07 Karl WeiglKarl Weigl – Symphony No.1; Pictures and Tales
Deutsches Staatsphilharmonie Rheinland-Pfalz; Jürgen Bruns
Capriccio C5365 (naxosdirect.com)

Karl Weigl (1881-1949) was a succesful Vienna composer and teacher whose Jewish origins forced him to emigrate in 1938. In the United States he remained active but it has taken a long time for his relatively conservative music to receive the acclaim it deserves. The Symphony No.1 (1908) demonstrates his mastery of a personal late-Romantic style, opening with pastoral cheerfulness and a lyrical Viennese touch. The busy scherzo features chattering winds and sophisticated play with cross-rhythms and syncopations. Especially good is the slow movement – a yearning fantasy in the strings. Again in the third movement, woodwinds take a prominent role and there is a tremendous passage of multiple wind trill chains that must be heard – a true chorus of nature! In this work there is little fin-de-siècle brooding. The high-register orchestration is outstanding again in the finale, a somewhat parodistic march ending with a boisterous close.

In a much different vein, Weigl composed Pictures and Tales, Op.2 (1909), a set of short piano pieces which he orchesterated into a suite for small orchestra in 1922. The title alludes to scenes and images from fairy tales, e.g. Stork, Stork Clatter or Elves Dance in the Moonlight, with deft and transparent orchestration and appeal for children and adults alike. Jürgen Bruns is a much-in-demand conductor who has led a much-needed recording that would likely delight the composer even more than us.

08 Iris TrioHomage and Inspiration – Works by Schumann, Kurtág, Mozart and Weiss
Iris Trio
Coviello Classics COV92002 (iristrio.com)

Reviewing a former student’s second chamber music recording in as many years nudges my feelings from pride toward sheer professional envy, especially because this is the better of two fine discs involving clarinetist Christine Carter. Cleverly compiled, the disc of music for clarinet, viola (Molly Carr) and piano (Anna Petrova) explores the way each work was influenced by the previous one.

In 1786, Mozart composed his Trio in E-flat Major, K498, known familiarly as the “Kegelstatt,” for his friend and clarinetist Anton Stadler (for whom he also wrote the Quintet for Clarinet and Strings and the Concerto K.622). Robert Schumann responded with his peculiar Märchenerzählungen, Op.132 in 1853. Hungarian composer György Kurtág wrote a reflection on the odd personae populating much of Schumann’s music, including this trio, in his Hommage à R. Sch. Op.15d. Finally on the disc is a recent commission for the same grouping by Christof Weiß (whose liner notes provide much helpful information), his Drittes Klaviertrio für Klarinette, Viola und Klavier “Gespräch unter Freunden. The works are ordered to highlight the links from past to present, rather than chronologically.

It’s lovely to hear the Mozart presented with such fresh freedom. Pulse is allowed to ease and press forward, such that the music comes close to representing what one so often hears it is meant to depict: a conversation among friends over a game of bowling. A special nod to Petrova; this is a small piano concerto in fact, and she knocks it over with grace and flair.

Working on Kurtág’s Hommage was one of many experiences for which I can thank Robert Aitken and New Music Concerts. These mysterious works are uncannily beautiful, and this rendition is absolutely breathtaking.  

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01 LutoslawskiLutosławski – Symphonies Nos. 2 & 3
Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra; Hannu Lintu
Ondine ODE 1332-5 (naxosdirect.com)

There’s no mystery why Polish composer Witold Lutosławski’s Symphony No.3 from 1983 has been recorded so frequently. It’s an influential work. And, as this new recording with Hannu Lintu conducting the Finnish Radio Orchestra demonstrates, it’s a truly exciting work, full of delights and surprises. 

It starts with a definitive burst of four rapidly repeated E’s, which keep returning right until the end. That motif is the last thing heard. Lintu, who has conducted the Toronto Symphony in a number of memorable concerts during the past decade, brings out the sharp contrasts that make Lutosławski’s music so dramatic. In the semi-improvised sections, where Lutosławski stipulates what notes are played but allows the musicians the freedom to choose the rhythms, the orchestra creates unearthly sounds that shimmer with twists and slides. 

