07 Sharon MinemotoSafe Travels
Sharon Minemoto
Pagetown Records PTCD007 (sharonminemoto.com)

Pianist Sharon Minemoto – soulmate of the late, ineffable Ross Taggart – celebrates Taggart’s life and genius with this rather special, heartfelt homage: Safe Travels. Bidding farewell especially in rather bittersweet circumstances is never easy at the best of times. Musically the temptation to let sentimentality take over is all too real. Minemoto eschews that with a program of music that is informed by nuanced, poetic rumination that manages to also be refreshingly uplifting as well. Eight of the nine songs are based on funny and bittersweet memories of when Minemoto and Taggart were partners. The Vancouver-based pianist emerges from this recital with great credit – imaginative and lyrical as a composer, with pianistic technique in spades.

This recording will not only be remembered for its elegiac reconstruction of the larger-than-life personality that Taggart was, especially among Canada’s West Coast musical community. Rather it will also draw accolades for its gorgeous, cinematic quality. Song after song brings to life the interplay between the two characters – Taggart and Minemoto. And if the listener reads the notes along with the music, moving pictures almost come to life before the eyes. The wittily chipper 15 for 2 depicts a charming episode between the characters at play. Safe Travels is a wistful rhapsody. Perhaps the best aspect of the music is that it suggests characters enjoying themselves, playing at life. All credit to performances by Minemoto and saxophonist Jon Bentley, bassist Adam Thomas and drummer Bernie Arai for making this come alive.

08 Haden Time LifeTime/Life
Charlie Haden Liberation Music Orchestra
Impulse 4798480


The great bassist Charlie Haden (1937-2014) launched his recording career as a leader in 1969 with the Liberation Music Orchestra, a big band devoted to political protest, its repertoire of international folk songs and contemporary compositions all orchestrated by Carla Bley and featuring stellar associates like Don Cherry and Gato Barbieri. Haden and Bley returned to the project intermittently and were in the midst of this environment-focused work when Haden became too ill to continue in 2012. On Time/Life, two pieces recorded with Haden in Norway in 2011 bracket three from 2015, with Steve Swallow playing bass in Haden’s stead in the same 12-piece band, with trombonist Curtis Fowlkes and saxophonists Tony Malaby and Loren Stillman among the soloists.

The music possesses the same quality that Haden and Bley first developed nearly 50 years ago, a combination of anthemic determination, pastoral reflection and moments of intense, wailing expressionism. The environmental focus arises in new arrangements of older compositions, opening with a serenely beautiful treatment of Miles Davis’ and Bill Evans’ Blue in Green. Bley’s Silent Spring, inspired by Rachel Carson, dates from the 60s; her Útviklingssang, written to protest the impact of Norwegian dams, from the 70s. Only the warm, welling, richly-voiced Time/Life, her elegy for Haden, is recent.

The final track is Haden’s Song for the Whales, first composed in 1978 and recorded by the group Old and New Dreams. The work inscribes an arc, bracketed by Haden’s wispy arco passages emulating whale song. Its plaintive theme serves as a springboard to Tony Malaby’s admirably constructed solo, moving from lyric reflection to sounds that suggest the whale voices to be found in the reaches of his tenor saxophone solo.

09 Guy Crispell LyttonDeep Memory
Barry Guy; Marilyn Crispell; Paul Lytton
Intakt Records CD273 (www.intaktrec.ch)

The trio of bassist Barry Guy, pianist Marilyn Crispell and percussionist Paul Lytton has a longstanding history. Assembled to interpret Guy’s compositions, the group recorded Odyssey in 1999, Ithaca in 2003 and Phases of the Night in 2007. Clearly there’s a continuing theme apparent in the first two releases, and the group’s latest CD seems to reference it with a piece called Return of Ulysses. Guy may be one of the great free improvisers, but his work is often inspired by other arts and both mythic and modernist themes. Here the titles come from paintings by Hughie O’Donoghue – whose dreamlike works fuse representation and fields of welling colour – both trigger and analogue to this richly diverse work.

The group intuition here is at an exalted level, as the three take the conventional jazz piano trio into new terrain. It’s sometimes hard to distinguish where Guy’s compositions end and the collective improvisation begins, motifs sounding elastic in their first appearance. The opening Scent hints at flamenco sources, with Crispell and Guy vying to assume the guitar part. Fallen Angel juxtaposes tumultuous descending figures with a gently determined lyric rise, while Sleeper is at once minimalist melody and profound reverie.

