04 David BlakeDavid Blake – Fun House
David Blake; Thad Bailey-Mai; Brad Turner; Conrad Good; Bernie Arai
Cellar Music CM101521 (cellarlive.com)

There is a unique vibe present in Canadian jazz music that sets it apart from the goings on south of the 49th parallel and in other continents. Guitar might be the most distinctive example of this sound, conjuring up names like Ed Bickert, Lenny Breau and Nelson Symonds. All were influenced by the American fathers of this music, but they managed to never sound starkly beholden to the tradition. 

The aforementioned three guitarists spent most of their time in the eastern half of Canada, but Western Canada’s largest city currently boasts some outstanding players too. Enter David Blake. A Vancouver native currently living in New York City, Blake shows off his tasteful modern playing and composing on his latest release Fun House. It is well worth noting that this recording is tracked, mixed and mastered by another great Vancouver guitarist, David Sikula. 

An enthralling artsy photo of Blake lies inside of Fun House’s digipak for anyone who’s purchased it in CD form, and to me it was almost a surprise to see the guitarist holding a traditional looking archtop jazz guitar. The tones heard on these nine tracks are quite modern, but blurred lines are a theme heard throughout. Jon, No Jon and Devil Stick are both rhythmically labyrinthine despite being grooving and fun, while the two tracks that follow could be described as ballad-like. 

Blake treats Strayhorn’s classic The Single Petal of a Rose beautifully as an a cappella number, and after repeated listening this writer can’t quite tell what sort of ambient pedal effects are present.

“Fun indeed” was a note I took upon first hearing this recording, and that’s a perfect way to describe the multitude of dimensions Fun House provides its listeners.

05 Billy DrummondValse Sinistre
Billy Drummond and Freedom of Ideas
Cellar Music CM111022 (cellarlive.com)

Elegant, dynamic and innovative jazz drummer Billy Drummond has just released a stunner of a recording that not only embraces his seminal influences, but illuminates his musical path moving ahead – replete with nods to iconic figures in Drummond’s musical journey, including the title track, composed by the luminous Carla Bley, with whom Drummond performed. Drummond’s accomplished Freedom of Ideas quartet includes Micah Thomas on piano, Dezron Douglas on bass and Dayna Stephens on saxophones. 

The opening salvo is Little Melonae, where the incomparable Jackie McLean’s bop legacy is elegantly celebrated with a face-melting, rapid fire arrangement. Douglas’ commanding tenor solo is rife with pumpitude, and the relentless rhythmic force is propelled by Drummond, who phases us into a new dimension, creating an incendiary background for this incandescent celebration of a much missed grand master. 

The title track is an intriguing contribution to the program. Drummond’s close musical relationship with Bley is apparent here, invoking images of an exotic Eastern European circus, with madness and excitement in equal portions. Also of note are Grachan Moncur’s Frankenstein – where Drummond explores musical cognitive dissonance, while Stephens’ rapier-like soprano breaks through all imagined boundaries – free and exuberant. Drummond’s compelling composition, Changes for Trane & Monk is an invigorating joy. Other stellar tracks include the diaphanous Clara’s Room written by the eminent saxophonist Frank Kimbrough. A true standout is Drummond’s arrangement of the Tony Williams classic Lawra, where, although he is clearly channelling Williams’ creative spirit, Drummond makes his own mark on an exquisite tune.

06 Fraser MacphersonFrom the Pen of… Fraser MacPherson (with lyrics by Joani Taylor)
Various Artists
Cellar Music CMFM002 (cellarlive.com)

Toronto may have a reputation for being the Mecca of Canadian music, but there is ample evidence to suggest that Vancouver might actually have as much (if not more) to offer as hockey-crazy Toronto. You have only to recall the late but still ubiquitous musicians such as Hugh Fraser, Ross Taggart and Fraser MacPherson to remember that musical Vancouver was a musical city nonpareil. 

