Jeannette Lambert

Creative living through jazz & intuition

September 20, 2019
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Genius Loci Mixtape: new album!

Genius Loci Mixtape is a collection of songs, the first in a series of several, from recording sessions with talented jazz musicians all over the world. Many are inspired by the genius loci, the spirits of place, in each of these cities. Some are invented around beautiful poems I’ve come across while travelling, poems originally in Catalan or Spanish, sung in translation thanks to the talents of A. Z. Foreman and A. S. Kline.

The songs are melodic and straddle genres, like ancestral folk songs that morph into stream of consciousness free jazz or vice versa. This is music to transport you to other worlds in your imagination. Free jazz and improvising has changed the way my brain works (hopefully for the best), making me nimble and adaptable, singing in the moment or singing dreams from a moment ago. And the musicians featured here are well-versed in spontaneous and evocative instant composing.

This music was created in evocative places like the second cellar of an old building in Paris, a raucous music festival next to burial caves in Sulawesi, an artist’s studio filled with paintings in El Raval in Barcelona, and our home studio behind in a brick cottage in the snow in Montreal. The many creative musicians performing with me include Michel Lambert, Reg Schwager, Barre Phillips, Glen Ferris, Greg Burk, François Théberge, Alexandre Grogg, Fendy Rizk, Bona Alit, Davide Barbarino, Julien Osty and Laurent Charles, all on a great variety of instruments including piano, guitar, harpsichord, bass, saxophone and trombone.

Barre Phillips and Michel at the Centre Européen Pour l’Improvisation

I’ve been vagabonding with my trio with Michel and Reg and our recording gear again this summer, visiting Bali, Java and Japan. So as I prepare our next recording, Genius Loci East, with all the music we invented there, we are excited to release this first collection.

Below is the first video to accompany the music. This song, A Windy Day, is based on Anne Bronte’s poem Lines Composed in a Wood on a Windy Day. I released it earlier in the year as a single and a remastered version appears on the new recording.

We recorded it at Greg Burk‘s studio in Ostia outside of Rome. We walked beneath the majestic trees around Greg’s home with his little dog Mambo ahead of us so when it came time to settle in to make some music, somewhere between swimming, eating pizza and cracking pine nuts, this favourite poem of mine by Anne Bronte felt utterly right. And it feels even more apt now that Greg has embarked on a social media mission to save trees and our climate with his Musicians for Climate Action initiative which you can support by following the group’s Facebook Page.

Afterwards we continued on to stay at the Ozu artist residency near Lazio. There we’d feast on truffle linguine and spend our evenings drinking wine while sharing delicious dinners and bright ideas with fellow artists who ran the residency or were attending it. We composed and recorded there as well among all the metal sculptures and candy factory gear.

Near Ozu, in Lazio
At the Ozu artist residency

I filmed most of the video imagery at the beautiful Parc Mont-Orford when the trees were almost past their peak in fall foliage season. Hopefully the tree spirits in all these places, England where the poem originated, Ostia where we recorded it, Orford where I filmed it, will approve!

Many of these recordings were made during artist residencies and travels that were awarded funding. We gratefully acknowledge the support of the Canada Council for the Arts and and the Roadmap for Canada’s Official Languages 2013-2018 Education, Immigration, Communities, and also the Conseil des arts et des lettres du Québec for these activities.

May 28, 2019
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On being green

As someone who walks everywhere, who recycles and composts, who eats very little meat, who carries at least two reusable bags at all times, who buys local, organic produce and has an indoor herb garden, I have to admit, sometimes it’s not easy being green. That’s why I recorded this song and asked my son Theo, a brilliant and fluid artist, to illustrate the point for me. It’s also my contribution to an initiative started by our friend, jazz pianist Greg Burk for Musicians for Climate Action. Spread the word and enjoy! #m4ca #musiciansforclimateaction https://www.facebook.com/musiciansforclimateactionPAGE

April 9, 2019
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Songs we forgot

I’ve been going through old binders full of lyrics, looking for songs I might have overlooked in my eagerness to learn hundreds of jazz standards back in the day. And so I’ve pulled out a few surprises that I haven’t performed before for this event in Toronto later this week. Some were just too hard or had too many words so I’m going to snap on my reading glasses and solve that once and for all. I’m not going to tell you what they are here in case I lose my courage yet again, and sometimes Reg just shakes his head no when we’re on stage and shuffles the charts. But I promise that if I succeed, there might be a video or two here to celebrate the conquest!

