07 Blomstedt Brahms 1Brahms – Symphony No.1
Gewandhausorchester Leipzig; Herbert Blomstedt
PentaTone PTC5186850 (naxosdirect.com/search/827949085062)

At the risk of stranding ourselves in a past we’ll never relive, we continue to revisit masterpieces from over a century ago. This provides work for my fellow performers and me, and possibly keeps the public in touch with sonic masterpieces. We might ask ourselves, what is new and different in this latest iteration? Otherwise, is there any point?

I take enormous pleasure in hearing the fine Gewandhaus Orchestra, under Herbert Blomstedt, recraft Brahms’ titanic First Symphony in C Minor Op.68 into audible form. The performance has so much clarity and poise, nothing I write in response can mean much at all. 

I’m no collector of things, nor of recordings, but I am a repository of memories, and this piece remains on a prominent shelf in the room where professional reminiscence is housed. As a student, the experience of hearing the wonderful energy and intelligence of Brahms’ First fuelled my desire to be among the lucky few who might perform it in a professional setting. Knowing how long he took to knuckle down and live up to his billing as the next great symphonist after Beethoven inspires me to carry on at my advanced age. 

It is a fantastic rendition, as good as any out there I’m sure, and worth owning whether it is one among many, or your first (even only) version. The playing is pure, both delicate and yet powerful. Blomstedt asks for and receives fine and subtle performances from the entire band. 

The Andante sostenuto second movement is languid and deliciously melancholy. Add in the uplifting finale, with its wunderhorn call and its hymn answering Beethoven’s Ode to Joy, and perhaps the troubles of today might be more bearable.

08 Alexandre Kantorow Brahms Bartok LisztBrahms; Bartók; Liszt
Alexandre Kantorow
Bis BIS-2380 (naxosdirect.com/search/bis-2380)

Young French pianist Alexandre Kantorow has already had a distinguished recording career with three award-winning releases. This recital is his first since winning the Tchaikovsky Competition in 2019 and it too is a real winner. As a thought-provoking musician he now focuses on the Rhapsody, a thoroughly Romantic genre, invented by Liszt followed by Brahms, Rachmaninoff, Ravel, Sibelius etc. and into the modern era with Bartók and even Gershwin.

Kantorow is not looking for popular show pieces, although his program offers plenty of hair raising virtuosity. He starts off with a very effective rendition of the tempestuous Brahms Rhapsody No.1 demonstrating a virtuoso Romantic abandon, full of fire, but also a gentle lyricism in the middle part. Kantorow is a truly mature artist who belies his age as evidenced in the most ambitious work on the program, Brahms’ Piano Sonata No.2. This was the youthful composer’s first major piano work and it is full of rich musical ideas, opulent harmonies, yet under strict compositional rigour. It starts off with virtuoso double fortissimo octaves as its opening salvo. I love the Trio part of the Scherzo, Poco piu moderato – a wonderful melody that enchants the ear.

The second half is devoted to Hungarians. Young Bartók’s Rhapsody Op.1, which harks back to the Romantic era, and in tribute to Liszt, seems to revel in beautiful harmonies and evokes Gypsy music. Very much unlike the later avant-garde Bartók. The fiery second part is a wild Hungarian dance of amazing bravura. 

The disc ends spectacularly with Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody No.11 played with such amazing gusto that it will lift you up from your seat. A gorgeous recording.

10 Dunhill Erlanger Piano QuintetsDunhill & Erlanger – Piano Quintets
Piers Lane; Goldner String Quartet
Hyperion CDA68296 (hyperion-records.co.uk)

British composers Thomas Dunhill (1877-1946) and Baron Frédéric d’Erlanger (1868-1943) each wrote a piano quintet, both in four substantial movements. Until Australia’s pre-eminent Goldner Quartet and pianist Piers Lane recorded them for Hyperion, however, these late Romantic works were largely overlooked by the musical mainstream.

Born in Paris, d’Erlanger lived for most of his life in London where he worked in the family business as a banker. His biography further notes that he was “by inclination a patron of the arts, and through creativity a composer.” His opera, ballet, orchestra and chamber music scores were widely performed during his lifetime. D’Erlanger’s 1901 Quintet reflects Brahmsian and Dvořákian influences, as well as a distinctive tunefulness paired with lively rhythms, playful thematic flow and a sure feel for drama. The substantial piano part certainly adds heft to the string quartet writing imbued with an audio palm court aura, on the lighter side of the classical music spectrum.

