01 AutobahnOf the Tree
Autobahn
Independent (autobahntrio.com)

Toronto-based trio Autobahn is a magical, whimsical and rocking jazz trio. Band members Jeff LaRochelle (tenor sax and bass clarinet), James Hill (piano) and Ian Wright (drums) are equally astute in just playing the notes on set tunes, improvising on them and exploring soundscapes in a freer improvisational style. The absence of a bass instrument in the group opens up new sonic territory both for the listener and the musicians, adding to Autobahn’s distinct original sound.

The 12-track release features many highlights. The opening Grounded sets the listening stage with its abstract ambient colours and dynamics. The more mainstream Forgiveness features both soaring sax and driving piano solos over an upbeat energetic drum kit backdrop. Roots (Of the Tree) is a welcome diversion as LaRochelle plays a solo sax track with spontaneity and musicality. The slower Tribute features LaRochelle now on a lyrical bass clarinet with Hill’s tinkling piano lines and repetitive chords, and Wright’s atmospheric drums creating a futuristic jazz ballad grounded in the past. The closing track Airborne is reminiscent of the initial track, with its opening washes of sound leading into a brief rhythmic rocking segment before ending the show with a long-held tone.

Autobahn is a band capable of playing solidly both in the classic jazz tradition and more contemporary atonal styles. Of the Tree is the perfect aural calling card for the band and its individual players.

02 Trevor Giancola TrioFundamental
Trevor Giancola Trio
Independent (trevorgiancola.com)

It is still a brave thing for a young guitarist, fresh from playing with Mike Murley, Seamus Blake, Sophie Millman, Dave Douglas and a slew of other contemporary musicians, to resist the blandishments of management, producers and well-wishers to record his debut disc. But that is exactly what Trevor Giancola has done. And that’s not the only thing about Giancola that counts as a victory of sorts. The guitarist’s deep feelings for music are obvious in the breadth and emotional resonance he brings to Just One Of Those Things, Turn Out The Stars and You Go To My Head. The fluttering figurations of his guitar speak with a delicate poignancy and the music blossoms into exaltation so characteristic of this music. Playing with innate grace and beautiful, loping lines, Giancola plays wise beyond his years.

Especially striking is the pristine clarity that he invests in the music’s often murky textures. Giancola’s lean sound is especially welcome in Joe Henderson’s Punjab, where it helps activate the forward thrust of the musical argument. Everything stays on the rails, with an abundance of skill and sentiment, veering perilously at times, but never derailing from preciousness of purpose. The guitarist’s energy provides bracing contrast with flight paths tethered to Neil Swainson’s bass. The trio interaction with Swainson and drummer Adam Arruda makes for a truly impressive first outing for this talented guitarist. Surely Giancola will return to share with us his evolving love of more challenging music.

03 Hutchison Andrew TrioHollow Trees
Hutchinson Andrew Trio; Lily String Quartet
Chronograph Records CR 048 (chronographrecords.com)

Chris Andrew appears to savour the experience of rising to the challenge. The Edmonton-based musician is the composer of this daring project. Hollow Trees is an adventurous work that tests the versatility of the musicians who participate in it, especially in the wonderfully provocative and angular manner of the contrapuntal writing that pits the trio (pianist Andrew, bassist Kodi Hutchinson and drummer Karl Schwonik) against the string quartet. Andrew conveys the striking image of his “hollow trees” through an elemental, whispering melody that he creates on the piano and the intoxicating and lyrical harmony that ensues as the Lily String Quartet puts its indelible stamp on the proceedings. The performance juxtaposes utmost delicacy with eruptive power.

The musicians’ playing is intensely alive to expressive nuance, textural clarity and elastic shaping, all delivered in a recording that maintains the glow of the music from end to end. The noble artistry of the Hutchinson Andrew Trio is as vibrantly controlled in the dramatic episodes on this disc – Zep Tepi and Wilds, for instance – as it is in music of lilting pensiveness of which Grey Dawn and Peaceful Journey are outstanding examples. Most compelling of all is the interplay between the trio and the string quartet, a magical encounter that treats the listener to the luminosity, spaciousness and enthusiasm of a striking chamber performance. The stellar arrangements also allow solo instruments to assert themselves with lyrical and expressive urgency. It’s a lovely release that makes one eager for more.

04 Film in MusicTell Tale
Film in Music
Drip Audio DA01207 (dripaudio.com)

Led by cellist Peggy Lee, Film in Music is an octet formed in 2009 that includes many of Vancouver’s most creative improvisers. Originally inspired by the HBO series Deadwood, the project develops a strong sense of mood and narrative through Lee’s compositions for the full ensemble with their structured solos, while interludes of individual and small group improvisation create contrast.

String textures predominate in a mix of Lee’s cello, Jesse Zubot’s violin and Torsten Muller’s acoustic bass along with Ron Samworth’s electric guitar and André Lachance’s electric bass adding gravity. Combining these with the additional colours of Kevin Elaschuk’s trumpet, Dylan van der Schyff’s drums and Chris Gestrin’s keyboards lends an almost orchestral depth. The compositions are strongly tonal, even tuneful, and there’s a kind of drifting feeling that suggests the Old West touched by a certain dissonant grit, the combination strongly suggestive of Bill Frisell’s off-kilter Western themes, most notably the opening A Turn of Events and the keening Epilogue to Part 1.

