01 Debbie FlemingFull Circle
Debbie Fleming
Independent (debbiefleming.ca)

I need to confess right off the top that I’m a sucker for a Bacharach-David song. I consider them to be one of the top pop songwriting duos in an era when songwriting was king and duos like Lennon-McCartney, Elton John & Bernie Taupin and so many others were putting out great music. So when veteran Toronto singer Debbie Fleming announced she was working on an album of Bacharach-David covers I was pumped. Fleming’s background as an in-demand studio and group singer equips her not only with strong vocal skills but also with arranging expertise. I’m also a sucker for covers that put a twist on the original song. (Otherwise why not just listen to the original?) So the takes on these songs – several of them arranged by Mark Kieswetter, who also plays keyboards on the album – feel fresh. Standout tracks for me are his arrangement of I Say a Little Prayer and Fleming’s arrangement of The Look of Love. The latter has a Gene Peurling-esque vocal accompaniment with the stunning voices of Suba Sankaran, Dylan Bell and Tom Lillington (who, along with Fleming, make up the a cappella singing group The Hampton Four). Peter Mueller’s searing guitar solo on Anyone Who Had a Heart adds to the epic rock ballad feel of the piece. The more laid-back (from the original), slightly bossa-ish feel of Promises, Promises is enhanced by percussion from Art Avalos and Ted Quinlan’s lovely nylon-string guitar playing. All in all this is a finely crafted album with a lot of heart and sensitive, solid work from everyone involved.

Author: Cathy Riches
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02 Sam BrovermanFeelings of Affection
Sam Broverman
Independent (brovermusic.com)


With this release, exquisite vocalist/composer Sam Broverman has continued his theme of presenting the work of the world’s finest tunesmiths. Broverman has assembled a fine quintet, and selected five superb standards as well as one excellent original tune, I Want Everybody to Love Me. Skilled keyboardist/arranger Mark Kieswetter serves as producer here; also present are John MacMurchy on sax, Tony Quarrington on guitar, Jordan O’Connor on bass and Ernesto Cervini on drums.

Broverman’s rendition of On A Clear Day is a huge standout, and his sumptuous baritone (reminiscent of the late, great Mark Murphy) soars and swings with both intimacy and intensity, all the while honouring this marvelous Lerner and Lane Broadway title tune with his flawless interpretation and adherence to the original melodic line. In fact, happily, the listener will find no uninformed, empty-caloried and gratuitous scat singing on this recording.

Also of note is Broverman’s take on Michael Franks’ Underneath the Apple Tree, which is languid, bluesy and sexy, displaying a range of emotions that Franks himself never chose to express. The closing track, The Ballad of the Sad Young Men, comes from the pens of genius composer/lyricists Fran Landesman and Tommy Wolf. Rarely performed and deeply moving, this song of longing, loss and the dream of redemption can only be properly done (as it is here) by an artist who has lived and experienced life.

This EP is eminently satisfying on every level, and underscores the fact that Broverman continues to be one of the most intriguing, skilled and consummately tasteful jazz vocalists on the scene today.

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03 Mike MurleyShip Without a Sail
Mike Murley Trio
Cornerstone Records CRST CD145 (cornerstonerecordsinc.com)

Among tenor saxophonist Mike Murley’s group configurations, the trio has a special status, a vehicle for consummately lyrical jazz with chamber music dynamics. Launched in 1998, the group included bassist Steve Wallace and guitarist Ed Bickert until his retirement in 2001. The guitar chair has since been filled by Reg Schwager, who invariably sounds like the only other person for the job. Resembling the instrumentation of the original Jimmy Giuffre 3, it’s a demanding format that requires everyone to do more than they usually might – from piano-like comping to counter melody – while appearing to do less.

The repertoire tends toward seldom-heard jazz and show tunes with a certain harmonic subtlety. Murley’s timbral shifts are a highlight, as he modulates his sound from piece to piece, even bringing different tones to adjacent ballads. Don Sebesky’s You Can’t Go Home Again has something of the airiness of Stan Getz but brought closer to earth, while there’s a slightly harder, metallic edge to Kenny Wheeler’s Ever After, a sound just as beautiful, but different.

Though it’s the ballads and their stronger melodies that stand out, like the gorgeous samba Folhas Secas, the group is just as happy at up-tempos, the instrumentation lending a special lightness and clarity to Charlie Parker’s Dexterity and Murley’s own Know One, the latter highlighting the way Schwager and Wallace interact creatively, exchanging lead and accompanying roles with aplomb. John Lewis’ Two Degrees East, Three Degrees West points to the group’s cool jazz roots and provides an outlet for everyone’s blues impulses.

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04 Barry GuyThe Blue Shroud
Barry Guy
Intakt Records CD 266 (intaktrec.ch)

British bassist and composer Barry Guy has enjoyed an unusual career, as a member of original instrument baroque ensembles, as a force in European free improvisation and as a leader of large ensembles (like the London Jazz Composers Orchestra) exploring multiple compositional methodologies. His 71-minute Blue Shroud is an extraordinary work that integrates all of those practices.

It’s inspired by Picasso’s Guernica, the title commemorating the moment in 2003 when a reproduction was covered up at New York’s U.N. building as Colin Powell argued for the invasion of Iraq. A work of furies and lamentations, The Blue Shroud stretches from tumultuous collective improvisations to moments of melodic grace and reflection, some coming from Guy’s own pen, others from J.S. Bach and H.I.F. Biber’s Mystery Sonatas. To execute the work, Guy has drawn on the breadth of his musical associations to create a 14-member group that includes violinist and Bach/Biber specialist Maya Homburger; distinguished free improvisers like pianist Agustí Fernández and the percussionists Lucas Niggli and Ramón López; and others fully at home in both worlds, like Michel Godard on tuba and serpent and Michael Niesemann on wailing alto saxophone and baroque oboe.

