Major improvisers from elsewhere frequently play Toronto, but not as often do they appear with an all-star lineup. That’s what happens on April 29 when alto saxophonist Tim Berne’s Snakeoil is in concert at the Music Gallery. Berne, who has been on the cutting edge of advanced jazz for 30-odd years, arrives with three younger players who have distinguished themselves on the New York scene: fellow reedist Oscar Noriega, pianist Matt Mitchell and drummer Ches Smith. This being the 21st century and past the age of consistently working groups, each – including Berne – is involved in many other projects.

Waxman_01_T-Duality.jpgAs one instance of sampling skills in another context, consider T-Duality (Auand Records AU 9041 Although leader, erudite Italian drummer Ananda Gari wrote all seven tracks, he’s backed by three Americans: bassist Michael Formanek, guitarist Rez Abbasi and Berne. Confident enough of his skills that he confines his solo fireworks to Fields – which include no drum bludgeoning but many ratamacue slaps plus refined cymbal clatter – Gari frames the others’ playing with supportive beats. Additionally egged on by Formanek’s buzzing bass line, frontliners Abbasi and Berne carve unique geometric patterns out of the drummer’s compositions. Capable of harsh double-stopping runs, the guitarist’s ringing lines are more often fully developed harmonically such as on Last Drops, where when twinned with Berne’s glissandi they could be setting up I Cover the Waterfront. However, Gari’s Mylar pressure plus the saxman’s twittering slides confirm that this isn’t the familiar ballad. Berne’s cascading puffs also colour the stop-time Never Late when his lowing brightness pulls out the theme atop Formanek’s strummed bass lines. Clattering drum ruffs plus walking bass clobbers set up Don’t Forget to Pet Your Cat, as a blues, until Berne’s plush mellowness knifes upwards to poignant screech tones, with the theme tossed back and forth between reed bites and linear horn-like motions from the guitarist. Then on the extended Are You Kidding Me the alto man distends and deconstructs the theme with riffing melismatic slurs and tonal sky rockets, urged on by Gari’s hard thumps and crying string bends.

Waxman_02_Orphic_Machine.jpgBerne isn’t Snakeoil’s only attraction however. Drummer Smith is at home in genres from ProgRock to melodic jazz. One facet of his talent is aptly demonstrated on Orphic Machine (BAG Productions BAG 007, where his subtle yet driving rhythms underline the music clarinetist Ben Goldberg composed to interpret ten of Allen Grossman’s poems. With a driving nine-piece band amplifying violinist Carla Kihlstedt’s verbalization of the poetry, Smith’s responses are generic to mood maintenance. His heavy beat matched with Greg Cohen’s bass on the title tune casts into bolder relief pianist Myra Melford’s gorgeously constructed piano intro which provokes the harmonic melding of lyrical clarinet breaths and the words’ skewed imagery. Meanwhile, his slide from the opening martial beat which confirms the solipsistic words of Immortality (“the function of poetry is to obtain for everyone one kind of success”) to repetitive judicious taps, provides a contrast to the violin’s and piano’s vocal backing and a framework within which Rob Sudduth’s tough tenor saxophone and Goldberg’s melancholy clarinet echo one another’s lines. In the meantime Smith’s crackling cymbal rhythms on one hand and suggestions of conga resonation on the other during What Was That, confirm the cool jazz mood otherwise expressed by Ron Miles’ lyrical muted trumpet and the clarinetist’s reed slides. Of course Goldberg’s arrangements and the others’ contributions are as responsible for the CD’s achievement as Smith. How else to explain the exhilaration that results from a piece like Care? Mixing Kihlstedt’s high-pitched vocalization with rugged twangs from guitarist Nels Cline plus matching vibes resonation with Goldberg’s swing era-like trills expands the piece to such an extent that the exposition splits into parallel lines. Cascading horn pumps provide the rhythm; connective strings the melody; and additional shading comes from Kenny Wollesen’s chime ringing. Nonetheless, cementing the parts together is Smith’s unforced beat.

