07 Rachmaninoff TriosRachmaninoff
Hermitage Piano Trio
Reference Recordings RR-1475ACD (referencerecordings.com)

The Hermitage Piano trio is comprised of three exceptionally talented chamber musicians: violinist Misha Keylin, cellist Sergey Antonov and pianist Ilya Kazantsev. All have enjoyed celebrated solo careers before finding common ground in their shared nationality and uniting to explore and re-present the great Russian musical traditions on the world concert stages of today. Now based out of the United States, the ensemble has just released their debut CD for Reference Recordings, a beautifully performed and recorded capture at Mechanics Hall in Worcester, Massachusetts of some of the most intricate and dynamic works of the celebrated late Romantic-era Russian composer Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873-1943).

A conductor, composer and pianist of virtuosic reputation, Rachmaninoff’s music is notoriously difficult to perform, and those musicians who take on his repertoire require a requisite amount of expressive dynamism, musical sophistication and their own instrumental virtuosity. And, like the finest Western art musicians of today, the trio here handles all of this (and more) with ease, expressively and flawlessly traversing the multiple arcs of this timeless and grand music. The iconic Romantic gestures and the endless melodies present within multiple compositional strains and parts (for which Rachmaninoff was celebrated), capture the early 20th-century Russian experience and bring forward an expressive range of both sorrow and joy that demonstrates to listeners what truly great performances of wonderful music are capable of conveying.

Bruckner – Symphony No.6
Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin; Robin Ticciati
Linn Records CKD 620 (naxosdirect.com)

Bruckner – Symphonies Nos.6 & 9
Gewandhausorchester; Andris Nelsons
Deutsche Grammophon 483 6859 (deutschegrammophon.com)

08a Bruckner 6Throughout much of the century following his death, Anton Bruckner’s name was routinely paired with that of Gustav Mahler. After all, the external similarities seemed obvious: both were Austrian, both wrote vast symphonies and both needed many years of proselytizing from dedicated interpreters before their music was truly appreciated. Bruckner found his true musical calling when he heard his teacher Otto Kitzler conduct Wagner’s Tannhäuser in Linz. The revelation marked the character of Bruckner’s symphonies, taking a cue from everything Wagner did to break virtually every theoretical rule and create a new music drama.

Bruckner’s epiphany resulted in a series of truly original scores, including the Symphony in D Minor (1963-64), which he later designated No.0, three masses between 1864 and 1868 and his acknowledged Symphonies of considerable density from No. 1 (1865-66) to No. 5 (1875-76).

The Symphony No. 6 in A Major performed by the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin conducted here by Robin Ticciati proves to be a lighter, more congenial work than its predecessors – especially No. 5, say the equivalent of Beethoven’s Eighth or Brahms’ Second. Still, far from being flippant, the majestic and deeply profound slow movement, for example, has a depth and eloquence that almost demands an attitude of reverence. Ticciati handles the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester with serene confidence, and both orchestra and conductor revel in the symphony’s joyous climaxes. And there are plenty of moments in the slow movement that afford real poetry. 

08b Bruckner 6 9Andris Nelsons posits – and rightly so – that you could not have Bruckner without Wagner. His December 2018, live recording complements the Bruckner Symphonies 6 and 9 with Wagner’s Siegfried Idyll – a work of flawless delicacy – and the deeply reflective Parsifal Prelude Act I. The shorter Wagner pieces that preface each of the two discs appear to have been astutely selected for their lyricism and profound beauty and serve to put one in a meditative space in which prepares one for the respective Bruckner symphonies.

Nelsons’ brilliant performance of the Sixth with the Gewandhausorchester ends in the pure splendour of praise and – especially in the sombre Adagio and the mercurial Scherzo – is a benchmark performance of the symphony; the devotional, awestruck intensity of the work is effectively captured by the recording.

Symphony No.9 is the musical summation of Bruckner’s life, with all of its struggles. It is a monumental work despite being incomplete, and is sometimes said to have a mystical quality, like that of Beethoven’s Ninth. Nelsons’ depth of insight makes for a deeply moving and humbling experience in this incomparable live recording. It is a gaunt, craggy, unforgiving affair, doubtless much as Bruckner intended it should be; a magnificent, chastening and ultimately uplifting musical event.

