02 Orono Cornet BandOrono Cornet Band
Orono Cornet Band
Great Canadian Town Band Festival (oronocornetband.com)

Some years ago, trombone player and old town band music fan, David Climenhage established the Great Canadian Town Band Festival in the small town of Orono, east of Toronto. While the festival no longer operates, Climenhage has now focused on another aspect of his interest in the music of the early town bands in Canada. When he got together with Toronto musician Herbert Poole they discovered that they had a common interest in the collection and restoration of old brass musical instruments. They soon decided that, since their instruments were made to produce music, not just to be admired, they should form a band.

The result is Orono Cornet Band which performs the music of the period when the instruments were built. The result is this recording with music composed between 1855 and 1890. Top flight musicians performing on period instruments, ranging from cornets to such lesser-known oddities as the ophicleide and helicon, provide a rare insight into the musical life of small town Canada before motion pictures, radio or television. Where else could you hear such works for a town dance as the Take Me Home Quickstep or the Blue Dahlia Polka Mazurka. Unfortunately, there are no program notes, and while I had never heard of any of the composers, a little research provided much information on one of them. F. H. Torrington founded the Toronto College of Music which became the first music affiliate of the University of Toronto. In 1894 he conducted the very first concert in Massey Hall. For devotees of early brass band music this recording is a must.

01 Worst Pop Band EverBlackout
Worst Pop Band Ever
Independent (wpbe.bandcamp.com/album/blackout)

The satirically named Worst Pop Band Ever (WPBE) has been crafting its eclectic blend of jazz, pop, funk, dance, soundtrack music and humour for a decade. Blackout is a fresh and successful take on a genre-hopping approach to music making that has seen a growing number of exponents in recent years. The two-keyboard mix of Dafydd Hughes and Adrean Farrugia combine with DJ LEO37’s turntables to create varied and unique textures over the rhythm section of Tim Shia and Drew Birston on drums and bass. Saxophonist Chris Gale is a powerful voice and the de facto singer in a group that doesn’t have one but certainly could.

The group grafts wide-ranging musical elements onto each other that serve to subtly or not so subtly transform the source materials. Peachy Keen features modern jazz piano comping over a reggae feel that creates a surprisingly ideal setting for Chris Gale’s soulful saxophone solo. The abrupt switch to a full-out rock groove with electronica for the tune’s ending somehow seems completely appropriate.

Satie-like chords float in from the crowd noise of Group Scene. The evocative piano melody gives way to Drew Birston’s melodic bass solo and synth textures heighten the atmosphere. Electric piano and Hammond B3 provide a classic backdrop for Adrean Farrugia’s funky Gospel. Farrugia and Gale solo exuberantly in the spirit of the tune. WPBE veers between being ironic and overt but it always wears its pop influences proudly.

02 Rebecca BinnendykSome Fun Out of Life
Rebecca Binnendyk
Alma Records RBM63052 (almarecords.com)


Emerging Canadian jazz/pop-influenced vocalist/composer Rebecca Binnendyk has fired her opening professional salvo with an impressive and eclectic collection of standards from the Great American Songbook, contemporary pop tunes and original compositions. Equally impressive are her chosen collaborators, including exceptional producer/engineer John “Beetle” Bailey and yeoman musicians of her core group, Attila Fias on piano, Kevin Laliberte on guitar, bassist Drew Birston, drummer Davide Direnzo and dynamic percussionist Rosendo “Chendy” Leon. The tasty arrangements are credited to pianist Steve Wingfield, vocalist/keyboardist Don Breithaupt and pianist/composer/arranger (and Elton John alum), Charles Cozens.

Thankfully, no gratuitous, uninformed scat singing will be found here – but what the listener will happily find is a pure, appealing vocal instrument, interesting musical choices, and a refreshingly forthright skill with the interpretation of a lyric – whether that lyric emanates from her own tunes, Tin Pan Alley or the mind of Jon Bon Jovi.

As a composer, Binnendyk contributes two gorgeous offerings here: Stars, inspired by the untimely passing of troubled music icon Amy Winehouse, and also the inspiring Live Now. Additional standouts include the zesty title track (featuring a historically correct, depression-era arrangement) and Corinne Baily Rae’s mega-hit, Put Your Records On. Presented here as a horn-infused, soulful anthem of youth and longing, this performance works – whether sung in Waterloo, Ontario or Manchester, U.K. Another gem is a moving take on Joni Mitchell’s Night Ride Home, which features the masterful William Sperandei on trumpet.

The eloquent closer is Charlie Chaplin’s Smile – simply presented – crystalline, classic and without artifice, not unlike a mine-cut diamond solitaire.

Concert Note: Rebecca Binnendyk launches "Some Fun Out Of Life" with performances on March 18 and 19 at the Jazz Bistro.

03 Double DoubleRock Bach
Double-Double Duo
Independent (doubledoubleduo.com)

Think and listen before you make any assumptions about the musical combination of accordion and clarinet. Double-Double Duo is more than a sweet sugary sound. The imaginative musical mastery, unorthodox arrangements/transcriptions and tight ensemble playing of accordionist/pianist Michael Bridge and clarinettist/pianist Kornel Wolak stretches boundaries in both the acoustic and electronic realms in this release featuring works from their live concert repertoire.