Londoner Thomas Dunhill on the other hand, d’Erlanger’s contemporary, was a prolific career composer and professor of music. His C-Minor Quintet evokes earlier 19th-century musical idioms drawing on Robert Schumann’s scores, but it also echoes Elgar’s chamber music.

Part of this album’s interest is in the dual thrill of discovery and (musical) time travel: I had heard of neither composer before, nor of their century-old music. Early Edwardian chamber music seldom sounded as good, particularly when played this well.

01 rethinkreTHiNK
junctQin keyboard collective
Redshift Records TK479 (redshiftrecords.org)

Pianist Thomas Larcher once lamented that he was unable to “get away from the piano’s natural sound... with all the intensity that marks a musician’s relationship to his instrument.” He went on to equate “this sound” to “something worn out, obsolete…” 

Meanwhile, Elaine Lau, Joseph Ferretti and Stephanie Chua, collectively junctQín, have been toying with the instrument, with radical and experimental joy, since 2009. Their magical adventure takes place both on all the 88 keys as well as inside their respective pianos as they continue to bend and shape the 311-year-old (and counting) instrument to their will. reTHiNK is not only an appropriate title for their new selection of works, it might easily be seen as an ongoing one. The performances of junctQín, after all, are always evolving. This recording is sure to be remembered as being unique in their repertoire. 

On reTHiNK the trio dazzle the senses with an arresting performance. The captivating music fuses contemplative harmonies with innovative performance techniques. As a result, music as radically eloquent as Alfred Schnittke’s 1979 Hommage à Stravinsky, Prokofiev, & Shostakovich is not only re-imagined, but redefined in 21st-century terms. This is also true – perhaps more remarkably so – of Maurice Ravel’s 1918 work, Frontispice. The wonders never cease as junctQín teases out the mysteries of works by Finnish composer Tomi Räisänen and Canadians Monica Pearce, Emily Doolittle, Chris Thornborrow, Alex Eddington and Elisha Denburg in an embarrassment of riches.

02 venom of loveAlice Ping Yee Ho – Venom of Love
Alice Ping Yee Ho; Vania Chan; Patty Chan; Lulu
Leaf Music Digital (leaf-music.ca)

One of Canada’s most acclaimed composers, two-time JUNO nominee and Dora Mavor Moore Award winner for Outstanding Original Opera, Alice Ping Yee Ho, has gifted us with a gorgeous work that almost defies characterization. This 60-minute composition deals with elements of fantasy and eroticism from a primeval, magical world; a musical composition for ballet based on the Legend of the White Snake, one of China’s Four Great Folktales. 

The work is compiled as 20 tracks inside four acts, which serve to guide the listener along the extraordinary journey as we turn the pages of an epic-sized book of fantasy and desire, love and rivalry between mortals and spirits, and finally the ultimate sacrifice for eternal love. 

Fusing synthesized and acoustic instrumental sounds with soprano voice and percussion, this work is a dramatic dance/opera/musical theatre composition telling an ancient myth in contemporary form. The music sweeps us up so deftly we are captive travellers inside dripping caves; clusters of tonalities are richly layered with electronics and we imagine shimmering dragons, writhing snakes, and hear spectacular sounds of animals, bats and water, evoking the hues of brilliant blues, greens and greys. Of special mention is lyric coloratura soprano Vania Lizbeth Chan’s voice that somehow manages to hold warmth and charm while soaring at stratospheric heights.  

Commissioned by Toronto’s Little Pear Garden Dance Company in 2014, the music is so evocative I almost feel like I’ve already seen the ballet, but I’ll be sure to be in line for that production when it comes back to a live stage in the future.

Listen to 'Alice Ping Yee Ho: Venom of Love' Now in the Listening Room

03 Jaap Nico HamburgerJaap Nico Hamburger – Piano Concerto
Assaff Weisman; Orchestre Métropolitain de Montréal; Vincent de Kort
Leaf Music LM238 (leaf-music.ca)

Composer Jaap Nico Hamburger’s first CD release is a Leaf Music recording of his Piano Concerto performed by Orchestra Métropolitain de Montréal under the direction of Vincent de Kort, with soloist Assaff Weisman. Set in the traditional three-movement concerto form, the piece opens with a mysterious orchestral introduction where the piano is welcomed into the texture through a Mahlerian sensibility. The second movement unmistakably recalls Prokofiev in its playfulness and tricky rhythmic attitudes. This almost schizophrenic hyperactivity is interrupted by a serene landscape evoking tragedy or loss. The boisterous activity quickly returns to provide somewhat of a rollercoaster for the listener. Throughout the third movement, sparse bells and undulating strings paint a menacing atmosphere for the final moments of the piece. 

