04a Oklahoma Audrey SilverOklahoma!
Nathaniel Hackmann; Sierry Boggess; Sinfonia of London; John Wilson
Chandos CHSA 5322(2) (chandos.net/products/catalogue/CHSA%205322)

Audrey Silver
Messy House Records MH 0105 (audreysilver.com)

Since the original Broadway production opened on March 31, 1943 and ran for an unprecedented 2,212 performances, with its pithy lyrics and dialogue, sumptuous melodies, dramatic plot points, fully developed characters as well as a contemporary ballet sequence, Rogers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma! has enjoyed endless revivals on Broadway, international productions translated into a plethora of languages and a film version that remains, in my opinion, one of the finest pieces of American cinema ever created. Recently, two fine recordings at either end of the musical spectrum have been released… a vocal jazz exploration of ten of the show’s most memorable tunes featuring the prodigious talents of NYC-based jazz vocalist Audrey Silver, and a full theatrical production conducted by John Wilson with the Sinfonia of London. These two diverse presentations are a fine representation of the near immortality of a good piece of theatre – one traditional and one exploratory – and both superb and timeless. 

For her fifth CD as leader (which she also produced), Silver has put together a phenomenal ensemble, featuring the gifted Bruce Barth on piano (Barth also serves as arranger here), Peter Bernstein on guitar, Adam Kolker on alto flute and bass clarinet, Khalil Kwame Bell on percussion and a well-appointed string section. The original book for Oklahoma! was adapted from Lynn Riggs’ 1931 novel, Green Grow the Lilacs. Interestingly, the novel contained a strong Native American plotline and presence which was effectively deleted for the Broadway show. In the opening title track, Silver restores that glaring omission by performing deftly on Native American Flute to parenthesize the song. The stunning arrangement by Barth is full of surprises as Silver’s warm, mellifluous voice weaves in and out of the familiar melody – making it her own. 

Other treats include a swinging take on Many a New Day, which features a lovely, Charlie Christian-esque guitar solo from Bernstein; a moving interpretation of Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’ on which Silver, Barth and the sinuous string lines access the very soul of the hearty, natural world-loving settlers of the Western U.S. (or anywhere, really). Of special mention is a masterful and lilting treatment of the rarely performed, Out of My Dreams. The delicious and languid nature of Silver’s warm and wistful vocals here are reminiscent of the great Irene Kral, and Barth also renders a stunner of a solo, enhanced by luminous string lines.

04b Oklahoma OrchestralAnd now for something altogether different. Chandos has just released a truly magnificent double-disc recording of Oklahoma!. The release of the recording itself, has coincided with the 80th anniversary of the venerable musical’s first performance while an expert, talented and compelling cast delivers performances that thrill to the bone. Heading up the fine cast are Nathaniel Hackmann as Curly; Sierra Boggess as Laurey; Rodney Earl Clarke as Jud; Jamie Parker as Will Parker; Sandra Marvin as Aunt Eller and Louise Dearman as Ado Annie. It was Wilson’s inspiration that resulted (ten years on) in this golden age musical that had previously never been recorded in its original form. Robert Russell Bennett’s orchestrations have been beautifully and perfectly restored as well as being re-engraved by Bruce Pomahac at the Rogers & Hammerstein Organization resulting in – to quote Wilson, “To my ears, this great masterpiece in its original instrumental clothing, sounds as fresh as the day it was written”.

The quality of the recording is so vibrant, vigorous and visceral, that one imagines that they are actually in the first row of the orchestra section. There is also much additional, fascinating interstitial music here, which was necessary in live theatre at the time, in order to facilitate scene/costume changes, etc. The sheer excellence of the arrangements, interpretation, orchestra, direction and the stupendous cast make this a totally satisfying listening experience – theatre buff, or not.

