01a Redshift Rodney SharmanKnown and Unknown – solo piano works by Rodney Sharman
Rachel Kiyo Iwaasa
Redshift Records TK539

Patrick Giguere – Intimes Exubérances
Cheryl Duvall
Redshift Records TK545

Nova Pon – Symphonies of Mother and Child
Turning Point Ensemble; Owen Underhill
Redshift Records TK564 (novapon.com)

Rounding up some of Redshift’s recent releases we see that this West Coast label continues to bring significant Canadian compositions to light with impressive frequency. 

To enjoy the whimsical ingenuity of Rodney Sharman’s work on Known and Unknown, even before you listen to a single note or phrase played by pianist Rachel Kiyo Iwaasa who interprets his whimsy, you may be well advised to consider everything that is part of the known world to be unknown. Such is the bewilderment and wonder of his music that the very air around you may be filled with green people, with crimson eyes and glittering silver and golden hair – a kind of ecstasy experienced should you dare let a proverbial genie out of a prismatic bottle.

For instance, in the first three parts of the recording fabled – and real – operatic characters from Monteverdi, Puccini, and Wagner – yes, even Wagner, whose dogma was cast in bronze – are turned inside out. Genders are not merely reversed but inverted so that characters are imbued with wholly new personalities. 

Now imagine what this might do with your senses, set free of convention. Suddenly – even if you are stuck in conventions that are long dead – you can revel in beauty of an unexpected kind, be awestruck by love of a different sort, experiencing music played – no! sung – by a pianist who uses a tangy inimitable harmonic language to drive you to the delightful madness of a new, full-blooded romanticism, like a spell cast by Sharman’s bewitching compositions.

01b Redshift Patrick GiguereOn Intimes Exubérances Cheryl Duvall’s highly inflected interpretations of Patrick Giguère’s laudable compositions are of a different kind than the pianistic expressions of the music reviewed above. The repertoire is, of course, equally impressive but as befits the tenor and meaning of the work, what is impressive here is not just the magnificent and reactive pianism on show, but also Duvall’s maturity.

Her performances of the four sections of this work possess a stunning èlan: magnificently ethereal in Partie I – à la frontière d l’intangible, by turns, tenderly delicate and rhythmically rippling in the Partie II – tisser le présent and with a biting drive in Partie III – corps, hors de temps. Finally, Partie IV – lueurs en voix is brilliantly virtuosic, with an understanding of the striking light and shade of this movement.

All told, the excellent sound and annotations tilt the balance dramatically in favour of Duvall’s serious and enlivening artistry. 

01c Redshift Nova PonComposers who venture into the realm of chamber work do so at their own peril, especially when they de rigueur must live up to the brilliant standards set by older contemporaries and look over their shoulders at past masters such as Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven and Bartók. But Nova Pon, for one, has gone past intimidation to produce a long piece World Within, and the significant five-movement Symphonies of Mother and Child.

It is clear from the first strains of World Within that the composer knows the importance of embracing the past while going her own way. The swirling gestures at the outset are like jolts of Bartók that quickly give way to Pon’s forceful and expressive sound world. Likewise, the organically arranged five movements of Symphonies of Mother and Child give the correct impression of being an intensely felt work from solemn to invigorating ideas, with ample contrapuntal interplay to keep the narratives rich and layered. 

The performers of the Turning Point Ensemble show how masterfully attuned to the vision and artistry of Nova Pon and how deeply they have interiorised this music in their idiomatically turned-out recital.

Listen to 'Nova Pon: Symphonies of Mother and Child' Now in the Listening Room

02 Brent Lee HomstalBrent Lee – Homstal
Brent Lee; Various Artists
Centrediscs CMCCD32223 (cmccanada.org/shop/homstal)

Windsor Ontario composer and media artist Brent Lee’s work explores relationships among music, image and technology, especially through multimedia performance. A professor of Integrated Media in the School of Creative Arts at the University of Windsor, he’s composed music for orchestra, interactive media and film soundtracks. 

