01 Kate McGarryThe Subject Tonight is Love
Kate McGarry; Keith Ganz; Gary Versace
Binxtown Records (katemcgarry.com)

With their debut trio recording, vocalist/composer Kate McGarry, guitarist/bassist Keith Ganz and pianist/accordionist Gary Versace have realized a project that has been in preparation for more than a decade. Friendship, love and creativity propel this ensemble. McGarry and Ganz are life partners, and Versace has been a close friend and musical collaborator to both. The trio act as producers/arrangers here, exploring the many facets of love with both original and venerable material, perfectly synthesized through McGarry’s uniquely cinematic musical perspective.

The CD opens with the title track, which features a brief poem from the 14th-century Persian poet and mystic Hafiz, underscoring McGarry’s belief that “love is the sub-stratum of all things.” The music for the brief, stark, spacey piece was actually improvised over the theme of Ganz’ arrangement of the standard Rodgers and Hart classic, My Funny Valentine (which is gorgeously rendered in full on the CD by McGarry).

A delightful inclusion is Sammy Fain’s Secret Love, positioned here as the polar opposite of the familiar Doris Day version – capturing an innocence and purity of first love, and featuring a sumptuous and agile guitar solo as well as seamless transitions from straight ahead, to a lilting bossa and back again. Equally wonderful is the trio’s take on the rarely performed Benny Golson/Kenny Durham tune Fair Weather. McGarry’s effortless, pitch-perfect and thoroughly gorgeous voice belongs in the rarified company of Julie London and Irene Kral. The ideal bookend to this skillfully crafted, uplifting CD is the Lennon and McCartney hit, All You Need is Love – delivered with a fresh, second-line feel.

02 Lemon Bucket OrchestraIf I Had the Strength
Lemon Bucket Orkestra
Independent (lemonbucket.com)

Following up on its 2015 JUNO Award-nominated album Moorka, Toronto’s “Balkan-klezmer-gypsy-party-punk” Lemon Bucket Orkestra weaves a narrative that runs throughout its new record’s 11 titles. The through line is based on an old Slavic prison ballad about a rebel returning home.

Covering a wide emotional range, the theatrically presented songs and instrumentals – several infused with the 12-musician band’s furiously fast dance-friendly energy – also reflect the musicians’ personal experiences on the ground during the recent Ukraine-Russia conflict. LBO leader Mark Marczyk explained in a recent press release, “If I Had the Strength is … about coming home, about never being the same, about the parts of ourselves we lose, the parts we gain, and about the prisons we inhabit or that inhabit us.”

The album also echoes aspects of LBO’s immersive musical theatre work Counting Sheep. In 2016 The Guardian reviewer Mark Fisher dubbed it as “the polyphonic protest show that puts you inside Kiev’s Maidan. Using folk singing, found footage and a revolutionary interactive staging, Marichka Kudriavtseva and Mark Marczyk’s ‘guerrilla folk opera’ throws Edinburgh audiences into the heart of the Ukrainian struggles.”

LBO once again draws inspiration from the deep well of Eastern European folklore for If I Had the Strength, primarily from Ukrainian traditions. Guest soloists include Canadian diva Measha Brueggergosman, Montreal-based rapper Boogat, and on the moving concluding track Peace, Toronto’s Choir! Choir! Choir!. They effectively broaden the aesthetic range and audience appeal of this gripping new album.

04 Yuz YuzeYüz Yüze
Independent (ihtimanska.com)

World music fans (and the rest of us too) are in for a big treat as saxophonist Ariane Morin and accordionist/pianist Yoni Kaston perform duets based on Bulgarian and Turkish folk and urban music. Both are superstar instrumentalists who together make unique, colourful, uplifting sounds.

The Montreal-based Ihtimanska duet clearly understands the music they are interpreting, making their arrangements so exciting. Morin plays her virtuosic lines clearly while constantly listening and reacting to Kaston’s shifting rhythms, long accordion drones and lead lines. Bourgasko horo is a traditional Bulgarian tune from the Black Sea. The fast toe-tapping opening leads to a slower section, closing with a faster accordion and saxophone interchange with touches of jazz sounds sneaking in with the held accordion notes and sax flourishes. Thracian Bulgarian choral piece Brala Moma Rhuza Cvete is given a Baroque-flavoured rendition, as Kaston’s well-suited accordion harmonic progressions and melodies are performed with great phrasing and supported by sax embellishments. A highlight is the traditional Bulgarian Thracian Racenitsa with its shifting rhythms, breathtaking rapid sax lines, and great dialogue between accordion and sax. Kaston’s piano stylings on three tracks add almost popular flavours, while vocalist Brenna MacCrimmon is a welcome guest with her clear lyrical voice and intonation on two tracks.

So much work, effort, understanding, respect and fun has gone into this captivating, uplifting release. Great work by great musicians!

