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Saturday, February 26, 2011

CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE NICEST KIND - PACIFIKA & EAUBANSAN

Lately I had the pleasure of discovering two wonderfully original Canadian bands; one posting a small following after two albums and the other less well known, emerging with a five song EP.  What they both share is a multi linguistic approach to singing, a respect for the environment plus a deep and mutual appreciation for and from it's audience.

Peace, La Paix, Paz...

Pacifika is a Vancouver trio featuring the lovely Silvana Kane on vocals and tambourine, Adam Popowitz on electric and acoustic guitars and Toby Peter on five string electric Bass and numerous percs, augmented live by fourth member Elliot Polsky on drums, percussion and electronic samplers.



Show Rating: A+

I first came upon this musical treasure by reading an article in my daily newspaper loosely describing their style as a mix of Worldbeat, Flamenco, melodic Pop and Trance.  My curiosity was piqued to say the least, plus the photo of the beautiful Peruvian born Diva didn't hurt I must confess.  To say I was not disappointed in their performance or otherwise would be a big understatement.  In fact they gave the best show I've attended in awhile.  As of this writing the group is nominated for a Juno Award for 'World Music Album of the Year 2010'.


The five hundred seat venue was at full capacity for the two set show; luckily I got a great view from second row.  Polsky being first to enter center stage, established the machine-like groove and proved more than capable of maintaining max precision without losing the feel of a real drummer - no mean feat.


Then came Peter on second base or make that Fender Bass, doubling up on the lower registers of his five string not to mention our own fluttering eardrums (flashback to a long forgotten Melvin concert); both of them keeping our feet and auditory system happy the whole time.  Indeed the "added" B-string below open E, lowers the instrument's normal fundamental frequency from 41.2Hz down to 30.9Hz; a significant difference I can assure you.  All this plugged into an Ashdown ABM 900 EVO III Bass amp.


Third up in left field was Popowitz, low key but very stylish in vest, necktie and hat, tastefully blending his electric guitar plus chosen effects such as the Boss GT-5 in the mix; the classic Vox AC 30 handling amplification duties.  With just a hint of The Edge coming through both in the reverb and minimalist approach, never once did he try to steal the show.  Often times a 'showy musician' will tend to overpower a group; here everybody showed great restraint and control of their instrument, demonstrating true mastery of their craft.

Finally after an exciting instrumental buildup, the stage was set for the main focal point to materialize.  Silvana all dressed in black - saved for a nice hint of red - greeted us with a dance like entrance and to our delight started to sing.


The musicians displayed solid chops throughout the concert, the four sharing great chemistry on stage, not to mention plain fun which is important and all too often missing between players.  Songs taken from their two albums - Asunción and the latest Supermagique - are a mix of English, Spanish and French with elements of traditional and modern intertwined, such as Afropop, Bossa Nova, Latin rhythms, hip hop beats and even Electronica in small doses surfacing at times; what the group calls World Fusion.  This may scare some "purist" but the spectators including yours truly took it all in, thanking them with a sustained standing ovation before being rewarded with a couple of encores.


After the concert I stayed and had the opportunity to chat with the four.  All were very friendly and proclaimed loving Quebec during their Canadian tour.  Silvana made the extra effort of addressing the audience in french while touring the province; her Peruvian accent only adding to her genuine warmth and beauty.  Adam is the techie in the group, handling all the recording and mixing aspects of the studio albums.  He uses Logic Studio from Apple as his main software tool plus some outboard analog and tube gear to get a more organic sound.  He as well as Elliot, admitted a big preference for Analog Tape over digital anytime, but with the huge number of tracks (up to 90) on some songs and the higher cost associated for tracking sessions, this was simply not an option for the first two albums.  Truly a delightful and insightful conversation with this fantastic quartet from the Pacific City, west coast of British Columbia.    


