Ninety-Nine Years
Satoko Fujii Orchestra Berlin
Libra Records 211-047

Bright Force
Kira Kira (Satoko Fuji)
Libra Records 204-048 (librarecords.com)

09a Fujii BerlinThe brilliant Japanese avant-garde composer and improviser Satoko Fujii, who happens to play piano and accordion and conduct three separate orchestras on three continents, celebrates her 60th year in 2018. Japanese tradition calls it kanreki, which is best explained to a Eurocentric as literally coming full circle in life. The Japanese (lunar) calendar, unlike our Gregorian one, completes a whole cycle covering 12 junishi or animals – mouse, cow, tiger and so on. But with each animal comes the mystical elements, measures of space and time or five jikhan which, when factored in means that a person completes a life cycle at 60 (12x5). And so Satoko Fujii has been born again. To mark the fire and brimstone of youth Fujii has decided to celebrate her 60th year with 12 new albums, one for each junishi.

09b Fujii Bright ForceThis very unique and year-long Japanese birthday fête also means that we get to experience the full force of Fujii’s creativity. It’s clear from the fecund surge in the music of two of the 12 albums that Fujii’s music comes from a part of her being that is highly imaginative. The music that ensues is audacious and is propelled through her body to the nerve endings of her fingertips, from where it explodes out of the instruments that she plays. Magically, on the music of Ninety-Nine Years with Orchestra Berlin and on Bright Force with the quartet Kira Kira, the spark of the Fujii-electricity also reaches the members of both ensembles in such a manner as to ignite each one like a nuclear burst from the corona of the sun.

On the former recording Fujii simply acts as conductor; the proverbial catalyst in the detonation of her musical bombs. There are five songs on Ninety-Nine Years – each forming a vignette in an unravelling scroll that begins with a mystery in Unexpected Incident, and ends with another one, Follow The Idea, as well. Meanwhile each work on the disc is linked to the other like a series of arresting complexes of musical events characterized by movement, from immobility through acceleration, to a vanishing point propelled by both metronomic pulses and effusive lyricism. The music of Bright Force – as the album title suggests – emerges from its own proverbial solar explosion and is resolved in the quietude of the mysterious Luna Lionfish suite, a strikingly lyrical feature that closes an extraordinarily edgy album.

10 Globe UnityGlobe Unity – 50 Years
Alexander von Schlippenbach; Globe Unity Orchestra
Intakt Records CD 298/2018 (intaktrec.ch)

Recorded at Jazzfest Berlin in 2016, this CD marks the half-century of an experiment that has become a great instrument and a flexible institution. In 1966, pianist Alexander von Schlippenbach was invited to present a free jazz big band at the same festival. He created the 13-member Globe Unity Orchestra, combining and expanding the Manfred Schoof Quintet and the Peter Brötzmann Trio. The group has frequently reconvened, with nine to 19 members, demonstrating that minimal organization and committed listening can create both order and ecstatic chaos. By current standards of inclusion, it represents a small “globe,” but it celebrates an ambition that began in the European Union and crossed the Iron Curtain.

This edition has 18 members – three from the 1966 assembly (Schlippenbach, saxophonist Gerd Dudek and Schoof, the band’s eldest member at 80 in 2016) and seven significantly younger newcomers. Among the members are some of the most lyrical of improvisers (Dudek and trumpeter Tomasz Stańko [both joined in 1970]) and great sonic explorers (saxophonist Evan Parker [also 1970] and trumpeter Axel Dörner [2006]).

From the pointillist beginnings in which the members assemble in pecking isolation, the work moves organically through sub-ensembles and solo turns and moments of full-tilt incandescent glory. The trumpeters and trombonists – functioning with nothing resembling a conventional score – stretch a swing-era harmonic model to a mind-melding vision. The ultimate 44-minute piece celebrates the joy of untrammelled improvisation, testimony to the invention, openness and generosity of its members.

