05 Jazz 04 FrisellGuitar in the Space Age
Bill Frisell
Okeh 88843074612 (okeh-records.com)

In a career spanning four decades, Bill Frisell (born 1951) has taken the idea of jazz guitar in very different directions, emphasizing sonic architecture and sustained tones in explorations ranging from free improvisation and noise music to traditional blues and folk, country and western and mainstream pop. Guitar in the Space Age is a direct invocation of the music that first influenced Frisell, the world of electric guitar instrumentals of the late 1950s and 1960s, spanning country, rock and its own genre, surf music.

Pedal steel guitarist Greg Leisz extends Frisell’s fondness for bending, reverberant tones, suggesting the period song that’s key to this project may be one that’s not here: Santo & Johnny’s 1959 hit Sleepwalk. This is a sonic dreamscape, in which melodies like Surfer Girl are slowed down and magnified, with sound so rich and dense that Sputnik-era nostalgia (pedal steel virtuoso Speedy West’s Reflections from the Moon – almost C&W Sun Ra in its original form – and The Tornado’s Telstar) assumes cathedral-like dimension.

Frisell both reimagines this music and restores it, along the way touching on the fundamental synthesis of jazz and country in pieces like Merle Travis’ Cannonball Rag and Jimmy Bryant’s Bryant’s Boogie as well as invoking the broad sweep of the moral compass of the times, from the Byrds’ ringing arrangement of Pete Seeger’s Ecclesiastes-fuelled Turn, Turn, Turn to Link Wray’s juvenile delinquent anthem Rumble.


As the availability of music on different media continues to proliferate, the focus of the durable box set has become equally diverse. No longer does a multi-disc collection have to be definitive or far-ranging. As a matter of fact some of the best, like the ones discussed here, concentrate on certain sequences in an artist’s career.

Waxman 01 KowaldCase in point is Discography (Jazz Werksttatt JW 150 jazzwerkstatt.eu), a four-CD collection of sessions from the 1980s and 1990s by German bassist Peter Kowald (1944-2002). Someone who began his career in the 1960s ground zero for European Free Jazz, over the years Kowald interacted with those playing mainstream and contemporary jazz as well as making forays into cross-cultural improv with non-Western players. His recorded career, with disc cover pictures and personnel, is outlined in the 210-page booklet included with the set. Still the focus of Discography is Kowald’s Free Jazz achievements. Right off the bat, Solo Improvisation Music on CD1 is a 35-minute tour-de-force from 1981 that captures his unvarnished inventiveness. Showcasing equal facility with fingers or bow, he moves seamlessly from strident smacks and slashing strums to a collection of spiccato rubs and rasps producing aviary-like shrills as well as mellow continuum. Discography also highlights the talents of Greek clarinetist/saxophonist Floros Floridis, a frequent Kowald playing partner. Compare how the two reacted without prevarication in different settings. A 1989 Athens session, for instance, emphasizes the music’s bop and blues roots, due to the inimitable time-keeping of American drum master Andrew Cyrille. At the same time as Kowald’s doubled strokes steady the beat alongside Cyrille, jocular intensity on tunes such as Nice Ending Folks! and Points Slashes Etc. is expressed by Floridis’ fluid clarinet flutters and vocalized blats from German trombonist Conny Bauer. Six tracks from the next year are more expansive since Kowald’s and Floridis’ partners are American French hornist Vincent Chancy and South African drummer Louis Moholo. Kowald’s careful note placement gives the proceedings a lighter feel as the four prove themselves on both spirited and sorrowful tunes. The Spell is one of the latter as Chancy’s facility emphasizes not only melancholic cries, but animates the tune through steady pacing. With verbal interjections from Moholo Mongezi is another standout since tough vibrations from the horn and Floridis’ saxophone reed bites work up to freneticism as pulsating power from the bass and percussion keep the narrative snappy. Even better is CD4 from 1997 where Floridis on alto and soprano saxophones, clarinet and bass clarinet, Kowald and German percussionist Günter Baby Sommer – featured with the bassist on a long improvisation on CD1 – turn out 26 brief “Aphorisms.” Ranging from less than one minute to almost two and a half, the concise motifs express everything that others would need greater length to do. A track like Aphorismus III for instance features Kowald strumming what sounds like telephone-wire thick strings, Sommer pinging gamelan-like bells and Floridis’ smooth soprano sax surmounting both. Aphorismus XI is pure jazz with mountaineering thumps from the drummer, spiccato bass strokes and reed bites; while Aphorismus VI parallels clarinet tongue-slaps with bagpipe-like tremolos from the bass. Floridis’ alto saxophone tone can be as sharp as any bopper’s as it is on Aphorismus XVII; while percussion clip-clops are sophisticatedly smoothed into a connective exposition on Aphorismus XIX. The program ends with Sommer affectionately mocking Kowald’s chamber music-like sweeps and Floridis’ delicate clarinet lines with obtrusive Jew’s harp twangs.

