As albums and live performances of creative music by solo instrumentalists become increasingly common, the novelty factor has almost completely disappeared. Instead the technical skills and original concepts of the players during these mostly improvisational sets become crystal clear, especially as the listener notes which strategies are used to create memorable sessions.

01 MonumentFor instance, MOnuMENT (Bush Flash Records BUFCD 2201 by Estonian alto saxophonist Maria Faust, was recorded within various spaces of Kuressaare, a 14th century castle on the Estonian island of Saaremaa. Yet not only do the 14 tracks reflect the spatial qualities of the Gothic structure, but her use of affiliated electronic pedals also allows her to multiply, meld and mutate her output so that the aural textures can sound like several saxophones. This is especially pronounced on Fox Hole, where rhythmic pushes and ambulatory motion integrate short and long reed tones to the extent that Faust sounds as if she’s a multi-pitched saxophone section on her own. Variations of this are heard elsewhere. Man consists of a tremolo organ-like pulse which inflates to bounce off the stone walls and concludes with massive pulses that sound like all the organ’s ranks are simultaneously in use. At other points she’ll render her tones into elevated-turret brief bites and squeaks that undulate separately and in tandem until they blow away; or as on Waltzing Dust, expose lyrical trilling whose gentleness contrasts with the thick immovable stones around her. On a couple of occasions, notably on Moat, she vocalizes through her horn, adding bel canto hums alongside reed smears. All these unique abilities are put to use in splendid fashion on Fort. The processed sounds make it appear as if an entire saxophone section from soprano to bass is riffing below her as Faust’s alto saxophone honks and tongue slaps are heard at the same time as vocalized whoops. Finally as the tones shriek upwards they ricochet against the ancient masonry, ricochet back and are embedded among the reed textures.

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02 AvivaSimilar in conception to Faust’s disc, but recorded in an urban space in Stockholm is Split Series Vol.2 (Frim Records FRIM 6 Australian clarinetist Aviva Endean’s What Calls in the Quiet (Moths and Stars live set) takes up one extended track with a local turntablist improvising on the other. Adding sounds from field recordings, lo-fi electronics, plastic pipes and her voice to her reed, metal and wood expertise, Endean literally inflates the textures of her concert program. Thus she’s able to apply more tones to her exposition than would emanate from a clarinet even with her experience using extended techniques. With the electronics creating a rumbling echo as a continuum, she stretches pure air squeezes, chalumeau-sourced reflux and shaky clarion flutters into a polyphonic exposition which is further intensified with the overtones of pre-recorded flute trills. Maintaining symmetry among the elements, the performance pivots at one moment into rattling cogwheel resonation which overcomes the voltage murmurs, or at the next to delicate, almost ethereal reed purrs. At mid-point an interlude of almost-endless circular breathing manages to be sturdy and straight-ahead, watery and bubbling and chirping and hissing in turn without upsetting the track’s linear flow. By the finale the unexpected rarity of the emphasized timbres during her recital which mates motor-grinding buzzing with airy squeezed split tones confirms singular sound logic – in both senses of the word.

03 SummerAn even more precious demonstration of singular and atypical musical logic come from German- Japanese Eiko Yamada whose understated recital on soprano and bass recorders during This Summer (Hitorri 959 sounds nothing like the jaunty peeps usually heard from this simple antique woodwind played by amateurs or school children. Working her way from tonelessness to emphasized breaths, shaking hisses and metallic drones Yamada moves between the instruments, emphasizing thin penny-whistle-like tweets from one and basement level drones from the other. While her timbral detours include almost perfect replication of the sounds of nesting birds or spittle-encrusted flatulence whose reverberations could come from a kazoo, her flat-line exposition maintains consistency. Ingeniously by the improvisation’s final section she manages to output two interlaced but distinctive tones, a growly hum which resembles a motor-turning mechanism and an airy ethereal murmur. With the dual accents evolving in broken octaves maintaining individual tones as well as merging intermittently, her woodwind control is demonstrated. The singularity is confirmed when the piano plinks and patterns that join her second recorder recital seem entirely superfluous.

