15 Brass KnuckleBrass Knuckle Sandwich
Marilyn Lerner; Nicole Rampersaud
Ambiances Magnétiques AM 258 CD (actuellecd.com)

Polished and powerful as the first part of its name and as layered as the second, Toronto’s Brass Knuckle Sandwich has produced a crunchy but powerful snack of seven in-the-moment improvisations. The duo of pianist Marilyn Lerner and trumpeter Nicole Rampersaud, longtime members of the city’s experimental music community, inventively displays every flavourful scintilla of sound from the furthest reaches of their instruments. Lerner clips, pumps and slides over the keys in groups or separately and strums, plucks and buzzes the piano’s internal strings. Making use of tongue stopping, tone crackling and half-valve effects, Rampersaud’s brass extensions include vocalized blowing, spittle-encrusted squeaks, strangled cries and plunger farts.

Expressing timbres ranging from the dulcet to the dissonant, the two produce a track like Evermore, which from its carefully shaped keyboard introduction to mid-range capillary slurs, conveys winnowing motion. Then they abruptly turn around during the following nat.pit.that to contrast the trumpet’s uppermost screech mode with dynamic piano pacing in the most fragmented mode before joining infant-like howls and resonating key clanks into a balanced ambulatory theme. Kinetics may edge out caution on most of the disc, but in spite of numerous advanced motifs, narratives are always fluid. The disc culminates in the almost 15-minute Rizoo, where broken-octave creativity, including hand-muted brass cries and staccato peeps from Rampersaud and bottom-board percussiveness and stopped key thumps from Lerner, predominate until the track and the CD’s finale settles into a connective mode.

17 TransformationGlenn Close; Ted Nash – Transformation
Glenn Close; Ted Nash; Wayne Brady; Amy Irving; Matthew Stevenson; Eli Nash; Wynton Marsalis; Jazz at Lincoln Center
Tiger Turn Productions (tednash.com)

This ambitious, multi-disciplinary recording project was co-imagined, produced, arranged, composed and conducted by Grammy winner and gifted multi-reed instrumentalist, Ted Nash. All of the accompanying spoken word segments were curated by Emmy- and Tony-winning actress Glenn Close, and performed by Close and a group of truly exceptional artists, including Wayne Brady, Amy Irving, Matthew Stevenson and Eli Nash. The skilled musical cast includes noted members of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra (JLCO), including the iconic Wynton Marsalis on trumpet.

Transformations begins with Creation, Part I. One can feel the contrapuntal influence of Gil Evans in this full-throttle, intricate, challenging music, as the ensemble slides through the primordial ooze. Creation, Part ll features the JLCO as they swing, wail and bop with exquisite precision. A sturdy and solid trombone solo punctuates the air, followed by a well-placed baritone comment or two. Dear Dad/Letter is the transcript of an incredibly moving letter to Nash from his transgender son, accompanied by masterful work on soprano sax by Nash. Other memorable movements include One Among Many, constructed around Judith Clarke’s journey of liberation, as interpreted by the incredible Irving.

The justifiable rage and hurt, and subsequent illumination in Brady’s A Piece by the Angriest Black Man in America (or, How I learned to Forgive Myself for Being the Angriest Black Man in America) is an awakening in itself, as is Reaching the Tropopause – which features a face-melting rhythm and sax sections in concert with the dynamic Wynton Marsalis on trumpet. Ted Nash, Glenn Close, the gifted actors and the nothing-short-of-exquisite musicians of JLCO cement this recording as an artistic triumph.

18 Jesup WagonJesup Wagon
James Brandon Lewis; Red Lily Quintet
Tao Forms TAO 05 (jamesbrandonlewis.bandcamp.com/album/jesup-wagon)

James Brandon Lewis was voted Rising Star – Tenor Saxophone in the 2020 DownBeat magazine’s International Critics Poll. His tone is urgent and emphatic and Jesup Wagon, recorded with his Red Lily Quintet, is his ninth release. The title refers to the wagon built by George Washington Carver to travel the Alabama countryside and teach farming techniques. It was a travelling road show of science and hope and Lewis’ seven compositions are based on Carver’s words and experiences. The quintet includes William Parker (bass), Chad Taylor (drums), Kirk Knuffke (cornet) and Chris Hoffman (cello). The lack of a chordal instrument like piano or guitar gives the group an open sound which, combined with Knuffle’s cornet and Lewis’ tone, reminds me of the early Ornette Coleman group with Don Cherry playing pocket cornet.

