06 Heillig ManoeuvreWait, There’s More
Heillig Manoeuvre
Independent HM 6015 (heilligman.com)

The latest incarnation of bassist and composer Henry Heillig’s Heillig Manoeuvre continues the shift from the group’s earlier more electric sound to the decidedly mainstream bent of Wait, There’s More. The constant in the band’s evolution has been Heillig’s accessible, groove-oriented compositional style. The current group, including longtime Manteca cohort Charlie Cooley on drums, pianist Stacie McGregor and saxophonist Alison Young may be its most compelling lineup to date. Young, who has established herself as an important new player on the scene, brings a confident, fresh voice to the quartet’s blend of bebop, blues and funk. McGregor embraces a similar sensibility, occupying both frontline and rhythm section roles with aplomb.

Wait, There’s More, the opening tune, highlights Heillig’s and Cooley’s ease with classic Latin and swing feels. The drum/sax duet off the top of Young’s solo is a perfect setup for her soulful, swinging style. McGregor follows suit, complementing the sax solo with her own well-rooted sense of the tradition. Arrangements are the key here and solos are concise and to the point without feeling truncated. Wonky Rhomboid features bass and baritone saxophone over a seven-beat figure that slips momentarily into a fast swing, reminiscent of Mingus’ Fables Of Faubus. Young’s composition Waltz For Harriet showcases the composer’s command of nuance with a nod to Cannonball Adderley’s funky exuberance. Groove and fun are the order of the day in this highly satisfying outing.

07 Paul NewmanPaul Newman – Duo Compositions
Paul Newman; Karen Ng; Heather Segger
Independent (paulnewman1.bandcamp.com)

Paul Newman has already proved his credentials at the existential end of the saxophone. Now he turns that angst and all of his utterly brilliant compositional prowess to a pair of daring works for a set of duets – the first featuring his tenor saxophone with the alto of Karen Ng, entitled Strange Customs. The second piece (with Heather Segger’s trombone replacing Ng’s alto) is a furiously innovative one, its title taken from a poem by the quintessential artist, Dianne Korchynski. The music is as arresting as the title: When I Die, Who Will Be There to Count the Rings? While experimental music such as this can be more concerned with process than result, the fruits of Paul Newman’s experiments – especially on Duo Compositions – are brave, gutsy and aurally fascinating. These duets could have been limited by the timbre of each instrument – a tenor and an alto saxophone and a trombone. But Newman’s scores expand the consciousness of the improvising musicians. And you experience this throughout the recording.

These are endlessly fascinating pieces, their broad glissandos and darting arpeggios, products of the fertile imaginations of the improvising musicians, Ng and Segger. The language of Cage might seem to be spoken and sung; that and the gleeful dancing of Cecil Taylor, whose gymnastically inclined pianism appear to inform the improvisations. The scores suggest something equally original, both in the suggested “vocalastics” and instrumental mischief of saxophones and human smears of the trombone. These admirable performances make a worthwhile addition to any collection of music.

09 TenThousandThe Ten Thousand Things
Simon Rose; Stefan Schultze
Red Toucan RT 9350

Joining forces to extract as many undiscovered textures from their instruments as humanly possible, British alto and baritone saxophonist Simon Rose and German-prepared piano specialist Stefan Schultze come across less like mad scientists and more like dedicated epistemologists. Like researchers confronted with unexpected by-products from their experiments, they assiduously dissect the results for further trials. And like the Lone Ranger and Tonto riding in tandem, for every extended technique exposed by Rose, from tongue slapping to atonal smears, Schultze has an appropriate response or goad, plucking, stopping, pushing and sliding along his strings, and with implements such as bowls, bells and mashers vibrating atop them.