Weisman handles the virtuosic writing with extreme touch and sensitivity. With the concerto being only 22 minutes, one is perhaps left wanting more of a featured moment for the pianist, such as a cadenza – especially considering the fact that the piece is in the traditional three-movement form. The orchestra and soloist deliver a top-notch performance of a work that will please those who enjoy new sounds created in a Late-Romantic style.

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04 Cheryl Frances HoadCheryl Frances-Hoad – The Whole Earth Dances
Various Artists
Champs Hill Records CHRCD152 (champshillrecords.co.uk)

This, the second Champs Hill CD of chamber music by Cheryl Frances-Hoad (b.1980), a much-performed British composer in all genres, features nine works dating from 1998 to 2017, none longer than 14 minutes. Short – but not sweet!

This music, although seemingly easy to follow, is anything but easy listening. Eschewing prettiness and warmth, these pieces’ beauties are austere and angst-ridden. Within predominantly slow tempi, strong accents mark the ways forward, but the clearly defined instrumental lines wander uncertainly amid unclear, undefined tonal centres.

The disquiet thus produced reflects Frances-Hoad’s imagery in describing her compositions: “so much of the Earth is being polluted, fracked and deforested” (the CD’s title piece, The Whole Earth Dances, for piano quintet including a double bass, as in Schubert’s Trout); “a dystopian future in which the technology we have come to rely upon kills us” (Game On for piano and electronics); “I incorporated the Dies Irae plainchant – Day of Wrath – as a reminder of the inevitable” (The Prophecy for cello and piano); “a women who kills her two children to spite her husband” (Medea for solo flute); “[Dante’s] description of sinners submerged neck-deep in rivers of boiling blood” (My Day in Hell for string quartet).

Disturbing, uncomfortable, but always holding my attention, these works often reminded me of the sparse, haunted atmosphere of Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time. If you’re in the mood for feeling moody, you’ll enjoy this CD, as I did.

05 Kontogiorgos CentaursGeorge Kontogiorgos – Dancing with Centaurs
Stathis Mavrommatis; Orchestra of Colours; Miltos Logiadis
Naxos 8.579047 (naxosdirect.com/search/747313904778)

Composer George Kontogiorgos’ illustrious tonal melodies highlight this Global Music Award-winning release with four works inspired by Greek traditional songs/mythologies, juxtaposing tonal and atonal sounds, pentatonic scales, Romanticism, minimalism, jazz and pop soundscapes. Saxophonist Stathis Mavrommatis and pianist Christina Panteli rise to the occasion to master and perform these dense, challenging, stylistically diverse works with technical and musical aplomb!

The ten-movement Dancing with Centaurs (2014), for soprano saxophone and piano, superimposes ancient Hellenic traditional music ideas with Romantic tonality to musically describe these Greek mythical creatures. The second movement Idyllic starts with fast descending piano lines and then smooth sax notes lead to more tonal song-like melodies. The third movement, Dancing with Centaurs, is folk-flavoured with subtle tango undertones and high-pitched squeaky sax. There is a breathtaking change in mood by a slower, reflective sax solo and piano chords in Meditation. Jazz undertones, repeated single sax tones and marching piano groove add to the atmosphere in Battle of the Centaurs.

Ringtone (2016) for alto saxophone and piano is an amusing take, with simple cyclical melodic sax and piano lines mimicking different phones ringing simultaneously. Concertino “Testosterone” (2015) adds a string section to the duo. Solo alto sax Night Walk (2017) has a free improv jazz feel and slight tonal pitch changes at ends of phrases.

Kontogiorgos’ understanding of his personal musical influences and the infrequently heard saxophone/piano instrumentation along with great playing makes for illuminating listening.

06 DesordreDésordre: György Ligeti – Etudes; Trio
Eric Huebner; Yuki Numata Resnick; Adam Unsworth
New Focus Recordings FCR269 (newfocusrecordings.com)

For American piano marvel Eric Huebner, myriad talents have ignited a multi-faceted career of unwavering performance prowess, equal in measure as soloist, chamber player and orchestral pianist. Huebner remains one of the most active keyboardists of his generation and if you don’t already know his work, you really should.

