03 Tiki CollectiveMuse
The Tiki Collective
Vesuvius Music (thetikicollective.com)

For the Tiki Collective’s opening salvo, producer Jaymz Bee has assembled a conflagration of noted musicians and chirps that could rival Joe Cocker’s Mad Dogs and Englishmen tour. Tenuously classified as “Exotica Lounge Music,” the 13-track project is essentially an ensemble of friends (led by musical director Eric St-Laurent) exploring various musical sub-genres, including snippets of surf, retro, jazz, pop and South Pacific Island influences of the 50s Tiki Culture. The tune menu contains a couple of standards such as Chelsea Bridge, rock anthems (the electric-sitar drenched Don’t Fear the Reaper) as well as pop hits, including a version of Nigerian/British chanteuse Sade’s mega-hit Sweetest Taboo.

Featured vocalists include Genevieve Marentette, Joanna Majoko, Heather Luckhart, the Willows, Lily Frost, Tyra Jutai, Melissa Lauren, Jocelyn Barth, Paget Biscayne, Jessica Lalonde, Irene Torres, Mingjia Chen, Avery Raquel and Danielle Bassels. A few of the fine musicians include St-Laurent on guitar, magnificent and versatile bassist George Koller, Attila Fias on piano, Great Bob Scott on drums, the brilliant Drew Jurecka on violin and Michael Davidson on vibes.

Highlights of this musical pu pu platter include the sexy, dusky, Julie London-esque Harlem Nocturne, expertly rendered by Majoko; the funky-cool Mountain High, Valley Low featuring the laconic, silky vocals of Frost, and Lalonde’s touching take on the sentimental WWII hit, I’ll Be Seeing You (featuring a stunning solo by Jurecka). Also of note is a queso-dripping rendition of Quizas, Quizas, Quizas (better known as Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps) sung in español perfecto by Torres.

Does the musical excess here exceed or succeed? Either way, Muse is an entertaining ride – so have a Mai Tai, and enjoy!

01 Native FluteNight Chants – Native American Flute
Gary Stroutsos
ARC Music EUCD2777 (arcmusic.co.uk)

A 35-year, 30-album career makes Seattle-based flute player Gary Stroutsos a veteran of the ethnic flute scene. He’s been heard in concerts, on albums, on TV and film soundtracks. While he considers jazz and new age music pioneer flutist Paul Horn (1930-2014) one of his mentors, Stroutsos has made his own mark exploring the music of Native American flutes. His passion for the stewardship of diverse cultures and the natural environment can be heard throughout the 16 tracks of Night Chants. All the music was composed and performed by Stroutsos on various Native American flutes with technical and musical assuredness and cultural sensitivity.

Stroutsos performs on a wide range of flutes here. They include Dakota 5-hole cedar and 6-hole cedar elk flutes, a Hopi rim flute, a Navajo 6-hole cedar flute, as well as river cane wind whistles and clay aerophones. The various timbral and tonal qualities evoked by each flute are vividly captured in the recording, enriching the overall contemplative mood. In addition, the introduction of occasional percussion and sounds of nature – such as bird song, night frog choruses and wind – pair beautifully with Stroutsos’ unhackneyed and unhurried flute melodies. Together they share a contemplative space that invites listeners into a particular and peaceful sense of place. 

I began listening to Night Chants wondering if I would last an entire album of solo cedar flute. Given the rich musical-cultural journey Stroutsos takes us on, I’d gladly embark again soon.

Yiddish to the Heart
Tango Yona
Independent n/a (tangoyona.com)

Tango Fado Duo
Daniel Binelli; Pedro H. da Silva
Sorel Classics SC CD 012 (sorelmusic.org/Sorel/Recordings)

My first childhood memories of tangos were watching my parents and their friends put on the vinyl and dance enchantingly in living rooms and backyard lawns to the rhythmic, sultry melodies. I loved the sounds and later became enthralled with the extension of the style by Astor Piazzolla. Here are two releases which take tango even further. 

02b Tango YonaMontreal-based Tango Yona is comprised of the amazing accordionist Yoni Kaston with Briga Dajczer and Daniel Fuchs (violins), Gael Huard (cello), Joel Kerr (bass) and Jane Erkin (vocals). Their CD, Yiddish to the Heart, features heart-wrenching exploratory performances embracing tango qualities of Holocaust songs, and other songs from the 1920s to the 1960s. The emotionally charged Yiddish-language lyrics, juxtaposed against familiar tango qualities, create moving memorable music. Erkin is a dynamic performer, whether singing or speaking the heartrending mother’s love story A Mames Harts/A Mama’s Heart, against violin/accordion solos and a closing fast tango. Markovtshizne has a more traditional tango feel with superb vocal/violin interplay, deep resonant bass, and melodic accordion flourishes, with the dynamic vocals grappling with difficult labour camp existence. Like the more symphonic string sound under the vocal duet with Erkin and guest Damian Nisenson, Es Benkt Zikh/Yearning, the less evident tango backdrop lets the love lyrics lead. Contrasting touches of New York theatre surface, as a jazzy show tune leads to a strong tango and theatrical violin ending in Shpet Bay Nakht/Late at Night. Tango Yona deserves a standing ovation for their research and performances of these dramatic, diverse pieces.

