Friday Sept 21/18 – Ensemble Vivant
Ensemble Vivant, “Canada’s Chamber Music Treasure” (Toronto Star), receives accolades internationally and is a favourite wherever the group performs. Since its inception over 25 years ago, Ensemble Vivant has been a pioneer in the piano chamber music world, championing exciting, innovative programming ranging from classical to Latin and other jazz styles. Ensemble Vivant’s 12 recordings are heard on radio around the world, and in 2008 Opening Day Entertainment Group repackaged the group’s entire back catalogue. Led by pianist/artistic director Catherine Wilson, Ensemble Vivant is also known for its depth of artistry, passionate, virtuosic interpretations and engaging stage presence.
As jazz great Rick Wilkins, C.M. commented:
This is the highest-level chamber music-making. No matter the genre, there is magic in Ensemble Vivant’s music-making.
Ensemble Vivant’s month long tour in British Columbia in early 2015 was a triumphant success, including sold-out concerts, repeat invitations and rave reviews. The following review is from Kelowna, B.C. where the hall with capacity of 860 had been sold out for weeks in advance: “Led by a remarkable pianist, Catherine Wilson, Ensemble Vivant boasts a collection of musicians whose abilities and qualifications are second to none… a diversity of beautifully played music and sound (with vibes…Don Thompson, O.C.) from Bach to Piazzolla to Widor…wonderful interpretations…highlight of the Kelowna Community Concert Association series…I had the pleasure of spending time with the group after the concert, and they are a fun, humble and inspiring group of musicians…such tremendous mutual talent and respect within the ensemble…Merci, Ensemble Vivant.” (Neville Bowman, musician, composer, journalist)
Of Ensemble Vivant’s concert in April 2015 for the prestigious de Blasiis Chamber Music Series in Glens Falls, NY, the presenter received countless requests from the sold-out audience to “please have Ensemble Vivant return very soon.” And so, Ensemble Vivant has already been re-engaged to return to this coveted series in the spring of 2017.
Friday Nov 9/2018 – Viva Trio
“It’s a show.”
That phrase, so deceptively simple, might be the only way to truly summarize the head-spinning, heart-stopping magic of vocal group, ViVA Trio, in full flight. When it’s declared by soprano Anna Bateman on behalf of cohorts, mezzo-soprano Erin Fisher and soprano/songwriter Katya Tchoubar to describe ViVA’s musical essence, it scans as exactly right.
Really, how else to convey what this group of superbly talented singers with their angelic/athletic voices are doing with the contemporary pop/rock songbook, recasting hits like Duran Duran’s “Ordinary World,” Sia’s “Space Between” and “Bird Set Free,” John Lennon’s “Imagine,” Chris Isaak’s “Wicked Game,” Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” and — wait for it — Metallica’s “Nothing Else Matters” as thrillingly accessible operatic and cinematic gems?
Indeed, ViVA Trio’s dazzling debut, Nothing Else Matters, which includes the before-mentioned songs plus two ViVA originals and readings of Evanescence’s “My Immortal” and Louis Armstrong’s “What A Wonderful Word” (already an international smash for the three; more on that later) expertly converges classical and contemporary, blazing a vibrant new crossover trail previously tread by acts like Il Divo and 2CELLOS, albeit more glamorously.
What’s more, Nothing Else Matters was crafted with the help of a myriad of marquee composers, arrangers, orchestrators, musicians and a children’s choir — a small army by any measure. “There were a ton of amazingly talented people working on this record,” says Fisher, “and we are so thankful that we were surrounded by such an incredible team.”
Yet everyone — from Mark Camilleri to Dmitry Konovalov, Dima Graziani to Sabatino Vacca, who variously produced, arranged, and orchestrated on Nothing Else Matters — was galvanized by the spark at the heart of the project and by the emotive, gravity-defying voices of Bateman, Fisher, and Tchoubar who performed and arranged vocals on each track.
That the album was partly funded by ViVA fans via a wildly successful crowdfunding campaign, confirms our heroines have connected with those across the musical spectrum in a powerful way. So yes, ViVA Trio’s Nothing Else Matters is a show, alright. But then, so is everything the globe-trotting Bateman, Fisher, and Tchoubar set their collective sights upon. “I have dreamt of creating something like this my whole professional singing career, and I view this album as my life’s legacy,” says Tchoubar. “We love every moment of every track.” Adds Bateman, “Finishing the album was a huge accomplishment. Now that we have songs we think will really touch people, we can go onto any stage anywhere in the world and perform them with an orchestra. Performing is why I got into singing in the first place. The immediacy of interacting with an audience is thrilling.”
