Without question one of jazz’s most representative records is of a 1953 concert with bop masters Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Bud Powell, Charles Mingus and Max Roach in their only performance together. That the session was recorded in Toronto’s Massey Hall makes it distinctive as well as irreplaceable. But Jazz at Massey Hall isn’t the only instance of jazz history being made north of the border. Precisely because of gig opportunities for committed international improvisers discs recorded at Canadian gigs or festivals are an important part of the music’s fabric.

waxman 01 braxtonOne of the most significant recent sessions recorded in similar circumstances is Anthony Braxton’s Echo Echo Mirror House (Vict o cd 125, victo.qc.ca). Featuring the composer’s septet, this 2011 premiere at the annual Festival International de Musique Actuelle from Victoriaville, Quebec rolls controlled cacophony and fragmented polyphony into an hour-long protoplasmic performance that sounds as if it’s emanating from two orchestras playing simultaneously, although there are only seven musicians on stage. Having long dispensed with the idea of solo and accompaniment, Braxton’s composition allows the two brass players, percussion, three string players plus the composer’s saxophones to enter and exit the sequences at will. Miraculously all the parts hang together. This situation is even more remarkable when you consider that several of the players double or triple, and always conversant with technology, all are equipped with iPods. The latter adds snatches of pre-recorded voices, vocal and instrumental music to the mix and use live processing to integrate sequences recorded during performance back into the composition. While this description may appear formidable, the music isn’t that difficult. The initial theme reappears at junctures, while at all times motifs, such as Mary Halvorson’s guitar twangs or Jay Rozen’s tuba blasts, provide the continuum. Meanwhile the pressurized polytonal narrative recedes enough in spots so that Braxton’s alto saxophone yelps, Taylor Ho Bynum’s wispy flugelhorn grace notes or the polyrhythmic strokes uniting Jessica Pavone’s viola and Aaron Siegel’s vibes are clearly audible. Midway through, as the tension dissipates a bit, cutting reed bites and ringing vibes separately presage the addition of iPod samples featuring female speaking voices and a male vocal chorus. Later, following subtle reprises of the theme, pre-recorded piano recital-like dynamics threaten to unduly soften the performance until Carl Testa’s whapping percussion, Bynum’s plunger work and Braxton’s strident sax lines, shatter any tendencies towards sweetness. With every musician and every iPod producing climatic timbres, and when it appears as if the rattling, staccato undulations can’t become any more overwrought, conductor Braxton abruptly ends the performance. The effect is as if a harrowing but pleasurable journey has been completed.

waxman 02 avesIt’s this sort of journey that leads to other CDs, as foreign musicians come to this country to record with local players who have international reputations. So it is with Aves (Songlines SGL 1601-2, songlines.com) that matches Vancouver clarinetist François Houle, who has played with many members of the European avant-garde, with Norwegian pianist Håvard Wiik, known for his work with the band Atomic. During a series of shorter tracks, the two present a program that epitomizes chamber jazz, with Houle’s extensive technical facility ensuring the interface doesn’t list too far in the direction of so-called classical music. When the pianist plays alone, as he does on “Zirma,” his stylistic ticks lead to baroque and impressionistic vibrations. In contrast, a piece such as “Aporetic Dreams,” despite its obvious germination in the European classical tradition, finds Houle’s intense pressurized vibrations toughening the pianist’s showy glissandi. Even as the clarinetist uses tongue slaps and circular breathing to make his points, the most significant tracks are those where improvisation and composition are balanced. Wiik’s exquisite low-pitched soundboard echo on “Sparrowhawk” for instance, is sympathetically underscored by timbres from two clarinets played simultaneously, with new reed notes appearing each time a keyboard fantasia is heard. “Meeting on a Line” is turned into a clarinet tone rollercoaster as altissimo trills and downward runs reach a slurred crescendo as the piano keys alternately chime and clash. Circular colouration resulting from slapped piano keys and internal string plucking on “Ursula’s Dream” is elevated with Houle’s triple tonguing and screeching before the final fade out. Nonetheless, Wiik’s expertise creating urbane swing on tracks such as the concluding “Strobe” means that unpleasant atonality is prevented from taking centre stage.