09 FallaManuel de Falla – El amor brujo; El retablo de Maese Pedro
Fernández; Zetlan; Garza; Garcia; Perspectives Ensemble; Sato Moughalian; Angel Gil-Ordóňez

Naxos 8.573890 (naxosdirect.com)

An interesting new issue presents two of de Falla’s stage works as noted above. I have a sentimental attachment to El amor brujo (Love the Magician). It was the very first thing I ever saw in an opera house at age nine, but it was the ballet version. De Falla adapted the score a few times; the ballet from 1929 is the most often played. This performance however is the original 1915 version, the most complete and original conception performed by a small dedicated group of instrumentalists well suited for a work of this nature.

El amor brujo is actually a one-act zarzuela telling the story of a Roma woman who is haunted by the ghost of her former faithless lover, her struggle to exorcise it and finally be able to love again. It’s a journey from darkness to light, from a night of sorcery and terror to the splendour of a new dawn, with de Falla’s atmospheric, colourful score imbued in Andalusian folk idiom with dances that express the mood of each segment. The vocal lines are either spoken or sung authoritatively by the cantaora, a full-throated flamenco singer, Esperenza Fernandez. Most famous of the dances is the Ritual Fire Dance but all the others, especially the gentle, rollicking Dance of True Love are equally impressive; and the final apotheosis with all bells ringing is simply glorious.

The second work, El retablo de Maese Pedro (Master Peter’s Puppet Show) is somewhat less characteristic. It is a mini-opera based on a chapter of Cervantes’ novel, Don Quixote, and inspired by the age of Charlemagne. The music with “incisive Spanish rhythms and acerbic harmonies” is all skillfully fused with the French impressionism of Debussy and Ravel, de Falla’s main influences. The performances are intense and very authentic.

11 New York ConcertBruch – Double Concerto for Clarinet, Viola and Orchestra
Giovanni Punzi; Eva Katrine Dalsgaard; Tanja Zapolski; Copenhagen Phil; Vincenzo Milletari
Brilliant Classics 95673 (naxosdirect.com)

Like Brahms, and Mozart before him, Max Bruch reserved some of his finest writing for the clarinet, “discovering” the instrument late in his life, and writing with a particular player in mind. As Stadler for Mozart, and Muhlfeld for Brahms, Bruch’s son Max Felix gave premieres of both the pieces on this release, Eight Pieces for Clarinet, Viola and Piano, Op.83, and the Double Concerto for Clarinet, Viola and Orchestra, Op.88.

Giovanni Punzi on clarinet and Eva Katrine Dalsgaard on viola are joined by pianist Tanja Zapolski in the eight pieces, and are backed by the Copenhagen Philharmonic led by Vincenzo Milletari in the concerto. The chamber work was never intended to be performed as a unified piece. Although the individual pieces are delightful, and the performers bring them off with suitable melancholy Romanticism, it’s best to take them in smaller doses. Though Bruch idolized Brahms, these works owe more to Schumann in scope and mood. Punzi is perhaps the most restrained of the performers, setting an unadorned tone versus the intensity of Dalsgaard and Zapolski. Pitch is never an issue, and phrasing certainly not. There is a certain muddiness to the lower octaves, as if the hall chosen for the recording offered the benefit of reverb in quantities perhaps slightly more than needed.

The more substantial work is Bruch at his blue best. Seldom programmed for the live stage (a pity; so many fine violists and clarinetists would love to be given the opportunity), it follows an unusual movement format: Andante con moto, Allegro moderato, and Allegro molto. Perhaps the overarching melancholy is the deterrent. Shouldn’t be, audiences can handle a little weltschmerz.

01 Andre Mathieu chamberAndré Mathieu – Musique de chambre
Marc Djokic; Andréa Tyniec; Elvira Misbakhova; Chloé Dominguez; Jean-Philippe Sylvestre
ATMA ACD2 2784 (atmaclassique.com)

The turbulent life of the pianist and composer André Mathieu (1929–68) began in triumph and ended in tragedy. This son of professional musicians was hailed as “the Mozart of Québec” at his Parisian debut in 1936 but ultimately faded into in a haze of alcoholism and obscurity, succumbing to a heart attack at the age of 39. It is perhaps not surprising that Mathieu’s resolutely post-Romantic style, heavily influenced by Scriabin and Debussy and profoundly melodic and episodic by nature, was disdained in the new music circles of the 1960s. It is largely due to the advocacy of the Québécois pianist-composer Alain Lefèvre, a champion of Mathieu’s piano concertos, that his reputation has been restored in our post-modern era.

