- Written by Cathy Riches
- Category: Pot Pourri
Amanda Martinez is in love. Marriage and a new baby have coloured her already sweet disposition and prompted her to produce this tribute to the promise that life holds, called, of course, “Amor”. With her long-time guitarist Kevin Laliberté and newer collaborator, husband and bass player Drew Birston, Martinez traverses the borders between various Latin musics, pop and jazz. Flamenco is the chief influencer, rearing its exotic head on Gitana, an ode to a gypsy dancer, and Te Prometo, a sort of mellow At Last by way of the Mediterranean. Cuban bandmates Chendy Leon (percussion) and Alexander Brown (trumpet) get to show off their roots on Tómalo and Martinez’s Mexican heritage asserts itself on Alma Mia. Throughout, she channels the gorgeous Mexicana cantora, Lila Downs. Although Martinez doesn’t have the guts and throatiness that distinguish Downs, her trademark straddling of chest and head voice is there and reinterpreted appealingly by Martinez’s pretty mezzo. It takes a lot of confidence to sing a song that has been covered often and performed perfectly, as is the case with Cucurrucucú Paloma and in particular, Caetano Veloso’s version of it, (if you’ve never heard it, do yourself a favour and seek it out on YouTube) but Martinez does her own beautiful, heartrending version here, appropriately ending the record with a reminder that love has its painful side, too.
Concert note: Amanda Martinez’s CD release concert is at the newly opened Koerner Hall on October 23.
- Written by Heidi McKenzie
- Category: Pot Pourri
The Art of the Early Egyptian Qanun,
Traditional Arabic Music Ensemble
This album is the sequel to an album of the same name, without the volume number, since at the time no one had forecast the incredible audience response that buoyed The Traditional Arabic Music Ensemble to grace us with more of the same. The first album came out in the spring of 2008, and notably garnered the 2009 Juno Award for World Music Album of the Year. This time George Sawa, Toronto’s own Egyptian music expert has put together, along with his colleagues, Suzanne Meyers Sawa and Raymond Sarweh, what I feel to be perhaps a stronger offering than the first. If not stronger, then certainly more mature. This is evident right off the top with the first cut, Raqset Sayyed Mohammed stretching over the ten-minute mark and offering a rich and varied array of musical textures within a unified whole.
I literally kept playing this album over and over: the music doesn’t get tired, it doesn’t get stale. It doesn’t even have what some might call “the same sound”, referring to an idiomatic Arabic ‘world music sound’. The energy is fresh and the deep resonance of the percussion drives the listener to yearn for more. If there was an over-riding flavour of this group’s creative output, it would be authenticity. Sawa has gone to great lengths to virtually resurrect an exact replica of a period instrument that is most likely unique in the world. Two thumbs up! Do I hear a trilogy in the offing?
- Written by Cathy Riches
- Category: Pot Pourri
My One and Only Thrill
Melody Gardot is a powerful new presence on the North American jazz/pop scene. I was enchanted by her live performance at the Toronto jazz festival (see my blog) and am pleased to hear that her charisma and ability to draw in a listener with her intimate vocal delivery has translated beautifully to recording. Her strong songwriting skills — developed while recovering from a serious traffic accident that left her sensitive to light and relying on a cane to walk — are what set her apart from the herd of young jazz singers content to rework old standards. Her unique voice is a contrast of styles with its fast vibrato hinting at the old world, à la Piaf, and her controlled, up close on the mic nuance adding an of-the-moment Leslie Feist style. Her phrasing is all her own, especially on the gorgeous title track, with its laid bare, confessional lyrics: “Birds may cease to spread their wings / Winters may envelope springs / But it don’t matter, it don’t matter ‘cause / When I’m with you / My whole world stands still / You’re my one and only thrill.”
It’s interesting to note what a little record label clout can do for a girl, as a long line-up of horn, string and rhythm section players grace the album, including such heavyweights as Vinnie Colaiuta and Larry Klein. Harmonically rich strings, masterfully arranged and conducted by Vince Mendoza, provide a soundscape that enhances without overpowering. But Gardot holds her own by doing all the guitar and piano work on the disc, and adds some charming bossa nova-style lilt to the only cover on the recording, Over the Rainbow. Expect big things from Ms. Gardot.
