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.

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. 

Back to top