With each successive CD, Darren Sigesmund has become a more distinctive and accomplished composer and bandleader. His previous one, Strands III, made brilliant use of Eliana Cuevas’ wordless vocals on ensemble passages and here he employs two New Yorkers, violinist Mark Feldman and pianist/accordionist Gary Versace, to create dramatically different instrumental textures in company with his own trombone. While that last CD had a certain Brazilian feel to it, New Quintet (darrensigesmund.ca) sometimes has a distinctly French quality, Feldman’s dramatic and impassioned violin combine with the reediness of Versace’s accordion to suggest an ancient café ambience. Much of the music has a limpid lyricism but it moves with an underlying rhythmic power, propelled by bassist Jim Vivian and drummer Ethan Ardelli. Sigesmund is as tuneful an improviser as he is a composer, bringing a special, slightly muffled warmth and subtle inflections to his every solo.


When Ross Taggart passed away at 45 in January of 2013, he was among Vancouver’s most prominent musicians, an accomplished saxophonist, pianist and composer who inspired the love and respect of his community. Several recordings have been dedicated to Taggart since his death, but two new releases highlight the breadth of that community. Legacy, The Music Of Ross Taggart (Cellar Live CL122914480, cellarlive.com) by the Jill Townsend Big Band is a substantial document of his work by a band in which he had played saxophone for a decade. It’s a crisp, precise big band with some outstanding soloists, including special guest Campbell Ryga who plays soprano sax on three tunes. Townsend and guitarist Bill Coon have done a fine job of arranging Taggart’s small-group music (and even a piano solo) for big band, ranging from fairly conventional, hard-swinging fare like Don’t Call Before 10 to the CD’s finest work, Light at the End of the Tunnel, on which Coon expands Taggart’s imaginative harmonies into a lustrous orchestral gem. Reminiscent of Kenny Wheeler’s work, it’s highlighted by Brad Turner’s flugelhorn solo.


A very different work is also dedicated to Taggart: A Bowl of Sixty Taxidermists (Songlines SGL 1611-2, songlines.com) by Waxwing, a trio that seems to create its own genre, a kind of jazz suffused with folk music. Much of the music is composed by saxophonist (and over-dubbed multi-instrumentalist) Jon Bentley, who played in Taggart’s quartet and possesses a gorgeous tone from the school of Stan Getz. The mood is reflective, at times playful, rather than somber, with cellist Peggy Lee and guitarist Tony Wilson contributing strongly melodic compositions and improvisations to this often spare and resonant music. Taking its title from a phrase of Taggart’s, the work is less about loss than passage, a gentle trip into the unknown. Lee’s contributions include a distinctive arrangement of the traditional Clementine while Wilson’s tunes commemorate both Taggart (For Ross) and drummer Claude Ranger (For Claude), who disappeared in 2000.


Canada has had few sustained specialist jazz labels and nothing else like Toronto’s Sackville, running from its launch in 1968 by John Norris and Bill Smith until Norris’ death in 2010, recording music from stride piano to the avant-garde. Chicago’s Delmark has now revived the label, and many of Canada’s best jazz recordings are back in circulation, like guitarist Reg Schwager and bassist Don Thompson’s Live at Mezzetta (Sackville 2057, delmark.com). The two craft intimate, masterful versions of a series of standards, bringing fresh perspectives to In a Sentimental Mood and Willow Weep For Me.


One unusual item from the catalogue is Humphrey Lyttelton in Canada (Sackville SK3033, delmark.com) which matches the English trumpeter with a stellar Toronto supporting cast, including Scottish transplant Jim Galloway on saxophones and the highly flexible rhythm section of guitarist Ed Bickert, drummer Terry Clarke and bassist Neil Swainson, here tempering their more modernist bent. While Lyttelton gained fame in the English trad revival, here he blends a Louis Armstrong influence with a swing style rooted in Basie and Ellington. The music is lively, joyous and consistently well-played, its happiest moments coming on the West Indies-flavoured Caribana Queen.

06_Red__Blue_Aldcroft.jpgGuitarist Ken Aldcroft and trombonist Scott Thomson present a series of four freely improvised duets on Red & Blue (Trio Records TRP-D503-021, kenaldcroft.com/triorecords.asp). The music is continually shifting and evolving, moving from rapid-fire runs to pointillist exchanges and dialogues in which one offers empathetic support to the other. Aldcroft stays close to the traditional timbre of a lightly amplified jazz guitar, while expanding the vocabulary with percussive effects and skittering chord runs that move in and out of tonal expectations; Thomson’s explorations of the trombone include barnyard noises, extreme upper register effects and very rapid tonguing. However, it’s what they have in common that’s most significant: a willingness to reduce their sounds to whispers and to listen to one another intently and creatively. This is subtle, challenging music that responds best to the same kind of close listening that the musicians bring to it.


