There are few instances of jazz musicians who achieve both musical greatness and some degree of genuine popularity. The rare cases are signalled by one syllable recognition (Duke, Bird, Monk, Miles, Trane) at most two (Satchmo, Dizzy). The most prominent current activity in jazz recording revolves around archival releases, whether reissues or newly uncovered discoveries. Each of these sets presents musicians who had a certain dance with significant popularity.

01 Hot HouseIf there’s a singular jazz event embedded in Toronto history, it’s one that occurred in 1953. Hot House: The Complete Jazz at Massey Hall Recordings (Craft Recordings CR00683 has often been marketed as The Greatest Jazz Concert Ever, a wild claim by any standard, but it is drenched in greatness. With saxophonist Charlie Parker, trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie, pianist Bud Powell, bassist Charles Mingus and drummer Max Roach, every musician in the quintet represented one of the greatest figures ever to play jazz (or anything else) on his instrument of choice. They had all played together extensively, and in 1953 were at or near their peak abilities. When it was originally released on Mingus’ Debut label, the bassist, unhappy with the original recording levels, overdubbed his bass parts. 

The present reissue offers optimal restoration of the original recordings on Disc One of the two-CD package, both the quintet set and a trio set by Powell, Mingus and Roach. A live recording at the dawn of the LP era, it offers longer takes than earlier formats had accommodated, so there’s plenty of brilliant blowing on bop anthems like Salt Peanuts and A Night in Tunisia, performances now embedded in jazz history. Powell, with perhaps the talent closest to Parker’s but with a life even more troubled (by police beatings, addiction, mental illness and electroshock therapy), performs brilliantly, especially in the trio set. Mingus’ remodelling of the quintet recordings is on Disc Two. His overdubs are at a tasteful volume level and are models of bebop bass line construction. The foldout liner includes a fine 2009 account of the 1953 event written by an attendee, longtime Coda and The WholeNote contributor Don Brown.

02 Ahmad JamalPianist Ahmad Jamal, whose approach emphasized design over emotional impulse, has always been admired by audiences and musicians, though sometimes derided by critics. The third and last of a series of two-CD sets, his Emerald City Nights: Live at the Penthouse 1966-68 (Jazz Detective DDJD-006 has the trio completed by bassist Jamil Nasser and drummer Frank Gant. It’s very much in the mould of the previous sets, though with more emphasis on current pop material. It has the fine structural detailing of Jamal’s arrangements, the hand-in-glove accompaniment of talented and regular sidemen and the regal elegance of Jamal’s keyboard command, here applied to a repertoire that stretches from traditional standards like Autumn Leaves to the then-current jazz of John Handy’s Dance to the Lady. There are also several contemporary film and television themes, like Naked City Theme and Alfie, a sign of the times that Jamal and his partners treat as vehicles for extrapolation. Among the extended improvisations, Henry Mancini’s Mr. Lucky and Antonio Carlos Jobim’s Corcovado stand out, while Jamal also provides a gem-like, unaccompanied solo rendering of Johnny Mandel’s Emily.

03 Wes MontgomeryAnother master stylist, Wes Montgomery, was definitely the most admired jazz guitarist of the 1960s, whether for his lyricism, rhythmic drive or the solos that often developed through choruses of single notes, then octaves, then chords. While the later recordings in his short career often featured pop ballads with light-pop orchestrations and minimal improvisation, his live performances generally stuck to the mainstream modern jazz that first brought him fame, like those heard with the Wynton Kelly Trio on Maximum Swing: The Unissued 1965 Half Note Recordings (Resonance HCD-2067, recorded on Sundays between September and November 1965. Some of Montgomery’s greatest recordings were done with Kelly, who shared the guitarist’s own qualities, including strong roots in blues and swing and a crisp, engaging sense of purpose. 

The Kelly trio was literally Miles Davis’ former rhythm section with drummer Jimmy Cobb and bassist Paul Chambers. Here, Chambers is present for only the first three tracks, giving way to a succession of other distinguished bassists – Ron Carter, Major Holley and Larry Ridley – all of whom perform admirably. The recording quality isn’t good, but the spirited music usually rises above it, from high energy versions of Impressions, Cherokee and Four on Six to extended treatments of Star Eyes and The Song Is You, works crafted for Montgomery and Kelly’s combination of tuneful improvisations and joyous bounce. 

01 Guido BassoOne More for the Road
Guiso Basso
Cornerstone Records CRSTCD165 (

On this posthumous release, the legendary Guido Basso’s trumpet tone is absolute exuberant velvet, sounding equal parts strikingly warm and nimble. On these sessions Basso is paired up with many of Canada’s most illustrious, often with emphasis on the word “pair.” Highlights include the understated beauty of My Ideal with Lorne Lofsky, following the vigorous Blue Monk with Don Thompson (in which Thompson cannot resist dropping that little All Blues reference at the end). 

