05 Ig HennemanOutside the Rain Has Stopped
Ig Henneman
Stichting Wig Wig 32 (abbaarsighennemanwig.bandcamp.com/album/outside-the-rain-has-stopped)

Canadians who only know Dutch violist Ig Henneman from her collaboration with the local Queen Mab duo, might not realize that in recognition of her lifetime in improvised and composed music The Netherlands made her a Knight of the Order of Oranje-Nassau in 2021. This CD presents many aspects of the 76-year-old’s extensive career in many idioms. 

The soundscape Bow Valley, which blends improv with Alberta’s Rocky Mountain area field recordings is one standout. While Anne La Berge’s flute flutters and Ab Baars’ shakuhachi trills are intertwined with rural sounds, the bucolic texture is repeatedly interrupted by passing freight train whistles and radios blaring rock music. Meanwhile Galina U, inspired by Russian composer Galina Ustvolskaya, posits a contrapuntal challenge between Ansgar Wallenhorst’s foghorn-like organ drones and dynamic crescendos with structured colouration from La Berge’s flute, Baars’ clarinet and Henneman’s own viola. 

Other compositions for pressurized solo organ, spirited solo cello and poem or sound poem embellishments and improvisations are included. But the most impressive demonstration of Henneman’s compositional aptitude is the title tune. Here, dynamic interaction among violins, viola and cello with jagged arco slices, sul tasto pushes and whistling glissandi, shatter the form then reach an energetic crescendo that approaches Cecil Taylor’s dynamic pianism. 

Obviously, Ig Henneman is a name that should be more recognized by sophisticated listeners on both sides of the musical improvisation-notation divide.

06 Mike MurleyIn a Summer Dream
Hannah Barstow; Mike Murley; Jim Vivian
Cornerstone Records (cornerstonerecordsinc.com)

There can be no question that the creative pairing of pianist, vocalist and composer Hannah Barstow with saxophonist/composer Mike Murley is beyond inspired… and the addition of eminent jazz bassist Jim Vivian is not only the perfect complement to Barstow and Murley, but also to the superb, eclectic selection of rarely performed tunes and the two original compositions here. Barstow and Murley serve as producers, innovatively arranging works from such diverse artists as Johnny Mandel, Nat Adderley, Johnny Mercer and Michel Legrand. 

The program kicks off with Mandel’s Don’t Look Back – which features a haunting, delicate melodic line as well as masterful playing from Barstow who has put her own swinging stamp on this Broadway tune. Her pitch-perfect, rhythmic jazz vocal style adds another dimension to the meaningful lyric, while Murley and Vivian eminently support Barstow throughout. Barstow’s intonation, tone, lyrical interpretation and respect for the melody is worthy of a vocal master class – and the sooner the better! 

Who Are You comes from iconic trumpeter/composer Kenny Wheeler. The tenor solo opening gently segues into Barstow’s stunning vocal line. Murley sings through his tenor, effortlessly creating an aura of musical intimacy, and Vivian’s skilled and moving bass solo takes us deeper on the trip. From the inspired minds of Legrand and Mercer, comes Once Upon a Summertime, replete with a sumptuous solo from Murley. Of special note is Barstow’s original title track, which calls to mind the vocal style and musicality of the great Norma Winstone. By any musical criteria, this is one of the finest jazz recordings of the year. 

07 Lauren FallsA Little Louder Now
Lauren Falls; David French; Trevor Giancola; Todd Pentney; Trevor Falls
Independent (laurenfallsmusic.com)

With her second dynamic salvo, gifted and accomplished bassist and composer Lauren Falls has fired off a fine recording comprised almost entirely of original tunes. Joining her is a superb ensemble, including Todd Pentney on piano, Trevor Giancola on guitar, David French on tenor saxophone and Trevor Falls on drums. First up is New View – a languid, sensual trip, grounded by Pentney’s perfectly insistent chordal movement and Giancola’s incredible touch and taste on guitar – which brings to mind the great Jim Hall or Mundell Lowe. French’s warm, substantial sound perfectly parenthesises the almost hypnotic tonal modalities of the composition.

The well-conceived title track absolutely grooves with intent and prominently displays the artistry of each musician. Falls is rock solid, and her superb bass work not only permeates the musical landscape, but it deftly leads her group through this evocative tone poem. Drummer Falls not only embodies seamless, perfect dynamics, but additionally manifests the ideal diaphanous support of his sister’s gorgeous solo. Disagree to Disagree is an outstanding effort, rife with emotional content, exploring both longing and resolution. French weaves his tenor in and out of the composition, with clever improvisations that underscore the contrapuntal aspects of the tune.  

Another standout is Take Me. This track lilts along with pure joy, and the duet sequences between tenor and guitar are almost breathtakingly beautiful, as is Pentney’s piano solo. The closer, Vincent Youmans’ venerable Tin Pan Alley classic, I Want to Be Happy is presented here with a fresh, contemporary twist, featuring some interesting non-standard chord changes that perfectly illustrate the cognitive dissonance of the search for personal happiness in a seemingly cold, rigid, unforgiving world – just as it was in the Great Depression. 

08 Esbjorn SvenssonHOME.S.
Esbjörn Svensson
ACT 9053-2 (actmusic.com)

During the 28 years when he was active, pianist Esbjörn Svensson (1964-2008) was all the rage. The music that he created with his trio e.s.t. had an elegant and wry minimalist feel, which made it altogether memorable. When Svensson died in a scuba-diving accident his legion of fans was aggrieved. And now, with the music of Home.S, it’s time to raise his indomitable spirit once again. 

