07 pot pourri 02 ault sistersTimeless
Ault Sisters
Independent AAA13001 (aultsisters.com)

The Ault Sisters are a fresh and vibrant vocal trio, featuring three youthful and charming vocalists – Amanda, Alicia and Alanna Ault. On their second outing as recording artists, longtime producer Greg Kavanagh has assembled a stellar band, including the thrilling Robi Botos on piano, George Koller on bass, Ben Riley on drums, John Johnson on saxophones, Ted Quinlan on guitar and the dynamic William Sperandei on trumpet. In addition, well-respected vocalist Debbie Fleming is responsible for all of the clever vocal arrangements (aside from a wonderful contribution by Dylan Bell on Van Morrison’s perennial Moondance).

The Ault sisters have an almost supernatural vocal blend that can only be achieved when genetics are involved – and the sisters freely and effortlessly adopt different vocal parts depending on the material. Although the repertoire on Timeless tends to travel safely down the middle of the road, the Ault Sisters’ purity of sound and musicianship easily make the most out of each neo-standard.

The peppy opener, Back to You, an original by Chris Smith and Kavanagh, sets the tone for this up-beat and entertaining recording. Other standouts include a stunning rendition of Joni Mitchell’s River, featuring the great John Johnson on soprano saxophone; a lush, romantic arrangement of Stevie Wonder’s gorgeous (and rarely performed) ballad Ribbon in the Sky and a crisp contemporary take on the Gershwins’ immortal They Can’t Take That Away From Me. These talented young artists have a tremendous future ahead of them and we should all look forward to what’s next on their mutual dance card!

Concert Note:The CD release for the Ault Sisters Timeless is March 11 at the Jazz Bistro.

07 pot pourri 03 swingle singersWeather to Fly
Swingle Singers
World Village 450025

The Swingle Singers have been around since before the cast members of Glee were a gleam in their parents’ eyes, but they are surely rejoicing in the renewed interest in group singing the TV show has brought about. The a cappella group was formed in 1962 in Paris by Ward Swingle and came to notoriety for their renditions of Bach’s Well-Tempered Klavier. Having gone through many incarnations and currently based in England, the seven-voice group now even includes a Canadian, baritone Kevin Fox.

A cappella singing presents many challenges and while the ability to blend is a coveted skill, it can sometimes result in a homogenous sound that can become tedious. So the vocal percussion on many of the cuts on Weather to Fly adds a welcome dimension. The eclectic repertoire includes a Turkish traditional song, a Piazzola tango and a cute play on a Beyoncé hit – Swingle Ladies. The 80s are represented with the Tears for Fears’ tune Woman in Chains, complete with vocally recreated synth parts, and Chick Corea’s much-covered Spain, here given an oddly antiseptic treatment that I found unappealing (and a little reminiscent of Alvin and The Chipmunks). The title track on the other hand is an example of the best an a cappella group can be – the arrangement makes the most of the voices (especially the beautiful bass of Edward Randell). The soloists Clare Wheeler, Sara Brimer and Oliver Griffiths give impeccable performances. 

07 pot pourri ladom ensembleLadom Ensemble
Ladom Ensemble
Independent 67-0295-1 (ladomensemble.com)

Ladom Ensemble’s first self-titled album is an enjoyable listening experience. The members are four University of Toronto music graduates of exceptional musical prowess. Pianist-composer Pouya Hamidi plays a sparkling piano while incorporating traditional Persian musical elements to his excellent compositions. Accordionist-composer Nemanja Pjanić’s colourful runs and rhythms add spice to the music while his Balkan flavoured compositions add a contrasting element to the ensemble’s sound. The equally soulful performers, cellist Marie-Cristine Pelchat St-Jacques and percussionist Adam Campbell, complete the ensemble.

There is a wide-ranging original sound to Ladom. Their tight chamber sensibilities are well-suited to the Piazzolla cover Fugata. The rousing Pjanić composition The Flying Balkan Dance is a short yet toe-tapping Balkan selection which features each member in a lead role and a satisfying mournful, slow, brief cello solo in the middle. Hamidi’s Goriz utilizes his Persian roots especially in the driving rhythmic sections. In contrast his Noor (meaning “light” in Farsi) is an exceptional track in that the performers seem to remove their more “classical” performance sensibilities to create a more spontaneous-sounding slower soundscape ending with Hamidi’s perfect, subtle piano tinkling. Here’s hoping the group will explore more of this aspect.

Production values are high with the live quality captured adding an additional listening dimension.  Thanks, too, for not removing the clicks from register/switch changes on the accordion! Ladom Ensemble is a great group performing great music in a new world music direction.

Concert Note: Ladom performs a matinée concert at Hugh’s Room on Sunday February 16.

As You Near Me
James Campbell; Graham Campbell;
Afiara Quartet
Marquis MAR 451

Throughout musical history, how many eminent musicians have produced musical offspring? The number may seem surprisingly low — Leopold Mozart certainly did, as did J.S. Bach. But as for musicians like Haydn, Debussy and Dvořák, there was nobody to carry on the family tradition. Closer to home, this is clearly not the case with clarinettist James Campbell, whose son Graham is a fine guitarist and pedagogue; the two have happily joined forces on this Marquis Classics disc titled As You Near Me.

Long referred to as “Canada’s pre-eminent clarinetist and wind soloist,” James Campbell has enjoyed an international career as soloist and chamber musician for more than 35 years. His son Graham earned his music degree at Humber College and has since made a name for himself as a gifted guitarist and composer in Toronto’s music community.

