10 Canadian Jazz CollectiveSeptology – The Black Forest Session
Canadian Jazz Collective
HGBS Blue Records HGBSBLUE20217 (canadianjazzcollective.com) 

Canada’s improvised music scene frequently occupies a limbo between the government supported arts scenes of Europe, and the large commercial entertainment markets of the United States. That phenomenon is one of several reasons why it’s exciting to see the Canadian Jazz Collective gather success representing our fair nation locally and abroad.

Kirk MacDonald, Derrick Gardner and Virginia MacDonald are the lead voices of this formidable septet, with guitarist Lorne Lofsky contributing to both the melodic and harmonic sides of the ensemble. In the liner notes to Septology, The Black Forest Session, Lofsky mentions a 40-year history with several members of the group, namely bassist Neil Swainson and pianist Brian Dickinson, who round out the rhythm section alongside Austrian drummer Bernd Reiter. 

Septology’s eight original tracks are penned by Gardner, Lofsky and MacDonald respectively, and feature a beautiful blend of individualism and group interplay. Dig That! is a hard swinging opening track that prepares the listener for what’s to come: a steadfast commitment to the roots of this music, approached in a manner that eschews any notion of traditionalism or conservatism. 

The Time Being is a contemplative piece penned by Lofsky. This writer knows the guitarist’s other two offerings Waltz You Needn’t and Highway 9 from his 1992 self-titled album, and they’re cleverly reworked here for septet. Kirk MacDonald contributes two originals to the recording that fit the collective’s aesthetic beautifully, notably his arrangement of Shadows that keeps the rhythm section on their toes under contrapuntal horn lines. 

Alongside exploring this album at home, I have encountered it several times on local Toronto radio. Septology is receiving ample well-deserved attention, and with a second European tour approaching, this is definitely not the last you’ll be hearing of the Canadian Jazz Collective!

11 Le Boeuf BrothersHush
Le Boeuf Brothers
Soundspore Records (leboeufbrothers.com) 

Pascal and Remy Le Boeuf are identical twin brothers who have worked individually and together to produce innovative music which is mainly composed, but also includes many spaces for improvisation. HUSH is a quieter and more intimate work than many of their previous albums and uses a quintet with Remy on alto saxophone, Pascal on piano, Dayna Stephens on tenor saxophone, Linda May Han Oh on upright bass and Christian Euman on drums. This is a true collaboration as 12 tracks are written by Pascal and eight are by Remy. 

Most works are shorter and are specific to the brothers’ interests. For example, Wedding Planning was composed by Pascal to display their excitement over both brothers’ marriage celebrations. Oblique Two-Step by Remy begins with a simple piano melody with bass and drums that evolves into a dialogue between the two saxophones. The liner notes describe Soot as “a chorale ... searching for something that has been burned away” and Pascal’s gorgeous alto sax makes it one of the most beautiful songs on the album. HUSH is a quiet and graceful work full of variety and nuance.

Listen to 'Hush' Now in the Listening Room

13 Mark DresserTines of Change
Mark Dresser
Pyroclastic Records PR 25 (store.pyroclasticrecords.com) 

Art isn’t static, and by virtue it cannot exist in a vacuum. Just as a previously unnoticed detail in a painting can irrevocably alter the beholder’s perspective of it, knowledge of the context music is made in can change the listening experience entirely. I happened to come across Mark Dresser’s Tines of Change relatively versed in his musical output, experientially familiar with the inner workings of an upright bass and having superficially researched the intricacies of the custom bass used on this album. I cannot speak to how a first listen without this context would diverge from my own experience, but the beauty of improvised music of this unbridled nature is that nobody’s perspective holds more value than another’s. 

The third track on this album is titled Harmonity, and even the context I had going into it couldn’t save me from its all-consuming grasp. One would be hard pressed to find a solo bass recording that sends as many unit structures of sound barrelling toward the listener at once as this one does. The individual specialized pickups beyond the instrument’s bridge coalesce into the startling fidelity of Dresser’s feathery touch underneath it, rendering attempts to pinpoint sources of vibration a futile exercise. The detailed tonal warmth engineer Alexandria Smith gets out of the beautiful vessel luthier Kent McLagan fashioned for a marksman seasoned as Dresser allows them to form an invisible trio, disguised as a single organism. Let this music move you.

12 Ingrid LaubrockIngrid Laubrock – The Last Quiet Place
Ingrid Laubrock; Mazz Swift; Tomeka Reid; Brandon Seabrook; Michael Formanek; Tom Rainey
Pyroclastic Records PR 24 (store.pyroclasticrecords.com) 

Space is the proverbial place on this new Ingrid Laubrock album; its fullness lies in its many pauses. Laubrock herself is in charge of the most overt sonic elements, such as shouldering the entire production and compositional loads, along with her reed work resonating strongly throughout the holistic auditory experience. She leads a six-piece band that consists of two-thirds stringed instruments, which allows for a unique textural and dynamic palette. The group makes the most of this range, and are selective in how they layer musical elements, which leads to an unpredictable aspect that complements the complexity of Laubrock’s melodic phrasings. 

