Moving into a comfortable adulthood, the annual Guelph Jazz Festival (GJF), September 3 to 7, hasn’t abandoned its presentation of new artists. However it has reached the state where musicians who have been there in the past are returning, but mostly in new contexts. Case in point in 2014, the 100th anniversary of bandleader Sun Ra’s arrival on this planet – he returned to the cosmos in 1993 – where the Sun Ra Arkestra, now under the direction of alto saxophonist Marshall Allen, gives two performances on September 6. The first is an afternoon parade; the second couples the band with dancers from the Colman Lemieux Company for “Hymn to the Universe,” a multi-media presentation at the River Run Centre (RRC).

01 sunraMinus the visuals you can sample a Sun Ra Arkestra performance on Live in Ulm 1992 (Golden Years of Jazz GY 30/31 when Ra, the man from Saturn, was still in charge. Unusual because there’s extended input from trombonist Tyrone Hill, guitarist Bruce Edwards and electric bassist Jothan Collins, this 10-piece Arkestra features four drummers, two reedists and two trumpeters who faultlessly follow the segues directed by Ra’s piano. An intense track like The Shadow World is defined by screaming reed multiphonics as the rest of the orchestra harmonizes; while James Jacson’s nasal oboe and Allen’s guttural flute bring otherworldly exotica to The Mayan Temples just as a bass vamp and percussion bumps keep it attached to terra firma. Elsewhere the percussionists’ claves produce a montuno pulse on a Latinized version of Fate in a Pleasant Mood, but before the dance beat becomes too predictable, Ra slips in references to other Ra classics while sounding if he’s playing a honky-tonk keyboard. Suggestions of spirituals and the Second Line alternate with brassy crescendos, and just as you think all the tricks have been revealed, the group presents a raucous recreation of Fletcher Henderson’s Hocus Pocus. Later there’s a vocal version of Prelude to a Kiss whose clip-clop backing is crowned by a strident Allen solo. With marching band precision and rhythmic hand claps, most of the second CD is given over to a singalong medley of Ra’s greatest hits including Space is the Place, We Travel the Spaceways and Outer Spaceways Incorporated. Ra may have left this earth, but the Arkestra continues impressing people.

02 kidd jordanAnother veteran musician who has helped extend the lineage of jazz is New Orleans-based tenor saxophonist Kidd Jordan. He returns to the GJF September 6 to play the River Run Centre’s Co-operators Hall with another Free Jazz pioneer, drummer Milford Graves, plus Canadian pianist D. D. Jackson. Jordan and Graves haven’t recorded together but Trio and Duo in New Orleans (NoBusiness Records NBCD 64/65 suggests how they may sound since here the saxophonist’s partner is another Free Jazz percussion pioneer: Alvin Fielder. More interesting is the second CD of duos, although both are also in top form on the first CD that adds the late bassist Peter Kowald. Jordan’s tempered split tones and stentorian output that stands up to every challenge are completely original. In the main, he’s comfortable in the altissimo register and on pieces such as Duo Flight, invention is paired with stridency as screeched multiphonics alternate with moderato slurs. Fielder uses shakes and shudders from percussion add-ons to make his points. In the final minutes, as Jordan moves into lower pitches, the two attain a spiky rapprochement that brings in bop echoes. Even when Fielder takes a protracted solo as he does on E. Fashole-Luke, there’s no show-off commotion, just moderated pizzazz. The drummer’s ruffs, ratamacues and rebounds show a man in perfect command of his kit. This sound authority extends to Jordan, who utilizes screams and melisma to build up to major saxophone statements. That the CD’s final track was recorded seven years after the first four, with no letdown in power, is a confirmation of the musicians’ skills.