Listen to 'Oklahoma!' Now in the Listening Room

01 Sultans of StringWalking Through Fire
Indigenous Collaborations with Sultans of String
Independent MCK2301 (sultansofstring.com)

This powerful project is the result of inspired musical and poetic collaborations between an array of gifted Indigenous artists from a wide variety of musics and tribal identities, and the highly regarded, multiple award-winning Sultans of String, which includes producer Chris McKhool on violin and viola, producer Kevin Laliberte on nylon-, steel-string and electric guitars, Drew Birston on electric and acoustic bass and Rosendo “Chandy” Leon Jr. on drums and percussion. These diverse artists – Indigenous and non-indigenous have joined together in the spirit of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s 94 Calls to Action and Final Report, which sparked the co-creation of Walking Through Fire – the title of both the CD and live touring performances, which began on the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation this year. 

There are 14 original tracks here, each inspiring, thought-provoking and brilliantly produced. Works of particular beauty include A Beautiful Darkness featuring Ojibwe vocalist Marc Märileinen, backed by a thrilling wall of sound, punctuated by McKhool’s haunting violin lines; Kó, with luminous and resonant vocals by Dene artists Leela Gilday and Leanne Taneton and The Rez – a deeply moving ballad featuring both rock and fiddling motifs alongside a stirring, soulful vocal from young, contemporary Ojibwe performer Crystal Shawanda. 

Also unforgettable is the soul-searing Take Off the Crown, where the incomprehensible horror of the murdered children is explored in a place beyond tears, introduced by “Digging Roots” member Raven Kanatakta (Anishinaabe Algonquin/Onkwehón:we Mohawk). Our Mother The Earth is also a gem, featuring masterful work from the Sultans of String as well as the vocal gravitas of the eminent Dr. Duke Redbird (Chippewa/Anishinaabe). This project is a rare gift from all of the artists involved… the gift of creativity, collaboration and hope for our future.

02 Vineet VyasSatyam
Vineet Vyas
Independent (vineetvyas.com)

Toronto-based tabla virtuoso Vineet Vyas’ musical path encompasses both the Canadian East Coast and one of the preeminent music traditions of India. Born into a family of Hindustani classical musicians in Nova Scotia, he began lessons on the tabla early. 

Already showing promise, in 1987 his studies modulated to the next level. That year he began instruction in the traditional guru-shishya parampara manner with tabla master Pandit Kishan Maharaj in Varanasi, India. Vyas credits that intense training and sadhana (dedication) to his guru for enabling him to establish himself as a tabla musician on the international stage. 

Vyas’ seven-track album Satyam, his third solo outing, was nominated for Global Recording of the Year at the 2023 (Canadian) East Coast Music Awards. Satyam – a Sanskrit concept referring to examining the truth – musically evokes the Hindu myth of princess Savitri, her husband prince Satyavan and their struggle with Yama, the goddess of death. Spoiler alert: after extensive musical conflict, the last track resolves in a peaceful coda. 

While the record features Vyas’ tabla mastery throughout, Satyam also leans heavily on seven skilled musicians who provide melodies based on Hindustani ragas. They contextualize, support and sometimes also defy the often sonically dense and mathematically intense drumming. In addition to the gripping Savitri narrative, Ajay Prasanna (bansuri), Rajib Karmakar (sitar), Pankaj Mishra (sarangi), Justin Gray (electric bass) and Bageshree Vaze (vocals) make substantial contributions to Satyam’s success as a listen-through album.

Listen to 'Satyam' Now in the Listening Room

03 WanderlustWanderlust
Lara Deutsch; Adam Cicchillitti
Leaf Music LM269 (leaf-music.ca)

During the mid-2010s I went to New York to research an article about some of the unusual characters that dot the historical jazz landscape. After a considerable crosstown public bus journey one day, I found myself sitting across from Bernard Stollman, whose career and life is too fantastical and wide-ranging to discuss here. Briefly, however, I was speaking to Stollman about that incredibly fertile 18-month period from 1963 to 1965, when he oversaw and released 45 largely freely improvised albums on his label ESP-DISK. Although the label would become best known for its association with Albert Ayler and Sunny Murray, ESP-DISK’s first release was Ni Kantu En Esperanto (Let’s Sing in Esperanto), a vocal album capturing a collection of folk songs in that “universal language” created by L.L. Zamenhof in 1887.

