Chance the Rapper
The Big Day (Independent)
Chance the Rapper has always been a positive dude. On the three mixtapes that introduced him in the 2010s — 10 Day, Acid Rap and Coloring Book — indie rap’s ultimate warrior was an effervescent presence, a social commentator who went high where many in the genre would go low, even when declaiming about the limitations and expectations placed upon him by others.
Now that he’s a bona fide groundbreaker — who won the Grammy for best rap album without having officially released an album — Chancelor Bennett is an even happier man. In March, the churchgoing, Chicago-based superstar married his longtime girlfriend, Kirsten Corley, and his debut studio album is a massive, 22-track opus based on the notion that this event was the culmination of all he’s fought for and against over the past nine years; a celebration of his faith, his family and of love.
That point is made right off the top of The Big Day, as the gospel-infused, R&B track All Day Long (featuring John Legend) proclaims "We made it, we made it, I’m feelin’ grateful. I’m here with my favourite, oh God, I’m thankful." The upbeat tone continues with Do You Remember, a sweetly nostalgic tune about young Chance featuring Death Cab for Cutie’s Ben Gibbard singing the hook.
Not all is wine and roses, however. As he would in a wedding speech, the rapper acknowledges the ups and downs of both his professional and personal life on cuts such as Hot Shower and We Go High (some of his edgiest and most revealing stuff is here), but he quickly gets back on message with skits and tracks about family, struggle and success (the best of which, Slide Around and Zanies and Fools, feature Nicki Minaj). The ultimate message is one of achievement and it’s presumably meant to be inspiring, but after 77 minutes, many listeners might be moved to say: "Yeah, but what’s next?"
★★★1/2 stars out of five
Stream these: Do You Remember, We Go High, Slide Around
— John Kendle
In the Aftermath of Last Night (Independent)
Deeps is the stage name of Hamiltonian Steve De Piante and In the Aftermath of Last Night is a Canadiana concept album set in Steeltown that kicks some serious bottom while tugging at heartstrings throughout its nine rock-solid tracks.
De Piante had been through some changes in his life in the recent past and set those resulting sentiment to music and lyrics, and tracks them perfectly as the album progresses. Opening offering Empty Handed sets the story in motion with its Bob Seger/Silver Bullet Band melodies and decries a relationship ("I’ve been broken hearted Baby we were just getting started") on the threshold of collapse. The couple tries to reconcile (Call My Name, Rustin), keeps trying to resolve the relationship in some coherent fashion (Headed Back That Way) and then repeats it all as the figurative walls continue to wear down on their time together (Come on Back).
There is palpable pain in some of De Piante’s lyrics, yet the songs are set loose to fly by the quartet backing him up. The Stonesy riffing in Run and the Tom Petty/Heartbreakers-esque Come On Back keep the motors running well. In particular, the song Rustin is evocative and perceptive in it’s insight into loneliness ("Here amidst the art, the hipsters, and the pouring wine she hopes it gonna be better next time but we’ve blown apart and we’re running out of time I don’t like our chances... further down the line") and doubt in ever making amends with a person that needs to better evaluate their openness to being in an adult relationship.
The album is less than 40 minutes, but within that time, De Piante and crew manage to make a lasting statement that is worth hearing again and again.
★★★1/2 stars out of five
Stream these: Rustin, Empty Handed
— Jeff Monk
Nove Cantici Per Francesco D’Assisi
John Zorn (Tzadik)
The temptation here is to say that if you like beautiful acoustic jazz guitar, don’t bother reading any further, just go and get this album.
John Zorn (not a guitarist) is one of the most unusual figures in the current jazz world. He has recorded some of the wildest dissonant music ever released, has referenced Jewish culture and history in his music, released an album with an actual photo of a dead body on the cover, and has released albums of widely varying styles as composer/leader without playing an instrument himself.
While this is a John Zorn tribute album called John Zorn, the musicians here are three guitarists playing acoustically. And further adding to the Zorn mystique, the reference and theme is for a Christian saint. (The real message is never to look for Zorn in any place he has already been.)
The three guitarists are Bill Frisell, Gyan Riley and Julian Lage. The music is simply beautiful and complex, winding around melodic phrases, and displaying staggering technique and sensitivity. There is a restless creativity in all Zorn’s works and this album, with dissonant passages to be sure, captivates at all levels.
The melodic Nativity and rhythmic Laudes Creaturarum are simply examples of tracks that could be chosen at random for the pleasure they produce. Le Laudi has a Spanish feel, while Fioretti is gently dissonant throughout. Each listen offers more perception of the depth and careful intent of each track. This album is a wonderful jazz-guitar treat.
★★★★1/2 stars out of five
Steam these: Laudes Creaturarum, Nativity
— Keith Black
Quadrants Vol. 3 (Navona)
This new recording on the Navona Records label offers a bounty of eight eclectic string quartets penned by as many American composers, brought to life by the Altius Quartet comprised of Joshua Ulrich, violin; Andrew Giordano, violin; Andrew Krimm, viola; and Erin Patterson, cello.
It also shows the wide range of compositional styles that have emerged out of the mid-20th century in which knotty, dissonant works were the hallmark of the day.
Listener-friendly highlights include Bruce Babcock’s The Present Moment, and Nora Morrow’s sentimental Rose Moon, inspired by the image of a rose blooming and named after her own mother. Three Fantasiesby Gary Smart pays homage to American jazz, European classical and African-American tradition as an imaginative work you want to hear again, replete with string pizzicatos, tremolos, and wide swoops of sound providing textural character and colour.
Not to be outdone, Jonathan Newmark’s Tom Dooley Without the Fringe On Top derives from popular American tunes, including its namesake folk song that belies the one-movement work’s driving intensity.
For those preferring their music atonal, Alastair White’s Two Panels becomes a virtuosic showstopper for the quartet’s bravura, while Phelps Dean Witter’s simply titled String Quartet No. 4 is infused with the composer’s lyrical sensibility. The final two works include Janice Macaulay’s well-crafted Three Pieces for String Quartet, and Beth Mehocic’s Picasso’s Flight, inspired by her African grey parrot Picasso. This latter piece, channelling the fierce energy and drive of such composers as Krzysztof Penderecki and György Ligeti, proves that modern-day artists may still draw on the tenets of the past to create arresting new works for the 21st century, seizing the imagination and challenging its intrepid, undaunted players.
★★★1/2 stars out of five
STREAM THIS: Beth Mehocic’s Picasso’s Flight
— Holly Harris