05 Alain BedardExalta Calma
Alain Bédard Auguste Quartet
Effendi Records FND158 (effendirecords.com)

Gifted Quebecois jazz bassist, composer and president of the forward-thinking Effendi Records, Alain Bédard, has just released the latest project from his Auguste Quartet, which features the equally gifted Félix Stüssi on piano, Mario Allard on soprano and alto saxophones and the facile Michel Lambert on drums. The majority of the intriguing compositions here have been penned by Bédard, with two fine contributions from Stüssi (the evocative Debout au bout du Bout-du-Bank and Insomnia), as well as one gem from J.P. Viret (NY – Pas encore).

The opener, PouTiti, begins with a subtle Afro-Creole beat that underscores the quirky melody, with delightful and melodic soprano sax contributions from Allard. Bédard establishes the steady pulse with his undulating bass lines, while Lambert develops an intricate second-line-inspired framework, and on La Silva Major ll, Bédard’s nimble bass exploration leads the way into an exotic, sonic journey.

On Stüssi’s Debout au Bout du Bout-du-Bank, a unison piano/sax intro segues into a groovy, boppish construct, written to delight the ear and stimulate the imagination. A standout is Queen Ketchup, where a concentric swing propels the players into a symbiotic dance that fully illustrates not only the ego-less democracy of this ensemble, but their ability to communicate almost telepathically. An inspired bass solo punctuates the piece brilliantly. The closer, Insomnia, is the perfect postscript to a thoroughly gorgeous, well-recorded, conceived and performed contemporary jazz recording. With an almost futuristic West Coast Jazz feel, this final track again displays the wide skills of all of the players, captured in the act of creation. Vive Montréal! Vive Québec!

06 Peter CampbellOld Flames Never Die
Peter Campbell
Independent (petercampbellmusic.com)

Respected NYC vocalist, Peter Campbell, has long been a much-loved presence at top cabaret and jazz venues across North America; in 2012 he brought his gorgeous voice and superb musical taste and settled in Toronto. With the release of this new recording, Campbell has gifted us with an inspired smorgasbord of musical delights. Diverse, inter-generational composers and lyricists are represented here, including Dorothy Fields, Cy Coleman, Irving Berlin, Joni Mitchell, Fred Hersch and Oscar Peterson. Campbell also serves as producer/arranger and has assembled a group of fine musicians, with co-arranger Adrean Farrugia on piano, Reg Schwager on acoustic and electric guitars, Ross MacIntyre on bass, Kevin Turcotte on trumpet and flugelhorn and Michael Occhipinti on electric guitar and effects.

The opening track, Stars, is a gem of a tune, written by genius pianist Hersch and the incomparable jazz singer Norma Winstone. Campbell’s pitch-pure instrument soars, bobs and weaves through this contemporary, bossa-infused track and Turcotte’s muted solo is a thing of rare beauty. Also intriguing is Coleman and Carolyn Leigh’s My how the Time Goes By, which reveals a whole different dimension to Campbell, as he dips deep into the blues. 

The title track opens with creative, otherworldly sonic affects which then segue into a film noir-ish, 3am ballad of love, loss and longing, expertly rendered. An absolute stand-out is Farrugia’s breathtaking arrangement of Both Sides Now. His stunningly inventive chord substitutions and Campbell’s skilled vocals have not only created their own musical perspective, but also honoured Mitchell’s immortal classic.

Listen to 'Old Flames Never Die' Now in the Listening Room

07 Emie RousselRythme de Passage
Emie R Roussel Trio
Uni Musiqc UNICD-4720 (emierroussel.com/en/home/)

In traditional larger ensembles the piano, bass and drums feature in what is referred to as the “rhythm section.” Famous trios from Nat Cole to Art Tatum, Paul Bley, Bill Evans, Keith Jarrett and others changed all that. With more adventurous exploration of the instruments, trio music has evolved enormously. Singularity of sound, however, has often remained elusive. Not so with the trio of Emie Rioux-Roussel (piano), Nicolas Bédard (bass) and Dominic Cloutier (drums). 

Rioux-Roussel’s music is born of a fluid relationship between written material and improvisation and dwells in the delicate balance of European and American jazz. Rythme de Passage celebrates a decade of such musical collaboration; its repertoire clearly establishes how the relationship between each musician has evolved from being one in which the fire and brimstone of youth has paved the way for the well-honed values of experience. This is brilliantly caught in the sumptuous music of this record.

The trio operates as a partnership of equals, not as piano and accompaniment. The sound is essentially produced by unamplified, acoustic instruments. Electric instrumentation is unobtrusively integrated in the same spirit with the pianist and bassist principally exploiting it. Its use is sparing and enhances the acoustic instrumentation rather than distracting attention from it. 

This trio music glows in its unique lithe elegance, its warmth and poetic joyousness; the tantalizing symmetry of melody and harmony. A musical adventure which sets off in unexpected directions and always swings exactly right with its own fascinating rhythm.

08 ITACA 1Vortex
ITACA 4tet
Nusica nusica.org 17 (nusica.org)

Four musicians – clarinetist François Houle, alto saxophonist Nicola Fazzini, bass guitarist Alessandro Fedrigo and drummer Nick Fraser – have managed to create music exactly as promised: that is, a Vortex of sound. Vortices are formed – in the physics of fluid dynamics – by stirring fluids or gasses into whirlpools, smoke rings, tornadoes and dust devils. And while a turbulent artistry might characterize the curl of the flow velocity of this music, perhaps in the opening bars of Sketch 26, the most mesmeric musical vectoring shows up as the music progresses into Saturno and beyond. 

In later repertoire such as Chorale and Calanques, for instance, we discern a degree of artistry that is highly commendable. There are displays of controlled instrumental pyrotechnics. These have a direct bearing on the resulting music, which is always rigorous and driven by architectural acuity. Houle, Fazzini, Fedrigo and Fraser, all ooze impetuosity and their performances are full of vitality especially on ‘Nette, a boppish song with diabolical harmonic inversions. The musicians may not play together often, as they are located in disparate places, yet they parlay with the familiarity of old friends. 

