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“One of the most singular producers in contemporary music.” – Boomkat
Ronen Givony is a New York City music curator and writer and wrote the following to accompany the release of Impossible Spaces:
By definition, every music lover is also, inevitably, an evangelist. That is to say: beyond the tiny group of artists that everyone more or less agrees on, there exists a perpetually overflowing pool of musicians who, for whatever reason, never quite manage to earn the audience and attention the evangelist believes them to deserve. Inescapably, the evangelist's is a personal and subjective project, and rightly so, as one listener's undiscovered gem is another's undistinguished detritus. Nevertheless, it remains an open question, this thorny subject of art as oligarchy or meritocracy: whether deserving artists, regardless of resources, eventually do reach the audience they "deserve" — whether it is in fact true, as the old saying goes, that the cream does ultimately rise to the top — or if certain artists are unjustly consigned by the fates to recognition only late in their careers, or posthumously, if at all.
All of which is a circuitous preamble to a more modest thesis, that being: for this writer, the very top of my own personal evangelical list — the artist I most wish I could strap to a van and send out on the road with a guitar and a self-replenishing supply of CDs, so that his music might be better known to the world — is the Toronto songwriter Sandro Perri. Happily, Sandro's new album, Impossible Spaces — his first release since 2007, and, not coincidentally, his most accomplished to date — will, with any justice, achieve the work of that proselytizing far better than me.
Among the lively artistic community of Toronto, Sandro Perri, whose other musical projects include Polmo Polpo and Glissandro 70, is all but universally beloved as a local and national musical treasure. Indeed, unprompted, many Toronto musicians will tell you that Sandro is the true best exemplar of that unique intersection that characterizes the city's omnivorous musical scene: partly improvised, partly composed, and roughly equal parts acoustic, electronic, melodic, noisy, rock, jazz, folk, classical, psychedelic, and experimental.
After four years of writing, recording, and self-production, Impossible Spaces has delivered on the promise so abundantly present in Sandro's earlier work; and with it, a synthesis of the experimental, electronic and singer-songwriter modes that have marked his evolution as an artist. On first listen, Impossible Spaces seems to position itself self-consciously as a collection of music about other music. In this sense, we can think of the album as one listener's personal map of music history, with various voices, phrases, and personalities materializing to guide a song for an instant before disappearing again. Upon further listening, however, and true to its title, the album reveals itself as something more conflicted, and seemingly contradictory: a six-part meditation on the binaries of absence and presence, the possible and impossible, with a symmetrical internal structure reflecting this back-and-forth dialogue from one song to the next, and an emotional push-and-pull within the personality of the singer and songwriter himself.
Revealingly, the album's opening track, "Changes," not only swipes a title from the catalog of music's most famous chameleon, David Bowie, but also playfully revises the original's "ch-ch-ch-changes" to the more percussive and yet ambivalent "could-could-be changes....maybe we change." Suddenly, three and a half minutes in, as though finally making up its own mind, the song changes very much indeed, blossoming into an extended rhythmic groove that is punctuated by subtle shifts in tempo and instrumentation, and in which not a single word is heard during the song's final four minutes. After the call of "Changes" comes the response and companion piece of "Love & Light," which combines breath samples from the singer Zaki Ibrahim with an instrumental homage to 1960s bossa nova and tropicalia as a strategy for confronting the impossible burden of the past, and of forging one's own voice — what William Faulkner once described with the epigram, "The past is never dead; it's not even past."
The middle section of Impossible Spaces continues in this pattern of serpentine and self-referential allusion, reflection, and revision. The lyrics to "How Will I?" are haunted by the absence of Perri's close friend and collaborator Jordan Somers, who died tragically from complications of leukemia at the age of 30. The result is a deeply moving, bittersweet, and yet surprisingly joyful elegy to a departed friend — a reminder of all that remains in love and companionship — that crests with the redemptive chorus of "Hand in my hand, shoulder to shoulder / Today, it looks like love is bolder." Further on in the album, parts one and two of "Futureactive Kid" comprise a thematic dialogue between the competing ideals of openness and solitude, or expression and silence, which in turn are revived by the spectral quotations dotting the verses of "Wolfman": both an apologue and a song about songs, which nods to Will Oldham's "Wolf Among Wolves," Neil Young's "Walk On," and Bad Brains' "I Against I," among others.
Appropriately, Impossible Spaces terminates at a kind of resolution and summing-up point in the closing title track, whose plaintive lyrics were co-written with Perri's deceased friend Jordan Somers. The song asks: "Why would I save it for the morning after / some kind of anti-matter / how could I save that for the morning after / encased in glass un-shattered." Arriving as it does, after an unsentimental journey of questioning and self-doubt, the implied answer can only be in favor of life, connection, and imagination; in favor of stubbornness, engaging the past, and exploding the limits of the possible; or, as Emily Dickinson herself answered the question:
I dwell in Possibility—
A fairer House than Prose—
More numerous of Windows—
—Ronen Givony, Wordless Music, NYC 2011
Thanks for listening.
released October 18, 2011
Dan Gaucher - drums, percussion (tracks 1, 3, 4, 5)
Mike Smith - bass (tracks 1, 3, 4, 5), string and horn arrangement (track 6)
Blake Howard - drums (track 2)
Ryan Driver - flute (tracks 3, 4, 5, 6)
Marcus Quinn - bass clarinet (tracks 4, 5)
Julia Collins - violin (track 6)
Mike Olsen - cello (track 6)
Jeremy Strachan - saxophones (track 6)
John Jowett - euphonium (track 7)
Brandon Valdivia - drums (track 7)
All songs written and arranged by Sandro Perri. "Impossible Spaces" lyrics co-written by Jordan Somers.
Recorded by Jeff McMurrich at 6 Nassau. Additional recording by Nick Zubeck, James Anderson and Sandro Perri. Production and mix by Sandro Perri. Additional mixing by Drew Brown.