Waxman 02 LudemannMore chronologically limited, but even more spectacular in probing the boundaries of a jazz formation is Die Kunst des Trio 1-5 (BMC Records BMC CD 196 bmcrecords.hu). During the course of five CDs and a bonus DVD, Cologne-based pianist Hans Lüdemann works through programs involving five unique bass and drum teams. Able to express high-energy complexity and florid impressionism with the same finesse, Lüdemann’s trios showcase original compositions plus Hanns Eisler ballads from the latter’s Hollywood period. All 36 tracks, recorded at the same location, are performed acoustically aside from the sets with electric bass and percussion. Sophisticated in mining perceptive emotions with both acoustic and electronic keyboards, Rhythm Magic is Lüdemann’s weakest program. That’s because bass guitar sluices, percussion patter and staccato key flourishes excite only the tapping foot rather than the thinking brain. Conversely, Chiffre, featuring bassist/cellist Henning Sieverts plus percussionist Eric Shaefer, confirms the adage that the best is often left for last. Able to make the virtual piano as sensitive to cerebral explorations as the real McCoy, Lüdemann creatively exposes the tunes’ reflective innards on CD5. Slow paced Doux for example unites keyboard cascades with piercing multi-string actions that could come from a viola da gamba. Meanwhile the climatic minutes of Verioren that result from the pianist’s near-boogie-woogie patterning are cannily set up with bell peals and impressionistic multi-string vibrations at the top. This is the most impressive trio music, but there’s also much to be said for the pianist’s interaction with bassist Robert Landfermann and drummer Jonas Burgwinkel plus bassist Sébastien Boisseau and drummer Dejan Terzic. The first mixes kinetic piano lines, drum pumps and quirky bass voicing to extend the classic piano trio to include European tropes such as suggestions of baroque stylings plus electronic add-ons. Even better is the Boisseau-Terzic meeting. Dramatic and cerebral, sturdy bass lines and clattering drums aid the pianist’s careful pacing of particular themes. Paradoxically this strategy is impressive on Über den Selbstmord/Das ist gefährlich where Lüdemann sutures harmonic swing onto the Eisler song which starts the track. This type of transformative alchemy is extended throughout the nine tunes that make up Eisler’s Exile. Seconded by bassist Dieter Manderscheid and percussionist Christian Thomé, the pianist never neglects the romantic yearnings which inhabit the German composer’s original intent. At the same time he invests each track with sinewy swing.

Waxman 03 NavigationIn a technological age a boxed set takes on many meanings. For instancecornetist Taylor Ho Bynum 7-tette’s Navigation [Possibility Abstracts XII & XIII] (Firehouse 12 Records FH-12-04-01-019 firehouse12.com) is available as two CDs of a studio session and on a double LP as a live date. Different variations on Bynum’s Navigation composition, each package includes complimentary download codes to access digital copies of the other format. Using graphic and conventional methods to guide the improvisation, Bynum calls on tropes encompassing tremolo theme repetition and stop-time climaxes, plus intersection and interpolation of riffs and sudden narrative punctuation from a band that includes trombonist Bill Lowe, alto saxophonist Jim Hobbs, guitarist Mary Halvorson and bassist Ken Filiano with Tomas Fujiwara and Chad Taylor on drums and vibraphones. Comparing versions of March from the CD set demonstrates the group’s versatility. While it’s undisputedly the same tune, solo emphasis gives it novel allure in each instance. Introducing the second CD, March features sharp saxophone lines in violin register that quickly give way to scene-setting trombone slurs. From that point until the finale, the sequence takes on a New Orleans-like cast as two-beat drumming backs clanking guitar runs and taut cornet expositions. When March ends the first CD though, the quasi-Dixieland emphasis is downplayed for sophisticated solos. Hobbs’ wide glissandi limn the theme atop cohesive brass vamps, until a Halvorson-Bynum duo that simultaneously manages to suggest the power of early Louis Armstrong’s small groups while slyly interpolating bop modernism.

