04 Bruno Capinan Tara RaraTara Rara
Bruno Capinan
Independent (capinan.com) 

Bruno Capinan (they/them) is a Brazilian-Canadian singer and songwriter whose music combines traditional Brazilian rhythms with contemporary pop and rock influences. For Tara Rara, their sixth album, they delve into stories and sounds stemming from their home state of Bahia. 

Since all the songs are in Portuguese, those of us who don’t speak that language won’t be able to literally understand the songs, but the emotions come through via Capinan’s expressive singing. Capinan has explained that the inspiration for Tara Rara, which means rare desire, came to them in a dream about two enslaved men who fell in love on a slave ship travelling from Africa to Brazil. The themes of the songs relate to love, pain, childhood memories, reclamation, catharsis and heritage.

Musically, there is plenty to appreciate with pretty melodies and infectious rhythms plus beautiful string, woodwind and horn accompaniments throughout. Much credit goes to producer Vivian Kuczynski, who also mixed, arranged and played keyboard, synthesizer and guitar on all the tracks. The album opens with Ode ao Povo Brasileiro (Ode to the Brazilian People), a polyrhythmic tune that blends traditional Brazilian percussion with modern electronic sounds. From there, the album explores a range of styles, including the haunting Deuses Deusas, the gently swinging samba Meu Preto and the danceable Mafua. Fans of Brazilian music will find much to enjoy on this dynamic and eclectic album.

05a Gamelan 4Gamelan Music of Cirebon Indonesia Volume 4
Gamelan Sinar Surya

Gamelan Music of Cirebon Indonesia Volume 7
Gamelan Sinar Surya

Gamelan Melayu – Traditional Gamelan Music Of Malaysia
Gamelan Sinar Surya
Independent (gamelan.bandcamp.com)

Gamelan Sinar Surya (Javanese for Rays of the Sun), a collective of 16 musicians and dancers from Santa Barbara, California, has a unique artistic mission. Directed by the indefatigable musician, music director, teacher and cultural activist Richard North, for decades the group has been dedicated to the preservation, performance and dissemination of the traditional performing arts of Cirebon, located on the northcentral coast of the island of Java, Indonesia. Cirebon is a cultural region with deep historic roots, richly endowed with dynamically evolving artistic traditions. North made his first visit to Cirebon in 1976 and his reaction to what he experienced was profound. “I immediately fell in love with the culture, especially the music.” 

Gamelan Sinar Surya (GSS)’s practice centres on the music played on numerous kinds of the indigenous gamelan, which can be described as an orchestra of various hanging gongs, gongchimes, metallophones, a xylophone, flutes, drums and sometimes other instruments and voices. Of GSS’ three newest releases, two are dedicated to the performance of traditional Cirebon gamelan repertoire, while the third explores the different gamelan music performed on the Malaysian mainland.

Gamelan Music of Cirebon, Indonesia: Volume 4 includes music played on four types of Cirebonese gamelan; each with its own tuning, playing style, character and a bespoke repertoire. Many of the instrumental pieces played by these antique gamelans are rarely heard today. For instance, the tracks Abduhu and Bragalan illustrate one of the reasons: the great age of some of these works. They originated in the Javanese sultanate of Banten, founded by Sunan Gunung Jati before he became the second king of Cirebon in 1479 CE. Abduhu and Bragalan are played on the seven-tone gamelan pelog forming part of the repertoire of the vanished Banten shadow-puppet theatre.

05b Gamelan 7Gamelan Music of Cirebon Volume 7- Live Concert was recorded in front of a live audience in Santa Barbara. GSS’ seventh album includes pieces from the characteristically bright and cheerful five-tone gamelan prawa repertoire. The outlier here is the lilting, spare Timang Burung from the Malaysian gamelan tradition, instrumental music which typically accompanies a dance depicting a princess awaiting the arrival of a bird of paradise in a palace garden. The track Moblong is a further example of North’s underlying mission. A delicate classical melody from the gamelan prawa repertoire, it is traditionally played to calm the bride in a royal wedding at the Kacirebonan Palace. North learned it in the 1980s from the palace arts director, Pangeran Haji Yusuf Dendabrata. On returning to Cirebon after a 17-year absence he was surprised to find no living musicians who knew the piece. This recording is part of an initiative to re-introduce it to the Cirebon repertoire.

05c Gamelan MelayuGamelan Melayu: Traditional Gamelan Music of Malaysia

With deep historical roots on the Indonesian islands of Java and Bali, gamelan music performance has over the last few hundred years spread to other cultural spaces – and eventually around the world, including Canada – adapted into scores of distinct regional styles. Gamelan Melayu is one of a constellation of treasured Malaysian arts, the music linked to elaborate royal dances known collectively as joged gamelan, back in the day performed in the palaces of Malay sultans. Despite its centuries-old pedigree, gamelan Melayu is relatively unknown among the global music community. Richard North studied this rare gamelan style in 1980 with the well-known Malaysian joged gamelan expert Marion d’Cruz. After a long wait, this is GSS’ first album to feature this melody-forward music. Listeners get a privileged glimpse into music imbued with a distinctive delicate regional charm, convincingly rendered.

