01 MacMurchyJohn MacMurchy’s Art of Breath Volume One
John MacMurchy
Independent (johnmacmurchy.com)

Toronto woodwind stalwart John MacMurchy has produced a sonically refreshing album that manages to combine sophistication and accessibility across a variety of musical genres. The eight original compositions contained in Art of Breath flow together in a natural way, a testament to MacMurchy’s writing and arranging skills. The somewhat unusual instrumentation, a septet augmented by vocals and a string quartet, makes for a broad colour palette. The front line of MacMurchy’s tenor saxophone, clarinet and harmonica, Bruce Cassidy’s trumpet, flugelhorn and EVI (electronic valve instrument) and Dan Ionescu’s guitar provide a large ensemble sound with a few twists. Alan Hetherington’s highly informed percussion work adds a nice touch of groove and authenticity to the tracks.

Expat Cafe introduces most of the band with Ionescu’s slightly overdriven guitar tone and soaring approach giving way to pianist Mark Kieswetter’s patiently constructed and harmonically lush solo. MacMurchy and Cassidy build intensity with spirited trading on tenor and EVI. Working Title Blues evokes Art Blakey in its soul jazz vibe and bop-oriented improvisation. Drummer Daniel Barnes and bassist Ross McIntyre swing hard and make concise solo contributions.

Vocalist Whitney Ross-Barris is also the lyricist of Now You’ve Gone Away. Her understated style and economy of phrasing lend themselves perfectly to the Latin-tinged ballad, as does the atmospheric string quartet arrangement and MacMurchy’s soulful harmonica. Yvette Tollar brings her rich voice and poignant delivery to Dandelion Wine, MacMurchy’s hauntingly beautiful elegy to a departed friend.

11 MicroCD002Micro and More Exercises
Sergio Armaroli Trio with Giancarlo Schiaffini
Dodicilune Dischi Ed 360 (dodicilune.it)

Like friends who should be made for one another but avoid hooking up, improvised and new music have grown closer recently but rarely mesh. Yet the Italian stylists here show how handily this could be done. Percussionist Sergio Armaroli and trombonist Giancarlo Schiaffini consistently move between those genres, and assisted by bassist Marcello Testa and drummer Nicola Stranieri put their stamp on 19 Microexercises composed by Christian Wolff, and six extended pieces by Schiaffini. Member of the New York School, Wolff also had improv experience working with the AMM band. Commissioned to write pieces with fewer than 100 notes, Wolff’s bagatelles leave open instrumentation, ensemble size, playing order, transposition and dynamics. Schiaffini’s compositions reflect his background as a pioneer free music player and collaborator with composers Scelsi, Nono and Cage.

Armaroli and the trombonist are the main soloists, with many of the mini-tunes vibrating with contrapuntal contrast between gutty brass lowing and feather-light vibraphone resonations. Like a group painting project, the performance of many Wolff miniatures, such as Microexercise 8, becomes more dramatic when unbroken vibraphone splashes are paired with spiccato string slices. Analogously positioned drum rolls and pops add gravitas to tunes such as Microexercise 15 that, when coupled with blurry trombone blats, resemble a child of show tunes and nursery rhymes. Armaroli’s skill with reductionist marimba chiming elsewhere is augmented Janus-like on Microexercise 20, 21 and 22 where Wolff’s pieces open up so that they could come from an imaginary Milt Jackson-Al Grey session. Replete with walking bass line and drum smacks, Schiaffini romps through the changes and Armaroli displays four-mallet ingenuity.

Bringing jazz feeling to Wolff’s miniatures is balanced by adding notated precision to Schiaffini’s tunes. Testa’s woody bowing and Stranieri’s processional drum breaks keep the bottom balanced, while Armaroli’s percussion collections interpolate polyrhythms plus nuanced tones onto the tracks. Throughout, the trombonist quotes snatches of Italian pop songs and Baroque fanfares with abandon. Most spectacular is Rib, where Schiaffini’s output could come from two different ’bone players: one smooth and unaccented, the other raucous and gutbucket. Structure is never neglected though, as this performance eventually relaxes into sparse new music reflections with spaciousness as prominent as rhythm. Musical masters, this quartet scores as musical matchmakers as well.

