01 Neil SwainsonFire in the West
Neil Swainson
Cellar Music CM111821 (cellarlive.com)

Canadian bassist extraordinaire and composer Neil Swainson’s newest release is a jazz aficionado’s dream. Blazing trumpet and saxophone melodies, catchy rhythms and energetic yet mellow bass riffs come together to form a stellar, oh-so-pleasing-to-the-ear record. It may be a surprise to some, but this is the first time in his 35-year-long career that Swainson is leading a quintet… but what a fantastic job he does yet again as a bandleader. Featuring famed musicians on the roster, such as Renee Rosnes on piano, Lewis Nash on drums, Brad Turner on trumpet and Kelly Jefferson on tenor sax, this record sees a set of fiery tunes lifted to new heights via a scintillating backing band. The album is chock-full of Swainson’s original works, serving as a great example of not only his musical talents but also his compositional prowess. 

The talented bassist says of the formation of the record: “In the process of preparing for that re-release [49th Parallel], I thought that it was time to do something in a similar vein, using the same… format on some current tunes I’d written.” “Current” being the keyword there, in the way that Swainson does a truly great job of bringing the traditional jazz sound into the contemporary musical world, modernizing melodies and rhythms while maintaining a perfect balance with a hark back to the past. A great addition to any jazz-lover’s collection.

02 Robert DiackSmall Bridges
Robert Diack; Patrick O’Reilly; Jacob Thompson; Brandon Davis
Independent (robertdiack.com)

Toronto-based drummer, composer and producer Robert Diack has released a scintillating sophomore album, taking the listener on a meandering journey through genres. The record is finely tuned throughout, a true audiophile’s dream; a sonic landscape emerges right in front of the listener and instantly transports them to another musical dimension. All pieces are penned by Diack himself along with occasional co-writers from amongst the band, truly showcasing the young drummer’s compositional talents as well as unique conceptualizations reflected within his music. The cream of the crop of famed young Canadian musicians have been gathered together for this album: Patrick O’Reilly on guitar; Jacob Thompson on piano; and Brandon Davis on bass. A perfect companion to the picturesque scenes and landscapes of autumn, this is a great addition to the explorative jazz-lover’s collection. 

The album draws upon influences from several genres, including both contemporary and traditional jazz, post-rock, fusion and country; blending them together and transitioning between them seamlessly. The result is a poignant hodgepodge, evoking a mix of emotions and images in the mind’s eye within every track. Diack himself has said that with this set of tracks, he “wanted to explore a broader swath of genre and texture” and delve into a diverse musical landscape, which he does brilliantly. Beautiful, captivating melodies layered over complex rhythms make for a must-have for the jazz aficionado who wants a true sonic experience.

03 Astrud ProjectThe Astrud Project
Anne Walsh
A to Zinc Music (annewalsh.com)

Now that the dog days of summer have passed and the transition into chillier fall weather has occurred, a warm little pick-me-up may be much appreciated. What better way to do that than with a fresh bossa nova album, a time-travelling musical journey back into warmer, joyful times. Massachusetts-native, jazz vocalist Anne Walsh’s latest release transports the listener right to sunny Brazil through blazing interpretations of bossa nova tunes popularized by Astrud Gilberto. The classic mellowness and rhythmic complexity attributed to songs from the aforementioned genre come through incredibly well, brought even more to the forefront through superb audio quality and a certain spaciousness heard throughout the album. A sizeable group of talented musicians boost this record to new heights, featuring well-known names like Mitchell Long, Tom Zink and Kevin Winard. 

Walsh’s excursion into bossa nova began when she penned lyrics to Gilberto’s scatted Não Bate O Coração. This led to her further fascination with Gilberto’s catalogue of songs and so this record, including compositions by the renowned Antonio Carlos Jobim, was born. The talented vocalist’s airy and sweet timbre contribute to her unique interpretation and take on these classic tunes; less rhythmically centred vocals than typically heard in the genre bring to the forefront the more melodious and dulcet facets within the pieces. Fans of bossa nova and jazz will be thoroughly pleased with this album as a whole, a worthy record for any collection.

Listen to 'The Astrud Project' Now in the Listening Room

04 Jeremy WongHey There
Jeremy Wong; Ardeshir Pourkeramati; Chris Gestrin; John Lee; Jesse Cahill; Alvin Brendan
Cellar Music CM100321 (cellarlive.com)

With the release of his debut CD, compelling jazz vocalist Jeremy Wong has arrived on the scene with a rather marvelous recording, loaded with content, talent and of course, Wong’s evocative, mellifluous and finely honed vocal instrument. The Vancouver native also wears the producer’s hat here, and his talented ensemble includes Chris Gestrin on piano, John Lee on bass, Jesse Cahill on drums, Alvin Brendan on guitar and gifted arranger/co-writer and tenor saxophonist, Ardeshir Pourkeramati. 

There are ten compelling tracks, all drawn from the Great American Songbook, American cinema, the Broadway stage and the pens of some of the hippest jazz composer/lyricists who have graced our planet. Wong also contributes two original compositions with both melodic appeal and clever lyrics. The opener is Rodgers and Hart’s classic Where or When. A lovely guitar/vocal intro swings into a sumptuous quartet arrangement, and Wong’s sibilant, sensual and perfectly intoned tenor/baritone vocal sound is reminiscent (but not derivative of) Chet Baker, Kurt Elling and Mark Murphy. On Invitation, the band is tight and filled with gravitas, as they move like a single-celled being through this challenging jazz standard, with the vocal line punctuated perfectly by Pourkeramati’s dynamic sax work.