The album features Mathieu’s eight chamber works from the middle of the 20th century, the era of his finest compositions. It includes a selection of compact duets for violin and piano featuring pianist Jean-Philippe Sylvestre with violinists Mark Djokic and Andréa Tyniec alternating as soloists. Tyniec (who dazzled Toronto recently performing Ana Sokolović’s violin concerto for New Music Concerts) lays claim to the enjoyable though discursive Violin Sonata. Of particular interest are the Quintette for piano and string quartet and the Trio for violin, cello and piano, two substantial works in which Mathieu exceeds himself in the mastery of large-scale forms. The performances are uniformly excellent and production values are top notch.

Listen to 'André Mathieu: Musique de chambre' Now in the Listening Room

02 Canadian AmberCanadian Amber – Music by Latvian-Canadian Composers
Laura Zarina; Arthur Ozolins; Beverley Johnston; Canadian Opera Company Orchestra; Ninth Latvian Song Festival Orchestra; Alfred Strombergs; Maris Simais
Centrediscs CMCCD 26519 (musiccentre.ca)

Back in July 2019 I attended a concert which highlighted “significant contributions made by émigrés from Latvia to the music and culture of Canada.” Part of the Toronto XV Latvian Song and Dance Festival, it focused naturally on Latvia’s famous choral tradition, yet I was curious also to hear orchestral works by Latvian-Canadian composers including Tālivaldis Ķeniņš (1919-2008) and Imant Raminsh (b.1943). It is perhaps not surprising to hear works by the same composers on the CD Canadian Amber – dedicated to the same theme – with the addition of the slightly older Jānis Kalniņš (1904-2000). All three Latvian composers made Canada their home after World War II.

Kalniņš’ three-movement Violin Concerto (1945), firmly anchored in late-Romantic style, offers attractive lyrical passages for the soloist and orchestra, though overall the work sounds some 50 years past the style’s prime era. Raminsh is best known for his choral works. True to form, his Aria for Violin and Piano (1987) is imbued with arching, expressive melodies, framed by easygoing tonal settings with modal implications on the piano.

On the other hand Ķeniņš’ Concerto for Piano, Percussion, and String Orchestra (1990) reflects a very different sound world. The title, instrumentation, shear energy and terse, shifting dramatic moods evoke Béla Bartók’s expressionistic, modernist, chromatic musical language, though the instrumentation also brings to mind aspects of some Alban Berg works. Despite these surface homages, Ķeniņš’ idiosyncratic compositional voice emerges clearly, emotionally gripping us with effective writing for the piano soloist as well as for the strings and percussion. Here’s a work that begs for programming on both Canadian and Latvian stages.

03 Music in the BarnsBolton; Godin; Oesterle
Music in the Barns
New Focus Recordings FCR226 DDD (newfocusrecordings.com)

Classical traditions seldom come together so gloriously with the unpredictability of the avant-garde than on this disc titled after its contributing Canadian composers Rose Bolton, Scott Godin and Michael Oesterle. When that happens, it somehow seems fortuitous that Toronto’s Music in the Barns – a quintet where violinist Lance Ouellette and violists Carol Gimbel and Pemi Paull sometimes play musical chairs – should be tasked to play their repertoire.

Bolton’s The Coming of Sobs is a particularly intense work. But even here the musicians make the black dots literally fly off the page intensifying the experience that the composer has written into the work. After a relatively quiet opening the music develops – through a series of pulses and crescendos to a shattering fortissimo that emphasizes its darkly dramatic and veritably vocal human cry as brilliantly expressed by the string ensemble.

Godin’s work, all that is solid melts into the air,is more ephemeral and calls for a more nuanced performance, one which Music in the Barns delivers in spades. Breathing their way into the composition that spans over 150 years of humanity, the ensemble traverses a work bookended by the visceral world of Charles Baudelaire and the beguiling symbolism of master-builder Robert Moses with transcendent splendour.

The disc comes to an end with Oesterle’s Daydream Mechanics. The quintet brings a near-rhapsodic reverie inspired by the spare lyricism of Nicole Brossard’s poetry into a sensuous awakening on a disc to die for.

Listen to 'Music in the Barns: Bolton, Godin, Oesterle' Now in the Listening Room

04 Messiaen SmithOlivier Messiaen; Linda Catlin Smith
Apartment House
Another Timbre at143 (anothertimbre.com)

Toronto-based composer Linda Catlin Smith has been well represented in Another Timbre’s ten-volume release of contemporary Canadian composers, including the eight varied pieces of The Wanderer and the two-CD set, The Drifter. Here she shares a disc with that work of concentration-camp genius, Messiaen’s, Quatuor pour la fin du temps. They’re performed by the English ensemble Apartment House, and share the instrumentation of violin, cello, clarinet and piano.

