JUNO Award-winning pianist/composer/bandleader Cat Toren delves into the spiritual new thing on her latest recording.

Brooklyn-based pianist/composer and bandleader Cat Toren has released Cat Toren’s Human Kind. Jared Lucow / jpg

Scintillating Beauty

Cat Toren’s Human Kind | Panoramic Recordings/New Focus Recordings

Since heading to New York, Juno-winning pianist Cat Toren (Pugs & Crows) has been building a name for her playing in the Big Apple. Among the projects she has going is the band Human Kind, the 2016 crew which features saxophonist Xavier Del Castillo, oud player Yoshie Fruchter, bassist Jake Leckie and drummer Matt Honor.

Formed out of the feeling of panic and loss that accompanied the results of the last US election, the material on the four track recording was inspired by two quotes from Martin Luther King Jr.

Both included in the liner notes, one is from Dr. King’s Letter from Birmingham City Jail and captures the album title — “Let us all hope that the dark clouds of racial prejudice will soon pass away and the deep fog of misunderstanding will be lifted from our fear-drenched communities, and in some not too distant tomorrow the radiant stars of love and brotherhood will shine over our great nation with all their scintillating beauty” — while the other inspired a sense of hope amid all the negative news.

With inspirations ranging from Alice Coltrane’s classics such as Ptah, El Daoud and other meditative/transcendental jazz works of the late sixties. Aside from her Masters in Music Composition from New York State University at Purchase College, Toren also holds a certificate in Sound Healing Training from Sage Academy in Woodstock, N.Y.

Here are five things to know about Scintillating Beauty.

1: HUMAN KIND: Music for Empathic Activism. This was the title of the lecture that Toren delivered at the UBC Colloquium on Studies in Improvisation. There is no question that a piece such as the opener Radiance in Veils inspires a kind of urgency to blend cultures and needs with the joy of moving in sound. The closing few minutes give Toren time to drop in some lovely pensive piano before the whole band kicks back in to ride the song out.

2: Garment of Destiny. A pretty great title, the tune is a slow burner that begins quietly before the bass and oud take over for some Middle Eastern moods about 90 seconds in that then moves into a skittering improv workout that must be a monster live. This is really reminiscent of a lot of ECM label jazz, kind of bridging classical and chamber jazz.

3: Ignis Fatuus. The most straight-ahead song on the entire album swings on Leckie’s walking bass line and Toren makes clear that she could hold her own in any mainstream jazz environment if she chose to. This is the kind of toe-tapping track that radio programmers will jump on to use as an introduction to her work and with good reason. Great sax solo at the three minute mark that just burns up the rest of the tune. Some pretty heavy blowing going on here.

4: Rising Phoenix. The closer is all about conjuring images and it’s possible to see the mythic bird being conjured out of the somewhat random sounds the band lays down at the opening of this 10 minute-plus piece. It sort of gets stuck on that note for half of the time, before the song slides into an almost bluesy feel which Del Castillo drapes in some sweet big blasts of sax.

5: Canadian Music Centre. An associate composer at the Canadian Music Centre, Toren has had a few commissions for other groups ranging from string quartets to Vancouver’s Orkestra Futura. Given how satisfying the longer pieces on the new album are, it doesn’t seem unrealistic to look forward to her producing a long work that really gives itself over to moods and movements for a larger ensemble. The idea of a track such as Rising Phoenix extended to include more percussionists and some strings is pretty enticing.

Also out this week:


Pond Life | bandcamp.com

The Facebook page for this Whitehorse band states it “is a band preoccupied with the futility of bogs and swamps.” Not that any of the 11 tracks on the band’s new album speaks directly to either of these natural phenomenon, rather devoting more time to the ways relationships bog us all down (White Silk; The Guillotine is A Labour of Love) or the mutant swampy boogie of songs such as This Year’s Punks or Tubefeet Half-landings. Whatever the case may be, songwriter/vocalist/guitarist Zach McCann-Armitage, bassist Erik Vasseur and drummer Patrick Hamilton make really quirky, accomplished garage No Wave that deserves a far larger audience.

Dan Pitt

Monochrome | dan-pitt.com

Toronto guitarist Pitt leads a crack trio and plays with a number of other noted musicians in the city’s jazz scene. But his latest release is ten tunes devoted to solo guitar in all its myriad variations. Fortunately, Pitt isn’t one of those jazz types who favours the dull “smooth guitar” sound that mars so many guitar albums. He gets a screaming rock sound on Attraction, skirts with ambient atmospherics on Which Way is Up? and lays down some sweet acoustic picking on Benched. He closes with one of the best titled songs I’ve seen this year: Lester Sleeps In.

Speaker Face

Crescent | speaker-face.com

Fretless members Trent Freeman and Eric Wright team up with singer Ruby Randall for a electropop project loaded with textures and breathy, at-times-ambient feel. Wright’s cello goes from straight ahead to a synthesized wash in the single Phosphorescence as a rumbling bass pulses below. Elsewhere, such as on All My Mind, the trio blends folk with breathy a cappella vocals and a percussion track that sounds like bits of 2×4 struck together. The only downside to the recording is a sameness to the songs. A few upbeat or transitioning tracks in between the predominant sad, moody moments would have been better. One of the highlights is the almost countryish Dusted.

William Chernoff

Aim to Stay | WilliamChernoff.com

New Westminster bassist Chernoff has been making a name around the local scene since studying in the celebrated music program at Capilano University. Five years in the making, the project is outlined in his website blog and it’s pretty funny to read the honest assessment of how the album ebbed and flowed. A folk player as well as jazz, Chernoff brings a laid-back flow to songs such as the opening title tune, which he notes has a melody more like a vocal line than a jazz one. A standout is Nomads which swings like a classic post-bop session, right down to some pretty sweet comping from the piano and Chernoff’s bass as the trumpet soars over the walking riff. Chernoff has nailed if with the song Sitting To Her Left, a moving piece with some really lovely upright bass runs.



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