True to my word, I am back and have a video of one of the songs we revived. The song is Spain with lyrics by Al Jarreau, composed by Chick Corea. I loved singing this as a kid and going back to it has reminded me of what a great song it is and also how wildly talented Al Jarreau was.

I’ve blended our live version with my photos from last summer in Spain so that it might capture the spirit of place with another layer of sensory perception. And also because I had the lyric sheet in front of my face for a good part of the video. That said, there is something freeing about singing without necessarily always memorizing all one’s lyrics and I was happy to afford myself that new liberty.

November 23, 2018
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Jazzgrrl protests: nice for what?

After I first stepped out to sing jazz songs in public at the tender age of twelve, I was greeted with applause and then, a day later, an obscene phone call. I can see that moment so clearly still, the excitement of my parents as they handed me the phone, thinking this was something important coming up, and my horror at what I heard when I did say hello. My brother, who had also been on stage with me, didn’t have to put up with this kind of crap.

It was a pivotal moment in my view of my future, as I could see our paths diverging and the bumpy road I had up ahead of me. Reading Lionel Shriver’s misinformed and utterly unhelpful article this morning, with her claims that “The matter of ‘too many’ men in jazz is especially perverse, since there’s little evidence that women have been actively discriminated against”, this image floods back into my brain, etched in there like everything Dr. Christine Blasey Ford was talking about during her statements on Kavanaugh’s drunken attack.

In the 1990s I got so fed up with people saying there are no women in jazz that I started a web page that was just a simple reply to that, a page full of links to the websites of women in jazz. Like, look, there are tons. Duh. My idea was that if there was a long, long list, people would have to give up and not assume, as Shriver does, that there simply are no women in jazz (disinterested shrug goes here) so why make a fuss? I kept the web page up for a long time, even as my url, www.jazzgrrls.com, was mimicked by a porn site, another kind of bashing on the head to please stay in my place and stop protesting. Or was it to say, oh, you’re looking for girls so here’s what you really want?

I took the page down eventually because I was overwhelmed by the neediness of the women there, the endless cds arriving in my mailbox, so many from the overlooked, underappreciated women trying to get a bit of visibility and they had mistakenly assumed I might be able to provide it. And I also ended up on the lists of promoters of anyone in jazz i.e. the men, and my inbox was inundated with requests for gigs, for recordings, for anything to help other people make money. Also, I didn’t always find that being female was enough to bond me to other women. We could be female, love jazz, perform jazz and still have wildly different views on everything. Never mind some other weird hairsplitting where singers are considered something lesser than instrumentalists. So whatever. I took down the page.

Nowadays I’m on the sidelines of the debate, working on my music from home, working on my own shit, learning new things to help achieve my musical goals my way. And I occasionally get drawn into a conversation with an older man in the jazz world who is puzzled, who doesn’t understand what this new movement towards equality means. Why isn’t it ok for him to make fun of chick singers anymore? Oh the times I have been berated as a chick singer when someone is mad at me for not letting them insult me some other way! Why isn’t it ok to indulge in a little flirting? Oh the endless attempts at flirting or worse I had to dodge as a student, all the gropey hands, all the patriarchal language, and how exactly did anyone think I was supposed to actually have the time and space to study and to learn something?

I look back on my journals now (yes, dudes, watch out, I wrote it all down!) and the hours I spent with my art teacher chasing me around a desk in his studio (how did I end up there?), or the math teacher driving me to god knows where in the dead of night, or the jazz musician chasing me in an elevator, asking how old I was over and over again (in case I was jailbait). But ok, whatever, you eventually figure out who to avoid, and you try to make a living as best you can, although, ah, maybe you don’t finish your degree because you can’t stomach the environment anymore, and then you head out to the pink collar ghetto only to discover the job market is also riddled with wandering hands.

