03 Avery RaquelAvery Raquel
Avery Raquel
Independent ARK2022 (averyraquel.com)

It may not be unusual for someone (anyone) to have been put through life’s travails at a fairly young age. But to appear to come out of life’s existential angst and write about it in often bleak minor-key introspections and, moreover, to sing about it all in what appears to be a fully formed voice is praiseworthy. This is the kind of stuff that songwriter and vocalist Avery Raquel is made of.

Raquel has evidently trawled the ocean of life and has surfaced with an inspired musical program that is sure to be the envy of artists twice her age. She is capable of a myriad of emotions and has the remarkable ability to turn on a vocal switch to match the emotion that she is evoking in a particular song. The bleakness of Helpless or the yearnings of Please lie at opposite angles to the emotions covered on Love in September. 

This music is delivered in a manner that is genuinely affecting. Raquel’s tone is multi-chromatic, her expression genuinely varied. There is much indication of her being an enthralling storyteller and her producer and arranger – Nick Tateishi – has not only duly noted this, but taken steps to ensure that her unique characteristics are right in the arc light of the songs – where they deserve to be.

Listen to 'Avery Raquel' Now in the Listening Room

04 Ori DaganClick Right Here
Ori Dagan
Scat Cat Productions ODCD04 (oridagan.com)

Multi-talented jazz vocalist Ori Dagan wears a number of hats on his latest recording, including composer. Dagan wrote nearly every track, often in collaboration with a coterie of fine artists, including Jane Bunnett, Nathan Hiltz, Mark Kieswetter and Erik Flow. Guitarist Hiltz also serves as musical director here, and is joined by a septet of A-List musicians as well as guest artists Bunnett on flute and soprano sax, rapper Flow and vocalists Simone Denny and Donovan Locke. 

Much of the material here was written with a witty, contemporary, Cole Porter-ish social media-centric skew. Kicking things off is Viruses, which boasts fine horn arrangements by Hiltz and Hennessy, as well as a groovy cool, up-tempo perspective with fine alto soloing by Alison Young coupled with Dagan’s fine delivery of the clever lyrics. Also tasty is Clicked on Romance, which boasts a distinctive Les Paul-ish country-swing flair. Dagan bobs and weaves confidently throughout the delightful melody and engaging lyric, making wonderful use of his powerful lower register.

Would You Swing My Way is a truly outstanding track, a beautiful legato verse segues into a delicious bebop ballad. Cleverly arranged with several different time signatures, the listener is constantly engaged and mesmerized and Hiltz solos with his customary elegance and skill. Going that Counts (for Ella) is a tribute to the legendary Ella Fitzgerald and in her honour, Dagan and Locke scat like crazy at breakneck speed, while Colleen Allen wails on tenor. One of the most intriguing tunes on the recording is Dagan’s composition, Rebirth of the Cool. The lyric is filled with imagery and purpose, not unlike the work of the late Jon Hendricks, and lauds the art form of jazz in all of its many colours, as does the recording itself.

05 Carl MayotteEscale
Carl Mayotte
Analekta AN 2 8836 (analekta.com/en)

Nary a single second of Escale feels superfluous. Track after track, canvasses for expression are established, occupied, broken down and eventually transformed. The compositions build in remarkable fashion, and that doesn’t necessarily always translate to a crescendo in volume or vigour. 

Bassist/bandleader/pianist/vocalist/engineer/producer extraordinaire Carl Mayotte is a master of making his compositions feel organic and like breathing. Irresistible earworm (try getting that guitar ostinato out of your head) Au milieu de nulle part starts by gradually adding complexity to its initial groove, and just when the proverbial beat feels ready to drop, everything comes down. The subsequent bass solo leads back into the first motif seamlessly, which essentially resets the clock and adds dimensionality to the dance. Turning another corner, the band drops out again to give way to ambient noise, foreshadowing the sombre and meditative Hiver. This track is a brilliant showcase of Mayotte’s warm bass tone and his proclivity to utilize the entire range of his instrument when improvising. There is also a lot to love about the variety of layered bass tones used, from the dominant warbly sound more characteristic of a fretless approach, to the understated and hushed tones arpeggiating in the left channel during the outro. Also central to Mayotte’s music is the use of simple repeated phrases, percussion and rhythm that drives every track. Escale has an undeniable, infectious pulse behind it.

