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.

16 Francois Carrier OpennessOpenness
François Carrier Quintet
Fundacja Sluchaj FSR 10/2023 (sluchaj.bandcamp.com)

Released 18 years after recording, Openness is three CDs of high-quality improvisation and also a historic document. The two free jazz pioneers, Polish trumpet Tomasz Stańko (1942-2018) and American bassist Gary Peacock (1935-2020), invited to participate in 13 instances of free-flowing sonic exchange by younger Montrealers, alto/soprano saxophonist François Carrier and drummer Michel Lambert, have since died. New York violinist Mat Maneri is still very much alive and the interchange transcendedage and geography. 

Non-hierarchical, each player gets to originate some tracks, with the Québécois on their own for Dance. Otherwise each player sticks to his individual approach, though all bond seemingly seamless throughout. Lambert mostly accents the tracks, the string players move between rugged slices and intricate guitar-like or even sitar-like strokes, while Stańko’s leaps among brassy bugling, grace notes and portamento linearity is heartbeat-quickly matched by Carrier’s double tonguing, flutters and thick smears. One-on-one interaction involves all.

Wide Awake is an instance of this where Stańko’s scatter-shot triplets are met by Maneri’s spiccato jabs, then with interactive vamps from Carrier’s ascending smears, with Lambert’s percussion pumps helping to ease the fragments together by the finale. Insightful is another example as corkscrew reed tones challenge mewling brass lines as swelling string patterns cushion the turn to horizontal tonality.

With more than three hours of music on Openness it’s best to savour each high-quality disc separately rather than trying to assimilate all in one aural gulp.

17 Charlotte KeeffeALIVE! In the Studio
Charlotte Keeffe Right Here, Right Now Quartet
DISCUS MUSIC 160 CD (discus-music.org)

Prominent as part of the new wave of young brass players conversant with free and standard improvisation, the UK’s Charlotte Keeffe convenes her working quartet to confirm this stance. Affiliated with guitarist Moss Freed’s string clips and frails, Ashley John Long’s double bass plunks and stops and Ben Handysides’ cymbal clatter and drum slaps, Keeffe’s trumpet/flugelhorn stylings range from open horn flourishes to half-valve smears and timbral plunger examinations.

Nowhere is this clearer than in Wholeness and 1200 Photographs III. A companion to the previous tune’s run-throughs, the latter expands the tongue-stopping techniques and note hiccups of the other versions to expand their indirect bossa nova suggestions to upfront swing where strangled brass bugling is perfectly matched with centred guitar strums.

Freed’s frails are transformed into irregular chording and string shakes on Wholeness as arco bass buzzes and clanging rim shots further expand the extraterrestrial tone references brought to fruition by Keeffe’s plunger scoops, unexpected whiny variations and low-pitched portamento runs.

Never sacrificing tunefulness for technique, the quartet members maintain a tenacious, but subdued groove throughout the nine tracks, while integrating interludes of bowed bass expositions and rapid surf-music-like guitar licks. It also allows Keeffe to dig into her horn’s innards for heraldic blasts and bitten-off bleats.

On the final Brentford the players conclude the instrumental playing by harmonizing vocally on a bouncy melody. This too confirms the teamwork that went into creating this session.

Although many might imagine most free music as intense and raucous, the first adjective may be applied, but the second is sparingly used for the special sounds created by these five reed-keyboards duos. Some may argue that chamber-improv foreshortens the creative urge; however these duos have come up with various strategies to project multiple timbral arrangements without bluster or bellicosity.

01 LocustsRecorded in a venerable spacious church in Copenhagen, Locusts and Honey (ILK Records 349 ilkmusic.com) was created by two Danish residents who are both from other countries. Pianist Matt Choboter is Canadian, while alto saxophonist Calum Builder is Australian. Putting aside any country-associated shibboleths, both players operate in the realm of pure sound with the nine improvisations reflecting the church’s spatial properties as well as Builder’s extended reed techniques and the preparations of Choboter’s keyboard. Harsh squawks and irregular trills issue from the saxophonist, yet are balanced by passages in which muffled snarls dissolve into distant no-key-pressure moments as unaccented air is pushed through the horn. Celeste-like tinkles and suspended echoes share space with wood slaps, inner string jiggling and soundboard hammering from the pianist. Duo synergy is reflected on a track like Crossing on Akróasis when understated saxophone vibrations and horizontal key pumping create a delicate, almost mainstream expression. More compelling are those performances when seemingly incompatible motifs amalgamate as kindred expressions. Honey for instance manages to meld as reflective patterns, Builder’s deep inside the body tube hunting-horn-like resonance and Choboter’s implement juddering piano string clangs. Needle-thin top-of-range snarls from the saxophonist on Hark! are balanced by music-box-like chiming created by subtle piano string agitation. This leeches tension from the reed tones to attain a muffled connection.

