05 jazz 05 small choicesSmall Choices
AUT Records 006

Why not improvise on so-called classical music themes is a question increasingly answered in the positive by adventurous players of every genre. Thus the Italian trio involved in Small Choices dedicates more than half this CD to such prestidigitation.

These are serious improvisations, not a jazzy overlay of notated music however. Which means that when bassist Giacomo Papetti, pianist Emanuele Maniscalco and Gabriele Rubino on piccolo, soprano and bass clarinets deal with themes by Sibelius or Ligeti they bring the same freedom to experiment with them as they would with tunes by Ellington or Monk.

“Fine del Tempo,” for instance, inspired by Messiaen’s Quatuor pour la Fin du Temps, adds a rhythmic undertow, and before recapping the head, stretches the theme with unbroken trills from Rubino, Papetti’s slap bass plus Maniscalco’s repeated note clusters. On the other hand, Escape from Ainola, taken from Sibelius’ Fifth Symphony, maintains panoramic echoes with resonating chords from the keyboard and a buzzing bass line. Here Rubino creates the bonding ostinato as the others interject sub-motifs or decorate the brooding theme.

Solid definitions and identifications are proven unfeasible on some of the other tracks however. With sweeping piano glissandi, double bass thumps and a melody propelled by delicate soprano clarinet sweeps, “Nascondere” appears to be another contrafact of classical notated music. Instead it’s a completely original composition by Papetti.

Two of the three players here earned advanced conservatory degrees in both notated and improvised music. Although Maniscalco, in contrast, is an autodidact — like Schoenberg and Elgar — this sort of jazz-classical crossover will likely become much more common in the future. “Small Choices” shows the way.

05 jazz 06b terell stafford05 jazz 06a russell maloneTriple Play
Russell Malone
MaxJazz MXJ607

This Side of Strayhorn
Terell Stafford
MaxJazz MXJ408

Here are two releases on the MAXJAZZ label which was founded in 1998 and is now releasing its albums via the MAXJAZZ website and with international distribution by Naxos.

Russell Malone’s Triple Play (Russell Malone guitar, David Wong bass, Montez Coleman drums) features four nicely melodic originals by Malone and seven by others ranging from “Butch And Butch” by Oliver Nelson to the seldom heard “The Kind Of Girl She Is” by Alan and Marilyn Bergman and Dave Grusin. There is also a beautifully sensitive solo performance of the Alex North composition “Unchained Melody.” This is a very satisfying CD and a welcome addition to any jazz collection.

Terrell Stafford’s This Side of Strayhorn features Stafford on trumpet and flugelhorn, Tim Warfield, on soprano and tenor saxophone, Bruce Barth piano, Peter Washington bass and Dana Hall drums. An album dedicated to the compositions of Mr. Strayhorn is off to a good start and this one follows through with some formidable playing by Stafford and his fellow musicians. One of the tracks is “Lana Turner” which, in case you’re wondering, was later re-titled “Charpoy.” The CD is a rich cross-section of Strayhorn’s amazing output, running the gamut from “Lush Life” to “Smada” via “Day Dream.” The excellent arrangements are by Bruce Barth who also adds some first rate solos. But it is the melodic warm sound of Stafford, ably accompanied by Tim Warfield that stays with me.

If these releases are typical of the MAXJAZZ catalogue I can only say that I look forward to hearing more.

05 jazz 04 tierney suttonAfter Blue
Tierney Sutton
BFM Jazz 3020624192

Tierney Sutton, the five-time Grammy-nominated jazz singer has turned her considerable talents to Joni Mitchell’s music on this, her tenth release. After Blue is a collection of covers, mostly from Mitchell’s heyday in the 70s and 80s, and includes some of her more popular hits like “Big Yellow Taxi,” “Woodstock” and “Both Sides Now.” The challenge with covering much-loved songs such as these is to be innovative enough to not slavishly mimic, without straying so far from the original as to render the songs unrecognizable. Sutton and the band have managed to strike that fine balance, largely by staying true to Mitchell’s vocal lines while introducing clever new treatments and arrangements through the instrumental accompaniment.

