16 Joan TowerJoan Tower – Strike Zones
Evelyn Glennie; Blair McMillen; Albany Symphony; David Alan Miller
Naxos 8.559902 (naxosdirect.com/search/8559902)

Joan Tower is considered one of the most prominent living American composers. In this Naxos release we hear three world premiere recordings featuring the eminent percussion virtuoso Evelyn Glennie, pianist Blair McMillen and the Albany Symphony Orchestra. 

The title track, Strike Zones, is a concerto for percussion and orchestra where Glennie’s masterful technique is able to come alive with a dazzling display of fireworks. Whether it is an impressive solo on the high hats or a dramatic build-up on the drums, Glennie’s performance is able to shine above the enchanting accompaniment in the orchestra. The piece SmalI, for solo percussion, is a meditative, almost ritualistic work that evokes a misty woodland scene at dusk. Next, the piano concerto, Still/Rapids, is aptly titled as its two movements depict the dramatic duality inherent in water for its ability to achieve both calm and violent characteristics. Lastly, the solo piano work, Ivory and Ebony, is a high-energy yet elegant piece with moods shifting from agitated to triumphant. 

The performances on this release are top notch, and Tower seems to know the abilities of her performers in a profound way. For a vibrant and exciting display of technical wizardry, give this disc a listen.

17 Lincoln Trio Big ShouldersTrios from The City of Big Shoulders
Lincoln Trio
Cedille CDR 90000 203 (cedillerecords.org)

This CD’s press release calls them “revered Chicago composers,” although Chicago-born Ernst Bacon (1898-1990) lived nearly all his life composing and teaching elsewhere. Conversely, Michigan-native Leo Sowerby (1895-1968) spent most of his life as an organist-choirmaster in the “City of the Big Shoulders” (a line from Carl Sandburg’s poem Chicago).

Bacon’s 31-minute Piano Trio No.2 (1987) begins with a gloomy, wandering Lento. In Deliberate March Time sounds like an old-fashioned hiking song. The sauntering strings and shimmering piano runs of In an easy walk are briefly interrupted by sudden, stormy dissonances. Gravely expressive is a rumination for cello, marked “as if quietly singing,” over piquant piano chords, followed by Allegro, a syncopated foot-stomper with country fiddling and bar-room piano strides and riffs. Commodo provides a gentle interlude before the final Vivace, ma non presto based on the folksong Green Mountain. It’s really quite a trip!

Sowerby’s three-movement, 37-minute Piano Trio (1953) is made of much sterner stuff. Slow and Solemn is granitically ponderous, despite a not-“slow,” not-“solemn” middle section. Quiet and serene paints a misty cityscape with a daydreaming piano and tender violin until the movement’s title is belied by markedly increasing tension and volume. Fast; with broad sweep lives up to its name – it’s a perpetuum mobile of heavily rhythmic melodies culminating in a powerful, final accelerando.

The internationally acclaimed, Chicago-based Lincoln Trio delivers everything these disparate works could ask for, including vivid colours, dramatic expressivity and sensational virtuosity.

18 Leo SowerbyLeo Sowerby – The Paul Whiteman Commissions & Other Early Works
Andy Baker Orchestra; Avalon String Quartet
Cedille CDR 90000 205 (cedillerecords.org)

In 1946, Leo Sowerby, dubbed “Dean of American Church Music,” received the Pulitzer Prize for his oratorio The Canticle of the Sun, one of his large body of religious-themed compositions. He also composed many secular orchestral and chamber works.

While still in his 20s, Sowerby, already a much-performed composer, created two jazz-infused works for bandleader Paul Whiteman’s Revolutionary Concerts. The 11-minute Synconata premiered in New York in December 1924, just one month after the debut of Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, another Whiteman commission. The enthusiastically received, colourfully scored music – downbeat, upbeat and raucous – prompted Whiteman to commission Sowerby for a second, much more ambitious work.

