04_TwoPiano.jpgTwo Piano Concert at the Philadelphia Museum of Art
Michael Snow; Thollem McDonas
Edgetone EDT 4148 edgetonerecords.com

Besides distinguishing himself as one of Canada’s most lauded filmmakers and visual artists, Toronto’s Michael Snow maintains a parallel career as an improvising pianist. Most frequently working as a charter member of the local CCMC, on occasion he matches wits with outsiders. A bonus as part of the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s retrospective of his work Two Piano Concert featured a duet with peripatetic American improviser Thollem McDonas. Although both are pianists, the selections clearly outline the individuality of each so-called avant-garde player.

With the metronomic 176-key assault only brought to the fore for emphasis, the most frequent strategy in this three-track recital is for one pianist to squirm and skip a theme to a certain point where it’s either embellished with arpeggios and strums or challenged at half speed with contrapuntal asides by the other. Besides this, the keyboardists often converse like an old married couple, finishing each other’s phrases. More like hearing two Cecil Taylors, rather than any conventional piano duo, the two utilize all parts of their instruments. Shrill key clips and tremolo backboard echoes are only part of this; so are wood-rending scratches and harp-like inner string strums. Snow identifies himself most clearly on Two even as McDonas pounds out sardonic Chopstick-like rhythms or identifiable bop runs. Unexpectedly, the Canadian, who apprenticed playing classic jazz, sounds out a perfect stride piano lick which would have done James P. Johnson proud. McDonas’ response is to swell his glissandi to such an extent that they fill every molecule of the resulting soundscape. That challenge met, the final track features a satisfying return to carefully timed sympathetic patterning.

There’s no way Snow will ever have to fall back on his second career, but Two Piano Concert confirms that his keyboard inventiveness and professionalism allow him to hold his own with – and sometime best – a full-time improviser.


01_Dickinson.jpgPianist Brian Dickinson continues to build on a distinguished career that reaches back to the 1980s. The latest release by his trio, a nominee for the 2015 JUNO Jazz Album of the Year – Group, Fishs Eddy (Addo Records AJR023, addorecords.com) matches him with young drummer Ethan Ardelli and senior bassist George Mraz, whose long CV includes work with Oscar Peterson, Stan Getz and Elvin Jones. It’s a perfect match given Dickinson’s roots in Bill Evans’ harmonically rich, lyrical style and Evans’ evolution of the piano trio, giving a prominent place to the bass to develop strong countermelodies. There’s a keening, reaching, welling lyricism here, a passionate rush of emotion rising from reverie. It begins on familiar melodic ground, George Gershwin’s I Loves You Porgy, explored for over nine minutes, then turns largely to Dickinson’s originals, the trio developing intense interactions around their harmonies and repeating figures.

02_Roussel_Trio.jpgQuantum (Effendi FND 139, effendirecords.com) is the third CD from the Emie R Roussel Trio, a young group that has been consistently nominated for Quebec festival and media awards since its inception in 2010. It’s easy to hear why. It’s consistently engaging music, well thought out with an almost architectural sense of form. Building on rock-solid foundations provided by bassist Nicolas Bédard and drummer Dominic Cloutier, pianist and composer Roussel compounds a personal idiom that fuses post-bop jazz with R&B (think Joe Sample and George Duke), the instrumentation moving readily from acoustic to Fender Rhodes piano and electric bass. The acoustic highlight is Ipomée, a fine demonstration of Roussel’s ability to construct tension by making incremental shifts in short figures, then contrasting short and long phrases; the electric Marée haute combines a deep groove and extended melodic development.

03_JNT3_Acid_Bunny.jpgWhile the Roussel trio is happiest with a detailed road map, trombonist Jean-Nicolas Trottier builds energy through the exchange of ideas based on brief heads. Trottier is something of a big band specialist, but he pares it down to a trio on Acid Bunny (Effendi FND135). His JNT3, with bassist Rémi-Jean LeBlanc and drummer Rich Irwin, is a band of rare chemistry, quickly overcoming anyone’s doubts about the limited range of a trombone and rhythm trio. Trottier has technique and energy to spare, making effective use of mutes and a bright high register to change things up. Reemy-Jeeny-Leblee is a fine example of the band’s detailed rhythmic interaction and intense swing, while the elegiac Nouveau Patente has LeBlanc’s arco bass line countering Trottier’s elegant line, Irwin negotiating a ground between military ceremony and rubato.

