05 Don Thompson Rob PiltchBells… Then and Now
Don Thompson; Rob Piltch
Modica Music (modicamusic.bandcamp.com/album/bells-now-and-then)

Having grown up in Toronto and being interested in jazz music from a young age, the opportunities to hear Don Thompson on bass, piano and, less frequently, vibraphone were plentiful indeed. In fact, he was such a near-constant presence on this city’s live music scene that for me, the playing, compositions, and more generally, the sound of Thompson’s various projects and performances were the very essence of Toronto jazz from that time. As such, when I listened to Bells… Now and Then, a re-release of Thompson and guitarist Rob Piltch’s great 1982 recording Bells, bookended here with two terrific and newly recorded additional tracks, I was instantly transported to a familiar and welcome place of musical memory.

Originally released on Umbrella Records, Bells, paired Thompson with then-24-year-old guitarist, Rob Piltch. The result is an intimate duo performance that demonstrates the ways in which Thompson was so good when working with guitarists, while situating Piltch in a long line of accomplished guitar players who worked as creative foils for Thompson (Sonny Greenwich, Ed Bickert, Lenny Breau, John Abercrombie, Jim Hall, Emily Remler, Reg Schwager). Whether it is the Sonny Rollins-esque vibe of Mike Malone’s Caribe, or the immediately recognizable vibe that the initial chord change inculcates at the beginning of Thompson’s truly beautiful composition September, listeners who are old enough to remember Toronto’s aforementioned jazz history will be served a happy auditory reminder of days gone by, while new listeners now have the exciting prospect of wonderful music to explore. Thanks to Roberto Occhipinti and Modica Music for both re-releasing this fine recording, and for adding two new tracks of Thompson and Piltch’s important contributions to the Canadian jazz discography and canon.

06 Mike HerriottMike Herriott – Tales of Tricksters and Vagabonds
Mike Herriott; H&H Studio Big Band
H&H Records (mikeherriott.com)

Get ready to be transported into a mystical world of fairytales and mysterious characters, where the border between reality and fable begins to fade. Renowned Canadian trumpeter and multi-instrumentalist Mike Herriott’s latest release takes the listener on a captivating foray into the magical realm of fantasy through lyrical melodies and riveting riffs. The album showcases Herriott’s compositional talents as well as his instrumental skills, as he plays most of the instruments, with the exception of cello and drums, heard in the recording. This makes for a truly enchanting musical journey and should be an addition to the collection of any jazz-lover that’s looking for something unique and truly engaging.

What makes this album stand out is the concept behind it, “[a] big band… album of six original compositions that depict a collection of some of the «sketchier” characters from great works of fiction,” as Herriott describes it. A modern six-part jazz suite if you will. Each tune is chock full of personality, truly reflecting what the idiosyncrasies of each “villain’s” persona. Take Puss, in Boots for example; a classic, snazzy big band sound with a driving beat and sultry horns immediately call to forth images of the “puss” in question, slinking around in the shadows, possibly up to no good. Herriott has done a fantastic job of merging the domains of fantasia and reality within his compositions, merging and blending genres; creating an imaginative, detailed world in the mind’s eye.

07 Carl MayotteCarnaval
Carl Mayotte
Independent (carlmayotte.com)

Multi-faceted, bustling, exuberant and emotive, Quebecois bassist/composer/leader Carl Mayotte’s new album makes for quite the engaging listen. Mayotte consistently showcases the entire range of his instrument, using the upper register to add colour and warmth to interludes in tracks like Cascade. His use of natural harmonics and arpeggiations encompassing the fingerboard in the intro of Coeur d’enfant unlocks the electric bass as a sole creator of soundscape, which allows for a tranquil meditation before the blazing inferno that follows. Each composition in this sense feels like a living organism, never content with occupying a single space for too long, with woodwind quintet Choros often providing near breath-like reprieve from all of the endless celebratory rhythms. In terms of the instrumentation and arrangements, Mayotte draws from a consistently exhilarating palate of electronics, heavy percussion sections and acoustics, creating a synthesis of influences that are never tedious. 

The tracks that make up the Carnaval suite flow seamlessly into each other but contain enough twists within them that the overarching statement itself feels more holistic than the form normally allows. This album is a very ambitious undertaking, but it never allows this vision to obscure its sense of adventure, tunefulness or grace. Central to this point is L’éveil, one of the more discreet moments to be found on the tracklist, albeit maybe its most rewarding on repeat listens. As we listen closer and closer, Mayotte leaves us with more and more wonders to discover.

08 Mike MurleyRecent History
Mike Murley; Mark Eisenman; Neil Swainson; Terry Clarke
Cornerstone Records CRST CD 166 (cornerstonerecordsinc.com)

Craving the perfect musical accompaniment to those cozy winter nights spent at the fireside, a warm drink in hand? Stellar duo Mike Murley and Mark Eisenman’s newest release is just the soundtrack you’re looking for. Mellow sax melodies and catchy piano riffs make for a warm, inviting record that conjures images of a snug living room and music floating softly in the background, watching the snow fall softly. Featuring all-stars Neil Swainson on bass and Terry Clarke on drums, Murley/Eisenman’s compositions soar to new heights via these fabulous backing musicians. 