01 Both Sides of JoniBoth Sides of Joni
Janiece Jaffe; Monika Herzig
Acme Records JM001 (acmerecords.com)

There is no question that Joni Mitchell is a member of a small coterie of artists who have contributed to the very ethos of 21st century music itself (in all of its splendid diversity). Mitchell’s synesthesiac blendings of unconventional melodies, chordal structures and contemporary poetry have touched our hearts and minds, and it’s the eclectic nature of Mitchell’s work that has lent itself to a variety of tributes. With this posthumous release from award-winning vocalist Janiece Jaffe and pianist/arranger Monika Herzig, Mitchell’s work is interpreted with a fresh, jazz-oriented perspective, which includes stalwart performances from noted jazz artists Greg Ward on saxophone, Jeremy Allen on bass, Carolyn Dutton on violin and Cassius Goens on drums.

Included in this compelling recording are Herzig’s innovative arrangements of Mitchell’s most commercially successful songs, as well as some lesser-performed gems. First up is Help Me, which features a melodious, a cappella sax intro which then segues into a rhythmic, swinging musical tapestry replete with stunningly beautiful multi-track vocals from Jaffe. Jaffe’s voice is a delight to the ear. Her clear, pitch-perfect tones embrace the melody and charge it with meaning and Goens’ relentless drums and Ward’s improvisational choices propel this superb track.

The title track is rife with emotional content – exploring the nature of hindsight and regret, and Mitchell’s melancholy River (from Blue) has been cleverly arranged by Herzig. My Old Man is a total delight, warm and ebullient with well-chosen chord substitutions, fully embracing jazz motifs and featuring a solid electric bass solo from Peter Kienle and lighter-than-air soprano work from Ward. The Hissing of Summer Lawns is a triumph in every way – transporting Mitchell’s intent to a whole new dimension of free jazz featuring an energizing piano solo by Herzig. Also of special note is The Circle Game – presented here with a profound innocence and pristine vocal. Although Jaffe died suddenly prior to this release, her vision and musicality will be celebrated with extensive tours in the U.S. and Europe featuring New York City chanteuse Alexis Cole.  

02 Tina HarttAbsence of You
Tina Hartt
Independent (tinahartt.com)

The instrumentation hooks you, the arrangements reel you in and Tina Hartt’s passionate performance catches you. Trust Your Heart is an arresting original composition, with Jonathan D. Lewis’ wistful strings cascading over Hartt’s evocative lyricism; equal parts yearnful and triumphant. The relationship between form and substance shines through in every note Hartt sings. Every once in a while, when the band employs silence or coordinates hits for emphasis, Hartt shapes her phrases in a way where profundity takes center stage. In lines like “I can’t touch but I can dream” from I Can Look but I Can’t Touch, that hesitation adds an exclamation point to the echo effect the music creates, bringing the idea home with great clarity. 

Aside from Hartt’s consistent ingenuity as a vocalist and limitless creativity, this album is tied together by how incredible it sounds. Credit is due to Steve Dierkens for the mixing, because it adds a great feeling of intimacy and closeness to the album. There are no effects imposed on any musicians present and yet the sound is recorded with startling detail. Every element of the music feels like the most prominent aspect at any given moment, and it is this kind of clarity that lends to Hartt’s voice perfectly. From the very first track to the end, there is a singular directness of Hartt’s approach to her music, and the effectiveness of said approach cannot be overstated.

03 Harry BartlettWildwood
Harry Bartlett Trio
Independent (harrybartlettmusic.com)

Harry Bartlett, an accomplished jazz guitarist and composer with a music degree from the University of Toronto, has played in festivals and venues across Canada and has also toured public schools to provide improvisation workshops. Although currenting living and playing in Toronto, he grew up in the Pacific Northwest and the music for Wildwood was composed while living on Gambier Island (approximately 50 km northwest of Vancouver). Titles like Snowfall on Sword Ferns and Circle of Moss and Fire Smoke evoke the landscapes which inspired Bartlett’s music. Wildwood was recorded over three days on that same Island. 

All the tunes have an atmospheric quality that is enhanced by the trio’s empathic playing. Burgess Falls is hauntingly melodic, and the guitar work combines a Bill Frisell-feel with a few country-ish riffs. Sailing Over Troubled Waters features a distorted and atonal guitar line along with swirling and bashing drums to mimic an occasionally violent storm. Wildwood is an engaging and beautiful album with Caleb Klager (bass) and Harry Vetro (drums) providing nuanced support to Bartlett’s superb guitar work.

04 Blink TwiceBlink Twice
Jackson Welchner
Plutoid Records (jacksonwelchner.com)

“Let’s go grab a coffee/and talk about every moment since/since we had last crossed paths.” Blink Twice is comfort music. The harmony is warm, the strings are soft, the rhythms are sweet, the lyrics are reassuring. The five-pattern-synth ostinato on the title track will bounce around your skull for hours as it soothes you into a heightened state of being. Sum of All Strings feels like the chamber movement to end all others, as it meditates on its final figure, with an abrupt fade leaving the listener time to recompose themselves. Sarah Thawer’s ride cymbal shimmers, Michael Davidson’s vibes intrigue, Thom Gill’s arpeggios envelop, while Patrick Smith, Kae Murphy and Anh Phung’s countermelodies positively delight.  

Contemporary music that commands perhaps the most respect is the kind that treats the low end with the same respect it treats the mids and highs. Jackson Welchner’s arrangements are an exercise in perfect, immensely cathartic balance. The music is progressive, stylistically well-versed while being astonishingly easy to move to. Welchner’s voice is absolute velvet, while being able to consume the cosmos on The Distance. The versatility is in the consonants, and in the consonance. Nary a second of music doesn’t feel cared for and nurtured. It would be easy to come across as hyperbolic saying it, but at this point in the year, it’s hard to find many first (or second, or third…) listens more holistically gratifying than this.

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