04_Michel_Lambert_Journal_II.jpgMichel Lambert is a real creative force, whether considered as a painter, percussionist or composer. His compositional vision is particularly evident in Journal des Épisodes II (Rant 1448, jazzfromrant.com), an exploration of a daily diary of compositions and paintings from the last six months of 1988. His group here is a traditional piano trio with pianist Alexandre Grogg and bassist Guillaume Bouchard; what makes it highly untraditional is the presence of 97 tracks on a 44-minute CD. Lambert’s compositions can be as brief as seven seconds, as long as a couple of minutes, but whether microscopic or developed, they’re compelling musical messages that achieve a kind of formal perfection, continuous with their surrealist aesthetic of the unconscious and their Webern-like economy. The material is at once so fragmentary and dense that each trip through the CD is another experience, tiny fragments in time creating new refractions with one another and with the sustained trio pieces.


05_not_the_music.jpgÉric Normand is another fount of creativity, working from his unlikely home base in Rimouski to form both a large improvising ensemble, the Grand Groupe Régional d’Improvisation Libérée, and the wide-ranging Tour de Bras record label, as creative in its design as in its music. While a recent GGRIL release appeared as a red vinyl LP, Normand takes a diametrically opposed route to packaging for Philippe Lauzier and Éric Normand’s Not the Music / do (Tour de Bras, tourdebras.com), issuing the CD in a brown paper lunch bag with a printed cover. The music is just as provocative – sustained minimalist improvisations in which Lauzier’s soprano saxophone and bass clarinet extend from single tones to circular breathing against a backdrop of Normand’s electric bass and a snare drum that Normand sometimes plays and often uses as a vibrating surface.

06_continuum.jpgMontreal sound artist Pierre-Yves Martel creates dauntingly minimalist improvisations contrasting single tones on a renaissance viola de gamba and a harmonica with silences on Continuum (Tour de Bras TD89011CD). It’s demanding work (Martel’s intent extends to letting “the music ‘play’ both the performer and the listener”), an experience in which the act of listening may be dissected and stitched back together, the music developing a severe and icy beauty in the process. Available as limited edition CDs or downloads, extensive portions can be heard at the label’s website.

07_sortablue.jpgAmong music’s stranger documents is a letter from Woody Guthrie to John Cage, greeting his music as “a keen fresh breeze.” It might have inspired The/Les Surruralist(e)s on Sortablue (SURRU 01, actuellecd.com). The duo of Nova Scotia-based Arthur Bull (guitars, harmonica and voice) and Normand (electric bass, tenor banjo and voice) explore early blues and folksongs from perspectives shaped by free jazz and improvised music, adding a raw electric edge and weirdly dissonant accompaniments to traditional instrumental approaches and songs like La Femme Du Soldat and Stagger Lee. The two create a new tradition in the same breath that they pay homage to others.

When it comes to welcoming immigrants to North America, Canada and the United States have long had different policies. To Americans the ideal is the melting pot with all foreigners persuaded to become true-blue Yanks. Modern Canada, once it shook off fealty to Britain, has long promoted multiculturalism, where immigrants become Canadians without giving up their homeland identity. Generalities should be avoided, but it’s informative to see these concepts played out in improvised music. Thus Neelamjit Dhillon, born in Vancouver of Sikh background, has created a notable CD based on the infamous 1914 incident when 376 mostly Sikh immigrants were refused entry to Canada. To do so he mixes traditional Indian instruments with Western ones. In contrast, American performers who are his contemporaries, and with similar immigrant roots, have recorded sessions exclusively linked to the un-hyphenated jazz continuum.

