Although you couldn’t guess from major record companies’ release schedules, the purpose of a reissue program isn’t to repackage music that has long been available in different formats. It also doesn’t only involve finding unreleased or alternate takes by well-known musicians and sticking them on disc to satisfy completists. Instead, reissues should introduce listeners to important music from the past that has been rarely heard because of distribution system vagaries. This situation has been especially acute when it comes to circulating advanced and/or experimental sounds. Happily, small labels have overcome corporations’ collective blind spots, releasing CDs that create more complete pictures of the musical past, no matter the source. The discs here are part of that process.

02 ThatTimeProbably the most important find is That Time (NotTwo MW 1001-2), which captures two tracks each from two iterations of the London Jazz Composers Orchestra from 1972 and 1980. Drawn from a period when the LJCO made no professional recordings, the tracks piece together music from radio broadcasts or amateur tapes, sonically rebalanced by a contemporary sound engineer. Although the personnel of the ensemble shrank from 21 to 19 over the eight years, the key participants are accounted for on both dates. Edifyingly each of the four tracks composed by different LJCO members shows off unique group facets. Pianist Howard Riley’s Appolysian, for instance, depends on the keyboard clips and clatters engendered by matching Riley’s vibrating strokes and expressive pummelling with the scalar and circular waves and judders from the string section, which in this case included violinists Phillip Wachsmann and Tony Oxley (who usually plays drums) and bassists Barry Guy and Peter Kowald. Climax occurs when tremolo pianism blends with and smooths out the horn sections’ contributions. Quiet, but with suggestions of metallic minimalist string bowing, trombonist Paul Rutherford’s Quasimode III derives its grounded strength and constant motion from thicker brass expressions and meticulously shaded low-pitched double bass tones. Concentrated power is only briefly interrupted by a dramatic circular-breathing display by soprano saxophonist Evan Parker. Dating from the first session, trumpeter Kenny Wheeler’s Watts Parker Beckett to me Mr Riley? stands out as much for capturing the LJCO in mid-evolution as for its Arcadian beauty. Sophisticatedly arranged, the tune gradually introduces more advanced textures as it advances over Oxley and Paul Lytton’s martial drum slaps and throbs from bassists Guy, Jeff Clyne and Chris Laurence. It pinpoints the group’s transformation though, since the harmonized theme that could come from contemporary TV-show soundtracks is sometimes breached by metal-sharp guitar licks from Derek Bailey, plus stentorian shrieks and split tones from the four trumpeters and six saxophonists.

01 PeterKowaldRutherford, who plays on all the LJCO tracks and German bassist Kowald, who plays on the 1980 ones, also make major contributions to Peter Kowald Quintet (Corbett vs Dempsey CD 0070, the first session under his own name by Kowald (1944-2002). Recorded in 1972 and never previously on CD, the disc’s four group improvisations feature three other Germans: trombonist Günter Christmann, percussionist Paul Lovens and alto saxophonist Peter van de Locht. The saxophonist, who later gave up music for sculpture, is often the odd man out here, with his reed bites and split-tone extensions stacked up against the massed brass reverberations that are further amplified when Kowald plays tuba and alphorn on the brief, final track. Otherwise the music is a close-focused snapshot of European energy music of the time. With Lovens’ clattering drum ruffs and cymbal scratches gluing the beat together alongside double bass strokes, the trombonists have free reign to output every manner of slides, slurs, spits and smears. Plunger tones and tongue flutters also help create a fascinating, ever-shifting sound picture. Pavement Bolognaise, the standout track, is also the longest. A circus of free jazz sonic explorations, it features the three horn players weaving and wavering intersectional trills and irregular vibrations all at once, as metallic bass string thwacks and drum top chops mute distracting excesses like the saxophonist’s screeches in dog-whistle territory. Meanwhile the tune’s centre section showcases a calm oasis of double bass techniques backed only by Lovens’ metal rim patterning and including Kowald’s intricate strokes on all four strings. Variations shake from top to bottom and include thick sul tasto rubs and barely there tweaks. 

