Monday, October 15, 2012

When in Canada, Buy Canadian

Greetings from Fredericton, New Brunswick, where I am for three days for a transportation conference. Of course that also means poking around to find any record shops, and in this case there are a couple, one local shop and HMV. Because my luggage was lost until this afternoon, I have not gotten downtown yet, but did make it to HMV since my hotel is right by the mall (I booked late -- I would rather be in-town any time). Anyway, I went looking for the jazz section at HMV, which is small, but I did find what I was looking for, CDs from Canadian musicians that I don't have. That means no Diane Krall, Sophie Millman, Paul Bley, Oliver Jones, Cellar Live CDS, and in this case no Justin Time discs either. No Joni Mitchell, No Neil Young, no Guess Who....

For those who don't know it, Canada has a lively jazz scene in cities across the country, and plenty of fine players; not every Canadian comes to the U.S. to find success (By the way Kenny Wheeler is Canadian, but he went to the U.K.). Ottawa and Montreal sponsor two of the largest jazz festivals in North America each summer. To find out more about jazz in Canada, start by reading Peter Hum's jazz blog for the Ottawa Citizen; in it he has had many features on both young and established Canadian players and their CDs. Check out the Cellar Live web site for music and CDs from that venue in Vancouver; Justin Time is a big time label too. Recent reviews in All About Jazz and on other blogs have featured Harris Eisenstadt's new CD "Canada Day III", a sequel to two previous recordings. So there are many avenues for learning about some great music from just outside our U.S. borders. 

I bought only two CDs, one from someone everyone who knows jazz has heard of everywhere, and somebody who is well-known in Canada but has not yet hit it big in the U.S.

I picked up Oscar Peterson's recording "Canadiana Suite" (Polygram Records 1965, reissued by Limelight Records) for $ 5.00 CN, a CD I had never previously seen in the U.S. and one that apparently was only put on CD in the recent past. This is an interesting CD, which I have listened to a couple of times now and which is entirely reminiscent of most of his work with this trio, Ray Brown on bass and Ed Thigpen on drums. The group swings nicely throughout and Peterson displays his usual light touch and sensitivity to his mates, sharing the spotlight with them. But what makes this recording special is that Peterson wrote all eight of the songs, composing not being something generally associated with him. But this is a tribute to his native country, with songs that range from "Ballad to the East" through the cities -- "Place St Henri" or a great "Hogtown Blues" --  and out to the prairies on songs like "Blues of the Prairies" and "Wheatland." Be assured that wherever the trio is, the music is terrific.

These are not the usual standards or show tunes most associated with Peterson, sometimes pejoritively, but instead are a suite of lovely, original melodies played perfectly by one of the great trios in jazz history. All fans of Oscar should look for this recording.

The woman I did not know of, but whose voice impresses me, is Molly Johnson, and the disc is "Lucky" (Universal Music 2008). I looked up her biography and it is as follows. Born in Toronto, she has had formal musical training training at the National Ballet School of Canada and the Banff School of Fine Arts. She began as an alt-rock singer in the late 1980s and continued in that role through the 90s as well.  She finally returned to jazz at the end of the century, and has become one of Canada’s top jazz singers. In 2000 she released her first solo debut and has since recorded four more CDs, of which "Lucky" is the fourth of the five. I have had two listens to this disc as well.

LuckyJohnson has listened well to singers who have come before her, and her voice is original, with hints of her predecessors at times -- some have said Billie Holiday, Diana Krall and Erykah Badu; others hear Billie Holiday or Diana Washington. Essentially she is her own singer, with a distinctive voice that gives the many standards on this disc her own interpretation. From the opening torch song, "Whatever Lola Wants" to the mellow and haunting sounds of "Ode to Billie Joe" or the plaintive beauty of "I Loves You Porgy", Johnson does it all -- torch songs, blues, ballads, and swing. She doesn't imitate, she creates her sound on these classics, and the sound is good.  The arrangements are clean and simple, done by her bandmates --- Mike Downes (bass) arranged four songs, Mark McClean (drums and percussion) four songs, Phil Dwyer (piano & tenor sax) four songs.  Dwyer's tenor adds some wailing blues touches to several songs, which heightens the interest even further.

Vocalists are a personal thing, so it is hard to say whether Johnson would be universally enjoyed. But for those of us who do like it, then this recording provides some wonderful moments with some old friends.

So that's tonights wrap. Enjoy the music as always.

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