01_Komagata.jpgA notable work, that evolves through nine related sequences, Komagata Maru (neelamjit.com) manages to tell this shameful story of anticipation, betrayal, violence and ultimately hope for the future with only four musicians, admixing Indian sub-continental and Western sounds. Besides Dhillon, who plays alto saxophone, tabla and bansuri, a transverse bamboo flute, the others are bassist André Lachance and drummer Dan Gaucher plus Chris Gestrin, who plays sympathetic, whimsical piano throughout; and who produced, recorded and mixed the disc. With Gestrin’s strong accompaniment, Dhillion’s proficiency allows him to create swinging, unforced jazz lines throughout, no matter which instrument he’s playing. Even the tabla’s distinct timbres are used to make specific points rather than for exoticism. On Shore Committee: Bonds of Ancestral Kinship and later on British Clash at Budge Budge, for instance, the Carnatic drum’s textures contrast sharply with Gaucher’s martial-styled drumming, together symbolically depicting a full-scale riot on the first tune; and add to the sonic bellicosity of the second, further intensified by keyboard clips and harsh reed slurps. In the same way the expansive Munshi Singh: Trial for a Sanguine Tomorrow has its relaxed mood, set up by Lachance’s double-time strumming, disrupted by contrapuntal screeds, although they come from the bansuri rather than an alto saxophone. Crucially as well, the sonic representation of police-passenger combat on Debris from the Sky: Confront with the Tools at Hand, relies on the divergence between very Westernized double bass strokes and the distinctively Indian tabla patterns. Finally, the unforced Lee Konitz-like saxophone riffs Dhillon uses to underline the exposition here not only relate back to the introduction but portend the concluding Reconciliation: Evoke the Fallen and Persevere. Part elegy and part anticipation, the tune’s mellow hopefulness suggests why incidents like that of the Komagata Maru are rare in Canadian history. As well this meticulously crafted CD posits that Dhillon and company will soon be creating more intriguing sounds, either straight ahead or with a sub-continental lilt.

As more immigrants or children of immigrants begin to fill the ranks of Canadian improvisers it will be instructive in the future to observe whether an American-inflected national style takes hold, or if Canadian musical sensibilities will still include distinctive overseas links.

02_Rez_Abbasi.jpgMoving south of the 49th parallel a different musical ethos takes hold. Alto saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa, whose parents are Indian, and guitarist Rez Abbasi, who was born in Pakistan and immigrated to the U.S. as a small child, have in the past recorded discs reflecting their South Asian roots. But both these New York-based players’ newest sessions are jazz, without ethnic subtitles. Mahanthappa’s Bird Calls (ACT 9581-2 actmusic.com) consists of 13 of the saxophonist’s compositions based on familiar Charlie “Bird” Parker lines; while Abbasi takes on eight jazz-rock classics of the 1970s on Intents and Purposes (Enja Records ENJ-952-2 enjarecords.com), and recasts them using only his acoustic guitars, Bill Ware’s vibes, Stephen Crump’s bass and the drums of Eric McPherson. Although hints of sarod-like shimmers from Abbasi’s fretless instrument peek through on Herbie Hancock’s Butterfly, the intent and purpose of this disc lies in post-modern interpretation. Decelerating and relaxing the themes, Abbasi and company transform them from arena jazz-rock showpieces to subtle improvisational vehicles. Instructively enough the tracks that work best are those such as Joe Zawinul’s Black Market, Chick Corea’s Medieval Overture and Tony Williams’ There Comes a Time written by composers who played other instruments than the rock-associated guitar and who had the strongest pre-fusion jazz bona fides. With McPherson’s percussion hovering in the background, these restrained interpretations usually take impetus from Crump’s bass line; while leaving room for his solo work as well. Medieval Overture for instance, features a sequence of time and tempo changes where the string build-up is divided between, and nearly identical from, bass and guitar interpretations. Ware’s buoyancy animates most of the sequences as well, showcasing resonating textures that are often voiced alongside Abbasi’s finger-style lead. Meanwhile There Comes a Time, the concluding – and climatic – track is painted in the most vibrant and captivating colours, with strong four-mallet vibraphone smacks blending with thick baritone guitar strums that almost resemble tenor saxophone licks. Keeping it and the other pieces in a proper groove, Intents and Purposesreclaims them all for the jazz canon.