07 George CrottyChronotope
George Crotty Trio
Independent (georgecrotty.com/trio)

Cellist George Crotty, bassist Jonathan Chapman and drummer Matias Recharte have their versatility on full display throughout Chronotope. Produced, led and composed in its entirety by Crotty, the music certainly plays like a showcase of the cello’s capabilities. However, while Crotty’s virtuosity and melodicism undeniably take center stage, that doesn’t mean there exists a hint of passivity from Chapman or Recharte. As an incredibly accomplished two-man rhythm section, they provide a bedrock-solid foundation for the ever-expanding/contracting pace and energy of the sound. Some of the most potent moments occur when the trio triples down on a passage, which functionally puts great emphasis on the more crucial rhythms, all while bringing out the weight of their tandem. 

On Prayer Dance, a standout, the lines played in unison instill a sense of urgency in the listener. The combination of Crotty’s lyrical, aggressive solo (he combines these elements extremely well throughout the album) and Recharte’s dynamic playing almost transcends the trio format in terms of scale, or sheer amount of sound produced over a span of time. In a moment of positively beautiful sequencing, the significantly calmer yet immensely moving Metamorphosis comes next. Chapman hops on electric bass, and his ability to sustain notes within his arpeggios allows for a sound that blankets the mix in warmth, giving a spellbinding depth of harmonic context to Crotty’s vibrato. That’s the recurring theme throughout Chronotope – the diverse complementary potential of musical instruments being fully realized.

Listen to 'Chronotope' Now in the Listening Room

08 Steve KaldestadLive at Frankie’s Jazz Club
Steve Kaldestad; Chris Gestrin; Conrad Good; Jesse Cahill
Cellar Music CM072321 (cellarlive.com)

Live recordings often give the listener a bit of an extra feeling for the music, a certain je ne sais quoi that studio albums may not necessarily convey. Star saxophonist and music educator Steve Kaldestad’s newest release is, in fact, a live recording of his show at Frankie’s Jazz Club in Vancouver; the energy rolling off the band can fully be felt throughout this album. Kaldestad mentions that the whole point of this recording was to “document the renewed feeling of urgency and gratitude emanating from the quartet” while being able to play together properly after a two-year hiatus due to the pandemic. The sheer joy from musicians getting to do their thing together on stage and instruments blending with each other is truly palpable while giving this a listen. 

Backed by a fantastic group of musicians, featuring Chris Gestrin on piano, Conrad Good on bass and Jesse Cahill on drums, the pieces in this live set are transported to new heights and filled with a positive energy that could penetrate even the gloomiest of mindsets. The record features a unique and captivating improvisation on a jazz classic, Con Alma, by Dizzie Gillespie; a mellow saxophone melody soars over a captivating piano and bass line. Among the stellar collection of pieces, Kaldestad’s own Equestrian Interlude stands out as well, a rhythmically groovy tune that gets your head bopping right along. A great addition to any jazz lover’s collection.

09 The Artist John LeeThe Artist
John Lee; Carl Allen; Miles Black; Cory Weeds
Cellar Music CM111620 (cellarlive.com)

I first knew John Lee primarily as a drummer, but even at that point close to a decade ago, he wore plenty of different hats. On The Artist, we hear Lee featuring himself on upright bass. Having not heard the young musician in several years, I first thought this was a strange choice, but hearing the first 20 seconds of music are enough to assure even the most critical listener that Lee is in his element. 

This album features an excellent cast of musicians who brilliantly execute its hard-swinging repertoire. As both a bassist and a drummer, it makes sense that Lee is acutely aware of the relationship between these two instruments in a jazz rhythm section. He’s chosen American drum great Carl Allen to join him, and he fits into this Canadian ensemble perfectly. 

