10 WillisauCD007Live in Willisau
James Brandon Lewis; Chad Taylor
Intakt CD 342 (intaktrec.ch) 

Heir to unabashed reed/drums experimentation, Americans James Brandon Lewis (tenor saxophone) and Chad Taylor (percussion) equally emphasize links to the jazz tradition on this exemplary Swiss festival set. Lewis, whose gripping ability to invest animated improvisations with multiple variations on extended reed techniques from call-and-response vamps to inflating glossolalia, is substantially encouraged by Taylor’s coordinated strategies. The drummer’s substantial rhythmic sophistication is further extended with jolts of mbira (thumb piano) plinks when the program warrants it.

In essence that means that the nine-track set gets more gripping as it evolves. Alongside socking drum beats, the saxophonist ratchets through every manner of altissimo cries and subterranean honks, melismatic slurs and mocking phrases as the two redefine a Coltrane line and their own originals. Later Mal Waldon’s obscure Watakushi No Sekai, positioned with cymbal crackles and reed-shattering sparkles is interpreted as movingly as is a quietly genial version of Duke Ellington’s famous Come Sunday. Finally the two respond to vociferous audience acclaim with an encore of a reconstituted Over the Rainbow, featuring hide-and-seek divulging of the melody among stuttering reed split tones and percussion clip-clops. But the concert’s most telling track and an acknowledgment of departed improvisational masters, is a screaming near-R&B version of Willisee featuring drum shuffles and yakkity-sax variations. This same tune was performed on the same stage in 1980 with equal energy and skill by its composer, tenor saxophonist Dewey Redman, in a duo with drummer Ed Blackwell. 

11 A uisA uiš
Jubileum Quartet
NotTwo MW 1005-2 (nottwo.com)

Four adept improvisation arbiters from four countries assembled for a program of unadulterated improvisation at the Jazz Cerkno festival recently and A uiš is the enraptured result. The title means “and you go” in Slovenian, which sums up the mutual respect and lack of arrogance each displays towards the others’ talents.

Tenor saxophonist Evan Parker was present at the birth of the genre more than 50 years ago; French bassist Léandre and Catalan pianist Agustí Fernández arrived a little later. All have been in fruitful partnerships with one another as has Slovenian percussionist Zlatko Kaučič, whose 40th anniversary as a musician was being celebrated. Throughout this single 45-minute improvisation the four are always in sync, yet constantly projecting individual tropes: Parker’s circular breathing expressions; Léandre’s dramatic command of pressurized twang and arco sweeps; Fernández’s judicious key positioning that encompasses internal string plucks and kinetic keyboard agitation; and Kaučič’s prudent theme patterning that bolsters without bombast.

The piece’s texture unfolds with collective logic at the same time as acerbic peeps and sympathetic echoes evolve from single sound strands to multiphonic emphasis. Yet the transitions, as well as focused solos and duos, arrive and depart with such subtle competence that narrative flow is never disrupted. Rapturous applause at the finale demonstrates not only why the performance is another exemplar of free music but also confirms each quartet member’s immense and ingenious talents.

Just as innovation in jazz, notated and popular music rewrote precepts about harmony, melody, pitch and rhythm during the 20th century, so were the s about instruments’ interconnections remade. With even newer attitudes in the 21st century, pairing two instruments’ supposedly dissimilar timbres is no longer outrageous, but can lead to appealing sounds. 

