Review: Serafin LaRiviere, “Unravel”

Serafin LaRiviere - Unravel

We are always happy to feature some great Canadian jazz music here at Great Dark Wonder, and are excited to share this latest release from Quebec’s Serafin LaRiviere with you.  With a career spanning almost three decades, and a voice that spans five octaves, Serafin has become a household name in the Canadian jazz community, and is sure to satisfy their fans who have waited patiently for new music.  Released today, “Unravel” offers a stunning collection of newly arranged jazz standards and covers of original songs from an assortment of musical genres. 

The album itself was born in an idyllic setting of quiet woods, wandering deer, and several feet of snow – although it was not planned that way.  “I was in the Eastern Townships of Quebec when Covid-19 hit,” Serafin recalls.  “I was just fortunate, really, though it was terrifically isolating.  But I was with my wee family in the middle of nowhere, and blessed with an awful lot of time to figure out what to do with the new album.”  Recorded at Number 9 Studios in Toronto, LaRiviere brings together a stellar supporting ensemble for this project, that includes George Koller (bass), Christopher Plock (horns), Clement Robichaud (piano) and Great Bob Scott (drums).  The album is engineered by Aaron Fund Salem, and produced by JUNO Award winner Jono Grant (Jon Stancer).

Serafin LaRiviere

While most musical genres are defined primarily by the individual constraints placed upon them, jazz regularly permits artists a free pass to not only push, but break boundaries, and with “Unravel,” LaRiviere is only too happy to take advantage of having no definitive rule book.  Indeed, where else could you expect to encounter a collection of songs bookended by a jazz interpretation of the classic Torch song, “I Put a Spell on You” (Creedence Clearwater Revival) and a moving piano and vocal cover of “Take on Me” (A-ha)?  Jazz fans already have their arms raised, and those unfamiliar with the genre are suddenly looking on with interest. 

The popular CCR hit opens with some dominant piano strokes, before being granted an electronic kiss and filled with sporadic horn bursts and Serafin’s slightly muted, reverb-laden vocals.  The arrival of haunting strings quickly assert themselves, compensating for the expected guitar distortion that would be found throughout the original version.  As for the A-ha hit, where the original is up-tempo and exhilarating, this interpretation is slow, intimate, and features just voice and piano to create a quiet, pensive, and heart-breaking version.  “I always saw the lyrics as the perfect Torch song,” Serafin offers. “There’s such a sense of love and longing in the words, and I wanted to try to reinterpret that in a way that was respectful to the amazing original version.”    

And in between these tracks, expect to find other classics such as a cover of “Cry Me a River,” mixed amongst originals such as “It’s You” and “I Couldn’t Be Your Girl,” which dazzle with unexpected elements of pop, funk, soul, and even a little country.  Like I stated earlier, the lack of a rule book leads to this mish-mash of creativity, making “Unravel” an album that simply has to be heard, especially during these crazy, Covid-19 filled days of uncertainty.  “I just keep telling myself that, even if life feels like it’s unraveling a bit, the day is coming when we’ll be looking back on this time and marveling that we came through it,” Serafin adds in closing. “We don’t need to unravel.”

Visit Serafin’s website.

The British guy that crossed the ocean and crash landed in central Pennsylvania (to quote Greg Keelor, “And I wonder what am I doing here?”). As the youngest of four siblings, exposure to music from a very early age nurtured my passion and appreciation for many musical genres. Continuing to discover some amazingly diverse and talented musicians based in Canada, I gravitate to live music experiences and remain devoted to spreading the word about such a vibrant music scene.

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