02_lenkaFray

Lenka Lichtenberg

Independent SR265 (www.lenkalichtenberg.com)

 

With “Fray” (Free), her fourth solo CD, the Czech born Toronto-based singer-songwriter Lenka Lichtenberg has embraced Toronto’s World Music aesthetic. Singing expressive Yiddish and English lyrics with an intimate soprano over well-wrought arrangements that bridge Eastern European, Middle-Eastern, Egyptian, South Asian, North and South American styles, Lenka takes us on a lilting musical journey replete with global echoes.

 

The songs on “Fray” gently blend musical boundaries, accomplished with the aid of a selection of Toronto’s world and jazz musician who’s who. Contributions shine from the quanun master George Sawa, Ravi Naimpally on tabla and dumbek, percussionist Alan Hetherington, bassist extraordinaire George Koller, woodwind expert Ernie Tollar and John Gzowski on guitars and oud. Those listeners who expect to hear standard Klezmer instruments such as piano, violin, clarinet and cornet on such an album are also rewarded.

 

Notwithstanding the delightful blend of word music arrangements here, Lenka Lichtenberg’s work is foremost a product of her passion and dedication to international Yiddish culture and to the development of what is sometimes called New Jewish Music. Her practice of cantorial singing within the Jewish liturgy “fills me with light and total happiness” she has said. It clearly illuminates “Fray” with a luminous energy, making the cumulative experience of listening to this album a joy.

 

[Editor’s note: Although for environmental reasons there is no program booklet included with the CD Ms Lichtenberg assures us all lyrics and translations will be available on her website lenkalichtenberg.com.]

Concert Note: Lenka Lichtenberg and special guests including Maryem Tollar will launch “Fray” at the Ashkenaz Festival on September 4 at 6:00 at the Lakeside Terrace, Harbourfront.

01_hiveHive
Gamelan Madu Sari
Songlines SGL 2406-2 (www.songlines.com)

Vancouver’s brave label Songlines Recordings has just released the second fine album by that town’s Kyai Madu Sari. Playing a complete Javanese gamelan, this group of composers and musicians has been developing innovative music and theatrical productions since 1986. Their ambitious and delightfully rewarding album documents a new level of artistic sophistication and an ability to communicate their voice to a wider non-gamelan-centric audience.

“Hive” is constructed around three things: the group’s provocative shadow theatre production Semar in Lila Maya, the full possible instrumental range of the Javanese gamelan, and vocals up front in the mix. In fact those unfamiliar with the world of Javanese gamelan music may be surprised at the prominence of the glorious solo and choral singing in much of it.

Ben Rogalsky’s compositions illustrate all three threads beautifully. His song From Heaven to Earth deftly draws on two music genres for inspiration: the old-fashioned syncretic Indonesian folk style kroncong and the more recent Javanese campur sari. Behind Rogalsky’s backing of gamelan allied with mandolin, cello and string bass, are the warm and communicative vocals of the composer, Jessika Kenney and the chorus. The same vocal group is heard to good, though very different, effect in English composer Alec Roth’s eerie Full Fathom Five.

The Javanese born and long-time west coast resident Sutrisno Hartana's two elegant compositions are the most Javanese in feeling and conception of the works presented here. “Hive” is a rich and rewarding musical experience that challenges as well as it soothes – and magically manages to do it on several cultural levels at once.

02_bali_xProject Bali X
Giri Kedaton
Independent GKN-10809 (www.girikedaton.com)

First of all, Projet Bali is defiantly not your chill-out ambient gamelan album. It is however a genre bending, skillfully composed, performed and recorded compilation by the crack Montreal Balinese gamelan group Giri Kedaton. Never academic, it incorporates with élan Western popular and classical musical elements with straight-up and twisted Balinese gong kebyar instrumentation and musical textures.

Glancing at the album’s titles is a dead giveaway to the cheeky culture-mashing intentions herein. Bali Hillbillies layers gong kebyar with the rock trinity: electric guitar, bass and drum set, with blood-pumping results. Ritual du Citadin continues the rock trope mirroring drum set breaks with kendang (drum) and ceng-ceng (Balinese multiple cymbals) features, underscored by spacey synth textures and rippling kotekan (interlocking patterns) provided by the rest of the gamelan.

The musical and material ‘metal’ metaphor is brought to the surface in Jembatan Metal. I find that the tempestuous Balinese kebyar (“burst in flame”) music & heavy metal rock energies and gestures suit each other so well that it made me wonder what took so long to marry them?

