06 Pot Pourri 04 Monsoon MandalaMandala: The Cosmos Is Their Oyster
Independent (monsoon-music.com)

Another Kickstarter album success story, Monsoon’s Mandala was successfully funded through the crowdfunding platform, though there is also an OAC logo on the tri-fold’s back cover. The result is the Toronto-based group’s debut studio album, featuring assured performances captained by the sax, clarinet and bansuri (North Indian flute)-playing brothers Jonathan and Andrew Kay, and bassist Justin Gray. Leading Canadian advocates of Indo-jazz, in 2007 they organized the Toronto International Indo-Jazz Festival, the first in the nation.

The Kay brothers set the tone throughout the album with post-bop jazz modal expositions, revealing imaginative and moody compositions on which the performances hang. Their melodic solos and duos are imbued with characteristic Hindustani ornament and idiomatic gestures inherent to raga, derived from indigenous South Asian dhrupad and khyal music genres. These are aided in no small degree by Ravi Naimpally’s solid tala structures, grooves and solos on the tabla.

On the jazz side of the equation Adam Teixeira (drum set), Todd Pentney (keyboards), percussionist Derek Gray and Justin Gray on various basses securely support the Kays’ wind excursions. Justin Gray in particular shines on the evocative bass veena – a specially fabricated Canadian hybrid electric plucked bass string instrument – which in his hands swings admirably in both westward and eastward directions.

The veteran Toronto bassist and producer George Koller receives studio session producer credits; no doubt his seasoned affiliation with both jazz and Hindustani music is a key reason for the overall success of Mandala. In the end, what’s particularly notable is how gracefully all concerned integrate the North Indian and jazz elements into a refreshingly upbeat listening experience.


06 Pot Pourri 05 Pierre et le LoupPierre et le Loup… et le jazz
Daniel Lavoie; Amazing Keystone Big Band
Chant du Monde CME 274 2255

In a French version by Renaud de Jouvenel, arranged for orchestra by Bastien Ballaz, Jon Boutellier and Frédéric Nardin, this marvellous rendition stays loyal to Sergei Prokofiev’s wonderful musical story Peter and the Wolf while introducing listeners to big band music and the history of jazz.

The instruments you hear are different than what you’re used to – the oboe, clarinet and bassoon are replaced by saxophones for example. From Harlem to New Orleans, piano stride, free jazz, blues, bebop and jazz rock – it’s all here.

Popular Canadian singer Daniel Lavoie gives a crisp narration that quickly absorbs listeners even if they have a very limited knowledge of French. Pierre/Peter, oiseau/bird, canard/duck, chat/cat, loup/wolf, Grand-père/Grandpa, chasseurs/hunters – you’re all set. Read along in the beautiful booklet illustrated by Martin Jarrie for added comprehension.

When the story is done you’ll hear over 20 minutes of further variations on the theme. Soulful Cat, Elegy for a Duck, Grandpa’s Shuffle, to name but a few. The Amazing Keystone Big Band really is amazing.

The clarity of this recording makes it a delight to hear. This creative arrangement of a familiar tale is a welcome addition to the jazz family.


06 Pot Pourri 01 Canadian Brass ChinaGreat Wall of China
Canadian Brass
Opening Day ODR 7433

Having listened to recordings of the Canadian Brass for many years, I was sure that this CD would be in the same style as previous recordings. Not so. While it has all of the performance polish that is the hallmark of this group, there is a big difference. None of the music is familiar. All 18 tracks are adaptations of Chinese music. First time through I simply sat back and listened from beginning to end. In a few words: It is delightfully listenable.

Since there are no program notes, I was at a bit of a loss as to where to start to obtain information on the selections. Taking the bull by the horns, I called both Howard Cable (who wrote nine of the eighteen adaptations) and Chuck Daellenbach, the founder and tubist of the group. The selections are called “adaptations” because the original material was received as recordings on original Chinese instruments which were then adapted for performance in the brass quintet.

As Daellenbach pointed out, just as the day-to-day life in China has evolved due to Western influence, so has Chinese music. From soft melodies like The Moon Represents My Heart which features the trombone in a jazz style and a very melodic tuba passage to Catching Butterflies While Picking Tea with its definite Chinese flavour and amazing ending, or the lullaby-like sensitivity of Colourful Clouds Chasing the Moon, it’s a new musical experience. In particular, Daellenbach’s sensitive melodic tuba is a joy rarely heard. This CD should be added to the listening material for the classes of instrumental music teachers to show students the range of subtleties and colours achievable with brass instruments in the right hands.


06 Pot Pourri 02 Tango BorealPampa Blues
Tango Boreal
ATMA ACD2 2706

Bandoneonist/composer Denis Plante cunningly equates the music of Pampa Blues with an aural musical journey of a horse travelling north to south across the Americas. Plante’s tongue-in-cheek wit catches one’s attention with his opening liner notes sentence “Tango is dead.” Start to listen, and Tango Boreal begins to prove the statement wrong. Plante’s compositions are rooted in the tango tradition with touches of different styles abounding. His performances with double bassist Ian Simpson and guitarist David Jacques gallop into an exciting treat of tight ensemble playing, strong writing and heartwarming lyricism.

