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Daniel Koulack Daniel Koulack
Album: Frailing To Succeed
Label: Little Giant
Tracks: 11

Winnipeg banjo maestro Daniel Koulack has always been adept at switching between musical genres, and traditional, world, swing and jazz have always been grist to his mill. On this new album of original compositions, he pushes the boundaries beyond even these categories, not just because he plays his own music within them but because he’s chosen to surround himself with a host of musicians playing instruments which are not normally blended with the banjo.

Frailing To Succeed, despite its canny wordplay, may still seem a curious title for an album by Daniel, since he’s a major exponent of the clawhammer technique of banjo playing – or perhaps it’s merely intended as ironic? Either way, the success ratio of the eleven tracks is high, whatever your expectations of what the music will sound like. He’s joined on the album by his own band, The Knappen Street All-star Band, which comprises saxophonists Bill Spornitz and Jonnie Bakan, percussionist Dan Roy, marimba player Sterfan Bauer and bassist Don Benedictson. The intention was to give the project something of the flavour of an early Woody Herman record, providing the colours of both swing and klezmer musics, and this aspect succeeds primarily due to Daniel’s gift for orchestration. The resulting music is in the main warm and joyous in character: sometimes childlike and playful (Simon & Micah), sometimes jubilant (Happy Tune and OK). Two Flat Feet was composed in honour of Daniel’s daughter’s love of flat foot style dancing. Even the piece with blues in its title is less “down” than cautiously celebratory – Ester’s Blues, written for Daniel’s mother, inhabits a tasty Afro-marimba groove – while further irony is apparent in the titling of The Insomniac’s Lullabye (a delicious earworm if ever there was one!). The graceful Hummingbird Waltz includes a deft accordion part (Ron Paley), and Hamish Napier guests on penny whistle and bamboo flute (No Telephone). The slightly mournful Blue Planet has oriental overtones, and From Silence, titled after a quote from bassist Charlie Haden, takes us into the cathedral of the soul. Daniel’s classical heritage is recalled on The Glenn Gould Piece, which by way of a skipping hoedown pays sly homage to the master pianist who would’ve celebrated his 75th birthday in 2007 (when it was written); featuring Ben Mink on violin, the composition is very much “gloves off” in terms of virtuosity, and something of a standout track. Anyone who appreciates broad musical boundaries and playful invention will gain pleasure from this disc.

David Kidman