04 Nicole RampersaudSolo explorations with horns doesn’t stop with woodwinds either. Using electronics and extended techniques, both Nicole Rampersaud and Hilde Marie Holsen create uncommon and cerebral paths for their trumpets. An ex-Torontonian, now-based in rural New Brunswick, Rampersaud’s 11 tracks on Saudade (Ansible Editions 008 are each invested with the same invention and proficiency no matter the length. While electronics allow her to flange, double track, overlap and deconstruct timbres, she doesn’t depend on plugged in extensions to create. Probably the best examples of this are the three sequential Concurrent Panoramas. Beginning with bagpipe-like timbres respired in and out into a portamento melody, the affiliated bass drone creates an ostinato, as splices of sour notes, flattened tones and half-valve whines judder decisively above it. By Concurrent Panorama 3, the resolution involves piccolo-trumpet elevated triplets intersecting with an oboe-like snarl as the stop/start waveforms vibrate below to cushion the elevated brass layer above. This layering and overlapping live and processed timbres is another method of expression, as is when Rampersaud cunningly integrates static crackles into the expositions. Suggestions of mellow French horn-like tones, ascending bugle-like peeps and tuba-resembling burps highlight some of the other tracks. So do unexpected turns, as on Nor Foresaking where sudden brass peeps cut across an aural landscape, already defined by overlapping and suturing distant cries and patterns. Rampersaud can build an entire track out of mouthpiece spits and horn shakes as on Erasure. Or in contrast, complete the session with the extended Interstitials that builds a sound edifice from human and processed whistles, concentrated toneless breaths and watery valve flutters until it climaxes and vanishes. Each piece confirms that a specific trumpet vocabulary is being defined and disseminated.

05 EdiacaraNorwegian Holsen’s three improvisations on Ediacara (Pelun PELUN CD 001 contain similar resourcefulness and creativity as Rampersaud’s and as much use of extended techniques and electronic processing as on the Canadian’s disc. However, where Rampersaud’s formulations are usually sparse and pointed, Holsen’s are packed and more lyrical. This is especially true of the concluding Ordovicium, where from the top watery textures are mixed with tongue stops that reference mechanized pulsations. Although the multiphonics become increasingly claustrophobic so that textures begin to resemble those of an orchestral choir, timbres reflecting back onto themselves with vinyl needle-drop lacerations are eventually superseded by a mellow tone. The finale is as simple and moderated as it is linear. It’s the same with the other pieces, especially the protracted title track. Extended and uncommon brass techniques are exhibited and share space with hisses, crackles and static from the electronic oscillations. No matter how many turns there are to polyphonic timbres resembling shrill sirens, French horn-like mid-range notes or Baroque trumpet-like dusky tones – as well as tongue stops, squeaking triplets and distended breaths – they’re underscored by moderated textures. Evolution may be in broken octaves, but overall the stacked timbres are often rearranged into narratives that reflect melodiousness as well as multiphonics.

Each of these discs reflects how different musicians probe the intricacies of solo productions. Their sophistication in process and performance augurs well for many other players to make similar sound odysseys.

Record producer Zev Feldman has emerged as a leading figure in archival jazz, uncovering, restoring and releasing materials with a variety of labels, including Resonance, Jazz Detective and Elemental, often geared to Record Store Days for vinyl LP releases with CDs following shortly thereafter. For Spring of 2024, he has outdone himself, with a bevy of previously unknown recordings that cover a 40 year span of jazz history, with an emphasis on pianists, from Art Tatum to Sun Ra to Mal Waldron to Kenny Barron, and saxophonists as well, from John Gilmore with Sun Ra to Steve Lacy and Yusef Lateef. 

There’s something about the breadth of jazz, its musicians, audiences, histories and generations, that these sets reveal. While Tatum and Sun Ra might seem highly dissimilar, they were born within five years of each other: each entertains, one with flamboyant virtuosity and good manners; the other hectoring, shocking, pontificating. As brilliant as their divergent creations are, the music is immediately accessible. The others -- Waldron, Lacy, Lateef and their associates – are concert artists, almost anonymous apart from the music they create here, not coincidentally, for Belgian and French audiences.   

