01 Holly ColeMontreal
Holly Cole Trio
Rumpus Room Records 8088910067 (hollycole.com)

Recorded live during a four-day stint at the intimate Lion d’Or during the 2019 Festival International de Jazz, Montreal is a succinct six tracks. I don’t know if it’s because my attention span has deteriorated in this information-overloaded age we live in, but I quite enjoyed this shorter album size.

I also enjoyed the energy that a live performance lends. So although the majority of the tracks are Cole classics that most fans will have heard before, these renditions have slight differences from the studio versions as well as a unique presence and spontaneity that’s difficult to achieve in studio. The sound recording is so good (thanks to Ken Friesen) that you might not even know it’s live until the appreciative audience makes its presence felt.

Cole is in top form, doing what she does best: delivering great songs with style, wit and heart, starting with the atmospheric Whatever Lola Wants. A singer’s dream, Cole’s longtime bandmates – Aaron Davis, piano, David Piltch, bass, Davide DiRenzo, drums and John Johnson, woodwinds – deliver their usual imaginative, tasteful support. Each band member has a chance to shine – Piltch on the stripped down Little Boy Blue, a playful duet with just bass and voice. Davis solos beautifully on Girl Talk and Talk To Me Baby and Johnson’s evocative clarinet playing strikes just the right note on You’ve Got a Secret.

02 Swing ShiftCelebrations!
Swing Shift Big Band; Jackie Richardson; Larisa Renėe; Dave Statham
Palais Records SSBB2021CD (swingshiftbigband.com)

The homegrown, nationally acclaimed Swing Shift Big Band has been operating for 25 years and in these tough times has released a wonderful album full of all-time favourites from the genre that are sure to get any listener toe tapping right along. Led by multi-instrumentalist Jim John, through interesting and unique arrangements of well-known pieces, the band does a great job of breathing new life into a genre that can often get pushed slightly to the background. The listener is taken on a time-travelling journey of sorts, one that is just the perfect getaway paired with warmer weather and quickly approaching summer. 

The record starts off with a bossa nova classic Summer Samba, a sultry and rhythmic piece with scintillating solos by tenor saxophonist and musical director Jeff Pighin, as well as lead trombonist Rob Williams. Compared to the original, Swing Shift’s version may even become the preference for some due to the organ melody being replaced by a softer and mellower combination of trumpets, alto saxophones and trombones in this rendition. In Here’s to Life, renowned vocalist Jackie Richardson lends her rich and soulful voice to bring a melodious jazz ballad to new heights; the subtle yet poignant big band accompaniment pairing perfectly with her timbre. For any jazz fans looking to renew their interest in the big band subgenre or for new listeners alike, this album is a definite must.

03 Erin Propp Larry RoyWe Want All the Same Things
Erin Propp; Larry Roy
Chronograph Records CR-079 (erinpropp.com)

From the first downbeat of this fine recording, the listener is immediately drawn into Erin Propp and Larry Roy’s refreshing blend of folk and jazz, a bright world chock-full of catchy melodies, thoughtful lyrics and great musicianship. On this collection of 12 songs, mostly originals, the Winnipeg-based singer highlights her ongoing collaboration with Roy, one of Canada’s finest guitar players. The creative partnership has been a fruitful one, encompassing their 2012 Juno-nominated album Courage, My Love, as well as performances with the Winnipeg Symphony.

On this new recording, the duo continue to develop and deepen their artistry. Highlight tracks such as Farther On, The Light and Give Me More feature some exemplary songwriting, with Propp’s thoughtful, highly personal singing and lyrics matched alongside Roy’s distinctive arranging and harmonic approach. 

Propp’s versatility and strong affinity with the music of Brazil and Brazilian songstress Luciana Souza is highlighted on Recomeçar, a memorable melody composed by Humberto Piccoli. She also displays great vocal and emotional range on her interpretation of Hoagy Carmichael’s The Nearness of You. When Propp offers her highly individual take on this much-covered American Songbook standard, it is as if she is pausing to savour every syllable and nuance of the song. It takes a great singer to pull something like this off on such a high musical level.

Special mention also goes to the incredible crew of supporting musicians, Larnell Lewis, Mike Downes, Julian Bradford and Will Bonness. Hopefully this fine recording will help to give Propp and Roy the wider recognition they so deserve.

04 OcelotOcelot
Yuma Uesaka; Cat Toren; Colin Hinton
557 Records 5859 (557records.com) 

With its gorgeous sweeping melodies and fine ensemble communication, this album was juicy listening from start to finish. Sax/clarinet player Yuma Uesaka, Canadian pianist Cat Toren and drummer/percussionist Colin Hinton deliver a finely arced album, each track a diverse departure from the last but cohesive as a whole. Well known as individual jazz improvisers around the New York scene, the trio has gelled to create this gorgeous debut album, co-composed by the group, a culmination of a year’s worth of composing, rehearsing and touring, including a 2019 residency that allowed them to deepen their chemistry and work on the material for the album. This is an ensemble cast; three skilled players and improvisers whose trust in each other shows in the delicate patience and fine balance throughout the album. 

It’s impossible to name a favourite track. Daimon ll is a solid opening, with melodic and deep, pulsating support for the soaring sax. The broadly sweeping Factum is a great listen, compositionally perfect and beautifully played, while Post is mesmerizing and fun. Anemone is tightly constructed and finely mixed; Iterations shows the group blowing off steam. Sequestration is contemplative and spacious, with stunning sonorities, and Crocus leads us to a beautiful closing. 

