Ellen Doty is good as GOLD: a CD review by Stanley Fefferman

goldEllen Doty sings like a whispering canary, in the hushed, intimate manner of Peggy Lee, if you go back that far, or the ethereal Margo Timmins of the 80′s band Cowboy Junkies. Ms.Doty is an original jazz vocalist and she also had a hand in writing the songs on her first full album. She opens the album with “Diamond From Cole”, a tune with a catchy big band though slightly four-square bounce, then settles into a more intimate, reflective, 40′s club mood with “Restless Heart,” “No Good Man,” and “Wait For Your Call.” Ellen projects a woman who is open, beguiled and beguiling, smart but always soft. I have listened to this album half a dozen times: when I just listen, it catches me; listening while I work, it hangs out with my mood like a golden glow. Ellen Doty is one sophisticated lady, originating in Calgary and currently touring the western provinces with an excellent nine-piece band. The title tune, “Gold,” is about a girl with ambition who won’t give up. Go girl, go.

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Bravos for The Ukrainian Art Song Project: Galicians I reviewed by Stasia Marunchak

November 2, 2014. Koerner Hall, Toronto.

PavoloHunka copyThanks to bass-baritone Pavlo Hunka, a Toronto audience had the opportunity of hearing the first public performance of a unique collection of Ukrainian Art Songs.  In the Ukrainian tradition, we are used to hearing choral arrangements with beautiful, rich harmonies. For an audience composed largely from the Ukrainian community, this concert of  Art Songs was a departure from what is usually heard in a celebration of our culture.

At a time in Ukrainian when culture has taken a backseat to politics, it was especially poignant to witness to the performance of art songs from the Galician region of Ukraine. Many of these songs have never been heard by more than a very small gathering. Much of Ukrainian cultural and religious pursuits were stifled throughout history with outright bans on the use of the language in all artistic endeavours. To say it was moving to hear this music brought to life for the first time would be an understatement.

Other UkranianLadyOne of the more touching aspects of the concert was the presence of the daughters of Stefania Turkevich, the first female Ukrainian composer. Pavlo Hunka, world-famous bass-baritone and the mastermind and driving force behind the Ukrainian Art Song Project, was visiting one of her daughters, for the purpose of collecting scores from another composer, when she offhandedly asked if he had heard of her mother. To his dismay, he hadn’t, but he has more than rectified that situation now.

However, it is the legacy of this concert and the entire Ukrainian Art Song Project that is the real story. The concert was moving and beautiful, with unique minimalist staging and a quartet of incredibly talented voices bringing the music to life. But the true dividends will come with the completion of the series and the publishing of over 1000 art songs by 26 composers available for free to all on their website www.ukrainianartsong.ca. Students, music educators, choir masters and music lovers alike will be able to access these previously unknown and unpublished scores. We were asked during the concert what Italian culture would be without Verdi or Vivaldi, German culture without Bach or Brahms, French culture without Bizet or Debussy, Russian culture without Rachmaninov or Tchaikovsky. I don’t think it had occurred to much of the audience that we were missing such a vital piece of our history. Our folk traditions are strong, but it is impossible to guess what we have lost with the suppression of so much of our classical roots.

Bravo to Pavlo Hunka and the Ukrainian Art Song Project for ensuring that future generations will have access such a vital part of Ukrainian musical heritage. Perhaps now is the time for all cultures to search their archives for lost and forgotten artists of all mediums and to guarantee their preservation.