11 Peggy LeeEcho Painting
Peggy Lee
Songlines SGL1626-2 (songlines.com)

The artistic genius of Vancouver-based composer/performer/leader Peggy Lee is in top form in Echo Painting, a suite commissioned by the 2016 Vancouver International Jazz Festival. The Lee-composed tracks touch on free improvisation, jazz, and classical genres, providing her new ten-piece ensemble (comprising veteran and younger Vancouver area musicians) eloquent music to interpret. 

The opening Incantation sets the stage with mellow, slow, full ensemble held-note soundscapes and a jazz-tinged tenor saxophone solo against florid drumming. A Strange Visit touches on many styles with its fast, almost minimalistic string opening leading to a slower atonal improvisational section, and finishing with a march-like groove. More diverse style references emerge in Snappy, as Lee’s opening cello improvisation leads to atonal squeaks and repetition. A surprise polka-sounding section with string lead follows, with more fun in the subsequent wall-of-sound drum section. It all ends with crackling new music sounds. Hymn is a relaxing, reflective work with classical tonal harmonic changes. which develops into a more modern-day jazz number. All but three tracks were composed by Lee, the most notable being a straightforward cover of Robbie Robertson’s The Unfaithful Servant sung by guest vocalist Robin Holcomb, a surprising yet gratifying closing musical moment.   

Lee and her musicians move seamlessly between musical ideas with tight ensemble playing whether from notated scores or improvising. This is an original, detailed, unique recording.

12 Core Tet ProjectThe Core-Tet Project
Dame Evelyn Glennie; Jon Hemmersam; Szilárd Mezei; Michael Jefry Stevens
Naxos 8.573804 (naxos.com)

All of us who love to free improvise (and all the rest of you too) need to listen to The Core-tet Project improvising over 70 minutes of in-the-moment illuminating, live musical sounds. Members Dame Evelyn Glennie (percussion), Jon Hemmersam (guitar), Szilárd Mezei (viola) and Michael Jefry Stevens (piano) are each musical superstars, but the big surprise here is how well they create music together.

From the initial piano ping in Steel-Ribbed Dance, each soloist joins the cohesive tight group with virtuosic rapid lines, beating repeated notes and tinges of guitar and piano jazz flavours. The Calling is a quieter, slower soundscape. I love the hypnotic percussion and piano opening leading to a classic middle free improv section with piano and percussion strikes, guitar lines and viola slides. A sense of humour and individuality shines in Walk of Intensity. From the opening pacing piano feel, each instrumentalist runs at their own pace, building to a higher pitch, then gradually subsiding to a final piano note. Silver Shore is a moving, expressive piano and viola duet with its counterpoint and harmonies emulating a notated piece of music. Black Box Thinking features a wall-of-sound setting with the percussion and viola in a “Who will win this percussive banging conversation?” contest. The closing Rusty Locks has a fun groove-driven upbeat dance feel.

The booklet notes, penned by Glennie and Stevens, give a sneak peek to each track. Recording is clean and alive. Enjoy!

13 Sylvie CourvoisierD’Agala
Sylvie Courvoisier Trio
Intakt Records CD 300 (intaktrec.ch)

Nearly 15 years of collective rumination about the jazz trio tradition has led to this collection of original compositions by Swiss pianist Sylvie Courvoisier, dedicated to many of her inspirations. Here, Courvoisier is joined by her American associates, bassist Drew Gress and drummer Kenny Wollesen. Intense, but not insensate, Courvoisier’s tunes are unique enough to equally incorporate brooding meditations, solemn threnodies and springy acknowledgments.

Dedicated to pianist Geri Allen, for instance, D’Agala is actually more reminiscent of Bill Evans’ trio elaborations, where emphasized keyboard tones move forward crab-like, as each texture is shadowed by connective double bass thumps and underscored by echoing bell-tree-like and chain-shaking percussion that frames each carefully thought-out pattern. Éclats for Ornette, honouring saxophonist Coleman, jostles with a wobbly effervescence as the semi-blues melody and walking bass emphasis work into a clanking climax that’s as self-possessed as it is solid. South Side Rules for guitarist John Abercrombie is as sparse, distant and darkened as his work, yet each isolated note is kept from formalism by cymbal swirls and drum shuffles; while Fly Whisk, for Irène Schweizer, isolates the celebrated pianist’s distinctive keyboard tapestry, relieved by bursts of forceful chording, without every compromising Courvoisier’s singular identity.

