2208 Mainly MostlyI first met and heard the painter and singer Laura Marks four or five years back at Lisa Particelli’s singer-friendly jam about which I’ve written before. The first time I heard Marks, my impression was that she had a nice voice but was timid. Since then, one or both of us, her voice or my ears, has matured, probably the latter. Listening more recently, I hear a cool confidence, a clear sense of purpose and an unmistakable character. That character is quaint and charming, introspective and sincere – as is demonstrated clearly on her debut album, 57 Minutes. The album is a Marks-illustrated work (Marks is primarily a visual artist), and it features the instrumental prowess of Chris Gale, Reg Schwager, Mark Kieswetter, Ross MacIntyre and Ben Riley, on sax, guitar, piano, bass and drums, respectively.

Although Marks has only been playing jazz gigs about town for the last eight or nine years, her first public performance as a jazz singer happened in the early 70s at Toronto’s Poor Alex Theatre; her experiences with jazz in private reach even further back. “My dad was a jazz fan so we were exposed very early,” Marks explains. “He met Dizzy Gillespie on an airplane twice. The second time Dizzy said to him, ‘How are you, Mr. Marks?’ He remembered him.”

One of the last tracks on the album is Body and Soul, a standard which all jazz musicians know, but which also happened to be an early influence on Marks: “I used to listen to the jazz programs on radio and when I heard Billie Holiday sing Body and Soul that was it. I started to sing jazz. I remember the moment and where I was in my parents’ house. I think I was 15.”

Marks doesn’t have dazzling, virtuosic chops, but she is and has always been an artist: prone to exploring, and creating, and expressing, relentlessly and endlessly; no exceptions are made behind the microphone. I recommend you go to see her at Jazz Bistro on May 21. There’s something special about her performance, her laid-back sensibility, that aforementioned character. I just love hearing her sing and I suspect you will too.

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

Lately, I have been walking around and humming the melody of You Must Believe in Spring, partially because it’s a nice melody, and partially as a reminder – sometimes it’s easy to forget that warmer days are in fact on their way. As we wait for our little corner of the world to thaw, it may help our collective state of mind if we listened to some music that carries in it echoes of warmer places. Like, for example, South Asia, or West Africa, or the Mediterranean. Such echoes can be found in the lineup of the eclectic So Long Seven, which showcases Neil Hendry on the mandolin and guitar, Tim Posgate on the banjo, Ravi Naimpally on the tabla and the remarkably young (barely out of his teens) William Lamoureux on the violin. With this unusual blend of instruments, and a collective and unmistakable jazz sensibility, So Long Seven’s highly organized, mostly non-hierarchical approach to composition and improvisation constitutes what I would call cross-cultural chamber music.

A year ago – almost to the day, as I write this – the band released their eponymous debut album, a colourful and contemplative work of art, and a formidable effort that will be tough to follow.

Aside from the quality of the music, what captures me about this album is the fact that, from top to bottom, each tune seems to share a goal; this is not just a collection of tracks that will demonstrate the versatility and skill of a band, but a cohesive work that is united by one purpose. What that purpose is, I suppose, up to each individual listener. When the music has no words, it can be tough to pinpoint or articulate these things, even though you may have a strong sense of them. My first instinct would be to call it music to meditate to, but that may be too restrictive since not everyone meditates (and I don’t). I’ll call it music to think to.

My favourite track by far is the one which opens the album, Torch River Rail Company. The introspective and rhythmically driven melody, which rolls like a train over the five-beat pattern that underlies it, maintains its momentum through these almost arbitrary - though definitely not arbitrary - pauses; as Lamoureux takes his bow off the strings, or as the rhythm section freezes, you can almost hear it continue, and you are not the least bit startled when it comes back in. The melody and accompaniment - separately - continue to weave in and out like that, and it’s fascinating to hear.

You’ll have two opportunities to hear So Long Seven in Southern Ontario this month. If you’re in or around Hamilton, you can catch them at Artword Artbar on April 7; if you live closer to Toronto and you aren’t able to get out to Hamilton, you can catch up with them the very next day, April 8, at the Small World Music Centre, a short walking distance from the corner of Dundas and Ossington.

I’ll level with you on this one: while I’m confident that I’ve seen all the footage of them that exists on the Internet, I’ve never seen So Long Seven live. I have a friend who used to invite me to their shows constantly back when they were known as Oolong 7, but it wasn’t until recently that I started to dive into their recorded music. So if I make it out to Hamilton, I’ll be discovering them right alongside you.

I hope to see you there.

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

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.

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.

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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