The band members on After Blue are not Sutton’s regulars and include such greats as Al Jarreau (the 73-year-old is a gas on Be Cool), Hubert Laws, Peter Erskine (who was Mitchell’s drummer on Both Sides Now and Mingus) and Larry Goldings. But it’s the work of the Turtle Island Quartet that really elevates some of these tunes, in particular “Little Green,” a simple song from Mitchell’s early days that here gets made over into a contrapuntal beauty. Cellist Kevin Summer shines as his solo work with Sutton on “All I Want” is multi-textured and lively. Although “Dry Cleaner from Des Moines” is fun in its stripped down, beatnik form here, it doesn’t hold a candle to the energy of the original. In general, this is a low-key, thoughtful album and a wonderful tribute to a master songwriter.

broomer 01 walk to the seaIn 2007 trumpeter David Buchbinder released a CD called Odessa/Havana, an innovative mix of Eastern European klezmer and Latin American dance rhythms that touched on their common roots in the Middle East and Andalusian Spain. It was a brilliant success, finding genuine international acclaim. Odessa/Havana returns with Walk to the Sea (Tzadik 8177, odessahavana.com), a sequel that possesses even greater resonance, moving beyond the original instrumentals of the first CD to include songs from the Judeo-Spanish Ladino tradition, with pianist Hilario Durán’s arrangements of older songs and Buchbinder’s fresh settings of poems by Lina Kohen Albukrek, sung here by Maryem Hassan Tollar. The work is filled with rare grace and power, combining Buchbinder’s lyricism and Durán’s fire with an ensemble that is alive with varied percussion and vernacular fretted instruments from the middle-Eastern oud to the Cuban très. John Johnson contributes orchestral colour on a host of reeds and brings an explosive, dancing freedom with his tenor saxophone.

broomer 02 it s a free countryIt’s a Free Country (craigpedersen.com) by Montreal-based trumpeter Craig Pedersen and bassist Joel Kerr may be unusual enough as a trumpet-bass duo, but the material makes it stranger still: it’s largely devoted to country and western themes approached from a variety of vantage points, including straightforward readings of tunes to exploratory free improvisation. You know something different is afoot on the opening title tune, with voices intoning: “It’s a free country/ but only for me.” Mixing in original compositions, it’s always unpredictable: Pedersen’s own “Williams Lake” has the clarity and grace of a gospel choir singing in a clearing in the woods; J.P. Webster’s “Wildwood Flower” has trumpet and arco bass in unison; Willie Nelson’s “Crazy” begins in sputtering free improvisation long before its famous melody emerges. It’s consistently playful, imaginative work that’s somehow true to both the emotional directness of country music and the oblique abstraction of current improvisation, just not at the same time.

broomer 03 polebridgeWide-open spaces also inspire composer/reed player Rob Mosher, who grew up in the village of Greenwood, Nova Scotia, moved to Toronto for composition studies, then settled in New York. His recent suite, Polebridge (robmosher.com), reflects both his mobility and his keen sense of place, as he goes further afield for inspiration. Polebridge, Montana is a hamlet of 88 people, the same number as the keys on a piano, and when Mosher arrived there he found an old piano abandoned in a lane. That image colours the music, a genuine chamber jazz mutation: there’s a seamless interplay of composed and improvised elements that draw inspiration from sources as diverse as Aaron Copland and klezmer as well as the images of a western town outside of time. The group foregrounds the virtuoso trumpeter Micah Killion and pianist Stephanie Nilles, but the score is alive with unusual timbres, from country fiddle and mandolin to English horn and bassoon.

broomer 04 hedgerowIt’s rare to hear a jazz quintet that similarly explores sonority, but that’s Toronto guitarist Harley Card’s frequent emphasis on his second CD as leader, Hedgerow (DYM002, harleycard.ca) beginning with his own guitar choices, from the sparkling, icy clarity of his electric on Get There to the warm, ringing, steel-string acoustic of “Helicopters and Holograms.” The emphasis extends to his band and his compositions: Tenor saxophonist David French also plays bass clarinet, Matt Newton plays acoustic and electric piano and, among the shifting rhythm players, Jon Maharaj plays acoustic and electric bass. That love of mutating sonorities works hand-in-glove with Card’s fondness for short, repeating figures with modulating harmonies, evident in tunes like “Hedgerow” and “Sophomore.” Whether the ultimate effect is pensive or celebratory, Card plays and writes with a keen sense of mood and emotional communication.