Immersing herself in these nine demonstrations of jazz trio wizardry, the pianist does more than appropriately honour her important influences. Her playing and compositions confirm her membership in the coterie of innovative improvising keyboardists.

14 Zero PointThoughts Become Matter
Zero Point
MTM 006 (zeropoint-music.com)

Controlled free improvisation of the precise kind, this quartet demonstrates that free music doesn’t have to reach zero point – the lowest form of energy – to foam. Harmonized like a chemical formula, without one element missing, the band is Swiss guitarist Marius Duboule, Canadian bassist Michael Bates, plus Americans, drummer Deric Dickens and multi-instrumentalist Daniel Carter.

Never exceeding the boiling point on any track, the group improvisations are nudged along by Bates’ paced and responsive thumps and Dickens’ mediated shuffles and nerve beats. From that point, sound actualization usually depends on whether Duboule is accenting his acoustic guitar strings or crunching rough timbres from his electric instrument, as Carter moves with equal facility among flute, clarinet, trumpet or soprano, alto and tenor saxophones. Carter slips from one to another with such discretion that he’ll often be playing another instrument instants before you’ve finally identified the first. Arabesques and flutter tonguing from his flute highlight storytelling beauty on Go for the Gold, with the same skill that his muted trumpet has on Crystal Lattice, as it hovers beside vibrating guitar strums until they harmonize at the perfect moment. Even Duboule’s electric projections on the title track simply contrast with alto saxophone refinement long enough to ensure Carter’s subsequent harmonizing defines the piece as ductile and dense.

The CD’s one drawback is that its longest track is shorter than eight minutes. Fewer tracks and more protracted improvising would allow Zero Point to stretch its imaginative concepts still further.

15 Ian ShawShine Sister Shine
Ian Shaw
Jazz Village JV550005 (pias.com/labels/jazz-village)

Consummate jazz vocalist and pianist Ian Shaw first emerged onto the international jazz scene after his warm and agile voice was heard on the soundtrack of Richard Curtis’ hit film, Four Weddings and a Funeral. Since his auspicious debut, the Welsh-born and London-based Shaw has created some of the most intriguing jazz vocal recordings in recent memory – and his latest offering is no exception. In his own words, Shine Sister Shine is a “celebration of the actions and art of extraordinary women.”

Shaw – who arranged the CD and is joined by his fine trio of Barry Green on piano, Mick Hutton on bass and David Ohm on drums – is also an activist, focused on working with refugees. He contributes two original compositions here, Keep Walking (dedicated to a brave Eritrean mother) and Carry On World, written in praise of women and their steely strength. The other fine tracks on the CD include Shaw’s innovative interpretations of compositions by Peggy Lee, Joni Mitchell, Phoebe Snow and Carly Simon.

Things get cooking with Carry On World (Starring Everyone), which is a supple, contemporary jazz tune with luscious multi-tracked backing vocals by Shaw. Shaw’s pitch-perfect baritone is recognizably his, while still manifesting nuances of iconic jazz vocalists such as the late Mark Murphy. On Not the Kind of Girl, Shaw demonstrates his innate and compassionate ability to communicate the deepest of human feelings. The closer, a piano/voice re-imagining of Carly Simon’s Coming Around Again, is a triumph. Without question, this is one of the finest jazz vocal recordings of the year.

01 Curious Bards(Ex)Tradition
The Curious Bards
Harmonia Mundi HMN 906105 (thecuriousbards.com)

Hands up, those organizing an Irish ceilidh or Scottish Burns Night. Look no further for your music. These pieces were performed for the most part in the 18th century and what emerges is a highly individual blend. The Curious Bards received formal training in Baroque musical instruments. They have gone on to apply their expertise – and such instruments as the viola da gamba – to perform Irish and Scottish music which has emanated from a variety of sources.