03_Bird_Calls.jpgIf transforming fusion into straight-ahead jazz is the attained challenge of Abbasi’s CD, then Bird Calls is an even more daunting task: finding a new way to interpret Parker’s legacy. Using a standard bop formation of saxophone, trumpet (Adam O’Farrill), piano (Matt Mitchell), bass (François Moutin) and drums (Rudy Royston), Mahanthappa’s contrafacts are up-to-the-minute statements which still intuit Parker’s essence. Putting a brake on bebop’s sometime frantic performance velocity, these interpretations are helped immeasurably by the saxophonist’s tone, which is wider and more rounded than Bird’s, often moving into the tenor range. In contrast, while O’Farrill frequently shows his age (20), by incessantly reaching for the most elevated capillary patterns, his excesses are reined in by the others. Oddly enough it’s the trumpeter’s Hispanic background which also comes into play giving a Latin feel to some of his work. As for Indian echoes, they’re practically non-existent, unless the obvious references to Hindu chanting on Gopuram can be counted. But even so this contrafact of Steeplechase gives more prominence to breakneck ripostes from piano, trumpet and saxophone. The remainder of the disc emphasizes a variant of mainstream jazz over all else. The rhythmic riffs that characterize Talin is Thinking (taken from Parker’s Mood) for example, go back as far as the Count Basie band’s elevation of the bluesy harmonies that came from Parker’s Kansas City hometown. Meanwhile Chillin’ (based on Relaxin’ at Canarillo), takes its shape from classic bop. The trumpeter and saxophonist face off with equivalent harsh lines while the bassist’s woody clunks and the drummer’s rolls and ruffs properly pace the galloping rhythms. Seconding both horns and carving space for himself throughout the tune, Mitchell demonstrates a command of the idiom as well as a casual, almost carefree pacing in his solos.

04_Blue_Notes.jpgYet another variation on this theme shows up on For The Blue Notes (Ogun Records OGCD 042 ogunrecords.com). Although the musicians featured have ancestral backgrounds from Martinique, Guyana and South Africa as well as parts of the United Kingdom, these ancestral memories are subsumed in this salute to the combo that left Apartheid-era South Africa to mingle high-life rhythms with British free jazz, creating an unmatched hybrid sound. Led by percussionist Louis Moholo-Moholo, the last surviving Blue Note, the octet’s repertory was mostly composed by original Blue Note members. What that means is that tracks such as Sonke and Zanele are fully in the South African style even though the associated vocals are by French-born (of Martinique background) Francine Luce. When she trades licks with the horns as well, the end product is high quality jazz that soars without labels or hyphens. Furthermore, listening to other creations like the title track, it’s bassist John Edwards’ solid timekeeping and pianist Alexander Hawkins’ kinetic chording that drive the undertaking as much as tie keening solos from saxophonist Jason Yarde and Ntshuks Bonga. Closer to the American rather than the Canadian concept here, the ancestral background of the players hardly influences the notable sounds issuing from their instruments.

As more immigrants or children of immigrants begin to fill the ranks of Canadian improvisers it will be instructive in the future to observe whether an American-inflected national style takes hold, or if Canadian musical sensibilities will still include distinctive overseas links.

04_Jazz_02_Red_Garland.jpgSwingin’ on the Korner
Red Garland Trio
Elemental Records 5990426

Red Garland brought an electric brightness to the piano, whether playing block chords or scintillating runs; Philly Joe Jones, a polyrhythmic master, was perhaps the most explosive drummer in jazz history. They were key parts of one of the greatest bands in that history, Miles Davis’ mid-50s quintet, until Davis fired them in 1958 for unreliability. This two-CD set catches the two of them nearly 20 years later during a week in December 1977 at San Francisco’s Keystone Korner, anchored by the fine bassist Leroy Vinnegar, a worthy partner. Garland had gone through stretches of retirement by then, and Jones was less prominent than when he propelled many of hard bop’s greatest records, but if they were supposed to go gently into that good night, the two hadn’t gotten the message. The genre never burned more brightly.