The work includes songs on texts by Irish poet Kerry Hardie that delineate the figures in Guernica and a polyglot declaration of the Iraq invocation, all performed by Savina Yannatou, whose expressive and musical voice brings a sharp focus to the work. At one point she and the accompanying instruments become bird song; an orchestral passage juxtaposes manic conducted improvisation with sudden interruptions of silence, invoking the soundscapes of war and concomitant death. Guy repeatedly combines different techniques to maximize the impact of this singular work, as alive to the possibility of beauty as it is to terror, somehow making it all cohere.

The Blue Shroud hammers out its own terrain, one that transcends its parts and deserves to be heard widely.

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05 Alex GoodmanBorder Crossing
Alex Goodman
OA2 Records OA2 22130 (originarts.com/oa2)

Composition and improvisation flow freely into each other on guitarist Alex Goodman’s Border Crossing. For his latest recording Goodman has assembled what can best be described as a jazz chamber group. His writing is ambitious and complex, making full use of the wide range of colours available from this outstanding ensemble. Andrew Downing, who doubles on bass and cello, and vocalist Felicity Williams contribute to the group’s ability to cross genres as does Goodman’s extensive use of the acoustic guitar.

Acrobat opens the album with acoustic guitar and percussionist Rogerio Boccato’s unique and inventive textures. Williams glides through the tune’s moody melody, its lyrics equating a man’s searching nature with an acrobat’s skills. Vibraphonist Michael Davidson’s judicious phrasing builds the intensity of his solo and Goodman demonstrates virtuosity, making use of wide intervals in a highly lyrical fashion.

With Thanks is an epic composition that displays the full range of Goodman’s writing skills as well as the band’s remarkable ability to interpret them. Williams effortlessly negotiates the intricate melody and solos are individually framed to provide contrast and variety. Drummer Fabio Ragnelli improvises fluidly over unpredictable rhythmic shots as the piece segues smoothly through what could be a disparate series of events. Pure Imagination, the only other tune with lyrics on the album, might offer an answer to the yearning expressed in Acrobat. Williams sings of the power of imagination to shape the world, nicely bookending this impressive and beautiful recording.

Author: Ted Quinlan
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06 OopOop!
Al Muirhead; Tommy Banks; PJ Perry
Chronograph Records CR045 (chronographrecords.com)

Oop! by Calgary-based trumpeter Al Muirhead exemplifies the reasons that the American songbook continues to inspire jazz musicians some eight decades after many of its tunes were originally written. Accompanied by iconic musicians PJ Perry on alto saxophone and Tommy Banks on piano, Muirhead virtually owns the compositions presented here and embodies the approaches that are essential to getting deeply inside this time-honoured material. All three of these musicians (as well as percussionist Rogerio Boccato who guests on Black Orpheus) possess a longstanding connection to this music and play it in the most natural way possible.

Miles Davis’ The Theme (based on the chord changes to Gershwin’s I Got Rhythm) opens the album with Muirhead and Perry playing the line in harmony over Banks’ relentlessly swinging piano. Perry, one of the world’s finest exponents of the bebop tradition, solos brilliantly followed by Muirhead who exhibits impeccable taste and tone in his relaxed, melodic delivery. Tommy Banks plays one perfect chorus of unaccompanied piano, demonstrating his blues-infused bop style. Rhythm changes, as we refer to tunes based on the classics, are a test piece for jazz musicians and The Theme firmly establishes the impressive credentials of these players.

The ballad medley is a testament to the deceptively simple art of playing a melody beautifully. Alfred Newman’s Street Scene, featured in the overture of How To Marry A Millionaire, and an uncharacteristically languid reading of Mean To Me, are pleasant surprises from this superb trio of seasoned pros.

Author: Ted Quinlan
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07 SheSleepsShe Sleeps, She Sleeps
Rune Grammofon RCD 2178 (runegrammofon.com)

Specializing in blending basement timbres, so all of their gradations are audible, the Swedish trio of drummer Andreas Werliin, double bassist Johan Berthling and saxophonist Mats Gustafsson welcomes a couple of guests here to add additional textures. But the auxiliary tones simply intensify the trio’s characteristically powerful stance.

Cellist Leo Svensson’s intermittent string plucks and swipes are permeable enough, so like a youngster mimicking an adult’s movements, he merely strengthens Werliin’s thick power stops. On the other hand Gustafsson’s foundation-shaking bass saxophone gusts not only provide a bonding continuum throughout, but also showcase multiphonics encompassing glossolalia, split tones and concentrated overblowing. Most notably, that ad hoc foursome’s more-than-18-minute She Penetrates The Distant Silence Slowly never plods, but is invested with rhythmic swing, even as it plays out at a tortoise-like gait.

Gustafsson is equally powerful playing baritone saxophone on the title track, plus visitor Oren Ambarchi’s fuzzy guitar drones and Werliin’s high-density polyethylene bottle-like reverberations played on steel guitar overlay a variety of contrasting tones onto the nearly opaque narrative. But drum beats, migrating from martial to shuffle, and wrenching double bass slaps provide a solid enough foundation for the saxophonist’s output. Slurping, honking, burping and blowing as if he were a bull moose yearning for his mate, Gustafsson manages to express his individuality in every solo.

Don’t look for subtlety or elegance in Fire! – or Gustafsson’s – playing. But be prepared to be bowled over by the sheer audacity of expression that highlights every low-pitched nuance here.

Author: Ken Waxman
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