Scott Thomson also appears on another recent recording that may be the least abstract CD of the year. Led by drummer Dave Clark, the Woodshed Orchestra is a joyous musical free-for-all, part brass band and part parody thereof. On Brass Bandit (Independent, thewoodshedorchestra.com), the 11-member group includes other distinguished improvisers like bassist Michael Herring and saxophonist Karen Ng. Here you might think of it as a New Orleans funeral parade that keeps getting lost. A couple of times it wanders into streets that lead to the Balkans and the Adriatic, while at others it appears to get the sequence confused, celebrating first (Love Letter to New Orleans with a great blatting solo from Thomson) and mourning later (Prayer) with funk in between (The Griff). Everybody in the band sings, including Susanna Hood, though her vocal talents aren’t required for group recitatives like Pennie + Mousie’s Antidotal Lullabye and A Politician. The CD lasts a brief 26 minutes, but it has energy and spirit to spare. 

01_Robi_Botos.jpgMovin’ Forward
Robi Botos
A440 Entertainment A440 010 (robibotos.com)

Robi Botos, the highly respected jazz piano player, has released a fourth CD as leader. Since arriving in Canada in 1998 from his native Hungary he has become one of the most in-demand piano players in Toronto for both recordings and live gigs. His mentoring by the great Oscar Peterson shows in his prodigious but not overly showy technique. Movin’ Forward is mostly originals – with the exception of Close to You by Bacharach/David and the standard Softly as in a Morning Sunrise – and, like his mentor, Botos’ songwriting style is melodic and swinging. There are influences of funk and Eastern European music and some tracks edge over into modern, but the style is mostly mainstream and accessible.

The album opens with the New Orleans-style EurOrleans then goes more hard-driving with CapTAIN KirkLAND, a tribute to Kenny Kirkland, a friend of Jeff “Tain” Watts who is featured on the track. Botos’ bandmates for Movin’ Forward are among the American jazz elite – in addition to Watts on drums, Robert Leslie Hurst III is on bass and Seamus Blake plays saxes and EWI. These multiple Grammy Award-winning players bring authority and facility to the tracks as they are given ample room to stretch, both on the lovely ballads such as Violet (a tribute to Botos’ wife) and the hard-driving Heisenberg which I can only assume is a tribute to the TV drama Breaking Bad. Which shows that inspiration can come from just about anywhere.


Ariel Pocock
Justin Time JTR 8592-2 (arielpocock.com)

For her debut CD, young, fresh and talented keyboardist/vocalist/composer/arranger Ariel Pocock has assembled a team of skilled colleagues – beginning with veteran Producer Matt Pierson, who, during his tenure at Warner Bros. Records, discovered and successfully produced an array of today’s top jazz luminaries, including Joshua Redman and Brad Mehldau. Pocock’s instrumental colleagues include some of our finest contemporary jazz artists, including Larry Grenadier on bass, Julian Lage on guitar, Eric Harland on drums and percussion and Seamus Blake on tenor saxophone. Indeed, Pierson and Pocock’s indisputable and intuitive good taste has informed every track of this fine opening salvo.

Like many emerging artists, Pocock feels free to incorporate a plethora of musical styles, and although firmly rooted in jazz, she seems to reject categorization – freely drawing upon the musical influences of Cuban and Brazilian folk music, standards from The Great American Songbook, iconic jazz composers such as Keith Jarrett and Thelonious Monk, and the contributions of meta-genre pop artists Tom Waits, Randy Newman and James Taylor.

Whether Pocock is scat singing, rendering a powerful lyric or exercising her considerable keyboard chops, her innate musicality shines through. There is so much “right” about this recording, that it is a challenge to distill it into comments about just a few of the exceptional tracks… but clear triumphs include Bob Dorough’s Devil May Care, Randy Newman’s Real Emotional Girl, Charles Mingus’ Ugly Beauty/Still We Dream and Kate Bush’s Mother Stands for Comfort.

No doubt, this auspicious debut bodes well for Pocock’s forthcoming long and relevant artistic career.


