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Under the Canopy

The Huppah Project

Independent HP0001 (www.thehuppahproject.com)

I first heard Aviva Chernick in concert with her band Jaffa Road, in the packed Brigantine Room at last fall’s Ashkenaz Festival at Harbourfront. That same weekend saw the release of her latest (and second) CD, “Under the Canopy”. Part of “The Huppah Project”, this CD is a collection of Jewish wedding music, sung entirely in Hebrew, with instrumental accompaniment. Many of the lyrics come from the Song of Songs or other liturgical texts, with either traditional music or music composed in our own era, and at least one song is from 1950s Israel. All are arranged by Chernick and/or ensemble members Aaron Lightstone, who plays ud, guitar and saz, and Jeff Wilson (drums, percussion, cornet). Chernick is the one who shines in this recording and is definitely one to watch on the Toronto music scene. She sings with a purity and clarity of vocal tone that carries this genre well, and to my knowledge is one of the only female vocalists in Toronto specializing in Jewish music of this sort (ie. non-klezmer, Hebrew based). Other back-up musicians include Ernie Tollar (ney) and George Sawa (qanun), who are featured in Heviani el Beit Hayayin (To the Vinyard’s house), a traditional Moroccan song. Visit www.avivachernick.com for more about this artist’s activities.

Karen Ages

Concert note: Aviva and her band Jaffa Road will be giving a CD release concert at the Lula Lounge, March 25 (see www.jaffaroadmusic.com).




Musica Latina

Quartetto Gelato

Linus 2 70104 www.quartettogelato.ca

Quartetto Gelato returns with a soulful collection of Latin American selections. Both joy and tragedy have resulted in personnel changes for this much loved Canadian ensemble. Cellist Kristina Cooper has left for marriage and parenthood. The untimely death of founding member oboist Cynthia Steljes is extremely gripping – both as a musician and individual she was a bright light in the musical community and is deeply missed. It is with gratitude that we note the superb playing of these two on Meditango and BesameMMucho in this new release.

New QG members cellist Carina Reeves and clarinettist Kornel Wolak join violinist/tenor Peter De Sotto and accordionist Alexander Sevastian to continue the ensemble’s musical journeys. The tight ensemble playing, astute musicality and sheer happiness illuminate each track. The selections featured should be familiar to most listeners. Tico Tico is a rhythmic joy to listen to with Sevastian’s florid accordion work. Wolak melts the aural senses in Um a Zero while De Sotto charms his way through Manha De Carnival. I wish that cellist Carina Reeves could be heard in the forefront more often - her supportive playing is superb but her elegant performance as a lead instrumentalist is underutilized. A number of special guests are featured including the wonderful Penderecki String Quartet.

Quartetto Gelato’s music is extremely appealing. It is the choice of repertoire combined with an esoteric musical approach that makes the unmistakable sound so lovely. Yes, you have probably heard most of the tunes on “Musica Latina” thousands of times before. You just haven’t heard them the Quartetto Gelato way!

Tiina Kiik


Like Light Off Water

Daphne Marlatt; Robert Minden;

Carla Hallett

Otter Sound OB 105 (www.LostSound.com)

Capturing the historical essence of a west coast fishing community, Daphne Marlatt’s long poem Steveston was published in 1974 as a much-acclaimed book with photographs by Robert Minden. For this recording, Marlatt reads passages from that work as well as the postscript added to the 2001 edition. With an evocative soundscape composed and performed by Minden and Carla Hallett, the images of a “boom and bust” town at the mouth of the Fraser River centered around fishing boats and cannery and the psychological states of its inhabitants are brought to life with qualities ranging from eerie trepidation to awestruck wonder. The quality and pacing of Marlatt’s voice is superb and a striking similarity between her speaking voice and Hallett’s singing makes for a beautifully seamless transition in the narrative flow. Minden’s photographic talent translates very well to the evocation of visual imagery through sound. The music is sparse but highly effective with mechanical noise set against the rippling and twinkling of water and light, together with haunting depictions of mysterious and erotic undercurrents mixed with the gentle beauty of the night sky. Pure poetry, pure sound, shifting the listener’s consciousness to the depths of pure feeling.