There’s a Romantic power and sweep at work here, each piece stretching at emotional constraint, whether it’s a subtle weave of melodies from Guy and Crispell, memories coming into view on the rise of Lytton’s drums, or an explosion of percussive energy and ricocheting shards, as in the startling rhythmic unison of piano and drums on Return of Ulysses.

10 ThumbscrewCD003Convallaria
Cuneiform Records Rune 415 (cuneiformrecords.com)

Probably improvised music’s most celebrated guitarist at present, Mary Halvorson has attained the position because of her individuality as well as her ability. Like an actor who moves effortlessly between comedy and drama, Halvorson is equally proficient playing solo or in large ensembles, but her best work is done in intimate circumstances. While her dynamic strokes often define a tune’s parameters, her styling is particularly notable during Convallaria’s 11 selections when her light-fingered invention is complemented by bassist Michael Formanek’s chunky thumps. She’s like a painter preparing a pencil sketch with the bassist there to add colour and depth. Drummer Tomas Fujiwara provides a backbeat when needed, but generally uses his rolls and cymbal clicks as if he were a high-class publicist: making the others look good without drawing attention to himself.

The key to the ripened interaction displayed here is how most tunes retain an undercurrent of cultured swing in any circumstance. This doesn’t make the session smooth jazz by any stretch of the imagination though. Since the CD is named for the scientific label of the sweetly scented but also poisonous woodland plant also known as Lily of the Valley, hidden – and sometimes not-so-hidden – prickliness galvanizes the date.

Although she uses the same six-string throughout, Halvorson can sound folksy and almost acoustic, as on Sampsonian Rhythms or spew out opaque chording and flanges on Screaming Piha, where her electronically enhanced judders are such that her pumped-up chords appear to be searching for a heavy-metal connection. Despite this and Fujiwara’s busy resounds, the bassist’s sophisticated downward string sluices move everyone’s output into overlapping interaction. Throughout, Formanek’s intertwining motions provide the perfect backdrop for the guitarist, with her timbres freely resembling those of a saxophone (on Tail of the Sad Dog) or a mandolin (as on Trigger). With composing credits divided almost equally among the three, it seems obvious that this Thumbscrew project warrants two thumbs up.

Catching Up with Canadian Expats

Question: What’s the best way to become famous in Canada? Answer: Leave the country. Unfortunately that hoary jape still has currency in 2016, especially if you want to be a renowned actor. Music is less aggressive and plenty of first-class musicians make their home in the Dominion; some foreigners even relocate here. Still for many improvisers, concerns, both personal and professional, cause them to abandon their native land. Expatriation often means interaction with a wider crew of players than if they had stayed put and these recent discs capture the results of those challenges.

01 CircadiaCD005One change from years past is that instead of setting up shop in the US, determined musicians range further afield. Advances and Delays (SOFA A551 sofamusic.no) by the Circadia quartet, for instance, includes Vancouver-raised, Stockholm-based, bassist Joe Williamson along with Australian drummer Tony Buck, plus guitarists David Stackenäs from Sweden and Kim Myhr from Norway. More an impressionistic journey than a realized destination, the folksy trappings of Advances and Delays are like a lace comforter wrapped around a steel pole: tempered steel shores up what seems to be flimsy. Much of this buttressing can be attributed to Williamson’s chunky pulsations, particularly prominent on The Human Volunteers Were Kept in Isolation. Besides that, with 16 and sometimes 22 strings in use – Myhr also plays 12-string – the effect is somewhat like hearing a string quartet, country string band and gagaku ensemble trade licks. On The Animal Enters and Traverses the Light, reflections of guitar-centric ensembles exist, but unlike flamenco faceoffs or rock-band guitar challenges, there’s no audible timbre swaggering. While the string stokers knit themes out of multiple crossovers and tremolo intersections, Buck subtly rumbles parts of the kit with gong resonation, rim rubs and castanet-like clicks. Machine-like rotations result when the four meet critical mass and each track is resolved satisfactorily. And due to the intermediate length of the two performances, unlike other drone-ambient bands defeated by stasis, Circadia never wears out its welcome.