01 Art TatumArt Tatum, virtually a transcendent pianist, can be introduced anecdotally. Fellow pianist Fats Waller once remarked of his presence, “God is in the house tonight.” A teenage Charlie Parker purportedly worked as a dishwasher at Jimmy’s Chicken Shack in Harlem to hear Tatum nightly. He also lends his name to the “tatum”, defined as the fastest pulse present in a piece of music. While best known for his solo recordings, Tatum worked frequently in a trio format, as heard on Jewels in the Treasure Box: The 1953 Chicago Blue Note Jazz Club Recordings (Resonance R3C-2064 3LPs/3CDs The sidemen supply comic interpolation as well as musical support. On I Cover the Waterfront, guitarist Everett Barksdale slyly inserts Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen, while bassist Slam Stewart, renowned for playing arco while humming in unison an octave higher, suddenly interpolates London Bridge. The music covers a broad musical and emotional range, but it’s essentially celebratory. Tatum possesses a joyous command of musical materials, happily doubling tempos, slowing to a dirge, then throwing in tumbling keyboard-long runs or brilliantly precise boogie-woogie. The trio achieves some remarkable three-way play on a blistering rendition of St. Louis Blues

02 Sun RaGenius can have different periods of gestation, witness the contrasting cases of Tatum and Sun Ra. While decades separated their styles and celebrity, Sun Ra was only five years younger than Tatum, an obscure record producer and bandleader in Chicago when Tatum played at the Blue Note. After extended stays in Montreal and New York and permanent relocation to Philadelphia, Sun Ra occasionally returned to Chicago for triumphant performances, as evidenced by Sun Ra at the Showcase: Live in Chicago 1976-1977 (Jazz Detective DDJD-013 Sun Ra was undoubtedly a genius, mixing musical and theatrical elements into a bizarre pageant that threw multi-hued lights on the African experience in America. For a period of some four decades, from the mid-1950s to Sun Ra’s death in 1993, Sun Ra and John Gilmore worked together, somehow Sun Ra’s mysterious electronic keyboard fantasias and prophetic pronouncements both contrasting and fusing with Gilmore’s hard-edged, intense tenor saxophone, his work particularly prominent here, rooting the music in urban reality. There’s also the collective squall of several alto saxophonists (among them Marshall Allen, the band’s current leader, who recently turned 100), percussionists and singers, totalling 19 in all. The sets are presented in reverse order, an early evening set from 1977 preceding a final set from 1976. The polyrhythmic Ankhnatan, first recorded in the 1950s, successfully encapsulates big band swing, funk and free jazz, while Ebah Speaks in Cosmic Tongue, a solo encore by trumpeter Akh Tal Ebah, is a manic vocal feature ranging from glossolalia to gospel to screaming, all propelled by the shouting audience.

03 Mal Waldron Steve LacyAs long-term American expatriates in Europe, pianist Mal Waldron and soprano saxophonist Steve Lacy worked together often, clearly complementing one another’s incisive minimalism and dark lyricism. However, The Mighty Warriors: Live in Antwerp (Elemental 5990446: 2LPs/2CDs has even more to recommend it than usual: the presence of visiting New Yorkers, every bit their equals, bassist Reggie Workman and drummer Andrew Cyrille providing special stimulus. These are forceful performances, intense examinations of well articulated themes. Disc One is about roots, with Waldron’s What It Is and Lacy’s Longing alternating with Thelonious Monk’s Epistrophy and Monk’s Dream. It’s rock-solid music with every element sculpted in the compound legacies of bop and blues, each one focussed with watchmaker precision, with Lacy’s devotion to Monk’s music particularly apparent. Disc Two is highly exploratory. Workman’s Variation of III begins with an extended bass solo that develops a range of techniques, the instrument seemingly in dialogue with itself. Cyrille, too, creates tremendous drama, by contrasting volumes, densities and timbres. What comes through strongly here is a collective economy, even in free improvisation.

