Reissues of recorded music serve a variety of functions. Allowing us to experience sounds from the past is just one of them. More crucially, and this is especially important in terms of Free Jazz and Free Music, it restores to circulation sounds that were overlooked and/or spottily distributed on first appearance. Listening to those projects now not only provides an alternate view of musical history, but in many cases also provides a fuller understanding of music’s past.

01 TetterettLittle noticed in North America at the time of its 1977 release, Tetterettet (Corbett vs. Dempsey CvsD CD 060 by the Amsterdam-based ICP Tentet was a confirmation of the high quality improvised music gaining prominence in Europe. Listening to the 11 selections played by such subsequently renowned players as pianist Misha Mengelberg and drummer Han Bennink from the Netherlands plus saxophonist John Tchicai of Denmark and Germany’s Peter Brötzmann, the high level of musicianship stands out as well as the freedom composers had to inject broad or subtle humour into the tracks – a concept shied away from by deadly serious experimenters on this side of the Atlantic. Two of the emblematic tracks are Alexander’s Marschbefehl and Ludwig’s Blue Note. On the latter, Mengelberg cycles through an assemblage of properly inflected keyboard motifs from so-called classical music while around him the band, following the energetic lead of one of the saxophonists double-times a pseudo-tango. On the foot-tapping Alexander’s Marschbefehl a march-time variant is subverted with peeping and blaring horn parts as well as a clattering percussion display from Bennink, while the pianist provides pseudo-impressionism with one hand and honky-tonk inflections from the other. As much fun as these and other tracks are, the disc’s showpiece is Mengelberg’s five-part title suite. Managing to encompass echoes of Middle-European salon sounds, Latin dance rhythms and pure improvisation, the sequences encompass outer-space-like tweaks from Michael Waisvisz’s electronics, plunger spills from Bert Koppelaar’s trombone, fierce or furtive split tones from the four saxophonists and Bennink’s ruffs, rebounds and rattles while hitting every part of his kit to ratchet up excitement But the theme, which speeds up and descends in sections, maintains a steady pace due to Alan Silva’s bass holding the beat. As the reed players’ striated vibrations mock their earlier excesses and the drummer turns the beat around, surgically inserted keyboard clicks create a finale that references the introduction.

02 DetailLess brash and all-encompassing, but as remarkable a session, recorded in Norway in 1982, is Detail Day Two (NoBusiness Records CD 114 The first trio iteration of that long-running group, it also demonstrates the pan-nationalist ethos of free music. That’s because this multi-layered, intricately balanced 42-minute improvisation was created by Norwegian saxophonist Frode Gjerstad, British drummer John Stevens and South African bassist Johnny Dyani. Practiced and matured in his percussion skills, the drummer never takes a solo, but allows his rattling drum tops and singing cymbal lines to intuit the rhythm so that the beat appears inevitable. Dyani, who had long established himself in Europe, boomerangs from volleying consistent plucks, which help push forward the narrative, to intricate stretches, picks and pulls to pinpoint individual string pressure or suction as he solos within his rhythmic functions. Adapting to this barrage from the bottom, Gjerstad starts off with tongue wiggles and intensity vibrations radiating from his soprano saxophone, and as the exposition becomes more pressurized switches to the deeper-toned tenor saxophone. Moving up from breathy snorts, his growling ghost notes and palindrome vibrations sound at various speeds and pitches to parallel Dyani’s strums and later bowed buzzes. Slowly, during the sequence’s second section, the saxophonist digs deeper into the theme and exposes all of its possible variables as he’s doubled by ricochets from the string set, with Stevens’ press rolls and bounces providing controlling and comforting accompaniment. Variations explored from all sides of the sound triangle, spidery fingering, positioned reed smears and drum clatter cease at the appropriate moment, never climaxing, but suggesting further trio explorations lie ahead.

