Lara Solnicki

Whose Shadow?
05 Jazz 01 Lara SolnickiLara Solnicki
Independent LSMCD002 (larasolnicki.com)

Toronto singer Lara Solnicki has released a second CD that is a bit of a departure from her first, which was largely made up of standards. Eclectic and artful, Whose Shadow? is still mostly covers, but Solnicki has chosen more modern and unusual songs, and, along with producer and bass player George Koller, has interpreted them in interesting ways. That along with Solnicki’s classical training makes this a refreshing departure from more traditional vocal jazz albums. Her delicate, high voice is a natural for songs such as Kate Bush’s Sunset and Joni Mitchell’s Shades of Scarlett Conquering. The combination of a lightly swinging groove from the rhythm section (jazz stalwarts such as Ted Quinlan on guitar, Mark Kieswetter on piano, Nick Fraser on drums and Davide DiRenzo on percussion) and Solnicki’s straight treatment of the melody on Purcell’s Music for a While is surprising and successful. Freedom Dance harkens back to 70s smooth jazz complete with wind chimes. Overall, the effect of the album is dreamy, contemplative and pleasant.


Play Blue - Paul Bley

05 Jazz 02 PaulBleyCDPlay Blue
Paul Bley
ECM 2373

Aged 81 and ailing, the likelihood of Canadian expatriate pianist Paul Bley giving (m)any more concerts is limited. But this newly issued 2008 live performance from Oslo easily confirms why the unique style he developed in the early 1960s has influenced many pianists including Keith Jarrett.

Except for Sonny Rollins’ Pent-Up House, which Bley performs in response to vociferous demands for an encore from the audience – and to which he appends some so-called classical trope to the boppish line – all the compositions are his. Given enough time to develop, each is, for all intents and purposes, a suite, which brings in many allusions. Deceptively lyrical as well as maintaining a blues sensibility, Flame’s ringing key strokes suggest nightclub ballads like My Way, but with a cleaner interface. The dramatic Longer is crowded with chords and arpeggiated runs that would be as didactic as an Art Tatum performance if Bley didn’t slyly insert what sounds like a lick from Arrivederci Roma midway through.

Bravura, but without bravado, Bley defines his art on Far North and Way Down South Suite. Starting off in a nervy gallop, he first cycles through passing chords and glances at the American Songbook before settling into an impressionistic melody that by the finale vibrates basso, bop-like textures from the soundboard. Sharp and intense, the titled Suite piles strident glissandi and blues allusions into an exposition, then after a theatrical many-seconds pause, first deconstructs the melody then focuses it again with even-handed dynamics. Bley’s piano command is such that without leaving the keys it appears as if he’s violently plucking the instrument’s strings as he plays.

We can hope that more Bley will appear on record. But if this concert recording is his swan song, the unique mixture of skills which made his reputation are definitely and appropriately exhibited on it.

 


Maqueque - Jane Bunnett

05 Jazz 03 Bunnett MaquequeMaqueque
Jane Bunnett
Justin Time JTR 8586-2

Toronto sax player Jane Bunnett has long immersed herself in Cuban music and many of her award-winning recordings have introduced Cuban musicians to North American audiences by blending Afro-Cuban rhythms with contemporary jazz. Her latest, Jane Bunnett and Maqueque, is no different, as Bunnett ventured to Havana to record with this new all-female group. (“Maqueque” – pronounced Ma-keh-keh – means the spirit of a young girl in an Afro-Cuban dialect.) Voice, flute and soprano sax-laden, the tracks are driven by percussion, as you’d expect. The strings, courtesy of the Annex String Quartet arranged by ex-pat Cuban and piano master Hilario Durán, lend a sense of drama and old-fashioned romance to many of the songs. The recording is not over-produced so has an immediacy and authenticity to it. Singer Dayme Arocena has a particularly strong presence as she wrote three of the songs on the disc – including the lovely Canto a Babba – and has a raw, earthy warmth to her voice. One of the standout tracks is her duet on Bill Withers’ Ain’t No Sunshine When She’s Gone sung in English and Spanish which starts out simply and hauntingly accompanied by only tres guitar and congas.

