01 SyrinxTumblers from the Vault
Syrinx
Rervng RWRVNG08 (igetrvn.com)

In Tumblers from the Vault, series conceiver William Blakeney continues his collectively titled JMC Retrospective 1967-1977, highlighting the early career recorded music of John Mills-Cockell. A Toronto-born composer, keyboardist and pioneering synthesizer performer, Mills-Cockell was not only an early adapter of the modular synth – he purchased a Moog Mark IIP the same winter of 1968 when the American studio synth trailblazers Wendy Carlos and Suzanne Ciani acquired theirs – but he also swiftly put that early model synth to good use in live performances across Canada and the USA. Furthermore, it featured prominently on the Intersystems albums reissue reviewed in these pages last year.

By 1970, Mills-Cockell’s next music project had emerged: Syrinx was a trio which included two other Toronto musicians, saxophonist Doug Pringle and percussionist Alan Wells. Armed with Mills-Cockell’s compositions and suffused with his increasingly musically confident synth performances, in a couple of years they produced the hit single Tillicum as well as two successful albums Syrinx and Long Lost Relatives. Tumblers from the Vault has carefully remastered those recordings and added previously unreleased material. Dissolving by 1972, during that brief period they managed to merge many music genre threads. I can hear traces of experimental, classical, psych-rock, global influences, proto-ambient, pop, funk and jazz all delivered with a sensitivity for memorable melody, timbral exploration and technological innovation.

I find in the new tracks some of the most musically engaging moments of the box set. These include the extended demo version of December Angel in an ever-evolving dance-friendly 6/8, and particularly the adventurous four-movement, 26-minute Stringspace (1971) for string orchestra, percussion and Syrinx trio. This, the most ambitious work here, points to even larger Mills-Cockell projects yet to come.

As Nick Storring offers in his insightful liner essay, “Syrinx’s music is more than a faded strain in Canada’s consciousness […one that] has never expanded universally.” Can Tumblers from the Vault elevate the short-lived Syrinx to a “place in the wider canon of groundbreaking music, so its story can be appreciated beyond the limits of Canadian notoriety,” as posited by Storring? I can’t say. What I can is that this music from the last century welcomes us to imagine listening to future music which flows freely and amicably across multiple genre boundaries.

Pin It

02 Kristina BijelicMinstrelle
Kristina Bijelic; Felipe Tellez
Independent (kristinabijelicvox.com)

This imaginative project is not only a tour-de-force for the female voice and a celebration of a distinctly feminine journey (hence the title), but it is also the manifestation of the creative partnership between Toronto-born, multilingual, genre-fluid, classically trained vocalist and lyricist Kristina Bijelic and noted Colombian composer and orchestrator, Felipe Tellez. The six evocative, brilliantly produced, original compositions presented here, embrace a variety of ethnic influences and cultural motifs as well as elegant and poetic English, Spanish and Serbian lyrics written by Bijelic. The infusion of Tellez’s stirring orchestral arrangements (performed by the Budapest Art Orchestra) are nothing short of magic.

Of special note is the opening track, On the Horizon. The spaciousness of the composition seems to symbolize the intoxicating lure of travel, of taking the first steps of an irresistible journey. Bijelic’s rich, sonorous alto voice is as resonant as a fine cello, and like a cello, it is a pure conduit for the expression of the deepest emotions. Also stunning is Enamorarme de ti (Falling in Love with You). Based on a traditional Spanish bolero, the Latin rhythmic elements and complex, contrapuntal moving string lines transport the listener into a romantic idyll.

Near the end of the album’s journey is the jazz-influenced Wandering, which is perhaps the most cinematic composition on the CD, bringing to mind the Film Noir of the 1940s and 50s, and Devajačka Pesma (Girl’s Song) is a total delight. Traditional Balkan motifs, chord progressions and instrumentation, as well as the dynamic vocal by Bijelic, make this particular fusion of musics not only original, but thrilling.

Pin It

03 Shirley Eikhard

I Am the Hero
Shirley Eikhard
Independent (shirleyeikhard.ca)

Review

Singer/songwriter/instrumentalist Shirley Eikhard has been a popular and successful mainstay of the Canadian music circuit for decades. In this, her “20th record of new performances,” she multitasks and does practically everything, from singing the lead and backup vocals to her own songs, playing all the instruments, producing, and painting the CD cover art, with help in artwork/design from Catherine Osborne, and mixing and mastering from George Seara.

This is a very personal musical journey and gift to us, the listeners, as Eikhard touches on her country, jazz, folk and reggae influences and weaves elaborate stories in her lyrics. The tragic love story of My Diego unwinds like a bestseller murder mystery novel set to upbeat toe-tapping music. Likewise the title track, I Am the Hero is an illuminating look at self-exploration. In contrast, the instrumental Carmen’s Revenge proves Eikhard is equally stunning in both lead and improvisational instrumentals in this funky, jazz-tinged track, though a list of what instruments are being played would have been greatly appreciated. Closing track Comforts of the Country is hit material as it combines great lyrics, vocals, upbeat melodies and grooves.

Eikhard is a master of creating satisfying sing-along, ear-worm musical hooks that resonate long after the CD is back on the shelf. It may be too pop for one’s tastes with looping melodic sections and the typical three-minute, radio-friendly track length, but this is really, really fun music!

