Sunday, March 29, 2015

Recording: The Queer Songbook Orchestra

Artist: The Queer Songbook Orchestra

Songs: Telstar [The Tornados cover] + Don't You Pay Them No Mind (feat. Georgie Gordon) [Nina Simone cover]

Recorded at Church of the Holy Trinity ("Songs of Resilience"), March 26, 2015.

The Queer Songbook Orchestra - Telstar

The Queer Songbook Orchestra - Don't You Pay Them No Mind

Although it contains a number of fabulous musicians1, the Queer Songbook Orchestra is more than just a band — it's as much an archival project and a community resource, "taking a look back at the history of popular music with the queer lens intact, and revealing the backstories and personal narratives behind much of the last century's popular songs". The songs are often presented with stories — stories of composers and musicians who had to encode their true meanings and stories of listeners who found empowerment through music.

The two songs here (from a phenomenal night filled with them) hint at both of those: "Telstar" shifts the song from poppy ebullience to a lament for composer/producer Joe Meek, whose queerness intensified his isolation in postwar Britain, while Geordie Gordon (of Guelph disco-rockers The Magic) sang a Nina Simone song that gave him strength. These two songs also showcase the band's musical ambition, as they've commissioned forward-looking arrangements for the songs that eschew good-time karaoke-style covers.

There's a lot of praise due to Shaun Brodie (known for his work in The Hidden Camera, Evening Hymns, plus heaps of live + session work with many Can-indie luminaries), who shepherded this project, and mention has to be made of Sean Frey and Amy Siegel, whose live projections added even more emotional heft to the music. Keep an eye out for the QSO's next presentation (June 21st at Buddies in Bad Times), which will celebrate the life and work of Duke Ellington sideman and great composer Billy Strayhorn.

1 On this night the band was: Sienna Dahlen (vocals), Alex Samaras (vocals), Simone Schmidt (vocals), Gary Beals (vocals), Geordie Gordon (vocals), Jennifer Burford (violin), Evan Lamberton (cello), Lief Mosbaugh (oboe/english horn/vocals), Mara Pellerin (french horn), Shaun Brodie (trumpet/flugelhorn), Ghislain Aucoin (piano/vocals), Jordan Howard (guitar), Andrew Downing (double bass), Stefan Schneider (drums).

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Recording: Pendrith Trio

Artist: Pendrith Trio

Songs: Mem + Leaht

Recorded at The Emmet Ray, March 23, 2015.

Pendrith Trio - Mem

Pendrith Trio - Leaht

The early Monday slot at The Emmet Ray offers frequent rewards those willing to head out at the start of the week. This night saw drummer Noah Sherman in action with a trio that included Christian Brown (sax) and Dave Haskett (double bass). They mostly tackled a variety of standards over two sets, but this pair of Sherman's originals were perhaps the most interesting sounds on offer. Originally composed for his avant-klezmer Fortet, there's a pleasingly slinky groove at play here. [you can hear "Mem" and a couple others on a tasty recording on Sherman's bandcamp.]

Friday, March 27, 2015

Recording: Jonathan Adjemian

Artist: Jonathan Adjemian

Song: Dry Reciprocity [excerpt]

Recorded at The Music Gallery ("Emergents III"), March 19, 2015.

Jonathan Adjemian - Dry Reciprocity [excerpt]

The opening half of this Christopher Willes-curated "Emergents" night once again saw the idea of traditional composition being pushed against with Geoff Mullen's site-specific work hovering over the borderlands between composition and sound art. Footsteps on the creaky floor and distorted, ghostly music one room away gave the audience an opportunity to confront sound in a different way within the sanctuary (although there was no break for snacks this time 'round).

In the night's second half, Jonathan Adjemian brought what might be his most formally rigourous work to date with "Dry Reciprocity", a forty-minute piece arranged for drones and human breath. The latter was provided by narration, singing voice and wind instruments by Bojana Stancic, Isla Craig, Heather Segger and Kyle Brenders. There was definite room for improvisation by the performers, but situated in a framework of dronepulse and narration for them to work within. With the performers gathered to face each other in a small circle in front of the audience, the piece felt like a pulse generator of some half-hidden message, hope being broadcast in the sinewaves' subcarrier frequency.

Recording: University of Toronto Undergraduate Horn Blow Ensemble

Artist: University of Toronto Undergraduate Horn Blow Ensemble

Song: [edited excerpt]

Recorded on King's College Circle, outside the office of the University of Toronto Vice-President & Provost's office, March 19, 2015.

