02 Remi BolducSwingin’ with/avec Oscar
Rémi Bolduc Jazz Ensemble
Les Productions Art and Soul PAS1701 (remibolduc.com)

Whilst the term “less is more” does not really describe the exchanges between saxophonist Rémi Bolduc and pianist Taurey Butler which shine with radiant apparel, there is an unmatched nimbleness of sound. This is no stripped-down performance, but a full and wholesome creation of songful dialogue between saxophone and piano almost in the grand manner of Schumann-like Lied. Only here it is Bolduc who is accompanied by ebullient arpeggios and unrestrained glissandi from the fingers of Butler.

It is easy to fall prey to the charms of this music. Song after song on Swingin’ with Oscar combines a craftsman-like approach to Oscar Peterson’s ingenious writing and inspired improvisations. Bolduc, Butler, Chantal de Villiers, Fraser Hollins and Dave Laing all play inspired roles in bringing the melodic, harmonic and rhythmic genius of Peterson to life for us again. And it’s not just on Place St. Henri or Laurentide Waltz, but everywhere on this album.

The inspiration of course also comes from the memorable repertoire that seems to have been musical manna, fallen from the sky. Vitality and brilliance in each re-invention shine forth with the strongest and most appealing combination of colours. Dynamic range and balance between the instruments are achieved by each artist who, remarkably, never seems to tread on the other’s turf. Rhythm is strongly marked, emphasizing thematic gestures, the subtlety of which makes for an utterly breathtaking experience.

03 Johanna SillanpaaFrom This Side
Johanna Sillanpaa
Chronograph Records CR052 (johannamusic.com)

In Canada, which is brim-ful of vocal talent, there is not always room for more unless the vocalist is unquestionably topnotch. Such is the case of Johanna Sillanpaa. Few vocalists seem to respond with such quintessential musicianship to the often passionate lyricism and rhythm of jazz as Sillanpaa. Her disc From This Side is redolent of luminescent textures which she employs to drive the musical drama with telling nuance, avoiding all glibness and sentimentalism sometimes associated with balladry.

On this 2017 album Sillanpaa seems to always be just a hair’s breadth away from the listener’s ears so that the adventures and misadventures of the music’s protagonists are always experienced from close up. In Sillanpaa’s performance where she is mining the depths of original works and standards we are privy to a singular sensuality born of remarkable articulation as she slides into character with lustrous glissandos and pitch-perfect singing. Woodstock is a strong case in point, but there are also nine other pieces that highlight her fascinating abilities.

The listener is also treated to fine musicianship from a stellar ensemble that includes bassist George Koller, trumpeter Ingrid Jensen, pianist Chris Andrew and drummer Tyler Hornby. Tangibles such as harmonics and time-keeping are scrupulously maintained but Sillanpaa also brings something ineffably heartfelt to musical subtexts which she unearths and executes with ethereal beauty on In My Dreams, the disc’s most utterly memorable song.

04 MEM3Circles
Independent (MEM3.info)

MEM3 is a collective with a shared vision of what a contemporary piano trio is capable of. Writing responsibilities are divided more or less evenly between its members and a common thread runs through both the tunes and the arrangements. Many of the compositions share a deceptively minimal approach while others are through composed with elements of electronica in the mix. This is fresh-sounding music with a strong melodic vein and a level of sophistication and depth that can sneak up and take the listener by surprise.

Bassist Mark Lau’s Centrical establishes the album’s sonic landscape. Electronic loops pave the way for a two-chord piano vamp over a laid-back funk feel. The group makes full use of its wide dynamic range, from drummer Ernesto Cervini’s brushwork off the top, to the rock anthem-like vibe displayed later in the track. Pianist Michael Cabe’s solo develops organically from unassuming materials and its subsequent intricacy always feels natural. This ability to move from relative simplicity to melodic and harmonic density is repeated in his composition Native Dancer. The tune is comprised of several distinct sections, the last of which sets Cervini up for an intensely musical solo on brushes.

Cervini’s Quiescent is a pretty ballad that gives bassist Lau an opportunity to stretch out in a lyrical solo. Cabe again moves effortlessly from a sparse beginning into more elaborate and ingenious lines as the trio works together to create its compelling sense of interplay.

05 Bobs PianoBob’s Piano
Mike Allen; Miles Black; Bob Murphy
Almus Jazz ALM 16306 (mikeallenjazz.com)

Saxophonist Mike Allen’s Bob’s Piano is a remarkable tribute to one of Canada’s finest and most inventive jazz pianists. Bob Murphy, who passed away in 2015, forged a long career, primarily in his native Vancouver, and mentored a generation of musicians along the way. The origin of the recording is a series of duets that the pianist recorded in his home. Never intended for release, they were recovered after Murphy’s death and became the basis of this unique and intimate album.

Miles Black, another excellent Vancouver pianist, is heard with Allen on the record’s first six tracks. Playing on Murphy’s piano, he manages to reflect the spirit of its owner while maintaining his own distinct voice. Kenny Wheeler’s Nothing Changes sets the tone with the kind of intuitive interplay between Allen and Black that epitomizes this style of jazz. Allen’s burnished tone and understated approach mesh perfectly with Black’s melodicism, the two soloing as one at times. And You Become the Moonlight, a Murphy composition, features tenor and piano playing pleasantly twisting unison lines on the melody then seguing seamlessly from one solo to the next.