02 EntanglementsEnhanced textures also characterize the work of another duo, each member of which is an accomplished improviser on an acoustic instrument. Here though, heightening timbres are added from the live electronics used by Russian-American pianist Simon Nabatov. The oscillations’ span suggests the addition of a third instrument to Nabatov’s keyboard on Entanglements (Acheulian Handaxe AHA 2301 handaxe.org) recorded with fellow Cologne resident, German tenor saxophonist Matthias Schubert. Free jazz despite the additional voltage, Schubert’s Trane-like tongue slaps, overblowing and siren-like honks are not only integrated into the narratives, but given added oomph when live processed or cushioned by the oscillations. At the same time, Nabatov’s acoustic piano patterns include enough crashing chords and sympathetic plinks to preserve the improvisational aura. Brushed is an instance of this as the saxophonist spews out puffs and whines in the form of toneless air blocked by an obstruction in his horn’s bell as Nabatov’s synthesized echoes create percussion backing. Tensile raps are then replaced with keyboard thumps as the saxophonist reed bites and blows out snuffles and split tones. The electronically produced squeaks and air-raspberries however don’t prevent the two from sounding like an expected jazz duo on tracks like Scratch. The grumbling oscillations have to share space with key clips and clanks and sax buzzes and smears. Squeezing out multiphonics or overblowing an emphasized fruity tone, Schubert then foils the electronics’ spatial tendency to overwhelm acoustic properties. By the concluding track, Closing, the duo confirms the appropriate electro-acoustic balance. A melange of reed growls and tongue stops mixed with crashing piano chords, the flanged wave form variations that are subsequently heard soon dissolve into faint rumbles to make common cause with and accompany the saxophonist’s angled split tone squeaks and a tone-shaking summation.

03 CrustsBringing novel sounds to a reed/piano duo doesn’t have to venture into the electronic world however. On Crusts (FOU records CD 48 fourecords.com) for instance, French improviser Jean-Luc Petit’s playing tenor and soprano saxophones and bass clarinet is amplified by the elaborations from Didier Fréboeuf  on piano, objects and clavietta, a mouth-blown piano keyboard instrument with accordion-like tones. Meanwhile Norwegian Isach Skeidsvoll on Chanting Moon, Dancing Sun – Live at Molde International Jazz Festival (Clean Feed CF 617 CD cleanfeed-records.com) and Japanese Yoko Miura on Zanshou Glance at the Tide (Setola Di Maiale SM 4620 setoladimaiale.net) both use a similar handheld instrument, the melodica, with its mouthpiece and keyboard sounds in their duets with Lauritz Skeidsvoll playing soprano and tenor saxophones and Italian soprano saxophonist Gianni Mimmo respectively.

Used more sparingly than electronics, Fréboeuf’s mouthpiece-attached instrument doesn’t make its appearance until the final track, but even before that his measured responses perfectly complement Petit’s expositions, depending on which reed is used. Squeezed alp-horn like blows and crying treble reflux from the tenor saxophone are met with inner piano string jangles and wood smacks that speed up the interface to gentling connections. More descriptively thickened chalumeau register bass clarinet slaps and snorts move the pianist deeper into pedal point expression on the appropriately named Scab, with the musical skin further exposed with bottom board echoes and brutal key clanging. As piano abrasions pull away, strangled reed cries confirm that the sonic wound still throbs. The clavietta’s music box-like tinkles and shaking variations simply solidify Fréboeuf’s distinctive exposition on Crisp, with Petit’s equally crisp rejoinders on soprano saxophone move into droning telephone-wire-like shrilling without key movements. Dynamic near-honky-tonk keyboard patterns however, push that sequence to the bursting point with the resulting timbral explosion drawing the saxophonist to a forced air and altissimo squeaking finale. 