03_BradfordCarter.jpgNo U Turn
Bobby Bradford & John Carter Quintet
Dark Tree DT (RS) 05 (darktree-records.com)

Two of his earliest associates demonstrate how thoroughly Ornette Coleman’s concepts of freedom had penetrated the music’s lingua franca, in this 1975 never-before-released concert from Pasadena. Profoundly analytical, yet with an animated pulse, cornetist Bobby Bradford – an on-off member of Coleman’s quartet for years – and influential clarinetist and soprano saxophonist John Carter, divide the compositional chores during nuanced performances that are craggy and irregular as a mountain path, but always explicit in direction. Pointedly using two basses – Roberto Miranda and Stanley Carter – at times playing arco, the results suggest the calmness of a chamber intermezzo, though drummer William Jeffrey’s dislocated rhythmic accents keep the sounds edgy as well as swinging.

Consider how the fluent clarinet passages arch over the others’ notes, while playing in near tandem with the cornet bringing up pseudo-Dixieland memories on the concluding Circle for instance. Still chiming double-double bass line and a freer percussion tempo confirm the tune’s modernity, a certainty strengthened by Bradford’s sky-high blasts and Carter uniquely exploring the woody qualities of his horn. This sense of continuum plus imminent discovery permeates the four other tunes, especially one like She. Initially developed from a series of slurred grace notes from both horns, its passionate mood is maintained by euphonious string motions and the drummer’s positioned rim shots. After Carter’s syncopated tremolos set up a counter melody, he joins Bradford’s melancholic chirps for a dual coda of heart-breaking sighs.

Like Coleman who died this June, Carter (1929-1991) is no longer with us; but Bradford is still going strong at 80. Both Texans, again like Coleman, singly and together the co-leaders demonstrate how sound deconstruction isn’t frightening, as long as it, like Coleman’s concepts, is coupled with a direct rhythm. No U Turn may be the paramount expression of this truism.


04_halie_loren.jpgButterfly Blue
Halie Loren
Justin Time JTR 8591-2 halieloren.com

Gifted vocalist and composer Halie Loren’s latest recording (her eighth) is all about transformation and the resilient nature of the human heart. In keeping with these themes, Alaskan-born Loren has deftly selected a musical palette that incorporates not only beloved standards from The Great American Songbook, but well-written contemporary and original compositions as well as a beloved jazz anthem of hope. Loren acts as co-producer here, along with pianist/composer Matt Treder – and she is firmly and beautifully supported by her longtime rhythm section including Treder, bassist Mark Schneider and drummer Brian West. Tastefully arranged horns and strings also grace the project in all of the right places.

The original opening track, Yellow Bird, is a stunner and Loren’s sumptuous, multi-tracked vocals and jaunty horn arrangement makes this tune a total delight. Another gem is I Wish You Love (Que reste-t-il de nos amours?), which was a huge hit for Keely Smith in 1957. It is no easy task to perform a venerable song that has been previously interpreted and imbue it with your own special emotional language and musical statement… but Loren has done just that, in spades. With her smoky, resonant alto voice, gorgeous French and innovative instrumentation, she has firmly affixed this classic ballad with her own special stamp.

Other delights include a languid and smouldering take on Harold Arlen’s Stormy Weather, a bluesy reboot of the Dubin and Warren tin-pan alley classic Boulevard of Broken Dreams and the late jazz giant Horace Silver’s heartbreakingly beautiful Peace – the ultimate song of transcendence and healing, rendered simply, movingly and lovingly by Loren.


06_Lama.jpgThe Elephant’s Journey
Lama + Joachim Badenhorst
Clean Feed CF 332 CD (cleanfeed-records.com)

Expressing themselves on a CD that is surprisingly calm as well as cutting edge are the members of the Lama group, who also extend the band’s internationalism with this memorable set. Consisting of trumpeter Susana Santos Silva from Porto, Portugal, plus Portuguese bassist Gonçalo Almeida and Montreal-born drummer Greg Smith, both of whom live in Rotterdam; the trio’s guest on The Elephant’s Journey is Belgian clarinetist Joachim Badenhorst. Instead of adding unnecessary weight to the musical pachyderm’s load, Badenhorst joins Silva in creating resilient acoustic timbres which are buoyant enough to coordinate nicely with the other instruments’ electronically enhanced structures.

