01 Curious Bards(Ex)Tradition
The Curious Bards
Harmonia Mundi HMN 906105 (thecuriousbards.com)

Hands up, those organizing an Irish ceilidh or Scottish Burns Night. Look no further for your music. These pieces were performed for the most part in the 18th century and what emerges is a highly individual blend. The Curious Bards received formal training in Baroque musical instruments. They have gone on to apply their expertise – and such instruments as the viola da gamba – to perform Irish and Scottish music which has emanated from a variety of sources.

The Curious Bards start with three Scottish reels collected by Robert Bremner in 1757: see if your guests can keep up with the raw energy of The Lads of Elgin! The Irish are not to be dissuaded, with their own opening trio. While some pieces are more melancholic than their Scottish counterparts, The High Road to Dublin displays the spirited quality of the works of Ireland’s renowned bard Carolan.

The most imaginative arrangements on the CD must be the Highland Battle. Just as other Renaissance composers, for example, Byrd and Susato, set the sounds of a battle to music, so the Caledonian Pocket Companion of 1750 conveys the battle via flute and violin, even down to the mournful Lamentation for the Chief.

And so the jigs and reels continue (not least the Reel of Tulloch), enough for an evening’s Irish and Scottish celebrations. This choice by Baroque-trained musicians is strange, but it should not deter anyone. There is a crispness to the interpretations, which that very training brings out.

02 Margaret HerlehyRosewood Café
Margaret Herlehy
Big Round Records BR8950 (bigroundrecoreds.com)

In Rosewood Café, a small band of Latin jazz performers, fronted by an oboe of all things, presents a sweet collection of songs in the South American popular idiom. Oboist Margaret Herlehy has a lively sense of rhythm and phrase. She matches well with the more typical elements of a Latin jazz combo: drums, guitar and piano.

The CD title gives a good indication of one likely market for this product: it’s exactly the sort of fresh sound one might hear for the first time over a latté in the local coffee haunt, played slightly below the surrounding murmur of conversation and clicking of laptop keyboards. One approaches the server to inquire and one sees that it does indeed feature the oboe in this atypical mix, and one revisits one’s sense of what exactly the oboe can or should do. It’s lovely to hear the pairing of oboe and flute racing to the finish of track six, Diabinho maluco by Jacob do Bandolim, the only really uptempo cut on the collection, by.

Apart from the final track, Astor Piazzolla’s Café 1930, the composers featured are fairly unknown to the non-aficionado of popular Latin music, and in spite of a promise of an online listing, neither the disc nor the website provide any great detail about them. Interesting to note that the one most often featured is Brazilian guitarist Celso Machado, who lives, according to Google, in British Columbia.

Listen to 'Rosewood Café' now in the Listening Room

03 Jeremy DutcherWolastoqiyik Lintuwakonawa
Jeremy Dutcher
Independent jd003 (jeremydutcher.com)

Jeremy Dutcher is a multi-gifted artist who also expresses his humanity as an activist and musicologist. Dutcher is a member of the Tobique First Nation in New Brunswick, and he began this remarkable project by transcribing Wolastoq songs from vintage 1907 wax cylinders at the Canadian Museum of History in Halifax. The voices and souls of Dutcher’s people reached out to him through those cylinders, which were rife with unfamiliar songs and lore.

The 11 deeply moving compositions on this CD are the result of Dutcher’s “collaboration” with those ancestral voices, as well as his almost classical piano approach and dynamic vocal instrument. Each track is also enhanced and integrated with Wolastoq spoken word and singing that was preserved on those cylinders. Dutcher has surrounded himself here with a scintillating wall of sound, including himself on piano and vocals, Devon Bate on electronics and an array of strings, brass and percussion – all the voices of a classical orchestra. He has said that he is doing this remarkable work in part because there are only about 100 Wolastoqey speakers left, and “It’s crucial for us to make sure that we’re using our language and passing it on to the next generation.”

In the initial track, Mehcinut/Death Chant, Dutcher’s voice soars in power, strength and purity, moving contiguously with the voice from a wax cylinder recording. Other stunning compositions include Ultestakon/Shaker Lullaby, which has a simply gorgeous melody and sonorous percussion that evokes a comforting heartbeat; and also Love Song, which is arranged with angelic and complex vocals that act as sonic waves of uplifting awareness and oneness.

04 MazID
MAZ
Bleu 44 BLEUCD-4445 (mazworld.ca)

Montreal group MAZ has many accolades under their belt. With this, their third album, there should be many more to come as the group tastefully takes Québécois traditional music in a new direction, as the group self-describes, “in a flow of trad, jazz and electro.”

Each member is a superb performer/composer. Leader/electric guitarist/banjoist Marc Maziade plays and sings with confidence and originality. His opening zippy clear vocals in the traditional tune La guenille foreshadow what the future tracks will bring, with a fast-driving bass groove by Hugo Blouin, great fiddling by Pierre-Olivier Dufresne, and Roxane Beaulieu on keyboards. The rest are original tunes which feature interesting style developments. Love the club dance feel of Projet 4, as a touch of folk is supported by solid low-end bounce and electro music. Le fléau moves at a nice walking pace as traditional music is modernized with a nice accelerando, bouncy melody, instrumental solos and closing squeaks. Le cercle dives into more contemporary sounds with its larger interval leap melodic lines, multi-rhythms and quasi-atonal harmonic changes. The fun upbeat closing of ID 4/4 – reel du chemin moves subtly from pop vocals and grooves to a more traditional reel so we can all remember where their music came from!

MAZ members are so respectful of each other that the multi-genre styles they are transforming and combining never feel contrived and produce fresh, accessible, inventive Québécois world music.

05 Jordan OfficerThree Rivers
Jordan Officer
Spectra Musique SPECD-7866 (spectramusique.com)

Perhaps like many outside of Quebec, I first discovered guitarist Jordan Officer by way of his association with vocalist Susie Arioli. First impacted by the authenticity of his guitar playing and by how deeply he had drunk from the well of Charlie Christian, Carl Kress and Django Reinhardt, Officer established a high bar of excellence for guitarists in Canada, playing meaningfully and without unnecessary sentimentality in what I might describe as “roots” music; a performative style that foregrounds acoustic timbres, period-piece instruments and non-digitally mediated sounds to conjure up a place and space of yesteryear.

Said commitment continues here on Three Rivers, but, like many broad musical thinkers, Officer is now beyond genre in his approach. While there are clear flourishes of jazz throughout, this recording is an expansive musical undertaking that employs the blues, country, a connection to hymns, and gospel singing with whimsically expressive lyrics scattered throughout. It sounds like a road album or a travelogue with sights and sounds, all quintessentially American, created sonically or in the mind’s eye. I was not familiar with Officer as a singer before this recording, but am not surprised to discover that he is talented, expressive and, most of all, musical in his delivery. This is a thoroughly enjoyable recording, both musically and sonically, and one that should earn Officer heightened accolades and fans.

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