05 Avery RaquelMy Heart Away
Avery Raquel
GKM GKM1035 (averyraquel.com)

Avery Raquel is clearly an artist for whom superstardom is just a matter of time – shorter than one might think, judging by the results of her performance on My Heart Away. On this disc Raquel reveals herself as an artist of the first order, broadening out from the run-of-the-mill pop repertory which many of her generation are stuck in. Her instrument is gorgeous: lustrous, precise and luminously powerful. Her musicianship is fierce as she digs into the expression of each word of the lyrics she writes and sings.

Raquel is accompanied here by a constellation of Canadian superstars – producer and guitarist Greg Kavanagh, pianist Adrean Farrugia, bassist Ross MacIntyre, drummers Joel Haynes and Ben Riley – to name just a few of those who flesh out the music here. Together they create the defining moments on the powerful ballad Who I Am.

The music on the disc recalls the heyday of Motown and Stax recordings with benchmark performances of vocal music characterized as soul. However, none of this work would soar quite so high into the rarefied realm of music were it not for Raquel’s genuine gifts. The manner in which songs speak to her leads one to believe that the connection is powerful and personal. How she responds to these narratives is nothing short of miraculous and each song gains enormously from this relationship between songwriter, song and vocalist. All of this makes Raquel a musical rarity.

06 Sandro DominelliHere and Now
Sandro Dominelli; Rez Abbesi; Chris Tarry
Chronograph Records CR-067 (chronographrecords.com)

Here and Now, a new album from Edmonton-based drummer/bandleader Sandro Dominelli, is something of an international affair. Recorded in New Jersey, it employs the talents of electric bassist Chris Tarry, a Canadian expat now based in the Garden State, and guitarist Rez Abbasi, a Manhattanite by way of California and Pakistan. Such time-zone-crossing projects, even when well executed, can sometimes suffer from a lack of intimacy, but thankfully, this is not an issue for Here and Now. Released this summer on Alberta’s Chronograph Records, Dominelli’s new album is a follow-up to The Alvo Sessions, which also features Tarry and Abbasi, released independently in 2010.

Here and Now begins with the title track, a medium-tempo, straight-eighths song that showcases the group’s well-developed chemistry, with compelling solo moments from Abbasi and Dominelli. The swinging D.H., written in tribute to bassist Dave Holland, balances rhythmic melodies with moments of eerie harmony. This vibe is ramped up on Through the Trees, a 16-bar blues that sees Abbasi making full use of his textural capabilities. Alternative Facts is a funky, backbeat-driven odd-metre song, with a powerful, overdriven solo from Abbasi. Exodus (the theme from the film of the same name, composed by Ernest Gold), the album’s last track, gives Dominelli a chance to show off his brushwork.

Here and Now is worth a listen because Tarry, Abbasi and Dominelli are all strong players with interesting instrumental voices; it is worth a second listen because the trio succeeds in creating a meaningful, unique group dynamic.

07 Sheldon ZandboerTipping Velvet
Sheldon Zandboer
Chronograph Records CR 063 (sheldonzandboer.com)

While many contemporary pianists seem to delve into the piano’s more percussive aspects today, Calgary’s Sheldon Zandboer is of the school of piano virtuosi who subscribes to the view that it pays to forget sometimes that the mechanics of the instrument involve hammers striking strings. His is a style of pianism that is given to the teasing caress of the keys. Not surprisingly this produces music – melodies and harmonies from right and left hands – that is exquisitely velvety in its tone and eloquently phrased. Throughout, Tipping Velvet displays inventive discourse progressing in nuanced measures.

Risks abound, but they are always in the service of the music’s spirit and they always pay off. Combining a darkness of theme with a wickedly humorous unveiling of the musicians, Snakes and Liars, for instance, ends up being one of the sunniest pieces on the recording. A similar conundrum exists at the beginning of Tear in a Smile; its illusory nature resolved once again, in the translucent longing-for-spring atmosphere of Zandboer’s delicate keyboard hands.

