07 Duo JalalShadow & Light – The Rumi Experience
Bridge Records 9469 (bridgerecords.com)


Formed some seven years ago, duoJalal reflects the musical marriage of the classically trained virtuosa violist Kathryn Lockwood and ace percussionist Yousif Sheronick. In their gifted hands and ecumenical spirit, the unusual combination of viola and world percussion are elegantly married. Moreover, duoJalal’s eclectic repertoire mines a deep motherlode of multiple cultural traditions and musical styles.

One of the motivic throughlines in Shadow & Light is that each of the six compositions is paired with a philosophical poem by the 13th-century Persian poet Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī. Taking inspiration from the poet’s vision of a world where diverse religions, cultures and races are bridged and even mystically conjoined, duoJalal has chosen works by an international cast of composers: Giovanni Sollima, Evan Ziporyn, Shirish Korde, Somei Satoh, Ljova and Zhao Jiping.

The liner notes further echo Rūmī’s core tenets, arguing that they are as “relevant today as they were 800 years ago. From East Asia to the Middle East, the United States to Eastern Europe, the ‘Rumi Experience’ seeks to foster peaceful coexistence on a worldwide basis.”

Two of the works on the CD were commissioned for the project, Honey From Alast by Evan Ziporyn and Lev “Ljova” Zhurbin’s Shadow and Light. The latter work aims, in the composer’s turn of phrase, to shine “a different thickness of light into [the] space” of each of its four movements. On the other hand Ziporyn’s two-movement work explores notions of music as a “sign from the spiritual world,” but also as a physical object and a generative force.

Taken as a whole, this collection of works makes a strong case for the duo’s mission of cultural inclusion expressed in music. And it is musicking of a high order, well-conceived, brilliantly played and lovingly presented on this CD.

08 Rhythm ExpressKingston Blues
Rhythm Express
Side Door Records

With its second release, Rhythm Express has once again created a joyous musical outpouring, drenched in the potent, irresistible rhythms of both traditional and contemporized reggae with an added big dollop of urban funk. Drummer and percussionist Everton “Pablo” Paul acts as executive producer here, with legendary, versatile, international keyboardist and arranger Bill King producing. This thoroughly engaging project features 12 tasty tracks, including both covers of classic hits and original compositions – all gorgeously presented, sung and performed with the deepest of grooves and purest of intent.

In addition to Paul and King, the CD features talented guest artists Julian Taylor on vocals, guitarist Jon Knight of Soulstack, as well as skilled, soulful, sweet and funky singers Maiko Watson, Michael Dunston and Ammoye Evans. Also onboard is guitarist/engineer Shane “Shaky J” Forrest, bassist Jesse “Dubmatix” King, percussionist Magdelys Savigne and a first-rate horn section off Alexander Brown on trumpet, Michael Arthurs on tenor sax, Bobby Hsu on alto sax and Christopher Butcher on trombone.

Sizzling tracks include the dynamic cooker Welcome to Funkastan – a high-octane instrumental defined by King’s blazing horn-driven arrangement, propelling us all down the groove highway; the ridiculously funky Soul Nation featuring Watson and Dunston on volcanic vocals and Hercules, Dunston’s take on Aaron Neville’s glorious, authentic celebration of reggae style. Also outstanding are Jimmy Cliff’s Many Rivers to Cross, perfectly rendered by Julian Taylor and Hard Driver – Vivian Lee’s underground hit featuring electrifying chanteuse Ammoye Evans as well as a nostalgic, timeless, monaural sound. Put on your dancing shoes and enjoy!

01 Louis SimaoA Luz (The Light)
Louis Simão
Independent (simaomusic.com)


On this fine debut recording, gifted Portuguese-Canadian multi-instrumentalist Louis Simão (accordion, bass, guitars, vocals and percussion) has not only presented a sumptuous collection of (primarily) original compositions steeped in Brazilian, Portuguese and North African musical traditions, but has also surrounded himself with a gifted group of collaborators. These include co-producer and  percussionist/vocalist Luis (Luisito) Orbegoso, vocalists Patricia Cano and Jessica Lloyd with Wagner Petrilli on acoustic guitar, Michael Occhipinti on electric guitar, David French on saxophones, Rich Brown on electric bass, Bill McBirnie on flute, Marito Marques and Roger Travassos on drums and Maninho Costa on percussion.

At its heart, this song cycle is a profound meditation on the nature of duality, particularly brought into salience by the title track, inspired by the juxtaposition of the passing of Simão’s father just previous to the birth of his daughter. Gems also include Um Cantador (A Troubador) – which features splendid guitar work, lilting flute lines and Brazilian percussion motifs intersecting with the luscious vocals on this charming samba. Also, Passaritos Fritos (Little Fried Birds) has layered, vigourous accordion and string work and is a serious tip of the hat to the iconic Hermeto Pascoal, and also the unforgettable Trés Anos (Three Years) is rife with skilled string work accompanying Simão on this deeply moving ballad as he explores and transcends his profound grief at the loss of his father.

