05 Nimmons TributeVolume 2 – Generational
The Nimmons Tribute
Independent (nimmonstribute.ca)

While F. Scott Fitzgerald may have opined that there are no second acts in American life, apparently there are second, third and even fourth acts possible in the lives of Canadians, particularly if the Canadian in question is the talented and thankfully, still meaningfully recognized and among us, Phil Nimmons. With Volume 2-Generational, The Nimmons Tribute, under the skilful direction of Sean Nimmons (composer, arranger, producer, pianist and grandson of the now centenarian Phil), again aligns the Nimmons name with musical excellence and uncompromising artistry. And while the artistic conceit of the project is clear, do not be fooled into thinking that the album is the work of an ersatz cover band. Quite the opposite is true in fact, as this recording again shines a light on the ongoing relevance of Nimmons’ music. 

Continuing the legacy work that began with 2020’s To The Nth, this 2023 recording treads an appropriately reverential path in its careful handling of Nimmons’ canonic music now interspersed with new compositions by the younger Nimmons, whose fine original contributions to this recording do much to further the legacy of the family name. Supported by an impressive multi-generational cast of jazz musicians representing some of the finest players in Toronto, it is clear that either as a pedagogue (mainly at the University of Toronto, but also dating back to his work at the Advanced School of Contemporary Music), or as a bandleader and jazz community member, Nimmons’ impact on the scene has been considerable and his contributions to the canon of great Canadian jazz sacrosanct. 

Listen to 'Volume 2 – Generational' Now in the Listening Room

06 Toronto ProjectThe Toronto Project
The Composers Collective Big Band
Independent (christianovertonmusic.com/ccbb)

Christian Overton has been a long-term journeyman, paying his proverbial musical dues in ensembles of varying size and celebrity from the city of Toronto and elsewhere. In addition to his renown as a virtuoso trombonist, Overton also runs a music publishing company and is an almost ubiquitous presence in Toronto’s musical scene. This has led to his being at the helm of this creative ensemble – The Composers Collective Big Band – modelled in the spectral shadow of his mentor, trombonist Rob McConnell and the legendary Boss Brass. The Collective now pays tribute to the city of Toronto. 

The Composers Collective comprises 19 rather successful musicians plus six celebrated guests. While such a large group of artistic voices could rub uncomfortable shoulders with one another, the differences in style – sometimes subtle, often striking – enhance the overall impact of these superbly crafted and affecting miniatures making up The Toronto Project. Engaging pieces like the cinematic West Toronto Ode, the tongue-in-cheek Non-Sequitur and postmodern Spadina, draw you inexorably into their sound-world as voiceovers from subway announcers draw you into their subway narratives. 

Torontonians and visitors to the teeming multi-cultural city will be able to put visuals to the miniatures that, collectively, act as a soundtrack for the city. The repertoire includes music by other commendable Canadian composers, capturing atmospheres in music that glows, expertly balanced and alive to Toronto’s unique rhythmic and harmonic nuances. 

Listen to 'The Toronto Project' Now in the Listening Room

07 undoundoneundoundone
Christof Migone; Alexandre St-Onge
ambiences magnetiques (actuellecd.com)

In the final static seconds of undoundone, as the muffled distorted vocalizations cease and the imaginary entity imprisoned in the microphone concedes to an all-encompassing windscreen, a switch is flipped. This can be interpreted in the figurative, as an indicator of change or a fixed transition between states. In this case however it is a computer switch, more specifically a spacebar; as implied by the bluntness of the attack and the timbre of its softer rebound. This is a demarcation device shared with Jay Electronica’s 2020 release Rough Love, opting not to edit out the sound of a decisive spacebar click. Electronica uses the spacebar as a mark of finality, to emphasize that his verse was recorded on a laptop in a single take. It can be either refreshing or jarring to a listener when an artist steps off their pedestal to show this level of vulnerability in the creating process. 

