05 Out of SilenceOut of Silence
François Carrier; Michel Lambert
FMR Records FMRCD455 (francoiscarrier.com)

Two of Canada’s foremost jazz artists, saxophonist François Carrier and drummer Michel Lambert, have come together to create and record a spontaneous, symbiotic expression of skilled, improvisational, musical possibilities. All of the pieces on this remarkable project are improvised creations of Carrier and Lambert, who by travelling along the tones and beats of mankind’s most elemental musical impulses have morphed into inter-dimensional space/time travellers – soaring seamlessly between conscious and subconscious thought, in and around their own memories and egos, through deep emotional subtext, cultural precepts and to the very soul itself.

This CD was beautifully recorded as a live concert at Ryan’s Bar in London, UK, and Carrier wears several hats here: producer, sound designer and artist. There are seven odysseys on the recording – and each one is evocative and stirring in its own nuanced way, with its own dual-narrative. The opening salvo is the title track – crisp, arrogant, and at the same time, strangely melancholic – like a lost youth from West Side Story questioning every boundary. This is an urban landscape, and Lambert’s intricate and skilled brushwork, propels the action, while Carrier is the virtual voice in the Gotham-like wilderness. Ancient DNA engrams vibrate into this reality, with the addition of Carrier’s Chinese oboe. As the piece progresses, perspective and overview – both musically and emotionally – begin to percolate and coalesce; eventually, a new perspective is birthed by Lambert, whose playing feels as though it could be the sacred heartbeat of Mother Earth herself.

Out of Silence (both the track and the disc as a whole) is brave, audacious and sometimes uncomfortably exposing – but it is also joyous and freeing at a deeply profound level. Only two artists at the peak of their talent, insight and skill could produce a project of such gravitas and complexity.

06 John RoneyThe River
John Roney; Tevet Sela
Effendi Records FND149 (effendirecords.com)

“It’s all kind of going in a big cultural pot.” Those are some of the essence-capturing words Montreal-based jazz pianist John Roney uses to describe The River, his collaborative project with Israeli-born, Montreal-based, alto saxophonist Tevet Sela, in a September 2017 YouTube video introducing the project, which was released the following month. The “it’s” he refers to is the amalgam of their diverse musical influences permeating – or perhaps more apt, flowing through – The River: Middle Eastern, jazz, klezmer, classical chamber music and North African rhythms.

The album is a most engaging collaboration. Roney and Sela are highly skilled and innovative players and composers; this is apparent from The River’s ten original tracks. After listening to the entire CD several times (it warrants an uninterrupted session), these are some of the words that came to mind: lyrical, poignant, probing, driving, intimate, hypnotic, expansive, compelling, moving and mellifluous.

From the CD’s cover art to each evocatively named composition – in addition to the title track are such monikers as Watershed, Always Too Far, Gentle Shifts, Dream in Blue, Closer Horizon, Calm Flat Sea – Sela and Roney have created a singular musical journey that does indeed flow with a river’s momentum.

I conclude, as I began, with some words by Roney from the YouTube video: “The river is really a metaphor for the overwhelming power of inspiration, improvisation and really being spontaneous in the moment, and allow[ing] the music to carry you forward.”

May your spirit be inspired and buoyed up by The River.

07 Jon IrabagonDr. Quixotic’s Traveling Exotics
Jon Irabagon Quartet with Tim Hagans
Irabbagist Records 010 (jonirabagon.com)

Saxophonist Jon Irabagon rose to prominence in Mostly Other People Do the Killing, the eclectic, ironic, virtuosic band that has redefined the parameters of jazz with post-modern pastiche since 2003. His current projects stretch from the modern mainstream to solo sopranino concerts. This quartet is rooted in post-bop (the 60s Jazz Messengers and tenor saxophonists Wayne Shorter and Joe Henderson: riffs, vamps, ostinatos, modes) but has its own approach, with a breadth that extends comfortably forward.

Irabagon sticks to his tenor here, and his big sound and hard-edged authority are apparent from his introduction to The Demon Barber of Fleet Week (the CD has a medicine/freak show theme), focusing the coiled energy of a working band, recorded while on tour in Buenos Aires. Pianist Luis Perdomo, bassist Yasushi Nakamura and drummer Rudy Royston all exude the same intense command of a complex language.

Veteran trumpeter Tim Hagans (he first recorded in 1974) joins the group on several tracks, a restrained complement to the leader’s bustle. He’s at his finest on Pretty like North Dakota, from the keening, Miles-like muted playing to the dark, brassy burr of his open sound. The multi-dimensional ballad demonstrates different sides of each member: Perdomo’s translucent grace, Nakamura’s flowing lyricism and Royston’s orchestral drama. Irabagon plays booting tenor, building from blues roots to Coltrane-like flurries, before he and Hagans conclude with an improvised dialogue that crowns both the 15-minute tune and the CD as a whole.

08 LJ FolkNear Me
LJ Folk
Independent NMLJF-FSM-18 (ljfolk.com)

I’ve got a new favourite Toronto singer. And by “new” I mean new to me, because LJ (aka Larry) Folk has been on the scene for decades in various capacities – guitarist, producer, composer and educator – in a variety of genres. But Folk’s focus on singing – and jazz – for his second album, Near Me, means we are all the beneficiaries. A subtle singer, his voice is expressive yet controlled and has a lovely warm tone. In addition to singing, Folk plays guitar on several tracks and his compositions are sprinkled throughout the lineup. Recorded during two separate sessions with a who’s who of Toronto jazz players, the covers include a couple of standards but mostly lean to rock classics.

