01 Charke CormierThe Equation of Time
Charke-Cormier Duo with Celso Machado
Leaf Music LM260 (leaf-music.ca)

Featuring Derek Charke on flute and bass flute and Eugene Cormier on guitar, this CD takes its title from Charke’s composition The Equation of Time, which occupies the last four tracks and refers to the fact that it is composed of an equal number of fast and slow sections. Arguably, however, the CD might better have been called The Equations of Time, not only because of tempos, but also because the compositions found on it were written in four different centuries, and the two older compositions include contemporary additions and variations seamlessly incorporated by the composer-performers themselves. This in itself adds yet another temporal dimension, the composer-performer, a rarity in our day, but typical earlier in the life of western music.

Added to all this are percussionist Celso Machado’s contributions, six pieces of Brazilian dance music, adding a musical sensibility at least as remote from contemporary Canadian music making as the much older compositions on the disc by Frescobaldi (17th century) and Wilhelmine von Bayreuth (18th century). The result is a strange and intriguing series of juxtapositions of new and old, familiar and unfamiliar, expected and unexpected musical experiences, a sort of musical surrealism, evocative of the artistic ferment of the second and third decades of 20th-century Europe, but with a vitality coming from real artistic expression and not imitation. I should add as well that the performances are infused with an equal vitality and artistry.

Charke, Cormier and Machado have reinvented the CD as a work of art in itself, more than just a concert program frozen in time.

Listen to 'The Equation of Time' Now in the Listening Room

02 Monkey HouseRemember the Audio
Monkey House
Alma Records ACD62422 (almarecords.com)

Thirty years is a long time for a band to be together and it’s an even longer time to keep coming up with fresh, inventive songs. But Don Breithaupt, the songwriter, keyboardist, lead singer, producer and all-around driving force behind Monkey House, has done it again. As with their five previous releases, Remember the Audio hits the sweet spot between familiar and fresh and sophisticated and accessible. 

For those unfamiliar with the band, Breithaupt has been up front about his love for and emulation of Steely Dan’s sound. And this latest work has that same super tight pop/rock/jazz feel (courtesy of core members Justin Abedin, guitar, Mark Kelso, drums, Pat Kilbride, bass and Lucy Woodward, backing vocals) that SD did so well, while also being very original. 

Every one of the 11 tracks is strong and very Monkey House but each has its own charms, too. The title track is a catchy homage to the powerful nostalgia of the music of one’s youth; Skin in the Game has some funky New Orleans nuances (and NOLA resident, Chris Butcher, guesting on trombone); and the beautiful, bittersweet ballad, New York Owes You Nothing, haunts. 

Breithaupt explained that although most of the music was written pre-pandemic, some of the lyrics were written during the first dark months of lockdown, so there’s an understandable sense of foreboding to some of the songs, in particular the punchy opener, The Future Is Almost Gone and The Last Days of Pompeii (“Will the last one out of L.A. kill the light”). The closing track wraps things up fittingly: Mose Allison’s Ever Since the World Ended, although penned in 1987, could have been written last week the way it wittily evokes our current times.

Listen to 'Remember the Audio' Now in the Listening Room

03 Mikkel PlougDay in the Sun
Mikkel Ploug
Songlines SGL1635-2 (songlines.com)

The Danish guitarist Mikkel Ploug recorded this collection of 14 pieces for solo acoustic guitar last December. I loved every track on this album: introspective, inventive, tasteful and positive. If you enjoy playlists like “Acoustic Guitar Chill” but you wish the tracks were just a bit more intellectually satisfying, this album is for you. 

The style is, as Ploug himself says, genreless: it sits somewhere near the intersection of jazz, folk, minimalism and classical. In fact, one of the pieces is Ploug’s take on a nocturne by the contemporary Danish composer Bent Sørensen. The playing is nuanced and heartfelt and I’m happy to say the producers kept things real by not trying to cover up the sounds of finger slides and the occasional twang. 

Most of the tracks are recorded on Ploug’s steel string guitar but on two of them he uses a flamenco guitar with gut strings: gorgeous. The title is perfect; this album feels like a sunny day spent with a good friend.

04 El Violin DoradoEl Violín Dorado, El Violín Arabe
Pablo Picco’s Bardo Todol
Full Spectrum Records (fullspectrumrecords.bandcamp.com)

Sound exploration is at the core of the ongoing Bardo Todol project by Argentinian composer and sound artist Pablo Picco. Bypassing linearity and direction in favour of capturing what is heard in each moment, Picco creates a wonderful sense of immediacy that is not urgent but encompassing, and spontaneity that is raw and unfiltered. 