The improvised episodes are marked by extended techniques and free dissociation, like Muller’s Gruesome Goo, an exploration of the bass’ more exotic timbres, and the evanescent Nagging Doubts by the duo of Lee and Gestrin. Eventually ensemble composition and free improvisation intersect in the concluding Finale: God’s Laughter and a Parade, looming, intense writing that’s overlaid with skittering free improvisations, most notably from Gestrin and Samworth.

05 Cherry TchicaiMusical Monsters
Don Cherry; John Tchicai; Irène Schweizer; Léon Francioli; Pierre Favre
Intakt Records CD 269 (intaktrec.ch)

This previously unreleased concert recording from 1980 presents a special confluence in the development of free jazz as a wholly international language, with trumpeter Don Cherry and his personal evolution at the centre of the music.

Cherry was one of the key architects of free jazz, first as frontline partner to Ornette Coleman in the latter’s 1958-60 quartets, perfecting a spiky, splintering harrowing line that served as foil in great bands that followed (Sonny Rollins, Albert Ayler) as well as his own groups. By 1980, Cherry was working toward his “Multikulti” concept: modal, polyrhythmic, ostinato-driven music that incorporated elements from Asia, Africa and the Middle East. Setting down here at Jazz Festival Willisau in Switzerland, Cherry is joined by the Danish-African alto saxophonist John Tchicai, an associate since the early 60s, whose lines are tight coils, explosive and laconic in turn. They’re supported by the potent rhythm section of pianist Irène Schweizer, bassist Léon Francioli and drummer Pierre Favre, early converts to Cherry’s inclusivist and liberated language.

The themes were composed by Tchicai and Danish guitarist Pierre Dørge, but they serve essentially as brief launching points for long, loose forays. Musical Monsters 1 begins as a joyous traffic jam, trumpet and saxophone sounding like car horns; 2 covers tremendous ground, moving in and out of free time and layered ostinatos that inspire literal chanting from Tchicai. Whether it’s coiling sinuously or exploring raw, unfettered sound, this is music from the vaults that breathes and pulses with fresh life.

06 Kenny Barron Trio Book of Intuition ArtBook of Intuition
Kenny Barron Trio
Impulse! 4777802

Pianist Kenny Barron is one of the grand masters of modern jazz. At 73, he can look back on a distinguished career that had him recording with Dizzy Gillespie and James Moody before he was 20. The incarnation of a great tradition, he combines invention, energy and lyricism, drawing on the work of Bud Powell and Art Tatum. He’s also a probing interpreter of the compositions of Thelonious Monk.

Book of Intuition is the first recording by Barron’s working trio with bassist Kiyoshi Kitagawa and drummer Johnathan Blake, a group that has acquired a hand-in-glove familiarity during more than a decade together. It’s apparent from the Brazilian-tinged élan of the opening Magic Dance to the elegiac grace that the group brings to the late bassist Charlie Haden’s Nightfall. Along the way, the trio reveals its deft handling on some of Barron’s touchstones. The rhythm section feeds Barron’s own fierce drive on Bud-Like, the pianist’s tribute to Powell achieving something of its subject’s own creative urgency. There are also two Thelonious Monk compositions: the trio brings inventive buoyancy to Shuffle Boil, with Blake demonstrating wittily melodic phrasing; Barron plays Light Blue solo, emphasizing Monk’s own sources in the Harlem stride pianists and Art Tatum.

Barron’s own compositions here possess a consistent lyricism, with Kitagawa lending a solid foundation and Blake supplying bright, shifting accents, whether it’s to the Latin-infused Cook’s Bay and Dreams or Barron’s ballads, like the aptly titled Prayer. For traditional jazz trios, this is state of the art.

07 Alexis BaroSugar Rush
Alexis Baro & Pueblo Nuevo Jazz Project
G-Three GT0009 (alexisbaro.com)

Without question, trumpeter/flugelhornist Alexis Baro is a propelling and innovative force in the contemporary jazz/Latin jazz scene. His warm, round, energy-infused sound is immediately recognizable, and with the release of his new CD, Baro has clearly come into his own as both a consummate musician and as a composer. All of the material on Sugar Rush has been written and arranged by Baro, who not only freely taps into sacred earth rhythms, but fully utilizes the terrific musicality of his ensemble. The muy picante septet includes goosebump-raising musicians Adrean Farrugia on acoustic piano, Jeremy Ledbetter on keyboards, Yoser Rodriguez and Roberto Riveron on bass, Amhed Mitchel on drums, Jeff King on tenor sax and Jorge Luis “Papiosco” Torres on percussion.

Standouts include: Sigueme (Follow Me) – relentless pumpitude, burning horn lines and high octane piano and bass work define this track. King’s sax is simultaneously rhythmic and fluid, and Baro easily soars into the sonic stratosphere, while still remaining umbilically attached to the heartbeat of Mother Earth. La Guarida (The Lair) is a bop-ish exploration of ultimate coolness, with Baro’s purity of tone, off-the-hook chops and informed harmonic choices resounding throughout – almost reminiscent of a young Freddy Hubbard – and Farrugia’s piano solo is a sonic cascade of beauty and power. Also, Sugar Rush (the aptly named title track) envelops the listener with an onslaught of percussive and irresistible musical sweetness. Drummer Mitchel and percussionist “Papiosco” work in symmetry, mercilessly driving the band down the camino with the most relentless Latin grooves.

This well-conceived, well-recorded project is a masterful mélange of superb contemporary jazz and indigenous Latin sensibilities, and is arguably one of the most important Canadian jazz recordings of the year.

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