The grin-inducing music of the four-movement, 25-minute Symphony for Jazz Orchestra “Monotony” (1925) depicts the eponymous status seeker of Sinclair Lewis’ satirical novel Babbitt at the theatre (Nights Out), an illegal Prohibition-era cocktail party (Fridays at Five), church (Sermons) and a concert (Critics). It’s great fun, tuneful and rhythmically vivacious. Yet both works, awkward fits for standard symphony orchestras, disappeared. (Rhapsody in Blue required re-orchestration for symphonic performances.) For these world-premiere recordings, Chicago music-theatre and classical instrumentalists were recruited to form the Andy Baker Orchestra, with Baker conducting.

The Illinois-based Avalon String Quartet contributes three works imbued with the ingratiating spirit of folk music: the nine-minute Serenade for String Quartet (1917), the 29-minute String Quartet in D Minor (1923) and, with Canadian pianist Winston Choi and bassist Alexander Hanna, the brief Tramping Tune (1917).

A thoroughly delightful disc!

19 Vasks ODE1355 2Pēteris Vasks – Oboe Concerto; Vestijums; Lauda
Albrecht Mayer; Latvian National Symphony Orchestra; Andris Poga
Ondine ODE 1355-2 (naxosdirect.com/search/ode+1355-2)

The newly released album of music by Latvian composer Pēteris Vasks features the first recording of his oboe concerto written for the centenary celebrations of Latvia’s independence in 2018 and performed by one of the today’s leading oboe soloists, Albrecht Mayer. 

Accompanied by the Latvian National Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Andris Poga, Mayer dazzles with his technical facility as well as his beautiful interpretive phrasing, bringing this programmatic work to life. With a familiar feel akin to the rhapsodic Vaughan Williams concerto for oboe and string orchestra, this pastoral concerto uses contrasting textures ranging from long lyrical phrases to light and sparkling gestures, inducing a symphonic dialogue between the solo oboe and woodwinds in the orchestra. Modelled after the experience of human life, the first movement morning pastorale depicts the bright, fresh naïveté of youth before gradually maturing through the scherzando second movement and finally evolving with the inevitable celestial ascent in the evening pastorale.

Also on this album are two earlier nationalistic orchestral works from the 1980s; Vēstījums (The Message) for two pianos, strings and percussion and Lauda, originally written for the 150th anniversary of Latvian folklorist Krišjānis Barons. These works manifested the final years of the Soviet Union and Latvia’s struggle to regain its independence.

20 Harrison Seven SacredjpgMichael Harrison – Seven Sacred Names
Various Artists
Cantaloupe Music CA21157 (naxosdirect.com/search/ca21157)

American composer/pianist Michael Harrison was an early protégé of the minimalist pioneer LaMonte Young and is a winner of many prizes including a 2018/19 Guggenheim Fellowship. His creations include not only a long series of compositions and recordings, but also innovative piano tunings and the Harmonic Piano, a grand piano with 24 keys per octave. The new CD Seven Sacred Names is a companion to the book Nature’s Hidden Dimension by W.H.S. Gebel. Based in Sufi mysticism, it strikes me as a crossroads of music and spirituality created by Harrison and associates, where the Seven Names denote stages of an awakening self.

The Prologue – simple and triadic, reminiscent of Philip Glass – comes back much varied in the Epilogue (Name No.7). The Names then proceed as titles to the music. Referring to existence, self-awareness and will, each one has more complex music: No.1: piano and overtone series; No.2: addition of melody along with vocal, violin and electronic tanpura (tamboura) drones; No.3: rhythms and cross-rhythms, polyphony, and tabla – associated with “will,” this last one seems stiff and too long. From here are Names that I appreciate more: No.4 (“desire”), whose piano and expressive violin reminds me of certain lucid French compositions; No.5, the delightful syllabic vocal/electronic piece “The Acoustic Constellation” sung by Roomful of Teeth; and No.6 featuring the sustained, constantly transforming tones of Harrison’s Harmonic Piano. A unique, enriching experience.

