I really hate the term “world music,” as it’s used today. It seems to me that it oversimplifies things. It lumps music that isn’t familiar to North American ears all in together and calls it foreign and exotic (as though North American is not part of the world). It implies that some musics are worthy of being divided up by genre and closely examined, and some musics aren’t.

With that said, I think jazz, at its best, can rightly be called world music. Jazz has been called a uniquely American art form, but I like to think of it as a music that only gestated in America, but was conceived elsewhere. Loath as I am to oversimplify things, European harmony and African rhythm and melody came together to make this music possible.

As more and more distinct cultures with distinct musical traditions adopted and blended – and continue to adopt and blend – with jazz, it became closer to what I would call an international, or worldly, music than a uniquely American one.

2206- BBB - Mainly Mostly 2.jpgI love listening to jazz musicians who have lived in another country or two. Moving place to place (Place to Place being the title of a Robi Botos album; Botos is a good example of this.), I think, especially if you’ve grown attached to those places and been uprooted, gives one a unique perspective on music. That’s one of the reasons I’m excited to see the Israeli-born and Parisian-raised guitarist Samuel Bonnet doing his first mini tour of Southern Ontario this month, playing dates in Toronto, Guelph, Hamilton and more.

 Bonnet’s music is hard to nail down, because the influences are not only wide-ranging, they are compartmentalized to some degree. He is a formidable classical guitarist; he plays jazz and funk; much of his compositional output reflects a love of traditional Jewish musics; some of his solo works sound like explorative improvisations, others sound like pristine and carefully crafted compositions. These different sides of him can be exposed on various recordings; I recommend Aotefeis, New York Shuffle, and Two Preludes to get an introductory sense of who Bonnet is as a musician and perhaps where it all comes from.

The common thread amongst all of this is a virtuosic skill which enables completely authentic communication; when you listen to Bonnet, there’s no mistaking who you are listening to, or what he’s saying to you.

2206- BBB - Mainly Mostly 1.jpgThere’s one more gig I’d like to mention for now: singers in town – amateur and professionals alike – may be interested in knowing that Renée Yoxon, the crossover jazz-folk-pop etc. singer from Montreal, will be performing and running a vocal workshop at 120 Diner on the afternoon and evening of March 12. The young Yoxon’s voice is clear and precise, the manner of delivery, frank and direct, honest. You may feel as though they are speaking directly to you. Adept at interpreting standards, covering and writing pop songs, scat singing, blending in with horns as though their voice were one, and so on – it seems that taking the opportunity to participate in this workshop would be a wise choice.

 I hope to see you folks in at least one of the clubs, without your winter coats. Happy March! Happy vernal equinox! Be well!

Bob Ben is The WholeNote’s jazz listings editor. He can be reached at jazz@thewholenote.com.

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2205 Mainly MostlyOne of my very favourite Canadian jazz albums is one called Valentina, featuring a quartet led by Italian-Canadian pianist, composer and successful entrepreneur Mario Romano. Romano’s bandmates, including Pat LaBarbera on the sax, Roberto Occhipinti on the bass and Mark Kelso on the drums, support him on his imaginative journey through yet unexplored possibilities of old standards like Green Dolphin Street, A Night in Tunisia and Nardis. Romano revamps these tunes with stretched-out interpretations of the melodies, low-end ostinatos and fun new rhythmic underpinnings that frame the heads in interesting ways (without compromising their integrity).

Valentina (released in 2010) is sometimes cerebral and complex, and sometimes primitive and aggressive, but it is, through and through, riveting and beautiful.

Romano’s playing on the album is astoundingly unrestrained. I can’t speak for anyone’s ears but my own, and this is just speculation, but it sounds to me like after the three-plus decades he spent away from the music scene, he returned with a lot of pent-up creative and physical energy. The result was Valentina; I cannot recommend this album enough.