There is something deeply compelling about hearing familiar classics like Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” or Chris Isaak’s “Wicked Game” reconfigured as ornate orchestral pieces hinged on an electrifying three-part harmony, with each ViVA voice distinctive as a thumbprint. Similarly, Duran Duran’s “Ordinary World” — the album’s focus track and an instrumental showpiece among many — is at once instantly recognizable yet utterly new. Like all the songs here, it deftly distils the trio’s varied and acclaimed pre-ViVA career experiences such as producing and touring the world (Tchoubar) and performing all manner of key operatic roles (Fisher and Bateman).
“We have to connect with them emotionally,” Bateman explains of ViVA’s criteria for song selection. “Songs have to really lend themselves to the expanded range of classical voice. We also look for songs that have a sweeping, grand feel we think will sound great with orchestra.” In compiling the track list for Nothing Else Matters, all agree it was essential the album carry ViVA Trio’s “signature stamp,” as Bateman puts it, thus the inclusion of originals “Voices Are Calling” and “Here To Stay,” written by Tchoubar and friend Alisha Joseph and inspired Tchoubar’s time spent alone in nature. “It was all very organic,” Tchoubar says. “I presented the songs to the ladies, we collaboratively worked on the vocal arrangements and it went from there.”
ViVA Trio’s innate collective creativity has been evident since Fisher joined Bateman and Tchoubar — who had previously performed and recorded together in pop-leaning classical vocal quartet NARIA — in 2015. Widespread praise and ecstatically received SRO performances soon followed the trio’s live debut on Valentine’s Day 2015. In short order, ViVA performed at prestigious hometown Toronto venues including (but not limited to) the Palais Royale, Casa Loma, and The Living Arts Centre, as well as Ontario Place for Canada Day 150 celebrations.
ViVA Trio was nominated as Emerging Artist of the Year at the InFAME Awards and as Established Music Group at the MARTYS Award. And that previous mention of ViVA’s cover of Louis Armstrong’s chestnut “What a Wonderful World?” It was handpicked for inclusion in two South Korean TV ads. The group also performed in Poland for a televised orchestra concert ending the summer series for the Filharmonia Dolnośląska. Their tour schedule is filling up with dates internationally, and the three singers could not be more psyched. “I am so proud of the music we are putting out into the world,” Fisher says. “Our arrangements were built for the stage, and we can’t wait to perform these pieces live!” The group has tour dates booked out into 2019. ViVA is gearing up to tour the American west coast in February 2019.
If the success of ViVA’s crowdfunding campaign is anything to go by, fans are already chomping at the bit. “We were overwhelmed with the support,” Fisher continues. “Our initial goal was to raise $5,000 in a month. We reached it in less than a week. It was such an emotional experience for us to get our fans involved. We really felt the love.” “The journey of this album was quite dynamic and every track has a story,” Tchoubar says. “Now that it has come to fruition, it already feels like a success. I’m excited to travel the world and perform it live. To perform something of our own creation is a celebration.” “And did we mention we really, really want to perform our music all over the world,” Bateman interjects with a laugh. “We all adore what we do!”
ViVA Trio: coming soon to a stage near you. Only a fool would bet against it.
Friday January 18/2019 – OKAN ! – CONTEMPORARY WOMEN-LED AFRO-CUBAN ROOTS! !
Blending jazz, Afro-Cuban and classical forms, and world rhythms, OKAN takes inspiration from the roots of Cuban music and contributes to the contemporary evolution of these powerful traditions in the global context. Embracing genres and roles that have historically been dominated by men, co-leaders, composers and multi-instrumentalists Elizabeth Rodriguez and Magdelys Savigne bring a fresh perspective to Latin and world jazz fusion through their powerful vocals, incredible musicianship and potent lyrical content.! !
Born in Havana, Cuba Elizabeth Rodriguez is a classically trained violinist who served as concertmaster for Havana’s Youth Orchestra. Hailing from the other side of the island, Santiago de Cuba, drummer/percussionist Magdelys Savigne graduated with honours in orchestral percussion from Havana’s University of The Arts. ! !
Since moving to Canada the two have recorded and toured extensively with Jane Bunnett & Maqueque and The Battle of Santiago and worked with Bill King’s Rhythm Express as well as Toronto’s top timba and salsa ensembles. Both artists are JUNO winners and Grammy nominees for the recordings with Jane Bunnett & Maqueque and JUNO-nominees for their work with Battle of Santiago.! !