03 GiuffreOne of the progenitors of free-form improvising that was little noticed at the time but proved highly influential for exploratory music’s future, was the European tour of American clarinetist Jimmy Giuffre3, his trio with Canadian pianist Paul Bley and American bassist Steve Swallow. A previously unreleased 75-minute Austrian radio broadcast, Graz Live 1961 (ezz-thetics 1001, shows what baffled, energized and/or influenced contemporary musicians. Running through 11, mostly Giuffre-composed tracks, encompassing multiple moods, speeds and pitches, the trio uses the concert setting to extend performances. A later classic like Cry Want, for instance, benefits as the heartfelt compassion in the title is made more palpable in the clarinetist’s a cappella introduction, framed by Bley’s dispassionate comping and Swallow’s swaying pumps, so that Giuffre’s ultimate shrills become that much more rending. It’s the same with the sequences that make up Suite for Germany. With a piano countermelody challenging the reedist’s initial high pitches, it’s Swallow’s unselfconscious walking which keeps the pieces together. Keyboard colouring helps slide the next section into an expression of carefully weighed tones from Giuffre with circular breathed continuum. Yet the subsequent fills Bley feeds into the narrative confirm an elaboration of mid-range swing. Reed peeps and piano slashes harden the following line but without compromising the rhythmic impetus, concluding with widening clarinet lows and double bass strums. Subverting the accusation of effete chamber-jazz, the set includes a collection of clattering from the plucked and stopped strings of a prepared piano; climbing shrills and soaring peeps from the clarinet; and guitar-like facility in expression and rhythm from the bassist. Pauses and hesitancy allow the trio to savour and stretch more beautiful motifs, yet at the same time, as on Trance, Bley backs Swallow’s string finesse with piano-lid slams that create extra percussiveness.

04 RaindancerAnother pianist, who like Bley has been thoroughly involved with a variety of styles and ensembles, is UK-native Keith Tippett, although there’s no record of him utilizing the back-fall for its rhythmic qualities. However on the title track of The Unlonely Raindancer (Discus 81 CD, the sheer audacity of his improvisation reaches such a height that his vibrations on the keyboard and inner strings become so inadequate that he repeatedly smacks the instrument’s wood and lets loose with a couple of rebel yells. A reissue of his first solo set from 1979, the 78 minutes of what was a two-LP set, give him ample scope for full expression. Dynamically ranging through all layers of the piano with tropes that refer to bop, modal, swing and free playing, his interpretations range from sympathetic voicing, which presages intertwined stops and transitions (The Pool), to spun-out storytelling, expressed in widening spurts of emphasized textures and concentrated tonal colour-melding climaxing with echoing forward motion (Tortworth Oak). The key(s) to his creativity though are subsequent tracks that in execution and exploration are mirror images of one another – one centred around treble pitches, the second the ground bass. The latter, The Muted Melody, swiftly sweeps from kinetic to moderato as bouncing notes follow one after another in random rushes, often dipping into the deeper part of the soundboard. Further vibrating harmonics bolster and expose the playing which gallops to the end in speed mode. Concentrating on the harshest pitches that can be reverberated from highest keys in the first section of the more-than-19-minute Steel Yourself / the Bell, the Gong, the Voice, Tippett later creates Big Ben-like bongs from the wound string set. Ultimately reaching the midway mark, he switches strategies from chord plucking to sweeping to a groove that highlights strength as well as swing. As his power voicing reaches a point where the sequence can’t become any thicker or cramped, he sophisticatedly diminishes the pressure with responsive strumming that echoes even after the final pluck.

05 LiberationWhile this search for the new was proceeding in Europe, North American free jazz musicians faced a commercial atmosphere that promoted soul-jazz and jazz-rock above all else. As fascinating sociologically as musically, 1973’s Sounds of Liberation (Corbett vs. Dempsey CvsD CD 057 details how one Philadelphia-based sextet attempted to affect a musical détente between progressive and pop. A song collection driven by fluid foot-tapping rhythms from drums, congas and percussion, the tracks often contrast power slaps from Khan Jamal’s vibes with glossy picking from guitarist Monnnette Sudler. Seconding both, Byard Lancaster’s silky flute puffs fasten onto poppy Herbie Mann-like tropes, while his alto saxophone split tones on tracks like Sweet Evil Mist are raunchy enough to fit any James Brown disc of the era. If this faceoff between funky and freedom wasn’t enough, Backstreets of Heaven, the longest track, goes a step further than the then-popular so-called spiritual jazz and the likes of saxophonist Pharoah Sanders and vocalist Leon Thomas, by adding unnamed male and female vocalists on top of the chugging guitar riffs, clanking vibes and overblowing reed snarls. With a call-and-response Motown-smooth delivery, the track seems aimed at the R&B singles market – that is if it wasn’t nearly 11 minutes long.

Listening anew to these discs provides a rethinking and better understanding of the musical currents of those times.

