07 Palardy RogerCannibale
Danielle Palardy Roger
Ambiances Magnétiques AM 241CD (actuellecd.com)

Few compositions can more fully embody the enduring spirit of Québécois musique actuelle – playful, anarchic, witty, frequently barbed – than composer/percussionist Danielle Palardy Roger’s Cannibale. The 11-movement work calls on a special kind of musician: here the performers sing as well as play, improvise as well as interpret; four even compose individual movements. Palardy Roger’s frequent musical partner Joane Hétu, also a distinguished composer, provides focused dramatic narration as well as voice and alto saxophone.

The work’s special character is apparent from the beginning as Hétu intones “cannibale” repeatedly, a prayer, an invocation, a lover’s whisper. Each position is explored in depth as the work unfolds, Palardy Roger’s sustained text and frame highlighting special episodes. Le sacrifice rituel, composed by percussionist Isaiah Ceccarelli, suggests the symbolic cannibalism of the mass with isolated percussion and Gregorian chant. Electric guitarist André Duchesne contributes the rocking La victoire du guerrier, while Alexandre St-Onge’s electronics drive his Sauvage, le côté party de la nécrophilie cannibale. Electronic musician Michel F Côté contributes Le gourmand épicurien, Palardy Roger’s ecstatic text animated by the voice, chewing sounds and clarinet of Elizabeth Lima, who elsewhere sounds the elegiac depths of Pitié Navire. At times, the brutalist roar of Ida Toninato’s baritone saxophone may represent the title character.

Cannibale is a rich allegory in which genres from hard rock to free jazz to synth-pop and “traditional” electronic music are cannibalized with the same glee that the texts explore the modes of “Cannibale capitale brutal.”

08 Glacier MusicGlacier Music – Ecoacoustics of Matthew Burtner
Matthew Burtner
Ravello Records rr8001 (ravellorecords.com) 

Matthew Burtner is a multiple award-winning Alaskan-born composer, augmented computer instrument designer, and ecoacoustician, currently professor of composition and computer music at the University of Virginia. In his thought-provoking album Glacier Music, Burtner presents five compositions based on field recordings he made on various Alaskan glaciers, or which include the sounds of snow (the raw material of glaciers). These recordings are further transformed and edited by the composer in various novel ways.

Employing a musical ecoacoustics approach, he embeds environmental systems into musical and performative structures using new technologies. Burtner draws on techniques of sonification, acoustic ecology and soundscape composition pioneered by Canadian composers R. Murray Schafer, Barry Truax, Hildegard Westerkamp, et al.

Three of the works here – Sound Cast of Matanuska Glacier, Sonic Physiography of a Time-stretched Glacier, and Syntax of Snow also feature scores for standard orchestral instruments of the Rivanna Quartet, Albemarle Ensemble and percussionists Brandon Bell and Trevor Saint, providing timbral, harmonic and textural counterpoint to the field recordings and synthesized sounds. We’re reminded by the composer that at the threshold of mountain and ocean, glaciers “are highly susceptible to global warming … [providing] an indicator of the health of the region in a time of rapid climate change.”

Burtner’s music on this album sites the environment at its core, aiming to decentralize standard human musical notions. It seems to be searching for more universal ecology-centered experiences, inspiring us to reflect on nature’s beauty in sound, and perhaps also to take action to protect it.

09 Patricia LazzaraRadiance – A celebration of spiritual transformation and new creation
Patricia Lazzara, flute
Independent (patricialazzaraflutist.com) 

This, the ninth studio album by the distinguished American flutist, Patricia Lazzara, presents a fascinating program of contemporary compositions and arrangements for the flute by a collection of living American, Canadian, European and Japanese composers. The two Canadians are Toronto flutist and composer, Ron Korb, no stranger to these pages, and Uzbek-Canadian, now living in Toronto, Dmitriy Varelas.

The first two tracks are works by Korb, Woodland Serenade and A Muse. The latter, unlike any other of Korb’s compositions that I have heard, is unaccompanied and offers both technically challenging passages and sections using extended technique which blend perfectly with the more conventional writing. Track three, Reflections of Radiance, by Varelas, for flute and alto flute played by Steve Markoff and cello played by Gerall Heiser is a beautiful and accomplished work, a really great addition to the flute ensemble repertoire. Track eight, Domingo Semenzato’s Divagando (choro) with guitarist, Darren O’Neill is played with just the right blend of vitality and sadness to lift the notes off the page, so to speak.

A real surprise for me, and at first glance an incongruous part of a primarily contemporary program, is the Sicilienne by the Austrian composer and contemporary of Mozart, Maria Theresia von Paradis. This enchanting melody has a strangely contemporary feel to it though, and is actually a good fit. Many thanks to Patricia Lazzara for introducing us to some fine new repertoire by mostly not-well-known contemporary composers.

