01 Misses SatchmoIs That All There Is
Misses Satchmo
Bros BROS11602 (missessatchmo.com)

In their third offering, this delightful Montreal-based quintet has released a project that literally drips with authenticity from “The Big Easy” and fully embraces the multi-cultural, Afro-Creole-Acadian-infused mojo that has made sultry New Orleans the musical crossroads of the world since the 17th century. This elegant ensemble presents a spicy étoufée of 13 sassy, eclectic tunes, embracing traditional spiritual material, as well as compositions from the great Louis Armstrong, the Gershwins, Fats Waller, early pop hit-makers Leiber and Stoller and more.

The tight and talented group includes the luminous Lysandre Champagne on trumpet and voice, Blanche Baillargeon on acoustic bass, Marton Maderspach on drums, Yvan Belleau on clarinet and saxophones, Jeff Moseley on guitar and banjo.

Following a brief guitar/whistle intro, the CD kicks off with a distinctly Depression-era medley of My Babe/Muddy Water, which features authentic front line drumming, call and response as well as sexy, unpretentious vocals. A standout is the Gershwins’ It Ain’t Necessarily So (written for the opera Porgy and Bess). All at once sweltering, swinging and sensual, this interpretation takes things to a fresh, contemporary stylistic level. Also charming is Why Don’t You Do Right (J.J. McCoy) which is arranged with a stripped-down distillation that includes double bass stops and lovely marimba accents from Maderspach. The title track is certainly one of the strongest cuts on the CD – a savvy rendition of the Leiber and Stoller hit, Is That All There Is (made famous by Peggy Lee) which is enhanced not only by the spot-on, ironic, no-nonsense vocal, but also by the clever addition of slide guitar and theremin into the inspired arrangement.

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02 Socialist Night SchoolThe Twilight Fall
Chelsea McBride’s Socialist Night School
Browntasauras Records NCC-1701J (browntasauras.com)

Twenty-four-year-old composer, orchestrator and tenor saxophonist Chelsea McBride’s debut recording features ten original compositions performed by an energetic 19-piece ensemble, including solid vocals from noted jazz chanteur, Alex Samaras. With hints of compositional influences from Maria Schneider, Bob Brookmeyer and Gil Evans, McBride has described the evocative project as “the soundtrack to your travelling daydreams, the story of your life,” with each composition poetically and musically defining a segment of the shared human journey. Unusually, the CD booklet itself includes a “Compositional Narrative” which outlines how McBride would suggest the listener envision each track, as they walk the wheel of McBride’s “Lifecycle.”

Members of the Socialist Night School include the gifted Colleen Allen on reeds, Brownman Ali on trumpet and flugelhorn (who also serves as executive producer here) and William Carn on trombone. The song cycle begins with Ambleside, which establishes the cinematic and emotional tone of the CD. McBride’s haunting tenor saxophone, Chris Bruder’s piano and Samaras’ voice conjure a vision of spacious austerity and alienation. Other standouts include Intransitory, which features the potent Allen on alto sax and guitarist Dave Riddel weaving a complex, high-energy expression echoing the working person spinning on the proverbial hamster wheel. Also of note are the mind-bending title track and the funky cool confessional Smooth (or What I Should Have Said Instead). The recording closes with Something Simple, a joyous dénouement encapsulating our brief, but luminous life experience here on planet Earth. Tenorist McBride soars, dips, digs and intertwines with Samaras’ fine vocal instrument.

Certainly this is one of the most intriguing recordings of the year thus far, and a defining debut from the intensely gifted McBride.

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03 Steve AmiraultHold On, Let Go
Steve Amirault
Independent (steveamirault.com)

Steve Amirault’s solo CD Hold On, Let Go is a wry commentary on life. This mood continues throughout the 11 songs on the disc and is sometimes made intricately droll perhaps, by the fact that he sits in splendid isolation at the piano, interweaving the lyrics with the shimmering sonority and yearning rapture of his accompaniment. Any form of solo performance is a lonely pursuit. The artist and the engineer are inevitably separated by glass which invariably accentuates the experience. It is in this very atmosphere that Amirault’s music rustles like raw silk.

The listener is treated to spiritual flights far above the mundane and journeys through worlds at once zealous, reflective and transcendent. Amirault’s Dindi is a little gem, elementally melancholic yet infinitely hopeful. On Moon River and God Bless the Child, he uses elongated syllables to evoke the crepuscular and the dramatic. In this way, Amirault shapes every phrase with ardent sensitivity, lingering or propelling the narratives as they heighten the music’s ineffable meanings. There is, of course, a lot more.

Steve Amirault is an exceptional artist and he proves time and again on Hold On, Let Go that he has an innate ability to find a keen balance between poetry and intensity. His pianism, albeit featured here in the shadow of his spotlighted voice, provides a superb brand of animation, meeting the needs of the music exquisitely and fittingly, as equal to the loneliness of this music.

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04 Michel LambertAlom Mola
Michel Lambert
Jazz from Rant 1650

Any music that has been inspired by the work of Michelangelo Caravaggio (1571-1610), the Baroque artist who worked in Naples, Sicily and Malta, and flavoured by the rumblings of Steve Lacy’s legendary French bassist Jean-Jacques Avenel as well as Jan Jarcyzk, the pianist and pedagogue from Montreal, has to be symphonically beguiling. Or put another way: why expect anything less from a riveting musician enthralled by three iconic characters from three disparate time-space continuums? Still you would be remiss if you did not admit to many moments of breathlessness not only during Caravaggio, ténèbres et lumières, but all through Alom Mola, as you might expect from the ingenious drummer Michel Lambert, whose inspiration is drawn from Mayan mythology as well as the Baroque and modern art history.

