01 RadiaOf Glow and Abandon
Independent (ryandavisviola.com) 

Viola is one of those instruments that is loved by many but remains somewhat underrepresented in a variety of musical contexts. Ryan Davis aka Radia puts a glowing spotlight on it here, showcasing multitudes of colours and possibilities, and does so with much skill and imagination. The whole world is wrapped up within 16 minutes of music, a world so engaging that the listener is left wishing for more.

Radia is a one-man band – Davis plays his viola with abandon but he also does electronics, looping and beats, creating music that crosses genres easily. The blend of classical, electronics, folk and hip-hop elements creates a unique and accessible voice. Davis’ tone is dark and beautiful, sweet, resonant. His compositions are flowing from one to another meaningfully, as if he is leading us through some secret passageway. 

Of Glow & Abandon opens with the sorrowful and poetic Dreaming, After All. There are neither electronics nor beats here, only the purity of sound and expression, the lone viola voice that pleads and sings and dreams. It segues into Blood Orange seamlessly and the mood lightens up with viola pizzicatos and beats. Davis continues building up the sound and energy, adding more beats and more soaring melodies in Colour You Like, and the mood grows into a dancing joy. Set a Fire In My Snow concludes this musical narrative in a cinematic ambience. 

Of Glow & Abandon is a glorious ode to the viola and a showcase of one man’s creativity.

Listen to 'Of Glow and Abandon' Now in the Listening Room

02 Quartetto GelatoTasty Tunes
Quartetto Gelato
Independent QGPI 011 (quartettogelato.ca) 

I first experienced Quartetto Gelato (QG) in its original incarnation well over 25 years ago. It was on Salt Spring Island, BC and the group blew the roof off of that small island hall with their (now signature) dazzling virtuosity, eclectic repertoire, masterful musicianship, infectious energy and great sense of fun. Despite the many intervening years and personnel changes, they’ve still got it! Tasty Tunes, the quartet’s tenth album, is yet another celebration of all those signature qualities enumerated above that make QG unique, exciting and wholly entertaining! 

QG’s current incarnation of world-class musicians comprises oboist Colin Maier (also on saw, vocals and bongos); cellist Kirk Starkey; violinist/vocalist Konstantin Popović; and Matti Pulkki on the accordion. Charles Cozens, a QG former accordion player, performs on three tracks, while his brilliant, inventive arrangements are heard throughout the album. 

From an astonishing Cuban version of Beethoven’s Sonata Pathétique and the sizzling “Gypsy-funk” of Cigano No Baiao, to Piazzolla’s poignant Tanti Anni Prima, with Maier’s haunting and heart-achingly beautiful turn on the saw, and the whimsical Cartoon Fantasy (with guest appearances by the Flintstones and Pink Panther), along with Spaghetti Roads’ delightful nod to John Denver and The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, and Popović’s magnificent vocals and stirring violin on Mesecina, this delicious album exudes pure joy!

In what could be subtitled “Mozart Meets Minnie the Moocher,” Quartetto Gelato’s Tasty Tunes will leave a smile plastered on your face.

Listen to 'Tasty Tunes' Now in the Listening Room

03 Ellen GiblingThe Bend in the Light
Ellen Gibling
Independent (ellengibling.ca)

Nova Scotia-based harpist Ellen Gibling expertly performs in wide-ranging styles. Her McGill classical harp training helped establish her as a gifted classical/experimental music solo and ensemble performer. Her interest in Irish traditional music led her to the University of Limerick’s Master’s Program in Irish Traditional Music, graduating in 2019 and now, this release. Gibling performs her solo harp arrangements and co-arrangements of Irish traditional tunes, plus originals composed by Gibling and others with detailed eloquence, careful phrasing and colourful, wide pitches 

Gibling’s choice of pieces makes for fun listening. Opening track Hop Jigs comprises three traditional Irish harp jigs she learned in Limerick, colourfully played with steady beats and singalong melodies. Second track is three Irish polkas with faster melodic lines and lower countermelody chords holding them together. Gibling’s performance of the Irish traditional slow Air: Lament for the Death of Staker Wallace wallows in her shining sad musicality and technical expertise. Gibling’s friend Karen Iny composed Waltz & Reel: Maya’s Waltz/Forty. Maya’s Waltz is Irish-flavoured yet calming with a slight classical musical feel leading to the slightly faster Forty celebratory birthday reel. Gibling’s composition, Jigs: Side by Each, consists of two jigs commissioned by her friends about the two dogs in their lives. These dogs must be happy since joyous traditional grounded dancing sounds are played with ascending and descending lines to closing high-pitched slowing strings. 

Gibling’s immaculate understanding of centuries-spanning harp styles, compositions and Irish music results in music all her own!

