03 Jim SelfMy America 2: Destinations
Jim Self; Various Artists
Basset Hound Music (bassethoundmusic.com)

Unless you’ve been living in a cave with no access to media for the past 40 years, you have heard the tuba playing of Jim Self. A legendary fixture in Hollywood recording studios, he has performed on countless sessions for film and television and is probably best known for his performance as the “Voice of the Mothership” from Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind. And all the while, Self has maintained an impressive “live” career in many groups, including the Los Angeles Opera, the Hollywood Bowl Symphony, as a jazz musician and a celebrated tuba soloist.

His latest solo release, My America 2: Destinations (a sequel to My America released 20 years ago) is a jazzy romp through places in the USA that have been important to him throughout his long career. (As the cover states: “We hold these tunes to be SELF-evident.” Cute.) It goes without saying that Self’s solo tuba playing is amazing and his backup band made up of top LA studio musicians is as tight as one would expect, but what makes this album memorable are the arrangements by his longtime friend, Kim Scharnberg. His eclectic, inventive writing, his creative scoring (and, of course, Self’s stellar tuba playing) will have me returning to this disc time and time again.

04 John Oswaldi’d Love to Turn…
John Oswald
fony (pfony.bandcamp.com/album/id-love-to-turn)

Prolific Canadian composer/performer John Oswald is back with an illustrious, boundary-crashing release, dedicated to Phil Strong. Four main tracks are online streaming, with additional five bonus tracks. videos and main track PDF scores for downloading.

The main four tracks are Oswald’s self-described plunderphonic Rascali Klepitoire/hybrids combining elements from live-performance recordings with studio-based additions and plunderphonic transformations, primarily focused on music he discovered in the mid-1960s. Fee Fie Foe Fum is complex, surprisingly easy listening based on the 1966 pop hit, and Oswald’s research between Frank Zappa’s first album release and Edgard Varèse’s death. Familiar tidbits are superimposed into fragmented short upbeat modern sounds. 

The BBC orchestral commission I’d Love to Turn… quotes The Beatles, Ligeti and Terry Riley. This studio recreation combines orchestral sounds with electronics, creating new music embedded in popular music. 

Oswald quotes from around 40 piano scores in brief fragments, up to four simultaneously, in the Marc-André Hamelin solo piano commission Tip (2022). A calm, classical-flavoured opening leads to chords, flourishes, runs and rhythms. Love the evocative high-pitched ringing sections. 

Varèse, Zappa and 1960s music are featured in reFuse. Oswald’s ear-catching talent to keep a work moving with fragmented interchanging, superimposed live instruments and electronic quotes and effects drive this “name that tune” work. Bonus tracks highlights are live Hamelin rehearsal Tip, and Turning Point Ensemble reFuse performances. Oswald reinvents Ligeti, Zappa and Varèse each separately on three additional tracks.

The more one listens to Oswald’s memorable music here, the more one hears and loves.

01 So Long SevenOnly Elephants Know Her Name
So Long Seven
Independent SLS003 (solongseven.bandcamp.com/releases)

Canadian instrumental quartet So Long Seven – Neil Hendry (guitars), Tim Posgate (banjos), William Lamoureux (violin) and Ravi Naimpally (tabla, dumbek, udu, percussion) – is back with an eight track release featuring their unique flavourful, original compositions and tight performances blending classical, folk, blues, jazz and world traditions from India, Africa, Europe and the Americas. Hendry’s liner notes provide backgrounds to the tracks.

My favourite animals each have a composition here… The title track only elephants know her name was written for a Kenyan elephant with almost ground-touching tusks. Superimposed repeated jazzy and rock-like styles, fun percussion rolls and orchestral strings lead to Posgate’s virtuosic contrasting colour and rhythmic banjo solo. Mara is about an Asian elephant that worked in a circus until 1995 and on retirement moved to a zoo in Argentina and then, during the pandemic, to a sanctuary in Brazil. It features the mesmerizing guest, Hindustani vocalist Samidha Joglekar, singing a haunting folk-like melody, reciting a Ganesh prayer her mother taught her, above a held-note and rhythmic beats backdrop. Now to the hopping Frolic of the Monsoon Frogs, inspired by Naimpally’s Indian childhood post-monsoon memories of puddles full of dancing frogs. Upbeat rock/jazz time-to-party percussion and bass drive the repeated almost atonal shots, instrumental solos including guest strings, background clapping and vocal screams.

Violinist Lamoureux produced the release, and arranged guest string performers’ parts to some tracks like L’unique étoile de la tolérance, a calming soundscape of held-notes washes, closing plucks and his slow violin melodic lines. The closing Ghost Ocean has thoughtful, reflective quartet sounds.

A big welcome to So Long Seven’s great new release!