With the exception of Romano, who has been conspicuously absent from the live scene for a number of years, every member of the quartet that played on Valentina can be found leading their own fine ensembles, and acting as sidemen about town; and each can be heard this month at least once. Kelso will be behind the kit with Rich Brown’s Abeng at The Rex on the February 23 and 24; on February 10 and 11 LaBarbera will be on the same stage with an ensemble featuring Kirk MacDonald as well as drummer Adam Nussbaum (about whom I am especially excited); and Occhipinti will be playing with his own quintet (Luis Deniz, Tim Ries, Dafnis Prieto and Manuel Valera) at Jazz Bistro on February 17 and 18. Coming full circle, in Occhipinti’s case the concert is to celebrate the release of a new CD, Stabilimento, featuring the quintet.

Night School Twilight: Since she was a kid, Chelsea McBride has been writing original music. From when it started with, as she puts it, “messing around with little pop songs,” to the present in which she leads and co-leads at least five ensembles in varying styles and genres, McBride has had a drive to create; not to recreate what’s been done, but to create music that is new, interesting and authentically her own. “My whole thing is original music,” McBride says, “I love doing covers, but it’s not me as an artist and composer.”

This is an endeavour which, for any creative person, is never-ending. It’s one that requires not only curiosity and imagination, but dedication and hard work. A whole lot of hard work.

And that labour bears fruit; Socialist Night School, McBride’s large ensemble project which, for five years, has served primarily as a vehicle for her own composition and arranging, released The Twilight Fall, their first full-length album (their second recorded effort after a short, self-titled EP was released in the spring of 2014) this January, on McBride’s 25th birthday.

The music on The Twilight Fall seems to tell a story. Even though there are some tracks with words (sung by the illustrious Alex Samaras, about whom I have written before), it’s hard to decipher what, exactly, that story is. But it’s there. One song speaks to the next. Universal themes are suggested by the lyrics. Tunes range from the angular and assertive (Intransitory) to the poignant and mellifluous (In Dreams).

Like Valentina, I can’t recommend The Twilight Fall enough. It’s the kind of album that you can’t use as background music. It insists upon the foreground. It’s a time commitment of about an hour, but it will pay off.

You can see Socialist Night School live at The Rex on February 20 at 9pm. I have no way of knowing what the cover charge will be, but just like the time commitment you put into listening to the album and doing nothing else, it will be worth it.

Bob Ben is The WholeNote’s jazz listings editor. He can be reached at jazz@thewholenote.com.

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2204 Mainly MostlyI am not built for the cold. Not only am I unable to handle sub-zero temperatures – I’m also incapable of acclimating to all temperature shifts. Every winter I have this problem, and every winter I don’t know how to solve it: I walk around outside wearing layer upon layer of clothing. I’m talking multiples of everything: I’ve got sweatpants on under my jeans, regular socks on under my thermal socks, and under my sweater is at least one other sweater. And I’m still cold, so I go inside. All of a sudden, I’m frantically stripping off at least three layers of clothing, but by now I’m boiling hot and sweating bullets. It’s my least favourite thing about winter.

My favourite thing about winter, on the other hand, is the irreverent stuff non-Christians do to poke fun at themselves for being the outsiders during the holiday season. One such example is Sam Broverman’s annual engagement, “A Jewish Boy’s Christmas,” happening at Jazz Bistro, in which he pokes gentle fun at the culture and the experience of being Jewish in a Christian-dominated North America. I’ve always known Broverman for his ability to write amusing alternate lyrics to tunes, which seem to work perfectly with the pacing of the tune. The comedic effect is always impeccable. In “A Jewish Boy’s Christmas,” Broverman sings such charming lines as, to the tune of Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas, “Both my thumbs are numb from spinning dreidels / Kiss my gelt goodbye / I’ll be eating frozen latkes till July.” Broverman’s voice is unassuming and conversational. But the palpable relaxation in his sound speaks to his immense skill; singing is hard, and making it look easy is harder still.

You can hear Broverman and his guests (among them, members of the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir, with whom he has served as a chorister, and Whitney Ross-Barris, about whom I have written) at Jazz Bistro on the evening of December 11.