Lee’s recent work integrates electroacoustic composition, improvisation, saxophone performance, videography, Max computer programming and field recording. His Homstal project reflects those interests. Homstal, the Old English word meaning “home” or “homestead,” reflects that much of the work on this project was accomplished at his studio in rural Ontario. While the six Homstal album tracks are studio productions, each can be presented as an audiovisual environment allowing for improvisation and site-specific variation. 

In his liner notes Lee acknowledges that Homstal “grew directly out of my work with my friends in the Noiseborder Ensemble and I am grateful for their generous collaboration. … Martin Schiller plays electric bass on Overtro and Aaron Eichler plays the long snare drum sample used in DOT 1000.”

A quiet, chill, non-metric chamber jazz vibe presides over the album articulated by Lee’s eloquent sax playing and his chosen harmonic textures. The opening track for instance begins with soft spacialised sax key clack sounds, joined by a wandering cantabile soprano sax melody featuring sustained notes delicately ornamented with alternate fingerings. A seemingly un-metred treble melody on upright piano is then added; in turn the whole is deftly contextualised by several layers of electronic sounds. 

A dreamy Southwestern Ontario mist seems to have settled on Lee’s Homstal music.

03 Anthony RozankovicAnthony Rozankovic – Origami
Louise Bessette
ATMA ACD2 2895 (atmaclassique.com/en)

Friends in Montreal have spoken for years about composer Anthony Rozankovich so it’s a delight to finally have a collection of his music to display some of this talent. Origami is an album of his music for solo piano performed with enormous dedication, virtuosity and sensitivity by Louise Bessette. 

Some of these works began life as film scores and others were composed as concert pieces; most are between three and four minutes long but a few are longer. Accessible but sophisticated, Rozankovich’s music displays his deep understanding of the building blocks of music: this is tonal, lyrical music but not at all facile or predictable. The listener is rewarded over and over again with gorgeous moments of introspection and nostalgia, complex counterpoint, some grit and even some humour. The composer has a fondness for waltz-like episodes but always he shows us his delicious mastery of harmony, taking us in unexpected directions and into curious sidebars. 

As a favourite, I might choose the thoughtful nostalgia of Avenue Zéro or Errance but I also love the fusion-inspired Andalouse Running Shoes and the quirky and rhapsodic Pigeon Biset (Rock Dove) which is available online but not on the disc itself. If there’s a shortcoming to this collection, it might be that the music is too interesting to use as background music and requires time to enjoy. It’s time well spent.

04 Lesley TingWhat Brings You In
Leslie Ting; Various Artists
People Places Records PPR | 045 (peopleplacesrecords.bandcamp.com)

Toronto-based violinist and interdisciplinary artist Leslie Ting’s creative output has incorporated elements of installation and theatre as much as pure musical expression. Her unusual career trajectory is also of note. After working as a licensed optometrist, from 2013-2017 she served as Associate Principal Second violinist in the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony Orchestra.

Ting’s theatre work Speculation layered the music of John Cage and Beethoven with a monologue and projections to tell the story of her mother “slowly losing her vision, while [Leslie] makes a career change to pursue her dream of becoming a professional musician.”

An unconventional, ambitious debut album What Brings You In is much more than a violin recital of contemporary repertoire. Calling it, “A violinist confronts the noise of her psyche in an electroacoustic soundscape,” Ting operates both as a director and performer in the project, employing talk therapy, hypnotherapy, dreamwork, sandplay, somatics and reiki in her creative process with her co-musicians. 

Having been produced as a live theatrical event and a web-based installation, for this five-track audio recording of What Brings You In Ting has collaborated with several Canadian musicians: Germaine Liu on percussion and amplified sandbox, while Matt Smith, Rose Bolton and Julia Mermelstein provided electronic sounds, the latter two also contributing compositions.

