07 Etereo New Music for FluteEtereo – new music for flute
Lindsey Goodman
Navona Records nv6265 (navonarecords.com)

From the outset, in Josh Oxford’s for solo flute, Lindsey Goodman demonstrates she is a flutist who has it all. With a palette of luscious tone colours and engaging phrasing, she easily negotiates the many different flocalizations, bluesy thirds, glissandi, flutter tonguings and tongued pizzicato, all the while maintaining a compelling, rock-solid beat. This track alone is worth the investment.

Yet what follows is of equal merit. The next four tracks are also for solo flute. Bruce Babcock’s is moody with flashes of technical display. Steven Block’s offers moments of two-part writing with harmonic overtones defining an ostinato and regular tones, a brief melody. While Goodman’s performance engages us in both Taurins’ Gand for alto flute, the obvious quotations from Varèse’s are neither mentioned nor explained in the scanty online program notes.

Using fixed media with effective employment of stereo panning, Mara Helmuth’s programmatic reveals spurts of flitting about and flapping wings. The most hauntingly lyrical work is Alla Elana Cohen’s four-movement , ably accompanied by pianist Robert Frankenberry. The penultimate track, by Peter Castine, opens serenely, becoming increasingly more agitated as first the cello dialogues in counterpoint with the alto flute, and later as the crotales and toy piano enter. Jennifer Jolley’s , a rhythmic tour-de-force spectacularly played by the flute/cello/piano Leviathan Trio, closes one very impressive, boundary-pushing collection of new music for flute.

08 Casals TrioMoto Celeste
Trio Casals
Navona Records nv6266 (navonarecords.com)

Moto Celeste is the fifth installment of Navona Records’ MOTO series featuring the Trio Casals. Conductor/cellist/composer Ovidiu Marinescu, violinist Sylvia Ahramjian and pianist Anna Kislitsyna are outstanding gifted musicians who together create a tight, musical, technically virtuosic chamber trio sound. Here they perform eight new compositions, all listener-friendly, drawn from an eclectic mix of musical ideas.

Each work is a masterpiece in its own right. Highlights include the opening track, Earth Rise, by Diane Jones. Inspired by the sun, moon and earth, the opening piano high-pitched slow sparkling tinkles lead to matching melodic phrases on all instruments, a slower reflective cello solo and a moving, almost romantic, planet dance. Quick change to a rockin’ rhythmic work, Los Ritmos Para Tres (Rhythms for Three) by Edna Alejandra Longoria, a fun mix of jazz, rock and contemporary music rhythms and lines. Cellist Marinescu’s amazing almost athletic performance of his own composition Sunt Numai Urechi (I’m All Ears) for solo cello is flawless. An exciting flamenco-guitar-inspired virtuosic work, he almost sounds like two performers as he tackles his fast, circling, chromatic melodies, lyrical sections, high pitches and changing mixed metres. Canadian composer Joanna Estelle’s brief, yet sweet, tonal Faraway Star, is a programmatic piece of star-crossed lovers – female violin, male cello and piano narrator, played with clarity and storytelling precision. 

Compositions by Christina Rusnak, Chad Robinson, Clive Muncaster and Eliane Aberdam complete this memorable recording.

09 Ex MachinaEx Machina
Donald Sinta Quartet
Bright Shiny Things BSTC-0133 (brightshiny.ninja)

Formed in 2010 and named after their mentor, a University of Michigan saxophone professor, the Donald Sinta Quartet is an exciting award-winning modern ensemble featuring saxophonists Dan Graser (soprano), Zach Stern (alto), Joe Girard (tenor) and Danny Hawthorne-Foss (baritone). In their second recording, the tight virtuosic classical/contemporary music group performs seven new works, six of them premiere recordings.  

The seven-movement Ex Machina, by American Marc Mellits, is a funky, minimalistic work exploring his self described idea “to express the beauty locked within machines.” Machine I (Let the Funk Out) sets up this idea with minimalist machine-like grooves. The contrasting slower Machine II (Flowing) features long ascending and descending lines, with a slightly rhythmic backdrop. Love the choppy sudden change to rhythmic machine-like industrial sounds in Machine IV (Dancing a Mean Ghastly Dance) performed with aplomb. No surprise Machine VII (Aggressive & Funky) ends with a final held honkin’ chord. Mellits’ other work here is the swirling, syncopated Black. 

Richard Chowenhill’s slower In Solitude I Sit is a refreshing reflective change with its lengthy held drone notes and higher pitches, all played with great breath control. No background rhythms enhance the calmness. Touches of Middle Eastern and klezmer-flavoured sounds in Chris Evan Hass’ faster Volcanic Ash are performed to style. Works by Suby Raman, David Biedenbender and Mischa Zupko feature memorable challenging rhythms, swirling lines and contrasting dynamics.

These talented, technically astute, rhythmic and musical saxophonists shine throughout.

