Mike Janzen and Friends
Signpost Music SP43-102 (www.mikejanzen.ca)
Michael Janzen completed his Masters in Composition at the University of Toronto in 1997. Under the first name Mike, Janzen is a gifted composer, jazz pianist, organist, vocalist and heaven knows what else. This self-produced sophomore release is a work of art with respect to all musical processes from start to finish: composition, personnel, performance, and having a John “Beetle” Bailey’s killer mix doesn’t hurt. Every tune is a winner, from Where it Goes to Swankometer. It’s obvious that Janzen considered his band carefully, and he had his work cut out for him with such a deep pool of talent to choose from on the Canadian scene. Bass-wise, one can’t go wrong with the luminous George Koller, the only musician other than leader to appear on every track. Drum duty primarily belongs to Ben Riley with guests Davide DiRenzo and Larnell Lewis. Special guesting are Phil Dwyer on tenor saxophone, Kevin Breit on guitar, Alan Hetherington on percussion and a 13-piece string section led by Lenny Solomon on the deservingly titled Beauty. The sweet Almost Tango is an 8-minute suite of sheer amusement, with another highlight being the romping instrumental rendition of Mrs. Robinson. Besides playing the piano, organ and Rhodes on “Mombâcho”, Janzen lends his voice to Bruce Cockburn’s All the Diamonds and his own Masaya. While singing the odd tune is not unusual for an instrumentalist, having a voice as velvety as Janzen’s certainly is.
With Terry Clarke; Kelly Jefferson;
Jake Langley; Keiran Overs
Independent TAERCD08 (www.alexernewein.com)
When this CD was recorded in May of 2008 at Canterbury Sound Studio in Toronto, Alex Ernewein was 14 years old and quite the debut album it is. Wise enough to surround himself with four of the top musicians on the scene who give him all the support he needs, and then some, this is a very impressive display by any standards. There are eleven selections, wisely mostly familiar, ranging from the Rodgers & Hart standard My Romance to Monk’s Straight No Chaser and there is one original, a piano solo called Improv Suite One. The line-up varies throughout the album and Ernewein moves comfortably from piano to Fender Rhodes to Hammond B3.
The music was improvised on the spot and any imperfections are a worthwhile trade-off against the spontaneity of the music. You will hear more of young Mr. Ernewein.
Jeff Dyer; Bill Brennan
Pour yourself a drink, put on “After Hours” after hours and you will enjoy an eclectic, varied program of choice standards and genuine originals. Newfoundland’s Bill Brennan is a pianist, percussionist, composer and producer who can be heard on some 80 albums to date. Wonderfully warm and very witty, Brennan’s work proves he is the consummate accompanist; no wonder, considering he has previously backed up Cab Calloway, Placido Domingo and Dizzy Gillespie.
Apart from five vocal/piano duets, seven tracks feature the superb Jim Vivian on bass, Michael Billard on drums and Patrick Boyle on trumpet and flugelhorn. But the spotlight is on Jeff Dyer’s full-bodied, emotionally raw singing style that suggests a natural, experienced talent. The baritone’s larger-than-life voice is not technically faultless, but this does not get in the way of the singer’s captivating, earnest delivery. Fans of the old standards will enjoy authentic readings of Lucky to Be Me and the like, but even more intriguing are Dyer’s spicy originals. Iona is a haunting, poetic ode to a Newfoundland ghost town, whereas the sentimental Time is a Dragon is a “smooth jazz” offering. In contrast, Nicaragua is a composition devoid of words but rich with intensity, trumpet doubling the voice. Dyer’s musical setting of John McCrae’s In Flanders Fields is inspired and respectful. Come to think of it, any time is appropriate to relish this recording, a healthy marriage of traditional and contemporary vocal jazz.
Extended Play – FACE OFF
By Ken Waxman
Sonic battles involving musicians who play the same instrument facing off against one another are part of a tradition that goes back to Kansas City jam sessions. This sort of competition isn’t unique to jazz. Probably the first cutting contest took place when one medieval troubadour restrung his lute to best others playing Greensleeves.
