Canada owes Nanaimo, B.C. for raising artists like Diana Krall and the Jensen Sisters for its national jazz team, a thought underscored by Christine Jensen’s newest recording, Treelines - Christine Jensen Jazz Orchestra (Justin Time JTR 8559-2 www.justin-time.com). The leader, known more for her composing than sax playing, has been based in Montreal for some time and here recruits a top-flight 17-piece Quebecois band for her fourth recording as leader and first with orchestra. Within seconds of the opening tune of eight lengthy, thoughtful and stunningly-stylish compositions (Dancing Sunlight) you’re thinking here’s the nation’s answer to America’s vaunted Maria Schneider unit – and when Ingrid Jensen’s dreamy, lyrical trumpet solos starts you might well exclaim “it’s Kenny Wheeler”. In short, this is an astoundingly good album, one that surely will be a 2011 Juno contender, with seven Jensen tracks including four describing B.C. tree types. Charts are often striking, section work is sharp, subtlety abounds in the thick harmonies and there’s acres of room for effective soloing – Joel Miller on soprano sax (Western Yew), Ingrid (Dropoff) and the boss herself on Seafever and by pianist Steve Amirault throughout. Curmudgeons might sneer that there’s excessive sameness to these mini-epics - ignore them.
Want to keep the post-Olympic spirit? The latest disc from The Happy Pals who’ve reigned for years at Grossman’s on Spadina every Saturday afternoon, is all you need. Folk are in fine fettle here, band and audience both, enjoying music played over the 6th annual two-day Kid Bastien Forever Kick-Ass Jazz Festival – Bastien, who died in 2003, was chief Pal for more than 30 years. Moonlight Bay (New Orleans North cd-010 www.happypals.ca) has 14 tracks, good old stuff with most of the heavy performance listing falling to Patrick Tevlin’s brash trumpet and esteemed New Orleans guest Michael White’s thrusting clarinet, with big assists coming from trombonist Kid Kotowich and drummer Chuck Clarke. Enthusiastic, erratic vocals are spread around but the jollity index stays high, with upbeat slams on Je Vous Aime, Everybody Loves Saturday Night and Dinah while there’s surprising sophistication in their spin on I’ll Never Smile Again.
Four things make Del Dako’s My New Hat (www.deldako.com) particularly distinctive: It’s the recording debut as leader of vibesman Dako as opposed to baritone saxist star Dako; the liner notes by Jack Chambers are just about the best I’ve ever read; the determination of Dako to renew his career here is front and centre; and the choice of repertoire is extraordinary – such as the purloining of Beethoven’s 7th Theme from the Seventh Symphony and the two versions of avant pianoman Don Pullen’s Big Alice which suggest Ornette Coleman is on board. Perhaps it’s best just to say this is fascinating jazz with a vibes sheen that underlines the uniqueness of it all. The music’s drawn from two sessions, both with drummer Jeff Halischuk, one with guitarist Reg Schwager, pianist Bernie Senensky and bass Duncan Hopkins, the other with rising star guitarist Nathan Hiltz, bass Tyler Emond and reedman Alex Dean, whose bass clarinet work is terrific.
Pianist Norm Amadio has been around for ever, still happily tinkling after more than six decades as a pro and that’s just one reason why he’s so comfortable on Norm Amadio And Friends (Panda Digital ODCD00265 www.pandadigital.com), a classy, stylish treatment of a dozen songs (remarkably, seven of them originals by producer Andrew Melzer). As well as vocalists Marc Jordan and Jackie Richardson, Amadio’s buddies include elegant-as-ever Guido Basso, Phil Dwyer, Reg Schwager, and Rosemary Galloway plus, on three cuts, a string section. The result is top quality jazz, ornamented with unexpected zesty freshness. Catchy newcomers include I Love You That Way, Out Of The Cool and She Smiled. One oddity: Why was it necessary to include three tunes recorded in 1966?
Hungarian-born pianist Attila Fias seems to have done it all during a long musical career - including playing, teaching and organizing all types of music – except make a jazz record though his work is on more than 80 discs. He’s remedied that with Stories (ESPCD-101 www.attilafias.com), 10 original compositions supported by bass Pat Kilbride and drummer Richard Brisco. A graduate of U of T’s jazz program, Fias – who on occasion is as fiery as countryman Robi Botos – hews close to mainstream’s core but he incorporates rich, rolling rhythms, elements of rock, country, classical and ethnic genres and sometimes dips craftily into free jazz. The intricate Growth Cycle threesome is the best of a bright lot.