This is the second recording of Smith’s Among the Tarnished Stars (1998), following the Toronto ensemble The Burdocks. Apartment House stretches the piece to 28 minutes, making the most of Smith’s subtle sonic exploration, from the opening’s ascending arpeggios through an almost accordion-like blend of clarinet and strings to some wonderfully resonant ensemble clusters that ring out into the emptiness of space.

The resonance and harmony make Among an ideal companion for Quatuor, a piece that transcends the grim circumstances of its composition and initial performance. Apartment House doesn’t do anything to contort the work into a post-modern aesthetic, but they do give its gestural elements new life in a rendering that never struggles to add overt emotional content to Messiaen’s materials. Clarinetist Heather Roche, however, does succeed in finding a sonority of rare resonance in the brief Intermède.

Perhaps what’s most interesting about the CD is the way in which the two works live side by side, the proximity emphasizing the celestial spirit that informs Smith’s work.    

06 Spring ForwardSpring Forward: Music for Clarinet and String Quartet
David Shifrin; Miró; Dover; Jasper String Quartets
Delos DE 3528 (delosmusic.com)

Since 1981, David Shifrin, former principal clarinet of the Cleveland Orchestra, has served as artistic director of Chamber Music Northwest, the Oregon organization that commissioned these works by three well-established American composers.

In Spring Forward (2014) by Peter Schickele (aka P.D.Q. Bach), Shifrin performs with the Miró Quartet. The 22-minute, five-movement piece, typical of Schickele’s gently rocking, listener-friendly charm, evokes warm memories of springs past, including A Perfect Picnic (the last movement), fondly recalled by Schickele as one he shared with his wife at sunset by the Hudson River.

Richard Danielpour’s 18-minute Clarinet Quintet (2015) is subtitled The Last Jew in Hamadan. Danielpour’s father was born in Hamadan, the Iranian city traditionally known as the burial place of the biblical Queen Esther. Danielpour writes that the first movement, Agitato, con energia, with its bouncy mix of klezmer and the Middle East, derives from vivid childhood memories of visiting Iran with his parents. The following Adagietto e triste is a meditative lament for Iran’s mostly vanished Jewish community under the ayatollahs. Shifrin is joined by the Dover Quartet, recent performers at Toronto Summer Music.

Finally, Shifrin and the Jasper Quartet perform the 18-minute Perpetual Chaconne (2012) by Aaron Jay Kernis. Kernis writes that the piece “maps an emotional journey from mournful lyricism to increasingly abstract, harsh gestures and back.” It’s all rather bleak, lacking Kernis’ usual tendency to sentimentality. A bit of sentiment would have helped, much as it enhanced the pieces by Schickele and Danielpour.

07 Danny GranadosA Tribute to Danny Granados
Fidelis String Quartet and Friends; Danny Granados
Delos DE 3562 (delosmusic.com)

Member and subsequent CFO of the Houston Symphony Orchestra, Danny Granados (1964-2018) was a brilliant clarinetist. As he writes in the liner notes, three works were recorded by him with the Fidelis String Quartet and three other musicians in 2011 after a conversation about Brahms’ beginnings, and all artists’ struggles and setbacks. After his death from cancer, the other players’ released the recording in 2019.

The Fidelis String Quartet is a tight ensemble with great musicality. Granados fits in so well that his unique colourful clarinet playing never overwhelms the quartet as it blends with the strings. Brahms’ Clarinet Quintet in B Minor, Op.115 is a challenging work to play. Of note is the opening Allegro movement as Granados plays the moving clarinet melodies with luscious tones, subtle colour changes and slight rubato touches as it converses with the string lines. More clear string and poignant low-pitched clarinet conversations in the second Adagio movement.

Osvaldo Golijov’s Lullaby and Doina, from the 2001 film The Man Who Cried, offers a welcome abrupt change with its plucked strings opening, quasi klezmer intense clarinet doina, higher pitched strings, flute and bass, and a fast toe-tapping closing. Piazzolla fans should enjoy the four tango selections. Highlight is pianist Pablo Zinger’s arrangement of Libertango. A piano start leads to a breathtaking legato clarinet cadenza based on its familiar tune developing into a fast instrumental rendition

Timeless performances make this a moving musical memorial tribute to Danny Granados.