Waxman_03_Sonic_Halo.jpgWith Berne and Noriega, pianist Mitchell demonstrates his skill working with two powerful reed voices and he fulfills a similar function on Sonic Halo (Challenge Records CR 73370 Here though it’s Tineke Postma from the Netherlands and American Greg Osby, both playing alto and soprano saxophones, with bassist Linda Oh and drummer Dan Weiss completing the quintet. Modern mainstream, the compositions are divided between the two horn players who likewise have similar tones. With perceptive intensity and moderated timbres, the pianist seconds both saxophonists, feeding them peppy phrases or comping decisively to extend the dynamic flow. The pattern is set on tunes such as Source Code where Mitchell’s outpouring of measured timbres underlines the initial duple-metre expansion from the soprano saxophone, and keeps the theme grounded as the alto saxophone adds an edgy slant. Operating from his instrument’s lowest register, the pianist’s perceptive swing reintroduces and reinforces the head even as reeds double tongue and drums crash. His polished harmonies don’t stand in the way of Mitchell contributing a hard-hitting pulse that locks in with Weiss’ roughest ruffs on Nine Times a Night. His heightened cross chords and the drummer’s hard rolls put into starker relief how the upfront horns vibrate the high-pitched theme in unison, moving chromatically a half step apart. Other tracks such as Melo are pleasant interludes with walking bass, rattling drums and swelling piano tones introducing an effervescent tune eventually toughened by sharp soprano bites. Glissandi and note torrents characterize Pleasant Affliction, the concluding piece which gives Mitchell the most scope to range over the keyboard with sparkling intensity, but never to the extent that Postma or Osby are overshadowed or outplayed. The ending links one altoist’s warm flutter tonguing with the piano’s key-clicking echoes.

Waxman_04_Skiki.jpgBesides seconding Berne as clarinetist in Snakeoil, Noriega has distinguished himself in larger bands such as pianist Satoko Fujii’s Orchestra New York. On Shiki (Libra Records 215-036), his lead alto saxophone work helps direct the ever-shifting background that the pianist has arranged for her sophisticated compositions. It’s he who likely participates in the reed slurs and brass mouthpiece kisses that characterize Gen Himmel, a melancholy tune Fujii wrote honouring a deceased bassist, which is otherwise driven by quasi-military pacing from drummer Aaron Alexander and funeral cries from trumpeter Natsuki Tamura, who, along with Fujii, was the bassist’s band mate. Although no soloists are listed, it’s likely Tamura, playing an open horn, fellow trumpeter Herb Robertson, muted, and the modern gutbucket style of trombonist Joe Fiedler who are the soloists on the title tune, a multi-part, 36-minute opus. Weaving among swelling reed buzzes and brass whimpers, the soloists, including tough snorts from tenor saxophonists Tony Malaby and Ellery Eskelin echo and compound passing tones until place-marking crescendos are reached. With Alexander’s chunky and hard-hitting beats and Stomu Takeishi’s sometime slap-bass accents providing unvarnished swing beneath them, space is left for almost-vocalized trombone slur, plunger trumpet blasts and corkscrew vibrations from one of the saxophonists. With the sequences knit into undulating whole cloth by Fujii’s talents, the track finally subsides into a balladic mode led by Andy Laster’s baritone saxophone plus tremolo grace notes from the seven brass players. Warming and downshifting textures finally usher in a finale of balanced grace notes.

Each member of Snakeoil has been proven to be a distinct stylist in different circumstances. Seeing them interact should be fascinating and instructive.

Concert Note: Tim Berne’s Snakeoil with Oscar Noriega, Matt Mitchell and Ches Smith appear at the Music Galley April 29. Trevor Watts and Veryan Weston are at the same venue April 24.

Broomer_01_Reg_Schwager.jpgPerfection isn’t usually in the equation for jazz recordings, but guitarist Reg Schwager’sDelphinus (Rant 1447, comes very close, with a balance of polish, spontaneity and depth of expression. Schwager draws much of his inspiration from Northern climes (the same that feed the aesthetic of ECM records), evident on the opening Resolute (named for the Nunavut town) and the title track (named for a Northern constellation) and reaching its apotheosis on The Lonesome Scenes of Winter, a stunning treatment of a strongly modal folk ballad. Schwager’s music is filled with the crystalline clarity and bright highs of sunlight glancing off ice and starlight far from cities, and it extends to the rest of his quartet, pianist Don Thompson, bassist Neil Swainson and drummer Michel Lambert, a group that can move comfortably from Jerome Kern’s They Didn’t Believe Me to the free jazz of Schwager’s Four Eyes.

