Leaves Will Speak (Lilah)

(trans. Astrid Foster, from the German)
This Canadian has been a professional guitarist for a good 40 years now. His solo debut evolved over the course of 30 years, and the exceptional guitarist then took two years, only to end up surprising himself and capturing spontaneous magical moments. The original plan of recording his own compositions in an intimate living room atmosphere turned into an album featuring one third freely improvised material. The sought-after klezmer sideman and university professor would love nothing better than to take it on tour and continue to spin the threads without a safety net. To the former student of Ralph Towner and Norbert Kraft, improvisation is the passion of composing from the moment; so for him, there is no clear distinction between the two worlds. The sensitive poet with a flawless classical sound has a special sense of what happens between the notes; a sense from which he develops introspectively lyrical lines and gives the music what it needs: space and time.

Alone with an Oskar Graf classical guitar, he manages to effortlessly fuse classical, jazz, klezmer, folk, and new music into a homogeneous musical language of his own. Inspiration for the colourful compositions and improvisation is omnipresent for the artist, be it sounds in the streets while going for a walk, motifs from traditional music, or nylon strings that are too fresh to hold their tuning and yield during the course of the recording session: What better way to sum up the course of events? Katz has dedicated the project to his recently deceased father, Bernie, his first “jamming partner”. The liner notes within the lovingly designed package offer an elegant tour guide. Few productions create such depth with such minimal means. —Jens Hausmann, Akustik Gitarre, Germany, Dec-Jan.2015 issue.

NYLON BEAUTY…Brian Katz: Leaves Will Speak
Tackling the demands of jazz with a classical guitar has been attempted by very few this side of Ralph Towner. Here, Brian Katz delivers an impressive mix of jazz and beyond with a collection of compositions and free range improvisations in a solo format, no less. He has a nice swing feel on “ “Jazzy Dog” while a hint of the Mediterranean gets into the groove on “Mezzonia”. Hints of classical come forth on concise tunes such as “When Mina Smiles” and some harmonies get a workout on “Circling.” Through all of these warm and pastoral pieces, a gentility shines forth, so that you never feel like you’re being overwhelmed by technique as much as by being won over by a convincing discussion. Well intended and delivered. A joy for guitar fans! —George W. Harris, Jazz Weekly, Oct. 9th, 2014

“The guitar”, as Andrés Segovia used to say, “is a calm instrument”. Brian Katz has made this his motto by unhurriedly recording, over a three-year period, these eighteen improvisations for solo guitar, which are based on motifs drawn from various musical traditions, from sounds of daily life, or… from tuning his guitar. This disc comes from Toronto, where Brian Katz lives, works and teaches. Upon first hearing, one is attracted by the freshness and purity of these musical statements, which succeed in capturing our attention by drawing from a diverse range of sources to form a beautifully coherent program. Discover this recording via the guitarist’s website. —Thierry Giard  Culture Jazz (France), March 2014

The way he plays the jazz guitar touches you from the first few notes in “You Too”, an intimate and deeply personal kind of musical message, as if Brian Katz meant it just for me – or you.

It is very rare, this sincerity, this probing, gently nudging request: Appreciate what I’m playing for you.  However, his style is not that of a typical nylon string ‘athlete’, even though Brian (who also plays piano, composes, and teaches) could probably do all that stuff too. He has sufficiently proven what he is capable of, be it with klezmer clarinet master Martin van de Ven, with Barry Harris, with ex-Ellington flugelhorn player Fred Stone, or with classical guitarists such as William Beauvais or jazz guitarists such as Mordy Ferber. And now his own solo CD; and someone who plays this way must be a wonderful, sometimes also melancholy and thoughtful person, one who in soul, head, and fingers, carries a whole world.

Brian can’t simply be classified as a jazz guitarist, in spite of ‘Yellow Streams’, nor as classical, in spite of ‘Essentia’, because after his three compositions mentioned here, he presents us with another 15 more, some short, some over 7 minutes long. One cannot and doesn’t want to address these piece by piece. I admit that some of these pieces literally moved me to tears because so much comes across among the sounds that can be intensely felt but not expressed in words – perhaps it is this absolute, unguarded openness. And because this playing is so unobtrusively urgent, so inescapably close. And because it is so very much guitar in its pure form as in ‘In the Woods Kids’, whereas masterpieces, such as ‘Fun at Fluff’s End’ or ‘Air Nature’ with its quarter tone mood simply provide enchantment, astonishment, and great pleasure. Especially ‘Fluff’s End’, how true, how actually true: A whole world in heart, head, and fingers: Jazz, Blues, Latin-American, East Indian, Middle Eastern, Far Eastern, corpus-percussion, atonality, and so on. If you want music that speaks – here it is. —Alexander Schmitz, Jazz Podium, Germany, May 2014

“The guitar is a quiet instrument,” said Andrés Segovia. When Brian Katz plays you hear that he is inward bound on a voyage of discovery as much for himself as for his audience. One third of the 18 tracks on leaves will speak, Brian’s 12th record and his first solo album, are improvisations based on motifs he heard in traditional music, on sounds he heard walking in the  streets, or at home while tuning his guitar. All but one of the other dozen tracks are Brian’s original compositions.

