02 KUNEKUNÉ – Canada’s Global Orchestra
KUNÉ
The Royal Conservatory 8088909562 (rcmusic.com/performance/KUNE)

Launched last year as the New Canadian Global Music Orchestra, the Toronto ensemble self-described as “Canada’s Global Orchestra” has recently been gifted with a name change. Rebranded KUNÉ, it has produced an ambitious eponymous debut album as its calling card. KUNÉ means “together” in Esperanto, the most widely spoken constructed language in the world. With one of its core tenets being “to foster harmony between people from different countries,” it’s an apt language with which to succinctly express the raison d’être of this multicultural musical group.

The ensemble consists of 13 virtuoso Canadian resident musicians each with deep roots in a different country’s music and language, plus Métis fiddler and singer Alyssa Delbaere-Sawchuk. Under the skilled artistic direction of the JUNO Award-winning trumpeter, composer and “cultural inventor” David Buchbinder, this album is the first permanent record of KUNÉ’s “journey to create a band that looks and sounds like Canada today.”

The opening track features Delbaere-Sawchuk’s suite We Met in Tkaranto. Locating the band’s project firmly on native land, the track twigs us to the multi-border-crossing musical journey ahead. Delbaere-Sawchuk’s confident fiddling at first welcomes the listener to what sounds like familiar Celtic territory. It’s only when the kora, sitar and other world instruments enter that we realize that this album aims to add layer to multicultural musical layer.

To detail the vast range of musical and cultural influences, instruments and music genres traversed in the album’s 14 tracks is impossible to do succinctly – let alone to adequately assess the artistic and cultural resonances generated. I won’t hesitate however to state that repeated listening will gradually reveal plenty of music to explore for the globally curious sonic traveller. They will find both musical riches and a worldview-affirming transcultural harmony.

03 Near EastNear East
Near East Trio (Ravi Naimpally; Demetri Petsalakis; Ernie Tollar)
Independent NE001 (neareasttrio.com)

This excellent album is like an elegant railway system linking jazz, folk, Hindustani, Mediterranean and Middle Eastern music, which all seems to come together in an elegant 21st-century conservatoire. But to describe it as such might also give the impression of overcooking when in fact it is a masterpiece of subtlety. Ernie Tollar’s reeds and woodwinds are an exotic take on the lineage of the cool spacey music of an Indian durbar and the moist echo of a Turkish bath. The exotic atmospherics come from the flute, albeit in a less than conventional setting, even as Tollar summons breathy woody tones from the instrument. These float benignly over the sound of Demetri Petsalakis’ lutes, which in turn add a rich harmonic foundation to the music.

Meanwhile the regal rumble of Ravi Naimpally’s tabla makes for a hypnotic trance-like beat. The surprises when they come on songs such as Cairo and Muzafir are effective but discreet: a gamelan-like riff is played as pizzicato harmonics; a delicate curlicue of a bass drum line underpins what sounds like a Gaelic lament played on the flute; and a close-knit ensemble passage on Muzafir develops from a single phrase. That said, there are moments throughout when the trio loosens just enough to let the individual instrumental personality through, as when a soaring ney flute emerges imparting a mystical tinge, or a lyra solo arises from the relentless cycles conjuring the otherworldliness of this music.

04 Heavyweights BrassThis City
Heavyweights Brass Band
Lulaworld Records (heavyweightsbrassband.com)

The uplifting, toe-tapping, impressive playing of the Heavyweights Brass Band in their third release has the band live up to its name with great, diverse musical sounds. The five members – John Pittman (trumpet), Chris Butcher (trombone), Paul Metcalfe (tenor saxophone), Tom Richards (tuba/keyboard/trombone) and Lowell Whitty (drums/percussion) – are each brilliant in any role from soloist, to backup support, to improvisers, to astute group musicians, to composer/arrangers. This time they travelled to New Orleans to record in the city of their inspiration, collaborating with special guests from both there and Toronto.

