01 French Moments Trio NeaveFollowing their 2016 release American Moments, featuring music of Foote, Korngold and Bernstein, the Neave Trio returns with an enchanting new disc entitled French Moments – Fauré, Debussy, Roussel (Chandos CHAN 10996 chandos.net). Formed in 2010 the trio is comprised of a American violinist (Anna Williams), a Russian cellist (Mikhail Veselov) and a Japanese pianist (Eri Nakamura). Based in the United States, they are currently on faculty of the Longy School of Music of Bard College as Alumni Artists, Faculty Ensemble in Residence. French Moments features youthful works by Albert Roussel (1869-1937) and Claude Debussy (1862-1918) along with one of Gabriel Fauré’s (1845-1924) final works. Roussel’s Trio, Op.2 opens the disc with a barely perceptible rocking motif, waves gently reaching the shore, and gradually grows and swells into rollicking melodies and dramatic chiaroscuro. It was composed in 1902 while Roussel was still a student at the Schola Cantorum.

The charming Piano Trio in G Major was composed in 1880, begun when Debussy was just 17. At the time he was travelling as tutor and accompanist with the family of Tchaikovsky’s patroness Nadezhda van Meck. In her correspondence with Tchaikovsky she mentions Debussy’s criticism of German music as being “too heavy and unclear.” Although the trio does not have the impressionist sensibility for which his music would later be known, it “bears out this preference for lightness and clarity.”

Fauré had retired from a lifetime of teaching at the Paris Conservatoire two years before he wrote his Trio in D Minor, Op.120 and at the time complained to his wife that “The trouble is that I can’t work for long at a time. My worst tribulation is a perpetual fatigue.” This is not evident in the music itself however, which is full of life. A somewhat melancholy opening quickly dissipates into rising melodies and gently soaring spirits within the minor key context. There are moments of turmoil along the way, but the trio ends joyously in a lively scherzo-like finale.

The Neave Trio is in fine form throughout, obviously thoroughly at home in this repertoire. It is easy to see why they continue to receive glowing praise wherever they perform. As part of its mission to “create new pathways for classical music and engage a wider audience,” the Neave Trio champions new works and frequently collaborates with artists of all mediums, participating in multiple award-winning productions with dance companies and filmmakers. Evidently “Neave” is a Gaelic name meaning “bright” and “radiant” – an apt moniker for this shining ensemble.

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02 VC2The February 2018 issue of The WholeNote featured an intriguing cover showing two young men seemingly playing hockey with carbon fibre cellos, and an extended article about the cello duo VC2 comprised of Amahl Arulanandam and Bryan Holt (vc2celloduo.com). Sara Constant’s interview with the pair included discussion of their project Beethoven’s Cellists, which has now borne fruit in the form of a compact disc of the same name. The premise is that Beethoven’s colleagues were responsible for a number of design innovations for both cello and bow that have had a lasting influence on the instrument. Of particular note was Bernhard Romberg, and the disc opens with VC2’s very effective transcription for two cellos of Romberg’s Sonata No.1 in E Minor, Op.38. But the meat of the project is a number of newly commissioned works funded by Shauna Rolston Shaw, based in some way on Beethoven’s own writing for cello. The works featured on this disc are by Canadian composers Andrew Downing, Raphael Weinroth-Browne, Fjola Evans, Matt Brubeck and Hunter Coblentz, and draw respectively on Beethoven’s sonatas one through five. All of the composers are accomplished cellists and so the music is very idiomatic, but that’s about where the similarity ends. Each has a very different style and approach to the challenge and the offerings really do run the gamut. Very exciting and innovative additions to the cello repertoire performed with panache!

Listen to 'Beethoven's Cellists' Now in the Listening Room

03 MeitarI have often mentioned my connection with New Music Concerts and the fabulous opportunity it has provided for meeting internationally renowned composers and musicians. Last year our season began with the presentation of the Meitar Ensemble of Tel Aviv performing works of Israeli composers and of their French, now Canadian, composer-in-residence Philippe Leroux. Another composer who has an ongoing relationship with the ensemble is the Boston-born Amos Elkana, who grew up in Jerusalem before returning to the USA at the age of 20 for studies at Berklee School of Music and the New England Conservatory. He later studied in Paris before finishing an MFA at Bard College, NY. The album Tripp, which features chamber and solo works by Elkana performed by members of Meitar, has been released on Albany Records (TROY1718 amoselkana.com). Elkana’s music is, for the most part, abstract. For instance, the title piece is based on a series of numbers which is used as a fractal to generate the structure and the proportions within it, so that “the macro and micro levels have the same proportions. Exactly as it is in fractal geometry where zooming into a part of the whole reveals that it looks exactly like the whole. While searching for a title I googled the number series… and a zip code of a small town in South Dakota came up… Tripp.” None of this is evident to the listener, however, and we are presented with a challenging and contrasted work where each of the flute, clarinet, violin, cello and piano and various combinations thereof are featured in turn.

This is followed by an intriguing work for solo violin and computer called Reflections. The computer, acting like a very sophisticated looping device, records the live violin performance and plays back and layers various segments at specified moments of the work through four speakers placed next to the performer on stage. The violin sounds are rarely processed and in most instances are hard to distinguish from the live performance. The effect is at times that of an ensemble of live violins playing in intricate counterpoint. It is very effectively achieved by Meitar violinist Yael Barolsky, to whom it is dedicated. The other works are for solo piano, solo clarinet, cello and electronics (recorded and processed spoken word), solo flute, and a minimalist celesta solo. An intriguing collection of smaller works by an internationally acclaimed composer whose orchestral scores have been performed by the Berlin, Israel, Slovak Radio and Jerusalem Symphony Orchestras, as well as the Warsaw Philharmonic.

I recently read an article about the return of vinyl records and their sensual appeal – the physical pleasure of removing the large disc from its sleeve, the visceral appeal of dropping the needle onto the colourful vinyl platter, the warmth of the analog sound – and more or less dismissed it out of hand. I still have a functioning turntable, and several thousand LPs taking up space in my basement (and several dozen in more or less regular rotation in my living room), but I am not averse to digital technology. I don’t miss the clicks and pops so prevalent on vinyl recordings and I appreciate the high-end clarity of compact discs, and the convenient size and packaging of CDs. I suppose I will eventually come around to the convenience of streaming and download technology, especially as space becomes even more of an issue in my modest house – it’s already near the threshold – but I still prefer the full spectrum response of my stereo system over anything that my computer speakers or ear-buds can reproduce. 