I’m sorry, where was I? Have I lost focus? Can you focus when you are being hunted? Are you motivated when you sit on a jury for arts grants and realize only one 10% of the applicants are female and when you protest you are told, can you please tell the ladies to apply?

Reg’s Songbook band

My brother put together a band with good gender balance recently, or maybe there were even more women than men on stage. When someone exclaimed, oh Reg, where did you discover all these lovely talented young women?!! he replied in his usual deadpan manner, it’s easy if you don’t ignore them. So yes, kudos to the men who support us. And kudos to those who are standing up the old tired privileged mentality that Lionel Shriver is immersed in.

As Drake says, you gotta be nice for what? Let’s not be nice. Let’s point fingers and let’s change stuff. The simple fact is that the world needs more music and it will only benefit everyone if more women are encouraged and making it. It’s a win/win. Stop worrying that the entitled men are going to lose something. They’ll be way fine. They’ve had their turn for a long, long time.

November 6, 2018
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Why I sing Brontë poems

When I finished reading every single book in the juvenile section of our local library as a kid, the librarian suggested I move along to romantic fiction. There I discovered the timeless novels of Emily Brontë, Jane Austen and so many more. Later I discovered the poems by Emily and her sisters and felt pulled into their world of sweeping drama and story. Perhaps it was also their tragic history, all those deaths by tuberculosis that resonated with me as my mother struggled with the same dangerous illness.

As I started working with improvising melodies as a teen, I pulled out some of them and began singing. There’s something so angst-ridden, evocative and rhythmic that makes them easy to sing in any genre, and the words seem to contain melodies within them. And they lend themselves well to energetic free playing as I think to myself: what would Emily think of a punk version of her poems? And I wanted to sing songs that reflected the stories I loved as a girl, the female voices from my experience.

And so I’ve been singing them for decades now, in different contexts and you can find my versions of Brontë poems spread out over a series of recordings including Lone Jack Pine with Barre Phillips and Michel, also  Unclouded Day  with Mat Maneri, Raoul Björkenheim and Michel.

We’ve just released a new track that Michel and I recorded with Greg Burk in Italy, as his little dog Mambo wandered in and out of the room, beneath the pine cones, cactus and lemon trees. This is a version of Anne Brontë’s poem Lines Composed in a Wood on a Windy Day. It premiered recently and you can view it on Youtube now.

October 15, 2018
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Dreaming a poem together

What happens if you create a poem from a series of dreams by different people that were all in answer to the same question? What kind of a prayer will be created? That was what I set out to discover with my psi dreaming friends in late summer this year. And what is a good question? We jumbled together a collection of meaningful questions and selected one at random. And so our dream incubation was: how do we create more joy in our lives/world?

On the chosen night we all posed the same question and slept. In the morning we recorded our dreams in answer to this question. The answers were wildly varied, some joyful and flamboyant, others dramatic and sad. In some it was hard to find the joy at all, in others, the imagery danced around us easily. We shared our thoughts and impressions and then the extracting began.

Here is my poem from our night of dreaming for more joy. My own dream contained a quest for a girasol, which is either a jerusaleum artichoke (pretty much the only plants growing in my garden this year) or sunflowers in Spanish. And as I like action plans for my dreams, it was not long before I found myself in a blooming field of sunflowers, along with Michel, as we celebrated our wedding anniversary. It was the perfect setting to celebrate our joy at being together on so many levels.

In a startling sync, another of the dreamers shares the same anniversary date with his wife, who is a great fan of sunflowers.  I felt propelled along by the energy of the group poem, and have since spent more time with plants and nature. I’ve harvested a handful of the girasol from the garden and roasted them at Thanksgiving. I’ve started growing herbs indoors to bring flavour to our winter meals.

So many thanks to everyone who participated and shared their dreams with me. It is an intriguing exercise, one I hope to tackle again. This mutual dream poem was included in the Dream Art Gallery of this year’s Psiberdreaming Conference of the IASD so you can read more about it there.

