08 Cory WeedsHome Cookin’
Cory Weeds with little big band accompaniment
Cellar Music CMR120522 (cellarlive.com)

The latest offing from master tenorist/producer/record label director Cory Weeds is unequivocally loaded with delight. For this new expression of joy, Weeds has formed an ensemble comprised of many of the top, Vancouver-based jazz players. The material here is powerful, featuring compositions by Horace Silver, Weeds, Michael Weiss and Thad Jones, as well as a superb re-tooling of Oliver Nelson’s original arrangement of the classic Lullaby of the Leaves.  Bill Coon and Jill Thompson are the brilliant arrangers/producers of the majority of the material here, with a pumpitudinous arrangement of Weiss’ Power Station by Weiss himself.

The opening salvo and title track, Home Cookin’ (a Silver composition) gets going with a bass intro, followed by synchronous brass and rhythm section work. The track bobs and swings in all of the right places, replete with a fine solo from Weeds. Next up is Corner Kisses – a Weeds original – it’s loaded with energetic bop and penned as a celebration of his beautiful, amazing wife. Weeds and his horn take off into the stratosphere here, along with pianist Chris Gestrin, trumpeter Brad Turner and drummer Jesse Cahill. Blossoms in May, is another Weeds original, and on this track, the art of the ballad is not only explored, but manifested.  Weeds’ warm, languid tone is a balm for whatever ails you, and the ensemble plays together as a one-celled organism.

Standouts include Jones’ Thedia – John Lee’s bass solo is brief but potent and the band just kills it at every opportunity – and the above mentioned Lullaby of the Leaves, adapted and transcribed by Fred Stride. Pianist Gestrin digs in, really getting into the chordal meat. Weeds is nothing short of exceptional here, and remains a guiding light in jazz. Bravo!

09 Kevin GossGratitude
Kevin Goss; Brian O’Kane; Dave Restivo; Nathan Hiltz; Jim Vivian; Ted Warren
Independent (kevingoss.bandcamp.com/album/gratitude)

Gifted composer and baritone saxophonist Kevin Goss has recently released a compelling recording of his original compositions (save one), propelled by gratitude, family, friendship and the love of music. As he faced and recovered from a life-threatening illness, he felt the need to both celebrate and explore these three key aspects of life. Goss has surrounded himself here with an excellent ensemble:  Dave Restivo on piano, Brian O’Kane on trumpet, Nathan Hiltz on guitar, Jim Vivian on bass and Ted Warren on drums. 

First up is the groovy “boogaloo blues” Ted’s Kick, which was written in honour of the great Ronnie Cuber as well as a tip of the hat to drummer Warren, who detests the term “kick drum.”  Restivo’s satisfying Fender Rhodes and Hiltz’s George Benson-esque motifs imbed a whiff of the 70s in this track. O’Kane renders a fine trumpet solo here as well superb bass work from Vivian and Goss’ dynamic and fluid soloing. A true stand out is Mists of Fundy, a sumptuous ballad and a tribute to the iconic Phil Woods as well as to Goss’ hometown of St. John NB – where the magical mists rise with regularity – as does the talent! Goss plays from the heart here, each note rife with emotional content.

Also dynamic is the spicy Latin groove, Cayenne (for Pepper) written for Pepper Adams, “the Father of modern baritone playing,” and the stunning Adanac – a waltz based on the changes of Sonny Rollins’ standard, Airegin. Goss soars on soprano here, and O’Kane provides a splendid solo. Not to be missed is the funky-cool By George, which is another Benson-infused tune, written with B3 in mind. Goss lays it down on baritone here, and is joined in the groove by the masterful Hiltz, Restivo and the concise, skilled and thrilling percussion work by Warren.

10 Nick MacLeanConvergence
Nick Maclean Quartet featuringBrownman Ali
Browntasaurus Records NCC-1701N (browntasauras.com)

It may be a tad late – some may say outdated – to use terms, such as “bop” and “hard-bop” today. It’s either music that beckons you to be still and listen with your heart, or listen with your heart and then get up and dance, on the beat, behind it or ahead of it. The music on Convergence by the Nick Maclean Quartet does all those things and it does each of them exceedingly well. 