University of Toronto Undergraduate Horn Blow Ensemble - [edited excerpt]

Over the past couple decades, our society has been slowly transforming into something less fair and equal than the image of it we hold in our minds. Wealth has been redistributed upwards by small increments, and in the short term it never has to look as if the powers-that-be are aligning themselves with mounting inequality. This process has been unfolding in Canada's universities since the 90's, with a steady progression of tuition increases accompanying a shift in the structure of the teaching corps that has seen full-time, tenured faculty increasingly replaced by short-term contract teachers. This season's near-simultaneous strikes at York and University of Toronto arise not only out of specific grievances on how money is allocated, but as a cry of "enough" at a system that is now fundamentally unfair and nearly at its breaking point.

Strikes have come and gone, but there was a sense that this year's reached people outside the academy in a different way. Perhaps it's just that precarious employment has diffused through the broader workforce to such an extent that the members of CUPE 3902 and 3903 seem more like insecurity-surfing fellow-travellers and less like ivory-tower bellyachers. In any case, I was glad to have been put in touch with this group of U of T music undergrads who decided to show their support for striking grad students in their faculty with some good-old grassroots action.

Instruments in hand, they congregated outside the office of the Vice-President & Provost and held a "horn blow", disrupting the status quo with some joyful gusting blasts. It sounded somewhere between a drunken marching band and someone (who'd only heard of it in a disparaging comment in an old Down Beat magazine) attempting to recreate Ayler's "Spirits Rejoice". Which is to say, a bit of a sonic jumble, but actually a surprisingly pleasing one. But more powerful than the musical effect was the feeling of voices being raised together. Congratulations to these polite sonic revolutionaries — I hope they felt a little freer afterwards, with a sense that it's not so hard to make some noise for a good cause once you take that first step. With the way things are going, we're going to need the likes of them finding their voices to speak up a lot more yet.

[As of this writing, CUPE 3902, Unit I voted to accept an offer of binding mediation to end the strike. Like this music, their jumbled voices managed to find and hold a ragged note of solidarity.]

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Recording: Cole/Fisher/Valdivia

Artist: Josh Cole/Colin Fisher/Brandon Valdivia

Song: [set 1, first piece, in three parts]

Recorded at The Tranzac (Southern Cross Lounge), March 18, 2015.

Cole/Fisher/Valdivia - [set 1, first piece, part I]

Cole/Fisher/Valdivia - [set 1, first piece, part II]

Cole/Fisher/Valdivia - [set 1, first piece, part III]

Although it seems like an obvious combination of talents — and they certainly have come partially together in other contexts — this was actually the first time that these three musicians had played together as a trio. As heard here at the outset, Josh Cole's double bass acted as a bit of a grounding beacon for Not The Wind, Not The Flag's high-flying sorties, rendering their work as something closer to straight-ahead jazz then you would normally hear from them. Further exploration took things further afield, however, especially in the second set which saw Colin Fisher switching over to guitar. A pretty remarkable outing — tough to believe this was a first-time thing, unthinkable to consider it could be the last.

Recording: Isla Craig

Artist: Isla Craig

Song: Follow Your Heart

Recorded at The Tranzac – Southern Cross Lounge ("Piano Party 2"), March 18, 2015.

Isla Craig - Follow Your Heart

This "piano party", put together by Jonathan Adjemian, saw two musicians with very different approaches take to the Southern Cross' upright. Isla Craig — who's lately been unveiling some new songs written on guitar — treated her piano set as a casual exercise, similar to the way that friends might have gathered 'round in a parlour a century ago to belt out familiar old chestnuts. After a couple more studied takes through songs from her "vocal" phase, things became increasingly relaxed, Craig tackling tunes as they popped into her mind, including some older songs of her own (both from her Continential Drift days, as well as her "Flute Song") plus a series of covers that included Chantal Kreviazuk, PJ Harvey, and a rousingly-heartfelt/gleefully-fragmented set-closing Tori Amos medley.

Recording: Ali Berkok

Artist: Ali Berkok

Song: Improvisation on Ligeti's "Cordes à vide"

Recorded at The Tranzac – Southern Cross Lounge ("Piano Party 2"), March 18, 2015.