The final cut – Song for Haiti – was originally recorded as a fundraiser for Red Cross relief efforts in that struggling country and has completely different personnel on it, including Cuban rapper Telemary. The clever arrangement is a sophisticated and touching way to close out the disc. Maqueque is touring Canada and the U.S. this year and dates can be found at janebunnett.com/tour.

Editor’s Note: Four-time JUNO Award-winner, two-time GRAMMY nominee and Officer of the Order of Canada, Jane Bunnett has been chosen as a finalist for the Ontario 2014 Premier’s Award for Excellence in the Arts. The laureates will be announced at an awards ceremony at Roy Thomson Hall on September 16. Bunnett and Maqueque finish up their U.S. tour on September 22 at NYC’s prestigious Blue Note Jazz Club and give a farewell performance at Hugh’s Room in Toronto on September 27, before the band returns to Cuba.


Last Dance - Keith Jarrett; Charlie Haden

 

05 Jazz 04 Last HadenLast Dance
Keith Jarrett; Charlie Haden
ECM 2399

Prescient by happenstance, Last Dance had just been released when double bassist Charlie Haden died from the effects of post-polio syndrome at 76 on July 11, 2014. Actually recorded in 2007, this nine-track recital, featuring Haden’s and pianist Keith Jarrett’s reimagining of jazz and American songbook classics, demonstrates only one aspect of the bass master’s skills. His evolutionary recasting of the instrument’s role, defined during his membership in Ornette Coleman’s barrier-breaking quartet, and his political commitment, expressed by his leadership of the aptly named Liberation Music Orchestra, can be researched elsewhere.

Instead Haden and Jarrett, in whose quartet he played from 1967 to 1976, deal here with instantly recognizable melodies in a novel fashion, but subtly enough that familiar underpinnings aren’t neglected. It’s noteworthy, with Jarrett’s reputation for immoderation and showiness, that Haden’s bass work puts the finer point on these re-creations. At times, for instance, when it appears as if the pianist is opting for ponderous readings, dialogue with Haden prods the pianist to open up the tune.

Case in point is when Haden’s rhythmically perfect countermelody adds ballast to Jarrett’s interpretation of Everything Happens to Me. With the pianist now commenting on the chromatic bass line, dancing key strokes become more than decoration. Similarly It Might As Well Be Spring bounces along as a too-familiar show tune until Haden’s plucked reverb exposes the piece’s underlying gravitas, which is maintained even as the head is reprised. Even Dance of the Infidels, the set’s one up-tempo number, benefits from Haden’s ability to suggest a sub-theme while solidly accompanying the pianist’s narrative elaboration.

Poignantly, the bassist’s modest, yet powerful solo on Goodbye, the CD’s concluding track, adds an appropriate finality to the project. Haden’s string exposition creates the proper context for Jarrett’s theme variations. Unwittingly perhaps, Haden exits this session leaving behind a first-class demonstration of one facet of his sizable musical talent.

 


Strings Attached - September 2014

Robbins 01 Ehnes BartokAfter two volumes of works for violin and piano James Ehnes reaches Volume 3 in his series of Béla Bartók’s Chamber Works for Violin with a CD featuring clarinetist Michael Collins, pianist Andrew Armstrong and violinist Amy Schwartz Moretti (Chandos CHAN 10820). Collins and Armstrong join Ehnes in an excellent performance of Contrasts, the work Bartók wrote for himself, Joseph Szigeti and Benny Goodman in 1938, and Armstrong accompanies Ehnes in the very brief Sonatina, a piano piece from 1915 heard here in a 1925 transcription (approved by Bartók) by André Gertler.