The pianist Maclean has a prodigious gift for the melodic. Together with trumpeter Brownman Ali he has been a magnet for some fine young musicians – a bassist and drummer for instance – who certainly appear to be big on heart and technique, but low on ego. This makes for superbly natural sounding performances. 

There is a heady appeal to music that is simple – Herbie Hancock’s ostinato-driven Butterfly and its later metamorphosis into a Caribbean species – and complex. Two beautiful examples are songs where long, sculpted inventions (Maclean’s Why the Caged Bird Sings and Ali’s Wisdom of Aurelius) draw you into their ornamental spiderwebs with their alluring mix of elegance, energy and precision.  

It is not as if the brilliant soli and ensemble is shared just between Maclean and Ali. Bassist Ben Duff and drummer Jacob Wutzke also get in on the action. Even founding-bassist Jesse Dietschi displays his rhythmic chops in all their unearthly beauty on Hancock’s Dolphin Dance to kick off this celebrated recording.

12 Elegy for TheloniousElegy for Thelonious
Frank Carlberg Large Ensemble
Sunnyside Records SSC 1716 (sunnysiderecords.bandcamp.com/album/elegy-for-thelonious)

Chick Corea’s Trio Music (ECM, 1981) and Trio Music, Live in Europe (ECM, 1986) represent the high watermarks of small-ensemble homages to Thelonious Monk. Similarly, nothing by a large group on either side of the Atlantic comes close to matching the intrigue, riveting power and consequence of two recordings by the Frank Carlberg Large Ensemble. The first of these was a 2017 recording Monk Dreams, Hallucinations and Nightmares (Red Piano Records, 2017), and this brilliant Elegy for Thelonious

Monk broke free of his much-loved quartet format only twice. The first time was when he was persuaded by Hall Overton, which resulted in The Thelonious Monk Orchestra Live at the Town Hall (Columbia, 1959), and Big Band and Quartet (Columbia, 1963), featuring Oliver Nelson’s arrangements. 

Frank Carlberg’s Monk is cut from the same iconic musical tapestry, but his vision of Monk’s singular jagged melodies, off-kilter harmonies and rhythmic rhetoric is metaphysical, spectral. The music upends even Monk-conventions about what is logical and permissible in music. Sure, Carlberg’s music reflects Monk, but the vision is much darker than Monk’s crepuscular one. 

Listening to this recording is like viewing Monk as a shimmering hologram evocative of Supreme Leader Snoke’s appearances in Star Wars: The Force Awakens looming over Kylo Ren and General Hux.  

Back in the real world, the spikey lines of melody, harmony and rhythm of Monk’s often-impenetrable music unite in these glorious elliptical arcs of Carlberg’s visionary re-imaginations of Monk’s music.

13a Grdina MarrowGordon Grdina’s The Marrow with Fathieh Honari
Gordon Grdina; Hank Roberts; Mark Helias; Hamin & Fathieh Honari
AttaboyGirl Records ABG-8 (gordongrdinamusic.com)

Duo Work
Gordon Grdina; Christian Lillinger
AttaboyGirl Records ABG-7 (gordongrdinamusic.com)

The music of the inimitable Gordon Grdina – prodigious oudist and guitarist – is nothing if not full of glorious drama and surprise. As a musician, Grdina’s love of delightful whimsy, caprice and of music’s volatile ever-changing nature may be the reason that no two recordings of his – indeed, often no two songs he composes – come from the same place in his mind’s eye. Even though his oeuvre can be divided into music played on oud and music played on guitar, he is able to extract such a wide and varied palette of colour from each instrument that you could easily describe his music as chameleonic.

Grdina’s grasp of the Middle Eastern (Persian) Beyati Modes, the Asiatic musical Maqam and the other modes – Phrygian, Ionian, Lydian, etc., associated with Greek and Western music – enable him to sculpt and chisel phrases with extraordinary finger vibrato. Thus, he crafts lines that are drenched in the very depth of emotion – swinging from unfettered exuberance to the heart-aching and tearful sadness. 