This music, says his wife who produced this disc, was composed and recorded on his home computer in the spring of 2008. Eva Svensson reminds us that her husband had an all-consuming passion for astronomy and reminded us about his 1998 From Gagarin’s Point of View with e.s.t.. Svensson was also a classicist and, in homage to him, his wife decided to name each of the nine tracks after the Greek alphabet. And she did right by her husband.   

All the music on Home.S is played – and hummed, and harmonized – slightly off key. Somehow this adds to the music’s haunting appeal. It makes you feel as if Svensson is omnipresent in the nine fluttering charts from Alpha to Iota not only in body, but not unsurprisingly, as a memorably blithe spirit. Some tracks – Alpha and Gamma – end abruptly, as if Svensson’s train of thought was interrupted. However, the eloquent music does coalesce around Baroque ideas that spring from dense contrapuntal gestures, as if Bach’s Goldberg Variations was on Svensson’s febrile mind.

09 AmberAmber
Lori Freedman; Scott Thomson
Clean Feed CF606CD (cleanfeed-records.com)

In a mundane word, amber is just a fossilised tree resin with a prescient glow. However, in the hands, tongues and lips of clarinetist Lori Freedman and trombonist Scott Thomson Amber is a many-splendoured metaphor redolent of golden colours and tones that define more than merely their duelling instruments. With the repertoire on this album, the music of Amber evokes a kind of Romance language with which to connect with the very heart of the music continuum. 

From start to finish both clarinetist and trombonist create a high-spirited and lyrical palimpsest featuring some truly beautiful writing and daring improvisation. With each variation the two musicians penetrate aspects of amber with strength, precision and charming, idiosyncratic virtuosity.

You’ll be made to forget that works like Sesquiterpenoids, Glessite, Succinite and Labdanoid have anything at all to do with nature, aglow with resins and hydrocarbons that have formed over centuries since the before the Neolithic Age. Instead you will be dazzled by each piece; an idiomatic meditation suggestive of a proverbial melody imbued in amber. 

Listening to Freedman’s and Thomson’s performances you would not stop marvelling at how two artists use their musicianship – albeit uncommonly ingenious – to reflect the vitality and many-layered originality of this music. And how bellowing B-flat and bass clarinets and growling trombone can turn the artists’ metaphor into music with a sensuousness and voluptuous beauty all its own. Bravo to both for this visionary music.

10 Spalding HerschAlive at the Village Vanguard
Fred Hersch; esperanza spalding
Palmetto PM2208CD (orcd.co/aliveatthevillagevanguard)

If you knew that you were going to a concert that paired Fred Hersch with esperanza spalding, you’d be fairly sure that sparks were going to fly on stage. Throughout his career Hersch has been one of the most imaginative musicians whose pianism bristles with almost insolent virtuosity. Spalding, better known as a virtuoso contrabassist, has also begun to dazzle listeners with her puckish voice which she has wielded to seduce and dazzle audiences in a manner that combines musicality and ingenuity far beyond her young years.

Together the two musicians become a formidable duo that explores music on Alive at the Village Vanguard with virtuosity, refreshing charm and borderless scope. If you find yourself believing that Sheila Jordan and Steve Kuhn created a seemingly unreachable standard when it comes to the piano-voice duet you will surely be in for a wonderful surprise. Hersch and spalding have not simply reached, but cleared the proverbial bar with space to spare.

Spalding may not tell jazz stories about Charlie Parker with the kind of veracity of Jordan, but she (spalding) makes up for everything with her airborne delivery. She effortlessly propels song lyrics into airy parabolic trajectories infusing them with luminous tone textures along the way. A case in point is the epic version of Parker’s Little Suede Shoes. Meanwhile with Girl Talk, she seems to have the audience eating out of her hands as she weaves a marvellous yarn. Hersch is agile and brilliant throughout.

11 PJ PerryNo Hugs
PJ Perry; Bob Tildesley; Chris Andrew; Paul Johnston; Dave Laing
Cellar Music CM062022 (cellarlive.com)

While new waves and variants of COVID-19 give the pandemic a feeling of endlessness, one positive thing to come out of this prolonged period of chaos is an abundance of lockdown art. While the world was standing still, and even the most career-focused individuals were suddenly baking sourdough in their pajamas, many musicians opted to spend their extra free time practising and composing. This is what stalwart saxophonist PJ Perry was doing, and the eight pieces he composed with collaborator Neil Swainson now form his latest album No Hugs

Perry has a unique musical vocabulary that can function in a wide range of settings, from smooth to intense and cerebral to soulful. This is reflected in the entirety of No Hugs, which manages to sound current and old school at the same time. After repeated listening, I noticed that many of the tracks are comparable medium tempos, but in yet another display of balance there manages to be ample contrast and variety between songs. 

Too Soon Gone is a rousing opening track that sets a swinging post-bop tone for the rest of the album. March of the Covidians gives listeners a dramatically different groove and energy, before the album’s beautiful ballad title track. No Hugs features a short but sensitive piano intro from Chris Andrew, and beautiful improvised solos. The tempo picks up again on The Kestrel, and the remainder of the album concludes in such a manner that you’ll be ready for another listen.

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