04 Jonas BonnettaThat being said, it actually was a pleasure to open a parcel recently from singer/songwriter Jonas Bonnetta, driving force behind the folk-rock band Evening Hymns, and find a limited edition white vinyl copy of his latest project, All This Here (jonasbonnetta.bandcamp.com). It is lush, quiet and gentle music, to my ear reminiscent of Brian Eno’s ambient compositions of the late 1970s of which I was quite fond. So when combined with the technology, the music provided quite a pleasant nostalgic mood. And I was surprised to find how I was drawn in by the expanse of white revolving on the turntable, and by the fact that there were, at least thus far, no distracting surface flaws. Parts of the music were originally composed for the film Strange and Familiar: Architecture of Fogo Island produced by Site Media and we find pieces with titles such as Deep Bay, Fogo, Island Harbour, Little Fogo and Joe Batt’s Arm. Bonnetta combines subtle field recordings with haunting instrumental lines performed by Anne Müller (cello) and Mika Posen (violin), providing piano, synthesizer and electronics himself. It is a wonderfully warm and relaxing listening experience that I highly recommend. And by the way, the LP comes with a digital download card for those who prefer convenience.

05 Jason DoellProjecting a similar aesthetic, although coming from a different background, Jason Doell’s debut CD “…amid the cannon’s roar,” (jasondoell.com) presents a series of interrelated chamber and solo pieces which explore “the tensions of being a Canadian settler artist who has inherited the brutal legacy of the British colonial project.” Featuring mid-career artist Rob Macdonald on guitar, junctQín keyboard collective, and some of Toronto’s finest young musicians – pianist/harpsichordist Wesley Shen, flutist Sara Constant, violinist Aysel Taghi-Zeda and cellist Amahl Arulanandam – the album includes the works “Our Lovèd Dominion Bless…,” “…we’ll do deeds to follow on our words…,” “And let our Empire be” and “…long to reign over us…” separated by three interludes called “casualties.” Neither the physical package nor the information sheet on the composer’s website give more detail about the concept of the album or the source material. The cover art – black and white representations of fireworks – in conjunction with the title, would seem to suggest some bombastic aspect to the music, but in fact it is something of the opposite of that: slow and contemplative in what I have come to think of as the “Arraymusic School” as reflected in the work of composers such as Linda Catlin Smith, Martin Arnold and John Mark Sherlock.

Within this context, this is very thoughtful and introspective music, but there’s obviously a programmatic aspect here that notes would have helped to elucidate. That being said, Doell, who was the recipient of the 2014 Toronto Emerging Composer Award, has found his own unique voice and this disc provides a welcome introduction to his vision.

Doell is currently the operations manager of Continuum Contemporary Music, an organization also known for fostering emerging composers. As we find out later on in this issue in Ted Parkinson’s review of the new Toronto Jazz Orchestra CD, Continuum’s former manager Josh Grossman, now the artistic director of the TD Toronto Jazz Festival, is also an accomplished composer in his own right. This all bodes well both for Continuum, and for the well-being of the Toronto music scene.

We welcome your feedback and invite submissions. CDs and comments should be sent to: DISCoveries, WholeNote Media Inc., The Centre for Social Innovation, 503 – 720 Bathurst St. Toronto ON M5S 2R4. We also encourage you to visit our website, thewholenote.com, where you can find enhanced reviews in the Listening Room with audio samples, upcoming performance details and direct links to performers, composers and record labels.

David Olds, DISCoveries Editor
discoveries@thewholenote.com

01 David Aaron CarpenterWhen a new recording of the Bartók Viola Concerto crossed my desk recently it immediately caught my attention. Begun in 1945 and left incomplete at the time of his death – actually it was just a few sketches – this was the composer’s final composition. Although in the words of Grove’s Dictionary of Music and Musicians Bartók’s assistant Tibor Serly’s completion of the concerto “cannot be considered definitive,” it has always been a favourite of mine. Motherland (Warner Classics 0190295697693 warnerclassics.com) features young superstar violist David Aaron Carpenter performing concertos by Dvořák, Bartók and Walton, plus a number of concerted works by Kiev-born, New York City resident Alexey Shor (b.1970) with the London Philharmonic Orchestra.

Carpenter, born in NYC in 1986, has had a remarkable career, winning the 2005 Philadelphia Orchestra Young Artists Competition, the Walter W. Naumburg Viola Competition the following year and an Avery Fisher Career Grant in 2010. His first recording, Elgar and Schnittke concertos, was praised highly in these pages in October 2009 by Terry Robbins, and two subsequent outings met with similar attention in Robbins’ Strings Attached column in recent years. With that in mind, I had no qualms about holding back Carpenter’s latest recording for my own collection. Of course I had to start with the Bartók, and I was immediately transported back to the heights I first scaled when introduced to this work by Yehudi Menuhin’s performance with the Philharmonia Orchestra under Antal Dorati’s direction half a century ago. We’ll likely never know just how much of this atypical work is Bartók’s and how much that of Serly. Strangely though, it is a much more original work than Serly’s own Rhapsody for Viola and Orchestra which is replete with borrowings from his master. Carpenter’s stunning performance reminds us why, its questionable pedigree notwithstanding, this concerto is a staple of the viola repertoire.

The first CD (of two) opens with Joseph Vieland’s transcription of Dvořák’s masterful Cello Concerto, to which Carpenter has added his own refinements. It is very effective, but as a cellist I can’t help but notice that the power and anguish of the cello’s upper register, its chanterelle range, is not equalled when the viola plays the same pitches. That being said, it is still a captivating performance, with the orchestra under Kazushi Ono in fine form. Especially noteworthy are the horn solos. The second disc begins with William Walton’s concerto, which was commissioned by Lionel Tertis in 1929. Tertis was not convinced and declined to premiere the work but later, in words of Andrew Morris “was good enough to admit his mistake.” Tertis said: “The innovations in [Walton’s] musical language, which now seem so logical and so truly in the mainstream of music, then struck me as far-fetched.” To our modern ears it seems hard to imagine this lush and romantic work being received as anything but a masterpiece.

There is more than an hour of music by Shor dispersed across the two discs, and frankly I don’t know why. The inclusion of his Seascapes, a four-movement work for viola and orchestra, would have more than sufficed. His motion-picture soundtrack sensibility makes even the Dvořák and Walton sound modern, and the 13-movement Well Tempered Chanson, a compendium of encores written for Carpenter, seems like just too much dessert. The Bartók, however, is worth the price of admission.

02 Howard ShoreSpeaking of film scores and people named Shor(e)… last year Canadian superstar film composer Howard Shore took time out from his day job to compose a celebratory cantata to honour Canada’s sesquicentennial. Sea to Sea/D’un ocean à l’autre was commissioned by the New Brunswick Youth Orchestra (nbyo-ojnb.com) and was first performed on July 2, 2017 at the Canada 150 Stage, Riverfront Park, Moncton. That performance featuring New Brunswick’s pride and joy, soprano Measha Brueggergosman, and the Choeur CANADA150 Choir was recorded and is now available from Leaf Music (LM217 leaf-music.ca). With bilingual lyrics by Elizabeth Cotnoir, the nine-minute work opens with a horn fanfare to set the stage and then launches into jubilant praise for our fair land. After the bombastic opening there is a contemplative middle section gently declaring “We hold a vision.” The final section is a return to the opening exuberance, this time en français. The CD single also includes two “radio edit” versions, just under three minutes each, one in English and one in French.

