10 Melissa PipeOf What Remains
Melissa Pipe Sextet
Odd Sound 005-28 (melissapipe.com)

Sporting a highly appropriate name for a reeds player, Montreal-based baritone saxophone/bassoonist Melissa Pipe’s disc is refined chamber jazz with an emphasis on darker textures. That’s because timbres arise not only from Lex French’s trumpet, Geoff Lapp’s piano and Mili Hong’s drums but also from lower tones encompassing Solon McDade’s double bass, Philippe Côté’s bass clarinet and tenor saxophone plus Pipe’s larger horns. It deepens even more when Michael Sundell’s contrabassoon is added on three tracks.

Most notable of these is the multi-sectional Ici, ainsi that moves slowly over drum rumbles and a walking bass line before portamento trumpet and saxophone breaks give way to a mellifluous double bassoon expression that moves up the scale while the pulse stays horizontal. Eventually reed stress turns to decorations as drum rim shots and piano comping complete the piece. More overt chamber jazz affiliations arise on a track like Day, where a dramatic undercurrent which harmonizes a snarling bassoon ostinato with plunger trumpeting remains constant as keyboard clinking outlines the balladic theme.

Other tracks such as La part des anges and Apothecium. are arranged with a light West Coast jazz feel. yet they’re also distinctive. That’s because these otherwise straight-ahead foot-tappers that climax with modal blends of baritone saxophone smears and sparkling pianism are interrupted when French interjects Maynard Ferguson-like skyscraper-high triplets into the mix.

This sophisticated and promising debut leads us to anticipate her realization of the next musical Pipe dream.

11 GoldstreamGoldstream
Julian Gutierrez’s Project Goldstream
Independent (juliangutierrezsproject.bandcamp.com/releases)

Following the well-known saying “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em,” why beat the summer heat when you can make the best of it with this fiery, scintillating mix of tunes? Cuban-born pianist Julian Gutierrez brings the best of both Latin and jazz music on his latest album, melding the two worlds together flawlessly. He adds his own twist to the record, arranging the collection of songs for a big band which brings a whole new, expansive sound to the repertoire. All tunes are originals penned by Gutierrez and arranged by both him and bassist Jean-François Martel. 

Duality is a strong theme throughout this album, not only from a genre-based perspective but also in an imaginative way. Gutierrez explains that the music reflects “…nature, both the landscapes of my homeland… and the beauty and poetry that emanate from the landscapes of Canada, my host country.” This duality is especially noticeable in pieces such as Canard Goûteux, where the rhythmic influence of his Cuban roots, seen in Martel’s bass line  combined with the groove of drummer Axel Bonnaire, is blended with the alternating mellow chord progressions and blazing piano riffs of Gutierrez, reflecting more of the Canadian, tempered side within the chords. Featuring a full lineup of stellar international musicians, the prolific pianist’s vision for this album is propelled to new heights. Jazz lovers looking for a foray into a pleasant musical landscape, this is for you.

For Portugal, a country that was still struggling to solidify its democracy in the 1980s following nearly 50 years of outright dictatorship, one unexpected byproduct of that struggle has been a burgeoning free music scene. Resourceful, the scene nurtured by the struggle for the country’s expanding freedoms now includes internationally known veterans like violinist Carlos Zingaro, younger local experimenters and has started to attract improvisers from elsewhere.

01 Road MusicOne experienced player is Paris-born pocket trumpeter Sei Miguel, who has lived in Portugal since 1986 and has propagated local free music since then. Road Music (Clean Feed CF 621 CD cleanfeedrecords.com/album/road-music) features ten tracks by his Unit Core recorded between 2016 and 2021. Most position Miguel’s smeared brass timbres in microtonal cohabitation with plunger tones from Fala Mariam’s alto trombone and Bruno Silva’s guitar clips and twangs with Pedro Castello Lopes adding rhythms from percussion instruments. These understated pulses are particularly effective on Sentinela and Canção, with triangle clinks decorating broken octave and unison short brass bites. Not only do the woody clave smacks provide a distinctive backing when joined with guitar strums on Canção, but Mariam’s contrapuntal designations take up as much space as the trumpet lines. Silva’s percussive string picking is featured on Sentinela #2 which provides a rare instance of the trumpeter moving past his usual breathy sighs to a sequence of bugling triplets that torque the tune’s excitement before harmonizing with the trombonist’s horizontal slurs. Otherwise, expositions are usually slow-moving and often descend into near stasis as dramatic bent notes and grit are favoured over unbroken lines and half-valve expressions. Still there are enough pivots throughout to trombone tailgate slides, trumpet squeaks and guitar twangs to feature tonal examinations along with related continuum. 

