01 Murley Taking Flight 01Taking Flight
Mike Murley
Cornerstone Records CRST CD 150 (cornerstonerecordings.com)

Around 1998, saxophonist Mike Murley formed a trio with guitarist Ed Bickert and bassist Steve Wallace. The group only endured until Bickert’s 2001 retirement, but it represented a high point for chamber jazz: a debut CD, Live at the Senator, won the 2002 JUNO for best jazz recording; Test of Time, a later release of 1999 material, won the 2013 JUNO. The spirit of the group has found continuing life in the Murley Trio with Wallace and guitarist Reg Schwager. Taking Flight adds the superb expatriate Canadian pianist Renee Rosnes to the mix, with Jim Vivian substituting for Wallace on four of nine tracks. The group emphasizes the quiet end of the dynamic spectrum, but it does so with resilient firmness and determined invention.

The group covers a spectrum that’s tailor-made to its gifts. The late Kenny Wheeler, both partner and inspiration, is represented by Winter Suite and Phrase 3, models of introspective collaboration. The former begins with just Murley’s tenor, before it’s joined by Rosnes’ floating accompaniment. Wayne Shorter’s Penelope has its own evanescent glow, and the spinning lines of Charlie Parker’s Bird Feathers feels Tristano-like in this context, emphasized by Rosnes’ rapid invention. 

The CD concludes with Nikolaus Brodszky’s I’ll Never Stop Loving You, played by the trio of Murley, Schwager and Wallace and dedicated to the memory of Ed Bickert, who passed away a couple of weeks before this March 2019 recording session. No tribute could be more fitting.

02 Marilyn LernerIntention
Marilyn Lerner; Ken Filiano; Lou Grassi
NotTwo MW995-2 (nottwo.com)

Marilyn Lerner is one of Canada’s most creative pianists, from ventures into klezmer to the avant-garde playfulness of Queen Mab Trio with Lori Freedman and Ig Henneman. Her most intense and inventive project, though, may well be the longstanding and virtuosic trio with two veteran New York free jazz musicians, bassist Ken Filiano and drummer Lou Grassi. The group’s first CD, Arms Wide Open, was recorded in a Brooklyn studio in 2008. The next two ‒ Live in Madrid (2012) and Live at Edgefest (2013) ‒ documented festival appearances. Intention comes from a 2018 New York concert with the trio achieving ever higher levels of empathetic creation. 

Taking a conversational approach, there’s a certain pointillist playfulness to the sound-oriented Plink Plunk, complete with hand drums, isolated piano string plucking and sudden bass glissandi; but even in this mode the group is a dynamic collective, suddenly mustering episodes of dense interactivity. Each musician might open a dialogue with a solo foray, a series of suggestions and motifs, as Grassi does in his multi-directional opening to No Farewell. Before long the group is embroiled in another collective composition, in this case a particularly pensive episode, a layering of distinct yet interactive parts, distinguished by bright piano trebles, rich arco bass and varied metal percussion.

While jazz piano trios once resolved into pianos with accompaniment, Lerner, Filiano and Grassi are full partners, the trio pressing dialogue into meteorological events, the tempestuous, the torrential and often the impending.

03 Local TalentHigienôpolis
James Hill’s Local Talent
Projectwhatever Records (projectwhatever.com)

Local Talent is the newest project from James Hill, a Toronto-based pianist who has surely and steadily established a presence for himself on the national music scene. In many ways, Local Talent’s debut release, Higienópolis, is a continuation and expansion of the work that Hill has done in two other notable Canadian groups: the jazz trio Autobahn, with drummer Ian Wright and saxophonist Jeff LaRochelle, and the hip-hop/jazz band BADBADNOTGOOD, with whom Hill has played for the past several years. Wright is back in the drum throne on Higienópolis; rounding out the trio is bassist Rich Brown, who, at this point in his career, may be Canada’s preeminent voice on the electric bass. 

Higienópolis begins with the title track, a mixed-metre affair that unfolds carefully over the song’s six-minute runtime. Busy, snare-drum-driven sections are juxtaposed with compelling solo piano passages, whose sparseness becomes expansive through the intelligent application of reverb and other time-based effects. When a solo does start, halfway through the song, it seems like a welcome inevitability, rather than a demonstration of athletic prowess. 

Local Talent’s commitment to patience, as demonstrated both in Hill’s compositions and in the band members’ individual artistic choices, is one of Higienópolis’ most charming features. At its best, as on the title track, on The Silent Cry, and on Sailing At Night, the album evokes a sense of theatre, of the familiar refracted and re-presented as something new. Highly recommended. 

04 Eric St LaurentBliss Station
Eric St-Laurent
Katzenmusik KM10 (ericst-laurent.com)

Toronto-based guitarist Eric St-Laurent’s new album, Bliss Station, is a continuation and expansion of the work that he has done on past releases, including Dale and Ruby, both of which feature his longstanding trio of bassist Jordan O’Connor and percussionist Michel DeQuevedo. Both DeQuevedo and O’Connor join St-Laurent on Bliss Station, as does trumpeter and pianist Sebastian Studnitzky. 