Nothing is forced or exaggerated, an error often observed in consciously experimental music. Tempos, ensemble and balance – all seem effortlessly and intuitively right. There is much sensitive give and take between the four instruments, much intimacy and subtle variation of momentum, colour and feeling. In sum, this music suggests uncommon gem-like craftsmanship.

09 Francois Carrier WideWide
François Carrier; Tomek Gadecki; Marcin Bozek; Michel Lambert
FMR Records FMRCD556 (fmr-records.com)

When opening the CD case containing my copy of Wide for the first time, a piece of what I assumed to be packaging dropped out. Upon further inspection, this hand-ripped offering was not wrapping (though it resembles part of an envelope), rather it was a sort of calling card for ColyaKooMusic, the co-production and publishing outfit François Carrier created in 1994. This well-designed paper, with its quirky and compelling hand-stamped insignia, is a harbinger of what’s to come on the rest of the album. 

Before my first listen, I was next intrigued by the disc being over 64 minutes long and containing just three tracks. This may be alarming to a listener expecting a bevy of jazz standards or bite-sized original compositions, but anyone familiar with the playing of Carrier and Michel Lambert, or their Polish bandmates Tomek Gadecki and Marcin Bozek, will know to expect bold and spontaneous improvisation. The album does not disappoint! 

During this COVID-19 pandemic I am self-isolating with my mother, who was quick to raise an eyebrow when I first played the disc. Her response is not an unsurprising one, given the dense and at times chaotic improvising one hears frequently throughout the album, but it is upon listening to this recording as a whole that one notices the sensitive arcs these masterful musicians are able to create while improvising freely.

10 Rarefied AirRarefied Air
Huet; Fournier; Kuhl
Furniture Music Records AF003 (alexfournier.bandcamp.com)

This month, my assignments included two discs of freely improvised music, which are at the same time the simplest and most difficult to review. In one way it becomes all about the vibe of the recordings, and in another there are no traditional compositions/tracks/solos to discuss in a more formal manner. The review of Wide dealt with an offering that was recorded live and fit more into the free-jazz realm we associate with the likes of Ornette Coleman and Eric Dolphy, whereas this disc is far more ambient, in one way smoother to listen to, and in another more subdued and introspective. 

Edwin Huet, Alex Fournier and Mike Kuhl have collaborated on Rarefied Air which consists of four freely improvised tracks involving double bass, drums and electronics. Fournier, who has for years been a mainstay on the free-jazz scene in Toronto, brings his usual mix of stoic restraint and instrumental proficiency to the table. Huet and Kuhl hail from the Baltimore area, and are both known for their expertise in freely improvised music and a variety of other styles. Kuhl’s drumming is exciting and uplifting, while Huet’s use of electronics gives the recording a unified, produced sound. We are living in odd and unprecedented times, but avant-garde recordings like Rarefied Air now provide a thought-provoking and welcome release from the strangeness of this era.

11 Dennis KwokWindward Bound
Dennis Kwok Jazz Orchestra
Independent (denniskwok.ca)

Windward Bound is an elegant album of program music written for a 19-piece jazz orchestra. Thematically, it is based on multi-instrumentalist/composer Dennis Kwok’s teenage years spent sailing on Lake Ontario and its six movements (The CallingReady, Aye, Ready; A Flat Boat is a Fast Boat; The TempestElegy and Red, Right, Returning) chronicle different elements of journeys over water. Kwok was only 22 years old when he wrote the music and assembled the excellent group of players, and one can feel his excitement about combining two of his consuming interests in this project. 

The first two sections are quite evocative: The Calling begins with the musicians blowing through their wind instruments behind a beautiful oboe solo which conjures the idyllic stasis of the beach. Ready, Aye, Ready opens with a faster tempo and a repeated piano riff, then flute and bass enter and it builds into the full band which generates the excitement of setting out to sea (or lake) on an adventure.

The album notes state the group is comprised of “musicians under 35 from the southern Ontario region” and that the music is “dedicated to preserving the big band tradition while staying relevant to our generation.” This is a well-produced album with solid musicianship that fully realizes its engaging premise.

13 Laila BialiOut of Dust
Laila Biali
Chronograph Records CR-085 (lailabiali.com)

2019 JUNO Award-winner for Vocal Jazz Album of the Year, stunning singer-songwriter Laila Biali’s latest release is a truly interesting musical journey and, in her own words, a “deeply personal… album” that reflects the roller coaster the last few years have been for her. The record has a clearly positive tone, it’s almost as if you can feel the warm spring sun shining down on you throughout each track. Most of the songs have been composed by Biali herself, with drummer Ben Wittman and her son Joshua Biali-Wittman listed as co-composers on a couple of the tracks. The album includes several renowned musicians such as vocalist Lisa Fischer, drummer Larnell Lewis and bassist Rich Brown, making for a star-studded release overflowing with stellar talent. 

As a groovy starter to the record, Revival features a bass riff by Brown that goes straight to the soul of the listener, unique chord progressions and a catchy chorus that quickly have you singing along. Wendy’s Song is a touching tribute to a friend of Biali’s, Wendy Nelles and is a song that could be considered among the most positive and uplifting on the entire record. The album closes with Take the Day Off, the track co-composed by Biali’s son, and has a certain childlike element of wonder to it, amplified by the backing vocals and choice of instruments. A fitting piece to close out the musical journey, as it leaves you with a positive outlook to the world and a curiosity to explore and engage more with your surroundings and loved ones.