“The guitar is an orchestra in your lap,” said Beethoven. Brian gets a wide soundstage of colours and timbres with his instrument, creates dramas of musical conversations in his compositions, both the written and improvised, by artful rhythmic shifts, by bending times, mixing beats and changing metres.

The whole vibe is Brian’s own blend of classical, medieval, Spanish, Jazz, Blues, finger-picking Folk, Greek, Middle Eastern and Klezmer— you can hear all those threads in the weave of this album’s harmonic fabric. You can enjoy the play of musical intelligence on this album, and dig into a rich horde of experience gathered along the way of Brian’s 30 year international career.

“You Too,” puts folk finger-picking in the picture, but without flash, accentuating cool deliberation in dealing out the beauty. “Yellow Streams,” improvises on what I hear as fragments of “Greensleeves” blowing in the breeze of a jazz idiom bringing to mind Ralph Towner and through him Bill Evans. In “Essentia” Brian displays the delicacies of the Spanish guitar. “Fun at Fluff’s End” is kind of crazy mash-up guitar and drumming riffs. And so on. You get the idea—there is a lot of listening in the masterful medley that is leaves will speak.

Here’s an odd thought. I listened to this album three times right through while driving on highways at night. It seemed to me Brian repeats himself quite a bit. But when I pick out a tune, at random, say while I’m walking with my device on shuffle, every track sounds fresh and charming. His technique is impeccable and the recording sound is warm as wood. — Stanley Fefferman, Opus One Review, Dec.4, 2013

Two excellent and quite different acoustic guitar discs came my way this month. The first is by local stalwart of the jazz and independent music scenes, Brian Katz and the second features Newfoundland Django- style jazz guitarist Duane Andrews joined by country picker Craig Young. Leaves Will Speak (briankatz.com) is the result of two years in the studio although more accur- ately it has been more than three decades in the making since that day in 1980 when Brian Katz decided that the nylon-string guitar would be his instrument of choice. Listening to this disc I was not surprised to find that Katz studied with Ralph Towner whose recordings with Oregon and the Paul Winter Consort were an integral part of the soundtrack to my formative years. But his influences and inspirations extend to many forms including jazz standards, free improvisation, klezmer, world, classical and new music. The 18 solo tracks on the album showcase the full range of Katz’ diverse musical world. With only one exception, an arrangement of an anonymous Italian Renaissance Danza, the tracks are original, most through-composed but some improvised in the recording studio. The sound is crisp and warm with a minimum of finger noise and the booklet is comprehensive with an informative essay about Katz’ background and approaches, and descriptive notes for each piece. —David Olds, WholeNote Dec-Jan. 2014 Issue.

Master of Improvisation

Lottstetten – Guitarist Brian Katz impresses audience at the Klangscheune

The path of Brian Katz, a musical world and time traveler, has led him to Lottstetten-Nack. Katz is an internationally renowned Canadian guitarist, composer, pianist, improvisation artist, music educator, and lecturer. At the University of Toronto, he teaches courses in music education (including Dalcroze Eurhythmics: a method of music-movement coordination), and performance.

On stage, the sensitive man with his soft baritone seems relaxed and laid-back, despite his great virtuosity on the instrument. He enjoys his performance, and that feeling is conveyed to the listener. Brian Katz’s seemingly inexhaustible repertoire covers numerous styles, from free jazz to folk songs from Newfoundland, from baroque to contemporary film scores. But he has a particular fondness for klezmer music, and he knows how to expertly combine these different genres.

The venue for the performance was the Klangscheune, the recording hall of the recording studio Acustica. This hall, with its perfect acoustics, made it easy for the listener to plunge into Brian Katz’s world of sound. An engaged listener could immerse him/herself in the big soft sound tapestry woven by the artist with his six-string guitar. One experienced the music in images and emotions, as if the Canadian were telling stories.

