01 Mativetsky RiversRivers
Shawn Mativetsky
Samskara SAM-3 (shawnmativetsky.com)

In his Indiegogo fundraising campaign video, Montreal tabla player Shawn Mativetsky quips that his album Rivers would be the “first album of solo tabla music to be recorded by a Quebecer!”

Bracketted by footage of what appears to be the St. Lawrence River, Mativetsky continued: “This album would be the way to pay tribute to my guru Pandit Sharda Sahai-ji [of the Benares/Varanasi tabla lineage] who truly desired for his family’s tabla tradition to spread around the world, to be enjoyed by all.”

For well over a decade Mativetsky has been “living fully immersed in the world of tabla and Indian classical music,” but it was only last year he finally felt the time had come to release his first traditional solo tabla album.

Rivers is an apt poetic-geographic metaphor for the project. It refers to both Mativetsky’s home St. Lawrence as well as to the mighty Ganges in his adopted Varanasi, India. The cover photographically mashes up a bare snowbound shore with the other shore featuring the ghats of Varanasi, but the two long tracks are truly a one-way “rhythmic journey to Varanasi.”

Mativetsky’s tabla solos are idiomatically accompanied on the bowed dilruba by the veteran Toronto bassist and long-time Hindustani music performer George Koller. They are set in the 16-beat teental, the principal tala (rhythmic cycle) of North Indian classical music.

Koller accompanies the tabla solos with a series of lehras, which are repeated short melodies, providing an aural outline of the tala. Enriching the listening experience, they have wisely chosen lehras in five different ragas, each evoking a distinctive modal and emotional flavour for each tabla section instead of choosing standard practice: a single melody throughout.

The Madhya Laya (medium tempo) track presents fixed tabla compositions, while the Vilambit Laya (slow tempo) track explores the theme-and-variation format with emphasis on improvisation. Mativetsky’s tabla solos in Rivers eloquently reflect his evident dedication to the dynamic, received tradition of Benares style of tabla playing, his own individual spontaneous creativity, as well as his passion for this rich form of music-making.

03 Bach n JazzBach ’n’ Jazz
Flûte Alors!
ATMA ACD2 2745 (atmaclassique.com)

Review

Montreal-based recorder quartet Flûte Alors! mixes Baroque with a splash of jazz in this satisfying release. The four quartet members – Vincent Lauzer, Marie-Laurence Primeau, Alexa Raine-Wright and Caroline Tremblay – are each accomplished musicians. Together, these self-described new-generation recorder players perform with glorious tone, technique and tight ensemble etiquette.

It is not surprising that J.S. Bach’s organ music translates well when arranged for recorder. Both instruments create sound by air/wind movement, and Bach’s strong contrapuntal lines flow on the recorder. Of the six arrangements, most satisfying is group member/arranger Raine-Wright’s take on Concerto in D Minor BWV 596. Her focus on Bach’s flowing lines and contrasting articulations add colour and clearly emulate the organ sound. Of note is the attention-grabbing high-pitch opening note of her arrangement of the Toccata and Fugue in D Minor BMV 565.

Why jazz? Because Flûte Alors! had a café gig and decided to mix Bach with jazz. Their jazz tracks may not be as astounding as their Bach, but this musical experiment is an evolving work in progress. Fly Me to the Moon opens with contrapuntal Baroque flavours leading to a jazzy pleasant swing-feel rendition of this popular standard. Dick Kooman’s The Jogger is a clever mix of classical and jazz with pavement-pounding detached rhythmic patterns driving the piece home.

Congratulations to Flûte Alors! for taking programming risks. Their Bach is more memorable, yet their detours to jazz land are pleasant listening, and crucial to the group’s artistic development.

04 Alex CubaLo Único Constante
Alex Cuba
(healer.alexcuba.com)

Canadian-Cuban multi-instrumentalist, vocalist, composer and producer Alex Cuba (né Alexis Puente) is wearing all of his many hats on his latest superb release, Lo Único Constante (Constantly Unique). The recording is dedicated to the seminal musical artists of Cuba’s “Filin Movement” (including José Antonio Méndez, César Portillo de la Luz and Marta Valdés) who have been a profound influence on Cuba and the development of his own unique style, which embraces not only Afro-Cuban motifs, but also funk, jazz and pop. Cuba, who performs here on acoustic and electric guitars, requinto, Hammond B3, acoustic bass, drums, cajon and vocals, has collaborated with more than a dozen fine musicians to bring this dynamic project to fruition – a project that is focused on the blessed concepts of hope, peace, unity, love and the power of positive change.