broomer 05 miles black trioBop is at the source of most forms of modern jazz, whether it’s the harmonic language of cool jazz, the aggressive swing of hard bop or the spiky melodies and rhythms of free jazz, but it’s rare to hear bop strongly evoked today. The Miles Black Trio with Grant Stewart (Cellar Live CL041313, cellarlive.com), recorded at Vancouver saxophonist Cory Weeds’ Cellar Jazz Club, does just that. Tenor saxophonist Stewart can suggest the compound messages of the great Dexter Gordon, lush and hard-edged, relaxed and aggressive, while Black’s piano alternately takes flight with lean, linear runs or turns introspective with dense block chords. André Lachance provides solid walking bass and Jim McDonough’s drumming drives the band with sudden, well-placed accents. The program of standards and originals contributes to the relaxed flow, while relatively obscure gems like Elmo Hope’s and Sonny Rollins’ “Carving the Rock” and Tadd Dameron’s “Super Jet” reveal rare bop erudition.

broomer 06 amanda tosoffRecorded at Weeds’ club as well, the Amanda Tosoff Trio’s Live at the Cellar (Ocean’s Beyond Records OBR0009, amandatosoff.com) is also set solidly in the modern mainstream, though Tosoff’s penchant for subtle, elusive harmonic extensions is likelier to suggest the work of Bill Evans than bop. The Toronto-based pianist is clearly at home returning to her Vancouver roots. Rogers and Hart’s “There’s a Small Hotel” swings joyously, propelled along happily by the forceful rhythm section of bassist Jodi Proznick and drummer Jesse Cahill, but it’s on Tosoff’s own compositions that the group is most imaginative. “Fill Me Up with Joy” begins with short, sharply punctuated phrases only to develop a passionate, welling momentum; “Half Steps,” a ballad here dedicated to Tosoff’s late teacher Ross Taggart, is filled with a muted luminescence. 

Without question one of jazz’s most representative records is of a 1953 concert with bop masters Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Bud Powell, Charles Mingus and Max Roach in their only performance together. That the session was recorded in Toronto’s Massey Hall makes it distinctive as well as irreplaceable. But Jazz at Massey Hall isn’t the only instance of jazz history being made north of the border. Precisely because of gig opportunities for committed international improvisers discs recorded at Canadian gigs or festivals are an important part of the music’s fabric.

waxman 01 braxtonOne of the most significant recent sessions recorded in similar circumstances is Anthony Braxton’s Echo Echo Mirror House (Vict o cd 125, victo.qc.ca). Featuring the composer’s septet, this 2011 premiere at the annual Festival International de Musique Actuelle from Victoriaville, Quebec rolls controlled cacophony and fragmented polyphony into an hour-long protoplasmic performance that sounds as if it’s emanating from two orchestras playing simultaneously, although there are only seven musicians on stage. Having long dispensed with the idea of solo and accompaniment, Braxton’s composition allows the two brass players, percussion, three string players plus the composer’s saxophones to enter and exit the sequences at will. Miraculously all the parts hang together. This situation is even more remarkable when you consider that several of the players double or triple, and always conversant with technology, all are equipped with iPods. The latter adds snatches of pre-recorded voices, vocal and instrumental music to the mix and use live processing to integrate sequences recorded during performance back into the composition. While this description may appear formidable, the music isn’t that difficult. The initial theme reappears at junctures, while at all times motifs, such as Mary Halvorson’s guitar twangs or Jay Rozen’s tuba blasts, provide the continuum. Meanwhile the pressurized polytonal narrative recedes enough in spots so that Braxton’s alto saxophone yelps, Taylor Ho Bynum’s wispy flugelhorn grace notes or the polyrhythmic strokes uniting Jessica Pavone’s viola and Aaron Siegel’s vibes are clearly audible. Midway through, as the tension dissipates a bit, cutting reed bites and ringing vibes separately presage the addition of iPod samples featuring female speaking voices and a male vocal chorus. Later, following subtle reprises of the theme, pre-recorded piano recital-like dynamics threaten to unduly soften the performance until Carl Testa’s whapping percussion, Bynum’s plunger work and Braxton’s strident sax lines, shatter any tendencies towards sweetness. With every musician and every iPod producing climatic timbres, and when it appears as if the rattling, staccato undulations can’t become any more overwrought, conductor Braxton abruptly ends the performance. The effect is as if a harrowing but pleasurable journey has been completed.

