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TV Trio

John Stetch

Brux Records BRUX 14112

(www.johnstetch.com)

 

John Stetch was born in Edmonton, Alberta and was exposed to the sounds of jazz at an early age through his father's record collection. He began as a reed player before switching to piano, earned his Bachelor of Music degree in Montreal and built a reputation touring across Canada before re-locating to New York in 1993.

For this CD John has chosen a dozen themes from TV shows and transformed them into jazz performances. I have to make a confession. I was only familiar with six of them, (a prize if you can guess which six), but that certainly didn’t prevent me from enjoying the music.

John is extremely imaginative in his concepts of the various themes and has technique in abundance with which to express his ideas. Of the dozen titles only “The Flintstones”, which John chose to put into the minor, giving it a somewhat dark character, has been frequently played by jazz musicians although on listening to this album it seems to me that, for example, “The Waltons” and “Bugs Bunny” and “The Mighty Hercules” could well be adopted by others.

With the exception of “All My Children”, which is a brief but beautiful solo piano performance, Stetch is ably supported by Doug Weiss on bass and Rodney Green on drums.

Jim Galloway

 

 02_live_orbit_roomLive at the Orbit Room - The Ultimate Jam

Tony Monaco & his Toronto Trio

Chicken Coop CCP 7012

(www.b3monaco.com)

 

According to any dependable jazz cookbook, the recipe for a tasty live recording requires an appetizing artist, a hungry audience and a venue that allows for passion to sizzle. Established in 1994, the unpretentiously hip Orbit Room in Toronto’s Little Italy is a happening hang frequented by avid music lovers and musicians alike. The upper level performance space is armed with a B3 organ and offers nightly live acts including roots, R&B, rock and reggae, as well as jazz.

On June 22nd of 2007, critically acclaimed Columbus, Ohio native jazz organist Tony Monaco played the Orbit Room as part of the TD Canada Trust Toronto Jazz Festival, joined by two of our city’s extraordinary resident jazz musicians: guitarist Ted Quinlan and drummer Vito Rezza. Supported generously by both Torontonians on this particular night, Monaco’s playing is rich with meaty musical chops and incontestable enthusiasm. The sidemen consistently listen, react and enhance the musical experience. Quinlan is quintessentially on top of his game, delivering spirited solos that tell exciting stories and Rezza is not only supportive, but soulful. On every track, especially ’Sbout Time and Slow Down Sagg, the trio grooves contagiously and the audience eats it up. From appetizer to dessert, “The Ultimate Jam” follows the live recording recipe flawlessly. Let it be a model for capturing some of the delectable jazz entertainment served regularly in Ontario’s capital.

Ori Dagan

 

 03_TrovesiOperaAll’opera Profumo di Violetta

Gianluigi Trovesi

ECM 2068

 

Emphasizing the streak of romanticism which characterizes nearly every Italian instrumentalist – no matter how avant-garde – multi-woodwind player Gianluigi Trovesi interprets a series of familiar operatic airs. Backed by the wind and percussion Filarmonica Mousiké, the veteran improviser fashions an original take on 17th, 18th and 19th Century themes by Monteverdi, Cazzati, Pergolesi, Verdi, Puccini, Rossini and Mascagni without jazzing up or burlesquing them.

Making full use of the luscious crescendos and cushioning timbres available from the 54-piece orchestra, the only additions are cellist Marco Remondini and percussionist Stefano Bertoli to enhance the rhythmic impetus. Taking the role of operatic vocalist, Trovesi produces a fantastic series of glissandi, portamento runs and just plain beautiful playing, using at different junctures all his horns – piccolo and alto clarinets plus alto saxophone. Nearly always playing legato, he emphasizes the emotional and melodic undercurrents of these pieces without ignoring their poignant roots.

Mixing world famous and obscure parts of the opera repertoire, these arrangements interweave the popular airs – which the clarinettist has loved since his childhood near Bergamo – with improvisational freedom. Listeners familiar with standards such as Verdi’s E Piquillo un bel gaglardo and Rossini’s Largo al factotum will marvel at how Trovesi’s re-interpretations refresh them. More remarkable is how well Trovesi’s own compositions – such as Salterello amoroso with him spluttering smooth Johnny Hodges-like timbres atop contrapuntal orchestra lines, or Vesponse, a big-band swing piece enlivened with reed split tones and shrills – fit among these traditional tunes without disruption.

