Han Bennink             

Data Images 06 (www.toondist.nl)


Han Bennink’s art is intensely visual as well as musical, which is made clear on this excellent 70-minute documentary DVD. An un-self-conscious entertainer as well as a first-class drummer, the lanky, 68-year-old Dutchman – often decked out in shorts and a headband – coaxes swinging beats from floors, walls and other objects as easily as from his kit.


Director Jellie Dekker mixes 1960s black and white stills and footage of Bennink playing with established jazzers like saxophonist Johnny Griffin and questing Dutch improvisers, with a full-color contemporary portrait of the drummer at home, in his studio, on the road and in concert, not only playing, but – trained as an artist – creating distinctive drawings and sculpture.


Anchor of the Instant Composers Pool (ICP) orchestra, Bennink’s 50-year partnership with ICP pianist Misha Mengelberg is illustrated. So are other performances ranging from an Ethiopian tour with a rock band to an Amsterdam session with his trio, whose members are approximately one-third his age.


Bennink is as articulate as he is passionate about improvising. The film shows him fascinating Dutch school children with his play-anything style; plus a sequence at the Banff Centre where the veteran musician instructs young drummers in rhythmic versatility using only a snare drum. Then he studies birds and animals in the Alberta wilderness.


Besides Bennink’s own commentary, there are explanatory interviews with musicians such as saxophonist Peter Brötzmann and pianist Guus Janssen. Extras include seven full performances featuring Bennink solo and with different ensembles.





Duo playing is probably the most difficult kind of improvising. Not only must each player depend on only one other to modify or accompany his ideas, but unbridled creativity has to be muted to fit the other musician’s comfort zone. As these CDs demonstrate, skilled improvisers aren’t fazed by the challenge; but the instruments they choose are sometimes unusual.

01_northern_dialoguesEver since his arrival in Toronto from Winnipeg 30 years ago, reedist Glen Hall has played with top local and international musicians. A few years ago he began noticing he was being confused with pianist Glen (Charles) Halls, who had moved to the city from Edmonton. Being equally sardonic types, before Halls relocated to Alberta, the two decided to compound the confusion by recording a duo CD, Glen Hall + Glen Charles Halls - Northern Dialogues (Quiet Design Records CD Alas 009 www.quietdesign.us). Still there are as many musical as jocular reasons for doing so. With Hall alternating between breathy bass flute pressure and sprightly tenor saxophone runs, the eight tunes rage from atmospheric and meditative to rhythmic and bluesy. More formalistic than Hall, Halls often appears to be playing a fantasia, mixing legato chords with downward cascading arpeggios. With the low-frequency curvatures of his flute moderato and pointillist to complement the pianist’s comping, it’s Hall’s explosive saxophone tones which make the greatest impression. After adding speedy excitement to the measured and nearly opaque pianism on Astral, with Anything Blues Hall’s flutter-tonguing encourages Halls to display varied keyboard strategies including tremolo strumming.

02_schick_tetreaultHall has organized the annual 416 Toronto Creative Improvisers Festival since 2001. Guests from the 514 area code were welcomed last year, with Montreal turntablist Martin Tétreault’s sounds most unique. Live 33 45 78 (Ambiances Magnétiques AM 191 CD www.actuelle.com), a duo with Berlin-based turntablist Ignaz Schick, provides examples of these jangling and ratcheting textures. Unlike hip-hoppers who use LPs to insert song snatches or scratch beats, the Canadian-German duo manipulate tone-arms and cartridges as additional sound sources, while pummelling electrified surfaces for distinctive timbres. In two suites they mix granulated rubs and rattles, sharp rugged smacks and motorized rasps with beneath-hearing-level clatter and hisses to reveal textures ranging from stallion-like whinnies to forte ostinatos replicating a dentist’s drill. By the climax of Cave 12 they create a double-counterpoint showcase. The piece weaves vinyl needle rips, frenzied buzzes, static vibrating, video-game-like clanking and near-human cries into a neat package of harmonic interface, as multi-textural as it is percussive.

03_martel_lauzierPierre-Yves Martel and Philippe Lauzier also mix electro and acoustic timbres – and more – on their CD Sainct Laurens (&records 06 www.etrecords.net). Although Montrealer Lauzier confines himself to saxophone and bass clarinet, Martel, who lives in Montreal and Paris, suggests 17th Century music at points, since he plays the viola da gamba. He’s thoroughly modern elsewhere, preparing his instrument with speakers, contact mics and radios. The nine tracks range from lyrical showcases where Lauzier’s wide woodwind warbles brush up against sympathetic Renaissance-styled string vibrations; to abrasive and gritty scrapes, squeaks and flanges from Martel’s extended strings that contrast with intense, horizontal split-tones from the saxophonist. Defiantly multiphonic, the most characteristic track is Adda. It matches altissimo bass clarinet squeals with animal-like burrowing scratches plus droning oscillations from the plectrumist. Swelling into a cornucopia of stifled reed split tones and pinched string buzzes, the piece rends the sound space with both high and low-pitches before the distinctive parts meld.

