12 Allison AuMigrations
Allison Au; Migrations Ensemble
Independent AA-23 (allisonau.com)

Allison Au’s Migrations is a vibrant sonic landscape with ebbs and flows inspired by transitions through physical landscape. Described in the liner notes as a long-due creative articulation of personal history and identity, this undertaking succeeds in a profound, inspiring, thought-provoking way. Central to this triumph is the depth, versatility and range of the ensemble itself. 

Au’s own jazz combo is accompanied by string quartet, Michael Davidson on vibraphone and the expressive vocals of Laila Biali. This instrumentation unlocks a spectrum of prismatic mood and texture, with the brightness of the strings crackling over an undercurrent of spellbinding harmonies. Biali not only faithfully conveys the weight of her words during the expertly paced spoken word sections, but she shines as a primary melodic instrument in tandem with Au’s saxophone, particularly on pieces like Them

As a suite, Migrations’ sense of interconnectedness does not feel contrived. Rather than flowing into each other directly with manufactured studio transitions, there are brief pauses between movements. This allows each scene ample time to remark on the previous, while organically creating forward momentum that complements the album’s central text and themes. Racing Across the Land feels like a direct continuation of where Aves Raras ended up in terms of its pace, but from the utterance of “long after you are gone…” the throughline grows beyond what is outwardly stated, allowing for a retrospective plunge into the metanarrative properties of sound.

12 Quinsin NachoffQuinsin Nachoff – Stars and Constellations
Quinsin Nachoff; Mark Helias; Dan Weiss; Bergamot Quartet; The Rhythm Method
Adyhaopa Records AR00040 (quinsin.com)

Noted saxophonist/composer Quinsin Nachoff has just released a new offering, pinioned on the synthesis of a free, non-chordal jazz trio and string quartets. The result is a challenging and bold three-part jazz suite. Nachoff is the composer of all of the material here, and the project itself features Nachoff on tenor as well as the superb players, bassist Mark Helias and drummer Dan Weiss – both frequent collaborators of Nachoff’s. The trio is joined by NYC’s string ensembles, the Bergamot Quartet and The Rhythm Method. The synthesis of these ensembles is breathtaking, as is the compositional and improvisational freedom lying therein.

Mankind has always looked upward to receive insight and inspiration from the sky – and in acknowledgement of those ancient engrams, the three movements of the suite are entitled Scorpio, Pendulum and Sagittarius. Scorpio explores the white luminosity of individual stars – mere points of light – morphing into constellations. Pizzicato strings instigate the chaos, as they form and are greeted by lengthening string lines, while blazing percussion indicates the heartbeat of the galaxy. The strings both support and antagonize the subtle spots of light, while the bass and cello lines support the very firmament itself. Nachoff’s potent tenor jumps into the fray with a deeply soulful recitative followed by a searing cry against oblivion, and hence into the very eye of creation itself. Fine percussive work from Weiss, as well a gymnastic and soul-searing bass solo from Helias summon the Paleolithic magic.

The 14-minute Pendulum is a study in extremes – invoking frenetic conversation between the string quartets, and Sagittarius celebrates the almost Vedic universal law common throughout the known and unknown universe – the eternal law of destruction and re-creation. This is a major work of luminosity and brilliance, which will inform the higher consciousness of each listener.

13 Lucas NiggliPlay!
Lucas Niggli Sound of Serendipity Tentet
Intakt CD 406 (intaktrec.ch)

More than a game piece that creates musical situations suggested by the shuffling of playing cards into three-fold suits, Swiss percussionist Lucas Niggli’s refined this eight-track program so that tentet members negate any breach between composition and improvisation. Although different conductors, soloists and backing players are listed for each piece, foreground and background roles aren’t static.

Niggli, whose experience encompasses solo sets, a punk-jazz trio and African percussion experiments, only lightly sprinkles rhythmic strokes and slaps among the tunes from his kit and drummer Peter Conradin Zumthor’s. Instead the tracks’ contours are decided by soloist juxtaposition, as extended technique alters expected sounds. Movement 2 for instance evolves from Marina Tantanozi’s electronically doubled flute puffs and shrills to near opaque vibrating textures from organist Dominik Blum and accordionist Tizia Zimmermann, then reinstates flute peeps mated with squeeze box jerks. The most natural transition between dissonance and delicacy occurs with Movement 4 and Movement 5. Joana Maria Aderi’s voltage-altered vocals paired with percussion clangs cushioned by Marc Unternährer’s tuba ostinato subsequently turns into a brief pastoral flute feature.

