11 Joe BowdenThank You for Listening
The Joe Bowden Project
Independent (joebowden.bandcamp.com)

As a young teenager, I was taught to repeat the phrase “thank you for listening” when taking a post-performance bow. Joe Bowden should feel free to repeat this phrase over and over as he deserves endless praise and respect for his brilliant work as composer, drummer, arranger and bandleader in his latest release. Originally from Halifax, Bowden moved to Toronto in the early 1980s where he studied at Humber College and was musically inspired by listening to and working with many jazz musicians. His music here is driven by a mature understanding of jazz style, rhythms, and awe-inspiring musicianship.  

Bowden’s ten musicians play with a deep respect for his music and artistry. Mingus is an upbeat toe-tapping tradition-flavoured tune with a locked-in groove between the drums and Rich Brown’s bass. I’m Here Again is a slower quasi-ballad, featuring Michael Occhipinti’s modernistic guitar solos and Manuel Valera’s chromatic runs and intervals on piano. Devil Five lives up to its title, featuring a wide interval, almost minimalistic repeating bass line, zippy piano runs and Bowden’s virtuosic drum solos. Nice change of pace with FSC (Funky Soul Calypso), a fun get-up-and-dance tune featuring Joy Lapps-Lewis’ steel pan artistry.

Bowden writes on the CD jacket “Pursuit of Happiness, is it reality or a dream?” Like the track of the same name, the reflection, improvisations and grooves make this a dreamy musical reality!

14 Tardo HammerSwinging on a Star
Tardo Hammer Trio
Cellar Live CL110717 (cellarlive.com)

To play bebop, one needs to deal with two competing impulses: master the instrument – amass the fluency required to float at heightened tempi, navigate harmonic complexities and execute ornamented lines that are part of this music’s tradition – and utilize a relaxed phraseology that is anything but frenetic and that comes across as “not trying too hard.” No doubt, to play with the sort of authenticity that stellar musicians Tardo Hammer, Lee Hudson and Steve Williams bring to Hammer’s Swinging On A Star is difficult. But to listeners, the effort is hidden, the inventive spirit of musical collaboration and taste displayed.

In the spirit of disclosure, I, as guitarist and occasional liner-note writer, am affiliated with Cellar Live, the label on which Hammer’s disc is released. Nonetheless, as an objective jazz fan, I am routinely impressed by their expanding catalogue of great releases of which Swinging On A Star is no exception. Drinking from the well of Bud Powell, Barry Harris and Thelonious Monk, Hammer and company offer an auditory snapshot of a blue-chip jazz trio on any given night. Yes, there are arrangements and unique repertoire; however, this recording fits comfortably within the tradition of blowing sessions, wherein beauty is revealed through improvisatory extrapolations that spin forward when three masters come together in a comfortable listening environment. Overall, a swinging recording that marries beautiful songs, improvisatory excellence and, as a bonus, insightful liner notes by Morgan Childs.

15 LAMA MetamorphosMetamorphosis
LAMA + Joachim Badenhorst
Clean Feed CF433 CD (cleanfeed-records.com)

Metamorphosis is true to its title only if the term includes transmogrifying one way and subsequently taking a completely opposite form, as this Canadian/Belgian foursome does on this CD. Initially on Metamorphosis I, it appears that the brassy emphasis from Portuguese trumpeter Susana Santos Silva and pressurized flutters from Belgian bass clarinetist Joachim Badenhorst are going to be mere bagatelles to the polyrhythmic undulations from Portuguese keyboardist Gonçalo Almeida, which seem to subsume all other timbres into a crackling electronic wash. But not only is there soon space for brass and reed counterpoint, once the sounds flow into Metamorphosis II, the pulsating tick-tock of Canadian drummer Greg Smith kicks into gear and is joined by string plucks from Almeida, who has switched to double bass, an expansion creating a powerful acoustic jazz trope.

This movement from electronic to acoustic continues throughout the CD, through faultless changes of pitch and tempo. Especially striking is how Badenhorst and Silva appear to be going their separate ways, examining extended techniques, involving, for instance, contralto hollow tones from the clarinetist and billowing plunger excursions from the trumpeter, only to interlock onto a series of connective riffs in the nick of time.

Officially Badenhorst is still a guest of the LAMA trio, but it’s evident that the four have evolved a strategy that gives everyone a chance at textural exploration as a notable group sound is produced.