The music heard on The Artist is unapologetically straight ahead, but the energy Lee’s band brings to it makes it appealing to listen to in 2022 and ensure that it’s by no means just a time capsule harkening back to a bygone era. Tracks like Soul Leo and Carl’s Blues set the mood for the album, and Lee’s two originals, Life is a Beautiful Thing and The Artist, fit this vibe to a tee. 

Like so much great jazz, this album can be enjoyed in several different contexts. I initially took diligent notes while listening through high-fidelity headphones, then subjected it to a second listen while chopping carrots and onions in the kitchen. The Artist passed both tests!

12 Ches Smith Interpret It WellInterpret It Well
Ches Smith; Craig Taborn; Mat Maneri; Bill Frisell
Pyroclastic Records PR 19 (chessmith.com)

Drummer/vibraphonist Ches Smith’s capacity for creative synthesis became clear with last year’s Path of Seven Colors, a combination of Haitian vodou music and jazz, ultimately named best jazz album of the year by The Guardian. Interpret It Well is similarly outstanding work, adding guitarist Bill Frisell to Smith’s trio with pianist Craig Taborn and violist Mat Maneri. The title appears in a sparse drawing by Raymond Pettibon in whIch a railroad track and telephone poles seem to drift toward approaching smoke or a tornado. (It’s sufficiently significant that a 42 by 27cm reproduction is folded in the CD sleeve.)

Working with Smith’s compositional sketches, the musicians meet the titular challenge admirably, with a special balance of individual freedom and collective invention, at different moments weaving together disparate materials into a kind of polyphonic unity. As the theme of the title track is gradually elaborated, a Webern-ish abstraction is matched by the concrete blues of Frisell’s electric guitar. Taborn is transforming throughout, luminous flurries giving way to looming chords, which turn to arpeggiated pointillism with drums and viola adding turbulence. Mixed Metaphor opens with a sparse, liquid beauty but ultimately becomes a home for Maneri’s dissonant intensity. 

The program unfolds with a sense of assembling meaning, a new understanding intuited out of what might be described as complementary disjunctions among harmonies, melodies, rhythms and timbres, a different music arising from familiar elements and rare empathy. 

13 John ScofieldJohn Scofield
John Scofield
ECM 2727 (ecmrecords.com/shop)

Stalwart New York-based guitarist John Scofield has gone in an even more bold direction than usual with his latest release on ECM. The band? Scofield at the electric guitar, accompanied by a looper pedal and the many decades of playing experience that make his music so unique and excellent. The looper makes this album less of a traditional solo-guitar experience than you may be familiar with from Joe Pass or Ted Greene, but it’s not a gimmick to make Scofield’s life easier. Instead, he treats the pedal like a bandmate he is intimately familiar with. There are also plenty of moments where Scofield shows off his ample harmonic sensibilities, which can be overshadowed in ensemble settings by his fiery single-note, line playing.

As a brief technical note that I hope can be appreciated by jazz guitar experts and casual fans alike, I heard Scofield interviewed several years back about things he still wanted to improve upon with his playing. Then in his 60s, he gave a very tangible response about hoping to add wider intervals and more angular sounds to his music. It was beautiful to hear someone talk about how much there still is to learn, even after decades in the industry. What brought this to mind now, is that I hear concrete evidence of the 70-year-old guitar master playing these very intervallic ideas on this solo guitar offering. 

While Scofield continues to find meaning through playing music, we can all find a little just from listening to this poignant opus.

14 PoeticPoetic
Jonathan Barber & Vision Ahead
Independent (jonathanbarber.bandcamp.com/album/poetic)

Connecticut-native, famed drummer Jonathan Barber has released a scintillating third album with Vision Ahead, a group of musicians he’s been pushing the limits with for over a decade. Barber has worked on refining his sound on this record, honing in on a unique modern sound with just enough of the classic mixed in to intrigue both older and newer fans of the genre. Featured are all original compositions, not only by the drummer himself but also by guitarist Andrew Renfroe, alto-saxophonist Godwin Louis and keyboardist Taber Gable. A journey through a beautiful musical landscape, this album is sure to catch the attention of many a listener from the first note. 