Waxman 04 FlatEarthTaking this download concept one step further, the 15-piece Belgian jazz-rock-experimental big band the Flat Earth Society (FES) has come up with FESXLS (Igloo IGL 257 fes.be/indexEN.html). The three-CD package includes two discs celebrating the Flemish orchestra’s – and guests’ – recent projects; a single CD, featuring tracks from the more rock-oriented X-Legged Sally band that evolved into Flat Earth Society; plus 12 (!) download codes allowing the listener to get digital copies of additional albums. Even without the digital discs, the physical package is fascinating. Over the course of 19 tracks on X-Legged Sally 1988-1997, the listener can track how the shifting personnel of the group, always led by multi-instrumentalist/composer Peter Vermeersch, gradually shifted from a defiant vocal and instrumental combo, influenced by Frank Zappa and other avant-rockers, into a high-energy instrumental group whose staccato expositions melded jazz-influenced soloing, rock energy and instrumental chops. Mutating into the FES, the contemporary CDs, Boot & Berg and Call Sheets, Riders & Chicken Mushroom are even more striking. Although its Flemish libretto may be difficult for those who don’t know the language, the sheer musicianship of the FES matched with soprano Rolande Van der Paal shines through the language barrier on Boot & Berg. A multimedia retelling of the Titanic tragedy on the 100th anniversary of that disaster, Vermeersch’s music introduces motifs from nautical melodies, hard rock, Count Basie-like-swing and so-called classical counterpoint which scene-set, then integrate Van der Paal’s lyric soprano within the exposition. Particularly expressive during an intermezzo where cracked instrumental tones shade the vocalist’s sophisticated cabaret-style declarations, booming and whistling textures from the band emphasize the emotions involved as much as Van der Paal’s bel canto delivery. A different matter Call Sheets, Riders & Chicken Mushroom is 15 FES live tracks, with featured spots for guest improvisers such as American pianist Uri Caine, Dutch cellist Ernst Reijseger and Belgium’s most famous jazzer, harmonica player Toots Thielemans. While the quiet-jazz setting of Hilton’s Heaven, Thielemans’ first outing, is all smooth harmonica reeds cushioned by muted horns and vibes, Zonk puts him in a novel setting. Like what a Basie band standard would sound like if played by a heavy metal band, the tune finds the harmonica master expanding on cues from the jagged vamps until the piece is taken out with a graceful trumpet solo. The Caine track is even weirder since during Fes 9 the urbane keyboardist takes a solo that mixes bop with Little Richard-like excess and ends with some pseudo-ragtime, as plunger trombone smears and swelling organ riffs explode around him. At the same time this CD confirms that FES can easily be appreciated on its own. In Between Rivers for instance is a standout ballad that manages to shoehorn accordion tremors into an Ellington Jungle Band-style arrangement as reed flutters and warm brass slurs keep the narrative comfortable.

There’s evidently sufficient saxophone talent in Canada now that we export it with some regularity. Three émigré reed players have recently released CDs of interest.

Broomer 01 numbers and lettersToronto-born Andrew Rathbun has spent the past decade playing and studying in New York City, recently joining the Jazz Studies department at Western Michigan University. On Numbers & Letters (Steeplechase SCCD 31781 steeplechase.dk), Rathbun is an adroit stylist on tenor and soprano, composing memorably playful lines (the compositions here are inspired by his two young children) and developing them with fleet, sometimes abstracted, sometimes effervescent lines. The interval leaps of Etude can suggest the influence of the late Kenny Wheeler with whom Rathbun has recorded, and there is a similar lyricism and facility in developing complex, ambiguous moods. Rathbun has put together a superb band for the recording, building upward from the mobile, shifting drumming of Bill Stewart and the bass of Jay Anderson to virtuosic pianist Phil Markowitz, the three creating ongoing stimulation for Rathbun’s forays.

Broomer 02 SimpleAnna Webber is a young composer, flutist and saxophonist who has already become a presence in forward-looking circles in Brooklyn and Berlin. Her latest recording, Simple (Skirl 027 skirlrecords.com), was composed during solitary days on Bowen Island off the coast of her native British Columbia. While the music sounds inspired, you’ll listen in vain for mimetic sea sounds and easy tranquility: Webber’s music is complex, angular and sometimes downright spiky; her inspirations funneled through her own edgy sensibility and the creative processes of her playing partners here, pianist Matt Mitchell and percussionist John Hollenbeck. The results are episodic pieces that are never less than structurally sound and loaded with sudden turns, whether composed or improvised. Webber’s tenor saxophone twists with compound emotion through the taut 1994, while her flute weaves through Simplify, Simplify with scintillating precision.