Broomer_02_cluttertones_ordinary_joy_001.jpgBassist Rob Clutton stands out for the breadth of his affiliations, working regularly from the mainstream (pianist Steve Koven’s trio) through free jazz (Drumheller) to experimental electronica (Lina Allemano’s Titanium Riot). He’s also a highly creative bandleader when he assumes the role, amalgamating elements of free improvisation, electronica and folk music. They’re all evident on The Cluttertones’ Ordinary Joy (Healing Power Records HPR#30, sometimes on a single track. Working with longtime associates Allemano on trumpet; Ryan Driver on analog synthesizer, piano and voice (a reedy high tenor reminiscent of Robert Wyatt’s); and Tim Posgate on guitar and banjo, Clutton composes pieces that begin with the improbable and sometimes approach the uncanny, strange states of musical mind in which the heterodox elements seem to tune calmly to a new standard. The nine-minute Agosto is a fine example, Clutton’s warm, springy, lyrical pizzicato blending through and linking the divergent impulses of banjo, trumpet and synth.


Broomer_03_EvidenceTheloniousMonk_MonkWork.jpgMonk WorkÉvidence (Ambiances Magnétiques AM 218 The compositions of Thelonious Monk represent a unique body of work in the jazz canon, pieces that have been explored repeatedly by musicians from mainstream to avant-garde, many finding something new in Monk’s quirky puzzles of rhythm and harmony. Among the most dedicated advocates is the Quebec trio Évidence, consisting of electric bassist Pierre Cartier, saxophonist Jean Derome and drummer Pierre Tanguay who together have been exploring Monk’s music since 1985, and who in 2014 interpreted his complete works in a three-day Montreal marathon. Évidence brings its own voice to this selection, mixing and matching the familiar and obscure in Monk’s repertoire. Stylistically Évidence invokes another master, Ornette Coleman, with Derome developing a similar lyricism while the rhythm section work masterfully through the kind of flexible, sprung rhythms that distinguished Coleman’s early work. Derome plays baritone on Coming on the Hudson with a wry wit akin to Monk’s own, while Cartier maintains fluid rhythm and Tanguay sustains the mood with light, crisp, animating brushwork. Derome’s vocalic alto comes to the fore in the fine three-way dialogue of Skippy.

Broomer_04_Kirk_MacDonald.jpgKirk MacDonald is a powerhouse tenor saxophonist whose mature style matches fierce rhythmic drive with focussed emotion and the sound of controlled aggression. His latest CD, Vista Obscura (Addo Records AJR025,, is a career high, winner of the 2015 JUNO award for Jazz Album of the Year, Solo. It presents MacDonald with the stellar rhythm section of bassist Neil Swainson and drummer André White, veteran American pianist Harold Mabern adding a special drive to the proceedings as well as his own animated solos. The CD is largely focused around MacDonald’s effective originals, but there’s also a special dimension to the set. Every September, MacDonald and fellow tenor saxophonist Pat LaBarbera pay homage to John Coltrane’s genius at Toronto’s Rex Jazz and Blues Bar. Here MacDonald opens with an intense, faster-than-usual trip through Trane’s Lonnie’s Lament; LaBarbera joins him for three tunes here: one is a brilliant extended version of Naima, Coltrane’s best-known ballad, entirely worthy of the Coltrane legacy.

MacDonald and LaBarbera (along with Mike Murley and Perry White) have long set a standard for mainstream Toronto tenor saxophonists – as educators as well as performers – and the legacy is evident in two very different players who have recently emerged. Dave Neill and Johnny Griffith are both graduates of the Master of Jazz Performance program at the University of Toronto (where Murley teaches), and both teach at Toronto’s Humber College.


Broomer 05 Daylight 001Dave Neill’s Daylight (On the Fly Records OTF112844, is marked by his distinctive, warm, round sound, thoughtful solos and compositions, developing a reflective, almost orchestral sound with his quintet. He’s used the same rhythm section since his 2008 debut, the fine combination of pianist David Braid, bassist Pat Collins and drummer Anthony Michelli, adding trombonist Terry Promane here. Neill has creatively shaped the session with four brief variations of his Thelonious Monk-like The Day Savers, played in duet with Braid and interspersed throughout the program. He also includes pieces by Promane and Braid, outstanding composers/arrangers of improvisation-friendly music. Braid’s Red Hero is a powerful, elegiac work that matches the depth of Kenny Wheeler and Gil Evans, a distinctive tradition with a strong Canadian component.



