06 StephCD007 1Take the Neon Lights
Steph Richards
Birdwatcher Records 008 (birdwatcherrecords.com)

Accomplished quartet music played and composed by Canadian trumpeter/flugelhornist Steph Richards, who already excels in solo playing, Take the Neon Lights’ eight selections are melodic without neglecting timbral analysis, and moving without being shackled to a beat. Ably assisted by pianist James Carney, bassist Sam Minaie and drummer Andrew Munsey, New York-based Richards still experiments with singular diversions like mouthpiece oscillations, rapid capillary dot-dashes and evacuated plunger tones. But these dissonant rejoinders often now vibrate within passionate tone poems.

Internal body tube metal may be audible on Transitory (Gleams) for instance, but after subtle piano chords meet supple brass-tone outlines the result is a mellow chromatic showpiece. Featuring Carney’s keyboard shuffles and inner piano string plucks, Skull of Theatres extends the pianist’s mid-range voicing to meet Richards’ high-speed rubato trills plus plunger growls, so that together the two settle into unpretentious swing in the tune’s second sequence, allowing the lines to harden with more emphasis on bass and drums.

Richards’ experimental skills are highlighted on Brooklyn Machine, where she manages double counterpoint from both her horns – one with brassy thrusts and the other with crafty smears – in such a way that they seem to accompanying one another. Still, the well-constructed Stalked by Tall Buildings is the apex of the brass player’s art. The warm melody line is stretched, as elevated trumpet tones squeeze beauty from repeated tongue twists while dramatic piano flourishes and truculent percussion pops maintain the melody’s ingenious fluidity.

07 TotalityCD001 Copy 1Path of Totality
Quinsin Nachoff’s Flux
Whirlwind Recordings WR 4733 (quinsin.com)

Partially recorded when he was artist-in-residence at Calgary’s National Centre, using the studio’s keyboards and synthesizers, Torontonian-turned-New Yorker Quinsin Nachoff takes full advantage of Canada’s artistic resources to produce this notable two-CD set, Each of the soprano and tenor saxophonist’s six compositions cannily bolsters the intense textures created by his group Flux, which also features alto and C melody saxophonist David Binney, keyboardist and synthesizer player Matt Mitchell, and percussionists Kenny Wollesen and Nate Wood plus supplementary sound contributions.

March Macabre for instance adds the rhythmic slides and stomps of a tap dancer, plus layered vibrations from five additional horns to fill out the sequences, as Nachoff’s soprano buzzes and percussion splashes elaborate the narration. Craftily ambiguous, marimba, glockenspiel and vibraphone echoes replicate textures of the designated instrument on Toy Piano Meditation, contrapuntally challenging Mitchell’s precise or clamorous patterns on standard piano. While both saxophonists’ criss-crossing tones animate that composition with twittering screeches and end it with a spectacular penetrating trill, linear storytelling is never disrupted. Cleverly arranged, the remainder of Nachoff’s compositions otherwise add subordinate motifs arising from a laboratory full of electronics or Mitchell’s lucid harpsichord plucks to straight-ahead blowing from the core quintet. Overall this combination shows how well-thought-out composing and improvising can be adventurously matched without losing the allure of professional, swinging creativity.

08 Brad TurnerPacific
Brad Turner
Cellar Music CM090418 (cellarlive.com)

Released on Vancouver’s Cellar Music label, Pacific is a new album from trumpeter Brad Turner. Turner – who is also an accomplished pianist, drummer and, as attested to by Pacific’s liner notes, mixing engineer – is joined by organist/keyboardist Chris Gestrin, drummer Joe Poole and the American tenor saxophonist John Gross, who appears on three of the album’s nine tracks, all of which are composed by Turner. Although he may not be a household name to all listeners, Gross has had a long and illustrious career in jazz, playing, since the 1960s, with artists such as Lionel Hampton, Warne Marsh and Toshiko Akiyoshi.

Pacific begins with Not A Robot, a bouncy, medium-up song that showcases the group’s assured rhythmic sensibilities; it also eschews any chordal comping, with Gestrin sticking to synth bass throughout, including in a dynamic trading section with Poole in the tune’s back half. Pacific’s title track is a satisfying, hard-swinging affair that gives plenty of room to all four musicians to stretch out in their respective solos. Gross’ solo, which begins as a duet with Poole, is a highlight, as is Poole’s own brief solo over the vamp that precedes the melody.

