08 Richard WhitemanOld Prose
Richard Whiteman Quartet
Cornerstone Records CRSTCD 151 (cornerstonerecordsinc.com) 

Toronto pianist Richard Whiteman developed a late fascination with string bass about a decade ago, rapidly becoming an adept performer, as demonstrated here in a 2019 performance from the Huether Hotel’s Jazz Room in Waterloo, Ontario. Another distinguished Toronto multi-instrumentalist, Don Thompson, has described Whiteman’s bass lines as “Bach-like” in their precision. Perhaps it’s a pianist’s special gift, but it’s apparent here in both accompaniment and some well-constructed solos.

Perhaps befitting a bassist’s role, Whiteman may be the most retiring member of his own quartet. The principal role is given to visiting American pianist Harold Danko who provides five of the six compositions played here, while tenor saxophonist Pat LaBarbera and drummer Terry Clarke supply much of the band’s fire. The music is consummate mainstream modern club jazz, focused, energetic, sometimes dense, sometimes lyrical, often intense, but always involved and involving.

Though Danko has worked extensively with cool jazz giants like Chet Baker and Lee Konitz, his compositions reveal the breadth of his inspirations. Blue Swedish Wildflower is gently melodic, with Danko’s own introduction reaching toward the rhapsodic; McCoy’s Passion, however, a clear nod to modal master Tyner, is an open invitation to LaBarbera and Clarke to summon up their roots in the inspirational turbulence of John Coltrane and Elvin Jones. That balance between the gentle and the edgy, sometimes contrasting, sometimes combined, distinguishes this entire set of engaged post-bop jazz, crafted by senior masters.

09 Jobs TrialsJob’s Trials – A Jazz Song Cycle by Dan Loomis
Yoon Sun Choi; Song Yi Jeon; Dan Loomis; Jeff Miles; Jared Schonig; Daniel Breaker
Independent (danloomismusic.com) 

With this release, New York City-based producer, composer, librettist and bassist, Dan Loomis, has created a 14-part, contemporized and unusual look at the biblical story of Job. The recording (to quote Loomis) is “…a song cycle and narration that offer a fresh look into a universal story exploring why bad things happen to good people” – perhaps a story only previously explored in a contemporary light in Neil Simon’s Job-focused hit comedy God’s Favorite. All compositions here are by Loomis with the exception of the project closer, Dear Lord by John Coltrane.

The Narrator (A.K.A. Satan) is masterfully performed by Broadway Star Daniel Breaker (Hamilton, The Book of Mormon), and the balance of the company includes vocalists Yoon Sun Choi and Song Yi Jeon, guitarist Jeff Miles and drummer Jared Schonig. Highlights of this unique jazz song cycle include Abundance Overture, where a funky, insistent bass supports the heavenly choir of Choi and Jeon, as they proceed through a complex scat section, underpinned by dynamic guitar work from Miles as well as relentless, bombastic drumming by Schonig.

As Job sinks into despair and confusion, Do Not Cover My Blood also takes a dive into the darker aspects of the human psyche, as the vocalists bob and weave through a cacophony of emotions and bop motifs. Although not a blues in the traditional sense, Job’s Blues focuses on our hero as he begins to bargain with his God with a rapid fire tempo, propelled into hyper-drive by Miles and Loomis. The closing salvo, Dear Lord, re-sets Coltrane’s lovely tune – leaving us with hope for the triumph of the unconquerable human spirit.

10 Lara DriscollWoven Dreams
Lara Driscoll
Independent (laradriscoll.com)

On the face of it, with cold hard logic, the act of weaving is simple: you treadle a needle with yarn (weft) that passes evenly through even lengths of more yarn (warp) strung taut across a frame. If you’re skilled, you could do all manner of ornamental things with that weft as well. Applied to music, however, weaving is altogether more daunting, especially when your aim is to become a weaver of dreams.

Whether Lara Driscoll was challenged in making Woven Dreams, however, seems to be a proverbial moot point. This is truly outstanding music that tells wordless stories about living things (Siblings and Trespassers) conjuring each with humour and detail; it sketches and paints moving pictures and landscapes with vivid colour and texture (Black Dog Skirts Away and Isfahan) and does so much more, seemingly enchantingly, by manipulating the black and white keys of the piano, which is then woven into bass lines and dappled with percussion colours.