Monk Is Here To Stay

With a vast repertoire from which to draw, a revolving-door-style lineup and a fervent desire to explore, there’s very little risk of Toronto mainstay Monk’s Music going stale. As the name suggests, Monk’s Music is a project dedicated to exploring the music of Thelonious Monk. One of the project’s two co-founders, Dan Gauche, moved to the West Coast. The remaining co-founder, Michael Davidson, is a vibraphonist of remarkable dexterity and wit, whose fascination with Monk’s body of work has led to this weekly ongoing tribute to the jazz piano colossus. Davidson uses elements and trademark gestures of the Monkian style – playing with four mallets, in the tradition of Gary Burton, must help, I imagine, with the idiomatically pianistic phrases and textures he plays with – and he also channels the playful, curious spirit, the sense of humour and whimsy, for which Monk was known.

Monk’s Music, a project that has been happening for about seven years now, plays every Sunday evening, alternating between the Tranzac at 5pm on the first and third Sunday of each month, and the Emmet Ray at 6pm on the second and fourth Sunday of each month. There are no cover charges, and no excuses!

It’s getting really cold out there, friends. Bundle up, but don’t bundle up too much.

Bob Ben is The WholeNote’s jazz listings editor. He can be reached at jazz@thewholenote.com.

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2203 Mainly Mostly 1Nobody in the world sounds like Barry Romberg. On top of the  evident influence from certain prominent drummers of the last 50 years in rock and jazz (I think of Keith Moon and John Bonham, I think of Elvin Jones, I think of Bill Stewart), and on top of the playful way he and the rotating cast of musicians who appear on stage with him will imply and weave in and out of various related tempos and grids, just to keep things interesting, and on top of the sweaty machismo with which he plays the instrument (which should not be mistaken for a lack of subtlety, but it is loud, and if you’re going to sit right at the front you should probably wear earplugs), there is a certain frankness about everything he does. Although it’s often complex, dark, ethereal, innovative, or just weird, it’s always music without pretense. Romberg presents the tunes as tepidly, casually, as would a singer-songwriter with an acoustic guitar at your local coffee house. The titles of the tunes even sometimes offer a hint as to what’s musically going on. He evidently feels that the music will speak for itself, that it requires no air of mystery, nothing to set up the mood.

2203 Mainly Mostly 2Actually watching (forget your ears for a moment) as Romberg plays the drums is a ton of fun. It’s a wonder to behold. His body language tells all that may not already be aurally apparent: when something interesting is happening that he sees fit to play off, his ear will often lean towards the responsible player, like a growing sunflower to the sun. His shirt will often become more visibly saturated with sweat as the night goes on, a tangible measure of how hard he’s been working. His facial expressions range from satisfaction to immense concentration to apparent anger. He hits the drums with almost comical aggression. Before you even hear it, it’s a thrill to watch. I have never heard Romberg play under the “Barry Romberg Group” name – only under other names such as Random Access and Three Blind Mice, so I really don’t know what will be going down at The Rex on the evening of November 27, but I’m certain, to the degree one can be certain of anything, that it’ll be, as an understatement, enjoyable.

The Pilot: Just one other thing before I wish you a merry winter. A few Saturdays ago, I went to The Pilot for the first time. It seems absurd that The Pilot has been showcasing some of the best musicians in the city for every Saturday of my life and then some, without charging a cover, and I hadn’t been until just this season. I didn’t plan to go to The Pilot; I wandered in off the street. When I arrived, the place was packed, with hardly any standing room left anywhere but the patio. The band, which turned out to be the Barry Elmes Quartet, was on a set break, so I took an empty seat right near the playing area (the musicians do not perform on a raised stage) and was eventually overjoyed to find out who I was settling in to hear. Heavy names are constantly showing up in the listings under The Pilot. Names like Barry Elmes, like Neil Swainson, like Ted Quinlan, like Alexis Baro – names that make me want to perpetually book off Saturday afternoons.

I hope to see more of you warming up in the clubs this winter, and I hope you’ll see more of me doing the same!