But it’s the contemplative passages that show the real strength of this recording – its open-hearted embrace of the lyricism that make this work so moving. Lintu’s interpretation easily measures up to the fine recordings from Solti, who commissioned the work, Salonen, who made the first recording, Wit, Barenboim and Lutosławski himself.

With a colourful performance of Symphony No. 2 from 1967, Lintu wraps up his set of Lutoslawski’s four symphonies. Like the third, this symphony is in two connected sections, here called Hésitant and Direct. The scale is less grand. But the impact just as powerful, and the performance is every bit as rewarding.

02 Rose PetalsRose Petals – Canadian Music for Viola
Margaret Carey; Roger Admiral
Centrediscs CMCCD26319 (cmccanada.ort)

The oldest and longest work on this CD, Jean Coulthard’s 17-minute Sonata Rhapsody (1962), filled with moody introspection and intense yearning, makes an auspicious beginning to violist Margaret Carey’s “hand-picked” collection of Canadian compositions,

Three pieces are for solo viola: Jacques Hétu’s Variations, Op.11 is predominantly slow and songful, occasionally interrupted by rapid, virtuoso passagework; in 19_06, Evelin Ramón combines intricate, electronics-like viola sonorities with vocalizations by the soloist; Howard Bashaw’s Modular 1, the first movement of a longer work, is a tightly rhythmic study in repetition, sustaining momentum throughout its four-minute duration.

Pianist Roger Admiral, heard in Coulthard’s piece, also collaborates in three other works. Ana Sokolović’s Toccate, another four-minute essay in motoric rhythms, strikingly (pun intended) evokes the sounds of the cimbalom and Serbian Gypsies.

The CD’s title, Rose Petals, is taken from the titles of a poem and a painting by Carey, both reproduced in the booklet. They, in turn, inspired Sean Clarke’s The Rose, commissioned by Carey. Clarke writes that in it, Carey also sings fragments of the poem but I found these inaudible. Nor could I discern much in the way of structural or expressive coherence amid the music’s disconnected, brutal fortissimo chords.

Laurie Duncan describes the first two movements of his Viola Sonata as “melancholic” while “the third movement, Jig, is unexpectedly gay and joyous.” It’s a substantial, satisfying conclusion to this adventurous traversal across highly disparate compositional approaches and aesthetics.

03 Louis Philippe Bonin Un VeloUn Vélo, une Auto, un Boulevard et de la Neige
Louis-Philippe Bonin
ATMA ACD2 4041 (atmaclassique.com)

This digitally released album of saxophone and piano music combines classic saxophone repertoire with a few surprises. The performances by both Louis-Philippe Bonin (alto saxophone) and Catherine Leroux (piano) achieve an excellent balance of clean technique and precise emotion. Bonin’s tone is lean yet full and he makes many technically difficult passages seem effortless. Leroux’s playing is articulated and balanced while lending a spark when required.

The album contains five works, two of them more traditional saxophone sonatas, one by William Albright (1984) and the other by Fernande Decruck (1943). Florent Schmitt was a contemporary of Debussy and Ravel and the beautiful Légende, Op.66 (1918) is reminiscent of those composers’ tonality. One of the surprises, Kristin Kuster’s Jellyfish (2004) is a three-movement piece capturing the movements of different types of jellyfish; the various swirls and bursts of sound paint a perfect sonic portrait of these creatures.

The title composition, Un Vélo, une Auto, un Boulevard et la Neige, by Félix-Antoine Coutu (2018) was commissioned by Bonin and brings classical saxophone music into the social media arena. In a December 2017 Facebook post, a blogger called a cyclist a “jerk” for riding on the street in the newly fallen snow and “zigzagging” in front of the writer’s car. The post caused quite an outcry on social media and Coutu’s piece is based on five of the more than 500 Facebook responses and the “variety of rhetorical devices” people used to express their opinions. The work effectively presents these five rhetorical “movements” and Bonin’s playing artfully mimics and embraces this social media conflict.

