01 shannon gunn y9yugOn A Mountain
Shannon Gunn; Renee Rosnes; Neil Swainson; Billy Drummond; Brad Turner; Pat LaBarbera
Cellar Music CM052001 (cellarlive.com)

With last year’s untimely loss of gifted jazz vocalist, composer and dedicated jazz educator, Shannon Gunn, a painful shockwave passed through the Canadian jazz community. Gunn was well respected and loved as a kind, generous and inspired musical force, and with the release of this never-before-heard 2002 recording, her significance as an artist is clear. For the project, Gunn surrounded herself with dear friends and Canada’s most skilled musicians, including producer/pianist/composer Renee Rosnes, bassist Neil Swainson, drummer Billy Drummond, trumpeter/arranger Brad Turner and tenorist Pat LaBarbera. The program features a tasty selection of original tunes, as well as contributions from Tom Jobim, Cole Porter, Carla Bley and Renee Rosnes.

First up is the haunting Gunn composition, From You. Her sumptuous voice is so warm and rife with emotion – reminiscent of the great Irene Kral. Rosnes’ sensitive and harmonically sophisticated solo is a thing of beauty, as is the trio work, and the perfect complement to Gunn’s vocal. A standout is Carla’s Blues by the eminent Carla Bley and jazz vocalist Norma Winstone. The arrangement (by Gunn’s partner, Brian Dickinson) is dynamic and energizing – the solos by Turner and LaBarbera are both swinging and exquisite and Drummond’s taste, skill and rock-solid rhythmic sensibility propel everything.

Another stunner is Lerner and Loewe’s classic, I’ve Grown Accustomed to His Face, featuring a duet between Gunn’s rich alto voice and Swainson’s nimble, sonorous bass. Gunn’s original On a Mountain, transports the listener to a mystical musical precipice. The beautifully arranged closer is Porter’s Everything I Love, which is quite appropriate, as it expresses not only my feelings about this CD, but the fact that Gunn herself was all about everything that we love.

02 dizzy fay wz9maSongbook
Dizzy & Fay (Amanda Walther; Mark Lalama)
Independent (dizzyandfay.com)

The dozen intriguing, piano/voice duo tunes here were all composed by Dizzy and Fay, and were produced, mixed and mastered by Dizzy. “Fay” is actually the alter ego of JUNO nominee and multiple award-winning singer/songwriter/composer Amanda Walther (familiar to many as half of the folk/roots duo Dala) and “Dizzy” is in reality, noted Canadian singer/songwriter/pianist/accordionist/producer and in-demand-performer, Mark Lalama. When Lalama and Walther met on tour, the timeline of their mutual creativity began energizing!

Walther’s dusky, sensual, pitch-perfect voice (bringing to mind Julie London) is the ideal companion for Lalama’s sensitive piano work. The opening track, Maybe Someday, inspires cinematic images of a lonely and blue lady, perched on a lone bar stool at 2am, with a final martini in hand. There are many lovely and potent musical baubles presented here, all elegantly crafted into a compelling genre and infused with compositional talent. Make no mistake – Dizzy and Fay are highly musical tunesmiths and storytellers.

Of particular beauty are Ordinary Love, replete with a moving lyric and delicious chord changes; the sweet and innocent love song Walk Me Home, which opens with a stunner of a piano solo; the sexy-cool (and a cappella) Boom and the evocative Gravity which has such a visual element, bolstered by a beautiful melodic line and lyric, that it is really a hit song looking for a film. The closer of this exquisite recording, Paris Rain, is somehow both steeped in nostalgia and breathtakingly contemporary – which could also be said of every perfectly presented, emotionally charged track here.

Listen to 'Songbook' Now in the Listening Room

03 benjamin deschamps wr8vlAugmented Reality
Benjamin Deschamps
MCM MCM053 (benjamindeschamps.com/en)

Saxophonist, clarinetist, composer and arranger Benjamin Deschamps has been very active in the Canadian jazz scene, collaborating with groups such as the Orchestre national de jazz de Montréal and JazzLab Orchestra (Effendi). He has also led his own groups, from trios to the sextet on this offering, and released several albums. Augmented Reality is an assured and swinging jazz album with a modern sound, clever tunes and impeccable musicianship. The opening tune, Unfinished Business, is a terrific and intelligent scorcher which begins with a four-note, ostinato, tenor sax riff that is underpinned by the funky drums and then joined by trombone and the rest of the ensemble. The piece works through a hopping piano solo from Charles Trudel, then an assured sax solo from Deschamps as the energy builds. The band cuts out and we are left with the ostinato played on the Wurlitzer, joined by bass and guitar with a vibrant drum solo (from Al Bourgeois) over top. The piece finishes with everyone intensely playing the riff. 

The title tune opens with a fuzz-rock, rhythm-section riff, then the ensemble plays an elegant melody which leads into a number of excellent solos over a fuzz guitar-infused background. The slower Healing Chant: The Resurrection begins with a beautiful bass clarinet line that turns into a duet with trombone (Jean-Nicolas Trottier), then moves into an exquisitely lyrical guitar solo from Nicolas Ferron. 

Augmented Reality is an excellent album which combines superb performances from all musicians with a range of intelligent and varied compositions from Deschamps. It both swings and rocks.

Listen to 'Augmented Reality' Now in the Listening Room

04 worldview avataar 1s102Worldview
InSound Records IS005 (sundarmusic.com)

Award-winning Toronto world-jazz group Avataar is led by the multiple Juno-nominated saxophonist, bansurist, vocalist and composer Sundar Viswanathan who writes all the band’s charts. On Worldview he’s supported by an all-star ensemble including Michael Occhipinti (electric guitar), Justin Gray (bass), Todd Pentney (piano, synth, Rhodes), Aaron Lightstone (oud), Ravi Naimpally (tabla) and Max Senitt (drums & percussion). 