02 Allison YoungSo Here We Are
Alison Young
Triplet TR10023 (

Stellar, JUNO-nominated saxophonist Alison Young has released her diverse, long-awaited debut album. Those who have had the pleasure of seeing Young play live know what to expect from this record and it definitely lives up to and exceeds all expectations. There is no shortage of great musicianship on the album, featuring well-known musicians such as Eric St-Laurent on guitar, Jeff McLeod on piano and organ, Ross MacIntyre on bass, Chris Wallace on drums and Guido Basso on flugelhorn. Pieces do a great job of showcasing the talents of all musicians and are mostly written by Young herself, with the exception of three tracks.

Diversity is found throughout every piece in this album. There are contrasts between elegant and energetic, driven melodies, as well as various inspirations ranging from “hard bop to soul to New Orleans-style funk.” Cedar Roots starts the record off with a righteous bang and is a strong example of the drive that drummers Chris Wallace and Sly Juhas bring to each track. Afterparty delves into a New Orleans-esque flavour with Young’s soul and funk inspirations showing through, as well as a delicious hint of traditional rock ‘n’ roll added to the mix. Celia & Harry and title track, So Here We Are, display another side of the saxophonist’s playing, leaning towards elegance, grace and a hark back to a more traditional jazz sound. Young’s album is a thoroughly enjoyable musical journey for all jazz lovers.

03 Curtis NowosadCurtis Nowosad
Curtis Nowosad
Sessionheads United SU007 (

Curtis Nowosad is a drummer and composer who was born and raised in Winnipeg but has lived in New York City since 2013 after moving there to complete a master’s degree at the Manhattan School of Music. This is Nowosad’s third album, the first recorded in New York, and contains five original compositions and three covers. The musicianship is impeccable with crisp horns, a tight and driving rhythm section, and arrangements reminiscent of Birth of the Cool. Highlights include Braxton Cook’s several wily alto saxophone solos and Andrew Renfroe’s guitar work on Hard Time Killing Floor Blues which is soulful, bluesy and rhythmically varied. Nowosad’s drumming is complex yet understated, always interesting but never in the way of the other player’s groove. Brianna Thomas’ assured vocals on two songs add extra nuance to the project.

This album can stand alone as an excellent example of intelligent, driving jazz but there are compelling social and historical themes woven through the original compositions and cover choices. The opening Home is Where the Hatred Is comes from Gil Scott-Heron’s 1970 album, Pieces of a Man. Nina Simone’s Sea Line Woman is given an elegant and sophisticated treatment. Nowosad’s The Water Protectors is dedicated to the Standing Rock Sioux and other Indigenous people while Never Forget What They Did to Fred Hampton is a sharp reminder of the young Black Panther activist’s murder and cover-up. Curtis Nowosad combines socially conscious history with assured jazz performances.

04 Jacques Kuba SeguinMigrations
Jacques Kuba Séguin
Odd Sound ODS-17 (

Released in June on his own label, ODD SOUND Records, Migrations is the newest album from the Montreal-based trumpeter Jacques Kuba Séguin. A regular in the Montreal jazz and creative music community, Séguin tours regularly, including a 2016 stint in Poland, Lithuania, and Germany, and has worked as the host of the Symphonie en bleu radio show, for ICI Musique classique. In addition to Séguin, who is solely responsible for the album’s compositions and arrangements, Migrations features pianist Jean-Michel Pilc, tenor saxophonist Yannick Rieu, vibraphonist Olivier Salazar, bassist Adrian Vedady and drummer Kevin Warren.

The medium-tempo Hymne starts things off, and gives Séguin plenty of room to exercise his warm, burnished sound; it also contains beautiful moments from Pilc, Salazar and Rieu. Pilc – who, since becoming a faculty member at McGill, is appearing on more and more Montreal-based projects – tends to always be excellent and his work on Migrations is no exception; his playing on Origine, the album’s second track, is particularly satisfying. Première neige (You’re Not Alone), one of Migrations’ most introspective tunes, is beautiful, and Séguin takes the opportunity to showcase the expressive, lyrical side of his playing. I Remember Marie in April, a clear album highlight, begins with stellar playing from Warren, who negotiates the tune’s syncopated shots with aplomb and keeps things interesting throughout the solos. Overall, Migrations is a thoroughly engaging album, with strong individual playing deployed in the service of a cohesive group spirit.

05 Vlatkovich FiveFive of Us
Michael Vlatkovich; 5 Winds

Gathering four of Toronto’s most accomplished horn players to collaborate on his 5 Winds Suite and other compositions, American trombonist Michael Vlatkovich recorded this disc at Array Space, producing sounds that recall both a disciplined concert band and a freeform improvising ensemble.

