03 Rafael ZaldivarConsecration
Rafael Zaldivar
Effendi Records FND153 (naxosdirect.com) 

Since moving from his native Camagüey, Cuba to Montreal in the mid-2000s, pianist Rafael Zaldivar has established himself as one of Canada’s top Afro-Cuban musicians. His latest album, Consecration, released on March 15 through Effendi Records, is a celebration of Zaldivar’s Yoruba spirituality, as well as a showcase for his multifaceted musicianship: Consecration deftly blends the pianist’s Afro-Cuban musical heritage with modern jazz, fusion and classical musics. Zaldivar is joined on Consecration by electric bassist Rémi-Jean LeBlanc, upright bassist David Gagné, vocalist Mireille Boily, percussionist/vocalist Amado Dedeu Jr., conguero Eugenio Osorio and drummer Michel Medrano.

Consecration begins with A Rock con Leche, which effectively sets the pace for the album that follows: after an evocative introduction of chanting and far-off, reverb-soaked whistling, it quickly shifts into a hard-driving groove, with drums and percussion providing a strong pulse under Zaldivar’s synth solo. Afro-Cuban Warriors follows a similar trajectory, as an insistent choir of voices introduces the thunderous song and weaves throughout the rest of the piece. When I Think of You and Simple Talking both feature Boily singing wordless melodies, and are amongst Consecration’s gentler pieces, as is Rezos, which features Zaldivar alone at the piano.

Consecration is an intriguing, creative album that recalls the work of musicians such as Michel Camilo and Luciana Souza, but it stands uniquely on its own, in no small part due to Zaldivar’s unique approach to integrating a multiplicity of voices into his compositions.

04 A Good ThingA Good Thing
Blue Standard
Big Time Records BTRCD-007 (downinthevalley.com) 

It does not take much to become entranced by this disarmingly natural and eloquent performance by the duo that calls itself Blue Standard. Both vocalist Raoul Bhaneja and pianist Jesse Whiteley bring out the music’s inherent drama with deeply felt emotion (in the case of the vocals) and deft touch (in the case of the pianist) together indulging each other’s lyrical and storytelling instincts to the full. Bhaneja brings élan, intelligence and passionate engagement to these performances throughout A Good Thing. For his part, Whiteley is an immaculate accompanist, showing a particularly clean set of fingers in the dashing virtuosity of every song on the disc.

Bhaneja’s enunciation of the lyrics is funded by a deep understanding of the characters in the stories told in song. He expresses the myriad of emotions behind the phrases in each song with clarity and precision so that each imaginative speculation is based as much on intuition as on reason. This naturally ensures that the lyrics are imbued with both musical conviction and beauty of tone. Meanwhile, Whiteley too, sniffs out all of the music’s detail, expressing each in a manner thoroughly deserving of his virtuosic attention. The result is an energizing and colouristic invocation of the piano’s full melodic and harmonic potential by someone who participates equally in the creativity of this session. For this reason even an old song, like LOVE for instance, sounds as if it were newly minted.

05 13goDomestic Tranquility
13go
Independent (13gomusic.com)

The album’s title comes from the Preamble to the US Constitution which is an ambitious document tying together several political and philosophical imperatives. This album is also ambitious and brings together musicians from Canada (Aubrey Dayle, drummer and composer), Kim Ratcliffe (guitarist, miscellaneous strings and composer), Uganda (Ian de Souza, bass), and the USA (Vernon Reid, guitar on selected tracks).

Although the group’s CDBaby page describes the album as “guitar fusion music,” the first few songs demonstrate more varied sounds and textures. Boogie Down 1 is exactly what the title advertises, a solid groove with some nicely phased guitar lines and simple melodies that create and release tension. How Much Longer is faster, more intense and with some wicked guitar from both Ratcliffe and Reid and more complex drumming. Pointe-Claire is a softer and more lyrical homage to the town where Dayle grew up and Eleanor Rigby is a solid cover that combines tasteful playing with a very laid-back sense of time.

The other tracks include some spoken word segments ending with Boogie Down 2, which is very ska-influenced, and There’s Three Little Girls at the Window, a whimsical Ratcliffe composition with mandolin as the primary instrument, which is calming and definitely tranquil.

The album has a nice pacing, contrasting edgy fusion pieces with softer, more introspective works, which encourages a sustained listening experience.