In Pacific’s liner notes, Phil Dwyer writes that the album is, perhaps, evocative of the Larry Young album Unity, and the comparison is apt. But the album is made special by the band’s commitment to its constituent voices, to Turner’s compositions, and to honouring the unique musical moments found throughout this compelling album.

09 CounterfictionalsNo Hay Banda
The Counterfictionals
Good Music GMCD006 (counterfictionals.dk)

Rarely, if at all, do industrial and fine art come together in a package so well thought out (from concept and presentation to imaginative musical execution, and in the sheer invention and hyper virtuosity of the performing Danish musicians) than on the Counterfictionals production entitled No Hay Banda.

No Hay Banda has been conceived of and directed by Kristoffer Rosing-Schow, a multi-instrumentalist who plays everything from bass clarinet to invented instruments such as the hydrofonium, described here complete with diagram, how it works and, best of all, how ethereally beautiful it sounds. Speaking of which there is the not-so-small matter of the music itself. The ten songs, bring back to life key scenes in famously well-made and notoriously badly made films from David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive (Counterfictionals’ song: Club Silencio), Sergio Leone’s For a Few Dollars More (song: Lee Van Cleef) to Alan Parker’s Angel Heart (song: Looking for Johnny Favorite) and Lars von Trier’s Antichrist (song: The Three Beggars).

In each case, brilliant musicians get closer to the chilling, sardonic heart of the film – scenes depicted in the songs with immensely powerful performances combining cast-iron virtuoso discipline with heady imagination and sheer fantasy, all of which matches the originality of Rosing-Schow’s artistry and vision. Let neither the ironic band name nor the album title be lost in this magnificent mêlée of music either, for what could a name such as Counterfictionals suggest but No Hay Banda (There’s no band)?

10 Wadada Leo Smith Rosa Parks rgb 300dpiRosa Parks: Pure Love
Wadada Leo Smith
Tum CD 057 (tumrecords.com) 

Since 2012, trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith has created several powerfully elegiac suites: Ten Freedom Summers, Occupy the World, The Great Lakes and America’s National Parks. With Rosa Parks: Pure Love, he returns explicitly to the theme of the first, the African-American civil rights movement. Rosa Parks is an oratorio, with music and songs by Smith, employing his distinctive compositional method that focuses on contrasting durations and textures. Smith’s heterodox ensemble includes a string quartet, a trumpet quartet, drums, electronics, pipa and three singers.

From the dissonant fanfare, Smith has compounded his own idiom, at once intimate and multi-dimensional, in which strongly lyrical passages alternate with moody, atonal strings and sometimes harsh, flaring brass. Strong individual voices emerge out of the fissures opening in the collective sound: violinist Mona Tian, cellist Ashley Walters, drummer Pheeroan akLaff and Smith himself, soloing only in the penultimate movement. Smith has matched each song’s character, as well as range, to each singer’s voice: Karen Parks’ touch of gospel; Carmina Escobar’s hard-edged precision; and Min Xiao-Fen’s soaring command of microtones. Each brings a special presence to Smith’s multicultural palette.

Embedded in the oratorio are excerpts of early recordings by Smith and close associates Anthony Braxton, Leroy Jenkins and Steve McCall, musicians who first played free music together 50 years ago, and who are, by extension, partners in Smith’s ongoing commemorations of the necessary struggles for freedom, reinforced in his concluding quotation from Martin Luther King.

11 Ivan MazuzeMoya
Ivan Mazuze
Losen Records LOS 209-2 (losenrecords.no/release/moya)

With his fourth album, Mozambique-born saxophonist and composer Ivan Mazuze, now based in Norway, continues his exploration of interrelations between traditional and contemporary music. The result is Moya, an elegant synthesis of the melodies and rhythms of African and Indian music with contemporary jazz elements. Mazuze is a polished and particularly sensitive saxophone player. His musical language is both delicate and passionate, his expression clear and meaningful. This album also features a wonderful crew of musicians from around the globe, including Olga Konkova (on piano), who has a great synergy with Mazuze, and Bjørn Vidar Solli (on guitar), who delivers some truly impressive solos.

Moya opens with contemplative Rohingya. Inspired by the Rohingya people of Myanmar who were recently displaced from their homeland, this piece has a melancholy feel driven by a rhythmical tabla pulse. It flows naturally into Mantra, a lively tune featuring an alluring combo of vocal chanting and instrumental discourse. The most interesting track on the album for me is Lunde, inspired by Norwegian folk music and highlighting cool vocals by Hanne Tveter. And there is Moya, the focal point of the album. It’s meaning in the Mozambican language is spirit/soul and it is immediately apparent that it holds special significance for Mazuze. The interplay between sax and piano captivates the listener with changing colours and meaningful dialogue.