Whether he is playing oud or guitar the essence of Grdina’s poetics is the same; born of an extraordinary lyricism. This enables him to play notes that seem to ululate although he employs little tremolo. He also has a thrilling ability (especially on the oud) to make notes seem to hang in the air, and often even pirouette with a wailing voice like dervishes engaged in mesmeric dances, willing the music to ascend to a celestial realm. 

This is the kind of riveting magic that he brings to the music of The Marrow, which brings to life the poetry of 13th century Persian Sufi poet Jalal al-Din Rumi. On the disc Grdina shares headline credits – rightfully so – with the Persian vocalist Fathieh Honari. Extraordinary performances by bassist Mark Helias, cellist Hank Roberts and percussionist Hamin Honari also grace this recording. Together they shine the spotlight on loping lines of music awash in a palette of wet colours. From the long, lyrical lines of Not of Them through Raqib and Raqs e Parvaneh and Qalandar, Grdina and the rest of the performers join Honari in igniting little emotional fires made of Rumi’s poetry. 

13b Grdina Duo WorkCompared to the quiet blue flames of The Marrow, the music on Grdina’s Duo Work recording with percussionist Christian Lillinger crackles to life right out of the gate. Before long both musicians come together seemingly butting creative heads in one outsize offering after another, their demoniac temperaments (also blessed with an ethereal delicacy and the most fine-spun sonority) seem to turn the 12 tracks from Song One through Ash and Jalopy, to Song Two, into an irresistible musical inferno.

14 Turboprop Canadian SongbookA Canadian Songbook
Ernesto Cervini’s Turboprop
TPR Records TPR-017-02 (ernestocervini.com/artist/turboprop)

Ernesto Cervini mines the more esoteric entries in the Canadian songbook to put together this fabulous album. When I Fall (Barenaked Ladies) and Clumsy (Our Lady Peace) are the only two songs included with more mainstream exposure. In fact, When I Fall might not be recognized even by fans of the «Ladies» because Cervini’s jazz arrangement stretches it out and includes an emphatic and gospel-tinged saxophone solo by Joel Frahm. However, this version’s emotional core manages to match and even rise above that of the original. 

Cervini includes two originals: If/Then is a quirky off-metre tribute to his early computer programming days and Stuck Inside is his reflection on the pandemic. The Turboprop musicians (Tara Davidson, alto sax; Frahm, tenor sax; William Carn, drums; Adrean Farrugia, piano; Dan Loomis, bass; Cervini, drums) deliver sparkling and precise ensemble playing and inspired solo performances throughout.

Listen to 'A Canadian Songbook' Now in the Listening Room

15 Felix Tellier PouliotHometown Zero
Felix Tellier Pouliot; Christian Bailet; Martin Auguste
Independent (ftpmusic.bandcamp.com/album/hometown-zero)

 Slick production overtop irresistible labyrinthine grooves that ebb, flow, wind and reroute defy any forecast or notion as to where they’ll end up next. One second, the mix is skeletal and airy, driven more than anything by implication of metamorphosis into something much larger. The very next second, Félix Tellier Pouliot’s soaring guitar tremolo balloons into a supernatural feeling akin to the climax of a Godspeed You! Black Emperor (post-rock legends, also of Montreal origin) suite. This rhythm section consistently transcends any preconceived ideas of what a trio can accomplish when it comes to unadulterated expressive range, largely due to how comfortable they are working within radical contrasts.

Pouliot’s solo on 7 O’Clock is a barnstormer of a thing, its every gesture reverberating through the cosmos and back. Shot out of a cannon, Pouliot’s virtuosic display sounds like it would be perfectly at home in a progressive metal piece bursting at the seams with energy whilst overtop a bottom-heavy, cyclonic blast beat. However, that is not what is happening here; it is closer to the inverse, as Christian Bailet’s crisp bass tone nonchalantly outlines a pinpoint 11-pattern and Martin Auguste skates past on his highest, tightest frequencies: the rim of the snare, the bell of the ride. Each member provides something distinct that the others are not, proving you can cover more ground if you aren’t retreading your bandmate’s. Despite being groove-heavy, this album resists stasis at every turn. All systems go.

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