Biography

The River Pilots are an instrumental quartet with an eclectic sound that will take your imagination on a journey across the globe and beyond. Our original compositions are inspired through improvisation, and take root in the organic nature of traditional folk musics from around the world. You’ll be captivated by our unique instrumentation, fusion of musical styles, and unconventional arrangements. And, we hope you’ll be excited about the newest River Pilot adventure… “Delta” a musical graphic novel! But first, we’d like you to know where we come from to learn where we’re going!

Our Toronto based band first came together in 2006 when Todd Porter invited his teaching and performing colleagues Carlie Howell, Daniel Howlett, and Tanya Matthews to spend an afternoon improvising together. Each musician brought not only their unique variety of talents on multiple instruments, but also rich musical experiences based in a wide variety of distinct genres. We played freely off one another, taking inspiration from a word, a visual image, or a sound provided by one of us. The recordings made on this day provided raw material for the intense creation and co-composition period to follow. We listened carefully to each recording, taking the juiciest musical sections and evolving them into distinct song structures through musical experimentation and exploration. With Adam Wright as our dedicated and passionate sound engineer, we started to record. Andy Stanleigh bravely undertook the task of creating liner notes in the form of a map. In May 2007, The River Pilots released the result of this work, our debut album “The Unexpected Adventures of…

We continued to develop our compositional framework, while expanding our boundaries. We experimented with harmonic and rhythmic structures, stylistic crossover, form and instrumentation, collectively and spontaneously. Our process involved improvising and writing simultaneously, allowing us to access a collective musical conscience, in which our ideas were augmented and shaped by what others played. By then listening back to our rehearsals, we shaped our original improvisations into through-composed pieces that included solo sections, collective improvisation, and carefully written melodies and accompaniments. During this time, we composed seasonal music for a 4 part Vespers series, played a monthly residency at The Central in Toronto, as well as contributed, created and recorded music for short films and sound libraries.

With Todd, Tanya, and Carlie at the core, we continued to work within this compositional framework together with guest artists on banjo, guitar, and piano before we welcomed Michael Hurwitz as a permanent fourth member in 2010. We began our collaborative relationship with him by composing music for a live concert, considering not only each piece, but the narrative arc of the whole show. Inspired by visual and narrative imagery, and more at home in our improvisational language, we embarked on yet another adventure: using video art as the common inspiration for real-time recorded improvisation. In previously released recordings, we had honed down the pieces into musical statements through a lengthy filtering and rehearsal process, and were proud to release an album that had no digital cuts, splices, or alterations to the performance. Now we would roll tape in 15 minute takes, that could remain complete, become smaller sections, or be looped. At this point in our journey, we were inspired by the magic in the live performance, and wanted to harvest from the original improvisations themselves, selecting the best parts where a musical statement or narrative arc occurred exactly as we played it the first or second time. With video images transforming before us, we set out to record our musical conversations.

In one weekend, with Adam still at the board, we recorded 35 wildly diverse tracks. We immediately went to work listening and editing, essentially arranging the pieces, but without quantizing or autotuning, retaining the organic nature of The River Pilots sound. This was only the beginning, however. We wanted to leave the video imagery behind, allowing the music to lead us to new visual representation, and who better to go to than our favorite graphic designer Andy Stanleigh, who had since begun illustrating graphic novels. With the tracks selected, titled and sequenced, we storyboarded each piece to have 3 different images, moving through a dream. Andy set to work making our dream a reality by illustrating these images with his unique and stunningly beautifully approach to graphic novel.

In the meantime, we’ve been composing music for a short film written and performed by Tanya, filming a KickStarter video, and creating this new River Pilots website. We’re looking forward to the release of “Delta” in early 2013.

As to what lays beyond that for The River Pilots? Well, all we know is that it’s sure to be an unexpected adventure….

Michael Hurwitz(1982-) is a composer & producer for visual media, a performing & recording keyboardist, and teacher. His scores have been featured in the documentary American Meat, the advertisement campaign of Boston’s Franklin Zoo Giant Anteater Exhibit, and in several other short films and documentaries. In 2011, he graduated
 from the Film Scoring program at the Berklee College of Music, where he won best score in the Berklee Academy Awards for his re-score for Baraka.