02 Luis LopesAt nearly the opposite end of the sound spectrum is Echoisms (Clean Feed CF 628 CD cleanfeedrecords.bandcamp.com/album/echoisms) by young veteran Lisbon guitarist Luis Lopes and his Abyss Mirrors tentet. Featured on the seven tracks of the harsh and turbulent title composition are two saxes, two players using electronics, a three-person string section, an electric bassist and another guitarist besides Lopes. Although working without a drummer, there are enough guitar flanges, bass thumps and electronic pulses to anchor the angled and squeaky string glissandi as well as the doits, honks, smears and altissimo excursions from the reed players. Most sequences rumble along with Felipe Zenícola’s electric bass throb and electronics signals creating linearity until straight-ahead movement is shattered as Lopes’ and the one-name Flak’s effects pedal motions and unusual string techniques join with dog-whistle-like screeches from saxophonists Bruno Parrinha and Yedo Gibson to stretch the exposition to near schism until it rights itself by the following track. By the penultimate Echoism VI however a bagpipe-like tremolo drone from the dual saxes sets up the final track – and the suite’s – resolution. Moving through a building crescendo of cello, violin and viola spiccato shakes, jerky electronic whizzes and triple-tongued enhanced reed multiphonics, the resolution slows the narrative to single guitar licks cushioned by voltage pulsations.

03 ImpromtuAlthough violist Ernesto Rodrigues and guitarist Flak from Lopes’ tentet are also part of the Suspensão octet on Impromptu (Creative Sources CS 773 CD creativesourcesrec.com/ ernesto_material/discography/disc_773.html) the music is as hushed as Echoism is boisterous. A single, almost 35-minute improvisation, whose 15-word title is nearly longer than the music itself, it confirms Portuguese improvisers’ versatility. With frequent silent intervals, the evolving track alternately connects and separates timbres that suddenly arise and just as quickly vanish. The introduction matches Carlos Santos’ synthesizer washes with Bruno Parrinha’s bass clarinet burbles as spiccato string vibrations, woody clanks and triangle pings from percussionist José Oliveira and Luisa Gonçalves’ occasional piano chords decorate and disrupt the exposition. One-third of the way along a combination of tougher guitar frails and Nuno Torres’ alto saxophone flutters pushes the narrative into horizontal motion. However that’s swiftly overcome by ray-gun-like whooshes and sul ponticello pressure from the violist and bassist João Madeira, while Gonçalves’ vibrating patterns from both keyboard and stroked internal strings reintroduce linear movement. A further expansion of altissimo cries from the reeds is subsumed by an unvarying double bass groove. Voltage drones and pinpointed but rugged metal percussion slaps then affiliate for a logical conclusion. Like much free form music the key isn’t resolution but the tonal varieties of evolution.

04 Karoline LeblancThe same could be said for The Wind Wends its way Round (atrito-afeito 012 atrito-afeito.com) by Montreal pianist Karoline LeBlanc seconded on three of the six tracks by Portuguese drummer Paulo J Ferrreira Lopes. A frequent musical visitor to Portugal, the pianist’s playing completely negates the Canadian cliché of deference and politeness. Pouring intensity into her improvisations, all tracks are taken at presto or prestissimo tempos and emphasis is almost always on the ringing bottom notes. Sympathetically adding press rolls and rolling patterns, Lopes mostly stands aside from the boiling cauldron of emphasized notes. Perfectly capable of slowing the tempo, as she does on Porter ses pas, and able to leapfrog into treble clef tinkles from darker interludes at will, LeBlanc takes these quick changes in almost literal stride. Tinkling tonal interludes usually occur at the same time as her other hand is crunching and clattering basement notes that resonate through the soundboard and piano’s wood.  Always in control, her pumped-note profusion may resemble those of a player piano, but there’s cerebral planning attached. Splayed and sputtering piles of notes may issue from the piano on the title tune and concluding Round Talk yet these hard returns and dips into darker timbres are heard in symmetry with unexpected glissandi detours or slapping rebounds. When it appears, as on The Wind Wends its way Round, that this pressurized playing will never lose its ferocity, LeBlanc surprises by rebounding to a measured pace and sudden stops.