14 DuchessDuchess – Live at Jazz Standard
Duchess Trio (Amy Cervini; Hilary Gardner; Melissa Stylianou
Anzic Records ANZ-0066 (duchesstrio.com)

Quick! Think of the Boswell Sisters, the Andrews Sisters and the Barry Sisters, and what immediately comes to mind? Some jazzy, Swing Era singing, tight harmonies, impressive vocal gymnastics and a rollicking good time. Well, fast forward from the 1930s and 40s to 2020, and you’ve got Duchess, a trio of talented, New York-based, sisters-in-song, Amy Cervini, Hilary Gardner and Melissa Stylianou, deftly channelling the infectious (we are in pandemic times, after all) energy of those vintage, vocal groups, while adding their own modern and comedic spin to the mix, in their latest release, recorded live at one of New York City’s most beloved jazz joints, Jazz Standard.

Duchess has been singing and swinging together since 2013. And it appears there’s been a love affair going on between the trio and Jazz Standard for about as long (if not longer). Their first CD was released there in 2015, and according to the Duchess website, an eponymous cocktail was created especially for them by the venue’s master mixologist. That’s some serious respect!

Respect must also be given to the superb quartet performing with the trio: Michael Cabe, piano; Jesse Lewis, guitar; Matt Aronoff, bass; Jared Schonig, drums.

With this live album, you can “hear” the women smiling as they perform such nuggets as Heebie Jeebies, Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen and Everybody Loves My Baby before a very appreciative audience. Live at Jazz Standard is a fun and fabulous romp, sure to make you smile, too!

15 Aubrey Johnson Album CoverUnraveled
Aubrey Johnson
Outside In Music OiM 2002 (aubreyjohnsonmusic.com)

Wisconsin-born, New York-based vocalist Aubrey Johnson makes her solo debut with Unraveled, a ten-song collection that is an equal testament to her formidable skills and artistry as a bandleader, composer, arranger, storyteller and world-class singer. Just ten years into her professional music career, Johnson has garnered multiple awards and has worked with an array of stellar musicians including Lyle Mays, Bobby McFerrin and Fred Hersch. It is her singular, captivating vision that is on display here though, in the company of her phenomenal working group: pianist Chris Ziemba, bassist Matt Aronoff, drummer Jeremy Noller, along with Michael Sachs on alto sax and bass clarinet. Violinist Tomoko Omura and accordionist Vitor Gonçalves also contribute beautifully to several songs.

The title track, an outstanding Johnson original with heartfelt, thought-provoking lyrics, is a bold statement about facing and overcoming depression. There is also a refreshing take on The Peacocks (lyrics by Norma Winstone), and the inclusion of Jobim’s Dindi is pure pleasure, with lovely accordion/voice unison passages. Egberto Gismonti’s Karate is a fitting upbeat closer, featuring stunning piano, vocal and accordion solos, along with playful ensemble interplay, all imbued with a positive energy and inherent lyricism. Special mention also goes to Omura for her magnificent piece, Voice Is Magic, and to Steve Rodby for his sparkling production work.

There is so much to recommend here. One could not ask for a better debut.

01 Sass JordanRebel Moon Blues
Sass Jordan
Stony Plain Records SPCD1410 (sassjordan.com)

The visceral beauty – yes, such a thing is possible – together with the long-limbed melancholy of the blues, is what makes the music of Rebel Moon Blues by Sass Jordan a flaming masterpiece. Despite the fact that she hasn’t made a recording in almost a decade, she has clearly been in top form throughout that period. Jordan indulges in what can only be described as a spontaneously intuitive unleashing of these melodies. There is no gratuitous ornamentation, no playing to the rock gallery; no fuss; just the raspy hardness of her vocals unfolding with enormous colour and emotion song after song.

There is never any room for shallowness with the blues and Jordan seems not only to understand that perfectly, but to find places to reach deep within her chest to deliver on the emotion that the songs demand. She is appropriately intimate on My Babe, relentless and unforgiving on One Way Out and rivetingly plaintive on Still Got the Blues. The reason she can breathe life into those songs and the others on the disc is because she seems to inhabit them as if they were hers and hers alone, despite the fact that other musicians actually penned these classic tunes. 

Part of the allure of this recording comes from the fact that the musicians who support Jordan on her journey are fully attuned to her artistry. Together with Jordan they make this a recording to die for.

02 Don BrayI Bless the Wounds
Don Bray
Independent DBCD2006 (donbray.ca)

Ottawa-based, singer-songwriter Don Bray’s self-produced sixth recording succeeds on several levels. It features Bray’s appealing soft baritone and fine guitar work. Subtle, concise contributions of backup singers and tasteful ensemble players are impressive, especially those from guitarist/vocalist Terry Tufts. Most outstanding of all are Bray’s original songs. He states he was “born to an abusive father, and a rape victim; that set me up for 27 years in the Toronto Fire Department.” He continues to cope with complex PTSD, and this disc’s 13 songs include a wealth of life insights expressed in lyrical-musical work of a high order. 

Bray does not shy from the rough and rude, as in Don’t You Think It’s Time, which ironically applies a warm melody plus gentle fingerpicking to voicing the need for leaving a house party horror show. In the confidently uptempo I Don’t Get Out Much, the singer comments wryly on a life of procrastination and isolation. Time to Go is an attractive country waltz with pedal steel and mandolin – but about abuse. Best of all for me is the exquisite I Bless the Wounds, which is well chosen as the title track. Here I find the progression from darkness to light haunting, as the songwriter finds love again in waltz time. There is always risk in self-disclosure, and we are fortunate that Bray has brought forward these timely meditations on loss and hope with such self-knowledge and dignity.

Listen to 'I Bless the Wounds' Now in the Listening Room

03 Rory BlockPower Women of the Blues Vol.2 – Prove it on me
Rory Block
Stony Plain Records (m2.labelstore.ca)

The last (and only) time I saw Rory Block perform was at the Winnipeg Folk Festival in 1985. But I remember being blown away by what I heard, and how she rocked that workshop stage! So, 35 years and six Blues Music Awards later, I am happy to report that Block continues to rock! With her recent album, Prove it on me, the second in her Power Women of the Blues series dedicated to the groundbreaking women of the blues, Block “proves it on us” why she is considered one of the world’s finest blues artists.