The Curious Bards start with three Scottish reels collected by Robert Bremner in 1757: see if your guests can keep up with the raw energy of The Lads of Elgin! The Irish are not to be dissuaded, with their own opening trio. While some pieces are more melancholic than their Scottish counterparts, The High Road to Dublin displays the spirited quality of the works of Ireland’s renowned bard Carolan.

The most imaginative arrangements on the CD must be the Highland Battle. Just as other Renaissance composers, for example, Byrd and Susato, set the sounds of a battle to music, so the Caledonian Pocket Companion of 1750 conveys the battle via flute and violin, even down to the mournful Lamentation for the Chief.

And so the jigs and reels continue (not least the Reel of Tulloch), enough for an evening’s Irish and Scottish celebrations. This choice by Baroque-trained musicians is strange, but it should not deter anyone. There is a crispness to the interpretations, which that very training brings out.

02 Margaret HerlehyRosewood Café
Margaret Herlehy
Big Round Records BR8950 (bigroundrecoreds.com)

In Rosewood Café, a small band of Latin jazz performers, fronted by an oboe of all things, presents a sweet collection of songs in the South American popular idiom. Oboist Margaret Herlehy has a lively sense of rhythm and phrase. She matches well with the more typical elements of a Latin jazz combo: drums, guitar and piano.

The CD title gives a good indication of one likely market for this product: it’s exactly the sort of fresh sound one might hear for the first time over a latté in the local coffee haunt, played slightly below the surrounding murmur of conversation and clicking of laptop keyboards. One approaches the server to inquire and one sees that it does indeed feature the oboe in this atypical mix, and one revisits one’s sense of what exactly the oboe can or should do. It’s lovely to hear the pairing of oboe and flute racing to the finish of track six, Diabinho maluco by Jacob do Bandolim, the only really uptempo cut on the collection, by.

Apart from the final track, Astor Piazzolla’s Café 1930, the composers featured are fairly unknown to the non-aficionado of popular Latin music, and in spite of a promise of an online listing, neither the disc nor the website provide any great detail about them. Interesting to note that the one most often featured is Brazilian guitarist Celso Machado, who lives, according to Google, in British Columbia.

Listen to 'Rosewood Café' now in the Listening Room

03 Jeremy DutcherWolastoqiyik Lintuwakonawa
Jeremy Dutcher
Independent jd003 (jeremydutcher.com)

Jeremy Dutcher is a multi-gifted artist who also expresses his humanity as an activist and musicologist. Dutcher is a member of the Tobique First Nation in New Brunswick, and he began this remarkable project by transcribing Wolastoq songs from vintage 1907 wax cylinders at the Canadian Museum of History in Halifax. The voices and souls of Dutcher’s people reached out to him through those cylinders, which were rife with unfamiliar songs and lore.

The 11 deeply moving compositions on this CD are the result of Dutcher’s “collaboration” with those ancestral voices, as well as his almost classical piano approach and dynamic vocal instrument. Each track is also enhanced and integrated with Wolastoq spoken word and singing that was preserved on those cylinders. Dutcher has surrounded himself here with a scintillating wall of sound, including himself on piano and vocals, Devon Bate on electronics and an array of strings, brass and percussion – all the voices of a classical orchestra. He has said that he is doing this remarkable work in part because there are only about 100 Wolastoqey speakers left, and “It’s crucial for us to make sure that we’re using our language and passing it on to the next generation.”

In the initial track, Mehcinut/Death Chant, Dutcher’s voice soars in power, strength and purity, moving contiguously with the voice from a wax cylinder recording. Other stunning compositions include Ultestakon/Shaker Lullaby, which has a simply gorgeous melody and sonorous percussion that evokes a comforting heartbeat; and also Love Song, which is arranged with angelic and complex vocals that act as sonic waves of uplifting awareness and oneness.