- Written by Tiina Kiik
- Category: Pot Pourri
Classical Fairy Tales - Patrick Cardy’s
The Snow Queen & The Little Mermaid
Angela Fusco; Alex Baran; Chamber
Music Society of Mississauga; Peggy Hill
CMSM Concert Theatre for Kids
Two compositions by the late and much loved Carleton University music professor Patrick Cardy are featured on this new release. Based on two familiar Hans Christian Anderson children’s stories, Cardy has woven his narrative and music into a palette of word and sound painting, suspense, and musical colours.
The Snow Queen is scored for string quartet and narrator. Angela Fusco gives a convincing performance in telling the saga of lost little boy, and the little girl who loves him so. Her clear diction and amusing character voices highlight her rendering of eternal love to a backdrop of strings. On occasion the music is a wee bit too commercial for my liking, but thankfully these instances are few and far between.
The Little Mermaid has Fusco joined by the excellent Alex Baran in narration. The musical score is stronger here, with the mixed musical ensemble more in the forefront, especially in the gripping track The Sea Witch. The narration and music are equal partners here, probably creating rejoicing in “the distant realms of heaven”, the powerful closing line of this interesting work.
Applause to violinist, producer and CMSM Concert Theatre of Kids Artistic Director Peggy Hills for fulfilling her promise to the late composer that she would record The Snow Queen. Along with The Little Mermaid, this is music for both the young and young at heart.
- Written by Nick
- Category: Pot Pourri
Sarah Slean; Art of Time Ensemble
Pheromone Recordings PHER CD 1008
The Art of Time Ensemble has come out with an absolute stunner of an album. "Black Flowers" is a project spearheaded by piano virtuoso Andrew Burashko, featuring singer Sarah Slean. Burashko has a penchant for bringing together artists and performers from diverse disciplines and styles to present music in fresh ways. For this project, he and Slean pulled together an assortment of tunes written by some of this country's folk/pop heroes - Ron Sexsmith, Mary Margaret O'Hara, Feist and the master himself, Leonard Cohen - and enlisted arrangers and musicians from the jazz and classical world. The result is a collection of modern art songs rooted in diverse Canadian sensibilities.
While the players are top notch, the real stars of this recording are the arrangers. One might expect that having a different arranger for each of the nine songs would result in a random mishmash of styles, but this feels like a real collection with a cohesive theme running through it. The arrangers have taken songs that are, for the most part, harmonically simple and made them over into complex, multi-layered beauties. The arrangements demand a level of musicianship that this group more than delivers. Slean is the perfect vocal foil with her pure instrument and strong interpretive skills; unleashing emotion one moment then pulling back to lay bare the lyrics the next. John Johnson's impeccable reed work is wide-ranging and impressive, giving us moody, growly sax lines on Bruce Cassidy's arrangement of O'Hara's To Cry About, then delicate clarinet on Roberto Occhipinti's take on Sarah Harmer's Lodestar. Rob Piltch turns in an inventive, sensitive guitar effort. The superb strings are supplied by bassist George Koller, cellist Shauna Rolston and the aptly named violinist Ben Bowman. Visit www.artoftimeensemble.com for more detail.
That's A Plenty
Royal City Saxophone Quartet
If someone were not familiar with the sounds and capabilities of a modern saxophone quartet, this CD would be an excellent starter to explore the many voices of such an ensemble. From Dixieland to Irish folk melodies, and from Bach to Thelonious Monk, this covers a broad spectrum of melodies and performance styles. The title track, That's A Plenty, starts things off with a rousing rendition of this Dixieland classic. Driven along by the solid, clean no nonsense bass line of leader Ernie Kalwa, we are treated to two more numbers in a similar vein before being introduced to a wide range of more soothing melodies. These range from Danny Boy, and other traditional Irish fare, through Over the Rainbow on to Bach's Air on the G String. In the more modern jazz idiom there is Thelonious Monk's Round Midnight and the well known Harlem Nocturne. In this latter number, and a couple of others, the addition of a string bass and percussion provides the extra drive required by these selections. One standout is the clever Bach's Fireworks Music (sic), composed in 1980 by Calvin Hampton. This jazzy number has much of the exuberant motion that characterizes the Brandenburg Concerti, but performed on instruments not yet invented in Bach's day. Had Bach been living today, one could certainly imagine him writing something like this. All in all this CD deserves a spot in the collection of anyone with eclectic tastes.