waxman 03 roscoe mitchellAnother improviser who can sophisticatedly mix delicacy and toughness in his music is saxophonist Roscoe Mitchell. Almost 40 years ago he and other advanced players frequently visited and recorded in Canada because their talent was more appreciated here than in their home countries. Live at A Space 1975 (Sackville-Delmark SK 2080, delmark.com), done in Toronto, has just been reissued, containing additional material from the same live date and making the CD 50 percent lengthier. The four new tracks give a more complete picture of the Toronto performance that also involves trombonist George Lewis, guitarist Spencer Barefield and pianist Muhal Richard Abrams. Previously the emphasis on the truncated disc was on pieces such as “Tnoona” and “Cards,” mostly dissonant performances whose sonic tension mixed with concentrated forward motion demonstrated the quartet’s familiarity with spiky avant-garde sounds. Now however the additional tracks give clues as to why the experiments brought forward by the likes of Mitchell and Lewis have been accepted as a part of jazz’s body politic. Both “Prelude to Naima” and “Dastura” are almost gentle, with the former harmonizing near-pastoral flute, processional piano and a lowing trombone ostinato in such a way that the subsequent playing of John Coltrane’s “Naima” is inevitable and balanced. Ditto for “Dastura,” which demonstrated in 1975, as it does now, the versatility of the players. Moreover, the quick runthrough of Mitchell’s “Noonaah,” now the CD’s final track, ends with unison horn blasts arising organically from the band’s narrative of extroverted gutbucket slurs and cascading piano chords that demonstrate its context.

waxman 04 evantigheOf course high quality discs are still made in Canada ... by Canadians, simply because they live here, as Montreal percussionist Evan Tighe’s Threadcount (ETC 0001, evantighe.com) proves. Tighe who composed all eight tracks, and who also plays melodica and toy piano here, leads a top-flight local band with saxophonists Erik Hove and Adam Kinner, violinist Joshua Zubot and Rémi-Jean LeBlanc on bass. Tighe’s penchant for experimentation can be heard on “We/System,” where the head is recapped as if it was being played by the Jazz Messengers, but begins with the line contrasted between the tenor saxophone’s breathy low tones and the vibrating high pitches of the toy piano. Shifting throughout between romantic and riotous, the serpentine narrative makes space for pummelling double bass thumps, pizzicato fiddle plucks and drum pops. More spaciously constructed “Think Hard Enough” and “You Can Forget Nearly Anything” moves every which way without ever becoming a free-for-all. Call-and-response balance is maintained with tough reed bites or barely there blowing, while Zubot’s skittering staccato rubs surmount both. Eventually a climax is reached via positioned cracks and smacks from Tighe. Vigorous, contrapuntal and swinging, the drummer’s sensitively explosive playing and that of his band members, suggest why outsiders may want to record with Canadians or bring their whole band here. 

01-Monica-ChapmanBut Beautiful
Monica Chapman

With the release of her latest recording, refreshing, Romanian-born vocalist Monica Chapman displays a superb vocal instrument with impeccable intonation, as well as a tasty menu of elegant jazz “standards” framed by the skilled arrangements and inspired, rhythmic and zesty piano work of producer Bill King. The tight ensemble of first-call players includes Duncan Hopkins on bass, Mark Kelso on drums, Reg Schwager on guitar, Luis Jorge Papiosco on percussion, William Sperendei on trumpet and Anne Lindsay on violin (whose sensitive and evocative work enhances the entire project).

With an extensive background in opera, theatre and classic cabaret, Chapman moves effortlessly between styles and eras, as well as seamlessly embodying both the French and English lyrics. Her highly trained vocal instrument is a rich, precise, alto that easily transmits the emotional intent of the material, whether interpreting a melodic post-war ballad such as the Van Heusen/Burke title track, or a depression-era Rodgers and Hart favourite such as Ten Cents a Dance, or the heart-rending ballad L’amour Le Vrais.