PACIFIKA - ASUNCIÓN
  
Six Degrees Records (2008)
U.S. CD 657036 1143-2

Rating: 8.5/ A

Category: World Fusion
Format: CD (red book 16/44.1k)

Produced by Pacifika

Recorded at Rear Window Song & Sound.
Tracks 1, 2, 3, 4 & 8 Mixed by Ben Wisch at the Bailey Building & Loan New York, New York
Mastered by Ken Lee of Ken Lee Mastering, Oakland, CA USA
Pacifika is:
Silvana Kane - Voice, Sounds & Percussion
Adam Popowitz - Guitars, Xylophone, Sounds & Engineering
Tony Peter - Bass, Drums & Sounds

Musicians:
Elliot Polsky -  Drums & Percussion
Pepe Danza - Percussion & Sounds
Will Yew - Violin
Christina Zaenker - Cello

Band photography - Rebecca Bisset
Art Direction/ Design: Michael Snyder



The cover artwork is simple but tastefully done.  Rebecca Bisset's photography of the trio and Michael Snyder's gatefold carton adds a nice touch to the presentation.  Enclosed are the lyrics to the eleven songs of this debut album for the six degrees label.


Discovering a new band by first seeing them play live before your eyes instead of through your speakers in your home can be a delight as well as a curse especially nowadays when these same artist auto produce/record their material.  With the ubiquitous proliferation of home studio software, gear and free downloads, the present generation of artist can 'dispense' with the old ways of doing business i.e. big expensive studios, mixing boards, vintage mikes and qualified personnel just to name a few.  But this new found egalitarianism is like a double edged sword, along with it's technical freedom comes the danger of the self appointed musician/sound engineer yearning to use every effect at his disposal when oftentimes the "less is more" approach would be the better choice. 

Such was the situation with my introduction to Pacifika, you can thus better appreciate my fear or rather apprehension towards my first spin of Asunción on my system.  Thankfully I needed not worry, guitarist and engineer Adam Popowitz did a fantastic job tracking the different instruments and Silvana's voice - he seems to know what he wants and how to get it on tape, well maybe not really on tape but rather on hard disk in binary form.


Like so many CD's since awhile, the level is on the loud side when you hit 'Play'.  That said the general trend of the album is not 'in your face' loud, it is simply louder than need be.

"Sol" opens the album and indeed sunshine and warmth is plentiful in Silvana's native voice occupying central stage.  Perhaps mimicking the new day, the beat comes on gradually, panned acoustic guitars top it off.  At the end (of the day) we're left with the simple sound of a cricket.

"Me Caí" starts with solo bass, guitar comes in and Silvana seems to double her voice for effect.  At midpoint, the songs comes to a total stop.  The mood changes completely thanks in part to bassist Tony Peter reaching down towards the B string lending a heavier feel.  Quite effective I should add.

"Chiquita" has a cute melody going for it.  Once again voice is doubled in center while chorus is panned.  The outro is a bit special with Silvana's intimate voice talking closer on the left of stage.


Big change of style with "Sweet".  Drummer Elliot Polsky establishes his rhythmic pattern with a panned hi-hat introducing a great simple beat.  The low grunt of the bass adds to the groove followed by guitars panned left and right.  This is the first song of the album in English.  Silvana's voice is sweet and intimate.  Midway through she switches to Spanish doubled for effect before alternating back to English.  This is in my opinion the strongest track of the album regarding music and sound quality.  Drum is punchy and articulate, bass is solid and deep, guitars clean and very well recorded.  Voice up close at just the right level.  The mix, dynamic (for pop), open and well balanced is spot on.  I would tend to qualify it 'Demo-worthy'.  If my recollection is correct, this song was the show opener and with reason.

"Paloma" definitely takes on a Spanish twist with Flamenco stylings such as hand clap, castagnettes or similar percs.  Cymbals crenscendoe to give way to the groovy beat and soon a ride cymbal joins in 'off beat'.


Turning more towards a Rock feel and back to Spanish, "Más y Más" features a highly distorted electric guitar occupying the right channel.  It is very compressed bringing undue right ear fatigue.  It takes time before the actual beat appears for a short duration only.  Vocals come back accompanied by Adam's guitar.  Although I largely suspect the distortion and compression/limiting effect to be an artistic choice, it nevertheless is the worse sounding track of the album.

The sound improves but still some compression persist with "Estrellas De Miel", a Spanish rhythmic guitar 2/4 metered track.

"Libertad" opens with clean guitar on the left, bass and percussion on the right flanking Silvana in English while a second guitar on the right makes it's presence known.  The bass notes reach way down in frequency and their weight is impressive.  The Spanish chorus has reverb added for effect which makes a great contrast with the coda.  The latter sung in English, staying very dry as she comes closer to the front to finish a cappella.

"Cuatro Hijas" has wind for intro.  Panned classical guitars plus artificial harmonics are intimate and superbly recorded.  The singing in Spanish is soft and very close.  Cello and violin enrich the outro.

