"this record documents a concert that embodied a set of extraordinary connections. At the heart of these connections are Christine Duncan and Jean Martin, collaborators through the already deeply intertwined projects of Jean’s Barnyard Records and Christine’s Element Choir, the inclusive, community-driven improvising vocal ensemble. Together, these two enterprises account for a significant quotient of the energy that drives Toronto’s field of creative improvised music, and on the cold March night of this event that energy was made palpably, gloriously kinetic. But the connections don’t end there. Notably, this music includes the two other projects that were feted that night separately; Barnyard was launching not only the first Element Choir record, but also a solo disc by New York bass legend, William Parker, and one by the trio of Jim Lewis, Andrew Downing, and Jean Martin. By the end of the evening, all were playing in the chancel of Christ Church Deer Park, where Choir collaborator, Eric Robertson, regularly plays the exquisite Karl Wilhelm organ. The massive sound is dominated by the Choir — fifty-strong on their debut disc — which had swelled to an unprecedented seventy voices that night. Moreover, there was the inaudible-but-inestimable contribution of Jeff Schlanger, the MusicWitness, who painted William during the majestic solo concert that became At Somewhere There, and who was delighted to return to document these record-launch celebrations in his magical way. More than anything, this record is about the connections between all of these extraordinary artists and people — and the selfless urge, clearly shared by everyone there, to celebrate these connections through this music.
This live recording includes:
The Element Choir-seventy voices
Christine Duncan-choir conductor
Eric Robertson-pipe organ
Jean Martin-drums, trumophone"
That pretty much says it all. Like all the releases in the top 5 of this list, nothing else that came out this year really sounded like this. It's an incredibly exciting release that highlights the power of the human voice and of large musical collectives. Large form improvisation isn't all that common - improvisers tend to stick to fairly small ensembles in my experience - but this is proof positive that not only is it possible, the results can be pretty astonishing. What's cool about this release is that it doesn't compromise in the slightest artistically and yet it should still be enjoyed by people whose musical interests cover a wide, generally non-overlapping spectrum. Fans of the avant-garde, of the experimental, of choral music and chamber singers and modern a cappella will surely all be floored by the scope of this, one of the most exciting albums of the year.