Archive for December, 2007

Art of Time’s “Source and Inspiration II” reviewed by Stanley Fefferman

Sunday, December 16th, 2007

John Cage would have loved the aleatory element in Andrew Burashko’s arrangement of this evening’s music. Burashko invited 6 songwriter/performers to write 2 songs each based on Robert Schumann’s “Piano Quintet in E flat Op.44”: they could choose a bit of melody or other compositional element, a motif from Schumann’s romantically tortured life with his wife Clara, whatever would inspire a couple of songs that would “give old ideas new meanings.”

David Wall (accompanied here by Sacha Livinsky) chose to put ‘Schumansky’ in a Jewish context, and given that the composer was suicidal, Wall combined his sense of futility with a bad meal, in a darkly funny klesmerish song called, “What’s this on my Plate?” Wall based his second offering on a bit of melody from the ‘Quintet’ and alluded to the composer’s attempted suicide by drowning in an hallucinatory aria wherein the composer hears himself and the voices of his wife and her admirer Johannes Brahms.

In a touching song called “Hello Beautiful Life,”Andy Maize meditated on the paradox of Schumann’s love of his wife and how he could jump off a bridge when he was afraid of heights. His second offering, based on a melody from the 4th movement of the “Quintet”, worked off the notions that Schumann’s hallucinations sometimes included hearing the note “A” in his ear, and a feeling that he was shivering. Maize sang in his gritty voice the line “hold me close, don’t let me shiver,” and the feeling became real.

Justin Rutledge picked up the theme of cold and sang in his high pitched beautiful wail to an hypnotic guitar strum the refrain “We were cold, now we’re freezing” Kyrie Kristmanson, sometimes on guitar, sometimes on trumpet, equated Schumann with ‘human’ and sang about the good times of the composer’s love life in the tunes “Talk to Me”, and “We’ve Landed.”

John Southworth composed songs with the best titles: “Queen Lear,” and “La Frileuse”, another reference to frigidity, which he sang accompanied by breath organs and bass. Southworth has a Dylan type delivery and sometimes recalls the jaded cabaret style of Tom Waits–two good things to be likened to.
Martin Tielli and Rob Piltch closed this saucy evening, so light, rich, and varied with a pair of very crazy tunes. What is especially great about the way they and all the performers took Burashko’s example of being open while  trying to bridge the minds of classical and popular music, is that all solemnity evaporated. What remains is the delight of invention by talented people who are not competing with or for anything. And that is a great pleasure to experience.

O yes, the Schumann Opus 44 was great, especially the exchanges between David Hetherington’s cello and Steven Dann’s viola during the development of the first movement. It was Schumann who first added piano to string quartet: as Burashko played it, the piano added the percussive beat of drama and rippling flow of life to the sighs and groans of the strings, especially in the second movement. First violin Erica Raum held the group, which included Stephen Sitarski on violin, firmly together from first to last.

James Ehnes and Stewart Goodyear Recital reviewed by Stanley Fefferman

Friday, December 7th, 2007

Thursday, December 6, 2007.

Mozart’s Sonata No.35 in A Major, K.526, composed in 1787, the same year as Don Giovanni, is a true duo of equal partners. The Andante is especially affecting. Ehnes and Goodyear generate a magical mood, present and reflective, deep like moonlight reflected in a pond laced with lilies. The final Presto is bright crystal, balancing a liquid flow of trilling piano arpeggios with the lightly stroked staccato violin.

One is humbled by the brilliance of Bach’s Chaconne from Partita No. 2 in D Minor for solo violin, BWV 1004. Bach takes a plaintive four-bar phrase though kaleidoscopic variations of musical expression in both major and minor modes. His pyrotechnics of replication and mutation are said to be “nearly impossible to play.”

James Ehnes dedicated this performance to his late friend, Frank Daly. He played Bach’s slow, triple meter melody with such tender passion, it sounded almost like speaking a remembrance of the man’s life. Ehnes astonishes by his virtuosity: flawless technique and even tone especially notable throughout the multi-textured, double-voiced closing portion.

