01_Quartetto_Gelato.jpgAll Original – 100% Canadian
Quartetto Gelato
QGPI Records QGPI-010 (quartettogelato.com)

There are lots of tasty delights for the ear in this new release from one of Canada’s favourite ensembles. Featuring the music of five Canadian composers, the stylistic differences of each work challenge Quartetto Gelato to pull out all the stops and prove yet again that the group can perform anything presented to them with perfection.

The current members are all musically gifted and brilliant technicians. Founding violinist/tenor Peter De Sotto, accordionist Alexander Sevastian, oboist/multi-instrumentalist Colin Maier and cellist Liza McLellan play with mutual musical respect and appreciation to detail. Cellist Lydia Munchinsky and percussionists Mark Inneo and Kevan McKenzie are welcome special guests on the tracks where they play.

The satisfying more traditional lush classical sound of Rebecca Pellett’s Una storia d’amore is chamber music at its best. In contrast, Maier’s banjo pickings support De Sotto’s happy singing in Howard Cable’s On The Crowsnest Trail. A driving rhythmic feel and dance groove highlight Hilario Duran’s Latin-flavoured Aventura Afrocubana Suite. The appealing underlying improvisational sentiment of Michael Occhipinti’s music makes his Sirocco and Ballu Di Gelato an intriguing listening experience. The ensemble shines in Jossy Abramovich’s Gypsy Fantasia with more great vocal work by de Soto and  Sevastian’s accordion finesse. More awe-inspiring zippy accordion music shines on Charles T. Cozens’ Celtic Dances.

Gelato fans should be thrilled with this new musical flavour from the always-entertaining Canadian concert stage stars!

 

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Author: Tiina Kiik
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02_jesse_cook.jpgOne World
Jesse Cook
eOne COH-CD-5812 (jessecook.com)

Virtuosic, globally inspired guitarist/composer/producer Jesse Cook is known for his stellar, cross-cultural musical motifs and collaborations. His previous JUNO-nominated recording projects have sampled the sonic landscapes of such far-flung locations as Cairo, Colombia and Lafayette, Georgia. On his ninth CD, One World, the usually peripatetic, Paris-born and Toronto-raised Cook has chosen to stay in his own back yard, while still incorporating into his compositions a tasty ethno-smorgasbord, which includes sitars and violins, as well as powerful techno bass sequences and other well-placed and masterfully engineered technology.

Cook’s considerable skill as a highly trained classical, flamenco and jazz guitarist is evident throughout this fine, well-produced recording and on each composition he metaphorically crosses the Bosporus – weaving Eastern and Western musicality and instrumentation into a joyous celebration of alpha wave stimulation and artistic globalism. In describing his project, Cook has said, “The idea is that there really is just one world. If you pull your focus back far enough, you start to see all music as being branches of the same tree….”

Standouts include Shake – a pulsing and virile flamenco, infused with raga-like rhythmic patterns and dynamic percussion; the wild and trippy sub-continent techno journey of Bombay Slam and Taxi Brazil, which conjures up cinematic images of a heady cab ride through Rio. Also of note is the mystical and sensuous Steampunk Rickshaw and the Iberian-infused Beneath Your Skin. The closing track, Breath, features Cook’s pure, warm, crystalline solo acoustic guitar, leaving the listener refreshed and restored – the perfect end to this multi-sensory journey through vibrant and delightful musical exotica.

 

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03_gypsyphilia.jpgNight Swimming
Gypsophilia
Forward Music Group FMG051 (gypsophilia.org)

In their first studio-produced release, Halifax-based band Gypsophilia grooves in many tempos and musical moods in original compositions by five members of the seven piece ensemble. From jazzy swinging tunes like Cake Walk to the klezmer/world music influences of Insomniac’s Dream and RiTiB, producer Joshua Van Tassell has captured the band’s upbeat spontaneous off-the-stage sound that has drawn big crowds to their live shows. The happy music played by the effervescent musicians is toe-tapping fun!

The producer uses his superb listening ear to create subtle instrument balances, and to add atmospheric electronic sound effects. From the guitar reverb in Boo Doo Down to the washes of electronic sound in the dark mysterious bass opening of RitiB, a new band sound evolves. The slower Deep Water is especially successful with these effects. A gorgeous opening violin solo line is supported by a wash of wind-like sounds to create a sitting-outside-by-the-lake effect that the other instruments evoke as the work progresses.

All the players are great, with special mention to trumpeter Matt Myer in the opening wah-wah section of Long Shadows, and double bassist Adam Fine, both in his solos and his backing lines in each track. Though running around 40 minutes, this short yet sweet and bopping Gypsophilia release showcases a great tight creative band developing into an even greater one.

