What We’re Listening to This Week

15 10 2009


I’ll admit to having a real weakness for the kind of piano-pop-rock that is the signature sound of Five for Fighting—I put it down to foundational musical memories of early Elton John albums—but for anyone keen on the style made famous by Marc Cohn’s “Walking in Memphis” (not a great song, granted, but pretty memorable), then Five for Fighting is worth checking out. And while FFF is the band name you’ll find on the album cover, it’s really all about John Ondrasik, who writes the songs, plays the piano and sings the vocals. Think of him as a more sincere, but perhaps less musically ambitious, version of Ben Folds and you’ll be headed up the right audio alley. With four previous studio releases and two live albums now behind him, FFF’s latest—Slice (Aware/Columbia)—definitely satisfies fans and serves as a well-produced intro to anyone tired of their old Billy Joel albums and looking for a new piano-rocker to follow. Of note here is the title track Ondrasik wrote with Stephen Schwartz (of Wicked and Godspell fame), an evocatively nostalgiac track that’ll appeal to anyone who grew up listening to ’70s-era AM radio. Sure, Slice is unlikely to hit anyone’s top-10 list for 2009, but Ondrasik is always great to listen to when you’re feeling introspective, or on a lonely, cross-country haul.

Speaking of piano, if you’re looking to uncover a relatively undiscovered rising talent in the West Coast jazz scene, be sure to track down Wait and See (Cellar Live), the latest from lower mainland-born-and-based pianist Amanda Tosoff. I say “relatively undiscovered” because Tosoff and her Quartet—Evan Arntzen (sax), Sean Cronin (bass) and Morgan Childs (drums)—have already picked up the 2007 CBC Galaxie Rising Star Award for best emerging group, but that doesn’t mean this gifted 24-year-old has become a household name yet . . . even in jazz-heavy households where the likes of CBC’s “Hot Air” is mandatory weekend listening. And from the 10 tracks on Wait and See (all but one of which, bassist Cronin’s “Shorinji Kempo,” were written by Tosoff) there’s a lot here to, uh, hear. A graduate of Capilano College’s noted music program (where she studied under the likes of Ross Taggart and Chris Sigarson), Tosoff’s piano stylings evoke the likes of Bill Evans—notably on the track “Soaring”—and this thoughtful, engaging album is well worth repeated listenings. At times meditative, jaunty and wonderfully uncluttered by unnecessary vocals,  Wait and See is fine effort by this quartet, where all the artists compliment each other with no upstaging or grandstanding. Also worth noting is more great trumpet and flugelhorn work by the always inspiring Brad Turner (whose own career is well worth following, both on his solo projects or his steady supporting work for others), who also produced this strong album.

—John Threlfall




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