Broomer 03 Gorilla MaskSaxophonist Peter Van Huffel has followed a similar path from Kingston, Ontario to New York and on to Berlin. On Bite My Blues (Clean Feed CF302CD cleanfeed-records.com), he leads his Berlin-based band Gorilla Mask in performances at Toronto venues Emmett Ray and Tranzac, recorded during a 2013 Canadian tour. While Van Huffel often works in chamber-like textures, Gorilla Mask is a visceral band driven by pounding, industrial polyrhythms and electronics provided by Roland Fidezius on electric bass and effects and Rudi Fischerlehner on drums. Van Huffel uses the dense undergrowth and his truncated, machine-gun themes to propel furious alto saxophone improvisations, spiralling across registers with blistering intensity, creating varied, complex lines. Within this assault, some fascinating changes of pace that reveal Van Huffel’s specific roots: on the lyrical Broken Flower, his keening saxophone wail invokes Albert Ayler’s ballad performances, while Fast and Furious shows roots in Ornette Coleman.

Broomer 04 Tara DavidsonThat saxophone emphasis continues with two new releases on Toronto’s Addo Records. Alto and soprano saxophonist Tara Davidson’s Duets (AJR026 addorecords.com) explores what may be the most challenging of improvising formats with six different collaborators. There are two pieces with each partner, one a Davidson composition, the other her collaborator’s. Davidson combines forethought with an ability to work keenly in the moment. What’s surprising is both the variety of approaches and the sustained creativity. Interests in unusual modes link cellist/bassist Andrew Downing’s Kontrbas Semaisi to pianist David Braid’s two-part Lele’s Tune, while Davidson’s duets with tenor saxophonists Mike Murley (her first saxophone teacher) and Trevor Hogg possess subtleties of harmony, timbre and line that suggest affinities with the fertile saxophone partnership of Lee Konitz and Warne Marsh. Turning from her usual alto, Davidson’s most lyrical moments come on soprano saxophone, including the exchange of glassy, wispy sounds with guitarist David Occhipinti on his Silver Skates and the melodic effusion of For Glenda with pianist Laila Biali.

Broomer 05 Eli BennettEli Bennett is a 25-year-old Vancouver-raised tenor saxophonist who has been piling up awards for several years while attending Toronto’s Humber College jazz program. He arrives with the endorsement of numerous senior saxophonists, including Chris Potter, Cory Weeds and the producer of his debut CD, Kirk MacDonald. The enthusiasm is understandable given the general level of Breakthrough (Addo Records AJR024). His key influence is apparently John Coltrane, evident in the beautiful metallic tone and gauzy highs of the reflective Forever as well as a run-through of Coltrane’s Giant Steps. It’s tempered by Bennett’s enthusiasm for R&B-flavoured soul jazz, bringing a quotient of funky licks and sonic grit to originals like Let’s Roll and the highlight of the CD, the majestic and earthy title track, where all of his virtues come together. He’s ably accompanied by an excellent Toronto rhythm section of D’Arcy Myronuk on piano and Fender Rhodes, bassist Jon Maharaj and drummer Fabio Ragnelli.

Broomer 06 Carol McCartneyCarol McCartney has been a vocalist to seek out since her 2007 debut A Night in Tunisia, declaring with its title a devotion to jazz more demanding than many singers will risk, stretching from standards and ballads to the demands of bop. The breadth of her repertoire and the quality of her soaring alto voice are evident on her latest CD, Be Cool (Moxy 014, carolmccartney.com) where she stretches from the Joni Mitchell-composed title track to Duke Ellington’s Tulip or Turnip and Wes Montgomery’s West Coast Blues. She’s joined by stellar musicians, including guitarist Lorne Lofsky, drummer Terry Clarke, bassist Kieran Overs and tenor saxophonist Chris Robinson, with pianist Brian Dickinson and Rick Wilkins providing arrangements. McCartney’s scatting on Almost Twelve makes the bossa nova a standout. 