Barber mentions that “the album showcases… the striking cohesiveness of a band who have performed by each other’s side…” and that is certainly very apparent throughout the record. Within each piece, each musician’s talents are very much showcased, but there’s a blending of sounds and instruments, of vibes, that only comes from having a true understanding of your fellow musicians. What lends a truly specific and interesting dimension to the pieces is how they are very much driven by rhythmic grooves but not in an overpowering way, it all comes together for a captivating whole. 

From beginning to end, this album pushes the boundaries of the genre in the best ways possible, leaving the listener waiting for the next musical statement from this extraordinary musician and group.

15 What does it mean to be freeWhat Does It Mean To Be Free
Anthony Fung; David Binney; Luca Mendoza; Luca Alemanno
Independent (anthonyfungmusic.com)

Drummer/composer Anthony Fung was born in Richmond Hill and raised in Canada, but has studied and lived in the United States for several years. He earned a Bachelor of Music degree from Berklee and a master’s from the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz Performance. What Does it Mean to be Free? is his third album and was recorded in L.A. where he currently lives. 

This an exciting album with eight original compositions and a great arrangement of Wayne Shorter’s Sighteeing, all played with an intense yet grooving style by some stellar musicians. In addition to the core quartet (Fung on drums; David Binney, alto sax; Luca Mendoza, piano; Luca Alemanno, bass) several tracks have special guest performers. On the title track, Andrew Renfroe brings some blistering guitar work including a high intensity exchange with Binney on sax. Defiance features Braxton Cook on a tender yet intense alto sax melody throughout and Alemanno with a pretty bass solo. Let Us Not Forget to be Kind has Roni Eytan providing some beautiful Toots Thielmans-influenced harmonica. 

Throughout the album Mendoza’s piano is spectacular, providing tasteful accompaniment and solos on the slower tunes and effortlessly complex bop lines on the up-tempo numbers. Fung’s drums are propulsive and complex while still providing a solid backing to the proceedings. What Does it Mean to be Free? At least part of the answer has to be: free to make great music. 

17 Rhodri DaviesFor Simon H. Fell
Rhodri Davies
Amgen 04 (rhodridavies.com)

A studied requiem for UK bassist/composer Simon H. Fell (1959-2020), Welsh harpist Rhodri Davies uses transformative prestidigitation on this eponymous disc to exhibit the assemblage of timbres, pitches and rhythms he can induce from the acoustic pedal harp. Davies and Fell were members of the imposing string trio IST for 25 years – cellist Mark Wastell was the third participant – and although most of this salute evolves at moderato and lento tempos, it’s no lachrymose dirge. Instead, the performance includes interludes of bubbling drama, heartfelt emotion and coiled percussiveness.

Interspaced with pauses and reverberations, Davies’ almost hour-long creation forges unique harp timbres, which alternately resemble vibraphone reverberations, tombak-like drum strokes, keyboard-like vibrations and woody rubs against unyielding material. All are used for emphasis and sequence shifts. Expected thick glissandi, multi-string drones and singular staccato echoes figure in as well, so that by midpoint multiple strokes are layered into an almost opaque squirming mass. Its subsequent division into single-string high and low twangs and plinks that move forward and ricochet back into the concentrated narrative, suggest not only IST’s multiple string tropes, but the sort of unique compositions Fell wrote, arranged and played.

Properly saluting a fellow string player and improviser, this session also confirms Davies’ innovative ability to come up with near-orchestral, multi-string motifs sourced with compelling skill from the attributes of only a single stand-alone harp.