While the first album of the series honoured the legendary Bessie Smith, this second volume celebrates some of the more obscure, yet immensely talented women of the blues; the well-known title track by Ma Rainey, and Memphis Minnie’s In My Girlish Days are the exceptions. 

Each carefully chosen track features the “Rory Block Band,” that is, Block on vocals, all guitars, all drums and percussion. Her signature raw energy, soulfulness, authenticity and scorching vocals breathe new life into sassy tunes like Helen Humes’ He May Be Your Man, It’s Red Hot by Madlyn Davis, Rosetta Howard’s If You’re a Viper and Milk Man by Merline Johnson. Other names to look out for: Arizona Dranes, Lottie Kimbrough, Elvie Thomas. 

Block has always paid homage to those who came before her. Prove it on me secures the place of these founding women of the blues in the annals of blues history.

A well-known improviser once stated that “My roots are in my record collection” and most serious fans cite seminal discs that helped them define their commitment to favoured music. That’s why the reissuing of musical classics is so important, especially with improvised music so related to in-the-moment communication. Not only does listening to these innovative discs confirm the fond memories of those who heard them when first issued, but they also provide valuable insights for those hearing them for the first time.

01 Albert AyersFor instance, Albert Ayler Quartets 1964 Spirits to Ghosts Revisited (ezz-thetics 1101 hathut.com) and Sun Ra Arkestra’s Heliocentric Worlds 1 & 2 Revisited (ezz-thetics 1103 hathut.com) are newly remastered versions of discs that helped define the free jazz revolution of the mid-1960s. Moreover the sets are each made up of two LPs initially issued on ESP-Disk. Fifty-six years on, tenor saxophonist Ayler’s basic melodies swirled out in rasping, ragged blasts can still be upsetting when first heard. Especially with tunes that begin with sonic excess and climb upwards from there, the saxophonist seems to be repeatedly thrashing out similar elementary themes over and over. Yet these versions of some of Ayler’s best-known tunes are unique in that his foil in both cases is a trumpeter, the little-known Norman Howard on the first four tracks and Don Cherry, famous for his association with Ornette Coleman, on the rest. With Howard’s flighty obbligatos decisively contrasting with Ayler’s wide snarls, they pair perfectly. Sunny Murray’s drum smacks make Holy Holy and Witches and Devils the standout tracks, especially during those times when the saxophonist’s Ur-R&B screams are actually pitched higher than the trumpeter’s clarion growls. Always ready to default into favourite motifs, Ayler works in the melody from Ghosts, his best-known composition, during the first track, and following a thumping bass solo, even layers a mellow turn into his solo on the second. Still, the performances were conventional enough to include recapped heads at the end of each tune. Cherry, on the other hand, brings advanced harmonies to his six tunes, with his soaring brassiness contrasting Ayler’s rugged slurs on the first titled version of Ghosts. At the same time, while the trumpeter sticks to fluttering song-like variations, Ayler uses glossolalia and split tones to deconstruct the tune still further, aided by plucks deviations and col legno pops from bassist Gary Peacock. This contradiction is also obvious on Mothers, the closest to a ballad track in this set. While bowed bass backs Cherry adding operatic highs to his otherwise moderato solo, buzzing strings fill in the spaces alongside Ayler’s sardonic peeps and squeaky altissimo shakes when he takes over the lead. As well, the concluding Children may start off stately and neutral, but after Murray’s door-knocking smacks and echoing double bass thumps quicken the rhythm, both horn men create an explosion of brassy brays and skyrocketing saxophone slurs.

02 SunRaAyler drowned himself at 34 in 1970, after only eight years of recording, but Sun Ra, who claimed to have been born on the planet Saturn, passed from this planet in 1993 at probably 80 earth years. However, he recorded with various versions of his Arkestra from 1956 on, and with the band still functioning today innumerable discs are available. Heliocentric Worlds from 1965 is particularly noteworthy though, because these were the first LPs massively distributed and which firmly situated Ra in the centre of the improvisational avant-garde. Earlier and later recordings subsequently proved that these exploratory excursions were just one part of his burgeoning oeuvre though. Listening to the suite that takes up the first seven tracks, then and now easily refutes those who claimed the New Thing was no more than random, inchoate noise. Ra’s complex program is as adroitly orchestrated as any symphony with meticulous shading and balance among bass clarinet slurs, piccolo trills, multiple percussion bangs and split-tone showdowns between trumpet and piccolo and sliding alto saxophone and plunger trombone. Massed explosions from the five woodwind players are often followed by col legno emphasis from bassist Ronnie Boykins. When Ra finally asserts himself on Other Worlds, his witty alternation between roadhouse-style piano exuberance and electronic space sizzles underlines the composition’s duality. Jimhmi Johnson’s tympani resonations match the higher-pitched brass throughout, at the same time as five other musicians add clanking claves and small percussion fillips alongside Ra’s relaxed comping and Boykins’ ambulating line. If the penultimate Nebulae highlights free-form blowing from saxophonists, then the concluding Dancing in the Sun could be a Swing Era trope with vamping section work pushed ahead by John Gilmore’s tenor saxophone, Marshall Allen’s alto and a showy Cozy Cole-like drum solo from Johnson. This musical intricacy is confirmed on the subsequent tracks that were Heliocentric Worlds 2. With the Arkestra shrunk to an octet, arrangements emphasize ear worms such as Allen’s piccolo shrills, what sounds like electrified saxophone runs, and the constant leitmotif of Ra’s tuned bongos. Cosmic Chaos confirms its post-modernism as Boykins’ rhythmic swing contrasts with Allen’s multiphonic reed smears, and Robert Cummings’ bass clarinet puffs are as prominent as heraldic calls from trumpeter Walter Miller. Meanwhile Ra’s percussive output is as much Albert Ammons as Cecil Taylor. Finally, the supplementary percussion complete the composition, with gong resonation and bongo-thwacks. However The Sun Myth, a nearly 18-minute concerto defines Ra’s skills even more. Sonorous and contrapuntal, mournful bowed strings are heard at one point and clashing junkeroo-style percussion at another. After the bagpipe-like multiphonic tremolo created by the four reed players presages the finale, Ra’s piano solo with its echoes of Blue Rondo à la Turk confirms the band’s subtle swing groove.

