11 Brulez les meublesBrûlez les meubles
Louis Beaudoin-de-la-Sablonnière; Éric Normand; Louis-Vincent Hamel
Tour de bras/Circum-disc (circum-disc.com)

Guitarist Louis Beaudoin-de-la-Sablonnière has recorded with the jazz-rock band Gisèle, while drummer Louis-Vincent Hamel has distinguished himself in mainstream-modern jazz idioms. Electric bassist Éric Normand comes from further left in the spectrum, best known as leader of a free improvisation large ensemble, called GGRIL. Here the trio seeks a fresh approach to the jazz trio, under the comically radical rubric, Brûlez les meubles (Burn the furniture).

That’s just what they do, stripping their music down to its essential elements, rooting it in spare melodies, clear relationships of parts and close communication. The opening L’affaire digitale, composed by Normand, has a melody as etched as something played by Paul Bley, suggesting a Quebecois stylistic parallel, while Beaudoin-de-la-Sablonnière’s Le bonheur reduces the melodic shape of Mongo Santamaria’s already spare Afro-Blue. It’s a gentle war on the rhetoric of much modern jazz, avoiding any approach focused on a tired harmonic language of convenience.

When the trio stretches out, it’s usually in a collective improvisation, like Éminence, which begins in a rubato reflection by Beaudoin-de-la-Sablonnière then gradually picks up tempo and form in a developed dialogue that smoothly reshapes itself in a series of tempo and mood changes, including a particularly subtle bass solo at its conclusion.

By the CD’s end, the trio has established a broad expressive range and a remarkably compatible formal language built on elastic forms and detailed rhythmic interaction. It’s a particularly interesting patch in the national jazz quilt.

12 VICTO cd 131In Transverse Time
Rova Saxophone Quartet
VICTO cd 131 (victo.qc.ca)

Victo is the recording arm of the venerable FIMAV festival, the annual celebration of radical musics presented in Victoriaville, Quebec since 1984. Under Michel Levasseur, the label has produced many CDs, whether to coincide with coming attractions or document exceptional concerts. In recent years, with the market in disarray, the label has limited itself to a single CD a year. The last two were of festival events, singular performances by Musica Elettronica Viva and Anthony Braxton. This year’s sole release was a prelude to Rova’s 2018 appearance, celebrating the saxophone quartet’s 40th anniversary in 2017, reached with only one personnel change (in 1988). The group has investigated game composition with John Zorn, performed a work composed for them by Terry Riley and explored John Coltrane’s Ascension in multiple forms, including a feature film recorded at the Guelph Jazz Festival.

In Transverse Time is a more intimate event, devoted to works by the quartet’s members – Bruce Ackley on soprano, Steve Adams on alto and sopranino, Jon Raskin on baritone and Larry Ochs on tenor – and playing to some of their greatest strengths, their openness to new concepts and their incredible sounds, bridging classical concepts of the quartet with stunning individual voices, Ackley’s soaring soprano, Raskin’s harmonic-rich baritone, Adams’ lyrical alto and Ochs’ blustery, vocalic tenor, filled with the breath of free jazz. Their voices have never been better framed in more immediate conversation, or more alive than they are here. It’s another annual Victo masterpiece.

13 John ColtraneBoth Directions at Once: The Lost Album: Deluxe Edition
John Coltrane
Impulse! 80028228-02 (shop.musicvaultz.com)

For contemporary listeners saturated with collector’s editions with multiple takes of an artist’s every song, it’s hard to imagine a major label losing an album by John Coltrane, the most influential jazz musician of the last 60 years. Evidently that’s just what happened: destroyed by ABC Paramount in 1973, the unissued 1963 album exists only because of a separate mono review tape that Coltrane shared with his ex-wife, Naima. Suddenly there’s a studio session of his working quartet, complete with alternate takes, available from a period when the released Coltrane albums were Ballads and collaborations with Duke Ellington and singer Johnny Hartman.

Both Directions at Once catches Coltrane in transition, but Coltrane was in continuous, accelerated musical evolution from 1955 until his death in 1967. The material embodies his then-current interests: a hard-edged, compressed version of Impressions, a standby of extended shamanistic transformations in live performances; One Up, One Down, similarly focused; an intensely brooding Nature Boy that would bloom fully two years later; a sprightly soprano saxophone theme, Untitled Original 11383; the swinging Vilia and the 11-minute Slow Blues, both traditional and radical, literally two blues at once. It’s a considered guide to Trane’s musical thought on a day in March 1963.