03 MarionBrownThere’s also a European component to American alto saxophonist ezz-thetics 1106, since five of the 13 tracks were recorded in 1967 with Dutch bassist Maarten van Regteren Altena and drummer Han Bennink. The remainder feature Brown with New York cohorts drummer Rashied Ali, pianist Stanley Cowell and bassist Sirone. Known as a member of the harsh 1960s new thing due to his work with Archie Shepp and John Coltrane, Brown (1931-2010), brought an undercurrent of melody to his tonal explorations. Both tendencies are obvious here with the pianist adding to the lyricism by creating whorls and sequenced asides as he follows the saxophonist’s sometimes delicate lead. Playing more conventionally than he would a year later, Brown’s 1966 date outputs lines that could be found on mainstream discs and moves along with space for round-robin contributions from all, including a solid double bass pulse and cymbal-and-bass-drum emphasized solos from Ali. Jokily, Brown ends his combined altissimo and melodic solo on La Sorella with a quote from the Choo’n Gum song and on the extended Homecoming, he quotes Three Blind Mice and the drummer counters with Auld Lang Syne. Homecoming is also the most realized tune, jumping from solemn to staccato and back again as the pianist comps and Brown uncorks bugle-call-like variations and biting flutter tonguing before recapping the head. Showing how quickly improvised music evolved, a year later Altena spends more time double and triple stopping narrow arco slices than he does time-keeping, while Bennink not only thumps his drum kit bellicosely, but begins Porto Novo with a protracted turn on tabla. From the top onwards, Brown also adopts a harder tone, squealing out sheets of sound that often sashay above conventional reed pitches. His slurps and squeaks make common cause with double bass strokes and drum rattles. But the saxophonist maintains enough equilibrium to unexpectedly output a lyrical motif in the midst of jagged tone dissertations on the aptly titled Improvisation. Of its time and yet timeless, Porto Novo, which was the original LP title, manages to successfully incorporate Bennink’s faux-raga tapping, Altena’s repeated tremolo pops and the saxophonist’s split-tone, bird-like peeps into a swaying Spanish-tinged theme that swings while maintaining avant-garde credibility.

04 AthnorStill, the best argument for maintaining a comprehensive reissue program is to expose new folks to unjustly obscure sounds. Armitage Road by the Heshoo Beshoo Group (We Are Busy Bodies WABB-063 and Athanor’s Live At The Jazzgalerie Nickelsdorf 1978 (Black-Monk BMCD-03 fit firmly in that category. The first, from 1970, features a South African quintet of aHenry Sithole, tenor saxophonist Stanley Sithole, guitarist Cyril Magubane, bassist Ernest Mothle and drummer Nelson Magwaza that combined local rhythms and snatches of advanced jazz of the time. The other disc highlights an all-Austrian take on committed free jazz bands like Kowald’s who were playing elsewhere. The quartet consists of alto saxophonist Harun Ghulam Barabbas, trombonist Joseph Traindl, pMuhammad Malli and pianist Richard Ahmad Pechoc, all of whom are as little known today as are the South African crew members. Not that it affects the music, since, as the discs attest, both bands were more interested in making an original statement than in fame. Somewhat unfinished, as are many live dates, the Nickelsdorf disc tracks how the quintet members worked to put their stamp on the evolving Euro-American free jazz idiom. Choosing to extrapolate individual expression, the quartet uses as its base a mid-range Teutonic march tempo, propelled by chunky drum rolls. Never losing track of the exposition during the 70 minutes of pure improvisation, Barabbas, Traindl and to a lesser extent, Pechoc, work through theme variation upon theme variation in multiple pitches and tempos. Sometimes operating in lockstep, players’ strategies can include chromatic reed jumps and plunger trombone wallows along with distinctively directed piano chording. When the horns aren’t riffing call and response, one often propels the theme as the other decorates it, and then they switch roles. As they play cat and mouse with the evolving sounds, although Barabbas can exhibit altissimo, Energy Music-style bites and Traindl up-tempo plunger growls, connective lopes are preferred over unbridled looseness. With Malli’s press rolls and rumbles holding the bottom, the group meanders to a conclusion leaving a memory of sparks ignited for the applauding audience.

05 ArmitageThe outlier of this group of discs is Armitage Road, where the sounds are closer to emerging soul jazz than more expansive avant garde. Still, this strategy may have been the best way a quintet of all Black players could gig in Apartheid-era South Africa. However, the pseudo-Abbey Road cover photo of the band, including wheelchair-bound polio-stricken Magubane crossing a dusty township street, subtly indicates that country’s unequal situation. Magubane wrote most of the tunes and his Steve Cropper via Grant Green-style chording is prominent on all five tracks. Backed by fluid bass work and solid clip-clop drumming, the lilting tunes often depend on twanging guitar riffs and responsive vamps from the Sithole brothers. The gospelish Amabutho (Warrior) and concluding Lazy Bones, which mix a swing groove with electronic vibrations and some slabs of responsive reed honks, offer the meatiest output. Additionally Magubane’s double-stroking solo suggests just how the much the players were holding back. Despite this, the album didn’t yield another Mercy Mercy or Grazin’ in the Grass, clearly the musical role models for the band whose name translates as “moving by force.” Still, those band members who didn’t die young or go into exile – more by-products of the Apartheid system – had extended musical careers, as did most of the players featured on the other CDs. Armitage Road has been reissued by a small Toronto company, a reality reflected in the size of the other labels here. The high-quality output also proves once again that musical values and bigness are often antithetical.