Dianne Wells






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The Toronto area boasts some of the finest talent representing non-Western and traditional music, and four recently released CDs attest to the rich diversity of the city’s cultural fabric. The Georgian vocal ensemble Darbazi has been around since 1995, performing music from the Caucasus region that bridges Europe and Asia. While director Shalva Makharashvilli hails from that region, the other nine or so members are primarily local, but you wouldn’t know it, listening to this CD entitled Vakhtanguri. This is folk music and vocal polyphony at its finest, and it’s easy to hear why Darbazi has been so well received during visits to Georgia. The ensemble and soloists deliver each number with that wonderful open-throated vocal style characteristic of Georgian music, good diction, and outstanding harmonic intonation. The title song, described as a table song, is one of the most intricate, and features yodelling from member David Anderson (of Clay and Paper Theatre fame). The dance song Kakhuri Satsekvao features Makharashvilli as melismatic vocal soloist. Some of the numbers are accompanied by traditional instruments; both plucked and bowed, expertly played by ensemble members. All songs are traditional, and include “toasting” songs, dance, love, and work songs, liturgical and epic poem settings, and songs about life in general. The CD is dedicated to the memory of ensemble member John Martin, who passed away in 2007. (www.darbazi.com)

02_nagata Having celebrated its tenth anniversary, Nagata Shachu (formerly the Kiyoshi Nagata Ensemble) recently released its sixth CD, Tsuzure (Tapestry). Toronto’s best known Japanese Taiko ensemble delivers polished performances of eleven works, composed by founder and director Kiyoshi Nagata and ensemble member Aki Takahashi. These compositions are very much rooted in Japanese tradition, however with what Nagata, a former Kodo Drummers protégé, refers to as “looking within the box”. What distinguishes this ensemble is its use of instruments in addition to Taiko drums. The title piece of this CD is a good example of this, employing the zither-like koto, shinobue (transverse flute) and ankle bells alongside the drums, weaving a delicate texture of sound. Other instruments used include shakuhachi (end blown flute), and shamisen (lute), with various others added for the final piece, Mamagoto, literally “child’s play”. Koe Narashi is purely vocal. Percussion lovers won’t be disappointed though; this is primarily a drumming ensemble, featuring Taiko drums of all shapes and sizes generously donated by their drum-manufacturing sponsors in Japan. Expertly engineered, this CD is dedicated to the memory of Nagata’s teacher Oguchi Daihachi (1924-2008). (www.nagatashachu.com)
Husband and wife team Maryem and Ernie Tollar need no introduction here; Maryem is probably this country’s best known Arabic vocalist, while Ernie is a multi-instrumental wind player and composer. Cairo to Toronto (ROM 09) is their third CD together, and is to a certain extent an autobiographical account of Maryem’s own journey, exploring themes from alienation and longing to freedom and hope for a better future. The title also refers to the two guest artists on this recording, Dr. Alfred Gamil (violin) and Mohamed Aly (violin and oud), who came here from Egypt to work and perform with Maryem and her ensemble this past year. This is a stunning recording all around - a melding of traditional Arabic-rooted melodic style with jazz and pop nuances.The vocal selections are sung and primarily composed by Maryem, with some of the lyrics by her uncle Ehab Lotayef. Some of my favourite tracks however are among the five purely instrumental numbers, three of which are composed by Ernie Tollar, the other two by Alfred Gamil. These sound the most authentically traditional Arabic, though are not quite. The track Duetto Nahawand, a violin duet featuring Gamil and Aly closes the CD. The other musicians are familiar to Toronto audiences: Levon Ichkhanian (guitar), Andrew Stewart and Rich Brown (bass), Deb Sinha (various percussion), Alan Hetherington and Daniel Barnes (drums). (www.cdbaby.com/cd/maryemernietollar) 03_cairo_toronto
04_neeraj_prem When we think of sitar and tabla, the vast tradition of Indian classical music comes to mind. But United Voices departs from this path. Described as “An Indo-Canadian venture of world Christian hymns”, produced by Hamilton-based sitarist Neeraj Prem, this is gospel with an Indian twist. While the overall sound is decidedly Indian, the texts and musical settings are indicative of another East meets West endeavour. The recording opens with a lively rendition of The Lord’s Prayer (composed by Manick Deep Masih), and includes settings of other Christian hymns arranged Prem. Two songs (My Heart and My Offering) written by Prem, were inspired by ancient Hindi hymns. The “band” includes sarangi (bowed lute), shehnai (Indian oboe), keyboards, saxophone, guitar, percussion, and several fine vocalists. The closing number, Amazing Grace, is a seventeen minute meditation (Prem and Margaret Bárdos vocals), retaining the melody that we’re all familiar with but employing Indian vocal/melodic techniques and instrumental accompaniment that reminds me of the arrhythmic “alap” section of some Indian classical pieces. This CD is dedicated to the memory of Prem’s parents. (www.ragamusicschool.com)

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