04 MazID
MAZ
Bleu 44 BLEUCD-4445 (mazworld.ca)

Montreal group MAZ has many accolades under their belt. With this, their third album, there should be many more to come as the group tastefully takes Québécois traditional music in a new direction, as the group self-describes, “in a flow of trad, jazz and electro.”

Each member is a superb performer/composer. Leader/electric guitarist/banjoist Marc Maziade plays and sings with confidence and originality. His opening zippy clear vocals in the traditional tune La guenille foreshadow what the future tracks will bring, with a fast-driving bass groove by Hugo Blouin, great fiddling by Pierre-Olivier Dufresne, and Roxane Beaulieu on keyboards. The rest are original tunes which feature interesting style developments. Love the club dance feel of Projet 4, as a touch of folk is supported by solid low-end bounce and electro music. Le fléau moves at a nice walking pace as traditional music is modernized with a nice accelerando, bouncy melody, instrumental solos and closing squeaks. Le cercle dives into more contemporary sounds with its larger interval leap melodic lines, multi-rhythms and quasi-atonal harmonic changes. The fun upbeat closing of ID 4/4 – reel du chemin moves subtly from pop vocals and grooves to a more traditional reel so we can all remember where their music came from!

MAZ members are so respectful of each other that the multi-genre styles they are transforming and combining never feel contrived and produce fresh, accessible, inventive Québécois world music.

05 Jordan OfficerThree Rivers
Jordan Officer
Spectra Musique SPECD-7866 (spectramusique.com)

Perhaps like many outside of Quebec, I first discovered guitarist Jordan Officer by way of his association with vocalist Susie Arioli. First impacted by the authenticity of his guitar playing and by how deeply he had drunk from the well of Charlie Christian, Carl Kress and Django Reinhardt, Officer established a high bar of excellence for guitarists in Canada, playing meaningfully and without unnecessary sentimentality in what I might describe as “roots” music; a performative style that foregrounds acoustic timbres, period-piece instruments and non-digitally mediated sounds to conjure up a place and space of yesteryear.

Said commitment continues here on Three Rivers, but, like many broad musical thinkers, Officer is now beyond genre in his approach. While there are clear flourishes of jazz throughout, this recording is an expansive musical undertaking that employs the blues, country, a connection to hymns, and gospel singing with whimsically expressive lyrics scattered throughout. It sounds like a road album or a travelogue with sights and sounds, all quintessentially American, created sonically or in the mind’s eye. I was not familiar with Officer as a singer before this recording, but am not surprised to discover that he is talented, expressive and, most of all, musical in his delivery. This is a thoroughly enjoyable recording, both musically and sonically, and one that should earn Officer heightened accolades and fans.

06 Kiran Ahluwalia7 Billion
Kiran Ahluwalia
Independent KM2018 (kiranmusic.com)

Steeped in the vocal traditions of India and Pakistan, Kiran Ahluwalia has, in the course of six albums, restlessly explored world music genres featuring collaborations with Celtic fiddler Natalie MacMaster, Malian group Tinariwen, Portuguese fado masters and jazz guitarist Rez Abbasi. Her discs have garnered her two JUNO Awards and other significant accolades.

Over six songs, with music and lyrics by Ahluwalia, 7 Billion explores yet more musical crossroads in search of the human condition with the help of her five-piece band of electric guitar, electric bass, keyboards, tabla and drum kit. “When you take different styles and merge them together… then you’re really developing a new hybrid genre,” Ahluwalia says. “For me it’s important to blur the musical boundaries between my Indian background, influences from Western sounds and… Mali. It’s incredibly invigorating when I feel a connection in expressions from different cultures and then figure out ways to connect them seamlessly in my music,” she states. Her lyrics speak of realizing female desire without shame, the perils of love, and raging against the institutionalization of religion.