The music is almost entirely standards, drawn from Garland’s vast repertoire, including a sweetly balladic rendition of the obscure If I’m Lucky, a signature swinging arrangement of Billy Boy and a soulful version of Bags’ Groove that celebrates Garland’s mastery of blues. Familiarity feeds the trio’s fervour: this is joyous, raw music, touching, even reckless. Sometimes subtle, Garland can match Jones for sheer ferocious energy; Jones creates wild oblique patterns with thundering drums, building complex, melodic solos against a beat that’s only implied.

The set includes extensive interviews and memories of Garland from some noted critics and musicians: it’s the first such tribute to a pianist who deserves far more attention.

04_Jazz_03_Subtle_Lip_Can.jpgReflective Drime
Subtle Lip Can
Drip Audio DA01030 (dripaudio.com)

Featuring music as off-centre as its name, Subtle Lip Can has created a fascinating CD of heavy metal, as if instead of headbanging, that term described subtly abrasive instrumental techniques expanded by electronics. Consisting of vio-linist Josh Zubot, guitarist Bernard Falaise and drummer Isaiah Ceccarelli, the members of the Montreal-based trio add jazz-like improv and suspended minimalism to ten tracks which otherwise are rife with industrial clamors and the blaring drones found in rock music.

Improvisers above all, the trio members’ skillfully abrasive textures are unique and frequently unattributable. Ceccarelli’s beats relate as often to tuned gamelan orchestra resonations or intermittent percussion pulses as to unyielding steady timekeeping. Meanwhile the preparation and processes appended by the string players mask their instruments’ imme-diate identity as well as appending reed-like vibratos and electronic oscillations to the program.

To get an idea of the trio’s range compare Shuffle Stomp and Fliver Shame which follow one another on the disc. With a sound midway between a gas explosion and a runaway train, the first soars as it cunningly utilizes guitar reverb and flanges to animate the drummers’ named shuffle beat. The latter tune builds its microtonal narrative from wetted-finger slides across drum tops meeting spiccato plinks and scrubs from the strings. Spacey sideband delays presage a movie soundtrack-like theme on a track like Toss Filler Here, climaxing with a pleasant melody that eventually erupts from sluicing fiddle jumps, popping vibes-like reverberations and clacking percussion accents. As machine-processed abrasions and acoustic calmness echo through Reflective Drime, the trio reaches a gripping conclusion with the final Too Pins Over. Consisting of Lyricon-like peeps and processed tremolo lines, no particular instrument predominates so that the opaque spellbinding drone appears unyielding and infinite until without warning it halts.
Overall, the improvisers who make up Subtle Lip Can create music that’s as inimitable as the band’s name.

Major improvisers from elsewhere frequently play Toronto, but not as often do they appear with an all-star lineup. That’s what happens on April 29 when alto saxophonist Tim Berne’s Snakeoil is in concert at the Music Gallery. Berne, who has been on the cutting edge of advanced jazz for 30-odd years, arrives with three younger players who have distinguished themselves on the New York scene: fellow reedist Oscar Noriega, pianist Matt Mitchell and drummer Ches Smith. This being the 21st century and past the age of consistently working groups, each – including Berne – is involved in many other projects.

Waxman_01_T-Duality.jpgAs one instance of sampling skills in another context, consider T-Duality (Auand Records AU 9041 auand.com). Although leader, erudite Italian drummer Ananda Gari wrote all seven tracks, he’s backed by three Americans: bassist Michael Formanek, guitarist Rez Abbasi and Berne. Confident enough of his skills that he confines his solo fireworks to Fields – which include no drum bludgeoning but many ratamacue slaps plus refined cymbal clatter – Gari frames the others’ playing with supportive beats. Additionally egged on by Formanek’s buzzing bass line, frontliners Abbasi and Berne carve unique geometric patterns out of the drummer’s compositions. Capable of harsh double-stopping runs, the guitarist’s ringing lines are more often fully developed harmonically such as on Last Drops, where when twinned with Berne’s glissandi they could be setting up I Cover the Waterfront. However, Gari’s Mylar pressure plus the saxman’s twittering slides confirm that this isn’t the familiar ballad. Berne’s cascading puffs also colour the stop-time Never Late when his lowing brightness pulls out the theme atop Formanek’s strummed bass lines. Clattering drum ruffs plus walking bass clobbers set up Don’t Forget to Pet Your Cat, as a blues, until Berne’s plush mellowness knifes upwards to poignant screech tones, with the theme tossed back and forth between reed bites and linear horn-like motions from the guitarist. Then on the extended Are You Kidding Me the alto man distends and deconstructs the theme with riffing melismatic slurs and tonal sky rockets, urged on by Gari’s hard thumps and crying string bends.