This album has funky grooves, soulful melodies and, most importantly, a distinct and catchy sound. Highly recommended.

French actress Simone Signoret titled her memoirs, Nostalgia Isn’t What It Used to Be, and the number of uninspiring salutes to earlier jazz heroes or heroines easily bears out this sentiment. However, when the right player selects the right material to record from a celebrated predecessor’s music and – most importantly – puts his or her own spin on it, the release becomes more than an exercise in nostalgia. Each of these sessions shows how this feat can be accomplished.

Ornette Coleman: Reflecting his influence on improvised music following his sudden arrival on the scene in the late 1950s, it’s no surprise that two of the sessions honour alto saxophonist Ornette Coleman (1930-2015). What is remarkable though is that neither group plays the same Coleman compositions. Plus each takes a diametrically opposite approach.

01a TizianoCD002Italian drummer Tiziano Tononi & the OrnettiansForms and Sounds: Air Sculptures (Felmay fy 7058 felmay.it) features an 11-piece band which, besides nine compositions by Coleman, interprets Tononi’s The Air Sculptures Suite. It’s not just Tononi’s indomitable rhythms from drum set and other percussion that animate his CD, but how soloists preserve their identities although immersed in Coleman’s sounds. Tracks such as the Tononi-composed Fireworks in N.Y.C and Fort Worth Country Stomp interpret aspects of Coleman’s music without copying. The latter track, for instance, is a country blues played with Italian panache featuring sharp staccato slurs and snorts from alto saxophonist Piero Bittolo Bon, spurred by backbeat drumming; while Fireworks in N.Y.C is straightforward swing, tempered by trumpeter Alberto Mandarini’s brassy and graceful solo plus hearty bass clarinet glissandi from Francesco Chiapperini. It climaxes with percussion outgrowths that are as African as American, highlighting Tononi’s cowbell and kalimba. This ingenuity remains with the Coleman compositions. The expected outlines of Peace for instance, are reconfigured when propelled by Tito Mangialajo’s walking bass line and penetrating twangs from Paolo Botti’s banjo (!). At breakneck tempo, Bittolo Bon’s high-pitched flute and Emanuele Parrini’s violin stops brighten the performance without losing the melody. Similarly Rushhour is played acoustically, but with a swelling sound reminiscent of Coleman’s electric band, and is led by Parrini’s sizzling double stops as Daniele Cavallanti’s bluesy tenor sax and the drummer drive everyone forward. Cavallanti brings the same intensity to Law Years paired with brassy upsurges from Mirko Cisilino’s trumpet. The lineup on Una Muy Bonita with Mangialajo and Silvia Bolognesi both playing bass plus Bittolo Bon and Chiapperini on alto saxophones, allows soloists to reconfigure Coleman with elevated tremolos or flutter tonguing as the dual basses propel the narrative.

01b ChrisCD005There are only six players on trumpeter Chris Pasin’s Ornettiquette (Planet Arts 301820 planetarts.org), but two of them, vibist/pianist Karl Berger and vocalist Ingrid Sertso worked with Coleman. Beside five Coleman tunes interpreted are two by Pasin and one by Albert Ayler.

Mostly concentrating on Coleman’s earlier works, Pasin’s take on Ornettiquette is low key but inventive. For instance, as Karl Berger’s vibes elaborate Jayne’s theme, the band plays up its blues underpinnings at the same time as Pasin’s clarion blasts are pitched Maynard Ferguson-like high. Michael Bisio’s slap bass adds rhythmic emphasis and the finale is a timbral battle between Pasin and alto saxophonist Adam Siegel’s supersonic slurs. Ingrid Sertso’s scatting in tandem with vibraphone clangs and burbling horns almost transforms When Will the Blues Leave into jittery bebop. But her recitation of the title and response of “never” reasserts solemnity. Pasin’s OCDC, saluting Coleman and his trumpeter Don Cherry is more linear than the dedicatees’ compositions. Plus the trumpeter’s quirky configuration of Cherry’s role is original. Walking bass and drummer Harvey Sorgen’s positioned whacks hold the bottom so that the horns can improvise freely. 

