04 Alex CubaLo Único Constante
Alex Cuba

Canadian-Cuban multi-instrumentalist, vocalist, composer and producer Alex Cuba (né Alexis Puente) is wearing all of his many hats on his latest superb release, Lo Único Constante (Constantly Unique). The recording is dedicated to the seminal musical artists of Cuba’s “Filin Movement” (including José Antonio Méndez, César Portillo de la Luz and Marta Valdés) who have been a profound influence on Cuba and the development of his own unique style, which embraces not only Afro-Cuban motifs, but also funk, jazz and pop. Cuba, who performs here on acoustic and electric guitars, requinto, Hammond B3, acoustic bass, drums, cajon and vocals, has collaborated with more than a dozen fine musicians to bring this dynamic project to fruition – a project that is focused on the blessed concepts of hope, peace, unity, love and the power of positive change.

The CD opens with the lovely En Mi Guitarra – in the words of Cuba, “a voice found its way into my guitar…giving me power to create beautiful melodies, while controlling my choice of notes and silences.” Sumptuous string lines move effortlessly through the composition – as does Cuba’s equally sumptuous voice. Other highlights include the stirring, syncopated Yo Sé Quién Soy (I Know Who I Am) and the moving Ahora (Now), rendered in pure guitar, voice, strings and minimal percussion. This exceptional recording closes with the compassionate Lagrimas Del Que Llora, which features Josemi Carmona’s stirring flamenco guitar.

It’s not necessary to understand Spanish to resonate with the deep emotional content here, as all meaning is conveyed in the universal language of music, and in the tradition of some of the finest musician-composers that Cuba has every produced – of which Alex Cuba is most definitely one.

01 Marito MarquesNa Eira
Marito Marques
Independent (maritomarques.com)


We are oh so very lucky to have the Portuguese-born percussionist/composer/producer/arranger Marito Marques residing in Toronto now. If you can’t catch him live, his multifaceted talents are showcased on this, his third CD release. His musical sensitivity shines throughout this jazz/pop/PALOP roots music project which features a plethora of 15 international and local world-class performers playing at their very best.

Marques’ most striking talent is his ability to adjust his performance depending on the context. In Dia Chuvoso, his funky rhythms and continuous driving spirit timekeeping are in the forefront yet never overpower the sing-along vocals and instrumentals from the band members. In contrast, the slower ballad-like Rosa features the versatile soaring vocal lines of Senegalese Woz Kaly beside sensitive accordion lines by João Frade while Marques, acoustic guitarist Munir Hossn and bassist Rich Brown provide a subtle backdrop. The aptly titled Bird’s Shadow features flutist Jorge Pardo on rapid warbling lines, held notes and wind duets with accordion, with Marques’ busy drums, percussion and programming setting the mood. Ernie Tollar’s superb bansuri playing is featured in the title track while vocalist/lyricist Yvette Tollar sets the upbeat mood in the more pop/jazz standard-flavoured Scábias.

There is never a dull moment as Na Eira (“the threshing floor”), with artists too many to mention, weave together the traditional with the contemporary, the popular with the folk to create a truly unique listening experience.

02 Rose CousinsNatural Conclusion
Rose Cousins
Old Farm Pony Records OFPR021 (rosecousins.com)

I first heard Halifax-based, singer-songwriter Rose Cousins live at a café in Vancouver (my then home), almost nine years ago. I’d discovered her two days earlier, listening to a CBC Radio broadcast of a concert that had been recorded in Halifax a month before. As I tuned in, I caught this soul-searing voice, mid-song. “Who IS that?” I shouted at the radio. When her name was announced, I immediately googled it, and found out that Cousins was scheduled to play at this café two days later. Talk about timing!

Since then, Cousins has garnered international accolades, won several East Coast Music and Canadian Folk Music awards and a JUNO, and released a variety of CDs and singles. Natural Conclusion, her fourth and latest, full-length album, is a real stunner! Each track displays Cousins’ gifts as a storyteller. Achingly beautiful lyrics are perfectly paired with the emotional intensity of her music. And then there’s her striking voice that simply will transport you.

Freedom is an evocative take on letting go, knowing it comes with loss and heartbreak. Cousins calls it a “wreckoning.” White Flag and Lock and Key might make you cry – a common reaction to much of her affecting work. Cousins’ response to the teary-eyed? “You’re welcome.”

Rose Cousins is the real McCoy: a songwriter’s songwriter; an open-hearted troubadour; a gracious collaborator who consistently works with some of the best in the biz. Natural Conclusion is testament to all that. A truly authentic voice, this rose is on the rise!