Ken Waxman

 

 04_McBirniePaco Paco

Bill McBirnie Duo/Quartet

Independent EF04

(www.myspace.com/billmcbirnieextremeflute)

 

Anyone who has heard him knows that Bill McBirnie is a wonderfully gifted flautist. This CD finds him in the company of three of his favourite players on six of the twelve tracks, the others being duo performances with Bernie Senensky.

It is one of those CDs where I find it difficult to choose favourite numbers. The entire album is a joy to listen to, not only for Bill's beautiful playing, but, as one would expect, the musicality and sensitive contributions from pianist Senensky, Neil Swainson on bass and drummer John Sumner.

As is his wont, Bill has shown a preference for playing standards, ranging from Keith Jarrett's My Song to Bright Mississippi, Thelonious Monk's variation on the changes of Sweet Georgia Brown via the hymn Stand Up, Stand Up For Jesus which becomes something of a march for Jesus! The one exception to familiar material, although fans of the Moe Koffman Quintet might remember it, is the album's title piece, a tour de force called Paco Paco, composed by Bernie Senensky.

I don't know how widely distributed this recording will be, but if you have trouble finding it you could send an e-mail to
billmcb@idirect.com. Say that Jim sent you!

Jim Galloway

 

 

 EXTENDED PLAY:

The “Other” Peggy Lee

By Ken Waxman

 

Established in Vancouver for nearly 20 years following extensive musical study in her native Toronto, Peggy Lee has become one of the most in-demand cellists in both improvised and New music. Occasionally working with her husband, drummer Dylan van der Schyff, but more frequently on her own, Lee’s string prestidigitation is prominent in meetings with Canadian, American and European musicians.

Recent discs show the range of her talents. Spiller Alley (RogueArt ROG-0016 www.rougart.com) features her as part of a trio completed by Bay area saxophonist Larry Ochs and New York koto player Miya Masoka. Meanwhile Escondido Dreams (Drip Audio DA00206 www.dripaudio.com), is a trio with other Lower Mainlanders guitarist Tony Wilson and saxophonist Jon Bentley. Wilson, Bentley and van der Schyff are also on the cellist’s New Code (Drip Audio DA 00318 www.dripaudio.com) along with other West Coast luminaries – trumpeter Brad Turner; guitarist Ron Samworth, trombonist Jeremy Berkman and electric bassist André Lachance. On Continuation (Cryptogramophone CG 140 www.cryptogramophone.com), percussionist Alex Cline gathered a similar group of California-based improvisers – violinist Jeff Gauthier, pianist Myra Melford, bassist Scott Walton to play his tunes. Lee is the only non-American.

01_AlexCline Alex Cline’s writing has an Asian feel to it. Scene-setting gong resonations color nearly every track, with Melford’s winnowing harmonium drone sometimes adding to the Far Eastern emphasis. Eclectic in execution, most of the compositions bounce from near-syrupy melodies usually advanced by the fiddler, to modern swing propelled by thumping bass and the pianist’s dynamic patterning. In between, Lee’s malleable timbres join with Gauthier’s brusque lines for thematic elaboration, or add staccato runs and spiccato jumps to advance the rhythm. On the Bones of the Homegoing Thunder is the most spectacular tune. It manages to wrap an exposition and recapitulation of temple bell peals and mournful cello runs around walking bass lines, kinetic piano runs plus string-clipping and triple-stopping from cello and violin.

 

02_PeggyLeeBand 

 Lee’s octet CD is less formalized, though no less eclectic, but democratic in its soloing. Both guitarists are partial to folksy twangs as well as Hard Rock-like distortions; the horns produce R&B-like vamps plus processional harmonies; Turner on flugelhorn is the languid melodist; and van der Schyff constantly pumps parts of his kit. Meanwhile the cellist personalizes the material. On Tug her angled sweeps tug apart into spikier runs the horns’ ceremonial grace notes. On Not a Wake Up Call flanged and distorted guitar licks shatter into jagged and ricocheting slurs as Lee’s spiccato multiphonics help gentle the theme so that it runs into the calming Floating Island – complete with muted trumpet – which follows. Dealing with a tune as familiar as Bob Dylan’s All I Really Want To Do, her mordant modal interjections halt a conventional, C&W-styled reading, and encourage agitato horn shrills on top of Byrds-like guitar strumming and a vocalized saxophone obbligato.

