solstice/equinox by Diana Panton is another gorgeously perfect recording that the Hamilton jazz singer makes a nearly annual habit of releasing with ease. Multiple albums into her discographic career at this point – and in the exceptional company of multi-instrumentalist Don Thompson and guitarist Reg Schwager – the trio (fleshed out here with Guido Basso and Phil Dwyer) sounds not like a collection of hired musicians, but rather like a working jazz group that exhibits simpatico and a shared investment in the music heard here. Panton sings effortlessly throughout and swings with a bubbly buoyancy that reminds this listener of not only Blossom Dearie, but trumpeter Art Farmer, who also prefigured a relaxed and swinging time feel. Further, Thompson’s always beautiful musical arrangements and the thoughtful repertoire choice create the perfect casting for Panton’s voice and delivery to shine. With the theme of seasonal change threading through the recording and tying the repertoire together, Panton and band offer up a true jazz vocal recording that captures all involved at their musical finest. The recording quality is also of note, and helps to create a sonic space that is intimate and revealing. Nearly a decade into this group’s affiliation, here’s hoping that theirs is a musical relationship that continues for many more.
Jazz and Improvised
Mikkel Ploug is a Danish guitarist who works regularly with his own jazz groups as well as Equilibrium, a trio with singer Sissel Vera Pettersen and clarinetist Joachim Badenhorst, a fascinating improvising chamber group that has found a home with Vancouver’s Songlines label. This solo acoustic guitar disc continues Ploug’s association with the label.
Both the solo and acoustic aspects are departures for Ploug, who recounts his discovery and acquisition of a particularly apt mid-40s Gibson Bannerhead guitar, a steel-string, mahogany-bodied, flat top more apt to supply chorded accompaniments to a folk singer. Instead it’s inspired some of the most beautiful and unexpected solo guitar music one might wish to hear. On one level it’s distinguished by Ploug’s investment in its special sound store, its fret clatter and squeaks, the kind of string noise some seek to surmount and that others love. Its resonance is even more appealing, with Ploug using finger picking on most pieces, exploring the instrument’s warm account of triads and seventh chords then extending the spectrum to create dense weaves of contrasting harmonic languages, sometimes beginning a phrase in one world and ending in another.
One of the most lustrous is Couleurs d’Olivier, a Messiaen inspiration in which diatonic scales ascend into dense chromaticism; another is Circle Wind, a cycling piece inspired by Steve Reich that creates an added dimension with metallic fret noise. This is consistently engaging music, bridging many genres.
Since his 2006 debut, Think Like the Waves with jazz greats Gary Peacock and Paul Motian, Vancouver guitarist Gordon Grdina has pursued multiple musical paths, setting his guitar amidst his jazz-based ensembles, the classically influenced third stream music of the East Van Strings or Dan Mangan’s rock band, while concurrently exploring the oud, a Middle Eastern lute, in both traditional and contemporary applications. Inroads summarizes and synthesizes that decade of exploration, while presenting Grdina in a stellar group of New York-based musicians: Oscar Noriega on alto saxophone, clarinet and bass clarinet; Russ Lossing on piano and electric piano; and Satoshi Takeishi on drums.
Grdina’s disparate influences here range through Béla Bartók, the rock band Soundgarden and free jazz, while his compositions pass through divergent moods, densities and methodologies. The opening Giggles is limpidly beautiful unaccompanied piano, while Not Sure is chameleon-like, moving from rapid-fire guitar aggression through lyrical piano and alto saxophone passages and then on to thrashing drums and howling saxophone, presenting many of Grdina’s elements in a single piece.
Some of the most affecting pieces are also models of brevity. Kite Flight is a tantalizing explosion of lower register guitar, raucous bass clarinet and elemental percussion, while Semantics, a guitar/clarinet duet, is subtly evanescent. That same delicacy informs the longer Fragments in its blend of piano and oud, while contrasting Middle Eastern elements energize Apocalympics. It’s a fascinating program in which Grdina takes his materials in very different directions.
It is quite impossible not to be seduced by the cultivated and masterful pianism of Emie R Roussel, whose music on Intersections is patently expansive and at times a veritable masterclass in how to build assiduous climaxes, how to intelligently scale one’s dynamics and how to balance the music’s massive textures in sonorously judicious proportions. Her music is vivid. Each piece is a unique narrative. Musical character is well rounded and each piece is always fully developed before its natural denouement announces a natural demise.
On three occasions the trio is expanded into a quartet and on each resulting work the addition of another musician – whether the vocalist on Away, the trumpeter on De Tadoussac à Auckland or the bassist on Tout le monde ensemble – is timely and perfectly placed. It’s surely an indication that the ideas and the material dictate the direction that the music should take. Rhythm is also an essential tool throughout and Roussel depends greatly on her left hand bass lines, together with the flights of fancy by her drummer, Dominic Cloutier and bassist, Nicolas Bédard, as a means of communicating ideas as well as shaping the structure of each piece.