A latest release featuring music by György Ligeti offers a homecoming of a kind. Fiendishly demanding contemporary repertoire has always been Huebner’s specialty but at the heart of his musical muse is a longstanding association with Ligeti. Huebner believes the Études to represent “an entirely new musical language… fusing together disparate elements.” Ligeti came to challenge himself – his own compositional craft – later in life when he penned these works. 

Remarkably at home in these scores, Huebner puts his dazzling arsenal of abilities on full display, sculpting timescales and wielding rhythmic idiosyncrasies all with a veteran expertise and panache. His is a deft touch, keenly born of an exceptional musical ear and fine sense for textural expression (arguably a prerequisite in the successful interpretation of any piece by Ligeti). Rising to the challenges, Huebner writes of “laying bare the music’s intricacies and keeping pace with its extreme technical demands while expressing its joy, poignancy and, at times, melancholy.” 

Ligeti’s horn trio reveals even more of the composer’s unusual universe. It is a cosmos that glimmers benevolently in the care of dedicated artists like Huebner, Yuki Numata Resnick and Adam Unsworth.

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Edward Smaldone – Once and Again
Various Artists
New Focus Recordings FCR 258 (newfocusrecordings.com)

Knehans; Smaldone – Double Portrait
All of the Above; HU Jianbing; Wiliam R. Langley
Ablaze Records ar-00053 (ablazerecords.net)

07a Edward SmaldoneThe music of composer Edward Smaldone (b.1956) is firmly rooted in the modernist tradition of what for decades in the 20th century formed the mainstream of American academic “classical” music. It was a lineage severely disrupted, though not wholly extinguished, by numerous new approaches to concert musical experiment including indeterminacy, acousmatic and electronic sound, transethnicism, minimalism and free improvisation, among many others. Smaldone’s own output has nevertheless steadfastly retained close ties with the compositional modernism of his teachers, George Perle and Ralph Shapey, though this mid-century American aesthetic was also modified by admixtures of jazz. With the release of two new albums, we can listen in to the music Smaldone has been composing over several decades. 

Edward Smaldone: Once and Again presents five well-crafted compositions written between 1986 and 2014: a collection of chamber music, two song cycles and a string orchestra work. They collectively showcase Smaldone’s diverse sources of inspiration ranging from the Renaissance/Baroque composer Claudio Monteverdi and American modernist Perle, to jazz giants Ellington and Monk. The liner notes highlight the implications of these influences, contrasting the “’classical’ values of motivic and formal cohesion and development,” with “’modernist’ values of capturing an improvisatory sensibility, asymmetry, and irregularity.” 

The two multi-movement song cycles on the album provide keys to Smaldone’s work. The dramatic Cantare di Amore (2009) – with links to Monteverdi – provides soprano Tony Arnold plenty of room for declamatory drama, supported by sprightly supporting harp and flute writing. Letters from Home (2000/2007/2014), sung by soprano Susan Narucki, uses a five-part narrative of period letters providing a snapshot of mid-century American women’s lives, effectively framed by flute, clarinet and piano. Duke/Monk (2011) for clarinet and piano on the other hand is a contrasting two-part tribute to Ellington and Monk, the American jazz masters’ voices eloquently filtered through Smaldone’s idiosyncratic aesthetic.

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07b Knehans SmaldoneSmaldone shares space with his composer colleague Douglas Knehans on the 2-CD album Knehans Smaldone: Double Portrait. He is well represented by four chamber music works performed by the virtuoso young ensemble All of the Above. Smaldone’s Suite (1992, 2001) played by violinist Scott Jackson and pianist Matthew Umphreys is a standout. The astringent score makes considerable technical and emotional demands of the violin soloist right from its opening cadenza to Stephane’s Dance, its Grappelli-like, jazz-imbued third movement.  

Three Scenes from The Heartland (1994) for solo piano is a sensitive work for the instrument drawing particularly on its jazz legacy. Receiving a definitive performance by Umphreys, Scenes is marked by a wide range of responses to the vast American landscape, both geographic and human, the Heartland of the title. Smaldone writes about “unbridled optimism, freedom of spirit, ingenuity, grit and determination” that lies within the American spirit, “yearning for the new, the unknown,” in the final movement reflecting on “the exultation of reflection in its quiet, motionless close.” 

Whether you share his personal view of the American journey, the call for renewal embedded in this emotional, and perhaps nostalgic, music may well resonate with your own search for meaning and connection during this challenging time.