 

03_WilsonLeeBentley Bentley’s woodwind arsenal has more space on “Escondido Dreams”, proving adept at both speedy and languid tempi. Man and Dog plus Monkey Tree/Just Stories demonstrate this. On the first, the saxophonist defines the Impressionistic theme, along with Lee’s cello obbligato. After descriptive unison passages first with the cellist, then with the guitarist, sax trills dovetail into slurs as Wilson strums mandolin-like chords and Lee sweeps across the sound-field. Tougher and animated, the latter is a roller coaster of a tune built on contrapuntal reed bites and electrified guitar interjections. Following a raucous call-and-response section, the guitarist’s chromatic patterning and Lee’s spiccato runs reintroduce the note-dangling theme.

 

 

04_SpillerAlleyVeteran  Ochs uses more advanced techniques than Bentley on “Spiller Alley”, while the multi functions of Masaoka’s many-stringed koto negate the need for drums. Ironically, despite the textures of the venerable Japanese instrument, and unlike “Continuation”, this CD has almost no Asian reflections. Expert in rasgueado and chromatics, Masaoka treats her koto as if it is a combination harp, 12-string and six-string guitar. Bringing out node striations as well the sounds of the notes struck – as does Lee – the string duo attaches and detaches timbres to mutate the program as Ochs enlivens his work with wide octave jumps, staccato blasts and circular breathing. Climaxing the session during the 18 minute title tune, the three criss-cross each other’s lines and runs, off-setting or cushioning when needed. With Ochs peeping and shrilling arpeggios, Masaoka unleashes a torrent of cascading tones and Lee exposes multi-string runs. The cumulative consequence showcases imperfectly formed but not unpleasant, textures from each. Operating in triple counterpoint, blurry interaction comes into focus, with the end result trilled, swept and resonated into a stripped-down mutual rapprochement.

While each musician’s skill melds to produce these notable CDs, each would be unthinkable without Lee’s talents and interactive expertise.

 Mombâcho

Mike Janzen and Friends

Signpost Music SP43-102 (www.mikejanzen.ca)

 

Michael Janzen completed his Masters in Composition at the University of Toronto in 1997. Under the first name Mike, Janzen is a gifted composer, jazz pianist, organist, vocalist and heaven knows what else. This self-produced sophomore release is a work of art with respect to all musical processes from start to finish: composition, personnel, performance, and having a John “Beetle” Bailey’s killer mix doesn’t hurt. Every tune is a winner, from Where it Goes to Swankometer. It’s obvious that Janzen considered his band carefully, and he had his work cut out for him with such a deep pool of talent to choose from on the Canadian scene. Bass-wise, one can’t go wrong with the luminous George Koller, the only musician other than leader to appear on every track. Drum duty primarily belongs to Ben Riley with guests Davide DiRenzo and Larnell Lewis. Special guesting are Phil Dwyer on tenor saxophone, Kevin Breit on guitar, Alan Hetherington on percussion and a 13-piece string section led by Lenny Solomon on the deservingly titled Beauty. The sweet Almost Tango is an 8-minute suite of sheer amusement, with another highlight being the romping instrumental rendition of Mrs. Robinson. Besides playing the piano, organ and Rhodes on “Mombâcho”, Janzen lends his voice to Bruce Cockburn’s All the Diamonds and his own Masaya. While singing the odd tune is not unusual for an instrumentalist, having a voice as velvety as Janzen’s certainly is.

Ori Dagan

01_mombacho
02_alex_ernewein

 

 Alex Ernewein

With Terry Clarke; Kelly Jefferson;

Jake Langley; Keiran Overs

Independent TAERCD08 (www.alexernewein.com)

buy
At Grigorian.com

When this CD was recorded in May of 2008 at Canterbury Sound Studio in Toronto, Alex Ernewein was 14 years old and quite the debut album it is. Wise enough to surround himself with four of the top musicians on the scene who give him all the support he needs, and then some, this is a very impressive display by any standards. There are eleven selections, wisely mostly familiar, ranging from the Rodgers & Hart standard My Romance to Monk’s Straight No Chaser and there is one original, a piano solo called Improv Suite One. The line-up varies throughout the album and Ernewein moves comfortably from piano to Fender Rhodes to Hammond B3.

The music was improvised on the spot and any imperfections are a worthwhile trade-off against the spontaneity of the music. You will hear more of young Mr. Ernewein.