The first four bars of "Oyeme" consist of strummed acoustic guitar plus conga.  After which a crash cymbal introduces the drumbeat groove, bass guitar goes down low, rumbling in deep Hertzian territory.  Close-miked guitar is panned to widen stage.  Great synth percussive effect surprises in it's originality.  The last bars end with the vocal close up and acapella.  Probably my second favorite for music and sound.
 
"Las Olas" the last song of the album leaves us on a wave of delight.  Adam keeps it uncluttered with panned acoustic guitars.  Silvana's voice is smooth, close-miked and intimate.  Lovely violin, cello plus xylophone lends a 'berceuse' ambiance to the piece.  Bass pedals deliver deep solid lows.  The fade-out could have lasted a bit longer in my opinion, nevertheless a beautiful finale.


In conclusion,

Asunción makes an impressive debut for Pacifika; retaining the rawness of the live event while adding a bit of studio polishing and music arrangements.  Guitarist and engineer Adam Popowitz is a rarity in this industry in that most musicians don't make good engineers, they either have damaged hearing caused by accumulated years of high level non-protective playing or mix it in a way to put the spotlight on themselves.  Neither is the case here.  The instruments are for the most part clean and very well captured with their tone intact.  With the help of Mixing Engineer Ben Wisch on half the tracks, the mix is surprisingly (in this day and age) perfect.  Honestly I wouldn't change a thing.

Apart from tracks 6 and 7, the dynamic range is refreshingly natural for this type of music - a rare endangered species I'm afraid.  Also noteworthy is the wide bandwidth well balanced from top to bottom.  In fact in quite a few instances, deep solid bass can be felt and is mixed just at the right level, implying neutral control-room monitor levels along with good judgement.  Lastly all this hard work would go to waste if the last sound manipulation step is not equally handled with great care.  Here Mastering Engineer Ken Lee seems to have done just such.  Kudos for not perpetuating the Loudness Wars.

Of course even with competent ears you cannot expect perfection in binary form - I'm sure Adam and Elliot would agree - so don't go expecting 'golden age' late 1950's tube 3-track transparency nor early 1970's 2 inch 24-track Analog warmth a la Dark Side of the Moon and co.  Accept it for what it is: excellent 2008 digital on CD.

If only all new releases approached this level of quality, a reviewer's life would be so much easier. 

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PACIFIKA - SUPERMAGIQUE 
  
Six Degrees Records (2010)
U.S. CD 657036 1168-2

Rating: 7.0/ B

Category: World Fusion
Format: CD (red book 16/44.1k)

Written, Produced and Mixed by Pacifika

Recorded and Mixed at Rear Window Song & Sound.
Mastered by Emily Lazar & Joe Laporta at The Lodge, NYC

Pacifika is:
Silvana Kane - Lead and Backing Vocals, Cajon, Palmas, Tambourine, Shakers & Synthesizer
Adam Popowitz - Electric & Acoustic Guitars, Synthesizer, Backing Vocals, Programming & Engineering
Tony Peter - Bass, Drum Kit, Dumbek, Udu, Cajon, Triangle, Guitars, Backing Vocals & Synthesizer

Musical friends:
Elliot Polsky -  Drum Kit, Congas, Dumbek, Claves, Wahshaker
Joseph "Pepe" Danza - Congas, Surdo, Double Udu, Shakuhachi, Timbales, Mbira & Cuica
Christina "Zippy" Zaenker - Cello

Package Artwork, Design & Layout Lee Fenyves



The CD jacket is a double gatefold carton with a slight gloss; the insides featuring stylised group photos with red shadowed effects and the usual credits.  Unlike their debut album above, no lyrics are to be found.

"Close To Everything" starts off with deep low synths and 'doubled' vocals.  There is some compression but the sound remains not too agressive.

"Chocolate" has vocals leading, followed by a knocking beat, hi-hat, percs, bass, 'one note' guitar then turns into a Spanish guitar feel.  They come back to the main theme with a lowering heavier electronic feel to it.  Sound is slightly better than the previous track.  

"Ana Maria" has an a cappella intro plus strumming guitar; modulated synth; the beat is artistically 'dirty'; electric bass a bit burried in the mix.  This continues with a heavy emphasis on percussion.  Too bad it's a compressed dense mix.