Now that improvised music is international however, players can test themselves against musicians from other countries. That’s what four Canadians do here. Two, former Torontonian reedist Quinsin Nachoff and ex-Burlington trumpeter Darren Johnston do so in group situations. Two others – both Montrealers: guitarist Antoine Berthiaume and drummer Michael Lambert – go mano a mano.
|Results are particularly spectacular in q’s case. On Base (Ambiances Magnétiques AM 178), his partner is New York guitarist/composer Elliott Sharp whose instrumental prowess involves equal facility in blues, noise, rock, jazz, improvised and notated music. Raging over 11 free improvisations, the two use the tactile capabilities of guitars’ attachments and properties as much as its strings to tell stories. In cahoots not conflict, Sharp and Berthiaume crunch, crash and pan across the sound field, combining watery flanges, slurred fingering and twanging resonation into pulsations that are simultaneously wedded to electronic distortion and acoustic elaborations. When Sharp’s bottle-neck facility is mixed with clawing oscillated tones, Station could be Delta Blues on Mars. Freed on the other hand, manages to work inchoate fuzz-tone delay and dial twisting into lyrical sprays of sound. The duo’s essence is best expressed on Essence. Here one intermittently plunks bass strings alongside jagged resonation created by scratching strings below the bridge, until the piece concludes with throbbing drones reaching needle-in-the-groove concordance. (www.actuellecd.com)|
|Similarly blending rhythms so there is no perceptible transition between one and another’s improvising on Meditations on Grace (FMR Records CD 256-0108) are percussionists Michael Lambert and Boston’s veteran Rakalam Bob Moses, both of whom are also visual artists. Overlaying a Pop-Art-like jumble of beats they reference ethic rhythms as frequently as those associated with conventions of so-called legit music and jazz. Cunningly blending in double counterpoint the throbs and tinkles available from cross patterning and inverted sticking, octave jumps, staccato runs, march tempos and sudden rebounds, they understate, but never abandon heart-beat rhythms. Meanwhile bell trees are sounded, maracas shaken, ride cymbals scratched, steel pans popped and tension lugs tightened and loosened to produce multi-colours. Subtlety is the watchword here with whisks and brushes in use more than sticks and mallets. Cognizant of each other every second, one drummer produces rim shots when the other ratchets; or one bluntly whack the bass drum when the other pounds Indian tom-toms. Chromatically shifting the tonal centre, they advance left-and-right in tandem. Gauge the joy in the proceeding, by noting the ecstatic shouts frequently heard from the participants. (www.fmr-records.com)|
|This joy is also apparent on In Between Stories which features Darren Johnston’s United Brassworkers Front (Evander Music EM 040). This Bay- area band of two trumpets, two trombones, tuba, guitar, bass and drums plays mostly Johnston’s compositions, while echoes of Balkan marches, brass chorals, Dixieland and mariachi music abound. As burbling tuba provides the pedal-point bottom, shuffle drum beats and walking bass lines add an R&B feel. Johnston is surprisingly expressive and romantic on the sardonic Long Live the Yes Men, yet breaks up the initially stately In Between Stories with splattering triple-tonguing, jazz shakes and rubato slurs. Chunky rhythm guitar licks and half-honk/half-hip-hop from tuba adds to the transformation. Elsewhere Johnston’s arranging skills showcase polyphonic undulations, ensuring the massed brass braying is neither protracted nor gratuitous. (www.evandermusic.com)|
Brass band-inflected jazz is also the raison d’être on Quinsin Nachoff/Bruno Tocanne Project’s 5 New Dreams (Cristal CD 0824), although clarinetist/tenor saxophonist Nachoff’s co-leader is a French drummer, as are the two trumpeters and another saxophonist. Eschewing chordal instruments the unbridled power of Tocanne’s drumming manages makes the band evoke drummer Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers. With nearly every tune a foot-tapper, Tocanne’s ruffs and flams encourage doubled brass triplet, so that the trumpeters often sound like an intertwined Lee Morgan and Freddie Hubbard. Lionel Martin often confines himself to ostinato slurps from the baritone saxophone, except for some flutter-tongued exchanges with Nachoff. Otherwise space is left open for the Canadian who makes good use of it. On Soulèvement he plumbs his tenor saxophone’s depth with a wide vibrato and irregular diaphragm breaths, buzzing upwards into waves of altissimo before Tocanne’s press rolls surgically cut off the exposition. In contrast, Goodbye Lullaby benefits from the baritone saxophone’s bass undercurrent as Nachoff shades the andante melody with coloratura and moderato clarinet obbligatos. (www.imuzzic.net)
While cutting contests may be a relic of the past, international musical cooperation continues to set high standards.