The bulk of the CD, though, is devoted to the 44 Duos for Two Violins from 1931. Bartók had been asked to transcribe some of his short piano pieces from 1908-09, For Children, a collection that had been based in part on some of the folk music he had collected before the First World War. He chose instead to write four books of duets drawing almost exclusively from a wider range of the folk traditions he had encountered at that time. They’re very brief – 28 of them last less than a minute – but anyone who has played them knows that their brevity doesn’t in any way indicate an absence of interest, mood change, variation or depth of invention.

They’re not difficult to play for the most part, although the technical level certainly does rise the deeper into the set you go, so it’s not so much a case of judging the performances here but more one of simply enjoying them. And with Ehnes and Moretti you’re in terrific hands.

Robbins 02 Bartok duosBy pure coincidence, the batch of CDs that included the Ehnes Bartók also included violists Claudine Bigelow and Donald Maurice in Voices from the Past (Tantara TCD0213VFP), a wonderful 2CD set of transcriptions of the 44 Duos for two violas, but with a startling – and quite strikingly emotional – addition: 32 of the original field recordings made by Bartók that supplied the impetus and the basic material for most of the duos, heard here for the first time together on one album.

The first CD has a performance of the 44 Duos with the appropriate field recording preceding the corresponding Bartók duo; the words of the songs, the names of the singers or players, the locations and dates are all included in the excellent booklet notes. The second CD is an uninterrupted performance of the Duos.

Obviously, the sound quality of the field recordings, made on wax cylinders between 1904 and 1916, is understandably quite poor, and no restoration has been attempted here. Some of the recordings are very rough – almost inaudible in places – but the emotional impact of this singing and playing of ordinary people from 100 years or more ago paired with the music they inspired is enormous and not only sheds fascinating light on the nuances of Bartók’s writing but also imparts a sense of nostalgia to the pieces that is heightened by the darker tone of the two violas.

Bigelow and Maurice wisely chose not to use the William Primrose transcription of the work – the only one commercially available, but full of crucial changes Primrose made in an attempt to keep the duos at original pitch – and opted instead to simply transpose the entire set of duos down a fifth, thus retaining their integrity. Some brightness is lost as a result – in The Bagpipe and the final Transylvanian Dance, for instance – but the gain in warmth and depth more than compensates for this.

Listen to the girls collapsing in laughter at the end of their bright, up-tempo song, and then listen to Bartók’s slow, melancholy Prelude & Canon transcription that follows it, simply aching with longing for a rapidly vanishing past. It will forever change the way you hear these remarkable pieces.

Robbins 03 Glenn DicterowGlenn Dicterow has just stepped down after 34 years as concertmaster of the New York Philharmonic, and to mark the event and honour his service the organization has issued The Glenn Dicterow Collection (NYP 20140201), a three-volume selection of Dicterow’s live solo performances with the orchestra between 1982 and 2012. Volume 1 is available as a CD and download; volumes 2 and 3 are available only as downloads from nyphil.org/DicterowCollection.

A beautiful 88-page souvenir booklet comes with the CD, which features superb performances of the Bruch G Minor Concerto, the Bartók Concerto No.1, the Korngold Concerto and the Theme from Schindler’s List, Dicterow getting inside these works quite wonderfully in really outstanding recordings.

Although he started his professional career as a violinist, Paul Hindemith developed an international reputation as a superb viola player from his early 20s. As a composer, the smaller repertoire for the viola no doubt presented an intriguing opportunity for him and he made significant efforts to enlarge it, writing five major works before he turned 30.

Robbins 04 Hindemith TamestitThe outstanding French violist Antoine Tamestit has marked the 50th anniversary of Hindemith’s death last December with Bratsche!, a CD featuring four of the composer’s works for the instrument, (naïve V 5329). Pianist Markus Hadulla is the accompanist for the Sonata Op.11 No.4 from 1919, the earliest of Hindemith’s viola sonatas. The work has a beautiful opening, with a simply lovely melody that sounds tailor-made for Tamestit’s trademark deep, rich tone. There’s a lovely piano presence here as well, with great balance and superb recorded sound quality.

The Sonata Op.25 No.1 for Solo Viola is a relatively short work from 1922, but one which explores the full range of the instrument’s potential. Tamestit’s masterly technique and musical sensitivity are again fully evident.

