01 Heather BambrickYou’ll Never Know
Heather Bambrick
Independent HBCD003
(heatherbambrick.ca)

Toronto-based singer and radio personality Heather Bambrick, has released her first solo recording in a decade. Certainly during that time you could have heard her in many live performances, on other recordings and even voicing animated characters, if you were paying attention. But it’s good to hear a fresh recording from Bambrick since she’s one of the finest jazz singers in this country and her projects are a guaranteed musical treat. Her impeccable technique and heartfelt delivery are on display from the outset with a swing treatment of I Only Have Eyes for You. This track sets the tone for the rest of the album which is mostly mid- to down-tempo covers of songs from the past few decades.

Piano accompanist extraordinaire Mark Kieswetter has arranged most of the songs and he outdoes himself – along with drummer Davide DiRenzo and Bambrick – on the reimagining of Lovers in a Dangerous Time. I didn’t think any version of the Bruce Cockburn song could rival the Barenaked Ladies’ 2006 cover, but this does, artfully enabled by John Johnson on soprano sax and Ross MacIntyre’s perfectly minimalist bass playing.

Bambrick’s Newfoundland roots usually make an appearance on her albums in the form of a traditional song and Petty Harbour Bait Skiff does the job here. But the poignant Far from the Home I Love also beautifully tells the tale.

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Author: Cathy Riches
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02 Will JarvisWill Jarvis – Con Gracias
Will Jarvis; Hilario Duran; Bill McBirnie; Kevin Turcotte et al.
Independent WTM-001
(willjarvismusic.com)

This impressive debut recording from bassist/composer Will Jarvis is a collection of ten original tunes, firmly steeped in the Afro-Cuban tradition. Jarvis, who also acts as producer and arranger here, has been focused on Latin musics since the early 90s, and the muy picante CD features an impressive line-up, including pianist Hilario Duran, flutist Bill McBirnie, trumpeter Kevin Turcotte, percussionists Luis Orbegoso, Rosendo Chendy León Arocha and Daniel Stone, as well as jazz mainstays Don Thompson on vibes, Bruce Cassidy on flugelhorn, Michael Stuart on tenor sax and Trevor Dick and Drew Jurecka on violins.

First up is the lively Vientos de Cambio (Winds of Change). Written as a zesty guaguancó, the percussion work propels this tune along, as does the solid solo and ensemble work from McBirnie and Duran, as well as a tasty bass solo by Jarvis. Also, the gorgeous Cha-Cha-Cha, Como Metheny, honours the creative spirit of the celebrated guitarist, and Don Thompson’s contrapuntal vibraphone lines further imply a very Metheny-esque flavour while Kevin Turcotte’s flugelhorn solo is, simply, perfection.

Outstanding is the title track Con Gracias (With Thanks). This bolero beautifully represents contemporary Cuba and the massive impact on jazz that has been graciously given to the world by a prestigious parade of talented and brave Cuban musicians. Michael Stuart’s heartrending tenor solo conveys this heady emotional cocktail of joy and longing.

This fine CD aptly closes with the intense, contemporary cooker, Nuevo Afro, which lovingly embraces everything that is so intoxicating about Afro-Cuban musical forms. Superbly conceived and performed, this is a thoroughly satisfying, accessible and authentic journey into our most ancient and visceral musical origins.

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03 3rio3Rio
Alexandre Côté; Gary Schwartz; Jim Doxas
Independent
(cdbaby.com/cd/garyschwartz12)

If at first it seems odd to listen to a disc that has neither the benefit of a contrabass nor a tuba to hold up the bottom end of the musical scale, but relies upon the bass drum to do that, all raised eyebrows are soon lowered when this threesome gets to Monk’s Dream. It is then that Jim Doxas comes into his own not only as a drummer who is doing the rhythmist’s job all on his own, but is actually playing the role of a percussion colourist and the third melodist of the band.

Ensembles that are as free-flowing as 3Rio often tend to be reminiscent of the many unpredictable musical journeys that Jimmy Giuffre’s duo and trio might take. However Doxas, Alexandre Côté and Gary Schwartz make everything from written counterpoint (You Stepped Out of a Dream) to classic improvisation (Monk’s Dream), and free form – or formless – improvisation (Bridge 1-6) sound shockingly unexpected and fresher than music from other improvising groups.

Warm, sliding chords (Bridge 3) reveal an elegant structural sense on the part of guitarist Schwartz, even without text. This is easily carried over by Schwartz into his poetic waltz-time The Cove, an obliquely tonal homage to the instrument he plays so well. Côté responds beautifully on the tenor saxophone. Côté plays with brilliant focus and timbral variety always staying just long enough to charm and dazzle the senses helping weave the magical threads into an enigmatic musical fabric.

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04 C I JensonInfinitude
Ingrid and Christine Jensen with Ben Monder
Whirlwind Recordings WR4694 (ingridjensen.com)

Originally from Vancouver Island, sisters Ingrid and Christine Jensen have both established careers in jazz, Ingrid as a trumpeter in New York, Christine as a composer and alto saxophonist in Montreal. Their individual styles share a compelling sense of spaciousness and a keen alertness to voicings and sound, qualities that link them, as annotator James Hale notes, to a Canadian tradition embodied in forebears like Paul Bley and Kenny Wheeler.

While both may be best known for orchestral projects, Infinitude presents them in a quintet with guitarist Ben Monder, bassist Fraser Hollins and drummer Jon Wikan. Despite that sparse instrumentation, the music often does feel orchestral, a tribute to the sisters’ rich sonorities and thoughtful harmonies as well as Monder’s resourceful mastery of electric guitar timbres.

