12 Karoline LeblancDouble on the Brim
Leblanc; Gibson; Vicente; Mira; Ferreira Lopes
Atrito-Afeito 011 (atrito-afeito.com)

Pianist Karoline Leblanc and drummer Paulo J Ferreira Lopes have a developing relationship with Lisbon, a warmer complement to their Montreal base. Lisbon is a burgeoning centre for free jazz and improvised music, with numerous performance spaces, these genres’ most active record labels (Clean Feed and Creative Source have produced over 600 CDs each since 2001) and a growing list of well-known improvisers taking up residence. Leblanc and Ferreira Lopes recorded A Square Meal there in 2016, and Leblanc recently recorded Autoschediasm in Montreal with Lisboan violist Ernesto Rodrigues. Double on the Brim, recorded in Lisbon this year, develops the connection further.

The quintet here includes Brazilian-born saxophonist Yedo Gibson, trumpeter Luís Vicente (returning from A Square Meal) and cellist Miguel Mira. There are six episodes, ranging in length from four to 16 minutes. The longest of them, Anthropic Jungle and the title track, are intense collective improvisations that pulse with vitality, moving tapestries in which instruments tumble over one another. The relatively brief Singra Alegria, almost dirge-like, foregoes the usual density, with Leblanc’s looming bass clusters creating an ominous mood in which Vicente’s subdued lyricism comes to the fore. Jaggy Glide is the most tightly focused, with Gibson’s alto spiralling through the dense rhythmic field created by Leblanc, Ferreira Lopes, and the versatile Mira, who can also provide convincing bass lines when required.

Sometimes instrumental identities will blur, but Leblanc’s brilliant articulation and Ferreira Lopes’ multidirectional drumming shine.

13 BrishenTunes in a Hotel
Quinn Bachand’s Brishen
Independent CP104 (brishenmusic.com)

When I first listened to Cheyenne (Quit Your Talkin’) from Brishen’s second album, Blue Verdun, I assumed it was a cover of a jazz/pop song from the 1930s. It was surprising to discover this clever and engaging song was written and sung by Quinn Bachand, a young musical prodigy from Victoria. He was studying at the Berklee College of Music (on a full scholarship) and recorded that album in his apartment in Verdun, Quebec while on a semester leave. It is a remarkable trip into a past style creatively re-imagined in the present.

Brishen, Romany for “bringer of the storm,” has released a third album, Tunes in a Hotel, which is an idiosyncratic re-imagining of several Django Reinhardt tunes (including Odette, It Had to Be You and Pennies from Heaven). The backstory is dramatic with Bachand’s Berklee residence involved in a fire which left his instruments safe, but smelling of smoke. He and other students were relocated to the Boston Sheraton where he recorded this album in room 737! The ensemble sounds tight and feisty with Bachand (at points) playing a borrowed Gibson ES 125 through an “amazingly crunchy 50s tube amp.” One striking aspect of these pieces is their crisp economy: with an average length of less than three minutes, the melodies and solos seem compressed and melodically inventive with Eric Vanderbilt-Mathews (clarinet) and Christiaan van Hemert (violin) contributing several excellent improvisations. Bachand’s guitar playing is both an homage to Reinhardt and an expression of his own eclectic originality. I highly recommend this retro, low-fi, yet modern revisiting of Reinhardt’s catalogue. And I look forward to the surprises of a fourth Brishen album, possibly even recorded in a studio!

14 Jaelem BhateJaelem Bhate – On the Edge
Various artists
Independent (jaelembhate.com)

Jaelem Bhate’s website contains listings for what seem to be two or three different people: conducting competitions in Italy and Romania, an inaugural concert as musical director of Symphony 21 in Vancouver and other symphony conducting gigs. Then a catalogue of classical orchestral, chamber and solo works and, finally, a jazz section where On the Edge is listed as his debut album. Bhate is a very busy person with a range of musical interests.

On the Edge is an ambitious album with a 20-piece band of excellent musicians from the Vancouver area. In his liner notes Bhate says every work “represents some edge in my life, as does the whole album.” The title could also represent Vancouver on the “edge” of the ocean and the country. The core of the CD is the magnificent Pacific Suite with four programmatic movements: Straights and NarrowsWeeping Skies, Uninhabitation and Sea of Glass. Straights and Narrows contains slower and faster sections with a few drum solos that could reference the movement of water through narrow straights and onto the beaches, Weeping Skies begins with an elegant pizzicato bass solo which sounds like individual drops building into the steady rain we expect on the West Coast. Sea of Glass opens with an up-tempo piano and bass duet that could be a soundtrack for a floatplane gliding low over a pristine and still harbour. The plane lands when the horns enter and the beat switches to a punchier swing feel with a jaunty melody.

On the Edge is well produced with a great band and excellent solos by several musicians including Steve Kaldestad on a soulful tenor saxophone. We can only hope Bhate adds to his résumé with more jazz projects in the future.

15 Brandon RobertsonB.O.A.T.S – Bass’d on a True Story
Brandon Robertson
Slammin Media (brandonrobertsonmusic.com)

Emmy-nominated musical director and Florida staple Brandon Robertson has released a stellar debut album featuring all but two original songs written over the span of the past 14 years. He has referred to the record as “the first chapter of his musical biography,” wherein each song harks back to a significant moment in his lifetime. Featured is a band comprised of stars on the jazz circuit, including collaborators such as Lew Del Gatto on tenor saxophone, Zach Bartholomew on piano and Gerald Watkins Jr. on drums.