The detailed liner notes describe both the music and how each work refers back to Carver’s ideas and legacy. For example, Lowlands of Sorrow is Carver’s phrase from when he discovered the extreme poverty of farmers in Macon County. Lewis’ saxophone is wailing and, with Knuffke’s cornet, blows forth a song of suffering. The melody and solos are deftly underscored by Parker’s contrapuntal bass and Taylor’s effortlessly polyrhythmic percussion. Fallen Flowers has a solemn opening melody which is soon contrasted by a playfully melodic and staccato theme tossed back and forth between sax and cornet. This back and forth movement continues throughout the piece occasionally making way for the soloists. Jesup Wagon ends with one of Lewis’ recitations that could describe this intense and brilliant album as a whole: “Embedded seeds crack through tormented shells of one colour, giving birth to many hues.”

19 Ben GoldbergEverything Happens To Be
Ben Goldberg
BAG Production Records BAG018 (bengoldberg.net) 

Since debuting with the New Klezmer Trio in 1991, clarinetist Ben Goldberg has produced consistently inventive, often witty music, whether playing works by John Zorn or Merle Travis. His four stellar partners here all have previous connections. Tenor saxophonist Ellery Eskelin shares a breadth of reference, sentiment and humour. Goldberg has played duets with bassist Michael Formanek, while guitarist Mary Halvorson and drummer Tomas Fujiiwara have previously joined Goldberg in the improvising trio The Out Louds.  

The opening What About suggests the gentle melodic clarity and sudden surprise of Jimmy Giuffre, while Cold Weather and Chorale Type are updates of early jazz textures, given added authenticity by Goldberg’s acquisition of an E-flat Albert System clarinet, the kind employed by New Orleans musicians a century ago. It lends a particularly woody warmth to the kind of abstracted counterpoint Goldberg and Eskelin practise here, sometimes further enhanced by Halvorson’s electronic squiggles. 

That Goldberg wit surfaces as well with Tomas Plays the Drums: Fujiwara does, but not in a solo feature; instead, he appears at the end of a collective blast of bass clarinet, saxophone multiphonics and electric guitar squall, one more unlikely episode in Goldberg’s surprise package. The program ends with Abide with Me, a 19th-century hymn set to the melody of Eventide, composed by William Monk, a tune Goldberg first encountered as a child in a rendition by Thelonious Monk. It’s played straight, for 1’10”. Now that’s jazz wit.

ANTHONY BAXTON. Photo by MARTIN MORISSETTEAnthony Braxton – composer, theorist, master of reeds, philosopher of play – has been recording for over half a century now and has often done so exhaustively. It began in 1969, when the recorded history of improvised solo wind performances consisted of a few brief pieces by Coleman Hawkins, Sonny Rollins, Eric Dolphy and Jimmy Giuffre. The young Braxton declared his arrival with a two-LP solo set called For Alto, outlining a musical language that he’s been exploring and expanding ever since, with larger and larger projects and titles ever more evocative or mysterious, like the Ghost Trance Music and Diamond Curtain Wall. In 2019, in his 75th year, he presented a six-hour performance of Sonic Genome at Berlin’s Gropius Bau, with 60 musicians spread throughout the museum drawing randomly from Braxton’s vast compositional output. Graham Lock suggested his significance in the subtitle of his book Blutopia: Visions of the Future and Revisions of the Past in the Work of Sun Ra, Duke Ellington, and Anthony Braxton. Possible alternatives? You might as readily match Braxton with Olivier Messiaen, Karlheinz Stockhausen or Harry Partch as a composer who has constructed his own universe. 

01 Anthony BraxtonBraxton’s latest compositional series is called ZIMAnthony Braxton: 12 COMP (ZIM) 2017 (Firehouse 12 tricentricfoundation.org; firehouse12records.com). He has just released its first substantial documentation on a single audio Blu-ray disc: 12 pieces, ranging from 40 to 73 minutes each, over ten hours altogether, recorded over a 14-month period by groups ranging from sextet to nonet in the U.S., Montreal and London. As usual though, the real wonder of Braxton’s work is in the listening, not the clock-watching, despite the hourglass he will place on a stage at the start of a piece, signal of a time apart: ancient, infinite, even granular. 