05 So Long SevenKala Kalo
So Long Seven
Independent SLS02 (solongseven.com)

Formed a few years ago, So Long Seven is a Toronto music collective comprised of Neil Hendry (guitars), Tim Posgate (banjo, bass guitar), William Lamoureux (violin, other strings) and Ravi Naimpally (tabla, other percussion). Individually they’re among Canada’s leading instrumentalists on their respective instruments and chosen music genres. As a group they share a common mission. “We all love music. We often play and compose for each other with great mutual respect, trying to challenge, push and inspire each other,” reflects Posgate. He also makes a point of pointing to the diverse influences on group members spanning not only cultures, “but generation too – they cover four decades in age, with a member in each (20s, 30s, 40s and 50s).”

Their sophomore album Kala Kalo reflects that democratic spirit of sharing. Each musician has contributed two or more compositions – plus they leave each other plenty of room to stretch out in fluent, expressive solos. The album’s 11 tracks feature numerous influences from many worlds of music. There is an overlying feeling, however, of collective music-making throughout the album, underscored by loose a cappella choruses on several tracks.

By the way, the invented phrase Kala Kalo translates as “black” in both Hindi and Romani respectively; the album is dedicated to those black sheep who have been marginalized and ostracized personally or politically. Whether you self-identify as a black sheep or not, my bet is that you will feel a warm welcome in the imaginative musical world presented on this disc.

Listen to 'Kala Kalo' Now in the Listening Room

06 Mi MundoMi Mundo
Brenda Navarrete
Alma Records ACD92972 (almarecords.com)

The auspicious opening salvo from classically trained, Cuban-born vocalist, composer and percussionist Brenda Navarrete is a scintillating, sweeping journey into Afro-Cuban music and mysticism (inseparable in Afro-Cuban culture). The fine CD was produced by first-call bassist Peter Cardinali (founder of Toronto’s Alma Records) and expertly recorded in Havana, Cuba by noted, multiple award-winning engineer, John “Beetle” Bailey. Navarrete’s stellar lineup includes Horacio “El Negro” Hernandez, Rodney Barreto and Jose Carlos on drums; Roberto Carcasses, Rolando Luna and Leonardo Ledesman on piano; Alain Pérez on bass; Adonis Panter on quinto and Eduardo Sandoval on trombone.

Navarrete first garnered international attention as a vocalist in the red-hot, global Cuban sensation Interactivo. As well as creating and performing the CD’s complex vocals, Navarrete also composed the majority of the material, and performs masterfully on bata and congas (for which she describes her training as more of a “street classroom”). Every track is a gem, but of particular luminescence is Baba Elegguá, on which ancient vocal call and response and intricate percussion invoke the world’s first music – enhanced by multi-layered, perfect vocals, this song generates a trancelike state, which is also imbued with generational reverence.

Also wonderful are Rumbero Como Yo, a fantastic, elemental web of Rhumba rhythms, targeting a place of awareness that is both deeply sensual and spiritual, and the enchanting Drume Negrita, which features exquisite harmonica work from Josué Borges Maresma. Navarette (who listened and absorbed everything from Ella to Billie) also gives us her take on Cachita by Rafael Hernández Marin, a joyous celebration of classic Cuban musical form, in the tradition of the immortal Celia Cruz.

01 Lenka LichtenbergMasaryk – Národni Pisnē: Czech, Moravian and Slovak Folk Songs Reimagined
Lenka Lichtenberg
ARC Music EUCD2751 (lenkalichtenberg.com)

Is there a new wave of interest in Czech folk music among Canadian-based musicians? Two recent albums suggest so. In the last issue of The WholeNote I reviewed The Book of Transfigurations, an album of Moravian songs originally transcribed by Julia Ulehla’s Czech musicologist great-grandfather, reimaged by the group Dálava. Casting the folk music net geographically wider, in Masaryk: Národní Písně, Czech-born Toronto-based singer-songwriter Lenka Lichtenberg presents an album of Slovak, Czech and Moravian songs. She enriches them with her 21st-century world music aesthetic.

Drawing on the important songbook Národní Písně (Songs of the Nation) by Czech musician and diplomat Jan Masaryk (1886-1948), Lichtenberg and Czech musician Tomas Reindl have fashioned imaginative arrangements of 14 songs. European folk instruments such as the cimbalom, kantele and bagpipes join standard orchestral instruments in their elaborate charts, firmly placing these songs in a European context. Interestingly, Reindl’s gentle tabla playing on several songs and the didgeridoo on another serve to shift those songs’ focus slightly from the Czech lands, rendering them more universal. The album was recorded in studios in the Czech Republic and in Toronto, further underscoring its internationality.

The award-winning Lichtenberg’s unaffected vocals soar over the acoustic instrumentals, often overdubbing herself with characteristic regional harmonies. Like Ulehla, Lichtenberg has a family relationship to these songs: she grew up singing some of them.

The entire album, obviously a product of great care and love, rewards multiple listens.

Listen to 'Masaryk – Národni Pisnē: Czech, Moravian and Slovak Folk Songs Reimagined' Now in the Listening Room

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