A track like Magua for instance starts with gargantuan baritone sax textures exposed via bone-dry multiphonics, soon pleasantly liquefying to a jerky slap-tongue rhythm to affiliate with bell-like clangs from the piano’s speaking length. Or consider Schultze’s ring modulator-like reverberations which bring out the mellow underpinning of Rose’s back-and-forth snuffling on Bird Sommersaults. Additionally, harpsichord-like string stopping gets a tougher interface that vibrates the soundboard strings when sympathetically matched with low-pitched reed vibrations on Unstabled. Rose’s split tones allow him to play reed strategies that are simultaneously mellow and rickety or skyscraper high and copper mine low at the same time; while Schultze’s strategies create equivalent concurrent textures inside and outside the piano. Leviathan Blues is a fine demonstration of this. The pianist’s stretching the strings while percussively key slapping creates a rhythmic backbeat which expands to meet the saxophonist’s theme variations that likewise widen and become more dissonant as Rose plays. Altissimo reed agitation brings out equivalent kinetic key pummeling, until a simple pedal-push counter-theme calms the woodwind cyclone enough to move Rose to singular honks that finally meld with solidifying key vibrations.

By the time the last note sounds at the end of this CD’s 11th and final track, if the two haven’t exposed the sound textures from 10,000 things they’ve certainly come close to doing so.

10 Mette Henriette

Mette Henriette
Mette Henriette
ECM 2460/2461 (ecmrecords.com)


Mette Henriette is a young Norwegian saxophonist and composer and this eponymous two-CD debut is a remarkable statement, whether considered for its skill, beauty or sheer reach. Recorded during 2013 and 2014, the music possesses sufficient breadth to escape any immediate classification, with materials and textures drawn from contemporary composed music, jazz and free improvisation. The two CDs are distinguished by their resources: the first features a trio with pianist Johan Lindvall and cellist Katrine Schiøtt; the second adds 11 musicians including a jazz rhythm section and five more strings.

Henriette does not immediately reveal herself on the first CD as Lindvall and Schiiøtt develop elongated textures that are at once rich and spare, aloof and full of suggestion. There’s a profound state of attentiveness in this music: neither specifically contemplative nor serene, it seems poised to accept revelation. The opening track, So, may suggest something of Arvo Pärt, while later episodes are at times more evanescent still, touching on the whispers and transparency of George Crumb’s Night Music. Henriette’s tenor saxophone is often limited here to long tones and brief phrases, her interest focused on sonority, overtones and the literal sound of air and moisture in the horn.

That role expands, along with the range of compositions, on the second CD, with Henriette’s wellspring of lyricism coming immediately to the fore on the beautiful passé, before the music moves on to darker realms, including the foreboding circus of late à la carte. As a saxophonist, she has a tremendous expressive range. Her timbral focus can suggest tenor sounds as distinct as Stan Getz, Jan Garbarek and Gato Barbieri (the latter in wildheart, a brooding noisefest that invokes the early Jazz Composers Orchestra), while a willingness to explore multiphonics and sheer air suggests affinities with free improvisers. Mette Henriette’s reach is impressive, her grasp even more so.

11 Sonny SharrockAsk The Ages
Sonny Sharrock
M.O.D. Technologies MOD0016 (mod-technologies.com)

Many creative musicians have struggled to find a supportive audience, and that was certainly the case with guitarist Sonny Sharrock. He emerged in the late 1960s as a school of one, playing free jazz with the raw power of electric blues and the sonic edge of rock guitar, bringing a signal force to recordings like Pharoah Sanders’ Tauhid and Miles Davis’ Jack Johnson. Over the following years Sharrock was in and out of music, until forming an association with bassist/producer Bill Laswell. The fruits of that association included the explosive band Last Exit and this CD from 1991, Sharrock’s last recording as a leader before his death in 1994.

Sharrock has ideal partners here, including saxophonist Sanders, drummer Elvin Jones and the younger bassist Charnett Moffett, all of them sharing a vision of music possessing palpable spiritual power. The music is often anthemic with a sonic density rare in jazz (thanks to Laswell’s production) and an emotional power seldom approached in jazz fusion. There’s a perfect balance between Sanders’ apocalyptic rant and Sharrock’s own wild inventiveness, from the skittering electric chatter of Promises Kept to the illuminated eloquence of Who Does She Hope to Be?, his ringing, sustained sound the closest a guitarist will likely ever get to the spirit of John Coltrane.