As a performing artist, Hurwitz began his career with the Toronto-based Afro-fusion band Ainike and is currently the keyboardist of Endangered Speeches, a 13-member International Hip-Hop/Reggae band. He has performed and recorded with Israeli Guitarist Gadi Caplan, Brazilian Vocalist Tais Alvarenga, and the Mozambican duo Native Sun, to name a few. As well, he has also performed live with reggae artists Pato Banton, Peter Tosh Jr., and Michael Gabriel.

Hurwitz also teaches piano, composition, arranging and production. He was the recipient of the 2010 T.E. Richards Award for Outstanding Mentorship for his work at the Berklee City Music program, and, is currently a proud member of the piano staff at At Your Door Music.

He is a strong believer in music’s role as a social glue and agent for positive global change, and deeply values justice, equality with equity, creativity, diplomacy, and diversity.

Carlie Howell is a Toronto based performer, songwriter, and educator with a passion for learning and creative music making. As a student, she has a degree in jazz performance from the University of Toronto on double bass, and has studied the drumming and dancing traditions of West Africa, Japan, and Brazil.As a performer, she weaves together her experience with jazz, classical, folk, pop, rock, reggae, klezmer, free-improv, and world music traditions, to create an eclectic and unique musical voice all her own. She is the leader of her own original project Carlie Howell and the DeHarms, and a founding member of The River Pilots, an instrumental folk composer collective. She is the bassist and backup vocalist for original rock bands Austin John and Culture Reject, Brazilian ensembles Tropicalia and Mar Aberto Soundsystem, folk songwriters Amy Campbell and Paul Kolinski, and The Mike Field Jazz Quintet. As a percussionist, she can be heard on the stage and on the street with Maracatu Mar Aberto and Batucada Carioca.As an educator, Carlie has studied music pedagogy with Orff Canada, Kindermusik International, and the Royal Conservatory of Music. She maintains a studio of private students in Toronto, while teaching arts education classes and professional development workshops for students, artists, and teachers in Toronto, Peterborough, Hamilton, Sudbury, Fort McMurray, and Germany.

Todd Porter is horn section leader and arranger for The Bonifide Truth, which backs up 2008 Toronto Blues Society talent search winner Scott McCord (also nominated for a 2010 Maple Blues Award for Best New Artist). He also Leads The River Pilots, whose debut album reached the top 10 on the Canadian College radio Jazz charts in 2008 and was nominated for Best World Music Song, and Best Country Music Song at the 2008 Ontario Independent music awards. The River Pilots Debut album was also featured on CBC Radio One shows, Disc Drive, Sunday Edition, and Fresh Air. Todd was a member of Toronto based Afro Funk group Mr Something Something, where he toured Canada for two years (2004-2006) in support of their second album “The Edge”, which was nominated for a 2007 Juno award for best World music album. Todd has performed at Jazz and Folk festivals across North America, sharing the stage with various artists including, Sarah McLachlan, Edgar Winter, America, and Dan Hill.

Tanya Porter is a percussionist, drummer, actor, writer and dancer with an extensive background in performance and new work creation. Her drum story began in 1986, at the Ontario College of Percussion, under the tutelage of Rod Fogerty and Paul Robson where she studied kit jazz, blues, salsa, rock and funk. In 1990 she played reggae with Fight Them Back and funk with Primal Zoo. Tanya joined the world-beat improvisational ensemble The Subtonic Monks in 1992, touring and recording for a decade. She has recorded as a freelance percussionist for numerous artists; Corky and the Juice Pigs, Lili Zohar, Magdeline, Rick Monaco, and Michael Holt to name a few, and in soundtracks for CBC’s the National & YTV’s Stuff. She has also composed and recorded soundscapes for many live theatre and dance productions. Tanya has performed as a guest musician with Mr. Something Something, Kenny Kirkwood, The Spirit Drummers, Agoya and the Samba Squad. She has studied Afro-Cuban drumming with Ignacio Depineda, Hector Mon, Nicholas Hockin and in Cuba with Carlos Godinez of Cubanismo! , as well as West African drumming with Djibe Sane, Anna Melnikoff , Famoudou Konate and others. Tanya was a member of traditional Malinke drum ensemble Bolokelen from 2000-2005, a member of the original West African band Ainike from 2007 – release of the recording Ainike in 2010, is a current member of the original composing/recording quartet Drum Cultures, the current drummer for Whatever Sticks, and a founding member of The River Pilots.