The musicians’ traversal of Lambert’s complex music is remarkable. The music throughout Alom Mola is crafted on an orchestral soundscape that manages – somehow – to be monumentally miniscule, enormously small. Each of the five works presents a sound environment of wisps, susurrations, noises and the odd pitched note. Key to the music’s success, though, is Lambert’s subtle layering of different instrument groups – brass, woodwind, strings, piano and a whole universe of percussion instruments and devices. The resultant music is impossibly brilliant; evoked by different shades and densities of an aural patina passed around various orchestral permutations to produce a veritable ecosystem of music that is at once delicate and powerful.

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05 Francois CarrierFreedom Is Space for the Spirit
Francois Carrier; Michel Lambert; Alexey Lapin
FMR Records FMRCD425

The milieu of spatial freedom can be noisy. If that were not so, nothing would be heard or written in tabula rasa in corde suo, “the blank slate of the heart” so to speak. Fortunately, where there is sound, there is also silence, more so in this music by saxophonist François Carrier, drummer Michel Lambert and pianist Alexey Lapin. Each musician leads this performance, which is surprisingly formed and visceral despite suggestions of the formlessness of “Space” and “Spirit.” Another curiosity in the presentation is that the music has five distinct parts (one would have expected a continuous musical flow); each reaching the gossamer fragility of the best of free-improvised music. The music is imbued with a sense of languor and immediacy and richness in abundance in saxophone and piano parts.

That’s not to say that textures clot: flecks of melody flicker in the ear, enticing and disappearing in a moment; the balancing that makes that possible is admirable and it has much to do with the incessant tattoo of the drummer’s alternately placid and volcanic intercessions. The musicians’ work comes off in rather special ways. In Keep Calm, for instance, the saxophone, caustic and stark, smacks at the winging, indeterminate piano and in Nevsky Prospect, drummer and pianist come up against the saxophonist’s snarling, nasty layering in the climactic, dying sections of the piece. Everywhere in the program, are muscularity and the mystery of Space and Spirit in abundance.

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06 Brian DickinsonThe Rhythm Method
Brian Dickinson Quintet
Addo Records AJR033 (addorecords.com)

The last couple of decades have seen a rise in new rhythmic concepts in jazz, arguably making it the area of greatest creative growth in the music. Brian Dickinson, one of Canada’s top pianists and composers, has delved deeply into this subject matter in The Rhythm Method. Whether it’s a compound time signature or an unusual rhythmic grouping in 4/4 time, Dickinson has explored some challenging new territory in the album’s ten tunes. That he has wedded these concepts with another jazz tradition, the contrafact, a new melody written over the chord changes to a standard tune, is a remarkable achievement.

Open Season starts with an odd time vamp before settling into 4/4. Dickinson, a pianist who has thoroughly digested his influences into a distinctive voice, solos with sophistication, soul and variety, expertly negotiating the composition’s twists and turns. Tenor saxophonist Kelly Jefferson begins patiently, building into angular lines and inspired double time. Luis Deniz displays fluidity and lyricism on alto saxophone over the powerhouse rhythm section of drummer Ted Warren and bassist Neil Swainson.

Lennie’s Loonies, the title a play on Lennie Tristano’s Lennie’s Pennies, uses the chord changes of You’d Be So Nice to Come Home To to support a brilliantly convoluted line, played to perfection by the front line. Swainson opens with an extraordinarily melodic bass solo. Jefferson and Dickinson take a cue from the tune’s melody, breaking up their lines in unusual ways and incorporating its complex rhythms into seamless improvisation.

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07 FrontiersFrontiers
Azar Lawrence; Al McLean; Adrian Vedady; Paul Shrofel; Greg Ritchie
Cellar Live CL073116 (cellarlive.com)

Frontiers is a dynamic blowing session that feels more like a live set at a club than a studio recording. The spirit of John Coltrane looms large here and the front line of tenor saxophonists Azar Lawrence, a veteran of Elvin Jones’, McCoy Tyner’s, Woodie Shaw’s and Freddie Hubbard’s bands, and Al McLean, a stalwart of Montreal’s jazz scene who is equally steeped in this deep tradition, more than does justice to the seven tunes contained here.

The material is a mix of originals and standards. Lawrence’s Mystic Journey immediately establishes the vibe with an Elvin Jones-inspired Afro-Cuban groove from drummer Greg Ritchie and bassist Adrian Vedady. The harmonic structure of the composition, much like several tunes on the album, has a strong modal feel, leaving the soloists plenty of room to express themselves. Lawrence leads off with lines that move in and out of the harmony effortlessly, displaying a complete command of post-Coltrane language with the virtuosity and musicality to back it up. Pianist Paul Shrofel plays thematic ideas over the rhythm section’s broken feel before breaking into hard swinging improvisation. McLean is equally adept in this demanding language and solos with complete assurance and abandon, going toe to toe with Lawrence.

The 16-minute version of Coltrane’s Lonnie’s Lament is an appropriate tribute to the late genius as is McLean’s Get Up, based loosely on Impressions. This is a feast for the tenor saxophone and Lawrence and McLean are clearly enjoying each other’s company.

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