The match of the four musicians on each of Sharrock’s six compositions is uncanny, achieving its greatest power on Many Mansions, Sanders wailing above Jones’ thunderous drumming while Sharrock and Moffett generate a pulsing wall of sound.

Advanced Jazz’s Fountain of Youth

One common shibboleth of mid-20th century creative music was that “jazz was a young man’s art.” Putting aside the sexism implicit in the statement, the idea denied jazz musicians the sort of late career acclaim that notated music masters like Pablo Casals and Vladimir Horowitz enjoyed. Times have more than changed. Expanded from the Baby Boomer cliché that “50 is the new 30” and its upwards affiliations, career longevity is now taken for granted in all serious music. These CDs recorded by improvised musicians in their 70s attest to that.

01 Ran Blake Ghost TonesTake American pianist Ran Blake for example, now 80 and usually found in a solo or duo context. But Ghost Tones (A side 0001 a-siderecords.com), created when he was a mere 75, is a more ambitious project. The 17-track CD reconstitutes the compositions/arrangements of jazz theorist George Russell (1923-2009) written for combos or big bands. Blake plays solo acoustic or electric piano framed by interjections from horns, strings, electronics and even a second piano. Like a curator who situates artifacts in modern settings, Blake’s conceptions are both contemporary and faithful to the originals. The Ballad of Hix Blewitt for instance, receives a tripartite setting with Rachel Massey’s violin sounding impressionistic sweetness; Dave “Knife” Fabris’ steel guitar reverberating with country music melancholy; and both setting off Blake’s melody variations. A similar transformation affects You Are My Sunshine which begins and ends with steel-guitar twanging, but is defined by a middle section of dissonant improvisations between Fabris and Blake. Jack’s Blues, in contrast, features Ryan Dugre’s tough guitar chording atop a brass choir, as blues-tinted piano lines weave in and out of the narration like a taxi in heavy traffic, finally introducing blues sensibility in the penultimate moments. The futuristic Stratusphunk is a solo piano feature that invests the theme with call-and-response patterning. yet retains the tune’s linear status. Still, the paramount indication of Blake’s skill appears on the forbiddingly titled Vertical Form VI and the theatrical Lonely Place. On the first, a sense of underlying swing is brought forward with tympani rat tat tats, trombone blats and Blake trading riffs with electric pianist Eric Lane. Lonely Place’s emotional lonesomeness is expressed as Aaron Hartley’s plunger trombone echoes and Doug Pet’s free-flowing tenor saxophone lines are superseded by Blake’s precise and icy harmonies.

02 FreeFormAnother session honouring a departed improviser, but one who was around to participate in this, his final session, is Free Form Improvisation Ensemble 2013 (Improvising Beings ib 40 improvising-beings.com). To be honest, while the hiccupping smears emanating from French-Moroccan tenor saxophonist Abdelhaï Bennani (1950-2015) are interesting as he meanders through these two CDs of linked abstract improvisations, (as is the low-key drumming of Chris Henderson), the focus lies elsewhere. Like famous actors who make cameo appearances in small films, Bennani’s timbral strategy is cushioned or enhanced due to the contributions of American expatriates, pianist Burton Greene, now 78, and Alan Silva, now 76, who plays orchestral synthesizer. Some of Silva’s electronic double-bass approximations give a few of the 13 live improvisations a percussive rhythm that they otherwise lack. Elsewhere the oscillating sheets of sound the synthesizer produces wash over the other players like a cyclone-induced rainstorm. Silva’s blurry processes cascade in such a way to encourage the saxophonist’s harsh interface. But more often than not, whether in tandem with Bennani or on his own, it’s Greene’s considered patterns which pierce Silva’s murky enveloping sounds like a nail through wood. Almost from the beginning, the pianist’s centipede-like reach sharpens the program as he moves along the keys and symbolically within the cracks between them. With oscillating ponderousness on one side and hesitant reed puffs and percussion clatter on the other, it’s Greene who emphasizes the rhythmic thrust at the end of CD1 to create a groove. On the second disc, as Greene varies his attack from impressionistic classicism to Thelonious Monk-like angularity, he brings out sympathetic low-pitched timbres from Silva which encourage the saxophonist’s whinnying cries, and adds some levity via a lively cadenced solo in the middle. By the concluding minutes, Silva’s mass of processing retreats to bring the saxophonist into the foreground. Reading too much into Bennani’s restrained buzzes and puffs may be like those critics who portend the demise of writers by analyzing their final prose, but Bennani’s leaky, brittle tone does appear to be that of a man playing his own threnody. Luckily, the older but more nimble Silva, and especially Greene, are on hand to add palliative empathy.