05 BreakfastWhat hasn’t stopped is the number of Portuguese players experimenting with musical forms and collaborating with international players. MUEJL’s By Breakfast (4Da Record CD 006 4darecord.bandcamp.com) for instance, while recorded in Lisbon, features local bassist João Madeira, also on Impromptu, Brazilian clarinetist Luiz Rocha, French tenor saxophonist Michel Stawicki, Turkish cellist Uygur Vural and Italian vocalist Elisabetta Lanfredini. With the nine tracks as consolidated as the band name made up of the members’ initials, the program displays the tension generated from string/reed equilibrium, while Lanfredini stretches her tessitura to approximate timbres from lyric soprano nonsense mumbles, alpine yodels and wispy basso breaths. Contrapuntal results are expressed at greatest lengths on Kia’s Vocal Calls as the singer’s melismatic switch from bel canto to basement mumbles stretches still further the exposition defined by heavily vibrated bass thumps and warm clarinet lines. With Lanfredini moving to replications of davening at one point and Aboriginal chants at another, integration is invoked when vibrated drones from voice and reed become indistinguishable. Overall the five constantly move from lightness to darkness as chalumeau register clarinet and timed sul tasto string strokes can vanish in a maze of verbal nonsense syllables or, despite cross talk, bel canto vocalizing can smack up against reed tongue slaps and a mournful cello line. Furthermore, as demonstrated on Ohai Forest Suite, vocal mewling doesn’t detract from reed multiphonics, but climaxes in harmonized breathy tones.

As Portuguese democracy continues to solidify, the hope – and expectation – is that creative music will evolve with it.

01 Emilie Claire BarlowSpark Bird
Emilie-Claire Barlow
Empress Music (emilieclairebarlow.com)

One of the first delights of many upon opening Emilie-Claire Barlow’s latest album, is the care that’s gone into the design. For those of us who yearn for the days of physical CDs and LPs, Spark Bird delivers with a full package, including charming illustrations by Caroline Brown.  

The second thing that struck me was what a happy album Spark Bird is. For a project that was mostly produced during a pandemic, one might expect a little less joy. But it seems that spending a large part of her time on the west coast of Mexico enabled Barlow to slow down, listen and be inspired by the nature around her. This gorgeous ode to our bird friends is the result. 

The opening tune, Over the Rainbow, with Barlow’s warm, flawless vocals, feels like comfort food in musical form. Drawing on the maestro of joy, Stevie Wonder, and samba-fying Bird of Beauty, is inspired.

Even the melancholic moments can be uplifting when they’re as musical as Skylark, the Hoagy Carmichael/Johnny Mercer classic. The arrangement is a masterclass in how to reharmonize interestingly without venturing too far from the original. Credit for it goes to Reg Schwager (Barlow’s long-time collaborator and guitarist) and Steve Webster (who mixed and mastered the album) as well as Barlow herself. Coldplay’s heartbreaker, O, is no less masterfully rendered, courtesy of Amanda Tosoff’s piano playing and arranging, Drew Jureka’s strings and Rachel Therrien’s haunting trumpet solo. 

It’s been five years since Barlow graced us with an album, but she’s been anything but idle. As head of her own record label, Empress Music, plus half of the duo, Bocana, that’s been steadily releasing singles, Barlow is a busy lady. So, as terrible as a worldwide health crisis is, the fact that it enabled artists to slow down, smell the roses – and listen to the birds – is something for which we can be grateful. 

02 Jane BunnettPlaying With Fire
Jane Bunnett & Maqueque
Linus Entertainment 270788 (janebunnett.com) 

Innovative and consummate reed player Jane Bunnett has long been considered an unofficial Canadian Jazz Ambassador – particularly with regard to her deep relationship with Cuba and its music. The founding of Maqueque, a burning, all-female ensemble, occurred a decade ago, following a jam session in Havana with an array of talented, musician/composers and graduates of the Cuban Conservatory. The seasoned, award-winning group has travelled the world, and now includes vocalist Joanna Majoko from Zimbabwe, as well as artists from the Dominican Republic, Latin America, Spain and Lebanon. Produced by Larry Cramer, this latest release is beyond stunning.