 

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Author: Tiina Kiik
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04_Heartstrings_Yang.jpgHeartstrings
Xuefei Yang
Decca 8888182

The renowned Chinese-born guitarist Xuefei Yang released her latest album Heartstrings with Universal Music in June 2015. Nineteen pieces ranging from Chinese folk melody to jazz hits and Spanish guitar classics have been included in her first album for the Decca label.

The whole disc seems like a collage as Yang chooses not to follow a certain topic or theme to connect the pieces. This, to some degree, coincides with the cultural characteristics of the Canadian mosaic. All of the pieces, although drawn from various cultural backgrounds, are lovely, delicate and easy on the ear. Some talk about love affairs (e.g. Takemitsu’s Secret Love and Elgar’s Salut d’ Amour) while others depict natural and mental landscapes.

Yang, with her outstanding technique and her “East-meets-West” experience, gives an indubitably charming performance in Piazzolla’s jazz-styled Milonga del Angel and popular Spanish guitar pieces. However, the most attractive selection on the album is her transcription and interpretation of Fisherman’s Song at Eventide, a piece of traditional Chinese music. Widely popular in North China, Fisherman’s Song is a three-part piece played on a guzheng, a Chinese plucked zither. It depicts a sunset scene with a fisherman going back home after a tiring but fruitful day. The guzheng player imitates fishermen’s songs and the sound of waves, and builds up a jovial and warm atmosphere. In the process of transcribing it into a guitar piece, Yang makes utmost efforts to sustain the Oriental elements as well as to respect characteristics of the classical guitar. It is a challenging attempt and happily she finds a subtle balance between the two instruments.

Having previously recorded albums of Bach and Britten, on this disc Yang has chosen to explore her own cultural roots, managing to bring different narratives and styles together with great success.

 

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02_Andria_Simone.jpgEvolve
Andria Simone
Independent GKM 1018
(andriasimone.com)

There’s been a major resurgence of R&B/soul singers in the last several years, led by the fabulous and tragic Amy Winehouse. Many singers have tried to imitate Winehouse’s singing style and production
techniques and, as a result, most blue-eyed soul records released lately sound very similar and, frankly, tired. So it’s a real pleasure to hear a relatively new singer who is treading her own path. With the aptly named Evolve, Toronto-based singer Andria Simone is developing a style all her own. That said, there are influences apparent in her big, gutsy voice, but how can you be a blues and soul singer and not have greats like Janis Joplin and Aretha Franklin show up?

Evolve establishes Simone not only as a singer to be reckoned with, but as a songwriter of note too. The majority of the tracks are co-written by her and producer Greg Kavanaugh and there are touches of a variety of styles in the mix, but all are hard-driving. The one cover, Sunshine of Your Love, burns with the heat of a thousand suns. Simone’s backing band – and I hesitate to call them a backing band since they contribute so much to the overall musicality and funkiness of the record that they’re more like collaborators – consists of bassist Mark Wilson, guitarist Dave Kirby, saxophonist Brian Dhari, drummer George Nikolov and keyboardist Anthony Brancati. Evolve doesn’t break brand new ground, but it delivers solid groove and energy.

 

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02_Purcells_Revenge.jpgPurcell’s Revenge – Sweeter Than Roses?
Concerto Caledonia; David McGuinness
Delphian DCD34161

Listening to this CD, I felt as though I’d mysteriously stumbled onto the playlist of a stranger who had searched using the keywords “Purcell, Scottish, early music, folk, crossover, James Oswald.” Anyone looking for multiple ways to reinvent Purcell and traditional tunes connected to him will find much to enjoy in the broad swath that this program cuts; but cohesive it’s not.

James Bowman makes a cameo appearance singing Sweeter Than Roses with viol consort, and Jim Moray sings a convincing and innocently folky Fairest Isle. Olivia Chaney’s singing in her wonderful arrangement of There’s not a swain on the plain reminds me of the great Maddy Prior; and Pamela Thorby does an excellent job of whistle-izing a recorder. The connection between Purcell’s New Scotch Tune for solo harpsichord and a hook harp version of the tune speaks elegantly for itself, as does a broken consort version of Purcell’s Fantazia 11, and there are a couple of delightful new pieces by Chaney and Ana Silvera.

But some of the other material left me cold, such as the revamp of Purcell’s Evening Hymn, the original of which is so gorgeous I don’t know why anyone would want to mess with it. Elsewhere there’s some very good harmonica playing, and “rock on” amplification, of which I’d have liked either more, or none. There’s much cleverness and musical delight here, but this particular “anything goes” program doesn’t quite satisfy.

 

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