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!

01 Mativetsky RiversRivers
Shawn Mativetsky
Samskara SAM-3 (shawnmativetsky.com)

In his Indiegogo fundraising campaign video, Montreal tabla player Shawn Mativetsky quips that his album Rivers would be the “first album of solo tabla music to be recorded by a Quebecer!”

Bracketted by footage of what appears to be the St. Lawrence River, Mativetsky continued: “This album would be the way to pay tribute to my guru Pandit Sharda Sahai-ji [of the Benares/Varanasi tabla lineage] who truly desired for his family’s tabla tradition to spread around the world, to be enjoyed by all.”

For well over a decade Mativetsky has been “living fully immersed in the world of tabla and Indian classical music,” but it was only last year he finally felt the time had come to release his first traditional solo tabla album.

Rivers is an apt poetic-geographic metaphor for the project. It refers to both Mativetsky’s home St. Lawrence as well as to the mighty Ganges in his adopted Varanasi, India. The cover photographically mashes up a bare snowbound shore with the other shore featuring the ghats of Varanasi, but the two long tracks are truly a one-way “rhythmic journey to Varanasi.”

Mativetsky’s tabla solos are idiomatically accompanied on the bowed dilruba by the veteran Toronto bassist and long-time Hindustani music performer George Koller. They are set in the 16-beat teental, the principal tala (rhythmic cycle) of North Indian classical music.

Koller accompanies the tabla solos with a series of lehras, which are repeated short melodies, providing an aural outline of the tala. Enriching the listening experience, they have wisely chosen lehras in five different ragas, each evoking a distinctive modal and emotional flavour for each tabla section instead of choosing standard practice: a single melody throughout.

The Madhya Laya (medium tempo) track presents fixed tabla compositions, while the Vilambit Laya (slow tempo) track explores the theme-and-variation format with emphasis on improvisation. Mativetsky’s tabla solos in Rivers eloquently reflect his evident dedication to the dynamic, received tradition of Benares style of tabla playing, his own individual spontaneous creativity, as well as his passion for this rich form of music-making.

03 Bach n JazzBach ’n’ Jazz
Flûte Alors!
ATMA ACD2 2745 (atmaclassique.com)

Review

Montreal-based recorder quartet Flûte Alors! mixes Baroque with a splash of jazz in this satisfying release. The four quartet members – Vincent Lauzer, Marie-Laurence Primeau, Alexa Raine-Wright and Caroline Tremblay – are each accomplished musicians. Together, these self-described new-generation recorder players perform with glorious tone, technique and tight ensemble etiquette.

It is not surprising that J.S. Bach’s organ music translates well when arranged for recorder. Both instruments create sound by air/wind movement, and Bach’s strong contrapuntal lines flow on the recorder. Of the six arrangements, most satisfying is group member/arranger Raine-Wright’s take on Concerto in D Minor BWV 596. Her focus on Bach’s flowing lines and contrasting articulations add colour and clearly emulate the organ sound. Of note is the attention-grabbing high-pitch opening note of her arrangement of the Toccata and Fugue in D Minor BMV 565.

Why jazz? Because Flûte Alors! had a café gig and decided to mix Bach with jazz. Their jazz tracks may not be as astounding as their Bach, but this musical experiment is an evolving work in progress. Fly Me to the Moon opens with contrapuntal Baroque flavours leading to a jazzy pleasant swing-feel rendition of this popular standard. Dick Kooman’s The Jogger is a clever mix of classical and jazz with pavement-pounding detached rhythmic patterns driving the piece home.

Congratulations to Flûte Alors! for taking programming risks. Their Bach is more memorable, yet their detours to jazz land are pleasant listening, and crucial to the group’s artistic development.

04 Alex CubaLo Único Constante
Alex Cuba
(healer.alexcuba.com)

Canadian-Cuban multi-instrumentalist, vocalist, composer and producer Alex Cuba (né Alexis Puente) is wearing all of his many hats on his latest superb release, Lo Único Constante (Constantly Unique). The recording is dedicated to the seminal musical artists of Cuba’s “Filin Movement” (including José Antonio Méndez, César Portillo de la Luz and Marta Valdés) who have been a profound influence on Cuba and the development of his own unique style, which embraces not only Afro-Cuban motifs, but also funk, jazz and pop. Cuba, who performs here on acoustic and electric guitars, requinto, Hammond B3, acoustic bass, drums, cajon and vocals, has collaborated with more than a dozen fine musicians to bring this dynamic project to fruition – a project that is focused on the blessed concepts of hope, peace, unity, love and the power of positive change.

The CD opens with the lovely En Mi Guitarra – in the words of Cuba, “a voice found its way into my guitar…giving me power to create beautiful melodies, while controlling my choice of notes and silences.” Sumptuous string lines move effortlessly through the composition – as does Cuba’s equally sumptuous voice. Other highlights include the stirring, syncopated Yo Sé Quién Soy (I Know Who I Am) and the moving Ahora (Now), rendered in pure guitar, voice, strings and minimal percussion. This exceptional recording closes with the compassionate Lagrimas Del Que Llora, which features Josemi Carmona’s stirring flamenco guitar.

It’s not necessary to understand Spanish to resonate with the deep emotional content here, as all meaning is conveyed in the universal language of music, and in the tradition of some of the finest musician-composers that Cuba has every produced – of which Alex Cuba is most definitely one.

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