Christof Migone and Alexandre St-Onge’s last ambient pas de deux as “undo” is filled with increasingly brazen spacebars. As if on the heels of a late arrival Néon aléatoire dans le hasard inessentiel begins with the tail end of a sonic happening, initially akin to a wiry bass string being plucked from a singed stream of feedback, while each listen defies categorization until you’re left with a falling shoe. Therein lies the beautiful irony of this project: endless sonic detail to obsess over, the definitive is ultimately undone. 

08 Elizabeth ShepherdThree Things
Elizabeth Shepherd; Jasper Holby; Michael Occhipinti et al
Pinwheel Music PM106CD (elizabethshepherd.com)

Looking for the perfect mix of tunes to accompany these beautiful summer nights? Velvet-voiced vocalist and pianist Elizabeth Shepherd brings a perfect hodgepodge of mellow grooves and feistier melodies on her latest release. Those who have followed Shepherd’s musical journey throughout her various albums know that she is a genre-traveller, bringing a little bit of a different theme to each record. This one takes a foray into the slightly more “religious” aspect of music, depicting “a personal faith that uses music to look beyond oneself, to express gratitude, and to connect — with the divine and with others.” These tunes were born in the depths of the pandemic and provided ample time for self-reflection, which is why the repertoire is inspired by the journey of looking deep into oneself and finding the music within. 

The record features innovativeness through the use of sampling and modernistic melodies, and a hint of Shepherd’s trademark funk-jazz-soul sound through the use of rhythmic bass lines and drum riffs, a perfect example of this combo being the track Time. Further, what leaves an impression on the listener is how each musician’s unique style of playing both shines on its own and blends together seamlessly, with most songs being recorded separately due to restrictions during the pandemic. The result is what Shepherd lovingly deems “a Frankenstein album that’s very different from what I’ve done before.” A great album for the funk and modern jazz lover. 

09a Michel Lambert orangeArs Transmutatoria: Orange, Iku-Turso & Primati Primi
Michel Lambert
Jazz from Rant (michellambert.bandcamp.com)

On Michel Lambert’s website, one can embark on a virtual audiovisual tour of the entire Ars Transmutoria experience spanning from the Rouge, Bleu, Bronze and Orange volumes, available individually or as a deluxe boxed set, and subsequent works expanding on the series. Lambert explains “Ars Transmutatoria is the process of work! Collecting plants, creating scores, work with improvisers, etc... It is an ongoing process with new works to come.” The art gallery format is interesting because intuitively, for a piece to be exhibited alongside other works it demands to be confined to a space; one that allows for distinct statements to be made but requires a level of physical stasis and order. However, in reality this web application is a beautifully liberating way to engage with Lambert’s work, in that it allows for beholders to take a guided tour or roam free on their own accord while equipped with a concise user interface. The museum itself colour-codes all the rooms, which helps illuminate Lambert’s original multi-disciplinary concept of strikingly visual scores, helping listeners abstractly yet thoughtfully navigate between conceptual zones in their mind.  

09b Michel Lambert ikutursoOrange may not be the final room in the tour, but it represents the end of the beginning for this sprawling project. It is perhaps the most ethereal experience of the colour saga. While all volumes up to this point have explored different corners of the Lambert network’s prismatic textural universe, Orange is a deep dive into the emotional power of resonances. Liner notes here take particular pride in the album’s incorporation of the booming low-end warble of the maikotron contrabasse, which could very much devour all it touches, and Lambert unleashes teeth-clattering fury out of its deep drone. However, when transferring registers there is a distinctly phlegmy break in its sustained tones, allowing for it to envelop Raoul Björkenheim’s flowy guitar harmonics rather than engross. In this sense, this almost offers a thesis for the first leg of Ars Transmutoria; painting around the lines rather than purely within, resembling that elusive dustpan-adjacent sketch in the companion art for Un Jour dans la Forêt.

