01 Caity GyorgyNow Pronouncing
Caity Gyorgy
Independent (caitygyorgy.bandcamp.com)

Full disclosure: I know Caity Gyorgy from her time in Toronto when she was a college student. That said, whether you are previously familiar with Gyorgy and her marvellous vocal and musical abilities or you are new to her considerable talents, time listening to Now Pronouncing is indeed time well spent for jazz and vocal fans alike. 

This short recording, five songs in length, may be a manifestation of her degree-end capstone school project, but it is anything but an academic student affair. Leading a top-shelf, large-sized professional musical ensemble through a program of original compositions and arrangements, Gyorgy states a melody and lyric with aplomb and, as on Secret Safe, trades improvisatory lines with the assembled and stacked roster of horn players, demonstrating her clear mastery of the bebop and jazz language. And while I have no doubt that she is capable of singing just about anything, regardless of style or genre, how refreshing it is to hear a jazz singer be a jazz singer, foregrounding scat singing, swing, ornamented bebop vocal lines and total band leadership from out front on this fine recording. 

Backed capably by a great Toronto rhythm section of Felix Fox-Pappas (piano), Thomas Hainbuch (bass) and Jacob Wutzke (drums), Gyorgy, who has since relocated and is now showcasing her talents on the Montreal jazz scene, demonstrates why this Calgary-born singer is a talent worth watching regardless of the city in which she takes up residence.

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02 WaxwingFlicker Down
Songlines SGL1633-2 (songlines.com)

Formed in 2007, Waxwing is a co-led trio created by three veterans of the Vancouver music scene: Tony Wilson on guitar, Peggy Lee on cello and Jon Bentley on saxophones. Flicker Down is the third album from this energetic group: not just veterans of the busy Vancouver scene where they are based, individually these three players collaborate in dozens of other musical combinations from folk to jazz to classical around North America and beyond. When they reunite, each brings their best in not only their playing experience, but as equal composers and co-leaders. The result of this fine balance is exquisitely produced on this album. Already a huge fan of this trio, and though their first two albums were thoroughly enjoyable, Flicker Down is a whole other listening experience.

As improvisers, the group keeps their freshness alive with a freedom of expression and a nuanced sense of timing that decades of experience has only heightened. With several manipulated improvisations added to some tracks, this album has a more composed feel but manages to retain the creative freedom and melodic flow that the group is revered for. As cultural travellers, there is a flavour of world music mixed with jazz, folk and contemporary composition, sublimely polished with fine chamber playing. With 18 beautiful tracks there is a plethora of favourites. Montbretia Gates (1’49”), featuring guest flutist Miranda Clingwall, is one of many gems. The decisiveness of Highway of Tears – based on lyrics that concern the murder of Indigenous women – avoids sentimentality and keeps clear the social messaging. Each player’s technical execution is sheer perfection; gorgeously subtle mixing and production from Bentley only raises the bar.

03 Jonathan BauerSings & Plays
Jonathan Bauer
Slammin’ Media (jonathanbauermusic.com)

Renowned Canadian-born, New Orleans-based trumpeter Jonathan Bauer is exposing a new artistic side on this newest release – a smooth tenor voice that both rivals and adds to his talents on the horn. Featuring well-known musicians such as Mike Clement, Gerald Watkins Jr. and Ryan Hanseler, this sultry and classy album is one that any jazz lover would want in their collection. The selection of songs by classics, ranging from Henry Mancini to George Gershwin, does a great job of not only showcasing Bauer’s skills as a leader, trumpeter and now as a vocalist, but also the superb talents of the all-star lineup that backs him.

Sonorous, silky horn melodies lead the listener through staples of the genre like Days of Wine and Roses and Love is Here to Stay. For those that are familiar with the musician, the unique dark and buttery tone that he conjures out of the trumpet, almost reminiscent of the flugelhorn, is back in full force throughout the record. What makes Bauer stand out even more is the way that the happiness and bliss he pours into his instrument clearly translates into his vocals, his voice having the same soaring, joyous quality that the trumpet melodies invoke. The album is a fabulous introduction to this side of the famed artist’s talents and leaves the listener excited to hear more, both instrumentally and vocally, in the future.

04 Angela WrigleyYou Don’t Know What Love Is
Angela Wrigley Trio
Cellar Music CM051920 (cellarlive.com)

On her impressive debut offering, Alberta chanteuse, pianist and composer Angela Wrigley has come forth with a delightful recording that incorporates funky, horn-infused original compositions with tasty standards, reimagined for a contemporary audience. Joined by her fine trio members, Derek Stoll (bass/piano/organ) and Dave Lake on drums, Wrigley also welcomed percussionist Bob Fenske, saxophonist Cory Weeds, trumpeter Vince Mai and trombonist Rod Murray. This clever and appealing project was also produced by longtime jazz-focused record-label visionary Scott Morin and master saxophonist, producer, recording label owner and jazz impresario, Weeds.

