02_KaeshammerKaeshammer Live!
Michael Kaeshammer
Alert Music Inc. 61528-10439

Michael Kaeshammer is a prolific guy. Since 2001 he has released six studio albums, the latest in 2011, and much of them populated with his own songwriting. Add to that this DVD-CD of a live performance, and that’s quite a body of work for someone of his relative youth. The other striking thing about Kaeshammer is his love — one might even say obsession — for New Orleans-style music. It comes across in his songwriting as well as in his philosophy toward performing, which, despite his monster skills on piano, is more about having a good time than extended jazz soloing.

Having seen Kaeshammer play live, I have first-hand experience of what a joyful performer he is. Even when it’s just him at the piano, he can command a room with his charisma and energy. Watching a DVD of one of his concerts isn’t a substitute, but it comes close. Especially since Kaeshammer Live! was recorded in an “in the round” setting in an intimate hall in Toronto, so the cameras were able to get in close and capture a variety of angles of the band (which includes three horns and two backing singers). Drummer Mark McLean’s expressive playing is especially fun to watch, and the “cutting contest” between him and Kaeshammer on a Fats Waller tune is one of the highlights of the concert.

Kaeshammer Live provides a concise sampling of the personal and musical journey this ever-evolving musician has taken from smokin’ hot boogie woogie piano player, to romantic balladeer and back again to a musical place that is uniquely his.

Andrew Boniwell and the Uncertainty Principle

I enjoyed this CD — I have to admit that very often when I see a release with all original compositions I approach it with some trepidation, but there is no uncertainty with this recording. The compositions are inventive and the musicians all bring a cohesive and creative energy to the music. I hope that the leader/composer doesn’t mind if I say that some of the pieces bring to mind the work of Horace Silver; it is certainly meant as a compliment.

The musicians who lend their talents to the music of Mr. Bonniwell are bassist Mark Cashion, drummer Mike McClelland, Kevin Turcotte on trumpet and Richard Underhill on alto sax.

This recording is yet another good example of the fine talents right here on our own doorstep.

04_GiaAnatomical Signatures
Gia & The Unpredictable Update
Independent GIA 00008

Don’t let the somewhat unwieldy title put you off. This is a double CD of music described by Romanian born Gia as “jazz meets symphonic meets rock meets balkanic meets world music.” And indeed it is an eclectic program of original compositions by the leader. Approach it with open ears and you will find much to enjoy.

The group comprises Pat LaBarbera (saxes), Johnny Johnson (saxes), Levon Ichkhanian (guitar), Wilson Laurencin (drums), Alan Hetherington (assorted percussion), Pat Kilbride (bass), Clifford Ojala (saxes/clarinet) and Gia Ionesco on keyboards. An all-star line-up indeed and I would have liked more information in the sparse liner notes.

There are, not surprisingly, European influences in the music and while you won’t end up singing many of the themes, you will be moved by the musicianship on this album.

05_Dusted_MachineryDusted Machinery
John Butcher; Toshimaru Nakamura
Monotype Records mono 041

Classic man versus machine improvisation: British saxophonist John Butcher matches his skills against the distinctive audio feedback produced from a so-called no-input mixing board given near-anthropomorphic cunning through the manipulations of Japan’s Toshimaru Nakamura. By connecting the board’s input to its output, Nakamura’s blurry oscillations evolve in ever-changing textural pitches from grinding croaks to ear-splitting yowls. It’s a tribute to the talents of Butcher that his perceptive reed thrusts and rejoinders evolve as appropriately as they do. Although by the final track he adopts a mechanized strategy by adding feedback loops to his reed playing, on the other pieces Nakamura’s signal processing, oscillations and indistinct mechanical static confront what Butcher can produce only with tongue, lips, mouth, throat and fingers.

On Maku for instance, while motor-driven drones pulsate from thunderously loud to blurry fuzz tones, Butcher’s tenor saxophone sequences involve smears and expansive vibratos so that each Nakamura-originated texture meets a responsive sonic action. Moreover, while the machine’s voltage flanges may be so powerful that they’re nearly visible, the reedist’s multiphonic overblowing produces equivalent timbres that in split seconds leap from dog-whistle-like altissimo to basso growls, and from pianissimo to fortissimo. Overall, Butcher uses flutter-tongued intensity to chip away at the board-created solid sound block.

Using the soprano saxophone on Knead and Nobasu respectively, Butcher’s nasal split-tones, nephritic growls, key percussion and surprisingly lyrical interludes substantiate his human-ness. Conclusively he demonstrates that with original ideas and profound techniques man can lead machine to cooperate in creating a memorable sound program.

06_Houle_DelbecqBecause She Hoped
Benoît Delbecq; François Houle
Songlines SGL 1592-2

Dazzlingly interactive, this third duo disc by Vancouver clarinettist François Houle and Parisian pianist Benoît Delbecq exposes rugged as well as impressionistic textures. Delbecq, who often prepares his strings with implements, and Houle, whose extended techniques include circular breathing and split tones, are modest as well. They allow the improvisations to evolve organically rather than calling attention to their skills.

Yet two versions of the clarinettist’s Pour Pee Wee end up being completely distinct. Houle smears intense vibrations atop Delbecq’s uninterrupted wooden key clicks in 120 seconds during the first variant; the second, three times as long, finds the pianist’s sour and percussive motifs enlivened by passing chords and staccato asides, as circling glissandi and tremolo flattement presage a final swinging pulse from Delbecq. This unforced jauntiness is also expressed on the un-clichéd Clichés, composed by saxophonist Steve Lacy who influenced them both. Delbecq’s marimba-like string pops are perfect down-to-earth accompaniment to the concentric and jaunty melody elaborated by Houle. When reed squeaks and syncopated lines unite for the finale the textural release illuminates the note-perfect, yet moderated playing of both.