Waxman_02_Orphic_Machine.jpgBerne isn’t Snakeoil’s only attraction however. Drummer Smith is at home in genres from ProgRock to melodic jazz. One facet of his talent is aptly demonstrated on Orphic Machine (BAG Productions BAG 007 bagproductionrecords.com), where his subtle yet driving rhythms underline the music clarinetist Ben Goldberg composed to interpret ten of Allen Grossman’s poems. With a driving nine-piece band amplifying violinist Carla Kihlstedt’s verbalization of the poetry, Smith’s responses are generic to mood maintenance. His heavy beat matched with Greg Cohen’s bass on the title tune casts into bolder relief pianist Myra Melford’s gorgeously constructed piano intro which provokes the harmonic melding of lyrical clarinet breaths and the words’ skewed imagery. Meanwhile, his slide from the opening martial beat which confirms the solipsistic words of Immortality (“the function of poetry is to obtain for everyone one kind of success”) to repetitive judicious taps, provides a contrast to the violin’s and piano’s vocal backing and a framework within which Rob Sudduth’s tough tenor saxophone and Goldberg’s melancholy clarinet echo one another’s lines. In the meantime Smith’s crackling cymbal rhythms on one hand and suggestions of conga resonation on the other during What Was That, confirm the cool jazz mood otherwise expressed by Ron Miles’ lyrical muted trumpet and the clarinetist’s reed slides. Of course Goldberg’s arrangements and the others’ contributions are as responsible for the CD’s achievement as Smith. How else to explain the exhilaration that results from a piece like Care? Mixing Kihlstedt’s high-pitched vocalization with rugged twangs from guitarist Nels Cline plus matching vibes resonation with Goldberg’s swing era-like trills expands the piece to such an extent that the exposition splits into parallel lines. Cascading horn pumps provide the rhythm; connective strings the melody; and additional shading comes from Kenny Wollesen’s chime ringing. Nonetheless, cementing the parts together is Smith’s unforced beat.

Waxman_03_Sonic_Halo.jpgWith Berne and Noriega, pianist Mitchell demonstrates his skill working with two powerful reed voices and he fulfills a similar function on Sonic Halo (Challenge Records CR 73370 challengerecords.com). Here though it’s Tineke Postma from the Netherlands and American Greg Osby, both playing alto and soprano saxophones, with bassist Linda Oh and drummer Dan Weiss completing the quintet. Modern mainstream, the compositions are divided between the two horn players who likewise have similar tones. With perceptive intensity and moderated timbres, the pianist seconds both saxophonists, feeding them peppy phrases or comping decisively to extend the dynamic flow. The pattern is set on tunes such as Source Code where Mitchell’s outpouring of measured timbres underlines the initial duple-metre expansion from the soprano saxophone, and keeps the theme grounded as the alto saxophone adds an edgy slant. Operating from his instrument’s lowest register, the pianist’s perceptive swing reintroduces and reinforces the head even as reeds double tongue and drums crash. His polished harmonies don’t stand in the way of Mitchell contributing a hard-hitting pulse that locks in with Weiss’ roughest ruffs on Nine Times a Night. His heightened cross chords and the drummer’s hard rolls put into starker relief how the upfront horns vibrate the high-pitched theme in unison, moving chromatically a half step apart. Other tracks such as Melo are pleasant interludes with walking bass, rattling drums and swelling piano tones introducing an effervescent tune eventually toughened by sharp soprano bites. Glissandi and note torrents characterize Pleasant Affliction, the concluding piece which gives Mitchell the most scope to range over the keyboard with sparkling intensity, but never to the extent that Postma or Osby are overshadowed or outplayed. The ending links one altoist’s warm flutter tonguing with the piano’s key-clicking echoes.

