07_Oscar_PetersonOscar Peterson’s Easter Suite
Oscar Peterson; Niels-Henning Orstedt Pedersen; Martin Brew
ArtHaus Musik 107 063

The music on this DVD was recorded in 1984 for London Weekend Television, commissioned by the BBC and broadcast on Good Friday, April 24, 1984. It is one of the least known compositions by Oscar Peterson, even though virtually all sources mention it as one of his major works. The eight movements follow the events related in the gospel story. Long-time associates, bassist Niels-Henning Orstedt Pedersen and drummer Martin Drew, accompany Peterson and, as might be expected, the playing is of an exceptionally high standard.

The DVD also features an interesting interview with Peterson in which he admits to an initial scepticism about interpreting such a topic in the medium of jazz and his relation to spiritual music. He also describes in detail the various motifs of the work and I recommend playing the interview before listening to the Suite

The passion and resurrection may seem surprising topics for a longer jazz work, but Oscar Peterson with his Easter Suite joins a number of significant other jazz greats — artists such as Mary Lou Williams, John Coltrane, Duke Ellington and Dave Brubeck introduced religious themes in their later works as a way of expressing their spiritual beliefs. But religion-inspired jazz has been around for some time. In fact one could present a case that there has been a connection right from the early days in New Orleans with the street parades and the interplay of musical and religious traditions.

The Easter Suite will make an interesting addition to your Peterson collection and we have to thank BBC for making it possible. It is hard to imagine an American network producing such an event.

01_Holly_ColeSteal the Night
Holly Cole
Alert Music Inc. 61528-10449

For a performer with as much stage presence as veteran Toronto jazz singer Holly Cole, a DVD-CD package of a live performance seems like an ideal vehicle. Steal the Night was recorded live at Glenn Gould Studio in 2011, and is a fine representation of the gamut of musical charms of Cole and bandmates John Johnson, reeds, Davide DiRenzo, drums, Rob Piltch, guitar, Aaron Davis, piano and David Piltch, bass.

We’re treated to some of her classic repertoire such as Calling You and I Can See Clearly Now plus the newer You’ve Got a Secret and a smokin’ version of Charade. However with most of her between-song patter edited out of the footage, Cole’s big personality doesn’t come through as much as one might hope. So where the DVD really shines is in the short documentaries in the extras section. Holly in Japan is a fascinating glimpse into a slice of Japanese culture and Cole’s many fans there. Coming to Toronto is a mini-biography with interviews of Cole, jazz broadcaster Ross Porter and, most revealingly, Cole’s family. Best of all The Trio digs into the evolution of the unique sound of the band and provides a well-deserved tribute to the contributions long-time collaborators Aaron Davis and David Piltch made to the musical force that is Holly Cole.

02_KaeshammerKaeshammer Live!
Michael Kaeshammer
Alert Music Inc. 61528-10439

Michael Kaeshammer is a prolific guy. Since 2001 he has released six studio albums, the latest in 2011, and much of them populated with his own songwriting. Add to that this DVD-CD of a live performance, and that’s quite a body of work for someone of his relative youth. The other striking thing about Kaeshammer is his love — one might even say obsession — for New Orleans-style music. It comes across in his songwriting as well as in his philosophy toward performing, which, despite his monster skills on piano, is more about having a good time than extended jazz soloing.

Having seen Kaeshammer play live, I have first-hand experience of what a joyful performer he is. Even when it’s just him at the piano, he can command a room with his charisma and energy. Watching a DVD of one of his concerts isn’t a substitute, but it comes close. Especially since Kaeshammer Live! was recorded in an “in the round” setting in an intimate hall in Toronto, so the cameras were able to get in close and capture a variety of angles of the band (which includes three horns and two backing singers). Drummer Mark McLean’s expressive playing is especially fun to watch, and the “cutting contest” between him and Kaeshammer on a Fats Waller tune is one of the highlights of the concert.

Kaeshammer Live provides a concise sampling of the personal and musical journey this ever-evolving musician has taken from smokin’ hot boogie woogie piano player, to romantic balladeer and back again to a musical place that is uniquely his.

Andrew Boniwell and the Uncertainty Principle

I enjoyed this CD — I have to admit that very often when I see a release with all original compositions I approach it with some trepidation, but there is no uncertainty with this recording. The compositions are inventive and the musicians all bring a cohesive and creative energy to the music. I hope that the leader/composer doesn’t mind if I say that some of the pieces bring to mind the work of Horace Silver; it is certainly meant as a compliment.