01 Invisible RitualConsider for example, Invisible Ritual (Tundra Records TUN 014 newfocusrecordings.com) that joins Americans Jennifer Curtis (violin) and Tyshawn Sorey, who plays percussion and piano. Curtis’ background includes playing old-timey music and membership in the contemporary chamber group ICE. Sorey composes for ensembles such as ICE as well as gigging as a jazz drummer with the likes of Myra Melford. The pair stretch boundaries only slightly during expected chamber music violin-piano configurations here. But while there’s a near rococo feel when the pianist sticks to prudent and deliberate patterning and the fiddler sweetens textures to the quasi-baroque, other sequences such as Invisible Ritual III and Invisible Ritual V are invested with dynamic animation. A heavier touch encompassing key clip and clinks from the piano adds swing intimations further propelled by impetuous violin glissandi and, especially on the second tune, triple-stopping variations and col legno taps. Contrast is more markedly defined when percussion is involved. Starting with a folksy exposition, gong-like reverberations and arco string strokes add to the reflective mood. The same sort of savvy is brought to faster numbers. Kinetic steeplechases are propelled by chunky drum rumbles and cymbal echoes from Sorey as Curtis, jumping from strained squeaks to pizzicato plucks on the fiddle, references the heads as they create new distinctive melodies. There’s even a point on Invisible Ritual VIII where the blend threatens to create a Balkan-style dance rhythm. Versatility and cooperation is most obvious on Invisible Ritual IV, where Sorey’s beat stretching and ruffs complement Curtis’ dynamic moves back and forth from spiccato to arco, often during the same line. As he slaps cymbal and snares, she heads into hoedown territory and then turns to tough tremolo sweeps to face down the ferocious clip-chop percussion challenge.

Listen to 'Invisible Ritual' Now in the Listening Room

02 AndersaboThe challenge on Andersabo (Johs & John 1 johnchantler.bandcamp.com/album/andersabo) on the other hand, would appear to be how to prevent timbres from the synthesizer and pump organ played by Australian John Chantler from overpowering Dane Johannes Lund’s bass saxophone tones. Shrewdly, it isn’t an issue. For no matter how inflated the keyboard textures become to attain a near hypnotic continuum, Lund’s almost continuous reed glissandi judder at the same speed and with the same intensity. Even on the extended Back of the House which moves the program to prestissimo, the two stay perfectly in sync. The subsequent brief Open Field and Forest climbs from barely audible buzzes to climax with scratchy and shrill surges. However the concluding Under Barn Floor manages to display both hushed and bold textures without breaking the chromatic line. As the pressure from tremolo pump organ runs and currents blown from the saxophone without key motion augment, textures bleed together into a solid mass. Eventually though, programmed samples of what could be the sound of waves hitting the shore plus mechanized clanks, whistles and whooshes from the synthesizer penetrate the solid sound block, while preserving calming drones. Although recorded in a residence in rural Sweden which gives the disc its title, the profound control exhibited here doesn’t reflect the rustic location, but contemporary minimalism.

03 Cell WalkAnother variant of unusual keyboard-woodwind pairing occurs on Cell Walk (Songlines Records SGL 1631-2 songlines.com) between Wayne Horvitz’s piano and electronics and Sara Schoenbeck’s bassoon. Both are American and have worked in the circles around John Zorn and Anthony Braxton. Trying to avoid the expectations raised by these formal chamber music instruments though, the tracks, recorded in Vancouver and Brooklyn, include both compositions and improvisations. Not that the separation is obvious. Most tunes, no matter the tempo, depend on Schoenbeck’s flexible expansion of the low-pitched double reed’s characteristics and their symmetry with Horvitz’s fluid, but sometimes standard keyboard contours. Mostly the briefest tracks are gentler, vivace and buoyant, intermission riffs for the darker compositions. Some, like the title track, an almost church-like dirge, are legitimately gloomy, since the mournful melody was composed by Horvitz to honour the recently deceased Cecil Taylor. Others, such as No Blood Relation, are more calculating, as piano patterns vibrate alongside the bassoon’s heavy tones. After the turnaround, she supplely recaps the theme. Well reasoned, Ironbound gets its pressurized motion from the bassoonist’s dissonant colouring that increases tension at the same time as the pianist ranges over the keyboard to maintain horizontal pacing while creating multiple theme variations. Tougher and more notable are The Fifth Day and especially We Will Be Silk. Longest of the set, the first tune is mid-range and concentrated, with reed snarls and piano clinks harmonized as they repeat the melody that climaxes during a section where Schoenbeck’s slurs and Horvitz’s elevated key tinkles move the interpretation along unexpected avenues without losing the theme. A flat-out improvisation, We Will Be Silk is built on contrasts between the bassoonist’s hard nasal strains and the pianist’s internal string and soundboard plucks and clicks. Since this improvisation’s finale is as clear and solid as any other track, it would have made the session more imposing if the program had been looser to produce more tracks like it. 