04 Yusef LateefYusef Lateef was a musician in whom immediate roots and visionary possibilities were always intertwined, from blues-drenched passion to explorations of alternative rhythms and pitches, even integrating Middle Eastern strings and reeds on his recordings from 1957. His studies in world music dovetailed with his work throughout a lengthy career as performer, composer and educator. Atlantis Lullaby: The Concert in Avignon (Elemental 5990450 was recorded for broadcast in 1972. Lateef’s huge tenor saxophone sound is apparent on the modal Inside Atlantis, the soulful Yusef’s Mood and the ballad I’m Getting Sentimental Over You, while several tracks stretch toward India. Contributing much to the music’s overall quality, its blend of polish, vitality and invention, is the band, Lateef’s working quartet from 1971 to 1975. Pianist Kenny Barron contributes several compositions, including the extended, constantly shifting The Untitled. Bassist Bob Cunningham is an exceptional soloist, with Roy Brooks’ exotic Eboness a feature for his creativity with bowed harmonics. Drummer Albert “Tootie” Heath, a model of support, comes to the fore playing Indian flute on Lowland Lullaby, a duet with Cunningham. 

01 Barry ElmesNight Flight
Barry Elmes Quintet
Cornerstone Records CRST CD 168 (

Renowned musician and composer Barry Elmes has again gathered up the best of the best in the Canadian jazz industry and released a captivating new record. The quintet he started in 1991 has seen a couple of changes recently with Chris Gale on sax and Pat Collins on bass added to the existing lineup of Brian O’Kane on trumpet and Lorne Lofsky on guitar. The album is a compilation of standards by greats such as Charles Mingus and Keith Jarrett, which Elmes and crew have revived in an enticing manner. Also featured in the tracklist is a new composition by the drummer himself, which starts off the record with a mellow and catchy groove. 

The bandleader has this to say about this latest release, “Each of these songs left a deep impression on me and this album serves as both a tribute to the composers and an opportunity to present new arrangements of their music.” Elmes’ appreciation and respect for these tunes and their composers is evident throughout the album, especially in the way that each piece has a unique, new take on it without changing the feel and charm found in the original songs. An example of that is Mingus’ Opus 3, which takes on a more laid-back feel in Elmes’ arrangement, but the drive and rhythmic prowess of the original is not lost in this relaxed version. A great album as a whole, perfect for any jazz-lover!

02 Brian DickinsonBallads
Brian Dickinson
Modica Music (

Although I have not had the good fortune to perform with the great pianist Brian Dickinson often, I do remember one opportunity in Vancouver that was both memorable and instructive. Between tunes, the band fielded questions from an audience that was comprised largely of music students. After one particularly inspired cascading passage of improvised up-tempo 16th notes by Dickinson, a student asked the Canadian pianist how he approached these sorts of speedy extemporizations. His answer, which was both practical and hilariously banal, was that one should take all the musical language that one knows how to do using eighth notes and simply play them twice as fast. I have learned a lot from Brian over the years, both as a colleague at work, but also by listening to him play live, and I found this advice to be eminently prudent.

I was reminded of this exchange while enjoying Dickinson’s terrific new recording Ballads, which features nine gorgeous solo piano pieces recorded on a beautiful Yamaha C7 during the COVID lockdown of 2020. I wondered if Dickinson would describe playing solo piano as like playing with a rhythm section, but only without one. Although I have not asked Brian about this, I imagine that the answer would be “no.” As is evident on this recommended 2023 release, Dickinson is fulfilling many roles as a solo pianist, coaxing forward the expansive and expressive range of the instrument as only an artist of his level of accomplishment is capable. The entire listening experience is pleasurable. Dickinson plays with the dependable greatness that jazz fans have come to expect from him, and the fact that this recording is a touching dedication to the late great jazz vocalist and educator Shannon Gunn makes it all the more special. 