02a Tango Fado DuoPortuguese Fado music meets Argentine tangos head on as Portuguese guitarist Pedro H. da Silva and Argentine bandoneonist Daniel Binelli unite their multifaceted superstar musical talents in this strong, novel genre duet project, Tango Fado Duo. Opening track Quiero ser tu sombra (“La partida”) sets the stage with contrasting instrumental possibilities at fast tempos. Big surprise here is that the absent bass and drums on the CD are not missed, as the music is driven by the tight ensemble playing. The traditional tango El Choclo (tango) is a straightforward, uplifting cover of the tango classic, especially in the guitar middle section where the accompanying sharp staccato bandoneon notes create a new take on this famous tune. Piazzolla classic Oblivión (milonga lenta) is given a unique rendition with an overwhelmingly musical, impassioned exploration. The classic Portuguese song Lisboa antiga becomes a tango with bandoneon melodic swells, dramatic slow guitar strums and held-note ending. Fado style is maintained in the fast tempo Maria Lisboa (fado) featuring more great musical dialogues. An extremely subtle tango backdrop is heard in Binelli’s French musette-spirited Paris desde aqui, while Da Silva’s Lachrymae has him use finger-style classical techniques on the Portuguese guitar. Intriguing!

03 David Clayton ThomasMobius
David Clayton-Thomas
Antoinette & the SRG ANT549 (davidclaytonthomas.com)

Veteran performer and multi-Grammy Award-winner David Clayton-Thomas has released a new album of original works. After veering off into covers on his last couple of albums, Clayton-Thomas has returned to what made him the force of Blood, Sweat & Tears and an inductee into the Songwriters Hall of Fame.

Although a few of the songs venture into mellow territory, there is plenty of vintage Clayton-Thomas here – rockin’ and soulful. With co-writing and arranging from some of Toronto’s finest, like Lou Pomanti and George Koller (who also co-produces and plays bass), Mobius opens strongly with Back to the 60s. No wallow in nostalgia, it’s a call for young people to come together like they did at Woodstock – and like the Parkland protestors who took to the streets to express their outrage – to bring peace to the world.

A great horn section and a lineup of musicians, who bring a diverse range of sounds and skills to the record, keep the tracks interesting. Eric St. Laurent’s work ranges from epic guitar god on the opening track to breezy bossa nova on Carnival, Hugh Marsh turns in a haunting violin solo on Long Night and Larnell Lewis’ funky drumming keeps all the tracks in the pocket. The roadhouse rocker Passin’ Thru is a fitting closing track and reminder of what made Clayton-Thomas the road warrior he is, still going strong after all these years.

Listen to 'Mobius' Now in the Listening Room

04 Rory BlockA Woman’s Soul – A Tribute to Bessie Smith
Rory Block
Stony Plain Records SPCD1399 (stonyplainrecords.com)

With the release of her fine Bessie Smith-centric recording, five-time Blues Music Award-winning guitarist/vocalist Rory Block is kicking off a series of projects under the umbrella of “Power Women of the Blues.” The subsequent CDs will continue to honour a group of brave, feisty women (like Smith) who irrevocably disrupted and transformed the status quo of the musical and gender-biased landscape. Sadly, many of these blues icons have fallen into obscurity – and for some, their recordings have been lost in time altogether. Block first heard the recorded voice of Bessie Smith in 1964, when she was just a slip of a girl, living in New York City. Some years later, as a mature artist, Block is finally able to realize her creative dream and record this historic material with her own soulful, deeply respectful stamp and acoustic musical skill.

Block serves here as producer (along with Rob Davis), arranger, guitarist, vocalist and percussionist. She has devised a brilliant, ten-track program of Smith’s more familiar work, interspersed with rarely performed gems. Up first is a sassy take on Do Your Duty, featuring some excellent guitar work by Block, as well as her husky, sexy, powerful pipes. She adopts a lilting, almost Music Hall motif on the naughty, double entendre-laden Kitchen Man and swings her way through a lush and funky version of the Smith classic, Gimme a Pig Foot and a Bottle of Beer. 

On every track, the authentic blues feel, the intricate guitar and percussion work (sometimes involving kitchen utensils) and Block’s multi-textured and irresistible vocal chops, deliver it all. No doubt, Miss Bessie Smith would be proud!

01 Curious Bards(Ex)Tradition
The Curious Bards
Harmonia Mundi HMN 906105 (thecuriousbards.com)

Hands up, those organizing an Irish ceilidh or Scottish Burns Night. Look no further for your music. These pieces were performed for the most part in the 18th century and what emerges is a highly individual blend. The Curious Bards received formal training in Baroque musical instruments. They have gone on to apply their expertise – and such instruments as the viola da gamba – to perform Irish and Scottish music which has emanated from a variety of sources.

The Curious Bards start with three Scottish reels collected by Robert Bremner in 1757: see if your guests can keep up with the raw energy of The Lads of Elgin! The Irish are not to be dissuaded, with their own opening trio. While some pieces are more melancholic than their Scottish counterparts, The High Road to Dublin displays the spirited quality of the works of Ireland’s renowned bard Carolan.

The most imaginative arrangements on the CD must be the Highland Battle. Just as other Renaissance composers, for example, Byrd and Susato, set the sounds of a battle to music, so the Caledonian Pocket Companion of 1750 conveys the battle via flute and violin, even down to the mournful Lamentation for the Chief.

And so the jigs and reels continue (not least the Reel of Tulloch), enough for an evening’s Irish and Scottish celebrations. This choice by Baroque-trained musicians is strange, but it should not deter anyone. There is a crispness to the interpretations, which that very training brings out.

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