For a relative vault collection, One More for the Road has been taken meticulous care of. Sequencing is top-notch, Basso’s takes are transcendent, sonic fidelity is given the care it deserves, filler and fluff nowhere to be found. If anything, this album is a celebration of musical interaction, and the joy of sharing time with others. Every single musician has completely demonstrated control of their craft, and yet they sound that much more inspired bouncing ideas off each other. Ill Wind’s first bridge sports the heaviest, cleanest triplet you are likely to come across, with Neil Swainson and Terry Clarke allowing every Basso phrase ending a runway of silk. As a rule, any tune with the legendary Jimmy Dale has earned the headphones treatment, as it doesn’t get much more lush or restorative than this. It is also a testament to Basso’s integrity as an improviser and accompanist that Bye Bye Baby’s stride feel ends up equally nurtured by his presence.

02 The SenatorThe Senator – A Tribute to Tommy Banks
Hutchison Andrew Trio
Chronograph Records CR 100 (

Tommy Banks packed many accomplishments into his 81 years. He was a conductor, arranger, pianist, television personality and a member of the Canadian Senate from 2000 to 2011. The Senator is named after his political life but pays tribute to his music and how he inspired and influenced a younger generation of musicians. The members of the Hutchinson Andrew Trio (Chris Andrew, piano; Kodi Hutchinson, bass; Dave Laing, drums) all had a personal relationship to Banks, as did the “special guests” PJ Perry, Al Muirhead and Mallory Chipman, and these connections invigorate their performances. 

Highlights of the album include a bouncy version of Jig (a tune played and recorded by Banks) and Bank on It, written by Chris Andrew as a grooving bop tribute from one pianist to another. The Senator is a delightful undertaking that pays tribute to Banks› music legacy and reminds us of this important musician. It was recorded live over two nights at the Yardbird Suite in Edmonton, on what would have been Banks› 85th birthday, and that adds to the sense of celebration.

03 Aline HomzyÉclipse
Aline Homzy
Elastic Recordings ER-009 (

An award-winning Canadian violinist and composer, Aline Homzy is no stranger to the exploration of the unknown and this is precisely what she does with her debut album Éclipse. The world of Éclipse is elegant, nuanced and enigmatic, sparking a curiosity in the listener. Homzy and her Étoile Magique colleagues are set on capturing the enigma of incorporeality in their music, translating visual/physical shifts, such as movements of the celestial bodies, into an aural one. Thus we have the world built on the cosmos like textures using synths, theremin and the colours of vibraphone, creating a sonic background for our imagination. In that world, Homzy’s violin is both the guide and the explorer – her balanced sound and impeccable phrasing transversing beauty and etherealness but not shying away from bold gestures or rhythmic complexity.

In addition to the explorative elements, Éclipse is still very much rooted in the jazz violin tradition and many arrangements are within the classic jazz structure. Ten original tunes by Homzy and vibraphonist Michael Davidson cultivate the best of that tradition while leaving a mark of their own. The rest of the core ensemble, consisting of guitarist Thom Gill, bassist Dan Fortin and percussionist Marito Marques, forms a tight-knit group. Their own solos, most notably by Fortin in the only cover on the album – Charlie Parker’s Segment – are charming and engaging. With such a clear compositional direction and sophisticated performers, this album will be noted by many.

Plays Long
Drip Audio DA 02040 (

Josh Zubot Strings
Josh Zubot; Jesse Zubot; James Meger; Meredith Bates; Peggy Lee
Drip Audio DA02420 (

Emad Armoush’s Duos
Emad Armoush; Francois Houle; Jesse Zubot; JP Carter; Kenton Loewen; Marina Hasselberg
Drip Audio DA02392 (

04a Zubot LonghandDividing his time among record production, film scoring and running the Drip Audio record label, British Columbia-based violinist Jesse Zubot finds time to play music. Fittingly for someone whose productions include pop and ethnic sounds, each of these sessions features different styles. On Longhand’s Play Long, he joins guitarist Tony Wilson’s jazz-rock fusion band featuring Russell Sholberg, playing bass and musical saw, percussionist Skye Brooks and Jesse’s brother Josh Zubot on violin. When the brothers become twin Jean-Luc Pontys, expositions are torqued to arena-rock distortion, especially when Wilson’s effects pedals produce stomps and buzzing tones. A bass groove and drum backbeat contribute as well. However when the violinists match Wilson’s kalimba colouration with gentleness and folksy bounces as on The Exotic Popsicle narratives are lightened. Chicken Grease is the most notable instance of moderated fusion. Here a moderated bass solo gives way to multiple-string shudders from the violinists and chiming chords from Wilson, leading to a theme with a pop music interface, but recapped enough to emphasize jazz tradition links. 

