02 Christa CoutureLong Time Leaving
Christa Couture
Black Hen Music BHCD0079 (christacouture.com)

With the release of her fourth CD, Edmonton-based, eclectic, roots-inspired chanteuse, pianist and gifted composer Christa Couture has recorded a brilliant career-defining project. Featuring all original music, and described by Couture as a “celebration of ordinary heartache,” she has almost cinematically plumbed the depths of her own inspiring journey (teenage cancer, the unimaginable loss of two children and more) and transmuted those experiences into a pan-relatable, uplifting and delightfully quirky project. Recorded in Nashville and skillfully produced by JUNO-winning guitarist/multi-instrumentalist Steve Dawson, the CD includes members of Blackie and The Rodeo Kings, notably Dawson on pedal steel and electric guitars, John Dymond on bass, Gary Craig on drums and venerable Nashville-based fiddler, Fats Kaplin.

There is no wallowing in self-pity here. In fact, the instrumentation, arrangements, compositions and Couture’s lithe, sheer, roots-influenced vocals all underscore the unconquerable human spirit – and make this recording an appropriate listening choice for almost any mood or activity.

Of special note are The Slaughter, with its haunting, almost childlike, echo-infused vocals and a lyric that ponders breakups with both men and women; Michigan Postscript – a melodic travelling song with a lilting vocal and stunning slide work by Dawson; Zookeeper – replete with fine acoustic piano and heavy surf guitar saturating this insightful and witty ode to couples therapy; and Lovely Like You – a sweet stunner featuring the honeyed tones of fiddler Kaplin. Also memorable is the closing track, Aux Oiseaux – a charming, pristine and deliciously melancholy anthem of survival and the art of learning to embrace life again – no matter what has transpired.

03 KAMPKAMP! Songs and Satire from Theresienstadt
Amelia DeMayo; Curt Buckler; Sergei Dreznin
Analekta AN 2 8789


When DISCoveries editor David Olds approached me about reviewing a CD of satirical songs written inside the Theresienstadt concentration camp, we both expressed our reservations about it. But curiosity (and the fact that the World Jewish Congress sponsored the project) got me to listen.

KAMP! Songs and Satire from Theresienstadt is the first English recording of songs written and performed by some (of the many) Jewish poets, composers, musicians and cabaret stars imprisoned in Theresienstadt (1942-44), and marks the 70th anniversary of the liberation of that infamous “model ghetto.”

These songs were brought to light, given life and presented in a cabaret-like setting in Vienna in 1992. Russian-Jewish pianist and composer, Sergei Dreznin, served both at the piano and as music director. Dreznin, who also wrote several new melodies to existing poems, went on to direct an English version called KAMP! in 1994. The eponymous CD is the culmination of Dreznin’s 20-plus-year-resolve to keep alive this material created as a means of survival, a way for prisoners to mock their unbearable circumstances and maintain their sanity.

The material is indeed subversive and unsettling. It is also brilliantly executed by Dreznin and singing actors Amelia DeMayo and Curt Buckler.

If nothing else, KAMP!, with its gallows humour and shades of Tom Lehrer, G&S, Weill, Brecht, Brel and Brooks (Mel), deserves a listen for its celebration of the human spirit. To quote Dreznin, “I hope you will laugh. You will cry. And you will definitely learn.”

04 Sephardic JourneySephardic Journey
Cavatina Duo
Cedille CDR 90000 163 (cedillerecords.org)

Sephardic Journey is the result of a 20-year exploration taken by the Cavatina Duo – the husband and wife team of Bosnian-born guitarist, Denis Azabagic, and Spanish-born flutist, Eugenia Moliner – into their Sephardic Jewish heritage. In 1996, Azabagic learned that a great aunt of his was a descendant of Sephardic Jews who left Spain at the end of the 15th century. Later, Moliner discovered her own connection: to avoid being expelled, some Jews living in medieval Spain converted to Christianity, taking on last names according to their vocations; a miller, for example, adopted the name “Moliner.”

From this shared background comes a compelling CD of new works commissioned specifically for the Cavatina Duo, all drawing on traditional Sephardic folk tunes – mostly love songs with their often-dramatic, Ladino (Judeo-Spanish) texts – for inspiration.

The recording is infused with gorgeous, evocative melodies, soulful and plaintive laments, lyrical flights of fancy, sultry twists on the tango, startling percussive passages and an exhilarating energy. Azabagic and Moliner are virtuosic, passionate musicians, deftly accompanied by David Cunliffe on cello, Desirée Ruhstrat, violin, and the Avalon String Quartet.

Joseph V. Willams II’s Isabel is the lone flute and guitar duo on the CD; the remaining four works include trios by Alan Thomas and Carlos Rafael Rivera, and sextets by David Leisner and Clarice Assad. I was particularly struck by the third movement of Leisner’s Love Dreams of the Exile, which juxtaposes a jarring, percussive introduction with a generous, heartachingly beautiful quote from the beloved Ladino ballad, Tu madre cuando te parió (Adio Querida).