03 fletchettesAnother sax-drum duo of equal quality unrolls on September 5 at the Guelph Youth Music Centre (GYMC) with American multi-instrumentalist Joe McPhee and French percussionist Lê Quan Ninh. Highly praised for his mastery of contemporary notated music, Ninh is equally proficient as an improviser as he demonstrates with Montreal saxophonist Jean Derome on Fléchettes (Tour de Brass TDB 9004cd During the course of one over-40-minute track the two face off like friendly gladiators lobbing back and forth any texture suggested by one or the other. Using only a giant, horizontal bass drum Ninh’s creations take on spatial as well as sonic qualities. Scraping, sliding and stroking a variety of timbres from his drum, he uses room architecture to amplify and expand rim shots plus wood abrasions, while creating electronic-like drones. Making use of all registers of his alto saxophone and flute, Derome’s interface is as dissonant as it is startling. His emotional expressions are sourced from flatulent guzzling slide-whistle-like peeps and piercing duck calls. In the duet’s final minutes a rapprochement established with the broken-octave improvisations finally fades following ghostly cries from Derome’s horn and answering rubs from Ninh’s drum top.

05 burns longerDrummer Lou Grassi partners another improv master, Belgian pianist Fred Van Hove on a GYMC double bill on September 6. Like Jordan, whose commitment to free expression goes back to the 1960s, the pianist works in many contexts. One unusual set-up is captured on Burns Longer (Balance Point Acoustics BPA2 playing with Belgian bassist Peter Jacquemyn and American bassist Damon Smith. Grinding and goosing their eight strings the two scramble to keep up with Van Hove whose cadenza stream almost sweeps any interference out of his way. Not that this is a one man show. Both bull fiddlers hold their own, with one fortifying the rhythmic pulse and the other stropping strings. Sharpened stops squeak from the highest register as often as bowed textures outline more supple textures. Although Archiduc 2 is the most pianistic of the tracks, as Van Hove dampens his note waterfall by percussively stopping inner strings, the concluding 35-minute Archiduc 3 defines the narratives. Unexpectedly uncrating his accordion so that tremolo glissandi create an ostinato underpinning, the bassists’ response is close to what could be heard on a baroque recital. Back on piano, Van Hove’s kineticism increases. Yet the technical expertise of Smith and Jacquemyn allows them to not only respond with buoyant tones but also to mutate these timbres to resemble harsh blowing from saxophones or didgeridoos. Finally just as it seems as if the mixture of splayed strings and cascading lines can’t get any more exciting, the trio reaches a crescendo of interactive polyphony as the altered chords and tremolo strokes meld.

05 pete robbinsAnother pianist returning to Guelph on a Co-operators Hall double bill on September 4 is Vijay Iyer whose trio includes drummer Tyshawn Sorey. Both are on featured on Pyramid, where alto saxophonist Pete Robbins mixes his fine-boned originals with jazz variations on tunes by Guns’n’Roses, Stevie Wonder, Nirvana and even Jimmy Webb (Hate Laugh Music 003 Playing with a Paul Desmond-like fluidity but a harder tone, Robbins’ recreations are neither smooth nor funk jazz. Instead the improvisations toughen a tune like Wichita Lineman, as Iyer’s molten swing runs contrast to Robbins’ relaxed reading of the head; or add unprecedented free-form motions to rock anthems. Lithium is given a Latin treatment as the pianist’s fleet fingering deconstructs the bridge, only to speed up returning to the familiar theme. Meanwhile the altioist’s reed vibrations and the pianist’s chording unearth the near-symphonic underpinning of Hallelujah. The Robbins-composed title tune showcases Sorey’s powerful backbeat; while a strummed solo from bassist Eivind Opsvik defines the groove on Too High. The probability of Iyer and Sorey presenting any Nirvana or Wonder songs during their concert is pretty slim. But considering the GJF’s reputation for showcasing unconventional music, and the breadth of the performers’ talents this year, who know what may take place?


By happy coincidence the past few months have seen new releases by many of Toronto’s most consistently creative musicians.

Broomer 01 MurleyLookingBackThe trio of saxophonist Mike Murley, guitarist Ed Bickert and bassist Steve Wallace set a high standard for harmonically sophisticated, lyrical chamber jazz. The group released just two CDs – Live at the Senator and Test of Time – but each won the JUNO for Best Traditional Jazz Album, the former in 2002 and the latter in 2013. Guitarist Reg Schwager assumed the guitar chair when Bickert retired in 2001, but Looking Back (Cornerstone CRST CD143 is the first time this configuration of The Mike Murley Trio has recorded. The tunes are chosen with rare taste, emphasizing little-heard pieces by great composers, like Billy Strayhorn’s Isfahan and Antônio Carlos Jobim’s If You Never Come to Me. It’s music of supreme artistry, floated aloft on Murley’s distinctive, almost feathery, tenor saxophone sound and the bubbling electric clarity of Schwager’s guitar, all of it tethered joyously to Wallace’s pulsing bass lines. A rare blend of wistful reflections and soaring freedom make the CD another JUNO contender.