Hindemith wrote Der Schwanendreher, a concerto for viola and small orchestra, in 1935, and based each movement on a medieval German folk song; the title comes from the song used in the final movement. Interestingly, the string section of the orchestra consists of cellos and basses only, the absence of violins and violas allowing the solo instrument to assume more prominence. The Frankurt Radio Symphony Orchestra under Paavo Järvi joins Tamestit in another terrific performance.

In January 1936 Hindemith travelled to London for a performance of the concerto, but the unexpected death of King George V resulted in the concert being cancelled at two days’ notice. The BBC asked Hindemith to write something suitable that could be broadcast in its place, and provided him with an office for the day; Trauermusik (Mourning Music) for viola and string orchestra was composed in a matter of hours, and performed and broadcast the same evening. The four movements last a little under 8 minutes, but it’s a quite beautiful piece which provides a beautiful ending to an outstanding CD.

Robbins 05 Reinecke Cello ConcertoThe American cellist Michael Samis makes his CD debut with Reinecke: Cello Concerto (Delos DE 3446), a disc that highlights a long-forgotten concerto by the German Romantic composer Carl Reinecke and also includes works by Sir John Tavener, Robert Schumann, Ernest Bloch and Osvaldo Golijov. The Reinecke concerto was written in 1864, and is a lovely, immediately accessible work clearly influenced by Reinecke’s teacher, Felix Mendelssohn. Samis has the necessary big, warm tone, and there is some lovely orchestral support from the Gateway Chamber Orchestra under Gregory Wolynec. Samis considers the work to be “a lost gem that richly deserves a place in the repertoire,” and it’s hard not to agree with him.

Schumann was another of Reinecke’s teachers, and his Adagio and Allegro Op.70 is heard here in an orchestral transcription by the Swiss conductor Ernest Ansermet. Originally written for horn and piano and later arranged by the composer for cello and piano, it’s a lovely, if somewhat inconsequential, piece.

Bloch was nearing the end of his life when he wrote three unaccompanied cello suites in the mid-1950s; the four-movement Suite No.1, which was dedicated to the Canadian cellist Zara Nelsova and is described in the excellent booklet notes as the best known and most accessible of the three, is included here. Samis gets to the heart of Tavener’s Threnos, a short solo piece written in memory of a close friend in 1990. Percussionist Eric Willie joins Samis for the final track, Golijov’s 1999 Mariel, for cello and marimba; it’s another work inspired by the sudden death of a friend.

Samis’ playing throughout is of the highest order, and there is depth, resonance and excellent balance in the recorded sound.

There’s something wonderfully wild and abandoned about true gypsy violin playing – its virtuosity, its pulsating and wildly fluctuating rhythms and tempos, mixed with the almost cluttered background accompaniment of cimbalom, accordion, clarinet and strings, make for an almost-out-of-control feeling of pure spontaneity.

Robbins 06 Santa FerencFor the real thing, you need look no further than Here Comes the Dance, a Hungarian release featuring the multiple award-winning Santa Ferenc Jr. (Hungaroton HCD 10337). Ferenc has been playing this music for 45 years, and is currently the artistic director and leading violinist of the Hungarian National Gypsy Orchestra.

It simply doesn’t get any more authentic, or any better, than this, and there is some simply terrific fiddling here. There’s a great mix of numbers, including a dazzling Czárdás by Monti, and the CD ends with Dinicu’s Pacsirta, a classic gypsy fiddle piece. The whole CD is irresistible, and an absolute blast from beginning to end.

The Brazilian Guitar Quintet has been around for 15 years now, and has made a particular name for itself as specialists in Spanish and Latin American music, winning the 2011 Latin GRAMMY award in the Best Classical Album category.

