05 Lori CullenSexsmith Swinghammer Songs
Lori Cullen
True North Records TRD618
(loricullen.com)

Contemporary jazz/pop vocalist Lori Cullen’s latest release is an appealing and innovative project that is the result of an inspired collaboration between Cullen herself and two noted musicians – composer/guitarist Kurt Swinghammer and composer/lyricist Ron Sexsmith. It was Sexsmith who first suggested to Swinghammer that they write an album together specifically tailored for Cullen. The 12 tracks on the CD all feature lyrics by Sexsmith and are rife with Swinghammer’s carefully placed stylistic elements of the artists who defined the fertile pop eras of the 1960s and 1970s, including tips of the hat to Burt Bacharach, Jimmy Webb and Antonio Carlos Jobim.

Produced by bassist Maury Lafoy (who appears on the project), the musicians also include drummer Mark Mariash, keyboardist Robbie Grunwald and Swinghammer on guitar. Although Fender Rhodes and guitar are central to the instrumentation, the compelling, acoustic arrangements by Swinghammer also involve an array of diverse instrumental contributions, including finely crafted enhancements on trumpet, trombone, oboe, clarinet, vibraphone, marimba, English horn, recorder and more.

Cullen’s angelic voice wraps itself around each sumptuous melodic line and every composition has been constructed to highlight her superb, crystalline vocal instrument and intuitive knack for delivering frank emotional content and a quirky lyric. Memorable tracks include the gently swinging and faintly ironic The Face of Emily, which features a lush vocal arrangement, and the groovy, lighter-than-air bossa nova, New Love. A true gem is the heartrending duet between Cullen and Sexsmith, Off Somewhere.

This thoroughly pleasing and unabashedly romantic recording is a triumph for all three of these gifted artists and a stunning example of creative, musical symbiosis.

06 DoViraDoVira
DoVira
Independent (doviraband.com)

One of the many great aspects of living as a musician in Toronto is being exposed to music from diverse cultures without ever really leaving home, and subsequently being influenced by it in one’s own music. Listening to DoVira’s music is proof of this. Eight of the 10 tracks are their arrangements of traditional Ukrainian material. The tunes’ melodies and lyrics are still Ukrainian, but the rest of the music world surfaces with a blast.

Opening track Yest’Na Sviti opens with a more traditional rendition by vocalist/keyboardist Stacey Yerofeyeva which builds to a bigger rhythmic sound. A stadium rock setting is established in Dyki Husy with a busy drum groove (Derek Gray), bass (Mark Rynkun), guitars (Patrick O’Reilly) and sopilka (Mike Romaniak). A slower brief interchange between Yerofeyeva’s wailing vocals and guest Ernie Tollar’s saxophone lyric riffs is followed by a fast sax solo and a big instrumental blast ending. Folk music meets the avant garde in Oy Zijdy Ziron’ko as guest accordionist Emilyn Stam matches the vocal line and holds notes against repetitive rhythms, space-age effects and washes, leading to melodic folk material. Kolo, the closing original tune, is a toe-tapping fast get-up-and-boogie tune featuring virtuosic sopilka (Ukrainian wooden flute) playing and guest vocalist harmonies.

All the performers are great, with special kudos to Yerofeyeva’s colourful, wide-ranging vocal stylings. An English translation of the titles would add to the listening experience. This is world fusion music at its best!

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

Review

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
(rhythmexpressband.com)

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)

Review

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.

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