Along with Braxton and his reeds, the group constants are Taylor Ho Bynum playing cornets and trombone; tubist Dan Peck and harpist Jacqui Kerrod. Another harpist – there are three others – is always present; accordionist Adam Matlock appears on 11 of the pieces; cellist Tomeka Reid appears on eight; violinist Jean Cook on three; saxophonist Ingrid Laubrock and trumpeter Stephanie Richards figure in the nonet’s four performances. The harps, strings and accordion are key to the music’s special qualities: it is often sweeping, fluid and delicate, though those dreamlike and gentle textures mingle and fuse with the diverse sounds supplied by the winds. Braxton’s own alto saxophone can range from silky sweet to abrasive, and he also brings along instruments ranging from sopranino saxophone to contrabass clarinet.  

Braxton provides extensive notes in an accompanying booklet, and they’re as rich and playful as the music, which can sound as natural as a convergence of streams in a pond: “the notated material is positioned on top of an ‘unstable metric gravity’. This is a ‘wobbly music architecture’.” This multiple and unpredictable movement defines the music, a brilliant confluence of composed and improvised elements, a sonic flux of such delicacy that rhythmic, tonal and timbral incongruities combine to suggest an immersion in the spirit of change. 

Braxton has previously remarked that “I want the undefined component of my music to be on an equal par with the defined component,” and it’s a goal that he continues to extend here. If James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake is the most musical of books, Braxton’s ZIM is its double, diverging concordances passing over and through one another in a babbling dream discourse, free in some sense that music rarely is, as diverse in its methods as in its favoured sonorities, from those sibilant saxophones to brash brass blasts and hand-swept harp strings.

Whichever iteration of the group appears, the performance suggests it’s the ideal scale. As broad as the invention becomes, there’s always a sense of meaning rather than mere novelty, each event arising with its own certainty, however realized, an inevitability in accord with the logic of a dream, including a strange nonet passage in Composition No.415 in which Peck’s tuba wanders in a field of sudden pointillist punctuations from the other winds.  

By the time the septet reaches the final performances at London’s Café OTO, the pieces have stretched past the 70-minute mark and the strange fusions, mergers and discontinuities are ever more fully realized, the group pressing further and further into new territories, all the way to brief and uncredited vocal outbursts. On Composition No.420, Braxton’s alto initially fuses with the accordion and two harps; later he matches his sopranino’s whistle with Cook’s violin, which can also suggest an erhu; Bynum’s cornet flutters on a carpet of strummed harps, then whispers while the harpists diverge, one maintaining conventions while the other becomes percussionist and guitarist, striking the frame, slapping chords and picking a sparse melody. At times there’s an aviary in Braxton’s horns, from goose squawk to piping sparrow, while Peck’s tuba emits a low frequency hum that seems momentarily electronic. Toward the end, anarchic near-New Orleans jazz explodes and a harp sounds like elastic bands.    

Braxton’s ZIM is music of surprise. These are broad aural canvases in which the participants surprise themselves as well as one another, reaching toward a collective music that breeds in myriad individual encounters and in which close conversationalists will come to finish one another’s sentences – a saxophone’s phrase becoming an accordion’s. It’s the sound of recognition and empathy, one mind, like one sound, becoming another.  

Editor’s Note: Stuart Broomer is the author of Time and Anthony Braxton (Toronto: The Mercury Press, 2009).

Although unusual before that time, by the early 1960s a trio consisting of a double bass and drums, with a saxophone upfront, became increasingly common in jazz and improvised music. Initially influenced by the sound explorations of Sonny Rollins and Ornette Coleman, the configuration has since become so common that it rivals the traditional piano trio. Stripping interactive textures to their most basic with one woodwind, one percussion instrument and one string instrument challenges trio members to be as creative within these limitations as they would in a larger group. 