08 Five ThoughtsFive Thoughts on Everything
Jobina Tinnemans
Bright Shiny Things BSTC-9134 (brightshiny.ninja/jobina)

Her self-confessed “analog obsession” has enabled the Dutch-born, Wales-based composer and performer Jobina Tinnemans to produce some of the most extraordinarily eloquent music you may have heard in a long time. Five Thoughts on Everything is a unique perspective on the ecosystem of planet Earth in which humanity plays a pivotal role. The title suggests that the raison d’être for our existence is quite simple. Tinnemans’ performance on Five Thoughts on Everything brings that existential simplicity to life by weaving the piano into a series of other field recordings so exquisitely made that the mechanical aspects of the recording melt seamlessly into a whole world of ephemeral sound. 

The extraterrestrial white noise of Midtone in G forms a kind of warp into which the chorale of Djúpalónsdóttir & Hellnarson is woven (by the South Iceland Chamber Choir). An interminable dance of marine life burbles in the intertwining of piano and jabbering grey seals from Pwll Deri, Wales in The Shape of Things Aquatic. Meanwhile the rhythmic arrival of roosting starlings is subsumed by deep aquatic life including the call of whales – all this in Microbioism. The sound palette of Varèsotto, Hinterland of Varèse, Tinnemans’ 2018 take on Edgard Varèse’s installation at the 1958 Brussels World Fair, returns us to a macro-view of the ecosystem that is planet Earth. It’s a disc to die for, in which Tinnemans’ universe – and ours – is described with ethereal beauty from end to end.

09 morris jeff close reedingJeff Morris – Close Reeding, A digital view from the inside out
Various Artists
Ravello Records RR8041 (ravellorecords.com/catalog/rr8041)

The third track on this disc by sound artist Jeff Morris is Slurp, an unsettling collection of the very oral sounds made by reed players with the apparatus of their trade: mouthpiece, reed, tongue, lips, actuated by saliva and breath. As an exploration it is horrifying yet familiar. I stood the test of it by writing these thoughts while hearing it, but it was still a challenge. 

Compared to some of the other tracks, Slurp is at least comfortingly acoustic; others, like the title track, are laboratory products, where the hint of a recreated physical space is buried under synthetic effects occurring in the void of Cyberia. I visualize a blank soundstage, black or neutral white, no corners, no floor walls or ceiling. Within this space Morris explores the quasi-human voices of reed instruments, pairing them with, or pitting against, sounds from his own digital sound production mechanisms. 

Melody and harmony sit much of this disc out, back in the “real” world. Instead: dialogues of nattering, whining, dyspeptic, or louche voices, disembodied and reminiscent of the acoustic instruments where they were born. So, rhythm, timbre, certainly pitch, but pitch that is nearly arbitrary, the servant of an attempt to express through something very like speech, something very like meaning. In Voclarise, a brief melodic utterance by the bass clarinet turns into a gorgeous chorale that is soon usurped by a croaking (contra?) bass clarinet. What’s in a Whisper is a four-movement (Hush, Howl, Growl, Grit) trio for drum kit, alto sax and synthesizer. Here is almost conventional chamber music, at least compared with the other more singular and solitary expressions.

The lineup of contributors is impressive, their commitment to this extravagance is total. Not for everybody, but verifiably music.

10 Speak PercussionThomas Meadowcroft – Percussion Works
Speak Percussion
Mode Records mode 319 (speakpercussion.com)

The Australian composer, Thomas Meadowcroft (b.1972), delivers a CD featuring four of his works written for percussion and electronics performed by his compatriots, the renowned Speak Percussion ensemble. In the first piece, titled The Great Knot, piercing electronic drones and chirpings create a delightfully barren expanse. This piece is a meditation in an open field with rusty swings and passing melodies in the wind. Cradles is a psychedelic lullaby warping lounge music into a hallucinogenic dreamscape. In Plain Moving Landfill, the listener travels through industrial ambiences and synthetic punctures. For a piece that is inspired by the layers of rubbish found in a landfill, this piece is decidedly calm – albeit in a Tim Hecker sense of the word. Lastly, Home Organs takes its inspiration from the attempt at memory retrieval at the onset of Alzheimer’s illness. Our memories can create a sense of “home” or belonging for the individual. This piece certainly delivers a sense of frustration that undoubtedly accompanies a loss of this sense of home through the failure of one’s own organs. 

Meadowcroft has a particular knack for quirky electronic tinkering and applies these sonorities to obfuscate the difference between acoustic and electronic sources for the listener. When thinking about a CD of contemporary percussion music, the mind immediately expects to hear bombast and raucousness. This release is an extremely successful shift from the norm in its novel use of electronic auras that blend with acoustic instruments – a must listen for those seeking something unfamiliar in the world of percussion music.