In addition to her innate musicality, Chapman is defined by her strong theatrical sensibility and holds her own on the Ellington/Strayhorn opus, Lush Life and also swings Ella-style on Someone Like You. A true standout is the rarely performed Johnny Mercer tune This is Always, which was a 1950s hit for another gorgeous alto, the late, great Irene Kral. Chapman’s version is a total delight and features a moving and harmonically thrilling piano solo from Bill King.

Concert Note:Monica Chapman launches
But Beautiful at the Pero Lounge, 812 Bloor St. W. on October 4 at 8pm.

02-MartelJune 16th
Schraum 17

Having adopted the venerable viola da gamba as his main instrument, Montreal-based former double bassist Pierre-Yves Martel is also adapting it to unusual sonic situations. On this notable release named for the day on which it was recorded, Martel, who directs a different ensemble October 11 at the Music Gallery, mainly uses the timbres of his bowed viol as a sound source, the better to intersect with the equally extended techniques of his German bandmates: tubaist Carl Ludwig Hübsch and pianist Philip Zoubek. Although the results are at a far distance from the consort and sacred compositions from the height of the instrument’s popularity before the turn of the 18th century, they suggest a beguiling future for pre-modern instruments.

Hübsch and Zoubek, who have worked with some of the continent’s most advanced musicians, specialize in subverting expected sounds as well. Throughout the five tracks here for instance, Zoubek frequently buzzes harsh cadenzas by plucking, stopping or strumming the piano’s strings. Additionally, when the keys are put to use the resonating clangs produced are marimba-like. For his part the tubaist shuns the instrument’s familiar guttural lows. Instead, using a variety of mutes, valve-twisting and embouchure refinements, he expels whistles and clicks and vibrates unaccented air from his horn. Harshly scraping the tuba body with other objects, the resulting scuffs onomatopoeically integrate with Martel’s agitated spiccato pumps and Zoubek’s rubbed strings and semi-depressed key patterns.

On Top, the appropriately titled, most spectacular and longest track, the polyphonic texture-layerings duplicate these and other sounds, including flute-like peeps and organ-resembling swells. Overall, the key to this track and the fascination of the entire disc’s production is how ancillary tropes such as the viola da gamba’s string sweeps and the piano’s single-note examinations calm staccato interjections to create a still spiky but compelling narrative. Plus it proves that traditional instruments, appropriately used, can generate a thoroughly modern tonal experience.

01-Trifolia-Le-RefugeMontreal pianist Marianne Trudel assembles her music from a spectrum of elements, mixing jazz, folk, pop, classical and world music into a compelling original mix. She’s performed in a number of contexts, including a septet, but few of her ensembles have possessed the immediate allure of the trio Trifolia with bassist Étienne Lafrance and percussionist Patrick Graham heard on the group’s debut Le Refuge (TRUD 20131, mariannetrudel.com). Part of the trio’s charm is its sheer stylistic and sonic breadth, including Trudel’s willingness to overdub different keyboards, Lafrance’s sheer virtuosity and Graham’s expanded drum kit. Steppes has the feeling of a French music hall, with Trudel playing accordion and adding a wordless vocal while Lafrance adds embellishments in his extreme upper register. As Possibilités et Limitations grows in intensity, Graham adds sparkling accents with tiny cymbals. It’s amiable, unusually tuneful music that just keeps surprising.

02-lettingo-liveMontreal guitarist Gary Schwartz has put together an 11-piece band for the CD Lettingo Live: The Music and Influence of Ornette Coleman (thejazzbox.ca/gary-schwartz-lettingo-live), drawing on key members of the Montreal free jazz community like saxophonists Alex Côté and Frank Lozano, violinist Josh Zubot and bassist Nicolas Caloia. The result is a thorough re-thinking of some of Coleman’s more familiar works, an orchestral view of pieces originally conceived for piano-less quartets that adds shifting textures, a certain brassiness, electric guitar and keyboards, and an expanded harmonic palette. Alexandre St. Onge’s arrangement of Coleman’s signature Lonely Woman reveals a knack for unusual voicings, while the band’s power and Schwartz’s guitar come to the fore on Law Years.

