03 astrocolorMoonlighting – AstroJazz Vol.1
Amelia Recordings AML0012CD (astrocolormusic.com) 

Fittingly timed with the extraordinary events taking place in regards to space travel at the moment, this latest record by Western Canadian Music Awards Instrumental Artist of the Year, Astrocolor is a perfect spacey, otherworldly musical foray. A mellow, ear-pleasing journey is exactly what these tunes call to mind, with an additional contagious repetitive rhythmic groove that just leaves the listener wanting more. With a lineup of great musicians such as Neil James Cooke-Dallin on synths, guitar, etc., Andrew Poirier on guitar, William Farrant on bass to name a few, these original compositions are propelled to great new heights. 

Astrocolor has managed to create a completely new niche for themselves in the jazz world, “blending elements of jazz, psychedelia and electronica — …resulting in the aptly dubbed [genre] ‘AstroJazz.’” The feeling throughout the album is as if you’re straddling the border of the modern and new, the traditional and contemporary; floating in this pleasant, almost trance-like musical state of mind that you don’t want to emerge from. It’s a complete, immersive musical experience quite unlike anything else, where the psychedelia of the past meets with the technology of the here and now. “Moonlighting imagines an exploratory trip into deep space… recalling the influence of late 90s electronic acts…” through layering fantastic synthesizer melodies and programming over a traditional band setup. For those who have been itching for something completely new and unique, this is the find you’ve been looking for.

04 Redline trioUnderdog
Redline Trio
Chronograph Records CR 102 (redlinetrio.com) 

Between the self-deprecating title Underdog and the extinct Dodo bird with one leg cut off as a cover image, the message being beamed at the listeners antennae could well be: “Help! We’re stuck in the past.” In truth, however, the forward-thinking musicians of the Calgary-based Redline Trio and their celebrated British Columbia associates, present their set, tongue firmly in cheek. The only thing that this music harks back to is a kind of creativity sans gratuitous virtuosity, which is often seen as a thing of the past.

Unfolding in six short songs, each with a simply (sometimes) evocative title, is the imaginative music captured on a recording of considerable creativity. Composed by all the band members – saxophonist Mark DeJong, bassist Steve Shepard and drummer Jeff Sulima, and guests, trumpeter Brad Turner and pianist Steve Hudson – the musical stream of ideas unfolds with energy and vitality.

The Redline Trio is harmonically anchored by pianist Hudson and the horns soar with acoustically aerodynamic figures and patterns, gliding along nicely. Shifts occur through rapid changes in direction of rhythmic temperature. (Cue No Limes for Jeffery, The Waltz and the album’s pinnacle Underdog that closes the set.)

The group’s source of inspiration is certainly swing and time, and there is plenty of this reverberating throughout the recording. But the music here bodes well for the future of jazz.

Listen to 'Underdog' Now in the Listening Room

05 Andre DuchesneCh’val
André Duchesne
ambiences magnetiques AM 271 CD (actuellecd.com) 

André Duchesne, as he tends to do, manages to accomplish something resembling complete expressive purity on Ch’val. It feels like a deeply personal project, with Duchesne himself being responsible for every instrument, click, clack, whisper, wander and runaway brushstroke the listener can perceive. Guitar notes in the left channel dissolve in the mix, as if muttering something under their breath, or a notion abruptly turning into an afterthought. Freewheelin’ ride cymbal grooves in the right channel are aborted on a snare hit, the upbeat a helium balloon with a combusting string. There is a charming baldness to the all-around sonic stew, with a notable scarcity of studio effects imposed on Duchesne’s musicking, which makes every utterance completely unmistakable. 

This stripped-back approach makes this virtual rock band (as Duchesne puts it) reminiscent of Ornette Coleman’s Prime Time ensemble, particularly with the polyphony created by the sharp guitar and drum tones. So many sounds are in the forefront, and yet there is a beautifully intricate organization to the soundscape. The presence of transparency and humility Duchesne creates is quite sobering, allowing the entire process to be laid bare in the product. Perhaps most astonishingly, this act of constantly layering numerous takes on top of each other never compromises the music’s sense of spontaneity, and certainly doesn’t take away from the listener’s feeling of adventure on this glorious odyssey.

06 William CarnChoices
William Carn (octet)
Independent WC004 (williamcarn.com) 

This beautiful recital on Choices wraps carefully chosen instrumentation led by trombonist (and now) a singing William Carn, with elegantly played repertoire around fascinatingly atmospheric keyboards. While Carn is one of the fascinating keyboardists here, the music draws significant substance from the keyboards and bass pedals of Todd Pentney, reincarnated as producer and sound designer extraordinaire, HiFiLo.

The Toronto-based Carn is fast gaining a reputation as one of the finest virtuoso trombonists in Toronto. His reputation as a fine sight reader and an imaginative, idiomatic interpreter of music is making him a much sought after member of brass sections in small, medium and larger ensembles too. However, it is as a composer that he deserves to be much better known. 

Conceptually and thematically this album is a significant follow-up to The History of Us, a marvellous, very personal recording he produced with his saxophone-playing wife, Tara Davidson and their ensemble, Carn-Davidson 9. 