Zandboer’s musical gems are a must-listen not only for his exquisite pianism, but also for the majestic work of Bob Tildesley’s trumpet, especially when the mute is employed and notes are squeezed out of the bell of his horn. The performances of bassist George Koller and drummer Andy Ericson crackle with genius and I Will Wait soars heavenward, not least because of the blithe spirit of vocalist Johanna Sillanpaa.

08 Sweet Sister SuiteSweet Sister Suite by Kenny Wheeler
Scottish National Jazz Orchestra featuring Laura Jurd & Irini Arabatzi
Spartacus Records STS026 (snjo.co.uk)

The late legendary Canadian trumpeter and composer Kenny Wheeler (1930-2014) was a quiet, complex genius. Although perhaps not a household name, Wheeler was held in incredible esteem by the global jazz/music cognoscenti (including John Dankworth, Dave Holland, Bill Frissell and Lee Konitz). His rhythmically and harmonically revolutionary compositions and arrangements have been performed worldwide – including in the United Kingdom – the place that he called home after 1950.

The recent release of Wheeler’s emotional and autobiographical work recorded by the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra (produced by, and under the direction of Tommy Smith) is a magnificent tribute, worthy of the great, humble man himself. Wheeler’s music is propelled by the contributions of trumpet, flugelhorn and voice – rendered here by skillful trumpet/flugelhornist Laura Jurd and vocalist Irina Arabatzi (although one could easily imagine the luminous voice of Wheeler’s longtime collaborator, Norma Winstone).

There are eight compositions in the Suite, beginning with Sweet Sister, which features heartbreakingly beautiful horn work by the gifted Jurd, and a pitch-perfect and gymnastic vocal line from Arabatzi, segueing into fine rhythm section work and culminating in sumptuous, swinging, contrapuntal, jazz-puro, big-band ear candy. Also outstanding is Keeper of the Light. The moving lyric reflects Wheeler’s journey into the realm of his most secret self, illuminated by a potent sax solo from Smith and equally potent playing by the entire talented ensemble.

Wheeler’s massive (and always modestly given) contribution to contemporary jazz is evident in every note of this recording – which is a stunning celebration of the man and his work.

09 Tricia EdwardsIntaglios
Tricia Edwards
Independent TE1117 (triciaedwards.ca)

What happens when you fuse a solid classical music background with a newfound love of jazz and Cuban music? Tricia Edwards’ Intaglios, that’s what! With a master’s degree in piano performance, studies at the Banff Centre and Salzburg’s Mozarteum, and several years performing chamber music while living in the Middle East in the 90s, the Calgary-based pianist launched her “second musical act” in the mid-2000s, having discovered the joy of jazz. Ultimately she found her way to some of the finest musicians heating up Calgary’s Latin music scene, three of whom appear on the album.

What makes this CD especially delightful is that while Edwards beautifully explores her affection for Latin music in seven original and terrific tracks, along with three covers, she clearly hasn’t forgotten her first love. I counted at least six neat little nods to the classical repertoire. On track seven alone, the fabulous and driving String Theory, which Edwards says was inspired by watching her cats at play, there are playful passages from Grieg’s Piano Concerto in A Minor and Mozart’s Turkish Rondo; and I’m pretty sure there are some bars of Bach, too.

Track one, Trainwreck lll, owes its inspiration, in part, to the percussive energy of Ginastera, and the final track, the gorgeous, ballad-like Alegria, offers some lovely and lilting piano work, including a few notes from Debussy’s Clair de lune.

With Intaglios, Edwards honours the genres of classical, jazz and Latin music, imprinting upon them her unique style and a lifetime of experiences.

10 Aaron ShraggeThis World of Dew
Aaron Shragge; Ben Monder
Human Resource (humanresourcerecords.com)

Released in July 2018 on Human Resource Records, This World of Dew is the third duo recording from trumpeter Aaron Shragge and guitarist Ben Monder, following 2010’s The Key Is In The Window and 2012’s Arabesque. While Monder will likely be the more familiar name to jazz listeners, Shragge is a busy member of the improvised/creative music scene in New York, with notable recent performances at the Montreal Jazz Festival, L’Off Jazz Festival and the Festival of New Trumpet Music. A big part of Shragge’s sound on This World of Dew is, in fact, a new trumpet: the Dragon Mouth Trumpet features a slide in addition to valves, allowing the player access to new expressive avenues.