04_control_thisSaxophonist Michael Blake’s and drummer Kresten Osgood’s Control This (Clean Feed CF 136 CD www.cleanfeedrecords.com) has a characteristic track as well, which is as post-modern as it is traditional. Duke Ellington’s Creole Love Call is re-imagined by the Copenhagen-based percussionist’s hand-drummed ruffs, flams and back-beat bounces complementing overdubbed soprano, alto and tenor saxophone timbres from the Vancouverite-turned New Yorker. Layering his output so each reed is distinctively harmonized – and simultaneously in focus – Blake’s overall thematic variation is grainy and tough, with one horn honking, another mellow and the third always in the altissimo range. Reed work on others of the seven tracks ranges from breathy and romantic to flat-line flutters to jolly dance-like, as Osgood’s patterning encompasses bass drum whaps and cymbal rattles. In sync throughout on Elephants are Afraid of Mice, the two demonstrate how the drummer’s rim shots and press rolls don’t disrupt, but extend Blake’s variants which encompass spetrofluctuation and body-tube echoes on soprano plus dense repeated tenor saxophone trills.

Two can be the most accommodating number in music as these discs prove.

04_maxine_willanTouching You

Maxine Willan

Independent MWCD-0002


Australian born, but resident in Canada since the early 70s, Maxine Willan’s second CD under her own name is an entertaining mix of standards and originals. There are some solo performances and on the other tracks an assortment of musicians including Kiki Misumi, cello, Jon Maharaj, bass, Ethan Ardelli, drums, Walter McLean, percussion and on one track the tenor sax of Kurt Lund who also co-produced the album with Maxine.

This is not powerhouse jazz that will forcefully remove you socks, but a light, easy-listening selection of well chosen melodic compositions, including the haunting Lost In The Stars by Kurt Weill, Oscar Peterson’s Love Ballade and Don Thompson’s Lullaby.

The CD is representative of the work Maxine has been performing over the years before audiences around the Toronto area and if you have enjoyed hearing her live, now you will be able to invite her into your home with this pleasant collection.

02_sophieYoung & Foolish

Sophie Berkal-Sarbit

Independent KEC-CD-5150 (www.sophieberkalsarbit.com)

To have one CD under your belt when you’re only 19 is quite an accomplishment. For Sophie Berkal-Sarbit to be releasing her second at that age is a marvel. Berkal-Sarbit has a background in musical theatre that shows in her singing style, which has a gutsiness and assurance beyond her tender years.

Piano master Bill King produced and arranged the 12 covers on the album that opens with the heart-starter I’m Gonna Live Till I Die and moves through songs by a range of old and new composers including Porter’s Love for Sale and Strayhorn’s gorgeous, desolate Lush Life. Refreshingly, newer songs like Sting’s Until and Pick Somebody Up by Raul Midón also get reworked here.

King has assembled a roster of local luminaries like drummer Davide di Renzo and Duncan Hopkins on bass. As always, Rob Piltch brings much to the mix with his gorgeous nylon-string guitar work. “Young and Foolish” can be found on iTunes as well as in stores across Canada.

01_pj_perrynota bene

PJ Perry

Independent (www.pjperry.com)

Take five great standards, a Charlie Parker blues and five originals, add PJ Perry - surely one of the best straight ahead saxophonists in the country, or any country for that matter - and a rhythm section that really knows how to swing and you have a CD deserving of a place in your collection.

The standards include the familiar Limehouse Blues and Georgia On My Mind along with Be My Love, The Gypsy and What’ll I Do. Add Parker’s Mood and the five interesting PJ originals and you have just over an hour’s worth of honest jazz. On one of the original pieces, Salsa Saxofono, the regular rhythm section takes time out in order to feature David Verelles on piano and Jalidan Ruiz on congas and timbales.

Recorded in August at Humber Recording Studios and October at Inception Sound, this recording shows that not only is Mark Eisenman an inventive soloist but also a sympathetic accompanist, adding just the right touches behind the leader’s forceful saxophone playing. PJ is a joy to listen to and bassist Neil Swainson and John Sumner on drums provide the icing on the cake.


The Necks

Fish of Milk ReR Necks 9 (www.rermegacorp.com)

Aptly described as mesmerizing, the sonic currents created by Australian trio The Necks sweep listeners along without complaint during any one of the band’s hour-long, time-suspending performances. The audience at the trio’s Music Gallery show in late January could testify to that. Yet “Silverwater” – named for an industrial suburb of Sydney – pulses with even more textures, since with overdubbing and granularization multiple and fungible sonic layers can be exposed.

That means that the swelling and jabbing organ tones played by Chris Abrahams that quiver throughout this one-track CD to reach a crescendo of almost visual three-dimensional polyphony, sometimes operate in tandem with knife-sharp piano chording – also played by Abrahams. Additionally, samples and patching split Tony Buck’s percussion skills so that rhythmic tambourine shakes, thick press rolls, ratcheting wood scrapes and a steady backbeat are heard all at once. Holding the bottom are the rhythmically powerful and chromatic spiccato runs of bassist Lloyd Swanton, occasionally doubled by overdubbing.