Ali Berkok - Improvisation on Ligeti's "Cordes à vide"

This "piano party", put together by Jonathan Adjemian, saw two musicians with very different approaches take to the Southern Cross' upright. Ali Berkok (also of Aurochs and many other projects) led off, showing off his versatility with a series of improvisations and prepared pieces that ranged from Cole Porter riffs to this Satie-esque meditation.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Recording: Aalborg Group

Artist: Aalborg Group / John Gregg & Tiina Kiik / Maxwell Boecker & William Davison

Songs: [excerpts from improved sets]

Recorded at Array Space ("Audiopollination 28.3"), March 16, 2014.

Aalborg Group - [excerpt]

John Gregg & Tiina Kiik - [excerpt from an improvisation]

Maxwell Boecker & William Davison - [excerpt from an improvisation]

Aalborg Group (the Atlanta duo of drummer John Gregg and bassist Maxwell Boecker) look like they'd be right at home in a basement punk show, so it was interesting to see them arrive in Toronto to play an improvised music series. The duo play with a certain heaviness that their setup would imply, but without the power sauce or grind, there's room for them to explore in those grey areas between rock'n'roll jamming and free improvisation. (You can check out their tape on their bandcamp.)

In proper Audiopollination fashion, after they played a short set together, the pair were split up for sets with some local guests, with drummer Gregg playing with accordionist Tiina Kiik while bassist Boecker was matched with noise-generationist William Davison. Both of the guests ended up playing a bit of follow-the-leader with their experienced partners, but pulled off fully-satisfactory performances. Kudos to the band for letting themselves being tossed in the deep end in such a manner — I'd love to see more exploratory "rock" bands dare to take this sort of plunge. Kudos also to Audiopollination's Mike Lynn for curating a evening that was a bit outside the series' usual zone — caught between the cracks of scenes and genres, this gig deserved a bigger audience than it got.

[As is always the case, you can hear a full recording of the night's music in the Audiopollination archives.]

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Recording: Digits

Artist: Digits

Song: Where Do You Belong?

Recorded at Handlebar, March 14, 2015.

Digits - Where Do You Belong?

The last act of the night was a late addition, with Digits playing a surprise tune-up gig before heading across to London for a prestige slot supporting Gary Numan. Of course, one suspects that the Royal Festival Hall would have a more elaborate sound system than Handlebar, with its crowdsourced sound-mixing. But performance-wise, it was a solid set from Alt Altman and Dan Miller. With nearly a year gone by since the release of the Day You Fight Back EP, the setlist was filled with reliable, time-tested material, so perhaps Altman's game plan here was to be ready to put his best forward forward at the big gig.

Recording: Kurt Marble

Artist: Kurt Marble

Songs: Replacement + So Long*

Recorded at Handlebar, March 14, 2015.

Kurt Marble - Replacement

Kurt Marble - So Long

The six songs on the new tape being celebrated at this release show occupy a very tasty slice of '90's alt-rock nostalgia — but live, the band opened things up into big-league guitar anthems. Thanks there go to Most People's Paul McEachern, who got to tear and shred in a way that Most People's template doesn't usually allow. Add to that the eponymous frontman's shaggy charm and million-watt smile and this was a superior Rock Excursion.

[Kurt Marble will be playing alongside Champion Lover, The Two Koreas and Several Futures at The Magpie Taproom on Friday April 17th.]

* Thanks to Kurt for passing along the title to this one.

Recording: Germaphobes

Artist: Germaphobes

Song: Everybody Else

Recorded at Handlebar, March 14, 2015.

Germaphobes - Everybody Else

This post-Gay project fronted by Neil Rankin and Paul Erlichman strips away some of that band's party-on-stage chaos vibe in favour of a more streamlined New Wave sound, but the no-time-for-tuning urgency is still joyfully intact.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Concert Listings Roundup #89

You can read more about why I'm doing listings here. Long story short: This curated and decidedly non-comprehensive list contains nothin' but shows that I am going to/would go to if I had more time.

Gig of the week:

Queer Songbook Orchestra Play Songs of Resilience / Church of the Holy Trinity 2015-03-26 (Thursday) [FB event]

Just on the merit of the performers in this ten-piece pop orchestra (including Alex Samaras, Lief Mosbaugh, Shaun Brodie, Ghislain Aucoin, Dan Fortin and more) this would be worth seeing — and all the more with guest vocalists like Simone Schmidt and Geordie Gordon. But tapping into the group's mandate ("a living archive of songs that shape community") gives it even more power. A sort of musical equivalent to the Celluloid Closet, this performance is billed as "taking a look back at this history with the queer lens intact, revealing little known backstories and personal narratives". And add to that the august surroundings in the Church of the Holy Trinity, and this is simply not to be missed.