Whether he is playing the Dragon Mouth Trumpet, flugelhorn, or shakuhachi, melody is at the forefront of Shragge’s contributions to This World of Dew, from the beautiful opener, Companion, through the album’s titular suite and beyond. The recording is texturally captivating from beat one; even during moments of intensity, Shragge’s tone tends to be warm and breathy, which contrasts effectively with Monder’s electric guitar tone, which, even at its gentlest, maintains an articulate edge.

Beyond the suite, highlights include spare, linear improvisation on Roll The Dice, ethereal, organ-like sounds on It’s Ours, and the unsettling urgency of Blue Bird. Do not let the contemplative mood of This World of Dew fool you: Shragge and Monder have created captivating, intricate music that rewards the active listener with unexpected delights.

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11 Brulez les meublesBrûlez les meubles
Louis Beaudoin-de-la-Sablonnière; Éric Normand; Louis-Vincent Hamel
Tour de bras/Circum-disc (circum-disc.com)

Guitarist Louis Beaudoin-de-la-Sablonnière has recorded with the jazz-rock band Gisèle, while drummer Louis-Vincent Hamel has distinguished himself in mainstream-modern jazz idioms. Electric bassist Éric Normand comes from further left in the spectrum, best known as leader of a free improvisation large ensemble, called GGRIL. Here the trio seeks a fresh approach to the jazz trio, under the comically radical rubric, Brûlez les meubles (Burn the furniture).

That’s just what they do, stripping their music down to its essential elements, rooting it in spare melodies, clear relationships of parts and close communication. The opening L’affaire digitale, composed by Normand, has a melody as etched as something played by Paul Bley, suggesting a Quebecois stylistic parallel, while Beaudoin-de-la-Sablonnière’s Le bonheur reduces the melodic shape of Mongo Santamaria’s already spare Afro-Blue. It’s a gentle war on the rhetoric of much modern jazz, avoiding any approach focused on a tired harmonic language of convenience.

When the trio stretches out, it’s usually in a collective improvisation, like Éminence, which begins in a rubato reflection by Beaudoin-de-la-Sablonnière then gradually picks up tempo and form in a developed dialogue that smoothly reshapes itself in a series of tempo and mood changes, including a particularly subtle bass solo at its conclusion.

By the CD’s end, the trio has established a broad expressive range and a remarkably compatible formal language built on elastic forms and detailed rhythmic interaction. It’s a particularly interesting patch in the national jazz quilt.

12 VICTO cd 131In Transverse Time
Rova Saxophone Quartet
VICTO cd 131 (victo.qc.ca)

Victo is the recording arm of the venerable FIMAV festival, the annual celebration of radical musics presented in Victoriaville, Quebec since 1984. Under Michel Levasseur, the label has produced many CDs, whether to coincide with coming attractions or document exceptional concerts. In recent years, with the market in disarray, the label has limited itself to a single CD a year. The last two were of festival events, singular performances by Musica Elettronica Viva and Anthony Braxton. This year’s sole release was a prelude to Rova’s 2018 appearance, celebrating the saxophone quartet’s 40th anniversary in 2017, reached with only one personnel change (in 1988). The group has investigated game composition with John Zorn, performed a work composed for them by Terry Riley and explored John Coltrane’s Ascension in multiple forms, including a feature film recorded at the Guelph Jazz Festival.

In Transverse Time is a more intimate event, devoted to works by the quartet’s members – Bruce Ackley on soprano, Steve Adams on alto and sopranino, Jon Raskin on baritone and Larry Ochs on tenor – and playing to some of their greatest strengths, their openness to new concepts and their incredible sounds, bridging classical concepts of the quartet with stunning individual voices, Ackley’s soaring soprano, Raskin’s harmonic-rich baritone, Adams’ lyrical alto and Ochs’ blustery, vocalic tenor, filled with the breath of free jazz. Their voices have never been better framed in more immediate conversation, or more alive than they are here. It’s another annual Victo masterpiece.

