Outstanding saxophonist and composer Quinsin Nachoff spends more time in New York than in his native Canada, releasing cutting-edge albums underlining the key niche he now occupies in contemporary jazz. His latest Quinsin Nachoff FoMo (Musictron, www.quinsin.com), with FoMo standing for ‘forward motion’, is just that, delivering almost 80 minutes comprising eight of his compositions that are splendid examples of imagination, wit and daring yet show keen understanding of jazz traditions. Big Apple trumpeter Russ Johnson is the bright foil to Nachoff’s tenor, while fellow Canucks (sinewy keysman Adrean Farrugia on Fender Rhodes and drummer Mark Kelso) alternately massage and bruise rhythms. The sound echoes provocative Ornette Coleman foursomes but with marginally softer surfaces and an inclination to sneak in pop-rock tags – and it thrills - the Rhodes surprisingly effective. On Devil’s Advocate the leader energetically tests new ideas alongside vigorous trumpet, Odyssic says soaring space flight over undulating beat, while the title track surges, its snaky lines urgently counterpointed. Mellow creations such as Three Trees and the surreal Astral Echo Poem allow dramatic contrast before the folksy rumble of African Skies concludes a session superbly shaping new musical scenery.
The diverse talents of elite Montreal jazzers is on show on Jazzlab - Octo Portraits (Effendi FND107 www.effendirecords.com), the octet’s fourth such outing featuring strong charts and stirring soloing. Power saxist Frank Lozano seems to lead with his assertive, technically accomplished work, but everyone deserves mention, each contributing a tune and solos – take bow. Saxmen Remi Bolduc and Alexandre Côté, trumpeter Aron Doyle, trombonist Richard Gagnon, pianist John Roney, bass Alain Bédard and drummer Isaiah Ceccarelli. Tracing The Chain is Lozano’s chance to wave the avant-garde flag before it retires to medium-pace thrust moderated by Doyle’s sunny tones, Bolduc’s Mrs BB has an intriguing narrative, Côté’s Phil’s Spirit is a bravura blast with sturdy trombone and tough tenor and the intense Roney revels in outside play on Trois Recits de Voyage.
Drummer Mark McLean could call Toronto home but seems permanently on tour performing with a multitude of music’s elites. His self-produced indie CD Mark McLean - Playground (www.markmclean.com) pictures an über-assured, relaxed jazzer who’s unquestionably the boss of a Hogtown band featuring guitarist-for-all-tastes Kevin Breit while also drawing on the considerable abilities of busy saxman Kelly Jefferson, bassists Marc Rogers or Pat Kilbride plus pianists Robi Botos or David Braid. Always controlled, all the way from cerebral to fierce, McLean makes jazz extremely appealing, his nine (of 10) compositions catchy and very much of our time, some obviously referencing his appearances with singers. Breit is a versatile force throughout, always in the middle of ominous rocking grooves and ruminative forays as McLean conjures rhythmic intricacies for every occasion with authority and flawless time feel. Lots to like here.
Toronto veteran Alex Dean has a deserved reputation as an exciting player on tenor who was most familiar romping through the changes with blistering phrasing, heated blasts and pinpoint timing. It’s been a very long time since he’s recorded as leader, and Alex Dean Quintet - At This Point (Cornerstone CD 134 www.cornerstonerecordsinc.com) comes up somewhat short on the fiery front. I miss his glorious over-the-top solos. Dean penned the attractive septet of tunes here, which benefit on three of them from immaculate, elegant work by guitarist Lorne Lofsky. There’s also predictably solid support from pianist Brian Dickinson, bass Kieran Overs and drummer Ted Warren. Mostly you hear warm, reflective tenor, the hard edges whittled away, the playing crafty as a fountain of ideas is explored – on the title track he bustles from mellow to meaty after offering charged-up swing, then shows more of his old self on Mr.B.C. and too-short vintage mayhem with Warren on Pat and Pat.
Mr. Marblesz is a quintet led by guitarist Tom Juhas with his brother Sly drumming, smart organist Daffyd Hughes, saxist Chris Gale and bass Tyler Emond. The self-titled debut release Mr. Marblesz (www.mrmarblesz.ca) shows jazz approaching à la burlesque, busy but uneven, rhythmically heady, with mercurial runs, unanticipated hairpin turns, a healthy appetite for innovation with unusual, inviting textures, yucky vocal background and an overall sound both retro and fresh. In other words, a bit odd – but not uninteresting.
Pianist-composer David Braid is a huge talent, his resourcefulness front and centre on David Braid, Canadian Brass - Spirit Dance (Opening Day ODR 7383 www.davidbraid.com). Eight of his originals plus a clever theme-and-variations manufactured from the standard Yesterdays make enjoyable crossover fodder for the Brass, who’ve been around since 1970 and are six-strong here. The music embraces far places and many moods, from the serene Interior Castles to the seemingly simple, delightful Temple Heaven Walk to the contrapuntal trumpet-fortified Prelude for Two Voices to the spiritual, two-part Resolute Bay. Great stuff.