180 degree change of style with "Story".  Vocals back to English, acoustic guitar plus sweep with lots of weight goes way down on a 6/8 rhythm bar.  There's a bit of a progressive influence, voices are doubled then ends with bass chords, acoustic guitar plus vocals; hi-hat and snare are soft before fadeout.

The title track "SuperMagique" introes with a capella vocals then shifts towards rock and electro processed electric guitar plus muffled bass and panned distorted percussive effects.  Here Silvana's vocals take on a heavy accent - that makes following the lyrics a bit of a challenge - amid the more commercial writing orientation.  Interesting electric guitar a la Edge; narrow filtered effect on background spoken Spanish vocal track strangely recalling Kraftwerk's "Numbers" ("Mummern") from Computerworld (Computerwelt).  Unfortunately quite compressed, it is the lesser sounding of the album.

"Le Matin" has cleaner, less compressed sound which does good.  Her accent while still strong and cute, resembles 'French chanson' and the simpler mix allows her french to cut through better.  This slower song in particular is perhaps aiming to penetrate the Québec music market.  Strumming acoustic guitar plus percussion, doubled vocals and fadeout.


With percussion on left and guitar on right, "Little Me" has Silvana back in English.  Weighty lows and sparse smooth meditative mood.  The sound, fairly good.

"Star" fades in, cymbal and guitar on the left; interesting beat comes in establishing a groove rich in certain complexities.  Nice harmonies, doubled vocals, nice detailed acoustic guitar layers.  Great change with two short chords, percs ending with a deep weighty sustained outro.  One of the better sounding tracks of the album.

"Doce Meses" represents a change of rhythmic style.  A faster 'hurried' tempo with a sunny calypso influence.  Good  balance of treble details vs lows.  Another strong one for music and sound.  

After the frenzy comes the calm with "Perlas".  Slowing down of tempo, muffled bass smooth groove, excellent acoustic guitar on the left, subtle reverbed oriental flute and percs.  The mood is relaxing, refreshing and airy.  Beautiful interplay of male and female vocals recalling Simon & Garfunkles 1966 hit "Scarborough Fair/Cantabile".  Nice long fadeout.  With it's great sound and superb song writing this is definitely the pearl of the album.


"The Mariner" is very slow and reaches down in the sub-bass region.  Nice sustain and guitar a la Pink Floyd's Wish You Where Here and The Wall ambience.  Also in the vein of the lesser known outfit The Sonora Pine.  Good sound.

The group surprises us with their version of Chicago's 1969-70 hit "25 Or 6 To 4".  Adam's guitar intro resembling more Led Zep's "Babe I'm Gonna Leave You" from their 1969 self titled debut album.  Superb warm soft sound with a slightly veiled groove.  My only quibble is the too short timing.  Even so it's my second favourite for music and sound.  Which is why I would have preferred ending the album on this high note instead of...

"La Semilla", a Spanish mid tempo ballad.  It is compressed but at least has good tonal balance, though the highs sound digitized.  Ends with vocals  plus acoustic guitar along with percs and running water on the right.


Summing up,

Instead of taking the easyway out and repeating the same winning stylistic formula like many groups do, Pacifika chose to explore a different approach on their second full length release Supermagique.  This one is more dense in music (track) layers while remaining, perhaps even more so, accessible to the masses versus their debut Asunción.  Which CD comes out on top, has more to do with personal tastes than any other factor.  With it's rawer sound and more groove oriented rhythms as well as Flamenco influences and Electro overtones, I favoured quite a bit their debut album. 

As for the sound quality, it is most definitely above average.  Once again, the mix is generally well balanced, same thing for the tonal balance which often goes down quite low and weighty but regrettably, the higher compression and limiting sucks out air and dynamics, making it therefore a good notch inferior to their debut.  Assuming Adam reprised his role as engineer for tracking and mixing which I believe is the case - explaining the many positive attributes noted above - one must come to the conclusion that the determining and deteriorating factor is the change of mastering engineer.  In this instance, Emily Lazar & Joe Laporta at The Lodge, NYC instead of Ken Lee of Ken Lee Mastering, Oakland, CA who had done a splendid job on Asunción

Let's hope, at least for us audiophiles, that Ken Lee will come back to the fold or that this immensely talented (augmented) trio find somebody of his calibre for the next album, perhaps even on vinyl.

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Eaubansan, another fine trio, originally hail from the greater Montréal region in the province of Québec and like Pacifika are sometimes augmented by a fourth musician or more.