While space is also made for aggressive altissimo asides by tenor saxophonist Silke Strah and stentorian slaps from bassist Christian Webber, as well as widely separated rock-like or marching-band-like interludes, the suite’s basic structure remains constant and linear.

Not only does the group Play exceptionally, but it also demonstrates how to play using varied sound elements while preserving a coherent musical perception.

14 Meinard KneerDer zweite Streich
Meinrad Kneer Quintet
Jazzwerkstatt JW 234 (jazzwerkstatt.eu)

Balanced perfectly between inspiration and interpretation, German bassist Meinrad Kneer’s compositions on Der zweite Streich (the second trick) epitomize modern creative music. Still the implied trick is that the eight tunes depend on sonic integration from this Berlin-based ensemble of fellow Teutons, trombonist Gerhard Gschlößl and trumpeter Sebastian Piskorz, Canadian alto saxophonist Peter Van Huffel and Austrian drummer Andreas Pichler.

While each player gets considerable solo space for individual theme elaborations, tracks heavily feature collective harmonies. That means interlaced horn vamps can propel undulating swing; or the other horns riff while one explores individual timbral motifs. Gschlößl’s cross-blown slippery sobs, Piskorz’s dedicated soaring triplets and Van Huffel’s measured bites and finger vibrations enliven the pieces, sometimes projecting tones every which way or expressing round robin soloing until connecting. Pichler’s machine-gun-like accents also play a crucial role, as do Kneer’s carefully positioned string stops. 

Still the determination of the bassist’s ideas are expressed most clearly on extended tracks like the contrasting Sad Thing and Rhapsodie à la Bédouin. Sophisticatedly musical motifs coalesce into story telling even as asides such as contrapuntal reed flutters and operatic brass squeals puncture linear movement on the former; and pivot to vaguely Arabic lilts from trumpet and trombone to preserve delicacy in spite of the theme’s intensity on the latter.

Overall the only trick demonstrated on this quintet’s second CD is how efficiently profound musical ideas are expressed with such diversity in nationality and playing styles.

Much of what we define as jazz and improvised music has been driven by rhythmic changes established by innovative percussionists. Yet very little that transpired was the result of single Eureka moments propelled by one individual. Each contemporary advance strengthened the next ones, with some percussionists operating far apart creating important advances not acknowledged until later. Proof of their creative skills and later acceptance is demonstrated on these mostly recently discovered sessions.

01 Barry AltschulArguably the most crucial disc here is Stop Time (NoBusiness Records NBCD 163 nobusinessrecords.com), a 1978 New York City live date by three sound architects who never recorded together before or afterwards. Key to the disc is the sympathetic, sophisticated yet strong accents of drummer Barry Altschul (b.1943), who by that time had perfected the melding of hard bop power with free jazz multiple tempos that he used with everyone from Paul Bley to Anthony Braxton. His associates were David Izenson (1932-1979), famous as a member of Ornette Coleman’s trio and clarinetist Perry Robinson (1938-2018), whose style encompassed elements of folk, Klezmer, abstract and notated music. Robins on, who was in groups headed by leaders as diverse as Dave Brubeck and William Parker, unites the four untitled improvisations with melodic trills and flutters, interjected squeaks and circular squeals and miniature reed bites. Izenson’s arco variations are often tinged with melancholy and confidently work up the scale, while his pizzicato work expands with triple stopping patterns. Yet his turns to walking or positioned thumps preserve linear motion along with Altschul’s backbeat. Conventional enough to trade fours with the clarinetist during Untitled I, the drummer turns on percussion razzle dazzle with paradiddles, flashy strokes and fanciful patterning on the last track. But his backbeat aids in connecting the clarinetist’s strained tonguing, clarion twitters and intense flattement away from sharp yelps into responsive swing by the finale. Probably the most telling sequence that confirms the trio’s sound evolution along takes place during the last section of Untitled III. Suddenly Robinson’s reconfigured tongue stops and slurs become a blues line, accompanied by string strums and drum shuffles. Rhythm blends with reconstitution as reed split tones and doits are interspaced among long-lined flutters and Izenson’s jagged arco swipes that alternate with rhythmic double and triple stopping.

