01 Lou PomaniLou Pomanti & Friends
Lou Pomanti & Friends
Vesuvius Music VMI - 009 (loupomanti.com)

Consummate pianist/arranger/composer/producer Lou Pomanti has often been recognized for his impressive list of professional collaborations, but here Pomanti speaks in his own creative voice by presenting a project rife with original compositions and inspired pairings with artists with whom Pomanti has previously co-created. The jazz, R&B and pop luminaries here include vocalist Emilie-Claire Barlow, iconic trumpeter Randy Brecker, soulful vocalist and lead singer of Blood, Sweat and Tears David Clayton-Thomas, contemporary crooner Matt Dusk, masterful singer/songwriter Marc Jordan, the funkadelic Oakland Stroke blue-eyed soul singer John Finley, gifted vocalists Dione Taylor, Irene Torres, June Garber and Robyn Black, drummer Larnell Lewis and guitarist/synth wizard Sam Pomanti. The material here is a virtual potpourri of eclecticism and perfectly curated tracks – effortlessly pairing the right artists with the right tunes, brilliantly arranged and performed by the A-List musicians in the stirring charts created by Pomanti. 

First up is a largo, come-hither take on Lennon/McCartney’s Come Together featuring the magnificent Jordan and emerging vocalist Black, set in an inspired arrangement that oozes sophistication. A true standout is the swinging and soulful rendition of Mose Allison’s Your Mind is On Vacation featuring the made-in-heaven vocal match of Findley and Clayton-Thomas, followed by the irresistible Laura Nyro hit, Stoned Soul Picnic, reimagined by Pomanti, replete with an in-the-pocket tempo and featuring the breathtaking Barlow as well as a groovy face-melter from Brecker. 

Pomanti’s “ten piece touring funk juggernaut, Oakland Stroke” is represented here with a bluesy and thrilling version of Me and Mrs. Jones, graced by the incredible pipes of George St. Kitts. Of special, luminous beauty is the haunting Windmills of Your Mind perfectly rendered by the incomparable Garber – who doesn’t just sing the lyrics, but imbues them with deep emotional content and flawless interpretation. Of special note is Pomanti’s composition, What Remains – a loving tribute to his adored wife of more than 20 years – made all the more moving by featuring the still-besotted Pomanti on vocals.

02 Laura AngladeVenez donc chez moi
Laura Anglade; Sam Kirmayer
Justin Time (justin-time.com)

Francophone jazz lovers rejoice. Laura Anglade and Sam Kirmayer have released an album of 11 songs, entirely in French. The French-American singer, now based in Toronto, and the Montreal-based guitarist collaborated on this collection of classic songs from the not-too-distant past made famous by artists such as Barbara and Charles Aznavour. Unadorned by other instruments (except for accordion on two tracks) or fancy production tricks, Venez Donc Chez Moi (So Come to My House) is simply two exceptional musicians presenting beautiful songs. Some swing gently, but ballads dominate and Anglade’s gorgeous voice and Kirmayer’s solid and sensitive guitar accompaniment handily navigate all paces and styles. 

Both Kirmayer and Anglade get in some brief, melodic improvisations – not easily done in such a stripped-down environment – otherwise the songs are delivered in a straightforward, true-to-the-original manner. The most familiar songs (to this Anglophone) are Michel Legrand’s La Chanson de Maxence (You Must Believe in Spring) and La Valse des lilas (Once Upon a Summertime), which evoke sweet melancholy. But really the whole album is like a lovely time-out from today’s harsh reality. Pull up a café chair and let yourself be swept away.

Anglade and Kirmayer have many live performances coming up, separately, in Canada, the U.S. and Paris. Check samkirmayer.com and lauraanglade.com for dates.

Listen to 'Venez donc chez moi' Now in the Listening Room

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.

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