Jim Galloway

 

 After Hours

Jeff Dyer; Bill Brennan

Independent 0209135

(www.myspace.com/jeffdyerbillbrennanduo)

Pour yourself a drink, put on “After Hours” after hours and you will enjoy an eclectic, varied program of choice standards and genuine originals. Newfoundland’s Bill Brennan is a pianist, percussionist, composer and producer who can be heard on some 80 albums to date. Wonderfully warm and very witty, Brennan’s work proves he is the consummate accompanist; no wonder, considering he has previously backed up Cab Calloway, Placido Domingo and Dizzy Gillespie.

Apart from five vocal/piano duets, seven tracks feature the superb Jim Vivian on bass, Michael Billard on drums and Patrick Boyle on trumpet and flugelhorn. But the spotlight is on Jeff Dyer’s full-bodied, emotionally raw singing style that suggests a natural, experienced talent. The baritone’s larger-than-life voice is not technically faultless, but this does not get in the way of the singer’s captivating, earnest delivery. Fans of the old standards will enjoy authentic readings of Lucky to Be Me and the like, but even more intriguing are Dyer’s spicy originals. Iona is a haunting, poetic ode to a Newfoundland ghost town, whereas the sentimental Time is a Dragon is a “smooth jazz” offering. In contrast, Nicaragua is a composition devoid of words but rich with intensity, trumpet doubling the voice. Dyer’s musical setting of John McCrae’s In Flanders Fields is inspired and respectful. Come to think of it, any time is appropriate to relish this recording, a healthy marriage of traditional and contemporary vocal jazz.

Ori Dagan

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Extended Play – FACE OFF

By Ken Waxman

 

Sonic battles involving musicians who play the same instrument facing off against one another are part of a tradition that goes back to Kansas City jam sessions. This sort of competition isn’t unique to jazz. Probably the first cutting contest took place when one medieval troubadour restrung his lute to best others playing Greensleeves.

Now that improvised music is international however, players can test themselves against musicians from other countries. That’s what four Canadians do here. Two, former Torontonian reedist Quinsin Nachoff and ex-Burlington trumpeter Darren Johnston do so in group situations. Two others – both Montrealers: guitarist Antoine Berthiaume and drummer Michael Lambert – go mano a mano.

 

 Results are particularly spectacular in q’s case. On Base (Ambiances Magnétiques AM 178), his partner is New York guitarist/composer Elliott Sharp whose instrumental prowess involves equal facility in blues, noise, rock, jazz, improvised and notated music. Raging over 11 free improvisations, the two use the tactile capabilities of guitars’ attachments and properties as much as its strings to tell stories. In cahoots not conflict, Sharp and Berthiaume crunch, crash and pan across the sound field, combining watery flanges, slurred fingering and twanging resonation into pulsations that are simultaneously wedded to electronic distortion and acoustic elaborations. When Sharp’s bottle-neck facility is mixed with clawing oscillated tones, Station could be Delta Blues on Mars. Freed on the other hand, manages to work inchoate fuzz-tone delay and dial twisting into lyrical sprays of sound. The duo’s essence is best expressed on Essence. Here one intermittently plunks bass strings alongside jagged resonation created by scratching strings below the bridge, until the piece concludes with throbbing drones reaching needle-in-the-groove concordance. (www.actuellecd.com) 01_base
02_meditation  Similarly blending rhythms so there is no perceptible transition between one and another’s improvising on Meditations on Grace (FMR Records CD 256-0108) are percussionists Michael Lambert and Boston’s veteran Rakalam Bob Moses, both of whom are also visual artists. Overlaying a Pop-Art-like jumble of beats they reference ethic rhythms as frequently as those associated with conventions of so-called legit music and jazz. Cunningly blending in double counterpoint the throbs and tinkles available from cross patterning and inverted sticking, octave jumps, staccato runs, march tempos and sudden rebounds, they understate, but never abandon heart-beat rhythms. Meanwhile bell trees are sounded, maracas shaken, ride cymbals scratched, steel pans popped and tension lugs tightened and loosened to produce multi-colours. Subtlety is the watchword here with whisks and brushes in use more than sticks and mallets. Cognizant of each other every second, one drummer produces rim shots when the other ratchets; or one bluntly whack the bass drum when the other pounds Indian tom-toms. Chromatically shifting the tonal centre, they advance left-and-right in tandem. Gauge the joy in the proceeding, by noting the ecstatic shouts frequently heard from the participants. (www.fmr-records.com)
 This joy is also apparent on In Between Stories which features Darren Johnston’s United Brassworkers Front (Evander Music EM 040). This Bay- area band of two trumpets, two trombones, tuba, guitar, bass and drums plays mostly Johnston’s compositions, while echoes of Balkan marches, brass chorals, Dixieland and mariachi music abound. As burbling tuba provides the pedal-point bottom, shuffle drum beats and walking bass lines add an R&B feel. Johnston is surprisingly expressive and romantic on the sardonic Long Live the Yes Men, yet breaks up the initially stately In Between Stories with splattering triple-tonguing, jazz shakes and rubato slurs. Chunky rhythm guitar licks and half-honk/half-hip-hop from tuba adds to the transformation. Elsewhere Johnston’s arranging skills showcase polyphonic undulations, ensuring the massed brass braying is neither protracted nor gratuitous. (www.evandermusic.com) 03_united_brass_works
04_nachoff