Recorded in a Toronto studio, Ahluwalia’s We Sinful Women caps the album. Its lyrics use a 1991 Urdu feminist poem by Kishwar Naheed (translated by Rukhsana Ahmad, the Pakistani novelist, playwright and poet). A powerful indictment of male oppression of women, it’s also a rocker with a hook-y chorus, with room to feature driving jazz breaks by electric guitarist Abbasi and organist Louis Simao. It’s worth another listen.

07 Michael KaeshammerSomething New
Michael Kaeshammer
Linus Entertainment 270337 (linusentertainment.com)

There can be no question that talented pianist and vocalist Michael Kaeshammer has been on a trajectory of excellence since his first JUNO nomination in 2001. Having entered the jazz world as a wunderkind, Kaeshammer is now a fully realized mature artist, and with his latest release (which he also produced) he has plumbed the depths of the New Orleans sound. He is bolstered on this heady trip down South by some of the finest jazz musicians on either side of the Mason-Dixon Line, including Cyril Neville, George Porter Jr., legendary drummer Johnny Vidacovich, Mike Dillon, the New Orleans Nightcrawlers Brass Band and bassist David Piltch. Other noted guests include Colin James, Randy Bachman, Curtis Salgado, Jim Byrnes, Amos Garrett and Chuck Leavell of the Rolling Stones.

Of the original 11 tracks on this CD, ten were penned by Kaeshammer and all were recorded at the historic Esplanade Studios, located in the heart of New Orleans’ Treme District. Kaeshammer has unapologetically blurred the musical lines here between boogie-woogie, trad jazz, blues, straight ahead jazz, Zydeco and more. The CD kicks off with Scenic Route. On this groovy cooker, Kaeshammer sings with a new depth and intensity. The tight horn section and relentless, skilled drumming from Vidacovich make this track a standout.

Also wonderful is Do You Believe – where meaty vocals and harmonica from Salgado and the brilliant horn arrangement by saxophonist/pianist Phil Dwyer ensure that this track is a thing of beauty. Also of note is the melancholy Weimar, which parenthesizes the project, and puts Kaeshammer’s lyrical and romantic piano chops firmly on centre stage.

08 Lake street Dive Free Yourself UpFree Yourself Up
Lake Street Dive
Nonesuch 2 567158 (nonesuch.com)

I first came across Lake Street Dive when I caught their (viral) YouTube cover of The Jackson Five hit I Want You Back, shot live on a street in Boston. I was immediately drawn in by lead singer Rachael Price’s throaty, soulful voice. Add to that the four-piece band’s tight vocal harmonies, groove and cohesion and I was hooked. But that was six years ago when doing cool covers in jazzy/R&B style was their main thing. Now the group’s songwriting is at the fore with their latest release, Free Yourself Up, and their sound has shifted to a more swaggering electric/soul/pop feel. Vocal harmonies, however, are still a strong and endearing feature of the band.

Bass player Bridget Kearney (formerly of Joy Kills Sorrow) did most of the songwriting on the album either alone or with bandmate Mike Olson (trumpet, guitars). Her specialty is breakup songs and she and the band manage to make them driving and soulful yet still melodic, as in Good Kisser and the beautiful Musta Been Something. The songs co-written by Olson and drummer Mike Calabrese are lyrically a little more insouciant but still clever, as in the very funky Red Light Kisses and Doesn’t Even Matter Now. Generally the album is a head-bopping ride and I bet this band would be a lot of fun to see live. Details of their extensive tour – including a stop in Toronto on June 25 as part of the TD Toronto Jazz Festival – can be found at LakeStreetDive.com.

More than a half-century after his recording debut, multi-reedist Roscoe Mitchell shows no sign of slowing down as a player or composer. One of the founders of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM) and the Art Ensemble of Chicago (AEC), Mitchell, who also teaches, keeps the AEC going alongside experiments with ensembles ranging from duos to big bands. Many of the bigger configurations are pliable, however, so what at first appears to be a large ensemble turns out to be several subsets of musicians who more faithfully portray some of Mitchell’s thornier compositions.

