Ancient but apt, the saying “you can take a boy out of the country, but can’t take the country out of the boy” is more accurate if the country is Canada and the “boys” are male and female musicians in the United States. No matter how busy they are, improvisers are always ready to play north of the border. Last month, for instance, Toronto-born, Brooklyn-based drummer Harris Eisenstadt played two Toronto shows in one day before continuing an American tour.

01_eisenstadtBeing Canadian doesn’t mean cutting yourself from other interests as Eisenstadt demonstrates on Guewel (Clean Feed CF 123 CD Named for the Wolof word for griots, the band – cornetist Taylor Ho Bynum, trumpeter Nate Wooley, French hornist Mark Taylor and baritone saxophonist Josh Sinton – plays the drummer’s arrangements of West African pop music and ceremonial rhythms which he learned overseas. The tunes contain elements of southern dance tracks and brass band marches. Each horn man has the melodic smarts to meld with Eisenstadt’s multi-faceted drumming, producing catchy yet non-simplistic tunes. With his hunting horn sonorities, innate lyricism and pumping vamps, Taylor is a standout. The sympathetic arrangements stack horn parts atop one another in such a way that every solo becomes almost three-dimensional. Rice and Fish/Liti Liti begins mellow and impressionistic, then a drum beat signals a timbral shift with Taylor’s jujitsu tongue-fluttering matched with near Mariachi-styling from the other brass players. N’daga/Coonu Aduna transcends its marching band flavour as Sinton riffs harshly, accelerating to whoops and brays, while the meandering brass trill rococo detailing around him and Eisenstadt clatters, pops and ruffs.

02_bates_paperbackAnother notable reedist is Canadian turned Brooklynite Quinsin Nachoff, featured on bassist Michael Bates’ Outside Sources Live in New York (Greenleaf Paperback Series Vol. 4 Another Brooklyn-Canadian, Bates studied double bass at Banff Centre for the Arts and the University of Toronto. Other players are trumpeter Russ Johnson and drummer Jeff Davis. Playing all Bates compositions, the band is straight-ahead enough to maintain a swinging pulse, yet imaginative enough to give everyone free range for creative expression. Nachoff for example, punctuates one tune with gradually accelerating glissandi; Johnson another with high-pitched triplet tonguing. A bravura performance on Damasa finds everyone discovering theme variants. Johnson offers tremolo vibrations; Nachoff snuffled and exhaled split tones; Bates chiming runs and Davis opposite sticking plus blunt backbeats.

03_ridd_quartetDavis is also part of the RIDD Quartet on Fiction Avalanche (Clean Feed CF 121 CD, with CanCon provided by his spouse, pianist Kris Davis, who studied at the U. of T. and the Banff Centre. Outstanding on 10 group compositions, solos are weighed among Davis’ sensitive drumming, sweeping colours from distaff Davis, Reuben Radding’s tough, but restrained bass, and the kinetic runs of saxophonist Jon Irabagon. On Fiction Avalanche, the pianist percussively chords a counter melody that extends rasping bass slides and flattened reed vibrations. Monkey Catcher is a screaming blues expanded by Irabagon’s fortissimo split tones, yet tamed by Davis’ chord progression, key-clipping and flailing. Sky Circles is both atmospheric and lyrical. In unison the saxophonist’s buzzy trills and the pianist’s comping outline the theme. Segmented by winnowing squeals from Irabagon, the pianist moors the improvisation while advancing the theme chromatically.

04_milne_delbecqDouble the number of pianos appears on Where is Pannonica? (Songlines SGL SACD 1579-2 It was recorded at the Banff Centre by Paris-based Benoît Delbecq who also participates in Vancouver’s Creative Music workshop, and Torontonian Andy Milne, who studied at York and Banff before heading south. Delbecq admits that he couldn’t always distinguish his touch from Milne’s during the playback, but the usual division of labour finds him manipulating inside strings and using electronic loops, while Milne’s stays the acoustic course. Bouncing off each other’s ideas, the impression the two give is of subtle invention. Still each can surprise with the use of spiky patterns and percussive note clusters. Dividing the composing chores as well, the moulded and layered tunes are paced so that when they unwind the polytonal qualities available from the soundboard and other innards decorate the keyboard’s strums and resonations. Probably the best number is Milne’s two-part Water’s Edge. Demonstrating quick-moving, overlapping tremolo lines, the piece modulates from andante to allegro and is harmonized by default. Spacious with cascading portamento, sharpened key jabs glance off bell-pealing-like string plunks.

