Thursday, August 20, 2015

Recording: The Melancholiac Ensemble

Artist: The Melancholiac Ensemble

Songs: It's Raining Today (feat. Alex Samaras, arr. Adam Scime) + Such a Small Love (feat. Patricia O'Callaghan) + Brando (Dwellers on the Bluff) (feat. John Millard)

Recorded at Pia Bouman School for Ballet and Creative Movement (SummerWorks Music Series: Melancholiac: The Music of Scott Walker), August 9, 2015.

The Melancholiac Ensemble feat. Alex Samaras - It's Raining Today

The Melancholiac Ensemble feat. Patricia O'Callaghan - Such a Small Love

The Melancholiac Ensemble feat. John Millard - Brando (Dwellers on the Bluff)

The SummerWorks Music series, evolving since its inception in 2008, feels to have really and truly settled into its identity both as another way for SummerWorks to celebrate its growing foregrounding of interdisciplinary art and as a unique feature of the city's live music scene. After a couple years of just stuffing some bands down in the basement to provide an après-play gathering space, 2010's Hidden Cameras spectacular (featuring a "dramatic retelling" their Origin: Orphan album) pointed the way forward — but it wasn't really until 2012 that the festival started to ramp up the practice of pairing musicians with artists from other disciplines to create unique, one-off events.

It was finally in 2013 that the "mature" music series fully emerged, with stand-out events from Maylee Todd, Snowblink, and The Bicycles. Since then, collaboration has moved to the centre. Last year saw the series' first visit to the Pia Bouman School at the edge of Parkdale, which became their home this year, giving the Series its own space (and a cool pop-up venue). Adam Bradley and the returning Andrew Pulsifer have played to the series' strengths with their musical curation, and all of the works this year felt like good additions to a series whose legacy includes the future memories of these one-of-a-kind shows.

This show featured something of a different vibe (and crowd) than the others in the Music Series, something more akin to a night out at the Music Gallery. Traipsing through the scope of Walker's career (though not chronologically, as that would just get increasingly weird and confusingly difficult) might have reduced the show to a sort of highbrow equivalent to one of those "jukebox musicals" which are apparently quite popular. But — probably for the best — there was no attempt to impose any sort of throughline or narrative sense on the material, save, perhaps for a point-of-view that privileged none of Walker's career phases.

The songs were presented by a Greg Oh-assembled big-band with many noteworthy members from the city's pop, improvised and new music scenes1. The music was enhanced by an ensemble that acted as choir and dance troupe as required, adding dramatic flourishes and hinting at Walker's more outré musical practices. For example, the notorious meat-punching in "Clara" (from 2006's The Drift) was amended onstage to some vigourous, albeit more genteel, dough-punching. The spectacle and effort put into that particular slab of uneasy listening made it one of the night's centrepieces — showy but kinda not what one might want to sit down and listen to. (That, in fact, might be an apt description for latter-period Walker to many.)

Those "difficult" moments were balanced with ample selections from Walker's better known avant-crooning days and other youthful pop exercises. All told, it took no fewer than five vocalists to reflect all the facets the show examined. On the whole, the night was a most pleasing confluence of multiplicities — different fanbases, different singers, different Scott Walkers.

1 I'm not sure if this is precisely correct, but combining the programme notes and my own notes, the ensemble included: Gregory Oh (music director, keyboards), Friendly Rich (vox), John Millard (vox), Patricia O’Callaghan (vox), Alex Samaras (vox), Zorana Sadiq (vox), Bram. Gielen (bass), Lina Allemano (trumpet), Amahl Arulanandam (cello), Anna Atkinson (violin), Shaun Mallinen (saxophone), Dan Morphy (percussion), David Quackenbush (french horn), Nichol Robertson (guitar), Laurence Schaufele (viola), Leslie Ting (violin), Dean Wales (drums)

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