01 Mitchell BellsBells for the South Side (ECM 2494/2495 ecmrecords.com), a two-CD set, is an example of this. Although an additional eight players are featured interpreting a dozen Mitchell originals, the band members – percussionists Tani Tabbal, William Winant and Kikanju Baku, trumpeter Hugh Ragin, reedist James Fei, keyboardist Craig Taborn, bassist Jaribu Shahid plus Tyshawn Sorey, who plays trombone, piano and drums – are usually divided into various-sized groups featuring Mitchell on soprano, sopranino, alto or bass saxophones, flute, piccolo, bass recorder and percussion. The resilient Winant skilfully employs tubular bells, glockenspiel, vibes and marimba during the 11 Chicago-recorded tracks, either in contrast to other instrumental motifs or as a clanging continuum. On the title track, for instance, his combination of bell shakes and bell-ringing echoes alongside washboard-like scrubs as a perfect backdrop for equivalent honks from Fei’s contralto clarinet and delicate storytelling from Ragin’s piccolo trumpet. Meanwhile, Spatial Aspects of the Sound, the leadoff track, demonstrates how tubular bell-hammering plus segmented scrapes from other players (using Mitchell’s specially constructed percussion cage) serve as discerning contrasts to formalist timbres from pianist Taborn and Mitchell’s piccolo. These sorts of meaningful challenges meander throughout the discs, as when Fei’s sopranino and Mitchell’s bass saxophone move from shrill peeps and tongue slaps to a pastoral-sounding coda; or when Shahid, Tabbal, Ragin, one pianist and Mitchell on The Last Chord work brass tweets, reed snarls, keyboard asides and bass-and-drum deliberations into a theme that extends the concept of how a free-oriented group should sound, offering simple swing and timbre scrutiny in equal measure. Slippery reed and brass excursions are as common as carefully harmonized and calming horn sequences here, as are delicate passages from vibes and piano which set off equally intense drum forays pulsating from any or all of the percussion kits. The extended and concluding Red Moon in the Sky/Odwalla wraps up these sound currents, then expands the program. Taborn’s and Fei’s electronically pushed wave-form pulsations and space-invader-like wiggles give way to martial drumming and screaming reeds that amplify the wistful, contemporary jazz narrative suggested earlier on Prelude to the Card Game, Cards for Drums, And the Final Hand, but with Ragin’s cascading grace notes and Mitchell’s nasal vibrations rejuvenating the narrative still further. Finally, the gentle swing of Odwalla, an AEC classic, is the setting for Mitchell’s mournful alto solo and some drum pitter patter.

02 Accelerated ProjectionA decade previously in Sardinia (2005), Mitchell, playing alto and soprano saxophone plus flute, met pianist Matthew Shipp, with whom he had been collaborating for more than a dozen years, for seven variations on Accelerated Projection (RogueArt Rog 0079 roguart.com). In these pure improvisations, the players alternate solo passages with those moments where their thought processes could be that of a single mind. Feeling out each other’s dynamics and drawbacks, they experiment with sweeping and clattering keyboard lines, pinched reed peeps and augmentations in solo and duo configurations. By the time the fourth track arrives, though, they’ve worked out an interactive concoction. At that point, just as they’ve serenely probed every musical nuance, they rev up to hardened staccato with so many timbres packed into their playing that they threaten to overflow the sound limits. Accelerated Projection VI is the climactic synthesis, where after experimenting with inner-piano-string pulls plus ethereal flute somersaults, they limit themselves to the keyboard and saxophones. On soprano, Mitchell’s honks and split tones vibrate every note and its extensions to the limit, as Shipp turns from key dusting and caressing to high-frequency chording that echoes and links to the reed output. From that point on, an exercise in smoothing out key jiggles and overblown reed shrills leads to an instance of sophisticated tonal fusion.

