New music

Reviews of this week’s CD releases


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POP/ROCK JP Hoe Botanicals (Parmar Records/Independent)

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JP Hoe
Botanicals (Parmar Records/Independent)

Great art often comes from great sensitivity — people who grapple with their emotions and intellect, grasping for meaning and hope on the page or canvas, in song or in verse. Their struggles, their willingness to bare themselves and share their work, become touchstones for others who empathize and sympathize.

Winnipeg singer-songwriter JP Hoe’s new album, Botanicals, is that kind of creation, a record that encapsulates his introspective pandemic experience — a journey that led him to a profound understanding of family, community, friendship and, ultimately, love.

He expresses his revelations in a dozen fully realized tunes suffused with a Beatles-esque, baroque pop/rock sound led mostly by acoustic piano and beautifully augmented by a four-piece rock combo, live strings, organ, rich backing vocals — even handclaps (which always earn bonus points here).

Botanicals is also a truly independent and local effort. Hoe produced the recording, it was funded by fans and supporters, and mixed by local wizard Matt Peters (Royal Canoe, Deadmen) and the name of his company, Parmar, is an amalgam of his children’s names.

The songs themselves touch on the many things that concerned us all during the long periods of isolation of the past two years, from universal concepts to deeply intimate details. Opener Out of the Darkness ponders the fragility of time, Say What You Want to Say was inspired by a pandemic love story, Lost Touch is a haunting tale of tragic loss and closer My Blood expresses the unquantifiable depth of a parent’s love.

Hoe will launch Botanicals with live shows on Sept. 16 at the Park Theatre and a Sept. 17 mystery show at a secret location. ★★★★1/2 out of five

STREAM THESE: Out of the Darkness, Where the Bullets Lie, Bad News Travels Fast

— John Kendle



John Moreland
Birds in the Ceiling (Old Omens/Thirty Tigers)

John Moreland has more questions than answers these days, and he’s OK with that.

On his new album, Birds in the Ceiling, Moreland presses ahead in the gentle, thoughtful style that has distinguished the Oklahoma native from other Americana artists through six albums now.

There aren’t many “aha” moments, much less happy endings, but Moreland brings a quiet dignity to this nine-song set, adding intriguing new layers to an already impressive body of work.

He steps back from some of the synthesized bells and whistles he dabbled with on his last album. Those sounds occasionally distracted from the majestically stripped-down style that has long set Moreland apart from the rest of the singer-songwriter pack.

There’s more piano here than last time, but John Calvin Abney’s playing only enhances the elegant vibe. That’s especially true on a love song called Neon Middle June, built around a dreamscape of a track Abney put down when he didn’t know he was being recorded.

At the foundation of it all is the sound Moreland’s still perfecting, in this case a moody blend of guitar, piano and a voice that conveys openness and intimacy even if it’s shaped by sandpaper. He has enough command to slow the listener’s metabolism to a near stop, which could be a downer in less talented hands. But Moreland, endlessly exploring, never quite surrenders to the negativity. ★★★1/2 out of five

STREAM THIS: Neon Middle June

— Scott Stroud, The Associated Press



Joe McCarthy’s New York Afro Bop Alliance Big Band
The Pan American Nutcracker Suite (Angelface Records)

This totally fun album from Latin Grammy-winning drummer Joe McCarthy presents the familiar tunes of Nutcracker Suite as if Tchaikovsky had been born in the Caribbean. It is a complete romp, with wildly clever arrangements and terrific solos from a band with few well-known musicians. Pianist Luis Perdomo is an exception, but the sectional leads — Nick Marchione on trumpet, Mark Patterson on trombone, Andre Gould on alto and Vinnie Valentino on guitar — are standouts.

Duke Ellington interpreted Nutcracker as a terrific jazz album in 1960, and so it was perhaps time for a Latin addition to the genre. Afro Bop Alliance Big Band fills the bill nicely.

The rhythmic base is, of course, the name of the game, but within the Latin flavour, the arrangements then typically take off into a swinging groove. March, for example, begins with the classic melody until Perdomo blows in on piano and the full band digs in. The humour in the phrases that we all know is tangible.

Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy is poly-rhythmical and a challenge for a dancer, with a great baritone solo by Frank Basile.

Commenting on the sense of fun here should not be interpreted as suggesting the album is frivolous. These folks take the project seriously and then, within the familiarity of the tunes, go in directions that would probably have been outside Tchaikovsky’s experience.

This album delivers music we all know well in wonderfully unexpected and enjoyable ways. I would also suggest turning up the gain to the limit of neighbourliness. The whole gig will put a smile on your face. Guaranteed. ★★★★1/2 out of five

STREAM THESE: Arabian Dance, Dance of the Reed Flutes

— Keith Black


An Unexpected Mozart: Works for Keyboard; Various Instruments; Lieder & Arias
Ensemble Les Surprises (Harmonia Mundi)

Just when you think you’ve heard everything under the sun penned by the Wunderkind, this two-disc album offers a treasure trove of unfamiliar gems, including a work for glass harmonica, as well as several selections by a few interlopers: Haydn and C.P.E. Bach, two composers whom Mozart adored.

The upcoming October release features the aptly titled Ensemble Les Surprises, led by Louis-Noel Bestion de Camboulas, who spearheaded a self-described “crazy long-term project,” resulting in this anthology collection.

Many “a-ha” and “who knew?” moments abound. Seven of Mozart’s Church or Epistle sonatas are offered; designed to slip into pauses during celebration of the Mass, each of these short pieces brims with the composer’s idiosyncratic style.

Other highlights include Bestion de Camboulas’s own solo of Gigue in G Major, K. 574, executed crisply on harpsichord, or Adagio, K. 593a and Fugue, K. 626 (after the Requiem’s Kyrie). A highly lyrical Solfeggio No. 2 in F Major, K. 393 showcases the luminous, soaring vocals of soprano Marie Perbost, sung in the style of a vocalise. Not to be outdone, baritone Marc Mauillon delivers a thoughtful Ariette “Dans un bois solitaire,” K. 308, infused with dramatic intensity, and a more playful Die Zufriedenheit, “Was frag’ ich viel nach Geld und Gut,” K. 349.

However if there’s one go-to track that bears testament to Mozart’s genius and ability to shapeshift to whatever instrument he had at hand, it’s the spine-tingling Adagio for Glass Harmonica in C Major, K. 356. Thomas Bloch’s crystalline interpretation, in which the melody delicately rises and falls, provides nearly four minutes of pure, suspended beauty in this most unusual and unexpected piece. ★★★★1/2 out of five

STREAM THIS: Adagio for Glass harmonica in C Major, K. 356, performed by Thomas Bloch

— Holly Harris

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