03-Philip-May-SudburyCanadian jazz composers are more apt to celebrate expansive prairies, mountain vistas or maritime shorelines than Sudbury, the Northern Ontario city best known for standing in as the moon in NASA equipment tests. But the city has produced a small cadre of gifted musicians, amply demonstrated by the Quatuor Philip May Quartet’s Sudbury (Romhog 122, philipmay.ca). Drummer May has assembled former Sudbury associates guitarist Reg Schwager and trumpeter Kevin Turcotte along with bassist Clark Johnston and special guest Jeannette Lambert, Schwager’s sister and another former Sudbury resident. Tunes like Schwager’s Pick-up Trucks and Hockey Pucks and Turcotte’s Theme for Tony’s Basement are evidently fuelled by reminiscence, achieving the lyrical sublime on Schwager’s Sudbury Sunday Morning. Lambert makes notable contributions with André Paiement’s Dimanche après-midi and two takes of Stompin’ Tom Connors’ unlikely Sudbury Saturday Night, adding a jazz touch to Connors’ trenchant homespun observations.

04-happyhourToronto drummer/composer Barry Elmes opts for a relaxed, ebullient swing on his new Quartet’s Happy Hour (Cornerstone CRST CD 142, cornerstonerecordsinc.com). The band’s sound is largely set by Hammond organist Vanessa Rodrigues, whose smooth, bubbling sound creates a gentle, continuous swing. The band’s featured soloists are guitarist Reg Schwager (again: he may be Canada’s most frequently recorded jazz musician — if he’s not, he should be), contributing thoughtful, luminous solos and tenor saxophonist Perry White, who brings a special intensity to every occasion, even one as laid back as this. The repertoire is largely familiar standards, and each one shines, from the sinuous Comes Love to the charmingly antique When You’re Smiling. Schwager’s finest moment comes on Jerome Kern’s Yesterdays, while White brings a harder edge to Softly as in a Morning Sunrise. The mood may be low-key, but these are masters at work, creating one of the year’s more memorable recordings.

05-nightcrawlersvol3Vancouver drummer Jesse Cahill leads another organ combo, The Nightcrawlers, on Volume 3 (Cellar Live CL030913, cellarlive.com). The style is strongly shaped by 60s soul jazz with elements of blues, funk and gospel, whether the tunes are fresh offerings by guitarist Dave Sikula and Hammond organist Chris Gestrin or covers of compositions by the idiom’s original masters, like Brother Jack McDuff or Big John Patton. Everything about the band’s vibe resonates with the 60s Blue Note and Prestige recordings: it’s hard-driving, soulful music with tenor saxophonist Steve Kaldestad summoning up some of Stanley Turrentine’s tight vibrato and Cory Weeds, playing alto for the occasion, blending equal parts bop and blues. Cahill sounds born to the style, animating the proceedings with patterns that are at once tight and loose. The Latin funk groove of Patton’s Latona is especially good.

06-destructive-elementExpatriate Toronto drummer/composer Harris Eisenstadt has different bands for different occasions: his September Trio may be reserved for his most concentrated and pensive work, as evidenced by its second CD, The Destructive Element (Clean Feed CF276 CD, cleanfeed-records.com), which takes its title and epigram from Joseph Conrad’s Lord Jim, significantly a work driven by multiple narrative perspectives. There’s something similar going on in this music. Completed by New York-based tenor saxophonist Ellery Eskelin and pianist Angelica Sanchez, the group creates textures of extraordinary density, as in Back and Forth, in which composed and spontaneously generated patterns seem to wrestle in time in a piece that at times suggests an attenuated blues. That complexity is a key value here, with the musicians achieving a kind of continuous interdependence and isolation of voices, as if everything both fits and doesn’t fit, whether it’s the sun-and-cloud play of harmony on the title track or Eskelin’s frequently cheery brushwork. It’s challenging work that rewards close and repeated listening. 

Standardization is a thing of the past when it comes to recorded music and listeners who get too far ahead of, or behind, the curve are likely to miss interesting sounds. Just as the production of movies didn’t cease with the acceptance of television, so the manufacture of LPs continued even as the CD became the format of the moment. As artisans continue to craft fine furniture despite the availability of mass-produced items, so too LPs are being created in limited quantities. This situation appears tailor-made for experimental sounds. Similarly since advanced players are often as impecunious as they are inventive, the ubiquity of the Internet means that some music is only sold digitally through the Web. The option of not having to create a physical product is a boon for non-mainstream performers.