03a Andrew Collins TongueThe latest project from the 2016 Canadian Folk Music Awards Best Instrumental Group of the Year – Andrew Collins Trio – is the cleverly named pair of CDs Tongue and Groove (andrewcollinstrio.com). The first is a departure for the band, with 11 tracks featuring lead vocals by multi-mando frontman Collins for the most part, with harmonies and occasional lead lines provided by bass player James McEleney. The third member of the trio, Mike Mezzatesta, keeps busy on guitar, mandolin, fiddle and mandola. 03b Andrew Collins GrooveIt’s an eclectic collection of traditional “down homey” numbers, novelty songs, cover versions and a few originals. Of particular note are Collins’ own reworking of Marijohn Wilkin and Danny Dill’s Long Black Veil and Roger Miller’s The Hat. But for me it is the instrumental disc Groove that really shines. Replete with some of the finest bluegrass pickin’ you’re likely to find this far north, there’s also a mix of styles, including some very Django-like vibes to which the double strings of Collins’ mandolin give a new twist, a beautiful lullaby and a couple of fiddle tunes. Standouts include Poplar Bluff, Kentakaya Waltz, Badabada Ba Ba and Big Toaster.

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04 Moto BelloIt seems that every month we receive a dozen or more CDs from the Parma Recordings group, which includes the labels Ravello, Big Round, Asonica and, in this case, Navona Records. Although my current activities as an amateur cellist are focusing on string-only ensembles, quartets and at the moment a trio, for many years I also played with pianists in the traditional piano trio formation – violin, cello and piano. Beginning with the classics, Mozart, Beethoven, Mendelssohn (Felix and Fanny), Schumann (Robert and Clara), but eventually moving into the 20th century with Debussy, Shostakovich and contemporary Canadians including Colin Eatock and Daniel Foley – both of whom will be familiar to readers of  The WholeNote – I spent countless hours exploring the repertoire with friends. So I was quite interested when a new double CD from Trio Casals, Moto Bello (nv6156 navonarecords.com) arrived. The Moto series “represents a curated collection of contemporary music by living composers with the traditional instrumentation of the acclaimed Trio Casals.” The group’s acclaim began in 1996 at the Pablo Casals Festival in Puerto Rico, from which I assume their name derives. There are ten composers included in this two-disc package, none of whom were previously known to me. The repertoire runs the gamut of contemporary styles, from approachable melodic works, through minimalism to craggy modernist sensibilities, and although most utilize the full trio resources, there are several solo and duo pieces. Of particular note is Beth Mehocic’s Somewhere Between D and C# for solo cello, with its exploration of ambiguous resolution. L. Peter Deutsch’s Ocean Air is a lovely suite in three movements harkening back to the late 19th century. Giovanni Piacentini’s Ondine begins in quiet Debussy-like arpeggiation that gradually builds into a stormy tempest before calming to gentle seas again. Each of the ten composers brings an individual voice to the medium, making for a varied and satisfying program. The playing is convincing and committed throughout. I was especially impressed by how complete the package was: a simple folded cardboard cover containing two CDs and a 12-page booklet with composer bios and program notes. I only wish that there was more information about the trio itself, and that the composers’ names were more discernable – pale blue type on a blue background is hard to read.

05 Eloquent SaxophoneAnother Navona recording that arrived recently looked strangely familiar to me. The Eloquent Saxophone featuring Toronto (now Cobourg) saxophonist, professor and founding member of the pioneering band Lighthouse, David Tanner and pianist Marc Widner (nv6158 navonarecords.com). It’s a charming collection of mostly French repertoire from the early 20th century, but also including more recent works by American Leslie Bassett and Gene DiNovi – a saxophone ensemble piece achieved through overdubbing the various parts. The disc begins with another saxophone quartet, the aptly named Serenade comique by Jean Françaix. Although most of the works were written for the saxophone, there is an effective transcription of Debussy’s Syrinx (originally for solo flute) in a warm and thoughtful rendition. Widner is the perfect accompanist for this repertoire, whether playing original piano lines or, in the case of Paule Maurice’s Tableaux de Provence, subbing for an entire orchestra. Also of note is Charles Koechlin’s Etude No.VIII from a set of saxophone and piano studies that were not published until 1970, 20 years after the composer’s death. The credits tell us that the recordings were made in 1988 in Toronto, the multi-tracking at Axon Music Productions and the rest in Walter Hall. That’s when I figured out what was so familiar. I checked my file card catalog of LP recordings, and sure enough, I have the original vinyl version of this disc put out on Apparition Records. Even the cover art is the same. The brief performer bios have been updated nominally and the order of the tracks has been modified – it used to start with Syrinx – but with the exception of the program notes, unfortunately missing from the CD reissue, the recording is the same. It was a welcome addition to my collection three decades ago, and it is welcome again now.

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06 Baljinder SekhonOne final note, an intriguing percussion-centric disc of music by Baljinder Sekhon. Places & Times (innova 988 innova.mu) is, in the words of the composer, “no ordinary album of percussion ensemble music. These compositions explore a wide spectrum of possibilities offered by the percussion family, from the aggressive noise of a cymbal on piano strings and peaceful meditations created by finger cymbals gently buzzing on a vibraphone, to the curious thump of a person falling on a bass drum.” The disc features three percussion ensembles: Los Angeles Percussion Quartet; McCormick Percussion Group and Line upon Line Percussion. Three of the tracks include soloists: Dave Gerhart, steel pan; Dieter Hennings, guitar and Eunmi Ko, piano. Musica Casera, a 12-minute track that features guitar holding its own against a battery of percussion instruments, through delicate passages and thunderous sections, is particularly captivating. Another highlight is Sun for three percussionists all equipped with similar outfits: one keyboard, one skin, one wood and one metal instrument. They all share access to a large cymbal in centre stage, presumably the namesake of the piece. Despite similar resources, the combinations provide a very broad spectrum of sound and range. 

We welcome your feedback and invite submissions. CDs and comments should be sent to: DISCoveries, WholeNote Media Inc., The Centre for Social Innovation, 503 – 720 Bathurst St. Toronto ON M5S 2R4. We also encourage you to visit our website, thewholenote.com, where you can find enhanced reviews in the Listening Room with audio samples, upcoming performance details and direct links to performers, composers and record labels.