21 Borderlands EnsembleThe Space in Which to See
Borderlands Ensemble
New Focus Recordings FCR299 (newfocusrecordings.com)

The Tucson, Arizona-based Borderlands Ensemble is oriented towards diverse communities. This CD explores Arizona-Mexico musical connections, featuring four premieres from 2019. Participants include artistic director-hornist Johanna Lundy, violinist Ellen Chamberlain and other string chamber musicians, plus cross-disciplinary collaborators. Performances are excellent: Lundy’s versatile mastery and the able string players (with guitar sometimes) produce a unique, compelling recording. Anne Leilehua Lanzilotti’s title composition carries expressive power. Its four sections explore aspects of Indigenous identity and place. Especially striking are opening string drones with crescendos and silences, and percussive or pitched strings plus vocal breathing around clarion horn notes in the following part. 

Charles Daniels’ Dream Machine gathers diverse material into a convincing, well-timed three-part work. Perpetual motion sections, the second having more complex rhythms, frame a pensive centre. Still chords close this beautiful work. The longer Ometéotl – named for the Aztec creation god – by Mexican Alejandro Vera brings a variety of musical material both more ancient and more modern than this disc’s other works. Passing Ships by Jay Vosk is intended to represent the experience of migration, often setting the horn (i.e. ship) against the string quartet. The piece made me compare land migration experiences in the Borderlands to those by sea of my own ancestors. Songs and Arias by noted American composer Vivian Fine (1913-2000) is clever but I found it dated. Attractive arrangements of three well-known Mexican songs complete the recording.

Listen to 'The Space in Which to See' Now in the Listening Room

22 Dahveed BehrooziEchos
Dahveed Behroozi; Thomas Morgan; Billy Mintz
Sunnyside Communications SSC 1618 (dahveedbehroozi.com)

Pianist Dahveed Behroozi is a San Francisco Bay Area-based jazz/classical/new music musician/composer/improviser/teacher. In this, his second release, he joins forces with New York improvisers, bassist Thomas Morgan and drummer Billy Mintz, to record at Mount Vernon, New York’s Oktaven Audio. The full resonating audio sound reflects their playing on the studio floor with no isolation. We the listeners hear what musicians hear when playing!

Behroozi explains he composed the tracks out of improvising at home but took only sketches to the session which the others sight read/played for the first time. This adds to the free-flowing ambiance of the music.   

Imagery has an almost Romantic classical feel with calm piano opening, drum entry washes and bass melodic colours. Two takes of Chimes are included on separate tracks. The first has an atonal contemporary sound while the second features intense, fuller, well-controlled instrumentals combining new music and new jazz styles. Cymbal crashes add colour to the lower-pitched sections. Royal Star is a slow and moody piano jazz tune showcasing the musicians’ close concentrated listening with contrasting silent spaces and well-chosen minimalistic sounds. Loud percussion crashing opens and closes Sendoff. Subsequent piano entry crash and chords are more jazz influenced as the bass keeps the “beat.” Closing track TDB has a relaxing piano “singing” a sweet emotional sad reflective tune with carefully articulated piano tones ringing against lower bass sounds. 

Outstanding performances by all three musicians raise Behroozi’s music to new heights.

23 Unsnared DrumUnsnared Drum
Michael Compitello
New Focus Recordings FRC310 (newfocusrecordings.com)

All my musical doubts and questionings about the snare drum’s credibility as a solo instrument immediately vanished with a crash as I listened to American percussionist/teacher Michael Compitello perform the compositions he commissioned for his solo snare drum project.

