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Alternative/Roots

Gord Downie, the Sadies and the Conquering Sun (Arts & Crafts). A Canadian rock dream-team. The pairing of Tragically Hip front man and lyricist Gord Downie with Toronto alt-country/roots outfit the Sadies exceeds any reasonable expectation one might have placed on it. “And the Conquering Sun” sounds simply effortless, a loose but purposeful collection of songs marked by the unstudied appeal endemic to situations involving talented friends gathering for no other purpose than to create something worthwhile together. With all the participants involved in various projects, the album was recorded when it could be, in a piecemeal fashion, over the course of the last few years. This might have made the whole thing sound a bit scattered and patched together, and yet, Downie was clearly inspired by his Sadies pals . A brilliantly idiosyncratic and masterful lyricist with the Hip, Downie wasn’t stingy with the astute symbolism and smartly observed metaphors here. These songs number among his finest lyrics. Sonically, Downie is well-served by the warm, loamy din of the Sadies, who bring enough edge to their alt-country/roots music tropes to suggest punklike urgency at one turn, and esoteric balladry at another. I expect this material to sound abundantly powerful in the live concert setting. Hopefully, we’ll have an opportunity to find out for ourselves this summer. ΩΩΩ (Jeff Miers)

Jazz

David White Jazz Orchestra, “The Chase” (Mister Shepherd). Trombonist, composer and bandleader David White not only grew up in Buffalo but was 14 when he began playing in Macy Favor’s big band at the Colored Musicians Club of Buffalo. “Macy was an important figure since I had a single mother and my grandfather had passed” he says now. “Music was always something that added discipline in my life. There’s the discipline of practicing. There’s the discipline of being in bands, which is more responsibility than a lot of 14-year-olds would have had. It let me get a lot of my trial and error out of my way at an early age. “He moved to New York in 2003, began playing with Charli Persip’s and Valery Ponomarev’s Big Band and began his own big band in 2007 which included musicians he’d known since high school in Buffalo, including drummer Ryan Cavan. He wants to explore “a whole palette of orchestral colors within the big band that are not always tapped into.… It’s like having a giant box of crayolas where you can color and draw anything you can imagine.” His orchestral imagination is certainly unusual but by no means radical. On the other hand, how many jazz orchestras do you know where a composer/arranger is influenced by Steve Reich’s “Music for 18 Musicians” and names tunes after Sally Draper on “Mad Men”? His band is a good one, full of good soloists including tenor saxophonist Sam Dillon and pianist Nick Consol. ΩΩΩ (Jeff Simon)

Classical

Francis Poulenc, “Stabat Mater” and “Sept Repons des Tenebres” performed by soprano Carolyn Sampson, the Capella Amsterdam, Estonian National Symphony and Chamber Choir conducted by Daniel Reuss (Harmonia Mundi). Until the Eastern Europeans came along after the middle of the last century, you could argue that there was no 20th century religious music quite like the French – Durufle’s Requiem Mass in the celestial tradition of Faure’s and Francis Poulenc’s works from after the composer’s midlife return to the Catholic faith of his youth. (That’s especially true if you include Stravinsky’s religious music – the “Symphony of Psalms” and “Requiem Canticles” – as being somehow more than a little French by adoption.) There was no more heavenly melodist in 20th century music than Francis Poulenc and the two works performed so beautifully by Estonian musicians share the entirely mysterious problem of wholesale underperformance with almost of all of Poulenc’s repertoire. In the aesthetic politics of 20th century music, Poulenc, in the 21st century, seems to suffer the fate of writing music too ravishing for anyone’s comfort. It is bewildering why music as beautiful as this seems to be recorded with such relative infrequence – and, at that, seldom as magnificently as this. A wonderful record. ΩΩΩΩ (J.S.)

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Benjamin Beirs, Fluidity: Classical Guitar in the 21st Century (Benjamin Beirs). Benjamin Beirs, a product of the Peabody Conservatory, was a finalist in the 2008 edition of the JoAnn Falletta International Guitar Concerto Competition here in Buffalo. He played the lovely concerto by Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco. On this polished indie CD, he is going solo with international repertoire. Miroslav Tadic’s “Laments, Dances and Lullabies” are based on Romanian folk melodies and are lyrical, rhythmic and fun. Manuel Ponce’s Sonata III is also lovely and lively. The CD’s sound is clear and measured and you can just about feel the crispness of Beirs’ articulation. Beirs himself wrote “Fluidity,” a three-minute piece that you can tell borrows from many of the pieces he has played, but has its moments of appeal all the same. (The third movement, “Storm,” can make you think in its opening harmonies of Schubert, who was quite a guitar fan.) Marek Pasieczny’s “Lutoslawski: In Memoriam” is on the opaque side. The concluding “Collectici Intim,”by Vicente Asencio (1903-1979) is luxuriously romantic in its way, with precise, beautiful harmonies, arresting rhythms and wide open spaces. ΩΩΩ (Mary Kunz Goldman)

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Mozart, Opera and Concert Arias performed by Karina Gauvin with Les Violons du Roy, and Bernard Labadie (Atma Classique). Canadian soprano Gauvin is an off-roader by nature. Her discs usually contain rarities, and this one has a few arias I really didn’t know. One of them quotes from one of Mozart’s violin concertos. I love it when Mozart borrows from himself, and there are other examples of that here, too, that Mozart fans will have fun with. This album reaches from early Mozart (“Lucio Silla”) to his last operas, “La Clemenza di Tito” and “The Magic Flute.” The contrast jumps out at you, and that’s part of the fun. A stately aria from “Tito” looks back to opera seria while the famous, passionate “Ach, ich fuhl’s” from “The Magic Flute” looks to the future. Gauvin does a beautiful job with the glorious “Deh vieni non tardar” from “The Marriage of Figaro” and the great concert aria with piano obligato, K. 505 The orchestra playing is crisp and energetic. You never forget you are hearing Les Violons du Roy, who were in Buffalo a few years ago on the Ramsi P. Tick Memorial Concert Series. ΩΩΩ½ (M.K.G.)