08 Michel Lambert RougeArs Transmutatoria Rouge
Michel Lambert
Jazz from Rant n/a (nette.ca/jazzfromrant/in-production-2)

I find that multidisciplinary free music is often one of the most unfairly dismissed genres in jazz. Works like Anthony Braxton’s operatic forays certainly come to mind. They are branded impenetrable in many circles and people don’t even bother to offer them anything resembling serious consideration. I attribute this reluctance to fear. 

I’m going to be honest. This new Michel Lambert project is scary. It’s an amalgam of visual artworks (referred to as Lambert’s “visual scores”) and the band’s collective instinctual responses to them. The album is presented as an expedition of sorts, with both the band and listener travelling through 11 distinct audiovisual landscapes. Amazingly, it all works incredibly well. The improvisers not only know exactly how much space to leave for each other, but looking at the score, I was struck by how effectively the music evoked specific images on the score and vice versa with almost supernatural symbiosis. 

As I listened, it became apparent that the glue holding the affair together was the expressive poetry of vocalist Jeanette Lambert. It felt like she articulated and/or punctuated my thoughts perfectly, serving as a tour guide. What is a Transmutatoria? Not sure, but taking the journey there has been a real pleasure.

Tatouages miroir
Jean-Luc Guionnet et le GGRIL
Tour de Bras tdb90046cd (tourdebras.com)

Solo à la décollation
Jean-Luc Guionnet
Tour de Bras tdb9044cd (tourdebras.com)

09a Guionnet tatouage miroirFrench saxophonist, organist, composer and improviser Jean-Luc Guionnet has rare inventive powers. Among his activities, two bands demonstrate his range: Hubbub, a French quintet, looks like a conventional jazz group while improvising ethereal, symphony-length works of continuous sound through circular breathing on saxophones and bowing on cymbals and the strings of piano and guitar. The international trio Ames Room creates the most singularly intense, hard-bitten, minimalist expression ever developed by a stripped-down trio of saxophone, bass and drums. However, these recordings from Quebec performances show Guionnet’s inventiveness even without his saxophone.     

Tatouages miroir (“mirror tattoos”) is an orchestral composition realized by GGRIL (Grand groupe régional d’improvisation libérée), the highly exploratory improvising orchestra that has made Gaspé fertile soil for meaning-probing music. Here GGRIL is an 11-member ensemble of electric guitars and bass, strings, brass and reeds, stretching to include accordion and harp. Beginning with contrasting blasts of orchestral might and silence, the initial lead voice emerges unaccompanied, a tight metallic string sound – the harp – single notes plucked evenly with only microtonal shifts in pitch. In the background, a rich welling of winds plays a melodic pattern dominated by muted trumpet and baritone saxophone. Throughout there are contrasts between sound and silence, between small sounds magnified and rich ensembles moving from foreground to background, questioning their own status. It’s a rethinking of what orchestras traditionally do, foregrounding random incidental percussion – footsteps, perhaps – while crying-baby-trumpet and multiphonic flute and saxophone elide into silence, creating unexpectedly rich drama. During its course, the work ranges across approaches and meanings, inviting a listener’s reflection on the work’s burrowing depths and strange sonic redistributions, a seeming interrogation of its own processes. 

09b Guionnet solo à la décolationSolo à la décollation presents Guionnet as a church organist, though his performance is as remarkable as the L’Isle-Verte location: the Church of the Beheading of John the Baptist and its traditional Casavant organ, described as “in need of love.” The traditional church organ is a special site, as much monumental architecture and domicile as musical instrument, and Guionnet is here to probe it and the church’s sonic nooks and crannies in a performance that is as much meditation as query, including the incidental percussion of interaction with the instrument. Divided into four segments, the 70-minute work begins in near silence, a kind of breathing of the pipes with only the subtlest infrequent blips that lead to extended drones, shifting oscillations, overlays of tones and sharply contrasting keyboards laid over and through one another. It’s improvisation as meditation, music exploring notions of sound as symbolic site of symbolic conflict, at once resolving and extending the voyage, with the kinks, fissures and vibrations of the particular instrument and church becoming key participants.