01 AV EverybodyMattersEverybody Matters
Independent (annvriend.com)

Dynamic and versatile vocalist and composer, AV (Ann Vriend) has just released a recording that is not only rife with compassion and social conscience, but also defies musical genres and modalities by blurring the lines between rock, jazz, pop, inner-city soul, 70s’ folk and more. The ten tracks were inspired by the infamous McCauley section of AV’s native Edmonton – a place of disenfranchised souls, addictions, mental health issues and all of the other hellish things that come with neglect, poverty and desperation. AV, who has written all of the material and also acted as producer here, has fearlessly dug deep into our shameful disregard of our responsibilities to fellow human beings, and also, through the uplifting medicine of her funky music, underscores her hope for positive change and the triumph of the human soul.

AV has assembled an uber-talented cast to join her here: co-producer/keyboardist/vocalist Chris Birkett; Fred Benton (“Freddy B.”) on drum programming/loops; Brandon Unis on “live” percussion; Jory Kinjo on bass/voice and AV on Hammond B3. The journey starts with the soulful Anything I Know, which harkens back to an earlier time of strong female Northern Soul-oriented vocalists such as Cilla Black. Don’t Wait is a charmer, with an infectious beat, a sassy and sexy B3 and perfectly placed background vocals.  

The title track is a smouldering cooker and AV sings and swings through the tune, absolutely kicking it on B3. Hurt People Hurt People is an anthem about the cycles of pain that many individuals pass through – and that pain is a cycle that can be broken. AV and the angelic background vocals open our hearts and emphasize her meaningful message. The delightful up-tempo closer, Gonna Be Fine will leave the listener emotionally transformed by the power of the message, the music and the human voice.

01 Charlotte MooreSome Comfort Here
Charlotte Moore; Mark Camilleri
Independent (open.spotify.com/album/0BnDapG1mPFfKfCUZhwLfI)

If, like me, you know Charlotte Moore as one of Canada’s top musical theatre performers, this new album is a fun window on another side of her performing personality. And yet, though the songs are more pop than theatre, they still display her signature ability to get to the essence of a song – making it seem she is making up both words and music on the spot. 

The intimacy created by this ability is inviting and the choice of often wistfully melancholic songs  of love and friendship from Joni Mitchell’s Help Me (I think I’m falling in love again) to Tom Waits’ Rainbow Sleeves and Old Friend (from the musical I’m Getting My Act Together and Taking it on the Road), is cathartic listening material after almost two years of living through this seemingly unending pandemic. 

Moore also lets loose in a couple of much more lighthearted jazzy numbers that suit her voice brilliantly: Chantal Kreviazuk and Raine Maida’s 2006 hit All I Can Do, and the 1932 classic Hummin’ to Myself (Sammy Fain et al).

Moore’s voice is at its best when relaxed in her lower register where tears and laughter can hover near the surface. When she aims higher into a belt her voice loses some of its rich quality and yet the very rawness of this “almost live-to-tape” recording of Moore’s voice backed by the masterful piano of Mark Camilleri is attractive and pulls us into the mix offered up of tears, hope and laughter.

02 Canadian BrassCanadiana
Canadian Brass
Linus Entertainment 270596 (linusentertainment.com)

One of the most iconic instrumental ensembles in Canada has just released its tribute to fellow Canadian musical icons, Canadiana. Given the theme, it’s unsurprising that the covers should include Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen and Bruce Cockburn. What is surprising – and entertaining – is the presence of songs by Drake, Shawn Mendes and even EDM artist, Deadmau5.

Although the Canadian Brass is an incredibly prolific ensemble, having released 137 recordings since its inception in 1970, there’s been a hiatus of several years since their previous CD. The driving force behind Canadiana is trumpeter Brandon Ridenour who first joined the Brass when he was just 20 years old. He moved on to other projects and a successful solo career before returning in 2019 and conceiving, co-producing and writing all the arrangements for this project. Recorded during the pandemic, with the musicians working individually in their home studios, the album is a marvel of engineering and mastering.

Canadiana fittingly opens with Je Me Souviens, the song by Lara Fabian which became a Quebec anthem of sorts, and the mix of melancholy and triumph of the original are captured here. The standout tracks for me are the surprisingly gorgeous Deadmau5 song I Remember (I’ll take tuba over a drum track any day), the playful Best Part by Daniel Caesar (the young R&B singer-songwriter is being hailed as the Next Big Canadian Thing) and Rush’s Overture 2112, which is a complete gas. This version of Shawn Mendes’s hit Senorita just makes me wish piccolo trumpet was used all the time in pop music. Although additional instruments like percussion and electric guitar were enlisted to beef up the brass on a few of the tracks, the closing tribute to Leonard Cohen, Hallelujah, relies sparingly and beautifully on just brass.

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