05 Vlada MarsRemains of the Day
Vlada Mars
Independent (vladamars.com)

There are some albums that go straight for the heart of the listener and stay there for a while. Remains of the Day is certainly such an album. Written for solo piano, this music is pure poetry, spoken from the heart with a genuine sense of purpose. 

Vlada Mars, Serbian-Canadian composer and pianist based in Vancouver, has seven albums under her belt but this one definitely stands out. Although dedicated to all matriarchs of the world, Remains of the Day is an ode to one woman – Mars’ mother. Composed over the period of two years and paralleling the last few months of her mother’s life, her subsequent death and Vlada’s own grieving, this album is so personal that the listener can’t help but feel the emotions expressed as part of ourselves.

Mars presents a unique compositional voice. Genre crossing and embracing the minor keys, her music is haunting, nostalgic, intimate. There are no big statements here but rather everything is expressed in understated, meaningful gestures that have beauty in their core. Still, there is an unmistakable passion, especially in the juxtaposition of the driving rhythms underneath tender voices. Mars is a master of rubato phrases, which adds to her flair for sentimental melodies. Perhaps the meaning of Saudade, one of 11 compositions on the album, shows the nature of her music the best – a melancholy of longing for something or someone that is no longer here. 

Note: this album is not available for streaming. One can purchase it from Vlada’s website as a CD or download.

07 Court de Louis XIVDe La Cour de Louis XIV à Shippagan – Chants traditionnels acadiens et airs de cour du XVIIieme sièècle
Suzie Leblanc; Marie Nadeau-Tremblay; Vincent Lauzer; Sylvain Bergeron
ATMA ACD2 2837 (atmaclassique.com/en)

Louis XIV made his France a hub for culture which attracted composers such as Michel Lambert and Robert de Visée. French settlers in what is now Eastern Canada – for instance in Shippagan, an overwhelmingly French-speaking town in northeastern New Brunswick – brought music from France. The contents of this CD reflect a selection of these treasures performed by some of ATMA Classique’s most talented artists. It does not take long for recorder player Vincent Lauzer to make his presence felt; with his trilled notes he admirably captures the atmosphere of Pourquoi doux rossignol? 

Then there is the aunting quality of Rossignolet sauvage, with its theme of a finished love affair (il faut se délaisser, we must move on.) Listen to the combination of soprano Suzie LeBlanc (accompanying herself on dulcimer!) and the instrumentalists as they interpret the lines of this traditional song.

The instrumental tracks should not be disregarded. De Visée’s Prélude, sarabande et gigue, played with dignity on archlute by Sylvain Bergeron, is very typical of exactly the contemporary lute music Louis XIV encouraged with his cultural offensive.    

Overall perhaps, and despite the courtly – and supposedly superior – origin of many of these tracks, it is the traditional pieces that are the most effective. Le berger features LeBlanc declaiming her love for her shepherd in the yearning manner reminiscent of bygone troubadours.

A CD with a new angle on musical history – and well worthy of attention.

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08 Iberi SupraSupra
Iberi Choir
Naxos World NXW76162-2 (naxosdirect.com/search/nxw76162-2)

Buba Murgulia, leader of the Georgian male-voice choir Iberi, is described in the Supra liner notes as “growing up surrounded by singing,” like many Georgians. Unlike most however, he formed a choir with other passionate countrymen. They’ve taken Georgian song to international audiences since 2012, touring Europe, USA, Asia and Australia.

Recognizing the significance of Georgian vocal polyphony, in 2008 it was inscribed on UNESCO’s List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. Iberi’s broad repertoire includes a variety of regional Georgian styles, drawing on the rich history of Georgian polyphonic song.

Simplifying to great degree, Georgian choral singing most often has three voices. And regional genres range from soft, moving liturgical songs, lullabies and guitar-accompanied urban songs, to loud and rugged songs meant for work, recounting history – and very importantly, for feasting. 

The word supra is commonly translated as “feast.” Integral to Georgian society, this ancient, frequently multi-day tradition, features wine, food, singing and ritualized toasting which reaffirms the essential values of life, the importance of the ancestors and the motherland.

Iberi’s new album Supra is a selection of 13 songs that you might well hear at such a celebration. I was stirred by feast songs like Mravalzhamieri (May You Live Long), soothed by the medieval Georgian hymn Shen Khar Venakhi (Thou Art a Vineyard) and charmed by the urban love song Mkholod Shen Erts.

