06 Pot Pourri 01 Canadian Brass ChinaGreat Wall of China
Canadian Brass
Opening Day ODR 7433

Having listened to recordings of the Canadian Brass for many years, I was sure that this CD would be in the same style as previous recordings. Not so. While it has all of the performance polish that is the hallmark of this group, there is a big difference. None of the music is familiar. All 18 tracks are adaptations of Chinese music. First time through I simply sat back and listened from beginning to end. In a few words: It is delightfully listenable.

Since there are no program notes, I was at a bit of a loss as to where to start to obtain information on the selections. Taking the bull by the horns, I called both Howard Cable (who wrote nine of the eighteen adaptations) and Chuck Daellenbach, the founder and tubist of the group. The selections are called “adaptations” because the original material was received as recordings on original Chinese instruments which were then adapted for performance in the brass quintet.

As Daellenbach pointed out, just as the day-to-day life in China has evolved due to Western influence, so has Chinese music. From soft melodies like The Moon Represents My Heart which features the trombone in a jazz style and a very melodic tuba passage to Catching Butterflies While Picking Tea with its definite Chinese flavour and amazing ending, or the lullaby-like sensitivity of Colourful Clouds Chasing the Moon, it’s a new musical experience. In particular, Daellenbach’s sensitive melodic tuba is a joy rarely heard. This CD should be added to the listening material for the classes of instrumental music teachers to show students the range of subtleties and colours achievable with brass instruments in the right hands.


06 Pot Pourri 02 Tango BorealPampa Blues
Tango Boreal
ATMA ACD2 2706

Bandoneonist/composer Denis Plante cunningly equates the music of Pampa Blues with an aural musical journey of a horse travelling north to south across the Americas. Plante’s tongue-in-cheek wit catches one’s attention with his opening liner notes sentence “Tango is dead.” Start to listen, and Tango Boreal begins to prove the statement wrong. Plante’s compositions are rooted in the tango tradition with touches of different styles abounding. His performances with double bassist Ian Simpson and guitarist David Jacques gallop into an exciting treat of tight ensemble playing, strong writing and heartwarming lyricism.

 The tracks are grounded in themes. Highlights are the great car-beeping-sound performance of Ciudad (City), an extract from Piazzolla’s Noche de Tango, while two of Plante’s own stylistically similar exciting works pay homage to the Argentinian great. In contrast, Plante’s four works dedicated to his family members are introspective and stirring. The trio plays with sensitivity to nuance resulting in breathtaking musicality. I love Plante’s idea of writing the world’s longest phrase for the bandoneon in his Tango Romance. The long phrase with no bellow change is executed with agility and surprising tonal control at the end of the line for both the beautiful melody and the completely extended bellows!

 The musicianship is superb. The tonal expertise of Plante’s bandoneon is unmatched. Simpson drives the bass rhythm with colour and bounce. Jacques is equally great in both guitar lead melody and supporting roles. Together they are keeping more than just tango alive!


06 Pot Pourri 03 Sarah PeeblesDelicate Paths – Music for Shō
Sarah Peebles; with Evan Parker, Nilan Perera, Suba Sankaran
unsounds 42U (unsounds.com)

For some quarter century the Toronto-based American composer, improviser and installation artist Sarah Peebles has conducted a musical love affair with the shō, the Japanese mouth organ. Ever since studying its foundational repertoire embedded in the music of the antique gagaku, performed by the orchestra of the Japanese court, she has sought to explore the shō’s sonic strengths. She has particularly identified with its ability to produce microtonal and psychoacoustic effects reifying sound, often unfolding leisurely over time.

There is yet another key element on this album. Bees. Peebles’ installation art practice explores the lives of wild bees, pollination ecology and biodiversity, a branch of BioArt. This concern not only explains some of the titles of the works here – i.e. Resinous Fold – but it is also reflected in the synergistic relationships between mouth organs and the resinous production of bees. Tropical stingless bees secrete a resin which has been gathered from wild nests for millennia and applied to many human artifacts, including mouth organs. The shō is no exception. You can view a number of fascinating photos, of both bee habitats and the delicate shō reeds for which their products are an essential ingredient, on the web page for Delicate Paths hosted by the “unsounds” label.

Peebles’ music employs both improvisation and composition, embracing acoustic as well as digitally processed performance. While shō is clearly featured, the album invites other musicians into the music making. On Delicate Paths she has included three star improvisers: a familiar reed instrument, a string, and a voice. Free jazz-rooted saxophonist Evan Parker, prepared electric guitarist Nilan Perera and multi-genre vocalist Suba Sankaran join Peebles. They are canny choices. Each effectively supports, contests and offsets her shō’s melodic long tones and clusters, providing welcome musical tensions, cultural reframings, as well as textural and timbral richness.