David Olds, DISCoveries Editor
discoveries@thewholenote.com

It was with shock and sorrow that I received the news of the death of my friend and colleague of the past 20-some years, Robert Tomas, who drowned in the Turks and Caicos on April 1. I met Robert during the five years I spent at CJRT-FM as a classical music programmer in the 1990s, where he was one of the on-air technicians, juggling turntables, CD players, reel-to-reel pre-recorded voice tracks, PSA cartridges and engineering live-to-air programs with aplomb. A Polish émigré who had worked extensively in the world of opera production in his homeland, Robert was a man of many skills with a breadth of understanding, including an encyclopedic knowledge of classical music, but also extending to reading about astrophysics and mathematics “for fun” and writing a novel retelling The Tempest in the context of the Bosnian War. In recent years he worked in philanthropy and was a highly respected fundraiser for social justice initiatives. He championed LGBT causes, was a proud Leatherman who promoted safe, healthy sexuality and advocated for those living with HIV/AIDS from the start of the epidemic.

In 2004 I asked Robert to write for The WholeNote and since his first thoughtful assessment of soprano Leslie Fagan’s Le Miroir de Mon Amour in February of that year, we published some 175 of his CD and DVD reviews. Several of his early musings have stuck with me over the years: His insightful comments on John Adams’ tribute to the victims of 9/11 On the Transmigration of Souls (“The chronicler of our times… gives us the tools to make sense of our frequently irrational world”); His case for Schoenberg’s Moses und Aron (“…eschews the dramatic potential of the Exodus from Egypt and instead concentrates on the philosophical clash between the two interpretations of religion – the representative, tangible idolatry of Aron and the mystical, incomprehensible monotheism of Moses”); and his championing of the (then) little known Thomas Quasthoff singing Mahler lieder (“…Quasthoff deserves to be celebrated as the Mahler artist of the century”). Although his specialty was art song and opera, Robert was well-versed in all aspects of classical music, to which his wealth of writing attests. You can find more than 100 of his perceptive, and sometimes controversial, reviews using the search function on our website thewholenote.com. He will be sadly missed. 

01a A Breath UpwardsOne of my regrets is that I will never know what Robert would have thought about Ah Young Hong. Around the time he left for his final adventure I emailed Robert about two discs that I thought would pique his interest. I cautioned that they were quite abrasive but that the rising vocal star was being highly touted and if she was indeed some sort of new Cathy Berberian in the contemporary firmament, it would behoove us to pay attention. I never heard back from him and now I know why. And so the assessment falls to me and once again I feared I would be venturing out of my comfort zone (see my Juliet Palmer review in last month’s column). I started with a breath upwards – Ah Young Hong sings works by Milton Babbitt and Michael Hersch (innova 986 innova.mu) and immediately was struck by a sense of déja vu. The opening sounds of Babbitt’s Philomel brought with them a sense of familiarity. Created in 1964 at the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Studio where Babbitt (1916-2011) had been working with the RCA Mark II Sound Synthesizer for a number of years, the purely electronic sounds have all the hallmarks of the pioneering work that went on in that facility, the results of which I immersed myself in in my formative years. Commissioned by Bethany Beardslee with the support of the Ford Foundation, Philomel is for live soprano and a soundtrack of computer-generated sounds and manipulated samples of the soprano’s voice. As far as I can tell from the notes, this version sung by Hong uses the original sound files with Beardslee’s voice samples. The primitive synthesis technology, now a half century old, is quaintly outdated on the one hand, but on the other there seems to have been no deterioration of sound quality. The work itself, with a text by John Holland on a morbid tale from Ovid’s Metamorphoses, is stark and dramatic; its realization is compelling.

Although there are only three instrumentalists – Miranda Cuckson, viola; Gleb Kanasevich, clarinet; Jamie Hersch, horn – a breath upwards (2014) by Michael Hersch (USA b.1971), sparse and angular as it is, is positively lush by comparison. It was specifically crafted for the voice of Hong, who was featured in Hersch’s monodrama On the Threshold of Winter and, in one critic’s words, was “the opera’s blazing, lone star.” In 12 movements based on Dante’s Purgatorio juxtaposed with texts from Pound’s Cantos it draws on the full range of Hong’s incredible voice, from its growly bottom end to pure high notes that are shrill yet warm, and never grating. Hersch says “As the experience over the years working with [my brother] Jamie had deeply impacted my writing for the horn, Ah Young’s remarkable vocal abilities made me rethink much of how I approach writing for the voice.” The result is a 32-minute tour de force

01b Hersch Untitled BlackHersch continues to take inspiration from Ah Young Hong’s voice and in 2016 created cortex and angle for the Dutch Ensemble Klang with her as soloist. The 27-minute cycle of ten movements (plus a brief prelude) on the poetry of Christopher Middleton comprises the first half of the CD Black Untitled (EKR09 ensembleklang.com). The sextet was founded in 2003 and is known internationally as a champion of 21st century chamber music. The somewhat unusual instrumentation includes two reed players (playing saxophones on this recording), trombone, percussion, electric guitar/electronics and piano/keyboards. I find the way Hong’s voice blends with, and is extended by, the saxophones to be very effective.

The title piece takes its name and inspiration from Dutch/American painter Willem de Kooning. In his extensive notes, Aaron Grad says, in part: “The noble, unshakable music assigned to the trombone in Black Untitled resembles the role occupied by the horn in Hersch’s epic [two hour] duo Last Autumn [reviewed in these pages in September 2015], its brassy heft stretched from the lowest rumble to the highest blast. […] Black Untitled maintains a slow, deliberate pulse that fluctuates within a narrow range […] This is exceedingly patient music that uses the necessary notes and no more.” I would add that Hersch’s music is also very brave, not only in the “epic” scope of the time frames involved in some of his recent compositions, but in his steadfast refusal to give in to the current tendency to write “friendly” music.

These two discs provide an effective double portrait – of an important new soprano who is undaunted by difficult contemporary challenges, and of a mid-career composer who has established himself as a confident and uncompromising voice in the wilderness. I think Robert Tomas would have approved of both.

02 Braithwaite and WhitelyMy initial impression of Diana Braithwaite & Chris Whitely’s new album I Was Telling Him About You (g-threejazz.com) was surprisingly like Aaron Grad’s description of Black Untitled – a slow, deliberate pulse that fluctuates within a narrow range – but like Grad, I mean that in the best possible way. Each of the eight tracks on this lush – I’m almost surprised that Lush Life is not included – recording of vocal jazz standards is andante, a leisurely stroll through some of the best of the genre. What can be said of Braithwaite, other than that her voice is exquisite, and exquisitely suited to this smoky repertoire. The recipient of the 2018 Toronto Blues Society Blues With A Feeling Award (Lifetime Achievement Award), she is equally at home in the worlds of hot blues and cool jazz. Her partner in crime, or at least criminally gorgeous music-making, Whitely is himself an eight-time winner of the Maple Blues Horn Player of the Year – who knew there was such a thing?