Fine efforts all, these CDs preview what you’ll hear next time one of these expatriates gigs in Toronto.

Mentors and heroes have been celebrated musically for years. In improvised music interpretations are more individual, the choice of honourees is quirkier, but the sounds are just as impressive – as these CDs demonstrate.

Montreal bassist/composer Normand Guilbeault’s Ensemble has played the music of bassist/composer Charles Mingus (1922-1979) for years. Hommage à Mingus: Live at Upstairs (ambiance magnétiques AM 185 CD finds the six man – and one woman, vocalist Karen Young – combo preserving Mingus’ purposely jagged stop-time themes and tempo switches. With Jean Derome’s snorting baritone saxophone and the broken phrasing of Mathieu Bélanger’s bass clarinet, the arrangements have more bottom. Young’s delivery adds emotion to a piece like Weird Nightmare, which benefits from Ivanhoe Jolicoeur’s whispering trumpet. Pianist Normand Devault consistently lays on the blues notes. Yet these link to the trumpeter’s sometime pre-modern plunger work and the steady pulse of drummer Claude Lavergne. The band proves that homage includes irreverence, when the pianist weaves a pastiche of other Mingus tunes into Song with Orange; and on Passions of a Woman Loved, the reeds quote Tequila.

Joe McPhee’s Angels, Devils & Haints (CJR 7 re-imagines the work of saxophone avatar Albert Ayler (1936 -1970). Besides two standards, the music is improvised. While Ayler’s themes were driven by thick percussion and raucous horns, McPhee plays alto or tenor saxophone or trumpet, backed by four bassists – Michael Bisio, Dominic Duval, Paul Rogers and Claude Tchamitian. Separated by heartfelt saxophone readings of Goin’ Home and Ol’ Man River, the outstanding originals capture the Ayler persona. The Gift is a pointillist exercise divided into saxophone tongue stops, flutter tonguing and frayed trills, while the bassists strike and slap cantilevered timbres, then divide into arco string stretches and pizzicato plinks. The title tune is the real stunner. As the bassists thump or pluck to unify pedal point undertow, McPhee reed bites, squeals and chirps. When the bassists use tremolo pumps to meet the saxophonist’s slip-sliding smears, multiphonics are exposed. McPhee then switches to spidery chromatic triplets on trumpet confirming underlying lyricism. Ultimately he returns to saxophone with ceiling-scraping altissimo. The finale finds the bassists’ portamento runs and McPhee’s floating and stuttering trills melding.

Four Torontonians and two Swiss honour Urs Blöchlinger on Tribute (Pet Mantis Records PMR 004 The compositions of Blöchlinger (1954-1995) reflect the saxophonist’s sardonic humour and hint at the depression that led to his suicide. Organized by local bassist Neal Davis, plus two Swiss who worked with Blöchlinger – pianist Christoph Baumann and drummer Dieter Ulrich – the horn section is all Torontonian: trombonist Tom Richards plus reedists Peter Lutek and Kelly Jefferson. Aylerian echoes animate Lutek’s nephritic cries, with Jefferson lyrical and Richards as fond of plunger work as Jolicoeur. This is especially effective on the lurching theme of King Arthur meets Hans Eisler in Hollywood. The trombone blats, Lutek’s alto saxophone slithers and Jefferson’s soprano saxophone trills draw out the narrative. Davis’ walking, Baumann’s comping and Ulrich’s ruffs let the horns interject quotes from other tunes which are diaphanous enough to expose a climatic round of honks and peeps. Kungusische Arbeitslied layers themes in sequence. Contrapuntally contrasting trombone growls and reed chirps, the group switches to a marching band emulation following a drum roll. Sluicing horn lines quicken the pace as Ulrich nudges the melody with montuno rhythm. Baumann’s sprawling dynamics signal another shift and suddenly roles reverse. Lutek’s nasal alto, Jefferson’s smooth soprano and Richards’ gutbucket trombone play the melody as the pianist’s key wandering replicates a fantasia. A bass string spank completes the tune.

