02-TambanavoTambanavo (Dance With Them)
Zhambai Trio
Independent n/a

The exhilarating debut CD by the Vancouver group Zhambai Trio showcases both the traditional music of the Shona culture of Zimbabwe and that of its transplanted son, Kurai Blessing Mubaiwa, the group’s leader. Mubaiwa is not only an outstanding mbira dza vadzimu (“thumb piano”), marimba, ngoma (hand drum) and hosho (maraca) player; he is an eloquent and powerful singer as well.

Joined by Canadians, world drummer extraordinaire Curtis Andrews and dancer-percussionist Navaro Franco, the Zhambai Trio’s music is deeply steeped in the traditional mbira music of Zimbabwe. The musical form is typically cyclic, while also marked throughout by evolving, interlocking, dual instrument variations. Characteristic vocal solos and choral responses are usually sung over the continuous instrumental patterns, which in the case of Chinzvenga Mutsvairo, builds into a very satisfying, densely woven, polyphonic texture. That and other tracks remind us how closely identified with the essence of music-making the voice is in much of West Africa. The expressive voices, so prominent on this CD, make a compelling case as the real stars here, despite the evident “rightness” and even virtuosity of much of the instrumental playing.

The online notes refer to the “trance-y” nature of the performance in its homeland. Traditionally sought after in Shona ceremonies, trance states are used to communicate with ancestor spirits and to offer insights to problems of community members. The lyrics on this CD however offer less dramatic, reassuring advice to youth, “you can also do what your elders can” (Chipundura). Another song urges people to get along with their grandmothers, who they rely on for comfort and warmth (Dangurangu).

While the Zhambai Trio was formed as recently as 2010, this CD is clear evidence of an infectious brand of contemporary Zimbabwean-inflected music emerging fully formed from our west coast.

01-Royal-Regiment-BandSaeculum Aureum
Band of the Royal Regiment of Canada

2012 marks the 150th anniversary of the establishment of the Royal Regiment of Canada. To commemorate this anniversary the Band of the Royal Regiment (BRRC) has produced a 2-CD set of recordings tracing the history of the regiment and its band. From Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance Military March No.4 and Holst’s First Suite in E-Flat Major through Gershwin and Ellington to Mancini and The Beatles, this recording spans a broad spectrum of genres in the concert band style. The title track, Saeculum Aureum (Golden Age), was written for the band by Major Paul A. Weston, formerly of the Royal Marines, now Associate Director of Music of the BRRC.

For most aficionados of concert band music, no CD of this sort would be complete without one or more marches reflecting the traditions of the modern band. This set includes two excellent marches with a Canadian connection which are rarely heard. The first is Vimy Ridge, written in 1921 by British composer Thomas Bidgood to commemorate that great battle of April 1917. My father survived that battle, and I have memories of playing a 78rpm version of this march which had been recorded in England during WWII The second, lesser known march is Men of Dieppe. This has an even stronger connection to the regiment. The composer, Stephen H. Michell, was one of several hundred members of the Royals captured and taken prisoner when the regiment stormed the Dieppe beaches. This march was composed during his time in a prison camp.

On a few selections, the band is joined by collaborators from many performances over the years. These include vocalist Danielle Bourré, the Pipes and Drums of the 48th Highlanders and Thomas Fitches at the keyboard of the organ of St. Clement’s Anglican Church. All of the numbers on the first CD are recent recordings under the direction of director of music, Captain W. A. Mighton or associate director, Major P. A. Weston. Most of those on the second CD are from the past 50 years conducted by three previous conductors.

For the most part the recording quality is excellent. However, there are a few selections on the second CD, included for historical purposes, where the recording quality is not up to the same standard. One such number is Alford’s Standard of Saint George. In this case the previously unreleased recording has been taken from the sound track of a 16mm film, The Trooping of the Colour, produced in 1962.

For those interested in the origins of the music, combined with the history of the regiment and its bands over the years, the 20-page booklet contains excellent commentary on every selection and historical connections where appropriate. It also includes information on the soloists and guests.

Available from: R Regt C Band, Fort York Armoury 660 Fleet St. W., Toronto, Ontario M5V 1A9 (www.band.rregtc.ca).

02-OracleCDAsk The Oracle
Andy Haas
Resonant Music 009

You can go home again; at least that’s what reedist Andy Haas, a Torontonian domiciled in New York, proves with this CD. Haas, who will be playing solo saxophone at OCAD University October 17 with trumpet and electronics player JP Carter in a concert presented by the Music Gallery, was in Toronto last year to record this fine eight-track set of improvisations alongside locals Colin Fisher playing saxophone and strings, Aaron Lumley on bass, plus Brandon Valdivia and Matthew Dunn on percussion.

Although Haas was a member of the Martha & The Muffins pop band and the other four are imbedded in this city’s improv community, the tunes mostly balance on the boundaries among rock, jazz and world music. With Haas playing hojok or Korean oboe as well as soprano saxophone and flute, some of the tracks are as delicate as Eastern court music, others are dependent on choppy guitar distortion or overblown reed riffs which could have migrated from 1960s “energy music.”