Compitello provided each invited composer a snare drum, sticks, mallets and “other implements” to explore the instrument’s extended musical capabilities while working in close collaboration with him. Nina C. Young’s Heart.throb (2019) opens with an attention-grabbing roll and crescendo. Young’s added transducers feature electronic tonal/dynamic held notes against constant snare and brush hits which emulate heart throbs until a final “classic” loud snare drum build to a closing solo electronic held note. Hannah Lash’s Start (2018) is scored for snare only and various stick types. Fascinating diverse sounds from loud to soft and short/crisp to quieter vibrating, tell a mood-changing, pulsating story. Amy Beth Kirsten’s Ghost in the Machine (2019) is hypnotic, with more pulses, clicks, washes and brief high-pitched rings and conversational effects aided by such added snare sound-creating “implements” as triangle and shot glasses. Tonia Ko’s Negative Magic (2019) opens with snares turned off, as resounding deep sounds alternate with rim shots. Musical sections include drops to almost inaudibility and to more mysterious sounds. Midpiece, the snare is abruptly turned on for welcome short hits, rolls and clicks. Snares off again as rolls and scratches lead to silence. 

Compitello performs these solo snare drum compositional explorations with precision, dedication, control and phenomenal musicality.

Listen to 'Unsnared Drum' Now in the Listening Room

01 Nick AdemademiLAN
Nicholas Adema
Independent (nickadema.com)

Toronto-based composer/trombonist Nick Adema’s latest offering is teeming with originality and confidence from front to back. Everything from the writing to the execution feels like the product of an artist who is conscious of their identity. 

One aspect that immediately jumps out is Adema’s astounding attention to detail. Each of his compositions contains a myriad of ideas, gradually revealing themselves over time and yet all coming together to form a satisfying whole. His melodies are intuitive enough to feel eerily familiar and yet elaborate enough to make anybody’s head spin. Much like the greats, Adema’s writing possesses immense beauty while also managing to zig where others would normally zag. Another trait of his that resembles top all-time composer/bandleaders is the rare ability to make full usage of his whole group. The effects of this tendency particularly shine through the kinetic rhythm section during the final climactic minutes of Rise, and the three-man-weave in the horn section of demiLAN

Due to the nature of Adema’s bandleading, along with the sheer talent he assembled, the most memorable moments on the album consist of celestial synergy between musicians. One definitive instance was the combination of lyricist/vocalist Alyssa Giammaria’s deeply poignant prose and the reassuring warmth of bassist Evan Gratham’s tone on the intro of the stunning Lament for the Future to Come. Ultimately, it is due to Adema’s knack for working with these parts that the whole far exceeds the sum.

02 GGRILSommes
Tour de Bras TDB9051CD (tourdebras.com)

In 2014 I wrote my first sustained account of GGRIL, Grand Groupe Régional d’Improvisation Libérée, the large-scale, Rimouski, Quebec-based orchestra devoted to free improvisation, conduction, graphic, text-based and any other kind of score that falls into its wide purview. The article was based on hearing and talking to GGRIL members at FIMAV (Festival International de Musique Actuelle de Victoriaville), and the final sentence read: “GGRIL is currently recording scores by a wide variety of composers for their next album, Collection, a three-CD set that includes the pieces by Robert Marcel Lepage and Jean Derome performed at FIMAV.” Though it’s taken longer than expected, that ambition is now realized with Sommes, a three-CD commemoration of GGRIL’s 15-year history, 11 works dated from 2013 to 2020 by Québécois, Canadian and international composers, all newly recorded in fall 2020 by an edition of GGRIL that includes 21 musicians and a guest appearance by Quatuor Bozzini.  

That original Lepage work, the 14-minute Alice, appears on disc one, an abstracted comedy reimagining Lewis Carroll’s work as a series of jagged, pecking dialogues between individual instruments, frequently in the bass register, occasionally reshaping the scenes with rapid-fire percussion. A brief solo episode, Chat de Cheshire, becomes a leitmotif through the set, appearing first as a bass prelude by Luke Dawson, then twice on each succeeding CD, by classical guitarist Pascal Landry, trombonist Gabriel Rochette-Bériault, cellist Rémy Bélanger de Beauport and electric bassist Éric Normand, the GGRIL founder and firebrand whose modesty limits his credits here to electric bass and a single conducting appearance.