01a-JustNotCricketProbably the most spectacular recent example of vinyl-only releases is Just Not Cricket: Three Days of Improvised Music in Berlin (Ni-Vu-Ni-Connu nvnc lp001/004, ni-vu-ni-connu.net). A four-LP set pressed on 180-gram virgin vinyl, the box set also includes a copy of the festival’s lavishly illustrated full-colour program plus a 20-page, LP-sized booklet featuring black and white photographs from the event, an essay about Free Music, plus a transcribed conversation with the 16 British artists who participated. As much an artifact as a musical keepsake, Just Not Cricket showcases many of BritImprov’s most important players. With a cast of characters ranging from Free Music pioneers such as saxophonist Trevor Watts and percussionist Eddie Prévost to younger stylists including trumpeter Tom Arthurs and saxophonist Shabaka Hutchings, plus representation of the so-called Second Wave such as pianist Steve Beresford and harpist Rhodri Davies, the selection is all-embracing as well as varied. There’s high-quality music represented by all three groups. Prévost’s duet with saxophonist Lol Coxhill, for instance, demonstrates that by maintaining the proper pulse, an atonal reed and percussion duet can suggest Benny Goodman and Gene Krupa while still outputting kazoo-like blats and scattered drum pumps. Energetic and atonal, a blow-out featuring players such as Arthurs, Hutchings, guitarist Alex Ward, bassist John Edwards and drummer Mark Sanders, is invested with Free Jazz energy. Yet among the freak brassy triplets, saxophone honks and near slack-key guitar lines, Ward’s comping, Edwards’ robust bowing and Sanders perfectly timed accents turn bluster into satisfying sonic alliances. There are also elements of humour, most apparent the moment Beresford’s slick keyboard glissandi turn to kinetic smacks and splashes replicating both bebop and lounge piano playing, as Edwards’ pumps and trombonist Gail Brand’s wide snorts and flutters add a layer of laughing euphoria to this trio interaction. Other highlights include bass saxophonist Tony Bevan using his widening cavernous resonations to create perfect counterpoint to the rhythms from dual bassists Edwards and Dominic Lash; while on another track, Watts’ splintering alto saxophone intensity is brought to a higher level as horizontal sticks vibrations among Davies’ harp strings and Orphy Robinson’s ringing vibraphone licks produce more polyrhythms than would be found in an orchestra’s percussion section.

02-SwedishazzA quintet of Scandinavian musicians, Erik Carlsson & All Stars use an even more venerable configuration for their recreation of so called Swedish [j]azz of the 1950s and 1960s: the 10-inch LP. The appeal of these one-track-per-side performances on this 2-LP set is how the players stay true to the pieces, pop-bop origins while retrofitting (post)modern sequences. A tune such as the folksy Du Glädjerika Skona is propelled by subtle emphasis from Kjell Nordeson’s vibes plus snorting flutters from Mats Gustafsson’s baritone saxophone and vibrating puffs of Per-Åke Holmander’s tuba until near tactile clatters and scratches sourced from Dieb13’s turntables roguishly interrupts the proceedings. Similarly a treatment of Umepolskan & Nybyggarland links the variable speeds of Nordeson’s motor-driven instrument with Dieb13’s sampled aviary squawks and trills until basso saxophone burps introduce a waltz-like turnaround played straight with supple mallet clicks and rat-tat-tat drumming from Carlsson. Finally the tune exits as a contest between Gustafsson’s barking reed lines and the initial theme propelled by vibes and tuba.