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Five Stars for Soundstreams Four Seasons Reviewed by Stanley Fefferman

frehner copyThe first and brightest star is for Montreal composer Paul Frehner who makes amazing music out of imagining extremes of weather. In 2004 Frehner was inspired by reports of the Indian Ocean tsumani: a couple of years later, he produced Sanctuary, his reflection on an imaginary haven in a vast landscape that evolves over time. Last night we heard Frehner’s musical dream about a violinist caught in a gigantic summer dust-storm slowly moving across the Mojave Desert. The music had the excitement of an abstract expressionist canvas done impasto, where hot oil-colours are laid on the surface very thickly and spread by exhuberant strokes of a painting-knife, smoothly as a heat wave, thick and gritty as a sandstorm, evanescent as an evening breeze.

hopeMax Richter, the German-born English composer ‘re-imagined’ Vivaldi’s Four Seasons two years ago for violinist Daniel Hope: they are two more stars in this evening’s constellation. Richter’s score combines the vivacity and charm of Vivaldi but intrigues by arranging for Vivaldi’s overfamiliar themes to peek, slip and burst through a fabric of minimalist textures. Daniel Hope’s grasp of the music, which he conducted as soloist, was a brilliance of its own, and his playing dazzled but also touched deep emotions.

TSO principal clarinet Joaquin Valdepeñas seemed to be one with the music and the ensemble of local All-Star players as he conducted the Frehner and John Luther Adams’ White on White.  Together they complete the constellation of a Five Star evening in stellar Koerner Hall.

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TD TORONTO JAZZ FESTIVAL PICS by Eric Fefferman

John Scofield Uberjam Band: Mainstage.  Thu Jun 26 8:00pm

JOhnScofield

 

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Melodies of Marco Polo Dance into Your Body: A CD review by Stanley Fefferman

marcopoloThe Musical Voyages of Marco Polo. Kyriakos Kalaitzidis: Harmonia Mundi/ World Village. Release: 2014-03-11

The title tells you about the historical Silk Route journey concept of this project, so let me tell you how it sounds.

The music of composer Kyriakos Kalaitzidis, based in Byzantine classical traditions, sings melodically, but with a strong sense of dance. The nasal whining and twang of his oud lines move like loping camels  ornamented by the patient jingle-jangle of their bells. Huiran Wangs’ plectrum on the strings of the solo pipa sounds elemental like stones rattling in a tin pot. The melodies are rhythm-based: strokes of implement or hand on stretched skins of tombak  and other percussion reflect the strokes on stretched strings of oud, setar and sarang. The nuances of rhythmic changes and   melodic inflections dance right into your bones.

Styles, timbres, temperaments and textures of the vocalists couldn’t be more wide-ranging, various and interesting. Some of them  shout—field shouts. Nodira Primatova supplicates like a love-lorn banshee in her Uzbek song “Ey Dilbari Jononim.” Maria Farantouri sings the album’s most affecting song, “The Stranger,” in a high, haunting voice of exquisite sensitivity. Amartuvshin Baasandorj’s “Chandmani untag,” a Mongolian style song, is an exotic tour de force because his mouth and hand jive— like Tibetan overtone – harmonic or throat – singing—growls in gritty lower pitches or whistles and whines like a jews harp.

This project is a collaboration between two ensembles: En Chordais, directed by virtuoso oud play player Kyriakos Kalaitzidis, and Constantinople comprising brothers Kiya and Ziya Tabassian (Kiya plays setar, sings and composes, Ziya explores the infinite possibilities of the tombak and other percussion instruments), and Pierre-Yves Martel— a viola da gamba player from Montreal.

There is a whole world of listening here, a generously packaged  feast for the ear and the mind. Five Stars.

 

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Catherine Russell’s CD BRING IT BACK is Aged and Mellow

Bring it backWhat do you do when the thrill is gone? Bring it Back. What Katherine Russell brings back on her fifth album is the thrill of  ‘Swing’. Behind her direct and warm stylings you get into hearing echoes of Roy Eldridge’s muted trumpet in front of Fletcher Henderson’s orchestra; Louis Armstrong’s horn with his own band; Basie on piano with Freddy Green on guitar, or Ellington leading Jimmy Blanton on bass and Ben Webster on sax.

