06 Peter CampbellOld Flames Never Die
Peter Campbell
Independent (petercampbellmusic.com)

Respected NYC vocalist, Peter Campbell, has long been a much-loved presence at top cabaret and jazz venues across North America; in 2012 he brought his gorgeous voice and superb musical taste and settled in Toronto. With the release of this new recording, Campbell has gifted us with an inspired smorgasbord of musical delights. Diverse, inter-generational composers and lyricists are represented here, including Dorothy Fields, Cy Coleman, Irving Berlin, Joni Mitchell, Fred Hersch and Oscar Peterson. Campbell also serves as producer/arranger and has assembled a group of fine musicians, with co-arranger Adrean Farrugia on piano, Reg Schwager on acoustic and electric guitars, Ross MacIntyre on bass, Kevin Turcotte on trumpet and flugelhorn and Michael Occhipinti on electric guitar and effects.

The opening track, Stars, is a gem of a tune, written by genius pianist Hersch and the incomparable jazz singer Norma Winstone. Campbell’s pitch-pure instrument soars, bobs and weaves through this contemporary, bossa-infused track and Turcotte’s muted solo is a thing of rare beauty. Also intriguing is Coleman and Carolyn Leigh’s My how the Time Goes By, which reveals a whole different dimension to Campbell, as he dips deep into the blues. 

The title track opens with creative, otherworldly sonic affects which then segue into a film noir-ish, 3am ballad of love, loss and longing, expertly rendered. An absolute stand-out is Farrugia’s breathtaking arrangement of Both Sides Now. His stunningly inventive chord substitutions and Campbell’s skilled vocals have not only created their own musical perspective, but also honoured Mitchell’s immortal classic.

Listen to 'Old Flames Never Die' Now in the Listening Room

07 Emie RousselRythme de Passage
Emie R Roussel Trio
Uni Musiqc UNICD-4720 (emierroussel.com/en/home/)

In traditional larger ensembles the piano, bass and drums feature in what is referred to as the “rhythm section.” Famous trios from Nat Cole to Art Tatum, Paul Bley, Bill Evans, Keith Jarrett and others changed all that. With more adventurous exploration of the instruments, trio music has evolved enormously. Singularity of sound, however, has often remained elusive. Not so with the trio of Emie Rioux-Roussel (piano), Nicolas Bédard (bass) and Dominic Cloutier (drums). 

Rioux-Roussel’s music is born of a fluid relationship between written material and improvisation and dwells in the delicate balance of European and American jazz. Rythme de Passage celebrates a decade of such musical collaboration; its repertoire clearly establishes how the relationship between each musician has evolved from being one in which the fire and brimstone of youth has paved the way for the well-honed values of experience. This is brilliantly caught in the sumptuous music of this record.

The trio operates as a partnership of equals, not as piano and accompaniment. The sound is essentially produced by unamplified, acoustic instruments. Electric instrumentation is unobtrusively integrated in the same spirit with the pianist and bassist principally exploiting it. Its use is sparing and enhances the acoustic instrumentation rather than distracting attention from it. 

This trio music glows in its unique lithe elegance, its warmth and poetic joyousness; the tantalizing symmetry of melody and harmony. A musical adventure which sets off in unexpected directions and always swings exactly right with its own fascinating rhythm.

08 ITACA 1Vortex
ITACA 4tet
Nusica nusica.org 17 (nusica.org)

Four musicians – clarinetist François Houle, alto saxophonist Nicola Fazzini, bass guitarist Alessandro Fedrigo and drummer Nick Fraser – have managed to create music exactly as promised: that is, a Vortex of sound. Vortices are formed – in the physics of fluid dynamics – by stirring fluids or gasses into whirlpools, smoke rings, tornadoes and dust devils. And while a turbulent artistry might characterize the curl of the flow velocity of this music, perhaps in the opening bars of Sketch 26, the most mesmeric musical vectoring shows up as the music progresses into Saturno and beyond. 

In later repertoire such as Chorale and Calanques, for instance, we discern a degree of artistry that is highly commendable. There are displays of controlled instrumental pyrotechnics. These have a direct bearing on the resulting music, which is always rigorous and driven by architectural acuity. Houle, Fazzini, Fedrigo and Fraser, all ooze impetuosity and their performances are full of vitality especially on ‘Nette, a boppish song with diabolical harmonic inversions. The musicians may not play together often, as they are located in disparate places, yet they parlay with the familiarity of old friends. 

Nothing is forced or exaggerated, an error often observed in consciously experimental music. Tempos, ensemble and balance – all seem effortlessly and intuitively right. There is much sensitive give and take between the four instruments, much intimacy and subtle variation of momentum, colour and feeling. In sum, this music suggests uncommon gem-like craftsmanship.

