04_wingfieldkastningI Walked Into the Silver Darkness

Mark Wingfield; Kevin Kastning

greydisc GDR 3508 (www.markwingfield.com)

This is a collection of original pieces for guitars. I found myself amazed at the range of guitar voices produced. A very extended palette of sound is due to the odd variety of guitars being played. There are conventional 6-string guitars but also we hear a 14-string contraguitar, 12-string extended baritone guitar, heavily processed electric guitars and even fretless guitar. The sounds had me searching through the liner notes wondering what I was hearing. Wingfield and Kastning are surely pushing the envelope with this disc. According to the liner notes, an “open mind” is required to appreciate these compositions, which are all improvised in the recording studio by two extremely gifted guitarists who had not played together until the time of this recording.

Sonically, the recording is reminiscent of an ecm release, a mix of acoustic and electric sounds with a generous amount of spatial enhancement surrounding the sound. Its multi-tracked, or layered construction, is assembled in an interesting fashion, with some sounds very forward while some are quite distant. It isn't very natural sounding in that the reverberation times differ drastically, with very dry acoustic guitars often surrounded by heavily treated reverberant electric tones.

As a guitarist, I am forever amazed at the compositional aspect of the instrument. I learned how to play with a very tattered Pete Seeger method book about 40 years ago and learned the early American styles of flat-picking and finger picking, using a handful of basic chords, and have had a lifetime of pleasure working in that idiom. For most of what I play, I really only need a guitar that has the first five or so frets. When I hear “modern” guitarists who are pioneering sounds and musical textures, I am in awe of how they can express themselves by travelling through every region of the instrument, often with what seems like effortless abandon. This collection of original instrumental pieces will impress all guitarists, no doubt.

 


01_lori_cullenThat Certain Chartreuse

Lori Cullen

Independent LC2011 www.loricullen.com

Lori Cullen is a steadfast presence on the music scene in Toronto, consistently producing fine albums and appearing in and putting together live shows that bring together dozens of talented local artists. Although her songwriting is strong, I like her best as a song stylist and her latest, “That Certain Chartreuse,” is dominated by examples of that unique talent. Along with guitarist/partner Kurt Swinghammer, bassist Maury Lafoy, drummer Mark Mariash and keyboardist David Matheson, everyone from the Bee Gees to Suzanne Vega to King Crimson gets the careful caress of Cullen's interpretations. Rainy Day People is given an emotional depth it never had at the hands of Gordon Lightfoot (as un-Canadian as that may be to say). While Baubles, Bangles and Beads gets a delightful and crazy mix of sitar-like guitar sounds, a hint of Optimistic Voices-style vocal arrangements, and trumpet playing, courtesy of Bryden Baird, that has the distinct Cullen/Swinghammeresque imprint. The Shania Twain hit that she wrote with her now very ex husband, Forever and For Always, is done without irony and restores our faith in the possibility of love and loyalty.


02_unspoken_dreamsUnspoken Dreams - Stories from Rumi

Ariel Balevi; William Beauvais

Independent WLCD 012010

Storyteller Ariel Balevi and guitarist/composer/improviser William Beauvais are a creative team to be reckoned with. “Unspoken Dreams - Stories from Rumi” is concurrently perplexing and interesting in its content and presentation.

Balevi “reads” five stories from the Masnavi, a collection of stories and stories within stories that Rumi, the 13th century Sufi poet and mystic, used in his teachings. Balevi's diction is clear, and his timing is impeccable. Most surprisingly, he has the uncanny knack of drawing the listener deep into the text when least expected to create a powerful listening experience. He is an excellent storyteller with a distinctive voice that brings the stories he so loves to life.

At times, Balevi risks becoming a bit over the top in his sentiment. This is where guitarist William Beauvais weaves his magic. Clearly relishing his musical supporting role, Beauvais’ improvisations, compositions and performance provide the perfect backdrop/soundscape while simultaneously creating clear boundaries to prevent a sonic crash. Between stories as musical interludes, his renditions of the simple Yoruban and Bantu songs are beautiful moments which prepare the listener for the next story.

