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Tena Palmer: press

Whole Note Review: tena palmer T.I.N.T. - holy heart of me
jazz, eh - November 2014

Since emerging in the group Chelsea Bridge two decades ago, Nova Scotia-born singer Tena Palmer has not just welcomed new challenges and repertoire but sought them out, whether it’s an expedition into free improvisation, an evening of bossa nova or her own blends of jazz and Celtic music. Holy Heart of Me (TLP 002 is a collection of original songs recorded in Iceland with a band called T.I.N.T., or There Is No Them. It would be difficult to corral it into any single genre, whether some subset of folk, rock, pop or jazz, but it’s all imbued with an expressive intensity in which the sensuous and spiritual blur into one another. The frameworks, created largely by guitarist Hilmar Jensson and percussionist Matthias Hemstock, tend towards almost hypnotic, minimalist electronica, spare fields that set Palmer and her songs in stark relief. While Palmer and Jensson might easily carry it all, there are some wonderful guest appearances, among them New Brunswick cornetist Roland Bourgeois on “Golden Rod” and Icelander Omar Gudjonsson playing burbling sousaphone on the title track. - Stuart Broomer
Published on 31 October 2014
Parent Category: Current Reviews
Category: Jazz and Improvised

Jazz Festival Highlights - Best of the Fest

Toronto-based singer, Tena Palmer, first known for her work in the ground-breaking quartet, Chelsea Bridge a decade ago, is a fearless vocalist who seems to put her life on the line on every tune. That raw intensity was on display through two brilliant sets on the Alcan stage. Palmer led a trio with John Geggie and Dan Artuso on guitar and pedal steel as they performed alt-country and jazz-flavoured bluegrass from her CD North Atlantic Drift. The spare instrumentation showed-off her powerhouse voice and improvisational skills. And the choice of material was just right: David Frishberg’s Sweet Kentucky Ham (a quirky song about life on the road), Tom Waits’s bittersweet The Briar and the Rose, and several of her own tunes about love, loss and restlessness. Since winning the festival’s Grand Prix award with Chelsea Bridge in 1993, Palmer has clearly gained a lot of experience after several years performing in Iceland and Holland . She’s got the voice, but she’s also got the storyteller’s gift. - Peter Hadekel, July 7, 2006

Peter Hadekel - The Montreal Gazette (Jul 7, 2006)

First review of Upstream Orchestra's triumphant concert at

Festival International Musique Actuelle de Victoriaville

May 18, 2013

"As a big fan of large ensembles & modern big bands, I was glad to hear the next set from the Upstream Orchestra. This 18-piece ensemble is from the Maritime provinces in Canada and led by saxist Paul Cram, who had a previous large ensemble at Victo several years back. The orchestra was conducted by Jeff Reilly who also once played in a duo with Jerry Granelli at Victo previously. They played three pieces, one by Barry Guy and two by Mr. Cram. You could tell that a good deal of time and preparation went into this concert as the pieces were well-written, tight and superbly played. Vocalist Tena Palmer was one of the highlights of this ensemble, her voice an integral part of the orchestra's tapestry and waves of lines. She often didn't sing words but used her voice in other ways. Some of the music on the first piece reminded me of a spy movie theme and featured a smokin' tenor solo from Mr. Cram. The second piece, "The Magic Order", began quietly with soft vocals, muted trumpet, flutes and other horns all sailing together. This piece reminded me of the Grand Wazoo (Zappa's large jazz ensemble from the early 1970's) which mixed free and charted sections perfectly. The last piece, "Witch Gong Game" by Barry Guy was quite intense and explosive. Different sections of the orchestra (as synth/guitar/voice/percussion) would rise or submerge within other sections, occasionally erupt with some marvellous solos from the soprano sax, voice or other players. The music recalled the great British composer Neil Ardley, who is a personal favorite of mine. I've listened to dozens of large ensembles over the past few years and this, the Upstream Orchestra, was one of the best." - Bruce Lee Gallanter, Downtown Music Gallery, NYC, 6/6/13

