Wednesday, October 01, 2008

For What It's Worth - My Polaris Prize First Ballot

logo courtesy of Polaris Music Prize

I'm a Polaris Music Prize juror; unfortunately I couldn't make Monday's gala to get whipped up in the excitement. Maybe next year they won't schedule it on Rosh Hashanah.

I've had fun over the last few months participating in the process and reading other folks observations' on what conspiracies may or may not be happening among jurors. If there are conspiracies I sure wasn't a part of them. Despite the existence of a message board for jurors, there simply isn't enough communication between jurors to create a credible bloc for any given disc- unless it's all happening in some mysterious bar where 30-40 people get together to determine the fate of the Canadian music universe.

Only one of my initial five discs selected made the Long List, but that's an improvement over last year. And I'm happy enough that Caribou won - I've played his music on my radio show, so that's good enough for me.

But I'd like roll back the clock to earlier this summer when jurors were asked for their initial five picks of "highest artistic integrity, without regard to musical genre". Here are mine:

5. David Buchbinder - Odessa/Havana (Tzadik)

I gave this four stars in Eye Weekly and if I'd been able to spend more time with this disc before reviewing it, I might have given it five. It's a near-perfect synthesis of Latin and Jewish/Eastern European approaches to jazz. This disc's major acheivement is the ability to balance potentially uncomplimentary rhythms without sounding in any way restrained. You've probably heard it a lot on CBC, and for good reason. This record is truly successful world music, where two traditions are deeply expressed and expertly fused with great imagination. And it's not unfunky.

4. Maracatu Nunca Antes - The Beat Migration (No Label)

I could unspool some history and explanation of maracatu, but just link this and cut to the chase. Everyone I know who has heard this album, or more likely, seen them in the street has been converted by the massive percussion power of this group. There are always more than a dozen of them, including at least two bass drums, generating righteous rhythms that musically slay everyone in their path. And that's before the incredible presence of Aline Morales enters into the picture; suffice to say she is one one of the most compelling bandleaders of any band in Canada, she's like a beacon on stage. Since this album came out, I've socialized with some of these ladies and gentlemen, and the team spirit is remarkable. Billy Bryans started playing with them recently and he told me "it's the greatest thing I've done this year". This album, in a perfect world, would cross over to techno and hip hop audiences. This is healing music.

3. Nifty - A Sparrow! A Sparrow! (Blocks)

Matt Smith is a man of many loops, and the presence of kalimba sweetens the deal for me. Not that the doo-wop influence isn't already sweet. I once played the closing track "A Sparrow!", with its blizzards of high-frequency noise and towers of dub, and somebody called me up to say he'd damn near driven off the road. Good enough for me.

2. Sandro Perri - Tiny Mirrors (Constellation)

This is the pick that made it to the top 40. Who knows why it failed to make the short list? I have a feeling it just missed. This album gives me chills every time I listen to it. It is simply gorgeous in its songwriting and elegant instrumental performances. The voices of Sandro and Ryan Driver (participating in this year's Nuit Blanche on CIUT!) are haunting together. I was happy to see this move on because many of my favourite musicians in Toronto play on this album, such as Eric Chenaux and Nick Fraser.

1. LAL - Deportation (Public Transit)

Released only 5 days before the deadline for this year's award, I was fortunate to have a few more weeks to get into this before casting my vote. This is not an easy album to love, and maybe that's why it didn't get as much publicity as I thought it would (year-end lists anyone?). But the subject matter is difficult and unique; talking about social and environmental justice, ethnicity and class. Moreover, the beats are very downtempo and abstract, somewhat removed from the clean, sleek beats that seem to characterize popular electronic sounds these days. But this is a highly personal statement that fully succeeds as a brave artistic move and another step foward for this band.

Yep, all these picks are from Toronto. Sorry, rest of Canada. Ghislain Poirier made my second ballot.

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