Dividing the presentation so that the higher-pitched trumpets of Lina Allemano and Nicole Rampersaud are contrapuntally stacked against darker timbres from David Mott’s and Peter Lutek’s saxophones, the trombonist challenges or harmonizes with each group in turn, lowing snarls when called for and shrilling flutter tones when necessary. Working through call-and-response sections as well as individual solo spots, the crafty arrangements are particularly notable on the suite. Sophisticatedly layered to highlight individual voices, a climax of sorts arrives with Part 5: Five. Mott’s baritone saxophone sighs move from melodious harmony to screaming intensity as the muted brass tones bolster the background. Although top-of-range cries and slurs dominate, dissonance never upsets forward motion.

Similar strategies underline the other sequences. On the introductory Please Help Me I’m Blowing Bubbles, for instance, Vlatkovich’s airy slides harmonize with descending reed amplifications. Later, after the five experiments with variants of split tones, slurs and shakes, the concluding For The Protection of Yourself and Others You’ll Need to Wear Your Space Suit is bouncy and boisterous but balanced despite shuddering capillary brassiness and reed glossolalia. Four of the five musicians may come from a different country, but exemplary improvising within crafty arrangements knows no boundaries.

06 Peter EldridgeSomewhere
Peter Eldridge; Kenny Werner
Rosebud Music (

Consummate vocalist, composer and lyricist, Peter Eldridge has joined forces with arguably one of the finest jazz pianist/composers of his (or any other) generation, Kenny Werner, to co-produce a contemporary album of breathtaking beauty. The project boasts not only some fine original tunes, but also a sprinkling of some much loved popular standards – all rendered with fine rhythm section work by Werner on piano, Matt Aronoff on bass and Yoron Israel on drums. Eldridge’s rich, nuanced vocals and sumptuous orchestral arrangements (skillfully arranged for The Fantastical String Orchestra by Werner and conductor/cellist Eugene Friesen) make this a formidable CD.

Things kick off with the Eddie Arnold hit, You Don’t Know Me. Eldridge’s silky baritone takes command of this gorgeous standard, which is lusciously wrapped in acoustic strings and supported by the supple spine of Werner’s inspired piano work. Another outstanding selection is That Which Can’t Be Explained, with music and lyrics by Eldridge. This sensitive ballad has a lovely, poetic lyric and a pleasingly complex melodic line. Eldridge effortlessly takes the listener along for the ride on a deep emotional journey… this is a hit song in search of a hit Broadway show!

Additionally, the Bernstein/Sondheim title track/medley is a major stunner, and begins with a haunting a cappella voice, followed by solo piano, which gently enfolds Eldridge throughout. A brilliant orchestral segue leads to the second part of the medley, A Time for Love, which features exquisite harp and string section work, and of course Johnny Mandel’s incomparable melody.

Without question, the artistry of Eldridge and Werner make Somewhere one of the most exceptional recordings that I have had the privilege to experience this year.

07 Pete McGuiness OrchAlong for the Ride
The Pete McGuinness Jazz Orchestra
Summit Records DCD 747 (

With the release of his third big-band CD, multiple Grammy-nominated composer, arranger, producer, trombonist and vocalist Pete McGuinness has certainly grabbed the golden ring. This is a fine recording featuring tasty standards, beautifully-constructed original compositions, inspired and contemporary arrangements by McGuinness and skilled performances by some of New York City’s most gifted musicians. All arrangements here are by McGuinness, and the recording kicks off with the Charles Strouse depression-era hit Put on a Happy Face. The track is the perfect, snappy, up-tempo opener, with a beautifully recorded big band sound (no easy task) and a buoyant and facile tenor solo from Tom Christensen.

The creative take on the late Michel Legrand’s You Must Believe in Spring is a total delight. McGuiness scats over melodic lines, and also performs the lyric with great emotion and perfect intonation, while pianist Mike Holober propels this gorgeous tune and arrangement through and around all of its beautiful changes. Of special note is Aftermath. With a moving brass choir opening, this original has its origins in an assignment once given to McGuinness by Bob Brookmeyer at the BMI Jazz Composers’ Workshop. Essentially an expanded tone poem about the loss of McGuinness’ close friend, this contemporary piece features Dave Pietro’s incredible (and indelible) soprano solo, which morphs into a wail of pain, grief and frustration (as well as other fine-tuned emotional states).

An additional standout is the McGuinness composition, Point of Departure – a dynamic arrangement that displays a full-throttle, big band sound – just as it should be – with Rob Middleton shining on tenor, as does Bill Mobley on trumpet.

Listen to 'Along for the Ride' Now in the Listening Room

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