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04 Modulation NecklaceModulation Necklace – New Music from Armenia
Various Artists
New Focus Recordings FCR244 (newfocusrecordings.com)

The Armenian diaspora retains strong ties to their ancient homeland. Six pieces from the last 20 years by five Armenian composers invite attention for their lucidity and mastery. Tonalities from Armenian folklore pervade the superbly performed and recorded song settings and tone poems for string and piano ensembles, duo, and piano solo. The album was crafted at the Armenian Music Program of UCLA, with help from the Lark Musical Society and the Dilijan Chamber Music Series, which commissioned four of the works. 

Tekeyan Triptych (2018), by Artashes Kartalyan (b.1961), sets three poems for mezzo-soprano and string quartet by Vahan Tekeyan (1878-1945), the most important poet of the Armenian diaspora. Novelette (2010), by Ashot Zohrabyan (b.1945), for piano quartet, is a searching dialogue for piano and strings. Michel Petrossian’s (b.1973) A Fiery Flame, a Flaming Fire (2017), a masterful movement for piano trio, refers to Moses’ biblical burning bush in honour of violinist and director Movses Pogossian, with references to an Armenian folksong. The lively Suite for Saxophone and Percussion (2015) is by Ashot Kartalyan (b.1985), the youngest of the composers. Artur Avanesov (b.1980) composed Quasi Harena Maris (2016), a compelling fantasy for piano quintet inspired by the Book of Job, and Feux Follets, a collection of short pieces. Avanesov is the admirable pianist for the entire program. 

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05 Jin YinJin Yin
Civitas Ensemble (includes Canadian Winston Choi)
Cedille CDR 90000 193 (cedillerecords.org)

Chicago’s Civitas Ensemble is an unusual quartet: violinist/ leader Yuan-Qing Yu, cellist Kenneth Olsen, clarinet/bass clarinetist J. Lawrie Bloom, all eminent members of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, are joined by Canadian pianist Winston Choi, Roosevelt University’s piano-program head.

On Jin Yin (Golden Tone) they present five recent instrumental works by composers of Chinese heritage, offering world premiere recordings of works by Vivian Fung, Yao Chen, Lu Pei plus new arrangements of works by Chen Yi and Zhou Long.

Long’s Five Elements (2014) is the album’s longest work, its tonal richness bolstered by the addition of Yihan Chen (pipa), Cynthia Yeh (percussion) and Emma Gerstein (flute, piccolo). The Five Elements – metal, wood, water, fire, earth – were considered by ancient Chinese sources to be the building blocks of the physical universe. In his Five Elements, the composer represents each in turn. His programmatic music employs both modernist sonic gestures and percussive allusions to Chinese antique ritual music in the “metal” movement for example, employing effective tone-painting throughout the rest of the opus.

Canadian composer Vivian Fung’s Bird Song (2012) for showcases the virtuosity of both instruments, characterized by runs, intense rhythmic passages and exploration of improvisational moments. The title refers to the birdcalls of the opening and closing passages, to the sprightly tonal arpeggios in the central section and to the overall rhapsodic spirit of the violin writing. The ending is a haunting contrast to the rest of the work, marked by a sort of soft nostalgia. 

The other three works on Jin Yin have much to recommend them as well, altogether providing a full and fascinating 77 minutes of listening. 