16 Chris WallaceSomewhere Sacred
Chris Wallace’s Many Names
GB Records (chriswallacedrums.com)

Jazz musician/drummer/composer Chris Wallace hails from Regina, but his varied career has seen him working in Europe, the United States and Canada, residing/working in Edinburgh, Scotland from 2002 to 2013 when he moved to Toronto. So many locales and musical experiences, along with his compositional process he describes as “allowing myself to be open to something I don’t fully understand and that is where the music comes from – somewhere sacred,” must have influenced his smart contemporary jazz compositions here, featuring his outstanding band Many Names – Jeff King (tenor sax), Adrean Farrugia (piano) and Daniel Fortin (double bass).

Wallace the composer and Wallace the drummer both listen astutely, have complex technical prowess and unique musical storytelling capabilities. Wallace’s drumming is dense and colourful yet never overwhelming, and fully supportive of his colleagues – as best heard in Chapter Zero where his backdrop supports King’s sax stylings, Farrugia’s florid piano, Fortin’s driving bass and the occasional band quasi-unison sections. More reflective is the opening of the title track, with a luscious sax melody, laid-back groove, superb bass solo and wide-pitch piano explorations. New-music sounds appear in the pitch leaps in the sax and the chromatic florid piano runs of Visitation. Nice musical conversations between the players flavour the more traditional jazz sounding A Memory of 10.

With touches of many styles throughout performed by great multi-faceted musicians/improvisers, Wallace’s challenging jazz welcomes repeated listening.

18 FirebirdsAladdin’s Dream - The Firebirds Play Carl Nielsen
The Firebirds
ILK 269 CD (ilkmusic.com)

Tweaking the compositions of Denmark’s most prominent composer to new ends, The Firebirds – tenor saxophonist/clarinetist Anders Banke, keyboardist Anders Filipsen and percussionist Stefan Pasborg – discover hitherto hidden grooves in Carl August Nielsen’s (1865-1931) work.

Concentrating on extracts from Aladdin, the Helios Overture and Little Suite for Strings, the trio emphasizes eastern Eurasian dance-like motifs with pliable keyboard shakes and ney-like reed outbursts, while adding a pronounced, almost rock-like beat to the tunes. If a combination of tenor sax blasts and drum backbeats suggest heavy metal tropes on The Market Place in Ispahan, remember that rock style is now as prominent in Scandinavia as the buoyancy of Nielsen’s tunes, exemplified by Filipsen’s animated key chiming. The Helios Overture provides the most varied instance of the trio’s sound reconstitution. Evolving from sophisticated saxophone and ruffled keyboard timbres at the beginning, to a snaking, stop-time melody examination in the middle, to an intense display of agitated snare pops and splashing cymbal from Pasborg, the convivial theme returns as light swing by the finale, helped by the keyboardist’s walking bass line.

The band’s name came about after the trio recorded a CD which transformed some Stravinsky compositions into semi-improvised theme and variations. The three have now proven they can perform similar alchemy on another composer’s work with this CD. There are plenty of other modern composers whose work could provide material for equal transformations.

The year just ending marked one important milestone in musical history. The first so-called jazz record was issued in 1917 by the Original Dixieland Jass Band (ODJB). Obviously that musical designation, which in its century of existence has gone through as many permutations and retrenchments as so-called classical music has in many centuries, is far different then the ODJB’s primitive efforts. But jazz/improvised music continues to evolve, buttressed by new voices. Here is a group of youngish improvisers who will likely still be contributing to the shape of jazz during its 125th anniversary – and probably for years afterwards.

01 EricRevisFirst is Vancouver-born, Brooklyn-based pianist Kris Davis, 37, whose presence on advanced jazz sessions over the past half-decade or so has become almost as ubiquitous as Lennon-McCartney tunes at retro-60s parties. Sing Me Some Cry (Clean Feed CF 428 CD cleanfeed-records.com) finds the Canadian pianist in a combo led by bassist Eric Revis, featuring tenor saxophonist/clarinetist Ken Vandermark and drummer Chad Taylor. Although each of the other players has extensive experience, there are points at which Davis dominates. Good Company, for instance, which begins with a J. Arthur Rank-like gong resonation from Taylor’s cymbals and reed asides in brief Morse Code-like dashes, retains its tension from the pianist’s kinetic pressure, with the saxophonist’s peek-a-boo contributions hardening into pressurized honks that unroll in tandem with keyboard tinkling. Obliogo features a middle section where high-frequency piano notes slice kinetically through saxophone snorts and string elaboration from Revis, but maintain the composition’s careful shape. Instructively Rye Eclipse, the one Davis composition, is multi-sequenced and more complex. Mixing Revis’ sliding bass notes with stopped piano keys, Vandermark’s sheets of sounds become staccato just as the piano playing becomes more percussive. The result shapes reed overblowing, string reverberations and complex drum beats into a groove of storytelling and solid forward motion.