Throughout, unmatched textural command from the two maintains a melodic flow. Whether the base performance encompasses atmospheric liquid clarinet runs and sympathetic keyboard chording on Duke Ellington’s The Mystery Song, or turns Delbecq’s castanet-like polyrhythms plus Houle’s tremolo pitchslides on the pianist’s Ando atonal, a final variant reveals an innate modern tonality. The reedist’s title tune similarly demonstrates that sympathetic romanticism can eventually result from a narration that begins with tongue slaps and key clipping.

Canadian and Russian Improvisers

01_Carrier_All_OutUnlike many Canadian improvisers, François Carrier is no homebody. Peripatetic, the Montreal-based alto saxophonist spent months gigging in Italy and England, was one of the few Westerners to play the Kathmandu Jazz Festival, and most recently has put out discs recorded during his 2010 Russian concert tour. A session such as All Out (FMR CD 321-0911 www.fmr-records.com), recorded with his long-time associate, Toronto drummer Michel Lambert, and St. Petersburg pianist Alexey Lapin, is not only notable musically, but also shows how erudite players from two of the world’s northern hemisphere nations have much in common.

Carrier’s reed strategy includes elements of Cool Jazz note gliding as well as avant garde dissonance, and the Russian pianist constructs proper responses with alacrity. Ride, for instance, leaves the bomb dropping and clattering to Lambert’s kit as Lapin’s multi-fingered kinetic runs syncopate alongside Carrier’s spiky vibrations and false-register nasality plus dexterous explorations in the tenor register. Despite the saxophonist squeezing out multiple theme variants until he reaches conclusive downward runs, Lapin stays the course with unflappable chording as the drummer balances both men’s lines with military precision. In the solo spotlight, Lambert approximates the power of Art Blakey on Wit with cross-sticking rim shots and bass drum thumps, the better to later mix it up with Lapin’s dynamic cadenzas plus Carrier’s stuttering rubato lines and quivering split tones. The percussionist also asserts himself on Of Breath with a mallet-driven solo of whacks, bangs and ruffs, leading to the crescendo of high intensity further propelled by Lapin’s metronomic pulsing and Carrier’s flattement and triple tonguing.

02_Ex_VotoLambert’s talent is given full reign on the Maïkontron Unit’s Ex-Voto (Rant 1140 www.jazzfromrant.com). Although he and Carrier often seem like the inseparable Damon and Pythias of Canadian Jazz, this trio CD features the drummer with bassist/cellist Pierre Côté and saxophonist/clarinettist Michel Côté. Both Lambert and reedist Côté also play the maïkontron, a valves and keys reed instrument with a range below the bass saxophone’s. Lambert has divided the CD into tableaux based on images from Hieronymus Bosch, although the performance is actually less programmatic than intuitive, with straightforward pulsing as well as dissonant timbre extensions. Despite a forbidding title, a track such as Marinus (Tableau 9) for instance, is an out-and-out swing piece. It features pin-pointed snare work and clean cross sticking from Lambert, unbroken vibrations from the bassist and Michel Côté’s clarinet exploring the theme with mid-range chirping and tonguing. Other tunes such as Votivae Noctes (Tableau 4) are slow paced and constrained, as Côté’s supple clarinet line contrasts markedly with the maïkontron’s blurred snorts and an at first quivering, then walking, cello line from Pierre Côté. As reed split tones accelerate, they’re exposed nakedly beside splayed string motions. The reeds’ burbling and puffing plus the string player’s sul tasto strumming end up creating other tableaux elsewhere, with sly references to half-recalled ballads, or in contrast, intricate multiphonics. Lambert’s drum versatility is given expanded showcases on Fluctus …, the first part of Tableau 10, and Praestigator, the introduction to Tableau 19. Praestigator features kettle drum pops and faux gamelan-like resounds playing off rhino-like snorts from the maïkontron; the irregular counterpoint of Fluctus … matches clarinet shrieks with hand slaps and pats, suggesting congas and steel drums.

02_Melissa_LaurenThe Other Side
Melissa Lauren
Independent ML1111 (www.melissalaurenmusic.ca)

Singer-songwriter Melissa Lauren has been a part of the Toronto music community for a few years now, but with her sophomore release, The Other Side, she’s really making her mark. Lauren has a beguiling voice that mixes sweet playfulness with solid technique, control and range. Which would be plenty, but on top of that she has songwriting abilities that put her in another category from the legion of lovely crooners who enlist others’ work to tell their musical story. Harmonically speaking, Lauren’s songwriting doesn’t push a whole lot of boundaries, and she’s got a clever way with words that goes enough beyond cute to make things interesting without getting overly heavy. All of which suits the breezy, jazzy air of the album. The dozen songs each have a whiff of a bygone era hovering somewhere between the 1930s and the 60s, without being too derivative of any time or genre. So we get a bit of Mancini-esque cool on the opening Art Class, a touch of twangy longing on Somehow, a slightly Eastern European edge to Your Fool and an old tyme rollick from the title track. It all adds up to a special sound, much of the credit for which should be shared with guitarist Nathan Hiltz who is the main instrumental support and negotiates the shifts in style with taste and personality that never overwhelms. The rhythm section is ably rounded out by Ernesto Cervini on drums and Ross MacIntyre on bass. Lauren’s CD release event is March 1 at The Rex in Toronto. Check melissalaurenmusic.ca for details.

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