Coast New Music Issue 2008

From Nintendo bleeps to flaming four-headed dogs and Bruce Frisko, here are 18 new bands to watch.

Orquesta Típica ImperialWith e-stringz, Friday, July 11 at the Festival Tent, 8pm, $25-$30

Orquestra Tipica Imperial

Kicking off this year's Atlantic Jazz Festival is Argentina's not-to-be-missed Orquesta Típica Imperial. In much the same fashion that local favourites Gypsophilia reinvigorated Django-jazz from a somewhat caricatured, moribund-stylized musical form into something more earthy, soulful and thrilling, this 10-piece ensemble of young, exceptional musicians from Buenos Aires has injected new "street" vigour into the tango, which had enjoyed an earlier flowering with composer and bandoneon virtuoso Astor Piazzolla.

"The tango," Jorge Luis Borges once said, "is a direct expression of something poets have often tried to state in words: the belief that a fight may be a celebration." Extending that belief, here is former dancer and filmmaker Sally Potter on the tango: "The Argentinian tango holds a unique place in couple dancing. The body is closer, more intimate than in any other dance form. And yet the legs move faster and with more deadly accuracy than in any other comparable dance. It is this combination of sensual, meditative, relaxed contact in the upper body and swift, almost martial arts-like repartee in the lower body that gives the tango its unique identity." Genuine tango music organically soars, advances in a predatory fashion, retreats, growls, exclaims in ecstasy or broods in vales of heartbreaking melancholy.

Orquesta Típica Imperial offers up an exciting visceral voicing of an art form that emerged from the streets, bars and brothels of 1800s Buenos Aires, expressing the complex, profound longings humans have about others, themselves and the meaning of existence itself.

---Graham Pilsworth

Zumbini CircusWith Samba Nova, The Klezmorim, Nu Gruv and Andru Branch, Saturday, July 12 at the Festival Tent, noon-6pm, free

Zumbini Circus is a self-described group of north end carnies spreading "carnivalism."

In the style of Brazilian maracatu and samba reggae, along with some rhythms and flavours of Africa and New Orleans, Zumbini is improvisational in some sections but, above all, is a dance band---and a busy one, since a band this big is sometimes hard to get together.

Zumbini Circus is Chris Cookson, Marta Ciechonska and Kiersten Holden on percussion, Zak Miller on guitar, Caleb Hamilton on trumpet, Lukas Pearse on bass/electronics and Coast cover star Erin Costelo on accordion/keys.

"Like driving a big bus, sometimes it's hard to keep it on the road," says ringmaster Cookson, on the road from Fredericton with Al Tuck. "I like it to be not too tight, not too loose, kind of in the New Orleans tradition," he says.

Cookson, who grew up in small-town Mexico and Mexico City, describes the band's philosophy of carnivalism as all about community and getting people together to rejoice and blow off steam, in the style of a big South American carnival. Cookson says in Mexico, he was used to seeing everyone out together for the one big party of the year.

"People are a little more in their heads here," he says. "But Halifax feels like a small musical family sometimes."

Cookson originally founded the group Zoombee with Brazilian musician and teacher Mario Silva four years ago, but when Silva was deported back to South America, Cookson continued with the carnival spirit under the Zumbini Circus name.

"It felt like we owned the music, like we're able to play those fields genuinely," says Cookson. "It all comes from the spirit."

---Sam Worthington

Free HugsGallery crawl with Live Animal (Page & Strange), David Mott (Argyle Fine Art), Saturday, July 12 at Studio 21, 8pm, $15

For a band that started as a weekly therapy session for three classically trained musicians to soothe their emotional souls with three-part harmony, Free Hugs seems like an appropriate name.

Borrowing from the global movement offering free hugs to strangers in busy public places, it seemed to the band like an appropriate sentiment. The male-bonding-turned-band is made up of Jeff Torbert and Jake Danson-Faraday on guitar and Ryan Gray on bass, with all of them singing.

