This album gives off the perfect jazz vibe, from its packaging to the swinging music inside. The title, You’re It!, and the cover artwork, have an excellent retro feel and deserve to be issued on vinyl because they are so reminiscent of an earlier era. The group is named after the drummer (Mike Melito) and pianist (Dino Losito) but it is really a superb partnership amongst all four players. In addition to having written the title track, Larry McKenna possesses a marvellous tenor sax tone that is so smooth and elegant you almost miss his inventive and flowing improvisations. Losito’s piano tone is warm, yet articulate, and he’s one of those players whose thought processes you can almost follow as they develop a solo. A great example is For Heaven’s Sake where he starts out sparse and playful and then works into some excellent bop lines. The pair of Neal Miner (bass) and Melito are always comfortably in sync, as evidenced by an up-tempo tune like What A Difference A Day Makes, where the walking bass and solid swing drums propel the music forward with just the odd tasteful flourish to contribute to the action. On this tune Melito gives us a melodic drum solo that gradually complicates the rhythm until we are not sure what happened to the downbeat, but then McKenna effortlessly jumps in with the melody and it’s off to the end. This is another superb release from the Canadian Cellar Live label which has been producing exciting recordings since 2001.
Jazz and Improvised
Canada bristles with artistry from coast to coast to coast. Still, you cannot but be awed by this one from Yukon’s own. The inimitable Fawn Fritzen is a wonderfully seductive vocalist and a superb lyricist who writes not with a pencil but rather with the raw nerve endings of her very fingers.
We experience her emotional musicality throughout the repertoire on How to Say Sorry and Other Lessons. This is wonderful songwriting, and singing, of course. Fritzen tells us: “My life was in chaos” but that she found “the right tools… Compassion, Letting Go, Grief, Healing.” She wears her heart on her proverbial sleeve through this recording. While we are struck by her candidness, we must also admire the fact that Fritzen navigates her emotions without an ounce of gratuitous sentimentality – through music that balances deep song and unfettered swing. As a result, this emotional musical journey is also buoyed throughout by a sense of recovery.
I would be remiss not to recognize her co-producer and pianist, David Restivo, whose contributions cannot be overstated. This astute partnership is particularly evident on Kintsugi, a song with diaphanous, yet delicate, Japanese inflections. Bassists Doug Stephenson and John Lee; drummers Tony Ferraro and Kelby MacNayr are superb throughout. Meanwhile, when called upon to lend a helping hand to Fritzen, vocalists Melody Daichun and Laura Landsberg add superb colour and texture to Show Me Your Heart and Dragonfly to close out the recording.
One of the main difficulties artists face is that of fully realizing their ideas. In the case of Matthew Steckler however, the Manitoban seems blessed with both the burden of an abnormally creative mind and the gift of being able to make the most of his artistic impulses. His latest experiment began life as a debut concert with a virtuosic band he meticulously assembled and later blossomed into what he describes as a conceptual research project in the stylistic marriage of jazz, pop, film score and musique concrète. Taking after his hero Charlie Chaplin, Steckler (aka Matty Stecks) goes the auteur route with his involvement in this album. He is one of two producers, writes all the material, does all the arrangements, contributes field recordings, acts as bandleader and expertly plays several instruments. Steckler particularly shines on saxophones, his Dolphy-esque phrasing as unpredictable as the music.
This may be the most eclectic jazz release you hear this year. Each track could be labelled as a different genre, and one could make comparisons to artists ranging from Chaka Khan to Frank Zappa. The track list alternates between traditional structure and collective improvisations structured around field recordings provided by various band members. While at first glance this album may not appear to work as a uniform statement, what connects these pieces is the sense of adventure Steckler maintains throughout the runtime. Highly recommended.
Phil Minton, just turning 80, may be the world’s most creative vocalist. Elsewhere his repertoire can include The Cutty Wren, a Peasants’ Revolt song about eating policemen, and Lieber & Stoller’s Jailhouse Rock lyrics applied to a serial melody (both to be heard on the recent Ways for an Orchestra with Veryan Weston and a Bologna chamber orchestra [i disci di angelica]). If you want, however, to hear a human approximation of a tone arm bouncing across the surface of a vinyl LP of a cat screeching, Minton, the free improviser, is also your man; his duet partner, Audrey Chen, similarly in possession of titanium vocal apparatus, might very well be your woman, and Frothing Morse is the place to hear it. The two have been singing together for a decade, previously releasing both duet and quintet CDs (on Sub Rosa) and there’s a recent COVID-lockdown performance on YouTube.