Touring activity with these projects have included stops at New York’s Birdland, The Blue Note, Lincoln Center, The Kennedy Center and San Francisco’s Yerba Buena Gardens, as well as the Miami, Montreal, San Jose Jazz Festivals. ! !
Living and and collaborating in the intensely multicultural city of Toronto has enriched OKAN’s composition and performances with influences from Turkey, Brazil and New Orleans. Having performed as OKAN at the Beaches Jazz Festival, Canada’s first Women in Percussion Festival, Sofar Sounds and Koerner Hall, Elizabeth and Magdelys are ready to take their highly original and compelling project to national and international audiences.! !
Backed by some of the country’s finest jazz and Latin players, such as Bill King, Danae Olano, Roberto Riveron, Jeremy Ledbetter, Pablosky Rosales, Alexis Baro and Reimundo Sosa, and with ample experience on both large and intimate stages, OKAN performs as a trio to sextet.!
Friday March 1/2019 –
Robi Botos/Paul Novotny/Daniel Barnes Jazz Trio
ROBI BOTOS has been hailed as one of the most diverse multi-instrumentalists of this generation. From the hard-bop style of Bill Evans and Herbie Hancock, to the swing of Oscar Peterson and the heartfelt melodic expression of Mulgrew Miller and Cedar Walton, Robi has managed to master the technique of his idols, all while showcasing his musical expressions in a voice that is purely his own. While Robi is known for being a strong player in the traditional jazz and funk fields, he always incorporates an element of the music he grew up listening to into his playing. Says organist, trumpeter and pianist Joey Defrancesco: “Robi is one of the most swingin’, soulful, funky, world class players I’ve ever heard, and he has a technique like you can’t believe. Definitely one of my very favorite players!!!”
Born of Romani descent in Hungary, Robi taught himself first to play drums as a young child, and got his first taste of being a professional musician working throughout Budapest. Robi was first introduced to the piano when he was 7 years old, and never looked back. He continued to perform throughout Hungary and when he turned 20, decided to move his wife and children to Canada, to further pursue the career he was born for. Now 20 years later, Robi has solidified himself as one of the most sought-after pianists in the country.
Immediately after coming to Canada, Robi immersed himself into both the Canadian and international jazz scene. In 2004, he traveled to Montreux to compete in the Montreux Jazz Festival’s solo piano competition, where he placed first. His prize? Returning the following year to open for one of the headlining artists. That artists happened to be one of Robi’s idols – Oscar Peterson. Unknowingly to Robi, Peterson sat in the wings as Robi performed and upon their return to Canada, the two would form a friendship that resulted in Robi being one of OP’s final mentees. Over the next few years, Robi would continue to participate in and win global prizes and awards including the International “Jazz Hoeilaart” band competition in Belgium, the International Association for Jazz Education (IAJE) award in California, and the “Martial Solal Piano Competition” in Paris. In 2006, Robi would receive his first JUNO Award nomination for his participation in the ALMA Records release, “One Take.”
Since moving to Canada, Robi has been given the chance to work with many of the greats in his industry including Al Jarreau, Branford Marsalis, Christian McBride, Terri Lyne Carrington, Joey Defrancesco, Steve Gadd and Chaka Khan and has participated in projects with Michel Legrand, Chick Corea, Bill Charlap, Benny Green, and Kenny Barron. Robi wasted no time laying down roots in Toronto. He has been the pianist of choice for Officer of the Order of Canada, Molly Johnson, for close to 15 years and has worked extensively with some of Canada’s most celebrated players including Dave Young, Phil Dwyer, Archie Alleyne, Oliver Jones, Renee Rosnes, Sophie Milman, Paul Novotny, Carol Welsman and more.
Along with being a first-call pianist for some of the top artists around the world, as well as leading his own groups in sold-out shows nationwide, Robi is also a highly sought-after composer. In 2013, Robi composed the score for a film that was deeply personal to him. Aaron Yeger’s “A People Uncounted” tells the story of the rich culture and history of the Romani people (commonly refered to as ‘Gypsies’) in Europe. The film specifically focuses on the mistreatment and devastation of the Romani people during the Holocaust. This moving project was nominated for a Producer’s Guild Award in 2014. Since then, Robi’s music can also be heard on Stella Meghie’s 2016 film “Jean of the Joneses,” which received 2 nominations at the Canadian Screen Awards. Robi also contributed to the soundtrack of the 2013 Richard Gere and Susan Sarandon film “Arbitrage”.