04 TouchableAlthough they’re from the same instrumental family almost no one has previously created a duo matching the tiny piccoletto violin and the giant octobass until The Touchables came along. On The Noise is Rest (Conradsound CNRD 328 conradsound.com) Norwegians, fiddler Ole-Henrik Moe and bassist Guro Skumsnes Moe range through eight improvisations that not only reach the far boundaries of treble and bass tones, but also easily create textures that squeeze past what’s expected from string sets. Mixing wood-rending pulls, taut string pressure and spiccato drones, the two also maintain a discordant continuum throughout. Often the piccoletto shrills reach such elevated pitches that it could be electronic voltage being pushed into the improvisations. Ocean-liner-whistle vibrations from the octobass regularly descend to such a sunken state that passing tones bond into multiphonics, filling every crevice of the audio space. A track such as Peace Ghost, which in itself is wilder and louder than those that precede it, includes such sharp, shimmering violin timbres that the resulting echoes are almost brass-like, whereas Byalullalandbird’s slick mid-range bass glissandi sound with such fluidity that the closest resemblance would be to low-pitched reed split tones. By the final Deserted Desert, wide-ranging col legno strokes and pointillist screeches from both instruments combine with triple-stopping piccoletto shrills and moderated arco string buffing from the octobass. Eventually a calming climax is attained as tension-diffusing air currents complete the arrangement.

05 Jardin des BruitsIf the other CDs highlight unexpected and unprecedented extended acoustic techniques, the Viennese duo on Jardin des Bruits (Mikroton CD 91 mikroton.net) extend the intonation still further. That’s because the electric guitar interludes of Burkhard Stangl are mated with the sounds of Paris streets and subways that were recorded, collated and modified by turntablist dieb 13. Over the course of 20 (!) tracks that range from a few seconds to nine minutes dieb uses found sounds such as human voices, footfalls, car horn blasts and the regularized thump of road traffic as leitmotifs. Alternately he weaves the textures into an outpouring of crackles, static and voltage tremors to aurally reflect certain areas around the French capital. Simultaneously he alters their sonic properties by replaying the sounds at various speeds as well as adding vinyl-sourced noises. Meanwhile Stangl’s warm finger-style plucks add the human element. Not that the guitar approach is Arcadian though, except on tracks like Jardin des Plantes where soothing strings intersect with the noises of children. The truthfully titled Noisy Track on the other hand is almost eight minutes of Stangl mobilizing his most distorted Hendrix-styled fuzz tones that catapult timbres within the accelerating stylus-on-turntable crackles and buzzes created by dieb. Reaching a crescendo of onomatopoetic suggestions. Plus the disc provides one more instance of unforeseen duos creating exceptional programs. 

01 HiFiLoSpeak Your Name
HiFiLo (Todd Pentney)
Independent (hifilo.com)

Speak Your Name is the debut solo release from keyboardist/producer HiFiLo, better known as Todd Pentney. Pentney is probably best known for his role in the JUNO-award-winning Allison Au Quartet, though he’s active in many genres from modern straight-ahead acoustic jazz to indie, pop and hip-hop. In many ways, Say Your Name can be understood as a synthesis of Pentney’s various musical experiences: sweeping, stereo synths give way to dense harmony; athletic solos are juxtaposed with sections of sparse, ethereal melody; relaxed backbeats coexist with pulsing, dance-inflected moments. In and of themselves, these qualities are not new. Over the last 15 years, many recordings that fall under the expansive umbrella of jazz have contained some combination of these features, and Speak Your Name shares some similarities with recent works by Thundercat, Mehliana and Knower. What is unique about Speak Your Name is that Pentney is doing all of this on his own. 

With the exception of three special guests (flutist Rob Christian, vocalist Alex Samaras and guitarist Robb Cappelletto) – and some uncredited vocals on the album’s final track – Speak Your Name is all Pentney. The end result speaks to a model of musical production that has more in common with modern artists like Flying Lotus and Kaytranada than it does with the kind of jazz fusion that the mention of synths might evoke. With Speak Your Name, Pentney has crafted a beautiful, expansive album, and has thoughtfully reimagined the role of the producer in a jazz setting.