The composition Afterglow wouldn’t have the same arresting air of mystery about it if the entire ensemble was ever playing at once; the decision to centre the piece around a string trio of Tomeka Reid, Mazz Swift and Michael Formanek lends it its structural intrigue. In this sense the music is never afraid to interrupt itself, because rather than the more traditional slow build from the swelling bowed passages, the guitar, saxophone and drums take turns interjecting. This creates an effect of dialogue or commentary, and this interactivity between interlocutors paints a setting of controlled disarray. Contrast can be equally engaging as uniformity, and it’s the ability to seamlessly phase between these two states that makes this such a refreshing group.

14 Michael BlakeDance Of The Mystic Bliss
Michael Blake’s Chroma Nova
P&M Records P&M-CD001 (pandmrecords.com) 

This is different story of Two Michaels, in a much happier context. All tracks here were composed and performed by Vancouverite-in-New York saxophonist/flutist Michael Blake to meld his distinctive Jazz lines with input from a three-person Brazilian percussion section. The tunes also feature a four-person string section, including fellow Canadian expat bassist Michael Bates.

Consciously avoiding exoticism for its own sake, despite the use of such ethnic instruments as cajón, pandeiro, zabumba drum and berimbau, the music is anchored by a fluid rhythmic emphasis including Bates’ steadying pumps. Sometimes the strings are harmonized with the inflated percussion crunches. At other times, guitarist Guilherme Monteiro projects buzzing rock-like flanges; violinist Skye Steele or cellist Chris Hoffman produces sweeping blues emphasis or Europeanized lyricism; and Blake pivots from double-tongued saxophone stops and slurs to horizontal flute peeps that are in turn, pointed, polished and powerful. 

Because of the repeated drum thumps and staccato string shake, tracks like Sagra suggest a South American hoedown. But segmented reed stops and scoops retain a sophisticated improvisational emphasis. Others, such as Little Demons mate mid-point arching guitar frails with penetrating saxophone split tones and staccato string section shakes for stop-time variations.

Conceived as an homage to his late mother, who was both a dancer and a gardener, Blake’s Dance of the Mystic Bliss appropriately presents musical textures that have elements of both sprouting and syncopation.

15 CWN TrioThirtyNine FiftyFive
Acheulian handaxe AHA 2202 (handaxe.org) 

Creatively exploring timbres extracted from instruments stretched to their expected limits during a playing time of almost 40 minutes (see title), the Köln-based C/W|N trio dynamically formulates a languid exposition with linear asides. Slovenian pianist Dušica Cajlan concentrates on pointillist keyboard strokes, intermittent silences and echoing throbs on tightly wound internal strings; Austrian Georg Wissel tongue-slaps and squeaks augmented and gurgling split tones from deep inside his alto saxophone’s body; and German Etienne Nillesen eschews a regularized pulse for pinpointed slaps, rubs and whirls from the top and sides of his single extended snare drum.

Although the potential for musical discombobulation seems maximized, individual tone exploration evolves as realized tonal investigation, not grandstanding. Each improviser is able to sense others’ procedures with near clairvoyance. That means no matter how many instances of keyboard comping, radical percussion cranks or strained reed overblowing are heard they never have a singular function. Instead, an equivalent intermittent and understated continuum is simultaneously generated by the others. Taken together each technical instrumental prod is eventually interlaced into a slow moving transformative sequence that also underlines quiet but robust ensemble work. While exposing unexpected variants of each instrument’s range C/W|N eventually creates a program of profound horizontal association.

16 Sara CaswellThe Way to You (violin jazz)
Sara Caswell
Anzic Records ANZ-0085-02 (saracaswell.com) 

Grammy-nominated violinist/composer Sara Caswell has had a fruitful performing career, but it took close to 17 years for her third solo album to emerge. The Way to You is a collection of original compositions, thoughtful arrangements and magnificent collaborations. Caswell has joined forces with her longtime musical collaborators – Jesse Lewis (guitar), Ike Sturm (bass), Jared Schonig (drums) and Chris Dingman (vibraphone) – creating a musical synergy that can only come from familiarity and deep connection. The album has a tranquil atmosphere and compositions are mostly within the realm of ballads, which puts light on the polished ensemble performance. Caswell is undoubtedly a queen of ballads. Her improvisations are poised, stylish and unhurried, her tone light, fluid, resonant. On this album she plays both violin and hardanger d’amore (5-string Norwegian fiddle), creating an array of beautiful colours.

Caswell is at her most powerful when improvising on the vocal lines – her ability to convey the emotions behind the lyrics is remarkable. This is most obvious in On My Way to You, an arrangement of Michel Legrand’s 1988 ballad. O Que Tinha De Ser, the quartet’s version of Antonio Carlos Jobim and Vinicius de Moraes’ composition, is dark and sultry and the longing hardanger’s melodies go straight to the heart. Caswell’s original collaborative compositions Warren’s Way, Last Call and Spinning, inspired by the things of life – nature, love and bicycles – are great additions to the classics.

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