A feeling of infinite space is apparent from Monder’s Echolalia, a rolling piece that sets its repeating theme on the carpet of sound provided by Hollins’ resonant bass. That sense of space colours the music in other ways as well; Ingrid’s Duo Space is a duet with Monder, her burnished trumpet sound supported by waves of atmospheric guitar sound.

Another sense of space is apparent, too. If Christine’s reputation as composer and orchestrator has long surpassed her instrumental achievements, the openness of this group highlights a new fluency on saxophone. It comes through especially on her Octofolk: she reveals a fresh assertiveness and a shifting mercurial creativity in both line and sound.

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05 Picasso ZoneThe Picasso Zone
Modus Factor
Browntasauras Records NCC-1701H (chrislesso.com/modus-factor)

Don’t expect things to be dull and dreary when Brownman Ali is around – either on stage, or in the studio. Ever. Take Chris Lesso's Modus Factor 2016 release The Picasso Zone, where Brownman is invited to join bassist Ian De Souza and drummer/bandleader Lesso in the molten mix that is cooking in this bubbling cauldron of an album. It might not be that odd to think of this music in the Cubist terms that it references.

The sharply angular rhythms and harmonic objects that are analysed, broken up and reassembled in a brand new multi-dimensional form of music closely resemble the Cubist line. The introspective nature of Now & Zen, for instance, might be considered – without putting too fine a point on its melody – a strikingly “blue period” piece.

There have been times when Brownman has been spoken of in less than flattering terms as being in the time-warp that held Miles Davis’ fancy during his electronic period. But Brownman is no clone of anyone. His singular “voice” is just that; a trumpet that is played to mimic the sounds of the human voice as it revels in astonishing whoops, excited stutters and solfège, with its loud resonance and frequent blurring of syllables. It’s quite ingenious technically, but what’s more, carefully melting the sonority of the human voice into that of the trumpet, Brownman is able to emote freely, often leaping joyously from the ecstatic head-games of the Monkish Rounded Corners to a more contemplative Metatonia.

Much as it might seem that the trumpeter is the dominant voice on The Picasso Zone, both De Souza and Lesso also assert themselves with virtuoso performances. Both men combine cohesively, playing with more expressive depth and luxuriating in the burnished, golden tone of Brownman’s trumpet with roaring bass and a broad palette of percussion colours.

Editor's note: this review has been updated since it appeared in print to correct the impression that Modus Factor is a Brownman-initiated project. Chris Lesso is the group's driving force as noted above.

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06 Roberto OcchipintiStabilimento
Roberto Occhipinti
Modica Music MM0017 (modicamusic.com)

Review

In Stabilimento Toronto bassist and composer Roberto Occhipinti has produced a highly ambitious and coherent musical statement. The album’s repertoire combines Occhipinti’s wide-ranging compositions with imaginative interpretations of pieces by Caetano Veloso, Stevie Wonder and Beethoven. A strong world music vibe, a hallmark of Occhipinti’s varied musical career, serves as a home base for the album’s nine tracks.

Saxophonist Tim Ries is prominently featured on the first five tunes. His remarkable virtuosity and inventiveness is cast alongside Luis Deniz’s equally compelling alto playing on Tuareg, the opening cut. Pianist Manuel Valera creates a wide-open landscape for the horns to blow on and proceeds to take full advantage of this territory, starting with small rhythmic cells that expand into fleet double-time lines. Drummer Dafnis Prieto brings an Afro-Cuban edge to the groove and closes the track with a brief but explosive solo.

Ries’ rich soprano sound brings a bittersweet quality to Stevie Wonder’s Another Star, treated here as a ballad rather than the Latin/funk of Wonder’s original recording. The ensemble adds horns, strings and percussion for the title track, Occhipinti’s Stabilimento. The writing is lush and inviting with inspired blowing from Ries and Deniz as well as a challenging and expertly executed soli section. Valera conjures Herbie Hancock on the vamp out. Tenor saxophonist Quinsin Nachoff is featured on Wayne Shorter’s Penelope. The large-ensemble arrangement, this time including pianist Hilario Duran and drummer Mark Kelso, lends itself beautifully to the poignant waltz and Nachoff improvises fluidly and effortlessly.

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07 Glamour NailsGlamour Nails
Lina Allemano; Justin Haynes
(glamournails.bandcamp.com)

Between the arc-lit symbolisms of Glamour Nails (as evinced by a lurid cover image) is music of great subterfuge. It is based on the fountainhead of the electrifying trumpeter Lina Allemano, who seems determined to create a fresh sound for the 21st century in the manner of Graham Haynes and Toshinori Kondo as well as to establish a new approach to what might be the renaissance of art music. Allemano’s music quickly finds itself in the eye of a swirling tornado created by the guitarist Justin Haynes who echoes the singing of Fred Frith. Haynes is also a canny electro-technician who adds FM synth, prepared piano, cassette player and tin cans into this delightfully weird modern mistura fina.

The album is a short one. But it is provocative, adventurous and broadly atmospheric. It is appealing and colourful, combining the cultural topography of Frith and Kondo in music with portents of a rapidly advancing future. Allemano teams her trumpet with Haynes’ myriad electronic instruments and a lonely electric guitar, which blends gleaming sonorities with soaring gestures and dramatically free and volatile improvisation.

There are a total of ten tracks on this disc. Two gems stand out; Tawny Owl, which puts a haunting spin on the poetic imagism of the bold brass of the trumpet. And then there is Crumb, made up of wild, impressionistic figures that combine seamlessly with the impassioned lines of the trumpet. Bolder and more brazen creativity will be hard to find.

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