Waxman_04_Skiki.jpgBesides seconding Berne as clarinetist in Snakeoil, Noriega has distinguished himself in larger bands such as pianist Satoko Fujii’s Orchestra New York. On Shiki (Libra Records 215-036), his lead alto saxophone work helps direct the ever-shifting background that the pianist has arranged for her sophisticated compositions. It’s he who likely participates in the reed slurs and brass mouthpiece kisses that characterize Gen Himmel, a melancholy tune Fujii wrote honouring a deceased bassist, which is otherwise driven by quasi-military pacing from drummer Aaron Alexander and funeral cries from trumpeter Natsuki Tamura, who, along with Fujii, was the bassist’s band mate. Although no soloists are listed, it’s likely Tamura, playing an open horn, fellow trumpeter Herb Robertson, muted, and the modern gutbucket style of trombonist Joe Fiedler who are the soloists on the title tune, a multi-part, 36-minute opus. Weaving among swelling reed buzzes and brass whimpers, the soloists, including tough snorts from tenor saxophonists Tony Malaby and Ellery Eskelin echo and compound passing tones until place-marking crescendos are reached. With Alexander’s chunky and hard-hitting beats and Stomu Takeishi’s sometime slap-bass accents providing unvarnished swing beneath them, space is left for almost-vocalized trombone slur, plunger trumpet blasts and corkscrew vibrations from one of the saxophonists. With the sequences knit into undulating whole cloth by Fujii’s talents, the track finally subsides into a balladic mode led by Andy Laster’s baritone saxophone plus tremolo grace notes from the seven brass players. Warming and downshifting textures finally usher in a finale of balanced grace notes.

Each member of Snakeoil has been proven to be a distinct stylist in different circumstances. Seeing them interact should be fascinating and instructive.

Concert Note: Tim Berne’s Snakeoil with Oscar Noriega, Matt Mitchell and Ches Smith appear at the Music Galley April 29. Trevor Watts and Veryan Weston are at the same venue April 24.

Broomer_01_Reg_Schwager.jpgPerfection isn’t usually in the equation for jazz recordings, but guitarist Reg Schwager’sDelphinus (Rant 1447, nette.ca/jazzfromrant) comes very close, with a balance of polish, spontaneity and depth of expression. Schwager draws much of his inspiration from Northern climes (the same that feed the aesthetic of ECM records), evident on the opening Resolute (named for the Nunavut town) and the title track (named for a Northern constellation) and reaching its apotheosis on The Lonesome Scenes of Winter, a stunning treatment of a strongly modal folk ballad. Schwager’s music is filled with the crystalline clarity and bright highs of sunlight glancing off ice and starlight far from cities, and it extends to the rest of his quartet, pianist Don Thompson, bassist Neil Swainson and drummer Michel Lambert, a group that can move comfortably from Jerome Kern’s They Didn’t Believe Me to the free jazz of Schwager’s Four Eyes.

Broomer_02_cluttertones_ordinary_joy_001.jpgBassist Rob Clutton stands out for the breadth of his affiliations, working regularly from the mainstream (pianist Steve Koven’s trio) through free jazz (Drumheller) to experimental electronica (Lina Allemano’s Titanium Riot). He’s also a highly creative bandleader when he assumes the role, amalgamating elements of free improvisation, electronica and folk music. They’re all evident on The Cluttertones’ Ordinary Joy (Healing Power Records HPR#30 healingpowertoronto.bandcamp.com), sometimes on a single track. Working with longtime associates Allemano on trumpet; Ryan Driver on analog synthesizer, piano and voice (a reedy high tenor reminiscent of Robert Wyatt’s); and Tim Posgate on guitar and banjo, Clutton composes pieces that begin with the improbable and sometimes approach the uncanny, strange states of musical mind in which the heterodox elements seem to tune calmly to a new standard. The nine-minute Agosto is a fine example, Clutton’s warm, springy, lyrical pizzicato blending through and linking the divergent impulses of banjo, trumpet and synth.