Having sat mesmerized through it all, Driscoll, together with Paul Rushka (bass) and Dave Laing (drums), will have done for you just what they did for me: imprinted upon your mind’s eye something of a magical, seemingly unending dreamscape. In sheer colour and variety, in the depth of its characterization and the exceptional range and refinement of her pianism, Driscoll imparts an extraordinary bigness to this music that most pianists would die to achieve. This is music evoked as few pianists can. 

Listen to 'Woven Dreams' Now in the Listening Room

11 ChimeraChimaera
Emmeluth’s Amoeba
Ora Fonogram OF149 (orafonogram.no) 

Emmeluth’s Amoeba consists of Signe Emmeluth, alto saxophone and compositions, Karl Bjorå (guitar), Ole Mofjell (drums) and Christian Balvig (piano). Their playing is tense and engaging. Chimaera was recorded in Trondheim, Norway in 2019 and features eight compositions which offer a great deal of improvisatory freedom: much of this album›s excitement comes from the contrasts between the improvised portions and the sudden interruption of composed ensemble sections. Emmeluth’s saxophone is lithe and delightfully erratic and Balvig is particularly impressive with his clusters of runs and staccato interjections.

Throughout the album, change is the main constant. For example, the first half of Squid Circles features Emmeluth’s skittering saxophone lines interspersing melodic fragments with quick multi-phonics. Then the drums enter with guitar and piano soon after. The last two minutes are a solid groove that builds towards an extremely abrupt ending. AB is a longer piece with a variety of sonic adventures, including a short section reminiscent of some zany music that Raymond Scott might have written. No. 1 begins with a slightly off-kilter lounge piano section and keeps this same nuanced mood as more instruments are added. It’s understated and beautiful. Chimaera is an excellent album that manages to be surprising, charming and edgy at the same time.

12 ColinLiving Midnight
Colin Fisher Quartet
Astral Spirits MF211/AS 107 (astralspiritsrecords.com) 

Leaving his guitar back in Toronto, Colin Fisher took his saxophones to New York and recorded this sometimes sage, sometimes savage, trio of exemplary improvisations with three of that city’s most accomplished free players: multi-instrumentalist Daniel Carter, bassist Brandon Lopez and drummer Marc Edwards. All four function as if they’ve worked together for years.

With Fisher on alto and tenor saxophones, while Carter roams among clarinet, flute, tenor, alto and soprano saxophones, the only disorientation occurs when both play saxophones. But on Valley Spirit for instance, the resulting layered reed affirmations create enough elasticized power to counter the rugged polyrhythms of Edwards, who is constantly aggressive, although his distinctive accents and patterns never disrupt the narratives.

Elsewhere Carter’s discursive trumpet flutters, breezy flute tones or fluid clarinet timbres create a calm oasis during the extended tracks, which Fisher joins with breathy lower-case vibrations. Meanwhile Lopez’s sprawling thumps maintain the tunes’ flow, except those times he joins the others for expressive intensity.

Overall, the horn players use chalumeau and clarion registers in double counterpoint to create packed tension or relaxed flow with frequent detours into split tones and irregular vibrations, as on Crescent Moon Furnace and Embryonic Breath. What this means is that Fisher, Carter and the others unite to productively vary sequences among light and dark, speedy and frantic, and high and low pitches. It also confirms that a Hogtown improviser can easily pull his weight when facing Big Apple challengers.

13 CafeCafé Grand Abyss
Jon Rose; Alvin Curran
ReR Megacorp ReRJRAC (rermegacorp.com) 

Busman’s holidays for American pianist Alvin Curran and Australian violinist Jon Rose; the two navigate a program of improvisations that also reference Curran’s experiments with electronics and Rose’s habit of stretching the fiddle’s expected characteristics for offbeat music-making.

Both are possessed of a sardonic sense of humour. For instance, they end the disc with a brief singing saw-and-keyboard-clipping variant on Tea for Two and precede that with a pseudo-blues, where at every turn, wide multi-string violin squeaks burlesque the jittery piano syncopation beside it. But this café’s main courses are extended duets, where amplified tenor violin sweeps expose unexpected techniques answered succinctly by keyboard colours plus wave-form drones or sampled sounds.