waxman 02 avesIt’s this sort of journey that leads to other CDs, as foreign musicians come to this country to record with local players who have international reputations. So it is with Aves (Songlines SGL 1601-2, songlines.com) that matches Vancouver clarinetist François Houle, who has played with many members of the European avant-garde, with Norwegian pianist Håvard Wiik, known for his work with the band Atomic. During a series of shorter tracks, the two present a program that epitomizes chamber jazz, with Houle’s extensive technical facility ensuring the interface doesn’t list too far in the direction of so-called classical music. When the pianist plays alone, as he does on “Zirma,” his stylistic ticks lead to baroque and impressionistic vibrations. In contrast, a piece such as “Aporetic Dreams,” despite its obvious germination in the European classical tradition, finds Houle’s intense pressurized vibrations toughening the pianist’s showy glissandi. Even as the clarinetist uses tongue slaps and circular breathing to make his points, the most significant tracks are those where improvisation and composition are balanced. Wiik’s exquisite low-pitched soundboard echo on “Sparrowhawk” for instance, is sympathetically underscored by timbres from two clarinets played simultaneously, with new reed notes appearing each time a keyboard fantasia is heard. “Meeting on a Line” is turned into a clarinet tone rollercoaster as altissimo trills and downward runs reach a slurred crescendo as the piano keys alternately chime and clash. Circular colouration resulting from slapped piano keys and internal string plucking on “Ursula’s Dream” is elevated with Houle’s triple tonguing and screeching before the final fade out. Nonetheless, Wiik’s expertise creating urbane swing on tracks such as the concluding “Strobe” means that unpleasant atonality is prevented from taking centre stage.

waxman 03 roscoe mitchellAnother improviser who can sophisticatedly mix delicacy and toughness in his music is saxophonist Roscoe Mitchell. Almost 40 years ago he and other advanced players frequently visited and recorded in Canada because their talent was more appreciated here than in their home countries. Live at A Space 1975 (Sackville-Delmark SK 2080, delmark.com), done in Toronto, has just been reissued, containing additional material from the same live date and making the CD 50 percent lengthier. The four new tracks give a more complete picture of the Toronto performance that also involves trombonist George Lewis, guitarist Spencer Barefield and pianist Muhal Richard Abrams. Previously the emphasis on the truncated disc was on pieces such as “Tnoona” and “Cards,” mostly dissonant performances whose sonic tension mixed with concentrated forward motion demonstrated the quartet’s familiarity with spiky avant-garde sounds. Now however the additional tracks give clues as to why the experiments brought forward by the likes of Mitchell and Lewis have been accepted as a part of jazz’s body politic. Both “Prelude to Naima” and “Dastura” are almost gentle, with the former harmonizing near-pastoral flute, processional piano and a lowing trombone ostinato in such a way that the subsequent playing of John Coltrane’s “Naima” is inevitable and balanced. Ditto for “Dastura,” which demonstrated in 1975, as it does now, the versatility of the players. Moreover, the quick runthrough of Mitchell’s “Noonaah,” now the CD’s final track, ends with unison horn blasts arising organically from the band’s narrative of extroverted gutbucket slurs and cascading piano chords that demonstrate its context.