Suffused with contrapuntal clinking, chording and clattering, the extended improvisation here becomes a nearly opaque interlude of frozen time made up of bonded organ washes, bass thumps and percussion cracks. That is until steadying piano chords and the drummer’s shuffle beat isolate the different tinctures of this musical color wheel, allowing the narrative to loosen and separate into sections. The ultimate straight-ahead theme is then divided among low-frequency keyboard tinkles, spanked cymbals and solid bass string plucks.

Ken Waxman


By Geoff Chapman

01_here_nowCanadian guitarist Jake Langley fought his way through the ranks to long-term sideman in Joey DeFrancesco’s organ trio. Now he bosses his own threesome with American Sam Yahel doing the grunt work on ancient Hammond B3 (plus Fender Rhodes) and Vancouver transplant drummer Ian Froman, now of the Big Apple. It’s clear on Here And Now (Tonepoet TPCD2012 www.jakelangley.com) that Jake’s in charge, his Gibson guitars setting the menu for nine tracks, five by him plus a Mingus, classics by McCoy Tyner and Michel Legrand plus Gordon Lightfoot’s mega-hit If You Could Read My Mind. The music swings hard without grating pyrotechnics, even with blues, rock and funk dominating themes. Yahel’s vigorous bass lines groove as the Langley guitars lay out forceful ideas, particularly strong on modal cuts Singularity and 2012. There’s a short, daring take with seriously dark passages on Goodbye Pork Pie Hat showing how the trio knows when to caress, when to drop out and when to get tough. The Langley unit displays finely developed harmonic sense, creates a light jazz anthem of the Lightfoot and underscores the leader’s unfailing imagination.

02_chunkedTriodes comprises the co-chiefs of big band NOJO, guitarist Michael Occhipinti and keyboardist Paul Neufeld, joined by resonant bassist Roberto Occhipinti and drummer Doan Pham with a gaggle of guests. On Chunked (Modica Music MM0110 www.triodes.ca) there are three pieces each from the leaders in an eclectic, easy-on-the-ear selection of vintage soul and R&B, designed to conjure memories of The Meters yet allowing players licence to blunder into Desmond Dekker’s Israelites. Catchy cuts like Occhipinti’s Big Belly gets additional fire from Jeff Coffin’s sax, Black Disciples features woolly trombone and a rapper ruins Blue Pepper but the popping pulse, clean notes, witty notions and upbeat atmosphere carry the day. The strutting Funky Miracle and old school wailing on The Kick are distinct bonuses.

03_other_sideBlasting trumpeter Alexis Baro likes funk as well as swirling Cuban rhythms and is in take-no-prisoners mode on From The Other Side (www.g-threejazz.com). There’s polyrhythmic mayhem early on with Robi Botos, Jeff King and Larnell Lewis prominent conspirators in a mix of high power bathed in funky blasts and whirling percussion. Baro shows off some awesome technique as well as lapses of concentration, which actually gives the album – his second – live jam appeal with African Escape a thriller. Baro then steers his large troupe through some ordinary light bop before plunging into whiplash funk that exploits searing guitar from KCRoberts. You can hear the potential in Baro’s laid-back moments, where technique is not everything, instead supplanted by tone control and emotional appeal. Wake up Call before it boils over is proof. His second album, with 10 of his tunes, bodes well for the future.

04_pleased_to_meetHank Jones is 91, Oliver Jones a mere 75. These storied veterans, brought up on melodic jazz, the will to swing and the example of Oscar Peterson, deliver a lovely, relaxed disc that should suit every occasion and trounce age stereotyping. The 11 tunes on Pleased To Meet You (Justin Time Just 2326-2 www.justin-time.com) provide no barrier to the fecund jazz minds of these elder statesmen who employ on three cuts two rising stars – bassist Brandi Disterheft and drummer Jim Doxas - they don’t really need. Jones and Jones, who hadn’t recorded together before, do sound pleased to meet each other, comfortable in five duets that include a pair of Peterson chestnuts, Cakewalk and Big Scotia, while Oliver contributes his own I Remember OP. Hank offers solo ruminations Monk’s Mood and Ornette Coleman’s Lonely Woman in a warm, welcoming session executed to perfection.

05_double_doubleWhen two Toronto vets get together it’s more than a cutting session – much more here with flugelhornist Chase Sanborn and pianist Mark Eisenman going at it on a disc subtitled Always Swinging. Swing it does on a dozen tunes they stack with vigour and creative acumen you’d expect from expert practitioners. Double Double (Samo Media MFA 18249 www.chasesanborn.com) opens with a jointly-composed tune and shows how the challenges of democratic duet playing are answered, as two musicians at the top of their game breeze through tunes with sure-handed panache. Each contributes a brace of songs – Sanborn Great Gait and Call It and Eisenman Benny’s Ballad and N.O.O.N. and they round out the performance with standards, classics and originals. The dynamic duo deftly exchanges ideas, quotes freely and offers up some groundbreaking passion with a celebratory tone. The ‘contest’ is especially appealing on Benny Golson’s Stablemates and Hoagy’s The Nearness Of You, impeccably done.

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