Arts & Life
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This article was published 6/4/2017 (1195 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Foundation Ska (YepRoc Records)
Jamaican ska music has had a pretty extensive lifespan from its origins back in the mid-1960s. The original Ska-Talites band lasted for about a year (1964/65) and while they were not the only progenitors of the "skavoovee" beat, their lineup of masterful jazz musicians set the cornerstone for the future of the genre.
Producer and Studio One boss Coxsone Dodd had used the various Ska-Talites band members for other sessions before they came together as a "super group" unit. Jazzers to a man, the nonet were all exemplary players and names such as Tommy McCook, Jackie Mittoo, Roland Alphonso and Don Drummond will be recognizable to many reggae and dub music fans. These two albums are chock full of creative genius — from the excitingly complex brass arrangements to the undeniably attractive beat, this music doesn’t lose energy for a second.
In particular, it’s drummer Lloyd Knibbs’ eclectic stickwork that seems to stand out most. Later iterations of ska music (i.e.: the second wave during U.K. punk in the late ‘70s and the dire ska-punk of the 1990s) turned the beat into simplistic syncopation, where Knibbs always kept things interesting. Opening track Christine Keeler has a decidedly dark edge to it, while Simmer Down (featuring vocals by the nascent Wailers) was aimed completely at radio play. The track names are beacons from the time they were recorded — Dick Tracy, Dr. Kildare and Fidel Castro — while Ringo’s Theme Ska is a nod to the boys from Liverpool. At 32 tracks, Foundation Ska is a motherlode of great music. A must-buy for fans. ★★★★★
DOWNLOAD: Ska-Ba, Nimrod, Cleopatra
— Jeff Monk
Weathervane (Open Road Recordings)
Weathervane is Doc Walker’s ninth studio album and it’s a rock-solid country set, full of polished musicality and the soaring vocal interplay of lead singer Chris Thorsteinson and singer/guitarist Dave Wasyliw (who co-produced with Gavin Brown).
Doc Walker has written many memorable songs, but this record’s first single, Heart of the Heartland, may well become an anthem. While Portage la Prairie isn’t mentioned by name, the breezy rocker is clearly an homage to the two’s hometown, full of bitter reality, misty emotion and childhood memories of riding bikes around town while "running on Pic-a-Pop..."
It’s lines like that will keep people coming back to Weathervane. Country has long mined familiar sentiments and Thorsteinson and Wasyliw aren’t immune but, in songs such as Get Back on My Horse, Heaven on Dirt or the wonderful ballad Just Fine (the best tune on the record), they inevitably bust out a phrase or reference that’s so clever and so specific that listeners will immediately form a bond — and you can’t beat that.
Locals will also be pleased to learn that Weathervane is a veritable who’s who of Manitoba’s roots and country scene, featuring the likes of singer/guitarist Murray Pulver (once a full member of the group), guitarists Ariel Posen and Grant Siemens (Corb Lund), and singer Sarah Dugas. ★★★★
DOWNLOAD: Heart of the Heartland, Just Fine,, They Rage On
— John Kendle
Alchemist (Cellar Live)
Winnipeg-born bassist Luke Sellick actually began his musical life here as a classically trained pianist. He continued his training on scholarship at the Juilliard School in New York City and was mentored by the great bassist Ron Carter.
He has definitely found his instrument in the bass and he proves it on this debut album. All the compositions here are his as well and show his skill in that area. The music is solidly in the fairly mainstream post-bop mode, with fine solos and ensemble playing. Musicians on the album include saxophonist Jimmy Greene, pianist Adam Birnbaum, Andrew Renfrew on guitar and Jordan Pettay on alto. After a brief Prelude, the band moves into a swinging tune called Q-Tippin. Other tracks are more meditative, such as Hymn, but the overall mood is upbeat and energetic. Solos by Greene and Birnbaum are especially effective. On Abacus, a tribute to John Coltrane, Mat Jodrell’s trumpet solo is a gem.
This debut album bodes well for future releases, as Sellick shows leadership in musicality and composition. It’s nice to see Winnipeg jazz people making it on the international stage. ★★★★
DOWNLOAD: Alchemist, Q-Tippin
— Keith Black
Chopin: Works For Piano & Orchestra (Deutsche Grammophon)
It’s perfectly natural that Canadian pianist Jan Lisiecki, 23, born of Polish parents, should perform music rooted in his ancestral homeland. The Calgary native’s eagerly anticipated new release on Deutsche Grammophon follows his acclaimed 2013 album Chopin Études, with this latest offering featuring less-performed orchestral works by the 19th century romantic composer. It’s also noteworthy that few of these pieces have previously been recorded on the venerable 120-year old label.
Lisiecki’s poetic artistry is first displayed during "Andante spianato" that serves as introduction for the more robust Grande Polonaise Brillante, op. 22. The North German Radio Symphony Orchestra, led by Polish conductor Krzysztof Urbanski, provides an able partner throughout each of the five selections.
Variations on "La ci darem la mano" from Mozart’s Don Giovanni op. 2 further showcases Lisiecki’s renowned virtuosity, with the pianist blazing up and down the keyboard, as well as during the Fantasy on Polish Airs op. 13. However, the highlight proves to be the pianist’s haunting interpretation of Nocturne in C sharp minor, op. posth, ostensibly included as a final encore for the album, with the eloquent solo showing him at his most expressive and intimate self. ★★★★
— Holly Harris
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