05 Silent Tears PayadoraSilent Tears – The Last Yiddish Tango
Payadora Tango Ensemble
Six Degrees 657036132924 (payadora.com/silent-tears)

This Payadora Tango Ensemble project features guest musicians and vocalists, and executive producer/English text adapter Dan Rosenberg. It is comprised of tango-flavoured song settings of heart-wrenching memoirs, poems, testimonials and writings by female Holocaust survivors in Canada about the traumatizing violence women and children experienced during the Nazi occupation of Poland. The main lyric sources are from Dr. Paula David’s Terrace Holocaust Survivors Group Poetry Project at Toronto’s Baycrest Centre for Geriatric Care, and from Toronto-based Holocaust survivor Molly Applebaum. All arrangements are by Payadora’s Drew Jurecka.

These songs are based on the inter-war tangos which were popular in the Jewish Central European communities such as four here composed by Artur Gold (1897-1943) who was murdered in the Treblinka Death Camp. Gold’s last tango composition Nie Wierze Ci is arranged into A Prayer for Rescue, based on two 1942 Applebaum diary entries. Marta Kosiorek’s moving heartbreaking vocals, Rebekah Wolkstein’s violin and Jurecka’s bandoneon countermelodies, with steady tango grooves by Robert Horvath’s piano and Joseph Phillips’s double bass are an intriguing uplifting/sad mix. Four songs are composed by Wolkstein. Her The Numbers on My Arm features Aviva Chernick’s colourful emotional vocals with words from the Terrace Group about wearing long sleeves in Canada to hide the numbers branded on Auschwitz prisoners is given tight ensemble support. The release also features guests Lenka Lichtenberg and Olga Avigail Mieleszczuk (vocals), and Sergiu Popa (accordion).

This is the most memorable release I have ever had the privilege to listen to and review.

01 Dizzy FayHooked
Dizzy & Fay
Independent (dizzyandfay.com)

Dizzy & Fay are at it again. With Hooked, their second release in just two years (thanks lockdowns!), the duo (keyboardist, songwriter, arranger and producer Mark Lalama and Juno-nominated singer and songwriter Amanda Walther) continues to build its persona, reminiscent of smoky jazz clubs, late nights and one too many martinis.

Hooked ventures beyond the duo and their considerable playing and singing skills though, with arrangements rich with woodwinds (Johnny Johnson) horns (William Carn and Jason Logue) drums (Davide DiRenzo) and bass (Rich Moore). The City of Prague Philharmonic even makes a couple of appearances and Drew Jurecka’s orchestrations on those tracks really shine.

As great as all of those accoutrements are, what draws us in most is the songwriting. Inspired by the Great American Songbook, Lalama and Walther have given us a set of songs that are both lyrically and musically strong and stylized, yet heartfelt. Themes of love and longing dominate but no modern album is complete, it seems, without at least one song about the pandemic and I’m Alright elegantly shrugs it all off while Good News cleverly evokes the strange mix of ennui, despair and coziness many of us felt. Hooked is playful and cool but will break your heart if you let it. 

(The duo’s virtual world, the Dizzy & Fay Speakeasy, complete with tour dates and merch, can be explored at dizzyandfay.com.)

Listen to 'Hooked' Now in the Listening Room

02 Sheku SongSong
Sheku Kanneh-Mason
Decca B0036196-02 (deccaclassics.com/en/artists/sheku-kanneh-mason)

Since winning BBC Young Musician in 2017 cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason has been much in demand from every musical quarter, traversing a road to glory, the envy of many musicians, some twice – even three times – his age. It is now safe to say that the music world is Kanneh-Mason’s oyster, albeit with room to spare for all his über-gifted siblings.  

But the cellist has – to all intents and purposes – pride of place in music’s rarefied realm. His Shostakovich First Cello Concerto unearthed real depth. From evidence of his various Decca recordings he seems to have soaked up every experience in the glitz and gush of what you might call his formative years. At the time of reviewing Song, with its repertoire culled from the classical and the popular, and from secular and sacred pieces, Kanneh-Mason is set to perform his interpretation of Elgar’s monumental Cello Concerto in E Minor Op.85 – a work long held out of bounds because of Jacqueline du Pré’s iconic 1962 recording – with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. (Unfortunately, that will have taken place by time of publication.)

However, Song amplifies the truth that Kanneh-Mason may have inherited Du Pré’s crown. The freshly radiant interpretation of Beethoven’s Variations on Ein Mädchen oder Weibchen, Mendelssohn’s Songs without Words (both also feature his brilliant pianist-sister, Isata), Stravinsky’s Chanson russe and Bach’s sacred music are spectacular. But Same Boat, a song composed by Kanneh-Mason (with vocalist Zak Abel) is the album’s apogee. In this simple song lies notice of Kanneh-Mason’s glowing compositional genius. 