October 11, 2018
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Inspiration in Spain

I remember sitting on the balcony with a view overlooking the Mediterranean, filled with dolphins, with our little pet goldfinch singing in a cage near me, trying to decide when to dash downstairs to steal a stalk of sugarcane from the fields waving below. Or when to go for a swim, lying on the rocks under the gaze of the white village of Salobreña. That was back when I was twelve and we were on sabbatical in Andalucia. A few decades later now, arriving in the village I am faced with a mosaic that depicts Salobreña’s history, an image with donkeys loaded with sugar cane and I realize I too am someone returning from history. The rum factory closed a long time ago.

Granada is now only a hop and skip away on wide, smooth highways overlooking dry mountains filled with unsightly greenhouses. But that city is as beautiful as ever and could it be that the food has even improved? The tapas are still free with a drink, plentiful and now there’s also flawless presentation. The flamenco played high in the hills is just as timeless as ever. And so even though some parts of history are now gone, and others remain the same, there is still much to discover in Spain and many things that are new, at least to me. We’d never spent time along the Costa Brava before, with the beaches of soft golden sand, rolling waves and warm, delicious water. We hadn’t passed through all the rice fields of Valencia and tasted all the variations on paella which delight us now.

These discoveries came to us thanks to our stay at the Vilarchangel artist residency, directed by the multi-media performance artist Ulises Pistolo Eliza, in his finca filled with the furniture of the original orange plantation from the 1930’s. Among the many bedrooms, balconies and large, shared spaces, we gathered our thoughts, ideas and met with fellow artists who were also discovering the region.

Michel gathered inspiration for his visual scores from the varied vegetation of the plantation, while I settled in with the large volumes of poems by Federico Garcia Lorca in the library as the flamenco singing of Kiko Cortes  wafted up from the front patio. Michel and I recorded music around poems I wrote on site using instruments from the artist workshop even as Sun Ho Kim, visiting from Boston, made small sculptures from tissue paper and oranges nearby. As luck would have it, this was an ideal setting for a family residency, again so vital for keeping life and art in balance, especially for a female artist and mother like myself. Multi-generational too, so my father was free to forage as he loves to do among the apricots, figs, walnuts, artichokes, oranges, plums and more. The kids made drawings with ink borrowed from Aki Hoshihara, visiting from LA, and played basketball under the bougainvilleas. They watched a few soccer matches on a t.v. that had been purchased at the request of monks that had once visited with the Dalai Lama, so that was another kind of blessing.

After the residency we discovered the villages near Castellon and stayed Mas del Gat a wonderful artistic retreat created by our great friend and best guide in Spain, Carol Charlton. She introduced us to more artists and toured us around the beautiful, inspiring countryside and perched villages. It’s a lush place, surrounded by olive and almond trees, figs and apricots, off-grid yet with a large swimming pool overlooking the valley below.

Before heading home we returned to Barcelona where we played a few wild sets of improvised music with some wonderfully inventive musicians at El Pricto’s long-running Discordia concert series in Gracia.

So now I am back home, harvesting the grapes from our balcony here as the starlings pass by, gathering all the music from this trip, the new songs, the old songs, the half-remembered poems. Many will be included in my new project, a mixtape of inventions where I sing to or with the spirit of place, the Genius Loci (working title). I’m hoping for a quiet, peaceful winter that will allow to me bring all these thoughts and ideas together so that I can share them here with you. We have replenished our stores of music so that Michel and I can be found in different parts of the house, each working on editing large amounts of freshly recorded music, while our sons and their friends take over the backyard studio and record their own new tracks. It has proven to be a productive time of creative renewal, just in time for harvest season.

Oh, and I haven’t even mentioned the hours of powerful music making in France before we headed to Spain, with Barre Phillips and many of the musicians from his EMIR collective, above the clouds on Barre and Mary’s magical mountain. It’s all there, ripe for the picking, to be continued …

Special thanks to the Canada Council for the Arts and the Conseil des arts et des lettres for their contributions to our many and varied projects.