Broomer 02 Strands III cdReg Schwager turns up in another fine ensemble, trombonist Darren Sigesmund’s distinctive septet, on Strands III ( Sigesmund is an outstanding composer, creating welcoming moods comprised of evocative and elusive harmonies. His music is both warm and cool, dense and transparent, and there’s a subtle Latin flavour woven throughout. If his earlier work suggested a strong Wayne Shorter influence, his own identity is everywhere apparent here, its distinctive sound formed by the unusual combination of Eliana Cuevas’ wordless voice, his own mellifluous trombone and the expressive wail of Luis Deniz’s alto and soprano saxophones, complemented by Schwager, vibraphonist Michael Davidson, bassist Jim Vivian and drummer Ethan Ardelli. El Encanto, the only song here with words (Cuevas’ own) is particularly compelling.

Broomer 03 Fern LindzonFern Lindzon is a rare jazz singer, her strong identity based on nuanced expression, a clear, almost silky voice, and a freedom from the collections of mannerisms that many jazz singers use to distinguish themselves. Instead, her work seems to grow from her solid piano playing and the empathy that exists with her band. For her third CD, Like a Circle in a Spiral (iatros IMO3, she moves deftly between languages and styles, singing songs in Hebrew (Mishaela) and Yiddish (A Malekh Veynt) with the same idiomatic comfort that marks the more familiar Windmills of Your Mind. The most striking piece may be her arrangement of alternative pop songwriter Ron Sexsmith’s Jazz at the Bookstore, a richly ironic rendition in which accomplished jazz musicians (saxophonist David French, bassist/producer George Koller, vibraphonist Michael Davidson and drummer Nick Fraser) get to “play” jazz musicians.

04 occhipinti downing lewisBassist Andrew Downing, trumpeter Jim Lewis and guitarist David Occhipinti provide comparable surprise on Bristles (Occdav Music - OM007,, as they alternate a series of brief collective improvisations with longer treatments of standards. Each of the improvisations is named for a 20th-century painter, with a direct methodological link between the repeated even tones and cyclical discords of Cy Twombly and the sudden swirling lines of Jackson Pollock. The standards are evidently chosen for melodic richness, with the trio exploring the possibilities of such tunes as My One and Only Love, Emily and I Fall in Love Too Easily. There’s a spectacular clarity of thought and sound as the three embellish and reshape their materials, at times turning suddenly from icy abstraction to the most exalted lyricism.

05 gerry shatfordPianist Gerry Shatford worked extensively in the Montreal, Vancouver and Ottawa jazz scenes before returning to Toronto where he was raised. He’s been emphasizing composition in recent years, along with studies with master pianist Stanley Cowell, and the results of both pursuits are documented on When I Sat Down to Play the Piano (, a suite of pieces inspired by Al Purdy’s poetry. Viewed through the great piano tradition of James P. Johnson, Thelonious Monk (his compositions get quoted) and Bud Powell, the poems find analogues in the off-kilter stride of Home-Made Beer or the romantic reverie of How a Dog Feels to Be Old. Accompanied here by the ideal rhythm section in bassist Neil Swainson and drummer Terry Clarke, the journeyman Shatford reveals a strong identity of his own.