02 IngridCD004Someone who never stinted on the improvisational or melodic content of his own compositions was Canadian-born, London-based trumpeter Kenny Wheeler (1930-2014). Fellow Canadian, trumpeter Ingrid Jensen and American tenor saxophonist/clarinetist Steve Treseler lead a seven-piece band on Invisible Sounds for Kenny Wheeler (Whirlwind Recordings WR 4729 whirlwindrecordings.com) playing nine Wheeler tunes that are audible, not invisible. Bookended by a studio and a live version of Foxy Trot, which in its live incarnation trots along courtesy of Jon Wikan’s crisp drumming and an array of arpeggios spilling from Geoffrey Keezer’s piano, the set emphasizes Wheeler’s versatility. Expressive ballads like Where Do We Go from Here are buoyed by mellow saxophone swoops and upward puffs from the trumpeter, as piano chording brings out its swing underpinning. Meanwhile, Old Time is an out-and-out funk tune with a stop-time narrative, shuffle beat, slurs and snarls from the tenor saxophonist and acrobatic pitches from Jensen’s open horn. Still the most characteristic interpretation is of Wheeler’s best known tune, Everybody’s Song but My Own. A minor key lament, its essence is reflected in harmonic horn melding, slippery tremolos from Keezer and Jensen’s supple mid-range pitch slides.

03 AroundCD006Another composer who has a Canadian connection via her late ex-husband is 83-year-old Carla Bley. The 12 tunes played by Finns, pianist Iro Haarla and bassist Ulf Krokfors plus American drummer Barry Altschul on Around Again – The Music of Carla Bley (TUM CD 054 tumrecords.com) come mostly from her creative beginnings in the 1960s, coincidentally a time when the drummer was a member of Paul Bley’s bands that first played this music. Expressing the compositions’ inflections, performances are almost uniformly unhurried and dampened with percussion accents, double bass stops and focused on piano-led themes played respectfully. That way motion and melody are exposed at the same time. The exposition on Batterie, for instance, picks up sonic colours from keyboard jumps and is extended with low-pitched bass-string stops and indirect percussion clatters, and then slyly redirected to the head. Squirming and swaying, Haarla uses kinetic glissandi to turn the title track into a fantasia that gives the bassist enough space for plump pumps. Appropriately and subversively, both And Now, the Queen and Ida Lupino are spun out in processional fashion, with the latter balancing Krokfors’ heated string stabs and Haarla’s cooler key manipulation; and the former cleanly sweeping up tempo with double bass prods that lead to unstoppable forward motion, soon intensified with variable and emphasized voicing from the keyboard. The only track to feature a drum solo that is suitably understated, Ũtviklingssang, composed by Bley in Norway not Finland, opposes Altschul’s press rolls and bass drum booms with Haarla’s recital-ready formalism that preserves the narrative.

04 KrestenCD003Fealty to a single influencer isn’t the only way to express admiration and adaptation of the concepts pioneered by earlier musicians. That ‘s what distinguishes Danish drummer Kresten Osgood’s two-CD Plays Jazz (ILK Music ILK 28LP ilkmusic.com) from the other discs here. Working with a tight, balanced quintet of trumpeter Erik Kimestad, tenor saxophonist Mads Egetoft, pianist Jeppe Zeeberg and bassist Matthias Petri, the five roar with the same inventiveness and ferocity through familiar standards, lesser-known compositions and a few originals by the drummer. Although the band plays well enough on compositions by the likes of Eric Dolphy and Thelonious Monk (whose Friday the 13th, spurred by Osgood’s vigorous ruffs and pops, becomes more brawny and atonal than the original) notable triumphs result with its permutation on lesser-known gems. James Cotton’s Blues in My Sleep is revamped from bedrock blues to improv. A snaky bass line propels the theme, which is spangled with brass discord and strangled reed slurs and comes to an unexpected halt. Jerome Cooper’s Monk Funk emphasizes the second word in the title via raspy, Southwestern near-R&B from the saxophonist and rugged percussion slaps. Egetoft’s sour-sounding solo prevents Kimestad’s graceful modulations on Randy Weston’s Little Niles from becoming too slippery, as do Zeeberg’s clipped piano lines. Finally Osgood’s Tchicai in Heaven, named for the Danish New Thing saxophonist, not only shows off his percussion prowess with an introduction based around press rolls and hi-hat smacks, but also includes sparse piano emphasis that highlights Monk’s influence on the avant garde and through it, contemporary European and American jazz.

Each of these discs salutes earlier innovators, but in such a way that matches individuality with influence.

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