03 Brass FabulousBrass Fabulous
Jason Rosenblatt & Orkestra Severni
Independent (rachellemisch.com)

Founded in 2009 by trombonist Rachel Lemisch, the Montreal-based Orkestra Severni (Northern Orchestra) performs brass band repertoire of Klezmer, Moldavian and Serbian traditions. Besides their great energetic performances here, what makes their debut release even more exciting is that all 11 tracks are original works rooted in the new Eastern European music genre by composer/pianist/harmonica player Jason Rosenblatt.

Rosenblatt’s compositions embody many styles. The opening Sirba from the three-movement Sirba a la Oscar is driven by fast upbeat rhythms that are always in control. A great effect is having its final cadence resolve into the introduction of the next movement, Hora, a work comprised of more traditional-sounding melodies, rhythms and exquisite dynamic shifts. The striking rhythmic bounces of the silences between the resounding brass shots in the third movement, Freylach, showcase the musicians’ tight ensemble technique. Rosenblatt Kid’s Contra features a descending chromatic line that makes for happy walking music with a carnival feel. Nice style contrast is Chassidic Love Tango, with its traditional tango groove interspersed with brief three-quarter waltz sections. The closing Anshei Brzezan Nign has a lullaby-feel ending with sublime held-piano sounds.

All the accomplished band musicians, along with special guest Ben Holmes (trumpet) play brilliantly. Sound quality is great too. Brass Fabulous lives up to its name. This a spectacular addition to the brass band repertoire, well deserving of lots of fans and of lots of listening hours.

04 DalavaThe Book of Transfigurations
Dálava
Songlines SGL 2408-2 (songlines.com)

About the group Dálava, reviewer Mark Tucker wrote, “… I was both chilled and thrilled by the fusion of avant-garde, ancient, and progressive musics…” After listening to their second album The Book of Transfigurations, released on the Vancouver boundary-crashing Songlines label, I’d have to agree. Dálava’s project crosses and combines several genres, disciplines, generations and continents. At its core is the duo of American vocalist Julia Ulehla and guitarist Aram Bajakian (known for his work with John Zorn and with Lou Reed). Musical and life partners, they perform Moravian folk songs of the 19th and early-20th century transcribed over 100 years ago by Ulehla’s Czech musicologist great-grandfather. The songs are then transfigured through their 21st-century sensibilities, informed by world music, creative jazz and post-rock.

Ulehla is currently working on her PhD researching Moravian song with UBC ethnomusicologist Michael Tenzer. Her scholarship is amply illustrated in the lavish 36-page booklet (including original lyrics with English translations and commentary) and it richly informs Dálava’s interpretations. As for Bajakian, he keeps busy gigging on guitar with other bands, including the American-Hungarian folk/art-rock band Glass House Ensemble.

The duo’s music, while a profoundly personal statement, is also emotionally supported and amplified on the album by leading musicians on the Vancouver creative music scene: cellist Peggy Lee, Tyson Naylor on multi-keys, bassist Colin Cowan and Dylan van der Schyff on drums.

Ulehla and Bajakian have reportedly already made a splash in the Czech Republic with their live interpretations of this material. I predict Dálava’s affective music will gain many more global fans with this release.

01 Jordana TalskyNeither of Either
Jordana Talsky
Independent JT-17-02 (jordanatalsky.com)

Although Neither of Either is the second album released by Jordana Talsky, it feels a little like a debut, since this one is almost exclusively original songs. The Toronto-based singer-songwriter (and lawyer) teamed up with JUNO Award-winning producer, Justin Abedin. It’s a happy collaboration, for although the songs are harmonically and rhythmically straightforward at their heart, the textures added by the arrangements and production lend complexity and richness.

The predominant style of the album is indie-pop but there are touches of jazz and soul throughout, making it an interesting listen. It’s even a little bit country on Ways, which has a hook worthy of any Nashville hitmaker. Sick veers into fist-pumping rock-song territory except it’s done almost all a cappella, which gives it an unusual twist. The techno-tinged Bitter Sweet Heart (co-written with J. Gray) is another standout with its pretty chorus.

Talsky’s voice is warm and appealing – powerful when needed, at times pure and sweet – and her style is refreshingly free of artifice. Her singing and arranging skills really shine on the unaccompanied pieces (like her take on Alanis Morissette’s You Oughta Know, the only cover) where it’s all her – no other singers, no band – and it’s impressive.

