Jazz and Improvised
The second CD from the team of trumpeter William Sperandei and singer Amy McConnell takes us on a journey to a time when songs were carefully crafted and lyrics actually said something. Focused mainly on songwriters from the 60s and 70s, such as Jacques Brel, Henry Mancini and Michel Legrand, Accomplice has a sophisticated Euro feel to it. Sperandei’s bright trumpet sound and McConnell’s rich, emotive vocals are a nice foil for each other and with the arrangements by Sperandei managing to be both jazzy and poppy at the same time, the album feels fresh.
Keyboard player Robi Botos and guitarist Rob Piltch are both masters of various styles and sounds, and effects are used liberally by them and Sperandei. Add Davide Direnzo on drums and percussion and Marc Rogers on bass and you’ve got a whole lot of sonic ingenuity to choose from. The results are some indefinable styles such as Dance Me to the End of Love which has a tinge of 90s electronic dance music to it and Ne me quitte pas, which sounds like what would happen if Edith Piaf and Gino Vanelli had a love child. I Wish You Love morphs from a lovely mid-tempo ballad into a funky get down. Quite a trip.
When Michael Kaeshammer first broke on the scene in the 90s, he was a young boogie-woogie piano phenom. Since then, the British Columbia-based musician has added singing and songwriting to his arsenal of skills, and they’ve been honed over the last several years. All the songs on No Filter have been written or co-written by Kaeshammer (along with, primarily, Nashville-based songwriter John Goodwin) and many, such as the rousing opener Letter from the Road, stay true to his signature, exuberant New Orleans style. But there are other stylistic gems too. Late Night Train, is a poignant lament to a lost love made more gorgeous by the velvety vocals of guest singer, Denzal Sinclaire. Regret is the theme of the ballady/gospel-tinged Back into the Pen while West Coast Spirit is a sprightly little solo piano number that acts as a palate cleanser between meatier pieces. The production on the record is top-notch with the various keyboards, horns (William Sperandei, trumpet; Chris Gale, sax; William Carn, trombone) and percussion (Roger Travassos) subtly enriching the tracks and making No Filter a fine, satisfying listen from beginning to end.
A fierce energy leaps out of the opening chords of Lorraine Desmarais’ Ultra Triple Swing. It is an immensely exciting start to Danses Danzas Dances, a recording that has you on the edge of your proverbial seat. Primary colours abound in the orchestral texture, and the fast nature of the piece keeps the music on a tight rein, with angular rhythms and phrasing precise and alert. Of course you should expect nothing less from Desmarais, whose mastery of the big band idiom is quite beyond reproach. Conducting from behind her concert grand piano, Desmarais brings the fabulous orchestrations of her most recent music to life with spectacular effect.
The spirited and finely nuanced readings of these charts that literally sweep the listener off his or her feet, and across the dance floors of the Americas, is articulated by vivid performances by members of this wonderful big band. Adopting a spacious, and a feisty, artful approach to navigate the idiosyncrasies of Desmarais’ luscious arrangements, the musicians display unbridled virtuosity as well as unusual musical instinct as they bring cohesion to the many disparate elements of the music and generate tremendous high-voltage tension and hair-raising orchestral ingenuity to this music from beginning to end of this exquisite disc.
The content of the Parker Abbott Trio concept album on the idea of ascending to a rarefied realm transcends even the image on its package. Somewhere in the swirling ascension of the Alpine Swift in flight lies some very classy piano (and a battery of other keyboards) playing. Indeed both Teri Parker and Simeon Abbott have developed something of an edge-of-the-seat virtuoso risk taking. On Elevation this pays off handsomely. The CD is a selection of short pieces evoking the giddy atmospheric fantasy arising from meditations on odysseys of music and mind. But philosophy aside there is much to enjoy, discover and identify with.
Parker and Abbott’s playing – as well as that of drummer and percussionist Mark Segger – is eloquent indeed. The pianists’ voicing is expertly balanced in the edifying transcription of the title track and their phrasing sings wonderfully in the near-mystical Night Song and the scintillating Zinnia. The otherworldly music of Maybe makes for a fitting, open-ended conclusion. The trio’s enigmatic studies are not the easiest nuts to crack, but Parker, Abbott and Segger’s insightful colours have the measure of their limpid introspection and fantasy.
Remarkably, this music – despite the originating imagery – is not as cerebral as one would imagine, but pre-eminently heart driven. Exchanging the intellectual for the emotional may be what makes this exceptionally polished recording get under the skin as well.
Toronto-born tenor saxophonist Quinsin Nachoff has been exploring unusual textures since combining a jazz trio and a string quartet on Magic Numbers, his 2006 debut. The elements in his music have grown more tightly interwoven since then, so it’s difficult to separate out the sources and genres that contribute to his work, music that bears the name “flux” appropriately. Nachoff’s current compositions are alive with subtle underpinnings and a sometimes jarring surface, all of it brilliantly executed, interpreted and extended by his current quartet of prominent New Yorkers.