13 John ColtraneBoth Directions at Once: The Lost Album: Deluxe Edition
John Coltrane
Impulse! 80028228-02 (shop.musicvaultz.com)

For contemporary listeners saturated with collector’s editions with multiple takes of an artist’s every song, it’s hard to imagine a major label losing an album by John Coltrane, the most influential jazz musician of the last 60 years. Evidently that’s just what happened: destroyed by ABC Paramount in 1973, the unissued 1963 album exists only because of a separate mono review tape that Coltrane shared with his ex-wife, Naima. Suddenly there’s a studio session of his working quartet, complete with alternate takes, available from a period when the released Coltrane albums were Ballads and collaborations with Duke Ellington and singer Johnny Hartman.

Both Directions at Once catches Coltrane in transition, but Coltrane was in continuous, accelerated musical evolution from 1955 until his death in 1967. The material embodies his then-current interests: a hard-edged, compressed version of Impressions, a standby of extended shamanistic transformations in live performances; One Up, One Down, similarly focused; an intensely brooding Nature Boy that would bloom fully two years later; a sprightly soprano saxophone theme, Untitled Original 11383; the swinging Vilia and the 11-minute Slow Blues, both traditional and radical, literally two blues at once. It’s a considered guide to Trane’s musical thought on a day in March 1963.

The deluxe edition includes a second CD of alternate takes of most tracks and multiple takes of Impressions. If you’re considering The Lost Album, get this version. If you don’t need it now, you will.

14 Empty CastlesEmpty Castles
Aerophonic AR-016 (aerophonicrecords.com)

Taking full advantage of the acoustics inside Vallejo, California’s Bunker A-168, are members of Spectral, a trio whose polyphonic improvisations develop additional sonic possibilities by applying the spatial qualities of this long-deserted 12,000-foot Second World War concrete munitions depository. Already committed to the extended techniques and dissonant currents of free music, the players – Burlington, ON-born, California-based trumpeter Darren Johnston, fellow Bay area resident sopranino and tenor saxophonist Larry Ochs and Chicagoan, alto and baritone saxophonist Dave Rempis – create nine sequences here in Action Painting-like dribs and drabs, with the cavernous setting further amplifying their connected and challenged timbres.

Tracks such as the concluding Gravity Corridor, where squished brass smears and the reeds’ shuddering snarls attain the apogee of discordance, and Protest Portal, a whining lullaby of mixing disconnected saxophone pressure tones and an unexpected rubato tattoo from Johnston, are almost textbook instances of cacophony. But Empty Castles offers reassuring consonance as well. Splash Zone is as close to a swing piece as this trio gets, with chromatic harmonies extended through trumpet flutters plus tongue slaps and splintered tones from the reeds, adding up to chromatic polyphony. Before that, Brooklyn Took It blends brass brays and distorted reed peeps into a mellow pointillist groove.

In reality Bunker A-168 may be an empty castle. But on this disc it’s filled with distinctive, assertive horn sounds.

15 Space BetweenThe Space Between Us
Ida Toninato; Jennifer Thiessen
Ambiances Magnétiques AM 236 CD (actuellecd.com)

With its drone-inflected microtonalism, this session by Montreal-based baritone saxophonist Ida Toninato and viola d’amore/violist Jennifer Thiessen takes its cues from new music as much as jazz improvisation. As the duo’s performance undulates through seven constricted tracks, the development mixes sonorities and silences with studied extensions of the instruments’ conventional ranges. For instance, Toninato’s fat saxophone smears move swiftly from coloratura to chalumeau registers, the better to intersect with Thiessen’s flying spiccato or multiple-stopping sequences.