The Brahms Rondo alla Zingarese is a more traditional transcription and exciting performance. In contrast, the four Scarlatti keyboard sonatas are given an eclectic transcription with the clarinet leading the contrapuntal lines and the free bass accordion offering harmonic and contrapuntal support. The title track Rock Bach is a musical stretch as J.S. Bach’s baroque style is shoved into modern-day sound machinations, complete with drum-kit crashes from the Roland electronic accordion. One may wonder what happened to the accordion in Petit Fleur (Bechet) and Flying Home (Goodman), as a flip of a switch and press of a button have Bridge’s Roland accordion emulate guitars, drums, keyboards etc. while Wolak wails through his clarinet leads. A traditional Bulgarian piece and Vivaldi’s Summer complete the package.

Kudos for taking risks with listener favourites – one may not like the sound but there is so much care, energy, compassion and knowledge of divergent styles that their ideas must be respected. Detailed liner notes and more than the 35 minutes of music included here would be appreciated though. Looking forward to the next “refill” release!

04 AvataarPetal
InSound Records IS003 (sundarmusic.com)


For years before this first CD release, the Toronto world-jazz band Avataar paid its dues in workshops and gigs across Ontario. Reflecting the interest in the album, recently Petal received the 2016 Toronto Jazz Festival’s Special Projects Initiative award. What’s the buzz about? Avataar is led by the multiple JUNO-nominated jazz saxophonist, bansurist and composer Sundar Viswanathan. He’s solidly supported by an all-star band including local jazzers and world music heroes (several of whom lean heavily on Hindustani musical accents): Michael Occhipinti (guitar), Justin Gray (bass), Felicity Williams (voice), Ravi Naimpally (tabla) and Giampaolo Scatozza (drums).

There are numerous solos by all concerned I could cite for praise, starting with wispy long lyrical melodies and searing hard bop gestures in the sax solos by Viswanathan. I also want to earmark the superb, always sensitive and sometimes exploratory guitar work throughout by Occhipinti – but each musician gets a solo to command in the album.

Outstanding performances abound in the title track Petal (the space between). In it, guest Toronto keyboardist Robi Botos begins quietly by playing the grand piano’s strings muted with one hand, thus rendering a remarkably Hungarian cimbalom-like sonority and non-metric rhythmic density. Botos masterfully builds themes and textures with two hands aboard the keyboard. He’s joined by Viswanathan’s sax and Williams’ vocals in twinned melodic lines, sometimes in unison, while other times diverging into harmony with the rest of the band in supporting roles.

Enhancing listening satisfaction is the initial sprinkling of atmospheric sounds in Agra, opening up the track’s soundscape to a glimpse of the world outside the Toronto studio. The pre-recorded spoken texts woven into the uplifting jazz hymn-like Petal (Ephemerata) are also handled skillfully. These are not just any words, but those which reflect the evanescence of human life spoken by Mahatma Gandhi, Osho, the Dalai Lama, Alan Watts, Swami Vivekananda and others, spiritual seekers all. They greatly amplify the positive emotion many listeners will experience in this music.

Concert Note: Avataar launches “Petal” on March 30 at Lula Lounge and performs at the Small World Music Centre on May 20.

05 SurkalenEthno-Charango
Independent (surkalen.ca)


Surkalén is a Quebec quartet of relatively recent vintage, which identifies its music as “ethno-fusion.” Three members of the band are Chileans who met in 2006 in Montreal. Claudio Rojas plays plucked strings, flutes and electric bass, the vocalist Sanda Ulloa also specializes on cuatro and percussion, while bass player Rony Dávila also plays guitar, cuatro and flutes. In 2009 the Russian-Canadian violinist Maria Demacheva joined them and Surkalén was born.

The album title refers to the charango, a small guitar-like instrument of the Andes, whose sound permeates the entire album. As the group explains it, their name is derived from several languages. The “Sur” stands for their South American birthplaces, and “kalén” means “different” in the Selk’nam language of the indigenous people of the Patagonian region of southern Argentina and Chile, a culture referenced on the last track.

While their geographies of origin define a significant part of their work here (particularly that of South America), Surkalén also embraces musical features of Europe, Africa, North India and the Middle East. These manifold transcontinental influences are at times startling, if not jarring, in their superimposition. For example the work Patagonia…, which at its core is almost new-age-y in its violin-led lyricism – played by Demacheva, who exhibits beautiful, secure classically-trained tone – is at one point disturbed by an aggressive rock-like fuzz-toned electric bass solo.

After repeated listing, it seems to me that despite referencing multiple geographically diverse musical performance aesthetic sources, Surkalén’s unifying feature is best characterized as a mix of vernacular music vocabularies and contemporary popular music studio values. It’s that approachable quality which probably accounts for most of the group’s warm reception and popular success.

Concert Note:  Surkalén presents "Ethno-Charango" on March 20 at Salle Claude-Léveillée Place des arts in Montreal.

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