowing program to an elevated plane is American drummer Gerry Hemingway. That’s because the monumental sound infrastructure already launched by the Halifax-based trio of pianist Tim Crofts, cellist Norman Adams and bassist Lukas Pearce needs only supplementary foundation work not rococo decorations. One of the most in-demand percussionists internationally, conversant in jazz, notated and free music, Hemingway arrives with the appropriate tools, knowing exactly when either earth-moving crunches or subdued tapping is appropriate. Pillars of suddenlyLISTEN, the Nova Scotia capital’s creative music hub, Crofts, Adams and Pearce have played with many non-Maritimers developing a distinctive sound.

On Literal Laterals nine tracks the string players are so assured that on a track such as Pre-Reveal the expected chordal textures are boosted by others which sound as if they’re being powerfully strummed from a 12-string guitar or finessed by Delta bottleneck picking. Meantime Hemingway angles cymbal clanks and Pearce thumps a low-pitched ostinato beside them. The bassist’s pizzicato double stops, col legno pops or spiccato pulses consistently add nec-essary ballast to many tracks, especially on Shard Work that begins with such a deep-seated string buzz that it could be a blast from a tuba. Urged to a buoyant clip by bell-hammering, that performance also includes a full-out swing sec-tion initiated by the pianist and underlined by poised cello sweeps.

Nevertheless passages that resemble angular modern jazz are no more prominent than what could be seen as through-composed New Music motifs. Many compositional and improvisational sequences are pressed into use throughout to ensure the music flows appropriately and chromatically. In fact Beacon vs Lure, the CD’s longest and most defining track, wraps those influences into an interface that also finds space for atonal, electro-acoustic buzzes and whistles, rumbling piano glissandi plus a smoothly romantic cello line. Building to a crescendo of crossing and echoing tones, Crofts’ steeplechasing across the keys leads to a narrowed satisfying conclusion.

Literal Lateral could be the most winning American-Maritime connection since the United Empire Loyalists moved north more than two centuries ago.

Concert Note: Crofts - Adams - Pearse + Hemingway are at The Rex April 5.

Broomer 05 Daylight 001Daylight
David Neill
On the Fly Records OTF112844

The following is excerpted from Stuart Broomer's April 2015 Jazz, eh?

Review

Dave Neill’s Daylight (On the Fly Records OTF112844, daveneill.ca) is marked by his distinctive, warm, round sound, thoughtful solos and compositions, developing a reflective, almost orchestral sound with his quintet. He’s used the same rhythm section since his 2008 debut, the fine combination of pianist David Braid, bassist Pat Collins and drummer Anthony Michelli, adding trombonist Terry Promane here. Neill has creatively shaped the session with four brief variations of his Thelonious Monk-like The Day Savers, played in duet with Braid and interspersed throughout the program. He also includes pieces by Promane and Braid, outstanding composers/arrangers of improvisation-friendly music. Braid’s Red Hero is a powerful, elegiac work that matches the depth of Kenny Wheeler and Gil Evans, a distinctive tradition with a strong Canadian component.

Broomer 06 Johnny GriffithDance with the Lady
Johnny Griffith
GB Records (johnnygriffith.com)

The following is excerpted from Stuart Broomer's April 2015 Jazz, eh?

Review

For all the similarities, Johnny Griffith sounds very different on Dance with the Lady (GB Records johnnygriffith.com). He’s a more kinetic player, far less deliberate, pushing toward a raw expressionist edge, showing affinities with John Coltrane and the ancestral energies of rhythm & blues. He shares the front line with trumpeter Jeremy Pelt, a star in the New York mainstream firmament. It can be risky, but it works here, with Pelt, pianist Adrean Ferrugia, bassist John Maharaj and drummer Ethan Ardelli making consistently lively, well executed music. The menacingly themed The Kuleshascope is a highlight, with Griffith pressing further and further out. 

02_Sokolov_Salzburg.jpgSokolov – The Salzburg Recital
Grigory Sokolov
Deutsche Grammophon 4794342

Review

New recordings of Grigory Sokolov are few and far between, so any addition to the catalogue is an event. His playing is always compelling, not least because of his unique approach. He is a link to the golden age of Russian pianists and his distinctive playing style is easily identified by his admirers.

Sokolov began piano studies at the age of five and gave his first major recital in Moscow at 12 playing, so it is reported, works by Bach, Beethoven, Schumann, Chopin, Mendelssohn, Rachmaninov, Scriabin, Liszt, Debussy and Shostakovich. He was unanimously awarded the Gold Medal in the 1966 International Tchaikovsky Piano Competition.

Now aged 64 and “a legend in his own lifetime,” he is in a position to announce that “I play only what I want to play.” His Mozart, though slow, is never laboured or ponderous, being extremely controlled; the long phrases are felt out with utmost certainty in spite of an almost dry approach and contained dynamics. This is utterly compelling Mozart, a perfect example of restraint yielding deeply satisfying results. A dissenting opinion from that of other artists but Mozart’s mercurial genius allows for this.

This recital of Chopin’s 24 Preludes would be one of my desert island discs. In keeping with his way, each of the 24 has an individual character and taken together they are a marvel of authority and subtlety. I compared these to his June 17, 1990 Paris recording (Naïve CD, OP30336) finding that it lacked the deeply introspective and mesmerizing intensity of this astonishing Salzburg performance.

The six encores (Chopin, Scriabin, Rameau and Bach) are no less considered. This is the first release from DG which has contracted to record his live concerts.

 

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