This is actually the second recording father and son have produced (the first was Homemade Jam in 2003). Nevertheless, with this release, Graham’s talents as a composer are also showcased, for eight of the 16 tracks bear his name. There are many things to like about this recording, not the least of which is the eclecticism; it draws from several sources, including jazz, Latin and central European. The two Campbells are joined on certain tracks by other performers such as the Afiara String Quartet and bassists Sam McLellan and Bob Mills. James Campbell’s lyrical tone combined with the skilful guitar work (either as a solo or as accompaniment) produces an appealing sound, with the younger Campbell’s own compositions proving particularly engaging.

As You Near Me is the perfect disc for relaxing to on an autumn weekend — or for that matter, any day of the week, during any season. Recommended.

06 pot pourri 02b tangos brasileiros06 pot pourri 02a tango dreamsTango Dreams
Alexander Sevastian
Analekta AN 28767

Tangos Brasileiros –
The music of Ernesto Nazareth
Christina Petrowska Quilico
Marquis MAR 519

When you start pulling out your winter boots for another snowy march, take out your dancing shoes too, and warm up the Canadian winter with these two new releases of hot and sultry tango music played by two of Canada’s finest performers.

Accordionist Alexander Sevastian is a world-class awarding-winning performer. Many readers will recognize his fabulous work with Quartetto Gelato. In Tango Dreams, Sevastian is brilliant as he takes on the tango style. The five tangos by the late “tango nuevo” Argentinean composer/bandoneonist Astor Piazzolla are performed with sensitivity and nuance. From Uruguay, the more traditional La Cumparsita, by Gerardo Hernan Matos Rodriguez (arranged by Dmitriy Varelas) opens with a quasi-improvisational florid section which leads to a colourful harmonic and rhythmically robust performance true to the traditional tango genre. The contrasting middle section with its rubato and melodic chromaticisms makes this more of a concert work until it’s time to dance again as Sevastian shows his artistic musicianship both in melody and rhythm. The title track Tango Dreams by Raymond Luedeke is a performance of a 2002 work commissioned by fellow accordionist Joseph Petric for accordion and string trio which has been featured in various concert settings, and as a dance piece choreographed by David Earle. As the composer notes, no tango lines have been lifted from traditional tangos, yet the work oozes with the tango spirit and drive. Sevastian and Atis Bankas (violin), Anna Antropova (viola) and Jonathan Tortolano (cello) achieve a tight ensemble unit through changing stylistic motives and moods.

Equally world-renowned and the 2007 winner of the Friends of Canadian Music Award, pianist Christina Petrowska Quilico performs the tangos of Brazilian composer/pianist Ernesto Júlio de Nazareth (1863–1934) in the two-CD release Tangos Brasileiros. Touches of salon music and the romanticism of Chopin are evident in these tangos, which are quicker in tempo than their Argentinean relatives. There is so much heartfelt joy in the pianist’s performances of 24 of the composers’ piano works. In her liner notes titled “My Personal Tango Journey,” she attributes her agility in style, musicality and placement of downbeat to her years in the dance studio learning how to dance the tango. I agree completely. The famous Fon-Fon is driven by a zippy right hand melody which is partnered by a two-feet-grounded-on-the-floor pulse. The more traditional Perigoso – Tango Brasileiro is a swaying, sultry and steady performance with intriguing brief yet breathtaking silences. Most fun are the left hand low-pitched lines in Myosotis. Deep and rich in tone, they act as a perfect mate to the jovial salon music-like right hand melodies. Throughout, Petrowska Quilico’s well-contemplated rhythmic placements and gentler finger attacks create the sense of melodic spontaneity so important to tango music.

Sevastian and Petrowska Quilico are so very different in their musical instruments, attitudes and approaches to tangos yet both are worthy of an enjoyable twirl across the listening dance floor.

BroadswayBroadsway – Old Friends
Heather Bambrick; Julie Michels;
Diane Leah
Broadsway BWCD001

Three broads sing it their way: meet Broadsway, an explosively talented trio. The versatile voices of Heather Bambrick and Julie Michels are paired with acclaimed pianist/musical director Diane Leah, who in this context sings, plays and arranges exquisitely. Charmingly, the project started out by accident, when Michels, accompanied by Leah, invited Bambrick to sit in on what turned out to be a fantabulous version of Moondance (find it on YouTube!) in November of 2008. Turns out these three women have more in common than curly hair: incredible musicality, electric stage presence and, central to the group, a mutual respect and admiration for one another. Nearly five years after that first “Moondance,” they’ve turned their innate musical sisterhood into a sublime, polished cabaret act.

Likely the only group in the world to perform Puccini, Lady Gaga and Thelonious Monk in the same set, Broadsway can do seemingly anything, but most of their material comes from musical theatre and film. Highlights of this recording include Take Me or Leave Me from Rent, I Know Him So Well from Chess, a testament to songwriting genius in the Broadsway Bacharach medley and a contagiously joyous romp through the challenging Lambert, Hendricks & Ross vehicle Cloudburst. Balancing the wild spontaneity of a given moment with years of friendship, there will never be another Broadsway. And while there is no substitute to seeing these ladies in concert, this CD comes highly recommended.

—Ori Dagan

Concert Note:Broadsway performs on September 6 and 7 at the Flying Beaver Pubaret at 488 Parliament St.

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