A wag once described Canadian improvised music this way: A group of Canadians reach a doorway; being well mannered, each insists that another go first, resulting in no one passing through the door. That stereotype was strongly rebuked by robust sets by, among others, saxophonist Paul Cram’s trio with bassist Danny Parker and drummer Doug Cameron and Zokugaku, a synth and samples fueled trio with Haley, Cameron and keyboardist Tim Crofts. While there is an appealing mild streak in what can be construed from Open Waters as an Atlantic temperament – typified by the humor in the rhythmic use of video clips of Toscanini and other conductors in bassist Andrew Reed Miller’s cross-platform solo piece, “L-EDGY” – it is salted by occasional unhinged intensity, which Miller demonstrated in furiously bowed passages accompanied by the rapid scanning of a vintage Kentucky Fried Chicken commercial.

These complementary traits can often register as dichotomous in a set of improvised music; they require a cohering aura of persona, which takes years if not decades to refine – and are best demonstrated in small groups. The case in point for this at Open Waters was Aperture Trio, comprised of vocalist Tena Palmer, guitarist Arthur Bull and Cram. Their respective resources are impressive: Palmer combines precise diction (if the term can be applied to her vast array of vocalizations) and a keen feel for dynamics; Bull’s lines have a flinty centrifugal force, even though he plays at relatively low volume and without effects; Cram’s tenor can be simultaneously muscular and delicate, while his clarinet retains a full woody sound even when he soars. These veterans know what to do when presented with an open door – they go for it, knowing it will sort out.

Tena Palmer Trio

July 17, Holiday Inn Select Commons Room, Quinpool & Robie, 9pm, $25.

In a word, singer Tena Palmer is smmmokin’. When I took in her gig at the North Street Church with the musically adventurous Upstream Orchestra a while back, I snuck looks around for the fire marshal. Gifted as a natural, audience-friendly, dramatic artist with scant aversion to risk-taking, she makes her performances stick-in-the-mind memorable. Jazz composer and musician Paul Cram of the Upstream Orchestra says, “She’s fabulous,” and this guy sets for himself—and others in his field—very high standards.

This dynamic, totally easy-on-the-eyes vocalist, with a Bachelor of Music in jazz performance (voice), plus a diploma in jazz performance on baritone sax and flute from St. Francis Xavier University, is also a musical changeling who can switch from free-blowing outings to forays into Celtic jazz. Her current bass player, John Greggie, was a member in her Celtic jazz band, Chelsea Bridge. Guitarist Dan Artuso is the third member of the trio.

Usually, creatively restless artists actively seek out challenges. Or new directions. Keeps them fresh. Vital. Forward moving. Sometimes a new focus can seem downright puzzling, especially on such cliche-ridden genres as country, bluegrass and folk. Then again, in the right hands (or throat), wondrous transformations can be made. For example, the eccentrically innovative American jazz guitarist Bill Frissell, who headlined last year’s Jazz Fest, transmogrified old-timey country tunes into hauntingly silvery jazz dreamscapes—more David Lynch-ville than Nashville. Expect no less from Tena Palmer. Her wonderful voice and sharp, inventive intelligence is as supple, sensual and witty around a songline as any of the outstanding jazz divas—Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday or Sarah Vaughn. Chameleon-like, she’s also at ease playing hurtin’ country with all the plaintive ache and passion of a Patsy Cline.

Playful, pellucid, entertaining, Tena Palmer’s a rare bird worth watching.