The deluxe edition includes a second CD of alternate takes of most tracks and multiple takes of Impressions. If you’re considering The Lost Album, get this version. If you don’t need it now, you will.

14 Empty CastlesEmpty Castles
Aerophonic AR-016 (aerophonicrecords.com)

Taking full advantage of the acoustics inside Vallejo, California’s Bunker A-168, are members of Spectral, a trio whose polyphonic improvisations develop additional sonic possibilities by applying the spatial qualities of this long-deserted 12,000-foot Second World War concrete munitions depository. Already committed to the extended techniques and dissonant currents of free music, the players – Burlington, ON-born, California-based trumpeter Darren Johnston, fellow Bay area resident sopranino and tenor saxophonist Larry Ochs and Chicagoan, alto and baritone saxophonist Dave Rempis – create nine sequences here in Action Painting-like dribs and drabs, with the cavernous setting further amplifying their connected and challenged timbres.

Tracks such as the concluding Gravity Corridor, where squished brass smears and the reeds’ shuddering snarls attain the apogee of discordance, and Protest Portal, a whining lullaby of mixing disconnected saxophone pressure tones and an unexpected rubato tattoo from Johnston, are almost textbook instances of cacophony. But Empty Castles offers reassuring consonance as well. Splash Zone is as close to a swing piece as this trio gets, with chromatic harmonies extended through trumpet flutters plus tongue slaps and splintered tones from the reeds, adding up to chromatic polyphony. Before that, Brooklyn Took It blends brass brays and distorted reed peeps into a mellow pointillist groove.

In reality Bunker A-168 may be an empty castle. But on this disc it’s filled with distinctive, assertive horn sounds.

15 Space BetweenThe Space Between Us
Ida Toninato; Jennifer Thiessen
Ambiances Magnétiques AM 236 CD (actuellecd.com)

With its drone-inflected microtonalism, this session by Montreal-based baritone saxophonist Ida Toninato and viola d’amore/violist Jennifer Thiessen takes its cues from new music as much as jazz improvisation. As the duo’s performance undulates through seven constricted tracks, the development mixes sonorities and silences with studied extensions of the instruments’ conventional ranges. For instance, Toninato’s fat saxophone smears move swiftly from coloratura to chalumeau registers, the better to intersect with Thiessen’s flying spiccato or multiple-stopping sequences.

Additionally, it sounds at points as if processing or overdubbing is taking place, in order to produce a murmuring ostinato and hints of bassoon-like or French horn-like textures that evolve alongside the duo’s output. These doubled reed tones are sensed most readily on Magma/Suspension, where throaty tremolo tones are strikingly contrasting with the fiddler’s swift, razor-sharp sweeps. The most telling challenge to a conventional accompanist/soloist matrix is Space [Outer] Space. Here, cosmos infinity is evoked through barely moving textures, confirmed in their otherworldliness through emphasized sul ponticello bow strokes and pressurized reed snarls and buzzes, until both motifs finally combine.

Although the CD is titled The Space Between Us, the profound musical connection established by Thiessen and Toninato confirms that this gap is minimal at best.

Listen to 'The Space Between Us' Now in the Listening Room

A quarter of a century is an important milestone, even more so when the 25-year-old is a jazz festival rather than a person. Yet from its minimalist beginnings, the Guelph Jazz Festival (GJF) has managed to expand and intensify its programs. As befits a young adult, this year’s festival, September 12 to 16, features some new acquaintances as well as old friends in diverse settings.

