01 Aubrey WilsonHoneysuckle Rose
Aubrey Wilson Quartet
AW Music AWM001 (aubreywilsonmusic.com)

Vocal standards albums get a worse rap than they should. Sure, it can sometimes be monotonous to hear the same old songs sung by a vocalist who sounds like about a thousand other vocalists. However, I would argue that for every derivative example there’s an original take on the style, and the latter can be some of the more exhilarating music that exists. 

Aubrey Wilson and company’s renditions may help refresh the listener’s memory of what makes these standards so standard in the first place. In terms of staying faithful to the tunes, starting with the opener Nature Boy, it becomes pretty plain that this is a group that won’t allow the pressure to compromise their sound. The quartet of Wilson, pianist/arranger Chris Bruder, bassist Tom Altobelli and drummer Sean Bruce Parker have been going strong for nearly a decade and they have honed an effortlessly prodigious feel for each other. Bruder’s arrangements are tight, danceable and audacious. The band’s interpretive abilities are most notable during the melancholic title track, completely turning Fats Waller’s masterpiece on its head in a way that would almost be sacrilegious, if it didn’t work so well. That isn’t to say there are no bones thrown for the more traditional-leaning consumers, but even when the ensemble isn’t subverting, they’re grooving. Wilson constantly impresses, both with her improvisational savvy and chutzpah. Well executed all around.

02 Monday NightsMonday Nights
Sophie Bancroft; Tom Lyne
LisaLeo Records LISALEO 0901 (bancroftlyne.com)

Scottish singer/songwriter/guitarist Sophie Bancroft and her husband, Canadian bassist/songwriter Tom Lyne, are respected UK-based musicians whose latest release was inspired by their weekly COVID-isolation, Monday night livestream sessions from their living room begun in spring 2020. The five originals and five covers here were recorded perfectly at Castlesound Studios. 

The covers are their own very personal take of famous tunes. Highlights include Cole Porter’s You’d Be So Nice To Come Home To, with a moving bass backdrop supporting the virtuosic scat singing and subtle vocal back phrasing; and a happy and positive feel for our difficult times in their rendition of Lerner and Lowe’s On The Street Where You Live. Bancroft sounds like she is singing only to her husband in the folksier emotionally charged Tom Waits’ tune Grapefruit Moon.

Lyne’s composition, Far From Mars, is a great jazz tune featuring his electric bass playing. Wish it was longer!! Bancroft’s Fragile Moon is slow, peaceful and delicately performed. Her Miles Away is so COVID isolation, with its storytelling lyrics about love at a distance and pitch leaps adding to the feeling of loneliness. Blue Room is mellow and enticing. Comfort, with more folky singalong qualities and repeated descending vocal melody, has a stress-busting calm, controlled feel.

Bancroft and Lyne are first-class jazz performers, improvisers and songwriters. Their performances here are upbeat, musical and subtle, and surprisingly made me totally forget our COVID outbreak isolation lockdown.

Listen to 'Monday Nights' Now in the Listening Room

Lina Allemano Four
Lumo Records (linaallemano.com)

Permanent Moving Parts
See Through 4
All-Set! AS014 (seethroughmusic.bandcamp.com)

03a Allemano 4These two CDs, both recorded by jazz quartets in Toronto in winter 2020 at Union Sound Company, both featuring trumpeter Lina Allemano as a lead voice, suggest very different approaches to band formation and conception.

The Lina Allemano Four’s Vegetables is the sixth CD by a band that’s been together since 2005 without a change in personnel, still made up of alto saxophonist Brodie West, bassist Andrew Downing and drummer Nick Fraser. Allemano’s compositions are touchstones, brief but distinctive rhythmic and melodic patterns that shape some of the patterns of development, but the group is tied together by a telepathic understanding of one another’s spontaneous processes. On Brussel Sprouts, Maybe Cabbages, it’s hard to draw a line between composition and improvisation in West’s dancelike repeating figure, even more so when he and Allemano happily land on exactly the same spot. Much of the music is conversational collective improvisation, whether it’s West’s whispered lyricism, Allemano’s exploration of mutating timbres, Downing’s spontaneous counter melodies or Fraser’s creative rhythmic chatter. Then there are the inspirations. I’m not sure how one might make sonic distinctions between Onions, Champignons and Leafy Greens, but I know all three are organic and their precise forms vary from any one to another, functioning as metaphor for the group’s intertwined creative evolution.

03b See Through 4 Permanent Moving Parts CoverA bassist may be the least conspicuous member of a band, usually the quietest, confined to a fundamental role, and often the last to solo. Bassist-composer Pete Johnston, however, stands out as his See Through 4’s one consistent element. Last year, the quartet – all first-rank Toronto musicians – released False Ghosts, Minor Fears. A year later, there’s another CD, but the other members have changed; while roles remain the same, the lead instruments have changed too. The place accorded saxophonist Karen Ng now belongs to trumpeter Lina Allemano; the chordal element is no longer Marilyn Lerner’s piano but Michael Davidson’s vibraphone; drummer Jake Oelrichs replaces Nick Fraser. There’s little change in quality, but there’s a completely different collective sound, with trumpet and vibraphone bringing a brighter sonority, even a certain brashness.   

Those “permanent moving parts” are also the building blocks of Johnston’s evocative compositions. True to its title, Weathering Teenage Hopes is a study in evolution, Allemano’s melancholy trumpet initially accompanied by Johnston’s empathetic bass alone; Davidson eventually enters, the vibraphone’s bell-like brightness carrying the piece and the band to a certain comfortable groove, which continues right down to Allemano’s ebullient bursts and wandering, scintillating lines. Other pieces may eschew such narrative development, but Johnston’s compositions seem knitted from experience, expressing ambiguous states of mind, here conveniently named, whether it’s Everything Happens Once, Possible Daylight Dreams or the tone painting of Imperfect Sunlit Room. Allemano, Davidson and Oelrichs are here to provide colour, bringing each piece to life, but the forms and their patterns of development are definitely Johnston’s department.