In 2015, Robi released his highly anticipated sophomore album for A440 Entertainment, “Movin’ Forward”, which brought him a 2016 JUNO Award win for Solo Jazz Album of the Year. This would be Robi’s 5th nomination and 2nd win for Canada’s highest award in music. “Movin’ Forward” featured Seamus Blake on tenor saxophone, Robert Hurst on bass, and Jeff “Tain” Watts on drums. After rave reviews and countless sold-out shows in support of this record, Robi went back into the studio in summer, 2016 to record his next album.
In 2018, Robi is back with a brand-new record that pays homage to his Hungarian upbringing, the early days of his career, and the music that he has dedicated his life to. “OLD SOUL” sees Robi not only venturing into a number of different genres (jazz, funk, soul, gospel and more!), but he also plays on a number of different instruments including the Harpejji, which he was inspired to learn and incorporate into his sound by Stevie Wonder. Robi is joined by some familiar faces such as longtime collaborators Mike Downes on bass and Larnell Lewis on drums, as well as Seamus Blake on saxophone. Also joining them for the first time is Cory Henry(Snarky Puppy, Bruce Springsteen, Kenny Garrett) on the Hammond B3, Ingrid Jensen (Clark Terry, Maria Schneider, Dr. Lonnie Smith, Billy Taylor) on trumpet, and Lionel Loueke (Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock, Roy Hargrove, Wayne Shorter) on guitar. Robi’s ability as a composer is once again highlighted on this record, with a majority of the tracks being his original material. “Old Soul” pays tribute to his homeland as he takes you down memory lane with visions of his childhood neighbourhood and through some of his favourite spots in his hometown. This record makes you feel like you have a personal connection with one of the most diverse and eclectic artists of our time.
OLD SOUL is released on A440 Entertainment/Universal Music Canada on February 2nd, 2018.
Friday April 12/19 – Lemon Bucket Orkestra
left to right: IAN TULLOCH (sousaphone), ELI CAMILO (trombone), OS KAR (savage drums, screams), MARICHKA MARCZYK (accordion, vocals), MICHAEL LOUIS JOHNSON (trumpet), JULIAN SELODY (saxophone), JAASH SINGH (darbouka). ALEX NAHIRNY (guitar), MARK MARCZYK (violin, vocals), STEPHANIA WOLOSHYN (dance, percussion, vocals), NATHAN DELL-VANDENBERG(trombone), JAMES McKIE (violin)
Lemon Bucket Orkestra is a guerilla-punk-balkan-folk-brass band massive like no other. Tracing their genesis back to the streets of Toronto, the original quartet of busking troubadours quickly amassed a battalion of like-minded musical souls and the full-blown, dozen plus strong Orkestra was born. The multi award winning ensemble has been heralded as a groundbreaking, genre-bending phenomenon by the Canadian and international media alike and over the past 8 years they have performed on streets and stages around the world, leaving a trail of new friends and dedicated fans in their wake.
Equal parts exhilarating precision and reckless abandon, LBO’s live shows are a truly immersive experience – ranging from the ecstatic to the cathartic, and they have exquisitely captured that energy on their new album If I Had The Strength. Released in November 2018, it includes guest appearances from famed soprano Measha Brueggergosman, Latino rapper Boogat, Choir! Choir! Choir! and more. Their new video for the song Freedom has also just been released. Directed by the band’s own Michael Louis Johnson, it was shot following an all-night drive home from a gig. Without any sleep, the members donned their best suits and gowns, cracked open a bottle of tequila, and let the cameras roll. “We wanted to create something that presents more questions than it answers,” Johnson says. “A piece wherein the stakes are very high, but we don’t know what’s at stake.”
The band is currently supporting their new releases with a 9 date Canadian tour, before heading south to New York City to premiere their two-time Dora award winning folk opera Counting Sheep in December. They will also be featured artists in the made for CBC TV movie Dreaming of a Jewish Christmas – a celebration of the most beloved Christmas songs set to air nationally on December 3rd. With a recent appearance on CBC Q, up coming tapings for The Strombo Show, and a March 2018 tour of New Zealand that includes performing at the WOMAD Festival there, it’s clear that LBO have no plans of slowing down. Expect to hear a lot more about them in the coming year, as the take their unique brand of music mayhem to audiences around the world.