Only a Dream, a charming original waltz that deftly dances us through the sadness of a lost love, features a fine bass solo from Lee. Other delights include a fine arrangement of Frank Loesser’s Never Will I Marry, which clearly displays Wong’s ability to swing and scat. A total standout is the rarely performed gem from Fran Landesman and Tommy Wolf, Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most.  Wong’s maturity as a vocalist is clear here, as he imbues meaning into every word, and effortlessly sails through the rather gymnastic melodic line. A fine debut from a highly talented emerging jazz vocalist!

05 Ethan PhilionMeditations on Mingus
Ethan Philion
Sunnyside Records SSC 1666 (ethanphilion.com)

Just in time for iconic bassist/composer Charles Mingus’ centennial celebrations, noted Chicago-based bassist and arranger Ethan Philion has released Meditations on Mingus, a stunning collection of Mingus’ most seminal compositions, arranged by Philion and featuring a talented all-star tentet of which the core trio is Philion on bass, Alexis Lombre on piano and Dana Hall on drums.

Mingus was a complex and contradictory individual – an eccentric genius, a poet, a powerful, muscular bassist, a social activist and also someone who coped with severe mental health issues – and it was all part of his unique, creative mojo. Philion, has said: “My goal was to put together a program of pieces that speak to current events; racism, prejudice, identity, economic inequality are all still relevant in the world today.”

The opening salvo, Once Upon a Time There Was a Holding Corporation Called Old America, begins with trumpeters Russ Johnson and Victor Garcia’s legato intro, which morphs into a paroxysm of angst followed by bold, chordal configurations and ultimately a swinging and joyous romp that then descends into chaos.  Lombre’s exceptional piano work here is both skillful and breathtaking. Other highlights include Self Portrait in 3 Colors – a reflection of Mingus’ feelings about mental health, replete with a gorgeous solo from Johnson; Meditations for a Pair of Wirecutters – a flag waver for Mingus’ noted mid-1960s sextet (the band that propelled Philion into this project), and the final track, Better Git It In Your Soul, which is a superb interpretation of Mingus’ funky, soulful anthem, rendered here with all of the swing and heart possible.  Mingus would be proud.

06 Joe CoughlinDedicated to You
Joe Coughlin; Bernie Senensky; Neil Swainson; Terry Clarke; Ryan Oliver
Cellar Music CM120121 (cellarlive.com)

Before you even play this recording – Dedicated to You by Joe Coughlin – you will find that the repertoire is wonderfully chosen, and just the right length so as not to be “too much of a good thing.” When you do play the recording you will discover the best thing about it: the voice of Joe Coughlin, sounding like the rustle of raw silk. 

Coughlin’s admiration for Johnny Hartman – who created benchmark interpretations of these charts – is sometimes palpable. But these charts also speak in a very personal way of Coughlin. Surprises come by way of his applying raspy glissandos to words in a phrase here and there, and poignant dallying with the word “love” in a beautifully sculpted line. Listen, with the heart, to On Green Dolphin Street, It Could Happen to You and My One and Only Love

When lyrics speak to a vocalist in the secret of the heart the song that emerges can come with an evanescent magic. Coughlin pulls off quite a few of these moments on this album. The first is Lush Life, Billy Strayhorn’s most intimate presciently autobiographical composition. Coughlin makes every utterance a poetic one, shaping the character of the song with so much pathos that it is almost too painfully beautiful. And then there’s My Ship and Nature Boy..

All of this music is made immeasurably better by Coughlin’s accompanists, pianist Bernie Senensky, bassist Neil Swainson, drummer Terry Clarke and saxophonist Ryan Oliver.   

07 Trevor DunnSéances
Trevor Dunn’s Trio-Convulsant avec Folie à Quatre
Pyroclastic Records (store.pyroclasticrecords.com)

Trevor Dunn has an eclectic profile, ranging from playing electric bass in the experimental rock band Mr. Bungle to composing and recording a set of chamber music pieces, Nocturnes, in 2019. He first formed Trio-Convulsant in the mid-1990s, then reformed it briefly in 2004 with then unknown, now celebrated, guitarist Mary Halvorson and drummer Ches Smith, both present for this 2022 reunion. Folie à Quatre fleshes out Dunn’s complex compositions and adds additional improvising heft, with violinist Carla Kihlstedt, clarinetist Oscar Noriega, cellist Mariel Roberts and flutist Anna Webber.

The compositions are challenging in both their subject matter and musical complexity. Dunn draws inspiration from a bizarre and banned 18th-century French religious cult called Les Convulsionnaires de Saint-Médard, matching the chaos of their sado-erotic hysterical practices with compound time signatures (15/4, 9/4) and overlays of different tempos and keys. In the CD’s opening moments, Webber’s piping, elusive flute is joined by abstracted strings; others gradually enter and then Dunn and Smith suddenly introduce a pounding rhythmic pattern, shifting from Debussy to Megadeth in a minute. The later Eschatology, in contrast, is a subtle string-weave of Halvorson, Kihlstedt and Roberts in which disparate rhythms and tonalities achieve a continuous flow.

What makes it successful is Dunn’s intense musicality. His sudden contrasts arise organically from his subject matter, and his musicians, masters of both execution and improvisation, celebrate the challenge and the interaction.

Émigré Canadian pianist Kris Davis’ Pyroclastic label is developing a remarkable record for releasing music that’s both conceptually imaginative and brilliantly realized. This one is no exception.

Back to top