–Graham Pilsworth

" Palmer soars where angels fear to sing".
Mark Miller - The Toronto Globe and Mail (Jan 10, 1996)
Tena Palmer, North Atlantic Drift, 2005, Festival Jazz

A spare, introspective and totally captivating mix of jazz and country. Ottawa -based Tena Palmer, who wrote six of these 14 tracks themed on love, loneliness and life on the road, has a fine voice and an easy, intimate delivery. With the barest minimum of backing ( John Geggie on acoustic bass and Dan Artuso on guitars), she creates a moody and enigmatic atmosphere that feels deeply personal. North Atlantic Drift’s cool tone and open acoustic spaces bring Norah Jones, early Cowboy Junkies, and compatriot Leslie Feist to mind.
Ann Lough - LCBO Food & Drink Mag
***** 5 stars
Nice low key return from Tena, Nov 8 2005
Boy, Tena Palmer is really unpredictable :). That's a good thing! From the lovely post -bop of Chelsea Bridge to the sorta Joni-Meets-Oregon of her album with Justin Haynes, to the experimental Bjork - like disc, "Crucible," she has shown many sides. This one is a bit of a return to the "Not Drowning...Waving" Haynes side, but a bit more a combination of country/folk and jazz. Best news is her singing is fantastic, and the new songs are
really very good. She shows she can still swing like mad in her own way, & deliver a heartfelt ballad like Tom Waits's "Briar & the Rose" too. Wonderful phrasing, & intonation. A low-key release maybe, but definitely one of my faves of '05. If you like her earlier stuff, you'll like it-- and if new I think you'll become a fan.
Palmer is a natural singer, songwriter
Can stand beside jazz, country greats

Tena Palmer is a no-frills singer. Unpretentious, low-key, audience friendly, a natural performer — she saves her fire for her music. Technically she’s a virtuoso. Expressively she’s a rare one, right up there with the jazz great ones — Ella, Billie, Sarah — in her ability to take us into the heart of the song: she gives us the gift of discovering depths and nuances of feeling in ourselves we never suspected we had.
But she also sings country and bluegrass, and requires no handicap to stand alongside Patsy Cline. The two singers are similar both in style and in the conviction that the music is as much about the quiet, universal passion that gives birth to it as it is about heartbreak and loneliness.
As a songwriter, Palmer’s gift for metaphor takes a simple song about the loneliness of a touring musician and shifts it into warp drive, not so much propelling the song into a wider universe of human isolation, and the alienation it generates, as instantaneously bringing that wider universe home into the here and now of the concert hall.

Songwriting comes as naturally to Palmer, apparently, as her vocal agility in navigating both a wide range of notes (some high enough to qualify as squeaks) and her rainbow palette of timbres. She sang a song about looking for a missing hairclip after listening to West Virginia mining songs. But the song is really about women musicians late for a gig. It’s a country blues and Palmer wailed it out, pulling notes around the top of the chord changes like taffy.
Most of her songs were originals, but she also sang choice compositions by Gordon Lightfoot, Merle Travis, Mason Daring and Jimmy Driftwood. The lady has taste as well as talent.
Of her own songs, Christmas in Antarctica was typical of her originality and her intellectual curiosity about the strangeness of our planet: Christmas near the South Pole occurs in high summer with 24 hours of perpetual daylight.
Stephen Pedersen - Halifax Chronicle Herald

• Lula Lounge
• 1585 Dundas St. W. • View on map »
• 416-588-0307

Singer Tena Palmer is the most creative vocalist in Canadian free improvisation and guitarist Reg Schwager the most distinguished mainstream guitarist, but they’re breaking new ground here in a program devoted to Brazilian bossa nova and samba, May 1.
May. 1/09 - May. 22/09
How Much:
$15–$35 each
Tena Palmer
North Atlantic Drift

Rating: 4 stars

Tena Palmer, who distinguished herself with Chelsea Bridge, the Ottawa-based Celtic Jazz Quartet, has a disarming and distinctive presence in this session, with bass and guitar accompaniment. Palmer's group won the 1993 award at the Montreal International Jazz Festival for best new Canadian
group. Here she has a decidedly country tinge on 14 tunes, six penned by Palmer. They are verbal collages set off by John Geggie (acoustic bass) and Dan Artuso (acoustic, electric and pedal steel guitars). Palmer has a highly
imaginative if sometimes enigmatic presence as she plays with line and space. Check out Artuso's poignant You Hold on to Me and two wistful versions of Humpty Dumpty Heart, a LaVern Baker favourite.-Irwin Block
5 stars - instant classic
4 stars - wonderful
Irwin Block - Montreal Gazette May 5, 2005
CD North Atlantic Drift