The musicians who lend their talents to the music of Mr. Bonniwell are bassist Mark Cashion, drummer Mike McClelland, Kevin Turcotte on trumpet and Richard Underhill on alto sax.

This recording is yet another good example of the fine talents right here on our own doorstep.

04_GiaAnatomical Signatures
Gia & The Unpredictable Update
Independent GIA 00008

Don’t let the somewhat unwieldy title put you off. This is a double CD of music described by Romanian born Gia as “jazz meets symphonic meets rock meets balkanic meets world music.” And indeed it is an eclectic program of original compositions by the leader. Approach it with open ears and you will find much to enjoy.

The group comprises Pat LaBarbera (saxes), Johnny Johnson (saxes), Levon Ichkhanian (guitar), Wilson Laurencin (drums), Alan Hetherington (assorted percussion), Pat Kilbride (bass), Clifford Ojala (saxes/clarinet) and Gia Ionesco on keyboards. An all-star line-up indeed and I would have liked more information in the sparse liner notes.

There are, not surprisingly, European influences in the music and while you won’t end up singing many of the themes, you will be moved by the musicianship on this album.

05_Dusted_MachineryDusted Machinery
John Butcher; Toshimaru Nakamura
Monotype Records mono 041

Classic man versus machine improvisation: British saxophonist John Butcher matches his skills against the distinctive audio feedback produced from a so-called no-input mixing board given near-anthropomorphic cunning through the manipulations of Japan’s Toshimaru Nakamura. By connecting the board’s input to its output, Nakamura’s blurry oscillations evolve in ever-changing textural pitches from grinding croaks to ear-splitting yowls. It’s a tribute to the talents of Butcher that his perceptive reed thrusts and rejoinders evolve as appropriately as they do. Although by the final track he adopts a mechanized strategy by adding feedback loops to his reed playing, on the other pieces Nakamura’s signal processing, oscillations and indistinct mechanical static confront what Butcher can produce only with tongue, lips, mouth, throat and fingers.

On Maku for instance, while motor-driven drones pulsate from thunderously loud to blurry fuzz tones, Butcher’s tenor saxophone sequences involve smears and expansive vibratos so that each Nakamura-originated texture meets a responsive sonic action. Moreover, while the machine’s voltage flanges may be so powerful that they’re nearly visible, the reedist’s multiphonic overblowing produces equivalent timbres that in split seconds leap from dog-whistle-like altissimo to basso growls, and from pianissimo to fortissimo. Overall, Butcher uses flutter-tongued intensity to chip away at the board-created solid sound block.

Using the soprano saxophone on Knead and Nobasu respectively, Butcher’s nasal split-tones, nephritic growls, key percussion and surprisingly lyrical interludes substantiate his human-ness. Conclusively he demonstrates that with original ideas and profound techniques man can lead machine to cooperate in creating a memorable sound program.

06_Houle_DelbecqBecause She Hoped
Benoît Delbecq; François Houle
Songlines SGL 1592-2

Dazzlingly interactive, this third duo disc by Vancouver clarinettist François Houle and Parisian pianist Benoît Delbecq exposes rugged as well as impressionistic textures. Delbecq, who often prepares his strings with implements, and Houle, whose extended techniques include circular breathing and split tones, are modest as well. They allow the improvisations to evolve organically rather than calling attention to their skills.

Yet two versions of the clarinettist’s Pour Pee Wee end up being completely distinct. Houle smears intense vibrations atop Delbecq’s uninterrupted wooden key clicks in 120 seconds during the first variant; the second, three times as long, finds the pianist’s sour and percussive motifs enlivened by passing chords and staccato asides, as circling glissandi and tremolo flattement presage a final swinging pulse from Delbecq. This unforced jauntiness is also expressed on the un-clichéd Clichés, composed by saxophonist Steve Lacy who influenced them both. Delbecq’s marimba-like string pops are perfect down-to-earth accompaniment to the concentric and jaunty melody elaborated by Houle. When reed squeaks and syncopated lines unite for the finale the textural release illuminates the note-perfect, yet moderated playing of both.

Throughout, unmatched textural command from the two maintains a melodic flow. Whether the base performance encompasses atmospheric liquid clarinet runs and sympathetic keyboard chording on Duke Ellington’s The Mystery Song, or turns Delbecq’s castanet-like polyrhythms plus Houle’s tremolo pitchslides on the pianist’s Ando atonal, a final variant reveals an innate modern tonality. The reedist’s title tune similarly demonstrates that sympathetic romanticism can eventually result from a narration that begins with tongue slaps and key clipping.

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