10 RipplesRipples
Clarion: Keith Benjamin; Melody Turnquist-Steed
Crystal Records CD961 (crystalrecords.com)

When I hear trumpet playing with organ, I am immediately in church, willingly or not, and there is no shortage of the expression that brings me there on this disc. Kansas City, MO-based duo Clarion, made up of trumpeter Keith Benjamin and Melody Turnquist-Steed on organ, has released a collection of works written for them by a range of contemporary American composers. 

The most current, or at least the youngest of these, is Adam Schoenberg (b.1980) a graduate of Oberlin College and the Juilliard School of Music. He now teaches composition and film scoring, which certainly shows in the bold and highly visual quality of Apollo, which aims in the first movement, Beyond, to depict the majesty of outer space. To my mind it’s fairly effective character-filled music that could evoke a mountainscape as readily as astral travel, but he does refer somewhat to Holst’s harmonies and even Mercurial playfulness here, so...

The second movement, Light, is prayerful and lovely, as American as Copland, and I’m back in church again. 

Not all the works are as strong, but I did enjoy Passing Illuminations by James Moberly, and Stacey Garrop’s Road Warrior comes across as the most daring and experimental, especially in using the organ to provide interesting and unusual effects. The title refers to a book written by the late Neil Peart, of Rush, who took to the road mourning the loss of a child and spouse. The connection is intentional: this and one other of the works presented refer indirectly to the death of Benjamin’s son to leukemia in 2010. Ripples spreading out from that event might well describe the impetus behind this loving collection of new works.

01 MosaiquejpgMosaïque
Ensemble Made In Canada
Independent 0 51497 14047 2 (mosaiqueproject.com)

Canada’s remarkable ethnic and scenic diversity is glowingly reflected in the stylistic diversity of the 14 pieces that constitute Mosaïque, each about four minutes long, drawing from classical, jazz, folk, pop and Indigenous idioms. The Mosaïque project was created by Ensemble Made In Canada, Western University’s superb ensemble-in-residence, comprising pianist Angela Park, violinist Elissa Lee, violist Sharon Wei and cellist Rachel Mercer. Since premiering Mosaïque in 2018, EMIC has performed the suite in every province and territory, as each province and territory is represented musically in one of the pieces.

Fourteen composers contributed to the project: David Braid, Barbara Croall, Julie Doiron, Andrew Downing, Vivian Fung, Nicolas Gilbert, Kevin Lau, Nicole Lizée, Richard Mascall, Samy Moussa, William Rowson, Darren Sigesmund, Sarah Slean and Ana Sokolović. Many of their pieces depict familiar features of Canada’s physiognomy: prairies, mountains, the icy North and lots of flowing water – rivers in Quebec, Manitoba, B.C., Yukon and Northwest Territories are referenced in six pieces. There are also echoes of Gaelic, Acadian and Métis folk music, aboriginal petroglyphs, canoe trips, a legendary Newfoundlander and Saskatoon ghosts.

Happily, all these disparate pieces fit together like tesserae, those tiny, coloured bits of stone, glass or ceramic that compose a mosaic floor, wall or ceiling. Here all the differently coloured musical bits have combined to create a vivid sonic “mosaïque” of our remarkable country, vividly performed by Ensemble Made In Canada. A truly wondrous achievement!

Listen to 'Mosaïque' Now in the Listening Room

02 TaktusMirrored Glass
Taktus Duo
Ravello Records RR8027 LP, CD and Digital (taktusduo.com)

The Taktus duo was formed in 2010 by Canadian percussionists Greg Harrison and Jonny Smith while pursuing master’s degrees at the University of Toronto. With musical influences ranging from classical to electronica, their stated mission includes making music “that crosses borders between genres…”. Their second album consists of very effective marimba duet arrangements made by the duo of key minimalist keyboard works by Canadian Ann Southam (1937-2010) and American Philip Glass (b. 1937).

Southam is represented by five pieces on Side A. The four from the piano work Glass Houses (1981, revised 2009) are constructed from short, primarily major-key tonal units. Possessing an overall lyrical quality, the composer slowly transforms melodies derived from only a few tonal chords. Inside those chords, in the evocative words of Musical Toronto, “a tone row gradually unfolds at the speed of a tulip blossom opening on a warm, sunny spring morning.” The fifth work is from Southam’s earlier and harmonically more adventurous Rivers I (revised 2004).

Side B features spirited, idiomatic Taktus arrangements of Glass’ well-known Music in Contrary Motion (1969) and pieces from Etudes (1994-2012). Throughout, the duo’s playing is both precise and nuanced, as is the quality of the accurate and warm-sounding recording. The use of processing to lengthen the decay on the percussive marimba sound is organic, never obtrusive. Harrison and Smith sensitively render the complex interplay of solo and accompanying voices with virtuoso panache in both sets.

This satisfying album promises a bright Taktus future.

Listen to 'Mirrored Glass' Now in the Listening Room

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