Reviews of this week’s CD releases
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Slingshot (Captured Tracks)
JayWood is the nom-de-mic of Winnipeg’s Jeremy Haywood-Smith, and the self-taught musician’s first album for Brooklyn boutique label Captured Tracks ups his game in a major way. Slingshot takes the catchy, jangly indie pop of Time, his 2019 debut full-length, and merges it with a trippy rhythmic groove to create a 12-track fever dream that incorporates elements of funk, R&B, hip hop and Daisy Age psychedelia.
JayWood says the album’s title reflects the notion that you’ve got to look back in order to forge ahead and Slingshot’s opening cut, Intro (End of an Era), therefore waves goodbye to the radio-static theme that ran through Time. What ensues is a rich music-and-song-cycle that’s meant to span a full day, encompassing the daily breadth of our thoughts and emotions — sublime to trivial and back again.
There’s questioning and wonder in the funky, psychedelic God is a Reptile; hip-swaying joy in the breezy pop of All Night Long; empathy for those less fortunate in the smooth synthpop of Just Sayin’ ;and justifiable anger at racial injustice in the vamping, quasi-jazz of Kitchen Floor and the brooding, grooving hip hop of Shine (which features Jay trading vocals with McKinley Dixon). YGBO offers reassurance, while the penultimate track, Thank You, is a hypnotic, anthemic ode to JayWood’s late mother, co-written-and-produced with Jacob Portrait of This Mortal Orchestra.
With the exception of Thank You, Slingshot is almost completely local, recorded and co-produced by Will Grierson and Arthur Antony of Collector Studio, with vocal and musical contributions from singers Kayla Fernandes and Ami Cheon, drummer Ben Stokes, keyboardist Max Hamilton and saxophonist Eamon Sheil, among others. ★★★★ out of five
STREAM THESE: God is a Reptile, All Night Long, Shine
— John Kendle
Peculiar, Missouri (Free Dirt Records)
Coming from a queer, six-foot-four, 300-pound former high school football captain who went on to sing Midwestern punk rock, pursue poetry in New York and then earn a fellowship to teach literature in the Ozarks, this album is what you’d expect: different.
It’s terrific, too.
Like the Prairie pioneers who inform his muse, Willi Carlisle has navigated remarkable terrain to arrive at Peculiar, Missouri, a collection of campfire folk that celebrates love while railing against capitalism, meritocracy, our political divide and the designated hitter.
Carlisle’s sharp satire and literary bent separate him from the populist pack. He draws on the work of Carl Sandburg and e.e. cummings, rhymes “Bugatti” with “Passamaquoddy,” and employs such words as fractal and chlorophyllic.
His range of styles also helps put Peculiar, Missouri on the musical map. The anthemic I Won’t Be Afraid will bring goosebumps with a singalong chorus aided by the vocals of Ordinary Elephant, before Carlisle pledges to “love whoever I well please.” The title cut is a talking blues that takes a pivotal turn in the cosmetics aisle at Walmart, while the banjo-driven Your Heart’s a Big Tent proposes a group hug. Life on the Fence, a weepy waltz about a conflicted bisexual, describes a love triangle in 3/4 time, and the drony traditional ballad Rainbow Mid Life’s Willow evokes the Scottish Highlands even as Carlisle pronounces “wallow” as “waller.”
Elsewhere Carlisle sings about a family sawed in half (Tulsa’s Last Magician) and the empty allure of the vagabond lifestyle (Vanlife), always with a twinkle in his tenor. He also plays a mean button accordion. The former football captain deserves a high-five for this entertaining, thought-provoking snapshot of America. ★★★★ out of five
STREAM THESE: I Won’t Be Afraid, Life on the Fence
— Steven Wine, The Associated Press
The Next Step (Modica Music)
Bassist Roberto Occhipinti is a long-standing presence in the Canadian jazz scene. Winner of five Junos, he has also worked with musicians around the world from John Cage to Stevie Wonder.
With this trio album, he returns solidly to his jazz roots while referencing his wide career. The other two in his trio are Adrean Farrugia on piano and Larnell Lewis on drums and they are terrific.
There’s a very old truism in the jazz (and general music world): Never start with a ballad. The “rule” is frequently broken these days, and most beautifully on this album. The opening track, The Next Step, has all players saying Hello, and Occhipinti plays both plucked and con arco to real effect (throughout the album he uses the bow more frequently than is often heard in bass-led groups).
In a sense, the whole gig features Occhipinti as the leader while ensuring all are heard. For example, Emancipation Day refers to an Aug. 1 celebration in Owen Sound, Ont. It was the terminus of the Underground Railroad, and the track has a great Afrobeat groove.
The Peacocks, a somewhat under-played jazz tune, is a favourite of mine. Here Occhipinti uses gentle overdubs for his solo in a lovely arrangement.
Three tracks pay respects to musicians Occhipinti has worked with or been influenced by. Opus Pocus is a Jaco Pastorious tune that has a blues-rock-fusion mood that probably has the funkiest feel on the album. Steveland is of course a nod to Wonder, with whom Occhipinti toured, while A Tynerish Swing is for pianist McCoy Tyner. The one vocal track with Ilaria Corciani is a 1640 Scarlatti tune – O Cessate Di Piagarmi.
This may sound like a strange mélange of unrelated tunes or moods, but the overall effect is in no way jarring. This is solid trio jazz that pulls in some of Occhipinti’s wide influences, showing total respect within strong creative appreciation from a great trio. Highly recommended. ★★★★1/2 out of five
STREAM THESE: The Next Step, Opus Pocus
— Keith Black
The Romantic Piano Concerto — Volume 84
Aloys Schmitt: Piano Concertos
Ulster Orchestra (Hyperion)
This early summer release celebrates the music of Aloys Schmitt, 19th-century German composer respected by his colleagues but largely forgotten by the annals of time.
Acclaimed British conductor Howard Shelley, who also serves as solo pianist, leads the Ulster Orchestra through two larger-scale orchestral works, including Piano Concerto No. 1 in C minor, Op. 14, which bears the hallmarks of Austro-German romanticism.
Shelley delivers its three movements with staunch conviction, including the opening Allegro, evoking the dramatic thrust of Beethoven and Mozart. He then infuses the central movement, Adagio con moto quasi andante, with limpid expressiveness, including long arching phrasing before a crackling Rondo: Allegro, his instrument in clear dialogue with the orchestra.
The second offering, Piano Concerto No. 2 in D minor, Op. 34, proves equally pensive with Beethovenian overtones during the Allegro, before Shelley delivers his opening keyboard flourish with forceful abandon. The subsequent Adagio again becomes a palate cleanser with its lush lyricism, before another effervescent Allegro finale provides another showcase for the artist’s technical prowess.
The album’s descriptive liner notes metaphorically compare Schmitt’s lack of profile to the 90 per cent of icebergs not seen above water, and it is admittedly a mystery why both these ear-pleasing works are not more widely performed. Still, listeners are given one more chance to hear his appealing music with Rondeau brilliant, Op. 101, providing further testament to this composer’s artistry, long gone yet not forgotten. ★★★★ out of five
STREAM THIS: Schmitt’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in C minor, Op. 14, Rondo: Allegro
— Holly Harris