03 Mitchell MTOFlash forward 11 years to Toronto and Ride the Wind (Nessa ncd-40 nessarecords.com) preserves a concert Mitchell was involved in, featuring an 18-piece Montreal-Toronto Art Orchestra (MTAO) specially assembled by trombonist Scott Thomson and bassist Nicolas Caloia to play expanded arrangements, transcribed and orchestrated from some of the saxophonist’s compositions, many of which were previously recorded with Taborn and Baku in trio form. With Gregory Oh as conductor, Mitchell supervises rather than plays, except for a brief sopranino saxophone solo of boomeranging circular breathing on They Rode for Them-Part Two. So how do the Ontarians and Quebeckers fare? Quite well, especially on the CD-ending runthrough of Mitchell’s vintage Nonaah, played by a quartet of Caloia, trumpeter Craig Pedersen, alto saxophonist Yves Charuest and clarinetist Lori Freedman. A squirming chipper compendium of string bounces, tongue slaps, nimble trumpeting and reed whistles, the head gives way to a harmonized middle section, while sombre asides maintain the tune’s ambulatory pace. It’s a nimble confection to complete the multi-course sonic banquet served by the 18 players on the preceding six tracks. The sonic half-dozen pieces are pre-eminently group music, although Charuest, bassoonist Peter Lutek and pianist Marilyn Lerner, among others, manage brief interpolations. Offering the flavors derived from both notated and improvised sounds, sometimes, as on Ride the Wind, the accumulated vamps are almost symphonically orchestral, with a rumbling trombone/tuba intro booming like the initial motif of Beethoven’s Symphony No.5 before the darkened textures are balanced by decorative reed smears plus sunnier respites from flute peeps, cymbal raps and chromatic stopping from piano and vibes. More dissonant, with intermittent pacing, the other tracks include twinned instrumental passages, some as challenging as Jean Derome’s piccolo face-off with Isaiah Ceccarelli’s snare drum on They Rode for Them-Part Two, after which drum ratamacues usher in surround sound from the MTAO that takes up every remaining open space. The key instance of this mass movement is RUB, which moves without pause into Shards and Lemons. Profoundly abstract, the expressive squeaks, gurgles and small animal cries on RUB undulate sporadically until superseded by the spiritual tone poem that is the latter tune. The placid surface of orchestral harmonies is sometimes upset by trumpet peeps and trombone slurs until a harsher interlude weighted towards percussion and lower-pitched reeds enlarges the unrolling slow-motion, culminating in a crescendo that distinctively connects understated, stentorian, shrill and lowing textures into a pulsating whole.

04 Seraphic LightMitchell’s influence as a polymorphous soloist and composer is enormous and is reflected in the work of other master musicians such as Daniel Carter. On the three-part improvisation Seraphic Light (AUM Fidelity AUM 106 aumfidelity.com), Carter plays soprano, alto and tenor saxophones, clarinet, flute and trumpet with frequent Mitchell collaborators Shipp and bassist William Parker. Obviously less structured than Mitchell’s work often is, Seraphic Light does confirm how an integrated combination of motion and emotion can create a narrative both spellbinding and stirring. Initially graceful and formal due to Carter’s muted trumpet grace notes, the tune shortly becomes foot-stomping swing due to Parker’s crunching and buzzing bass line, Shipp’s repetitive chording and Carter’s riffs that sprawl from moderato to altissimo. With Carter switching among so many horns and the others playing percussive when appropriate to bypass the need for a drummer, the three sometimes recalls a miniature AEC. The program’s apogee occurs midway through Part II, when carefully thought-out polyphony means that a groove is established even as each of the players creates a separate, though related, theme variation. The track culminates with this layered mass dividing into a walking bass line, segmented reed textures and connective keyboard comping. A coda as well as a culmination, Part III allows a pause to acknowledge applause on this live set, and then miraculously picks up where the previous tune ends, reaching the same energetic groove. Then the track is slowly allowed to fade via rolling piano textures, string slams from the bassist and breathy up-and-down flutter tonguing from Carter’s tenor saxophone.

The musical advances which Mitchell helped pioneer are still being showcased and extended by himself and others, 50 years on. 

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