Broomer 06 Johnny GriffithFor all the similarities, Johnny Griffith sounds very different on Dance with the Lady (GB Records He’s a more kinetic player, far less deliberate, pushing toward a raw expressionist edge, showing affinities with John Coltrane and the ancestral energies of rhythm & blues. He shares the front line with trumpeter Jeremy Pelt, a star in the New York mainstream firmament. It can be risky, but it works here, with Pelt, pianist Adrean Ferrugia, bassist John Maharaj and drummer Ethan Ardelli making consistently lively, well executed music. The menacingly themed The Kuleshascope is a highlight, with Griffith pressing further and further out. 

01_Monica_Chapman.jpgP.S. I Love You
Monica Chapman; William Sperandei
LME Records 6 79444 20020 0 (

With P.S. I Love You, talented vocalist Monica Chapman presents an engaging collection of material that is both nostalgic and romantic, but with a discernably sensual and torrid blues sensibility. She has surrounded herself with intuitive musical collaborators, including JUNO-winning producer/pianist Bill King, whose innovative arrangements (as well as his piano work) really define this well-conceived project. Other first-call musicians include Dave Young on bass, Nathan Hiltz on guitar, Mark Kelso on drums and featured guest, William Sperandei on trumpet.

First up is Irving Berlin’s Tin Pan Alley hit, I Love a Piano, which sets the stylistic tone and is sung with the rarely performed verse, which then segues into a funky chitlin’ circuit jam, replete with a burning hot trumpet solo from Sperandei. The title track is the rarely performed Gordon Jenkins/Johnny Mercer ballad, which was most notably recorded by the incomparable Billie Holiday. In Chapman’s interpretation she has captured an appropriately ironic, bittersweet subtext while clinging to the beauty of the melodic line and lyrical intent.

Of special note is another Berlin tune, Shaking the Blues Away, which is perhaps most recognized as the four-alarm number performed by Ann Miller in MGM’s classic movie musical Easter Parade – cleverly delivered here with a spicy Louisiana roadhouse feel and lusciously languid vocals. A real treat (and slightly forward in the timeline) is Lionel Bart’s theme from the 1963 James Bond flick, From Russia with Love, which is perfectly arranged for Chapman’s luscious voice in a pure, classic jazz mode. This CD is a stunner, and a wonderful follow up to Chapman’s 2014 debut CD.

Concert Note: Monica Chapman launches P.S. I Love You at Lulu Lounge on April 24. Dinner reservations recommended.

02_Ornette_Coleman.jpgNew Vocabulary
Ornette Coleman
System Dialing SDR #009 (

Maverick as he has been throughout his career, alto saxophonist Ornette Coleman, who personifies experimental jazz and won the Pulitzer Prize for music in 2007, has released a new disc with little fanfare. Recorded in 2009, Coleman’s first CD since 2006, and first studio session since 1996, New Vocabulary doesn’t feature the acoustic two-basses-and-drums quartet with which the reedist has been touring for a decade. Instead Coleman improvises alongside trumpeter and electronic manipulator Jordan McLean, drummer Amir Ziv, and, on three of the 12 tracks, pianist Adam Holzman. Although his name is neither on the cover nor attributed on the un-credited songs, the idiosyncratic titles are classic Coleman-speak.

Just as the alto saxophonist defined free jazz in the late 1950s and jazz-funk fusion in the 1980s, he easily adapts to the centrality of processed wave forms plus chunky percussion beats. Significantly, his barbed but effervescent reed tone is as individual, staccato and pointed as ever. Accordingly, tunes such as H2O and The Idea Has No Destiny clearly demonstrate how cymbal cracks and fierce wide smacks plus disintegrating brass oscillations can lock in with reed brays. The result leads to elaborate spherical timbres that reach pressurized summits then coalesce joyously. With calculated chording, Holzman’s harmonies add another dimension. That means a track such as Value and Knowledge reaches a luminous climax that folds trumpet splats, drum corps rat-tat-tats and rubato piano lines into an infectious near dance beat. Finally, Gold is God’s Sex, the CD’s climactic last track, demonstrates how feverish keyboard tolling plus revved-up reed bites can tame washes of menacing electronics.