Robbins 07 Spanish DanceTheir latest CD, Spanish Dances (Delos DE 3466), features a wide selection of works by Manuel de Falla, Enrique Granados, Joaquin Turina, Joaquin Rodrigo, Federico Mompou and Isaac Albéniz, all in outstanding arrangements by quartet member Tadeo do Amaral. The group’s use of two six-string guitars and two eight-string guitars gives a richness and depth to their sound that is perfectly suited to the music on hand here. There is a virtual absence of fingerboard noise, technique to burn in quite dazzling performances and a beautiful quality to the recorded sound, which fully captures the nuances, sonorities and colour of the playing.

The arrangements themselves are quite brilliant, and easily pass the acid test: they sound like original works, and it’s really difficult to imagine them as having been originally written for piano, which all but one were.

Robbins 08 Opus TwoOpus Two, the American duo of violinist William Terwilliger and pianist Andrew Cooperstock, has a new CD of George Gershwin Music for Violin and Piano (Azica ACD-71290). Both players have just the right sound and style for this music, although some of the transcriptions are less successful than others. There are four world premiere recordings here, three of them – the Suite from Girl Crazy, Love Walked In and Nice Work If You Can Get It – by arranger Eric Stern; the fourth is Ayke Agus’ completion (from the original sketches) of Jascha Heifetz’s Excerpts from An American in Paris, Heifetz also being responsible for the Three Preludes for Piano and the Selections from Porgy and Bess. The only original piece for violin and piano is Short Story, which Gershwin wrote with and for the violinist Samuel Dushkin.

The arrangements are, for the most part, creative, sympathetic and effective, although the Porgy and Bess transcription (and to a lesser extent An American in Paris) suffers from being a bit too clever at times – perhaps not surprisingly, given that the transcriber was Heifetz; far from enhancing the music, the virtuosity seems to be all that matters, and simply gets in the way.

Soprano Ashley Brown joins the duo for the two songs Love Walked In and Nice Work If You Can Get It, and does a great job; the vocals are light and idiomatic, and the arrangements and violin playing quite lovely.

Robbins 09 Midori SeilerViolinist Midori Seiler is joined by the period specialist ensemble Concerto Köln, which she also directs, on her latest CD of Violin Concertos by Joseph Haydn (Berlin Classics 0300550BC). Four of the numerous violin concertos attributed to Haydn have been confirmed as authentic; one in D major has been lost, and the three concertos here in C Major, A Major and G Major, Hob.VIIa Nos.1, 3 and 4 respectively.

Seiler is noted as one of the leading period performance violinists in Germany, and brings a wealth of insight and experience to these fascinating works. The small size of the accompanying ensemble for this recording – six violins, two violas, one cello and one bass – gives the performances a lightness, clarity and sense of intimacy which is quite delightful, while the excellent range of dynamics provides a spirited vibrancy throughout.

The final track on a lovely CD is the short but charming Romance by Johann Peter Salomon, the German violinist and contemporary of Haydn who achieved greater fame as the London impresario who brought the composer to England on his two London visits.

Something In The Air - Guelph Jazz Festival Reaches A New Maturity

 

Moving into a comfortable adulthood, the annual Guelph Jazz Festival (GJF), September 3 to 7, hasn’t abandoned its presentation of new artists. However it has reached the state where musicians who have been there in the past are returning, but mostly in new contexts. Case in point in 2014, the 100th anniversary of bandleader Sun Ra’s arrival on this planet – he returned to the cosmos in 1993 – where the Sun Ra Arkestra, now under the direction of alto saxophonist Marshall Allen, gives two performances on September 6. The first is an afternoon parade; the second couples the band with dancers from the Colman Lemieux Company for “Hymn to the Universe,” a multi-media presentation at the River Run Centre (RRC).

