In 2018, Toronto’s famed Art of Time Ensemble musical collective – under the musical direction of founder, pianist and album producer Andrew Burashko, gathered a group of renowned Canadian singers, musicians, authors and poets for a three night live celebration of the eternally insightful, gloriously soul-stirring songs of the great Leonard Cohen.
Though in essence only a sampler of the grand affair, the new album based on these shows, Songs of Leonard Cohen Live, sweeps us away on a stylistically multi-faceted journey to the poetic and tuneful heart of the legend. The set cultivates a grand pin-drop intimacy despite the great amounts of performers on hand, and an overall narrative full of drama and tension via colorful classical and jazz arrangements and varying tempos – sometimes all at once on a single song like “Closing Time,” which features gravelly voiced Cohen soundalike Tom Wilson of Nashville based roots band Blackie and the Rodeo Kings.
Though for obvious commercial reasons, the lead single from the 13 track set is a sparsely yet exquisitely arranged ten minute meditation on what is arguably Cohen’s best known song, “Hallelujah,” performed by Gregory Hoskins (formerly of The Stick People) and Steven Page (Barenaked Ladies), the real impact of the recording comes from intricate and artful performances of pieces handpicked by Burashko to represent both classics and lesser known tracks from his later recordings, like “Come Healing” (from Old Ideas, 2012) and “Treaty” (his final album, You Want It Darker, 2016). As we listen, it’s easy to imagine these Canadian voices stopping midway through the tune and simply reciting Cohen’s lyrics as spoken word poetry. The emotional impact would be just as great.
Ultimately, Songs of Leonard Cohen Live serves as more than a thoughtful retrospective on the master’s provocative songwriting – it’s a way for people outside Canada to hear the Art of Time Ensemble weave its heartfelt magic and hear, maybe for the first time, popular Canadian pop singers like Wilson (who also performs “Who By Fire”), Sarah Harmer (“Dance Me To the End of Love,” “Come Healing”), Sarah Slean (“Anthem,” “Dress Rehearsal Rag”) and Gregory Hoskins (“Treaty,” “Boogie Street”). Page, perhaps the best known of the group outside Canada, showcases his dynamic vocal range and unbridled passion for Cohen’s artistry on “A Singer Must Die” and “I’m Your Man.”