06 jazz descendantsThe Jazz Descendants are another piano trio featuring a relatively unknown pianist with a stellar rhythm section, combining bassist Brandi Disterheft and drummer Leroy Williams with pianist Joshua Goodman, who works regularly in Disterheft’s quartet. Red (Superfran Records SFR0008, is dedicated to Barry Harris, the respected bop pianist and teacher with whom Williams has long been associated and with whom Goodman has studied. Much of the music is low key, Goodman blending his mainstream jazz and classical influences in a consistently pleasant way, While his reflective Medley goes on too long, stretching its pastoral themes to the 14-minute mark, he brings a precise bop touch to the venerable Scrapple from the Apple. The best moments come when Disterheft and Williams come to the fore, as on the bassist’s potent Prayer to Release the Troops

battletrancePalace of Wind
Battle Trance
New Amsterdam NWAM058 (

 Battle Trance may be a quartet of tenor saxophonists, but banish from your inner ear the smooth reed sounds of The Four Brothers or more experimental foursomes like ROVA. Instead the Brooklyn-based ensemble, which plays at Arraymusic  on September 5 (155 Walnut Ave, 416.532.3019), specializes in a more difficult type of interaction.

An interconnected three-part composition by leader Travis Laplante, Palace of Wind wasn’t notated, but taught orally to the other players: Matthew Nelson, Jeremy Viner and Patrick Breiner. Laplante, whose improv experience includes the band Little Women, uses the harmonic conventions of jazz only as a bonding mechanism. Setting up the sequences, unaccented buzzing, tinges of folk melodies and contrasting expositions, singular, unison and with the other saxes’ organ-like chords cocooning the soloist, are put into play at various times. Similarly the narrative moves from gentle, barely audible whispers to crescendos of fortissimo timbres. Utilizing all parts of the woodwind(s), specific passages concentrate on the highest alto-like register of the horns or guttural, baritone-like lowing. But no tone predominates; and there’s always underlying textural bonding. Consistently deconstructing and rebuilding the themes, near pastoral sections are succeeded by ferocious blow-outs with split tones and irregular vibrations cascading every which way. Then just as often, intricate, overlapping unison playing arises.

Reaching a climax in the final minutes of the third and lengthiest section, the concentrated reed drone becomes so intense it’s almost visible. Just as quickly though this basso-range wallowing is succeeded by wispy reed airiness that guides the piece to its conclusion, with the horns and program still accurately and memorably harmonized.

This CD, and the upcoming performance, promise air currents you probably won’t want to miss hearing.


tmalabycd001Somos Agua
Tony Malaby: Tamarindo
Clean Feed CF 304 CD (

An essay on the intricacies of saxophone improvisation, New York tenor man Tony Malaby explores every nuance of reed sounds on this matchless session, backed only by the four-square pacing of William Parker’s double bass and the rhythmic flow of drummer Nasheet Waits. Reminiscent of similar trio tours-de-force by Sonny Rollins and Joe Henderson, the seven selections make up a suite whose parts flow logically and seamlessly into one another. At the same time, Malaby’s solos confirm his experimental credo by exposing as many split tones and screeches as emotive flutters and gentling tones.  

Never losing sight of the tonal even as his solo explorations appear to produce aural x-rays of his horn’s insides, on the title track the saxophonist’s output is unhurried and relaxed enough to reference  the initial theme, even as his dense multiphonics squeeze the last atom of sound out of his horn. Parker’s power stops or sensitive bowing, plus Waits’ crunches and clatters, aptly second the saxophone flights. Nonetheless, the most edifying example of the Tamarindo trio’s game plan is the 14-minute Can’t Find You. Despite the title, there’s never a moment when the drummer’s intuitive cymbal splashes or drum colours aren’t on track as Malaby stretches stratospheric altissimo cries into slim variations which are finally reconstituted as a powerful narrative. Framing the journey, Parker’s thick stops eventually become supple, supportive strums. With this defining saxophone CD under his belt, it will be instructive to see how Malaby intersects with the local three-saxophones-three-rhythm Kayos Theory sextet when he plays The Rex June 27 and 28.

05 jazz 01 charlie ringasFreeplay
Charlie Ringas
Supermono Records XOR0003 (

Charlie Ringas is an inventive musician/composer in the Toronto creative music community. Freeplay is a ten-track disc which combines the feel of free improvisation with a solid compositional sense. How so? As the liner notes explain, Ringas was working on a text when he rediscovered two past live concert improvisations and decided to add new improvisations to them. After dividing these into ten pieces, he brought in violinist Ivana Popovic and double bassist Bret Higgins to improvise over this past material. Only these string parts were then extensively and successfully edited to create bed tracks to which Mike Skinner (saxophones, flutes), Garnet Willis (terpstra keyboard and producer) and Ringas (percussion) improvised. Trombonist Eugene Watts’ improvisation from an earlier unrelated session was then edited into these pieces. Finally vocalist Peggy Jane Hope added the text both improvised in spoken and sung forms.

