03 Danielle BasselsWhat About Wool Wishbags
Denielle Bassels
Independent DEN001 (reverbnation.com/deniellebasselsquintet)

Denielle Bassels is a fresh new voice on the Toronto scene. This is despite the fact that she borrows from some well-established styles like trad jazz and gypsy jazz. Yet her songwriting and singing approach make it all sound rather modern and at times surreal. Bassels’ appealing voice is reminiscent of a few indie pop singers, like Corrine Bailey Rae and Feist, who have had an influence on the latest generation of vocalists. And her solid range and technique serve the tunes well.

The arrangements and instrumentation also lend a fun quirkiness: ukulele, percussion, clarinet, horns and violin bounce along through most of the tunes. Bassels’ writing and production partner Mike Mathieson plays a number of the instruments and joins core rhythm players Andy Mac, guitar, Scott Hunter, bass, and Joe Ryan, drums.

The songwriting is consistently upbeat throughout, or at least has a veneer of positivity, despite a few thought-provoking lyrics. Spiders Kiss is a 3/4 time, Euro-tinged lament with a je ne regrette rien attitude and Silly Lion seems to be about betrayal, but it’s hard to fathom. The title track has a wacky, stayed-too-long-at-the-carnival feel to it. Perhaps the best approach to What About Wool Wishbags is to not take the words too literally and simply enjoy the album as a light-hearted lark.

05 Qu4rtzA Cappella 101
Qw4rtz
Analekta AN 2 8860 (analekta.com)

Members of Qw4rtz, Louis Alexandre Beauchemin, François Pothier Bouchard, Philippe Courchesne Leboeuf and François Dubé, began singing together in the boys’ choir of Les Petits Chanteurs de Trois-Rivières and burst fully realized onto the professional stage in 2010. With the release of their debut CD, this remarkably skilled a cappella vocal quartet has presented the listener with an irresistible potpourri of musical motifs, including material from the worlds of jazzy-pop, alternative/indie, rap as well as their own takes on classic French Chanson. Not since Blossom Dearie’s Blue Stars of Paris has such a superb, Francophone vocal ensemble emerged (a cappella or otherwise).

Clearly influenced by groups as diverse as The Four Seasons and Manhattan Transfer as well as musical theatre, these talented artists see no stylistic boundaries and specialize in blurring the lines. Qw4rtz’s two tenors, frequently arranged in unison, effortless contrapuntal commitment and solid, relentless bass lines, lend a dynamism to all of the clever and complex arrangements found here.

The 13-track CD kicks off with the bombastic Julie – Les Coocs and segues into the delightful Fais-moi un show de boucane (Give Me a Show of Smoke). Nearly unbearably beautiful are Hymne à l’amour (Hymn to Love), written by the “Little Sparrow” herself, the great Edith Piaf, and her protégé Charles Aznevour’s Emmenez-moi (Take Me). A rollicking and joyful stand-out, Boum boum boum/Elle me dit (Boom Boom Boom/She Tells Me) is guaranteed to please, as is the emotional and energetic closer, Papaoutai.

06 Hogtown BrassIntroducing…
Hogtown Brass Quintet
Independent (hogtownbrass.com)

This short disc (23 minutes) by the Hogtown Brass Quintet reinforces my enthusiasm from their concert last year at Yorkminster Park Baptist Church’s Lunchtime Chamber Music series. As the name suggests, these Hogtowners combine excellence with wit, in a tasty six-piece program featuring compositions and arrangements by trombonist RJ Satchithananthan. His inventive, Spanish-inflected Solea and bluesish Stray Goat avoid clichés of their styles, taking off in unexpected directions as the latter’s title suggests. As a composition student I was advised not to use “too much tuba” in a brass quintet. Tubist Andrew Nowry belies that nostrum with well-controlled dynamics and endurance in Solea and an exuberant solo in Stray Goat.

The setting of Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered features Satchithananthan’s own lyrical trombone. With light syncopated staccatos and interlocking accompaniment figures from trumpeters Tristan Tye and Matthew Ross, Nowry’s agile tuba bass line and Jason Austin’s sustained horn background gluing it all together, this is fun and first-rate work. An arrangement of Mascagni’s Intermezzo from Cavalleria Rusticana by Satchithananthan works surprisingly well because of the players’ sensitive shaping of melodies distributed among instruments.

Of two pieces arranged by others, J.S. Bach’s difficult Contrapunctus IX from The Art of Fugue sounds well on brass, but there are a few places where intonation or evenness could be better. After the disc’s close with an affecting A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square, I was left awaiting more from the Hogtown Brass Quintet!