With all three members playing the Jazz Fest in other capacities, and Torbert doing a showcase of his own compositions, Torbert says. Free Hugs is more collaborative. He talks about improvisation as spontaneous composition. "It's like training to be a musician in the same way as training to be a good person," he says. "Being open to dynamic situations."

Described as "concept-folk" at the Jazz Fest site,, Free Hugs isn't so easy to label.

"With guys on guitars it's hard not to be associated with folk," says Torbert.

While the band is mostly a fun side-project, Free Hugs has found some ways to make their shows memorable. Torbert describes shows when they've played harmonies on crystal bowls filled with water, or improvised lyrics read off the pages of a daily newspaper on stage.

"Sort of like pop art," jokes Torbert.

But the answer to the most pressing question: will there be actual free hugs afterthe show?

"We might actually give hugs during the show if people ask," Torbert laughs.

---Sam Worthington

Syl JohnsonWith Bill Stevenson, Tom Easley, Geoff Arsenault, Saturday, July 12 at the Festival Tent, 8pm, $20-$30

Syl Johnson

Syl Johnson's got stories, too many to tell here. Among the highlights for this Mississippi-born, Chicago-based legend: He played with Junior Wells and Magic Sam, toured the Chitlin' Circuit---the network of clubs that served up soul food and soulful jazz, blues and R&B throughout the American south---and recorded for the legendary Hi Records. For a time, he put music down. "In the mid-'80s I got into entrepreneurship, a fast-food restaurant," Johnson says from home, near Comiskey Park. Called Solomon's Fishery, it continued the tradition of the "Saturday night fish jumped off real big." He was the first black businessman to have a "storefront" operation in the Chicago Loop---that city's historic downtown core. But, Johnson adds, "The music business was calling me back." So, by 1996 he was back to touring and recording, when DJs and rappers had discovered his music. "I'm the most sampled artist there is," Johnson says. Everyone from Public Enemy to Wu Tang Clan to Will Smith tapped Johnson, whose "Unh!" is right up there with James Brown's "Ow!"

"I love hip-hop and the rappers. If you feelin', you ain't stealin,'" he says.

Johnson recently recorded with the Dap Kings, who back Sharon Jones and Amy Winehouse. "I'm very excited about the tunes I cut with them," Johnson says. Along with "Take Me to the River," Johnson delivered "Is it Because I'm Black?" The tune's been re-recorded by his daughter, the R&B singer Syleena Johnson.

---Sean Flinn

Björn Thoroddsen andDuane AndrewsWith Gypsophilia, Monday, July 14 at Festival Tent, 8pm, $20

Bjorn Thoroddsen

St. John's-based acoustic guitarist Duane Andrews met fellow six-stringer Björn Thoroddsen from Reykjavik, Iceland, courtesy of a magical matchmaker---the province of Newfoundland and Labrador. During a musical "trade mission kind of thing" the two struck up a friendship and musical partnership. The two gypsy-jazz, Django Reinhardt acolytes were set to tour Newfoundland prior to their Atlantic Jazz Festival gig. Thoroddsen has released several solo and group albums and Andrews released his latest, Raindrops, a couple weeks before playing Halifax.

"Duane is a fine musician and great to work with," explains Thoroddsen by email. "One of the great things about meeting him was to discover the jazz scene in Newfoundland. I've travelled all around the world but I am particularly excited about performing there because of the nation's connections to Iceland."

To start, Andrews says, the "small population and geographic isolation" of both places draws them together. "Perhaps coming from such remote places there may be more of a natural tendency to be open to new ideas stylistically," he adds. "For example, we both bring traditional music from our homes into our respective styles. If you come from a remote place which doesn't have an established jazz tradition you kind of take a bit of this and a bit of that."

The traditions are establishing right now. Jazz is "quite big for such a small nation, and growing quickly," Thoroddsen says. "We have one big annual jazz festival in Reykjavik and several smaller ones in the surrounding towns, including one in Kopavogur, which have really bloomed lately." There's also a "Django Reinhardt celebration up north in Akureyri," according to Andrews.