My admiration for multi-instrumentalist Whitely – here only trumpet, cornet and vocals, but elsewhere adding harmonica, bass harmonica, guitars and more – again goes back to my formative years when I first encountered the Original Sloth Band in the early 1970s. This trio – comprised of Chris Whitely, his brother Ken and Tom Evans – played more than a dozen instruments, from mandolin to clarinet to accordion and any number of harmonicas, jugs and miscellany between them, and were my introduction to such 20s and 30s classics as Cheek to Cheek, (I Just Want to be) Horizontal, The Sheik of Araby, Gimme A Pigfoot (And A Bottle of Beer) and Heaven to name just a few. The most incredible thing was they would play these many-layered arrangements with six or eight (or more) instruments without overdubbing. Whitely seems to have mellowed some with age, but like a good scotch, that’s the point, isn’t it?

Highlights for me on this latest disc – he’s been a sideman on hundreds of albums over the years, and it’s great to see him sharing the spotlight again – include… no wait, they are all highlights actually, but to give you an idea of what to expect I’ll mention Skylark, The Nearness of You, I’ve Grown Accustomed to Your Face and ’Round Midnight. The one thing you may not expect is the sumptuous version of What A Difference A Day Makes. I grew up with Esther Phillips’ upbeat version, and although I realize now (courtesy of YouTube) that was not always the way it was performed, this very effective laid back version was a revelation to me.

The way that Braithwaite captures the essence of these ballads is enchanting, and the way Whitely’s horn extends her lines is breathtaking.

Listen to 'I Was Telling Him About You' Now in the Listening Room

03 Manitoba HalJust a few words in closing about something I hadn’t even imaged existed – ukulele blues. The one-sheet that arrived with Manitoba Hal’s blues is in the water (manitobahal.com) included a press quote from Australia: “Many musicians play the blues… Many musicians play the ukulele… Nobody does both the way that Manitoba Hal Brolund does…” I would hazard a guess that this is indeed true. It wasn’t until I read the fine print that I realized that much of what I was hearing was being played on a variety of ukuleles, including a bizarre-looking, two-necked model pictured front and centre on the CD cover. Oh, his band is more like what you’d expect for a blues band – guitar, bass and drums, but even so the guitarist also plays mandolins, 12-string and slide – giving full driving support to Hal’s convincingly bluesy vocals, accompanying himself on ukulele, banjo-ukulele, resonator and cigar box guitars. Hailing from the confluence of the Red and Assiniboine Rivers in Winnipeg, Hal found his calling in the music of that other delta, the Mississippi, where Robert Johnson “invented” the blues more than a century ago. He has certainly made it his own and this surprising album contains original songs in a variety of southern styles, including Cajun, Zydeco and gospel. The disc opens with Alligator, a moving tribute to Johnson who became a “walking musician” after his first wife died in Alligator, Mississippi. There are a couple of tracks in which the ukulele, along with background vocals, provides the only accompaniment, both with a religious bent, and here I find Hal’s picking reminiscent of Taj Mahal’s distinctive guitar style. And speaking of Mahal, his Fishin’ Blues has always been close to my heart. Well, Manitoba Hal has a fishing song too, in which we find this clever turn on an old adage: “You’ve heard it said give a man a fish and you’ll feed him for a day; teach that same man to fish – and he’ll sit in a boat all day.”

I wish the disc had arrived in time to let you know about the extensive Ontario leg of his CD release tour in March, with more than a dozen stops across the province. Having missed that, I’m going to content myself with Manitoba Hal’s wonderful CD.

We welcome your feedback and invite submissions. CDs and comments should be sent to: DISCoveries, WholeNote Media Inc., The Centre for Social Innovation, 503 – 720 Bathurst St. Toronto ON M5S 2R4. We also encourage you to visit our website thewholenote.com, where you can find enhanced reviews in the Listening Room with audio samples, upcoming performance details and direct links to performers, composers and record labels.

David Olds, DISCoveries Editor
discoveries@thewholenote.com

01 New WorldsNew Worlds/Nouveaux Mondes; Canada’s National Arts Centre Orchestra; Alexander Shelley (Analekta AN 2 8873 analekta.com). It took a while to identify what sounded familiar in Ana Sokolović’s Golden slumbers kiss your eyes…, but eventually I realized it reminded me of that mid-20th century pillar of choral/orchestral repertoire, Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana. Reading the program notes revealed another parallel to that great work – this too is based on secular, vernacular texts, in this case primarily folk songs in French, English, Italian, German, Ladino and the composer’s native Serbian. The likeness to Carmina Burana is mostly one of scale – vocal soloist, multiple choirs, orchestral forces with prominent percussion – but there are a couple of movements that are particularly Orffian, including Mie mama mata mata with its alternating lines between the choirs, and later an anguished countertenor solo reminiscent of the dying swan of Orff’s masterpiece.

Conceived as a tribute to NACO (now CNACO)’s founding conductor and later, music director Mario Bernardi, it is a celebration of Canada’s multiculturalism and pays tribute to Bernardi’s Italian heritage in two of the seven movements. Although the texts are from folk songs they are surprisingly transformed in this presentation, sometimes to the point of non-recognition. À la claire fontaine begins with a haunting solo by countertenor David DQ Lee, eventually joined by dark chanting from the chorus more reminiscent of a satanic ritual than the coureur de bois chanson learned at French immersion camp. I was also reminded of some of the more dramatic scenes from Harry Somers’ Louis Riel and the movement Durme, durme, a Serbian lullaby, reminded me of that opera’s Kuyas. I don’t mean to say that this is in any way a derivative work. Sokolović has a unique voice and it is more a reflection of my own way of relating to new things, always happy to find touchstones.

Canada’s National Arts Centre Orchestra, better known for “viewing the past through rose coloured glasses” in recent decades, is marching bravely into the 21st century under Alexander Shelley, who succeeded Pinchas Zukerman as music director in 2015. I’m pleased to note that their last three CDs have all featured new Canadian compositions commissioned by the orchestra. In this most recent addition, Sokolović’s stunning work is paired with Dvořák’s New World Symphony. I think it is very effective programming, and any questions I had about whether this classical-size orchestra numbering 60-some players would be sufficient to do justice to this staple of the Romantic repertoire were allayed by listening to the performance on this beautifully recorded disc.