18 Blue JournalBlue Journal
Ester Wiesnerova
Independent (esterwiesnerova.com)

The eloquent vocalist Ester Wiesnerová bids you to sink into her very private world with this elaborately packaged Blue Journal: 11 songs, and an illustrated, 120-page book. Here Wiesnerová invites us to enter what appears to be a musical portal. Listening to the opening bars of her very first song – Sinking Deep – you will find it hard to resist relocating yourself into her world. Her voice is like a warm, inviting, whispered breath as the poetic alluring lyrics are released into air. 

Wiesnerová is accompanied by musicians completely attuned to her vision and artistry. Sam Knight’s questing horn soars above tumbling cascades of Charles Overton’s radiant harp. Kan Yanabe’s percussion colourations glued together with the gentle rumble of Michal Šelep’s bass also invite us with impassioned conviction into Wiesnerová’s private world. 

Wiesnerová beckons you between the sheets (so to speak) of the Blue Journal. She lures you into this music of unsentimental intelligence, with her clear, beguiling tone. At the heart of her artistic conception is Nightingales and Maple Trees, a song that lies at the heart of Wiesnerová’s secret soundscape deep inside her Blue Journal

Throughout this repertoire, warmth and affection abound, befitting the delicately amorous subjects of the songs. For her part the inimitable Wiesnerová breathes her way into this extraordinary music with imagination and infectious musicality.

19 JusticeJustice – The Vocal Works of Oliver Lake
Sonic Liberation Front and the Sonic Liberation Singers
Hugh Two HT038 (sonicliberationfront.com)

Decades ago I was a young saxophone player attending university in Edmonton and saw a poster for an Oliver Lake solo concert. It had only a picture of him standing alone holding an alto saxophone. Intriguing. In that concert Lake chanted, shook beads and other percussion, hummed and spoke a few words between long soliloquies on his horn. The evening was a meditation that moved from one mood and thought to another and it was entrancing. Since then, Oliver Lake has performed and composed with an incredibly diverse range of musicians including the World Saxophone Quartet, and released over 40 albums as leader and more as a sideman. 

The Sonic Liberation Front invited Lake to write for their unique instrumentation of violin, tenor sax, acoustic bass and drums with a vocal quartet. Lake wrote eight pieces which include two poems. This album has a great energy, which moves freely amongst all the players. What is funky and has an uplifting and syncopated melody played together by saxophone, violin and vocalists. It then moves into a scrappy but swinging sax solo by Elliot Levin while Veronica Jurkiewicz’s phased violin solo reminds me a bit of Jean-Luc Ponty. Dedicated’s beautiful flute line, combined with the smooth vocals, sounds like a strange and misplaced Burt Bacharach composition. I love it! 

Ain’t Nothin’ Real BUT Love is one of the two pieces based on Lake›s poetry and has only some delightful a cappella background vocals accompanying the emphatic statements about how love «moves independently of our fears and desires.» Justice manages to be loose, edgy, groovy and heartfelt all at the same time.

01 Balkan ConfluenceConfluence – Balkan Dances and Tango Neuvo
Zachary Carrettin; Mina Gajić
Sono Luminus DSL-92256 (sonoluminus.com/store/confluence)

Confluence marks the second release for the acclaimed Sono Luminus label by husband-and-wife duo, pianist Mina Gajić and violinist Zachary Carrettin. The pairing of Marko Tajčević’s folky Balkan Dances with the contemporary tangos by Ray Granlund may seem risky at first glance but it works very well and is a reflection of the cultural influences that are meaningful to these two performers. Here we have a flowing together, a merging of two different compositional languages, coming from regions that are geographically distanced but complementary with their distinct rhythmicity and melodic flavour. 

The selected tangos were written for Carrettin and it is obvious how much he enjoys playing them. The passion and lyricism, mixed together in both the writing and interpretation, are truly engaging. Granlund leaves room for improvisation and plenty of interpretative choices, and Carrettin thrives on the explorative freedom the tangos are providing. His sound is mellow and intense at the same time, as if he is daring us to get up and join him in dance. 