Additionally, it sounds at points as if processing or overdubbing is taking place, in order to produce a murmuring ostinato and hints of bassoon-like or French horn-like textures that evolve alongside the duo’s output. These doubled reed tones are sensed most readily on Magma/Suspension, where throaty tremolo tones are strikingly contrasting with the fiddler’s swift, razor-sharp sweeps. The most telling challenge to a conventional accompanist/soloist matrix is Space [Outer] Space. Here, cosmos infinity is evoked through barely moving textures, confirmed in their otherworldliness through emphasized sul ponticello bow strokes and pressurized reed snarls and buzzes, until both motifs finally combine.

Although the CD is titled The Space Between Us, the profound musical connection established by Thiessen and Toninato confirms that this gap is minimal at best.

Listen to 'The Space Between Us' Now in the Listening Room

01 Native FluteNight Chants – Native American Flute
Gary Stroutsos
ARC Music EUCD2777 (arcmusic.co.uk)

A 35-year, 30-album career makes Seattle-based flute player Gary Stroutsos a veteran of the ethnic flute scene. He’s been heard in concerts, on albums, on TV and film soundtracks. While he considers jazz and new age music pioneer flutist Paul Horn (1930-2014) one of his mentors, Stroutsos has made his own mark exploring the music of Native American flutes. His passion for the stewardship of diverse cultures and the natural environment can be heard throughout the 16 tracks of Night Chants. All the music was composed and performed by Stroutsos on various Native American flutes with technical and musical assuredness and cultural sensitivity.

Stroutsos performs on a wide range of flutes here. They include Dakota 5-hole cedar and 6-hole cedar elk flutes, a Hopi rim flute, a Navajo 6-hole cedar flute, as well as river cane wind whistles and clay aerophones. The various timbral and tonal qualities evoked by each flute are vividly captured in the recording, enriching the overall contemplative mood. In addition, the introduction of occasional percussion and sounds of nature – such as bird song, night frog choruses and wind – pair beautifully with Stroutsos’ unhackneyed and unhurried flute melodies. Together they share a contemplative space that invites listeners into a particular and peaceful sense of place. 

I began listening to Night Chants wondering if I would last an entire album of solo cedar flute. Given the rich musical-cultural journey Stroutsos takes us on, I’d gladly embark again soon.

Yiddish to the Heart
Tango Yona
Independent n/a (tangoyona.com)

Tango Fado Duo
Daniel Binelli; Pedro H. da Silva
Sorel Classics SC CD 012 (sorelmusic.org/Sorel/Recordings)

My first childhood memories of tangos were watching my parents and their friends put on the vinyl and dance enchantingly in living rooms and backyard lawns to the rhythmic, sultry melodies. I loved the sounds and later became enthralled with the extension of the style by Astor Piazzolla. Here are two releases which take tango even further. 

02b Tango YonaMontreal-based Tango Yona is comprised of the amazing accordionist Yoni Kaston with Briga Dajczer and Daniel Fuchs (violins), Gael Huard (cello), Joel Kerr (bass) and Jane Erkin (vocals). Their CD, Yiddish to the Heart, features heart-wrenching exploratory performances embracing tango qualities of Holocaust songs, and other songs from the 1920s to the 1960s. The emotionally charged Yiddish-language lyrics, juxtaposed against familiar tango qualities, create moving memorable music. Erkin is a dynamic performer, whether singing or speaking the heartrending mother’s love story A Mames Harts/A Mama’s Heart, against violin/accordion solos and a closing fast tango. Markovtshizne has a more traditional tango feel with superb vocal/violin interplay, deep resonant bass, and melodic accordion flourishes, with the dynamic vocals grappling with difficult labour camp existence. Like the more symphonic string sound under the vocal duet with Erkin and guest Damian Nisenson, Es Benkt Zikh/Yearning, the less evident tango backdrop lets the love lyrics lead. Contrasting touches of New York theatre surface, as a jazzy show tune leads to a strong tango and theatrical violin ending in Shpet Bay Nakht/Late at Night. Tango Yona deserves a standing ovation for their research and performances of these dramatic, diverse pieces.