08 David SampsonChesapeake – The Music of David Sampson
American Brass Quintet
Summit Records DCD 639 (summitrecords.com)

This CD, writes American composer David Sampson (b.1951), “came from my long-held desire to write for the members of the American Brass Quintet as individuals and close friends, amplifying their unique talents and sequencing the pieces to stand as an extended composition.” What I found particularly fascinating was Sampson’s varied sonic mix of one or two brass instruments plus electronics or percussion and piano in the first four pieces, each in three or four movements.

The opening, Breakaway, for two trumpets and electronics, presents echoes of Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man and propulsive jazzy riffs that surround a darkly funereal cortege. In Powell Trio for trombone (the quintet’s Michael Powell), marimba and piano, two snappy, nervously syncopated movements, Flow and Eddies, burble around Stillwater, the quietly mysterious middle movement. Three Sides for trumpet/flugelhorn, vibraphone and piano begins with cheery repeated staccato brass notes over a rumbling accompaniment, followed by a slow bluesy solo supported by gentle arpeggios, before ending in playful, quirky syncopations and percussive punctuations. Just Keep Moving, for horn, bass trombone, marimba and piano, is more modern-sounding, rhythmically and harmonically complex; true to its title, though, it just keeps moving.

The concluding four-movement Chesapeake, for the entire quintet, depicts, writes Sampson, sailing trips with his friends down Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay. Sampson’s enjoyment of these trips is reflected in the bright, celebratory music, a fine conclusion to this fine, enjoyable disc.

08 South of the CircleSouth of the Circle
Siggi String Quartet
Sono Luminus DSL-92232 (sonoluminus.com)

While it should come as no surprise that contemporary Icelandic music should have – like music elsewhere across the globe – come of age, the sheer scope and breadth of its soundscape is, nevertheless, quite breathtaking. Riding the crest of a new wave created by Björk, Atli Heimir Sveinsson and Jóhann Jóhannsson is the dazzling Siggi String quartet founded by violinist and composer Una Sveinbjarnardóttir, whose work Opacity forms one of the five pillars of the quartet’s 2019 recording South of the Circle.

This follow-up to Philip Glass: Piano Works, the 2017 recording that the quartet shared with celebrated pianist and countryman Vikingur Ólafsson, is both sparkling and deeply reflective. The quartet’s interpretation of Sveinbjarnardóttir’s composition and those of three other Icelanders is marked by the poignancy of their playing. The music becomes part of a natural landscape that mixes beauty and danger. Whether evocative of freezing nights or long rainy days, each track takes us to a place – often wildly exhilarating – with trusted and inspiring musical friends.

Such warmth comes at no expense to either classical elegance or avant-garde subversion.

Throughout the quartet creates a compelling sound-bed for four voices of contrasting character. Although best expressed in the long inventions of the solos contained in Opacity, the virtuoso playing of the quartet is also expressed in their sculpting of the music of Daníel Bjarnason’s Stillshot, Valgeir Siguròsson’s Nebraska, Mamikó Dis Ragnarsdóttir’s Fair Flowers and Haukur Tómasson’s Serimonia.

10 PartchHarry Partch – Sonata Dementia
Bridge Records BRIDGE 9525 (bridgerecords.com)

Harry Partch (1901-1974) was a paradigmatic California outsider composer, embracing the pitches and rhythms of world music – Ancient Greece, Japan and Africa – and substituting a 43-tone scale in just intonation for the equal temperament of Western tradition. A romantic figure who constructed microtonal guitars as a depression-era hobo, he gained a significant audience when Columbia Records recorded him in the 1960s. His home-made instruments emphasized bending string tones and hyper resonant percussion, some made from the refuse of radiation experiments.

The ensemble PARTCH is as true to the letter and spirit of Partch’s music as his own groups, and John Schneider’s intoned vocals even sound like Partch. The group has been recording landmarks and unheard works alike and supplementing them with Partch’s own archival recordings. The opening Ulysses at the Edge of the World immediately suggests the breadth of Partch’s inspirations: originally composed for jazz trumpeter Chet Baker, it combines bass marimba, tuned bamboo drums, trumpet and baritone saxophone, and ends with a joke about wanderers (i.e., Ulysses, Baker, Partch) being arrested. Twelve Intrusions (1950) is a song cycle, alive with intoned vocals, elastic pitches, and a concluding chant transcribed from a recording of the New Mexico Isleta tribe. Windsong is a collage-like film score, while Sonata Dementia includes a Scherzo Schizophrenia, indicative of Partch’s multi-directional wit.

The CD concludes with Partch’s own 1942 recording of Barstow, the brilliant setting of hobo inscriptions here faster (and funnier) than the later Columbia recording.