Since Coleman’s playing is oblique but decisively melodic, New Vocabulary is a disc that’s convivial as well as challenging. Plus it shows that Coleman’s authentic ideas can convincingly adapt to and be adopted by any number of undogmatic musicians.


Something In The Air | Unusual Formats for New Music - March 2015

“Everything old is new again” doesn’t go quite far enough in describing formats now available for disseminating music. Not only are downloads and streaming becoming preferred options, but CDs are still being pressed at the same time as musicians experiment with DVDs, vinyl variants and even tape cassettes. Happily the significance of the musical messages outweighs the media multiplicity.

01_Hidros.jpgIf there’s one instance of a musician having it all, then consider Swedish saxophonist Mats Gustafsson’s boxed set Hidros 6 – Knockin’ (Not Two MW 915 Recorded during a five-day gig in Krakow, by a specially constituted 12-member NU Ensemble,it highlights the group’s performance of the title track plus different musicians’ solo work. In total the Hidros box contains five CDs, two LPs, one DVD plus a 22-page LP-sized booklet. An addendum, the hour-plus DVD, includes a filmic record of different-sized ensembles improvising, rehearsing or performing the Knockin’ score plus interviews with many of the principals. All four sides of the LPs are given over to the large ensemble performance, which celebrates the transgressive sounds which Little Richard Penniman brought to pop music in the 1950s. Not rock ’n’ roll by any stretch of the imagination, Gustafsson’s graphic score combines the free jazz methodology of the players with samples of Little Richard’s works propelled by turntablist Dieb13, plus high-pitched repetition of certain phrases from his hits by vocalist Stine Janvind Motland. Climaxing with a call-and-response manifest the four sides of Knockin’ shove the vocal freedom engendered by Penniman into the instrumental realm. Solo and in sections, the players use extended instrumental procedures to fragment themes into in-your-face abstractions. Lyric soprano Motland has the hardest task since repeatedly vocalizing Little Richard lyrics such as “Hmm, I don’t need a show/Gimmie gimmie gimmie gimmie gimmie” or “Bama lama bama loo/Go, go, have a time” calls for intense concentration plus a sense of humour. She and the other players are better showcased on the three group CDs. Accompanied by only Dieb13 and drummer Paal Nilssen-Love, Motland eschews words for bird-like falsetto titters and warbles which elongate enough to make common cause with the slashes of sound and LP tracking rumbles sourced by Dieb13. At the same time her staccato pacing and wails connect on a visceral level with Nilssen-Love’s undulating and unvarying patterning. Elsewhere, the drummer demonstrates his malleability laying down an unobtrusive beat for Nybyggarland one of the vintage Scandinavian bop classics the band Swedish Azz plays. That quintet, filled out by Per Åke Holmlander’s tuba, Gustafsson on baritone sax, Dieb13 and Kjell Nordeson on vibes and drums creates a tune that’s engaging and swinging at the same time, with Nordeson’s vibes providing the sparkling melody as the low-pitched horns push out balanced blasts. Nordeson is also an exceptional drummer, with the evidence on the more-than 29-minute duet with pianist Agustí Fernández. Aggressively acoustic, the two produce a memorable savage, free-form intensity, as does a medley of New Thing classics performed on a later disc at warp-speed velocity by The Thing – Gustafsson, Nilssen-Love, bassist Ingebrigt Håker Flaten – plus additional tenor saxophonist Joe McPhee. With Fernández smacking the side of his instrument and forcefully plucking piano strings with fish-hook sharpness, it’s sometimes hard to determine where the drummer’s dynamic clunks and metal rustles end and his begin. Crucially this blunt-beat colouration reaches an exultant climax following the pianist’s highly volatile keyboard cascades and the percussionist’s introduction of clacking metal bar abrasions from his vibes. More memorable matchups include Fernández and Gustafsson joining trumpeter Peter Evans or McPhee with bass clarinetist Christer Bothén. On the first, the pianist’s rappelling forward at player-piano velocity challenges as well as accompanies the horn men. The result is staccato and dyspeptic timbres from both: in Evans’ case moving beyond the limits of his horn to elevate notes past triplets; and in Gustafsson’s blasting honks and slurs upwards. McPhee and Bothén create a gentler duet, each man defining the American or Swedish abstractions’ elaboration, with McPhee supplying human-like cries from his horn as Bothén appears to be digging into his own stomach lining for raw expression. With so much music to choose from however, it’s likely the listener will find much to enjoy in this box of wonders.