Though drums are more common in guitar trio/quartet settings, Bliss Station benefits from swapping out a drum kit for DeQuevedo’s percussion (as on previous outings). Of the many effects that this exchange produces, the most prominent is that of intimacy: without cymbals, snare and bass drum splashed across the sonic spectrum, the acoustic nuances of each instrument become more clear, and small moments acquire greater weight. Another, more subtle effect, the rhythmic interplay between band members, comes to the fore. St-Laurent plays the guitar with deep metrical commitment, whether on melodies, supportive riffs, chords or solos. Bliss Station’s title track provides a great example of this, as St-Laurent moves through melodic statements and a solo with a propulsive, unerring sense of momentum. The funky Mustard Arizona is no different, though it is also remarkable for Studnitzky’s ability to make his trumpet sound nearly as breathy and understated as a flute. 

The fun of Bliss Station is in the band’s interactivity, as well as in the sense of immediacy, fun and rhythmic joy that the performances succeed in evoking. 

05 TertioLa Mince Ligne
MCM (tertioband.com)

This was the first time this writer had come across up-and-coming, jazz-rock fusion group Tertio; and what a great discovery it turned out to be. The Montreal-based collective truly has their own distinctive style that is absolutely refreshing and pleasing to listen to. Drum and bass grooves for days, unique and interesting synthesizer work, fantastic trumpet riffs and catchy guitar melodies, come together to make this record a contemporary jazz, rock and even funk journey that will have any listener wanting to tap their foot or bop along. 

More With Less starts off the record with a positively groovy track that showcases their distinct blend of “modern jazz, urban rhythms and the raw energy of rock” which they are known for. New One showcases soaring trumpet melodies courtesy of Andy King and a soulful, stellar guitar solo by Vincent Duhaime Perrault who is also credited with composing all of the group’s pieces. La truffe incorporates a positively funky and enthralling electric bass solo in which very apparent talent is showcased. Throughout the record, drummer Eric Thibodeau, bassist Alex Lefaivre and keyboardist Paul Shrofel provide the perfect backing to each piece, moving the melodies along with captivating chords and a constant, catchy rhythm. For those wanting a great and much needed pick-me-up within these dreary and grey winter days, this album is ideal for you. Truly a newer band worth keeping an eye out for.

Listen to 'La Mince Ligne' Now in the Listening Room

06 Chantal ChamberlandTemptation
Chantal Chamberland
EvoSound EVSA719M (chantalc.com)

Renowned French-Canadian jazz vocalist and guitarist Chantal Chamberland’s recent release is a wonderful testament to her musical talent and unique style. Her trademark soulful and sultry voice shines throughout out the record, often accompanied by her melodious and flowing guitar melodies. Chamberland can almost be compared to the late, great Leonard Cohen based on some similarities in vocal styling and smooth genre-crossing ability, albeit she brings a distinct jazz and soul touch to the songs. The album is comprised of well-known pop, soul and blues songs which she has transformed and pleasantly enhanced through beautiful, mellow guitar and vocal stylings into a relaxing and all-encompassing musical journey. 

Tracks Temptation and Beautiful Life start the listener off on a path that meanders softly through a sultry musical soundscape in which it is easy to get immersed completely, lulled and guided along by Chamberland’s melodious voice. Chasing Cars is a stellar string arrangement by Paul Intson that pulls you right into a magical dream world. A toned down, piano and acoustic bass version of Whitney Houston’s hit I Wanna Dance With Somebody is a pleasant and very pleasing surprise in the latter half of the album. Backed by talented musicians Dan Lockwood on drums, Intson on acoustic bass and Eric Boucher on piano results in a perfectly balanced sound. This record is a worthy addition to any jazz or pop aficionado’s collection. 

07 Ted QuinlanAbsolutely Dreaming
Ted Quinlan w/Brian Dickinson; Kieran Overs; Ted Warren
Independent TQ-2019 (tedquinlan.com)

With the release of his new recording, guitarist and composer Ted Quinlan has again established himself as one of the most gifted, imaginative and technically skilled jazz guitarists around. For this very contemporary project, Quinlan has joined forces with three additional noted players – Brian Dickinson on piano; Kieran Overs on bass and Ted Warren on drums. Produced by Quinlan, the CD was also perfectly and authentically recorded by Steve Bellamy.

All nine tunes here were written and arranged by Quinlan, and seldom is one blessed to experience a jazz project of such luminosity. Things kick off with Cheticamp, which begins with a sense of urgent musical anticipation, tinged with sinuous guitar lines. These are perfectly complemented by the penultimate rhythm section work featuring an exquisite and percussive piano solo by Dickinson and inspired work by Overs and Warren. Of note is Not What it Seems – where sensual, languid guitar lines intertwine seamlessly with Overs’ warm, fat bass sound. The group is like a single-celled organism – mutating, dancing and swinging through the unknown inclusive universe in total symmetry.

Also a delight is Building 8 – a jaunty, bop-ish track, with an almost 1950s West Coast jazz feel, and yet completely fresh – featuring a stunner of a bass solo from Overs as well as Quinlan’s masterful playing throughout. Quinlan never overplays and every note has gravitas and meaning. X Marks the Spot is a true dynamic standout, displaying Quinlan’s diverse sensibilities and Warren’s exciting and combustive drumming. I imagine the reserved face of the late jazz guitar legend, Jim Hall, listening to this CD and smiling with his characteristic understated grin of approval and joy.

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