01 Diana KrallThis Dream of You
Diana Krall
Verve B0032519 (

Four years ago, Diana Krall was working in the studio with her longtime, legendary producer Tommy LiPuma. LiPuma was ill and Krall knew it, so the pair recorded over 30 tracks during those sessions. The initial result was Turn Up the Quiet, released in 2017 shortly after LiPuma died. That album was a return to Krall’s classic, stripped-down jazz sound and This Dream of You is a continuation of that exploration. An homage to the Great American Songbook, and her friend and mentor, Krall delivers the exquisite sound and technique we’ve come to expect from her, both on piano and vocals.

Working with three different small ensembles, the majority of the songs are with her bandmates, John Clayton (bass), Jeff Hamilton (drums) and Anthony Wilson (guitar). The opening track with that crew, But Beautiful, sets the minimalist tone as the album moves from breathy ballads to gently swinging mid-tempo standards. It diverges into somewhat trad/rootsy territory on three tracks featuring the ensemble of Marc Ribot (guitar), Tony Garnier (bass) Karriem Riggins (drums) and Stuart Duncan (fiddle), including the title track, a country-tinged Bob Dylan tune. In-demand players, Christian McBride (bass) and Russell Malone (guitar), appear on two tracks, including a gorgeous, slower-than-slow rendition of Autumn in New York.

The top-notch production has Krall’s vocals front and centre in the mix so it sounds as if she’s right in the room with you, giving you a big old aural hug. It’s just what the doctor ordered in these pandemic times.

02 Whisky Kisses CoverWhisky Kisses
Alex Bird & the Jazz Mavericks
Independent (

It’s not often that an individual can hit it big in both the acting and music worlds, but locally based vocalist Alex Bird clearly demonstrates his stellar talents and ability to transition smoothly into the realm of jazz with the release of his debut album. Bird will captivate any listener with his sultry and mellow voice that has just that touch of smokiness which both manages to serve as a hark back to the era of golden jazz crooners like Sinatra and Bennett but also brings us into the present with a freshness that breathes new life into the traditional aspects of the genre. The vocalist has had a hand in composing each piece and the disc features the fabulous Jazz Mavericks, a group of emerging musicians, namely Ewen Farncombe on keys, Eric West on drums and Scott Hunter on bass. 

The record opens up with the edgy Fire Not Warmth, a toe-tapping piece that sets the mood for the time-travelling journey to the period of greats that the listener is embarking on. The influence of jazz bigwigs such as Bennett, Baker and Fitzgerald on the golden-throated vocalist is apparent; Bird adds a distinct charm to his stylings while bringing that timeless classiness along into his new take on the past. Title track Whisky Kisses is a beautiful ballad that closes the album on a melancholic yet positive note, a sign that there’s much more to come from this astounding new talent.

Listen to 'Whisky Kisses' Now in the Listening Room

03 Jerry CookWalk in the Park
Jerry Cook Quartet +
Cellar Music CM091919 (

Vancouver is known for parks – this disc could aptly accompany a real or imagined walk in the park, romantic possibilities included! Quartet leader/tenor saxophonist Jerry Cook hopes to “help relax, reflect, and recharge.” In a melodic, restrained style, there is nevertheless plenty of expressive, imaginative playing in both standards and Cook’s original numbers. Other quartet players include Chris Gestrin, piano, John Lee, bass, and Jesse Cahill, drums; with added musician Dave Sikula, guitar, they coalesce in a blues-inflected jazz sound, achieving the recording’s purposes well. Cook’s well-controlled slightly edgy tone distinguishes his title track, while pianist Gestrin is confident in accentuation and chord substitution. In Soul Eyes I especially enjoyed Cook’s lyrical, tastefully-ornamented melodic delivery. Soul is more obvious in Scarlett Ribbons, which builds impressively from opening gospel harmonies to greater complexity while maintaining style and mood.

Contrasting is Cook’s Blues, a medium-tempo swing number with agile sax, guitar and bass solos where Sikula’s style is smooth and assured. As for the rhythm section, there is a playful touch in Hello My Lovely where bass and drums are left all alone, just to trade fours for a while. Bassist Lee nails a hard-driving figure in Summertime, suggesting the oppression underlying this well-known number. And overt seriousness is established in Nature’s Lament’s solemn, modal opening, followed by the insistent, urgent Latin drum beat supporting a plea for environmental change.

04 Melito LositoYou’re It!
Mike Melito/Dino Losito Quartet
Cellar Music CM041620 (

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.

05 Fawn FritzenHow to Say Sorry and Other Lessons
Fawn Fritzen; David Restivo
Chronograph Records CR-081 (

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.

Listen to 'How to Say Sorry and Other Lessons' Now in the Listening Room

06 Matty StecksLong Time Ago Rumble
Matty Stecks & Musical Tramps
Matty Stecks Music RAC-530/digital available (

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.

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