03 Egoyan PaulyHopeful Monster
Eve Egoyan; Mauricio Pauly
No Hay Discos NHD 004 (nohaydiscos.bandcamp.com)

Some five years in the making, the ten tracks which constitute Hopeful Monster reflect the experimental musical partnership of adventurous Toronto pianist Eve Egoyan and Vancouver-based composer/improvising musician, Mauricio Pauly.

Egoyan performs on acoustic and augmented (in many ways) piano, voice and other acoustic instruments such as the judiciously used kanun and Armenian duduk. The latter adds acoustic and cultural specificity to this often geographically though not aesthetically unmooring album. In most respects, this music lies in the experimental mainstream in the lineage of Tenney, Cage, Varese, et al.

Pauly, also a maker of hybrid electronic instruments, contributed a roomful of electronic gear such as computers, live samplers, live processing, dekeyed Chromaharp, and “drum bundle,” but also the inscrutably named instruments: O-Coast follower, FAWslicer and MtkAsmC25. Don’t let the profusion of odd gear throw you however. Being created through exploratory improvisation based on fearless artistic attitude and close listening by both musicians, this music attains a kind of biological fluidity.

“There’s a dark edge to [Pauly’s] sound-world that’s kind of like stone,” observed Egoyan in an interview, “… a real earthiness to his electronics, something very organic about his sounds. I [too] have a connection to an organic instrument and … to organic samples, but then I can go digital with them and make it very supernatural.”

Hopeful Monster explores a boundaried acoustic ecology through ranks of electronically mediated filters. The resulting collaboration reveals an audacious, supranatural sonic world stranger and at times more wonderous than the one outside this album.

04 Sick BossBusinessless
Sick Boss
Drip Audio DA12188 (sickboss.bandcamp.com)

I’ve made no secret that I’m a huge fan of the Vancouver improv scene, and this album from Sick Boss will become one of my favourites for this year. With leadership and compositions from guitarist Cole Schmidt, this album leaps beyond the band’s first album released in 2017, the self-titled Sick Boss.

Right out of the gate in Businessless, their subsequent release, we are blasted into outer space with a more aggressive direction and further explorations of explosive guitar and effects. What’s not to love here! The second track When the Buzzards Leave the Bone sounds exactly as titled; it’s a fantastical craziness featuring a long exposé of improvisation between the brilliant cellist Peggy Lee and the equally brilliant Jesse Zubot on violin, expressing just how well these two players know each other. The relentlessness of Useless Genius sits heavy on the solid rhythmic creativity of another phenomenal artist, drummer Dan Gaucher, who drives much of the edge of the album, along with Schmidt’s gorgeous wildness on the guitar. Both of the longer tracks on the album, Doctor Dawn and the melodic CJ Blues, express the most cohesive display of how tightly this band channels their collective creative energy. All this craziness is glued together by bass and synth player James Meger and blown apart by the stratospheric melodies of JP Carter’s trumpet. 

A condensed album at under 40 minutes, every track of Businessless is outstanding, but Useless Genius, featuring the holy hell of violin that is Jesse Zubot, is killer. 

05 Don Thompson Rob PiltchBells… Then and Now
Don Thompson; Rob Piltch
Modica Music (modicamusic.bandcamp.com/album/bells-now-and-then)

Having grown up in Toronto and being interested in jazz music from a young age, the opportunities to hear Don Thompson on bass, piano and, less frequently, vibraphone were plentiful indeed. In fact, he was such a near-constant presence on this city’s live music scene that for me, the playing, compositions, and more generally, the sound of Thompson’s various projects and performances were the very essence of Toronto jazz from that time. As such, when I listened to Bells… Now and Then, a re-release of Thompson and guitarist Rob Piltch’s great 1982 recording Bells, bookended here with two terrific and newly recorded additional tracks, I was instantly transported to a familiar and welcome place of musical memory.

Originally released on Umbrella Records, Bells, paired Thompson with then-24-year-old guitarist, Rob Piltch. The result is an intimate duo performance that demonstrates the ways in which Thompson was so good when working with guitarists, while situating Piltch in a long line of accomplished guitar players who worked as creative foils for Thompson (Sonny Greenwich, Ed Bickert, Lenny Breau, John Abercrombie, Jim Hall, Emily Remler, Reg Schwager). Whether it is the Sonny Rollins-esque vibe of Mike Malone’s Caribe, or the immediately recognizable vibe that the initial chord change inculcates at the beginning of Thompson’s truly beautiful composition September, listeners who are old enough to remember Toronto’s aforementioned jazz history will be served a happy auditory reminder of days gone by, while new listeners now have the exciting prospect of wonderful music to explore. Thanks to Roberto Occhipinti and Modica Music for both re-releasing this fine recording, and for adding two new tracks of Thompson and Piltch’s important contributions to the Canadian jazz discography and canon.

06 Mike HerriottMike Herriott – Tales of Tricksters and Vagabonds
Mike Herriott; H&H Studio Big Band
H&H Records (mikeherriott.com)

Get ready to be transported into a mystical world of fairytales and mysterious characters, where the border between reality and fable begins to fade. Renowned Canadian trumpeter and multi-instrumentalist Mike Herriott’s latest release takes the listener on a captivating foray into the magical realm of fantasy through lyrical melodies and riveting riffs. The album showcases Herriott’s compositional talents as well as his instrumental skills, as he plays most of the instruments, with the exception of cello and drums, heard in the recording. This makes for a truly enchanting musical journey and should be an addition to the collection of any jazz-lover that’s looking for something unique and truly engaging.