Throughout the album, Hinton’s percussion never overpowers the other two, showing a fine sense of balance that manages to never sound held back. All three players show a remarkable patience for the natural expansion of the melodic content. 

This vibrant trio delivers an authentic and welcome breath of fresh air at the beginning of what will hopefully be a long and fruitful flight.

Listen to 'Ocelot' Now in the Listening Room

05 Hector QuartetUncharted
Hector Quartet
Independent hec001-cd (hectorquartet.com)

Hector consists of saxophonist Chris Gale, guitarist Ted Quinlan, keyboardist Jeff McLeod and drummer Chris Wallace. These are some of the most prolific and esteemed musicians in the Toronto scene and the results resemble something one might hear in the casual setting of a jazz club, albeit during a particularly loose and inspired gig. There is that signature flavour of guitar-driven funk, mixed with the stylistic versatility enabled by McLeod’s lyrical organ accompaniment, giving way to six tracks of truly impeccable jamming. One thing that stands out about Hector is how egoless the project is. Nobody dominates the soloing order, no force ever overwhelms the others, and most significantly, every compositional voice is heard.

Quinlan’s Building 8 is the perfect opener, enticing the listener by constantly taking harmonic left turns while managing to intangibly weave a melody through, capturing the intuitive enchantment of a lost standard. McLeod’s soulful 590 Blues showcases the band’s astonishing familiarity with the pocket, while McLeod’s solo sounds poised and comfortable, as if he were playing in his own home. What remains of the tracklist creates a beautiful contrast of moods, alternating between the richly melodious compositional style of Gale and the unflinchingly forceful grooves of Wallace. All the tunes are performed with equal respect, exertion and relish by everyone involved. For a debut album, Uncharted sounds a lot like the product of a true ensemble, one that has found its collective voice.

06 Cory WeedsO Sole Mio – Music from the Motherland
Cory Weeds; Eric Alexander; Mike LeDonne; Peter Bernstein; Joe Farnsworth
Cellar Music CM100619 (cellarlive.com)

For years, the venerable New York uptown jazz bôite Smoke featured Mike LeDonne on B3 Hammond organ, along with his funkadelic ensemble, the Groover Quartet. Canada’s own Cory Weeds – who is not only a fine alto saxophonist, but the founder of Cellar Records (a multiple award-winning, international jazz label) – was also long hip to this soulful group and began an extended performance and recording relationship with these fine musicians that continues to this day. Produced by Weeds and LeDonne and featuring Weeds on alto saxophone, Eric Alexander on tenor sax, LeDonne on B3, Peter Bernstein on guitar and Joe Farnsworth on drums, this exceptional new recording is a jazzy celebration of the Italian-American songbook, rife with traditional compositions, an offering from iconic jazz bassist Paul Chambers and cinematic hits from Henry Mancini and Nino Rota.

Not only can these guys groove, but they’re an incendiary device, as typified by a swing-infused O Sole Mio, featuring exquisite sax work from Weeds and Alexander. Mancini’s film noirish Mr. Lucky instigates Alexander’s bobs and weaves, while Pat Martino’s bebop anthem On the Stairs showcases pumpitude from all five members of the band.  

A deep, groove-infested Estate allows Weeds to shine – passing through each sultry emotional permutation. Also brilliant are Torna a Surriento, featuring the incredible Bernstein on guitar, with contributions from Alexander on tenor. A real standout is the funky-cool Moody Blues, which transports the band to California’s West Coast in the 1950s. Consummate keyboardist LeDonne is the star here – bringing to mind all of the greats of the B3, while being derivative of none. The closer, Chambers’ Capricci di Camere (Whims of Chambers) is pure, joyous boplicity!

07 Alyssa AllgoodWhat Tomorrow Brings
Alyssa Allgood
Cellar Music CM012121 (cellarlive.com/collections/all)

With this, just her third studio recording, Alyssa Allgood declares that she is comfortable in her own vocal skin and has also raised her game to become an artist of the first order. On What Tomorrow Brings she shapes the lyrics of these songs with élan, intelligence and passionate engagement, infusing fluid melodies with both a storyteller’s sense of detail and a dramatist’s sense of theatricality. 

The chosen repertoire features beautifully crafted arrangements of beguiling variety and sensuousness, expertly voiced in Allgood’s lovingly caressed phrasing. Listening to the way in which she seductively bends the notes in There Are Such Things and Memories, and how she sculpts the sustained inventions of Bridges, it’s clear that there’s not a single semiquaver of these melodies that hasn’t been fastidiously considered. Moreover – speaking of theatricality – Allgood turns into a quite riveting siren as she voices the character in Noel Coward’s Mad About The Boy, all but transforming what is usually a playful song into something darkly dramatic.

Allgood’s trio – guitarist Mike Allemana, bassist Dennis Carroll and drummer George Fludas – is completely attuned to her vision and artistry. The performances of each of the musicians melt eloquently into the vocalist’s highly expressive melodic stories. Melodies are intimately woven into filigreed lines from Allemana’s guitar, echoed in the rhythmic musicality of Carroll’s bass and Fludas’ drums. The music soars throughout, ending in Passing Glance, a powerful climax to this memorable album.

Back to top