06 APNMMusic from the APNM (Assoc. for the Promotion of New Music) Vol.1 & 2 (electronic)
Various artists
New Focus Recordings n/a (newfocusrecordings.com)

The Association for the Promotion of New Music (APNM) was founded in 1975, and is celebrating its long commitment to composers with this double release of acoustic, electroacoustic and electronic works by member composers

Volume 1: Chamber Music is mostly acoustic music performed by a variety of excellent musicians and ensembles. The opening work Wind Chimes, performed by composer/guitarist Stephen Dydo with Chen Yu on pipa, is a continuous colourful sound mix of the two instruments in 12 continuous sections each based on an early Chinese music mode. Thomas James describes his Odd Numbers as utilizing odd numbers to create “aggregate” rhythms, with piano soloist Sheila Simpson especially spectacular in the delicate sections. Love Joseph Hudson’s piano/electronics work Starry Night. The composer memorably orchestrates my own interpretation of the night sky with florid piano lines against held, calming, electronic sounds, weather changes with louder rhythms and forceful ticking, and clouds drifting by in the closing slow piano/electronics section. Other works are composed by Laurie San Martin, Elaine Barkin and Sheree Clement.

Volume 2: Computer + Electronic Music consists of eight contrasting compositions. Explosions, rapid-fire lines open Arthur V. Kreiger’s For Diane, with a plethora of interesting electronic sounds created on fixed audio media, while Adam Vidiksis’ Ouroboros features more current-day electronic sounds like plops and repeated rhythmic figures. Almost theatre/movie music, Stereo Fantasy by Maurice Wright is fully notated and performed by synthetic orchestra, complete with sparkling staccato lines, electronically generated strings and drones. Lots of contrapuntal conversations with noisy bangs, tunes and almost-live instrument sounds in Jeffrey Hall’s From the Winds of Avalon. More computer-generated instrumental sounds in Joel Gressel’s Deconstructing Maria. Works by Samuel Wells and Carl Christian Bettendorf combine electronics with live instruments, trumpet and viola respectively. 

A fabulous collection of acoustic and electronic compositions showcasing the talents of APNM’s members and the organization’s multi-decade work supporting new music.

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07 Etereo New Music for FluteEtereo – new music for flute
Lindsey Goodman
Navona Records nv6265 (navonarecords.com)

From the outset, in Josh Oxford’s for solo flute, Lindsey Goodman demonstrates she is a flutist who has it all. With a palette of luscious tone colours and engaging phrasing, she easily negotiates the many different flocalizations, bluesy thirds, glissandi, flutter tonguings and tongued pizzicato, all the while maintaining a compelling, rock-solid beat. This track alone is worth the investment.

Yet what follows is of equal merit. The next four tracks are also for solo flute. Bruce Babcock’s is moody with flashes of technical display. Steven Block’s offers moments of two-part writing with harmonic overtones defining an ostinato and regular tones, a brief melody. While Goodman’s performance engages us in both Taurins’ Gand for alto flute, the obvious quotations from Varèse’s are neither mentioned nor explained in the scanty online program notes.

Using fixed media with effective employment of stereo panning, Mara Helmuth’s programmatic reveals spurts of flitting about and flapping wings. The most hauntingly lyrical work is Alla Elana Cohen’s four-movement , ably accompanied by pianist Robert Frankenberry. The penultimate track, by Peter Castine, opens serenely, becoming increasingly more agitated as first the cello dialogues in counterpoint with the alto flute, and later as the crotales and toy piano enter. Jennifer Jolley’s , a rhythmic tour-de-force spectacularly played by the flute/cello/piano Leviathan Trio, closes one very impressive, boundary-pushing collection of new music for flute.

08 Casals TrioMoto Celeste
Trio Casals
Navona Records nv6266 (navonarecords.com)

Moto Celeste is the fifth installment of Navona Records’ MOTO series featuring the Trio Casals. Conductor/cellist/composer Ovidiu Marinescu, violinist Sylvia Ahramjian and pianist Anna Kislitsyna are outstanding gifted musicians who together create a tight, musical, technically virtuosic chamber trio sound. Here they perform eight new compositions, all listener-friendly, drawn from an eclectic mix of musical ideas.