01 KorrFrench soprano/sopranino saxophonist Michel Doneda, who has been involved in varying improv configurations over the past 40 years, adapts to this format as part of CDWEIN14 weinsistrecords.com). Joined by Italians, veteran percussionist Filippo Monico and much younger bassist Andrea Grossi, the three create a mixture of multiphonics and melody with almost half the CD given over to the seven-part f.t.f suite. Memorable interpretations and intersections emerge on all tracks, with Grossi’s col legno and spiccato thrusts serving as contrapuntal foil to Doneda’s multiphonic explorations. Limiting himself to the occasional shuffle or cymbal accent with an irregular pulse, Monico stays in the background. Meanwhile, from the introductory not impro in roc all the way to the concluding re:call, the saxist and bassist operate like an accomplished comedy team feeding each other unexpected lines and reacting by topping or embellishing the japes. On the first tune this involves matching triple tongued saxophone shrills with elevated string pressure that almost replicates reed properties. A proper finale, re:call climaxes as mellow reed burbles hook up with balanced string strokes, after spiralling sopranino squeaks from inside the horn’s body tube are challenged by swaying string slaps. As for the suite, almost every imaginable timbre is exposed during each brief, connected sequence. Tremolo bagpipe-like drones alternate with compressed air forced out of the horn without key movement; or terse reed peeps share space with inflated aviary-like shrills from Doneda. Meanwhile Grossi’s expositions encompass techniques ranging from fluid spiccato strops to full-toned rhythmic vibrations, to echoing strokes that resemble the mechanics of long-string compositions in notated music.

02 GlotzeArriving from an almost diametrically opposed concept is GLOTZE I (Boomslang Records Boom 0613 boomslangrecords.bandcamp.com), an eponymously named German trio whose briskly kinetic tracks move on from the speed and strength projected by many freeform trios since the heyday of energy music. Adding echoing strokes from Philipp Martin’s electric bass to the power pulse of drummer Philipp Scholz and the strident bites of alto saxophonist Mark Weschenfelder, the band ends up with 11 miniatures as reminiscent of the Ramones as Rollins or Return To Forever. While it’s only the final De Wert that features overwrought buzzing from the bassist and noisy tones launched or unexpectedly cut off by the saxophonist’s overblowing, other tunes have arena rock equivalents. They include Klangschale #1, a cymbal vibrating, bell-tree shaking, water-bottle popping percussion showcase for Scholz. Other tracks are more reminiscent of Ornette Coleman’s electric bands, as harsh saxophone yelps are matched by stentorian thumb pops or sluicing vibrations from the electric bass, all of which evolves over a carpet of buzzing percussion and cymbal crashes. At the same time Weschenfelder’s playing isn’t all frenetic flattement and split tones. For every tongue-slapping variation there are tracks such as Durchführung #1 and Hobel #3 where floating trills and breathy straight-ahead theme elaborations are buoyant enough to bring Paul Desmond to mind and are met by sympathetic guitar-like comping from Martin.

03 MoreSomaMeanwhile the Lille, France-based More Soma trio on Hondendodendans (Microcidi 019 circum-disc.com) stretches the creation of freeform improvisation into the 21st century, giving it a more luminously layered but no less ecstatic cast. Built around the altissimo smears, basso scoops and split tones of alto and baritone saxophonist JB Rubin, the ruffs and rebounds from drummer Fred L’Homme and the sweeps or dot-dash plucks of bassist Mathieu Millet, the three gallop through four tracks with moderated responsiveness coupled with unpredictable invention. On a tune such as God B, Rubin’s vibrations from the sax’s body tube, coupled with flutter tonguing, projects a secondary, complementary tone alongside the baritone sax’s lowest reaches. Still open-palm drum shuffles and reverberating slaps from the bassist preserve the broken octave narrative. Similar power dynamics are expressed on alto saxophone features like Dog A as Millet’s seemingly unstoppable strumming sets the pace even as L’Homme’s ruffs and paradiddles redefine the time and Rubin’s duck quacking and corkscrew honks repeatedly fragment pitches. Triple cohesive refinement, however, ensures that no matter how many reed multiphonics are snarled upwards, bass strings stropped or drum pressure applied, horizontal expositions are maintained.