This week's noteworthy shows:

Pendrith Trio / The Emmet Ray 2015-03-23 (Monday) [more info]

Killer BOB (Processor / Lice) / Double Double Land 2015-03-24 (Tuesday) [FB event]

Etiquette [record release show!] (Programm / Year of Glad) / The Drake Underground 2015-03-25 (Wednesday) [FB event]

HPR presents (feat. Mas Aya & New Chance) / The Tranzac (Southern Cross Lounge) 2015-03-25 (Wednesday) [FB event]

Wavelength 653 (feat. Brian Borcherdt / Sean Paul / Slime / Toblerone Boys) / Ratio 2015-03-27 (Friday) [FB event]

Prince Nifty & friends / Holy Oak Café 2015-03-27 (Friday) [more info]

The Ryan Driver Sextet / The Tranzac (Southern Cross Lounge) 2015-03-27 (Friday)

Angela Lansbury: a jazz tribute (feat. Bobby Hsu and Alex Samaras) / Holy Oak Café 2015-03-28 (Saturday – early!) [FB event]

Mexican Slang [single release show!] (The Ukiah Drag / Moss Lime) / S.H.I.B.G.B.'s 2015-03-28 (Saturday) [FB event]

Featurette (Deciduous / Tasha & The Sweet Talkers) / The Tranzac (Southern Cross Lounge) 2015-03-28 (Saturday) [FB event]

Tranz Defonce (White Van / Onfiilm / Rocket Parade) / Handlebar 2015-03-28 (Saturday) [FB event]

Milk Lines (PANIC) / 3030 2015-03-28 (Saturday – free!) [FB event]

LIDS [Telephone Explosion 7" release show!] (MIMICO / Fake Palms) / Double Double Land 2015-03-28 (Saturday) [FB event]

Gates (Hashed Out / Good People / IRN) / Soybomb 2015-03-28 (Saturday) [FB event]

LOOM (Mekele / Beard Closet) / Holy Oak Café 2015-03-28 (Saturday) [FB event]

Crosswires (feat. Paul-Julien Tanti / Faiyaz & the Wasted Chances / Ugly School / The Jim Storie Juniors / Handlebar 2015-03-29 (Sunday) [FB event]

King Weather / The Tranzac (Southern Cross Lounge) 2015-03-29 (Sunday)

Add these to your calendar:

Reminder: This post only contains this week's updates — the full listings can always be found over on the right-hand sidebar!

Wolfshirt Presents (feat. Personal Data / Hallowed Bells / Spookyfish / Know Itself) / Magpie Taproom 2015-03-31 (Tuesday) [FB event]

Shawn William Clarke (Jos Fortin / Matthew Oomen) / Holy Oak Café 2015-04-02 (Thursday) [FB event]

Clara Engel (A. Minster) / The Tranzac (Southern Cross Lounge) 2015-04-03 (Friday – early!) [FB event]

Norman Blake, Joe Pernice and Guests [April residency!] / Dakota Tavern 2015-04-03 (Friday – early!) [FB event]

Wand (Heaters / The Saffron Sect) / The Silver Dollar Room 2015-04-03 (Friday) [FB event]

Alpha Strategy (New Horizzzons / Badminton Raquet / Connoisseurs Of Porn / Zack Kouns) / Smiling Buddha 2015-04-04 (Saturday) [FB event]

Crofts/Adams/Pearse/Hemingway / The Rex 2015-04-05 (Sunday) [FB event]

PPOP Presents (feat. Advertising / Tofu Stravinsky / AC) / Johnny Jackson 2015-04-05 (Sunday) [FB event]

Track Could Bend #1 (feat. Allison Cameron / Michael Lynn & Michael Keith / Jesse James Laderoute) / Johnny Jackson 2015-04-07 (Tuesday) [FB event]

Bernice (Omhouse) / Burdock Music Hall 2015-04-07 (Tuesday) [FB event]

Norman Blake, Joe Pernice and Guests [April residency!] / Dakota Tavern 2015-04-10 (Friday – early!) [FB event]

Jon McKiel & Aaron Mangle (Stella Ella Ola / Marine Dreams / Joyful Talk) / The Silver Dollar Room 2015-04-11 (Saturday) [FB event]