02 KiermyerCD004A more convoluted path is followed by Montreal drummer Franklin Kiermyer, who lives in Oslo, unless he’s gigging in New York or meditating in Asian retreats. Someone whose spiritual pursuits parallel those of jazz avatar John Coltrane, the drummer’s Closer to the Sun (Mobility Music MMII016 franklinkiermyer.com) proves that he could have been the perfect accompanist to the influential saxophonist if he hadn’t died before Kiermyer was ten. Nevertheless in its intensity and make-up this CD resembles a missing Trane session with personnel modelled on Coltrane’s classic quartet, featuring tenor saxophonist Lawrence Clark, pianist Davis Whitfield and bassist Otto Gardner. Not that Kiermyer is an imitator though. Like a painter whose canvases fall within the school of an established master but are distinct, so is the drummer’s work. All 13 tunes are originals, with Kiermyer’s polyrhythmic command the guiding force. Using every part of his kit the way a painter mixes particular colours to reflect varied visions, the drummer’s focused clatter is distinctive on calm ballads just as his intensity expressed in protracted cymbal and drum outbursts is perfect for staccato numbers. Emancipation Proclamation is a perfect instance of this as Whitfield’s buoyant chording adds to Clark’s ecstatic roar as the drummer breaks up the rhythm and then sews it back together again. The saxophonist fractures tones into atoms as if he’s a scientist examining them under a microscope as on Unified Space-Time. Later reconnecting the DNA of those shards into heightened sounds, Clark’s growling intensity is connected to the technique of Pharoah Sanders, who played with both Trane and Kiermyer. Heliocentric is characterized by a snapping, slapping guitar-like solo from Gardner; while Whitfield’s keyboard architecture extends from maintaining the theme with spreading glissandi pools to crashing through clotted polyphony with anvil-like jabs as on Mixed Blood. This date ends with the low key Humanity which, despite tempered cymbal splashes and upward reed slurs, sounds more like Ain’t No Sunshine than Ascension. It confirms that Kiermyer has extended his Trane ride so that his own music is the destination.

03 ShipwreckCD006A more common expatriate path is that of Burlington-born trumpeter Darren Johnston who now lives in California’s Bay area. On Shipwreck 4 (NoBusiness Records NBCD 67 nobusinessrecords.com), he’s united with three other local, but not native players – tenor saxophonist Aaron Bennett, bassist Lisa Mezzacappa and drummer Frank Rosaly – for a contemporary lesson in advanced improvisation. Like a poised high-wire act, the quartet’s talents are carefully balanced on the six tracks. Counted Like Flies for instance, mates a bluesy honk from Bennett with Johnston’s plunger snorts that colour the theme even as both players’ lines snake around one another. Meanwhile Rosaly’s snare bumps and Mezzacappa’s upward string sluices allow the trumpeter to whizz brass kisses from his mouthpiece by the finale. This adaptability is further highlighted on a track like Bloom whose final sequence involves the trumpeter playing hide-and-seek with himself with one chorus gently muted and one open horn. With the bassist spinning out a sympathetic ostinato underneath, the polyphonic piece evolves from an out-of-the-gate challenge from the saxophonist to a mellower response from Johnston plus a brisk mid-section devoted to the bassist scratching sul ponticello tones and the drummer clattering cymbals and rim shots. This sets up brass role-playing at the end. Bennett’s muscular but tempered tone plus Johnston’s slurry grace notes also allow the band to bring the proper dignity to the set’s ballads. Overall, any tension engendered by outside techniques such as tongue slaps, key percussion or freak notes is resolved with an application of sympathetic harmony.

04 WebberCD007Vancouver Island-born tenor saxophonist/flutist Anna Webber now lives in Brooklyn and the hard wiring of her trio, filled out by New York pianist Matt Mitchell and Montreal-based drummer John Hollenbeck, riffs on Internet memes. Uniquely, the dozen selections composed by Webber for Binary (Skirl Records 033 skirlrecords.com) were inspired by YouTube, a random binary digit generator and her own IP address. Don’t fear weird sci-fi timbres, however. The Simple Trio has been together long enough to translate technical cyberspace into textural cadences. Disintegratiate, for instance, turns out to have a blues-based theme propelled by Webber’s yearning reed tones, broken apart into particles then reassembled via cymbal claps and keyboard pulsations. With repeated piano clusters creating a melancholy exposition, the title tune may be as dolorous and isolated as some binary coders, but the saxophonist’s subsequent slurs that appear to be stripping the reed to its core, coupled with a shuffle rhythm, can be heard as celebration when the coding creates instructions. Additionally this CD’s Meme passes its information via saucy piano lines that slowly get speedier until the tune finishes at a gallop. More conventionally, the contest of strength celebrated on Tug o’ War is between equine-like hoof beats produced by Hollenbeck and staccato, continuous flute pitches created in profusion by Webber. This (wo)man-(imaginary) beast match is resolved as Mitchell’s sober chording pushes the other two into tandem motion. Like a single integer in binary code, six brief tracks, labelled with Rectangles and a number designate one idea each, with the most notable, the concluding Rectangles 1a, which dramatically contrasts reed split tones and pauses. Underwhelmed ends up being the most ludicrously named tune since sweeping piano motions, jumping pops from Hollenbeck and Webber’s buoyantly coiled pitch variations combine into a cheerful romp.