The record is sultry and luscious, especially when giving a close listen to Robertson’s bass riffs that are very literally on fire. Each song has its own distinct flavour, almost creating an image in the mind of what kind of memory the bassist was recalling in the midst of writing. An interesting feature of the album is that Robertson is clearly just as comfortable leading within a piece as he is accompanying his collaborators and allowing them to have a moment in the spotlight. East of the Sun and The Next Thing to Come are great opening tracks as they have an irresistible, foot-tapping rhythm. Robertson’s pizzicato technique can really be appreciated on Lullaby for Noelle, while bowing is also used earlier in the same piece. While each track has its own story, there is also a welcome togetherness throughout the record, which makes it a sound choice for any jazz listener.

17 Waxman WillisauWillisau
Leimgruber/Demierre/Phillips/Lehn
Jazz Werkstatt JW 191 (jazzwerkstatt.eu)

Adding another voice to an established trio is a risk. But as these extended performances from saxophonist Urs Leimgruber and pianist Jacques Demierre, both Swiss, and expatriate American bassist Barre Phillips indicate, the inclusion of German Thomas Lehn’s analogue synthesizer illuminates new tinctures in the improvisational picture the others perfected over nearly two decades. This ever-shifting continuum of electronic judders not only enhances this program, but also allows the creation of parallel duos. For the first time, low-pitched string bowing is matched with keyboard strums and cadenzas while altissimo reed sputters are backed by wave-form grinding. Throughout, partners are changed as in a decidedly un-square dance.

Individual set pieces for each remain though, as when Lehn’s vibrations alternate wood-flute-like gentleness and intensely vibrated doits, subtly seconded by pumping piano cadenzas; or when the jagged subsequent shape of Monkeybusiness 2, defined by Phillips’ low-pitched sweeps in the introduction, darkens and deepens to spiccato string pumps, buttressed by Leimgruber’s burbling split tones by the finale. Elsewhere, Demierre’s key dusting can swiftly turn to a crescendo of notes plus inner-piano string plucks alongside circular-breathed saxophone tones.

Cooperation and control are triumphantly obvious at the climax of Monkeybusiness 1, when a combination of reed multiphonics, wriggling electronics and pounding keys drive the track to peak excitement that then subtly relaxes into piano glissandi and delicate reed peeps. Willisau proves that if an auxiliary musical voice is properly attached it elevates the results.

18 NeoN NiblockNiblock/Lamb
Ensemble neoN
Hubro HUBRO CD 2601 (hubromusic.com)

Two over-20-minute microtonal compositions by variations of the strings, reeds and percussion of Norwegian Ensemble neoN not only yield provocative listening but also recognize how the sub-genre has evolved over time.

To Two Tea Roses by Phill Niblock (b.1933), with its miniscule microtonal displacement, borders on a solid mass as the six-piece group begins playing a collective crescendo and continues with an unresolved drone throughout. While separate layers of thickness and intensity give the choked program shape and fascination, individual instrumental identity is curtailed.

In contrast, Parallaxis Forma by Catherine Lamb (b.1982) sets up a program where seven instrumentalists contrast and comingle tonalities into a musical wash that parallels a vocal exposition from Stine Janvin Motland and Silje Aker Johnsen. As the singers’ voices drift in and out of aural focus, their closely related lyric soprano timbres unite in near church-like harmonies or pull apart with tremulous pitches, trade leads, hocket or reach protracted pauses. Eventually, the thickened buzz that develops from these sequences allows individual tones to peep outwards as the piece undulates to its conclusion.

Without jarring moments, this program still rewards deep listening as it provides unparalleled sonic definitions in dissimilar interpretations.

19 Caine PassioThe Passion of Octavius Catto
Uri Caine
816 Music 816-1904 (uricaine.com)

Concise in length but expansive in execution, this CD could be termed a secular oratorio, celebrating the life, contributions and premature violent death of African-American activist Octavius Catto (1839-1871). Composed by pianist Uri Caine, the ten-part, 29-minute program integrates the sophisticated rhythms of Caine’s trio, including bassist Mike Boone and drummer Clarence Penn, with the amplified colouring provided by a full-sized, specially constituted philharmonic orchestra conducted by André Raphel, two vocal ensembles and, most crucially, singer Barbara Walker, who personalizes episodes in Catto’s storied life that ended in murder during election day riots when blacks first tried to vote in post-bellum Philadelphia.

Using ragtime and swing tropes to advance the narrative, Caine’s playing meshes with multilayered orchestral timbres, particularly during Murder (October 19, 1871), which also integrates gunfire and police whistles, and culminates with the pianist’s subtle key clinking and military-style drum beats dolefully celebrating the fallen protagonist.

Elsewhere the swell of Walker’s vocal equipment with melismatic emphasis, backed by sympathetic affirmations from the 35 singers, almost turns each outing into gospel music. This is no mean feat when the syllables being emphasized deal with topics such as rallying free men of colour to the Union cause, new amendments to the American Constitution or, on Change, replication of a memorable Catto speech from 1866.

A momentous achievement. If there were fairness in the musical world, performances of The Passion of Octavius Catto would be part of any symphony’s repertoire, rather than a one-time event.

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