Fifteen years in, GGRIL’s achievement seems extraordinary, a miraculous collaboration of state arts funding, local isolation and rare vision, involving composers from across Canada and Western Europe as well as Quebec. Alison Cameron’s In Memoriam Robert Ashley, a work of startling evanescence, drips beauty; Martin Arnold’s Éistphéist, featuring Quatuor Bozzini and the composer’s banjo, turns the gestural phrases of folk music into a 25-minute dreamscape. The ensemble’s devotion to chance and the unique realization is apparent in the textural surprises of Lori Freedman’s playful Chances Are and in two distinct realizations of England-based saxophonist Caroline Kraabel’s Une note n’écoutant qu’elle-même. Other composers represented are Lisa Cay Miller, Malcolm Goldstein, Michel F. Côté, Jean Derome (his La courbe du moment from 2014) and Gus Garside.

The most ambitious performance here may be the opening one, French pianist Frédéric Blondy’s Îlots turgescents, a work of segments (“islands”) that demonstrates the orchestra’s range and power, from sudden, airliner-like, ascending glissandi to an extended, shifting drone that might model the ultimate funerary chord, stretching out to perpetuity until it includes within it an extended, gradual upward glissando increasing in amplitude. Weird Polynesian lounge jazz follows.

03a Grdina Square Peg KLOTSKI Klotski
Gordon Grdina’s Square Peg
Attaboygirl Records ABG-2 (gordongrdina.bandcamp.com)

Gordon Grdina
Attaboygirl Records ABG-1 (gordongrdina.bandcamp.com)

Over the past decade, Vancouver-based composer/guitarist Gordon Grdina has emerged as one of Canada’s most prolific jazz musicians. He has formed and recorded with a series of distinct bands, including New York-based ensembles – his eponymous Quartet with Oscar Noriega, Satoshi Takeishi and Russ Lossing and the trio Nomad with Matt Mitchell and Jim Black – and such Vancouver groups as his string-dominated Septet and the Arabic music ensemble Haram. All that activity has now led to Grdina’s own label, Attaboygirl Records, which launches with two releases, one introducing a new international quartet, the second a program of solo music for classical guitar and oud. Each testifies to Grdina’s remarkable capacity for growth.

With Square Peg, Grdina blends his electric guitar and oud with two Americans, violist Mat Maneri  (a long-standing explorer of quarter-tone improvisation) and bassist Shahzad Ismaily (also making adept contributions on synthesizer) and German drummer Christian Lillinger, a rising star in Europe who brings a special animation to any ensemble of which he’s a part. Klotski is a 53-minute work in eight parts, modular pieces that can be introduced by any member of the group and which are linked by collective improvisations. At the core of the music is the strong rapport of Grdina and Maneri who share a fondness for nuances of pitch and subtle shifts in repeating motifs. At times the musical thought is so close that one may cease distinguishing between oud or guitar and viola, as if they’re being played by a single mind, particularly evident in the kind of profound reverie that arises in a work like Bacchic Barge, in which the music’s ultimate effect includes both the intertwined strings and the metallic glitter of Lillinger’s snare and cymbals.

03b Grdina PENDULUMOn Pendulum, his third solo CD, Grdina concentrates on classical guitar and oud. On guitar he creates mysterious tonal intersections out of contrasting cultural references, a quality immediately apparent on the opening Koen Dori, initially written for a Japanese ensemble. The solo performance here hangs between East and West, idiomatic pentatonics and a broad vibrato on slow passages emphasizing the former within a context of richly European harmonies. The effect is not dissonant, however literally that might be applied, but concordant, similar to the quality achieved with Square Peg. Western harmonic conceptions strongly colour the glassy reverberating chromatic weave of Contra, while Wayward, the longest track here and one of two oud pieces, is characterized by rapidly shifting dynamics, an expressive intensity and a movement from traditional modality to increasingly complex pitch distortions and relations.