Recorded at an Italian festival in 2015, the single 37-minute Frothing Morse covers extraordinary ground, from madness to code, the two singers following or diverging from one another’s inspirations, whether they’re Chen’s whistling highs, abrasive choking and ringing throat-singing tones or Minton’s machine and animal impressions, yodelling, babbling and multiphonics. Their work is usually surprising, often visceral, strangely moving, but most significantly, liberating, a crash course in the sounds that can come out of humans’ mouths with barely a trace of speech, a panoply of emotion in a moment.
Over the past 20 years, Susan Alcorn has emerged as one of the most creative figures in jazz and improvised music, brilliantly exploring the sonic resources of the pedal steel guitar, especially the pitch bending and shifting possibilities little explored in its country and western home. In Alcorn’s hands, the instrument is a self-contained orchestra, able to suggest the elegance of Astor Piazzolla, the wandering mysteries of Harry Partch, the cosmic majesty of Olivier Messiaen or the raw energy of Ornette Coleman.
Here Alcorn introduces her compositions for a mostly string quintet with violinist Mark Feldman, bassist Michael Formanek, guitarist Mary Halvorson and drummer Ryan Sawyer. Named for the Pedernal Mesa in New Mexico, the CD’s compositions abound in geographical references. Along with the personnel and general musical quality, it suggests another recording: Nate Wooley’s 2019 masterpiece, Columbia Icefield, on which the trumpeter debuted a quartet with Alcorn, Halvorson and Sawyer.
Alcorn’s melodic and textural visions come to the fore on the title track, the extended Circular Ruins and A Night in Gdansk. There’s an affinity with Morton Feldman in the rich sustained tones, and a near twinship with Halvorson, whose pitch-bending guitar hardware can ambiguate the source of some burbling, microtonal washes of notes. The concluding Northeast Rising Sun may allude to Maryland highway signage, but the music is a playful romp, beginning with clapping accompaniment then combining a Sufi refrain with elements of an Irish community dance. It’s delightful stuff.
A dialogue from a single musician, Montreal’s Yannick Chayer has designed this CD’s ten tracks so that his soprano saxophone is constantly reacting to or against programmed samples of reed improvisations and other intonations propelled by his synthesizer. Rife with static crackles, noises and pauses, the results are as changeable as if he were duetting with another player.
With advances in programming, timbres from the synthesizer take on multiple identities from bagpipe-like tremors to plastic kazoo-like screeches; yet most frequently, organ-like motifs serve as several tracks’ continuum. Meanwhile Chayer’s parallel acoustic tone is snarly and metallic, dedicated to high velocity fluttering or calm multiphonics.
Extended tracks such as Organisation Off and Master Forgery play with the implicit plasticity of the program. For instance, the former positions a biting reed solo atop massed saxophone timbres and climaxes as the soloist squeals past altissimo with key percussion echoes below. The latter track balances calliope-like patterning that remains unchanged as vibrating reed split tones expand to twitters and trills, sometimes vamping roughly against one another.
Like a Pimp may be the defining track however, as newer samples keep being added to the stop-time exposition so that a simple melody is present from a singular reed line along with electronic flanging and reverberating tongue pumps.
Chayer’s stated aim is creating reed programs that move between analog noise and musique concrète. Adding a hearty dose of improvisation, Gebilde proves that he has attained this goal.
Proving that an old double bass soloist can still learn new tricks isn’t the point of Thirty years in between. Instead, coupling a genre-defining 1989 solo disc from the now 85-year-old American bassist Barre Phillips with a new set of live solos from FIMAV 2019 makes clear how mature savvy has replaced adroit swagger. Not that the 1989 tracks aren’t dazzling, as Phillips was pioneering a novel approach to soloing. With fluid variation at both ends of the timbral spectrum, he maintained a warm expansive tone, whether he was pummelling pumping variables from the bottom tones or using hard-edged spiccato to extract narrowed multi-string squeaks,
By 2019 however his strategy has been distilled to its essence. Pared away from sometimes baroque-like formalism and showy staccato runs, he concentrates on moody narratives. Mellow in his echoing tones, Phillips still makes use of col legno slaps and spiccato reverberations, with some passages taken prestissimo. But by keeping most interpretations at a low simmer he isolates rubs and pops then plays up the suppleness of variously angled string sets and the instrument’s woody reverb. Animated with harsh stropping when needed, as on Abate? Arise?, silences are also prominent. The concluding A new take strings together old and new techniques. Alternating between cultured sweeps and gaunt shrills, a display of triple stopping is followed by thin moderated slides to the finale. Obviously Phillips was a master solo bass player three decades ago – and he retains that skill.