Highlights of the album are the first track Brazilia!, a breezy, samba-tinged original, featuring Brazilian-born percussionist Maninho Costa and drummer Steve Heathcote, a swing treatment of Bargain by The Who, which works surprisingly well, and a lilting (12/8?) version of Elton John’s Your Song with an extended soulful ending. The best bit is a duet with the exquisite Emilie-Claire Barlow on The Look of Love. Tasteful solos by all the players, including John MacMurchy on sax, Peter Mueller on guitar, Stu Harrison on piano and Pat Collins on bass, round out the charms of this album. Find concert dates at ljfolk.com.

Listen to 'Near Me' Now in the Listening Room

09 Holly ColeHolly
Holly Cole
Universal Music Canada O256726398 (hollycole.com)

It has been five long years since the jazz-infused, honey-voiced Holly Cole has released a CD. Recognized internationally for her unique, sultry performances, the new recording does not disappoint. There has always been a vein of honesty that runs through every note that Cole sings – reflected in her often stripped-down arrangements of engaging and rarely performed material. On this exquisite, self-titled recording, Cole collaborates with genius pianist/keyboardist Larry Goldings. Goldings has notably performed and recorded with such diverse artists as the late jazz guitar legend Jim Hall and iconic popular music artist James Taylor.

Cole produces and contributes to arrangements on the 11 delicious tracks, and her fine collaborators include producer Russ Titelman; Aaron Davis on keyboards; Ed Cherry on guitar; David Piltch and Ben Street on bass; Justin Faulkner and Davide DiRenzo on drums; John Johnson on flute; Scott Robinson on tenor sax and cornet; and Wycliffe Gordon on trombone, who also sings two delicious duets with Cole!

A huge standout is Mose Allison’s Your Mind is on Vacation. Cole’s sassy, ironic interpretation and Davis’ Fender Rhodes solo invoke lost innocence and frustration (of the late 1960s and today). Burke and van Heusen’s It Could Happen to You is presented with a simply stunning piano/vocal arrangement. Set at an unusually slow tempo, Cole deftly wrings every last drop of emotional content from the potent lyric, while Goldings demonstrates how it’s supposed to be done. Teach Me Tonight, is arranged with a big dose of Goldings’ sexy Hammond B3 work – and when Cole sings in her velvety alto “I have lost all fear, my love,” we believe it.

10 Egbo EgboA New Standard
Thompson Egbo-Egbo
eOne Entertainment EMC-CD-16 (egbo.ca)

The notion of standards and the Great American Songbook have defined much of jazz music’s history and each musician must choose a way to address this background. Pianist Thompson Egbo-Egbo’s playfully titled album A New Standard contains both classic and not-so-standard standards.

Egbo-Egbo is a graduate of Humber College, studied at Berklee and regularly plays in Toronto with his trio. He performs with a calm assurance and combines elements of jazz, pop and classical styles. His playing is often more chordal and rhythmic than linear. Drummer Jeff Halischuck and bassist Randall Hall provide a sensitive and nuanced accompaniment.

Album highlights include Sing to the Moon in which Egbo-Egbo offers restrained accompaniment to a gorgeous vocal by Nikki Ponte. Softly As in a Morning Sunrise has a great bounce and right-hand intricacy reminiscent of Oscar Peterson. Be Courageous has a pop feel and gradually increases in intensity throughout its first half, which is driven by swirling drums; there is a brief solo respite and then it pushes to the end. Coltrane’s Mr PC takes off at a blistering speed and after a frenetic solo it morphs into Spiderman which seems to just make sense. My Favourite Things brings together many of Egbo-Egbo’s ideas and techniques. It begins with a quiet semi-classical arrangement with a left-handed counterpoint to the melody. Over its six-minute length it gradually builds and becomes louder, more intense and majestic with its impassioned ending.

11 OctoblueCD006Octoblue
Joe McPhee; Jérôme Bourdellon
Label Usine l.u. 2016 (bourdellon.com)

American Joe McPhee has pursued an itinerant improvisers’ path since the mid-1960s; Octoblue is another of his significant discs for several reasons. Not only is McPhee’s versatility matched by France’s Jérôme Bourdellon, who plays C, bass and contrabass flutes, piccolo and bass clarinet, but McPhee’s expressiveness on clarinet and pocket trumpet is extended to toy piano, singing and bubbling water(!).

Switching among instruments, the two add the unexpected to the exposition throughout the CD. Deep Sea Dancers, for example, is a mini-suite in itself. Moving through plunger trumpet growls, whale-like sounds from the contrabass flute and dual key percussion, further elaborations include shrill brass whistles and reed tongue stops, with the finale half-valve brass extensions steadied by foot-tapping bass flute pacing. With Bourdellon’s woody clarinet as stop-time accompaniment, McPhee’s melismatic blues singing on the title tune is Ray Charles-like (if somewhat coarser), while still communicating profound sentiments like “freedom is a work in progress.”

Conversely, Across the Water reaches the zenith of atonality, as water-burbled mouthpiece timbres are stretched into strangled trumpet blasts contrasted with airy flute puffs, as both horns quicken to elevated pitches without losing the narrative. After McPhee unexpectedly introduces a toy piano to honour the deceased keyboardist on Tribute to Borah Bergmann, and a track like On the Way to History melds loping clarinet tones and graceful flute symmetry, both players expose almost every mood and modulation. For McPhee, itinerant is a synonym for inventiveness, as he demonstrates his cooperative skills at every performance.

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