Tongues (Six Shooter Records)
The music of Tanya Tagaq is not an "easy listen" in any sense of the term. Her work is more art than pop and, as such, it is meant to challenge and startle — aurally, viscerally, emotionally and intellectually.
Tagaq, an Inuk musician, artist and writer, has been presenting her uniquely challenging combination of throat singing, tone poetry, beats and instrumentation for nearly 20 years, but it was not until she won the Polaris Prize for her 2014 album Animism that she became part of Canada’s broader cultural conversation.
Her role in that conversation has been decidedly outspoken — angrily and fiercely denouncing and repudiating the decimating effects of capitalism and colonialism on her people and their land — and her influence and reach continues to grow.
Her 2016 album, Retribution, was a harrowing expression of rage at injustices, and Split Tooth, her 2018 memoir/novel, was a spiritual/magical realist expression of her communality with her ancestry, her land, her childhood experiences and of the need for vengeance and/or justice.
Tongues can be seen as a companion piece to Split Tooth, as its lyrics are taken from sections of the book and Tagaq uses her guttural, throat-singing yowls as an instrument of beastly anger and power.
Produced by activist New York spoken-word poet Saul Williams and mixed by experimental hip-hopper Gonjasufi, the sounds here are driven by electronic beats and atmospheres, with Tagaq’s spoken-word poems, guttural growls and snatches of chants and singing spliced and diced to become fever dreams of sorrow, doubt, rage and power.
It will, quite simply, take your breath away. ★★★★1/2 out of five
STREAM THESE: Tongues, Colonizer, Teeth Agape
— John Kendle
Get It! (LuEllie Records)
American guitarist Rick Holmstrom’s new album is an all-instrumental collection of toe-tappers, thigh-slappers and finger-snappers. There’s an irresistible backbeat, and the mood is upbeat. Grin and hear it.
Holmstrom, who has worked with Mavis Staples for the past 15 years, draws on antecedents reaching back much farther than that, to the days when the electric guitar was ubiquitous on the pop charts. His playing is a stylish swirl of hipster funk, twang, the blues and garage rock — in fact, most of Get It! was recorded in a Los Angeles garage.
Accompanied by drummer Steve Mugalian and bassist Gregory Boaz, Holmstrom tears through 14 tunes, all original, in less than 40 minutes. There’s plenty of playful interplay and the rhythm always jumps, whether Holmstrom’s band of joy is evoking a prayer meeting, sock hop, beach party or juke joint.
Holmstrom plays a distinctive mix of lead and rhythm guitar, as he does with Staples. His neck excursions combine dips and scoops, lyrical runs, toggles between registers and shimmering chord clusters. Notes cascade, collide, argue and agree. It’s all in good fun, and words would just get in the way. ★★★1/2 out of five
STREAM THESE: Weeping Tana, Surfer Chuck
— Steven Wine, The Associated Press
Dave Douglas & Joe Lovano’s Sound Prints
Other Worlds (Greenleaf)
Trumpeter Dave Douglas and saxophonist Joe Lovano formed the quintet Sound Prints in 2013 as a tribute to saxophonist Wayne Shorter’s 80th birthday.
With pianist Lawrence Fields, bassist Linda May Han Oh and drummer Joey Baron, they recorded a live session at the Monterey Jazz Festival. That album was released in 2015 and this one is a great sequel with the same personnel.
The space concept is apparent on the titles, such as Space Exploration and Shooting Stars, and it informs all the music.
This is contemporary jazz at the highest level of creativity. The group has developed over the years and all members are at the top of their game. This is complex, sometimes convoluted and always experimental music that is a delight. It’s not always helpful to delve into music theory to appreciate an album, but I was fascinated by something Douglas says: "The whole concept of the band is dialogue and interaction. And when you play that way, nobody can retreat into the role of their instrument. Some pieces don’t have any chords, others have a lot of chords, and so you look to the piano to provide a balance so it’s not all one thing or the other. Both the free context and the chordal context have the same level of dialogue and conversation." That actually makes a lot of sense.
The writing explores that philosophy so that pieces develop in ways both logical and surprising. Communication appears instant and unpressured so that melodic and improvisatory riffs all work well. Ballads like Manitou and up-tempo tunes like Sky Miles all let Douglas and Lovano fly and soar easily. Oh and Baron are fully invested and as noted in Douglas’s words, pianist Fields at times is the obvious glue to the piece.
The musicality of all this quintet is outstanding, and thus so is the result. ★★★★1/2
STREAM THESE: Antiquity To Outer Space, Life on Earth
— Keith Black
Westminster Abbey Choir & James O’Donnell
Dove, Weir & Martin: Choral works (Hyperion)
The appealing album from the Choir of Westminster Abbey — led by organist and master of the choristers James O’Donnell and joined by sub-organist Peter Holder — highlights works by three living British composers, each adding his or her own compelling voice to the mix, with many of the 11 selections written to commemorate state occasions at the Abbey itself.
Jonathan Dove’s Vast ocean of light provides the first taste of his sensitive artistry, along with the iconic ensemble’s soaring, angelic voices. His Missa brevis is particularly haunting with the use of a drone figure, first heard during opening Kyrie, that effectively resolves to its consonant fifth in finale Agnus Dei, contrasted by the spirited inner movements, Gloria, and Sanctus and Benedictus.
They will rise, "But those who hope in the Lord," penned for the centenary of the Royal Air Force, further shows the composer’s dramatic flair, featuring O’Donnell’s thundering organ, pungent harmonies and effective tone painting.
Judith Weir’s decidedly more introspective True Light, written to mark the centenary of the end of the First World War, shows effective pacing marked by cadenza-like interludes by the organ. His mercy endureth for ever, "O give thanks unto the Lord," as well as the anthem Truly I tell you, "when I consider your heavens," further serve as testament to her more contemplative approach, including a compelling use of overlapping voices in the choral parts.
The album rounds out with five works by Matthew Martin, including Sitivit anima mea, an a cappella motet based on Psalm 42 showcasing the choir’s lower voices.
Other highlights include O Oriens, which quickly becomes an adventuresome musical journey through its ancient namesake plainsong chant, as well as his Westminster Service and In the midst of thy temple. Finally, the resounding Behold now, praise the Lord, including forearm clusters on the organ and a quadruple forte, ends the work — and album — with a bang, proving that liturgical music is a living, breathing and ever-evolving force in the 21st century. ★★★★ out of five
STREAM THIS: O Oriens by Matthew Martin
— Holly Harris