03a-LehnCotéNormandMoving ahead a half century to the second decade of the 21st, and preserved on a far different medium, are concerts recorded at a music festival in Rimouski, Quebec, only available for download. The slyly titled Invisible (Tour de Bras DL #1, tourdebras.com) captures an intense interaction among German analog synthesiser player Thomas Lehn, Montreal percussionist Michel F. Côté and local electric bassist, Éric Normand. Lehn is also present on Sources (Tour de Bras DL #2), but here his playing partner is Montreal-based, American violinist Malcolm Goldstein. Most of Invisible’s 36 minutes is concerned with understated crackles, cackles and clacks, with none of the players outputting expected timbres. Still, a climax of sorts is reached at mid-point, after a klaxon-like blat, likely from Côté noisemakers, cuts through the waves of tripartite soundscapes, presaging emphasized percussion thumps, distorted bass flanges and sweeping oscillations from the synthesizer. Following a prolonged silence, the single track’s latter half is more distant and melancholy with intermittent milk bottle-like pops and door-stopper-like quivers, bass string sluices and jittery synthesizer pulsations fading to obtuse squeaks.

03b-GoldsteinLehnWith Goldstein’s so-called classical techniques on show, Sources is a stimulating sashay between two masterful improvisers as the fiddler’s staccato and strident scrubs and stops bring out the humanness of Lehn’s machinery. With bubbling hoedown-like slides, flying spiccato plus multiple jetées sounding concurrently, Goldstein coaxes lightening quick responses from Lehn, which take the form of thick tremolo modulations and grinding processed vamps. Flamboyant enough to intimate a passionate middle sequence studded with stops and strums, the violinist’s exposition eventually blends with the synthesizer player’s processed drones and ring-modular-like flanges to create a conclusion enlivened by Lehn’s unexpected piano-like keyboard expression and staccato string stops.

Turning on its head McLuhan’s dictum that the medium is the message, these projects prove that exceptional messages can appear in any medium.

01 Woman ChildWomanChild
Cecile McLorin Salvant
Justin Time JTR 8580-2

When the American singer Cécile McLorin Salvant won the prestigious Thelonious Monk International Jazz Vocal Competition in 2010, the buzz around her was massive. Relatively young and coming seemingly out of nowhere, she impressed the judges with her poise and talent. The praise then and since has been effusive (on a recent cover of Jazz News she was referred to as simply “The Voice”) and it’s all well deserved.

The sounds of many legendary jazz singers can be heard in Salvant’s voice — most apparently Sarah Vaughan — in particular in the pure, horn-like quality that is one of the hallmarks of a great vocal talent. Confident and sure-footed in both traditional and modern styles, she gets basic and loose on the bluesy St. Louis Gal and the New Orleans-style Nobody, then edgy and outside the box on the title track, WomanChild, her own composition. Her sophistication quotient goes up even a few more notches when she sings easily and naturally in French on Le Front Caché Sur Tes Genoux.

The overall feeling of the album is masterful and that owes a lot to Salvant’s band mates. She has chosen to work with some very experienced players — like Rodney Whitaker, bass, Herlin Riley, drums, and James Chirillo, guitar and banjo — who bring a steady hand to the mix, while piano player Aaron Diehl is, like Salvant, a rising star in the jazz world. For fans who may worry about the art form’s future, this album is a sign it’s in very good hands.

02 John MacLeodOur Second Set
John MacLeod & His Rex Hotel Orchestra

Further proof — if indeed it is needed — of the astonishing quality of musicians in Toronto can be found on this, the second CD by this orchestra, recorded January 3 and 4, 2013, at the Humber College recording studio. The arrangements, all by John MacLeod except for Melancholy Baby which is by Rick Wilkins, are works of art and the program is a comfortable mix of standards and originals.

The standards are a high energy Indiana, a richly textured arrangement of Everything Happens To Me, what MacLeod describes as a “mash up” arrangement of O Pato and Take The A Train and the lovely Wilkins arrangement of Melancholy Baby mentioned above. The originals are beautifully played by what can truly be described as an all-star gathering.

The musicianship throughout is exemplary, the soloists are at the top of their respective games and I would hardly be able to single out any one of them. Having said that I would be remiss if I didn’t take my hat off to leader John MacLeod who is the catalyst providing the chemistry that brings it all together. Running a big band involves a lot of time and effort, especially if you are also doing the bulk of the writing.

If you like big band jazz you need to add this recording to your collection.

—Jim Galloway

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