"It is a beautiful combo of warmth and being on the edge, like Wayne Shorter or
Miles. It's an elusive place Tena seems to have found because she is a
brave and fearless woman!"
Mike Murley - Multi Juno Award winner, Jazz Report Magazine's Saxophonist of the year 2002 - 2004.
Mike Murley - i - net review of 'North Atlantic Drift' (Jan 12, 2009)
Roving Tena has a lot to say.

North Atlantic Drift
Tena Palmer with John Geggie
and Dan Artuso (Independent)
4 stars ****

By Doug Fischer

Everything we know about Tena Palmer tells us she’s a restless spirit.
Best known in Ottawa as the daringly evocative singer for Chelsea Bridge, the early – ‘90s Celtic-jazz quartet, Palmer has traveled well beyond the usual boundaries since then, musically and geographically.
For six years, she hung out in Reykjavik, Iceland, a creative breeding ground where she threw herself into projects that included adventures in alt-bluegrass, bossa nova, choral music, electronics and poetry.
She also recorded her debut solo CD, Crucible, part of a five-disc series of experimental music that made something of a splash in Europe.
Along the way came tours of Scandinavia, a home in the Netherlands, frequent trips to North America for concerts and recording, all of it culminating ( and hey, why not?) in a 2003 move to Ottawa and a teaching gig at Carleton.
“I’ve always had this need to keep moving”, she said around the time she settled in Ottawa.
“That applies to my life and my music. Who knows how long I’ll be here?”
Two years later, palmer is still in town. And if North Atlantic Drift is any measure, the layover has provided just the reflective balm to soothe that unruly spirit.
The recording is a deeply personal travelogue about life on the road, about the hours spent with and without lovers, about longing and loneliness, about the tutg between the need to put down roots and the pull of the highway.
“I play on the road/with no one to pick-up the phone/when it’s late and I call my home”, she sings on Dexterous Western Men, a bitter-sweet tale of love-gone-off-the-rails that sets the stage for what’s to come.
And what follows is a mix of originals and unexpected covers – old nuggets like My Buddy, modern heart-tuggers like Tom Waits’ The Briar and the Rose and oddball showtunes like Small World – each in its own way playing to Palmer’s theme of restlessness.
Joined by Chelsea bridge alumnus, John Geggie on bass – it’s their first time on record together in a decade – and Dan Artuso on guitar and pedal steel, Palmer’s voice is set against a sensually spare soundscape that places acoustic folk and bluegrass next to voice-bass jazz duets and shimmering bossa nova.
The record’s high point comes on North Atlantic Drifter, a dreamy, luxurious memoir about “getting lost chasin’ dreams ‘round the bend” in Iceland or anyplace else people run to find refuge from love. Or, perhaps, to find love.
“I’d always dreamed of a cowboy/who’d lope into town all lanky and lonesome/and I know lonesome/lonesome I know,” Palmer sings with raw quietness courted by Artuso’s lonesome pedal steel.
It’s a piercing moment on a disc that sticks in your brain and comes back tot haunt you when you least expect it.
Alanis Morissette, Lynn Miles, Kathleen Edwards. It’s time to add Tena Palmer’s name to the list of Ottawa songwriters with something to say.

***** A classic of the genre
**** Excellent
Doug Fischer - Ottawa Citizen
Journal d'écoute / Listening Diary

APERTURE TRIO / Sculpin (Undercurrent Recordings)
Ce cdr met en vedette ltrois musiciens de la côte est canadienne: a vocaliste Tena Palmer, le guitariste Arthur Bull et le saxophoniste-clarinettiste Paul Cram. De très bonnes improvisations libres. C’est mon premier contact avec Palmer, une vocaliste vive. Et ça faisait trop longtemps que je n’avais pas entendu Bull, le Derek Bailey canadien. Convaincant.