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01 Diana KrallThis Dream of You
Diana Krall
Verve B0032519 (dianakrall.com)

Four years ago, Diana Krall was working in the studio with her longtime, legendary producer Tommy LiPuma. LiPuma was ill and Krall knew it, so the pair recorded over 30 tracks during those sessions. The initial result was Turn Up the Quiet, released in 2017 shortly after LiPuma died. That album was a return to Krall’s classic, stripped-down jazz sound and This Dream of You is a continuation of that exploration. An homage to the Great American Songbook, and her friend and mentor, Krall delivers the exquisite sound and technique we’ve come to expect from her, both on piano and vocals.

Working with three different small ensembles, the majority of the songs are with her bandmates, John Clayton (bass), Jeff Hamilton (drums) and Anthony Wilson (guitar). The opening track with that crew, But Beautiful, sets the minimalist tone as the album moves from breathy ballads to gently swinging mid-tempo standards. It diverges into somewhat trad/rootsy territory on three tracks featuring the ensemble of Marc Ribot (guitar), Tony Garnier (bass) Karriem Riggins (drums) and Stuart Duncan (fiddle), including the title track, a country-tinged Bob Dylan tune. In-demand players, Christian McBride (bass) and Russell Malone (guitar), appear on two tracks, including a gorgeous, slower-than-slow rendition of Autumn in New York.

The top-notch production has Krall’s vocals front and centre in the mix so it sounds as if she’s right in the room with you, giving you a big old aural hug. It’s just what the doctor ordered in these pandemic times.

02 Whisky Kisses CoverWhisky Kisses
Alex Bird & the Jazz Mavericks
Independent (alexbird.net)

It’s not often that an individual can hit it big in both the acting and music worlds, but locally based vocalist Alex Bird clearly demonstrates his stellar talents and ability to transition smoothly into the realm of jazz with the release of his debut album. Bird will captivate any listener with his sultry and mellow voice that has just that touch of smokiness which both manages to serve as a hark back to the era of golden jazz crooners like Sinatra and Bennett but also brings us into the present with a freshness that breathes new life into the traditional aspects of the genre. The vocalist has had a hand in composing each piece and the disc features the fabulous Jazz Mavericks, a group of emerging musicians, namely Ewen Farncombe on keys, Eric West on drums and Scott Hunter on bass. 

The record opens up with the edgy Fire Not Warmth, a toe-tapping piece that sets the mood for the time-travelling journey to the period of greats that the listener is embarking on. The influence of jazz bigwigs such as Bennett, Baker and Fitzgerald on the golden-throated vocalist is apparent; Bird adds a distinct charm to his stylings while bringing that timeless classiness along into his new take on the past. Title track Whisky Kisses is a beautiful ballad that closes the album on a melancholic yet positive note, a sign that there’s much more to come from this astounding new talent.

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03 Jerry CookWalk in the Park
Jerry Cook Quartet +
Cellar Music CM091919 (cellarlive.com/collections)

Vancouver is known for parks – this disc could aptly accompany a real or imagined walk in the park, romantic possibilities included! Quartet leader/tenor saxophonist Jerry Cook hopes to “help relax, reflect, and recharge.” In a melodic, restrained style, there is nevertheless plenty of expressive, imaginative playing in both standards and Cook’s original numbers. Other quartet players include Chris Gestrin, piano, John Lee, bass, and Jesse Cahill, drums; with added musician Dave Sikula, guitar, they coalesce in a blues-inflected jazz sound, achieving the recording’s purposes well. Cook’s well-controlled slightly edgy tone distinguishes his title track, while pianist Gestrin is confident in accentuation and chord substitution. In Soul Eyes I especially enjoyed Cook’s lyrical, tastefully-ornamented melodic delivery. Soul is more obvious in Scarlett Ribbons, which builds impressively from opening gospel harmonies to greater complexity while maintaining style and mood.

Contrasting is Cook’s Blues, a medium-tempo swing number with agile sax, guitar and bass solos where Sikula’s style is smooth and assured. As for the rhythm section, there is a playful touch in Hello My Lovely where bass and drums are left all alone, just to trade fours for a while. Bassist Lee nails a hard-driving figure in Summertime, suggesting the oppression underlying this well-known number. And overt seriousness is established in Nature’s Lament’s solemn, modal opening, followed by the insistent, urgent Latin drum beat supporting a plea for environmental change.

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