09 Francois Carrier WideWide
François Carrier; Tomek Gadecki; Marcin Bozek; Michel Lambert
FMR Records FMRCD556 (fmr-records.com)

When opening the CD case containing my copy of Wide for the first time, a piece of what I assumed to be packaging dropped out. Upon further inspection, this hand-ripped offering was not wrapping (though it resembles part of an envelope), rather it was a sort of calling card for ColyaKooMusic, the co-production and publishing outfit François Carrier created in 1994. This well-designed paper, with its quirky and compelling hand-stamped insignia, is a harbinger of what’s to come on the rest of the album. 

Before my first listen, I was next intrigued by the disc being over 64 minutes long and containing just three tracks. This may be alarming to a listener expecting a bevy of jazz standards or bite-sized original compositions, but anyone familiar with the playing of Carrier and Michel Lambert, or their Polish bandmates Tomek Gadecki and Marcin Bozek, will know to expect bold and spontaneous improvisation. The album does not disappoint! 

During this COVID-19 pandemic I am self-isolating with my mother, who was quick to raise an eyebrow when I first played the disc. Her response is not an unsurprising one, given the dense and at times chaotic improvising one hears frequently throughout the album, but it is upon listening to this recording as a whole that one notices the sensitive arcs these masterful musicians are able to create while improvising freely.

10 Rarefied AirRarefied Air
Huet; Fournier; Kuhl
Furniture Music Records AF003 (alexfournier.bandcamp.com)

This month, my assignments included two discs of freely improvised music, which are at the same time the simplest and most difficult to review. In one way it becomes all about the vibe of the recordings, and in another there are no traditional compositions/tracks/solos to discuss in a more formal manner. The review of Wide dealt with an offering that was recorded live and fit more into the free-jazz realm we associate with the likes of Ornette Coleman and Eric Dolphy, whereas this disc is far more ambient, in one way smoother to listen to, and in another more subdued and introspective. 

Edwin Huet, Alex Fournier and Mike Kuhl have collaborated on Rarefied Air which consists of four freely improvised tracks involving double bass, drums and electronics. Fournier, who has for years been a mainstay on the free-jazz scene in Toronto, brings his usual mix of stoic restraint and instrumental proficiency to the table. Huet and Kuhl hail from the Baltimore area, and are both known for their expertise in freely improvised music and a variety of other styles. Kuhl’s drumming is exciting and uplifting, while Huet’s use of electronics gives the recording a unified, produced sound. We are living in odd and unprecedented times, but avant-garde recordings like Rarefied Air now provide a thought-provoking and welcome release from the strangeness of this era.

11 Dennis KwokWindward Bound
Dennis Kwok Jazz Orchestra
Independent (denniskwok.ca)

Windward Bound is an elegant album of program music written for a 19-piece jazz orchestra. Thematically, it is based on multi-instrumentalist/composer Dennis Kwok’s teenage years spent sailing on Lake Ontario and its six movements (The CallingReady, Aye, Ready; A Flat Boat is a Fast Boat; The TempestElegy and Red, Right, Returning) chronicle different elements of journeys over water. Kwok was only 22 years old when he wrote the music and assembled the excellent group of players, and one can feel his excitement about combining two of his consuming interests in this project. 

The first two sections are quite evocative: The Calling begins with the musicians blowing through their wind instruments behind a beautiful oboe solo which conjures the idyllic stasis of the beach. Ready, Aye, Ready opens with a faster tempo and a repeated piano riff, then flute and bass enter and it builds into the full band which generates the excitement of setting out to sea (or lake) on an adventure.

The album notes state the group is comprised of “musicians under 35 from the southern Ontario region” and that the music is “dedicated to preserving the big band tradition while staying relevant to our generation.” This is a well-produced album with solid musicianship that fully realizes its engaging premise.

13 Laila BialiOut of Dust
Laila Biali
Chronograph Records CR-085 (lailabiali.com)

2019 JUNO Award-winner for Vocal Jazz Album of the Year, stunning singer-songwriter Laila Biali’s latest release is a truly interesting musical journey and, in her own words, a “deeply personal… album” that reflects the roller coaster the last few years have been for her. The record has a clearly positive tone, it’s almost as if you can feel the warm spring sun shining down on you throughout each track. Most of the songs have been composed by Biali herself, with drummer Ben Wittman and her son Joshua Biali-Wittman listed as co-composers on a couple of the tracks. The album includes several renowned musicians such as vocalist Lisa Fischer, drummer Larnell Lewis and bassist Rich Brown, making for a star-studded release overflowing with stellar talent. 

As a groovy starter to the record, Revival features a bass riff by Brown that goes straight to the soul of the listener, unique chord progressions and a catchy chorus that quickly have you singing along. Wendy’s Song is a touching tribute to a friend of Biali’s, Wendy Nelles and is a song that could be considered among the most positive and uplifting on the entire record. The album closes with Take the Day Off, the track co-composed by Biali’s son, and has a certain childlike element of wonder to it, amplified by the backing vocals and choice of instruments. A fitting piece to close out the musical journey, as it leaves you with a positive outlook to the world and a curiosity to explore and engage more with your surroundings and loved ones.

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