The sound of the voice and guitar blend with ease and colour. Production qualities are superb. Fans of storytelling should be impressed by “Unspoken Dreams - Stories from Rumi.” The rest of us open minded enough to give this Balevi/Beauvais collaboration a listen should be pleasantly surprised. The disc is available through the Canadian Music Centre Distribution Service (www.musiccentre.ca).

 


01_Yael_naimShe Was A Boy

Yael Naim; David Donatien

tot ou tard 3231742 (www.yaelweb.com)

Having one of your songs hand-picked by Apple CEO Steve Jobs to represent the launch of a new product is a little like winning the lottery. It can be a blessing and a curse, but French-Israeli singer-songwriter Yael Naim and partner David Donatien took advantage of the windfall brought by New Soul to hole up in their Paris apartment and take time and care producing “She Was a Boy,” the third album in Naim’s young career.

At first listen, the collection of 13 songs sounds much like a lot of releases by female singer-songwriters these days: quirky, cute and catchy. But if you dig into the lyrics a bit you’ll hear depth and anguish that belie the bouncy melodies. (I guess having the Israel Defense Forces as your musical training ground will do that to a girl.) The opening track Come Home speaks of the pain and guilt of being independent from one’s family, accompanied by a lively New Orleans-style party track.

Naim also accomplishes what many musicians attempt but few achieve: a true melding of musical cultures. Man of Another Woman beautifully marries Indian melody with Western modality and the laid-back bluesy lament Never Change sounds like a modern, humbler Billie Holiday. One of the main strengths of “She Was a Boy” is the light-handed use of an arsenal of instruments which enhance but never overwhelm the charm of the songs.


02_fanfare_pourpourDanse des Bresloques

Fanfare Pour Pour

Monsieur Fauteux m’attendez-vous? MFMV? 18 (www.actuellecd.com)

In a bad mood? Listen, laugh and dance to the uplifting “Danse des brelogues” by Fanfare Pourpour. This is happy music from an eclectic happy “big band” of 20 performers well versed in musical idiosyncrasy, style, wit, and technical know-how (not to forget a superb taste in haberdashery!). Nothing atonal here, as the styles range from French waltzes to jazz to Klezmer-like tunes to tango and samba beats to everything in between played on trumpets, saxophones, clarinets, guitars, banjo, accordions, violins, percussion, euphonium, and musical saw, plus vocal soloists and a choir.

Under the direction of Jean Derome and Nemo Venba, the players are a smorgasbord of Quebec musical masters – Altobelli, Babin, Belanger, Bourque, Derome, Duguay, Del Fabbro, Guilbeault, Hubler, Lajeunesse, Letarte, Menard, Nicolas, Nisenson, Poizat, Proulx, Sabourin, Tanguay, Venba and Vendette. A number of these great musicians provide the fifteen original compositions featured on this, the band’s fourth release. The works are group specific or originate from dance, theatre or film. The arrangements of the tunes are so strong, and designed to illuminate the group’s tight ensemble sense while maintaining a continuous improvisational feel. There are also a few tiny aural treats to remind one that the performers are “new musicians” as well.

Sound quality is superb. The French language only liner notes are thorough. Time to take out whatever moves you and boogie along with Fanfare Pourpour’s freewheeling musical spirit.

 


03_AzulDe la nuit au lever du jour

Azam Ali

Terrestrial Lane Records 013111 (www.azamalimusic.com)

I suppose it shouldn’t be surprising that a collection of lullabies isn’t a terribly upbeat album, but “De la nuit au lever du jour” also has an unexpected solemnity and stateliness to it. These aren’t your everyday cute little bedtime ditties, at least not to my Western ears. Iranian-Canadian singer Azam Ali has chosen songs from a variety of Middle Eastern cultures, plus a few of her own compositions, and sings them in Persian, Turkish, Arabic, Kurdish and Azeri. Unless you understand these languages (or the French the lyrics are translated into in the liner notes), you’re free to enjoy these songs from a purely musical standpoint and Ali’s skill and beauty as a singer are undeniable. Her childhood spent in India and her comfort with the quarter-tone are also apparent in some of her compositions, such as Tendresse, written for her son, and the Kurdish Lai Lai. Ali has enlisted expert musicians from each of the regions to accompany her on traditional instruments, such as oud and saz, as well as the contemporary, Montreal-based Bozzini String Quartet. “De la nuit au lever du jour” is a meditative, transporting work.


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