Pin It
Author: Tiina Kiik
For a list of writings by this author, click the name above
More from this author:

Solstice Spirit – The Musical Visions of Sister Gildaherd the Benign
Kirk Elliott
Pipistrelle Music KESS2016 (pistrellemusic.com/kirk-elliott)

Kirk Elliott.jpgMulti-instrumentalist and merry prankster Kirk Elliott has been very busy preparing for the onset of winter, it seems. Following up on his 2015 release Widdershins – the Legend of Tristan Shoute, the master of parody and deceit has outdone himself on this latest offering, just in time for Solstice celebrations. As is his wont, Elliott plays no end – literally – of plucked, bowed, blown, squeezed and banged instruments spanning centuries and cultures (i.e. from Renaissance lute and psaltery, to balalaika, sitar and guzeng, Celtic harp to harmonica and accordion to electric guitar, to name just a few). He gets a little help from friends Rebecca Campbell (sultry voice), Don Rooke (honey-dripping Hawaiian slide guitar), Alison Melville (tuneful tenor recorders) and Ben Grossman (hardy hurdy-gurdy) on a few tracks, but this is mostly a solo project.

​Whereas in Widdershins Elliott created a heroic character who appeared in various guises and historical time periods, in this instance the conceit is the story of a young woman who rises through the ranks of a nunnery to eventually be elected Mother Superior. This is a title and position she rejects however as she abolishes the hierarchy in favour of an equitable sisterhood. So, who was Sister Gildaherd the Benign? We are told that “The youngest of twelve children, Gildaherd lost her entire family within months, due to primitive medical conditions, jousting, and head cheese. Relocated to an obsolete convent, she was tormented by insomnia – until she found a mysterious herbal cure, which somehow rendered her susceptible to auditory hallucinations.” Elliott has created an imaginative, festive collection of Gildaherd’s musical visions, from reworkings of The Huron Carol and Edi beo thu to She’s Like the Swallow and Polorum Saskatoona. The last mentioned is Elliott’s take on the medieval Marian hymn Polorum Regina, “Queen of Heaven,” in a Canadian variant substituting his hometown of Saskatoon for the namesake capital city of Saskatchewan.

​Elliott’s original alias Tristan Shoute himself also makes an appearance, at least off-stage, in the album, with a visit to the convent where he briefly tutors the sisters in the musical arts, and leaves in his wake a string of “virgin” births. The musical styles included in this Solstice offering are as eclectic as Elliott himself and I thank him for sharing his wit, wisdom and wonderful musicality with us again.

David Olds is reviews editor at The WholeNote. He can be reached at discoveries@thewholenote.com.

Pin It
Author: David Olds
For a list of writings by this author, click the name above
More from this author:

01 Anne Sofie von OtterSo Many Things
Anne Sofie von Otter
Naïve V5436

The eloquent and versatile Anne Sofie von Otter is much admired for her ability to cross over genres effortlessly in a manner far more hip than many of the classical persuasion. Teaming up with the equally fluid string quartet Brooklyn Rider, well-known for collaborations with artists in genres from jazz to world music, they explore on this recording an eclectic collection of repertoire from John Adams to Björk to Elvis Costello with great affinity and intelligent interpretation. As well as the performers’ favourite selections, there are pieces included that were created specifically for them: Nico Muhly’s So Many Things and For Sixty Cents, an amusing New York vignette by the quartet’s violinist Colin Jacobsen. Pulitzer Prize-winner Caroline Shaw offered her Cant voi l’aube, a modern reworking of a 12th-century trouvère song.

Songs of unconventional love affairs such as Kate Bush’s Pi and Sting’s Practical Arrangement are remedies to the common love song, providing the listener with another insightful glimpse into urban life. Ending with a nod to the fusion of opera and popular music, they perform Les feux d’artifice t’appellent, the closing aria from Rufus Wainwright’s debut opera, Prima Donna.

Pin It

02 Angele DubeauSilence On Joue Take 2
Angèle Dubeau & La Pietà
Analekta AN 2 8743-4

Review

Quebec violin star Angèle Dubeau has chosen diverse movie music to perform with her ensemble La Pietà in this double-CD release which marks a number  of personal milestones and is dedicated to her audience. CD 1, named Sweet, features 15 tracks of a laid-back variety, while CD 2 named Salty, has 12 more toe-tapping tracks. The clever arrangements are true to their soundtrack roots and highlight the strengths of Dubeau and the strings, harp and piano performers.

Initially I questioned the separation of Sweet and Salty styles but then I was never bored listening. Highlights from Sweet include Unchained Melody – Orchestral from Ghost with a soaring opening violin line leading to a colourful instrumental trading off of the famous earworm melody. And what is movie music without the familiar, strings -friendly music like Suite Harry Potter and John Williams’ Across the Stars from Star Wars – Episode II: Attack of the Clones. The minimalistic harmonic and broken chord changes driving Einaudi’s Sotto falso nome succeed independently even without its closely linked visuals. From Salty, Tubular Bells from The Exorcist actually works without the original percussion, while If I Were a Rich Man from Fiddler on the Roof is a natural choice with Dubeau’s great violin playing of the famous melody against an upbeat backdrop.

The diverse, easy listening music never feels lost without the visuals, which is a great reminder of the talents of film composers, performers, arrangers and producers. Listen and celebrate Angèle Dubeau’s exceptional musicality, phrasing and technique across the styles!

Pin It
Author: Tiina Kiik
For a list of writings by this author, click the name above
More from this author:

Back to top