Each piece also has its own unique charisma, and flowing from this each gathers momentum, swinging to its climax with the wind of melody and harmony under its proverbial wings. All of this yields a magical and quite unforgettable album from a pianist of whom much is expected in the future.
Splitting his time between New York and British Columbia, Edmonton-born pianist John Stetch’s recent Vancouver concert was a rare opportunity to display locally the contiguous rapport he’s developed with his Big Apple cohort of tenor saxophonist Steve Kortyka, bassist Ben Tiberio and drummer Philippe Lemm, collectively called Vulneraville. Four-fifths of the disc is made up of Stetch’s compositions, which mix the rigour of notated pieces with jazz’s dramatic timbral fluctuations.
This is particularly apparent on Rondeau, related to a two-part Renaissance form with one part of the structure set to one musical line and the second to another. Stetch’s extravagant keyboard technique easily adapts the mode, especially in the second section when his emphasis on the piano’s higher-pitched dynamics is furthered by Kortyka’s thickened obbligatos and increasingly powerful crunches from Lemm. It’s these sorts of high-quality themes and variations that inform the pianist’s other tunes, with Oscar’s Blue-Green Algebra, another example. Mixing church-like processional motifs with chunks of pure keyboard swing, he suggests Oscar Peterson’s hefty approach to the piano.
Oddly enough though, Stetch ends the concert with a straight-ahead version of the standard Things Ain’t What They Used to Be. While the performance exudes romping excitement, with ample space for scorching breaks from each quartet member – even Tiberio, who is buried in the mix elsewhere – the choice is unfortunate. Things have changed as Stretch’s compositions and Vulneraville’s playing demonstrate. A less straight-ahead treatment would have been a better choice to affirm the title of the track.
Passionate, innovative, expressive, dynamic, evocative, sophisticated, genius – superlatives consistently used to describe the towering musicality and virtuosity that is pianist, composer, arranger and bandleader, Hilario Durán. Born in Havana, Cuba and based in Toronto for the past 20 years, Durán has been wowing the world with his creative approach to Afro-Cuban and Latin jazz, one breathtaking concert after another.
Contumbao is a project that literally has brought Durán back to his Cuban roots. Recorded at Havana’s legendary EGREM studios (whose storied roster includes Orquesta Aragón, Arturo Sandoval, Chucho Valdés and the Buena Vista Social Club, and where Durán had recorded hundreds of sessions), it was Durán’s dream to get back there and play with some of his favourite musical collaborators, including two original bandmates from his 1990s band, Perspectiva: guitarist Jorge Luis Valdés (“Chicoy”) and bassist Jorge Reyes.
Contumbao is a heartfelt homage to Cuba’s rich, musical history. Indeed, Durán dedicates his album of new compositions to Cuban music and its many musical styles “whose music and rhythms run through my veins.” This is apparent from the pulsating rhythms of the title track, and the spirited rumbas, El Tahonero and Rumba de Cajón, to the poignant Parque 527 – Durán’s former Havana address – and the exhilarating Duo Influenciado, performed with his friend and champion, the aforementioned Cuban piano great, Chucho Valdés.
All the superlatives in the world can’t do justice to the experience of listening to Durán and his stellar cast of musical compatriots. In fact, Contumbao may leave you speechless!
With his highly alluring nonet recording entitled Jondo, pianist Josh Rager enters a field crowded with stellar performances by pianists. However, his multi-layered idiomatic compositions and their memorable execution set him somewhat apart from the rest of the tribe. The repertoire may be named after the rhythmically rich and mysterious Jondo, but the album derives most of its richness from the opening, extended work, the Prodigal Son Suite. It is a work that is by turns poised, polished, intimate and exuberant. Rager – with his lustrous pianism – leads an ensemble that works like a well-oiled machine, playing his compositions with authority and élan and doing a remarkable job of getting under Rager’s sonic skin.
For his part the pianist swings with palpable enjoyment and as in the way he makes his trills into mischievous flourishes – especially on songs such as Child’s Play and 3 Legged Dog – as well as in the rich variety of articulation and dynamic gradation throughout the rest of the recording. The pacing of his Zen-like piece, The Master Waits, and the tricky movements of The Inside Track, reveal Rager to be both a writer and pianist of distinct personality, ever sensitive and careful never to become overbearing.
In the end, how one will react to this recording will largely depend on one’s taste for music that emerges from a large tonal palette. To that end, everything that the Joshua Rager Nonet serves up on Jondo is brimful with infectious delight and enjoyment.