03 ICPCDIf swing’s the thing, what about the New Acoustic Swing Duo’s sardonically titled eponymous session (Corbett vs Dempsey CD 0066 corbettvsdempsey.com)? With Willem Breuker playing five different woodwinds and Han Bennink a music store’s inventory of percussion instruments, it was the first issue on the ICP label and one of the sessions that confirmed that European improvisers had the same inspirational skills as their North American counterparts. Now New Acoustic Swing Duo is a two-CD set that includes not only the Amsterdam duo’s original 1967 LP, but six newly discovered 1968 live tracks from Essen. Later known for his leadership of the more precise large Kollektief, Breuker (1944-2010) was at his loosest here, squeezing, slurring, shrieking and snarling in free form from all his horns. Bennink, who would soon become a linchpin of the ICP Orchestra, was at his loud ferocious best as well. Constantly in motion, he mixes primordial yelps and cries as he crashes cymbals, beats hand drums, sets snares and toms reverberating, rings bells, smacks and rattles small idiophones and creates undulating tabla drones. The saxophonist puffs out nephritic gut spilling without a real blues line on Singing the Impalpable Blues, moves between squawks and sensitivity on Music for John Tchicai and fires so many broken tones at the percussionist on Mr. M. A. De R. in A. that Bennink’s stentorian responses would enliven an entire street parade. At 21 minutes plus however, the aptly named Gamut is the novella to earlier musical short stories. Working up from overblowing with wrenching vigour, the tenor saxophonist craftily settles on multiphonic slurs and glossolalia to push his ideas, as the drummer pounds along on anything that shakes, Despite snuffling bass clarinet asides at midpoint, Bennink’s relentless bangs and pops bring back altissimo smears, reed bites and sighing flutter tonguing to cement drum bombast and reed explorations into a multi-hued exposition. Interestingly enough, the extended Essen 3 finds Breuker augmenting his reed lines to penny-whistle-like airiness in double motif variation, with the antithesis low-pitched bass clarinet solemnity, while Bennink’s percussion discussion references jazz-swing. Furthermore the fife-and-drum band groove both reach on that track is given more expression on the final Essen 6. As the cacophony of duck-like quacks and air-raid siren shrills from the reedist and drum bangs and slaps give way to a more serene middle section, the concluding bouncy parade sounds find Breuker emphasizing the tongue-in-cheek melody burlesquing he would perfect with the Kollektief, while Bennink’s drum strategy sticks to the jazz affiliations emphasized by the ICP Orchestra.

04 Baroque Jazz TrioOn the other hand Baroque Jazz Trio + Orientasie/Largo (SouffleContinu Records FFLCD057 soufflecontinurecords.com) from 1970, is a session that could only have been created at that time. That’s because the eight selections take on influences from so-called classical and world music, rock and ethnic sounds. Furthermore the members of the Paris-based trio are cellist Jean-Charles Capon, who often plucks his instrument to create guitar-like fills and drummer Philippe Combelle, who spends much of his time on tablas. Since then both have stuck pretty close to the mainstream jazz and instrumental pop music worlds. However the third member is harpsichordist Georges Alexandre, the alias of pianist Georges Rabol, who besides being a notated music recitalist, also composes for ballet, theatre, film, radio and TV. While as with most artifacts of the psychedelic era there are some groovy soundtrack-like suggestions, when Capon’s pseudo lead-guitar stabs, Combelle’s back beat and harpsichord clashes sway together, the references are more towards Led Zeppelin and The Doors and avant-rock freakouts than anything else. Adding tabla interludes and connecting keyboard harmonies, this leaning is most obvious on Delhi Daily and Latin Baroque. However the real demonstrations of the combo’s versatility are Cesar Go Back Home and Largo. The former, a pseudo-blues prodded by cello thumps and harpsichord strums, interpolates a funk beat compete with shuffle rhythms from the drummer. Less slow and dignified than vibrating and swinging Largo is one of the few experiments of this kind that achieves a so-called classical/free-form/rhythmic meld, especially when cello shakes and rolling percussion link up with swift keyboard continuo. 

05 ZenithAlong with these sets there’s another category that involves sessions recorded years ago, but not issued until now. Prominent among them is Zenith (NoBusiness Records NBCD 124 nobusinessrecords.com), a 1977 date featuring a quintet led by multi-instrumentalist Sam Rivers that made no other discs in this configuration. Intense from beginning to end, the one-track, over 53-minute session gives Rivers ample space to display his seesawing style on tenor and soprano saxophones, flute and piano. The uncommon backing band consists of Joe Daley’s tuba lines which often function as a Greek chorus to Rivers’ inventions; the subtle and supple string strategies of bassist Dave Holland; and the boiling tumult provided by not one, but two drummers: Barry Altschul and Charlie Persip. With the bassist’s sympathetic strums framing him, Rivers’ tenor saxophone moves through split tones and glossolalia during the piece’s introductory ebb and flow. Yet, as Daley’s plunger whinnies stunningly contrast with Rivers’ staccato snarls and doits, the sliding narrative picks up additional power from Holland’s walking pumps and hand-clapping drum beats that owe as much to bebop as free jazz. Intricate chording from the bassist with a banjo-like twang, help slow down the pace, which moves to another sequence propelled by Rivers’ low pitched flute modulations, stretching out his passionate storytelling until layered contributions from all five lead to a climax of unmatched intensity. Following heightened applause, Rivers resumes the performance hammering and tinkling tremolo pushes from the piano, followed by supple tongue-stretching slides from Daley, as drum fills and double bass swipes replicate a pseudo-Latin beat. Finally, high-pitched soprano saxophone vibrations, doubled by klaxon-like snarls from the brass player, signal the approaching finale, which despite a detour into a drum dialogue, ends with bass thumps and flutter tongued reed variations that relate back to the initial theme. 