Choices reflects the thoughtful nature of Carn’s compositions. Like his previous album, some of the music often reveals a propensity for plumbing the depth of socio-political and personal passions and the need to exhale – both musically as well as emotionally. Thus, between Breathe In and Breathe Out we are treated to profound meditations on Ukraine (Heroyim Slava), discrimination (Get Up) and love (The Gift and Goodbye Old Friend). Through it all Carn and colleagues bring trademark acoustic and electronic energy and virtuosity to a hugely enjoyable program.

07 Itamar ErezMay Song
Itamar Erez Independent
Independent (itamarerez.bandcamp.com/album/may-song) 

Itamar Erez’s 2019 “pre-pandemic” CD, Mi Alegria (Spanish for “my joy”) was, indeed, a purely joyous, musical celebration. Now, with May Song, conceived and recorded amid the incessant COVID-19 lockdowns, and released in October 2022, we have Erez’s reflective response to those uncertain and unpredictable pandemic times (not that the virus is done with us, just yet). Erez characterizes the project as “emerging from darkness and doubt into lightness and joy.”

May Song is unique among Erez’s recordings, in that unlike his five previous releases, Erez, an Israeli-Canadian, world-class (and globetrotting) guitarist, pianist and composer based in Vancouver, is heard only at the piano. In addition to Erez’s focus on the keyboard, which has evolved over the last three to four years, a more improvisational approach to his music-making is also evident throughout May Song, and immediately apparent on the haunting, improvised intro of the first track, Chant. And thus begins this musical journey out of darkness.

Hourglass is pulsing and polyrhythmic, with a dynamic dialogue between piano and clarinet. Catch Me If You Can feels jaunty, expansive, optimistic, edging towards the light. You and Me, evocative and yearning, maintains a steady, forward-moving momentum with taught piano/bass/drum interplay. The deeply emotional title track is the penultimate stop, offering hopeful resolution.

Outstanding collaborators on this journey are clarinettist François Houle, bassist Jeff Gammon, Kevin Romain on drums and Chris Gestrin guesting on synths. Like Erez himself, May Song is inspired and original.

08 jacob WutzkeShow Yourself
Jacob Wutzke; Lucas Dubovic; Gentiane MG; Levi Dover; Caity Gyorgy
Independent (jacobwutzke.com) 

Show Yourself is an exciting new release from Montreal/Toronto-based drummer Jacob Wutzke. This is Wutzke’s first full-length album as a leader, and it encapsulates all the obligatory energy and excitement of a debut album in a mature and thoughtful package. 

In many ways this recording avoids the traps of being a “drummer album,” but when it does enter that realm its ample exciting musicianship will keep listeners of all persuasions entertained. Another potential snare that this album manages to circumvent is that of lengthiness. There are a mighty 11 tracks on Show Yourself, the longest being over seven minutes in duration, but the overall feeling I have after a complete listen-through is one of pleasant variety rather than longwindedness.  

Right from the starting track How do You Mean?, listeners are treated to music that is straight-ahead without hanging onto overly traditional aesthetics. This lovely contrast is reflected in Wutzke’s personnel choices for the album too, with core band members Lucas Dubovik, Gentiane MG and Levi Dover all finding common ground as a unit. Vocalist Caity Gyorgy makes an appearance on the album’s final track, a contemporary yet swinging version of the jazz standard My Shining Hour. Gyorgy also produced the album, which is a testament to the powerhouse musical and personal relationship she shares with Wutzke. 

To return to my previous “drummer comments,” this album sounds the way many drummers aspire to play: precise, yet organic. Surgical exactitude needs not sacrifice expressiveness, and Show Yourself is a perfect reminder of this. 

09 Liina AllemanoPipe Dream
Lina Allemano Four
Lumo Records LM 2023-14 (linaallemano.bandcamp.com) 

Lina Allemano’s quartet has had the same personnel since 2005 when her musical direction moved to freer climes, with Brodie West on alto saxophone. Since then, it’s served as a vehicle for Allemano’s development as both improviser and composer, revealing a gift for counterpoint and orchestration that makes creative use of bassist Andrew Downing and drummer Nick Fraser beyond typical rhythm section roles. The opening Banana Canon, the first of three independent compositions, is a minimalist theme, at once playful and slightly querulous, that immediately establishes the group’s distinctive personality. 

The rest of the CD is devoted to a suite called Plague Diaries, composed by Allemano in Toronto during the first months of the COVID-19 lockdown. Each of the four movements is introduced by a stark unaccompanied solo, emphasizing the sense of isolation. If studies with Axel Dörner have contributed to Allemano’s development as a keen explorer of the trumpet’s secret sonic resources, her Berlin residencies may have also offered a compositional resource for the suite. Part III: Hunger and Murder, starting with a gritty arco solo from Downing, suggests the grim, desiccated 1930s work of composer Hanns Eisler. Further, the concluding Doom and Doomer, propelled by Fraser’s willfully chaotic drum solo, develops a rapid, circulating pattern against which Allemano improvises brilliantly, her solo suggesting one trapped in a labyrinth. 

There’s a consistent, collective creativity here, at once urgent and coherent, that marks this as one of the year’s most significant jazz recordings.

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