03 TiconderogaAnother improviser whose broad-mindedness and experimentation are not affected by age is saxophonist Joe McPhee, 76, who is recording and playing as prolifically now as he has since he started recording in the late 1960s. Ticonderoga (Clean Feed 345 CD cleanfeedrecords.com) finds him sharing space with a near-contemporary drummer, Charles Downs, 72, as well as pianist Jamie Saft and bassist Joe Morris, who are two or three decades younger. In this classic formation, McPhee glides between tenor and soprano, extruding textures weighty and coarse as lumber, but adding cunning aviary-pitched trills from the smaller horn. Like the mortar that bonds bricks, Downs’ collection of clunks and raps builds a strong foundation able to support any embellished strategy. Similarly, tremolo pulses and bow-sourced sprawls allow Morris to accompany and solo. Though like a tugboat alongside the ocean liner which is McPhee, Saft never abandons the background role. At the same time he uses calming harp-like string plucks and stops as frequently as keyboard tropes. With balladic tones transformed via altissimo screams into dagger-sharp notes as he plots an original path, the saxophonist’s skill is most obvious on Leaves of Certain and A Backward King. Like a mathematician scrawling numerous formulae on a blackboard, McPhee treats the first as a testing ground for exotic multiphonics, stretching out an assembly line’s worth of reed textures to form variegated patterns. Finally, alongside Saft’s yearning glissandi he settles on dual tones created by shouting into his saxophone’s body tube as he masticates the reed. The result is a finale that satisfies with no letdown in excitement. Cheerful, buoyed by Saft’s guileless patterning, A Backward King initially highlights Saft exposing so many keyboard colours that he could be figuratively knitting a rainbow-dyed scarf. A subsequent processional piano statement presages McPhee’s shift from snarky stridency to gentle ballad variations, until the two swiftly reverse the process like a car backing up, and construct a new garment out of half-puckered sax blasts and half inside-piano plucks. Climatically though, Morris’ background patterning produces a pluck so dexterous and directional that it soothes the others into moderato attachment and then silence.

04 BornFreeMore than 40 years separate South African drummer Louis Moholo-Moholo, 75, and Italian pianist Livio Minafra, 33. But during Born Free (Incipit Records 203 egeamusic.com) the South African-Italian duo produces enthralling episodes of cinched improvisations and compositions. The CD attains its creative zenith on Flying Flamingos. Operating like two halves of a single entity, each man’s measured tones slip into place like the bolt in a lock. Exhorted verbally and by Moholo-Moholo’s jouncing minimal drum patterns, Minafra frames his narrative with rugged honky-tonk-like keyboard splashes, only to emphasize a sparkling easy swing in the tune’s centre. This responsive patterning is expressed throughout, as the two move through episodes of almost-Disney-cartoon-like tenderness on a tune such as Angel Nemali; to the repressed ferocity of Foxtrot, where acute drum pummelling and choppy, high-pitched key clattering up the piece’s Charlie Chaplin-like waddle to sprinter’s speed. Like a racing car that accelerates to 160 mph from zero, the two demonstrate similar control on the introductory and closing variations on Canto General, with the pianist’s glissandi at warp speed on the first, and the drummer’s literal collection of bells and whistles prominent on the second. This package also includes a DVD with filmed episodes from the performances plus commentary from both players.

05 WelcomeBackDuring his long career Moholo-Moholo has played in many duo situations including a memorable CD with Swiss pianist Irène Schweizer. Like the other innovators here, Schweizer, 74, divides her work between playing with younger musicians and her contemporaries. Welcome Back (Intakt 254 intaktrec.ch) is titled that way since it’s the second duo CD the pianist and Dutch drummer Han Bennink, 73, have recorded. The first was in 1995. Acting their age, the two breeze through 14 tracks with élan, excitement and empathy. Schweizer’s gracious variations on ditties like Meet Me Tonight in Dreamland are mocked by bomb dropping and whistles from Bennink, but eventually overcome his disruption when she adds a touch of stride. Meanwhile jazz classic Eronel is wrapped up in fewer than two minutes, with the pianist’s pumping percussiveness swinging the contorted line. Like a reveller trying on several masks at a costume party, Schweizer’s original meld of (Thelonious) Monkish angularity, South African highlife and earlier jazz forms are showcased on Kit 4, Ntyilo, Ntyilo and Rag, with the first shapeshifting to staccato hardness abetted by the drummer’s clattering; the second theatrical and respectful, plus ending with the sonic equivalent of a multi-hued sunset; and the last narrative swelling to Willie “The Lion” Smith-style finger-busting swing. She and Bennink confirm their seasoned status on Free for All, gliding over different styles with feather-light key pressure and brush strokes that sound like sand rubbed on the snare, before intervallic leaps expose kinetic underpinnings. But the key track is Schweizer’s own Bleu Foncé. Like a detective series where the characters are known, but surprises appear in every episode, Schweizer’s variations on a traditional blues are true to the form, yet on top of Bennink’s condensed shuffle beat, she adds feints and emphasis to express her creative individuality.

George Bernard Shaw once said that “youth is wasted on the young.” In the case of these improvisers though, when it comes to music at least, age is just a number.

01 Emilie Claire BarlowClear Day
Emilie-Claire Barlow; ECB Band; Metropole Orkest; Jules Buckley
eOne eCD-CD5841 (emilieclairebarlow.com)

Arguably, multiple-award-winning jazz vocalist, Emilie-Claire Barlow, is one of the finest singer/musicians that Canada has ever produced. Blessed with an impressive musical genome, Barlow has consistently challenged herself, all the while continuing to mature into the impressive and accomplished artist that she is today. With her 11th recording, Barlow has partnered her stunning voice and arranging skills with the world-renowned Metropole Orkest conducted by Jules Buckley.

Barlow and Steve Webster act as Producers here, and the eclectic programme is comprised of material from the unlikely musical bedfellows of Pat Metheny, Coldplay, Brad Mehldau, David Bowie, Joni Mitchell, Canadian pianist/composer Gord Sheard and more. Described by Barlow herself as a “personal journey over the last four years,” this recording is a portrait of the artist as a mature women poised at the full apex of her skill, talent, inspiration and power. Also included in this recording are arrangements featuring Barlow’s excellent band, with Reg Schwager on guitar, Jon Maharaj on bass, Chris Donnelly on piano, Larnell Lewis on drums and Kelly Jefferson on reeds.

The CD opens with the spacious and magical Amundsen by noted bassist/composer Shelly Berger, which segues seamlessly into a dynamic and fresh arrangement of the near title-song, Burton Lane’s On a Clear Day. Other impressive tracks include a tender, string-laden take on Coldplay’s Fix You and a sensual, jazz-infused version of Paul Simon’s Feelin’ Groovy (replete with a masterful guitar solo from Schwager). Of special note is Barlow’s arrangement of Joni Mitchell’s I Don’t Know Where I Stand, sung here with the soaring, crystalline purity of her magnificent vocal instrument.

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