Each work is a masterpiece in its own right. Highlights include the opening track, Earth Rise, by Diane Jones. Inspired by the sun, moon and earth, the opening piano high-pitched slow sparkling tinkles lead to matching melodic phrases on all instruments, a slower reflective cello solo and a moving, almost romantic, planet dance. Quick change to a rockin’ rhythmic work, Los Ritmos Para Tres (Rhythms for Three) by Edna Alejandra Longoria, a fun mix of jazz, rock and contemporary music rhythms and lines. Cellist Marinescu’s amazing almost athletic performance of his own composition Sunt Numai Urechi (I’m All Ears) for solo cello is flawless. An exciting flamenco-guitar-inspired virtuosic work, he almost sounds like two performers as he tackles his fast, circling, chromatic melodies, lyrical sections, high pitches and changing mixed metres. Canadian composer Joanna Estelle’s brief, yet sweet, tonal Faraway Star, is a programmatic piece of star-crossed lovers – female violin, male cello and piano narrator, played with clarity and storytelling precision. 

Compositions by Christina Rusnak, Chad Robinson, Clive Muncaster and Eliane Aberdam complete this memorable recording.

09 Ex MachinaEx Machina
Donald Sinta Quartet
Bright Shiny Things BSTC-0133 (brightshiny.ninja)

Formed in 2010 and named after their mentor, a University of Michigan saxophone professor, the Donald Sinta Quartet is an exciting award-winning modern ensemble featuring saxophonists Dan Graser (soprano), Zach Stern (alto), Joe Girard (tenor) and Danny Hawthorne-Foss (baritone). In their second recording, the tight virtuosic classical/contemporary music group performs seven new works, six of them premiere recordings.  

The seven-movement Ex Machina, by American Marc Mellits, is a funky, minimalistic work exploring his self described idea “to express the beauty locked within machines.” Machine I (Let the Funk Out) sets up this idea with minimalist machine-like grooves. The contrasting slower Machine II (Flowing) features long ascending and descending lines, with a slightly rhythmic backdrop. Love the choppy sudden change to rhythmic machine-like industrial sounds in Machine IV (Dancing a Mean Ghastly Dance) performed with aplomb. No surprise Machine VII (Aggressive & Funky) ends with a final held honkin’ chord. Mellits’ other work here is the swirling, syncopated Black. 

Richard Chowenhill’s slower In Solitude I Sit is a refreshing reflective change with its lengthy held drone notes and higher pitches, all played with great breath control. No background rhythms enhance the calmness. Touches of Middle Eastern and klezmer-flavoured sounds in Chris Evan Hass’ faster Volcanic Ash are performed to style. Works by Suby Raman, David Biedenbender and Mischa Zupko feature memorable challenging rhythms, swirling lines and contrasting dynamics.

These talented, technically astute, rhythmic and musical saxophonists shine throughout.

10 RipplesRipples
Clarion: Keith Benjamin; Melody Turnquist-Steed
Crystal Records CD961 (crystalrecords.com)

When I hear trumpet playing with organ, I am immediately in church, willingly or not, and there is no shortage of the expression that brings me there on this disc. Kansas City, MO-based duo Clarion, made up of trumpeter Keith Benjamin and Melody Turnquist-Steed on organ, has released a collection of works written for them by a range of contemporary American composers. 

The most current, or at least the youngest of these, is Adam Schoenberg (b.1980) a graduate of Oberlin College and the Juilliard School of Music. He now teaches composition and film scoring, which certainly shows in the bold and highly visual quality of Apollo, which aims in the first movement, Beyond, to depict the majesty of outer space. To my mind it’s fairly effective character-filled music that could evoke a mountainscape as readily as astral travel, but he does refer somewhat to Holst’s harmonies and even Mercurial playfulness here, so...

The second movement, Light, is prayerful and lovely, as American as Copland, and I’m back in church again. 