01 Like ListeningOne new visitor, who plays both a noon-hour solo concert at the University of Guelph’s MacKinnon building on September 13 and an evening duo on September 14 with Montreal alto saxophonist Yves Charuest at the River Run Centre’s Cooperators Hall, is Catalan pianist Agustí Fernández. Fernández is a sophisticated expert in such settings, as he proves on a duo CD with Swedish bassist Johannes Nästesjö, Like listening with your fingertips (Konvoj Records KOR 013 konvojart.com). Fernández, who can be as lyrical as he wishes when playing in any sized group, angles this musical partnership on the disc’s single improvised track by spending as much time as pseudo-percussionist as on the keyboard. Whacking the case, key frame and strung back of the instrument plus plucking, stopping and sliding the strings to create comparable reverberations, his actions match Nästesjö’s chunky thrusts and spiccato swells that are only a little less husky when bowed. The few times the pianist moves from soundboard stimulation to complete keyboarding, his cascading patterns feature speedy kinetics or high-frequency slaps. Eventually the two reach dynamic animation, where sul ponticello arco sprawls from the bassist are decorated with single keystrokes from the pianist, like diamonds sparking on a jeweller’s bolster.

02 Lake of LightOne musician who Fernández, and seemingly half of the international creative musicians, has played with often, is American bassist William Parker, who gives a solo concert on September 15 at Royal City Church. Besides double bass, Parker, who has played at the GJF many times, often expresses himself on a six-or-eight string doussin gouni and African wooden flute. Lake of Light – Compositions for AquaSonics (Gotta Let It Out GLIO 19 CD gottaletitout.com), is even more unique in that it features Parker and three associates, Jeff Schlanger, Anne Humanfeld, both of whom are visual artists, and percussionist Leonid Galaganov, improvising with the AquaSonic, which can be both bowed like a string instrument or struck like an idiophone. The results are audacious, adventurous and atonal in equal measures. Each of the seven soundscapes reference sci-fi film soundtrack bleeps as much as they resemble polyphonic timbres from steel drums, wooden flutes, vibraphones, mridangams and güiros. On tracks like Lake of Light, Parker’s double bass prowess is such that each stroke brings out not only one tone but also all the pseudo-string’s squealing extensions. The most insouciant and least percussive collaboration sounds like it could come from an offbeat string ensemble, with the finale both contrapuntal and chromatic. In contrast, Helium Butterfly is all steel-pan-like bangs and bops, with the echoes multiplying from piccolo-like airs and rushed mallet strokes into deepened riffs. These floating puffs, spiccato bowing and vibrating smacks join for the final track, Action. Here all players continuously rattle the idiophones so that wood and metal responses are directed towards group resonation.

03 Masters of ImprovParker often works with trombonist Steve Swell, whose Soul Travelers combo shares the bill at Cooperators Hall September 14 with Fernández/Charuest. Tellingly, one of the trombonist’s newer CDs, Masters of Improvisation (Valid Records VR-1016 validrecords.com) lacks a bassist – but includes tenor saxophonist Kidd Jordan, pianist Joel Futterman and drummer Alvin Fielder, all of whom have played with Parker. Within the three live selections are prime instances of in-the-moment improvisation. Moving from slow boil to eruptive textures, the tunes unroll on a carpet of cymbal raps, pinpointed smacks and timed rolls from Fielder, as Futterman’s contrapuntal contributions move from laid-back comping to kinetic keyboard scampers, while the saxophonist and trombonist intertwine textures like a 21st-century Archie Shepp-Roswell Rudd duo. Stuttering grace notes from Swell and undulating coloratura slurs from Jordan often define the theme. Deft enough to tunefully pivot 180 degrees on the final Sawdust on the Floor, the quartet uses triple-tongued brassiness, reed overblowing and keyboard sprinkles to turn the tune into a close cousin of Lonely Avenue, with the percussion backbeat and gutbucket smears that are part of the heritage of New Orleans, where this concert was recorded. Earlier, the nearly 26-minute Residue allows each member enough space for a multiphonic, multi-faceted solo. Brief celesta-like pings set up the track that soon has the horn players digging deep into their instruments’ innards as driving keyboard-pounding, sky-high graceful trombone blasts and seemingly limitless reed variations not only allow each to isolate almost any timbre and all its extensions, but create such passion that just when it appears that the track couldn’t get more intense, it does. By the finale, Swell and Jordan are exchanging briefer and briefer sound patterns at high-pitches that spin out into a graceful textural summation, with a concluding drum roll and cymbal splash leading back to the blues.