04b Zubot StringsJosh Zubot, playing viola and violin, is the leader on Strings. Interpreting his jazz-improv compositions are cellist Peggy Lee; bassist James Meger; Meredith Bates playing violin/viola and brother Jesse on violian. Uniquely constituting this string quintet, Zubot’s arrangements include a few traditional sounding and mostly pastoral tutti themes and those ricocheting between Arcadian and avant-garde passages which divide the strings into soloists with sympathetic backing. Beach and Car is notable since it’s a suite of three separate sections in fewer than six and a half minutes. Beginning with pleasant swing it moves up the scale as a violinist’s broken-chord stops are backed by double bass thumps. Slowing to mid-range, the piece climaxes with a contrapuntal do-si-do involving the lower-pitched strings’ watery textures and the higher pitched ones’ aviary squeaks before a full band ending. Multiple tracks vibrate in tempos ranging from andante to prestissimo, with the two Explorations the freest ones, highlighting harsh bow strokes and col legno string scratches. Other tunes invoke flat line minimalism, some almost romantic formalism, while others feature the closest to a martial beat string plyers can attain. With three violinists, it’s only on Augur 44 when the others play violas, that Jesse Zubot’s contributions stand out. Turning spiccato squeaks every which way after introducing a hoedown-like theme, the other musicians then add Eastern European-like presto slides. Tension from Zubot’s string jumping doesn’t upset the narrative’s unfolding, since pressure is released first by a mellow tutti interlude and later by slapped and sliding asides from the bassist and cellist. 

04c ElectritradionJesse Zubot is one of the Vancouver players duetting with Syrian-born local Emad Armoush, who plays oud, ney, guitar and vocalizes on Electritradition. Some tracks are a little too close to ethnic music, but when Armoush partners with experienced improvisers the result is a dramatic blend of West Coast and Middle East. Zubot’s spiccato slides and buzzes seem more accompaniment than point making when he plays. More notable are duets with Kenton Loewen which refine Levantine lyrics and drum beats. Loewen’s rough accents on Talah create tandem progression with Armoush’s guitar twangs; and this toughness is intensified on Hey Free Bop as clashing ruffs make ney peeps almost swing. Clenched guitar picking on Flamenco Strut emphasizes the title’s second word as trumpeter JP Carter’s strained triplets create a Middle-Eastern blues. Equivalent brass shakes and toneless breaths on Labshi mean that Armoush’s percussive picking combines the free improv as well as the traditional music world.

String oriented, but not string exclusive, these discs confirm that unprecedented sounds are being created and recorded in British Columbia.

05 Hilario DuranCry Me a River
Hilario Durán and his Latin Jazz Big Band
Alma Records ACD90832 (

A sign of a truly great musician is the ability to not only capture the attention of the listener from the first note, but also to maintain that same level of rapture throughout an entire recording. Renowned pianist Hilario Durán’s long-awaited Latin big band album does just that, it captivates and thoroughly ensnares within the sizzling melodies and rhythms of these tunes. The mix of original compositions and covers with an interesting and refreshing twinge make for an ear-pleasing whole that is as vibrantly expressive and joyful as the changing colours of the autumn leaves. 

A defining element of this album is the way in which Durán’s improvisational and genre-crossing talents are highlighted within each piece. It’s absolutely enthralling to listen to how the star pianist throws in his own flavour to well-known jazz standards such as Dizzy Gillespie’s A Night in Tunisia, which takes on decidedly more Latin flavour, adding a renewed element energy and passion to the classic tune. Rhythmic grooves and scorching melodies interspersed with Durán’s prolific improvisational riffs create a delicious musical potpourri that will fill the soul and body of listeners. The bandleader hops between genres and bends pieces to his will, jumping from traditional jazz to modern and even funk with the utmost ease. Featuring a roster of great musicians such as Luis Mario Ochoa on guitar, Elizabeth Rodríguez on violin and Roberto Occhipinti on bass, this is a must-have for any jazz-lover’s collection.

06 Audrey OchoaThe Head of a Mouse
Audrey Ochoa; various artists
Chronograph Records CR-103 (

We’re now in the midst of chillier fall weather and what better way is there to add some warmth to these colder days than by moving your body to some spicy music? Edmonton-based trombonist Audrey Ochoa’s latest release is sure to motivate you to do just that; a fiery, Latin fiesta packed into one 13-track package. This is the starlet’s fourth album as a bandleader and features a slew of all-star names, among them Sandro Dominelli on drums, Jeremiah McDade on tenor saxophone and Rachel Therrien on trumpet. Showcasing her talents as a composer, all tracks on the record are penned and arranged by Ochoa herself. 

Conceived during pandemic times, the trombonist mentions that her desire and goal for the album is for “current and future generations [to] experience [the] music as a unique musical creation that reflects the experiences of an artist during an unprecedented time.” The contrast between hope and joy, sorrow and defeat is apparent throughout the collection, with a melancholy tinge weaving its way through the melodies and rhythms. Ochoa’s compositions reflect the essence of life in general, that it has its peaks and valleys, yet they are exactly what makes us stronger in the end. In essence, the record is like a journey through the mind of a musician through the darkest of times, where new and different ways of creative expression must be found, through which the darkness is conquered and defeated.

Listen to 'The Head of a Mouse' Now in the Listening Room

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