The strangest acknowledgment is Hommage à Syd Barrett (Imuzzic CRCD 0821 The Lyon-based i.overdrive trio honours Barrett (1946-2006), the songwriter/guitarist whose idiosyncratic tunes dominated Pink Floyd’s first LP before he left the group. With guitarist Philippe Gordiani using the pre-eminent rock instrument; trumpeter Rémi Gaudillat representing jazz sophistication; and drummer Bruno Tocanne weaving between the two, Barrett tunes are reinvigorated. Astronomy Domine balances Gordiani’s flanged and elongated riffs with melodiousness from Gaudillat and Tocanne’s mid-range banging. Distorted notes from effects pedals and whammy bars, plus prickly guitar licks are in the mix, but so are muted overtones and romantic obbligatos from the trumpet plus the drummer’s crunching rebounds and cymbal-splashes. Deference and deconstruction are realized with Interstellar Overdrive. Replicating the familiar riffs, Gordiani could be playing two guitars, while Gaudillat’s grace notes include a near-Arabic motif. Slurry brass triplets and staccato strumming combine for final redefinition.

The honourees aren’t around to hear these tributes, but each would be proud.

01_UglyBeautiesUgly Beauties
Marilyn Lerner; Matt Brubeck;
Nick Fraser
ambiences magnétiques AM 187 CD

This is perceptive chamber improvisation which while finely tuned never loses its spiky edge. The sound of this co-op trio depends on the melding of individual talents. Drummer Nick Fraser colors and amplifies the music rather than settling for mere accompaniment. Cellist Matt Brubeck takes full advantage of his instrument’s dual properties with tremolo quivers sharing space with plucked ostinatos. As she does with her other projects, ranging from Klezmer bands to Queen Mab’s New music, pianist Marilyn Lerner exposes in equal measure staccato swing, lyrical meditations and dissonant inside-piano explorations.

Each trio member composes, although of the 15 tracks, four are group improvisations, while Lerner wrote or co-wrote eight. Two of her compositions highlight her versatility. Like its namesake Harold Lloyd jerks, and jumps, as Lerner swings out with kinetic key fanning as the others scramble Keystone Kops-like behind her. In contrast, Figure and Ground aches with Eastern European melancholy, with the piano theme quickening from adagio to andante as Brubeck alters his harmonic responses to fit.

All strategies are put to good use on tracks such as Zoetrope, an instant composition. As the cellist’s semi-classical spiccato evolves to wide octave leaps, Fraser creates an easy pulse with brushes and Lerner sounds low-frequency patterns as well as recoils from the soundboard. Finally all three combine for an episode of stretched, jagged chording.

Ugly Beauty may be an oxymoron, but in this case the emphasis is more on the noun than the adjective.

Concert note: Marilyn Lerner’s Queen Mab Trio joins forces with Barnyard Drama for an evening of improvisation at the Music Gallery October 2.

New jazz guitar releases are waning, compensated by a tsunami of albums from female singers. Fortunately piano mines are in full production – here’s a quartet of recent entries.

