POP / ROCK
Good Morning Hunter (Do Right! Music)
Odario Williams has been on a musical quest all his life. Go back far enough and you can pretty much draw a straight line from his father’s days as a reggae sound system DJ through to his own current job as host of Afterdark on CBC Radio. Along the way, the Guyanese-born, Winnipeg-raised musician has fronted Mood Ruff, studied theatre at the U of W, co-founded the Peg City Holla festival and, after moving to Toronto, made three records with pop/soul/reggae/hip hop outfit Grand Analog before landing the big radio gig in 2017.
Late last year, Odario hooked up with producer Todor Kobakov to record a single called Low Light (in this Space), which was released in February. The collaboration between the multifaceted MC and classically trained pianist/composer was fruitful enough that they’ve followed it up with an EP recorded in Toronto in the early weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic.
At seven tracks and 28 minutes, Good Morning Hunter is practically an album, and its musical vision is certainly fully realized. From the outset, Odario and Kobakov (who has written TV and film scores, and worked with the likes of Metric, Stars and k-os) have hit upon just the right blend of beat-driven, hip hop sensibility and melodic, orchestral compositions.
Opening track Peace offers an immediately bumping bass-and-drum rhythm but the tune really rides on Kobakov’s irrepressible piano melody, which riffs over and over while Odario spins a rhyme about dreaming of peace in these stressful times.
The bass-driven title track riffs on an Isaac Hayes vibe, urges listeners to face each day anew and really gets going when Drake/Weeknd guitarist Adrian X weaves an intricate blues/funk thread around and through Odario’s lyric and Kobakov’s moody synthesizer and organ melody. Odario then brings his brother, Ofield K, in to offer up a dubplate remix of Good Morning Hunter before he takes an introspective turn with Disastro (which features a spoken-word poem by Angelita SB, who’s also on Reprise) and closes things on an upbeat note with a dense, steel drum-inflected summertime thumper called Hot Hot Heat, featuring vocals from Kamilah Apong. ★★★★ out of five
STREAM THESE: Peace; Good Morning Hunter: OK Dub; Hot Hot Heat
— John Kendle
POP / ROCK
Love Is the King (dBpm Records)
"Here I am," Jeff Tweedy sings at the onset of the title track, and also first song, of Love Is the King, a record made in April while the Wilco frontman was quarantining with his wife and sons at home in Chicago.
The song sets the mood and tone for the record, which refuses to give up on love and optimism, while death, disaster and dread are never far away.
"There it is," Tweedy continues. "At the edge/Of as bad as it gets."
Tweedy’s reaction to being quarantined was to get to work. In addition to the new record, made with his two musician-sons Spencer and Sammy, he also has a new book out called How to Write One Song.
Love Is the King is filled with beautiful melodies, while also embracing fear and uncertainty.
"I’m just having a ball/Being alive," he sings on A Robin or a Wren. "And I don’t want to die/I don’t wanna die."
More than any other track, the stark Bad Day Lately sums up quarantining as the pandemic drags on.
"It’s been a bad day lately/A lonely place/I can’t endure," Tweedy sings.
For a record that can at times be so dark, it’s not depressing. If anything, in Tweedy’s embracing the darkness that surrounds him, and us, he emerges more hopeful than before. Perhaps, as Tweedy emphasizes with the record title, love indeed is the king.
"When you need me," he sings with assurance on Half-Asleep, the final track, "I’ll be there." ★★★★ out of five
STREAM THESE: Bad Day Lately, Love Is the King
— Scott Bauer, The Associated Press
Change of Plans (Self-Produced)
Winnipeg pianist and composer Will Bonness has been part of the jazz world here and abroad since he joined the Maynard Ferguson Band when he was 17. Since then he has continued to develop a fine jazz career in many locations and with many different organisations.
Change of Plans is his third album as leader, and features some longtime colleagues: Jon Gordon (alto); Julian Bradford (bass); Fabio Ragnelli (drums); and Jocelyn Gould (vocals). It had a release party at the Park Theatre on Oct. 29 and will get a wide release on Friday.
The music here shows Bonness is developing his arranging skills and finding increased confidence in his playing. There is energy and focus that is tangible. The opening track, Burning Bridges, is an uptempo romp with everyone digging in. The pianist has a McCoy Tynerish rhythmic style at times that moves the whole track forward. The arrangements are tight with good solo space. Gould’s voice is arguably more effective in the vocalese tracks than on the several standards included in the playlist, while the backings on the full vocal tracks are terrific.
There are moods that move from gentle Latin overtones to jazz-rock vibes with ease. The quintet is heard on some tracks while there are others that feature duet, trio or quartet. For example, the trio Bullet With Butterfly Wings creates a specific laid-back mood, and when Gordon steps in on quartet or full quintet tracks like Guiding Light or Echo Chamber, the mood shifts to reveal different contrasts. The variety offered here is a real treat.
It is always fun to listen to local jazz and appreciate that it holds its own with jazz from anywhere. Bonness first caught my attention when, as a very young pianist, he was sneaking in Monk as background music at a house party I attended. He has come a long way. ★★★★ out of five
STREAM THESE: Burning Bridges, Guiding Light
— Keith Black
Debussy / Ravel
London Symphony Orchestra, François-Xavier Roth (LSO Live)
Spain’s sun-soaked vistas have always held special allure for French composers, including Maurice Ravel, whose Rapsodie espagnole was inspired by the fire-and-ice, passionate dance rhythms the hallmark of Iberian culture.
The London Symphony Orchestra, led by principal guest conductor François-Xavier Roth, offers three highly impressionistic works on this album, beginning with the composer’s evocative work, penned in 1907 during a bout of "Spanish fever" that also birthed his Vocalise-Etude and the opera L’heure espagnole.
The players keep the tension taut during the brooding Prelude a la nuit, underpinned by its descending, four-note figure, while Malaguena, features effective, muted trumpet fanfares and sinuous winds. The Habanera distils the fiery dance to its barest bones before the finale, Feria, bursts with the irrepressible energy of a Spanish street festival, including wild percussion strikes and clacking castanets that build to an exuberant close.
Claude Debussy’s Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune is given just enough play, including its iconic opening flute solo, which oozes with sensuality before bleeding into the other orchestral textures. Roth’s sensitive direction further allows the piece to ebb and flow as though a dawning, effectively shading its luscious array of tonal colours with finesse.
The same composer’s La Mer evokes the grandeur of the sea swells with sound throughout its three "symphonic sketches," with the opening movement, De l’aube a midi sur la mer, effectively paced and balanced between sections. Jeux de vagues provides a more contemplative mooring, once again showcasing the LSO’s fine winds. Finally, Dialogue du vent et de la mer ends the work — and the album — on a more dramatic note, heightened by timpani rolls instilling the power and might of stormy, tempestuous waters. ★★★★ out of five
STREAM THIS: Feria from Ravel’s Rapsodie espagnole
— Holly Harris