waxman 04 evantigheOf course high quality discs are still made in Canada ... by Canadians, simply because they live here, as Montreal percussionist Evan Tighe’s Threadcount (ETC 0001, evantighe.com) proves. Tighe who composed all eight tracks, and who also plays melodica and toy piano here, leads a top-flight local band with saxophonists Erik Hove and Adam Kinner, violinist Joshua Zubot and Rémi-Jean LeBlanc on bass. Tighe’s penchant for experimentation can be heard on “We/System,” where the head is recapped as if it was being played by the Jazz Messengers, but begins with the line contrasted between the tenor saxophone’s breathy low tones and the vibrating high pitches of the toy piano. Shifting throughout between romantic and riotous, the serpentine narrative makes space for pummelling double bass thumps, pizzicato fiddle plucks and drum pops. More spaciously constructed “Think Hard Enough” and “You Can Forget Nearly Anything” moves every which way without ever becoming a free-for-all. Call-and-response balance is maintained with tough reed bites or barely there blowing, while Zubot’s skittering staccato rubs surmount both. Eventually a climax is reached via positioned cracks and smacks from Tighe. Vigorous, contrapuntal and swinging, the drummer’s sensitively explosive playing and that of his band members, suggest why outsiders may want to record with Canadians or bring their whole band here. 

01-Monica-ChapmanBut Beautiful
Monica Chapman

With the release of her latest recording, refreshing, Romanian-born vocalist Monica Chapman displays a superb vocal instrument with impeccable intonation, as well as a tasty menu of elegant jazz “standards” framed by the skilled arrangements and inspired, rhythmic and zesty piano work of producer Bill King. The tight ensemble of first-call players includes Duncan Hopkins on bass, Mark Kelso on drums, Reg Schwager on guitar, Luis Jorge Papiosco on percussion, William Sperendei on trumpet and Anne Lindsay on violin (whose sensitive and evocative work enhances the entire project).

With an extensive background in opera, theatre and classic cabaret, Chapman moves effortlessly between styles and eras, as well as seamlessly embodying both the French and English lyrics. Her highly trained vocal instrument is a rich, precise, alto that easily transmits the emotional intent of the material, whether interpreting a melodic post-war ballad such as the Van Heusen/Burke title track, or a depression-era Rodgers and Hart favourite such as Ten Cents a Dance, or the heart-rending ballad L’amour Le Vrais.

In addition to her innate musicality, Chapman is defined by her strong theatrical sensibility and holds her own on the Ellington/Strayhorn opus, Lush Life and also swings Ella-style on Someone Like You. A true standout is the rarely performed Johnny Mercer tune This is Always, which was a 1950s hit for another gorgeous alto, the late, great Irene Kral. Chapman’s version is a total delight and features a moving and harmonically thrilling piano solo from Bill King.

Concert Note:Monica Chapman launches
But Beautiful at the Pero Lounge, 812 Bloor St. W. on October 4 at 8pm.

02-MartelJune 16th
Schraum 17

Having adopted the venerable viola da gamba as his main instrument, Montreal-based former double bassist Pierre-Yves Martel is also adapting it to unusual sonic situations. On this notable release named for the day on which it was recorded, Martel, who directs a different ensemble October 11 at the Music Gallery, mainly uses the timbres of his bowed viol as a sound source, the better to intersect with the equally extended techniques of his German bandmates: tubaist Carl Ludwig Hübsch and pianist Philip Zoubek. Although the results are at a far distance from the consort and sacred compositions from the height of the instrument’s popularity before the turn of the 18th century, they suggest a beguiling future for pre-modern instruments.

Hübsch and Zoubek, who have worked with some of the continent’s most advanced musicians, specialize in subverting expected sounds as well. Throughout the five tracks here for instance, Zoubek frequently buzzes harsh cadenzas by plucking, stopping or strumming the piano’s strings. Additionally, when the keys are put to use the resonating clangs produced are marimba-like. For his part the tubaist shuns the instrument’s familiar guttural lows. Instead, using a variety of mutes, valve-twisting and embouchure refinements, he expels whistles and clicks and vibrates unaccented air from his horn. Harshly scraping the tuba body with other objects, the resulting scuffs onomatopoeically integrate with Martel’s agitated spiccato pumps and Zoubek’s rubbed strings and semi-depressed key patterns.

On Top, the appropriately titled, most spectacular and longest track, the polyphonic texture-layerings duplicate these and other sounds, including flute-like peeps and organ-resembling swells. Overall, the key to this track and the fascination of the entire disc’s production is how ancillary tropes such as the viola da gamba’s string sweeps and the piano’s single-note examinations calm staccato interjections to create a still spiky but compelling narrative. Plus it proves that traditional instruments, appropriately used, can generate a thoroughly modern tonal experience.

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