01_mombacho Start with Mike Janzen. Raised and classically trained on the Prairies, talents honed at U of T, he’s settled in Toronto now after a history with the Winnipeg Symphony plus a taste for rock, funk, folk and church music. Janzen plays piano and organ, with a dash of Rhodes, on Mombâcho (Signpost Music SP43-02, his sophomore follow to “Beginnings”. I wish he’d played more organ on these mostly original compositions. Where he’s most effective are the opening Around The Block (piano and organ), the title tune (organ alone) and then a delightful makeover of the movie hit Mrs Robinson where Janzen again doubles. With organ he’s forceful and effective, more à la Lonnie Smith than grits ‘n gravy Jimmy Smith. Big assists come from imaginative bass maestro George Koller and drummers Davide DiRenzo, Ben Riley and young Larnell Lewis. The leader also recruits tenorman Phil Dwyer and guitarist Kevin Breit to heighten lush textures but they’re not absolutely essential. Neither are the string section nor the leader’s strained Chet Baker/Willie Nelson influenced vocals. What’s enthralling is Janzen’s writing, woven with wit and inventiveness, and his playing’s sheer exuberance. His songs have catchy dance-floor hooks like Swankometer and are smartly arranged – plus there’s a deep core of spirituality in his emotional attack, which perhaps explains the meaning of life suggested by the album title. He can also caress keys with clarity on Where It Goes, but fusion-styled Trail Runner definitely doesn’t belong in dentists’ waiting rooms. This felicitous mix of funky chords and deep groove is well worth seeking.

02_julie_lamontagneAn equally welcome surprise is the Julie Lamontagne Trio recording Now What (Justin Time JTR 8535-2 The Montrealer has a big Quebec following after work with Radio Canada and pop artists Isabelle Boulay and Bruno Pelletier, but her jazz chops are well established with sympathetic trio-mates Richard Irwin (bass) and Dave Watts (drums). For five of her eight creations she’s brought in American tenor saxist Donny McCaslin and the result is every bit as auspicious as her debut disc “Facing The Truth”, his horn adding heft to a gaggle of pleasing hard-hitters such as the 10 minutes-plus opener Desillusionée. Lamontagne’s a strong performer and arranger, incorporating the complexities of a Fred Hersch with the flair and drive of Lorraine Desmarais. Note her boppish abstract concoction Lost In The Cycle, where her soloing is fleet yet keyboard touch light and lilting. The title piece’s quiet opening soon erupts into a power churn while K.O. and Damn ratchet up the tension, underscore the rampant surprise elements and point to dramatic jazz crammed with joyous spirit.

03_amanda_tosoffWhite Rock, B.C.’s pianist Amanda Tosoff fields her quartet on Wait And See (Cellar Live CL081208 To West Coast A-listers in her group, saxophonist Evan Arntzen, bass Sean Cronin and drummer Morgan Childs, she’s added ubiquitous trumpeter Brad Turner, who always pumps up energy levels. He’s needed here. She’s composed 9 of 10 tracks for a percussive approach but at times this is more efficient than inspiring, somewhat too polite. The opener’s called Soaring but it doesn’t - yet repeated hearing yields the sense of well-organized balance, deftly shaped melody, all within the subtle deployment of jazz convention. Tosoff won big this year when her team carried off the Grand Prix de Jazz at the Montreal Jazz Festival over 10 finalists - which means at least a new recording. In addition, she and Childs are expected to work in Toronto this winter.

04_dick_hymanAmerican Dick Hyman at 76, with more than 100 albums to his credit, is also the performer of ragtime albums as Knuckles O’Toole, creator of scores for art forms such as Woody Allen films and much more. His solo offering In Concert At The Old Mill (Sackville SACD2) is a 12-song masterpiece through which he conjures the storied past of jazz in the styles of trailblazers such as Fats Waller (lively takes on Ain’t Misbehavin’ and Honeysuckle Rose), Gershwin and even John Lennon (Blackbird). Hyman is a versatile exploiter of what’s good about earlier music, and he tosses in a pair of his own, Ocean Languor done in Duke Ellington style and Pass It Along à la Teddy Wilson. You’ll hear lots of bouncing stride, sustained brilliance and dazzling examinations of harmony, melody and swing. The audience loved it. So will you.