04 Radiant ImprintsYoung enough to be Jordan’s grandson, but sometimes playing in the same free jazz style, is tenor saxophonist James Brandon Lewis, whose trio plays at the Market Square stage on September 15. Radiant Imprints (Off CD 038 jblewis.com), which features him in a duo with drums/mbira player Chad Taylor, proves that he’s his own person though, since he mixes ecstatic outbursts with well-paced melodies. Almost half the tracks whoop and howl as both players push past buoyant multiphonics to reed snarls and snorts and ambulatory drum pacing whose splayed extensions touch on John Coltrane’s most outré improvising as they slip in and out of various keys and pitches. But while Trane is an acknowledged influence, pieces such as Imprints and Radiance confirm that the duo can move past these restrictions. The latter features an expansive bass drum-tinged intro, which presages a saxophone groove that relates to pre-modern tenacious tenor players like Ben Webster and Arnett Cobb. As the tenor slurps and swings, the irregular vibrations and note extensions operate as almost dual call-and-response. Imprints has the same sort of relaxed feel, but with flutter-tongued dips from mid-range to the horn’s darker registers for added emphasis during solos. By the mid-point, Taylor’s backbeat meets up with the saxophonist, who works in a quote from A Love Supreme and exits with pure air blown through his instrument. Another distinguishing feature is on tracks such as First Born, when Taylor uses the glockenspiel-like resonance of the mbira with the facility of a guitarist to set up and stretch out the accompaniment to Lewis’ dissonant but artful interpretations.

05 Fujii This Is ItIf mbira and saxophone seems an unusual combination, so too is a trio of trumpet, piano and percussion, featured at the GJF on September 15 at Cooperators Hall. This afternoon gig on a double bill with the Dutch-Canadian Groven, Lumley & Stadhouders group, is the GJF debut of the 1538 trio of pianist Satoko Fujii, and trumpeter Natsuki Tamura, who have both played the GJF before, with drummer Takashi Itani. This Is It! (Libra Records 203-049 librarecords.com), the trio’s CD, convincingly demonstrates how easily the unfazed Itani adds his talents to the duo, which after decades of playing together anticipates each other’s every move. Named for the Celsius melting point of iron, this CD justifies the title. For instance, the drummer’s timed side ruffs on Prime Number push Fujii’s staggering chord exploration and Tamura’s mercurial grace notes into harmonic proximity so that the result is a unique squirming theme. And the drummer performs a similar gluing on Riding on the Clouds, but this time his prod is temple bell-like echoes, in sync with the trumpeter’s distantly strained tones and the pianist’s minimized chromatic movements. Swoop, however, proves that the three don’t have to operate at a hushed level, with Fujii’s high-frequency key pummelling and percussive arpeggios and Itani’s nerve beats and cymbal clashes creating a showcase where frequently-repeated note patterns define progress.

These concerts and others confirm that the GJF offers maturity tempered with experimentation – and it’s these qualities which draw fans to the city every September. 

01 KollageNo Fuss, No Muss
G-THREE GT0012 (kollage.ca)

If Norman Marshall Villeneuve’s bands from the 1980s and 90s earned him the title of Canada’s (or at least Toronto’s) Art Blakey, then drummer Archie Alleyne (1923-2015) would certainly have been this city’s Philly Joe Jones. Dependably swinging and, or at least it seemed, often employed, Alleyne had catholic tastes and could be heard accompanying singers, hard-hitting ensembles, musical veterans or new faces alike at an unending series of clubs, pubs, Ethiopian restaurants and pizza joints. He was a major force in Toronto’s jazz community. Full disclosure, I knew and admired Archie, having worked alongside him on a number of projects. He was equally fun both on and off the bandstand and, similar to the musicians he most admired, had sly turns of phrase. If a musician had gained a few pounds since their last meeting, Archie would coyly tell them they were looking prosperous. And when he gave musical direction, not that it happened very often, it was “No Fuss, No Muss,” meaning, swinging, joyful music delivered in an authentic and non-pretentious manner without unnecessary complications.

No Fuss, No Muss is about as close to a mission statement as a jazz musician could have, and congratulations to producer/label owner Greg Gooding and the assembled cast of very fine musicians whom Archie either worked with in Kollage or supported as a mentor for their work here. This recording both continues and punctuates the hard bop legacy of Kollage begun by neighbourhood friends Alleyne and Doug(ie) Richardson. By the sound of things, their musical legacy is in good hands for many years to come.

Back to top