04 Nick FraserIf There Were No Opposites
Nick Fraser
Independent (nickfraserthedrummer.com)

Drummer/composer Nick Fraser’s eponymous quartet is amongst the most distinctive Canadian bands to emerge in the past decade, maintaining consistent personnel that includes New York saxophonist Tony Malaby as well as Fraser’s longtime Toronto associates, bassist Rob Clutton and Andrew Downing, here playing cello rather than his more customary bass. If There Were No Opposites is the group’s fourth CD since 2012, and it marks another step in their evolution, with a kind of telepathy arising in the collective handling of Fraser’s compositions and sketches. 

Fraser’s subtle sense of form adds a special element to the program. The CD begins with Improvisation (Part 1), a flurry of upper-register pizzicato, soon joined by gruff tenor saxophone and a high-pitched keening string melody; within a minute, it shifts to a somber ballad, the tenor tamed and mingled with bowed strings and cymbal washes. The CD’s concluding piece, Improvisation (Part 2), which begins with unaccompanied drums, is literally the continuation of the first, a clever bracketing of the composed pieces within the spontaneous, inverting the traditional jazz pattern of enclosing improvisation within form-defining statements.   

In between there are five Fraser compositions, each a distinct springboard for the band’s often tumultuous creativity, lines and timbres constantly assembling, dissolving and reassembling in ways that are at once loose and precise, whether it’s the rapid-tempo explosion of Sketch #50 or the piquant, transformations of The Bulldog and the Capricorn. This is exceptional music making.

05 June GarberOff the Carousel
June Garber
Vesuvius Music VMI-005 (junegarber.com)

Luminous chanteuse and performer June Garber has just released a compelling, emotionally and musically profound recording. A deeply personal project, every track is like a small, perfect piece of cinéma vérité – a journey through the commonality of the human experience through Garber’s autobiographical musical lens. Musical genius Lou Pomanti produced and arranged the recording, and also performed on a variety of keyboards. As the CD was created when it was impossible (due to COVID) to record together in the studio, under the expert direction of Pomanti the tracks were created individually and remotely, and then assembled. The talented musicians here include Steve Heathcote on drums, Marc Rogers on bass, Jake Langley on guitar, Drew Jurecka on strings, William Sperandei on trumpet and Robyn Black on background vocals. 

The moving opener, He Never Mentioned Love, sets the tone for this romantic, emotional journey of an album, where Garber acts as both muse and tour guide. Langley’s soulful guitar solo moves in and out of the languid string lines of almost unbearable beauty as Garber captivates with every note and nuance. Of special, remarkable beauty and delicacy is the inspired composition of the Bergmans and Michel LeGrand, Windmills of Your Mind. Garber fearlessly sails through this melodically and lyrically challenging tune on the wings of a truly inspired arrangement by Pomanti.

Every track on this recording is a luscious listening experience – from Lil Hardin’s sexy, bluesy Just for a Thrill (with special guest Jackie Richardson) to a unique, rhythmically infused take on Chick Corea’s Spain, where Garber’s rich, warm tones elicit pure joy! Of special mention is the rarely performed Johnny Mercer/Barry Manilow ballad, When October Goes, performed here to perfection with pristine guitar and voice. The deep emotional honesty in Garber’s interpretation is nothing short of breathtaking.

Listen to 'Off the Carousel' Now in the Listening Room

06 David SanfordA Prayer for Lester Bowie
David Sanford Big Band featuring Hugh Ragin
Greenleaf Music GRE-CD-1086 (greenleafmusic.com)

Lester Bowie, co-founder of the Art Ensemble of Chicago and one of the leading lights of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, was a legendary trumpeter known for his adventurous and often humourous music. Beneath this veneer was his avant-garde, deeply Africanized vision for jazz. 

Referencing everything that the trumpeter stood for, composer and arranger David Sanford empowers his big band to evoke the spirit of Bowie through high-octane performances on A Prayer for Lester Bowie. Each of eight exquisite charts is especially rewarding for the quality of the performance, advanced by stellar soloists featuring trumpeters Hugh Ragin and Brad Goode, saxophonists Anna Webber and Marc Phaneuf, trombonists Jim Messbauer and Ben Herrington among several other virtuoso musicians. 