Whether well distributed or formerly a secret shared only by the cognoscenti, each of these free jazz classics deserve the wider appreciation they can now receive. 

May Old Wine BernsteinA few months ago, I drew the reader’s attention to Volume Two of Leonard Bernstein’s Young People’s Concerts, recorded during the late 1960s. Volume Three is now available, again on four Blu-ray video discs (Unitel 800704 naxosdirect.com)

As to be expected, Bernstein is again both entertaining and informative as he outlines musical forms and terms to his young audience. An inside view into each work is followed by the performance with the New York Philharmonic. Volume Three includes 18 episodes – the Concerts Nos. 29-43 plus Young Performers Nos. 7-9 (featuring Edo de Waart, Horacio Gutiérrez and Young Uck Kim). The repertoire is surprisingly broad including works rarely presented to such a young audience.  

“The Road to Paris” includes Gershwin’s An American in Paris, Bloch’s Schelomo with cellist Zara Nelsova plus dances from De Falla’s Three-Cornered Hat. “The Sound of a Hall” lays out the daunting tasks faced by the acoustician in the new Philharmonic Hall in Lincoln Center. Works are Berlioz’s Roman Carnival Overture, shorter pieces by Copland and Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture with a riotous outing for the many percussionists. In “A tribute to Teachers,” Bernstein conducts works by his teachers, Randall Thompson and Walter Piston and honors Fritz Reiner in a stunningly exuberant version of Brahms’  Academic Festival Overture. “The Genius of Paul Hindemith” features excerpts from a dozen of his works together with a most persuasive, lengthy appreciation of Hindemith’s music. In “Farewell to Nationalism,” Bernstein demonstrates to his audience that a composer’s country of origin is not necessarily reflected in his or her compositions. 

In “Charles Ives: American Pioneer,” Bernstein discusses and performs the music of Charles Edward Ives, “the first great American composer.” In “Forever Beethoven,” the master is profiled and his works are performed and discussed. “Fantastic Variations” is a full program devoted to Richard Strauss’ Don Quixote. This is Bernstein’s very detailed exploration of how Strauss depicts the self-styled Knight Errant’s various delusional encounters, his final return to reality and peaceful last breath. In “Bach Transmogrified,” Bernstein discusses the many different transmogrifications of the “Little” Fugue in G Minor BWV578 for organ. After hearing the original, the first iteration is the celebrated transcription for orchestra by Leopold Stokowski, who was on hand to conduct the orchestra. Next, the audience watched a Moog synthesizer rolled across the stage and listened to that version. Then came the Lukas Foss transformation of the little Bach piece. 

The third Blu-ray disc contains “The Anatomy of a Symphony Orchestra,” in which Bernstein draws the audience’s attention to the sections of the orchestra, strings, winds, brass and percussion. He puts it all together in a complete performance of Respighi’s The Pines of Rome with a roof-raising finale, as the tread of the unstoppable Roman legions gets closer and closer through The Pines of the Appian Way. In sharp contrast is “A Copland Celebration,” featuring the Clarinet Concerto and closing with a ballet suite from Billy the Kid. In “Thus Spake Richard Strauss,” Bernstein examines Strauss’ musical interpretation of Nietzsche’s writings. Interesting. “Liszt and the Devil” examines A Faust Symphony, a work in three movements, Faust, Gretchen and Mephistopheles. Liszt’s symphony was deservedly a favourite of Bernstein who had recorded it in New York in 1960 and would so again with the Boston Symphony in 1976. Here he was happy to explain all about the Faustian subject and Liszt. Fascinating insights into both composer and compositions. “Holst: The Planets” (minus Saturn and Neptune), is the last work in this collection of annotated concerts for a young audience. 

Bernstein had loads of charisma and he was certainly the right person, arguably the only person, for these events, to the extent that still today, half a century later, he can hold the viewer’s undivided attention. Lenny never spoke condescendingly to his young audience, always treating them with respect.    

Each Blu-ray disc, except for the fourth, holds five concerts and plays for over four hours. The fourth contains young, some very young, performers as soloists playing with the orchestra. The set, which feels as fresh today as when the concerts took place, is also available on seven DVDs. 

David Olds with Jean-Guihen Queyras, November 2002Once upon a time, and a long time ago it was, I was sitting around with friends discussing what we would do if we won the lottery. I said I would buy a radio station – this was long before blogs and podcasts – so that I could play just the music I liked. My friend Gary suggested it was not necessary to actually buy a station to make that happen, and asked did I know about the Ryerson alternative music station CKLN-FM (1983-2011)? I did not, but was pleased to learn of this incredible, if somewhat limited, community resource which by that time had expanded from being an in-house station “broadcasting” to about a dozen speakers around the Ryerson campus, to a whopping 50 watt operation accessible to anyone with a strong FM receiver in the downtown core of Toronto. I began to listen and was quite taken with the breadth and diversity of its programming, virtually all of which (from alt-pop, punk and grunge, reggae, hip-hop, house and rap, to such varied offerings as old timey roots and gospel, electronica, ambient music, spoken word, LGBT politics and ultra-left takes on current events) could not easily be found anywhere else on the dial at the time. 