02 RobertoOTTAnother pianist who is equally valuable in international collaborations as leader and sideperson is the United Kingdom’s Alexander Hawkins, 36. On Sideralis (Dodicilune Dischi Ed 354 dodicilune.it), he joins veteran American heavy hitters, bassist Michael Formanek and drummer Gerry Hemingway as part of Italian saxophonist Roberto Ottaviano’s QuarkTet, to interpret ten of Ottaviano’s compositions that range from rhythm numbers to ballads. Checking off the saxophonist’s influences, Planet Nichols, Ottaviano’s stop-time salute to pianist Herbie Nichols, gets much of its rollicking shape from Hawkins’ high-frequency key splatters and crescendos, with a walking bass line and cymbal breaks also contributing. At the same time the power of Formanek’s accompaniment on Planet John Lee Hooker, coupled with singular soprano saxophone breaths, makes the tune appear more a salute to Charles Mingus than the Mississippi bluesman. Replete with shadowing of the composer’s every breath on Berenice’s Code, Hawkins’ keyboard caressing preserves the balladic mood while moving the piece linearly. Centaurus’ lilt is cemented by inner piano string plucks that confirm the composition’s jocular theme, with Hemingway’s bell pealing and the pianist’s key slaps and crunches deconstructing and extending the melody until the saxophonist’s tiny reed bites reel it into straight-ahead swing. This same freedom that never exceeds its parameters is displayed on the title tune. Stopped keys and scrubbing slides from the pianist plus the drummer’s rubs provide the perfect contrast to Ottaviano’s intense note puffing. Subsequent return to a rumbling pulse confirms the tune’s gentle motion and the collaborative skill of this ad-hoc quartet.

03 TimelessMinimalist and experimental, Timeless (JACC Records 034 jacc-records.com) is a duet between Portuguese guitarist Marcelo dos Reis and French pianist Eve Risser, 35, who made her reputation working in ensembles as different as France’s Orchestra National de Jazz and in a rock-oriented duo. With both instruments prepared with numerous objects, as well as played straight, the selections are compressed and cramped, inhabiting a narrow spectrum, but never abandoning rhythm or feelings. A piece such as Balance Spring, for instance, suggests computer-generated wave forms even though there is no electronic processing. Instead, as the guitarist creates a strummed continuum, the pianist emphasizes carefully thought out patterns, culminating in chiselled movements. In the same way, clanks and crunches from internal piano strings plus external ones on the guitar neck, produce timbres on Hourglass that could have come from a vibraphone. This sound, jolted along with bottleneck-guitar slashes, reaches a thematic crescendo that’s almost lyrical as Riser’s splayed and sharp tones amalgamate into melodic interface. With the tracks reflecting ambience as well as aggression, a piece like the extended Water Clock reflects this strategy in miniature. While dos Reis’ metallic string sawing and percussive strums narrow the interface to a single, almost static line, Risser’s sharp strokes move from aping the guitarist’s heft and power to become chromatic. Eventually, sweeping acoustic piano lines reveal an underlying melody that sets up an unconventional groove.

04a AmokAmorOf course it’s not just pianists who will determine the future of 21st-century improvised music. Horn players and drummers will make their own noises. Take for example two of the players in the Amok Amor (AA) quartet, American trumpeter Peter Evans, 36, and German drummer Christian Lillinger, 33. Their work with alto saxophonist Wanja Slavin and bassist Petter Eldh on We Know Not What We Do (Intakt CD 279intaktrec.ch), shows their interactive skills in one of the many bands in which they participate. It’s the same story with Chicago-based tenor saxophonist Dave Rempis, 42, and drummer Tim Daisy, 41, featured on The Halfway There Suite (Relay Recordings 016 timdaisy.com) by the drummer`s Celebration Sextet. Different discs could find Rempis in the leadership role or both as sidefolk.