Show Rating: A

At this Sunday morning concert the trumpet was absent but Sage Reynolds's double bass was more than welcomed.  Live music performances are usually scheduled and appreciated more during late evenings but the trio's refreshing and replenishing sound was perfectly suited for this intimate venue; such is the luxury of seeing a group slowly maturing but still in it's infancy.  In truth this charming music would be wasted on a large scale anyway; you want to feel connected.


And not only is the music charming but so is the delicacy and genuine kindness of singer songwriter Eaudrey Camirand.


At times sounding a bit like Bjork in a meditative mood, she segues fluently from French to English in song as well as inter-song poetry.  Her piano - keyboards for the show - playing is aptly more sparse and harmonic-like than a conventional jazz player but creates the right ambience for their style which qualifies more as 'poetic ambient' with jazz overtones, than traditional straight jazz.  There are of course many permutations of so called 'ambient jazz'; there's the ECM school that on occasion flirted with New Age and more recently ambient/electro-jazz hybrids like Nils Petter Molvaer present another explorative route.  But Eaubansan doesn't follow in either of those directions, instead the one word that keeps popping in my mind is Zen.    


EAUBANSAN
  
Self-released (2007)
Canadian CD 

Rating: 5.5/ B+

Category: Poetic Ambient Jazz
Format: CD (red book 16/44.1k)

Eaubansan:
Eaudrey Camirand: Voice, Piano
Andy King: Trumpet
Myra  Camirand: Drums, Percussions

Guests:
Miles Perkins: Double Bass
Karine Chapdelaine: Double Bass

Recorded by Marcus Paquin at Studio Planet, Montreal.
Mixed by Jef at Diamond's Studio except vocal's 1 to 4 & instrumental 3 mixed by Sébastien Cloutier (Newton Communication)
Mastered by Richard G. Benoit @ Circus Tricks

Music & Lyrics: Eaudrey Camirand
Photography: Luc Robitaille
Computer Graphics: Sylvain Robert (Newton Communication)


The cover art with it's soft pastel hues gives a fairly good visual approximation of  the meditative vibe of this debut EP.  The flip side contains the music and technical credits.  A matching black and white filtered picture of the lead singer elegantly adorns the label and jewel box backdrop.


"Bad timing" in 3/4 time opens with a lovely solo piano, it's sparse playing and note decay conjuring up for me, Satie's Gymnopédie and Vladimir Cosma's "Promenade Sentimentale" from the Diva (soundtrack).  Muted trumpet, snare brushes and bowed double bass follow, introducing more a jazzy feel to the piece.


Eaudrey Camirand comes in a few bars later, singing lightly at first eventually being swept up by the music wave.  After cresting, the rhythmic trio - this time with plucked bass - brings back the calm.  Unfortunately as is so often the case in modern times, the sound is compressed, too loud, a bit 'middy' as well as lacking bottom and a bit of airiness.


"Somewhere" is a short piece.  A lone piano bathing heavily in long reverb accompanied by solitary vocals segues into...


"Papillon d'eau"; crescendoed muted trumpet a la Miles Davis/Erik Truffaz followed by reverberated percussion and piano joined by nuanced double bass harmonics.  Eaudrey adds a french touch with poetry winning over lyrics.  Lovely back vocals interplay with the echoes of Andy King's muted trumpet before what seems like a slightly rushed fade out.  This is the most solid composition of the EP.  Less compressed with better treble detail in the vocals and trumpet harmonics.  While not outstanding, it remains nevertheless the best sounding track also. 


Starting out with sustained bowed double bass accompanied by crickets in the background, "Someone" sees Eaudrey back to English on two vocal tracks of lower and higher pitches, this one also seguing into or serving as intro for the...


"Outro" is a waltz type instrumental; kind of an alternate version of the first track, perhaps to a certain degree coming full circle.  Muted trumpet, snare brushes, double bass and piano play in harmony on what could easily pass for a classic, smooth sounding, mid 1950's jazz ballad a la Miles Quartet.  The finale appropriately leaving only the bass and trumpet, share the last word.


To conclude,

Eaubansan's debut self-release, while never passing for audiophile demo material, is nonetheless musically inspiring and worth seeking out.  Hopefully future releases will be complemented by richer production, less compression and a more intimate warmer sound.  Better yet is to catch them live, I promise you will leave the venue feeling true inner joy and great enlightenment.

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