05 Jazz 01 MacMurchySilent Partner
John MacMurchy (johnmacmurchy.com)

Very often I receive a CD with all original material and it raises a warning flag. Will there be melodic and harmonic content that will stand a lot of re-listening? In this case I have no such doubts. Silent Partner is a thoroughly enjoyable program of original compositions played by groups of varying sizes and including contributions by Bruce Cassidy, flugelhorn and EVI, pianist Mark Kieswetter, guitarist Dan Ionescu, Ross MacIntyre, bass, Daniel Barnes, drums, and Alan Hetherington, percussion. They all make valuable contributions to the success of this recording.

As I mentioned the songs are all MacMurchy originals. He has a beautiful sound on clarinet and his compositions, whether ballad or up-tempo, are little gems. I particularly enjoyed the somewhat melancholy “The Stars Were Out Of Order” and “A Good Day To Be Happy.” In fact listening to this music helps to make it a good day. A superior recording by superior musicians. I highly recommend this CD.


05 Jazz 02 Joe CoughlinSaloon Standard
Joe Coughlin & Mark Eisenman
indiepool JCJAZZ 008 (joecoughlinjazz.com)

With the release of Saloon Standard, veteran BC-based Canadian jazz vocalist Joe Coughlin and skilled pianist/arranger Mark Eisenman have done the near-impossible – created a triumph of a recording that not only celebrates the art of vocal jazz, but honours the symbiotic relationship between piano and voice, all the while thrilling us with 13 tracks that not only venerate the jazz “standard” but break our hearts with almost unbearable beauty and fathomless emotional subtext.

Although Coughlin and Eisenman (who have worked together since their 20s) have created a program of finely crafted ballads, there is no “pearls before swine” posing here. Whether Coughlin is plying his stirring, voluptuous baritone to the rarely performed movie theme, The Bad and the Beautiful (a tune that proved too vocally difficult for Tony Bennett, by the way) or plumbing the depths of heartbreak and renewal with Michel LeGrand/Alan and Marilyn Bergman’s You Must Believe in Spring, every note and every nuance is totally accessible and eminently satisfying... no gratuitous scat singing and other tasteless vocal grandstanding are welcome in the “Saloon” tradition of Joe Coughlin.

Other tasty tracks include Rogers and Hart’s You’re Nearer from the 1940 film Too Many Girls; a lilting, almost bluesy take on Bernstein/Comden and Green’s Lucky to be Me from the hit Judy Holliday musical Bells Are Ringing; Cole Porter’s romantic Dream Dancing (sung with the rarely performed verse) and Hague/Horwitt’s moving ballad Young and Foolish.

This CD is of such a high level of excellence that it would be well-served with a Part Two!


05 Jazz 03 The Great Lakes SuitesThe Great Lakes Suites
Wadada Leo Smith
Tum Records Tum CD 041-2 (tumrecords.com)

Trumpeter/composer Wadada Leo Smith is one of the most ambitious and engaged creators in jazz. In 2012 he recorded his epic tribute to the American civil rights movement, Ten Freedom Years, a four-CD suite for his jazz quintet and chamber ensemble that had been over 30 years in the making. The same year he recorded Occupy the World, with the 22-member TUMO improvising orchestra. His Great Lakes Suites spans two CDs but the manpower is much more concentrated, a quartet in which Smith is joined by three masters: Henry Threadgill on reeds, John Lindberg on bass and Jack DeJohnette on drums.

Smith’s interest in the Great Lakes focuses on the contrast between their flat surface and their potential turbulence, along with aspects of transportation, communication and wave formation. The music is fittingly spare, at times unfolding with a declarative simplicity. The emphasis on stark solo voices – whether Smith’s trumpet or Threadgill’s saxophone or flute – conveys the drama of great natural forces. We are repeatedly drawn to his subject: an extended passage of rattling percussion in Lake Michigan might simply be a consequence of natural movement. Similarly a dialogue of bass and drums suggests all the creaks and activities of a dockside. There is never any sense here of imitative sound, but analogues keep arising for Smith’s compelling subject matter.

Like his other recent works, Smith’s Great Lakes Suites explores corresponding processes in music, history and geology. By finding musicians who can also sustain this extended meditation, Smith succeeds brilliantly.

Creating an entire program of integrated story and sound has long been a hallmark of western music. Just because the 20th and 21st centuries have given composers not only more instruments and modes to work with but also the possibility of adding aleatoric passages hasn`t lessened such projects’ appeal. Unlike the sometimes ill-conceived so-called jazz musicals of the past, today’s improvisers have the skills needed to link a coherent story line with creative sounds.