Not all the works are as strong, but I did enjoy Passing Illuminations by James Moberly, and Stacey Garrop’s Road Warrior comes across as the most daring and experimental, especially in using the organ to provide interesting and unusual effects. The title refers to a book written by the late Neil Peart, of Rush, who took to the road mourning the loss of a child and spouse. The connection is intentional: this and one other of the works presented refer indirectly to the death of Benjamin’s son to leukemia in 2010. Ripples spreading out from that event might well describe the impetus behind this loving collection of new works.

01a Rob Clutton TrioCounsel of Primaries
Rob Clutton Trio
SnailBongBong Records

False Ghosts, Minor Fears
See Through 4
All-Set! Editions (all-set.org)

These two Toronto bands have much in common. Each is led by a bassist/composer, Pete Johnston in the case of See Through 4, and they share some key musicians. Rob Clutton’s eponymous trio includes saxophonist Karen Ng and drummer Nick Fraser; so too does the See Through 4, with pianist Marilyn Lerner making it a quartet.  

For many jazz musicians, composition can be a perfunctory task, but Rob Clutton takes it seriously and his groups, like the long-running Cluttertones, are designed for it. His new trio plays jazz as if it were sculpture. Lines are clearly etched, content reduced to bare meaning and intent, with a special structural and emotional clarity. Clutton can reduce a line to a spare series of deeply felt, highly resonant tones, while the group that he has assembled couldn’t be more attuned to his work. It’s immediately evident in the opening Strata, brought into sharp focus by Fraser’s insistent cymbals and Ng’s Morse Code-like monotone. Counsel of Primaries veers toward Caribbean dance, with Ng investing even the briefest phrases with a wealth of emotion. Sterling suggests a kind of dissonant prayer, Clutton’s bowed harmonics coming to the fore amidst Ng’s long tones and Fraser’s gently scraped cymbals. Cloak is less austere, but it too, carries with it a sense of reverie, an engagement with resonance as an active participant, feeding back into the music.

01b See Through4Given their shared personnel, it’s striking just how different the two groups are, their identities intimately connected both to the leaders’ compositional styles and their partners’ insights. Clutton’s minimalism gives way to Pete Johnston’s further extension of Lennie Tristano’s already abstracted linear vision. In a playful manner all his own, though, Johnston’s pieces can provide a series of loose frames for a series of solos. Another Word for Science has pianist Marilyn Lerner begin an unaccompanied solo with a series of witty keyboard asides, with Johnston and Fraser entering tentatively until the three have created a tangle of kinetic lines; Ng uses the free dialogue to explore a distinctive zone of her own, a compound mood that can mingle celebration and lamentation in a single phrase, while Fraser solos over the band’s final extended version of the theme. Battling in Extra Ends employs a stiff punctuation of bass and drums in unison to frame a flowing, balladic Lerner improvisation. The Sidewalks Are Watching begins with an up-tempo boppish theme, but advances through a series of rhythmic displacements that have individual band members occupying distinct temporal dimensions.   

Given how much the two bands have in common, Clutton, Johnston and their gifted associates create two very different worlds.

02 SupermusiqueVoir dans le vent… 
Symon Henry; Ensemble SuperMusique
Ambiances Magnétiques AM251CD (actuellecd.com)

Symon Henry is a visual artist, poet and composer of graphic scores. His Voir dans le vent qui hurle les étoiles rire, et rire (l’un•e sans l’autre) is a hand-drawn 168-page score. The sample drawings in the CD booklet suggest minimalist landscapes as much as the heavens. There are light and heavy lines, some are gently arcing horizontals, others shoot off at sharp angles. In this live recording, the visuals were projected on screen and each of Ensemble SuperMusique’s ten musicians followed the score on individual iPads, with the work’s arranger, Danielle Palardy Roger, conducting.

The work is an immediate surprise, opening with a hive of overlapping, eerie glissandi from instruments that take a while to distinguish, strings and vernacular flutes with touches of a ratcheting bird call. As the 50-minute piece proceeds through its six movements, each develops its own density and sonic language, though frequently employing the shifting glissandi as linear representations. Rencontres adds some gritty scraping noises, and Guillaume Dostaler’s exploratory piano to the mix, while the extended Les nues continuously adds new and shifting textures.