02 Paul LyttonSkip forward two and a half years to hear how a contemporary European percussionist advanced textural beats. Borne on a Whim Duets, 1981 (Corbett vs Dempsey CvsDCD100 corbettvsdempsey.com), is a series of duets between British drummer Paul Lytton (b.1947), who also uses live electronics, and German Erhard Hirt (b.1951), playing electric guitar and dobro. Lytton, known for his work with Evan Parker, and Hirt, who often plays in larger configurations, had by this point perfected the ability to strip down music to its core without affecting its essence and flow. The definition of lower-case improv, Lytton’s often segregated and positioned clanks, near-silent brush wipes and rim and cymbal rustles outline the sonic landscape alongside Hirt’s single-string stops, taunt frails and rapid twangs, with intermittent voltage oscillations filling the remaining spaces. Tracks are built with jagged guitar stabs and explorations up to the tuning pegs balanced by positioned ruffs and brief mylar resonations. Sometimes vibrations occur in tandem, other times they evolve separately, adhering and fragmenting like amoebas. At 27 minutes, nearly double in length than any other track, The Sensitive Stickler, is the CD’s tour-de-force. Gradually increasing in volume, drum expression moves from subtle metallic shakes and brief electronic warbles to broad wood pops, bell pings and cymbal clangs as the guitarist does the same, torquing single-note strains to continuous string shuffles and dial-twisting squeaks. With nuance, the exposition shifts again during the final sequence as the tune is brought to a convivial finale with delicate drumstick shakes and shuffles first set off rugged guitar flanges and string buzzes so that Hirt’s subsequent disconnected dobro licks meet appropriate slaps and paradiddles from Lytton.

03 Peter BrotzmannAnother duo that expresses percussion ambidextrousness and the adaptation of another country’s drum tradition to creative music is featured on Triangle, Live at OHM 1987 (NoBusiness Records NBCD 160 nobusinessrecords.com). Recorded in Tokyo, the selection details how Sabu Toyozumi (b.1943), a first generation Japanese free jazzer, who has worked with numerous local, European and American creators during his 60-year career, intersected with German tenor saxophonist/tárogató player Peter Brötzmann (1941-2023), whose take-no-prisoners approach is musically fiercer than the bellicose activities of either of these players’ countries prior to and during World War II. Reflecting, but not copying the power and theatricalism of Taiko drumming, Toyozumi confirms that style’s birth from jazz drumming and quickly marshals clip clops and clatters into a pseudo military pace that easily matches Brötzmann’s Teutonic altissimo runs and snarling overblowing. The saxophonist not only advances broken octave textures in all saxophone pitches, but at times, such as during Triangle and Valentine Chocolate, switches to woody tárogató whose gentling reed trills are ably met by the drummer’s carefully positioned palms-on-drum-top slaps and temple-bell-like plinks. Although the emotionalism implicit in Brötzmann’s solos sometimes causes him to momentarily turn away from the mics, there’s no stopping his molten flow of inspiration. The session is completed during Peter & Sabu’s Points as Toyozumi sounds out a contrapuntal collection of paradiddles and smacks to meet the unbridled thrust of spectrofluctuation and multi-sectional screams from Brötzmann’s horn. Note though that throughout the extended Depth of Focus as irregular split tones and jagged bites issue from the saxophonist, the drummer emulates both western and eastern percussion with metallic cross pops interrupted at points with miniature gong resonations.  

04 Fred AndersonWhile the other percussionists here express their mature styles, The Milwaukee Tapes, Vol.2 (Corbett vs Dempsey CvsDCD101 corbettvsdempsey.com) from 1980 is noteworthy since it’s an early example of the accomplishments of Hamid Drake (b.1955), one of this century’s pre-eminent percussionists. Then known as Hank, Drake’s dextrous playing is a key element of this live date, headlined by AACM tenor master Fred Anderson (1929-2010) and featuring both men’s long-time associate trumpeter Billy Brimfield (1938-2012) and the little-known bassist Larry Hayrod. Overall, the program usually involves the two horns harmonizing on the theme, then opening it up for freeform solos as a powerful bass line and percussion resonations respond to each challenge. The rhythm section on Our Theme for instance rumbles and rambles as Brimfield’s emphatic half-valve exploration abuts Anderson’s harsh widening reed slurs. Drake’s smacks, bangs and rebounds gradually speed up the tempo, acknowledging Anderson’s distinctive accelerations. Each player follows the narrative’s descending arc before wrapping up with a comforting sound cluster. Bernice follows a similar linear association as the trumpeter’s portamento storytelling brings out Drake’s rim shots that solidify the overall swinging beat. Later, the bassist’s vibrating shakes provide a solid foundation for the others’ timbral explorations. Wedded firmly to Free Jazz as the Stop Time trio mentioned above, the Midwestern ensemble’s output is tougher, bluesier and unaffected by European influences. Still Drake’s quick responses to Brimfield’s sometime unexpected brass triplets and Anderson’s idiosyncratic Woody Woodpecker-like yelps and eviscerating split-tone bites with hard thumps, press rolls and Latin inferences augur his future percussion sophistication in any situation.

