Tuesday, November 22, 2022

New Music Releases: RJ Leblanc, Dan McCarthy, Saku Mantere, Eva Cassidy

RJ LeBlanc – Heyday

Bassist RJ LeBlanc has been a fixture of the Montreal jazz scene for 15 years, and is showing no signs of letting up anytime soon. In fact, he’s more active than ever, working with a wide variety of artists in a number of different styles, including the free jazz of Jean-Michel Pilc, the polished smooth jazz of Carol Welsman, and extensive work on the road with iconic Montreal rock bands like The Dears. Since 2005, LeBlanc has played on over 50 studio recordings, and has toured throughout Asia, Europe, the Middle East, and the Americas. A dedicated educator, LeBlanc is currently on faculty at McGill University. Heyday – LeBlanc’s 4th album as a leader – is his most ambitious project yet. The album represents a tapestry of the influences that have shaped his compositional process and improvisational style, from Nirvana to Caetano Veloso, and from Skrillex to Weather Report, with modern jazz as the underlying thread throughout. The eight songs featured on this album are a study in contrasts: Childlike and Into the Sun are reminiscent of the 90’s rock LeBlanc was raised on, while Saturnales is an ode to Weather Report co-leader Joe Zawinul; Casa Perdida and Heyday are features for vocalist Erika Angell, who brings to these pieces a vocal quality reminiscent of the great Patti Smith; Flamme and EZ Drummer are groove-based pieces that hint at R&B and dubstep; Chanson pour Marguerite is directly inspired by the ballad artistry of Paul Simon. 

Dan McCarthy’s Songs of the Doomed: Some Jaded Atavistic Freakout

Dan McCarthy’s Songs of the Doomed: Some Jaded, Atavistic Freakout is an album of music inspired by the writing of political journalist and general dingbat Hunter S. Thompson. A lot of the jangled madness that makes up this band’s repertoire comes from a new compositional style created specifically for this band called the ‘Gonzo Cypher’. The cypher allows you to take a word, phrase, or even paragraph of Hunter’s writing, submit it to the cypher, and what you are left with is a weird and likely obnoxious ‘tone row’, which is then used to compose the music – serial music rules apply. The sound of the band is inspired by the Gary Burton Quintet from the 1970s on ECM Records, which was weird in its own right. It featured Burton on vibes, along with two guitarists (Metheny and Goodrick), bass (Steve Swallow), and drums (Bob Moses). This mess of chordal instruments allows for the creation of thick tapestries of sound, and also allows the band to get weird and intense, not unlike The Grateful Dead or Jimi Hendrix. Perhaps Songs of the Doomed will achieve fame equal to those artists...Or maybe not. But, the uniqueness of this project leads me to believe that audiences everywhere will clammer for more. To quote the Canadian jazz legend Don Thomspon: “(Songs of the Doomed) is killing on every level… I think you’re really onto something. It’s not like anything I’ve heard before.” So grab a pint of whiskey, settle in, and let the vibes (no pun intended) wash over you. Once the initial waves of fear and loathing pass, you’ll probably really dig it. 

Saku Mantere – Upon First Impression

Upon First Impression is Finnish born, Montreal based vocalist Saku Mantere’s debut album. The music was composed and recorded in both Finland and Canada with a cast of some of the finest musicians from both countries. A masterful work about heartbreak and a life divided between two places, it’s an album that needed time for the fermentation process to mature. Through this difficult, split reality, Mantere surrounded himself with dedicated collaborators that held his vision and worked together as a tight-knit family to create a unified, inspired work. The path to making this album has been curvy, laced with unexpected turns and hidden side-roads. In a world that idolizes speed and immediate satisfaction, Mantere moves at his own pace with care and attention to detail. This album benefits greatly from repeated listening and a deep-dive into the lyrical and musical riches it holds. Mantere’s heart – perfectly imperfect – pulses through every note, every word and every sound on this album. He has managed to transform (as many great artists have done before him) a broken love into a work of art, carefully crafted, well thought-out, vibrating with authenticity and vulnerability.

Eva Cassidy & The London Symphony Orchestra - Songbird

Eva Cassidy’s classic Songbird has been given a stunning, spine-tingling makeover. As achingly intimate as the original, now with widescreen grandeur courtesy of the London Symphony Orchestra, the new version offers a fresh take on a song adored around the world. Originally released in 1998, two years after Eva’s tragic death at the age of just 33, the title track from her six-million-selling breakthrough album boasts new arrangements by the classical composer Christopher Willis (The Twilight Saga, X-Men, The Death of Stalin) and vocals beautifully restored and enhanced using newly available A.I. technology (similar processes to those used in last year’s ground-breaking The Beatles: Get Back film and recent Revolver album reissue). The London Symphony Orchestra’s stately, immersive accompaniment elevates a song which became an instant Christmas staple when it appeared in the Richard Curtis blockbuster Love Actually in 2003 to spectacular new heights. Incredibly, Eva sounds as present and hypnotic within the sweeping orchestration as she did on her original acoustic take on the Fleetwood Mac favourite which she made entirely her own. “The wonderful, resonant truth about this song is that Eva is the Songbird, singing naturally from the heart – no ego,” says Christopher Willis. “The goal with the orchestral version was to complement her pure vocal essence with a simple, yet broader instrumental arrangement – a lush musical landscape with Eva's voice at the centre.” Songbird serves as the lead single from I Can Only Be Me, Eva’s landmark new collaborative album with the London Symphony Orchestra, which will be released in February on what would have been the singer’s 60th birthday. It is the latest chapter in a remarkable, posthumous career that has turned Eva into a household name with sales of more than twelve million albums, a plethora of famous fans including Paul McCartney, Eric Clapton, Adele and Songbird’s writer Christine McVie and seen her songs feature in countless films and TV shows.

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