Felicity Williams’ tasty vocal top lines are very effective in adding human colour and harmony to the instrumentals. Her straw-coloured diaphanous soprano elevates Innocents (12/14/12), Blue As It Ever Was and the other tracks she’s featured on.

Viswanathan’s vision for the album “is a musical commentary on the state of our world, on the pandemic, and on the inability of our leaders to lead with integrity, honesty, and compassion.” Several tracks including Song Song, Little Kurdi (for Alan Kurdi) and A Safe Space For Children (For All) were inspired not only by childhood nostalgia and saudade but also by “the honesty and fragility of children faced by a world of uncertainty and confusion created by adults.” 

While Worldview is embedded in a framework of contemporary jazz and its musical kin, echoes of the musical traditions of India, Africa, the Middle East and Brazil are never far away. Viswanathan’s evocative bansuri (Hindustani bamboo transverse flute), Aaron Lightstone’s oud solo and Ravi Naimpally’s supportive tabla playing are examples of how inextricably – and beautifully – these elements are woven into the fabric of the music.

Listen to 'Worldview' Now in the Listening Room

05 heavyweights brass tna0oStir Crazy
Heavyweights Brass Band
Slammin’ Media (heavyweightsbrassband.com)

The Toronto-based Heavyweights Brass Band always brings the spunk and this latest release definitely doesn’t fall short in that respect! Featuring rhythms that get you moving and a mix of unexpected covers as well as original compositions, this album is a tantalizing musical journey that you’ll find you just can’t get enough of. Most tracks have been arranged or written by saxophonist Paul Metcalfe or tubist Tom Richards which really draws attention to the fact that the songs are driven heavily by prominent tuba riffs. 

Opening the album is catchy Sweet Pauly’s Boogaloo, a fitting introduction to the musical virtuosity showcased throughout the record. Feel Like Makin’ Love is a cover of the great soul and R&B vocalist Roberta Flack’s tune, featuring an amped-up bass line and a captivating groove, courtesy of Richards and drummer Lowell Whitty. The title track is a tune that truly brings forth every musician’s talents; with soaring trumpet and saxophone melodies conjured by John Pittman on the former and Metcalfe on the latter, as well as a winding and rhythmically complex tuba line from Richards. The band is known for collaborating with famed musicians and this time is no different; rounding out the throwback and vintage sound of the album is Joel Visentin (of JV’s Boogaloo Squad fame) on the unique Hammond C3 organ. For the fan of contemporary jazz looking for an energizing boost, this is a great addition to the collection.

06 hanah barstow bap7bBeneath
Hannah Barstow; Mike Murley; Reknee Irene Harrett; Keith Barstow
Independent (hannahbarstow.com)

It’s always refreshing to see younger talents in the music world finding their places and voices and Hannah Barstow has done just that on her latest release. The album showcases her talents as a pianist, vocalist and composer; tracks range from calming and mellow to fast-paced and positively toe-tapping – a perfect accompaniment to the dreary days that are upon us. Supported by a band of well-known musicians such as Mike Murley on saxophones, Reknee Irene Harrett on bass and Keith Barstow on drums, this record is a great addition to any jazz lover’s collection. Most tracks are penned or arranged by Barstow herself, a talent that she has clearly mastered. 

Starting off the album is the title track, Beneath, a waltz-flavoured tune that shines a spotlight on the vocalist’s warm and sultry timbre and how it intertwines with her flowing piano melodies. Throughout the record is the way in which Barstow manages to give an expressive voice to the piano, almost as if there was a second vocalist accompanying her and blending with her own vocals. A standout track is Love Can Never Lose, featuring a faster tempo and a catchy swing feel carried by Harrett’s bass riffs and Barstow’s dance-worthy rhythms. For Now brings the album to a fitting close, with an intricate melody that brings forth hopeful and positive vibes for the future and for what else is in store from this talented young musician.

07 montreal jazz trio lnr4pMontréal Jazz Trio
Steve Amirault; Adrian Vedady; Jim Doxas
Odd Sound ODS-20 (steveamirault.com)

Montreal has always been a unique city, maintaining a consistent and identifiable character amidst a cultural melting pot. Tourists from elsewhere in North America point out European aspects, those from Western Canada observe its truly Quebecois nature, and this Toronto-born writer always notices an American grit to the island metropolis. All of these influences and more are present in the music created by pianist Steve Amirault, bassist Adrian Vedady and drummer Jim Doxas, who make up the Montréal Jazz Trio. 

This latest self-titled offering from the group features originals, arrangements of jazz standards, and two of Amirault’s pieces – All Those Lovely Things and Nowhere – based on well-known progressions from the genre. The latter of those tracks features a beautiful bass solo from Vedady, which prefaces him taking the melody of Wray, a tribute to pianist Wray Downes. Other originals include Empathy and Soho Dreams by Amirault, which are both melodic and modern sounding. Alongside his role as the trio’s drummer, Doxas mixed the nine tracks heard on the recording at his home away from home, the Boutique de Son studio on Montréal’s West Island. Doxas’ father George was behind the controls during the recording of the album and is renowned for the excellent sounds he achieves on countless albums per year. The production, repertoire and personnel heard on this recording give it a delightful “hundred-mile diet” sensibility, and transport its listeners to La Belle Province from wherever they may be.

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