Waxman 01 IntergalacticScience fiction in its many forms fascinates many of these composers and the appeal of Intergalactic Beings (FPE Records FPE 02 fperecs.com) is how composer/flutist Nicole Mitchell leads her ten-member ensemble in interpreting a theme that’s far from common. Mitchell’s nine-part suite uses vocal and instrumental emphasis to interpret the Xenogenesis trilogy of books by Octavia Butler (1947-2006), whose post-feminist Afro-futurism deals with racial and sexual ambiguity. Briefly Intergalactic Beings posits a post-apocalyptic world where the few remaining humans must mate with tentacle-grasping aliens with superior genes in order for humanity to survive. This obviously isn’t Hello Dolly or Chicago. Throughout the alternating lyrical soprano and guttural alto shadings of Mankwe Ndosi’s voice express the nuances of the tale, with tracks like “Cycle of Metamorphosis” including such phrases as “transformation to save the nation” to propel the storyline. As Ndosi’s verbal exposition moves through pseudo-orgasmic cries, renal murmurs and finally triumphant cosmic-like hallelujahs, the score is advanced by timbral dislocation. Chamber-like concentration, mostly from violin, cello and double bass, mates with tougher interjections from Jeff Parker’s flanging guitar twangs, crying triple-tongued melisma from David Boykin’s reeds, plus the composer’s tongue-fluttering, sometimes doubled by Renée Baker’s violin strokes. As concentrated multiphonics from the strings, horns and dual percussionists intersect in lumbering, gentling or staccato sequences intermingling sexuality is alluded to and resolved. The verbalized “hope is a memory” serves as a leitmotif for the adjoining Web of Hope/Fields of Possibility as marimba pops, trumpet bites and concentrated string sweeps presage the resolution. By the final The Inevitable, combative dissonance is put aside for a contrapuntal near-waltz from strings and vocalist. Fortissimo flute patterns backed by magisterial drum clunks and muted triplets from trumpeter David Young confirm the humanness remaining in the newly born third gender. A descriptive coda recaps the initial fragile human theme, with jagged note patterns toughening it to suggest the existence of a new identity – and corpus.

Waxman 02 WrackAmerican literature with fantastical implants is the theme of Awaits Silent Tristero’s Empire (Singlespeed Music SSM-014 singlespeedmusic.com) by oboist/English horn player Kyle Bruckmann’s seven-piece avant chamber ensemble Wrack. The four-part composition suggests moods engendered by Thomas Pynchon’s best-known novels. Thematic, but not literal, the sometimes dour Pynchon would probably be surprised to hear how much buoyant humour Bruckmann has injected into his interpretations. “Gravity’s Rainbow” for instance moves from discordant vibrations pumped out by scrubbing strings and siren-like brass until a rim shot from drummer Tim Daisy pushes the theme into cabaret territory. From then on the piece bounces from broken triplet tones propelled by trumpeter Darren Johnston, a Burlington, Ontario native, backed by string hammering from bassist Anton Hatwich; to slurping tonguing from Bruckmann and bass clarinetist Jason Stein; through a folk-like stretch from violist Jen Clare Paulson, finally dissolving into barnyard-like cacophony with moos and caws mixed among instrumental tones. Retreating from tailgate slurs from trombonist Jeb Bishop, the final sequence suggests what would happen if a string duo was lost on the vast prairies. Wrack manages to add a contrapuntal tango beat from huffing horns and stolid double bass into “The Crying of Lot 49,” preceding Daisy’s scene-setting drumming with the same finesse exhibited in bass drum thumps, snare paradiddles and cymbal clanks. But it’s V, Pynchon’s best-known book which gets extensive treatment. Complex enough to zigzag through many themes and counter themes, the music reflects the book’s time-dislocated thesis. Highlights include, on the somber side, Bishop’s dark and dirty blues sequence that is accompanied by slap bass and two-beat drumming; and for a lively change of pace, Stein’s hyper-macho descending split tones that are eventually moderated by airy flutter tonguing from English horn and trumpet. In complete contrast is a midsection line that starts off Jazz Age processional yet ends up with freilicher-like joyousness propelled by parallel counterpoint from viola and oboe. The exaggerated swing that pops out here and there throughout the tracks, like raisins in cereal, is eventually regularized into a salutary conclusion.