Tajčević’s Balkan Dances, written for solo piano, are not as exuberant but they have an absolutely relentless rhythmical drive, reminiscent of Bartók, and the melos and sturdiness of Balkan music. Gajić brings the percussiveness to the forefront and she does it with both grace and conviction. TangoNometria, one of the pieces on the album, easily links all the aspects of the music and performances on display here – ever-shifting rhythms, visceral melodies and thrilling interpretations.

Listen to 'Confluence' Now in the Listening Room

02 Lamia Yared OttomanOttoman Splendours
Lamia Yared; Ensemble Oraciones
Analekta AN2 9176 (analekta.com/en)

Diverse does not begin to describe the musical heritage of the Ottoman Empire. Full credit then to Lamia Yared, who has assembled a suitably diverse CD, drawing on Sephardic, Turkish, Hebrew and Greek music. Full credit to Didem Başar for her plaintive settings of most of the songs on the CD.

The backbone of the collection comprises a group of Ladino songs, some of which feature melodies that would not be out of place among the courts of medieval Europe; Dicho me habian dicho is a case in point with the haunting singing of Yared and its vivacious string accompaniment.

Ensemble Oraciones’ interpretations of the Turkish songs bring home the liveliness of this tradition; for example, Niçin gördüm seni highlights all the Ensemble’s players, one by one, in a spirited performance enhanced by Yared’s yearning voice.

Perhaps the most eccentric tracks on the CD are the songs written by Greek composers. Kouklaki mou (My Doll) begins with a clarinet intro by Yoni Kaston in full accordance with the rebetiko tradition of the Greek underworld. The tune may have been borrowed by Judeo-Spanish musicians but Kouklaki mou has its own place in Greek music – performed by women singers delivering their song within the hashish dens of Athens (the little doll is not the sort of woman you would want to bring home to any Jewish mother.)  

Mention should certainly be made of the instrumental contributions, for example the staccato drumbeats of Tres morillas eventually interweaving with the urgency of the kanun part. The versatility of the kanun is in fact proven by Başar’s own playing.   

The performers were very brave in condensing music from a whole swath of Europe onto one CD – which demonstrates how right they were to amalgamate their exceptional talents. 

Listen to 'Ottoman Splendours' Now in the Listening Room

03 Les ArrivantsHome
Les Arrivants
Analekta AN 2 9175 (analekta.com/en)

Les Arrivants is a positive COVID-19 pandemic creation. The three musicians -- Amichai Ben Shalev on bandoneon, Abdul-Wahab Kayyali on oud, and Hamin Honari on percussion -- independently settled in Montreal between the summers of 2019 and 2020 where they met and found a musical common ground playing together as an ensemble. They each draw on their personal backgrounds, resettlement experiences and respective musical expertise of Argentinian tango, classical Arabic music and traditional Persian rhythms with Montreal contemporary/traditional/improvised music and life during COVID to make unique music 

Each musician is also a composer. Title track Home (Chez Soi) by Honari has his repeated percussion rhythm grounding the bandoneon’s modern wide-pitched, held notes and chords midstream, then an oud solo and a closing upbeat group build. Kayyali’s Burkaan (Volcan/Volcano) is fast and fun, more traditional oud music, with the band members doubling and answering the oud lines. Each member performs a solo track. Shalev’s bandoneon composition Solitude is a musical contemporary storytelling take on the tango genre with swells, held notes and wide-pitch ranges. Special guests Reza Abaee on gheychak, and Pierre-Alexandre Maranda on double bass, appear on select tracks like the closing Nava by Parviz Meshkatian, showcasing the band’s world, improvisation and popular style musicianship.

Special thanks to artistic residency support from the Montreal-based Centre des Musiciens du Monde in collaboration with Analekta for this album. Les Arrivants’ tight seamless blending of styles and instrumentals creates accessible, colourful, world/popular music for all to enjoy.

Listen to 'Home' Now in the Listening Room

Back to top