Like the use of an animal trainer’s hook, arrangements on the eight tracks here adeptly direct the themes so that their singularity is apparent with little pressure added to the load of the titular camelid. Case in point is The Gorky’s Sky, where Almeida’s string slaps, surmounting harmonized group precision, make the reedist’s Dolphy-like tremolo dissonance appear to come from within an ensemble larger than a quartet. Smith’s percussion prowess gets a workout on Crime & Punishment, but there’s no felony associated with his bass-drum accents which downplay clashes and clatter, while triumphant trumpet blasts mixed with bass clarinet snorts confirm that Lama plus one can operate with the speed and efficiency of the best swing era combos. At the same time, although Silva’s chirping hockets often create enough unusual obbligatos to the spider web-like patterning of Badenhorst’s timbres, additional experimentation isn’t neglected either. Smith’s composition Murkami – the other tunes are all by Almeida – finds the clarinetist expressing a sour, bansuri-like squeak before the combination of lustrous trumpet extensions and positioned bass strokes surmount the dissonance with meditative calm.

Featuring textures that are both quixotic and pointed, the concluding Don Quixote includes understated electronic loops, contralto reed slurs, string pressures that move crab-like across the bass face, Smith’s tabla-like drone and Silva’s melodious brass accents. By the time the track finishes, it – and the CD – show that careful cooperation among equals leads to a summation of Lama’s skills rather than a quest for novelty.


As the Guelph Jazz Festival (GJF) settles into maturity, dependable musical choices and the vagaries of touring mean that a few of the performers at this year’s bash, September 16 to 20, are featured in more than one ensemble. The happy end result is that the audience gets to sample some musicians’ skills in more than one challenging setting.

01_HookUp.jpgTake drummer Tomas Fujiwara for instance. On September 17 at Heritage Hall (HH), he’s one-third of the Thumbscrew band with guitarist Mary Halvorson and bassist Michael Formanek, Then on September 20 at the Guelph Little Theatre (GLT) he and Halvorson are part of cornetist Taylor Ho Bynum’s sextet. After All is Said, Fujiwara’s CD with The Hook Up (482 Music 482-1089) includes Halvorson and Formanek, plus tenor saxophonist/flutist Brian Settles and trumpeter Jonathan Finlayson. Displaying rare ability as a composer as well as a percussionist – all seven tunes are his – Fujiwara’s lines are rife with unselfconscious conviviality. At the same time, as a piece like Boaster’s Roast demonstrates, effervescent riffs don’t mask the tune’s rugged core, which his thrashing patterns and the guitarist’s intense vibrations supply. Similarly on Solar Wind, smooth horn harmonies back the drummer shaping Native Indian-like tom-tom beats to a jazz program. With themes usually passed from instrument to instrument throughout, there’s also space for Settles’ (Stan) Getzian flutter tones, hocketing leads from Finlayson and unique interludes from Halvorson that move chameleon-like from folksy strumming to obdurate power chords.

02_GhostLoop.jpgAdditional instances of Halvorson’s skills are evident on Ghost Loop (ForTune 0010/010 for-tune.pl), except here, unlike Thumbscrew, she is joined by solid bassist John Hébert and drummer Ches Smith. Smith’s ingenious approach to percussion can be heard at the GJF though. On September 18 he’s part of saxophonist Darius Jones’ quartet at the GLT and at the A place the next night he works double duty in both Marc Ribot’s Ceramic Dog trio and the Bly De Blyant band. A live date from Poland, Ghost Loop (No.43) effectively demonstrates how much can be done with just three instruments, as themes encompassing the most pliable pastoral patterns or the most raucous battering ram-like authority, and much in-between, are elaborated. On Existential Tearings (No.44) for instance the three could be mistaken for a heavy metal trio as Halvorson’s harsh twangs mirror Smith’s anvil-hard pump. Meantime following an expansive scene-setting intro from Hébert, the guitarist fashions a multi-hued tone exposition on the title tune as if she had 88 piano keys at her disposal. Expressing the band’s overall duality, the final Deformed Weight of Hands (No.28) is both blunt and balanced, with the guitarist relaxing into legato picking to temper Smith’s furious, but always controlled, rumbles.