Of course, Swing never really went away, so you’re entitled to hear Jimmy McGriff’s bluesy riffs behind Catherine as she vamps the 1956 hit “After the Lights Go Down Low.” Her second track “I’m Shooting High,” has the Jimmy McHugh signature vibe that helped real jazz be popular and become perennial. The album has tunes by Duke Ellington, Fats Waller, Harold Arlen, Johnny Otis and Johnny Green that all make you want to dance, fast or slow. But you also want to listen to Russell’s phrasing which never calls attention to itself, but always takes you into the emotion of the song. My nominee for the most interesting number is “Aged And Mellow.” By including this tune, Catherine Russell brings back the tradition of bandleader Johnny Otis, who also wrote “Hound Dog” and discovered singers Little Esther, Etta James, and Willie Mae ‘Big Mama’ Thornton.

Catherine Russell was born into the history of jazz. Her mother is the recently deceased vocalist Carline Ray, who played rhythm guitar back in the day for Erskine Hawkins and Mary Lou Williams. Her father, Luis Russell led the band and arranged for Louis Armstrong who wrote the ballad “Lucille” which she records here for the first time. To share her personal heritage project on the Harmonia Mundi Jazz Village imprint, Catherine Russell collaborated with a fine ten-piece band and arrangers who make the music sound authentic for then and real for now. It’s a keeper.

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Track Listing: Bring It Back; I’m Shooting High; I Let a Song Go Out of My Heart; You Got To Swing and Sway; Aged and Mellow; The Darktown Strutters Ball; Lucille; You’ve Got Me Under Your Thumb; After The Light Go Down Low; I’m Sticking With You Baby; Strange as it Seems; Public Melody Number One; I Cover The Waterfront.

Personnel: Catherine Russell: vocals, percussion (6, 10); Matt Munisteri: guitar; Mark Shane: piano; Lee Hudson: bass (1-5, 7-13); Nicki Parrott: bass (6); Mark McLean: drums, percussion (6); Andy Farber: tenor saxophone; Jon-Erik Kellso: trumpet; Brian Pareschi: trumpet (2-13); Dan Block: alto saxophone, tenor saxophone (5), clarinet (4); John Allred: trombone; Mark Lopeman: baritone saxophone; Glen Patscha: Hammond B-3 (6, 9, 10).

Record Label: Harmonia Mundi Jazz Village Music

 

 

 

 

 

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Pieczonka Proves the Power of Forgiving in The Canadian Opera Company’s A Masked Ball

13-14-04-MC-D-1573February 5, 2014. Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, Toronto.

Verdi’s A Masked Ball is a blend of splendid elements. It has romance: Riccardo, the Governor of Boston and Amelia are in the toils of an irresistible attraction.  It has drama: Amelia is married to the Governor’s best friend and political advisor, Renato. It has intrigue: the Governor’s political opponents, led by Samuel and Tom, are planning to assassinate Riccardo, and Renato is his most loyal defender. The first act writhes with dramatic irony because Renato does not understand that the man he is loyal to is his betrayer. In the third act, which is a masked ball, all the masks are peeled away, and a tragic truth is revealed. READ THE FULL REVIEW

 

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Isabelle Faust and Alexander Melnikov Play Beethoven Violin Sonatas with Passion Tempered by Gentleness

FaustMelnikovJanuary 24, 2013. Koerner Hall, Toronto.

When Tolstoy listened to Beethoven’s “Kreutzer Sonata,”  he imagined a crime of passion. Tolstoy wrote a story about a performance of this violin sonata that drives a husband  to kill his wife  after hearing her play it with another man.Isabelle Faust accompanied by pianist Alexander Melnikov did not play Beethoven’s Op. 47  that way last night in Koerner Hall. Dressed in a diaphanous coat of shimmering green and magenta, her tone brought to mind a dragonfly hovering on transparent wings above the sparkling cascades of Melnikov’s piano. Their performance swelled with passion tempered by gentleness. READ THE FULL REVIEW ON BACHTRACK.COM

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