The album harkens back to the classic jazz sound, featuring standards by greats such as Monk, Schwartz and Strayhorn. Yet just the right amount of modernity is brought into the mix, with Murley and crew adding a pleasing contemporary twist to the pieces to swiftly bring them into a current musical setting, as is heard in the time-honoured Monk’s Dream. Murley/Eisenman mention that the album “[reflects their] shared interest in writing new melodies on standard chord progressions,” otherwise known as contrafacts. What also adds a unique spark to the record is the several pieces that showcase Murley/Eisenman’s shared, intertwining solos that soar lyrically overtop of Clarke’s constant, energy-laden beat and Swainson’s rhythmic bass riffs. For those jazz aficionados looking for a foray into the past while also remaining present in the current day, this is a great album to add to the collection.

09 Jesse DietschiGradient
Jesse Dietschi Trio
Independent JDM-2023-01 (jessedietschi.com)

With so much so-called 21st-century music to listen to it is refreshing when a disc turns up that harks back to the elements that made jazzy, improvisational music so attractive in the first place: melody and swing. In this case it is the album Gradient by the contrabassist Jesse Dietschi and his trio. This ensemble is fortified by pianist Ewen Farncombe, a wunderkind who combines technical prowess with intelligence and good taste, and the swinging timekeeper with a gift for melodicism, itinerant journeyman and drummer Ethan Ardelli, now well on his way to becoming something of a proverbial elder statesman. 

The trio operates as a partnership of equals, not as bassist and accompaniment. Each participant is given ample room to stretch; to pick up threads, develop ideas and to embellish Dietschi’s compositions with a range of ear-worm riffs, dancing melodies, insistent rhythms and harmonies with the added elements of colour and texture. 

A relative newcomer, Dietschi emerges as an eloquent musical contrabassist producing some tasty arco work (cue Loose Plug and Canmore), and agile pizzicato everywhere else. As a composer he is clearly more gifted than he would get credit for being. This is likely because he splits his time between chamber orchestras and contemporary ensembles. The music of Gradient, however, suggests a questing mind with a borderless, erudite aesthetic. This is quite a rare combination under any circumstance.

Listen to 'Gradient' Now in the Listening Room

10 Jocelyn GouldSonic Bouquet
Jocelyn Gould
Independent JGCD0523 (jocelyngould.com)

The aptly titled Sonic Bouquet is the third album as leader from guitarist-composer Jocelyn Gould, and is a snapshot of an artist who has refined their craft immensely. The melodies are lean, memorable and feature just the right amount of subversive turns. Across nine tracks, there is nary a single minute of excess, with only pinpoint solo sequencing and an enduring sense of restrained dynamism to be found. It is no coincidence that every track is directly in that five-to-six-minute sweet spot, the whole affair is an absolute breeze by design. 

The tracks distinguish themselves from each other through their beautiful subtleties and small details. Spring Regardless’ head is a clever one, making use of syncopated shots almost exclusively to relay its information, but these hits are metronomic enough to feel purposeful rather than a barrage of material. Coming out of the melody, Rodney Whitaker’s deep-pocket bass solo contrasts nicely with the driving nature of previous proceedings, reining in the band with the logic-defyingly easygoing time feel of his lines. 

Alongside other standard selections on this album, My Foolish Heart takes a ubiquitous ballad and turns it into a stirringly yearnful dialogue between two guitars in the midst of mourning. Gould and former teacher Randy Napoleon’s creative synergy forms the nucleus of what makes this album feel like a documentation of profound musical connection. In the first minute of My Foolish Heart, this effect finds its pinnacle.

11 Peripheral VisionWe’ve Got Nothing
Peripheral Vision
Independent step3-009 (peripheralvisionmusic.com)

Innovative Toronto-based jazz quartet Peripheral Vision has released their long-awaited second live album, their sixth full-length release. From the first track, the listener is pulled into a musical realm where genre-defining boundaries don’t exist and the imagination can be let loose. The group was formed years ago by long-time collaborators guitarist Don Scott and bassist Michael Herring, with saxophonist Trevor Hogg and drummer Nick Fraser brought along for the 15-year (and counting) ride. The album was conceived during pandemic times and was a much-needed creative outlet for these musicians, as it was for many. 

The record stands out for its ability to make the contemporary and experimental accessible and captivating to listeners. This is achieved through two main components: a non-stop groove that gets the body moving and grooving, and through meandering between and constantly mixing genres to create an intriguing set of tunes. Each piece has its clear personality and moods that the listener is transported through. One of the influences for the record that Scott/Herring mention is “influential bassist Dave Holland’s thoughts on achieving balance in life,” which highlights the perfect word to describe this set of pieces: balance. Balance is reflected through the way each musician has a definite role to play within each song, how there is an equilibrium in regards to movement and mellowness and how we are left with a sense of symmetry and stability as the last notes fade.

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