Colin Maier – The Fabulist – CMCD002, 54:10 [Distr. by Phoenix] ****:

(Colin Maier – oboe, English horn, clarinet, flute, alto saxophone, violin, bass, mandolin, Banjolele, Balalaika, bassoon, guitar, percussion, musical saw, vocals; Mark Camilleri – piano; Mark Inneo – drums; Jon Maharaj – bass; Alexander Sevastian – accordion; Peter Desotto – violin; Liza McLellan – cello; Erika Reiman – piano)

Canadian oboe player Colin Maier has an unusual resume. He is part of the critically renowned group Quartetto Gelato. While his eminence in the world of classical music is prominent, his versatility extends to theatre, dance and martial arts. His first “solo” CD (Advice From A Misguided Man) hinted at a complex vision with some humor thrown in. The collection of songs was adapted from poems.  Maier has released his second album, The Fabulist. In an impressive display of virtuosity and genre expansion, this project should appeal to a wider audience range.

The opening track, “Gaining Ground” is an up tempo gospel romp. Fueled by composer Mark Camilleri’s muscular piano chords, the jam is a tight oboe jazz quartet. Maier and Camilleri play unison riffs with intensity and purpose. Paying homage to the great Antonio Pasculli (the “Paganini of the oboe”), “Ricardo di Napoli/Scherzo Brillante” displays all of the multifaceted articulation in an unusual duet of oboe and accordion (Russian-Canadian Alexander Sevastian). The duets on The Fabulist are particularly elegant. Maier and Erika Reiman shine on Francis Poulenc’s Oboe Sonata. The graceful “Elegie” is followed by a dramatic “Scherzo” (with a tender interlude). The third movement (“Deploration”) is moody with alternating cascading piano chords and foreboding melodic themes. Another duet, “SawsAge” (oboe and percussion) has free-form dynamics with a rhythmic finish.

There are three vocal performances. “Getting Dark Again” has a sprightly pop arrangement (oboe/piano/drums/bass) with a festive Camilleri solo. Maier’s tenor is appealing and has some emotional timbre. His personality emerges on the high-spirited folk jam, “Home For A Rest”. His oboe accents create a Gallic vitality and charm. Maier’s instrumental prowess elevates the music, no more than on two solo pieces. He plays oboe, English horn and bassoon on a compelling reworking of Richard Rodgers” “My Romance” (from the 1936 show, Jumbo). The layering of horn and bassoon in rhythmic tempos and counterpoint complement the oboe lead. This is a number that has been covered by innumerable artists and this version ranks among the best. The finale title track was written by Rebecca Pellett (a contributor to Advice From A Misguided Man). Maier plays a mind-boggling assortment of instruments. The first part (“The Trance”) is a haunting one-minute introduction. “The Tale” begins with   classical folk dance that morphs into a circus-like waltz. Then a spooky interlude (complete with musical saw) shifts the feel before the tour-de-force ends in cinematic flourish.

The Fabulist is engaging, original and may represent a New Millennium approach to classical music.  [The Amazon link is for the MP3 download – no CD listed…Ed.]

TrackList: Gaining Ground; Ricordo di Napoli – Scherzo Brilliante; Getting Dark Again; My Romance; Angakkuq; SawsAge; Songs Of The North Woods No. 2; Oboe Sonata (Elegie/Scherzo/Deploration); Home For A Rest; The Fabulist (The Trance/The Tale)

–Robbie Gerson