03_Roulette.jpgHalvorson and Hébert are among the players who make up saxophonist Ingrid Laubrock’s Anti-House sextet on Roulette of the Cradle (Intakt CD 252 intaktrec.ch); the others are pianist Kris Davis, clarinetist Oscar Noriega and drummer Tom Rainey. The careful dynamics that unite the players can be experienced in a fashion at the GJF when Davis’ Capricorn Climber band featuring Laubrock and Rainey plus bassist Trevor Dunn and violist Mat Maneri is at GLT September 17. Meandering like a country road, Laubrock’s most vigorous CD interface with Davis occurs on …and Light (for Izumi), which blends pointillist reed tinctures with hearty Chopinesque intimations from the pianist. Composed like the other tunes by the saxophonist, Silence… (for Monika) with Rainey’s reverberating bell pealing and unhurried strums and sweeps from Hébert could be confused with 1950s cool jazz – that is until Halvorson’s sour clanks yank it into 2015. Davis’ solid comping that extends lines with the swiftness and regularity of a teletype machine is angled leftwards to meet Laubrock’s emotional reed slurs on the title tune; while Face the Piper, Part 2 demonstrates how the guitarist’s jagged-edge approach transforms a composition from regularized swing. Still the CD’s defining track is From Farm Girl to Fabulous, Vol.II, where homespun inflections, suggested by Davis’ upright-piano-like woody plunks and mandolin-like strokes from the guitarist, accompany a reed transformation as Laubrock’s output begins simply and concludes with smirking urbane and gritty urban enunciation.

04_SunRoom.jpgSharing the double bill with Capricorn Climber is the sole GJF appearance of vibraphonist Jason Adasiewicz’s Sun Rooms trio. However From The Region (Delmark DE 5017 delmark.com)’s 11 tracks itemize why the full-barrelled improvisations of Adasiewicz, drummer Mike Reed and bassist Ingebright Håker-Flaten mean the three are continually busy with their own groups as well as with North American and European stylists, some of whom are featured at the GJF. Considering Håker-Flaten’s string slapping is as percussive as the others’ output, Sun Rooms could be the practice studio of three drummers. With an instrumental bounce as forceful as any vibist since Lionel Hampton, Adasiewicz as composer/player adds the delicate sensibility of Milt Jackson and Gary Burton when needed. In fact, a trio of appealing tunes – The Song I Wrote for Tonight, Mae Flowers and Mr. PB – shows off this lyrical bent. Each succinctly melds rhythmic colours and emotional melodies, augmenting the results into a sway as gentle as a summer breeze. Stentorian swagger and strength characterize many of the other tracks though. The bassist’s rugged timing steadies the tunes, the drummer adds irregular and broken patterns to their exposition and Adasiewicz consistently seeks novel, raw but unifying tones to judder sympathetically alongside the others’ contributions.

05_Hello.jpgWhile the majority of these GJF improvisers who often work together are young, a constantly innovative stylist like British saxophonist Evan Parker, 71, continues to operate as he has for the past half century: partnering with as many musicians as possible. His September 17 HH performance is with baritone saxophonist Colin Stetson, while he hosts trumpeter Peter Evans and electronics exponents Ikue Mori and Sam Pluta September 19 at the GLT. Suggesting how he will play during both concerts is Hello, I Must Be Going (Victo cd 128 victo.qc.ca). Another Canadian live concert, from last year’s Festival International de Musique Actuelle de Victoriaville, it’s a duo session, this time with guitarist Fred Frith, 66. Frith’s command of the electric guitar is such, though, that he adroitly presages some of the electronic patterns Mori and Pluta come up with, as well as being fully conversant with his instrument’s rhythmic and melodic tasks. Notably, when both players are in full improvisational flight, searching for novel timbres, it’s only Frith’s powerful strums that confirm that a guitar is being used. Otherwise he comes across like an actor inhabiting multiple roles in a one-man play. For instance, processed drones and clicks meet the saxophonist’s flutter-tongued slurs on the title track, while Frith’s resonating contributions to Particulars come from what sounds like a mutant grafting of strings onto a combination of tabla and conga drum. On the concluding Je Me Souviens, unbridled sonic elation is attained, as Parker’s chortling pitch variations turn straight ahead as Frith responds with abbreviated spurts of rhythm through concentrated string pumping. Red Thread is the paramount instance of the duo’s work, however. As Parker’s crimped reed quacks accelerate to a protracted allotment of circular breathing, Frith mirrors the reed lines with electronically processed modular flanges as well as supplying a connective bass line. The climax has the saxophonist exchanging eviscerating tone for luminous tone vibrations as the guitarist complements Parker’s new narrative with rugged yet reassuring rubber band-like twangs.

The musical interconnections on these CDs set such a high standard that memorable GJF performances can be expected every day of the festival.

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