 Brass band-inflected jazz is also the raison d’être on Quinsin Nachoff/Bruno Tocanne Project’s 5 New Dreams (Cristal CD 0824), although clarinetist/tenor saxophonist Nachoff’s co-leader is a French drummer, as are the two trumpeters and another saxophonist. Eschewing chordal instruments the unbridled power of Tocanne’s drumming manages makes the band evoke drummer Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers. With nearly every tune a foot-tapper, Tocanne’s ruffs and flams encourage doubled brass triplet, so that the trumpeters often sound like an intertwined Lee Morgan and Freddie Hubbard. Lionel Martin often confines himself to ostinato slurps from the baritone saxophone, except for some flutter-tongued exchanges with Nachoff. Otherwise space is left open for the Canadian who makes good use of it. On Soulèvement he plumbs his tenor saxophone’s depth with a wide vibrato and irregular diaphragm breaths, buzzing upwards into waves of altissimo before Tocanne’s press rolls surgically cut off the exposition. In contrast, Goodbye Lullaby benefits from the baritone saxophone’s bass undercurrent as Nachoff shades the andante melody with coloratura and moderato clarinet obbligatos. (www.imuzzic.net)

While cutting contests may be a relic of the past, international musical cooperation continues to set high standards.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 Phénix

Les Poules

ambiences magnétiques AM 176 CD

Sampling everyday sounds while electronically mixing them with extended and unusual techniques; the Montreal-based Les Poules produces music that is both subtly feminist and sonically expressive. On their own, each of Les Poules (“the hens” in English) – alto saxophonist Joane Hétu, percussionist Danielle Palardy Roger and sampler-manipulator Diane Labrosse – also composes for dance and theatre companies and performs with such associates as guitarist Fred Frith (Roger); pianist Marilyn Lerner (Labrosse) and saxophonist Jean Derome (Hétu). Arriving at their second decade as a trio however, “Phénix” is an unbeatable demonstration of their interactive prowess.

Over the course of 24 miniatures, lasting from barely a minute to slightly less than three, the trio creates unique juxtapositions that for example contrast the percussiveness of bass drum thumps and a sewing machine motor; or alternately compare approximations of infant cries, the power of a passing freight train and the rattling of a bell tree. Mostly narrowing her focus to timbres scraped and scratched on cymbals, Roger’s abrasions dovetail with the shrill reed bites, unattached mouthpiece peeps and wide-vibrato growls that Hétu forces from her horn. Meantime Labrosse’s ring-modulator flanging, droning loops of buzzing static and motor-driven grinding underline or connect the shifting tonal centres.

With each woman vocalizing a babble of nonsense syllables, gargles, scat singing, snores and juicy quacking, the jocular result is as much musique de maison as musique concrète. In short Phénix is one hen party you’d be well-advised to attend.

Ken Waxman

Concert Note: Diane Labrosse will join Marilyn Lerner in “Seconde Nature” at The Music Gallery on February 20.

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02_willie_weeper

 Willie the Weeper

Patrick Tevlin’s New Orleans Rhythm

New Orleans North CD-008

Some of the delights of any art form lie in the rich diversities to be found. Jazz has evolved into a multi-faceted sophisticated culture, but the simple joys of the music in its early form can still be heard, thanks to small, dedicated groups of musicians all over the world.

This recording features three stalwarts of the Toronto traditional scene: Patrick Tevlin on trumpet, Roberta Hunt on piano and Colin Bray on bass, all of them members of the popular Toronto group, The Happy Pals. They are joined by Brian Carrick one of England’s leading New Orleans style clarinet players with a strong George Lewis influence.