He’s paired with alto saxophonist Dave Binney, the two supported by the virtually orchestral combination of keyboard player Matt Mitchell (piano, Fender Rhodes, Wurlitzer, Moog Rogue and organ) and drummer Kenny Wollesen (drums, timpani, tubular bells and handcrafted percussion). Together they develop a rare yet consistent combination of complexity and vitality, evident from the opening Tightrope, a tense piece in which Nachoff, the composer, introduces different thematic materials throughout, ranging from short, irregular rhythmic figures that set the initial mood to smooth rapid figures and a ballad, each segment opening to individual solos, until the piece climaxes with a collective improvisation thematically anchored by Mitchell’s forceful left hand.
That combination of distinctive structures and strong group interplay continues throughout, with Wollesen’s loose drumming and Mitchell’s varied approaches continually shaping the music’s flow. It’s particularly apparent on Complimentary Opposites, as the two shift the ground from Binney’s fluid invention to Nachoff’s edgy, broken lines filled with vocalic shifts. Nachoff’s creativity has been evident since his debut, and Flux is his most developed statement to date.
Like a Paralympian who triumphs in a contest despite lacking something usually deemed fundamental, tenor saxophonist Quinsin Nachoff has composed a set of seven well-balanced creations with a quartet missing one jazz necessity: a double bass. But so skillfully are the tunes affiliated and so sophisticated are his musical associates that it’s almost unnoticed.
A former Torontonian, now based in New York, Nachoff, who also composes for big bands and string ensembles in North America and Australia, makes sure Flux’s flow is maintained by relying on three of New York’s nonpareil improvisers: alto saxophonist David Binney; Kenny Wollesen on drums and percussion; and Matt Mitchell who stretches his hands over piano, Fender Rhodes, organ, Wurlitzer and Moog synthesizer, sometimes synchronously. Like a generic drug compared to an original, Mitchell’s bottom notes and Wollesen’s faultless beat remove the need for a bassist. More crucially through the drummer’s animated clatter or hard backbeat plus Mitchell’s harmonic judgment – his crinkly, slurry electric keyboard fills are as arresting as his cultivated romanticism on acoustic piano – fit perfectly jigsaw puzzle piece-like depending on the circumstances. On its own, Binney’s sculpted-out-of-stone tone can be heard at its flinty best on a tune such as Astral Echo Poem. Elsewhere he and Nachoff chew up or caress phrases like conjoined twins. Alternately stinging or smooth, the tenor saxophonist can angle out weighty Coleman Hawkins-like storytelling on Mind’s Ear I then turn around to spit out triplet snorts on Mind’s Ear II backed with thick piano extensions.
Most indicative of Nachoff’s writing and playing is Complimentary Opposites. Built up from a hide-and-seek game between the composer’s Hawkins-like timbres with rococo-like snarls and split tones from the other saxophonist, the harsh interface takes place on top of calliope-like bounces from Mitchell’s Wurlitzer plus silky cymbal swishes and tap-dancing snare taps from Wollesen.
If there’s anything lacking in Flux it’s that this just released CD was recorded in 2012. Imagine how well the quartet must sound today.
Since leaving Canada to settle in New York, pianist Kris Davis has extended her creative vision as both an improvising pianist and as a composer. Duopoly (two plus many?) is her first extended exploration of the duet, and it’s a genuine exploration, combining multiple duo partners and methods in a large-scale work. Choosing to work only with musicians with whom she hadn’t previously recorded, Davis enlisted eight different partners to record two duets each. The first time through, Davis and her partners each explore a composition (five by Davis; one by Angelica Sanchez; two jazz standards); the second time through the order of partners is reversed and each duet is wholly improvised.
Her partners also appear in pairs: the first two duets are with guitarists Bill Frisell and Julian Lage; then pianists Craig Taborn and Angelica Sanchez; then drummers Billy Drummond and Marcus Gilmore; and finally reed players, alto saxophonist Tim Berne and clarinetist Don Byron. Even the release is dual: the 16 duets are presented as both a music CD and a DVD, the two performers seen in split screen.
The music constantly reveals different facets, from Davis’ muffled prepared piano blurring into Frisell’s guitar on Prairie Eyes through the rhythmic dialogue of Thelonious Monk’s Eronel with Drummond to the dense web of Trip Dance for Tim with Berne and the liquid grace of Ellington’s Prelude to a Kiss with Byron. The wholly improvised segments, each named for the partner, are just as diverse. The intertwining continuous piano and percussion of Marcus Gilmore invoke Cecil Taylor and Bud Powell; Sanchez sets a reflectively Monk-ish mood in her pairing; the resonating tones and clusters of Craig Taborn suggest Morton Feldman; Davis and Lage create continuous harmonic surprise. It’s a fine introduction to Davis’ work and the cutting edge of contemporary jazz as well.