03 Jeremy LedbetterGot A Light?
Jeremy Ledbetter
Alma Records ACD61582 (jeremyledbetter.com)

Got a Light?, released internationally in July by Toronto-based Alma Records, is the debut album from the Jeremy Ledbetter Trio, which includes electric bassist Rich Brown and drummer Larnell Lewis, in addition to pianist/bandleader Ledbetter. If it is somewhat surprising to read the phrase “debut album” in relation to this group of musicians, attribute the feeling to each trio member’s ubiquity on the local (and international) jazz scene; Ledbetter, Brown and Lewis all perform frequently in a variety of popular creative projects, both individually and together.

Musically, the group shares some DNA with the Michel Petrucciani Trio and the Michel Camilo Trio; similarities can be found in the Ledbetter Trio’s technical firepower, use of electric bass and, especially in the case of the Camilo trio, a propensity for Latin jazz grooves. Moreover, as demonstrated on the title track of Got a Light?, it is the trio’s highly developed sense of dynamic control that provides an effective counterpoint to bouts of high-speed improvisational flurries. This sense of contrast works on a larger scale, too: Got a Light? is paced well, as gentle, contemplative pieces like Her New Wings (with vocalists Eliana Cuevas and Leila Ledbetter) and Suspirito (with batá drummer Reimundo Sosa) are balanced against the up-tempo 7/8 About Climbing Mountains, and The Pepper Drinker, the album’s burning penultimate song. A bold, exciting album, Got a Light? feels less like a debut than a coherent artistic statement from an experienced band.

Listen to 'Got A Light?' Now in the Listening Room

04 TJO 2020
Toronto Jazz Orchestra
Independent TJO004 (thetjo.com)

One of the more exhilarating jazz listening experiences is the sound of a well-rehearsed big band firing on all cylinders and this is what we get with the Toronto Jazz Orchestra album 20. The recording and production is impeccable, so we hear the full aural effect of the dynamics from a tight rhythm section with clear bass, drums and piano fills, to full brass and saxophone harmonies. The album title refers to the band’s 20-year history, and where previous releases included several live recordings and used different Canadian composers, 20 was recorded completely in the studio and features the compositions and arrangements of artistic director Josh Grossman. An album highlight is 4 PN, a tribute to jazz icon Phil Nimmons on his 90th birthday. This piece’s four movements encompass several moods, from straight ahead swing, to an introspective third movement (Birdsong) and a very funky final section (Flat 10 Strikes Again). The first movement, The Land of 2 and 4, contains an excellent bop trumpet solo by James Rhodes that has a touch of Jack Sheldon to it. Ben Ball’s drum solo navigates us to the second movement, Under a Treeful, which contains a wonderful and idiosyncratic clarinet solo from Paul Metcalfe that I believe Nimmons would appreciate. Overall, 20 is full of catchy melodies and arrangements that leverage the big band pallette of sounds; the ensemble and solo musicianship is excellent. We can hope there are at least another 20 years in this band’s future.

05 Avery RaquelMy Heart Away
Avery Raquel
GKM GKM1035 (averyraquel.com)

Avery Raquel is clearly an artist for whom superstardom is just a matter of time – shorter than one might think, judging by the results of her performance on My Heart Away. On this disc Raquel reveals herself as an artist of the first order, broadening out from the run-of-the-mill pop repertory which many of her generation are stuck in. Her instrument is gorgeous: lustrous, precise and luminously powerful. Her musicianship is fierce as she digs into the expression of each word of the lyrics she writes and sings.

Raquel is accompanied here by a constellation of Canadian superstars – producer and guitarist Greg Kavanagh, pianist Adrean Farrugia, bassist Ross MacIntyre, drummers Joel Haynes and Ben Riley – to name just a few of those who flesh out the music here. Together they create the defining moments on the powerful ballad Who I Am.

The music on the disc recalls the heyday of Motown and Stax recordings with benchmark performances of vocal music characterized as soul. However, none of this work would soar quite so high into the rarefied realm of music were it not for Raquel’s genuine gifts. The manner in which songs speak to her leads one to believe that the connection is powerful and personal. How she responds to these narratives is nothing short of miraculous and each song gains enormously from this relationship between songwriter, song and vocalist. All of this makes Raquel a musical rarity.

06 Sandro DominelliHere and Now
Sandro Dominelli; Rez Abbesi; Chris Tarry
Chronograph Records CR-067 (chronographrecords.com)

Here and Now, a new album from Edmonton-based drummer/bandleader Sandro Dominelli, is something of an international affair. Recorded in New Jersey, it employs the talents of electric bassist Chris Tarry, a Canadian expat now based in the Garden State, and guitarist Rez Abbasi, a Manhattanite by way of California and Pakistan. Such time-zone-crossing projects, even when well executed, can sometimes suffer from a lack of intimacy, but thankfully, this is not an issue for Here and Now. Released this summer on Alberta’s Chronograph Records, Dominelli’s new album is a follow-up to The Alvo Sessions, which also features Tarry and Abbasi, released independently in 2010.

