07 pot pourri 01 marco poloThe Musical Voyages of Marco Polo
Maria Farantouri; En Chordais; Ensemble Constantinople; Kyriakos Kalaitzidis
World Village WVF 479092

Italy to China in Marco Polo’s footsteps, interpreted stage by stage by local music, inspired Kyriakos Kalaitzidis to coordinate and to compose a virtual journey along the Silk Road.

Early music enthusiasts will get their eye (or ear) drawn in with the well-known Lamento di Tristano which weaves its sedate course by bringing together Western European and Middle-Eastern instruments. This same combination forms Kalaitzidis’ choice for one of his own compositions, the equally sedate Marco’s Dream. What a contrast then with his second composition, Gallop, which conjures up Marco Polo confidently and swiftly crossing the Silk Road on his mission.

As Marco Polo moves eastward the music escorts him, as its style changes. In Migrants Circles lyrics by the 14th century Iranian poet Hafez are inspired by a Chinese melody. Kiya Tabassian (sitar and voice) brilliantly conveys the winding and demanding nature of Marco Polo’s journeyings.

 Then the traveller reaches Uzbekistan for perhaps the most impassioned song on the CD: Ey Dilbari Jonomin (Oh, my heart-stealing beauty) where the voices of Kalaitzidis and Nodira Permatova are allowed to express the song’s haunting quality, accompanied only by oud, viola and violin. All too soon we are back on the road east with Five steps, a piece played on Nepalese sarangi to guide us to Mongolia, where Chandmani nutag evokes the latter’s grasslands and streams.

Finally, China. Yi Zu Wu Qu (dance of the Yi nation) is a thoughtful piece for solo pipa, contrasting with the complex seven-part Musical Voyages of Marco Polo. And then a final inspiration. Greek legend Maria Farantouri sings Xenos (the stranger), conveying Marco Polo’s feelings of being a stranger in a new life. Farantouri, long considered one of the foremost interpreters of Greek music, has lost none of her touch. Enjoy this expressive journey.


07 pot pourri 02 amanda martinezMañana
Amanda Martinez
Independent (amandamartinez.ca)

Latina songstress, broadcaster, actor and composer/lyricist, Amanda Martinez’ latest CD, Mañana is a zesty musical “Caldo” – brilliantly and authentically produced by Javier Limon and George Seara. The 12 tracks provide a tasty banquet of original, Mexican and Tejano-inspired compositions, served up with healthy doses of a tropically infused blend of the tart and the sweet. On Mañana, Martinez wears several hats – as artist, composer and lyricist, and the recording itself is a tribute to the musical influences of her beloved Mexico, imbued with contemporary and traditional motifs as well as stylish arrangements and superb musicianship and vocals from her fine ensemble.

Martinez’ co-creators include the talented bassist Drew Birston, singer Fernando Osorio, skilled guitarist Kevin Laliberte, Javier Limón (arranger and co-producer) and writers Elsten Torres, Daniel Martinez Velasco, Claudia Brant and Nana Maluca. All songs on Mañana are sung in Spanish, with the exception of three: “Frozen” – featuring Martinez’ intriguing narrative lyric, “Le Chemin,” rendered in flawless French, and the youthfully romantic and salsa-rific, “Let’s Dance,” sung in English. Martinez’ clairent, musical tone melded with her sibilant, colonial Spanish is a delightful treat for the ear, the heart and the soul. Her pure and supple voice is capable of communicating a range of potent emotions – from the deeply sensual to heartbreaking innocence.

Superb tracks include the optimistic and traditionally arranged “Esperanza Viva” – a fine composition by Brant and Maluca; the lilting Dias Invisibles, which is an inspired collaboration between Martinez and guitarist Laliberte replete with some delightful Burt Bacharach-ish horn lines. Also of particular beauty is Martinez and Limón’s “Ahora si te Canto” – a tender and evocative ballad, laden with lush and almost mystical, Iberian modalities as well as thoroughly stunning violin work by Osvaldo Rodriguez.

Concert note: Amanda Martinez launches Mañana with a concert at the Winter Garden Theatre on April 5. 

07 pot pourri 01 art of timeSgt. Pepper
Art of Time Ensemble
Art of Time Recordings ATR 001 (artoftimeensemble.com)

It was 47 years ago that Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was unleashed on the planet. It was a major departure, not only for the Beatles but for the pop/rock world in general, because of its complex arrangements, overdubs and use of an orchestra. The Beatles had recently declared they were fed up with touring, so with Sgt. Pepper they were free to record whatever they wanted without the constraint of having to recreate it live later on. So the fact that Toronto’s Art of Time Ensemble has not only recreated it, but also released a live recording, is a major feat. But this is no mere copy of the iconic album. The arrangers – all 11 of them from across the spectrum of pop, jazz and classical music – have written inventive treatments of the songs, building on the great songwriting and ideas of the Lennon/McCartney/Martin team.

