May 2009

Art of Time Ensemble The Songbook 3
May 26, 2009Enwave TheatreToronto
Report by Jessica Lombardi
Many professionals are joining the multi-disciplinary wave in the contemporary art scene, collaborating with one another to bring innovative programs to a wider audience with an aim to exchange, create and communicate new concepts and initiatives in the arts. Their efforts are forging new pathways and inspiring us to imagine a world and time out of the ordinary. The Art of Time Ensemble (AoTE), under the artistic direction of Andrew Burashko, are a Toronto-based chamber-music group that operates with an aim to redefine common perceptions of music and to enrich our continually evolving soundscape with new-music practices.

Already in their tenth season of programming, they have presented yet another year of insightful performances and sold-out shows. For their season finale, Songbook 3, performers Andrew Burashko (piano), Marc Andre Savoie (violin), Rob Piltch (guitar), Robert Carli (reeds), George Koller (bass) and Amy Laing (cello) invited Melanie Doane (vocals) onto their stage to create a performance that would fuse the Classical, Jazz and Popular music worlds with a modern twist. This year's songbook was in fact their fourth songbook — the first one being the Toronto Songbook with Sarah Slean — and next year they will collaborate with Mary Margaret O’Hara to continue on the tradition. Their songbook collection highlights mostly Canadian, but also some American singers and songwriters and represents styles varying from, but not limited to, folk music of the Maritime-Canadian provinces, commercial "pop", Broadway, and music from the more contemporary-classical scene.

The evening started with Burashko introducing the performance, describing it as “a feast of Canadiana”, and briefly outlining the night's schedule — a relief considering how some information was absent from the program; a listing of the song titles and information about who had arranged what song were two significant missing items. The opening music selections included the painfully catchy tune “Patio Lanterns” by Kim Mitchell, followed by a few pop songs that were not that different from their original versions. Doane sang Leonard Cohen's “Song of Bernadette”, Kathryn Rose’s “One Person”, and Stan Rogers’ “Lies”, with less depth than the original singers; her voice was not greatly textured nor distinctive enough to make the songs sound like "fresh, new arrangements", though she did vary her vocal pitch-range as she encountered different types of repertoire.

The musicians started showing more passion and intensity when Doane put down the microphone and picked up her spirited violin to play the Maritime folk tune by Don Messer, arranged by Tom Szczesniak, which proved to be a beautifully light-hearted piece. The following selections were seemingly anomalous with the program, considering Doane was not even present on stage for either of them. One was the recently composed piano trio by Christos Hatzis, "Old Photographs", though it did flow well after to Don Messer, and was full of exciting dynamic climaxes. Following an intermission was another interesting instrumental piece that was set to a reading from Michael Ondaatje’s Divisadero. Unfortunately I had seen the Art of Time’s Words and Music concert earlier this season and the selection was quite similar, perhaps exactly done as before.

Later there was a fantastically spooky arrangement of Irving Berlin's "What'll I Do?" fortunately introduced to us as the work of arranger/composer Jonathan Goldsmith. The vocalist on this one was clearly challenged by the dissonant intervals chosen by Goldsmith and struggled to keep her place within its curious framework. At that point the audience looked uncomfortable, some glancing casually around the room, scratching their arms, and whispering to the next person. I scratched a brow myself as it became obvious to me that this amazingly fresh arrangement was weakened by the vocal counterpart — there was no emotion to her voice.

Melanie Doane
Another folk song by Hank Snow, followed by the odd choice of Randy Newman’s “I Will Go Sailing No More” and an unmemorable song by Gene MacLellan, preceded the truly original experimenter in popular music, Tom Waits. Doane’s choice of his “Grapefruit Moon” was a strong one, and her impassioned delivery was no doubt a highlight to the audience. For the evening’s finale, Art of Time performed their own reed player Robert Carli's highly entertaining version of April Wine's “Say Hello”. This work was a definite crowd-pleaser and it properly brought the evening to an all-time high note to finish off the performance and this year's concert season.
We welcome your comments and feedback
Jessica Lombardi
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