Brian Katz was invited, on the initiative of Hans-Jörg Langner, to conduct a two-day course for music teachers on the topic of improvisation at the Jugendmusikschule in Zurich. Hans-Jörg Langner and Jan Zacek, the sound engineer at the Acustica recording studio, were the organizers of the concert. Langner and Zacek, both also professional musicians, did not want to miss the opportunity to experience this master of improvisation live. After the encore, Duke Ellington’s ‘Prelude to a Kiss,’ the audience left the concert with the feeling of having experienced something special and enriching which will definitely remain as a positive memory. —Michael Hinnerkort, Sudkurier,  Saturday August 28th, 2010  (trans. Astrid Foster)

Collected Stories (Lilah) Brian Katz and Martin van de Ven

Two respected Toronto players team up to create a remarkably classy, heartfelt piece, a rumination on musical vocabularies and personal/collective histories. van de Ven’s clarinet is playful, smooth, thoughtful and challenging; Katz’s guitar is harmonically rich and reaching, with rockin’ rhythm as the bottom line. With a repertoire of Eastern European and Yiddish melodies and rhythms as their launching pad, the duo deftly combust and re-fuse these kernels of inspiration. It’s refreshing to hear accomplished folk stylists making utterly contemporary music out of traditional source rather than re-treading, or worse, remixing. Their studio vibe feels incredibly creative and relaxed, as if they’re discovering the record along with the listener. —Josh Dolgin ( SOCALLED) Hour, Montreal May 15 to 21. 2003

Collected Stories is a glorious and contemplative celebration of traditional and original Jewish music performed with wit, spontaneity and tenderness by stalwart Toronto musicians Martin van de Ven and Brian Katz along with, on three tracks, special guest, the Dutch violinist Monique Lansdorp.

Utilizing the unique small combo of clarinet and guitar (with piano and violin thrown in for fun) to perform traditional Jewish music is a brave undertaking, which could easily have stumbled. Instead, the risk has resulted in a breathtaking and ear-opening exploration of the enormous possibilities that this music has to offer. The traditional selections show Katz and van de Ven at their best; their years of experience yield fine performances.

Noteworthy is the opening track, Rozhinkes  Mit Mandeln; once the opening melody is stated on solo guitar, Katz introduces a new harmonic framework upon which a peaceful improvisation takes place. The original material integrates elements of jazz and free improvisation. Katz’s own Desert Nigunim is based on melodies which came to him “while doing a movement improvisation alone one evening in the Judean desert in Israel”—a slow duet for piano and bass clarinet, the emotional intensity of this beautiful ballad lends itself well to the extended techniques used by the performers. In contrast, van de Ven’s Whassat, with its three-part writing, is a message of hope. Throughout the release, van de Ven , Katz and Lansdorp incorporate subtlety and nuance to their obvious music-making joy. —Tiina Tiik, WholeNote, Toronto June 1 –July 7 2003

“Guitarist Brian Katz and clarinetist Martin van de Ven  play music that lives and breathes despite it’s ancient origins, and it’s often enchanting.” —Geoff Chapman; The Toronto Star, June 26 2003

“The audience was spellbound.. They ‘play’ the ‘stars’ down from heaven” —Dagblad van het Noorden, Holland  April 2000

” A telling, beautifully performed by Martin and Brianwonderful listening with exciting technique enhancing sensitive and unique interpretations” —Phil Nimmons, acclaimed clarinettist/composer/arranger, Order of Canada recipient.

Pashtes (trans. Simplicity) (Sunflower)
Lenka Lichtenberg & Brian Katz

Simcha Simchovitch, an 86-year-old Holocaust survivor from Poland who immigrated to Canada in 1949 and now lives in Toronto, is an important Yiddish-language poet and prose writer with 16 books to his credit. On Pashtes, Czech-born singer Lenka Lichtenberg, herself a child of Holocaust survivors who also now lives in Toronto, offers nine of her musical settings of Simchovitch’s poems and presents them in arrangements created by guitarist and pianist Brian Katz. As well, there is a beautiful solo guitar instrumental by Katz that was inspired by another of Simchovitch’s poems.

One certainly does not need to understand Yiddish. to appreciate these songs. The emotion and depth of the lyrics, and the musical creativity of the settings and arrangements, are communicated through Lichtenberg and Katz’s fine performances. But the non-Yiddish speakers will want to listen with the CD booklet in hand as the original lyrics are printed in Yiddish, and in Simchovitch’s own translations of his work. And even in the transformation from one language to another, none of the poetry seems to be lost.

Among my favorite songs are “Tsum Kval (To the Source),” a beautiful, sad elegy to past generations of Yiddish poets, and “Morris Rosenfeld,” a tribute to the great Yiddish poet and songwriter whose minor-key folkish melody echoes Rosenfeld’s own “Mayn Rue Platz.” Another is “Zing (Sing),” a bright celebratory song with a Brazilian arrangement. The album’s finale is its crowning achievement. “A Lid Vet Farblaven (A Song Will Remain),” is a defiant song of survival, obviously inspired by the Holocaust, with an almost anarchic free jazz arrangement that communicates the devastation of that terrible time in modern history. —Mike Regenstreif, Sing Out!   June 22, 2007