- Written by The WholeNote Staff
- Category: Pot Pourri
Coco Love Alcorn
“Joyful”, the latest disc by singer-songwriter Coco Love Alcorn is a fun, eclectic party. The record opens with the preachy funkiness of Compassion, switches gears to the cute pop of I Got a Bicycle — complete with the instrument du jour of many young singer-songwriters these days, glockenspiel — then ventures into an ode to science nerds everywhere with Intellectual Boys. All of the songs are written by Alcorn who on her My Space page cites some of her influences as “dark organic fair trade chocolate, robots and shade provided by trees” but from the sounds of this record I’m guessing Feist, Corinne Bailey Rae and the Andrews Sisters had a hand, too. Alcorn guides her pretty voice easily from a girlie whisper on the quirky pop tunes to a big, soulful sound on the funkier numbers. Producer, programmer and keyboard player Chris Gestrin is a strong presence on the album providing Wurlitzer, Moog and various synthesized sounds as the mood requires. Alcorn plays acoustic guitar, bass, trumpet and “high fives.”
Concert Note: Alcorn is touring Canada and lands in Toronto on June 14 for the CD release party at Hugh’s Room.
Four Quarters Entertainment
Vocalist Kiran Ahluwalia is no newcomer to the world music scene. Born in India and raised in Toronto (now living in New York), she has made an international career for herself singing and developing the art form of ghazal (love songs generally depicting unfulfilled desires) and Punjabi folk songs. I first became aware of her while listening to Toronto violinist Parmela Attariwala’s first CD – “Beauty Enthralled” has one track featuring Ahluwalia, and I was totally hooked! “Wanderlust” is Ahluwalia’s fourth CD, featuring her own musical settings of poems from various sources. (Her second CD, “Beyond Boundaries” won the Juno award for best world music album of the year in 2004). You don’t need to understand Punjabi to appreciate this album – in fact, I dare you not to love this CD! The music itself is gorgeous, and somewhat beyond categorization – while certain traditional elements are present, for example the highly melismatic vocal style, use of tabla, sarangi and harmonium accompaniment, this is “modernish” music, but not to be pigeonholed as any one style or “fusion”. The use of other instruments not normally associated with Indian music, such as the Portuguese guitarra, adds a particularly nice touch on some of the tracks. The main attraction though is Ahluwalia’s voice itself – and here, words are not enough – velvety smooth, flowing like honey, impeccable intonation – but don’t take my word for it; buy the CD (or all of them) and hear for yourself!
Les Disques Audiogram ADCD 10222 (www.lhasadesela.com)
Lhasa de Sela fans have had a bit of a wait since 2003’s “The Living Road” and though “Lhasa” is a departure from her last, highly-praised disc, there is plenty here to enjoy. Lhasa’s gorgeous, plaintive voice and distinctive songwriting are the bedrocks and as usual she’s surrounded herself with skilled, sensitive musicians who bring a lot to the overall atmosphere. Recorded live off the floor, “Lhasa” is a much more stripped down recording – if you can call a record with harp, violin and several types of guitars, stripped down. Compared to “Living Road’s” multi-layered arrangements and inventive production, “Lhasa” is positively sparse. But it’s apt given the inspiration for the songs, the majority of which are fuelled by heartbreak and emotionally raw. The inventive musicians make the most of the spare arrangements, coaxing expressive sounds out of their instruments to bring appropriate mood to the material, such as Andrew Barr’s mallet drumming on The Lonely Spider or Joe Grass’s resonator guitar work on What Kind of Heart. The other major difference is that all the lyrics are in English, which is a bit of a shame since Lhasa writes beautifully in Spanish and French, growing up as she did in Mexico before settling in Montreal. But the songs don’t lose anything with the absence of a romance language. Lhasa still taps into her deeply poetic side, as in Where Do You Go with “Where do you go / when your tides are low / in the summer dress / of your drunkenness.”