01 sunraMinus the visuals you can sample a Sun Ra Arkestra performance on Live in Ulm 1992 (Golden Years of Jazz GY 30/31 leorecords.com) when Ra, the man from Saturn, was still in charge. Unusual because there’s extended input from trombonist Tyrone Hill, guitarist Bruce Edwards and electric bassist Jothan Collins, this 10-piece Arkestra features four drummers, two reedists and two trumpeters who faultlessly follow the segues directed by Ra’s piano. An intense track like The Shadow World is defined by screaming reed multiphonics as the rest of the orchestra harmonizes; while James Jacson’s nasal oboe and Allen’s guttural flute bring otherworldly exotica to The Mayan Temples just as a bass vamp and percussion bumps keep it attached to terra firma. Elsewhere the percussionists’ claves produce a montuno pulse on a Latinized version of Fate in a Pleasant Mood, but before the dance beat becomes too predictable, Ra slips in references to other Ra classics while sounding if he’s playing a honky-tonk keyboard. Suggestions of spirituals and the Second Line alternate with brassy crescendos, and just as you think all the tricks have been revealed, the group presents a raucous recreation of Fletcher Henderson’s Hocus Pocus. Later there’s a vocal version of Prelude to a Kiss whose clip-clop backing is crowned by a strident Allen solo. With marching band precision and rhythmic hand claps, most of the second CD is given over to a singalong medley of Ra’s greatest hits including Space is the Place, We Travel the Spaceways and Outer Spaceways Incorporated. Ra may have left this earth, but the Arkestra continues impressing people.

02 kidd jordanAnother veteran musician who has helped extend the lineage of jazz is New Orleans-based tenor saxophonist Kidd Jordan. He returns to the GJF September 6 to play the River Run Centre’s Co-operators Hall with another Free Jazz pioneer, drummer Milford Graves, plus Canadian pianist D. D. Jackson. Jordan and Graves haven’t recorded together but Trio and Duo in New Orleans (NoBusiness Records NBCD 64/65 nobusinessrecords.com) suggests how they may sound since here the saxophonist’s partner is another Free Jazz percussion pioneer: Alvin Fielder. More interesting is the second CD of duos, although both are also in top form on the first CD that adds the late bassist Peter Kowald. Jordan’s tempered split tones and stentorian output that stands up to every challenge are completely original. In the main, he’s comfortable in the altissimo register and on pieces such as Duo Flight, invention is paired with stridency as screeched multiphonics alternate with moderato slurs. Fielder uses shakes and shudders from percussion add-ons to make his points. In the final minutes, as Jordan moves into lower pitches, the two attain a spiky rapprochement that brings in bop echoes. Even when Fielder takes a protracted solo as he does on E. Fashole-Luke, there’s no show-off commotion, just moderated pizzazz. The drummer’s ruffs, ratamacues and rebounds show a man in perfect command of his kit. This sound authority extends to Jordan, who utilizes screams and melisma to build up to major saxophone statements. That the CD’s final track was recorded seven years after the first four, with no letdown in power, is a confirmation of the musicians’ skills.

03 fletchettesAnother sax-drum duo of equal quality unrolls on September 5 at the Guelph Youth Music Centre (GYMC) with American multi-instrumentalist Joe McPhee and French percussionist Lê Quan Ninh. Highly praised for his mastery of contemporary notated music, Ninh is equally proficient as an improviser as he demonstrates with Montreal saxophonist Jean Derome on Fléchettes (Tour de Brass TDB 9004cd tourdebrass.com). During the course of one over-40-minute track the two face off like friendly gladiators lobbing back and forth any texture suggested by one or the other. Using only a giant, horizontal bass drum Ninh’s creations take on spatial as well as sonic qualities. Scraping, sliding and stroking a variety of timbres from his drum, he uses room architecture to amplify and expand rim shots plus wood abrasions, while creating electronic-like drones. Making use of all registers of his alto saxophone and flute, Derome’s interface is as dissonant as it is startling. His emotional expressions are sourced from flatulent guzzling slide-whistle-like peeps and piercing duck calls. In the duet’s final minutes a rapprochement established with the broken-octave improvisations finally fades following ghostly cries from Derome’s horn and answering rubs from Ninh’s drum top.

