At Christ Church Deer Park
William Parker, The Element Choir
Exaltant! — Revue & Corrigée, France
There are moments of splendor just as there are moments of searching for that splendor. At their heights, Duncan, choir and instrumentalists find a unique beauty. — The Squid’s Ear, USA
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.
Scott Thomson, 2011
- Composer(s): William Parker, The Element Choir
- Performer(s): William Parker, The Element Choir
CD (BR 0326)
- Label: Barnyard Records
- BR 0326
- Total duration: 43:47
- 127 mm × 140 mm × 6 mm
- 65 g
On the web
In the press
Christine Duncan has been working her Element Choir up in Toronto for a few years now, taking a large group of professional and amateur singers and rehearsing them in spontaneous composition. Allusion to Butch Morris’s conducted improvisations would not be off the mark, but she of course has own aesthetic and style. Beyond procedural similarities, however, both Duncan and Morris are drawn toward sounds which might be labeled “classical” or even “sacred” more than the jazz tradition which if nothing else arises in each of their choices in personnel. This is made plain in Duncan’s case on her most recent recording with bassist William Parker, who appears as a sort of featured soloist alongside her usual accompanists (trumpeter Jim Lewis, bassist Andrew Downing and drummer Jean Martin), all part of the Toronto jazz scene.
Taken together the musicians and singers (some 70 names are listed on the liner notes to At Christ Church Deer Park) could be parsed in a variety of ways. At times they could be heard as a setting of sacred against secular — the cover photo depicting an angelic chalk drawing on a city street affirming that depiction — with organist Eric Robinson joining the chorus in a showdown against the profane jazz band. They could be heard — as they seemed during their appearance at the 2011 Guelph Jazz Festival in Ontario — as a grand quintet with Duncan’s control over her singers being so tight they could be counted as a single member. Perhaps that count was the result of bearing personal witness, or due to the particularities of the performance or the embellishments of memory but in the one, 42-minute track on Deer Park they are willfully far too amorphous to count as a quintet or slice into any number of even pieces. There are certainly moments of jazz band and church choir, there are passages for soloists and there are surprising sections that come off as crowd scenes (chaotic, choreographed or Berio-esque). There are moments of splendor just as there are moments of searching for that splendor. At their heights, Duncan, choir and instrumentalists find a unique beauty.
At a CD launch event organized by Barnyard Records, were simultaneously on stage at some point the Lewis/Downing/Martin trio, William Parker, and Christine Duncan’s Element Choir. The result: 45 minutes of happiness to follow up on the large vocal improvisation ensemble’s debut. Less grand and revelatory than their first CD, but still a very honest effort. The first 20 minutes are gorgeous — nice synergy between pipe organ, choir and instrumentalists. But the piece looses its way afterward. Start with At Rosedale United.