This music is unpretentious and sincere and, in truth, at its most enjoyable when heard live. That’s the case with any music, but none more so than traditional jazz with its direct emotional communication with the audience. That is not to detract from the listening pleasure to be found in this CD which is a collection of mostly familiar traditional themes like the title song, Willie The Weeper, I’m Confessin’ and Martha along with a few lesser known pieces such as the old rag, Trombonium, the 1924 Armand Piron Bright Star Blues and, adding a Jamaican touch, the 1925 Sly Mongoose.

The musicians convey an infectious enthusiasm and lovers of traditional jazz will find much to enjoy in this recording.

Jim Galloway

 

 Extended Play – LOCAL JAZZ

By Ori Dagan

 

 

 

 

01_ron_davis

 The artistry of Ron Davis is revealed not solely by his playfulness on the piano, but all the more by his creative decisions as leader. Davis has achieved critical acclaim for his pristine presentation of, and devotion to, the jazz tradition. On The Bestseller (Minerva/Davinor 233377), his sixth recording, he has pared it way down. Aside from two solo piano tracks, this is an entire album of piano/clarinet duets with Sasha Boychouk, a formidable Ukrainian musician who has recently relocated to Canada. Playing with remarkable virtuosity and a fine sense of humour, Boychouk is an ideal musical match for Davis. In addition to nine collaborative interludes, the original material is mostly penned by Davis, with several gems worth citing: Rhythmaron plants a fresh twist on the Gershwin standard I Got Rhythm, Allelujah is a luminous, pensive waltz and Street Stomp is the Klezmer answer to Dancing in the Streets. For good measure, a few covers, including the Sesame Street/Muppet Show anthem Manha Manha. Humorous, bold, engaging and energetic, “The Bestseller” is a sure-fire winner. (www.rondavismusic.com)

 Known for his fiery tone and flair for burning tempi, Juno award winner Kirk MacDonald is one of Canada’s pre-eminent jazz saxophonists. Since the release of his first album nearly twenty years ago, MacDonald has gradually gravitated towards the strength of his own original compositions. Family Suite (Romhog Records 116), MacDonald’s sixth album as leader, is a personal affair. The poignant opening and closing theme, Dark Autumn, refers to the fall of 2002, an arduous time in which MacDonald lost his mother while still mourning the deaths of long-time collaborators Jerry Fuller and Joe Bendzsa. Each movement in the suite is meaningfully titled and dedicated. One of the liveliest, Four Shades of Light, features an electrifying tête-à-tête between the leader and Barry Romberg on drums, as well as Romberg trading fours with the exquisite Brian Dickinson on piano. Along with bassist Jim Vivian, the sensitive rhythm section is as good as it gets. Musically multifaceted as always, MacDonald delivers a highly rewarding, emotionally raw performance on this unquestionably cathartic recording. (www.kirkmacdonald.com) 02_kirk_macdonald
03_michael_occhipinti  A first-rate guitarist, composer and arranger, Michael Occhipinti is best-known for co-leading the spirited NOJO (Neufeld-Occhipinti Jazz Orchestra) and has also previously released four titles under his own name. His 2000 release, “Creation Dream”, offered jazz renditions of Bruce Cockburn’s music. Conceptually similar, Occhipinti’s ambitious fifth outing The Sicilian Jazz Project (True North Records TND 516), pays tribute to his roots by reinventing traditional Sicilian folk repertoire. The selected material is tastefully steeped in jazz without sacrificing its authentic folk flavour. Occhipinti’s arrangements emphasize strings and percussion, along with Kevin Turcotte on trumpet, Louis Simao on accordion and Ernie Tollar on saxophone and flute. Five of the nine tracks feature heartfelt vocals by Dominic Mancuso and Maryem Tollar, both impeccable storytellers. Brother Roberto Occhipinti lays down the bass and wears the producer’s hat. Ultimately what comes through in this recording is a deep dedication to the material. Extensive liner notes effectively introduce the listener to each song’s meaning, origin and the leader’s intention. If one is of Sicilian lineage, this recording is essential; for everyone else, it is a recommendable labour of love. (www.michaelocchipinti.com)
 The elder brother of Michael and a cousin of guitarist David, Roberto Occhipinti has enjoyed a productive career primarily as bassist, secondarily as producer. Initially mentored by Joel Quarrington and Dave Young, he spent decades as an orchestral player and sideman before releasing his first album as leader at the turn of the century. Occhipinti’s fourth release, A Bend in the River (Alma Records ACD11182), showcases his refined skills as player, producer, arranger and composer. The core personnel consists of pianist David Virelles, drummer Dafnis Prieto, Occhipinti on bass and Luis Deniz on alto saxophone. Collectively the group outlines each composition’s shape, but the canvas is splashed with many other colours, including guest appearances by flautist Les Allt, bass clarinettist John Johnson, trumpeter Kevin Turcotte and a full string orchestra on three of the seven cuts. The title track is a memorable standout for its logically flowing melody, sweeping harmonic movement and a rhythmically inventive saxophone solo by Deniz. Occhipinti’s string arrangements, especially those featuring the Globalis String Orchestra, create a lush lyricism that lingers long after the disc plays out. (www.robertoocchipinti.com) 04_roberto_occhipinti