09c Michel Lambert primati primiIku-Turso and Primati Primi mark the beginning of a new era. Lambert says: “The visual scores for those two releases are a bit different. There are 12 of them divided in two recording sessions. One took place in Helsinki, Iku-Turso and the other in Rome, Primati Primi.” Gone are the monochromatic motifs of yesteryear; enter zoomorphism. Resurrected are the poetic pivot points from Rouge, with Iku-Turso proving that Jeanette Lambert’s profoundly tuneful approach to conveying language and image is better than ever. For a specific example, note the musicality of the ng sound in Self-Distancing, in which the word fries as it decays, creating an illusory effect that obscures the phrase’s ending while conveying the universal feeling of lingering on a thought longer than expected. Lambert is all melody while rapper/poet Beamer(!) is decisive, comping rhythms, painting thick lines around Michel Lambert’s trembling snare patterns like if the Orange maikotron could burn books with a tongue so precise it proves that words can briefly take back the mantle from pictures. 

This victory is brief because nary a discipline owns the mantle.

10 Melissa PipeOf What Remains
Melissa Pipe Sextet
Odd Sound 005-28 (melissapipe.com)

Sporting a highly appropriate name for a reeds player, Montreal-based baritone saxophone/bassoonist Melissa Pipe’s disc is refined chamber jazz with an emphasis on darker textures. That’s because timbres arise not only from Lex French’s trumpet, Geoff Lapp’s piano and Mili Hong’s drums but also from lower tones encompassing Solon McDade’s double bass, Philippe Côté’s bass clarinet and tenor saxophone plus Pipe’s larger horns. It deepens even more when Michael Sundell’s contrabassoon is added on three tracks.

Most notable of these is the multi-sectional Ici, ainsi that moves slowly over drum rumbles and a walking bass line before portamento trumpet and saxophone breaks give way to a mellifluous double bassoon expression that moves up the scale while the pulse stays horizontal. Eventually reed stress turns to decorations as drum rim shots and piano comping complete the piece. More overt chamber jazz affiliations arise on a track like Day, where a dramatic undercurrent which harmonizes a snarling bassoon ostinato with plunger trumpeting remains constant as keyboard clinking outlines the balladic theme.

Other tracks such as La part des anges and Apothecium. are arranged with a light West Coast jazz feel. yet they’re also distinctive. That’s because these otherwise straight-ahead foot-tappers that climax with modal blends of baritone saxophone smears and sparkling pianism are interrupted when French interjects Maynard Ferguson-like skyscraper-high triplets into the mix.

This sophisticated and promising debut leads us to anticipate her realization of the next musical Pipe dream.

11 GoldstreamGoldstream
Julian Gutierrez’s Project Goldstream
Independent (juliangutierrezsproject.bandcamp.com/releases)

Following the well-known saying “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em,” why beat the summer heat when you can make the best of it with this fiery, scintillating mix of tunes? Cuban-born pianist Julian Gutierrez brings the best of both Latin and jazz music on his latest album, melding the two worlds together flawlessly. He adds his own twist to the record, arranging the collection of songs for a big band which brings a whole new, expansive sound to the repertoire. All tunes are originals penned by Gutierrez and arranged by both him and bassist Jean-François Martel. 

Duality is a strong theme throughout this album, not only from a genre-based perspective but also in an imaginative way. Gutierrez explains that the music reflects “…nature, both the landscapes of my homeland… and the beauty and poetry that emanate from the landscapes of Canada, my host country.” This duality is especially noticeable in pieces such as Canard Goûteux, where the rhythmic influence of his Cuban roots, seen in Martel’s bass line  combined with the groove of drummer Axel Bonnaire, is blended with the alternating mellow chord progressions and blazing piano riffs of Gutierrez, reflecting more of the Canadian, tempered side within the chords. Featuring a full lineup of stellar international musicians, the prolific pianist’s vision for this album is propelled to new heights. Jazz lovers looking for a foray into a pleasant musical landscape, this is for you.

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