I wholeheartedly recommend joining the Cavatina Duo on their journey.

01 So Long SevenSo Long Seven
Neil Hendry; William Lamoureux; Ravi Naimpally; Tim Posgate
Independent SLS001 (solongseven.com)


The music scene in Toronto is jam-packed with talented, inventive and courageous musicians. So Long Seven, a multifaceted collective comprised of composer/banjoist Tim Posgate, composer/guitarist/mandolinist Neil Hendry, composer/tabla star Ravi Naimpally and violinist William Lamoureux, is one of our city’s cream of the musical crop. Their self-titled debut CD features eight tracks of joyous, at times complex, original tunes with melodious world music, blues, jazz, pop, symphonic, classical and folk-flavoured nuances.

Each track is composed yet features lengthy, storytelling improvisations. Highlights include Hendry’s Torch River Rail Company which opens with a tight group melodic section punctuated by brief stops followed by a touching violin improvisation. Postgate’s MSVR (My Swedish Viking Roots) rocks with his lyric and groove banjo playing and a big band group crescendo ending. Naimpally’s Aarti features special guest, South Asian singer Samidha Joglekar, soaring to lyrical and complex rhythmic heights while the ensemble creates both conversational backdrops and instrumental interludes.

There is such a positive glowing musical force driving the sound. Each performer is a star when soloing and improvising. Great production values add a live off-the-floor ambiance. Brilliant original songwriting creates a unique band sound. Yet the group’s real strength lies in each member’s ability to share and understand the importance of close ensemble listening and the intricacies of musical interplay. So Long Seven is a release that absolutely every music aficionado needs to hear over and over and over again!

02 Tango FadoTango Fado Project
Manhattan Camerata
Sorel Classics SC CD 005 (sorelmusic.org)

Created by artistic director/composer/pianist Lucia Caruso and music director/composer/guitarist Pedro H. da Silva, Manhattan Camerata is a chamber orchestra that excels in its ability to combine all styles of world and classical music to create their self-described Transclassical Music. Here along with special guests Daniel Binelli (bandoneón), Polly Ferman (tango/classical piano) and Nathalie Pires (fado singer), Argentinian tango and Portuguese fado styles are performed, combined and transformed into music that soars in astonishing lyrical emotion and rhythmic drive.

Tango and fado may differ rhythmically yet their shared lyrical and melodic styles thrive when combined. Binelli has arranged the familiar Raul Ferrao Portuguese song April in Portugal into Tango “Abril en Portugal. A mournful virtuosic violin opening leads into a joyful bandoneón, piano and orchestral tango rendition. Other successful reworkings include compositions by Astor Piazzolla and Carlos Gardel among others. But the original compositions are the highlights. Pires sings da Silva and Caruso’s Amor é Fogo with both understated remorse and a dramatic powerhouse ending. Caruso’s Tanguito Cordobés takes Bach-like fugal counterpoint into tango land with conviction. Da Silva’s Non-Absolutist Universal Anthem is a blasting mass of Latin rhythms, mind-boggling instrumental solos and orchestral bravado.

The brilliant virtuosic playing by all the performers is inspiring and captured clearly in the production. The tango/fado compositions and arrangements are surprisingly successful and never mannered in their stylistic interweaving and reworkings. Tango Fado Project is an uplifting unique listening experience.

01 Welsh GaurdsA Tribute
Band of the Welsh Guards
British Military Music Archive BMMAWG1502 (bmma.org.uk) 

This two-disc set commemorates the 100th anniversary of the establishment of The Band of the Welsh Guards. In 1915, as the British army expanded during the First World War, it was felt that Wales should be represented in the Brigade of Guards. The regiment was formed in February of that year. Soon after, when the establishment of a band was approved, the city of Cardiff helped to purchase a set of instruments, and the band began rehearsals in October. By the time of their first concert in the London Opera House on March 1, 1916, the band had already been in a studio and recorded the first six numbers of CD1. By the end of the year 1916, founding members of that band had recorded all 12 numbers on the first CD. While recording techniques have improved significantly, the audio quality is quite amazing.

While CD1 contains mostly patriotic music, CD2, recorded between 1921 and 1940, contains a variety of musical styles including several novelty numbers of the type performed by bands in the years between the wars. Such numbers as Gaiety Echoes and Wedded Whimsies certainly aren’t likely to be found in the repertoire of concert bands of 2016. One particular novelty number that used to be very popular is The Whistler and His Dog. Written by Arthur Pryor, famed trombone virtuoso of the Sousa band, it has many of the band members whistling the melody and then ends with loud barking. This CD even contains a couple of numbers by the Dance Orchestra. All in all, an excellent preservation of the musical history of the Welsh Guards.

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