A masterful and distinctive soloist, French bassist Joëlle Léandre is versatile in any musical situation. These impressive CDs showcase her improvisational skills, while elsewhere the conservatory-trained Parisian is as comfortable with notated music, often performing studies written for her by composers such as John Cage and Giacinto Scelsi.

01_Leandre_IsraelOne of the two CDs that make up Joëlle Léandre Live in Israel (Kadima KCR 17 verifies her solo skill. This showcase includes exposition, theme variations and finale, without being conventionally programmatic. Equally strident and soothing, her string strokes include thick rhythmic scrubs and spiccato patterning that produce not only initial tones, but also corresponding echoes. Lyrical and romantic on one hand, her harsh string sweeping also expands with snaps, taps and banjo-like frailing. Sometimes she vocalizes as she plays, adding another dimension to the performance. Commanding on her own, she inserts herself into groups without fissure. In a sextet on the companion CD featuring Israeli reedists, her triple-stopped advances lock in with the horns’ contrapuntal key-slipping and trill spraying. Never upsetting balanced reed bites, her sul tasto expansions amplify the crunching dynamics of pianist Daniel Sarid, while her wood-slapping pulse operates in tandem with the flams and bounces of drummer Haggai Fershtman. In trio interaction with bassist JC Jones and saxophonist Stephen Horenstein, she lets the other bassist time-keep with col legno stops, while she string-snaps and pumps. Her bel canto warbling not only adds another texture, but also joins in double counterpoint with the saxophonist’s rubato tonguing.

02_Leandre_ParkerMore reductive, Joëlle Léandre & William Parker Live at Dunois (Leo CD LR 535 captures a bravura showcase for Léandre and Manhattan’s William Parker, whose jazz-honed techniques are as celebrated as hers. Performance roles are defined: Parker thumps, walks and slaps his bass in pedal point, while Léandre uses her bow to swirl rococo tinctures that encompass agitated peaks and valleys of flying spiccato. This isn’t a brawl but an expression of mutual respect. At points both combine strokes as polyphonic textures rappel every which way. Reaching an intermezzo of floating concussion and friction, the two fuse as if they were playing an eight-stringed bass. Unbroken portamento runs echoing in double counterpoint, although each maintains individual identity.

As with the Stone Quartet in Guelph with whom she performs this month, Léandre has an affinity for 04_Leandre_Lewisbrass and piano players. Joëlle Léandre-George Lewis Transatlantic Visions (RogueArt ROG-0020 and Joëlle Léandre & Quentin Sirjacq Out of Nowhere (Ambiance MagnétiqueAM184 confirm this. The firs03_Leandre_Sirjacqt is a meeting between the bassist and American trombonist Lewis, with whom she has worked for decades. Sirjacq is a French pianist she has just begun to partner. Familiarity and novelty produce equivalently outstanding CDs. Chamber music-like in its initial delicacy, her duet with the pianist becomes intense as vibrating bass harmonies encourage Sirjacq to toughen his output. Soon her jagged arpeggios and glissandi are met by metronomic pounding, key fanning and internal string plucking from the pianist. Anything but equal temperament, stopped soundboard buzzes on Ruin are joined by church-bell-like gongs from Sirjacq, as Léandre doubles her sul ponticello bowing, while growling nonsense syllables. In the penultimate Awakening her quivering bowing is bisected by a flurry of kinetic key patterns. Finally Closing mates her flamenco-like rubs with his construction of an edifice of expansive arpeggios and cascading chording, reintroducing the theme for musical closure.

In contrast to the tentative exposition on “Out of Nowhere”, Léandre and Lewis are fully attuned from the get-go and stay that way. Announcing herself with a guttural snarl, at points she vocalizes alongside her string strokes. In addition to sweeping glissandi and staccato string-scouring, Léandre yowls as Lewis’ lows gutbucket tones. In response to her sul tasto runs, the trombonist exposes rotund tones and rubato yelps. If he showcases subterranean grace notes from inside his horn, she smacks the strings col legno. Sounding as if they could stretch their instruments’ tessitura indefinitely, they reach a climax at the half-way point as glottal stops from Lewis are complemented by pumped arpeggios and contrapuntal strumming from Léandre.