Curran exhibits percussion backing, brass-like pumps, electronic wiggles, and sampled vocals and music on Benjamin at the Border, without neglecting consistent piano note patterns. These merge with Rose’s kinetic glissandi and hoedown-like patterns that complement the exposition while mocking the pianist’s few lapses into romanticism. Dramatically intriguing, The Marcuse Problem is built upon thickening a narrative constructed from angled fiddle runs and keyboard clinking to reach such a level of echoed intensity that it appears the pressure can’t be further amplified – and then it is. Finally the theme is deconstructed, leading to an appealing conclusion.

Recorded in sessions two years apart in Rome and Sydney where each musician lives, the CD’s stimulating duo program should encourage the two to collaborate more frequently.

With the trumpet’s traditional heraldic and heroic roles in most music, and construction which depends on only three valves, tubing and a bell, it would seem that distinctive brass innovation would be at a premium. Yet as the following discs demonstrate, those who mix innovative concepts and technical sophistication can create notable exploratory sessions.

01 EngageWhile American Dave Douglas’ Engage (Greenleaf Music GRE-CD-1074 greenleafmusic.com) is the performance closest to the jazz tradition, his choice of engaged song titles such as Sanctuary Cities and Living Earth confirms his political concerns, while the group lineup is unconventional. Besides drummer Kate Gentile and bassist Nick Dunston, it includes guitarist Jeff Parker, cellist Tomeka Reid plus Canada’s Anna Webber moving among alto and bass flutes and tenor saxophone. Engaged, not agit-prop though, challenges are expressed in sound. Orchestral, with a bass flute introduction for instance, In It Together splinters from anthemic to atonal due to trumpet gusts, swift cello string jerks and barbed guitar frails. One Sun, A Million Rays mates an exemplar of brass tongue jujitsu and valve hide-and-seek timbres propelled by guest trumpeter Dave Adewumi, with parade ground-like drumming and a chromatic counter line from the flutist. Meanwhile Living Earth could be a sleigh-ride melody reimagined by a Dixieland combo, although Webber’s tough tenor intensity, Parker’s colourful finger-picking and Douglas’ open horn work, backed by vamps from Adewumi and another trumpet guest, Riley Mulherkar, confirm its contemporary stance. This substantiates another Douglas concept. Like a concerned progressive who wishes society to evolve not rupture, his compositions cannily advance new textures that build on established ones. Faith Alliance and Free Libraries, Engage’s most advanced tracks, are instances of this. Faith Alliance slides Parker’s Jimi Hendrix-like squealing flanges and razor-sharp distortions within a layered horn vamp, culminating in a challenge from string pressure to brass expansion. Free Libraries could be termed roots music with the cello’s string swelling and the guitar’s blues licks never disrupting the harmonized horn part that, with gentling grace notes, instills concluding calm.

02 Dropping StuffTouching on roots music by inference is Dropping Stuff and other Folk Songs (Relative Pitch RPR 1094 relativepitchrecords.com) but the eight tracks don’t resemble any extant folk music. Instead they reflect the sounds made by instruments stretched to their technical limits during improvisations created by an unconventional line-up of Amsterdam-based violist Ig Henneman and flutist Anne La Berge plus American trumpeter Jaimie Branch. There are a few instances of the extroverted trumpeter producing bugle call-like vamps, ferocious yelps and an entire section on the concluding title track where her inner Bubber Miley is revealed via plunger mute snarls. But Branch generally mutes her output to match the others’ horizontal pitches. Meanwhile La Berge often concentrates on affiliating peeping and keening trills as Henneman’s spiccato string slices alternate between disruptive angled pings and flowing ostinato pulses. Although enough echoes within the trumpet’s body tube, narrow flute whines and dissected string drags are featured, a perverse lyricism sometimes peeks through. Branch’s arching brassiness is effective in meeting the pseudo-romanticism of Henneman’s sluicing buzzes on Gigging, while unexpected, though quickly cut off, trio elation characterizes Canal Rounds. However the defining track is the extended When bells stop ringing. Melding the violist’s sul ponticello swells with the trumpeter’s propelling triplets and smears at Flight of the Bumblebee speeds, flute peeps create the connective continuum. Finally harmonized whistles from the horn players match Henneman’s protracted string sawing for a downshifting conclusion.