03 Jim SelfMy America 2: Destinations
Jim Self; Various Artists
Basset Hound Music (bassethoundmusic.com)

Unless you’ve been living in a cave with no access to media for the past 40 years, you have heard the tuba playing of Jim Self. A legendary fixture in Hollywood recording studios, he has performed on countless sessions for film and television and is probably best known for his performance as the “Voice of the Mothership” from Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind. And all the while, Self has maintained an impressive “live” career in many groups, including the Los Angeles Opera, the Hollywood Bowl Symphony, as a jazz musician and a celebrated tuba soloist.

His latest solo release, My America 2: Destinations (a sequel to My America released 20 years ago) is a jazzy romp through places in the USA that have been important to him throughout his long career. (As the cover states: “We hold these tunes to be SELF-evident.” Cute.) It goes without saying that Self’s solo tuba playing is amazing and his backup band made up of top LA studio musicians is as tight as one would expect, but what makes this album memorable are the arrangements by his longtime friend, Kim Scharnberg. His eclectic, inventive writing, his creative scoring (and, of course, Self’s stellar tuba playing) will have me returning to this disc time and time again.

04 John Oswaldi’d Love to Turn…
John Oswald
fony (pfony.bandcamp.com/album/id-love-to-turn)

Prolific Canadian composer/performer John Oswald is back with an illustrious, boundary-crashing release, dedicated to Phil Strong. Four main tracks are online streaming, with additional five bonus tracks. videos and main track PDF scores for downloading.

The main four tracks are Oswald’s self-described plunderphonic Rascali Klepitoire/hybrids combining elements from live-performance recordings with studio-based additions and plunderphonic transformations, primarily focused on music he discovered in the mid-1960s. Fee Fie Foe Fum is complex, surprisingly easy listening based on the 1966 pop hit, and Oswald’s research between Frank Zappa’s first album release and Edgard Varèse’s death. Familiar tidbits are superimposed into fragmented short upbeat modern sounds. 

The BBC orchestral commission I’d Love to Turn… quotes The Beatles, Ligeti and Terry Riley. This studio recreation combines orchestral sounds with electronics, creating new music embedded in popular music. 

Oswald quotes from around 40 piano scores in brief fragments, up to four simultaneously, in the Marc-André Hamelin solo piano commission Tip (2022). A calm, classical-flavoured opening leads to chords, flourishes, runs and rhythms. Love the evocative high-pitched ringing sections. 

Varèse, Zappa and 1960s music are featured in reFuse. Oswald’s ear-catching talent to keep a work moving with fragmented interchanging, superimposed live instruments and electronic quotes and effects drive this “name that tune” work. Bonus tracks highlights are live Hamelin rehearsal Tip, and Turning Point Ensemble reFuse performances. Oswald reinvents Ligeti, Zappa and Varèse each separately on three additional tracks.

The more one listens to Oswald’s memorable music here, the more one hears and loves.

01 So Long SevenOnly Elephants Know Her Name
So Long Seven
Independent SLS003 (solongseven.bandcamp.com/releases)

Canadian instrumental quartet So Long Seven – Neil Hendry (guitars), Tim Posgate (banjos), William Lamoureux (violin) and Ravi Naimpally (tabla, dumbek, udu, percussion) – is back with an eight track release featuring their unique flavourful, original compositions and tight performances blending classical, folk, blues, jazz and world traditions from India, Africa, Europe and the Americas. Hendry’s liner notes provide backgrounds to the tracks.

My favourite animals each have a composition here… The title track only elephants know her name was written for a Kenyan elephant with almost ground-touching tusks. Superimposed repeated jazzy and rock-like styles, fun percussion rolls and orchestral strings lead to Posgate’s virtuosic contrasting colour and rhythmic banjo solo. Mara is about an Asian elephant that worked in a circus until 1995 and on retirement moved to a zoo in Argentina and then, during the pandemic, to a sanctuary in Brazil. It features the mesmerizing guest, Hindustani vocalist Samidha Joglekar, singing a haunting folk-like melody, reciting a Ganesh prayer her mother taught her, above a held-note and rhythmic beats backdrop. Now to the hopping Frolic of the Monsoon Frogs, inspired by Naimpally’s Indian childhood post-monsoon memories of puddles full of dancing frogs. Upbeat rock/jazz time-to-party percussion and bass drive the repeated almost atonal shots, instrumental solos including guest strings, background clapping and vocal screams.

Violinist Lamoureux produced the release, and arranged guest string performers’ parts to some tracks like L’unique étoile de la tolérance, a calming soundscape of held-notes washes, closing plucks and his slow violin melodic lines. The closing Ghost Ocean has thoughtful, reflective quartet sounds.

A big welcome to So Long Seven’s great new release!

Listen to 'Only Elephants Know Her Name' Now in the Listening Room

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