04 BloopProof
Lumo Records (linaallemano.com)

An awkward name for adroit innovators, BLOOP is actually Toronto trumpeter Lina Allemano extending her horn’s timbres with mutes, percussion and whistling as well as having them live-processed with effects by Mike Smith. Playful, pugnacious and profound, the eight improvisations multiply and mulch brass textures so that Allemano often seems to be playing more than one horn simultaneously, with a singular mid-range narrative and at least one other tone squeaking and peeping at elevated pitches. Below and beside this are percussion additions created by her maracas-like shakes, cow bell raps, bolo-bar-like smacks and synthesized rumbles, which are concurrently inflated electronically in real time. The trumpet bell shoved against the mic or metal, plus mouthpiece sucking and tongue pops, add to the jolting progressive impact. 

Digging deep into the horn’s body tube to produce growls and whines as on Recanting or propelling fluid melodies on tracks such as Actual Bloop, Allemano never really creates alone. Palimpsest-like, grainy processed pitches are always present, undulating below the narrative surface at the edge of hearing. She can dip to Taps-like ennui at points or inflate notes balloon-like to pressurized burbles, but she – and Smith – never lose the thread of communicative connections.

Want Proof of this local trumpeter’s skill as a soloist? You’d do well to investigate BLOOP.

05 Colin FisherReflections of the Invisible World
Colin Fisher
Halocline Trance HTRA017 (haloclinetrance.bandcamp.com)

Colin Fisher has been a dynamic and industrious part of the Canadian music community for 20 years. He is a multi-instrumentalist with remarkable facility on saxophone, guitar, drums, electronics and other musical objects. With Brandon Valdivia he formed Not the Wind, Not the Flag, fronts the Colin Fisher Quartet and has played in many other groups and produced solo projects like his Gardens of the Unknowing.

The new vinyl and digital-only release, Reflections of the Invisible World, is another solo project with Fisher playing guitar, saxophone and electronics. Each of the seven pieces creates its own sonic environment and the tone and architecture is determined by the structure of the electronic sounds. The guitar and saxophone performances waft amongst the walls and corridors of those sounds which are sometimes melodic, other times primarily rhythmic. Salient Charm begins with a pulsing rhythm which develops into wafting, ephemeral melodies where the saxophone is barely discernible as a colour. Double Image has a moody, noir vibe with some edgy background sounds, while Fisher’s tenor saxophone plays great jazzy longer tones with just a touch of vibrato and eventually works into some full-blown wailing. It could be an updated Blade Runner soundtrack, though more experimental than Hollywood usually ventures. The sounds and shapes in Fisher’s album drift between ambient and arresting with each “reflection” offering its unique glimpse of another “invisible” world.

06 Kind MindKind Mind
Josh Cole
Independent (kindmind.bandcamp.com/album/kind-mind)

Kind Mind is Josh Cole (bass), Karen Ng (alto saxophone) and Michael Davidson (vibraphone). Recorded live on January 4, 2020 at the Open Waters Festival in Halifax, the music wastes no time getting straight to the point. The opening track, Inside Voices, begins when you press play. There is no prolonged silence and no gradual introduction of each musical element. There is Cole alone for exactly a second, and then the ensemble takes off. 

One thing that stood out for me is how effectively space and subtlety are used throughout the duration of this project. Despite being a trio, there are long stretches where only one or two instruments can be heard simultaneously. Phrases often seem deliberately tentative, and exclamations sometimes evaporate into question marks. Part of this phenomenon comes from impeccable listening on the part of all three players. The sparsity seems even more intentional when you hear the end of each idea, as the musicians step aside, allowing the person behind them to take centre stage. Karen Ng, especially, proves to be a master of restraint, really only contributing texturally at many points, and her astonishing timing is really the adhesive that makes this recording so seamless. The group’s use of space allows for their improvisations to possess distinctive shape and structure, so that when Kind Mind goes full throttle the element of surprise is on their side.

07 Brandi Disterheft CoverSurfboard
Brandi Disterheft
Justin Time JTR 8626-2 (justin-time.com)

The theme of bassist/vocalist Brandi Disterheft’s fifth album as a leader, Surfboard, is ostensibly Brazilian jazz, but this writer finds the recording’s second underlying theme to be a love note to New York City. This could be a projection on my part, but hear me out, as it nonetheless provides an interesting lens through which to listen. Disterheft, special guest drummer Portinho, and pianist Klaus Mueller are all transplants to this “jazz mecca.” The move is a logical choice for many musicians, in this case Disterheft hailing from Canada, Mueller from Germany (via Asia and South America), and Portinho leaving Brazil in the 70s for the U.S. The second featured guest, Memphis born saxophone legend George Coleman, who made a name for himself playing with B.B. King, Ray Charles and later Miles Davis, is a veteran New York resident.  

Portinho, representing all things Brazil, and Coleman being an ambassador for the New York side of things, give Surfboard a sense of balance that allows it to contain 14 unique tracks without ever becoming monotonous. Its title work, an upbeat piece by Antonio Carlos Jobim, is balanced by an interlude to the rhapsodic Coup De Foudre, which continues the Brazilian theme and introduces Coleman’s playing. Coleman shines on the fourth track My Foolish Heart, which continues the theme of alternating straight-eighths numbers with swung ones. These alternating themes curate a unique album that’s “radio friendly” while maintaining its artistic integrity.

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