This recording is of such a high level of artistic, cultural and musical authenticity that it stands as a tribute to the talented Portuguese and Brazilian musicians who have enriched our country and our lives.

02 Blue GlassBlue Glass
Pedram Khavarzamini; Siamak Aghaei; Efrén López
Independent (bit.ly/2dPS2uj)

The studio session which resulted in the Blue Glass album began life as an improvised collaboration between three modal music adepts. The santûr (Iranian hammered dulcimer) virtuoso Siamak Aghaei, and the Spanish fretless guitarist Efrén López were joined by the accomplished Canadian-Iranian tombak (Persian goblet drum) player Pedram Khavarzamini. Recorded in Heraklion, Greece in 2008, where the participants met while teaching at the Labyrinth Musical Workshop, the album has finally been released in Toronto on Khavarzamini’s label and is available on Amazon.com.

Two of the musicians may be known to Canadian world-music followers. Aghaei has worked with the Montreal-based ensemble Constantinople which was “conceived as a forum for creation, encounters and cross-fertilization” between the East and the West. Pedram Khavarzamini, who has been described as a “keeper of traditional Iranian tombak technique and repertoire” and also “an innovator who has pursued cross-cultural collaboration and musical experimentation,” served as the 2015/2016 world music artist-in-residence at the Faculty of Music, University of Toronto.

López, who on this album plays exclusively fretless guitar, is well recognized in Europe also as a hurdy-gurdy, rabab, kopuz and laouto player in medieval and traditional music groups. Building on his in-depth practical study of several global modal musical systems including makam, dastgâh and raga, he has enjoyed a career working with master musicians of Greece, Turkey, Afghanistan and India.

The first four titles for the duo of Aghaei’s eloquent santur and Khavarzamini’s incisive tombak playing offer extended moments of sonic stillness, marvellously coordinated improvization and flashes of Persian virtuosity. The album takes off on an altogether different and exciting transcultural vein however when López joins them on fretless guitar in the last two tracks, Abyss and Minaayee. His plucked string instrument’s mellow baritone melodies, elaborated with plenty of modally inflected fretless note bends resonate eloquently against the santur’s treble voice and the tombak’s soft and subtle agogic accents. It is music which can produce an overall timeless and geographically ambient effect on the globally open-eared listener.

03 ZeelliaTse Tak Bulo/That’s How It Was
ZeelliaChickweed Productions #ZL003 (zeellia.com)

With its mix of field recordings and original arrangements and compositions, Zeellia’s new album Tse Tak Bulo/That’s How It Was explores pre-Soviet Ukrainian migration to Canada. Containing snippets of interviews and songs from elderly migrants, which the ensemble founder Beverly Dobrinsky collected in Alberta and Saskatchewan in the 90s, the CD is both a historical document and an artistic statement. Zeellia’s approach to these traditional songs lives firmly in the realm of artistic re-interpretation, rather than an ethnographic recreation. With her mixture of vocal and instrumental textures, Dobrinsky takes great liberties with the found materials pushing them into the realm of original compositions rather than mere arrangements. The most striking track is Oy byv mene cholovik (My Husband Beat Me). In my own explorations of Ukrainian folk music, I have found that domestic abuse is, unfortunately, a common theme and I commend Zeellia for not shying away from it. Dobrinsky’s recomposition of the tune is a highly effective combination of playful rhythms and dissonant a cappella vocal harmonies punctuated by woodblock knocks. As I Walk across Canada is a gorgeously mournful song steeped in loneliness and nostalgia for the homeland left behind. Among other instruments, the album features the hurdy-gurdy, known as lira in Ukraine. Dobrinsky’s approach to the instrument both nods towards its traditional role as accompaniment to spiritual minstrel songs and reframes it in a new light.

04 Max RichterMax Richter – Songs From Before
Robert Wyatt; Max Richter
Deutsche Grammophon 4795566

For some years now you could have confined your re-imagined and exploratory music CD buying to releases by the German-born composer, pianist and electronics manipulator Max Richter and found your shelves start to sing with depth and invention. And that would hardly be surprising. Richter is among the foremost of the talented new musicians who have developed a sharply individualistic, difficult-to-classify personal genre. Here, on Songs From Before, as is customary, roots in and branches from folk and classical often surface, but there is so much else going on: Richter skilfully, imaginatively and (by-and-large) subtly mixes in elements of electronic music, rock, contemporary composition and the occasional nod to the fantasy of poetic recitation.

Although most of the pieces develop from beguiling, elegant melodies, what makes them so special is Richter’s manner with arresting textures and colours – achieved not only with his keyboards, but also with the strings. These sonic creations stimulate mental pictures of mysterious narratives – especially when on Flowers for Yulia, Harmonium, Time Passing, Lullaby and Verses, Robert Wyatt is called upon to recite sparse verses – evoking the work of such chroniclers and visionaries as Bach and Arvo Pärt. And yet with every phrase unfolding a new mystery as if by aural magic, one is irresistibly drawn to this music because it is distinctly and uniquely a part of Max Richter’s own sound world. 

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