Slipping the CD out of its handsome black trifold case I was delighted by its striking, subtly translucent honey-coloured appearance. Repeated listening revealed music of refinement, occasionally graced with a gentle aural sweetness, which in my imagination at least, resonates with a key component of the shō’s inner workings.


06 Pot Pourri 01 Kiran AhluwaliaSanata: Stillness
Kiran Ahluwalia
Independent MTM-CD-930 (kiranmusic.com)

The release of Indian-Canadian singer and songwriter Kiran Ahluwalia’s sixth album Sanata: Stillness, provides copious confirmation that her songs are “one of global music’s most interesting adventures.” Ever since Ahluwalia‘s first CD in 2001, it seems each new album marks new regions of personal musical growth, accompanied by evolving instrumentation and stylistic components. Recorded in Toronto, Sanata, as does her touring group, features some of the city’s top world musicians. Among them number percussionist maestro Mark Duggan and bassists extraordinaire Rich Brown and Andrew Downing.

In my September 2014 WholeNote cover feature on Ahluwalia, I observed that her geo-musical expansiveness is a result “of her careful listening to yet another [geo-cultural] zone of our world. She has [further] shown a continued eagerness to contest the borders of her musical comfort zones in live performance.”

Sanata provides ample proof of that process of exploration and synthesis at work. We hear Ahluwalia’s signature masala of her unique interpretation of Indo-Pakistani ghazal and Punjabi folk song, rendered in her expressive yet unstrained vibrato-less voice. It’s hung on a solid backbone of years of classical Hindustani musical training. Her gift for crafting catchy melodies is evidenced in her songs; I’m guessing a key feature in their audience appeal.

Another significant strand is the addition of pungent echoes of Saharan blues guitar, as in her award-winning 2011 CD Aam Zameen: Common Ground. It grounds the title track and also propels “Hayat” with a swaggering groove at just the right tempo. The superbly supple electric guitar accompaniments are provided by her American husband Rez Abbasi, who is also the album’s arranger and producer. Abbasi gets a chance to show his ample jazz guitarist cred in his “Tamana” solo and elsewhere.

While the album is carefully woven together with jazz-forward and sometimes rock-infused arrangements, “Jhoom” and “Lament,” the two songs in the qawwali tradition, return the album’s musical topography and transport the listener – via many transcontinental byways – to the Subcontinent.


06 Pot Pourri 02 TagaqAnimism
Tanya Tagaq
Six Shooter Records (tanyatagaq.com)

This album is a profound exploration of transcultural confrontation and transformation as expresed through the magical qualities and healing power of sound. Featuring the brilliant vocalism of Inuk avant-garde throat singer Tanya Tagaq, Animism synergistically merges her indigenous rights activism with the expressive force of her art. Not simply a typical “wordless protest album” however, its release promptly caused significant critical acclaim. To cap it off, Tagaq won the 2014 Polaris Music Prize, presented annually for the “best Canadian album regardless of genre or sales,” becoming its first indigenous recipient.

To be sure, the involvement of the polished improv-based musicality of her regular accompanists, Toronto drummer Jean Martin and the B.C.-based violinist, producer and arranger Jesse Zubot, is essential to every track.

Tagaq’s vocal art lives in zones of layered, multiple hybridity, a foundational feature of which is her free improv performance strategy. Paradoxically however, this CD’s first song is a cover of the Pixies’Caribou” (1987) sung in a “standard” (that is non-throat singing) voice by Tagaq and masterfully arranged with the addition of synth, horn and string parts by Zubot. Comparing it to the original Pixies’ recording, I prefer this album’s extended version, still rocking in sections yet musically convincing us without strumming a single guitar chord.

The pop-orientedCaribou” is an exceptional case here, however. Other songs like Rabbit propose an almost cinematic soundscape. Atop field recordings of northern soundscapes by Michael Red, and Zubot’s significant contributions, Tagaq’s vocalise transforms itself effortlessly from human to animal sounds and back.

The music on the innovative Animism, though sonically and emotionally rooted in the arctic, is nevertheless poised to move audiences no matter where they live.

autorickshaw album coverThe Humours of Autorickshaw
Tala Wallah Records TW 005 (autorickshaw.ca)

The JUNO-nominated world music ensemble Autorickshaw’s delightfully exciting fourth album is a rich record of a particular transcultural Toronto musical masala. Make no mistake; The Humours of Autorickshaw is no parochial product however. Rather its achievement resonates across other communities of musicians forging other new musical hybrids. In its ambitious aspirations—adventurous genre mixings, and in some of its lyrics touching, contentious reaches of the human condition—it will resonate with select global audiences.

Read more: The Humours of Autorickshaw
Back to top