Andrew Burashko, the force behind Art of Time, has gathered together a dozen of the best musicians in the land from a variety of disciplines including singers from some well-known Canadian bands. Steven Page (Bare Naked Ladies), Andy Maize (Skydiggers), John Mann (Spirit of the West) and Craig Northey (Odds) all bring their individual styles to the lead parts. Covering a much-loved work such as this is a delicate balancing act – needing to be different enough to be fresh, but not too far off to be unrecognizable – and they’ve done it admirably. Anyone who is a Beatles fan – or a music fan – should enjoy revisiting this great work through this CD.

07 pot pourri 02 ault sistersTimeless
Ault Sisters
Independent AAA13001 (aultsisters.com)

The Ault Sisters are a fresh and vibrant vocal trio, featuring three youthful and charming vocalists – Amanda, Alicia and Alanna Ault. On their second outing as recording artists, longtime producer Greg Kavanagh has assembled a stellar band, including the thrilling Robi Botos on piano, George Koller on bass, Ben Riley on drums, John Johnson on saxophones, Ted Quinlan on guitar and the dynamic William Sperandei on trumpet. In addition, well-respected vocalist Debbie Fleming is responsible for all of the clever vocal arrangements (aside from a wonderful contribution by Dylan Bell on Van Morrison’s perennial Moondance).

The Ault sisters have an almost supernatural vocal blend that can only be achieved when genetics are involved – and the sisters freely and effortlessly adopt different vocal parts depending on the material. Although the repertoire on Timeless tends to travel safely down the middle of the road, the Ault Sisters’ purity of sound and musicianship easily make the most out of each neo-standard.

The peppy opener, Back to You, an original by Chris Smith and Kavanagh, sets the tone for this up-beat and entertaining recording. Other standouts include a stunning rendition of Joni Mitchell’s River, featuring the great John Johnson on soprano saxophone; a lush, romantic arrangement of Stevie Wonder’s gorgeous (and rarely performed) ballad Ribbon in the Sky and a crisp contemporary take on the Gershwins’ immortal They Can’t Take That Away From Me. These talented young artists have a tremendous future ahead of them and we should all look forward to what’s next on their mutual dance card!

Concert Note:The CD release for the Ault Sisters Timeless is March 11 at the Jazz Bistro.

07 pot pourri 03 swingle singersWeather to Fly
Swingle Singers
World Village 450025

The Swingle Singers have been around since before the cast members of Glee were a gleam in their parents’ eyes, but they are surely rejoicing in the renewed interest in group singing the TV show has brought about. The a cappella group was formed in 1962 in Paris by Ward Swingle and came to notoriety for their renditions of Bach’s Well-Tempered Klavier. Having gone through many incarnations and currently based in England, the seven-voice group now even includes a Canadian, baritone Kevin Fox.

A cappella singing presents many challenges and while the ability to blend is a coveted skill, it can sometimes result in a homogenous sound that can become tedious. So the vocal percussion on many of the cuts on Weather to Fly adds a welcome dimension. The eclectic repertoire includes a Turkish traditional song, a Piazzola tango and a cute play on a Beyoncé hit – Swingle Ladies. The 80s are represented with the Tears for Fears’ tune Woman in Chains, complete with vocally recreated synth parts, and Chick Corea’s much-covered Spain, here given an oddly antiseptic treatment that I found unappealing (and a little reminiscent of Alvin and The Chipmunks). The title track on the other hand is an example of the best an a cappella group can be – the arrangement makes the most of the voices (especially the beautiful bass of Edward Randell). The soloists Clare Wheeler, Sara Brimer and Oliver Griffiths give impeccable performances. 

07 pot pourri ladom ensembleLadom Ensemble
Ladom Ensemble
Independent 67-0295-1 (ladomensemble.com)

Ladom Ensemble’s first self-titled album is an enjoyable listening experience. The members are four University of Toronto music graduates of exceptional musical prowess. Pianist-composer Pouya Hamidi plays a sparkling piano while incorporating traditional Persian musical elements to his excellent compositions. Accordionist-composer Nemanja Pjanić’s colourful runs and rhythms add spice to the music while his Balkan flavoured compositions add a contrasting element to the ensemble’s sound. The equally soulful performers, cellist Marie-Cristine Pelchat St-Jacques and percussionist Adam Campbell, complete the ensemble.

There is a wide-ranging original sound to Ladom. Their tight chamber sensibilities are well-suited to the Piazzolla cover Fugata. The rousing Pjanić composition The Flying Balkan Dance is a short yet toe-tapping Balkan selection which features each member in a lead role and a satisfying mournful, slow, brief cello solo in the middle. Hamidi’s Goriz utilizes his Persian roots especially in the driving rhythmic sections. In contrast his Noor (meaning “light” in Farsi) is an exceptional track in that the performers seem to remove their more “classical” performance sensibilities to create a more spontaneous-sounding slower soundscape ending with Hamidi’s perfect, subtle piano tinkling. Here’s hoping the group will explore more of this aspect.

Production values are high with the live quality captured adding an additional listening dimension.  Thanks, too, for not removing the clicks from register/switch changes on the accordion! Ladom Ensemble is a great group performing great music in a new world music direction.

Concert Note: Ladom performs a matinée concert at Hugh’s Room on Sunday February 16.

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