But perhaps the most palpable testimony to Léandre’s sonic versatility is the tracks she shares with oud player/vocalist Sameer Makhoul on “Live in Israel”. Despite the oud’s five pairs of strings compared to her four, she manages to advance buzzing timbres that perfectly match his breakneck finger-picking. Not only that, but her rhythmic breaths and free-form chanting complement his vocalized glossolalia so that the two sound as if they’re performing a Middle Eastern operetta.

Concert Notes: Joëlle Léandre performs at the Guelph Jazz Festival on September 10 as part of The Stone Quartet and on September 12 in a solo recital.

06_Jean_DeromePlates-formes et Traquenards
Jean Derome et les Dangereux Zhoms +7
Victo cd 114 (

Two suites for 12-piece polyphonic orchestra composed by Montreal-based reedist Jean Derome exhibit his cunning musicality on this notable CD. A mainstay of Victoriaville, Quebec’s Festival International de Musique Actuelle (FIMAV) – where the CD was recorded – Derome titles Plates-formes with a pun on the name of the organization which oversees the festival. Traquenards celebrates another musical organization, which like FIMAV, celebrated its 25th birthday when this recording was made.

Augmenting the five-piece Dangereux Zhoms with additional horns and strings, ensures that both suites emphatically balance on the edge between improvised and notated sounds, as well as extrapolating timbres that add a tincture of rock’s rhythmic muscle, vocalist Joane Hétu’s Dadaesque intonation, plus crackles, hisses and LPs’ music from Martin Tétreault’s turntables.

Consisting of multiple jump-cut variations, contrasts and connections characterize both suites. Expressively tonal and unfussy, Derome’s themes suggest folk songs and Tin Pan Alley ditties. Yet he constantly undercuts lyricism with asides and interpolations such as his own jutting alto saxophone phrasing, gutbucket echoes from trombonist Tom Walsh, plus whining frails and strident string-snapping from guitarist Bernard Falaise. Maintaining the compositions’ equilibrium, despite altissimo disruptions and tutti explosions where the players wallow in every sort of abrasive shriek, are Guillaume Dostaler’s pounding piano syncopation and the measured ruffs and back beat of drummer Pierre Tanguay.

Pastiches as well as interludes, Derome’s compositions are memorable for architectural soundness, but arranged inimitably so that their most satisfying interpretation come from this band.

Concert Notes: Jean Derome et les Dangereux Zhoms +7 play at the Music Gallery on September 9 and at the Guelph Jazz Festival September 10.

Ken Waxman

05_real_divasCafé Society
Real Divas
E1 Entertainment KEC-CD-9196


Real Divas started out eight years ago as a showcase every Tuesday night at a Toronto club hosted by musician, band leader, festival organizer, broadcaster, photographer (let me see, have I left anything out?) and all round good guy, Bill King. Designed to give a stage to local singers, both established and new to the scene, the Real Divas evenings saw now-notable singers such as Emilie-Claire Barlow and Sophie Milman take their initial steps into jazz performance. Those nights are history now, but the project and goal behind it live on under King’s guidance. The current incarnation comprises four young (some still teenage) vocalists — Kinga Victoria, Sophie Berkal-Sarbitt, Lauren Margison and Josephine Biundo (and guest Jessica Lalonde) — who come from a range of musical disciplines (including opera) and locales (Winnipeg, Poland), but who share an appreciation for good songwriting.

Singing individually and as an ensemble on “Café Society” the group covers Bacharach, Ellington, Bernstein and pop hits such as First Time Ever I Saw Your Face, bringing new interpretations and layers of musical styles. Hence a Latin version of Tea for Two, swinging Come Fly With Me and sultry Lazy Afternoon all cozy up together here. The vocal arrangements are not overly complex, but the singers achieve a good blend when needed, then let their lovely voices and individuality shine on the solo numbers.

Cathy Riches

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