This cdr features three musicians from Canada’s East Coast: vocalist Tena Palmer, guitarist Arthur Bull, and sax/clarinet player Paul Cram. Very good free improvisations. This is the first time Palmer lands on my radar, and she’s a vivid vocalist. And it has been too long since I last heard Bull, Canada’s answer to Derek Bailey. A convincing release. - François Couture's music journal

Aperture Trio Sculpin - Undercurrent Recordings UR002 The Aperture trio consists of singer Tena Palmer , saxophonist Paul Cram, and guitarist Arthur Bull, three imaginative improvisers residing in or hailing from Nova Scotia, where the group first came together. The CD’s namesake - sculpin -is an ancient bottom dwelling fish with venomous spines, whose strongest similarity to this music lies in the element of surprise. That quality will strike a listener within moments of the opening No One Home to Complain: each musician seems to improvise independently of the group and yet what emerges is a complex tapestry of ultimately connected bits, each performer feeding, anticipating, and ignoring his or her partners at the same time. A common stylistic element shared by the three is a fondness for the string of discontinuous events and timbres, a special kind of linearity that creates a sense of continuous and unpredictable sonic collisions, each one yet possessing a sculptural sense of integrity. The musicians speed of thought is something to behold, as is the expressive range from guttural emissions—Cram’s instruments include a duck call-to sweetly liquid lyricism, such moments often occurring in close conjunction. – Stuart Broomer

Stuart Broomer - Musicworks, the Canadian avant-garde music magazine (Oct, 2011)
Journal d'écoute / Listening Diary
APERTURE TRIO / scupin (Undercurrent Recordings)
This cdr features three musicians from Canada’s East Coast: vocalist Tena Palmer, guitarist Arthur Bull, and sax/clarinet player Paul Cram. Very good free improvisations. This is the first time Palmer lands on my radar, and she’s a vivid vocalist. And it has been too long since I last heard Bull, Canada’s answer to Derek Bailey. A convincing release. -François Couture

“One of the most exciting jazz vocalists this country has produced in some time” Peter Hadekel, Montreal Gazette

“Sensual and Intense” – Ann Kristin Frøystad, - Romsdals Budstikke, Norway.

“(With) musicianship and good taste …her control is absolutely solid, her texture sharply rounded.”- Mike Zwerin, International Herald Tribune.

“…a Montrealer, who is…a vocalist and writer to watch. As well as her ability to scat with the abandon of a young Ella Fitzgerald, Palmer writes intelligent, contemporary lyrics.”- James Hale, Ottawa Citizen.

“(Elle) a une voix qui a tout me plaire: acrobatique, élastique même, elle sait prendre des risques entournée d’une musique qui demeure toutefois accessible, et elle peut tout aussi bien se faire sensuelle et rafraîchissante quand elle se met à la balade.” - Annie Landreville, L’ Ecouteur.

“Tena Palmer’s presence in the jazz singing world will bring a lot to its continued evolution.”- Grammy-nominated jazz vocalist, Janet Lawson.

“…she takes your ear immediately. Not the classic jazz singing voice, but she’s got a flexibility, a lightness, incisiveness, a sense of play with the other musicians that is really unique. A beautiful voice that grows on you
the more you hear it.” - Katie Malloch, CBC Jazzbeat.

“ voix ensorceleuse de Tena Palmer. (Elle) utilisant toutes les possibilités de ses cordes vocales, suivant en cela l’exemple de nombreuses vocalistes actuelles, mais saichant aussi ‘comme Ella’. - Bernard Legros, Chroniques Disques, Belgium.

“a bold manner of singing, sets herself apart from the crowd with an interesting collection of syllables and sounds and a fearlessly imaginative way around a melody line.” - Mark Miller, Toronto Globe and Mail.

