02 James HallLattice
James Hall
Outside In Music OiM 1801 (jameshallmusic.com)

Lattice, the sophomore release from New York-based trombonist/bandleader James Hall, is, as the title implies, an album whose themes are rooted in the productive promise of intersectionality. As a metaphor for improvised music, latticework – with its criss-cross construction, multiple points of intersection, and inherently open form – seems so apt that it is a wonder that the term has not seen wider use. Beyond Hall’s compositional skills (he wrote six of the album’s eight tracks) and trombone, the strands that constitute this particular Lattice are Jamie Baum (flute and alto flute), Deanna Witkowski (piano and Rhodes), Tom DiCarlo (bass) and Allan Mednard (drums), with the addition, on Black Narcissus and Brittle Stitch, of special guest Sharel Cassity (alto saxophone).

Shoy, the album’s first track, begins with a beautiful melody, played by Hall and Baum. The combination of trombone and flute is another unusual but apposite element of Lattice: the direct, lower-register trombone and the breathy, higher-register flute create an unexpectedly compelling texture. The propulsive, swinging Brittle Stitch showcases the talents of Witkowski and Cassity, both of whom take memorable, concise solos, with the assistance of DiCarlo and Mednard, who are excellent here and throughout the album. Traveller, another Hall original, builds intensity slowly but surely, and features brief marvels from Witkowski and Mednard. Beyond its strong compositions and performances, Lattice also scores points for its high production quality: special mention to engineer Aaron Nevezie, mixing/mastering engineer Katsuhiko Naito, and to Ryan Keberle (who co-produced with Hall).

03 Francois RichardLibération – Jazz Flute
François Richard
Effendi Records CMFR004 (effendirecords.com)

How many times can one reach the pinnacle of his compositional and flute-playing powers? Well, if you are the Québécois virtuoso François Richard, then the answer is probably several times; in fact, it might even be a bit risqué to suggest a definitive figure. He may scale even greater heights in future, but if he never achieves anything better than Libération he still has ample reason to be proud. Richard’s take on the lineage of the cool, spacey flute is infinitely less than conventional here, seeing him summoning woody tones from the instrument that float benignly over Guillaume Martineau’s languid piano, the growling gravitas of Rémi-Jean Leblanc’s contrabass and the delicate thunder of Martin Auguste’s drums.

Each musician takes turns adding rich and not entirely predictable harmonic inventions to the music. The opener Ponctuation is a joyous, dancing piece which engages the senses. It’s followed by Winter Blues, a slow, slightly mysterious and ballad-edged tune with a rueful feel. Winter Blues features a thoughtful melodic solo by Richard, as does Une tempête, which reminds one of the leaping virtuosity of the late, great Eric Dolphy. Richard continues to ring in the changes in mood, structure and tempo, making Libération a program of constantly interesting repertoire.

The considerable degree of balance and integration of melody, harmony and rhythm, of composition and improvisation, of exploration, individuality and tradition, is impressively maintained throughout.

04 Noam LemishPardes
Amos Hoffman; Noam Lemish
Independent (hoffmanlemish.com)

Pardes (pronounced par-DES) is the Hebrew word for orchard or “fruit garden” and, according to the liner notes, the origin of the word “paradise.” This makes a lot of sense: listening to Pardes, the Amos Hoffman and Noam Lemish Quartet’s first collaborative CD release, it’s easy to feel like you’ve been transported to a musically intoxicating Garden of Eden.

Both Israeli-born and exceptional musicians, oudist, guitarist and innovator Hoffman, now based in South Carolina, and Toronto-based pianist and composer Lemish, have been collecting Jewish melodies from around the world for over 20 years. With Pardes, Kurdish, Ladino, Yemenite, Moroccan, Russian, Bukharian and Israeli songs have been uniquely transformed by Hoffman and Lemish’s shared jazz sensibilities and inspired arrangements. The results? These songs – many well-known and beloved – have been reimagined into sultry, sexy, evocative, compelling and just plain gorgeous jazz-infused jewels.

Each track is worthy of its own review but for now, some “quick pick” standouts: Hoffman’s stunning oud work on Adon Haslichot; Lemish’s exhilarating piano on Dror Yikra; the exquisite contribution by guest clarinettist Jacob Gorzhaltsan on Äji Tü, Yormä, Äji?; the exuberant exchanges between guitar and piano on Tchol Hamitpachat; and the deeply expressive work by both Lemish and Hoffman on Ets Harimon. Guest tombak player, Pedram Khavarzamini, adds yet another layer of beauty on three tracks, and the Gray brothers, Justin (bass) and Derek (drums and percussion), round out this remarkable quartet with their skilful and sensitive musicianship.

Plug into Pardes and enjoy your stay in paradise!

Listen to 'Pardes' Now in the Listening Room

05 Adrean FarrugiaBlued Dharma
Adrean Farrugia; Joel Frahm
GB Records GBCD1804 (gbrecords.ca)

It was while on tour with drummer Ernesto Cervini’s band in 2014 that the idea of recording a duo album emerged for Toronto-based pianist Adrean Farrugia and New York City-based saxophonist Joel Frahm. Fortunately for us, Blued Dharma, released last month, is the result of a splendid idea taken seriously and brought, beautifully, to fruition.