Here and Now begins with the title track, a medium-tempo, straight-eighths song that showcases the group’s well-developed chemistry, with compelling solo moments from Abbasi and Dominelli. The swinging D.H., written in tribute to bassist Dave Holland, balances rhythmic melodies with moments of eerie harmony. This vibe is ramped up on Through the Trees, a 16-bar blues that sees Abbasi making full use of his textural capabilities. Alternative Facts is a funky, backbeat-driven odd-metre song, with a powerful, overdriven solo from Abbasi. Exodus (the theme from the film of the same name, composed by Ernest Gold), the album’s last track, gives Dominelli a chance to show off his brushwork.

Here and Now is worth a listen because Tarry, Abbasi and Dominelli are all strong players with interesting instrumental voices; it is worth a second listen because the trio succeeds in creating a meaningful, unique group dynamic.

07 Sheldon ZandboerTipping Velvet
Sheldon Zandboer
Chronograph Records CR 063 (sheldonzandboer.com)

While many contemporary pianists seem to delve into the piano’s more percussive aspects today, Calgary’s Sheldon Zandboer is of the school of piano virtuosi who subscribes to the view that it pays to forget sometimes that the mechanics of the instrument involve hammers striking strings. His is a style of pianism that is given to the teasing caress of the keys. Not surprisingly this produces music – melodies and harmonies from right and left hands – that is exquisitely velvety in its tone and eloquently phrased. Throughout, Tipping Velvet displays inventive discourse progressing in nuanced measures.

Risks abound, but they are always in the service of the music’s spirit and they always pay off. Combining a darkness of theme with a wickedly humorous unveiling of the musicians, Snakes and Liars, for instance, ends up being one of the sunniest pieces on the recording. A similar conundrum exists at the beginning of Tear in a Smile; its illusory nature resolved once again, in the translucent longing-for-spring atmosphere of Zandboer’s delicate keyboard hands.

Zandboer’s musical gems are a must-listen not only for his exquisite pianism, but also for the majestic work of Bob Tildesley’s trumpet, especially when the mute is employed and notes are squeezed out of the bell of his horn. The performances of bassist George Koller and drummer Andy Ericson crackle with genius and I Will Wait soars heavenward, not least because of the blithe spirit of vocalist Johanna Sillanpaa.

08 Sweet Sister SuiteSweet Sister Suite by Kenny Wheeler
Scottish National Jazz Orchestra featuring Laura Jurd & Irini Arabatzi
Spartacus Records STS026 (snjo.co.uk)

The late legendary Canadian trumpeter and composer Kenny Wheeler (1930-2014) was a quiet, complex genius. Although perhaps not a household name, Wheeler was held in incredible esteem by the global jazz/music cognoscenti (including John Dankworth, Dave Holland, Bill Frissell and Lee Konitz). His rhythmically and harmonically revolutionary compositions and arrangements have been performed worldwide – including in the United Kingdom – the place that he called home after 1950.

The recent release of Wheeler’s emotional and autobiographical work recorded by the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra (produced by, and under the direction of Tommy Smith) is a magnificent tribute, worthy of the great, humble man himself. Wheeler’s music is propelled by the contributions of trumpet, flugelhorn and voice – rendered here by skillful trumpet/flugelhornist Laura Jurd and vocalist Irina Arabatzi (although one could easily imagine the luminous voice of Wheeler’s longtime collaborator, Norma Winstone).

There are eight compositions in the Suite, beginning with Sweet Sister, which features heartbreakingly beautiful horn work by the gifted Jurd, and a pitch-perfect and gymnastic vocal line from Arabatzi, segueing into fine rhythm section work and culminating in sumptuous, swinging, contrapuntal, jazz-puro, big-band ear candy. Also outstanding is Keeper of the Light. The moving lyric reflects Wheeler’s journey into the realm of his most secret self, illuminated by a potent sax solo from Smith and equally potent playing by the entire talented ensemble.

Wheeler’s massive (and always modestly given) contribution to contemporary jazz is evident in every note of this recording – which is a stunning celebration of the man and his work.

09 Tricia EdwardsIntaglios
Tricia Edwards
Independent TE1117 (triciaedwards.ca)

What happens when you fuse a solid classical music background with a newfound love of jazz and Cuban music? Tricia Edwards’ Intaglios, that’s what! With a master’s degree in piano performance, studies at the Banff Centre and Salzburg’s Mozarteum, and several years performing chamber music while living in the Middle East in the 90s, the Calgary-based pianist launched her “second musical act” in the mid-2000s, having discovered the joy of jazz. Ultimately she found her way to some of the finest musicians heating up Calgary’s Latin music scene, three of whom appear on the album.

What makes this CD especially delightful is that while Edwards beautifully explores her affection for Latin music in seven original and terrific tracks, along with three covers, she clearly hasn’t forgotten her first love. I counted at least six neat little nods to the classical repertoire. On track seven alone, the fabulous and driving String Theory, which Edwards says was inspired by watching her cats at play, there are playful passages from Grieg’s Piano Concerto in A Minor and Mozart’s Turkish Rondo; and I’m pretty sure there are some bars of Bach, too.

Track one, Trainwreck lll, owes its inspiration, in part, to the percussive energy of Ginastera, and the final track, the gorgeous, ballad-like Alegria, offers some lovely and lilting piano work, including a few notes from Debussy’s Clair de lune.

With Intaglios, Edwards honours the genres of classical, jazz and Latin music, imprinting upon them her unique style and a lifetime of experiences.

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