Scintillating Beauty10 Cat Torens BeautyCD006
Cat Toren’s Human Kind
Panoramic Recordings PAN 18 (newfocusrecordings.com)

Aiming to express her ideas of hope, Vancouverite-turned-Brooklynite pianist Cat Toren, also a practitioner of sound healing, has composed a four-track album that is both cadenced and curious by drawing on multiple musical strands. 

On Radiance in Veils, for instance, she uses the modal outpourings of Xavier Del Castillo’s tenor saxophone, multiple-string chording from Yoshie Fruchter’s oud plus the textures of chimes, tuning forks, singing bowls, rattles and bells to outline spinning and soothing 1970s-style spiritual jazz. But on Ignis Fatuus she creates a slow-burning swinger built on Jake Leckie’s walking bass line, with Del Castillo shouting in full bop-bluesy mode. In between, Toren varies the program from one signpost to the other. Added to each of the four tracks are cross pulses from drummer Matt Honor and her own playing which expresses stentorian notated music-styled glissandi and snapping jazz vamps in equal measures. 

Besides Del Castillo, whose intensity and variations move towards multiphonics and squeaking split tones, but never lose control, Fruchter’s string set is the secret weapon. Skillfully, he sometimes plucks and shapes his strings into patterns patterns that could originate in the Maghreb, while on other tracks more closely aligned to a finger-snapping pulse, he replicates sympathetic rhythm guitar chording.

It’s unsure how COVID-19, which arrived after this CD was recorded, has affected Toren’s upbeat ideas. But she and her fellow humans certainly demonstrate resilience and adaptability in musical form on this disc.

Listen to 'Scintillating Beauty' Now in the Listening Room

11 Angelica SanchezHow to Turn the Moon
Angelica Sanchez; Marilyn Crispell
Pyroclastic Records PR 10 (angelicasanchez.com)

Currently residing in the Big Apple, famed composer, pianist and educator, Angelica Sanchez, has continuously left a resounding impression on the jazz community for the past 20 years with her unique sound. This latest release, from her and fellow pianist Marilyn Crispell, is a definite culmination of her innovative works that blur the lines between improvisation and composition. All tracks are penned either by Sanchez herself or along with Crispell and showcase both of their compositional talents superbly. It should be noted that what truly makes the auditory experience whole is the fact that each pianist is heard through separate channels, Sanchez through the left and Crispell in the right, allowing the listener to appreciate both melodies separately and together. 

The record begins with a whirlwind track Lobe of the Fly, within which the image of the flying insect is called to mind with the tinkling, expeditious riffs that both musicians coax forth effortlessly from the keys. It’s interesting to hear how both random and uniform aspects of composition exist within each piece, the interplay between structure and free expression is fabulous. Windfall Light is a piece which gives the listener a moment to appreciate just how in tune both pianists are with each other; it almost sounds at times as if one knows just what the other will play next. For those looking for a complete musical experience, this album would make a very worthy addition to your collection. 

12 Peter LeitchNew Life
Peter Leitch New Life Orchestra
Jazz House 7006/7007 (peterleitch.com)

Montreal-born, eminent NYC jazz guitarist Peter Leitch wears several sizeable hats on his new recording:  composer, arranger, conductor and co-producer. All compositions on this magnificent project (co-produced with Jed Levy) were written by Leitch, with the exception of Thelonious Monk’s Round Midnight, Rogers and Hart’s immortal balled of longing and loneliness Spring is Here, and The Minister’s Son by Levy (an outstanding track, written in honour of Leitch’s dear friend, pianist and musical collaborator, the late John Hicks). In the framework of this arrangement, Hicks’ and Leitch’s unique, soulful, rhythmic style is palpable throughout, and the heady sax solo from Levy calls to mind the potency of a snifter of cognac!

Following a heroic victory over cancer, Leitch could no longer physically play guitar, so he chose to reinvent himself, and express his new musical vision through a medium-sized ensemble that would still have the flexibility to embrace free soloing by the gifted, NYC A-list members who define the sound. These include trumpeter Duane Eubanks, Bill Mobley on trumpet/flugelhorn, Tim Harrison on flute, Steve Wilson and Dave Pietro on alto/soprano sax, Levy on tenor sax/flute/alto flute, Carl Maraghi on baritone sax/bass clarinet, Matt Haviland on trombone, Max Seigel on bass trombone, Phil Robson on electric guitar, Chad Coe on acoustic guitar, Peter Zak on piano, Dennis James on arco bass, Yoshi Waki on bass and Joe Strasser in the drum chair (whose skill, dexterity and taste are the ultimate ingredient).