Although it seemed a strange extension of the mandate, I proposed a program of contemporary classical music, kind of a supplement to Two New Hours (which had been airing weekly on the CBC since 1978, under WholeNote colleague David Jaeger’s production). Station manager Adam Vaughan and program director John Jones, although amused when I included talking on a taxi radio, my “day” job at the time, in my broadcast experience, found enough merit in my proposal to give me access to the equipment and a few brief lessons on how to run the board to allow me to produce a demo tape. To bring a long introduction to an end, in the early days of 1984 I made my radio debut as the host of Transfigured Night, named after my favourite piece of chamber music at the time, Schoenberg’s Verklärte Nacht. The show initially aired from 2am to 7am on Tuesday mornings, which of course was Monday night to me, having been a denizen of the night-shift driving Globe and Mail trucks and later Beck Taxis for many years. During the seven years that I produced and hosted Transfigured Night, I broadcast works of Arnold Schoenberg on 109 occasions including ten performances of the show’s namesake. My final broadcast aired on November 25, 1991 and on that occasion I played the recording that had made me fall in love with the work, Pierre Boulez’s sextet version with Le Domaine Musical from the 1950s. 

01 Schoenberg Violin concerto Verkl rte Nacht (All) that all being said, I was delighted to find a new release of Schoenberg’s Violin Concerto paired with Verklärte Nacht featuring Isabelle Faust and the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra under Daniel Harding’s direction (Harmonia Mundi HMM 902341 harmoniamundi.com). The six performers for the latter piece include Canadian-born French cellist Jean-Guihen Queyras whom I had the pleasure of meeting back in 2002 when he was awarded the City of Toronto Glenn Gould Protégé Prize as selected by Pierre Boulez, laureate of the Glenn Gould Prize that year. As part of the concert at the award event, Queyras was the soloist in Boulez’s Messagesquisse performing with a sextet of other cellists assembled by New Music Concerts for the occasion. 

Normally I would have forwarded this disc to Terry Robbins for his Strings Attached column, but due to the number of personal connections, and the fact that Terry reviewed another performance of the violin concerto last month, I have selfishly retained this one for myself. But I will borrow from Terry’s review. He told us that in spite of the composer’s own description of the concerto – extremely difficult, just as much for the head as for the hands – “it’s a quite stunning work that is emotionally clearly from the heart, and that really deserves to be much more prominent in the mainstream violin concerto repertoire.” With two significant recordings emerging in as many months, I think it safe to say that the concerto is beginning to receive the attention it deserves. The sextet (1899) with its dark and stormy backstory is resplendent in late-Romantic sensibility that only hints at the (a)tonal developments to come. The concerto was written almost four decades later, several years after the composer’s move to the USA. While it employs the serial (12 note) technique central to his mature works, Schoenberg had taken a more tonal approach to writing after his move to America and the concerto has many neoclassical elements, not unlike Stravinsky. Faust’s performance is outstanding, finding a perfect balance between the at times craggy angularity of the melody and the lyrical moments of respite. Her tone is assured and her technique flawless. The performance of Verkärte Nacht is everything I would have hoped for – warm and lush without sacrificing nuance or detail. A very welcome opportunity to revisit what is still one of my favourite works. 

It was during the time of Transfigured Night that I became enamoured of electronic music in many of its (classical) forms – musique concrète, mixed works (electronics and live instruments), computer-generated and synthesized compositions, acousmatic art etc. – and at a conference in Montreal in 1986 became a founding member of the Canadian Electroacoustic Community. I also became the first to commission radiophonic works for community station broadcast, a dozen pieces from such luminaries as Norma Beecroft, Francis Dhomont, Yves Daoust and Paul Dolden, along with the abovementioned Jaeger and another current WholeNote colleague Wendalyn Bartley. 

02 Nick Storring Cover 1500 JPGAlthough in recent years my interest in the form has waned, the most recent release from Toronto cellist/composer/producer Nick Storring has brought fond memories of my earlier involvement with the medium. The nostalgia I feel is not just the reminder of the many ways that electronic media can be used to convey personal expression, but also the variety of programming across the board at CKLN. Storring’s My Magic Dreams Have Lost Their Spell (orangemilkrecords.bandcamp.com) is described as a “heartfelt, albeit oblique, homage to Roberta Flack” who, Storring goes on to say, “in addition to managing profound emotion and consummate musicality as a vocalist, has a brilliant curatorial mind. She brings together songs into smart and beautiful arcs and assembles artists to adorn these songs with powerful production choices and arrangements.” Oblique as it is, I’m not sure I would have recognized this as a tribute to the powerful pop icon without the artist’s statement contained in the press release. 

Storring’s latest, and his first release on vinyl (though I’m working from digital files), is a multi-faceted creature divided into six movements ranging from about five to ten minutes in length. The overall feel is gentle and tonal, although there are many different moods. Tides That Defeat Identity is a kind of synthetic aural sunrise which begins with barely audible cello scrubbing and develops through many layers in which a number of acoustic instruments can be discerned in various forms of electronic disguise. After a couple more dreamlike tracks What A Made-Up Mind Can Do builds gradually to a tumultuous clatter that gradually gives way to a Morse Code-like interlude followed by some funky bass licks with Latin beats, electric piano and psychedelic guitar that in turn recede into the mist via some gamelan-like percussion. To my ear, the title track is most reminiscent of Roberta Flack. The opening electric piano arpeggio immediately reminded me of one of her megahits, Killing Me Softly with His Song, and there I have a personal connection as well. I attended an Eric Andersen show at the Riverboat in 1974, the year after the release of Flack’s hit, and was surprised to find that the opening act, Lori Lieberman, had “written” the song. I remember that several times during his set Andersen snickered (or maybe just grinned), hummed a bar or two of Killing Me and said “I wish I’d written that…” At any rate, isn’t the internet a wonderful resource? I just Googled and was informed that Charles Fox and Norman Gimbel, Lieberman’s agents, actually wrote the song “in collaboration with Lori Lieberman.” There’s much more juicy info in the entry if you’re interested in some sordid details. At any rate, until Storring’s wonderful tribute to the (still active at 83) songstress, that was my main connection with Roberta Flack. And don’t let my talk about nostalgia lead you to believe that My Magic Dreams Have Lost Their Spell is an anachronistic throwback. It’s a carefully crafted and very effective eclectic post-modern creation. Give it a spin on your turntable, or your digital media provider, or wait for the CD release which I understand is imminent. 