My only regret? I didn’t have a bottle of Georgian wine at hand to join in the supra.

09 HorojoSet the Record
Horojo Trio
Stony Plain SPCD 1446 (stonyplainrecords.com)

This recording roars to life right out of the gate with the rollicking, bluesy song: Man of Steel. This music instantly tells you that Horojo Trio has an instinctive feel for the musical tension of the blues line; they infuse and temper the narrative of each song with elemental despair and the soaring exhilaration of hopefulness.    

In terms of wail and sinewy tone, Jeff Rogers seems cut from the same cloth as musicians like Greg Allman. His evocative vocals also profit from the gutsy guitar lines of JW-Jones. A unique tension between the harmonically loaded melody and the astonishing fireworks of Rogers’ piano collides with Jones’ guitar. Meanwhile Jamie Holmes unleashes the rolling thunder of his drumming that propels each song with visceral energy. Together the three artists create music that has an emotional power which is truly affecting. Songs such as Man of Steel and A Little Goes a Long Way are fiercely driven and typical of this wonderfully stormy repertoire. The piece Stay Crazy is nuanced and exquisitely soulful. 

The music is beautifully written, which must certainly make it easier to sing and play. All three members of the trio come across as rugged musical adventurers and it is this sort of abandon that makes for the unique and vivid nature of the music – appropriately raw, yet never strident; this makes the music of Set The Record not to be missed.

10 Way NorthNew Dreams, Old Stories
Way North
Roots2Boot Recordings R2B22-01 (waynorthband.com)

New Dreams, Old Stories is the third album from Way North, a group founded in Brooklyn with three Canadians (Rebecca Hennessy, trumpet, Petr Cancura, tenor saxophone and Michael Herring, bass) and their American drummer, Richie Barshay. Ten of the 12 pieces are originals by Hennessy, Cancura and Herring while Barshay provides two arrangements. All the tunes are lively and melodic and infused with the energy of good friends making music together. 

The opener, Play, is an up-tempo song they use to open their concerts. I›m Here to Stay is an off-kilter blues with a stuttering melody. Cancura’s tenor solo is funky, funny and occasionally aggressive while Hennessy’s trumpet solo is contrastingly melodic, quoting from the song’s theme and infusing other snippets as it builds. Herring’s If Charlie Haden couldn’t write a song to bring world peace, what hope is there for me? has a mournful Mingus quality, with its lengthy melody played by the trumpet and saxophone, and includes an intriguing bass solo. 

New Dreams, Old Stories is an album full of catchy songs that reveal more complexity with repeated listening. The solos are varied and intriguing and the rhythm work by Herring and Barshay is both solid and inventive.

11 Emigre and ExileEmigre and Exile
Panoramic Recordings PAN25 (arcomusical.com)

Led by American percussionist/composer/scholar Gregory Beyer, the Arcomusical ensemble features the berimbau, the Afro-Brazilian musical bow instrument. Its lyrical strings make a beautiful sound all its own, difficult to describe in words yet easy to listen to! Arcomusical has been expanding the berimbau’s traditional sounds by commissioning and performing contemporary chamber works for solo/ensemble berimbau and other instruments. This, their third release, was recorded safely through multi-tracking in the pre-vaccine summer of 2020.

Jeremy Muller’s Singularity (2020) is a storytelling berimbau ensemble work introducing the listener to such beautiful sounds as melodic wide-pitch patterns, strums and volume changes from traditional to new music tonalities. Beyer plays all instruments spectacularly in his three compositions that showcase his extensive berimbau expertise. Fios e linhas (2020) for berimbau and percussion instruments has an upbeat colourful vibe pulse and high-pitched berimbau sounds above mallet instruments. Berimbau Duo No.3 “for Adam and Jess” (2007/2018) resonates with berimbau repeated notes and ringing low notes, performed by Beyer and Anthony Cable. Berimbau Solo No.4 “Sakura Park” (2006/2019) is two-part, from rhythmic to atmospheric. The six-movement title track Emigre and Exile (2019) features its composer Matt Ulery on acoustic bass with berimbau sextet in repeated figures, ringing strings and high-pitched melodies from classical to jazz to pop sounds and more. Alexandre Lunsqui’s berimbau sextet  Repercussio (2006/2014) adds percussive scrapes and bangs to this instrument’s timbres.

All performers and compositions are perfect. I am so pleasantly surprised how much I enjoy these enlightening berimbau musical sounds!

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