03 Double DoubleRock Bach
Double-Double Duo
Independent (doubledoubleduo.com)

Think and listen before you make any assumptions about the musical combination of accordion and clarinet. Double-Double Duo is more than a sweet sugary sound. The imaginative musical mastery, unorthodox arrangements/transcriptions and tight ensemble playing of accordionist/pianist Michael Bridge and clarinettist/pianist Kornel Wolak stretches boundaries in both the acoustic and electronic realms in this release featuring works from their live concert repertoire.

The Brahms Rondo alla Zingarese is a more traditional transcription and exciting performance. In contrast, the four Scarlatti keyboard sonatas are given an eclectic transcription with the clarinet leading the contrapuntal lines and the free bass accordion offering harmonic and contrapuntal support. The title track Rock Bach is a musical stretch as J.S. Bach’s baroque style is shoved into modern-day sound machinations, complete with drum-kit crashes from the Roland electronic accordion. One may wonder what happened to the accordion in Petit Fleur (Bechet) and Flying Home (Goodman), as a flip of a switch and press of a button have Bridge’s Roland accordion emulate guitars, drums, keyboards etc. while Wolak wails through his clarinet leads. A traditional Bulgarian piece and Vivaldi’s Summer complete the package.

Kudos for taking risks with listener favourites – one may not like the sound but there is so much care, energy, compassion and knowledge of divergent styles that their ideas must be respected. Detailed liner notes and more than the 35 minutes of music included here would be appreciated though. Looking forward to the next “refill” release!

04 AvataarPetal
InSound Records IS003 (sundarmusic.com)


For years before this first CD release, the Toronto world-jazz band Avataar paid its dues in workshops and gigs across Ontario. Reflecting the interest in the album, recently Petal received the 2016 Toronto Jazz Festival’s Special Projects Initiative award. What’s the buzz about? Avataar is led by the multiple JUNO-nominated jazz saxophonist, bansurist and composer Sundar Viswanathan. He’s solidly supported by an all-star band including local jazzers and world music heroes (several of whom lean heavily on Hindustani musical accents): Michael Occhipinti (guitar), Justin Gray (bass), Felicity Williams (voice), Ravi Naimpally (tabla) and Giampaolo Scatozza (drums).

There are numerous solos by all concerned I could cite for praise, starting with wispy long lyrical melodies and searing hard bop gestures in the sax solos by Viswanathan. I also want to earmark the superb, always sensitive and sometimes exploratory guitar work throughout by Occhipinti – but each musician gets a solo to command in the album.

Outstanding performances abound in the title track Petal (the space between). In it, guest Toronto keyboardist Robi Botos begins quietly by playing the grand piano’s strings muted with one hand, thus rendering a remarkably Hungarian cimbalom-like sonority and non-metric rhythmic density. Botos masterfully builds themes and textures with two hands aboard the keyboard. He’s joined by Viswanathan’s sax and Williams’ vocals in twinned melodic lines, sometimes in unison, while other times diverging into harmony with the rest of the band in supporting roles.

Enhancing listening satisfaction is the initial sprinkling of atmospheric sounds in Agra, opening up the track’s soundscape to a glimpse of the world outside the Toronto studio. The pre-recorded spoken texts woven into the uplifting jazz hymn-like Petal (Ephemerata) are also handled skillfully. These are not just any words, but those which reflect the evanescence of human life spoken by Mahatma Gandhi, Osho, the Dalai Lama, Alan Watts, Swami Vivekananda and others, spiritual seekers all. They greatly amplify the positive emotion many listeners will experience in this music.

Concert Note: Avataar launches “Petal” on March 30 at Lula Lounge and performs at the Small World Music Centre on May 20.

05 SurkalenEthno-Charango
Independent (surkalen.ca)


Surkalén is a Quebec quartet of relatively recent vintage, which identifies its music as “ethno-fusion.” Three members of the band are Chileans who met in 2006 in Montreal. Claudio Rojas plays plucked strings, flutes and electric bass, the vocalist Sanda Ulloa also specializes on cuatro and percussion, while bass player Rony Dávila also plays guitar, cuatro and flutes. In 2009 the Russian-Canadian violinist Maria Demacheva joined them and Surkalén was born.

The album title refers to the charango, a small guitar-like instrument of the Andes, whose sound permeates the entire album. As the group explains it, their name is derived from several languages. The “Sur” stands for their South American birthplaces, and “kalén” means “different” in the Selk’nam language of the indigenous people of the Patagonian region of southern Argentina and Chile, a culture referenced on the last track.

While their geographies of origin define a significant part of their work here (particularly that of South America), Surkalén also embraces musical features of Europe, Africa, North India and the Middle East. These manifold transcontinental influences are at times startling, if not jarring, in their superimposition. For example the work Patagonia…, which at its core is almost new-age-y in its violin-led lyricism – played by Demacheva, who exhibits beautiful, secure classically-trained tone – is at one point disturbed by an aggressive rock-like fuzz-toned electric bass solo.

After repeated listing, it seems to me that despite referencing multiple geographically diverse musical performance aesthetic sources, Surkalén’s unifying feature is best characterized as a mix of vernacular music vocabularies and contemporary popular music studio values. It’s that approachable quality which probably accounts for most of the group’s warm reception and popular success.

Concert Note:  Surkalén presents "Ethno-Charango" on March 20 at Salle Claude-Léveillée Place des arts in Montreal.

