In this week’s spotlight on an under-exposed Juno Awards category, we look at Instrumental Album of the Year. This is always one of the most musically eclectic groupings, often including releases from jazz, world music, roots and avant-garde rock genres.
The 2016 nominees are certainly diverse, ranging from a jazz veteran to an aboriginal cellist to a DJ to post-rock luminaries.
In alphabetical order, the nominees are:
AFIARA QUARTYER AND SKRATCH BASTID: Spin Cycle (Centrediscs)
COLIN STETSON AND SARAH NEUFELD: Never Were The Way She Was (Constellation)
CRIS DERKSEN: Orchestral Powwow (Tribal Spirit)
ESMERINE: Lost Voices (Constellation)
JENS LINDEMANN AND TOMMY BANKS: Legacy Live (Independent)
AFIARA QUARTET AND SKRATCH BASTID: Spin Cycle
Afiara Quartet is an internationally-renowned and award-winning string quartet from Toronto. Following residencies at The Juilliard School, they are the Fellowship Quartet at Toronto’s The Royal Conservatory. The Afiara Quartet has performed throughout the Americas, Europe, and Asia, at such venues as Carnegie Hall, Wigmore Hall, and Esterhazy Palace.
Toronto-based DJ Skratch Bastid has won such noted competitions as Disco Mix Club (DMC) and International Turntablist Federation (ITF) sparked international interest and has three-time grand champion titles at the prestigious hip hop competition Scribble Jam. Popular on the club circuit, he has collaborated with Buck 65 and Shad and he recently made news with his David Bowie homage. He was the first-ever Canadian DJ to be nominated for the Juno Award for Producer of the Year in 2008, for his work on Buck 65's album Situation.
The unorthodox collaboration of these two artists on Spin Cycle has been very well-received.
COLIN STETSON AND SARAH NEUFELD: Never Were The Way She Was
Colin Stetson and Sarah Neufeld are two Montreal-based artists known as adventurous instrumentalists and composers, Stetson on saxophone and Neufeld on violin.
Both have active solo careers, and Neufeld frequently performs in Arcade Fire. She and Stetson began playing in duo formation while on tour together as soloists in 2012, joining each other on stage for one or two of their respective pieces.
Never Were The Way She Was is their debut release as a duo. According to their bio on the Juno website, the album is guided by the metaphorical narrative of the life of a girl who ages slow as mountains; excited, exalted and ultimately exiled in her search for a world that resembles her experience. The album’s expansive sonic trajectory and multiplicity of structures and voicings belies the fundamental economy of two acoustic instruments combining in real time. The album was recorded without overdubbing, looping, sampling, cutting or pasting at their farmhouse attic studio by Hans Bernhard and mixed in Montréal by Mark Lawson (Arcade Fire).
CRIS DERKSEN: Orchestral Powwow
Edmonton-based cellist Cris Derksen has performed internationally to great response. The Juno website notes that “she is known for building layers of sound into captivating performances. Coming from North Tall Cree reserve in Northern Alberta her music braids the traditional and contemporary in multiple dimensions, weaving her traditional classical training and her aboriginal ancestry with new school electronics, creating genre defying music.”
On her third studio album, Orchestral Powwow, Derksen paired up with Tribal Spirit music to create a cinematic symphonic truly Aboriginal album. She has performed with such musicians such as Buffy Sainte Marie, Tanya Tagaq, and Kinnie Starr.
Derksen's 2010 debut album The Cusp was nominated for a Western Canadian Music Award, and won the 2011 Canadian Aboriginal Music Award for Instrumental Album of the Year.
ESMERINE-: Lost Voices
Montréal chamber rock ensemble Esmerine have fond memories of this catgory, for they won the Juno in 2014 with their fourth album Dalmak. The group was co-founded by percussionist Bruce Cawdron (Godpseed You! Black Emperor) and cellist Rebecca Foon (Thee Silver Mt. Zion, Saltland) in 2001. The all-star group now also includes drummer/percussionist Jamie Thompson (The Unicorns, Islands, Little Scream), multi-instrumentalist Brian Sanderson, and bassist Jéremi Roy, and they’ve earned international acclaim for their adventurous and cinematic sound.
Lost Voices has been termed their most visceral and soaring work to date, and it features Godspeed You! Black Emperor violinist Sophie Trudeau as a guest.
JENS LINDEMANN AND TOMMY BANKS : Legacy Live
This talented duo have earned plenty of individual awards and honours over their long and distinguished careers. Trumpeter Jens Lindemann is the first crossover brass soloist to ever receive the Order of Canada, and he has played both jazz and classical music in every major concert venue in the world: from Los Angeles, London, Berlin and Tokyo, to Carnegie Hall. Jens has also given a Command Performance for Her Majesty the Queen and was a featured soloist at the Vancouver Olympics. He has received both Grammy and JUNO Award nominations (as a member of The Canadian Brass) and won the prestigious Echo Klassik in Germany.
Tommy Banks is a pianist, conductor, arranger, composer, television personality and former Canadian Senator. He is the recipient of the JUNO Award, the Gemini Award, the Grand Prix du Disques-Canada, and several ARIA Awards. He was musical director for the XI Commonwealth Games, EXPO ’86, the XV Olympic Winter Games, countless television shows, and is an Officer of the Order of Canada
Lindemann now lives in Los Angeles, but the two recorded Legacy Live at the Ironwood Stage & Grill in Calgary. “That was a wonderful recording,” Banks says. “It was enormous fun, one of those really good nights.”