Farrugia and Frahm are masterful musicians and improvisers. And clearly, these two mutual fans and musical friends revel in playing together. Simpatico, musical connection, uncanny understanding, empathy – call it what you will – these two have it, and it permeates the CD. Of the album’s eight tracks, five are originals by Farrugia – as insightful a composer as he is a pianist – two are utterly refreshing and intriguingly different turns on Roy Noble’s Cherokee, and track five is Farrugia and Frahm’s joyful jaunt through Kern and Hammerstein’s Showboat classic, Nobody Else But Me; listen for the brief, playful nod to Over the Rainbow. The title track sounds like what you’d imagine something called Blued Dharma would: contemplative, expressive, deeply personal. The third track, For Murray Gold, is a heartaching ballad. If someone ever writes a piece of music for me, please let it be that gorgeous!

Farrugia and Frahm do not merely improvise. They complement, interact with, enhance, cajole, inspire, coax and charm each other. Blued Dharma is nothing short of magical. You, too, will be charmed.

06 PlantPlant
Éric Normand & Jim Denley
Smeraldina-Rima 26/Tour de Bras TDBLP990002 (tourdebras.com)

Quebec’s smaller cities sometimes spawn radical music. Michel Levasseur has produced 34 annual editions of the epic FIMAV festival in Victoriaville, while Éric Normand has created an extraordinarily active scene – complete with record label and improvising orchestra – even further afield in Rimouski. One of Normand’s ongoing collaborations is with Australian saxophonist/flutist Jim Denley: they first recorded together in a Rimouski quintet in 2010 on Transition de Phase. Plant, available as a beautifully packaged, limited-edition LP or a download, presents the two in a 2013 performance. If the title suggests organic growth, a first hearing suggests it’s a pun, linking garden and industrial plants.

If the combination of flute or saxophone and electric bass might suggest sparse work, that’s hardly the case here. There are dense, sustained sounds, whether alternating or layered, coming from Normand’s electric bass and Denley’s “field recordings” of a clothing factory. Whether playing flute or saxophone, Denley often focuses on the slow alternated notes and trills, sometimes sustained with circular breathing. Normand and the field recordings suggest the factory, Denley’s winds in the glade.

Together they create a kind of post-industrial pastoral in which the vibrating amplified strings and machinery ultimately fuse with Denley’s minimalist, gestural language, his flute sound almost a kind of first brush with music in a primeval forest. The result is an extended meditation on the nature and meaning of sound, its threats, codes and ambiguities transfigured into resonant repose.

07 Jakob BroReturnings
Jakob Bro
ECM 2546 (ecmrecords.com)

Danish guitarist Jakob Bro appears here in a stellar quartet that includes two elders of Scandinavian jazz, trumpeter/flugelhornist Palle Mikkelborg and Norwegian drummer Jon Christensen. The result is a classic program in the Nordic school that ECM has perfected, a clear, spacious essay in spare melodies, nuanced emotions and subtle background shadings. While Christensen and American bassist Thomas Morgan supply optimum, empathetic foundations with subtle comments and suggestions only occasionally coming to the fore, much of the music feels like a close collaboration between Bro and the 77-year-old Mikkelborg, who composed and produced the orchestral suite Aura with Miles Davis in 1985 when Bro and Morgan were young children.

The profound affinity between guitarist and trumpeter even inflects their luminous timbres as well as their economy of line, Bro’s electric guitar sound clarified to the point that it might be a brass instrument. Their empathy is apparent immediately in the opening tracks in which the two develop ballads with contrasting moods. The opening Oktober is pensive and introspective, foregrounding Mikkelborg’s Harmon-muted trumpet, while Strands is pure reflection in pastoral hues. The title track provides contrast: it’s a collaborative composition between Bro and Mikkelborg with an edge of metallic feedback to the guitar and an echoplex for the trumpet, summoning up something of Miles Davis’ electric period. The concluding track, Mikkelborg’s yearning Youth, restores the dominant texture.

While this description might suggest background music, the CD would likely prove too distractingly beautiful for that.

08 Emmet CohenMasters Legacy Series Volume 2
Emmet Cohen featuring Ron Carter
Cellar Live CL062917 (cellarlive.com)

Masters Legacy Series Volume 2, from New York-based pianist Emmet Cohen, represents a confluence of multiple productive collaborations. The first: between Cohen, drummer Evan Sherman, and bassist Ron Carter, the latter of whom, for the unfamiliar, is the titular master whose legacy is being celebrated. Now 81, Carter has appeared on over 2000 recordings, and came to prominence in the 1960s as a member of Miles Davis’s “second great quintet,” along with Herbie Hancock, Tony Williams and Wayne Shorter. The second collaboration: between Cohen and Vancouver-based record label Cellar Live, helmed by Cory Weeds. Initially a label that predominantly released live recordings made at the now-defunct Cellar Jazz Club in Vancouver, Cellar Live has grown into an independent powerhouse, with over 120 releases since its inception in 2001. The third collaboration, in a somewhat broader sense: between New York and Vancouver. Weeds and Cohen first met in 2016, as part of an annual Weeds-conducted jazz-centric tour of New York, and Masters Legacy Volume 2 was recorded at Vancouver’s Pyatt Hall.

With 12 tracks and over 70 minutes of music, the album is packed with interesting material. All Of You kicks things off, recalling, in its tasteful, playful minimalism, the work of Ahmad Jamal, another living jazz master. The Carter-penned blues It’s About Time is an album highlight, with strong, swinging playing from the trio, and a fiery, tempo-shifting Joshua closes the show, showcasing Carter’s propulsive facility. A strong album, both in concept and execution.

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