05 Cal TjaderAlthough Catch The Groove: Live At The Penthouse (1963-1967) (Jazz Detective DDJD-012 cal-tjader.bandcamp.com/album/catch-the-groove-live-at-the-penthouse-1963-1967) dates from a mere decade before the other discs, the two-CD set could be from another musical planet. That’s because the quintets led by vibraphone player Cal Tjader are firmly implanted in the commercial music business that the other sessions transcended. However, the 27 tracks recorded during several dates at a Seattle night club are just as crucial to percussion evolution. Tjader (1925–1982) was the most prominent non-Hispanic musician with impeccable jazz credentials – early on he was Dave Brubeck’s drummer – to confirm the adaptability of Latin rhythms to creative music. Although fewer than half the tracks have obvious Latin titles, all include some aspects of the montuno style. That means the group’s kit drummer also plays timbales and on five of the six dates another percussionist, Armando Peraza, is added playing bongos and congas. While the quintet’s nightclub repertoire included ballads like Shadow of Your Smile, interpretations with faultless swing of everything from Bags Groove to Along Comes Mary, Tjadar’s individuality is best expressed on the Latin tunes. Throughout, he and his exceptional associates – which at points include pianist Clare Fischer and bassist Monk Montgomery – help solidify a sound that’s midway between a Cuban conjunto and a modern jazz combo. Responsive piano tinkling, mostly played by Lonnie Hewitt, confirms the blues and rhythm underpinning of most tunes; the piano-vibe interface is jazzy and improvised connections are constantly speedier and stretch past Latin conventions even if the base comes from expected riffs as on Maramoor Mombo or the standard Cuban Fantasy. Mambo Inn even includes a quote from Salt Peanuts. At the same time the bassists’ constant use of the expected tumbao patterns and tick-tock rhythmic breaks during expositions imbue even the most languid ballad with an Afro-Cuban tinge. 

Some percussion implement was likely primitive human’s first musical instrument. Its evolution has been in lockstep with humanity itself. Theses previously unreleased sounds provide more exact examples as how the beat goes on.

There are few instances of jazz musicians who achieve both musical greatness and some degree of genuine popularity. The rare cases are signalled by one syllable recognition (Duke, Bird, Monk, Miles, Trane) at most two (Satchmo, Dizzy). The most prominent current activity in jazz recording revolves around archival releases, whether reissues or newly uncovered discoveries. Each of these sets presents musicians who had a certain dance with significant popularity.

01 Hot HouseIf there’s a singular jazz event embedded in Toronto history, it’s one that occurred in 1953. Hot House: The Complete Jazz at Massey Hall Recordings (Craft Recordings CR00683 craftrecordings.com/search?type=product&q=Hot+house) has often been marketed as The Greatest Jazz Concert Ever, a wild claim by any standard, but it is drenched in greatness. With saxophonist Charlie Parker, trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie, pianist Bud Powell, bassist Charles Mingus and drummer Max Roach, every musician in the quintet represented one of the greatest figures ever to play jazz (or anything else) on his instrument of choice. They had all played together extensively, and in 1953 were at or near their peak abilities. When it was originally released on Mingus’ Debut label, the bassist, unhappy with the original recording levels, overdubbed his bass parts. 