What, you may ask, does any of this have to do with Wanderlust, the terrific Leaf Music collection of folk pieces by flutist Lara Deutsch and guitarist Adam Cicchillitti? I suppose it is that while enjoyably listening to this 2023 recording – which threads together eight disparate pieces representing a multiplicity of musical regions and cultures by way of gorgeous playing, telepathic musical interaction and two expertly cultivated instrumental sounds – I was again reminded that Zamenhof’s quest for a “universal language” had, in fact, already been realized. It’s called music. This aptly named travelogue recording, treats the music of Argentina, Romania, Japan and elsewhere with the equity of aplomb and care it deserves, foregrounding beauty while ensuring that nothing is lost in translation. 

Listen to 'Wanderlust' Now in the Listening Room

04 Ivan LindsMy Heart Speaks
Ivan Lins
Resonance Records (resonancerecords.org/product/ivan-lins-my-heart-speaks-cd)

All of the compositions here were written by the esteemed Ivan Lins (who has penned more than 600 tunes in his illustrious 50-year career), and all arrangements are by Kuno Schmid. Lins’ dynamic core ensemble includes Josh Nelson on piano, Leo Amuedo on guitar, Carlitos Del Puerto on bass and Mauricio Zottarelli on drums and percussion, as well as the gorgeous inclusion of the Republic of Georgia’s Tbilisi Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Vakhtang Kakhidze. The recording was produced by Schmid and George Klabin and the stunning CD package itself features compelling liner notes from the eminent author and arts journalist, James Gavin.

The first selection is the sumptuous Renata Maria, which features Lins’ recognizable tenor in a lovely melodic foray, enhanced by lush symphonic string lines, a superb guitar solo by Amuedo and Lins’ palpable sense of joy. Next up is the title track, replete with a luminous Dianne Reeves sailing directly into the listener’s heart, effortlessly wielding her languid and sultry-four octave range. Congada Blues features the core ensemble, and surrounds us with a deep, percussion-enhanced tribal resonance, punctuated by a fine bass solo from Del Puerto. 

Other beauties here include the up-tempo, jazzy cooker Easy Going, the melancholy waltz, Corpos (Bodies) and Missing Miles, which features perhaps the most lush and thrilling symphonic elements on the project, as well as a superb wordless vocal from Lins and a deeply moving, muted solo from trumpeter extraordinaire, Randy Brecker. The final track, Nada Sem Voce (Nothing Without You) returns the music to the essential unit of piano and rhythm section – rendering it all the more emotional and directly communicative.

05 Poetry is BloodPoetry is Blood
Keith Garebian
Independent KGCD2301 (kgarebian@gmail.com)

Much in the same way that musical improvisation is sometimes referred to as “liquid composition,” and, conversely, composition as “frozen improvisation,” there exists a simpatico relationship to the best poetry and musical collaborations. Great poetry is indeed musical, and the best musical offerings poetic. 

Although prior to listening to the thoughtful, and thought-provoking, recording Poetry is Blood by Keith Garebian (with musical contributions from the great Ernie Tollar), my reference for successful fusions of poetry and jazz was limited to Jack Kerouac’s October in the Railroad Earth or American Haikus, where the late Beat writer’s prose is accompanied by some combination of Steve Allen, Al Cohn, and Zoot Sims. While admittedly genre non-adjacent to my aforementioned Kerouac reference, Garebian’s 2023 release, supported by a Mississauga Arts Council grant, is an equally compelling offering. Presenting 18 poems taken from some 40 contained within Garebian’s 2018 book of the same name, this recording explores both dark and introspective themes as related to the ongoing Armenian genocide. As such, engaged listeners once again bear witness to the power of art to comment upon, contextualize and humanize tragic events that, in our 24-hour news cycle, may wax and wane in our collective imagination, but are nonetheless important to be reminded of and educated about. 

Read by the author in his fine voice and accompanied by Tollar on both flute and percussion utilizing a call-and-responsive trope of effective musical communication, the recording is not an easy listen, given the sobering magnitude of the subject matter. But for those looking to expand their knowledge of this unfolding world event through deeply personal and effective poetry and creative reflection, this recording comes highly recommended. 

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