04 Chanting MoonMore use is made of the melodica on Chanting Moon, Dancing Sun with the title track based on a do-si-do of that instrument’s barrel-organ-like textures in unison or counterpoint with the saxophone. While the plastic melodica does create an interesting contrast to a reed instrument, as quickly as a modal sequence is advanced Isach Skeidsvoll returns to percussive piano tones as Lauritz Skeidsvoll’s nasal soprano saxophone adds Carnatic-like squeaks. By the conclusion, reed work begins to quiet as intricate piano chording moves forward. Perhaps more a physiological than a musical observation, but despite the Skeidsvolls literally being brothers – Lauritz is two years older than Isach – their playing appears more distant from one another than that of the other duos. Exploring freer playing at points with reed split tones, tongue stops and slide whistle-like squeaks plus energetic piano shifts in and out of tempo, their fluid improvising also veers toward pseudo gospel dynamics. Earlier spiritual music inferences come out into the open on the concluding From the Wasteland I Ascend. Waves of ecclesiastical piano glissandi and intensified saxophone honks and squawks suggest Southern Baptists feeling the spirit, with the potent beat all consuming but somewhat odd coming from Norwegian musicians at a Norwegian jazz festival.

05 ZanshouMiura and Mimmo offer a different and distinct duo conception on Zanshou Glance at the Tide, another live concert. That’s because the pianist and saxophonist play solo on the first two tracks, only uniting for Further Towards the Light, the extended finale. The first track is a threnody for the Finnish bassist Teppo Hauta-aho, one of the many Occidental musicians with whom Miura has played. Yet melancholy is mixed with muscle as her light touch is overtaken by pressurized energy and key slaps at near player-piano speed. Continuing up the scale with chiming notes and plucks; melodica puffs also echo sparingly. With detours into suggestions of Charles Mingus and Jimmy Rowles themes on the second track, the saxophonist is both lyrical and literal, building a mellow exposition from tune variations mixed with double tonguing, tonal slides and the odd screech. As a duo the two also scramble expectations by introducing a lengthy meditation on ‘Round Midnight as a secondary motif. At first Miura adds energy with bell tree shakes and melodica trills that underline Mimmo’s more emotional pitch undulations and near circular breaths. With each taking turns interpreting the Thelonious Monk ballad, she not only comps aggressively but uses the mouth-blown keyboard to double and strengthen the saxophonist’s ascending and descending single line expositions. The entire piano keyboard is brought into play in the final sequence, uniting textures from all three instruments for a broadened referential conclusion.

Overall, using add-ons or playing acoustically each duo distinctively defines its territory and the combination.

01a Marianne Trudel 1À Pas de Loup – Quiet sounds for a loud world
Marianne Trudel
Marianne Trudel Productions TRUD 2023-2 (mariannetrudel.com)

Dédé Java Espiritu
Marianne Trudel; John Hollenbeck
Marianne Trudel Productions TRUD 2023-1 (mariannetrudel.com)

Time Poem – La joie de l’éphémère
Marianne Trudel; Remi-Jean Leblanc; John Hollenbeck
Marianne Trudel Productions TRUD 2021-1 (mariannetrudel.com)

Marianne Trudel ascended the pinnacle of music 20 years ago, with formidable technique and breathtaking, innovative expression. Today, still atop that do-not-touch-me pinnacle, there’s an erudite quality to her pianistic approach, the lived-in character of her improvisations and phrase-making that is engaging, the fire and brimstone of youth now complemented by the well-honed values of experience. So, it is only natural to celebrate – yet again – with a set of three recordings: solo, a duo with drummer John Hollenbeck and a trio with Hollenbeck and contrabassist Remi-Jean Leblanc.

Some discerning listeners may be tempted to hint at the fact that Trudel’s later music with small ensembles may be more adventurous given the interaction between musicians that affords improvised conversations and the possibilities of considerable development of ideas. The very act of playing solo on À pas de loup – Quiet sounds for a loud world is a pensive act of musicianship best enjoyed in similar quietude. That way, what is composed and improvised, often on keyboard instruments – including the gently wheezing harmonium – and percussion (instruments, individually played and/or overdubbed) offers a taste of Trudel’s sense of adventure to the solitary recesses of her brave creativity. It is in the very act of being in quiet conversation with herself, inside her own head, buzzing with ideas so to speak, that we find considerably venturesome music. Melodic beauty quickly ascends vertically with masterful harmonic development and passionate embellishments. When Trudel adds percussion – as on Chrysalide, for instance – her supple facility for ideation and articulacy reaches its much-vaunted apogee.