Voir dans le vent… highlights the improvisatory invention and detailed listening of Ensemble SuperMusique, a group founded in 1998. Henry’s work emphasizes a special sectional creativity and interaction from the various woodwinds of Joane Hétu, Jean Derome and Lori Freedman and the strings of Guido Del Fabbro, violin, Rémy Bélanger de Beauport, cello, and Pierre-Yves Martel, viola de gamba and zither.

03 Carl MayotteFantosme
Carl Mayotte
Independent (carlmayotte.com)

Montreal bassist Carl Mayotte has just released his debut CD, which was co-conceived by Mayotte and the iconic Michel Cusson (UZEB). This evocative project features ten original compositions (mainly penned by Mayotte), which embrace the indelible burst of artistry and creativity from influential 1970s artists such as Weather Report, Frank Zappa, Hermeto Pascoal, Chick Corea and Pat Metheny.

Mayotte, who performs masterfully here on electric and fretless bass, has also assembled a hungry pack of young jazz lions, who perform this challenging material with boundless energy as well as technical thrills and chills. The cast includes Gabriel Cyr on electric guitar; Francis Grégoire on keyboards and synthesizers; Stéphane Chamberland on drums; Damien-Jade Cyr on tenor, alto and soprano; Jean-Pierre Zanella on alto and flute; Patrice Luneau on baritone; Remi Cormier on trumpet; Emmanuel Richard-Bordon on trombone; Luke Boivin on percussion and Raymond Gagnier on voice.

First up is the two-part suite, Le Fantosme. Part 1, Le Poltergeist, is spooky and otherworldly, with synth-infused structures and a theatrical use of voice and breathing. Part 2, Le Polisson segues into a face-melting drum solo from Chamberland, followed by a funky big band explosion, replete with a fine bass solo and a caustic, Jan Hammer-ish synth solo. Sumptuous flute work by Zanella kicks off the fast-paced O Commodoro, and the spirit of Jaco Pastorious can be felt by Mayotte’s bass work throughout this invigorating composition. Cormier’s volcanic trumpet adds incredibly, while the band morphs into a second-line influenced passage, and then back to the lilting head… sheer beauty. A stand-out is Marise – an ego-less portrait of Mayotte’s incredible skill and melodic sensibility.

04 Monicker Libr aerie cover 10iii20 1Monicker
Bug Incision bim-79 (bugincision.com)

Few international improvising ensembles get to persist after their initial meetings, but Monicker – the trio of guitarist Arthur Bull and trombonist Scott Thomson, both Canadians, and the English drummer Roger Turner – is currently enjoying a second life, with a recent Australian tour and upcoming dates in France and England. Libr’aerie documents a 2018 performance from Quebec City’s Librairie Saint-Jean-Baptiste.

There’s no easy way to describe the group’s music: any substantial segment might include the dauntingly abstract, the drolly witty and the broadly, almost physically, comic, and each dimension, among others, might be caught in the same passage. This recording is more minimalist than their previous release (Spine on Ambiances Magnétiques), with Turner reducing his kit to snare drum, cymbal and “small junk percussion,” the latter the source of the high-pitched, near-random, metallic chatter that sometimes animates this music. 

There’s a broad movement here from the abstract to the celebratory. Turner’s special momentum has roots in early jazz and similar tastes have shaped the work of his younger partners. Thomson can reflect a century of jazz trombone, from a New Orleans moan to elegant legato, but there are special moments when he combines unlikely elements, matching bebop velocity to vocalic smears. Bull often extends early blues idioms, and a rapid passage of string-bends can sound like his guitar has an elastic neck strung with elastic bands. Somehow the effect blurs into the identity of Thomson’s trombone, the result an uncanny timbral convergence.

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