02 Juliet PalmerI believe several disclaimers are in order here for the sake of full disclosure. New Zealand-born Canadian composer Juliet Palmer’s music has been presented on several occasions by New Music Concerts (my “day” job), most recently last month on our program “The Lioness of Iran,” featuring settings of the poetry of Simin Behbahani. In addition, Palmer and her husband James Rolfe (another composer whose work we have presented), are frequent attendees at parties at my musical neighbour Gail’s house, where I’m often heard jamming with guitars and, on the best nights, mandolins and fiddles. But if I recused myself from writing about all the composers I have had the pleasure to meet over the past several decades, there wouldn’t be many left to mention. A further disclosure is that for the most part I don’t enjoy contemporary vocal music. So when Palmer’s new mostly a cappella disc Rivers (BR0343 barnyardrecords.com) arrived, I fully expected to be assigning the review to someone more at arm’s length and more appreciative of the genre. My curiousity got the best of me however and I decided to give it a listen. I must say I was smitten! The six tracks span a decade, with Simple Death from 2006 (from SLIP, a site-specific multimedia collaboration with lyricist Anna Chatterton which took place in Harrison Baths as part of that year’s X Avant Festival), to two selections first performed as part of another site-specific project, Singing River, on the Pan Am Path, Lower Don Trail in 2015.

The disc opens with the sounds of a babbling brook, or so it seems. It turns out to be blood flow, ultrasound recordings from the Sunnybrook Research Institute which, complemented by quiet chattering and disturbing interpolations from a chorus, provide a kind of ostinato under the anguished solo vocal by Laura Swankey on a text from Emily Dickinson’s The Heart has narrow Banks. Dreaming of Trees is a slow lyrical piece that begins with a very simple pattern on a metallophone which continues throughout under the solo voice of Alex Samaras and gentle, flowing tonal harmonies from a small mixed chorus. The text is by Nicholas Power. Dusk of Tears from Palmer’s opera Shelter is an unaccompanied duet – Felicity Williams and Samaras – with lyrics by Julie Salverson, which employs some close harmonies and clever counterpoint. This leads to the onomatopoeic and at times abrasive Burble, a lament for the Don River featuring Swankey with chorus. Litany (After the End) features post-apocalyptic lyrics of Christine Duncan recited in sprechstimme by the author with electronic treatments by Palmer. The closing track, Simple Death, uses a traditional Japanese folksong as its point of departure, with Aki Takahashi sounding hauntingly muezzin-like, juxtaposing an English lyric interwoven by Duncan over droning vocalise. It is an effective conclusion to a very satisfying recording.

03 Shostakovich violin sonataDmitri Shostakovich composed his Violin Sonata, Op.134 in 1968 and it was premiered by its dedicatee David Oistrakh with Sviatoslav Richter in the spring of the following year. In 1975, the year of the composer’s death, a Melodiya/Angel LP recording of that performance and the premiere of the String Quartet No.13, Op.138 was released in North America, and for some months held pride of place in this avid young collector’s library. So it was with great interest that I received a new recording of the sonata featuring two young Russians, Sergei Dogadin and Nikolai Tokarev (Naxos 8.573753 naxos.com). Dogadin has won ten international violin competitions including the Tchaikovsky (2011) and the Joseph Joachim International (2015), so his credentials are impeccable. While his colleague’s accolades are perhaps not quite so prestigious, Tokarev nevertheless has been recognized with awards in Switzerland and Germany since completing his piano studies in 2007. Together they capture the essence of Shostakovich’s late sonata in a riveting performance. The disc also features the first complete recording of Shostakovich’s 24 Preludes, Op.34 in transcription for violin and piano: 19 by Dmitry Tsyganov (some from 1937 and some from 1963) praised by Shostakovich as sounding more idiomatic in this guise than even the piano originals; and five by composer/pianist Lera Auerbach to complete the set in 2000. These youthful and sometimes exuberant short pieces – 35 minutes in all – provide a welcome contrast to the darkness of the sonata, which is not to say that they are all bright and sunny. The preludes, which date from 1932-33, run the gamut of emotion and at times hint at the hard times to come in the composer’s troubled life. While not supplanting the Oistrakh/Richter, this new recording will also occupy a treasured spot in my library.

04 WinterreiseHaving taken the plunge into art song above, I will say that one of my favourite vocal cycles is Winterreise, that classic of the genre by Franz Schubert. One of the discs to cross my desk recently is a new version with the piano part transcribed for string quartet by cellist Richard Krug of the Copenhagen Quartet which is featured with bass-baritone Johan Reuter (Danacord DACOCD 759 danacord.dk). Reuter, who has been a soloist with the Royal Danish Opera for the past two decades, is touted as “one of the most in-demand classical singers of his generation” in the booklet notes, and with this recording as evidence I can see why. His rendering is powerfully dramatic and tenderly sensitive as required, and his tone is superb. I find the transcription to be quite convincing, although definitely a different sensibility from the piano original. Krug captures the different moods of the piece, and the playing is nuanced and well balanced. While this will not supplant my other recordings of the cycle – if you are interested in different transcriptions I encourage you to seek out Hans Zender’s rendering for a 30-piece contemporary chamber orchestra – it is a welcome addition to my collection. One reason for not suggesting this be your only recording of Winterreise is the booklet. This Danish production features English-only liner notes, but the texts are only given in German. I had to pull out my Fischer-Dieskau/Brendel performance (Philips 464 739-2), which has English and French translations of Wilhelm Müller’s poems, to be able to follow along.

05 Schumann quartetsBy all rights I should have sent the next disc (along with the Shostakovich) to Terry Robbins for his Strings Attached column, but once again I could not resist it. As a cellist I have played Schumann’s Piano Quartet and Piano Quintet, as well as works for piano trio and cello and piano, but have never had the opportunity to explore his string quartets in depth. So when Schumann Quartets Nos. 2 & 3 featuring the Elias Quartet (ALPHA 280 alpha-classics.com) arrived I decided to hold on tight. Written in 1842 when the composer was 32, his three quartets of Op.41 were presented to his wife Clara in celebration of her 23rd birthday and their second wedding anniversary. I particularly like the personal style of the introductory program note in this tri-lingual booklet by violinist Sara Bitlloch. In it she describes how the Elias approached the charming Quartet No.3 in A Major, one of the first works they played together, and how different it was to encounter the Quartet No.2 in F Major sometime later. “The enthusiasm of the first movement can easily turn into anxiety if you push it a bit too far. In the slow movement the texture is sometimes so bare that to convey its tenderness you have to sustain it with great fervour. The capacious Scherzo is bristling with rhythmic pitfalls […] while the Finale is an endless explosion of joy!” Hard to resist such a description and even harder to ignore the music it describes. The performance was recorded live at Potton Hall, UK in May 2016 and the excitement is palpable.