What makes this album stand out is the concept behind it, “[a] big band… album of six original compositions that depict a collection of some of the «sketchier” characters from great works of fiction,” as Herriott describes it. A modern six-part jazz suite if you will. Each tune is chock full of personality, truly reflecting what the idiosyncrasies of each “villain’s” persona. Take Puss, in Boots for example; a classic, snazzy big band sound with a driving beat and sultry horns immediately call to forth images of the “puss” in question, slinking around in the shadows, possibly up to no good. Herriott has done a fantastic job of merging the domains of fantasia and reality within his compositions, merging and blending genres; creating an imaginative, detailed world in the mind’s eye.

07 Carl MayotteCarnaval
Carl Mayotte
Independent (carlmayotte.com)

Multi-faceted, bustling, exuberant and emotive, Quebecois bassist/composer/leader Carl Mayotte’s new album makes for quite the engaging listen. Mayotte consistently showcases the entire range of his instrument, using the upper register to add colour and warmth to interludes in tracks like Cascade. His use of natural harmonics and arpeggiations encompassing the fingerboard in the intro of Coeur d’enfant unlocks the electric bass as a sole creator of soundscape, which allows for a tranquil meditation before the blazing inferno that follows. Each composition in this sense feels like a living organism, never content with occupying a single space for too long, with woodwind quintet Choros often providing near breath-like reprieve from all of the endless celebratory rhythms. In terms of the instrumentation and arrangements, Mayotte draws from a consistently exhilarating palate of electronics, heavy percussion sections and acoustics, creating a synthesis of influences that are never tedious. 

The tracks that make up the Carnaval suite flow seamlessly into each other but contain enough twists within them that the overarching statement itself feels more holistic than the form normally allows. This album is a very ambitious undertaking, but it never allows this vision to obscure its sense of adventure, tunefulness or grace. Central to this point is L’éveil, one of the more discreet moments to be found on the tracklist, albeit maybe its most rewarding on repeat listens. As we listen closer and closer, Mayotte leaves us with more and more wonders to discover.

08 Mike MurleyRecent History
Mike Murley; Mark Eisenman; Neil Swainson; Terry Clarke
Cornerstone Records CRST CD 166 (cornerstonerecordsinc.com)

Craving the perfect musical accompaniment to those cozy winter nights spent at the fireside, a warm drink in hand? Stellar duo Mike Murley and Mark Eisenman’s newest release is just the soundtrack you’re looking for. Mellow sax melodies and catchy piano riffs make for a warm, inviting record that conjures images of a snug living room and music floating softly in the background, watching the snow fall softly. Featuring all-stars Neil Swainson on bass and Terry Clarke on drums, Murley/Eisenman’s compositions soar to new heights via these fabulous backing musicians. 

The album harkens back to the classic jazz sound, featuring standards by greats such as Monk, Schwartz and Strayhorn. Yet just the right amount of modernity is brought into the mix, with Murley and crew adding a pleasing contemporary twist to the pieces to swiftly bring them into a current musical setting, as is heard in the time-honoured Monk’s Dream. Murley/Eisenman mention that the album “[reflects their] shared interest in writing new melodies on standard chord progressions,” otherwise known as contrafacts. What also adds a unique spark to the record is the several pieces that showcase Murley/Eisenman’s shared, intertwining solos that soar lyrically overtop of Clarke’s constant, energy-laden beat and Swainson’s rhythmic bass riffs. For those jazz aficionados looking for a foray into the past while also remaining present in the current day, this is a great album to add to the collection.

09 Jesse DietschiGradient
Jesse Dietschi Trio
Independent JDM-2023-01 (jessedietschi.com)

With so much so-called 21st-century music to listen to it is refreshing when a disc turns up that harks back to the elements that made jazzy, improvisational music so attractive in the first place: melody and swing. In this case it is the album Gradient by the contrabassist Jesse Dietschi and his trio. This ensemble is fortified by pianist Ewen Farncombe, a wunderkind who combines technical prowess with intelligence and good taste, and the swinging timekeeper with a gift for melodicism, itinerant journeyman and drummer Ethan Ardelli, now well on his way to becoming something of a proverbial elder statesman. 

The trio operates as a partnership of equals, not as bassist and accompaniment. Each participant is given ample room to stretch; to pick up threads, develop ideas and to embellish Dietschi’s compositions with a range of ear-worm riffs, dancing melodies, insistent rhythms and harmonies with the added elements of colour and texture. 

A relative newcomer, Dietschi emerges as an eloquent musical contrabassist producing some tasty arco work (cue Loose Plug and Canmore), and agile pizzicato everywhere else. As a composer he is clearly more gifted than he would get credit for being. This is likely because he splits his time between chamber orchestras and contemporary ensembles. The music of Gradient, however, suggests a questing mind with a borderless, erudite aesthetic. This is quite a rare combination under any circumstance.

Listen to 'Gradient' Now in the Listening Room

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