Singer-songwriter Heidi Lange has flown in under the radar to drop her debut CD, “Later”. While Lange has spent most of her musical career teaching and directing musicals, her own solo performing career hasn’t been high on her list of priorities. But as a songwriter she felt compelled – by personal loss, as is so often the case with songwriters – to get these songs out. The disc has two handfuls of tunes, only a few of which are covers, and nary a done-to-death standard in sight. The genre is hard to pinpoint – cabaret and soul with a touch of jazz - seem to be the biggest influences. The original tunes have a certain comforting familiarity to them. Any Time Soon is an old school R&B lament for a lost love, with appropriately yearning sax work by Pat Carey, and My Own is a gospel-inspired anthem to female independence, with stately accompaniment by brilliant pianist Robi Botos.
Lange has a warm and expressive voice that is at its best on the quieter, more controlled pieces which are predominant here. So her cover of Stevie Wonder’s Tuesday Heartbreak, which calls for more freedom and funkiness, sounds strained and out of the comfort zone for her and some of the band – with the exception of Colin Barrett’s relaxed, solid bass work, which holds it together. While the other covers, Gloomy Sunday – complete with Hammond organ by keyboardist Peter Kadar – and Snuggled on Your Shoulder fit like a glove.
March 25 saw Toronto’s Lula Lounge at overflow capacity, a lively party atmosphere on the occasion of the release of Jaffa Road's first CD. While this band is relatively new on the world music scene, its musicians are not. Jaffa Road, a Jewish-pop band rooted in tradition, not only takes its place alongside the likes of Toronto’s other fusion groups, such as the Arabic–Greek ensemble Maza Mezé, and Indian–Jazz ensembles Autorickshaw and Tasa, it also shares some of their musicians. “Sunplace” opens with a tabla riff delivered by Ravi Naimpally, and the CD features other well-known guest artists or regulars, Dr. George Sawa (qanoon), Ernie Tollar (eastern flutes), Chris McKhool (violin), Chris Gartner (bass, guitar), Sundar Viswanathan (sax), Jeff Wilson (percussion, kalimba, etc.), and co-producer/composer Aaron Lightstone (oud, guitars, saz, synthesizers).
The star of this recording is however vocalist Aviva Chernick, who sings in Hebrew, English and Judeo-Spanish (Ladino). Also no stranger to Toronto's music scene, Chernick has previously released a CD with The Huppah Project, as well as her solo recording, “In the Sea” (see www.avivachernick.com). “Sunplace” is a collection of songs, either newly composed to traditional texts, or arrangements of traditional songs, and a couple of entirely new ones. The opening number is a call to peace, based on the phrase from Isaiah “nation shall not lift up sword against nation, nor shall they learn war any more”. The CD’s title track Makom Shemesh (sun place) evokes a desert landscape. Be’er Besade is a lively tune from 1950’s Israel. Im Ninalu, a traditional Yemenite melody, was first made popular (to my knowledge) by the late Yemenite-Israeli pop singer Ofra Haza; the version here opens with an introduction by Cantor Aaron Bensoussan. Love songs include the traditional Ladino Una Ora en la Ventana, and a new composition based on the Hebrew Song of Songs,
(open the night for me) which closes this recording. Chernick and the band give polished performances throughout.