 

 Extended play – VOCAL JAZZ

By Cathy Riches

 

 

 

01_yvette_tollar

 A passel of new discs by Canadian singers – some relative newcomers, others more experienced – ended off 2008 in style. The first, and most notable, is by Yvette Tollar, an independent release entitled Ima (ROM 10). The Tollar name may be familiar to some, as brother Ernie is an established woodwind player in Toronto who lends his talents to this collection of Canadian songs. Most are written by local players like keyboardist Dave Restivo (the gorgeous Prayer for Human Kindness appears twice on the disc, once with just piano accompaniment and the other with nimble tabla playing by Ravi Naimpally), guitar guru Kevin Breit and Tollar herself, but Joni Mitchell’s Edith and the Kingpin is also here and given a funky but reverential treatment. Tollar sings with a jazz sensibility underpinned with a gospel/soul sound that makes for a rich, appealing combination. But what is most compelling is her complete lack of affectation. She is a singer who has chosen and written songs that have a lot of meaning for her and while she takes care with her craft, it’s apparent her main aim is to get the songs across rather than to sound a certain way. Having some of the heaviest and most inventive players in Toronto collaborating on your disc helps too – the aforementioned Kevin Breit and Dave Restivo, piano player Robi Botos and Tollar’s husband and phenomenal bassist, Rich Brown, played and co-produced. It all adds up to one of the most genuine and moving discs from a local talent in 2008. (www.yvettetollar.com)

 Montreal-based Susie Arioli and partner Jordan Officer have released their 5th CD Night Lights (Spectra Musique SPECD7806). Officer’s steady acoustic guitar comping and agile soloing along with Arioli’s light touch on snare, gives it a Hot Club of France sound, while the blend of sophisticated nostalgia and French and Latin tinges reminds me of the hip, Oregon-based “little orchestra” Pink Martini. The clever way that Arioli’s breathy alto is recorded — close-up, with no reverb — gives the songs an engaging intimacy, as if she’s sitting just over there on the couch doing a few numbers just for you. The phrasing is straight and unadorned on standards like I Can’t Get Started, Blue Skies and You Go to My Head with Officer’s original Basswalk (featuring bassist Bill Gossage) rounding out this breezy, satisfying record. Arioli and Officer are playing several dates in Quebec in February and March and info can be found at www.nuland.ca/arioli. 02_night_lights
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 Daniela Nardi first graced the Toronto music scene with her personal songwriting style and smooth, earthy voice in 2003, but took a hiatus to nurse her mother through cancer. So it’s no surprise that her second CD Rose Tattoo (MIN003) is rife with self-examination and introspective lyrics. Produced by Greg Kavanagh, the disc is polished and richly arranged — lots of percussion, backing vocals, horns and subtle electronica — but never loses its earnest intensity. Rich Brown and George Koller share bass duties, Davide Direnzo drums and Nardi does the keyboard work. Ranging from the urban funkiness of 485 to the Calabrian folk singing that precedes the touching ballad Rosetta, to the Middle Eastern bluesiness of Longest Road, the record covers diverse musical and emotional ground. (www.danielanardi.com)