05 burns longerDrummer Lou Grassi partners another improv master, Belgian pianist Fred Van Hove on a GYMC double bill on September 6. Like Jordan, whose commitment to free expression goes back to the 1960s, the pianist works in many contexts. One unusual set-up is captured on Burns Longer (Balance Point Acoustics BPA2 balancepointacoustics.com) playing with Belgian bassist Peter Jacquemyn and American bassist Damon Smith. Grinding and goosing their eight strings the two scramble to keep up with Van Hove whose cadenza stream almost sweeps any interference out of his way. Not that this is a one man show. Both bull fiddlers hold their own, with one fortifying the rhythmic pulse and the other stropping strings. Sharpened stops squeak from the highest register as often as bowed textures outline more supple textures. Although Archiduc 2 is the most pianistic of the tracks, as Van Hove dampens his note waterfall by percussively stopping inner strings, the concluding 35-minute Archiduc 3 defines the narratives. Unexpectedly uncrating his accordion so that tremolo glissandi create an ostinato underpinning, the bassists’ response is close to what could be heard on a baroque recital. Back on piano, Van Hove’s kineticism increases. Yet the technical expertise of Smith and Jacquemyn allows them to not only respond with buoyant tones but also to mutate these timbres to resemble harsh blowing from saxophones or didgeridoos. Finally just as it seems as if the mixture of splayed strings and cascading lines can’t get any more exciting, the trio reaches a crescendo of interactive polyphony as the altered chords and tremolo strokes meld.

05 pete robbinsAnother pianist returning to Guelph on a Co-operators Hall double bill on September 4 is Vijay Iyer whose trio includes drummer Tyshawn Sorey. Both are on featured on Pyramid, where alto saxophonist Pete Robbins mixes his fine-boned originals with jazz variations on tunes by Guns’n’Roses, Stevie Wonder, Nirvana and even Jimmy Webb (Hate Laugh Music 003 peterobbins.com). Playing with a Paul Desmond-like fluidity but a harder tone, Robbins’ recreations are neither smooth nor funk jazz. Instead the improvisations toughen a tune like Wichita Lineman, as Iyer’s molten swing runs contrast to Robbins’ relaxed reading of the head; or add unprecedented free-form motions to rock anthems. Lithium is given a Latin treatment as the pianist’s fleet fingering deconstructs the bridge, only to speed up returning to the familiar theme. Meanwhile the altioist’s reed vibrations and the pianist’s chording unearth the near-symphonic underpinning of Hallelujah. The Robbins-composed title tune showcases Sorey’s powerful backbeat; while a strummed solo from bassist Eivind Opsvik defines the groove on Too High. The probability of Iyer and Sorey presenting any Nirvana or Wonder songs during their concert is pretty slim. But considering the GJF’s reputation for showcasing unconventional music, and the breadth of the performers’ talents this year, who know what may take place?

 

jazz, eh - September 2014

By happy coincidence the past few months have seen new releases by many of Toronto’s most consistently creative musicians.

Broomer 01 MurleyLookingBackThe trio of saxophonist Mike Murley, guitarist Ed Bickert and bassist Steve Wallace set a high standard for harmonically sophisticated, lyrical chamber jazz. The group released just two CDs – Live at the Senator and Test of Time – but each won the JUNO for Best Traditional Jazz Album, the former in 2002 and the latter in 2013. Guitarist Reg Schwager assumed the guitar chair when Bickert retired in 2001, but Looking Back (Cornerstone CRST CD143 cornerstonerecordsinc.com) is the first time this configuration of The Mike Murley Trio has recorded. The tunes are chosen with rare taste, emphasizing little-heard pieces by great composers, like Billy Strayhorn’s Isfahan and Antônio Carlos Jobim’s If You Never Come to Me. It’s music of supreme artistry, floated aloft on Murley’s distinctive, almost feathery, tenor saxophone sound and the bubbling electric clarity of Schwager’s guitar, all of it tethered joyously to Wallace’s pulsing bass lines. A rare blend of wistful reflections and soaring freedom make the CD another JUNO contender.