03 Bernie SenenskyMoment to Moment
Bernie Senensky; Eric Alexander; Kieran Overs; Joe Farnsworth
Cellar Music CM080923 (

The pandemic knocked the performing arts into a near-total hiatus, and many speculated on whether we’d see a post-pandemic renaissance, or a tepid return to “normal.” Jazz’s return has been one marred with ups and downs, but it does feel like it’s brought the global community together in the highs and lows of the new normal. Veteran pianist Bernie Senensky’s Moment to Moment was recorded pre-pandemic at the CBC back in 2001 with two live tracks from 2020 added, and released in 2023. Today it sounds as current as ever, while maintaining a connection to the “before times.”  

Andrew Scott’s liner notes are also quick to point out Moment to Moment’s modern yet classic duality, for which Senensky selected the perfect personnel. American cohorts Eric Alexander and Joe Farnsworth are both sought-after leaders and sidemen in the New York area, where the group’s Canadian contingents have all paid their respective dues at one point or another too. Alexander and Senensky are featured on each of the album’s eight tracks, with Morgan Childs and Farnsworth alternating the drum chair, and Kieran Overs and Dave Young trading bass duties. Overs’ and Childs’ contributions to the quartet are from a live hit in Waterloo, Ontario and sound right at home amongst the six studio tracks.  

During my initial listening, I noted that Moment to Moment features more than one blues and a few tracks at similar tempos. With a less creative and engaging band, this could feel repetitive, but not in the hands of these masters!

04 Adi BraunNight and Day – The Cole Porter Songbook 
Adi Braun
Alma Records ACD91532 ( 

Backed by Don Breithaupt’s gargantuan arrangements, Adi Braun’s endlessly expressive voice embodies the world of every lyric, her choice of Cole Porter repertoire helps to weave a compelling thematic narrative and her gracefully imaginative phrasing refracts off the pristine orchestration to create a warm, celestial glow. Breithaupt’s orchestra in all of its exuberance and luster, seems to exist for Braun’s effortlessly unhurried time feel to envelope it; these two forces’ moments of impalpable coalescence feeling like proximity to a subdued fireplace, where nearness is best paired with the faintest layer of distance. 

In terms of the success of this symbiotic razor’s-edge dance, it would be tempting to say that credit goes to Breithaupt for not crowding Braun’s frequencies (and credit is certainly due as Breithaupt cultivates sweet, colourful, lush orchards of sound), but it is Braun who is largely playing both the mindful accompanist and driver of mood. Just One of those Things kicks off with an adrenaline shot of an upright bass intro courtesy of Pat Collins and the sheer steadfast vigour of his tone, with the strings resonating at a frequency that could slice right through the fingerboard. Braun finds herself occupying the space in the decay within each note Collins hammers out, nearing a whisper while staying just detached enough to allow the bass line to act as a buoy for our monologue of ephemeral affiliations. Then the extravaganza returns and Braun finds a renewed purpose for those gaps.

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05 Lauren BushTide Rises
Lauren Bush
Mighty Quinn Records MQR1166 (

Canadian born, UK-based singer Lauren Bush has released an eclectic album of both original songs and original-sounding covers. Although there are forays into other genres, the group mainly focuses on jazz with a mix of standards and modern takes. We’re put on notice about the serious skills at play with the opening track as Bush tackles the Clifford Brown vocal-cord twister Joy Spring with ease. 

As a sucker for a Fender Rhodes, I was taken by the more soulful/groovy numbers like the title track, which is a Longfellow poem given an urban ballad treatment. It has the bonus of showing Bush’s voice in a different light, as her straight tone can sound a bit strident in the upper register and on some of the up-tempo tunes. However, here and on some of the other laid-back tracks, her tone is softened and more relaxed. Throughout, Bush’s ability to put across a lyric is consistent and is one of her strong suits along with her improvising ability. 

The players – in particular keyboardist Liam Dunachie, who also doubles as arranger – are comfortable on acoustic and electric instruments as the style of song demands and Madrugada is a lovely lesser known bossa nova which highlights their versatility. It seems no Canadian singer’s album is complete without a Joni Mitchell tune; Bush and crew don’t disappoint with their beautifully reharmonized cover of The Circle Game.

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