01 SyrinxTumblers from the Vault
Rervng RWRVNG08 (igetrvn.com)

In Tumblers from the Vault, series conceiver William Blakeney continues his collectively titled JMC Retrospective 1967-1977, highlighting the early career recorded music of John Mills-Cockell. A Toronto-born composer, keyboardist and pioneering synthesizer performer, Mills-Cockell was not only an early adapter of the modular synth – he purchased a Moog Mark IIP the same winter of 1968 when the American studio synth trailblazers Wendy Carlos and Suzanne Ciani acquired theirs – but he also swiftly put that early model synth to good use in live performances across Canada and the USA. Furthermore, it featured prominently on the Intersystems albums reissue reviewed in these pages last year.

By 1970, Mills-Cockell’s next music project had emerged: Syrinx was a trio which included two other Toronto musicians, saxophonist Doug Pringle and percussionist Alan Wells. Armed with Mills-Cockell’s compositions and suffused with his increasingly musically confident synth performances, in a couple of years they produced the hit single Tillicum as well as two successful albums Syrinx and Long Lost Relatives. Tumblers from the Vault has carefully remastered those recordings and added previously unreleased material. Dissolving by 1972, during that brief period they managed to merge many music genre threads. I can hear traces of experimental, classical, psych-rock, global influences, proto-ambient, pop, funk and jazz all delivered with a sensitivity for memorable melody, timbral exploration and technological innovation.

I find in the new tracks some of the most musically engaging moments of the box set. These include the extended demo version of December Angel in an ever-evolving dance-friendly 6/8, and particularly the adventurous four-movement, 26-minute Stringspace (1971) for string orchestra, percussion and Syrinx trio. This, the most ambitious work here, points to even larger Mills-Cockell projects yet to come.

As Nick Storring offers in his insightful liner essay, “Syrinx’s music is more than a faded strain in Canada’s consciousness […one that] has never expanded universally.” Can Tumblers from the Vault elevate the short-lived Syrinx to a “place in the wider canon of groundbreaking music, so its story can be appreciated beyond the limits of Canadian notoriety,” as posited by Storring? I can’t say. What I can is that this music from the last century welcomes us to imagine listening to future music which flows freely and amicably across multiple genre boundaries.

02 Kristina BijelicMinstrelle
Kristina Bijelic; Felipe Tellez
Independent (kristinabijelicvox.com)

This imaginative project is not only a tour-de-force for the female voice and a celebration of a distinctly feminine journey (hence the title), but it is also the manifestation of the creative partnership between Toronto-born, multilingual, genre-fluid, classically trained vocalist and lyricist Kristina Bijelic and noted Colombian composer and orchestrator, Felipe Tellez. The six evocative, brilliantly produced, original compositions presented here, embrace a variety of ethnic influences and cultural motifs as well as elegant and poetic English, Spanish and Serbian lyrics written by Bijelic. The infusion of Tellez’s stirring orchestral arrangements (performed by the Budapest Art Orchestra) are nothing short of magic.

Of special note is the opening track, On the Horizon. The spaciousness of the composition seems to symbolize the intoxicating lure of travel, of taking the first steps of an irresistible journey. Bijelic’s rich, sonorous alto voice is as resonant as a fine cello, and like a cello, it is a pure conduit for the expression of the deepest emotions. Also stunning is Enamorarme de ti (Falling in Love with You). Based on a traditional Spanish bolero, the Latin rhythmic elements and complex, contrapuntal moving string lines transport the listener into a romantic idyll.

Near the end of the album’s journey is the jazz-influenced Wandering, which is perhaps the most cinematic composition on the CD, bringing to mind the Film Noir of the 1940s and 50s, and Devajačka Pesma (Girl’s Song) is a total delight. Traditional Balkan motifs, chord progressions and instrumentation, as well as the dynamic vocal by Bijelic, make this particular fusion of musics not only original, but thrilling.

03 Shirley Eikhard

I Am the Hero
Shirley Eikhard
Independent (shirleyeikhard.ca)


Singer/songwriter/instrumentalist Shirley Eikhard has been a popular and successful mainstay of the Canadian music circuit for decades. In this, her “20th record of new performances,” she multitasks and does practically everything, from singing the lead and backup vocals to her own songs, playing all the instruments, producing, and painting the CD cover art, with help in artwork/design from Catherine Osborne, and mixing and mastering from George Seara.

This is a very personal musical journey and gift to us, the listeners, as Eikhard touches on her country, jazz, folk and reggae influences and weaves elaborate stories in her lyrics. The tragic love story of My Diego unwinds like a bestseller murder mystery novel set to upbeat toe-tapping music. Likewise the title track, I Am the Hero is an illuminating look at self-exploration. In contrast, the instrumental Carmen’s Revenge proves Eikhard is equally stunning in both lead and improvisational instrumentals in this funky, jazz-tinged track, though a list of what instruments are being played would have been greatly appreciated. Closing track Comforts of the Country is hit material as it combines great lyrics, vocals, upbeat melodies and grooves.

Eikhard is a master of creating satisfying sing-along, ear-worm musical hooks that resonate long after the CD is back on the shelf. It may be too pop for one’s tastes with looping melodic sections and the typical three-minute, radio-friendly track length, but this is really, really fun music!

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