Bob Ben is The WholeNote’s jazz listings editor. He can be reached at jazz@thewholenote.com.

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2202-MainlyMostly-Photo1.jpgIt could just be my memory showing its fallibility, but I could swear that the first time I ever heard Andrew Downing, the award-winning bassist and cellist, play live, he was leading an ensemble and had directed his drummer to play with butter knives.

Regardless of whether this butter knife memory is based in reality – something which Downing himself can confirm or deny upon reading this – it very easily could be, and might be expected of such an ensemble as his Otterville project (which you can hear on October 26 at Artword Artbar in Hamilton).

The sound and character of this quintet isn’t all that reminiscent, to my ear, of many other notable jazz bands. I hear faint similarities with The Modern Jazz Quartet. Of course, there’s the vibraphone, which they have in common, but more than that, it’s the distinct sense that this is chamber music – music in the same lineage as Western Classical chamber works, music to play at home with friends, music through which people can have a conversation.

The thing I really appreciate about Otterville, and Downing’s compositions for the group, is his refusal – whether the decision is conscious or not – to lean on stock patterns to accompany a set of chord changes and a melody he’s written … not that there’s anything wrong with that!

Each part, from the drums to the cello, is composed specially for that melody, it seems, and in fact, is a part of the melody. A melody which, in every case, is elegant, idiosyncratic, and – you may be surprised to hear – not particularly dissonant.
Sometimes two instruments will pair up, sometimes all five will wander off, but they always sound as a cohesive whole, and an irresistibly charming whole at that.

Lessons from teaching: This August, back when it was still warm outside, I spent a week in Prince Edward County, teaching kids at an arts camp in Picton how to make music with various percussion instruments, their voices, and of course, buckets. I learned a ton from the kids, but I think the number one lesson I learned was not to make assumptions about them or underestimate them.

That lesson came on the first day, when I asked a group of campers to shout out names of artists or genres of music that they liked. I expected answers in the vein of Justin Bieber, Miley Cyrus, etc. And there were those, certainly. And those tastes are completely valid.

But there were also lots of answers I didn’t expect: “Fiddle music,” one camper said, “You know, like jigs and stuff.”

“I like Bob Marley,” another said.

“Lemon Bucket Orkestra,”another still. Wait, what?

2202-MainlyMostly-Photo2.jpgI was just a little taken aback by the fact that the first person to mention Lemon Bucket Orkestra (LBO) – the self-described Balkan-klezmer-gypsy-party-punk-superband – to me since I was invited to go see them three years ago, was not a fully grown person from Toronto, but a child from Picton. But then again, why should I be surprised?

I can’t see why LBO wouldn’t appeal to everyone; in addition to being a well-executed musical performance combining elements of various Eastern European musical traditions with a touch of punk rock (but not so much that it’s inaccessible to those who don’t like punk rock), LBO puts on a dazzling visual performance, including dancing, a certain degree of acting, and outfits which are both figuratively and literally colourful. Theirs is a performance which implicitly but aggressively invites audience participation.

LBO has often made their shows a surprise: they once performed a concert, apparently on a whim, when a flight was delayed; they have set up in the streets of Toronto and played without any heads-up for fans. They draw big crowds and sell out venues fast. It’s no mystery.

They’ll be performing every Wednesday in October, in true LBO fashion, somewhere in Toronto. The venues are not to be announced until the day before. Unfortunately for LBO, however, The Rex – and by extension, The WholeNote – has revealed where the penultimate of their Wednesdays in October series will be held. You can’t buy tickets ahead of time, though, so you may as well go early and line up.

I have been absent from most clubs these last couple of months. I do intend to rectify that. If you see me – the guy in the loud sweater, most likely – at a concert I’ve recommended, I encourage you to recommend another upcoming concert to me. I may like it, write about it here and learn about someone new while there. So on and so on. See you in the clubs.

Bob Ben is The WholeNote’s jazz listings editor. He can be reached at jazz@thewholenote.com.

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