My years as a volunteer at CKLN-FM garnered me the experience to land what I sometimes consider to have been the “best” job of my life, five years as a music programmer at CJRT-FM (especially now that I’m benefitting from a modest Ryerson University pension). Reconstructed as JAZZ-FM in 2001, the Ryerson station had been a multi-format broadcaster since its inception in 1949 and during the five years I worked there (1993-1998) the programming included classical music, opera, jazz, folk and blues shows, live concert recordings (jazz and classical), BBC variety programs and an assortment of academic courses under the auspices of Open College Ryerson. I had the great pleasure of selecting the music for Alex Baran’s Music for Midday, recording – with engineer William van Ree – and scripting CJRT Concert, selecting the music for Peter Keigh’s Music Before 1800, interviewing such celebrities as Ben Heppner for This Week in Music and producing Canadian Currents, 52 hour-long programs celebrating the concert music of our native land. This last notwithstanding – it was funded by a grant from Joan Chalmers through the Canadian Music Centre – the music I was “allowed” to program was for the most part not contemporary and certainly not “challenging.” After all, the publicly funded station existed thanks to the generosity of its listeners, who for the most part enjoyed “traditional” fare. It was during my tenure there that the Symphony of Sorrowful Songs swept the classical world, including the august halls of CJRT. In 1992 the London Sinfonietta, under David Zinman with soloist Dawn Upshaw, recorded Henryk Górecki’s 1976 Symphony No.3 with that now-famous subtitle. To date, the Nonesuch recording has sold more than a million copies, something unheard of for a contemporary classical recording. I find it somewhat surprising to note that the three string quartets by this, until then, obscure Polish composer, were all commissioned by the American Kronos Quartet, and that two of them predate the release of the chart-topping symphony that brought him world fame. Another instance of the foresight of this adventuresome group. 

03 Henryk GoreckiThey have been newly recorded by Quatuor Molinari for ATMA on Henryk Górecki Complete String Quartets (ACD2 2802 atmaclassique.com). Although there are some quiet and contemplative moments, particularly in the opening of the second quartet with its extremely dark viola melody, anyone looking for a reprise of the beauty of the “sorrowful songs” will likely be disappointed. At times reminiscent of the stark and angular pathos of some of Shostakovich’s later quartets, especially in Górecki’s second, these works are more what you would expect from a member of the Polish postwar avant-garde. Even in the String Quartet No.3 “Songs are Sung” with its four extended sombre and quiet movements interrupted by one brief central upbeat interlude, the brooding character never finds the transcendence of the famous symphony. Quatuor Molinari bring their vast skill and dedication to this latest addition to an impressive discography, not only adding to our understanding of this undersung composer who died a decade ago, but also proving that Górecki was not just a one-trick pony. Highly recommended!

04 Fred LerdahlAlthough I see that I’ve pretty much used up my allotment of words mostly talking about myself once again, (but heck, it’s my corner…) I did want to mention one more disc that I’ve been spending a lot of time with this month, Fred Lerdahl Volume Six (Bridge Records 9522 bridgerecords.com). I must confess to a lack of familiarity with this American composer who was born in 1943 and is the Fritz Reiner Professor of Musical Composition at Columbia University. Lerdahl is known for his work on musical grammar and cognition, rhythmic theory, pitch space and cognitive constraints on compositional systems. For all that, I must say I find his music quite lyrical and not at all academic. The disc includes recent chamber works and one concerto, beginning and ending with pieces composed for Finnish cellist Anssi Karttunen in 2010. There and Back Again for solo cello (Tom Kraines), was commissioned by Karttunen as part of the Mystery Variations, a series of solo works to commemorate his 50th birthday. As with all the variations, it takes as its point of departure, and in this case return, the Chiacona for solo cello by Giuseppe Colombi (1635-1694). In less than five minutes we are transported from the 17th century to the 21st and back again. This is followed by String Quartet No.4 from 2016, a one-movement work which sounds thoroughly modern without being atonal. Commissioned to celebrate the ensemble’s 15th anniversary, it is performed by the Daedalus Quartet. Fire and Ice is a setting of Robert Frost’s poem of the same name for the unusual combination of soprano (Elizabeth Fischborn) and double bass (Edwin Barker), based on one of Lerdahl’s theoretical papers The Sounds of Poetry Viewed as Music. The liner notes explain how the tenets of the 2001 paper were applied to the 2015 compositional process which culminates when “the soprano and double bass gradually fan out to their highest and lowest registers, symbolizing the antipodes of fire/desire and ice/hate around which Frost’s poem is organized.” The playful and at times jazz-tinged Three Bagatelles from 2016 was written for guitarist David Starobin who performs here with violinist Movses Pogossian. The programmatic arc of the disc, with its palindromic cycle of composition dates, is completed by Arches, a cello concerto which was a Pulitzer Prize finalist in 2011. Performed masterfully here by Danish cellist Toke Møldrup with the Odense Symphony Orchestra under Andreas Delfs, the dramatic work itself is, not surprisingly, arch-like, beginning and ending quietly after a rollercoaster of a ride. I found this a great introduction to the music of a heretofore unknown composer and I’m glad to know there are five previous volumes in the series. 

We invite submissions. CDs, DVDs and comments should be sent to: DISCoveries, WholeNote Media Inc., The Centre for Social Innovation, 503 – 720 Bathurst St. Toronto ON M5S 2R4.

David Olds, DISCoveries Editor
discoveries@thewholenote.com

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