Reviews of this week’s CD releases
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 17/02/2022 (346 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Brave Land (Independent)
Winnipeg singer-songwriter Raine Hamilton has had her third full-length album ready for over a year. Though she couldn’t have foreseen the state of the world when she chose Brave Land’s late-January release date, its 11 songs arrive just as we need them most. After nearly two years of pestilence, with news headlines full of bellicose ignorance at home, diplomatic belligerence overseas and our Prairie land fully in the grip of a hoary winter, this joyous communion with nature brings welcome respite.
Inspired by pastoral beauty, Brave Land is a celebration of love in all its forms, and Hamilton’s unceasing wonder and righteous spirituality offer a warm and welcome hug.
Hamilton calls her music “acoustic chamber folk,” which is an apt description, as the singer, violinist and guitarist blends the traditional folk-singer oeuvre with the string sounds of upright bassist Quintin Bart and cellist Natanielle Felicitas to create a soothing blend of natural melody, rhythm and harmony. The performances here, captured by local producer/engineer Lloyd Peterson, are clear and bright, and Hamilton’s pleasing alto rings true.
Several of Brave Land’s songs took shape at a writer’s retreat at Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity, and the effect of that opportunity to contemplate and wonder is clear in songs such as Mountain Henge, Believer, Dreamer and Eclipse. The depth of feeling in such paeans to the earth also comes through in material that is not so literally linked to the natural world. Love Has Come for Me is a pure expression of self, Over the Mountain explores the call to create art and leave a mark, while It Matters urges the necessity of truly grasping the meaning of reconciliation. ★★★★
STREAM THESE: Love Has Come for Me, Over the Mountain, Eclipse
— John Kendle
PREY//IV (Eating Glass Records)
Alice Glass is the blueprint for hyperpop — the new music genre loved by Gen Z and trending on TikTok. In her long-awaited solo full-length album, PREY//IV, the queen of electro-punk is back and asking, “Where would you be without me?”
She’s in full control, using her raw voice and lyrics as she details the end of a toxic relationship and getting to a place where the Sorrow Ends.
Glass parted ways with indie electronic-pop group Crystal Castles in 2014 and later publicly addressed abuse at the hands of a former bandmate. Her album makes references to darker times in Crystal Castles in the lyrics and the album title.
In her first song on the album symbolically named Prey she asks the listener: “Do you believe me? Does it matter?”
Through the vulnerability of her lyricism, Glass pulls back the curtain on her pain and stands in her power. On Prey//IV, the Canadian musician uses her voice as an instrument to create a complex soundscape over dark electro-pop beats.
In her stirring song Fair Game, Glass flips the cutting criticism and manipulative words of the abuser back onto them. “I know you don’t know this but you’re a cliché,” she sings. “You screw up everything.”
The song is a defining moment for Glass. It’s her biting back at all those who have questioned her rise since leaving Crystal Castles.
At times, Glass pairs electronic dance beats with her haunting writing like in Baby Teeth and The Hunted. She uses her vocals to move from anger and hurt on The Hunted as she warps into a punk scream.
Glass’s I Trusted You was a fan favourite ahead of her album release. The song, which premièred in 2018, relies on low-frequency infused beats that build, creating a fitting space for the timbre of her voice. The exhaustion in her voice underscores the meaning behind her album.
Her final song, Sorrow Ends, is a wordless instrumental composition, as if to say she has said everything she has needed to say and left it all on the album. ★★★★ out of five
STREAM THESE: I Trusted You, Fair Game
— Beatrice Dupuy, The Associated Press
Breath by Breath (Palmetto)
Music is often referred to as meditative. In the case of this album, the specific process of meditation was the foundation for the music.
Pianist/composer Fred Hersch is in the very top group of contemporary jazz pianists. His personal journey includes a near-death experience; his stunning creativity seems to reflect his deeply held appreciation for his life.
He credits meditation with saving him during the pandemic; here, his compositional skills and meditative foundation are combined with a celebratory return to a larger ensemble than the pandemic had previously allowed. This is “chamber jazz,” new music, genre-bending jazz — by whatever name, simply beautiful.
Hersch has with him bassist Drew Gress and drummer Jochen Rueckert, and a string quartet called the Crosby Street Quartet, referencing the New York address where they teamed up with Hersch. While contemplative and mainly gentle, the music is much more than a simple alternative to ocean waves or bird songs. It weaves through emotion and intensity in a delightful way.
Hersch says that the ability to meet collectively was critically important to him and allowed the recording to be made live. The strings are therefore not an “add on” at a later date — they are fully involved in the mood and directions of the tracks. The synergy is wonderful.
The opening track, quite deliberately called Begin Again, is a lovely melody that sets up the album. Hersch’s fugue-like solo is upbeat and lilting to reflect the pleasure of getting, for this occasion at least, back to “normal” joys.
In this column I sometimes refer to an album as a wonderful gift; it’s true a descriptor of Breath By Breath. This one is a keeper. ★★★★1/2 out of five
STREAM THESE: Begin Again, Rising, Falling
— Keith Black
The Trumpet as Movie Star
Romain Leleu, Trumpet (Harmonia Mundi)
Certain album titles grab attention more than others — this is one of them. The new compilation disc The Trumpet as Movie Star celebrates the time-honoured brass instrument and its starring role in numerous film soundtracks, paying homage to a host of composers that have harnessed its chameleonic nature in expressing mood and character. Thirteen listener-friendly tracks range from Nino Rota’s haunting theme from The Godfather to the world première of Baptiste Trotignon’s concerto for trumpet and orchestra, Move, all performed by French trumpeter Romain Leleu.
Other highlights include a jazzy rendition of Michel Legrand’s Les Desmoiselles de Rochefort from Chanson des Jumelles, as well as that same composer’s Dingo (The Dream). Cultural flair is added with Dans les forets de Siberie (Baikal) by Ibrahim Maalou, and Chinatown Suite, penned by Jerry Goldsmith, showing off Leleu’s versatility and ability to switch musical styles on a dime. Miles Davis fans will enjoy Ascenseur pour l’echafaud, while Ennio Morricone’s Per un pugno di dollari from Titoli is infused with noble grandeur.
Trotignon’s contemporary three-movement work offers a technical barnburner, with Leleu performing its quick-tongued passages, as well as more lyrical sections, with aplomb. Its slow movement, Adagio meditative, is highly introspective, while the finale, Moderato con eleganza, is delivered with elegant finesse.
The ever-popular Moon River by Henry Mancini becomes a special treat, propelled by long-arching lyrical phrases, while an irresistible offering of Irving Berlin’s Cheek to Cheek, including jazz vocals, leaves listeners longing to trip their own light fantastic. ★★★★ out of five
STREAM THIS: Cheek to Cheek
— Holly Harris