Murphy himself makes an appearance on the final four tracks, beginning with a fresh take on the classic Stella by Starlight. His singular touch on the instrument, expansive time feel and boundless imagination are immediately apparent as his improvised counterpoint lines develop on Allen’s loose and inspired interpretation of the melody. Bob’s Piano is a delight to listen to and an important glimpse into one of our country’s greatest and perhaps under-sung musical heroes.

06 Phantom HunterThe Phantom Hunter

Toronto’s high-priced real estate has meant tremendous growth for grass-roots, cash-strapped, experimental arts – ever further afield. Neighbouring Hamilton is becoming a hotbed for free improvisation, including recent events like the Something Else! Festival of Creative Music. Out of that activity has emerged this notable trio, comprised of veteran bassist David Lee, guitarist Chris Palmer, recently arrived from New Zealand, and saxophonist Connor Bennett.

The group’s distinct identity is apparent from the opening 12/3 pt. 1, as each member presents a distinct sonic identity. Bennett announces his presence with a stately and lyrical declaration on tenor saxophone; Palmer proposes a dissonant cluster on amplified guitar and Lee presents a powerful arco voice. As the three join loosely together, the music assumes an almost orchestral character, the result of each musician’s emphasis on richly traditional sonorities. That insistent sonic quality persists on the mysteriously beautiful West of Arkham, a kind of free ballad in which Bennett’s luminous soprano saxophone weaves through Palmer’s acoustic arpeggios and the resonant flow of Lee’s sonorous bass.

Alive to the charms of Celtic music and cool jazz ambiance, Lee/Palmer/Bennett also appreciates the liberty of full-blown free improvisation. Reed Breeding is particularly fascinating for its exploration of tonality less travelled, from its whistling bass harmonics and saxophone multiphonics to a brilliant passage of microtonal slide guitar. This is a subtly interactive chamber ensemble that spontaneously integrates novel tones and textures into fresh music.

07 Canada DayOn Parade in Parede
Harris Eisenstadt Canada Day Quartet
Clean Feed 413CD (cleanfeed-records.com)

Harris Eisenstadt is a Toronto-born drummer and composer who resides comfortably at the creative edges of jazz. His band Canada Day, usually a quintet, is a quartet for this occasion, a concert in the beachfront town of Parede, Portugal.

The band includes two Americans, trumpeter Nate Wooley and tenor saxophonist Matt Bauder, and the French-German bassist Pascal Niggenkemper. The musicians have age in common (they’re between 38 and 42) and something else: sheer brilliance. Among Eisenstadt’s numerous ensembles, Canada Day may be the most traditional and also the loosest: its sprung rhythms (suggesting African and Latin roots) and clipped themes recall the early music of Ornette Coleman, while the individual and collective voices of the band sound like they were just invented.

It’s easiest to point out moments of individual invention, like Wooley’s solo on We All Ate…Parts 2 & 5, but there’s also the moment on Sympathy Batters No Parsnips at which Bauder’s extended techniques reach peak fervour only to have Wooley enter with a spray of brassy sound, the trumpet as white-noise generator, multiplying the music’s already high density. While individual highlights are frequently brilliant, it’s the group’s collective invention and precision that’s most impressive, from the compound pulsation elaborated by Eisenstadt and Niggenkemper on We All Ate…Part 3 to the final instantaneous ensemble halt on Part 1.

One might debate this music’s category, but whatever it is, this is the state of the art.

08 Bill EvansOn a Monday Evening
The Bill Evans Trio
Fantasy FAN00095

Previously unknown recordings of Bill Evans have been surfacing regularly of late, confirming the late pianist’s position as one of the most rapturously lyrical and harmonically creative figures in jazz history. This installment captures Evans in concert in Madison, Wisconsin, in 1976 with his regular trio of bassist Eddie Gomez, then in his ninth year in the group, and drummer Eliot Zigmund, who had joined the previous year. The chemistry with Gomez is particularly good: the bassist spent over a decade in the trio and was Evans’ most adventurous partner after Scott LaFaro, who had first defined the highly mobile role of the bass in the Evans trio, moving from harmonic fundamentals and propulsion to aggressive counter melody with sudden excursions to the upper register.

Evans certainly lives up to his reputation for limpid beauty here. There’s the reverie of Time Remembered, the pensive Minha (All Mine) and the trance-like elaboration of Leonard Bernstein’s Some Other Time; however, there’s also energized music as well, like the exploratory T.T.T. (Twelve Tone Tune) and All of You, with room left for extended bass and drum solos that bring the trio’s individual strengths to the fore.

While this lacks the surprise of the recent Some Other Time: The Lost Session from the Black Forest (Resonance), an unknown studio recording from 1968 with drummer Jack DeJohnette, On a Monday Evening is a fine addition to a still-expanding body of work.

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