Composers as well as players – Evans wrote two tunes on We Know Not What We Do and Lillinger three – the key to their talents is how carefully they work in an organized setting, as on Pulsar, the Evans-penned first track. It’s lavish and lovely, notched with contrapuntal slurs and staccato tremors from the horns as the drummer’s percussive bumps and focused rim shots keep the tune bouncy and relaxed. These ambulatory dynamics are also present on Trio Amok, a Lillinger composition, pushed along with percussion bumps and rumbles and resonating pumps from bassist Petter Eldh. While Evans’ spectacular brassiness adds to the tune’s tautness, a respite after he intertwines open-horn brays with staccato tongue flutters from Slavin dissipates the tension. A more striking instance of the drummer’s dexterity is on A Run through the Neoliberalism, another of his compositions, during which altissimo reed squalls and trumpet tattoos set up as a staccatissimo, near-bebop romp. The drummer’s accompaniment may crackle and churn, but as the horns’ work explodes the theme into atoms, his cymbal cascades and rim shots glue it back into a swinging whole. With some of the other tracks utilizing palindromes, balladic melancholy, fiery stomps and rhythmic stop-time sequences, AA keeps the session engaging and moving. The saxophonist and bassist get solo space as well, with the combination of power and bluster from the rhythm section and inventive flutters and echoes from the horns ensuring that while predicting what sounds will appear next is nearly impossible, the knowledge that they will be first-class is confirmed.

04b TimDaisyDaisy and Rempis are other first-class sound explorers featured on The Halfway There Suite along with Chicago associates, clarinetist James Falzone, trumpeter Russ Johnson, cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm and visiting New Yorker, trombonist Steve Swell. Composed as a birthday present for himself and the featured musicians, it isn’t clear whether Daisy’s CD title refers to mortality or the length of the four-part suite that lasts only 33 minutes. But like brevity being the soul of wit, the arrangements and solo work are exceptional enough to not need more length. Rempis’ showcase is on Part 2, where his skyscraper-high multiphonics and glossolalia bring energetic freedom to the piece which otherwise flows along with orchestral calm and a steady jazz groove. Falzone’s solo tone is closest to so-called legitimate as he negotiates linkages between the two genres. Swell, and to a lesser extend Johnson, are the disrupters. The trombonist sprays many of the arrangements with gutbucket-styled slurs and tailgate-like elaborations. With the cellist scratching out notes and Daisy replicating kettle-drum-like pressure, Part 3 rolls from crescendos to diminuendos without breaking the melodic continuum. These disparate currents climax in the concluding Part 4, with stop-time polyphony shattered by a clean trumpet blast that joins with cello pumps to herd the sequence into a finale that swings, and neatly refers back to the introduction on Part 1. Throughout, Daisy’s solos, whether involving press rolls and bass drum stomps or freer jumping and double time rhythms, don’t draw attention, but advance the suite.

On the evidence here, the Celebration Sextet is a lot more than halfway along to reaching musical goals. It’s another confirmation of how from their ideas and those of the players on the other CDs, jazz innovation will thrive in the years to come. 

01 Andrew ScottThe Brightest Minute
Andrew Scott Quartet
Cellar Live CL022817 (cellarlive.com)

Skilled guitarist, composer, arranger and highly respected jazz educator Andrew Scott has just released his new Quartet CD under the fine auspices of the internationally noted jazz label Cellar Live. Co-produced by Scott and pianist Jake Wilkinson (who also engineered), the CD features eight tasty original, contemporary jazz compositions by Scott, as well as a fine lineup of players including Scott on guitar, Wilkinson on piano, Jon Meyer on bass and Jeff Halischuk on drums.

Kicking things off is My Ears Can’t Hear Your Voice. Scott’s swinging, soulful, full-bodied guitar sound brings to mind elements of Tal Farlow, Herb Ellis and Grant Green. Combine that with a tight, grooving, acoustic quartet, propelled by the jaunty, well-written material and Scott’s facile soloing, and you have a dynamic jazz track. Wilkinson’s rhythmic and emotional piano style is clearly featured here, and is reminiscent of a young Hampton Hawes.

A highlight of the recording (and in contrast to the rest of the high-octane tracks) is the thoroughly gorgeous ballad For Marilyn, dedicated to Scott’s late mother, Marilyn Elizabeth Scott, who died in 2016. Scott is capable of such direct communication through his music that one can easily feel the love that inspired this piece. Also of note is the title tune – a high-intensity, New York-ish cooker that features not only the musical tightness of the ensemble, but also the high level of unspoken communication between the band members. A final favourite is Dreamin’ – rendered with an almost Basie-like simplicity and Scott’s perfect, rhythmic comping and in-the-pocket soloing. Easily one of the best small jazz group recordings of the year.

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