Listen to 'Only Elephants Know Her Name' Now in the Listening Room

02 Miguel ZenonMúsica de las Américas
Miguel Zenón
miel music (miguelzenon.com)

All of the eight elegantly constructed tracks on this inspired project were composed by noted NYC-based alto saxophonist Miguel Zenón, who cites the American continent’s fascinating and complex history as his inúspiration (including the near genocide of untold numbers of indigenous peoples that occurred under the boot European colonialism). Zenón has surrounded himself with a superb ensemble, featuring his long-time quartet of Luis Perdomo on piano, Hans Glawischnig on bass and Henry Cole on drums. Special guests include percussionist Paoli Mejias, Victor Emmanuelli on barril de bomba, congero Daniel Diaz and the renowned Puerto Rican ensemble Los Pleneros de La Cresta.

The first track is Tainos y Caribes where bittersweet, percussive, contrapuntal modalities embody the clashing of the peaceful, agrarian Tainos and the conquest-driven Caribes. Exquisite alto work from Zenón stirs the soul and invigorates the emotions – incorporating future bop modalities with ancient rhythmic forms, while the rhythm section manifests the matrix of creativity. Perdomo shines here with a piano solo par excellence. A clear standout is Navegando (Las Estrellas Nos Guían), which evokes the seafaring culture of the Indigenous Carribean peoples, who travelled incomprehensible distances in open canoes, simply by an advanced knowledge of the stars, and the contribution of Los Pleneros de la Cresta take the listener on a viaje encanto

The gorgeous closer, Antillano (Indigenous peoples from the Antilles) also features dynamic and visceral congas courtesy of Diaz. This is a CD not to be missed and Zenón is, without question, one of the leading lights of Afro/Latin/jazz fusion. Additionally, this sumptuous project has been dedicated to the memory of the late master musician, and dear friend of Zenón, Héctor “Tito” Matos.

03 Carlos CardozoMeu Mundo – My World
Carlos Cardozo
Lula World Records LWR026A (carloscardozo.ca)

Brazilian-Canadian musician Carlos Cardozo has for many years enriched Toronto’s music scene, as he seems to be on every Brazilian music group’s first call list. If there’s a Brazilian music gig, Cardozo will almost surely be there. Now he can add songwriting to his long list of musical accomplishments, alongside singing and playing cavaquinho, guitar and percussion. Dozens of his musical compatriots, both in Brazil and Toronto, have added their talents to this album either through co-songwriting (in particular Elias Barros), arranging or playing on the tracks. Credit for much of the beautiful production and several of the arrangements goes to the uber talented guitarist, André Valério. 

While those of us who aren’t fluent in Portuguese won’t be able to fully understand the lyrics, we can still easily appreciate the sentiment and the exceptional musicality of Meu Mundo. The first track Amor ao meu Sertão, a gorgeous tribute to a region in the northeast of Brazil, sets the tone for the album, which is in large part a love letter to Cardozo’s homeland. From the gentle samba and dreamy strings of Beija-flor da Fumaça (loosely, about a hummingbird) to Forró de Pernambuco (forró is a genre of traditional music from the northeast) or Uma volta na Veneza brasileira (a funky 70s-style tribute to Recife, known as the Brazilian Venice), Meu Mundo takes us on a musically rich and heartfelt journey and we are the better for it. Find the album and videos on Cardozo’s website.

04 Jacqueline SchwabI Left My Lamp
Jacqueline Schwab
Sono Luminus DSL-92257 (sonoluminus.com)

American pianist Jacqueline Schwab is renowned for her musicianship in many Ken Burns documentaries including The Civil War, Baseball and Benjamin Franklin. Here, she performs a collection of her solo piano arrangements of 19 traditional decades-spanning classic songs associated with American immigrants from many cultures 

Schwab’s respectful, well-thought-out arrangements and performances are simultaneously true to the original song form while incorporating her unique artistic vision. The opening track, the air For Ireland I’d Not Tell Her Name is a free flowing, sensitive musical performance which is followed directly by the upbeat, high-pitched melodic jig, The Blarney Pilgrim. Schwab amazingly sets three Scottish fiddle tunes successfully to piano, like the second reel Miss Dumbreck being held together by low-pitched left-hand accompaniment. Her straightforward, harmonic, “very classical” playing of Sibelius’ Finlandia Hymn is coupled with the Swedish waltz Vals efter Soling Anders with its free time and singalong quality. The well-known habanera La Paloma is played surprisingly, successfully slower than usual, featuring full melodic right hand. There is a moving darker improvisational feel to Schwab’s blues-flavoured rendition of the spiritual Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child. Other tracks feature music from Brazil, Bulgaria, Italy and more.

Schwab “travels the musical immigrant America” in her intelligent, clear, balanced piano performances and arrangements, complemented with clear production sound quality and Stephanie Smith’s detailed informative liner notes. This is a fabulous cross-section of American immigrant music.

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