Eleanore Altman
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Eleanore Altman

Montréal, Quebec, Canada | INDIE

Montréal, Quebec, Canada | INDIE
Band Pop Folk


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Degrees of Freedom (2009)



Eleanore Altman—Dusting For Prints
June 25, 2009

For the aspiring 21st Century musician, making your mark in the Web 2.0 age is just a few mouse clicks away. It’s easy to carve out a niche in the blogosphere; narrowly-defined hyphenate musical genres (folktronica, anyone?) are minted faster than Facebook profiles, mixing and recording software can replicate the ambiance of famous studios, and the resulting index of sonic possibilities is near-infinite.

Yet moving beyond the mashup and creating music that is innovative and timeless requires something that predates the Internet—talent. Some of the most distinctive artists of recent years have taken traditional, once popular musical tropes and forms and have woven them into dazzling new tapestries of sound, like San Francisco harpist Joanna Newsom’s baroque nexus of folk, celtic reels and psychedelic pop.

Eleanore Altman, an NDG-based musical polymath with a classical upbringing, a degree in forensics, a knack for jazz and a jones for the hit parade, claims a similar idiosyncratic interest in refashioning tradition. “I’m not someone who thinks commercially,” says Altman. “I’m one of those musicians that’s open to anything.”

While Altman’s background is resolutely trad—her mother is a classical pianist—her studies have been eclectic: singing under Beverly McGuire at Montreal’s Concordia University and Colette Boky at UQAM, film composition and jazz at Boston’s Berklee College of Music, forensics at New York’s John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

A childhood spent in the classical idiom also didn’t prepare Altman for the sugar rush of hearing pop music for the first time at age 15, when—during a chance encounter rescuing her father’s radio from the trash—she leapt from The Queen of Spades to Ace of Base.

On her first commercial release, Degrees of Freedom, Altman’s songwriting hearkens back to an age when songcraft could take chances, and let genres bleed into one another and discover the felicitous concordances between musical styles. The result of over a decade’s worth of songwriting, Degrees of Freedom takes something old, something new, something borrowed and something blue and spins remarkable new musical tales with them.

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Listen to “Con Amores La Mi Madre,” a resetting of an old Spanish gem—a villancico originally set by Fernando Obradors—which prays for nighttime relief from the pain of unrequited yet faithful love, on which Altman soars like Lionheart-era Kate Bush. “Folk music offers so much,” Altman says. “It uses complex rhythms and harmonies and can be so surprising and inspiring for the composer.” Or “Blue Kryptonite,” a sly ballad about not-so-super heroic relationships, draped sensually in Altman’s voice that reveals real sophistication in jazz harmony and arrangement. Unafraid to take it slow, change tempi or boldly mix styles, Altman lets her songs breathe, and Degrees of Freedom shows the debut of a major talent.

And forensics? Altman says her fascination with Quincy’s calling goes back to her formative years, and was something she decided to pursue when she found herself at a musical impasse after returning to Montreal from Berklee. Yet the meticulous preparation and technique involved in dusting for prints can be heard in the careful choices and arrangements in Altman’s music, as if she were trying to decipher the very traces that unforgettable music—whether a tango or a jig, a standard or an aria—leaves in our memories. Or, in her words, “Music is music and it doesn’t matter what genre you’re interested in or drawn to—you can do anything.”

--Andrew Jones