10 LaunchLaunch
Admiral Launch Duo
Albany Records TROY1752 (albanyrecords.com) 

Launch may be described as a way to introduce something new, which is precisely what the US-based Admiral Launch Duo is achieving with their uncanny/intriguing instrumentation. Since their 2013 Fresh Inc Festival debut, saxophonist Jonathan Hulting-Cohen and harpist Jennifer R. Ellis have spent years working together. Their debut 10-composition release features wide-ranging stylistic commissions, transcriptions and premiere recordings.

Five Admiral commissions are included. Patrick O’Malley’s three-movement Thaumaturgy is a current day exploration of harp and sax effects. Amazing how the performers can match colours on two such diverse instruments in an arpeggiated ripple section, while the loud programmatic final meteor movement stuns with harp glissandos and high pitch sax notes. More wailing sax extreme high dramatics with mournful contrasts appear in Christine Delphine Hedden’s Amhrán na Cásca, while dark low and high tones emulate emotional distress in Angélica Negrón’s Still Here. Close atonal interchanges and tight playing are heard on Jasper Sussman’s …nice box! “Oh So Square” and Natalie Moller’s nature-inspired starshine & moonfall.

The other works include changes of sonic pace. Highlights include traditional Romantic harmonies and melodies in the duo’s arrangement of Marcel Tournier’s La Lettre du Jardinier, and a contemplative lyrical harp part against sensitive saxophone phrasing and surprising flute-like tone fluttering on composer Ida Gotkovsky’s own arrangement of her Eolienne.

Musical common sense assumes that it just won’t work but like anything different, the Admiral Launch Duo’s talent, balance and sonic experimentation blossoms with repeated listening.

11 CrosswindCrosswind
Tower Duo
Ravello Records rr8003 (ravellorecords.com)

Based in Columbus, Ohio the flute and saxophone Tower Duo specializes in performing contemporary works by emerging composers. Flutist Erin Helgeson Torres performs regularly in various Ohio orchestras, while saxophonist and composer Michael Rene Torres serves as the artistic director of the Columbus Ohio Discovery Ensemble (dedicated to the promotion and performance of contemporary concert music in Central Ohio). Both are active teaching their respective instruments at area universities.

Performing new repertoire for their unusual wind instrument pairing (since 2007), Crosswind is Tower Duo’s debut album. It features eight of the duo’s favourite compositions by as many American and international composers. The album displays the duo’s mission: commissioning and performing new scores. Included is Scott Brickman’s epigrammatic Epic Suite (2012), Charlie Wilmoth’s disruptive Three Pieces (2013), Philip Sink’s Places Never Painted (2012), inspired by the composer’s poem evoking the quiet beauty of the natural world, as well as Michael Rene Torres’ four-part character study Four Short Episodes (2011).

The title track from 2013 by Hong Kong composer Chin Ting Chan (b.1986), written for the duo, is an album highlight. Full of extended techniques and reflecting Chan’s harmonically exact, rhythmically defined and structurally strict M.O., it pays close attention to instrumental timbre and colour, and two-voice polyphony. It’s also infused with a playfully dramatic, tonally exploratory mood.

This lightness of mood and unstrained virtuosity happily permeate this album, enjoyable to listeners far from the borders of the Buckeye State.

01 Lands EndPulling the Light
Land’s End Ensemble; James Campbell
Centrediscs CMCCD 25718 (musiccentre.ca)

Calgary’s Land’s End Ensemble presents six Canadian works composed since the violin-cello-piano trio was formed 20 years ago. In Omar Daniel’s Piano Trio No.2, two heavily accented rhythmic movements precede two slow, misterioso-style movements, all highly effective thanks to Daniel’s knack for combining dramatic contrasts, piquant sonorities and constant forward motion.

Alexandre David’s Auprès et au loin takes its title from a description of Pierre Boulez’s music as “coherent, closely and from afar.” Composed while David was studying Boulez’s music, it begins with alternating agitato and ruminative passages, eventually gaining momentum and its own coherence. The next three works offer subtle evocations of nature and landscape. Allan Gordon Bell’s Markings depicts three states of water – clouds (wispy strings, piano tinkles), streams (string pizzicati, running piano arpeggios) and glaciers (rapid string figures, thumping piano bass notes).

James Campbell, Canada’s preeminent clarinetist, joins with the trio in Emilie Cecilia Lebel’s Navigational View of South Foreland Point and the Kent Coast, 1840, inspired by drawings from that year. The slow, moody music suggests a mist-shrouded vista lacking any sharply defined landmarks. Campbell also participates in Kelly-Marie Murphy’s Postcards from Home, tone pictures of a winter storm, sunrise and a rousing hoedown. Finally, Laurie Radford’s Event Horizon plays with acoustic space, squiggles of energy and textures enhanced by electronics and science-fiction colours, with section titles including Pulling the Light, Red Shifted and Escape Velocity.               

You’re sure to find something to enjoy on this disc; I did.

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