Broomer 02 Strands III cdReg Schwager turns up in another fine ensemble, trombonist Darren Sigesmund’s distinctive septet, on Strands III (darrensigesmund.ca). Sigesmund is an outstanding composer, creating welcoming moods comprised of evocative and elusive harmonies. His music is both warm and cool, dense and transparent, and there’s a subtle Latin flavour woven throughout. If his earlier work suggested a strong Wayne Shorter influence, his own identity is everywhere apparent here, its distinctive sound formed by the unusual combination of Eliana Cuevas’ wordless voice, his own mellifluous trombone and the expressive wail of Luis Deniz’s alto and soprano saxophones, complemented by Schwager, vibraphonist Michael Davidson, bassist Jim Vivian and drummer Ethan Ardelli. El Encanto, the only song here with words (Cuevas’ own) is particularly compelling.

Broomer 03 Fern LindzonFern Lindzon is a rare jazz singer, her strong identity based on nuanced expression, a clear, almost silky voice, and a freedom from the collections of mannerisms that many jazz singers use to distinguish themselves. Instead, her work seems to grow from her solid piano playing and the empathy that exists with her band. For her third CD, Like a Circle in a Spiral (iatros IMO3 fernlindzon.com), she moves deftly between languages and styles, singing songs in Hebrew (Mishaela) and Yiddish (A Malekh Veynt) with the same idiomatic comfort that marks the more familiar Windmills of Your Mind. The most striking piece may be her arrangement of alternative pop songwriter Ron Sexsmith’s Jazz at the Bookstore, a richly ironic rendition in which accomplished jazz musicians (saxophonist David French, bassist/producer George Koller, vibraphonist Michael Davidson and drummer Nick Fraser) get to “play” jazz musicians.

04 occhipinti downing lewisBassist Andrew Downing, trumpeter Jim Lewis and guitarist David Occhipinti provide comparable surprise on Bristles (Occdav Music - OM007, davidocchipinti.com), as they alternate a series of brief collective improvisations with longer treatments of standards. Each of the improvisations is named for a 20th-century painter, with a direct methodological link between the repeated even tones and cyclical discords of Cy Twombly and the sudden swirling lines of Jackson Pollock. The standards are evidently chosen for melodic richness, with the trio exploring the possibilities of such tunes as My One and Only Love, Emily and I Fall in Love Too Easily. There’s a spectacular clarity of thought and sound as the three embellish and reshape their materials, at times turning suddenly from icy abstraction to the most exalted lyricism.

05 gerry shatfordPianist Gerry Shatford worked extensively in the Montreal, Vancouver and Ottawa jazz scenes before returning to Toronto where he was raised. He’s been emphasizing composition in recent years, along with studies with master pianist Stanley Cowell, and the results of both pursuits are documented on When I Sat Down to Play the Piano (gerryshatford.com), a suite of pieces inspired by Al Purdy’s poetry. Viewed through the great piano tradition of James P. Johnson, Thelonious Monk (his compositions get quoted) and Bud Powell, the poems find analogues in the off-kilter stride of Home-Made Beer or the romantic reverie of How a Dog Feels to Be Old. Accompanied here by the ideal rhythm section in bassist Neil Swainson and drummer Terry Clarke, the journeyman Shatford reveals a strong identity of his own.

06 jazz descendantsThe Jazz Descendants are another piano trio featuring a relatively unknown pianist with a stellar rhythm section, combining bassist Brandi Disterheft and drummer Leroy Williams with pianist Joshua Goodman, who works regularly in Disterheft’s quartet. Red (Superfran Records SFR0008, superfranrecords.com) is dedicated to Barry Harris, the respected bop pianist and teacher with whom Williams has long been associated and with whom Goodman has studied. Much of the music is low key, Goodman blending his mainstream jazz and classical influences in a consistently pleasant way, While his reflective Medley goes on too long, stretching its pastoral themes to the 14-minute mark, he brings a precise bop touch to the venerable Scrapple from the Apple. The best moments come when Disterheft and Williams come to the fore, as on the bassist’s potent Prayer to Release the Troops


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