Ken Waxman

Author: Ken Waxman
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02 Cory WeedsIt’s Easy to Remember
Corey Weeds Quintet featuring David Hazeltine
Cellar Live CL031716 (cellarlive.com)

Vancouver tenor saxophonist Cory Weeds teams up with New York pianist David Hazeltine in this impressive live outing. Recorded at Smalls in NYC, the album’s nine tunes make a compelling case for the variety to be found in contemporary mainstream jazz. The programming is an eclectic mix of standards and originals with Hazeltine’s considerable arranging skills shedding new light on a few old chestnuts.

The opening track, Kenny Drew’s With Prestige establishes the band’s hard-bop credentials. Weeds sounds right at home here, incorporating a relaxed, swinging style with a big tone and impeccable lines. Trumpeter Joe Magnarelli’s loose, behind-the-beat phrasing opens into a tour de force of double-time ideas. Hazeltine demonstrates a classic style, playing with a deep-time feel and exquisite taste. Paul Gill’s arco bass solo summons up Paul Chambers in its facility, sound and note choice.

The late Ross Taggart, a brilliant musician/composer and a Vancouver compatriot of Weeds, is remembered in two of his compositions. Expose introduces a modal vibe to the recording, and the players take full advantage of the leeway it allows. Solos explore greater angularity and Hazeltine makes a playful reference to Surrey With A Fringe On Top. Drummer Jason Tiemann contributes aggressive, up-tempo playing and an explosive solo. The title track, It’s Easy To Remember is full of twists and turns. All of the players negotiate Hazeltine’s complex arrangement with the combination of confidence and abandon that defines this recording.

03 Jane BunnettOddara
Jane Bunnett and Maqueque
Linus Entertainment 270244 (linusent.ca)

Award-winning soprano saxophonist/flutist Jane Bunnett has a knack for putting together great bands. In fact, she has been doing so since before the release of her first recording, In Dew Time (1987), through to the acclaimed Spirits of Havana band, which celebrated their 25th anniversary this year (see Andrew Timar’s review in the September 2016 issue of The WholeNote).

Her latest outing showcases the all-female band, Maqueque (meaning “the energy of a young girl’s spirit”), formed five years ago. This group follows in the Bunnett tradition of ensembles featuring not only phenomenally talented players, but also great chemistry amongst the musicians. This chemistry is evident throughout Oddara, Maqueque’s follow-up to their 2014 self-titled debut CD.

Accordingly, core band members Dánae Olano (piano, vocals), Celia Jiménez (bass, vocals), Magdelys Savigne (percussion, vocals), Yissy Garcia (drums) and Elizabeth Rodriguez (violin, vocals) all turn in great, inspired performances. However, it is the group dynamic, deep listening, empathy and superb communication that come to the fore on each track.

Highlights include the Melvis Santa composition, Power of Two (Ibeyi). Based on a traditional Afro-Cuban chant, the song opens with a call-and-response section, before seguing into a beautiful pentatonic vocal and flute melody. On Dream, the ensemble showcases their versatility as they navigate a variety of textures and turns in this multi-layered arrangement. Bunnett’s distinctive sound and impeccable musicianship shine throughout. This is music brimming with joy, mastery, beauty and passion.

