Sarah Slean; Art of Time Ensemble
Pheromone Recordings PHER CD 1008
The Art of Time Ensemble has come out with an absolute stunner of an album. "Black Flowers" is a project spearheaded by piano virtuoso Andrew Burashko, featuring singer Sarah Slean. Burashko has a penchant for bringing together artists and performers from diverse disciplines and styles to present music in fresh ways. For this project, he and Slean pulled together an assortment of tunes written by some of this country's folk/pop heroes - Ron Sexsmith, Mary Margaret O'Hara, Feist and the master himself, Leonard Cohen - and enlisted arrangers and musicians from the jazz and classical world. The result is a collection of modern art songs rooted in diverse Canadian sensibilities.
While the players are top notch, the real stars of this recording are the arrangers. One might expect that having a different arranger for each of the nine songs would result in a random mishmash of styles, but this feels like a real collection with a cohesive theme running through it. The arrangers have taken songs that are, for the most part, harmonically simple and made them over into complex, multi-layered beauties. The arrangements demand a level of musicianship that this group more than delivers. Slean is the perfect vocal foil with her pure instrument and strong interpretive skills; unleashing emotion one moment then pulling back to lay bare the lyrics the next. John Johnson's impeccable reed work is wide-ranging and impressive, giving us moody, growly sax lines on Bruce Cassidy's arrangement of O'Hara's To Cry About, then delicate clarinet on Roberto Occhipinti's take on Sarah Harmer's Lodestar. Rob Piltch turns in an inventive, sensitive guitar effort. The superb strings are supplied by bassist George Koller, cellist Shauna Rolston and the aptly named violinist Ben Bowman. Visit www.artoftimeensemble.com for more detail.
That's A Plenty
Royal City Saxophone Quartet
If someone were not familiar with the sounds and capabilities of a modern saxophone quartet, this CD would be an excellent starter to explore the many voices of such an ensemble. From Dixieland to Irish folk melodies, and from Bach to Thelonious Monk, this covers a broad spectrum of melodies and performance styles. The title track, That's A Plenty, starts things off with a rousing rendition of this Dixieland classic. Driven along by the solid, clean no nonsense bass line of leader Ernie Kalwa, we are treated to two more numbers in a similar vein before being introduced to a wide range of more soothing melodies. These range from Danny Boy, and other traditional Irish fare, through Over the Rainbow on to Bach's Air on the G String. In the more modern jazz idiom there is Thelonious Monk's Round Midnight and the well known Harlem Nocturne. In this latter number, and a couple of others, the addition of a string bass and percussion provides the extra drive required by these selections. One standout is the clever Bach's Fireworks Music (sic), composed in 1980 by Calvin Hampton. This jazzy number has much of the exuberant motion that characterizes the Brandenburg Concerti, but performed on instruments not yet invented in Bach's day. Had Bach been living today, one could certainly imagine him writing something like this. All in all this CD deserves a spot in the collection of anyone with eclectic tastes.