Sounds like too much work but the effect is best described in the final line of text in the last track: “Liberation from holding forms.” All the improvisers are highly skilled musicians obviously chosen for their inventiveness and superb listening skills and their artistic openness to trust Ringas to rework their material. Their performances are brilliant and their musical personalities continue to shine even after Ringas has respectfully edited each part to meet his personal compositional sense.

Freeplay is tough music to grasp in its free tonalities and at times jagged sections but worth the effort in its memorable walk through the musical mind of Charlie Ringas.


05 jazz 02 taft hiltzBeverly Taft meets the Nathan Hiltz Orchestra
Beverly Taft; Nathan Hiltz Orchestra
Independent BT-002 (

With the release of this ebullient parfait of a vocal jazz/big band CD, some much-needed joie de vivre has been transfused back into the current jazz scene. The well-produced project conjures up images and sounds of the classic supper clubs of the 1950s and features ten original compositions, co-authored by engaging vocalist/lyricist Beverly Taft and JUNO award-winning guitarist and arranger, Nathan Hiltz. The recording has a refreshing “live,” organic quality – and no auto-tune or obsessive over-dubbing will be found here... in fact, just as a great actress eschews cosmetic surgery, every nuance and imperfection of Taft’s vocal interpretations is full of life experience, truth and beauty. Additionally, the CD is set against the musical canvas of a swinging and skilled nonet, including William Carn on trombone, Shawn Nykwist on tenor, Richard Underhill on alto, Jake Wilkinson on trumpet, Artie Roth on bass, Sly Juhas on drums and special guest Adrean Farrugia on piano.

Notable tracks include the lilting and sensual Clock Tickin’ Blues (enhanced by Underhill’s funky alto solo) and Gay Repartee at The Ski Chalet, the true love story of Taft’s own parents (with particularly groovy solos by Hiltz and Underhill). Of special mention is the bebop-ish Bouncin’ Round My Brain – a superb band feature and a clear tip of the hat to the great Lambert, Hendricks and Ross’ hit Twisted, as well as the cool, trombone and guitar-driven cooker Travellin’ Along and the closing tune, Izzie and Birdie (about two little girls at play) which showcases Taft’s enchanting lyrics and the inspired piano work of Adrean Farrugia.


05 jazz 03 feldspacd001Feldspar
Matana Roberts; Sam Shalabi; Nicolas Caloia
Tour de Bras TDB9008cd (

Titled after the rock formations found in the earth’s crust, Feldspar is as rugged as it is remarkable. Naming each of the seven tracks for terrestrial minerals, the tunes confirm not only the attractive results but also the hard work that goes into their production.

Not that there is anything laboured about the program. On it American alto saxophonist Matana Roberts, who recently won a Herb Alpert Award in the Arts for risk-taking, mid-career artists, turns away from her long-term Coin Coin project to interact with two Montrealers: guitarist Sam Shalabi and bassist Nicolas Caloia. Playing together as if they have done so for years, the three evolve a strategy that could almost be a fanciful vaudeville routine between an exuberant and an unruffled comedy team. With Caloia fancifully standing near the wings, only adding tensile thumps when needed for further direction, the saxophonist spins out lightly accented, straight-ahead timbres, while the guitarist uses every manner of string, amp and knob distortion to vary the interface.

At points Roberts responds to his sonic goading with double-tongued or slap-tongued interjections which challenge then blend impressively with Shalabi’s crunches, buzzes and distended flanges. And with the reedist in perfect control at all times, the program works its way to unearth different sparkling imaginary mineral formations to reach a climax with the final title track. As bass string stopping becomes more prominent, Roberts’ previously long-lined flatness turns to emotional altissimo at the same time as Shalabi’s meandering timbres stabilize into rhythmic string clipping and a conclusive banjo-like clang.

A utilitarian rather than a trifling listen, concentrating on the sound production here will yield the same multi-faceted rewards that concentrated hard-rock mining does in other situations.


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