Canadian pianist and composer Amanda Tosoff from Toronto, who has made a name for herself not only in her home country as a bandleader and side-woman, is currently presenting her sixth album with Earth Voices. As with her 2016 album Words, she combines her own compositions and those of composer friends with the poetry of famous poets and fellow musicians, and has them performed by vocalists known in the jazz scene, integrated into different band formations.
The first piece on Earth Voices is a poem by Edgar Allan Poe entitled "A Dream Within a Dream," quite romantic in tone and excitingly contrasting with the piano and saxophone driven composition Amanda Tosoff created for this poem.
"To a Stranger" is by Walter Whitman, a U.S. poet, essayist and journalist who is considered one of the most influential American lyricists of the 19th century. "This poem is very close to my heart," Tosoff says. "I discovered it in a lonely time, and it spoke to me about the idea of twin souls, about searching for that person and the hope that you can find them. The music starts as a piano arrangement and I reduced it to four voices and arranged it for strings. It's through-composed, nothing repeats - it goes on a journey like the poem."
The poem "Birdwings," sounded by the only male voice on the album, is by the 13th century Persian poet and Sufi mystic Rumi. According to Amanda Tosoff, "This poem made me think of a friend who suffered a traumatic brain injury. Despite his pain and loss, he had a really amazing attitude - he saw his injury as an opportunity to start over and learn to just be in the moment. The poem has a lot of beautiful imagery, and it feels like you're soaring out of grief, like a bird taking to the skies, and I tried to capture that in the music."
Mike Ross, musical director of Toronto-based musical theater group Soulpepper, wrote "Oh, Life," which is based on a collection of poems by Edgar Lee Masters that recounts the lives and losses of the residents of a fictional town called Spoon River.
Of course, Amanda Tosoff does not miss a tribute to her compatriot Joni Mitchell, whose powerful protest song "The Fiddle and the Drum" is manifested on the album through a vocal performance no less powerful and sensitive. Pablo Neruda's poem "Sonnet 49" is heard as a composition by Luciana Souza arranged by Amanda Tosoff based on a virtuoso piano solo.
Each composition and arrangement on Earth Voices proves to be strong and individually skillfully adapted to the poem in question. The various singers bring their idiomatic and completely different voices to the pieces as exciting timbres made to shine, thus bringing the poem settings to life. Earth Voices is a very special and exceptionally well done album that deserves wide distribution.
Emilie-Claire Barlow, vocals
Laila Biali, vocals
Michelle Willis, vocals
Lydia Persaud, vocals
Robin Dann, vocals
Felicity Williams, vocals
Alex Samaras, vocals
Allison Au, alto saxophone
Kelly Jefferson, soprano saxophone
Alex Goodman, guitar
Amanda Tosoff, piano
Jon Maharaj, bass
Morgan Childs, drums
Aline Homzy, violin
Jeremy Potts, violin
Laurence Schaufele, viola
Beth Silver, cello