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01 Fides Krucker VanishingVanishing
Fides Krucker; Tim Motzer
1k recordings 1K043 (1krecordings.com)

For 35 years Toronto-based classically trained vocalist Fides Krucker has explored contemporary vocal practice on the highest level as a singer in contemporary opera, interdisciplinary and electroacoustic works, as well as in chamber music and orchestral settings. Her career has taken her to numerous international stages. She’s appeared on diverse albums and film and video productions.

The phrase I found on my search engine while looking for Krucker’s website is, “emotionally integrated voice.” And her performance on the six Vanishing tracks powerfully delivers just that. She projects a wide palette of emotions through her voice alone, employing vocal techniques that move comfortably between classical Western and extended voices, often without lyrics.

Krucker is superbly supported on Vanishing by Tim Motzer a veteran Philadelphia jazz/improvising guitarist with 80 albums to his credit. He is best known for his textural acoustic-electro guitar playing utilizing looping, bowing, sampling, electronics and various prepared techniques, all richly displayed on Vanishing. The album is cinematic in scope. In its spontaneously composed sonic world each scene in the undefined – sometimes airy and melodically lush, sometimes unsetting – vocal storyline is created though the intimate musical dialogue between Krucker and Motzer.

My favourite track is the epic-length Density, which according to the liner notes, “Broods on the state of the world, gathers weight with each motif, steps the listener outside of civilized sound.” Some days taking a walk on the sonic wild side is what the doctor should order.

Listen to 'Vanishing' Now in the Listening Room

02 Fides Krucker In This BodyIn This Body
Fides Krucker; Rob Clutton; Tania Gill; Germaine Liu
Independent FK-01-2018 (fideskrucker.com/productions/in-this-body)

Anyone who knows the multi-dimensional and multi-disciplinary work of Fides Krucker is naturally going to wonder how much of the dance and – more importantly – the theatre that defines Krucker’s art this CD is going to capture. It is, after all merely audio. Fortunately, however, Krucker is a highly evocative vocalist and she spares nothing to imbue her music with atmosphere and even the nuanced auras of her often spiritual and always colourful work.

Even with the suggested stasis of the title, In This Body, one cannot help but imagine the body in motion. This is a work by Krucker, remember? True to form she creates a kind of series of one-woman operatic arias. Each is expressed in an inimitable manner which can only be associated by someone like Krucker. Her version of Leonard Cohen’s iconic piece Suzanne is turned from something almost impressionistic-Cohenesque into a work of extraordinary sensuality in an almost Nabokov-like (Lolita) manner. Another wildly sensual track – Striptease – follows this one.

But Krucker also rings in the changes of mood and emotion, structure and tempo with Mary Margaret O’Hara’s Body’s In Trouble, Leslie Feist’s Let It Die, k.d. lang’s Hain’t It Funny and, of course, the forlorn and classic song Helpless by Neil Young. Along the way, Krucker is magnificently aided by bassist Rob Clutton, pianist Tania Gill and percussionist Germaine Liu. Together the musicians propel Krucker into a rarefied artistic realm where she and her music truly belong.

03 Duggan TalismaTalismã
Mark Duggan
Independent (markduggan.com/talisma)

Percussionist Mark Duggan demonstrates his wide-ranging abundant musical talent in this project rooted in the Brazilian styles of samba, bossa nova and choro. Be it as a composer of four tracks, arranger of six Brazilian classics, and lead and chamber performer throughout, with outstanding musicians Louis Simão, contrabass and accordion, and Marco Tulio, violão (Portuguese guitar), Duggan’s understanding of vibraphone intricacies, compositional form/style and listening skills create music for everyone to enjoy, regardless of one’s stylistic preferences.

The trio plays the covers with respect and intelligence. Astor Silva’s Chorinho no Gafieira opens the recording with an upbeat happy start, thought-out vibraphone lines, good instrumental balances, and a simple yet colourful middle section. Antonio Carlos Jobim’s Triste has slight dynamic modulations and clear phrasing with the violão chords and contrabass keeping the faster vibes part grounded to the final Jobim chord. Duggan’s compositions are great. In his Above the Rain, the hypnotic two-note accordion start, with up-and-down melodic lines, is followed by vibraphone runs, which at times double and contrast the accordion chordal swells and staccato notes. Irresoluto is slightly more atonal yet rooted in rhythmic/melodic tradition, while Shifting Sands features a relaxing more traditional vibes melody with background bass groove, and instrumental dialogue throughout. Duggan’s firm grasp of the samba form in Samba des Nues is heard in its contrabass/violão rhythmic opening, florid lines and slower ending.

Perfect production values complete Duggan’s smart, nuance-abundant, Brazilian music-flavoured release.

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