Canadian Brass Takes Flight (CD review)

Eric Reed, horn; Christopher Coletti and Brandon Ridenour, trumpets; Achilles Liarmakopoulos, trombone; Chuck Daellenbach, tuba. Steinway & Sons 30008.

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.

This time out 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 nor reason for the selections except that somebody liked them.

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 afficionado, 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.

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.

Of minor note, the "brass" is not entirely brass. Again, I quote from the Digipak: "The Canadian Brass performs exclusively on instruments manufactured by Conn-Selmer, Inc. under the legendary brands Vincent Bach and C.G. Conn. Skillfully handcrafted, each instrument is a blend of classic design, elegant styling, and signature sound, beautifully culminating with the Canadian Brass trademark 24K gold-plate finish." All that glitters....


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John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.

Mission Statement

It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa