02 Mellisa LaurenYour Mess
Melissa Lauren
Independent ML2015 (melissalaurenmusic.ca)

Melissa Lauren is a prolific young songwriter and she has released her second album of (mostly) original songs in three years. Lauren collaborated on songwriting and production for Your Mess with Toronto bassist Mark Cashion. The album is about the chaos and heartbreak of life as we stumble our way through and despite such relatively serious themes the songs are mostly upbeat and playful.

The album opens with two songs – Room is Too Small and Walk Behind Me – that have an air of the 50s and 60s about them as Lauren adds a bit of gutsiness to her delicate, pretty voice. The title track is given a sort of New Orleans style with swampy effect courtesy of guitarist Eric St-Laurent and Sly Juhas on drums. The album is sparingly produced with guitar, bass and drums in various combinations being the main accompaniment, but guitarist Nathan Hiltz breaks out the uke and gets strummy for the bouncy Houses which is all about being content with your current situation and which suits Lauren's voice to a T. There is a sprinkling of covers on Your Mess and the band's gorgeous slowed-down take on the Police tune Every Little Thing He Does is Magic is a highlight.

03 SupersteinWhat Goes On
Andrea Superstein
Cellar Live CL073015 (andreasuperstein.com)

The young Montreal-born, Vancouver-based chanteuse faced a big challenge to improve on her stellar EP, Stars. With talent in spades, Andrea Superstein not only made great strides, but has slipped in a rather memorable sophomore album with What Goes On. Twice as long as Stars, this noirish album is replete with repertoire well-suited to her gorgeous, sultry and sensuous voice. If you want to know what exactly that means just listen to her take on Cole Porter’s I Love Paris. Not only do you get a sense of what it is to breathe in the melancholy and crowded loneliness of crepuscular Paris, but you will also get a wonderful sense of the dramatic tension that Superstein can bring to a song that has been done over and over again. And if you thought that no vocalist could ever bring anything new to a classic, think again.

Superstein sings in beautifully shaded dialogue with her accompanists, often slipping into blissfully exquisite murmurs and slanted whispers, singing seductively as she conveys a lover’s infatuation, a wounded partner and an ecstatic bride. Her vocal slurs punctuate clipped and long, loping lines. At her flippant best she can resemble a gazelle gone delightfully crazy as she catches the scent of rain. Her extroverted personality is wonderfully geared to maximize her storytelling ability as well the stylish declamation of poetry in song.

04 Lambert ondesLes Ondes Célestes
Gabriel Lambert
Jazz from Rant
1549 (nette.ca/jazzfromrant)

The label Jazz from Rant is very much a family affair, projects by composer/drummer Michel Lambert, his partner Jeannette Lambert and her brother Reg Schwager. With this CD, guitarist Gabriel Lambert, Michel's nephew, joins what may be the first family of Canadian jazz.

Lambert is a fleet-fingered guitarist, and his thoughtful improvisations are clearly articulated with a bright, glassy sound. What makes the CD remarkable, however, is that it hardly sounds like a debut at all. His compositions mingle influences from both classical and jazz sources – serialism, modes and free improvisation – but the music always feels organized, testament to both the coherence of his vision and the developed empathy of the band.

The first half of the CD consists of four individual pieces. Le mystérieux ordre des choses has bassist Adrian Vedady and drummer Michel Lambert developing a drone before Gabriel Lambert enters playing a serial melody, creating the kind of tonal tension that sustains much of the work here. Approximation #2 demonstrates Gabriel Lambert and pianist Andres Vial's gift for developed scalar improvisation in a Coltrane vein, while Approximation #3 employs a Messiaen mode to develop a heightened calm.

The second half is devoted to the four-part suite, Les Ondes Célestes, in which the influences of Schoenberg and Messiaen are further integrated, until the work concludes with Les ondes, the conventional instruments of a jazz quartet creating a dreamlike state of bowed strings and shimmering cymbals and piano. It's a fitting transformation to conclude an imaginative recording.

05 Way NorthKings County
Way North
Independent (dangerherring.com/waynorth)

Way North explores roots-based music in a highly contemporary framework. The quartet is a collective comprised of Toronto-based musicians, trumpeter Rebecca Hennessy and bassist Michael Herring along with Brooklynites Petr Cancura on saxophone and clarinet and Richie Barshay on the drums. The music is instantly inviting and infectious with a capacity for taking the listener to unexpected places. The often contrapuntal nature of both the writing and the improvising brings an earlier era of jazz to mind, specifically New Orleans, albeit a NOLA for the millennium. Rarely does a solo go on for too long without being joined by another voice or voices. At times the group improvisations can sound as if they were composed, meshing seamlessly with the written parts.

Each of the group’s members has contributed compositions to the recording, resulting in a coherent and satisfying flow of tunes. Cancura’s Where the Willows Grow evolves from a slow march to a bass solo that becomes a duet with trumpet before being joined by the rest of the group. Treefology is a Michael Herring composition that combines counterpoint with unison melodies over a second- line groove. Trumpet and saxophone continue the theme, soloing together with remarkable unity of intent. Hennessy’s Kings County Sheriff is a five-beat figure with a tango-like feel. Her poignant flamenco-ish solo is met by Cancura’s sax solo which ranges effortlessly from an intense growl to modern chromaticism. The tune, like the rest of the album, revels in the spirit of lively conversation.

06 Ken McDonaldSitting, Waiting, Wasting Time
Ken McDonald Quartet
Independent (ken-mcdonald.ca)

Bassist and composer Ken McDonald’s latest outing, Sitting, Waiting, Wasting Time, exemplifies the highly informed yet searching nature of much of the music being heard from a new generation of jazz musicians. Schooled in the tradition, they bring a host of their own influences to this ever-evolving music. McDonald’s quartet is a lean affair that takes full advantage of its pared-down instrumentation to create a group sound that is instantly relatable and identifiable. The seven self-penned compositions offer original twists on some classic jazz themes such as the blues and up-tempo swing while venturing into calypso, Brazilian and Middle Eastern flavours.

Drummer Lowell Whitty and bassist McDonald form a highly adaptable and conversational rhythm section. The front line of saxophonist Paul Metcalfe and guitarist/oud player Demetri Petsalakis are well matched in their aggressive funkiness and bring both humour and risk-taking to the proceedings. Apocalypso, the opening tune, features an island groove and establishes the band’s sound in the angularity of the writing and the sense of space in the ensemble. Metcalf’s tenor solo has a playful quality that is in sync with Whitty’s interactive drumming. Petsalakis, with his slightly overdriven guitar sound and fluid style, expresses himself in ways that are equally melodic and edgy. Moon features a haunting melody played by oud and soprano saxophone. The dynamic arrangement and unusual instrumentation take this recording into world music territory in a way that seems totally consistent with its openness of vision.

07 Samuel BlaserSpring Rain
Samuel Blaser Quartet
Whirlwind Recordings WR 4620 (whirlwindrecords.com)

An original variant on the practice of saluting earlier jazz heroes by recording their tunes, Swiss-born, Berlin-based trombonist Samuel Blaser honours Jimmy Giuffre’s early 1960s trio with pianist Paul Bley and bassist Steve Swallow, by recording five of its tunes plus seven originals in restrained chamber- jazz style. But even as Blaser empathizes with the particular sound constructed by compositions Giuffre and Carla Bley wrote for the trio, he’s like a chair designer modernizing the ergonomic concepts of 50 years ago to 2015.

For a start he uses a quartet not a trio, and while there’s a sympathetic bassist in Drew Gress, his trombone and Gerald Cleaver’s drums replace Giuffre’s reeds. Most prominently, instead of using sparse acoustic piano inferences exclusively, keyboardist Russ Lossing emphasizes the textures from Fender Rhodes, Wurlitzer and mini-Moog. With Gress’ sympathetic string bumping and Cleaver’s dextrous patterning providing a taut rhythmic foundation, the others are free to bend melodies origami-like into novel shapes. For example, Bley’s Temporarily is souped-up with a stop-time arrangement; and Trudgin’, a Giuffre line, becomes more ambulatory as Lossing’s rococo electric piano fills make the journey buoyant as well as lengthier. Giuffre’s classic plaint, Cry Want, may ramble along like a drive in the country, but Blaser’s roistering slide blasts and the pianist’s ability to roughen the texture by mauling chords, activates the piece from its bucolic repose.

Blaser’s originals are as contemporary as a clock on a smart phone, but the same way that timekeeping is based on the classic Swiss concern for precision, most don’t neglect the coiled nonchalance suggested by the Giuffre3. Missing Mark Suetterlyn, for instance, is a pensive ballad built up from the Wurlitzer’s drenched glissandi plus staggered drum beats; while Umbra, featuring only piano and trombone, is as tranquil as anything Giuffre created. On the other hand two unaccompanied tracks showcase Blaser’s unalloyed instrumental command. And The First Snow is actually a near blizzard that picks up cues from 1970s fusion via the juddering Rhodes. Authentic in its reflection of sounds past, present and future, the CD is another fluid example of this brass player’s flourishing talent.

08 ArtifactsArtifacts
482 Music 482-1093 (482.com)

Deciding to honour earlier members of Chicago’s Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM) during the organization’s 50th anniversary year, flutist Nicole Mitchell, cellist Tomeka Reid and drummer Mike Reed – AACMers themselves – initiated this nonpareil program. Like musicians who miniaturize symphonic scores for chamber ensembles, the three dextrously reimagine pieces composed for larger, usually saxophone-oriented bands, so that the vibrant swing of the pieces is expressed alongside their exploratory natures.

Cases in point are two tunes by drummer Steve McCall, B.K. and I’ll be Right Here Waiting, which flow seamlessly into one another; plus saxophonist Ed Wilkerson’s Light on the Path. During the first two, as the slaps and strums from Reid’s cello inhabit the double bass role and Reed contributes pointed rat-tat-tats, joyous benevolence is expressed in Mitchell’s measured but lighthearted flute cadenzas. Livelier still, Light on the Path mates a masterful shuffle beat with near-rainbow-hues of timbres from the flutist. As Reed’s whimsical beats couple with Mitchell’s double and triple tonguing, the elasticity of the theme stretches enough so that it’s almost sonically diaphanous.

Vocally intoning the title lyrics throughout while adding double-stopping string harmonies and judicious electronic wobbles, the trio’s variant of pianist Amina Claudine Myers’ Have Mercy on Us brings out the exotic as well as the ecclesiastical essence of the composition. Even Composition 238, a piece by the reputedly difficult, multi-instrumentalist Anthony Braxton, is transformed into a deft swinger; while pianist Muhal Richard Abrams’ Munkt Monk becomes an angular near-march. Together, skittering cello twangs, a harsh tongue-fluttering flute line and Reed`s perfectly timed drum beats conjure up images of the hippest fife-and-drum corps that ever played, demystifying these AACM classics as they expand them.

By manifestly remaining themselves while saluting older inspirations, Mitchell, Reid and Reed have created the perfect golden anniversary present for the AACM … and the listener.

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