01b Marianne Trudel 2Music embellished by the wondrous percussion colouration of John Hollenbeck is experienced truly memorably on Dédé Java Espiritu. Trudel has said that when she first played with Hollenbeck, she knew from “the first few notes” that they played together that there would be a musical reprise. Now comes this album featuring not simply breathtaking and daring adventure, but all of it featured in beautifully crafted arrangements of beguiling variety and sensuousness. Trudel’s love for – and mastery of – her instrument shines brightly. She and Hollenbeck seductively manipulate melody, harmony and rhythm in phrases that fly off the page on Coquillages. Meanwhile Trudel appears to bend notes while she and Hollenbeck masterfully sculpt the long inventions of Tension and Happiness. Clearly in the spacious arrangements and improvisations there’s not a semiquaver that has not been fastidiously considered.

01c Marianne Trudel 3To complete the trilogy of recordings released to mark two decades in music, Trudel returns to the studio (and the soundstage} with Hollenbeck. This time it’s a trio on Time Poem - Le joie de l’éphémère and the duo is complemented by the elegant rumble of the contrabass played by the masterful Québécois veteran Leblanc. There is unlikely to be a more reliable guarantee of high-quality contemporary trio music than when these names appear on the cover. Trudel’s musicians are fully attuned to the vision and artistry of their fearless leader, whose pianism bristles with meaningful virtuosity. Hollenbeck delivers his melodious rolling thunder of drums and hiss of cymbals while Leblanc beguiles with the spacious growl of his bass. Check out everything here.

You cannot have one of these three recordings without the other two, so, my best advice would be to indulge freely for untold moments of musical pleasure.

02a Margaret Maria Bill GilliamUncountable Spheres
Margaret Maria; Bill Gilliam
Independent (marbyllia-bg.bandcamp.com/album/uncountable-spheres)

Goddess of Edges
Margaret Maria
Independent (margaretmariamusic.com)

New collaborators, cellist Margaret Maria and pianist Bill Gilliam have formed their duo Marbyllia and released the album Uncountable Spheres, a sonic free-exploration between friends. These two well-travelled artists have collided from different worlds: Gilliam, a London-born, multi-award-winning Toronto composer, pianist and poet, is well known for his prepared piano and sonically stretched compositions and collaborations. Cellist Margaret Maria, a U of T graduate who went on to study at the Curtis Institute of Music, is becoming known as an improvisor, composer and producer after shedding her previous life as a classical cellist with the Vancouver Symphony and the National Arts Centre Orchestras, though she has been improvising, teaching and collaborating for many years. Their new experimental piano and cello duo album is described as “a journey from our earth’s core gravitational forces and our troposphere where we live impacted by climate change, and further up into our distressed stratosphere.” The resulting landscape is often spacey, explosive, dark and stormy, but each track reaches through the different levels of the atmosphere and eventually breaches the surface. The two improvisors push the limits of each other: Gilliam’s extensive range of sounds from his piano and Maria’s extended cello technique and unusual sound makers. The track Stratosphere in Distress is a solid representation of this dynamic team.

Listen to 'Uncountable Spheres' Now in the Listening Room

02b Margaret MariaAs a double-release feature, Margaret Maria’s solo album Goddess of Edges is her 15th studio album and highlights her editing craft and production skills, as well as reminding us of her decades of experience as an orchestral cellist. Here Maria shows off her extensive cello chops, as well as her love of rich string compositions with layers of rhythm, harmony and texture. Each track is layer upon layer of cello of every range, resulting in a full symphony of sounds of every description; from the full and rich C-string to the highest false harmonics, powerfully rhythmic chords and squeals and screams. A solid, strong disc chock-full of exciting and layered works, the compositions are driving and emotional pieces; many could be contemporary dance soundtracks. With themes of death, angels and shame, this album is edgier and more expressive than her previous offerings. Driving fragility far away; this is an exposé of Maria’s conflicting representations of who we are on the inside while our exterior belies our vulnerability.

Listen to 'Goddess of Edges' Now in the Listening Room

If you missed the double-release featuring both performers at Annette Studios on December 2, you can find the recorded stream on YouTube. It’s well worth the visit, to hear of Margaret Maria’s compositional process, her release from classical orchestral playing and readings of inspirational poetry.

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