The CD opens with the lovely En Mi Guitarra – in the words of Cuba, “a voice found its way into my guitar…giving me power to create beautiful melodies, while controlling my choice of notes and silences.” Sumptuous string lines move effortlessly through the composition – as does Cuba’s equally sumptuous voice. Other highlights include the stirring, syncopated Yo Sé Quién Soy (I Know Who I Am) and the moving Ahora (Now), rendered in pure guitar, voice, strings and minimal percussion. This exceptional recording closes with the compassionate Lagrimas Del Que Llora, which features Josemi Carmona’s stirring flamenco guitar.

It’s not necessary to understand Spanish to resonate with the deep emotional content here, as all meaning is conveyed in the universal language of music, and in the tradition of some of the finest musician-composers that Cuba has every produced – of which Alex Cuba is most definitely one.

01 Marito MarquesNa Eira
Marito Marques
Independent (maritomarques.com)

Review

We are oh so very lucky to have the Portuguese-born percussionist/composer/producer/arranger Marito Marques residing in Toronto now. If you can’t catch him live, his multifaceted talents are showcased on this, his third CD release. His musical sensitivity shines throughout this jazz/pop/PALOP roots music project which features a plethora of 15 international and local world-class performers playing at their very best.

Marques’ most striking talent is his ability to adjust his performance depending on the context. In Dia Chuvoso, his funky rhythms and continuous driving spirit timekeeping are in the forefront yet never overpower the sing-along vocals and instrumentals from the band members. In contrast, the slower ballad-like Rosa features the versatile soaring vocal lines of Senegalese Woz Kaly beside sensitive accordion lines by João Frade while Marques, acoustic guitarist Munir Hossn and bassist Rich Brown provide a subtle backdrop. The aptly titled Bird’s Shadow features flutist Jorge Pardo on rapid warbling lines, held notes and wind duets with accordion, with Marques’ busy drums, percussion and programming setting the mood. Ernie Tollar’s superb bansuri playing is featured in the title track while vocalist/lyricist Yvette Tollar sets the upbeat mood in the more pop/jazz standard-flavoured Scábias.

There is never a dull moment as Na Eira (“the threshing floor”), with artists too many to mention, weave together the traditional with the contemporary, the popular with the folk to create a truly unique listening experience.

02 Rose CousinsNatural Conclusion
Rose Cousins
Old Farm Pony Records OFPR021 (rosecousins.com)

I first heard Halifax-based, singer-songwriter Rose Cousins live at a café in Vancouver (my then home), almost nine years ago. I’d discovered her two days earlier, listening to a CBC Radio broadcast of a concert that had been recorded in Halifax a month before. As I tuned in, I caught this soul-searing voice, mid-song. “Who IS that?” I shouted at the radio. When her name was announced, I immediately googled it, and found out that Cousins was scheduled to play at this café two days later. Talk about timing!

Since then, Cousins has garnered international accolades, won several East Coast Music and Canadian Folk Music awards and a JUNO, and released a variety of CDs and singles. Natural Conclusion, her fourth and latest, full-length album, is a real stunner! Each track displays Cousins’ gifts as a storyteller. Achingly beautiful lyrics are perfectly paired with the emotional intensity of her music. And then there’s her striking voice that simply will transport you.

Freedom is an evocative take on letting go, knowing it comes with loss and heartbreak. Cousins calls it a “wreckoning.” White Flag and Lock and Key might make you cry – a common reaction to much of her affecting work. Cousins’ response to the teary-eyed? “You’re welcome.”

Rose Cousins is the real McCoy: a songwriter’s songwriter; an open-hearted troubadour; a gracious collaborator who consistently works with some of the best in the biz. Natural Conclusion is testament to all that. A truly authentic voice, this rose is on the rise!

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