The album also features Ting as eloquent solo violinist, beginning with Linda Catlin Smith’s delicately austere violin and percussion composition Dirt Road. Bolton’s Beholding for solo violin and electronics follows the composer’s sometimes turbulent internal therapeutic transformation. Mermelstein’s Folds in Crossings couches Ting’s violin performance in orchestral sounding electronic textures, culminating in a final peaceful violin sigh.

05 Dystophilia MC MaguireMC Maguire – Dystophilia
MC Maguire Orchestra/CPU
Neuma 190 (neumarecords.org)

The other day when I heard my neighbour’s pounding bass (something pop, disco or otherwise annoying) I responded by turning Dystophilia, M.C. Maguire’s new release, up to 11; the battle ended soon after. He offers sound-pressure supremacy that out-cools whatever tired torch song or clichéd show tune my neighbour enjoys. As a pacifist I don’t relish these battles, and only engage when the next-door volume is too high for my peaceful soul, but Maguire’s Yummy World (track one, followed by Another Lucid Dream) provides sonic delight as well as firepower. That said, I caution against the all-out assault: this is rich and textured music, so while high-volume might be your thing, you’ll possibly miss some of the depths if you indulge in your kink too much. You do you, though, no judgement.

Gone are the days, I think, when record executives would target sound thieves in their war on audio crime (aka creativity). There’s just way too much borrowing or sampling today. They all make a mint on streaming platforms, anyway, enjoying profits from the Justin Biebers of the industry. How can they prevent Robin Hoodlums like Maguire from using a tune like Yummy to generate the mind-blowing soundscape presented here? Do I hear the Beebs? Arguable. What I definitely hear is pop-mageddon, a kind of hyper-layered riff on every aspect of the aesthetic. 

One reviewer references (or steals, I think) John Oswald’s term “plunderphonics;” Oswald got in trouble with another Michael, the late King of pop. I’d be disappointed to learn either that Maguire had received warning shots across his bow, or worse, had bowed to the power of Big Music’s money managers and received permission to extrapolate the stuff he uses/sends up/improves. Anyway, the result is exciting, even if not used in battle.

06 Jan JarvleppJan Järvlepp – Sonix and Other Tonix
Various Artists
Navona Records nv6603 (navonarecords.com)

Ottawa-based Jan Järvlepp is an experienced composer, freelance and orchestral cellist, teacher and recording technician. After completing a doctorate in composition and 20th century avant-garde music, he began composing in the neo-tonal style instead, incorporating accessible classical, contemporary, world, folk, jazz, pop and rock music styles for various instrumentations. 

Sonix, composed for the Mexican Ónix ensemble, combines elements from two of his earlier works. Performed here by Trio Casals with guests Chelsey Menig flute and Antonello DiMatteo clarinet, there’s exciting listening throughout with opening fast tonal minimalistic lines, a middle section with supportive piano background below calming lyrical flute, and repeated accented descending short lines to closing loud rock chord. Trio Casals perform Trio No. 3, Järvlepp’s three movement musical protest against the rise of surveillance. The first movement Surveillance Cameras Everywhere features repeated piano rhythms with accented instrument shots imitating surveillance cameras snapping pictures. 

Nishikawa Ensemble performs Shinkansen, a two-movement ride on a Japanese bullet train musically driven here by short percussive hits. Members of the Benda Quartet perform Trio No.5, for violin, viola and cello, Järvlepp’s protest over the COVID shutdown rules. Strength in the Face of Adversity has a classically-influenced violin melody, and the constant rhythmic backdrop keeps the tense music and listener moving during the shutdown. 

The solo piano Insect Drive was composed at home during lockdown with Järvlepp’s self-described “treble sounds and bouncy rhythms.” It is performed here by Anna Kislitsyna. Trio Casals returns for In Memoriam, a respectful, caring, sad lyrical compositional tribute for his late brother.

Listen to 'Jan Järvlepp: Sonix and Other Tonix' Now in the Listening Room

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