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04 Lauren BushAll My Treasures
Lauren Bush
Independent (laurenbushjazz.com)

Currently based in the UK, Canadian jazz vocalist Lauren Bush showcases her diverse musical abilities as she sings and scats a selection of her favourite tunes with energy and a distinctive vocal colour while being supported by her superb band comprised of Liam Dunachie (piano/arranger), Andrew Robb (acoustic bass) and David Ingamells (drums),

The opening I’ve Got Just About Everything I Need is a fast-paced jazz tune arranged by Canadian musician Don Thompson. Bush sings the challenging plethora of words set at a higher pitch with conviction and clarity. The addition of a horn section provides a welcome New Orleans-flavoured sound for instrumental solos and for Bush to sing a bouncy version of Sweet Georgia Brown. But it is the slower tunes where Bush performs the best. Her sultry vocal opening in the Latin tune Dindi leads to varied vocal stylings with a great horn solo. The Mancini/Mercer song Charade suits her voice perfectly, allowing her to lay back and expand her subtle vocal lyrical qualities while listening closely to the band to set her phrases. Likewise the kid’s show classic, A, You’re Adorable is given an accented vocal performance against more legato sections, a rousing piano solo and touches of Fender Rhodes chimes.

Kudos to Bush for choosing songs that are both well suited to her voice, and also those more musically challenging. Excellent performances by both Bush and her band set the stage for an exciting musical future.

Author: Tiina Kiik
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05 Andrew DowningOtterville
Andrew Downing
Independent AD00105

JUNO Award-winning bassist, cellist and composer Andrew Downing’s new double CD (and his tenth release) takes its name from a diminutive burg located in Ontario’s tobacco country, the family seat of the Downings throughout the 20th century. The beautifully composed, recorded and performed project is a laconic, nostalgic journey through small-town Canadiana, where linear time is only a concept and the hard-working lives of generations are imbued in the land itself.

The thoughtful and complex Otterville is comprised of 15 original pieces (primarily by Downing) some of which embrace elements and snippets of familiar themes from the Great American Songbook, cleverly re-constructed on a framework of highly intriguing instrumentation, and taking inspiration from diverse tunesmiths Billy Strayhorn, Kurt Weill and Ry Cooder. The fine musicians include (producer) Downing on cello, Tara Davidson on alto saxophone, Christine Bougie on lap steel guitar, Michael Davidson on vibraphone, Paul Mathew on bass, Nick Fraser on drums and special guests Rebecca Hennessy on trumpet and William Carn on trombone.

The opening track, This Year’s Fancies, could be considered a loose structural homage to Johnny Mercer and Jerome Kern’s standard I’m Old Fashioned, re-invented with a modern, multi-instrumental cacophony of both melodic lines and harmonic dissonance. A standout is Family Portrait, composed by the uber-talented Tara Davidson. Linear sax lines and the heartwarming juxtaposition of strings and reeds make this one of the most appealing and accessible songs on the project. Additionally, Downing’s haunting take of Strayhorn’s Take the A Train is nothing short of genius and his composition, Leaving Me With a Memory overflows with emotion and sweet reverie, and defines the mise-en-scène of this potent project.

06 SnaggleThe Long Slog
Browntasauras Records NCC-1701G (snagglemusic.com)

Many young musicians today put out records that feature a wide range of playing styles. It’s a healthy trend, especially when the program makes intrinsic musical sense from start to finish. However, not many musicians make their records sound as elegant and sophisticated as Snaggle. The record in question is The Long Slog and it comes courtesy of the well-known Toronto musician, Brownman Ali. Snaggle is a quintet comprising six young Torontonians and the smoky syntax of their keyboards, guitar, tenor saxophone, trumpet, bass and drums is quite unique.

Each of the instrumentalists brilliantly addresses keyboardist Nick Maclean’s compositions, bringing the music’s intense rhythmic interplay and extended lyrical passages to life. Each of Maclean’s charts is superlative although Theorum and Lagaan, which feature the electric trumpet of Brownman Ali, are especially riveting. Bassist Doug Moore does contribute Nonuhno, which features not only a tongue-twisting title, but also a tantalizing pulse.

While the relentless swirling down into the furthest reaches of their instruments’ capabilities might be the first aspect of this record to captivate the listener, one is soon drawn into the music’s inner machinations – the sensuous inner rhythm, vivid harmonic colours and the overall wonders and mysteries of the music. The wonder of the musicians’ playing is how engagingly, articulately, flowingly and creatively they pour themselves into the songs, adding further lustre to this recording, which is stylish, responsive and richly atmospheric.

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