02a Tango Fado DuoPortuguese Fado music meets Argentine tangos head on as Portuguese guitarist Pedro H. da Silva and Argentine bandoneonist Daniel Binelli unite their multifaceted superstar musical talents in this strong, novel genre duet project, Tango Fado Duo. Opening track Quiero ser tu sombra (“La partida”) sets the stage with contrasting instrumental possibilities at fast tempos. Big surprise here is that the absent bass and drums on the CD are not missed, as the music is driven by the tight ensemble playing. The traditional tango El Choclo (tango) is a straightforward, uplifting cover of the tango classic, especially in the guitar middle section where the accompanying sharp staccato bandoneon notes create a new take on this famous tune. Piazzolla classic Oblivión (milonga lenta) is given a unique rendition with an overwhelmingly musical, impassioned exploration. The classic Portuguese song Lisboa antiga becomes a tango with bandoneon melodic swells, dramatic slow guitar strums and held-note ending. Fado style is maintained in the fast tempo Maria Lisboa (fado) featuring more great musical dialogues. An extremely subtle tango backdrop is heard in Binelli’s French musette-spirited Paris desde aqui, while Da Silva’s Lachrymae has him use finger-style classical techniques on the Portuguese guitar. Intriguing!

03 David Clayton ThomasMobius
David Clayton-Thomas
Antoinette & the SRG ANT549 (davidclaytonthomas.com)

Veteran performer and multi-Grammy Award-winner David Clayton-Thomas has released a new album of original works. After veering off into covers on his last couple of albums, Clayton-Thomas has returned to what made him the force of Blood, Sweat & Tears and an inductee into the Songwriters Hall of Fame.

Although a few of the songs venture into mellow territory, there is plenty of vintage Clayton-Thomas here – rockin’ and soulful. With co-writing and arranging from some of Toronto’s finest, like Lou Pomanti and George Koller (who also co-produces and plays bass), Mobius opens strongly with Back to the 60s. No wallow in nostalgia, it’s a call for young people to come together like they did at Woodstock – and like the Parkland protestors who took to the streets to express their outrage – to bring peace to the world.

A great horn section and a lineup of musicians, who bring a diverse range of sounds and skills to the record, keep the tracks interesting. Eric St. Laurent’s work ranges from epic guitar god on the opening track to breezy bossa nova on Carnival, Hugh Marsh turns in a haunting violin solo on Long Night and Larnell Lewis’ funky drumming keeps all the tracks in the pocket. The roadhouse rocker Passin’ Thru is a fitting closing track and reminder of what made Clayton-Thomas the road warrior he is, still going strong after all these years.

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04 Rory BlockA Woman’s Soul – A Tribute to Bessie Smith
Rory Block
Stony Plain Records SPCD1399 (stonyplainrecords.com)

With the release of her fine Bessie Smith-centric recording, five-time Blues Music Award-winning guitarist/vocalist Rory Block is kicking off a series of projects under the umbrella of “Power Women of the Blues.” The subsequent CDs will continue to honour a group of brave, feisty women (like Smith) who irrevocably disrupted and transformed the status quo of the musical and gender-biased landscape. Sadly, many of these blues icons have fallen into obscurity – and for some, their recordings have been lost in time altogether. Block first heard the recorded voice of Bessie Smith in 1964, when she was just a slip of a girl, living in New York City. Some years later, as a mature artist, Block is finally able to realize her creative dream and record this historic material with her own soulful, deeply respectful stamp and acoustic musical skill.

Block serves here as producer (along with Rob Davis), arranger, guitarist, vocalist and percussionist. She has devised a brilliant, ten-track program of Smith’s more familiar work, interspersed with rarely performed gems. Up first is a sassy take on Do Your Duty, featuring some excellent guitar work by Block, as well as her husky, sexy, powerful pipes. She adopts a lilting, almost Music Hall motif on the naughty, double entendre-laden Kitchen Man and swings her way through a lush and funky version of the Smith classic, Gimme a Pig Foot and a Bottle of Beer. 