03 ArthursAlso in the realm of close-knit tripartite improvisation, but intensified with programming, is Hangkerum (Clean Feed CF 533 CD cleanfeedrecords.com) involving trumpeter Tom Arthurs and electronic musician Isambard Khroustaliov both from the UK and Swiss percussionist Julian Sartorius. Vibrant and balanced, the disc consists of five tracks, which purposely reveal the distinct aspects of each instrument through separation and interaction until the trio’s parallel strategies cinch. Beginning with rounded trumpet notes, Arthurs’ pitches are held and framed by galloping pulsations from Khroustaliov’s electronics and Sartorius’ intermittent beats until the brass player’s muted lyricism, highlighted with note flurries, meets knob-twisting oscillations and sharp, unexpected peeps. By the time Herrgöttli is elaborated, midpoint digression has Arthurs timbre-stretching to piccolo trumpet-like pitches or fluttering growls, but without weakening the narrative thread which was advanced at the outset. While the electronic undulating continues in building tension, there’s a sudden realization that live processing has created a secondary brass line, whizzing alongside the first. Timed chimes echoes plus power ratamacues from the percussionist concentrate the textures of the subsequent Duch even further, until halfway through a nuanced melodic line from the trumpeter unexpectedly floats over the sound miasma, leading to Reréaux, the extended finale. Picking up on each of the sound properties propelled by the trio members, the piece is buzzy, bellicose and breezy in equal measures. While the programmer’s synthesized outer-space-like whooshes and juddering oscillations are audible, so are the drummer’s doorbell-like tolling, churning bass drum pumps and ascending cymbal pings. Yet as much as the percussion and electronics vibrate irregularly beside him, Arthurs not only excavates the nooks and crannies of his horn for unusual textures, but uses muted puffs to confirm the alluring beauty of the suite.

04 Electric greenStripped down even further in concept and execution is the duo of French bassist Benoit Cancoin and German trumpeter Birgit Ulher, who uses a radio, speakers and objects to further splinter her brass sound during Electric Green (Blumlein edition blumlein.net). Interestingly enough, despite the obvious differences between their instruments there are points at which the bassist’s arco string sweeps and the trumpeter’s sounding of wide projected textures make differentiation nearly impossible. Most of the time though, Cancoin propels his low-pitched stops and rubs to create an ongoing continuum, while Ulher manipulates her horn and add-ons to source unique vibrations. One second she can output fire-drill-like elevated pitches, while on the next inflate balloon-like blows from deep inside her horn or latterly produce gentle flute-like tones. In fact, the extended Seladon is one of the date’s most low-key tracks with brief sniffs and watery gurgles from the trumpet’s innards brushing up against the bassist’s string stretching and wood banging until her aviary bleats and his col legno string slaps move their strategies closer. Establishing individual real estate they can be discordant, as on Aureolin, contrasting jet-plane-like brass propulsion and powerful purported string shredding from the bassist. But overall the aim is to stretch expected timbres in the course of affiliation. By the brief, final Signal Blue, they establish an unshakable rapport so that the trumpeter’s note burbling and mouthpiece French kisses snugly align beside the closest Cancoin comes to pumping out a swing beat on the date.

05 PipSomething completely different is Possible Worlds (SOFA 575 sofamusic.no), a single track, 66-minute program of mesmerizing avant-ambient sound by Norwegian duo Pip. Consisting of Torstein Lavik Larsen on trumpet, sampler and synthesizer plus Fredrik Rasten who plays fretless electric and acoustic guitars, chimes and electronics in varied combinations, here the brass is used sparingly to infuse accents onto constantly repeated microtonal hooks propelled by Rasten’s slurred fingering. Subtly, the sequences gradually intensify as the track progresses while synthesized granular motifs including brass vibrations and organ-like sweeps inflate and take up more aural space. A defining diversion arrives at the three-quarter mark as the finger-picked guitar pulse is strengthened and turns upwards to meet synthesizer drones and percussive slaps. Meanwhile, inside horn growls from Larsen wash over the interaction. After fuzz tones, chime echoes and dripping water-like sound samples are introduced into the mix, the continuous guitar strums are reintroduced to slide through harsher drones and bond with the exposition.

Each of these trumpeters chose to blow his or her horn in a unique fashion and all the strategies are equally valid.

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