El Violín Dorado, El Violín Arabe is the recent addition to this experimental series of ongoing recordings; it focuses on the subject and implementation of desert as a soundscape. Picco centers his compositions around field recordings, which he acquires on daily walks with his children. The simple instruments they play on the walks then become a part of the big organic sound and that sound is further manipulated digitally. Improvisation is an essential part of this process and adds to the unique expressiveness of the overall sound. Silence between the main blocks of sound then becomes a thread that connects them into the sonic story.

El Violín Dorado, El Violín Arabe (The Golden Violin, The Arab Violin) focuses on distorted violin, other string instruments, drums, Arabic devotional music and grainy vinyl textures. Both soundscapes have an element of bleakness and distortion. The sound morphs constantly, through a clever use of spatiality as well as through what is not heard. The noise is intercepted and transmitted throughout, allowing us to hear both concrete and imaginative projections of what the desert is. Inventive, immediate, this gem requires active listening.

Note: this release is a limited edition cassette or high quality digital download via select online retailers.

05 Xiomara TorresLa Voz Del Mar
Xiomara Torres
Patois Records PRCD028 (xiomaratorres.com)

The African Diaspora transported a variety of seminal musics and rhythmic forms to the Americas, which have also contributed heartily to North American blues and jazz. This luminous project (translated as The Voice of the Sea) honours the Afro-Colombian musical tradition, and was deftly produced by San Francisco-based vibraphonist Dan Neville and Colombian vocalist Xiomara Torres. All of the consummate arrangements were created by Neville, and the recording itself was done entirely in Cali, Colombia. In his profound collaboration with vocalist Torres, this CD stands as a living tribute to Torres’ esteemed uncle, master marimbist and international “Music de Pacifica”/Afro-Colombian icon, maestro Diego Obregon.

Torres lovingly embraces her traditional roots here, while travelling seamlessly through a number of contemporary Latin motifs. First up is Me Quedo Contigo. Torres’ timbre is soft and sensual here, and her vocals are also pitch perfect, vibrant and filled with emotional gravitas. Neville has insured that she is never overwhelmed by the potent and complex rumba Guaguancó arrangement, which is rife with horns, vibes/marimba and incendiary percussion. 

Tarde Lo Conoci is a totally delightful Vallenato – a musical form that one could easily hear in the barrios of Cali, Colombia or Queens, NY – featuring accordionist Miguel Salazar, while Tio is a family affair, written by Diego Obregon and featuring his son David on bass and daughter Michel on chorus vocals. The lively tune begins as a currulao and segues seamlessly into a Colombian rumba. Irresistible stand-outs also include La Puerta, a romantic and ethereal bolero (ballad) and the spinetingling closer – the traditional Filomena – a surprising jazz/Pacific Coast Music fusion featuring the iconic Nidia Góngora and muy hermosa marimba work by Neville.

06 Roxana AmedUnánime
Roxana Amed
Sony Music Latin 19658748082 (roxana-amed.com)

This inspired, gorgeous, relevant project from multi-Grammy nominee Roxana Amed is a joyous celebration of the works of both contemporary and historic Latin-American composers, as well as Miles Davis, Edward Perez and Martin Bejerano. 

Amed views “Latin” as a very open concept, as well as the unifying geno connection that the title implies, and she has made this concept of unity the focus of a stirring and deeply magical recording. The Argentinian emigre has surrounded herself with some of the most exceptional Latin musicians on the planet, including her long-time collaborators, Cuban/American pianist and arranger Bejerano, bassist Perez and drummer Ludwig Afonso.

First up is a re-envisioning of Miles Davis’ Flamenco Sketches in which Amed’s sultry and evocative tones wrap themselves around the listener in waves of warm, horn-like sonic joy. The emotionally moving arrangement manifests a sacred vibration and Niño Josele’s viscous soloing on acoustic guitar speaks to us at the very molecular level. Brazil’s legendary Egberto Gismonti is feted here with a potent version of his composition Agua y Vino. The dusky tones of Amed’s sumptuous voice weave a haunting web, while Chico Pinheiro’s guitar transports us to another realm. Of special note is Los Tres Golpes, a song from Cuban icon Ignacio Cervantes featuring the volcanic Chucho Valdés on piano. The deeply moving closer, Adios a Cuba, is another beloved Cervantes composition, rendered to perfection with the angelic collaboration of Amed and Valdés. 

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