On every track, the authentic blues feel, the intricate guitar and percussion work (sometimes involving kitchen utensils) and Block’s multi-textured and irresistible vocal chops, deliver it all. No doubt, Miss Bessie Smith would be proud!

A quarter of a century is an important milestone, even more so when the 25-year-old is a jazz festival rather than a person. Yet from its minimalist beginnings, the Guelph Jazz Festival (GJF) has managed to expand and intensify its programs. As befits a young adult, this year’s festival, September 12 to 16, features some new acquaintances as well as old friends in diverse settings.

01 Like ListeningOne new visitor, who plays both a noon-hour solo concert at the University of Guelph’s MacKinnon building on September 13 and an evening duo on September 14 with Montreal alto saxophonist Yves Charuest at the River Run Centre’s Cooperators Hall, is Catalan pianist Agustí Fernández. Fernández is a sophisticated expert in such settings, as he proves on a duo CD with Swedish bassist Johannes Nästesjö, Like listening with your fingertips (Konvoj Records KOR 013 konvojart.com). Fernández, who can be as lyrical as he wishes when playing in any sized group, angles this musical partnership on the disc’s single improvised track by spending as much time as pseudo-percussionist as on the keyboard. Whacking the case, key frame and strung back of the instrument plus plucking, stopping and sliding the strings to create comparable reverberations, his actions match Nästesjö’s chunky thrusts and spiccato swells that are only a little less husky when bowed. The few times the pianist moves from soundboard stimulation to complete keyboarding, his cascading patterns feature speedy kinetics or high-frequency slaps. Eventually the two reach dynamic animation, where sul ponticello arco sprawls from the bassist are decorated with single keystrokes from the pianist, like diamonds sparking on a jeweller’s bolster.

02 Lake of LightOne musician who Fernández, and seemingly half of the international creative musicians, has played with often, is American bassist William Parker, who gives a solo concert on September 15 at Royal City Church. Besides double bass, Parker, who has played at the GJF many times, often expresses himself on a six-or-eight string doussin gouni and African wooden flute. Lake of Light – Compositions for AquaSonics (Gotta Let It Out GLIO 19 CD gottaletitout.com), is even more unique in that it features Parker and three associates, Jeff Schlanger, Anne Humanfeld, both of whom are visual artists, and percussionist Leonid Galaganov, improvising with the AquaSonic, which can be both bowed like a string instrument or struck like an idiophone. The results are audacious, adventurous and atonal in equal measures. Each of the seven soundscapes reference sci-fi film soundtrack bleeps as much as they resemble polyphonic timbres from steel drums, wooden flutes, vibraphones, mridangams and güiros. On tracks like Lake of Light, Parker’s double bass prowess is such that each stroke brings out not only one tone but also all the pseudo-string’s squealing extensions. The most insouciant and least percussive collaboration sounds like it could come from an offbeat string ensemble, with the finale both contrapuntal and chromatic. In contrast, Helium Butterfly is all steel-pan-like bangs and bops, with the echoes multiplying from piccolo-like airs and rushed mallet strokes into deepened riffs. These floating puffs, spiccato bowing and vibrating smacks join for the final track, Action. Here all players continuously rattle the idiophones so that wood and metal responses are directed towards group resonation.

