04_katrina_songsKatrina Ballads

Ted Hearne

New Amsterdam Records NWA011 www.katrinaballads.com

With events such as Richard Nixon’s China visit the subject of modern operas, why not 2005’s Hurricane Katrina, which nearly destroyed New Orleans? That’s what composer Ted Hearne has done with this 70-minute song cycle. It’s scored for five singers and 11 musicians, including horn and string ensembles and a rock rhythm section.

Winner of many awards since its premiere at the Piccolo Spoleto Festival, Katrina Ballads is a mature work that belies Herne’s age of 28. Witty as well as inventive, the libretto consists of vocalized versions of transcribed sound bites from New Orleans residents, reporters and officials. Almost every track is given a finer point by the arrangements which adapt variants of notated, jazz, and pop musics to the program.

There are many standouts, including Herne’s zippy and jivey repetition of George Bush’s infamous “Brownie You’re Doin’ A Heck of a Job”; and “Barbara Bush”, where the ex-First Lady’s saying the underprivileged don’t mind uprooting is mocked straight-faced by mezzo-soprano Abby Fischer accompanied by faux C&W fiddling and honky-tonk piano. There’s poignancy as well. “Hardy Jackson” sung by baritone Anthony Turner is a parlando lament for a victim’s missing wife. There’s also tenor Isaiah Robinson’s fully orchestrated gospel-like recasting of the statement that George Bush didn’t care about black people by rapper “Kanye West”.

Impressively as well, Turner and soprano Allison Semple’s musical recreation of an interview between “Anderson Cooper and Mary Landrieu” is an operatic-style recitative highlights swift-tongued talents, while cracklings with the reporter’s indignation towards the platitude-spouting Louisiana senator.



01_cadenceSpeak Easy

Cadence

Independent CD-3 (www.cadence-unplugged.com)

How is it that four men with no instruments play trumpet and snare so well? Is it not enough that the bang-on vocals and supremely crafted a capella arrangements and retro-stylings transport us nostalgically back to that era so cleverly reproduced on the “Hi-Fi” cover?  Seriously, I’m thinking of asking these guys (who, by the way, offer school workshops) to teach our kids how to play an instrument without having to shell out the dough to purchase one! It’s easy to see why they have performed alongside Bobby McFerrin as well as being nominated for a couple of Junos and playing sold out concert halls across the land.

This album mixes new interpretations of classic Cole Porter, Van Heusen/Cahn, Lerner/Loewe with some great original tunes and even innovative arrangements of Joni Mitchell, Neil Young and Paul Simon tunes. Don’t know if they’ve got some Louis Jordan songs up their sleeves but their keen sense of humour and rollicking fun remind me a lot of his good-time musical characterizations. All four, holders of music degrees (York, McGill), obviously studied History of the Rat Pack and its influence on social strata as well as Toward an understanding of be-bop cool.



01_tango_borealTango Boreal

Denis Plante; David Jacques; Ian Simpson

ATMA ACD2 2661

The bandoneon is one of the world's most highly unlikely popular instruments. Tricky to play, a tuning nightmare, and a wheezy creaky contraption, this distant relative of the accordion has made its musical mark for the musicality that it emotes, and the composers who have written for it.

Quebec composer/bandoneonist Denis Plante combines the work of his predecessors and his own musical sensibilities to create an interesting aural pastiche for his Trio Boreal, comprised of himself, guitarist David Jacques and double bassist Ian Simpson. The music is wide ranging in its moods, with a little something for everyone’s taste. The mellower trio tracks are the weakest as they run the risk of becoming too clichéd in their laid-back sentiment. But all is forgotten in the Latin influenced Danza with its jolting rhythms and uplifting spirits. Ave Maria is a beautiful solo bandoneon number drawing on the instrument's religious music background. The guitar solo Vallée de la Lune is gorgeous. Most exciting is the group's potential that can be heard in Prelude where there is a je ne sais quoi element of ensemble playing and compositional attributes that forecasts a promising future.

Production qualities are excellent – we can even hear the breathing of the bandoneon! But it is the fact that all three musicians are fine performers who love the music they are playing which makes this release so special.

 

02_adi_braunCanadian Scenes 1

Adi Braun

Independent (www.adibraun.com)

“This recording is a dream-come-true,” says award-winning jazz vocalist Adi Braun of her recently released a five-song EP, “Canadian Scenes I.” On it Braun has stretched her already impressive talents to include songwriting with three originals tunes.