Cory Weeds, the Cellar Music supremo is almost alone in gently reminding us that Macpherson is also deserving of a different kind of attention due to his prodigious compositions. From the pen of… Fraser MacPherson pays homage to that side of a musician we might recall as just a saxophonist. MacPherson was not really a prolific composer. Yet if the 11 compositions we have on this disc are any indication then clearly Macpherson is much more deserving as acomposer than is generally credited.

 The eloquent bellow of Scott Hamilton’s tenor or the luscious glide of Harry Allen’s saxophone on Night Spot and Waltz for Willi respectively and Bernie Senensky, Neil Swainson and Terry Clarke playing on Our Blues clearly mark this as a masterful disc. It is also the liquid virtuosity of clarinettist Virginia MacDonald (Queen’s Pawn), the volcanic heat of Jocelyn Gould’s guitar and voice (It’s a Human Race), Joani Taylor’s questing vocals (For Your Love) and James Danderfer’s elegantly growling bass clarinet (Theme) that add to the enormous allure of this disc.

07 Ernesto CerviniJoy
Ernesto Cervini
TPR Records TPR-010 (ernestocervini.com)

JUNO award winning multi-instrumentalist, composer and bandleader Ernesto Cervini has been at the forefront of Canada’s modern jazz scene, becoming a beloved and desired musician both locally and nationally over the years. It’s not very often when an in-demand performer has either the time or opportunity to be able to release an album that is entirely a personal project such as this release is, which makes it all the more special. It is clear that it has truly been an “absolute labour of love” as Cervini himself mentions, right down to the fact that the musicians in the backing band were hand picked by Cervini as he imagined them specifically playing the solos on the album. Featured are widely known talents such as Emily Claire-Barlow on vocals, Adrian Farrugia on piano and Dan Fortin on acoustic bass. 

The record directly harkens back to a series of mystery novels by Louise Penny centring around Chief Inspector Armand Gamache and life in a Quebec village called Three Pines. Each piece is an incredible soundscape on its own, reflecting the personalities of specific characters throughout the books, calling forth images of beautiful landscapes and just generally giving a great overview of the world of Three Pines and village life through distinctive rhythms and melodies. Captivating and thoroughly engaging from beginning to end, this album is an enticing deep dive and journey, which the listener will want to continually explore further.

Listen to 'Joy' Now in the Listening Room

08a Brulez TardiffTardif
Brûlez les meubles
Tour de bras; Circumdisc TDB900058cd; microcidi030 (tourdebras.bandcamp.com)

L’appel du vide
Brûlez les meubles
Tour de bras; Circumdisc TDB900059cd; microcidi031 (tourdebras.bandcamp.com)

Brûlez les meubles (a name that translates to Burn the Furniture) suggests a doffing of the proverbial hat more towards the kind of existentialism and Jean-Paul Sartre’s primary idea that people, as humans, are “condemned to be free.” This may seem to be at cross purposes with the kind of Impressionism that has come to be associated with – perhaps even the clarion call of – many contemporary musicians.  

The consistent use of distortion – not simply harmonic dissonance – suggests that these two musicians are flying more than the flag of Impressionism that became associated with many who are influenced by Debussy. 

The duo Brûlez les meubles – guitarist Louis Beaudoin-de la Sablonnière and bassist Éric Normand – claim that they owe as much to Jim Hall as they do Bill Frisell. But that tells only part of their story. The real proof of their musicianship lies in the effect that the repertoire on these two discs under review has on the senses. 

Listening to Tardif (which means Late) it would seem that songs such as Stoique and Journée pédagogique are indicative that the musicians want us to listen for a deeper meaning in their music. The aforementioned distortion is not simply a musical gesture that frequently runs through this music, but a device to provoke putting a keener ear to work, to listening more deeply to this music. 