The duo will play folk tunes from their respective homelands, jazz standards and their own material, of course. "For our Halifax show there will be some special guests, as I'm really into strings these days, and we'll have a string quartet joining us for a couple of tunes," Andrews says. "Plus Gypsophilia will be around so I think a big jam is in the works for that night."

---Sean Flinn

Rachid TahaWith KOJO, Tuesday, July 15 at the Festival Tent, 8pm, $20-$30

Rachid Taha's gig under the Festival Tent has the potential to be the barnburner---the scorcher---of the event; year to year, there seems to be one of these killer shows. The Algerian-born French artist sings with a sense of urgency and passion that fits with one of his first musical loves: punk. Not only did he rework The Clash's "Rock the Casbah" (his version appears in the new Joe Strummer doc The Future is Unwritten), he fronted an outfit called Carte de Sejour, which translates to Residence Permit, when he was growing up in Lyon, France. His family emigrated there from Algeria during that country's war of independence.

The artist, who's been around since the early '90s, barks at and calls out to his audience over thudding drumbeats, guitars, wind, string and percussive instruments associated with Rai, a form of fusion between Arabic and Western forms, including funk, R&B, dance and rock. Rai was born around the Gulf of Oran---where Taha was born and grew up---so Halifax festival-goers are being treated to a visit from one of the music's progenitors. When Taha busts out "Kelma (Thoughts)," "Hey Anta (Hey You)" or "Jungle Fiction," those white plastic seats will probably empty out as dancers rush to the stage.

---Sean Flinn

Simon ShaheenWith Talambra, Wednesday, July 16 at the Festival Tent, 8pm, $20-$30

Simon Shaheen

Terrific of Adam Fine, Atlantic Jazz Festival's artistic director, to expose festival-goers to the intriguing sonorities of Middle Eastern music. If one listens knowledgeably, melody lines, phrasings, rhythm patternings and vocal quavering unique to Arabic music have been adopted and adapted into a good deal of western pop and dance music. We're fortunate to have Simon Shaheen performing here to guide us into an exciting experience of Arabic culture, currently evolving into "an alchemy transcending boundaries of genre and geography."

A musical visionary, Shaheen---a gregarious, handsome, dark-haired man---is known to be a "deft leaper from traditional Arabic sounds to jazz and Western classical styles." Shaheen has said that he wants "to create a world music exceptionally satisfying to the ear and for the soul." Born in Palestine to a family of musicians, the NYC-based oud (a pear-shaped, short-necked, fretless precursor to the European lute) virtuoso and violinist honed his other-worldly technique, melodic ingenuity and unmatched grace at the Conservatory for Western Classical Music in Jerusalem, Columbia University and the Manhattan School of Music in New York City.

Shaheen---a master of "taqasim" or improvisations that explore "maqams" or scales or modes---will dazzle listeners with unexpected rhythmic phrases, melodic lines played with astonishing speed or massaged as a caress with gentle tenderness, each with mesmerizing and bewitching expression.

For first-timers to Arabic music, Shaheen advises the uninitiated to concentrate on the characteristic melodies by "thinking with your voice." There's a linear quality, like the voice. Then enjoy melodic interaction with the infectious rhythm.

---Graham Pilsworth

Dinuk Wijeratne, Kinan Azmeh, Mayookh Bhaumikb>Thursday, July 17 at the Cathedral Church of All Saints, 7pm, $20-$30

While conductor-in-residence with Symphony Nova Scotia, Dinuk Wijeratne composed HYMNPEACE for SNS and Buck 65; they performed it this past April. Now he's re-arranging the piece for his trio with Syrian clarinetist Azmeh and Indian tabla master Bhaumik. "Our trio music is mostly a fusion of modal South Asian and Middle Eastern material, influenced by classical and jazz forms," explains the Sri Lankan-born composerand pianist.