03 Masters of ImprovParker often works with trombonist Steve Swell, whose Soul Travelers combo shares the bill at Cooperators Hall September 14 with Fernández/Charuest. Tellingly, one of the trombonist’s newer CDs, Masters of Improvisation (Valid Records VR-1016 validrecords.com) lacks a bassist – but includes tenor saxophonist Kidd Jordan, pianist Joel Futterman and drummer Alvin Fielder, all of whom have played with Parker. Within the three live selections are prime instances of in-the-moment improvisation. Moving from slow boil to eruptive textures, the tunes unroll on a carpet of cymbal raps, pinpointed smacks and timed rolls from Fielder, as Futterman’s contrapuntal contributions move from laid-back comping to kinetic keyboard scampers, while the saxophonist and trombonist intertwine textures like a 21st-century Archie Shepp-Roswell Rudd duo. Stuttering grace notes from Swell and undulating coloratura slurs from Jordan often define the theme. Deft enough to tunefully pivot 180 degrees on the final Sawdust on the Floor, the quartet uses triple-tongued brassiness, reed overblowing and keyboard sprinkles to turn the tune into a close cousin of Lonely Avenue, with the percussion backbeat and gutbucket smears that are part of the heritage of New Orleans, where this concert was recorded. Earlier, the nearly 26-minute Residue allows each member enough space for a multiphonic, multi-faceted solo. Brief celesta-like pings set up the track that soon has the horn players digging deep into their instruments’ innards as driving keyboard-pounding, sky-high graceful trombone blasts and seemingly limitless reed variations not only allow each to isolate almost any timbre and all its extensions, but create such passion that just when it appears that the track couldn’t get more intense, it does. By the finale, Swell and Jordan are exchanging briefer and briefer sound patterns at high-pitches that spin out into a graceful textural summation, with a concluding drum roll and cymbal splash leading back to the blues.

04 Radiant ImprintsYoung enough to be Jordan’s grandson, but sometimes playing in the same free jazz style, is tenor saxophonist James Brandon Lewis, whose trio plays at the Market Square stage on September 15. Radiant Imprints (Off CD 038 jblewis.com), which features him in a duo with drums/mbira player Chad Taylor, proves that he’s his own person though, since he mixes ecstatic outbursts with well-paced melodies. Almost half the tracks whoop and howl as both players push past buoyant multiphonics to reed snarls and snorts and ambulatory drum pacing whose splayed extensions touch on John Coltrane’s most outré improvising as they slip in and out of various keys and pitches. But while Trane is an acknowledged influence, pieces such as Imprints and Radiance confirm that the duo can move past these restrictions. The latter features an expansive bass drum-tinged intro, which presages a saxophone groove that relates to pre-modern tenacious tenor players like Ben Webster and Arnett Cobb. As the tenor slurps and swings, the irregular vibrations and note extensions operate as almost dual call-and-response. Imprints has the same sort of relaxed feel, but with flutter-tongued dips from mid-range to the horn’s darker registers for added emphasis during solos. By the mid-point, Taylor’s backbeat meets up with the saxophonist, who works in a quote from A Love Supreme and exits with pure air blown through his instrument. Another distinguishing feature is on tracks such as First Born, when Taylor uses the glockenspiel-like resonance of the mbira with the facility of a guitarist to set up and stretch out the accompaniment to Lewis’ dissonant but artful interpretations.

05 Fujii This Is ItIf mbira and saxophone seems an unusual combination, so too is a trio of trumpet, piano and percussion, featured at the GJF on September 15 at Cooperators Hall. This afternoon gig on a double bill with the Dutch-Canadian Groven, Lumley & Stadhouders group, is the GJF debut of the 1538 trio of pianist Satoko Fujii, and trumpeter Natsuki Tamura, who have both played the GJF before, with drummer Takashi Itani. This Is It! (Libra Records 203-049 librarecords.com), the trio’s CD, convincingly demonstrates how easily the unfazed Itani adds his talents to the duo, which after decades of playing together anticipates each other’s every move. Named for the Celsius melting point of iron, this CD justifies the title. For instance, the drummer’s timed side ruffs on Prime Number push Fujii’s staggering chord exploration and Tamura’s mercurial grace notes into harmonic proximity so that the result is a unique squirming theme. And the drummer performs a similar gluing on Riding on the Clouds, but this time his prod is temple bell-like echoes, in sync with the trumpeter’s distantly strained tones and the pianist’s minimized chromatic movements. Swoop, however, proves that the three don’t have to operate at a hushed level, with Fujii’s high-frequency key pummelling and percussive arpeggios and Itani’s nerve beats and cymbal clashes creating a showcase where frequently-repeated note patterns define progress.

These concerts and others confirm that the GJF offers maturity tempered with experimentation – and it’s these qualities which draw fans to the city every September. 

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