 The tracks are grounded in themes. Highlights are the great car-beeping-sound performance of Ciudad (City), an extract from Piazzolla’s Noche de Tango, while two of Plante’s own stylistically similar exciting works pay homage to the Argentinian great. In contrast, Plante’s four works dedicated to his family members are introspective and stirring. The trio plays with sensitivity to nuance resulting in breathtaking musicality. I love Plante’s idea of writing the world’s longest phrase for the bandoneon in his Tango Romance. The long phrase with no bellow change is executed with agility and surprising tonal control at the end of the line for both the beautiful melody and the completely extended bellows!

 The musicianship is superb. The tonal expertise of Plante’s bandoneon is unmatched. Simpson drives the bass rhythm with colour and bounce. Jacques is equally great in both guitar lead melody and supporting roles. Together they are keeping more than just tango alive!


06 Pot Pourri 03 Sarah PeeblesDelicate Paths – Music for Shō
Sarah Peebles; with Evan Parker, Nilan Perera, Suba Sankaran
unsounds 42U (unsounds.com)

For some quarter century the Toronto-based American composer, improviser and installation artist Sarah Peebles has conducted a musical love affair with the shō, the Japanese mouth organ. Ever since studying its foundational repertoire embedded in the music of the antique gagaku, performed by the orchestra of the Japanese court, she has sought to explore the shō’s sonic strengths. She has particularly identified with its ability to produce microtonal and psychoacoustic effects reifying sound, often unfolding leisurely over time.

There is yet another key element on this album. Bees. Peebles’ installation art practice explores the lives of wild bees, pollination ecology and biodiversity, a branch of BioArt. This concern not only explains some of the titles of the works here – i.e. Resinous Fold – but it is also reflected in the synergistic relationships between mouth organs and the resinous production of bees. Tropical stingless bees secrete a resin which has been gathered from wild nests for millennia and applied to many human artifacts, including mouth organs. The shō is no exception. You can view a number of fascinating photos, of both bee habitats and the delicate shō reeds for which their products are an essential ingredient, on the web page for Delicate Paths hosted by the “unsounds” label.

Peebles’ music employs both improvisation and composition, embracing acoustic as well as digitally processed performance. While shō is clearly featured, the album invites other musicians into the music making. On Delicate Paths she has included three star improvisers: a familiar reed instrument, a string, and a voice. Free jazz-rooted saxophonist Evan Parker, prepared electric guitarist Nilan Perera and multi-genre vocalist Suba Sankaran join Peebles. They are canny choices. Each effectively supports, contests and offsets her shō’s melodic long tones and clusters, providing welcome musical tensions, cultural reframings, as well as textural and timbral richness.

Slipping the CD out of its handsome black trifold case I was delighted by its striking, subtly translucent honey-coloured appearance. Repeated listening revealed music of refinement, occasionally graced with a gentle aural sweetness, which in my imagination at least, resonates with a key component of the shō’s inner workings.


06 Pot Pourri 01 Kiran AhluwaliaSanata: Stillness
Kiran Ahluwalia
Independent MTM-CD-930 (kiranmusic.com)

The release of Indian-Canadian singer and songwriter Kiran Ahluwalia’s sixth album Sanata: Stillness, provides copious confirmation that her songs are “one of global music’s most interesting adventures.” Ever since Ahluwalia‘s first CD in 2001, it seems each new album marks new regions of personal musical growth, accompanied by evolving instrumentation and stylistic components. Recorded in Toronto, Sanata, as does her touring group, features some of the city’s top world musicians. Among them number percussionist maestro Mark Duggan and bassists extraordinaire Rich Brown and Andrew Downing.

In my September 2014 WholeNote cover feature on Ahluwalia, I observed that her geo-musical expansiveness is a result “of her careful listening to yet another [geo-cultural] zone of our world. She has [further] shown a continued eagerness to contest the borders of her musical comfort zones in live performance.”

Sanata provides ample proof of that process of exploration and synthesis at work. We hear Ahluwalia’s signature masala of her unique interpretation of Indo-Pakistani ghazal and Punjabi folk song, rendered in her expressive yet unstrained vibrato-less voice. It’s hung on a solid backbone of years of classical Hindustani musical training. Her gift for crafting catchy melodies is evidenced in her songs; I’m guessing a key feature in their audience appeal.

Another significant strand is the addition of pungent echoes of Saharan blues guitar, as in her award-winning 2011 CD Aam Zameen: Common Ground. It grounds the title track and also propels “Hayat” with a swaggering groove at just the right tempo. The superbly supple electric guitar accompaniments are provided by her American husband Rez Abbasi, who is also the album’s arranger and producer. Abbasi gets a chance to show his ample jazz guitarist cred in his “Tamana” solo and elsewhere.

While the album is carefully woven together with jazz-forward and sometimes rock-infused arrangements, “Jhoom” and “Lament,” the two songs in the qawwali tradition, return the album’s musical topography and transport the listener – via many transcontinental byways – to the Subcontinent.


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