The present reissue offers optimal restoration of the original recordings on Disc One of the two-CD package, both the quintet set and a trio set by Powell, Mingus and Roach. A live recording at the dawn of the LP era, it offers longer takes than earlier formats had accommodated, so there’s plenty of brilliant blowing on bop anthems like Salt Peanuts and A Night in Tunisia, performances now embedded in jazz history. Powell, with perhaps the talent closest to Parker’s but with a life even more troubled (by police beatings, addiction, mental illness and electroshock therapy), performs brilliantly, especially in the trio set. Mingus’ remodelling of the quintet recordings is on Disc Two. His overdubs are at a tasteful volume level and are models of bebop bass line construction. The foldout liner includes a fine 2009 account of the 1953 event written by an attendee, longtime Coda and The WholeNote contributor Don Brown.

02 Ahmad JamalPianist Ahmad Jamal, whose approach emphasized design over emotional impulse, has always been admired by audiences and musicians, though sometimes derided by critics. The third and last of a series of two-CD sets, his Emerald City Nights: Live at the Penthouse 1966-68 (Jazz Detective DDJD-006 deepdigsmusic.com) has the trio completed by bassist Jamil Nasser and drummer Frank Gant. It’s very much in the mould of the previous sets, though with more emphasis on current pop material. It has the fine structural detailing of Jamal’s arrangements, the hand-in-glove accompaniment of talented and regular sidemen and the regal elegance of Jamal’s keyboard command, here applied to a repertoire that stretches from traditional standards like Autumn Leaves to the then-current jazz of John Handy’s Dance to the Lady. There are also several contemporary film and television themes, like Naked City Theme and Alfie, a sign of the times that Jamal and his partners treat as vehicles for extrapolation. Among the extended improvisations, Henry Mancini’s Mr. Lucky and Antonio Carlos Jobim’s Corcovado stand out, while Jamal also provides a gem-like, unaccompanied solo rendering of Johnny Mandel’s Emily.

03 Wes MontgomeryAnother master stylist, Wes Montgomery, was definitely the most admired jazz guitarist of the 1960s, whether for his lyricism, rhythmic drive or the solos that often developed through choruses of single notes, then octaves, then chords. While the later recordings in his short career often featured pop ballads with light-pop orchestrations and minimal improvisation, his live performances generally stuck to the mainstream modern jazz that first brought him fame, like those heard with the Wynton Kelly Trio on Maximum Swing: The Unissued 1965 Half Note Recordings (Resonance HCD-2067 resonancerecords.org), recorded on Sundays between September and November 1965. Some of Montgomery’s greatest recordings were done with Kelly, who shared the guitarist’s own qualities, including strong roots in blues and swing and a crisp, engaging sense of purpose. 

The Kelly trio was literally Miles Davis’ former rhythm section with drummer Jimmy Cobb and bassist Paul Chambers. Here, Chambers is present for only the first three tracks, giving way to a succession of other distinguished bassists – Ron Carter, Major Holley and Larry Ridley – all of whom perform admirably. The recording quality isn’t good, but the spirited music usually rises above it, from high energy versions of Impressions, Cherokee and Four on Six to extended treatments of Star Eyes and The Song Is You, works crafted for Montgomery and Kelly’s combination of tuneful improvisations and joyous bounce. 

01 Guido BassoOne More for the Road
Guiso Basso
Cornerstone Records CRSTCD165 (cornerstonerecordsinc.com)

On this posthumous release, the legendary Guido Basso’s trumpet tone is absolute exuberant velvet, sounding equal parts strikingly warm and nimble. On these sessions Basso is paired up with many of Canada’s most illustrious, often with emphasis on the word “pair.” Highlights include the understated beauty of My Ideal with Lorne Lofsky, following the vigorous Blue Monk with Don Thompson (in which Thompson cannot resist dropping that little All Blues reference at the end). 

For a relative vault collection, One More for the Road has been taken meticulous care of. Sequencing is top-notch, Basso’s takes are transcendent, sonic fidelity is given the care it deserves, filler and fluff nowhere to be found. If anything, this album is a celebration of musical interaction, and the joy of sharing time with others. Every single musician has completely demonstrated control of their craft, and yet they sound that much more inspired bouncing ideas off each other. Ill Wind’s first bridge sports the heaviest, cleanest triplet you are likely to come across, with Neil Swainson and Terry Clarke allowing every Basso phrase ending a runway of silk. As a rule, any tune with the legendary Jimmy Dale has earned the headphones treatment, as it doesn’t get much more lush or restorative than this. It is also a testament to Basso’s integrity as an improviser and accompanist that Bye Bye Baby’s stride feel ends up equally nurtured by his presence.

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