Canadian Brass: Recommended to anyone who admires good musicianship, beautiful sound quality and a brass ensemble ranging from piccolo-trumpet through horn to tuba.
The ‘Golden Sound’ of Canadian BrassCANADIAN BRASS TAKES FLIGHT
Steinway & Sons
The Canadian Brass gives us a wide variety of music on this, their latest release on the Steinway & Sons label. All of the music is delivered pitch perfect and graced with highly polished musicianship. The album has enough variety for everyone from casual listener to total brass aficionado. The booklet tells us that this is the first Canadian Brass recording with the new members of the ensemble and also their first recording made with new custom-made 24K gold-plated instruments built by the Conn-Selmer company, and what beautiful sounding instruments they are! This overall golden sound is what is first noticed even before the impressive musicianship. The brass sound often becomes a sensual experience. The repertoire features favorite encores, new arrangements, and world premieres. Here are some highlights.
Sonny Kompanek, known for his score to The Big Lebowski and many other films, composed the “Killer Tango” which combines a mood of Latin suave with a bit of Hollywood. The warm ensemble playing achieves a lyrical mellowness approaching the lush fullness of a string orchestra.
If there’s a brass ensemble there must be Bach organ arrangements, and the Bach pieces, which include the Little Fugue in G Minor BWV 578, Fantasia & Fugue in D Minor BWV 905 and the ever-popular “Air on the G String” are superbly played with such individual purity of line that in addition to simply pleasant listening, this music could serve any student of counterpoint, as the timbre of each instrument clearly delineates every melodic line.
The Canadian Brass, Rimsky-Korsakov’s ‘Flight of the Bumblee,’ as featured on the group’s Takes Flight album
The first arrangement on the album, Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Flight of the Bumble Bee” is the most eccentric, and one could also choose to listen to it last. Depending on what type of listener you are, your reaction might likely be delight, amusement or disorientation, or a combination of all three. The playing itself is incredible in terms of musicianship, phrasing and articulation. Amusingly, on a purely musical level, the arrangement itself is total kitsch, lacking any and all evocation of a bee or any insect in flight. Brass virtuosity is all there is and it’s fully on display here. On the other hand, both Dowland’s lovely lute song “Come Again, Sweet Love” as well as Scheidt’s echo-filled and more rapid “Galliard Battaglia” have a calm dignity that make these pieces sound as if both were originally written for brass instruments instead of voices. Probably because both were originally vocal works, these pieces sing as well as shine.
On the lighter side, the witty arrangement by Arthur Frackenpohl of Mozart’s “Turkish Rondo” is a welcome contrast. Most people have heard “La Cumparsita” by Gerardo Matos Rodríguez without knowing the title or the composer. (If you’ve seen the classic film Some Like It Hot, it’s the tango Jack Lemon and Joe E. Brown dance to.) Another Kompanek arrangement, this one has a swerving, comical swagger.
After many other adventures, including Michael Kamen’s gorgeous “Quintet,” just four minutes long, and the outdoor park-band style of melodic ornaments and acrobatics in “Carnival in Venice,” the album ends with a stately but not so sad New Orleans funeral march, slow to the cemetery and joyful on return. All of this music, from Renaissance to New Orleans, is heard through the style of the Canadian Brass rather than trying to match the performance practices of past eras. This is analogous to a modern pianist who might play a variety of Baroque works written before the piano was invented yet adapted to the modern keyboard sound. Here the music is interpreted on gorgeous brass instruments by an award-winning ensemble with a characteristic sound. There are many albums on which to hear this music in its original form, so enjoy the thrilling brass as there are many more surprises in store. Recommended to anyone who admires good musicianship, beautiful sound quality and a brass ensemble ranging from piccolo-trumpet through horn to tuba. --Greg La Traille, ArkivMusic.com
A ‘lighthearted, ever-evolving band…’
Such is the virtuosity of the Canadian Brass that, eager to celebrate their own capabilities, the musicians are blissfully unaware of when they are crossing the line into unlistenability. No one in the world wants to hear them tackle, for instance, “The Flight of the Bumblebee.” Not that they have to stick with brass music—Mozart’s “Turkish March,” for instance, works out fine—but they should keep in mind what music lends itself to their abilities. Baroque music is the obvious, and Bach’s “Little Fugue” is a joy.