The duo’s free association with noise together with saxophonoist Jean Derome and the arrhythmia of principal guest John Hollenbeck’s drumming sends a powerful musical message. When we get through the repertoire of Tardif and come to the recording’s climactic conclusion J’en ai connu d’autres we find ourselves wondering if the sense of alienation – or otherness – is not what really propels the musical intention of Brûlez les meubles . 

08b Brulez lappelIf there was any doubt as to the depth of thought that they want you to listen out for, the album L’appel du vide (The call of The Void) ought to make it eminently clear where these musicians are coming from. Songs such as Nous ne savions pas, L’appel du vide, Diapositive and La suite des choses suggest a powerful tide that goes against the flow of convention. 

Once again the music is driven by a powerful, percussive pulse that suggests urgency and anger and even a sense of viewing their soundscape through a reflection in the dark shards of a shattered mirror. Clearly Brûlez les meubles are thinking musicians as well as musicians who believe that they are capable of seducing listeners like us into their world that is musical, yet one full of bitter sweetness and bluesy orientation, where musician and listener can co-exist “condemned to be free.”

Listen to 'Tardif' Now in the Listening Room

09 Noam LemishTwelve
Noam Lemish Twelve
Three Pines Records TPR-0012 (noamlemish.com)

When a ten-year labour of love comes to fruition in a beautifully designed CD, all that’s left to do is hold your breath and send it out into the world. Well, pianist/composer Noam Lemish can certainly heave a huge sigh of relief because his latest project, Twelve (the aforementioned labour of love), is exquisite.

During his doctoral studies, Lemish composed some of the music on Twelve while composer-in-residence with U of T’s then newly formed jazz 12tet. And now, leading his own 12tet – an all-star chamber orchestra of Canadian jazz artists – in a recording of six original, innovative, cross-cultural, captivating, expansive and evocative compositions, professor Lemish is in his element. 

While solidly grounded in the jazz idiom and Western classical music, influences from Lemish’s Israeli roots and Eastern European Jewish heritage – it turns out he has serious Romanian klezmer cred – appear throughout the CD. How else to explain the magnificent Beethoven’s 7th Visit to Romania, complete with 13-voice choir and outstanding solos by half the band? Or Between Utopia and Destruction, which invokes, poignantly, two “lost world” melodies by Soviet Jewish composers? 

Perhaps The Nagila Mayster says it best. A title drawn from English, Hebrew and Yiddish and roughly translating into “The Master of Joyfulness,” it showcases Lemish’s richly creative and diverse musical journey.  

Twelve is indeed a masterful expression of joy. Space limitations prevent my naming all 12 stellar musicians involved, so you’re just going to have to explore this superb album for yourself.

10 Grdina PathwaysPathways
Gordon Grdina; Mark Helias; Matthew Ship
Attaboygirl Records ABG-5 (gordongrdinamusic.com)

Gordon Grdina, Mark Helias and Matthew Shipp have sculpted what can be described as a sound network. All their lines intersect, interlace and interpolate into each other, as if making a coordinated attempt to weave an airtight sonic fabric in real time. The improvisational passages constantly ramp up the character of tension, but this effect is achieved with density before volume. None of the songs start with an easily identifiable rhythmic cell per se, but the pieces still manage to gradually crank up the intricacy dial, until the listener can’t help but marvel at all the dizzying syncopated architecture.

Along with the album’s unceasing subversion of pace, an astonishing equilibrium of creative input is maintained. If one were to isolate any 30-second segment at random, it would take much deliberation before they identified a bandleader. Therein lies the beauty: there isn’t one. Doing research beyond the surface, this was released through Grdina’s label, and Grdina is on production duty. However, remove Matthew Shipp’s piano wizardry from the equation and the music loses most of its dynamic range. If Mark Helias wasn’t present, the music would lose its underlying pulse and percussive edge. All the compositions are co-written by the trio, and the sum is informed by its parts. Helias moves when Grdina does, who waits for Shipp’s cue, who anticipates Helias’ whims long before they exist. Pathways is the epitome of impromptu alchemy.

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