In My Heart I Know begins with a softly plucked acoustic guitar, and is soon joined by an evocative arco bass, to set up this beautifully romantic ballad. Ocean Eyes is an excellent example of Braun’s “cabarazz” style, a mixture of cabaret and jazz. Her sultry vocals caress the lyrics, swooping and soaring over the pulsing beat of Kevin Barrett’s guitar and the piano of Jordan Klapman. Grace “walks with a steady pace/Through the summer heat,” a loving ode to “the place where she and I belong.” It is good to hear that Braun has taken Shirley Eikhard’s encouragement to “put my songwriting foot forward.” These three tunes are hopefully harbingers of many more originals to come.

Braun is also noted for her determination to bring Canadian songwriters to her audiences’ attention, and she does so exquisitely with Tony Quarrington’s collaboration with Jordan Klapman, Rain on the Roof. Songwriter Julian Taylor joins Braun on his composition It’s Not Enough, a pop ballad reminiscent of the many duos of 90s rock. Other contributing artists on “Canadian Scenes I” include bassist George Koller and Glenn Anderson on drums. The EP is available through Braun’s website.

03_serenityA Touch of Serenity

Ensemble Chiaroscuro

Independent HAP3781 (www.theflutestudio.ca)

In the 1970’s the name “The Huggett Family” was synonymous with the revival of baroque music played on period instruments. Leslie Huggett, his wife, Margaret, and their four children were known across Canada for their tasteful interpretations of music from the medieval, renaissance and baroque periods. From Canada’s National Arts Centre to London’s Wigmore Hall and on the CBC and BBC the family performed in period costumes to the delight of audiences and critics on both sides of the Atlantic. In 1982, after several successful LP recordings, the group disbanded.

In the mid 1980’s Leslie and Margaret established their Flute Studio in Markham, Ontario and were joined subsequently by rising young flautist Flora Lim. Now, performing under the name Ensemble Chiaroscuro, their stated aim is “to present music of many genres.” The artistry and sensitivity is still there, but in a very different format. These are not duets. Rather, we are treated to the artistry of two solo flutes, with seamless transitions as the melodies are passed from one performer to the other with the tasteful, non intrusive accompaniment of Leslie’s son Andrew. From traditional songs like Bonnie Doon to operatic arias including Delibes’ Flower Song from Lakmé and Puccini’s O Mio Babbino Caro we are treated to a broad spectrum of beautiful calm melodies. There are no bombastic displays of technique. These performers don’t have to prove anything. This recording is not just “A Touch of Serenity,” it’s a feast of serenity.

To put the icing on the family cake, the final track features Andrew’s daughter Emma singing Ray Noble’s timeless The Very Thought of You, accompanied by the ensemble.

04_urban_fluteUrban Flute Project [RE:Defining Space with Sound]

Jamie Thompson

Independent UFPCD001 (www.urbanfluteproject.com)

The aim of the Urban Flute Project, the brainchild of Royal Conservatory flutist and teacher, Jamie Thompson, as I understand it, is to acquaint anyone who is interested (through its website and through CDs like this one) with urban locations around the world, not through the way they look but through their acoustical properties, conveyed by hearing a flute played in them.

This CD consists of 28 short tracks of Jamie Thompson playing in various locations. He was most successful in attaining the goal, “Re-defining space,” the CD’s sub-title, in places where the acoustical environment became a co-performer: the Manitoba Legislature; the Scarth Street Deco in Regina; track the Soldiers’ Tower at University of Toronto; Singhampton Bridge; Laird Lair; and the Millennium Centre in Winnipeg. The reverberation of these spaces became his performing partner. The ambient sound conveying the unique sonic properties – everything from moving water, birds, industrial machinery, horses’ hooves, the voices of people and even frogs – on the other tracks came across, alas, not as musical partners but as contrived impositions, reminiscent of the naïve sound effects of 1940s and 50s radio dramas.

No doubt, live at the time, every one of these musical moments would have been surprising and magical. Capturing the magic, the surprise and the spontaneity in an audio recording, has proven here to be very difficult if not impossible. The idea is good, but did not translate well into CD format. I might add that Jamie is a fine flutist and I hope he continues to record. I look forward to hearing a recording that does him justice.

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