Waxman 03 JoinWith instant communication having moved from the stuff of sci-fi to everyday, Viennese flugelhornist Franz Koglmann’s satiric opera about marketing communications and big business is as topical as it is musically thrilling. With a libretto by Alfred Zellinger in English and German, Join! (ORF-CD 3177 shop.orf.at/1/shop.tmpl?art=6348&lang=DE), features a 19-piece orchestra and eight major singing roles. Throughout, the score, a cunning pastiche of Broadway musical conventions, burlesque rock’n’roll and pseudo-classical tropes plus jazz, is used to comment upon the action. The gloomy inverse of How to Succeed in Business, Join! follows the corporate machinations of company managers who want to transform society with its new product – an implanted microchip which allows the recipient to be universally connected. Sound familiar? Throughout, obbligatos including jeering trumpet smears and violin plucks underline and mock the characters’ self-satisfied arrogance. Listen to the pseudo-bluesy piano interlude that accompanies the marketing director’s plaint “Ich bin perfect;” or a string-strong operatic underpinning of a soprano’s hymn to “corporate responsibility, fair trade” and “the end of privacy.” At mid-point, swelling orchestral motifs reach a crescendo as the company sings: “Communication is our product/everytime, everywhere/wireless directly/from brain to brain/future is our business/a better life our promise.” Following a demonstration of the product by the soprano singing in a sexy German-accented purr: “My profile is updated/my inbox frequented…I have the chip and you can have it too/so join with me the New Society,” a rousing celebration of so-called intelligent design echoes from the company. Underlining the globalization of this totalitarian technology-commerce mix, Koglmann’s soundtrack includes fake Tijuana Brass mariachi styling played by garish trumpet and wheezy English horn, backing the model and product manager; plus when the chorus urges adherence to “the new society” while harmonizing in the manner of 1950s pop groups, the hand-clapping accompaniment includes Jerry Lee Lewis-styled piano slides and some rockabilly double bass slaps. Finally, following clashes with social activists and an insider trading scandal, given greater impact by harsh guitar flanges and dissonant horn breaks, those pressing for robotic transformation are put in their place. But with a dreamy cha-cha encompassing the composer’s flugelhorn obbligato leading to a tender duet between the C.E.O.-baritone and the microchip-implanted soprano, has the idea been thwarted or just delayed?

Waxman 04 HeroesIgnoring literary and futuristic input, Italian composer Michael Lösch goes in the other direction with Heroes (Sweet Alps Productions michaelloesch.com). Commissioned by an Italian jazz festival, pianist/organist Lösch wrote a seven-part suite commemorating the Tyrolean Rebellion of 1809. Using a pocket orchestra of eight, prominently featuring American trumpeter Steven Bernstein, the suite is joyously post-modern and more jokey than jingoist. Most of the titles use a variant of the first name of Andreas Hofer (1767-1810), who led the rebellion against the French and Bavarian occupation. Following a few victories he surrendered, fled, was captured and summarily executed. A Louis Riel-like figure, over the years Hofer has become revered as folk hero and patriot. With the program only reflected in the titles, Lösch’s pieces stand on their own, with many – especially the punning introduction “Ander Title” and the equivalent conclusion “Ander Water” – expressing a mixture of Italian folk dances, Austrian oom-pah and heroic pseudo-marches featuring organ accents that could come from 1960s private eye TV shows. At the same time because it’s a contemporary suite, sophisticated references to other situations are added via performance visuals (seen in the booklet) plus snatches of speeches, poems, gunfire and voices on a couple of tracks. Alto saxophonist Florian Bramböck’s sharp edges suggest the rebellion’s triumphant moments and baritone saxophonist Helga Plankensteiner’s deep lowing the more melancholy ones. No matter how cacophonous the style mixing and pacing becomes, pushed at its speediest by the ringing flanges and pulsating electronics from guitarist Enrico Merlin, forward motion is never lost. Beside the composer’s sympathetic piano comping or organ smears, Bernstein leaps like a mountain goat over the contrapuntal program using warm flutter tonguing or muted grace notes to herd stray sounds and keep things exciting.

Whether they’re celebrating the past or exploring the future, thematic compositions continue to be a part of jazz-identified music. Followers of the genre that mixes a story with well-played music would be advised to look beyond traditional sources to investigate unanticipated gems like the sessions here. 

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