While the centrepiece of the album is the song that gives it its title, written by – and featuring – Ragin on trumpet, the other charts are equal, in the fabulous richness of orchestral texture, to the album’s principal song. In fact, about three of the most miraculous minutes of the album can be heard on popit (also featuring Ragin) as well as the balletic Woman in Shadows and the dark-toned Soldier and the CEO. Throughout the repertoire on this recording the musical chemistry between the musicians is seamlessly intuitive. Woodwinds, brass and rhythm sections sparkle in ensemble with eloquence and vigour while judiciously placed solo movements are always poetically declaimed.

Listen to 'A Prayer for Lester Bowie' Now in the Listening Room

07 Mary LaRoseOut Here
Mary LaRose; Jeff Lederer; Tomeka Reid; Patricia Brennan; Nick Dunston; Matt Wilson)
little(i)music (littleimusic.com)

After his two-year stint with Chico Hamilton’s band, clarinetist, flutist and alto saxophonist Eric Dolphy rose to eminence in the iconic bands of Charles Mingus, John Coltrane and Booker Little, becoming known as much for his forward-thinking harmonic and rhythmic conception, as for his lyrical, human-speech-like solos on bass clarinet and flute. 

Mary LaRose, a remarkable artist in her own right, captures all of Dolphy’s character and artistry into an eerily prescient vocal album featuring prominent – and lesser-known – repertoire from  Dolphy’s unique canon, adding lyrics, brilliantly executed polyphonic vocalese and singing throughout. Another striking aspect of this music is the sensuality of sonority, confirming without question that Dolphy was an absolute master of orchestral language with a subtlety of timbre. 

Jeff Lederer’s arrangements of the charts on Out Here capture the majesty of Dolphy’s music revelling in its extravagance, while the group comprising cellist Tomeka Reid, vibraphonist Patricia Brennan, bassist Nick Dunston and drummer Matt Wilson deliver strongly committed, full-blooded performances. 

But make no mistake, this recording is launched into the stratosphere by the high jinks and vocalastics of LaRose. Her visionary aesthetic and idiomatic performance is behind the kinetic energy of the album’s most memorable songs: Gazzelloni and Music Matador, the latter featuring trombonist Jimmy Bosch and percussionist Bobby Sanabria. Warm Canto – with its clarinet choir, including Isaiah Johnson and Cameron Jones, lifting aloft LaRose’s contrapuntal vocals – is the album’s crowning glory.

08 Noah HaiduSlowly – Song for Keith Jarrett
Noah Haidu; Buster Williams; Billy Hart
Sunnyside Communications SSC 1596 (noahhaidu.com)

Few pianists in contemporary jazz have dominated the concert grand piano like Keith Jarrett, an artist of the first order, who was riveting in solo performance and similarly thrilling with his longstanding trio, comprising bassist Gary Peacock and drummer Jack DeJohnette. The death of Peacock and the pianist’s rapidly declining health have meant that the world will be deprived of one of the greatest, most versatile performing artists in recent memory. 

To pay homage to someone with such an outsize artistic personality would seem to be an enormous challenge, the task made even more daunting because of the choice to show respect for Jarrett by playing in a trio format. But not so much for the prodigious piano virtuoso Noah Haidu, who could not have picked better musicians for this venture than venerable bassist Buster Williams and drummer Billy Hart.

Haidu attempts to retain the emotional intensity and depth of characterization of Jarrett’s work, without emulating his idol on the album Slowly. To do otherwise would have been ill-advised given the distinctive nature of Jarrett’s improvisatory playing. Rather, Haidu impresses with a more discursive style featuring idiosyncratic pitching and a tone that seems to evaporate in short transcendent phrases. The repertoire is wisely chosen and the album includes the appropriate and thematic Air Dancing, a balletic composition by Williams; Lorca, an elegiac piece by Hart; and Haidu’s eloquent composition Slowly. The album’s apogee is Jarrett’s wistful composition Rainbow.

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