The opening salvo, How Did I Get Here, is a funky original composition, in which Wrigley’s warm and soulful pipes wind themselves around this siren song of compelling lyric and melody. Mai infuses the arrangement with both sexy muted trumpet and a large, mouth-pieced Latin sound.  Another intriguing original track is Crazy Fool – a nostalgia-tinged tip of the hat to Tower of Power and other funky horn/vocal bands of the 70s and 80s. Stoll’s classic Fender Rhodes sound is as refreshing as it was back in the day.

Other standouts include Hoagy Carmichael’s moving I Get Along Without You Very Well, in which Wrigley utilizes her sweet, vulnerable upper register, while Weeds cries through his horn in delicate counterpoint; also a bluesy, B3-infused Lover Man; the superb title track, featuring pristine vocals and Stoll’s eloquent piano work; and finally Drive, where composition, performance and arrangement merge in perfect symmetry. This CD is a beautifully constructed first release that clearly establishes this talented new artist’s identity and sound.

05 John MacMurchyLive
John MacMurchy; Dan Ionescu
Independent (johnmacmurchy.bandcamp.com)

Performing music with friends in the intimacy of a celebrated studio appears to be among the greatest joys of a practicing musician. This is certainly demonstrated by woodwinds specialist John MacMurchy and guitarist Dan Ionescu. Live (at the Canterbury Music Company) allows the two musicians to probe the dark and light recesses of the art of the duo; to enter private worlds in which sadness and joy, and despair and hope, are shared in the most striking terms.  

Both MacMurchy and Ionescu express their virtuosity and evoke dramatic and psychological atmospheres in a manner so alive that the musicians seem to be looking over their shoulders, pursuing – and being pursued by – one another, each with a sense of urgency and anticipation marked by rhythm and colour. The idea of interpreting standards – extended to cover the musical topography of Brazil – is central to this disc. However, it is also clear that this is an ode to songfulness. The apogee of this record may be Ionescu’s and MacMurchy’s exquisite composition For the Love of Song.  

MacMurchy’s smoky articulation is beautifully suited to the woody tones of the clarinet, and to I’m Old Fashioned, with which he opens the disc. The warmth of his playing, breathy phrasing and softly lingering vibrato, extends to the tenor saxophone as well. Meanwhile Ionescu proves to be a perfect musical partner, his tone redolent of a luminosity that marks his single-note lines and chordal playing.

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06 Francois BourassaL’Impact du silence
François Bourassa
Effendi Records FND162 (francoisbourassa.com)

An entire album of solo piano music truly brings listeners into the concept that the pianist is creating. From Art Tatum to Fats Waller, to the bebop stylings of Bud Powell and rhythmically advanced soundscapes fashioned by Lennie Tristano, through Bill Evans, Herbie Hancock, Richie Beirach and countless others, the unifying thread throughout the history of jazz piano is creating one’s own harmonic/rhythmic/melodic world. 

François Bourassa brings us into his world with L’Impact du silence, and it is a compelling one to experience even at its most avant-garde. I had written all of the preceding text while listening to the album but having not yet read it’s liner notes. The English notes are penned by master pianist Ethan Iverson, who mentions Maurice Ravel and Paul Bley in his description of the music. Two more examples of the kinds of material Bourassa’s release bring to mind, and unique ones which I had not thought of.

From Small Head, the opening track, where we’re met with a drone-type harmony in the key of C, Bourassa brings us into a space that is uniquely listenable while also being avant-garde. The phenomenon that makes this such a compelling album is one I see more often in live performance than in recorded music, which is that anything presented expertly will captivate an audience more than any attempt to “sell out.” The level of expertise and heart behind each chord and arpeggio, regardless of how abstract, make this recording downright accessible, without compromising its uniqueness.

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07 Winnipeg Jazz OrchestraTwisting Ways
Sarah Slean; Karly Epp; Winnipeg Jazz Orchestra
Winnipeg Jazz Orchestra WJOCD0005 (winnipegjazzorchestra.com)

This Winnipeg Jazz Orchestra recording has been an exciting assignment to review, as it features a core of local musicians alongside guests from Montreal, Toronto, New York, and the work of Liverpool UK conductor, baritone and poet, Lee Tsang. For years I have known the work of Phillippe Côté, David Braid, Mike Murley and Stephan Bauer, the four guests from this side of the Atlantic. It is also always a pleasure to write about Winnipeg, which I described in a December review for The WholeNote as having “a long thriving music scene, unfairly receiving less attention than other large Canadian cities’ communities”. This still holds true of the aforementioned midwestern metropolis, but ideally large projects like Twisting Ways and its myriad out-of-town guests will help bring this vibrant arts community more of the notoriety it deserves. 

Despite having spent ample time visiting friends, family and fellow jazz musicians in Winnipeg, I was aware of surprisingly few names on this project’s personnel list. This is rather refreshing, given the consummate professionalism heard here. Vocalists Sarah Slean and Karly Epp breathe beautiful life into the often-challenging melodies they are presented with and the WJO’s excellent rhythm section makes even the most intricate of grooves sound accessible. The four tracks that make up the Twisting Ways suite are some of my favourites on the album, but Lydian Sky and Fleur Variation 3, are far from disappointing as well.

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