02 Allison YoungSo Here We Are
Alison Young
Triplet TR10023 (alisonyoungmusic.com)

Stellar, JUNO-nominated saxophonist Alison Young has released her diverse, long-awaited debut album. Those who have had the pleasure of seeing Young play live know what to expect from this record and it definitely lives up to and exceeds all expectations. There is no shortage of great musicianship on the album, featuring well-known musicians such as Eric St-Laurent on guitar, Jeff McLeod on piano and organ, Ross MacIntyre on bass, Chris Wallace on drums and Guido Basso on flugelhorn. Pieces do a great job of showcasing the talents of all musicians and are mostly written by Young herself, with the exception of three tracks.

Diversity is found throughout every piece in this album. There are contrasts between elegant and energetic, driven melodies, as well as various inspirations ranging from “hard bop to soul to New Orleans-style funk.” Cedar Roots starts the record off with a righteous bang and is a strong example of the drive that drummers Chris Wallace and Sly Juhas bring to each track. Afterparty delves into a New Orleans-esque flavour with Young’s soul and funk inspirations showing through, as well as a delicious hint of traditional rock ‘n’ roll added to the mix. Celia & Harry and title track, So Here We Are, display another side of the saxophonist’s playing, leaning towards elegance, grace and a hark back to a more traditional jazz sound. Young’s album is a thoroughly enjoyable musical journey for all jazz lovers.

03 Curtis NowosadCurtis Nowosad
Curtis Nowosad
Sessionheads United SU007 (curtisnowosad.com)

Curtis Nowosad is a drummer and composer who was born and raised in Winnipeg but has lived in New York City since 2013 after moving there to complete a master’s degree at the Manhattan School of Music. This is Nowosad’s third album, the first recorded in New York, and contains five original compositions and three covers. The musicianship is impeccable with crisp horns, a tight and driving rhythm section, and arrangements reminiscent of Birth of the Cool. Highlights include Braxton Cook’s several wily alto saxophone solos and Andrew Renfroe’s guitar work on Hard Time Killing Floor Blues which is soulful, bluesy and rhythmically varied. Nowosad’s drumming is complex yet understated, always interesting but never in the way of the other player’s groove. Brianna Thomas’ assured vocals on two songs add extra nuance to the project.

This album can stand alone as an excellent example of intelligent, driving jazz but there are compelling social and historical themes woven through the original compositions and cover choices. The opening Home is Where the Hatred Is comes from Gil Scott-Heron’s 1970 album, Pieces of a Man. Nina Simone’s Sea Line Woman is given an elegant and sophisticated treatment. Nowosad’s The Water Protectors is dedicated to the Standing Rock Sioux and other Indigenous people while Never Forget What They Did to Fred Hampton is a sharp reminder of the young Black Panther activist’s murder and cover-up. Curtis Nowosad combines socially conscious history with assured jazz performances.

04 Jacques Kuba SeguinMigrations
Jacques Kuba Séguin
Odd Sound ODS-17 (jacqueskubaseguin.com)

Released in June on his own label, ODD SOUND Records, Migrations is the newest album from the Montreal-based trumpeter Jacques Kuba Séguin. A regular in the Montreal jazz and creative music community, Séguin tours regularly, including a 2016 stint in Poland, Lithuania, and Germany, and has worked as the host of the Symphonie en bleu radio show, for ICI Musique classique. In addition to Séguin, who is solely responsible for the album’s compositions and arrangements, Migrations features pianist Jean-Michel Pilc, tenor saxophonist Yannick Rieu, vibraphonist Olivier Salazar, bassist Adrian Vedady and drummer Kevin Warren.

The medium-tempo Hymne starts things off, and gives Séguin plenty of room to exercise his warm, burnished sound; it also contains beautiful moments from Pilc, Salazar and Rieu. Pilc – who, since becoming a faculty member at McGill, is appearing on more and more Montreal-based projects – tends to always be excellent and his work on Migrations is no exception; his playing on Origine, the album’s second track, is particularly satisfying. Première neige (You’re Not Alone), one of Migrations’ most introspective tunes, is beautiful, and Séguin takes the opportunity to showcase the expressive, lyrical side of his playing. I Remember Marie in April, a clear album highlight, begins with stellar playing from Warren, who negotiates the tune’s syncopated shots with aplomb and keeps things interesting throughout the solos. Overall, Migrations is a thoroughly engaging album, with strong individual playing deployed in the service of a cohesive group spirit.

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