June 4, 2018
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Why I sing free jazz

Let me explain why I sing free jazz or melodic poetry or improvised music. It’s a long, circular kind of story. I was a little girl in love with princesses when I saw Julie London sing Cry Me A River in the film The Girl Can’t Help It. She inspired me to embark on a long love affair with jazz standards with all their romantic stories and singers with excellent phrasing. It was also a way to hang out with my brother when we were kids (no computers! no internet!) doing something we both liked, learning new songs together and performing them for friends and family or in bars where we had to go sit in the parking lot on the breaks thanks to liquor licencing laws. During that deep study of the great American songbook, I discovered that I love to sing.

with Reg and the VW camper in Spain

And then on a sabbatical in Andalucia in Spain when I was around eleven I was struck by the power and passion of flamenco music. This was another way to sing, raw emotions and strong sounds, timeless stories, epic poems. I also spent time listening to the radio wafting in across the Mediterranean, fascinated by the Muslim prayers from North Africa. Back home again in Canada I would loll around singing along to Stevie Wonder and his iconic Songs in the Key of Life. I still just want to be Stevie Wonder. Doesn’t everybody?

My dna as a pie

But what do you do, as a Dutch-Indonesian immigrant child living by a lake in Northern Ontario, in a mining town? What kind of music can you make to represent your own culture? Recently I had my ancestry dna tested and discovered it is even more complex than I thought. I have dna from eleven different regions in the world, including small percentages from Iberia, North Africa, Native American dna as well as the Dutch, German and Javanese I’d expected. It’s confusing and yet somehow liberating. What box am I supposed to tick off now? I will draw one in that says (to quote Kurt Cobain) never mind.

Improvising with Barre and Michel and others in Puget-ville

This issue of what to sing and why has been at the core of my creative process from the start. Thankfully I was in the right place at the right time for discovering free jazz. We had the iconoclastic jazz trumpet player Herbie Spanier coming to our home regularly to jam and he would yell into my ear, just keep singing! Sing whatever comes into your head! Don’t listen to me, just keep going! for hours at a time as we continued, hell-bent on discovery and originality. I saw concert after concert of original music, attended workshops with Misha Mengelberg, sang Jay Clayton’s scribbly line drawing scores along with her at the jazz workshop in Banff, and had the joy of singing Cecil Taylor’s shamanic poems with him, also in the mountains at Banff. In more recent decades I’ve sung alongside the wildly inventive Barre Phillips, whose dedication and energy is always exemplary, as when he inspired us to improvise for 12 hours straight, something he considered slacking when compared to Sun Ra’s week long non-stop music sessions.

I have discovered that shamanism and improvisation are closely linked, because as we open ourselves up to inspiration and spontaneity, all kinds of energies rush through us. Sometimes I sing whatever comes into my head in the moment. More often I sing whatever comes into my head after I’ve written some words down and shaped them a bit, pulling out rhythm and sounds as I go along. Words on paper compared to words that are sung have different demands. What is vital to me is to be able to convey the greatest possible emotion as quickly as possible when making a musical statement, in much the same way flamenco or fado artists are always singing at peak emotional power. There is no time for a slow, tangled build up when singing improvised music. No dipping one’s toes, no plinkity plonk. You want to say what you have to say and swiftly, and if that’s not enough, say it again.

As a result, I write poems swiftly and end up channelling all kinds of ancestral stories, which, considering the amount of ancestors I have globally, keeps me very busy. I also write poems from dreams, which is another great way of harnessing a lot of power. And in recent reading I’ve done about shamanism, notably Martin Prechtel’s Secrets of the Talking Jaguar (a book I picked up after dreaming of jaguars), I understand now that dream songs are prayers. Aha.

With Kali Z. Fasteau

When I asked some very talented and accomplished women who are great improvisers (Jay Clayton, Kali Z. Fasteau and Annette Peacock) if they thought mysticism had anything to do with free music, they all unequivocally agreed — it has everything to do with it! They had many helpful and inspiring thoughts for me which are outlined in a series of short video interviews I did back when my kids were babies and I was struggling to balance life and art (which also explains why I am so busty in the videos, btw, engorged frankly, things only female artists have to contend with, lol). I thought, why don’t I go and ask someone who knows? So I did. Annette’s interview isn’t online – she will cue me if and when she wants to share it. Hopefully their thoughts can help and inspire others, especially women and girls, as well.