Stewart Goodyear premiered his tribute to bluesman Robert Johnson, a work commissioned by the Women’s Musical Club of Toronto. Entitled “Dogged by Hell Hounds”, the piece is like a breath of street life flowing through the open window of a drawing room. The title is partly explained by the facts of Johnson’s life that ended in 1937 at age 27, poisoned by alcohol given him by the husband of a woman Johnson was loving.

Also instructive is the Johnson Legend that depicts him as a young, Mississippi Delta itinerant field worker “with a burning desire to become a great blues musician [who] was instructed to take his guitar to a crossroad near Dockery’s plantation at midnight. There he was met by…the Devil…who took the guitar from Johnson, tuned the guitar so that he could play anything that he wanted, and handed it back to him in return for his soul. Within less than a year’s time, in exchange for his everlasting soul, Robert Johnson became the king of the Delta blues singers, able to play, sing, and create the greatest blues anyone had ever heard.

Goodyear’s 12 bar blues-based composition reflects the easy stride of the blues, sometimes described as ‘a mule loping through Texas,’ as well as the harsh, crabbed, complexities of Johnson’s struggle for survival and self-expression.

Richard Strauss’ orchestral Sonata in E-Flat Major, Opus 18(1887), with its playful Finale brought the audience to its feet in appreciation of the splendid collaboration of these two great players.

FLYING HIGH IN THE JAZZ SKY viewed by Stanley Fefferman

Wednesday, December 5th, 2007

Mike Ruby’s debut CD entitled “Playtime” was released a few days ago at The Rex Hotel in Toronto with a live performance attended by a multitude of well-wishers, among them lots of jazz heavy hitters. And no wonder. Ruby on tenor sax in quartet benefits by comparison to the young Joshua Redman. Warm even tone, flexible attack, a composer of listenable tunes, with a feel for the lyrical mode in tender standards like “Someday My Prince Will Come”, virtuoso technique on fast, wild runs, and a love of adventure in improv that goes out out and far out.

Ruby’s backstory made news last year, when JazzFM, in conjunction with Universal Music and Alma Records, held the inaugural National Project Jazz contest at The Rex Hotel in Toronto. There were over 60 tapes submitted from across Canada. Mike Ruby won and received $15,000.00 towards his debut recording on Alma Records (distribution via Universal) and, in July Mike Ruby, under the guidance of Alma president and producer, Peter Cardinali and co-producer, Universal Music’s Scott Morin, recorded Playtime at Phase One Studios with Mike’s outstanding band (Pascal Le Boeuf, piano;Dan Fortin, bass, Adam Arruda, drums).

Mike is currently living in New York on a two-year scholarship at the Manhattan School of Music. He is the lone accepted student to receive the President’s Award for exceptionally high merit (2007). Mike’s website is


Laila Biali has been one of my favourites since I wrote about her trio at the late Montreal Bistro in January of ’05. Laila has such an abundance of sheer talent as a pianist and composer, and she sings very well. Her voice can be breathy or full of brass. Her dynamics are wide-ranging and well under her control. She has great daring in improvising melody and she is capable of a tenderness matching the delicacy of her piano arpeggios. However, back at the time of her first CD I wrote, “Her excellent vocal qualities need to cook together a bit and settle into something more natural before Diana Krall needs to move over.”

Laila’s new CD entitled “from sea to sky” (available online) features 9 of Laila’s terrific compositions and two standards all of which Laila has arranged for herself on vocals and piano backed by the most pro dream team of jazz players in the country: Phil Dwyer on saxes, Don Thompson on vibes, Guido Basso on trumpet and flugelhorn, Rob Piltch on guitar, George Koller on bass, and Darnell Lewis on drums. The music is no less than first rate. One little problem is that Laila sings on almost every cut:the sameness of the vocal tones gives me a feeling of monotony. The album is gorgeously produced.There are generous samples of her tunes on Laila’s website. Check it out and give them a listen.