06 Selcuk SunaFurther on in these pages you will read reviews of new discs from David Buchbinder’s OdessaHavana and KUNÉ, Canada’s Global Orchestra, noting that both groups are featured in performance at Koerner Hall on April 7. I have also received – from restaurateur Oğuz Koloğlu, proprietor of Café 808 – a CD by Toronto-based Turkish clarinetist and saxophonist Selcuk Suna (selcuksuna.com), who will be performing with KUNÉ. The disc, Turkish Standards//Non Standard, is quite eclectic. From the lush but breakneck moto perpetuo opening track Hicaz Mandira it progresses through some smooth jazz (but still with busy, virtuosic melody lines), touches of funk and evocations of Turkish clubs replete with belly dance rhythms. The core band consists of familiars Eric St. Laurent, Tyler Emond, Todd Pentney and Max Senitt and is complemented by a number of guest artists from the Turkish community. I’m a bit frustrated by the lack of detailed information on the disc or on Suna’s website – for instance I tried to find out about the vocalist Dia, but the only hits I got online were for a South Korean Kpop girl group whom I’m pretty sure this is not. Nevertheless the disc kept me grooving in my chair.

Listen to 'Turkish Standards//Non Standard' Now in the Listening Room

07 Food ForagersThe last disc I will mention takes me even further afield and I don’t even know what section I would have put it in – Contemporary? Improvised? Pot Pourri? – if I wasn’t covering it here. Food Foragers came to us from Unit Records in Switzerland (unitrecords.com). The press release says this is the first Duo release of Mark Lotz (flutes and effects) and squeakologist Alan Purves. “Music that sparkles with imagination and is free from conventions.” It certainly is that. One might ask what exactly a squeakologist is. A partial answer is in the list of the instruments Purves employs: toy accordion; DADA bells; balaphon, sruti boxes; toy horns; klaxon; tin whistle; brim bram; and one of my favourites, toy pigs. Although Lotz’s arsenal is more traditional, he also pushes the envelope, focusing on the extreme end of the flute family: bass flute headjoint; bass flute tongue slaps; concert flute body; prepared flute; bamboo flute; piccolo and even PVC contrabass flute. As for the music, I simply don’t know how to describe it. From melodic flute lines floating over kalimba-like ostinati in Abu in the Sky, to rhythminc grunting in Hog Time, deep heartbeat-like pulsations in the meditative Echoes Of A Life Hereafter and the playful piccolo/toy accordion duet Piepkuiken, to mention just the first four tracks, there’s never a dull moment. Some of the influences listed include traditional songs from Mali, Chick Corea’s Children’s Songs and Sir Ernest Shackleton’s Antarctic Expedition (1914-17). After a truly wondrous journey a final highlight is the concluding I’m So Sorry Blues, a standard 12-bar riff pairing the contrabass with tin whistles. Intriguing!

01 de Raaff Jaap van ZwedenIn recent months I’ve written about Elliott Carter and George Crumb, two giants of 20th-century composition whom I had the opportunity to meet through my position as general manager of New Music Concerts and my association with founding director Robert Aitken. Over the past two decades, I’ve also had the opportunity to meet innumerable outstanding mid-career and emerging composers. Further on in these pages you will find Michael Schulman’s review of two new releases by a Dutch composer recently featured by New Music Concerts, Robin de Raaff, who celebrated his 49th birthday while in Toronto. De Raaff’s star is definitely on the rise, with numerous significant commissions in recent years in both Europe and North America, including the upcoming premiere of a chamber version of his Second Violin Concerto “North Atlantic Light” at Carnegie Hall in June. It is rare enough for any composer to have two recordings released in a single year, but in fact de Raaff has had three. The one I kept for myself is the latest of four etcetera discs devoted to orchestral and operatic works of this outstanding composer. Jaap van Zweden conducts Robin de Raaff (KTC 1593 etcetera-records.com) – includes his Violin Concerto and Symphony No.1 “Tanglewood Tales” performed by the Radio Filharmonisch Orkest. The violin soloist is Tasmin Little, for whom the concerto was intended.

Reclassified as Violin Concerto No.1 “Angelic Echoes” to reflect the fact that de Raaff is currently at work on a second concerto, I am actually pleased that this recording did not include the subtitle because I like my first listenings to be unencumbered by programmatic references or musicological explanations. So I was listening blind, so to speak, when I first encountered this work. Right from its opening notes I had the distinct impression that I was hearing an homage to one of the great concertos of the past century, and one of my favourite works, Alban Berg’s Violin Concerto – “To the Memory of an Angel.” Reading the comprehensive notes (from two different recordings) later confirmed this for me, and further explained how de Raaff had accomplished this by mirroring Berg’s composition without directly referencing his melodic material. Where Berg had used a Bach chorale, de Raaff composed one of his own and then treated it in a similar fashion. In both works the notes of the open strings of the violin – a cycle of fifths – play an important role, and by stacking these (G-D-A-E) de Raaff takes the interval of a sixth thus created (G to E) to derive much of the material for his piece. Open strings also play another important role in that he has the second violin section of the orchestra tune a semitone below the pitch of the first violins (F-sharp-C-sharp-G-sharp-D-sharp), giving eight (instead of the usual four open pitches) and increasing the overtone possibilities accordingly. Inspired by techniques from Gregorian Chant, de Raaff uses these overtones to create “angelic” countermelodies which seem to arise out of the orchestral textures. In another parallel to Berg’s iconic work – dedicated to the memory of Manon Gropius, daughter of Alma Mahler and Walter Gropius – de Raaff uses his work to eulogize a close friend who died during its composition. Saxophonist William Raaijman is immortalized with the unexpected entry of two alto saxes towards the end of the concerto. Like its forebear, this is a gorgeous work, and beautifully played.

De Raaff has had an ongoing relationship with Tanglewood – the summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra – since his first residency there in 2000. There have been five subsequent visits, most recently in 2015. Symphony No.1 began as a single-movement work titled Entangled Tales, premiered by the BSO at Koussevitsky Shed, Tanglewood’s premier venue, in 2007. He later added an introductory prequel Untangled Tales in 2011 and ultimately a brief coda was added in 2016. The title refers to a book by Nathaniel Hawthorne, Tanglewood Tales for Girls and Boys, which he wrote while living in a cottage near Tanglewood in 1853. Hawthorne retells several Greek myths but de Raaff’s tales are more topical, depicting the site of the summer music festival before and during public performances. The quiet opening portrays the landscape of the estate during which we hear fragments from various rehearsal studios, providing a preview and in a sense an “untangling” of the material which will be developed in the second movement. The subsequent “tangled tales” are livelier, more energetic and complex. The coda returns to the overall sensibility of the first movement, but with a somewhat heightened sense of colour and light.