04 UassynThis necessary balance is more obvious on Zacharya (Double Moon/Challenge Records OMCHR 71387 uassyn.com), the debut CD of the young Swiss trio Uassyn. Eschewing rock or ecstatic jazz influences, this group’s music is so scrupulously symmetrical that at times it threatens to become bloodless. Luckily the accomplished ingenuity of alto saxophonist Tapiwa Svosve, bassist Silvan Jeger and drummer Vincent Glanzmann means that the six joint instant compositions are enlivened by textural deviations even as triple coordination keep the tunes on level paths. Working up to an unforeseen group definition on the last track, the trio runs through variants in tempos ranging from adagio to allegro and uses breaks and fragmented patterns to pace brief solos. Svosve projects lower-case breaths and gusty smears with the same facility as Jeger’s oscillating strokes, and Glanzmann’s clanks and slaps propel the music without strain. Most notable are Mmoosh and Kheretem, the penultimate and concluding tracks. The former is an original concept where disconnected reed stops, echoing drum vibrations and bass string drones define the piece without much ambulatory motion. Likewise avoiding any faux-exoticism in their use, the three players clap and shake bells to introduce Kheretem, then employ these metallic resonations along with pinpointed ruffs, cymbal clashing and string slaps to confirm the exposition as the saxophonist decorates its evolution with continuously ascending reed arabesques.

05 AliseenAnother unique take on this configuration is on Aliseen (577 Records 5846 577records.com) which mixes improvised jazz iterations with currents of traditional Finnish folk sounds. That means multi-reedist Jorma Tapio & his Kaski band of bassist Ville Rauhala and percussionist Janne Tuomi astutely manoeuvre among idioms. While a track like Nukunuku is the most overtly folksy, with low-pitched wooden flute puffs evolving over biting string drones, the preceding Way Off is closest to free jazz, with continuous snarling glossolalia and split-tone screams from Tapio’s tenor saxophone, the performances are separate enough so sonic schizophrenia doesn’t result. In fact the concluding title tune, which makes extensive use of string buzzes from kanteles or Finnish zithers played by the saxist and drummer in tandem with bass strokes, mostly serves as an idiosyncratic confirmation of the trio’s Nordic identity. Besides that though, emphasis is on contemporary improvisation. Rauhala’s subtly expressive plucks are upfront on a couple of tracks and Tuomi’s pinpointed cymbal clatter and hi-hat pulses join him on Siltasalmi. As for Tapio, playing flute on She’s Back, he produces Herbie Mann-like shrills with funky echoes and the same facility that his slashing alto saxophone cries suggest Ornette Coleman on a track with the ethnic title of Lasten Juhlat.   

No matter which woodwind is used alongside the bass and percussion on these discs, invention and originality are projected from each.

01 No BoundsNo Bounds
Caity Gyorgy
Independent (caitygyorgy.bandcamp.com/album/no-bounds)

While having a beautiful voice is plenty to recommend any singer, also knowing how to use it in the myriad ways that Caity Gyorgy does puts her high up the list of young singers to watch. 

Although the debate about what is and isn’t jazz is an old and often tedious one, it becomes especially tricky to nail it down when it comes to vocalists. Is covering standards enough to call yourself a jazz singer? Well, that’s all moot when it comes to Gyorgy because she is unmistakably a jazzer. Just head over to her Instagram account, @liftaday, if you want to see what I’m talking about. There she posts videos of herself doing lifts – i.e. singing note-for-note – solos of jazz giant instrumentalists like Clifford Brown, Oscar Peterson and even Charlie Parker. She’s posted 180 videos since 2018! It would be an impressive accomplishment for a mature singer but for someone only 22 years old, it’s mind-blowing. 

As well, her improv skills – the attribute that seals the deal for jazz credentials – are undeniable and on full display throughout her debut release, whether soloing over choruses or trading fours with her band members: Jocelyn Gould, guitar, Thomas Hainbuch, bass, and Jacob Wutzke, drums.

But Gyorgy isn’t all technique and prowess; she also has a ton of musicality and heart. These shine through on the songs she’s written herself like Postage Due which has a cute 60s vibe and Undefined, the only ballad on the album.

Despite the serious skills Gyorgy possesses she never gets too heavy and the overall feel of No Bounds is upbeat, warm and utterly charming.

Listen to 'No Bounds' Now in the Listening Room

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