05 VlatkovichCD001Sometimes the Canadian expatriate anecdote gets tuned on its head when artists from other countries establish themselves here. One example is American David Mott, a long-time York University professor whose bravura baritone saxophone command is featured on many records. California trombonist Michael Vlatkovich’s Myrnofant’s Kiss (pfMENTUM CD 095 pfmentum.com) is one. Not only was the disc recorded and produced in Toronto, but Jonathan Golove, who plays electric cello on the date, teaches at the University at Buffalo. Another Californian, Christopher Garcia, is the drummer. Working through eight of Vlatkovich’s quirkily titled compositions, emphasis is placed on the contrapuntal interaction of the low pitches from trombone and saxophone with the overlapping suggesting a rhino and an elephant trumpeting as they leapfrog. These timbres are displayed on tracks such as Hold on to Your Chair Watch Out for Snakes where Vlatkovich’s spluttering spectral glides and Mott’s bagpipe-like tremolo bellows provide a unison pitch shattering of the ambulatory theme. Here, as in many other instances, Golove’s spiccato roughens the narrative as he contributes to the march time propelled by Garcia. Vlatkovich’s slide command is such that he can express Dixieland-styled gutbucket slurs to challenge Mott’s tongue splaying and Golove’s string winnowing on Stop Scaring the Toddlers and Farm Animals as comfortably as he extends the range of his instrument into vocalized multiphonics alongside the saxophonist’s agitated whines that eventually slow down the piece. Pitchsliding their way through tunes that wed pseudo-waltz time to pseudo-martial music to piledriver themes as frantic as any bop line, the quartet members come up with music that’s both sinewy and hummable. With melodies recapped for familiarity even as they indulge in instrumental bravura, tracks are experimental without being off-putting. Vlatkovich’s and the others’ philosophy can be summed up in his penultimate song title: Leave the Worrying to the Professionals. This musical professionalism thrives among Canadian improvisers, although many have to leave home to get a proper hearing.

01 AccompliceAccomplice
Amy McConnell; William Sperandei
Femme Cachee Productions FCP0002 (mcconnellsperandei.com)


The second CD from the team of trumpeter William Sperandei and singer Amy McConnell takes us on a journey to a time when songs were carefully crafted and lyrics actually said something. Focused mainly on songwriters from the 60s and 70s, such as Jacques Brel, Henry Mancini and Michel Legrand, Accomplice has a sophisticated Euro feel to it. Sperandei’s bright trumpet sound and McConnell’s rich, emotive vocals are a nice foil for each other and with the arrangements by Sperandei managing to be both jazzy and poppy at the same time, the album feels fresh.

Keyboard player Robi Botos and guitarist Rob Piltch are both masters of various styles and sounds, and effects are used liberally by them and Sperandei. Add Davide Direnzo on drums and percussion and Marc Rogers on bass and you’ve got a whole lot of sonic ingenuity to choose from. The results are some indefinable styles such as Dance Me to the End of Love which has a tinge of 90s electronic dance music to it and Ne me quitte pas, which sounds like what would happen if Edith Piaf and Gino Vanelli had a love child. I Wish You Love morphs from a lovely mid-tempo ballad into a funky get down. Quite a trip.

02 KaeshammerNo Filter
Michael Kaeshammer
Independent KA2-CD-5970

When Michael Kaeshammer first broke on the scene in the 90s, he was a young boogie-woogie piano phenom. Since then, the British Columbia-based musician has added singing and songwriting to his arsenal of skills, and they’ve been honed over the last several years. All the songs on No Filter have been written or co-written by Kaeshammer (along with, primarily, Nashville-based songwriter John Goodwin) and many, such as the rousing opener Letter from the Road, stay true to his signature, exuberant New Orleans style. But there are other stylistic gems too. Late Night Train, is a poignant lament to a lost love made more gorgeous by the velvety vocals of guest singer, Denzal Sinclaire. Regret is the theme of the ballady/gospel-tinged Back into the Pen while West Coast Spirit is a sprightly little solo piano number that acts as a palate cleanser between meatier pieces. The production on the record is top-notch with the various keyboards, horns (William Sperandei, trumpet; Chris Gale, sax; William Carn, trombone) and percussion (Roger Travassos) subtly enriching the tracks and making No Filter a fine, satisfying listen from beginning to end.

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