It is difficult in this age of rampant nationalism to have the freedom to express your ideas outside of the boundaries of genres that are so fraught with identity. I’ve often described myself as struggling with my cultural identity or lackthereof. When I saw the author Zadie Smith (whose latest book is, aptly, entitled Feel Free) in Montreal last year she said, in a prickly fashion, that critics say she’s constantly working with themes of cultural identity but she considers it quite the opposite — she doesn’t care about cultural identity at all because the idea itself is so limiting,never mind culture bound. And that was eye-opening for me because I do agree wholeheartedly. And to think otherwise is a wild goose chase anyway. We need to transcend these ideas of who we are, where we are from. I don’t want my sons or their friends to feel that they can’t sing their own songs because they like to rap and they aren’t African American. I insist, just express yourself, make the music you want that is sincere and comes from your heart and figure out the rest later. It should be your own in any case, perhaps an entirely new genre or a new variation. We all need more music in our lives, and if we love making it, we owe it to ourselves to just do it. Freedom, really, is at the core of everything.

May 12, 2018
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When I was a web artist

Once upon a time I was a web artist, when it was a new frontier and I was cited as a pioneer in a big catalogue for an ambitious exhibition called Future Cinema. At that time websites were in their infancy. We were struggling to understand how we could use this new medium of cyberspace to convey ideas and art.

I’d been dreaming of combining photos and music and story somehow for years and suddenly it was possible, with a click here and there tying loose ends together. I learned how to code html from scratch and taught a few workshops for Webgrrls (a new movement for empowering women to use the internet) and Studio XX. My enthusiastic students enjoyed solving the puzzle of fixing code I’d deliberately broken so their pages would load properly. I created one of the first online journals, a dream journal no less, filled with drawings and photos and audio and was surprised when an internet audience followed my tangled subconscious and even surprised me with an award. I’ve found the journal back recently and will post some of the funnier entries here soon.

Museums all over the world had calls for submissions and so I submitted. The first of these was in Japan and I animated digital drawings I’d made that could tile all over the screen and combined them with sounds I’d collected from SoHo in New York for my piece One Night in Greenwich Village. I scrambled to understand code, browser issues, colour palettes and video encoding.

It was freeing, this ability to join in the art world, to make art for the sake of making art. There was no economic drive behind any of it, no monetizing, just my drawings, my sounds, there for the clicking, an offering to the gods and goddesses, in keeping with what I think art should be. I was awarded some funding for more ambitious projects I invented, my project Sunset on St-Viateur, a tribute to a street I loved, and Where Are You From? a small networked cinema project (how’s that for a cool term?) that expressed my thoughts on my ever elusive cultural identity or lackthereof.

The technology changed, ideas grew into companies, (Youtube! Blogger! WordPress!) and so those initial bright ideas were gobbled up and made redundant, automated out of existence. Thankfully Rhizome in NY still works tirelessly to archive much of the work but so much was so ephemeral even then.

The videos look small and fuzzy now in this universe where even my phone can shoot in 4k. But low tech has never phased me so now, here on my old-fashioned blog where I have set out to explain myself, I present two types of low tech – from 8 mm film to fuzzy digital video, some art I made with our home movies. It still is miraculous to me to have these images, fading but bright, so much like memory itself. To pull the best out of the past, to bring it forward with the tools of the day, that’s what I still find so remarkable. Change happens at such a remarkable pace and it seems people don’t even realize what crazy change is still ahead of us thanks to technology. Maybe by taking a minute to glance backwards every now and then we’ll be able to cope.

February 27, 2018
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Black Fungus revival

Michel and I revived our Black Fungus duo, voice and drums, at a concert at Resonance Cafe, March 31st, 2018 here in Montreal. We continue our exploration of dream haiku and what magical space it inhabits with improvised music. As well, we experimented with channeling the energy of the genius loci of various places we have visited. With sounds, songs and rhythms gathered around the world, the attentive audience journeyed with us through the music.

Here is a sample of  the music, two songs  of ancestral memory performed with gamelan tracks. The gamelan music was played by our son JJ and Michel and I earlier in the year during our stay at Rimbun Dahan artist residency in Malaysia. The first, Rim of Fire, speaks of how easily the island of Java disposes of its residents, while the second tells the story of what it feels like to be looking back at one’s  Eurasian roots from a window in winter in Canada.

Duo performance from our recording Lone Jack Pine