First up is Human Race (Bunnett/Grantis), a solid groove replete with a facile soprano solo from Bunnett and fine support from bassist Tailin Marrero and Donna Grantis on electric guitar. A standout track is Bud Powell’s Tempus Fugit, featuring pianist Dánae Olano as well as gymnastic vocal scat sections from Majoko and Bunnett on flute. The lighter-than-air Daniela’s Theme, composed by and featuring Olano on piano, with her sister Daniela on violin, also includes a fine group vocal accenting traditional rhythmic motifs. Turquesa/Turquoise (Bunnett/Grantis) is a percussive, vocal and lyrical tour de force replete with another fine solo/call and response between Bunnett and Majoko.

Other delights here include Marrero’s Bolero a un Sueno, a ballad of rare luminous beauty and Charles Mingus’ Jump Monk – marvellously arranged to reflect upon and celebrate Monk’s and Mingus’ mutual quirky approach. Percussionist Mary Paz is absolutely incendiary on this track. The closing title song, also written by Bunnett and Grantis, features the ensemble in a composition of complexity and multiple musical motifs, coalescing in an exuberant expression of energy, power and pure joy.

03 astrocolorMoonlighting – AstroJazz Vol.1
Amelia Recordings AML0012CD (astrocolormusic.com) 

Fittingly timed with the extraordinary events taking place in regards to space travel at the moment, this latest record by Western Canadian Music Awards Instrumental Artist of the Year, Astrocolor is a perfect spacey, otherworldly musical foray. A mellow, ear-pleasing journey is exactly what these tunes call to mind, with an additional contagious repetitive rhythmic groove that just leaves the listener wanting more. With a lineup of great musicians such as Neil James Cooke-Dallin on synths, guitar, etc., Andrew Poirier on guitar, William Farrant on bass to name a few, these original compositions are propelled to great new heights. 

Astrocolor has managed to create a completely new niche for themselves in the jazz world, “blending elements of jazz, psychedelia and electronica — …resulting in the aptly dubbed [genre] ‘AstroJazz.’” The feeling throughout the album is as if you’re straddling the border of the modern and new, the traditional and contemporary; floating in this pleasant, almost trance-like musical state of mind that you don’t want to emerge from. It’s a complete, immersive musical experience quite unlike anything else, where the psychedelia of the past meets with the technology of the here and now. “Moonlighting imagines an exploratory trip into deep space… recalling the influence of late 90s electronic acts…” through layering fantastic synthesizer melodies and programming over a traditional band setup. For those who have been itching for something completely new and unique, this is the find you’ve been looking for.

04 Redline trioUnderdog
Redline Trio
Chronograph Records CR 102 (redlinetrio.com) 

Between the self-deprecating title Underdog and the extinct Dodo bird with one leg cut off as a cover image, the message being beamed at the listeners antennae could well be: “Help! We’re stuck in the past.” In truth, however, the forward-thinking musicians of the Calgary-based Redline Trio and their celebrated British Columbia associates, present their set, tongue firmly in cheek. The only thing that this music harks back to is a kind of creativity sans gratuitous virtuosity, which is often seen as a thing of the past.

Unfolding in six short songs, each with a simply (sometimes) evocative title, is the imaginative music captured on a recording of considerable creativity. Composed by all the band members – saxophonist Mark DeJong, bassist Steve Shepard and drummer Jeff Sulima, and guests, trumpeter Brad Turner and pianist Steve Hudson – the musical stream of ideas unfolds with energy and vitality.

The Redline Trio is harmonically anchored by pianist Hudson and the horns soar with acoustically aerodynamic figures and patterns, gliding along nicely. Shifts occur through rapid changes in direction of rhythmic temperature. (Cue No Limes for Jeffery, The Waltz and the album’s pinnacle Underdog that closes the set.)

The group’s source of inspiration is certainly swing and time, and there is plenty of this reverberating throughout the recording. But the music here bodes well for the future of jazz.

Listen to 'Underdog' Now in the Listening Room

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