02 WillowsTea for Three
The Willows
Flatcar Records FCR-005 (flatcarrecords.com)

There is a plethora of upbeat happy performances in the debut release by the vocal trio The Willows – Krista Deady (contralto), Lauren Pederson (mezzo-soprano, composer/arranger) and Andrea Gregorio (soprano). Their website bios state that they were involved in dance together from childhood, both in their hometown of Edmonton and here in Toronto at Ryerson University’s dance program. A chance public Ryerson music class vocal performance encouraged them to further explore the music world together. They are definitely dancers who can confidently sing with clear diction, colour, pitch, love of life and tight harmonies.

There is nothing really adventurous in the music – all the tracks have Pederson penning the songs either alone or with other composers. Her music is reminiscent of many female vocal trio jazz and ballad styles of past decades, with support from brilliant background musicians. Breakfast in Bed has a great upbeat sing-along melodic hook, while Dear Gussy is a klezmer-flavoured toe-tapping tune. Valentine is a mellower jazz ballad with storytelling lyrics that showcase their vocal nuances. All the string and horn instrumentalists are great, with special mention to George Koller (bass), William Sperandel (trumpet/flugelhorn) and Tom Szczesniak (accordion), and the recording/production teams.

Just like they buoyantly sing the words “never judge a man by his cover” in the closing track Never Judge, don’t judge The Willows by their self-proclaimed different hair colours but instead indulge in their exploration of easy listening jazz.

Tea for Three
The Willows
Flatcar Records FCR-005
(flatcarrecords.com)

There is a plethora of upbeat happy performances in the debut release by the vocal trio The Willows – Krista Deady (contralto), Lauren Pederson (mezzo-soprano, composer/arranger) and Andrea Gregorio (soprano). Their website bios state that they were involved in dance together from childhood, both in their hometown of Edmonton and here in Toronto at Ryerson University’s dance program. A chance public Ryerson music class vocal performance encouraged them to further explore the music world together. They are definitely dancers who can confidently sing with clear diction, colour, pitch, love of life and tight harmonies.

There is nothing really adventurous in the music – all the tracks have Pederson penning the songs either alone or with other composers. Her music is reminiscent of many female vocal trio jazz and ballad styles of past decades, with support from brilliant background musicians. Breakfast in Bed has a great upbeat sing-along melodic hook, while Dear Gussy is a klezmer-flavoured toe-tapping tune. Valentine is a mellower jazz ballad with storytelling lyrics that showcase their vocal nuances. All the string and horn instrumentalists are great, with special mention to George Koller (bass), William Sperandel (trumpet/flugelhorn) and Tom Szczesniak (accordion), and the recording/production teams.

Just like they buoyantly sing the words “never judge a man by his cover” in the closing track Never Judge, don’t judge The Willows by their self-proclaimed different hair colours but instead indulge in their exploration of easy listening jazz.

03 Two RoadsTwo Roads
Julia Seager-Scott
Pipistrelle Music PIP1706 (harpmusic.ca)

In her inaugural solo recording, classically trained local modern pedal harpist Julia Seager-Scott embarks on an adventurous musical journey performing/arranging on two new instruments for her – the Baroque triple harp and the clarsach or traditional Gaelic wire-string harp.

Handel’s Harp Concerto in B-flat Major, third movement, is the only non-arrangement performance here. Seager-Scott writes that she learned this staple of the pedal harp repertoire as a teenager but was thrilled to relearn and record it as originally written for triple harp. Her clear melodic lines against the lower contrapuntal notes are perfect, along with glorious Baroque ornamentation. Equally memorable is her performance of Monteverdi’s Pur ti miro from Poppea, which showcases her confident sense of Baroque tempo and style. Seager-Scott also experiments with improvisation in two tracks with Monteverdi bass lines, as one take in the opening track, and layered takes in Harp Party Improvisation.

Her numerous tracks on clarsach harp of the traditional Irish folk music of Turlough Carolan (also known as O’Carolan) are a welcoming musical contrast to the Baroque music. Planxty Burke/Planxty Drew features an uplifting melody against a toe tapping lilt. Equally memorable is the slower emotional and touching performance of Clergy’s Lamentation.

Production is clear and successfully captures the performer’s musical nuances. The detailed liner notes are informative though the tiny print may be difficult to decipher. Keep listening to the end as a secret track with harp and singing complete Seager-Scott’s multifaceted adventure.

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