02 Robert LeeAscension
Robert Lee
Independent (robertleebass.com) 

Up-and-coming Toronto acoustic bassist, composer and bandleader Robert Lee, has released this delightful debut album, an energizing and unique foray into the contemporary jazz world. The record maintains an interesting balance showcasing Lee’s talent as a composer and bassist while putting the spotlight on the other fantastic musicians featured throughout, such as JUNO Award-winning saxophonist Allison Au, well-known guitarist Trevor Giancola and vibraphonist Michael Davidson. The album takes inspiration from songwriters such as Bon Iver, Christian McBride, Brian Blade and Iron & Wine, making for a unique musical blend of “modern chamber music, jazz and contemporary folk.”

Whether the listener likes traditional or more modern jazz, each piece brings forth elements of both, making this a downright treat for the ear. The title track starts off the album and is a deeply personal and introspective story about “searching for the greater meaning in life” which is reflected in the wandering, yet positivity inducing saxophone melody and a general sense of discovery felt throughout the piece. Burton’s Bounce is a great, swing-style piece with nimble movement in Lee’s pizzicato bass line and the dancing saxophone, vibraphone and guitar solos. Closing out the album is Cardinal on the Cobblestone, a beautiful track in which Mingjia Chen’s captivating voice, Ginacola’s soft guitar riffs and Lee’s gracefully plucked notes meld together for an uplifting and wonderful end to this musical journey.

03 Frankenhorn CoverFranken Horn
Audrey Ochoa
Chronograph Records CR-080 (audreyochoa.com) 

Surely many jazz enthusiasts who have kept up on contemporary artists have come across famed Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews and his unique style of trombone-centric jazz, but Canadian Audrey Ochoa’s newest release proves yet again that we have our own northern version of the aforementioned golden horn talent. Ochoa manages to successfully blend the old and the new, invoking feelings of nostalgia while introducing elements of modernism through electronic remixes of some tracks by electronica DJ Battery Poacher alongside more traditional pieces. Genre boundaries are cast aside here as we travel through sultry Latin-flavoured tracks to chamber music and unique string arrangements by Ochoa herself thrown into the mix. 

Swamp Castles starts off the album with a driving drum and bass groove which is overlaid by an energetic trombone line supported by a beautiful and captivating counter melody within the strings. Benchwarming takes the listener into a Latin musical world with smooth trombones, Chris Andrew’s diverse chord progressions on the piano and Luis Tovar’s sizzling conga rhythms pulling everything together. The track The Huggy Dance is a personal favourite as it really showcases how electronica can be successfully brought into the jazz world to add a fascinating contemporary flavour that is just delightful to listen to, a lo-fi groove that pulls you right in. A true breath of fresh air suitable for anyone getting into the jazz scene or just looking for something new.

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04 Allemano OhrenschmausRats and Mice
Lina Allemano’s Ohrenschmaus
Lumo Records LM 2019-10 (linaallemano.com) 

Splitting her time between Toronto and Berlin, local trumpeter Lina Allemano now has a European combo to complement her longstanding Canadian bands. Rock-solid German drummer Michael Griener and agile Norwegian electric bassist Dan Peter Sundland bring startling originality to the trumpeter’s compositions which broaden from Allemano’s cunning use of extended techniques. Frequently shadowing Allemano’s lead, the bassist’s thumb pops and moderated slaps perfectly augment trumpet timbres whether they’re spit out at a speedy pace or as grounded gurgling growls. As for the drummer, his tasteful side clips and rolling ruffs ensure the tunes maintain a steady pulse.

Allemano’s lead encompasses everything from creating expanded multiphonics, spitting out shrill brass runs, hand-muted effects and unexpected basso snarls. She exhibits a variety of effects on a track like Ostsee. Mixing textural advances and heraldic overblowing, positioned drum cracks help establish the tune’s horizontal groove which she then decorates with repeated note patterns sequentially squeezed from the high and low pitches. While her aggressive capillary asides and the bassist’s juiced twangs sometimes threaten to upset the session’s ambulatory pace, the trio is sophisticated enough to avoid sonic stalemates. You can hear this on Hooray Norway, the final, extended track which includes Allemano answering her own brassy trills with tongue flutters, as string slaps and cymbal beats help preserve a notable theme which emphasizes grace as well as melancholy. Overall, Allemano’s tale of two cities has an obviously happy ending.

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