Especially pertinent is comparing a track such as Curse of the Horns to Scattered Through the Strings. On the former, Lumley’s thick bass scrubs concentrate the proceedings with a Westernized ostinato as both percussionists clatter and ruff while Fisher on tenor saxophone and Haas on soprano snort and squeal in tandem. In contrast, the other piece exposes Fisher’s command of the multi-string guzheng, with his spidery glissandi weaving a polyphonic sound web through which Haas’ saxophone lines cut with sharp reed bites.

Patricia-HammondOur Lovely Day
Patricia Hammond
Imperial Music and Media IMMPLC002

Canadian born and London (UK) based mezzo-soprano Patricia Hammond has a luscious classically trained voice that has graced the stage with numerous opera companies and symphonies. But on Our Lovely Day she performs a collection of “parlour” songs from the late 19th and early 20th centuries that she has performed in recital for the elderly in British hospitals and nursing homes. Her joyous interpretations, haunting tone colour and in-depth background knowledge create a brilliant presentation of historical accuracy and contemporary flavour.

The Hammond-penned liner notes combine historical facts with personal reminiscences from her performances, childhood and recording sessions which aids to a better understanding of each track. It is great to hear the rarely performed verses included in Button Up Your Overcoat and Always. Love’s Old Sweet Song is a bit quick for my liking yet Hammond’s clear diction saves the day. She cleverly adds in a bit of baroque-like ornamentation at the close of Drink to Me Only, while the rocking band instrumental leading into the Did You Ever See a Dream Walking showcases her tight backup orchestra and the colourful work of arrangers/musicians Nicholas D. Ball and Matthew Redman.

Our Lovely Day will appeal to all age groups, from the very young to the not so very young. My experience allows me to stress that the songs here are extremely tricky to perform, but Hammond makes them all sound so easy and fun!

PolarisUncharted Waters
Ensemble Polaris
Pipistrelle Music PIP1212

With their third and latest release, Uncharted Waters, Toronto-based, multi-cultural, multi-instrumental, quantum world music group Ensemble Polaris continues to delight on all levels — conceptually, musically and creatively. Co-produced by Patrick Jordan and the ensemble, the CD continues the group’s mandate of exploring the “idea of the North” and includes 18 intriguing and visceral tracks that embrace the folk music of Scandinavia, the Balkans, France, Italy and even Venezuela. Utilizing a mind-numbing array of ethnocentric instruments (including Swedish pipes, bouzouki, recorders and accordions) as well as the rich, sumptuous voice of Katherine Hill, the ensemble achieves a musical cohesion and level of communication and symmetry that might not seem possible on paper, given the diversity of the elements involved.

One of the strongest tracks is guitarist Marco Cera’s Ninin. This stirring violin feature is dedicated to his Italian great uncle — an avid violinist. Also of note is a traditional Orkney Islands air, re-worked as Get Him, and sung stunningly by Hill in her soulful, pitch-pure alto. The rhythmic Dry Toes Waltz is an infectious (dry?) toe-tapper, re-imagined by Jew’s harpist Ben Grossman, and the haunting Norwegian Lullaby Jeg Legges I Min Vugge Nu is a precisely set gem, presented simply and beautifully as a moving duet between Hill and Alison Melville’s recorder. Also noteworthy are the sensual El Domador De Tarenque (a fusion of an Argentinean Tango and an Italian Tarantella) and Steklat Fran Sarna — a traditional Swedish wedding banquet song, rendered masterfully on Swedish pipes by Kirk Elliott.

01_matadorMatadoR - The Songs of Leonard Cohen
Patricia O’Callaghan
Marquis 81417

I was delighted when I got the nod from the DISCoveries editor to go ahead and review Patricia O’Callaghan’s newest album, MatadoR – The Songs of Leonard Cohen. Not only have I marvelled at O’Callaghan’s immense talent over the years, but I had the pleasure of attending her thrilling performance titled “Patricia O’Callaghan Sings Leonard Cohen” at last year’s Global Cabaret Festival. And I was very curious to see how it all would translate to disc.

Generally, it’s next to impossible to recreate the intimacy, immediacy, spontaneity and energy of a live performance on CD. I was utterly transfixed, watching and listening to O’Callaghan on stage. I was less so, listening to the recording; but the more I listened, the more I was drawn in. O’Callaghan’s voice (she trained as a soprano at the University of Toronto) is as rich, pliable and luminous as ever, interpreting Cohen’s songs with tremendous tenderness and a mature, worldly sensitivity and insight. Yes, the soprano nails Cohen!

It doesn’t hurt, either, that she has members of the Gryphon Trio backing her up on several tracks, as well as the fine jazz pianist, David Restivo; their collective work on Alexandra Leaving is particularly beautiful. And bassist Andrew Downing’s gorgeous arrangements are outstanding on If It Be Your Will and Anthem. But, for me, the jewel is O’Callaghan’s take on Dance Me to the End of Love. Translated into Spanish, it’s pure joy and downright sexy.

O’Callaghan co-produced MatadoR. She can be very proud of this project.

Concert Note: Patricia O’Callaghan is featured in Masques of Love – a cabaret presentation by Toronto Masque Theatre, February 3 and 4.

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