The album also embraces a Radiohead cover, surf rock vibes, synth soundscapes, Cuban bata drumming, Ennio Morricone references and techno beats, all quite comfortably and unapologetically cohabiting with gong kebyar music.

Thanks to Giri Kedaton’s twenty-six dedicated and skilled Quebec musicians and composers “Projet Bali” is one thrilling cross-cultural voyage worth taking repeatedly with little fear of culture shock.

02_sambacanaNos

Sambacana

Independent SACANA 001

(www.sambatoronto.ca)

I’ve discovered that there are two types of Brazilian musicians in our midst - those that are born in Brazil and adopt Canada as their home and those that are from here and become utterly smitten with this incredibly rich musical culture. And when the two groups of people come together the results can be marvellous, as traditional Brazilian styles are flavoured with North American sounds. Sambacana is just one of a number of examples of these hybrids in Toronto and the driving force behind the band is Alan “Canadense” Hetherington.

Hetherington is an in-demand percussionist, drummer, educator and leader of a number of groups including Escola de Samba de Toronto, a large percussion ensemble modelled after the massive bands that are prolific throughout Brazil and hit the streets at Carnaval time. The other core members of Sambacana - John Yelland, bass, Wagner Petrilli, guitars, Luis Guerra, piano and keys, Aline Morales, vocals - and a dozen guests bring a range of styles and skills to “Nos”. So we get what amounts to a sampler of Brazilian musical styles, mainly from the north east regions. Amor Transcendental is a gorgeous, meditative bossa nova written by Cibelle Iglesias; Dança de Vida, an instrumental featuring Bob Deangelis on clarinet, has touches of choro and jazz; Neve is a fun pagode lament about snow, and Molho de H.P. (HP Sauce) is a complex tribute to the genius Brazilian composer Hermeto Pascoal. This beautiful disc and information about several Brazilian groups can be found on the website noted above.

01_brigaDiaspora

Briga

Briga & Bahtalo Records

(www.brigamusic.com)

A product of Montreal’s multicultural music scene, and formerly with Les Gitans de Sarajevo and Rembetika Hipsters, Briga (Brigitte Dajczer), launched her debut solo project “Diaspora” in 2009, with recent performances in Toronto and Kingston. This accomplished violinist presents a lively and varied mix of Balkan pop/jazz, gypsy style violin, and song, on two CD’s with a back-up band of equally polished musicians on keyboards, accordion, drums, various traditional percussion, and bass. The first disc is completely instrumental, and here Briga shines as either composer or arranger of most of the tracks, as well as exuberant violin virtuoso, displaying extraordinary technique and passion. By contrast, the second disc is a collection of songs, all but one (Les Paul’s Johnny, Tu n’es pas un Ange) with lyrics and music by Briga, in English and French. While her singing is not as developed yet as her violin playing (her intonation is not always spot on), there is obvious talent here, both as singer and songwriter. And she still plays violin on the vocal tracks, though it’s not clear whether this is simultaneous or overdubbed.

One fault of this CD set is the lack of detailed liner notes; though the musicians and their instruments are named, and song lyrics are provided, there are no bios, nor any background information on the music itself, nor translations of the lyrics. Nevertheless, this is a praiseworthy first release by an artist worth following. Notable also is the stellar darbuka playing by Tacfarinas Kichou throughout.

 

05_shadowlandShadowLand

DaCapo Chamber Choir

Independent DC 002-09 (www.dacapochamberchoir.ca)

 

The essence of this recording weaves an ever-changing metamorphosis of darkness to light, highlighting the thought that neither of these polarities can possibly exist without the other. Night and day, life and death, earthly time and eternity are each a shadow of the other and which is real? The compositions chosen for this brilliantly focused choir provide exquisitely mystical and powerful music as meditations for a variety of texts highlighting this theme. The most dramatic is Whitacre's When David Heard based on the biblical passage telling of David's grief over the death of his son Absalom. Contrasting with the quietly poignant settings of Absalom fili mi we are used to, Whitacre's fourteen and a half minute setting moves through several different musical characterizations, evoking movement from sobbing to screaming, pain to ritual acceptance, through a processional passage. Other pieces such as Moonset by Jeff Enns and Nocturne by Leonard Enns which celebrate the beauty of night and the harmony of the spheres make effective use of overtones to inspire awe. In The searching sings by R. Murray Schafer, and Leonard Enn's The Amazing Day the choir celebrates the magic and lightness of nature. The recording begins and ends with two meditations on the sacred, Enn's I saw eternity and Imant Raminsh's O ignus spiritus.

 

Dianne Wells

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