02_Le_Passe.jpgIf Gustafsson’s package is the apex of modern sound dissemination then a couple of Montreal free improvisers go in the opposite direction with their release La Passe (Small Scale Music is available only on cassette tape – though it does include a download code – which is how alto saxophonist Yves Charuest and trumpeter Ellwood Epps document their near telepathic interaction. With startlingly clear sound the five tracks capture relaxed improvisations that are often melodic and linear without ever losing a spiky edge. Merely brushing against one another as they follow parallel courses, one creates the defining narrative(s) which the other garnishes with deconstructed vamps. On Deuxième Passe for instance, tongue slaps plus bagpipe-like strains from the saxophonist foreshadow a plunger response from Epps, ensuring that the climax is polyphonic and pleasant. Similarly intersecting strategies on Quartième Passe reveal lip bubbling plus percussive bumps until separating into harsh buzzes (Charuest) and bird-like peeps (Epps). Finally as the trumpet’s airy loops bring out complementary reed timbres, the finale suggest waves lapping against a tranquil shore. A session where the message is more important than the medium, the accomplished duo deserves wider exposure in many formats.

03_SainctLaurens.jpgFollowing up on the new vinyl emphasis, another Montreal-based duo, Pierre-Yves Martel, who plays viola da gamba, objects and feedback, and soprano saxophonist/bass clarinetist Philippe Lauzier, have released an LP of Sainct Laurens Volume 2 (E-tron Records ETRC 019, even though Volume 1 was on CD. The choice is somewhat ironic since the textures the duo creates on these eight tracks relates more closely to computerized miniaturization than direct-to-disc mechanism. For a start, Martel’s treatment of the viola da gamba is that of a hammered dulcimer, using percussive resonation to clip and clank discursive blows even as they define the themes. Lauzier’s common strategy is to pull strident, almost vibrato-less horizontal tones from his horns, creating parallel responses to Martel’s expositions. Emphasizing his instruments’ wood, metal and reed properties, Lauzier’s tone ranges from pan flute-like airiness to violent glissandi. Additionally, triggered wave forms comment below the surface, creating more sonic surfaces to explore. Volga is one instance where Martel’s steel pan-like echoes meet equally bellicose bell-like gongs that are revealed as tongue slaps. As the buzzing timbres separate into reed blowing and sul ponticello string extensions, exhilarating timbres reach a crescendo, yet are craftily and abruptly cut off. This split-second timing plus startling tone integration and partition continues throughout the disc, making the pause between LP sides off-putting, but not insurmountable.

04_Fizzles.jpgAnother profoundly in-the-moment musician who has chosen an old-school format is British bassist Barry Guy. Referring by inference to experimental as well as advanced instant compositions, Five Fizzles for Samuel Beckett (NoBusiness Records NBEP 2 is available as a 10-inch vinyl EP. Solo and only 14-minutes long, the program is as spacious and brutal as any of the Irish writer’s creations. Double stopping while pumping and pummeling his string set, Guy has created an autonomous salute where his single double bass creates more emotional resonance than exists in the author’s laconic works. Rappelling up and down his four strings at supersonic speeds, the bassist uses rasgueado and spiccato intensification in his playing, creating more resonance by vibrating a stick placed horizontally behind his strings. Besides attractive cross tones, belfry-like bell echoes and what sounds like wood rendered splinter by splinter, are heard. Finally on Fizzle V the concluding strategies reflect back on earlier tactics. Scrubbing every part of the bass, the climax combines pressure, pain and pleasure, with the coda a series of col legno whacks. Guy honors Beckett by expressing his own (musical) language.

This is also a variant on what each of the musicians here has done: producing memorable sounds preserved on individually chosen formats.

