02_tasaAlchemy

Tasa with special guests: Mark Feldman; Adrean Farrugia; Dhruba Ghosh;

DJ Olive Independent TASA004

(www.tasamusic.com)

Ten years ago Tasa’s founder, tabla player Ravi Naimpally, set out to realize his vision to create a new musical form out of the many cultures that co-exist in this country. True to form and mission, “Alchemy” delivers on all fronts.

The complete experience of the album leaves the listener feeling as if they had been traveling, shifting in and out of place, space and time. The “trippiness” of the music can largely be attributed to the soundscaping of guitarist Chris Gartner, and the intermittent scratching of guest DJ Olive. Fragments of electronica sneak up on you in a delightful and unjarring kind of way. If pressed to choose a favourite, it would be Boatman’s Song – an original and haunting arrangement of a traditional Indian folk song. The band collectively evokes mystic waters, complete with rain stick. I was mesmerized by the “other worldliness” of Tasa’s newest addition, Samidha Joglekar’s alaaps (extemporized free-form vocalizations), and I could lose myself inside the reverb and timbre of Ernie Tollar’s magical flute playing.

Dhurba Ghosh guests on sarangi, a stringed instrument akin to the violin considered by many as the closest acoustic reproduction of the human voice. Samudra, one of Naimpally’s originals, means ocean in Sanskrit. Ghosh’s sarangi and Tollar’s sax toss around their easy conversation like waves with the “voice” of Naimpally’s tabla. The song ends in a whirlpool jam session. The album’s last two tracks, Bija and Solar really showcase the band’s versatility and bring new meaning to the term World music.

01_kate_shuttTelephone Game
Kate Schutt
Cuto CUTO 001
(www.kateschutt.com)

 

Kate Schutt came out with a very accomplished debut CD “No Love Lost” in 2007, which was especially impressive for a young artist with no label backing. She has built on that artistic success and reached further into her considerable creative storehouse for “Telephone Game”. Subtle and stylish, the record is not easily categorized, but leans to pop, soul and jazz, with a full roster of skilled instrumentalists (most notably Teri Lyne Carrington on drums) adding variety and depth. Schutt wrote all of the songs and the one that’ll have you reaching for the replay button is Open Window, with its sweet story of young love and Gregoire Maret’s epic harmonica playing.

 

Her strong resemblance to Rickie Lee Jones, both in singing style and lyric writing – at once gritty and vulnerable - can’t be ignored. Still, Schutt is carving her own path and although she draws on a few genres, she has a distinctive voice that asserts itself throughout the work. The only minor flaw with the record is that the arrangements are a bit inconsistent. On the one hand, horns add gutsy heft to Take Me With You and strings give a clever nod to the disco era on Fake ID, however on Take Everything and Blackout some of the background vocals sound disjointed and out of place. But it’s a minor distraction from what is otherwise a great record from a gifted musician and songwriter.

02_viking_vacationVikings on Vacation
Ensemble Polaris
Bisma Bosma Records BBR002
(www.ensemblepolaris.com)

Self-described Arctic fusion band Ensemble Polaris takes a well deserved sonic break from its usual Northern Exposure with “Vikings on Vacation”. As the hilarious cover art so aptly displays, the dour Viking horsemen are melting on the beach. And while they may not be headed Due South - superb renditions of Swedish folk material are still a main focus - the choice of tracks by such non northern stars as Nino Rota and local Torontonians conjure up more of an international musical pastiche.

Band member Kirk Elliott contributes Cod’s Anatomy, a five part suite of short melodies written after a trip to sunny Newfoundland. Many styles are visited here with the Reel from Doran House a toe tapping joie de vivre. Guest composer Andrew Downing’s You Lovely Island is outstanding. Inspired by some melodies from West Side Story’s America, the piece allows the ensemble a chance to prove that they are more than just another folk music band. This is Leonard Bernstein on the rocks with its lilting melodies and rhythm. Member Debashis Sinha’s Emil Goes to Market is a world music piece originally written for Maza Mezé given in a joyful Polaris rendition.

Our musical vacationers are more laid back in their performances this time. The group plays with care, precision and creativity. However, considering the skills and musicality of the players, more spontaneous improvisation would have been a welcome addition.

“Vikings on Vacation” is great music to enjoy whether you are travelling the world or just taking a short holiday on the veranda.

Concert note: Ensemble Polaris celebrates the release of “Vikings on Vacation” in concert at the Music Gallery/Church of Saint George the Martyr on Friday October 16.

03_amanda_martinezAmor
Amanda Martinez
Independent (www.amandamartinez.ca
)

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.

04_ancient_egyptian_qanunThe Art of the Early Egyptian Qanun,
Vol. 2
Traditional Arabic Music Ensemble
Independent (www.georgedimitrisawa.com
)

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?

02_Melody_GardotMy One and Only Thrill
Melody Gardot
Verve B001256302

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.

Cathy Riches

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