Praised for evoking instrumental sounds from sitar to harp to percussion on the piano, Wijeratne would rather talk up his fellow players. "These two musicians are some of the most inspiring, creative virtuosos I have worked with. They play music like one always should: like there's no tomorrow," he offers, smiling. The trio's set, he says, will draw from many sources. "The formal influences I get from jazz are basically how to combine improvised music with pre-determined---written down---music. If you can blur the line between these two, and the audience cannot tell which is which, you have reached your goal." Still, Wijeratne insists, "Our trio music is absolutely not jazz. It's just that 99 percent of the time people associate any improvisation with jazz." Classical music forms of the West, from the symphonic to miniature scales, and the "amazing complexity of the rhythms of Indian classical music" factor in to what one reviewer called a "soundworld."

---Sean Flinn

L'Orkestre de Pas PerduThursday, July 17 at the Festival Tent, 8pm, $20-$30

L'orkestre de Pas Perdu

L'Orkestre de Pas Perdu (The Lost Steps Orchestra) is a big band that doesn't see lost as a bad thing.

"L'Orkestre is like a marching band," says trombonist and composer Claude St-Jean. "But we are more of a 'non-moving' brass band, playing original stuff influenced by jazz, weird circus music, funk, ska, klezmer and so on. We lost the steps but we know exactly where we are going."

The nine piece is St-Jean on trumpet, Jean-Denis Levasseur on soprano sax, Pierre Labbé on tenor sax, Roberto Murray on baritone sax, Maxime St Pierre on trumpet, Bruno Blouin-Robert on French horn, Jean Sabourin on sousaphone and Rémi Leclercon percussion.

That's a lot of sound.

A track title on their recent Projet 9, might work well as an overall description of the band's vibe---gastro-funk: a deep brass sound that infiltrates through your feet, and rests in your guts like a good meal.

There is a very theatrical element to the music, a quality that makes it at once marchable and danceable, like a parade of elephant revolutionaries, or a surreal circus in a Jean-Pierre Jeunet film. These comparisons might seem strange, but so is the music, which is what sets it wonderfully apart from most big-band jazz.

St-Jean says musicians like Benoit Charest who scored The Triplets of Bellevilleare among his influences. "Film scores maybe have an impact in the way I compose but I try not to be cliche," says St-Jean. "In the future, I will continue to explore some aspect of movie soundtracks and transpose it in my own way." ---Sam Worthington

Pyeng ThreadgillFriday, July 18 at the Commons Room, 9pm, $25-$32

Pyeng Threadgill

True to herself and confident in her musical direction, Pyeng Threadgill---daughter of famous dancer/choreographer Christina Jones, founder of the Urban Bushwomen Dance Troupe, and jazz saxophonist/composer Henry Threadgill---has managed to carve out her own niche as an artist. Couldn't have been easy. "I grew up around a lot of music," she was quoted as saying. "My dad's music and my mother's dancing were the fabric I grew up with. I absorbed it but it was not taught to me."

Rather than adopting avant-garde proclivities, Threadgill, who has a BA in music from prestigious Oberlin College in Ohio and received a Mellon Fellowship to study music in Brazil, preferred an openness to explore and mix styles. In so doing, Threadgill's music re-imagines music culled from the past---spirituals, blues and American Songbook classics---through her own experiences with R&B, punk, avant-garde and soul. Her thoughtful, sardonic, bluesy signature style, strong and fragile simultaneously, imbued with rich tones and crystalline diction with distinctive held-out notes and exquisitely measured phrasing, led one reviewer to equate her with an acoustic Portishead.

Threadgill sizes herself up as "somewhere between jazz, singer-songwriter and pop artist." She cites as influences the smoky-voiced witty jazz vocalist, Abbey Lincoln, Björk, the soulful Meshell Ndegeocello, stylish Jill Scott and the inimitable Cassandra Wilson (once Threadgill's step-mother). Expect nothing less than a scintillating evening of musical surprises and unexpected pleasures from this slender beauty.

---Graham Pilsworth

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