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03_Chris_Potter.jpgImaginary Cities
Chris Potter Underground Orchestra
ECM 2387

Saxophonist Chris Potter first garnered attention as a sideman to senior masters, from 1994 figuring prominently in the bands of the late drummer Paul Motian and the bassists Dave Holland and Steve Swallow. In the past decade, he’s emerged as a leading figure in the contemporary mainstream, combining emotional power and an expansive creativity. He’s previously written for a ten-piece ensemble (Song for Anyone, 2007) and his last CD, The Sirens, was an extended suite inspired by Homer’s Odyssey. On Imaginary Cities he’s augmented his usual Underground quartet to an 11-member orchestra, adding vibraphone, two basses and a string quartet.

In the four-part, 36-minute title suite and four unconnected pieces, Potter constructs strong themes, synthesizing elements of jazz and classical music and matching them with rhythmic patterns sourced from as far afield as funk and Balinese gamelan to create complex grounds that both stimulate and merge with the improvised solos. Potter’s strengths are apparent from the opening Lament. His sound is flexible and expressive, hard, bright and capable of great nuance. On faster tempos, there’s a whiplash suddenness to his phrasing, while an ingrained nobility of line enhances the elegiac work.

Well past any traditional concept of the big band, Potter’s pieces for orchestra create a complex web of materials that feed his partners’ spontaneous impulses as well as his own. His regular band members – pianist Craig Taborn, guitarist Adam Rogers and drummer Nate Smith – all stand out, as do vibraphonist Steve Nelson and violinist Mark Feldman.



Prehistoric Jazz – Volume 1: The Rite of Spring
Eric Hofbauer Quintet
Creative Nation Music CNM 025

Prehistoric Jazz – Volume 2: Quintet for the End of Time
Eric Hofbauer Quintet
Creative Nation Music CNM 026 (

04a_Rite_of_Spring.jpgFor most people “prehistoric jazz” means W.C. Handy or Buddy Bolden, yet Boston-based Eric Hofbauer puts a post-modern spin on the concept. Recognizing that advanced improvisation takes as much from the so-called classical tradition as jazz, he reworks two 20th-century musical milestones into separate programs for trumpeter Jerry Sabatini, clarinetist Todd Brunel, cellist Junko Fujiwara and drummer Curt Newton plus his own guitar. Each is handled differently.

The studied primitivism of Igor Stravinsky’s symphonic The Rite of Spring is miniaturized with each player standing in for a different orchestral section. The result is as rousing and romantic as the original score, but with openings for distinctive solos that rhythmically extend the composer’s ur-modernism. Originally composed for a chamber ensemble, Olivier Messiaen’s Quatuor pour la fin du temps is implemented with as much joyous ecstasy as the composer intended, but stripped of its overt Christian mysticism.

In essence Hofbauer finds the link between Quatuor and the gospel music that fed into the birth of jazz. That means that, for example, Louange à l’éternité de Jésus is given a swing-Dixieland treatment that includes a harshly passionate intermezzo from Fujiwara’s cello that still cossets the theme. While Messiaen’s more overtly pastoral sequences remain intact, transforming solo passages into contrapuntal duets between string strums and bass clarinet glissandi in one instance or another matching graceful trumpet lines to the metallic clank of guitar preparations, enhances the narrative. As well the supple rhythm output by Newton and picked up by the others adds festive swing to the proceedings. With one section titled danse de la fueur… contrasting dynamics played by the five wrap up into novel expressions as song-like as the original.


The Rite of Spring presents another strategy. With sequences such as the augurs of spring rife with motion, Hofbauer adapts the locomotive-style theme so that call-and-response strums, slaps, slurs and squeaks add up to linear movement. Fujiwara often uses a walking bass line, and extended plunger trumpet tones and extended drum ruffs are frequently heard, but this doesn’t prevent the narrative from jumping from swing to smooth and back again. This melodiousness extends to a motif-like mystic circle of the young girls where a clarinet/guitar duo adds a clean blues sensibility to the line.

By the final section with its evocation and ritual action leading to the sacrificial dance, Stravinsky’s Slavic roughness gives way to buzzing reed vibrations plus trumpet obbligatos that add a jazz sensibility to the score. Melding improvised music’s rugged tunefulness with Stravinsky’s mercurial vision, the climax is more buoyant yet just as rhythmically sophisticated as the original.

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