I treasure the time that I spent with Robin de Raaff during his recent visit to Toronto, especially an evening of socializing at which I got to share some of my own music-making. It was also enlightening to experience the extensive preparations involved in advance of the performance of de Raaff’s extremely complex Percussion Concerto with soloist Ryan Scott and the New Music Concerts Ensemble under Aitken’s direction. This work has had numerous previous performances and has entered the canon of contemporary repertoire, but de Raaff assured us that the Toronto performance was the best yet. Having had the opportunity to get to know one of his more recent pieces so intimately, it was a great pleasure to get to know some of his earlier work on this very fine CD.

02 UTS RemembersI Remember, featuring University of Toronto Schools Alumni Musicians and Friends (Cambia CD-1247 cambriamus.com), showcases performers, composers and teachers associated with the independent secondary school (Grades 7 through 12) affiliated with the University of Toronto. The music is a range of chestnuts by the likes of Scriabin, Brahms, Dukas and Dvořák, along with premiere recordings of original music by Canadian composers Alexander Rapoport (composer-in-residence at UTS), Ronald Royer (alumnus and UTS music teacher), Sarah Shugarman (UTS music teacher), Alex Eddington (UTS alumnus and TDSB teacher) and Billy Bao (who graduated UTS in 2014 and is now doing a major in Music Performance and a minor in Psychology at Wilfrid Laurier University). Bao is featured as both composer and performer. Other performers include outstanding current UTS students and recent graduates, plus two of Canada’s most distinguished musicians, alumni James Sommerville (horn) and David Fallis (singer, conductor, and in this case, narrator).

I Remember is a charming mix of music new and old, performed with precision, passion and aplomb by these fine (mostly) young musicians. Of course the classical selections are beyond reproach, but the highlights for me are the new works: Shugarman’s Carousel, a canon-like piece for three violins, two cellos and bass; Rapoport’s dark but lush Walberauscht for horn and piano, which he says means “intoxicated by the forest;” Danzon by Royer, a movement from the larger suite Dances with Time in an arrangement for two violins, cello and piano; Eddington’s playful Bubblegum Delicious (on poetry by another UTS alumnus, Dennis Lee) for soprano and small ensemble with narrator; and Billy Bao’s virtuosic Dance, a brief but thrilling duet for violin and cello. Although there is nothing here that would be considered cutting edge or challenging new music, it is important that the curriculum at UTS is emphasizing to the students that “classical” composers are alive and well, and living in Canada!

I Remember provides not only a “reminder” but also ample evidence of the importance of inspiring and nurturing young performers and the efficacy of doing so within the school curriculum. Bravo to UTS. Let them be an example for us all, especially for the powers that be who make decisions about arts and education. I hope copies will be sent to all the MPPs at Queen’s Park.

As the editor of DISCoveries, I see all of the CDs and DVDs received here at The WholeNote – and believe me, that is quite a number, far more than we can cover each month. For instance, there are more than 75 discs covered in this edition, and that is only about half of the number under consideration. I have noticed in recent months an exceptional rise in the number of local and Canadian, mostly independent, jazz releases. In our last issue we covered 24 jazz titles and further on in these pages you’ll find another 17. And I still find a backlog of local content waiting for attention. With this in mind, and take it as a disclaimer if you like, as is occasionally the case I am about to venture outside my comfort zone and report on (an important distinction from reviewing) a few of these neglected titles. So with that caveat, here are some discs that I found of interest this month.

03 Jody ProznickYou will find Raul da Gama’s take on Laila Biali’s excellent eponymous disc in the Pot Pourri section of this issue, but she is also present on a very strong jazz release from stalwart Vancouver acoustic bass player Jodi Proznick, Sun Songs (Cellar Live CL010118 cellarlive.com). Biali’s vocals are supported by Proznick’s usual quartet, rhythm section partners pianist Tilden Webb and drummer Jesse Cahill, complemented by the melodic alto and soprano sax lines of Steve Kaldestad. The album features eight original Proznick songs, three with co-writers, and her arrangement of Stephin Merritt’s The Book of Love. The overall feel of this disc is gentle and melodic and with its emphasis on lyrical songs could be construed as an amalgam of jazz and pop, but to my ear this falls firmly in the jazz camp with no compromise to the world of popular music. Highly recommended.

04 Bethany ProjectThe Bethany Project (iliosjazz.ca) is the brainchild of Toronto-based drummer and composer Ilios Steryannis, who spent his formative years in Bethany, ON “where it snowed a lot, we had a big old fashioned radio, and I loved to gaze up at the stars in the beautiful night sky…” There are 11 original tunes which each have a particular focus and personal link for Steryannis. From the opening The Group of 7 which turns out not to have anything to do with the art collective of that name, but rather refers to the Afro-Cuban groove in 7/4 time over which its melodies soar, through to the closing Soledad, inspired by the Gabriel García Márquez novel 100 Years of Solitude, there are many moods and tributes along the way. The one thing that is consistent throughout is the funky sensibility. And consummate musicianship from contributors Sundar Viswanathan (alto and soprano saxophones), Kenny Kirkwood (baritone sax), Connor Walsh (acoustic and electric bass), Joel Visentin (Hammond organ), Scott Neary (guitar) and Adam Hay and Larry Graves on sundry percussion. While primarily Latin in feel, other influences include John Coltrane, John Scofield and Joe Henderson, music of Steryannis’ Greek heritage and African beats from Kenya and Cameroon. Hard to sit still while this CD is on the player!

Listen to 'Bethany Project' Now in the Listening Room

05 Terrry Gomes Tropical DreamAnother disc that lifted my spirits and kept me grooving through the bitterly cold days of early January was The Tropical Dream, a concept album from Ottawa guitarist Terry Gomes (terrygomes.com). With a degree in classical guitar and composition, Gomes is quite an eclectic musician, having worked in rock bands, a classical guitar/flute duo and as a singer/songwriter. On this outing he has surrounded himself with a host of diverse musicians playing a range of percussion instruments, horns, piano, Paraguayan harp, basses, cello, steel pan and vocalizations to complement his own guitars and keyboards. Gomes says “If you live all or part of the year in a cold climate, chances are that you have some sort of tropical dream. This one is mine.” This is music that keeps you moving, although not always at a frenetic pace – there are occasional respites and a beautiful bossa ballad. The Tropical Dream would be a perfect accompaniment to a pitcher of margaritas or your favourite umbrella drink. I for one was happy to be on board with Gomes on this island cruise.

We welcome your feedback and invite submissions. CDs and comments should be sent to: DISCoveries, WholeNote Media Inc., The Centre for Social Innovation, 503 – 720 Bathurst St. Toronto ON M5S 2R4. We also encourage you to visit our website, thewholenote.com, where you can find enhanced reviews in the Listening Room with audio samples, upcoming performance details and direct links to performers, composers and record labels.

David Olds, DISCoveries Editor
discoveries@thewholenote.com

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