Canadian Brass, ‘Quintet,’ by Michael Kamen, as featured on Canadian Brass Takes Flight
Dignified, funereal selections are also, I hate to say it, great. “Just a Closer Walk With Thee,” for instance, or “Lament” by Brass member Brandon Ridenour, or a Brahms chorale. (The Brass recently devoted a whole disc to Brahms.) And don’t shoot me but I liked “When The Saints Go Marching In” crossed with Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus.” It so sums up the ying and yang of this lighthearted, ever-evolving band. The Steinway connection, by the way, is that the Canadian Brass play Selmer instruments, and Selmer owns Steinway.
‘A mixed bag, but undeniably fun…’
The folks who comprise Canadian Brass have been tootling their horns for over four decades now, and audiences never seem to tire of their enthusiastic and virtuosic musicianship. Of course, the membership changes from time to time, with the current five players being Eric Reed on horn, Christopher Coletti and Brandon Ridenour on trumpets, Achilles Liarmakopoulos on trombone, and Chuck Daellenbach on tuba. No matter the makeup of the group, however, they always appear to have been performing together forever, they sound so well integrated.
On Canadian Brass Takes Flight they perform a motley assortment of tunes that apparently not even they can adequately explain. It doesn't hurt the music, but it does complicate it. For instance, on the back cover their publicist writes, "Canadian Brass truly takes flight with this new album--their premiere release on Steinway & Sons." Fair enough, given that the lead number is Rimsky-Korsakov's “Flight of the Bumblebee” and another is Bach's “Air on the G String.” But how to explain the inclusion of Kompanek's “Killer Tango” or Mozart's “Turkish Rondo”? Inside the Digipak we read, "Canadian Brass Takes Flight is a kind of 'state of the union' address, as the group's current membership revisits and refreshes examples of its unique contribution to the brass quintet universe--four decades of performing, four centuries of music." Again, fair enough. Maybe they mean the current disc to be a sort of greatest hits album, newly recorded. If so, there is little rhyme or reason for the selections except that somebody liked them.
Brahms’ Chorale Prelude no.10 is arranged by the legendary former principal trombonist of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Ralph Sauer, featuring Canadian Brass trombonist Achilles Liarmakopoulos, has quickly become an important work in the Brass repertoire. First recorded for the chart-topping Brahms On Brass, it has been newly realized for Canadian Brass Takes Flight.
In any case, it's the music that counts, and the music is splendid, despite the sometimes jarring juxtapositions of the tunes. We get eighteen tracks that range from classical (Bach, Brahms, Mozart, Rimsky-Korsakov) to tangos to gospel to Dixieland jazz. Whatever the music, you can count on Canadian Brass to perform it in a lively, sprightly fashion, with the utmost precision along the way. Personally, I enjoyed the several Bach selections best of all, along with the tangos.
Things get a little static by the middle of the program, unless you are a devoted brass aficionado, but they pick up with Bach's Air. The album closes with three numbers in New Orleans jazz style, the group's usual opening number, “Just a Closer Walk with Thee,” here closing the show. While it's a mixed bag, as I say, it's undeniably fun.
Vintage Canadian Brass, 1990 at Wolf Trap, with a rousing arrangement of ‘Strike Up the Band’
Canadian Brass's new label is Steinway & Sons--or it's their co-label, as this is a little confusing, too. The Digipak lists the recording as a cooperative project among Steinway & Sons, ArkivMusic, and Opening Day Entertainment Group, with the financial support of the department of Canadian Heritage, Canada Music Fund, and Canada's Private Radio Broadcasters.
Whoever produced the album engineered it well, recording the group at Christ Church, Deer Park, Toronto, Canada, in August of 2011. The sound they obtain is full and resonant, a mellow acoustic to match the richness of the instruments, with a pleasant sense of occasion in the ambient environment. The sonics are ultrasmooth, or as smooth as brass instruments can be. One can discern each of the five instruments clearly, spread out convincingly across the stage, miked at an ideal distance for easy listening.