Audiopollination #29.1 (feat. Heidi Chan/Jamie Thompson / Brian Abbot/James Bailey / Kayla Milmine-Abbot/Conrad Gale / Tomasz Krakowiak/Holger Schoorl) / Array Space 2015-04-14 (Tuesday) [FB event]

Norman Blake, Joe Pernice and Guests [April residency!] / Dakota Tavern 2015-04-17 (Friday – early!) [FB event]

Champion Lover (Several Futures / The Two Koreas / Kurt Marble) / Magpie Taproom 2015-04-17 (Friday) [FB event]

Holy Oak's 6th Anniversary (feat. April Snow & The Musicologists [Thom Gill/Johnny Spence/Bram Gielen/Kieran Adams] / "secret guest performance") / Holy Oak Café 2015-04-17 (Friday) [FB event]

Norman Blake, Joe Pernice and Guests [April residency!] / Dakota Tavern 2015-04-24 (Friday – early!) [FB event]

Wavelength #656 (feat. Peers / Daniel Isaiah / Mannerisms / Caylie Staples) / Monarch Tavern 2015-04-24 (Friday) [FB event]

DIΛNETICS IV (feat. Knurl / Ceramic TL / The Good Children / Broken Doll Factory) / 8-Eleven 2015-04-24 (Friday) [FB event]

C.R.E.A.M. Afternoon All Ages (feat. Ken Park / NOIA / Pantayo / Petra Glynt / Tonkapuma / VCR) / Double Double Land 2015-06-20 (Saturday – PWYC!) [FB event]

C.R.E.A.M. Afternoon All Ages (feat. DOOMSQUAD / HATAW / Hooded Fang / Ice Cream / Lido Pimienta / Moss Lime) / Double Double Land 2015-06-21 (Sunday – PWYC!) [FB event]

Wavelength 669 (feat. The Ex / Brodie West & Fleshtone Aura) / Hard Luck 2015-06-23 (Tuesday) [FB event]

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Recording: The Thing Is + GREX

Artist: The Thing Is + GREX (feat. Jane Bunnett)

Song: Borders of One*

Recorded at The Music Gallery, March 14, 2015.

The Thing Is + GREX - Borders of One

As the artist designation above implies, this performance was a collaborative affair, put together to present Tova Kardonne's "Lanka Suite", a set of compositions reflecting on her outsider's observations of a trip to Sri Lanka. The music has evolved for a while now (a streamlined version was workshopped a year ago), but this full-on presentation united two of Kardonne's projects, including The Thing is, her the large-format jazz ensemble as well as Alex Samaras' avant-vocal group GREX. The night also included some atmospheric, abstract visuals from Nilan Perera that evoked a sense of travel and elsewhereness. The net effect was to create a form of musical tourism that isn't reliant on mere appropriation — a reflection of Kardonne's experiences without a usurpation of Sri Lankan tropes.

* Thanks to Ali for passing along the title to this one.

Recording: Khôra

Artist: Khôra

Song: [excerpt]*

Recorded at The Music Gallery, March 14, 2015.

Khôra - [excerpt]

It was a fairly intense and enveloping experience to get to hear Matthew Ramolo's music in the Music Gallery's sanctuary. His word-melting visuals were a nice addition, but this was a good set to just close one's eyes and listen. Paying close attention also allowed a few interesting variations to come to the fore, including a percussive element, where Ramolo looped and processed some tapping on the body of his acoustic guitar until it appeared in the mix sounding almost like a tabla. A high synthesizer tone recalling a shehnai on top of that gave this one segment a faint taste of raga, and in this extract, a little bird-like chirp emerges from the sonic field to act as a bit of a guidepost.

* Does anyone know the title to this one? Please leave a comment!

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Recording: Vag Halen

Artist: Vag Halen

Song: Ace of Spades [Motörhead cover]

Recorded at The Great Hall ("Long Winter: Year 3, Volume 5"), March 13, 2015.

Vag Halen - Ace of Spades

The feminist rawk re-appropriators in Vag Halen were the night's headliners, bringing the figurative thunder to shove away the last vestiges of winter. Fresh off a couple nights of Pixies covers, their setlist showed a bit of a slide towards more recent/less purely classic rock tunage (including Nirvana and Jane's Addiction), but to close things out, they still brought the big guns, ending with singer Vanessa Dunn leading a chant of "Fuck C-36!" before dropping the mic and leaving the stage. Next: spring.