Broomer_03_EvidenceTheloniousMonk_MonkWork.jpgMonk WorkÉvidence (Ambiances Magnétiques AM 218 ambiancesmagnetiques.com). The compositions of Thelonious Monk represent a unique body of work in the jazz canon, pieces that have been explored repeatedly by musicians from mainstream to avant-garde, many finding something new in Monk’s quirky puzzles of rhythm and harmony. Among the most dedicated advocates is the Quebec trio Évidence, consisting of electric bassist Pierre Cartier, saxophonist Jean Derome and drummer Pierre Tanguay who together have been exploring Monk’s music since 1985, and who in 2014 interpreted his complete works in a three-day Montreal marathon. Évidence brings its own voice to this selection, mixing and matching the familiar and obscure in Monk’s repertoire. Stylistically Évidence invokes another master, Ornette Coleman, with Derome developing a similar lyricism while the rhythm section work masterfully through the kind of flexible, sprung rhythms that distinguished Coleman’s early work. Derome plays baritone on Coming on the Hudson with a wry wit akin to Monk’s own, while Cartier maintains fluid rhythm and Tanguay sustains the mood with light, crisp, animating brushwork. Derome’s vocalic alto comes to the fore in the fine three-way dialogue of Skippy.

Broomer_04_Kirk_MacDonald.jpgKirk MacDonald is a powerhouse tenor saxophonist whose mature style matches fierce rhythmic drive with focussed emotion and the sound of controlled aggression. His latest CD, Vista Obscura (Addo Records AJR025, addorecords.com), is a career high, winner of the 2015 JUNO award for Jazz Album of the Year, Solo. It presents MacDonald with the stellar rhythm section of bassist Neil Swainson and drummer André White, veteran American pianist Harold Mabern adding a special drive to the proceedings as well as his own animated solos. The CD is largely focused around MacDonald’s effective originals, but there’s also a special dimension to the set. Every September, MacDonald and fellow tenor saxophonist Pat LaBarbera pay homage to John Coltrane’s genius at Toronto’s Rex Jazz and Blues Bar. Here MacDonald opens with an intense, faster-than-usual trip through Trane’s Lonnie’s Lament; LaBarbera joins him for three tunes here: one is a brilliant extended version of Naima, Coltrane’s best-known ballad, entirely worthy of the Coltrane legacy.

MacDonald and LaBarbera (along with Mike Murley and Perry White) have long set a standard for mainstream Toronto tenor saxophonists – as educators as well as performers – and the legacy is evident in two very different players who have recently emerged. Dave Neill and Johnny Griffith are both graduates of the Master of Jazz Performance program at the University of Toronto (where Murley teaches), and both teach at Toronto’s Humber College.


Broomer 05 Daylight 001Dave Neill’s Daylight (On the Fly Records OTF112844, daveneill.ca) is marked by his distinctive, warm, round sound, thoughtful solos and compositions, developing a reflective, almost orchestral sound with his quintet. He’s used the same rhythm section since his 2008 debut, the fine combination of pianist David Braid, bassist Pat Collins and drummer Anthony Michelli, adding trombonist Terry Promane here. Neill has creatively shaped the session with four brief variations of his Thelonious Monk-like The Day Savers, played in duet with Braid and interspersed throughout the program. He also includes pieces by Promane and Braid, outstanding composers/arrangers of improvisation-friendly music. Braid’s Red Hero is a powerful, elegiac work that matches the depth of Kenny Wheeler and Gil Evans, a distinctive tradition with a strong Canadian component.



Broomer 06 Johnny GriffithFor all the similarities, Johnny Griffith sounds very different on Dance with the Lady (GB Records johnnygriffith.com). He’s a more kinetic player, far less deliberate, pushing toward a raw expressionist edge, showing affinities with John Coltrane and the ancestral energies of rhythm & blues. He shares the front line with trumpeter Jeremy Pelt, a star in the New York mainstream firmament. It can be risky, but it works here, with Pelt, pianist Adrean Ferrugia, bassist John Maharaj and drummer Ethan Ardelli making consistently lively, well executed music. The menacingly themed The Kuleshascope is a highlight, with Griffith pressing further and further out. 

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