06 Aly KeitaKalo-Yele
Aly Keïta; Jan Galega Brönnimann; Lucas Niggli
Intakt CD 261 (intaktrec.ch)

This record marks a kind of homecoming for the Swiss drummer Lucas Niggli and reed player Jan Galega Brönnimann. The two became childhood friends in Cameroon and later played together in numerous bands in Switzerland and France during their teenage years. In the 30 years since, Niggli has focused on free jazz and composition while Brönnimann has played electronic jazz and world music. Presented with an opportunity to work with Aly Keïta, Côte d’Ivoire master of the balafon, a marimba-like instrument with calabash resonators, Niggli invited his old friend to make this a trio.

The musical results are consistently remarkable. Niggli is at once one of the world’s most precise percussionists and one of the most creative, exploring a host of sounds from drums, cymbals and gongs while layering complex patterns and interacting with his partners. Aly Keïta has transformed the traditional balafon, crafting a chromatic version of the hyper-resonant instrument. Emphasizing his bass and contrabass clarinets, Brönnimann is as apt to play rhythmic patterns as traditional melodies. The parts all course together into a series of highly distinctive pieces, from the jazz-like beats of Niggli’s Bean Bag, to the piquant sweetness of Brönnimann’s wriggling soprano saxophone on Keïta’s joyously complex Abidjan Serenade, which gains layer upon layer of rhythm. Other fine moments include the sudden contrast of scraped cymbals and gritty contrabass clarinet on Brönnimann’s Bafut and the explosive riffing of Keïta’s Adjamé Street that concludes the CD.

The music resounds with the discovery of a new world, an Africa of the imagination that has coalesced in a Bern recording studio.

01 Inuit hymns

Pillorikput Inuit – Inuktitut Arias for All Seasons
Deantha Edmunds; Karrie Obed; Innismara Vocal Ensemble; Suncor Energy String Quartet; Tom Gordon
Memorial (mun.ca/mmap/back_on_track/pillorikputinuit)


Musicologist and pianist Tom Gordon, professor emeritus of the School of Music at Memorial University in St. John’s, NL has long been fascinated by the sacred music performed by the Inuit Moravians of Northern Labrador. Unlike other Christian denominations, Moravian missionaries not only placed a high value on personal piety and missions, but also particularly encouraged the place of music in worship. Digging to understand this music’s history, Gordon sifted through hundreds of manuscripts in Moravian church archives along the Labrador coast.

What emerged was a rich musical practice with roots back to the 1770s and 1780s when European Moravian missionaries founded settlements in Northern Labrador at Nain, then Okak and Arvertok, the first (of many more) Christian missions to the Inuit in what is now Canada. They came to preach Christianity and one of their prime tools – and legacies – was music.

Quite rapidly the music imported from Europe evolved, in the words of Gordon, as an “expressive practice re-conceived to reflect the spirituality and aesthetic preferences of Inuit musicians.” It was music heard almost exclusively within the modest clapboard walls of Labrador Moravian churches. There it remained, almost unknown to the outside world, until now.

From these communities’ extensive repertoire of brass music, congregational singing and choral music, Gordon has chosen 16 tracks of solo sacred arias and duets, reconstructing them from church manuscripts. The result is the impressively documented and performed CD Pillorikput Inuit (Behold, the People), true not only to the letter of the source manuscripts but also to the Inuit spirit of its performers and tradition-keepers. The music chosen celebrates key annual liturgical events like Christmas and Easter, as well as the community celebrations of Married People’s Day and Church Festival Day.

Featuring the classically trained Inuk soprano Deantha Edmunds and Moravian Inuit music expert Karrie Obed, both singing in Inuktitut, the repertoire includes music by two leading European composers of their day, Handel and Haydn. As expected, songs by lesser-tier yet fascinating Moravian composers such as Johann Daniel Grimm (1719–1760), the American John Antes (1740–1811) and the English clergyman Christian Ignatius Latrobe (1758–1836) are also well represented. Organ, wind and string instrumental accompaniment, and the Innismara Vocal Ensemble from St. John’s provide suitable period support throughout.

What is unique in these performances? It’s not so much the repertoire or the conventional instrumental forces employed. It is rather the deeply heartfelt renditions of these European songs in Inuktitut representing a hybrid Inuit performance practice dating back over 225 years in Canada’s North that I find so moving. It seems to me Pillorikput Inuit represents the tip of the iceberg of the rich Inuit musical heritage the rest of us in the South are just beginning to discover, and enjoy.

09 Rebirth of a NationDJ Spooky – Rebirth of a Nation
Kronos Quartet
Cantaloupe CA21110

If ever there was a potent time to release this masterfully crafted new soundtrack to the D.W. Griffith classic, Birth of a Nation, it would be now during the tumultuous rebuilding of post-George W. Bush America by its extraordinary protagonist Barack Obama. Oblique parallel lines could be drawn through the similarities of situation, except that the country is not fighting a civil war to – among other things – end slavery. However a sharply divided people and flare-ups of discrimination along racial lines, unpopular wars and a dramatic decline in civility towards the presidency might be a likely background for such a soundtrack to what DJ Spooky, the irreverent composer aka Paul D. Miller, calls the Rebirth of a Nation.

The Kronos Quartet seem to be a perfect fit for this musical adventure and the quartet seems to come to terms with DJ Spooky’s mindset as if they were one and the same brain. Their transcendent musicianship, a result of great empathy between the players, provides not just memorable accompaniment to the dramaturgy of Griffith’s visuals but also discreet, seductive and eloquent continuo for Spooky’s own musical instruments that remain stark and dominant throughout the unfolding visuals. Yes, visuals! The soundtrack is accompanied by a wonderfully produced DVD so it is possible to hear the music work in conjunction with the original silent moving picture as well. I like, also the laser-bright instrumentation by Spooky.

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