“…l’élément clé du group, nous a séduit rapidement par sa présentation vocale sur scène, tantôt chantant comme dans la tradition classique de jazz,- tantôt jouant et improvisant avec sa voix – comme le
ferait un instrument.” - Claire Bourbonnais, Le Devoir.

“…a hip scat style”, “…a chameleon with competence well beyond conventional jazz practice.” - Krin Gabbard, Cadence magazine.

“A gifted and exciting vocalist, Palmer manages to discover breathtaking new life in that most clichéd of jazz styles, vocalese.” - Andrew Jones, Montréal Mirror.

“An extraordinary vocalist!” - Annie Landreville, Coda magazine.

“…the Montréal singer whose uninhibited style has a little each of Sheila Jordan, Jeanne Lee and a happy three year old.” - Mark Miller, Toronto Globe and Mail.

“Palmer’s timing is impeccable; her clear voice is bright and bouncy and plays well off the other instruments.”
- Network magazine.

“…not drowning, waving…” is a lush and fascinating album characterized by Palmer’s lighter-than-air vocals…the sound recalls the experimental pop of Jane Siberry or Joni Mitchell.” - Lynn Saxberg, Ottawa Citizen

“Do you want to get goose bumps? Come and check this out!” (Re: Crucible CD – Bad Taste records)
Kuggur, - Undirtónar magazine, Reykjavík, Iceland. (1996)
Scenes of the Crime

Tena Palmer Shows Her Roots
You can take the girl out of Nova Scotia, but you can’t take the Nova Scotia out of the girl.
For Tena Palmer, one of Canada’s premier jazz vocalists who performs twice today as part of the 2006 Atlantic Jazz Festival, home is where the heart is.
“It’s so good to be back. I was born in Halifax and my family is from Nova Scotia so it feels really natural for me to be here.”
Palmer spent a good part of her youth in Nova Scotia, growing up in the Truro area and later attending St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish. Her early exposure to local culture inspired her to pursue a career in music.
“My father had a huge record collection. He was also a jazz drummer in Halifax and was involved with a barbershop quartet. On my mom’s side there were six boys and three girls, all of whom played an instrument.
“Weddings and funerals were always noisy affairs, and I just sat back and took it all in.”
Though her youth was filled with the sounds of traditional Maritime music, it wasn’t until her University days that Palmer took a shine to the genre.
“It was in the middle of my be-bop education that those early influences started to come out. Actually, jazz and fiddle music share many things in common, so it was an easy transition for me to return to the sounds of my roots.”
Those roots are evident in her critically acclaimed 2005 release, North Atlantic Drift, where Palmer mixed jazz, folk and country to create her own musical hybrid.
“That recording really reflects my inner sense of restlessness.
“I’ve always had that edginess, ever since I was a child. It certainly would explain the many directions I have taken in both my life and work.”
That curious spirit has shown up in the singer’s personal and professional life, as Palmer has traveled extensively in recent years, living and working in Montreal, Holland and Iceland. Now a resident of Toronto, the 43 year old crooner is cautious about committing to settling down anytime soon.
“Who knows where all this is going to take me? I’m just following the music to wherever it wants to go.
“Although I must admit there is something very special and peaceful about being on Maritime soil.”
North Atlantic Drift Tena Palmer TLP /Festival

3 stars ***
Tena Palmer was tough to pin down when she sang with the wonderful Ottawa jazz band Chelsea Bridge in the mid-1990s and she's still tough to pin down here with bassist John Geggie and acoustic, electric and pedal-steel guitarist Dan Artuso. There's as much country in her songs as there is jazz on North Atlantic Drift, although it's country rather the way jazzer Sheila Jordan might sing it -- alternately wistful and wearied, with a touch of sass but mostly a gentle ache that's quietly convincing no matter what the style.
Mark Miller - The Globe and Mail April 29, 2005