08 Kobo TownWhere the Galleon Sank
Kobo Town
Stonetree Records ‎ST-302 (stonetreerecords.com)

Calypso: with roots in African, European and Caribbean rhythms, melodies and instrumentation, the highly hybrid music genre originated last century in Trinidad and Tobago. The music made by the JUNO-nominated Toronto-based band Kobo Town, founded in 2004 by Trinidadian-Canadian songwriter and singer Drew Gonsalves, illustrates calypso’s evolution in the 21st century, staying relevant with global audiences.

Keeping it real, Gonsalves named his band after the Kobo Town neighborhood in Port-of-Spain, its putative place of origin. Early in life he was attracted by the allure of calypso music as well as by its charismatic bards, relating that he “was blown away by the cleverness and the wit of these calypsonians and also their engaging interplay with the audience.”

The very assured album Where the Galleon Sank places the poetic narrative of Gonsalves’ lyrics front and centre. And his music also shows respect to the roots of calypso, while at the same time inventively mixing other Caribbean music influences including ska, dancehall reggae and dub. It’s all narrated by his rich Trini-accented voice and layered acoustic-centred instrumentation. The supporting horn section of trumpet, trombone, and the meaty baritone sax lines played by Linsey Wellman particularly caught my ear.

Gonsalves has addressed his idiosyncratic – to a certain degree made-in-Canada – take on the received calypso tradition. “It is calypso inspired and derived, but it’s a conscious departure from the way it developed back home… For me, the calypsonian is a singing newspaperman…with an attitude halfway between court jester and griot.”

For me, much of Where the Galleon Sank qualifies for my definition of “infectious music.”

 

01 Fernanda CunhaJobim 90
Fernanda Cunha
Independent AA1000
(fernandacunha.com)

There is no question that Antonio Carlos “Tom” Jobim is the most significant, seminal Brazilian composer/musician of this – or any other – time. Without the late Jobim (who would be 90) and his starring role on the tidal wave of bossa nova and Brazilian music in general, there would be no Ivan Lins, Hermeto Pascoal, Gilberto Gil or even Sérgio Mendes. His music remains as stunning, mysterious and indestructible as the pyramids – always gracefully lending itself to a phalanx of interpretations – from the symphonic to the pristine, authentic and vocally driven ensemble that the listener will find here in this exquisite collection.

Producer and powerful alto vocalist Fernanda Cunha has selected ten of Jobim’s familiar (and also infrequently performed) tunes, and brought together a delicious ensemble of collaborators, including Zé Carlos and Reg Schwager on guitar, Jorjão Carvalho on electric bass, Helbe Machado and Edson Ghilardi on drums and Camilla Dias on piano – with all arrangements by members of this tight, skilled unit.

First up is the lilting Aguas de Março (The Waters of March) with its deceptively poetic narrative (which is actually a string of clues to a very infamous 1950s murder in Rio). The song is refreshingly rendered here with musical and vocal precision, and no overwrought Romanticism. Other jewels in this musical crown include the intensely sensual Samba Da Avião; a lovely version of Two Kites sung in English (and featuring the always tasty Schwager on guitar) and the lighter-than-air Chovendo Na Roseira. This fine recording is the result of Cunha’s glorious vision of Jobim’s achievement of the perfect symbiosis of melody, lyric, emotional content, musicianship and soaring spirit.

02 Right Frame of MindThe Right Frame of Mind
Rodrick Dixon; Edward Mallett; Alvin Waddles
Blue Griffin Records BGR 411
(bluegriffin.com)

Take three accomplished performers on the unlikely combination of the tuba-like euphonium, piano and tenor voice, energetically performing music ranging from classics, show tunes and traditional, and a curiosity becomes an uplifting, unusual musical experience.

Each performer is having so much fun! Rodrick Dixon’s tenor voice is over-the-top enjoyable in flair, diction and spirit. Edward Mallett on euphonium is equally solid in keeping the bottom end in place but really shines when he takes the lead on the melody. Pianist Alvin Waddles plays with dynamic conviction, technical flair and colourful jazzy lines. As all three performers joined forces in arranging the selections, each respective part is playable and inventive. The opening track I Got Plenty o’ Nuttin’ from Porgy and Bess immediately showcases all the great music to come with an upbeat piano lick and bouncy horn melody opening followed by a stadium-filling vocal rendition. Nessun Dorma from Turandot starts on a more traditional operatic setting with piano and voice, and when the euphonium joins in on both melody and accompaniment, a full orchestral-sounding performance transpires. A Patriotic Salute is an uplifting witty medley of American standards such as Stars and Stripes Forever which fits the instrumentation perfectly.

The performers’ mutual respect of the music and each other is evident throughout. It may be a bit too extreme in sentiment for some yet it is really difficult not to at least smile if not laugh out loud when listening!

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