The eight tracks blast with wide-ranging styles and influences. Richards’ Two Foot Ticket is an intriguing mix of low tuba lead line contrasted by higher pitched horns sections and a smart solo by guest guitarist Kevin Breit. I love guest Roger Lewis’ Roger’s Intro, with its wailing baritone sax leading into Metcalfe’s get-up-and-boogie funky dance tune Dance Out On The Corner. There’s a refreshing, almost laid-back yet fun feel in the Metcalfe arrangement of Stevie Wonder’s hit Tell Me Something Good. Another change of pace is guest vocalist Jackie Richardson soaring through Pittman’s at times almost folk music arrangement of Steve Earle’s This City.

Great to hear the Heavyweights evolving both in the to-be-expected brass band funk/Latin/jazz/R&B tradition and taking on the challenges of covers, different styles and working with special guests. All of which makes for dancing and listening hurrahs.

05 ZimbamotoTambai
Zimbamoto
Independent (zimbamoto.com)

Tony Montague, music journalist for the Georgia Straight and ROOTS, wrote, “Zimbamoto is the most exciting band playing African music to emerge on the West Coast for too many years.” Based on the evidence on Tambai, I have to agree.

Led by lead singer, mbira, and marimba player Kurai Mubaiwa, his band Zimbamoto’s sound and energy firmly rooted in the exhilarating traditional and contemporary melodies and rhythms of Zimbabwe and surrounds. Having played the mbira since childhood in his native Zimbabwe, Mubaiwa has in the last 20 years established himself as a leading mbira/marimba musician and teacher. He has toured internationally with musicians like Cesária Évora, Chiwoniso Maraire and Vusi Mahlasela. His group Zimbamoto sings in Shona and plays with an Afrobeat sensibility. The band’s drive is firmly anchored by Curtis Andrews’ deeply West African informed and tonally-inflected drum kit playing. Vancouver guitarist Mark Campbell, bassist Greg Valou and percussionist/singer Navaro Franco round out this adept band.

The lyrics of this exhilarating ten-song album explore Mubaiwa’s experiences growing up in Zimbabwe. I love the moments when a song switches to cut time, as on the outstanding track Asila Mali. Other beautiful musical moments of note: harmonically textured and contrapuntal vocal response choruses, striking reggae moments, and every time a countermelody or response chorus confidently strides across the prevailing 6/8 feel.

Mubaiwa chose a Shona word for “dance” for the title of Zimbamoto’s debut album and I for one can’t stop moving to this infectious and well-crafted music.

06 Robi BotosOld Soul
Robi Botos; Larnell Lewis; Mike Downes; Seamus Blake
A440 Entertainment (robibotos.com)

This new release by Robi Botos, a multi-instrumentalist, composer and two-time JUNO Award winner, is personal and frank, an ode to life experiences. In his liner notes Botos explains the inspiration behind each song – a tribute to his hometown of Budapest and a childhood musician friend, a journey from Europe to North America, a favourite standard and a salutation to a tune by Prince. Recorded in one day, off the floor, this album truly keeps up with a centuries-old tradition of joyful music-making.

Although a mixed bag of styles (jazz, funk, Motown, gospel, Romani folk), each tune is very much played in Botos’ style – groovy, grand, upfront and authentic. Musicians on this record are exceptional and the esprit de corps is compelling. Robi Botos plays several instruments, including a lesser-known harpejji (electrical stringed instrument), but it is the magnetism of his piano solos that is the most captivating. Out of five original tunes, Budapest has the most nostalgic feel and Old Soul brings forth many of the musical traditions that influenced Botos in his career. Praise, a musical poem on being grateful, has the most mesmerizing piano motif that grabs you from the beginning and doesn’t let go. The album concludes with a tribute to Prince. Calhoun Square is a funky, full-bodied piece, with wild solos and rhythms.

Skillfully crafted, emotionally intelligent, this record is distinguished by its heartfelt tunes and first-rate musicianship.

Back to top