Leitch explains: “The title New Life refers not only to my personal odyssey, but also to the music itself – to the act of breathing ‘new life’ into the ‘raw materials’…”. Every track on this 17-piece, two-disc recording is a pinnacle of jazz expression. A few of the many highlights include the opener, Mood for Max (for Dr. Maxim Kreditor), a snappy, up-tempo, joyous arrangement featuring a fluid and thrilling trumpet solo from Mobley and equally fine alto and piano solos by Wilson and Zak; Portrait of Sylvia – a lovely tune for the ever-lovely Sylvia Levine Leitch – an exotic and ephemeral piece, featuring guitar work by Robson – and Fulton Street Suite, a masterpiece in three movements that paints an evocative, jazzy portrait of lower Manhattan, replete with all of its artsy, manic energy. Without question, this is one of the top jazz recordings of the past year.

Listen to 'New Life' Now in the Listening Room

13 Art of QuartetThe Art of the Quartet
Benjamin Koppel; Kenny Werner; Scott Colley; Jack Dejohnette
Cowbell/Unit UTR 4958 (unitrecords.com/releases)

We’ve heard of the art of the duo and trio often enough, but perhaps not enough of the quartet. Certainly there has been very little musical exploration as significant as this, The Art of the Quartet, freewheeling explorations by the wizened majesty of drummer Jack DeJohnette and pianist Kenny Werner together with the derring-do of younger experimentalist, bassist Scott Colley; all of whom have been brought together at the behest of the superb Danish alto saxophonist Benjamin Koppel. 

Koppel is possessed of an expressionistic wail and he uses it with tremendous effect throughout the repertoire of this album. His wild excursions flow like a river in flood and the yowling vibrato with which he often ends his phrases evokes restless northern spirits sweeping across space in powerful gusts of wind. Colley secures the roving melodies and harmonies like a singing sheet anchor; his evocative arco performance on Night Seeing is a testament to his virtuosity and his ability to bend time.

Werner is a master of atmospheric pianism. He plays with ceaselessly soft dynamics throughout the exquisite prosody of this music. The rippling excursions of his right hand are masterfully complemented by the architectural balance provided by his rock-steady left hand. DeJohnette, as ever, is the glue that holds everything rhythmic together. But every so often, putting his pianist’s hat on, he adds delicate or thunderous harmonic inventions to this wondrous music.

14 Jacob Garchik ClearLineCD004Clear Line
Jacob Garchik
Yestereve Records 06 (jacobgarchik.com)

Drawing on big band jazz section work, European village marching bands and notated music for winds, composer/conductor Jacob Garchik has composed nine POMO interludes for four trumpets, four trombones and five saxophones. Eschewing a rhythm section and string sweetening, he endows the compositions with coordinated horn work for rhythmic impetus and savory harmonies, while leaving space for creative soloing.

At the same time, with blustery brass and popping reeds often emphasized to create contrapuntal backing, individual features are short but to the point. Besides brief mood-setting sequences, extended tracks highlight different strategies from fusion-referencing brassy horn expositions to others that add enough saxophone overblowing to suggest tremolo airs from a collection of Scottish bagpipes. Moebius and Mucha is the most overt swinger with bugle-bright trumpet work cutting across sliding connections from the other horns. Meanwhile, Sixth is a quasi-rondo that subverts its mellow form with colourful upward movements that encompass brass and reed call-and-response before textures meld into a stop-time climax.

Garchik draws on the skills of some of New York’s top younger talents like saxophonist Anna Webber and Kevin Sun and trumpeters Jonathan Finlayson and Adam O’Farrill. But with frequently displayed gorgeous harmonies, as highlighted on the concluding Clear Line, this is a suite of well-paced originals that stroll rather than gallop. This is also profound group music that makes its points through subtlety not showiness.

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