 Two discs with similar offerings — standards played with traditional jazz treatments and instrumentation (no djembe or oud here) and straight forward vocal interpretations — round out the latest batch of releases. First is Molly Johnson’s Lucky (Universal 0251786014). Johnson is a popular singer in Toronto not only for her performances but also her fundraising work and, lately, radio hosting on CBC 2. Her mature, chesty voice imbues the songs on “Lucky” with a world-weariness that makes Lush Life and I Loves You Porgy utterly believable. While swingy, up-tempo treatments — courtesy of backing trio Phil Dwyer, piano and sax, Mike Downes, bass, and Mark McLean/Ben Riley, drums — take the normally sombre Mean to Me and Ode to Billie Joe (which could be renamed Ode to Killer Joe for the debt the arrangement owes to that song) to new, light-hearted places. (www.mollyjohnson.com) 04_lucky
05_kristy  Founder of Alma Records and bass player, Peter Cardinali, produced his daughter Kristy’s debut My Romance (Alma Records ACD11082) and for it enlisted Robi Botos’ sensitive support on piano. Kristy croons her way matter-of-factly through such familiar tunes as I Remember You, Taking a Chance On Love and, incongruously for one of such tender years, In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning, with guest bits from renowns Don Thompson on bass, Guido Basso on flugelhorn and Kevin Breit on guitar. The standout track is the almost a capella version of A Sleeping Bee. Uber arranger Dylan Bell’s sumptuous, complex voicings, sung by fellow Cadence members Kevin Fox, Carl Berger and Ross Lynde, add a dash of verve to an otherwise straight forward record. (www.almarecords.com)

 

 Extended play – AIMToronto

By Ken Waxman

 

 

 Barely four years since its founding, The Association of Improvising Musicians Toronto (AIMToronto), has raised the profile of local improvisers, while nurturing the scene. This almost 200-member, non-profit collective helps find venues in which to hear improvised music – most prominently Somewhere There in Parkdale – presents concerts featuring visiting musicians interacting with locals, and has organized a large improvisers orchestra. One of AIMToronto’s highest profile gigs took place at the Guelph Jazz Festival in 2007, where 18 AIMToronto members played the music of the American improv guru Anthony Braxton with the composer on soprano saxophone. The result was Creative Orchestra (Guelph) (Spool Line SPL 130). It showcases the AIMToronto members following the ever-shifting tonal centres in five Braxton compositions. Throughout these sequences and intervals it’s evident that overtones and undertones are as audible as the melodies, so the aural coloration takes on a 3-D-like effect. Germane to these tracks are the bravura contributions of vocalist Christine Duncan, who personifies the program not only with guttural or bel canto warbling plus inflated or truncated syllables, but also with parlando declarations. Another connecting thread is percussive – with strokes, vibrations and rattles apparent in varied pitches and pressures from Nick Fraser’s and Joe Sorbara’s drums and Brandon Valdivia’s clattering xylophone. Most characteristic of the pieces is Composition 307, a variation of sprechstimme, with Duncan’s falsetto dramatics sharing space with antiphonal vamps from the horns or gong-ringing and rim shots from the percussion. As the resonance arranges itself architecturally, slurs, syllables and sequences peep from the layering, with particularly noteworthy contributions from tenor saxophonist Colin Fisher, growls from Ronda Rindone’s clarinet and Scott Thomson’s shaggy trombone triplets. (www.spoolmusic.com)

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 The Orchestra’s artistic director, saxophonist Kyle Brenders, studied with Anthony Braxton at Wesleyan University and his recording Flows and Intensities suggests one of Braxton’s solo outings. Each of the eight compositions – all but two by Brenders – is oriented around a specific theme or motif played on soprano or tenor saxophone. Working with extended reed techniques and circular breathing, the results are alternately pretty or gritty. Not conventionally “pretty” however, since the modus operandi involves chunky air blown through the horns’ body tubes, echoing ghost notes, adagio pitch-sliding plus extended meditative and undulating textures where audible air intake alternates with flutter tonguing. Repetition of selected clusters or tones are part of the strategy as are times where Brenders seems to be playing two parallel reed lines – one consisting of puffing notes, the other ornamenting them with ghost tones. (www.aimtoronto.org)

 Another alumnus of the orchestra’s Guelph foray is guitarist Ken Aldcroft, whose solo guitar lexicon on VoCaBuLaRy (Trio Records TRP-SS01-008) is as varied as Brenders’ is for saxophone. Using diverse tunings, the guitarist’s distinctive flattish tone makes full use of flanging and reverb. Some tracks become exercises in controlled feedback, others are built around metallic micro tones and snapping flat picking. Sometimes his spiky runs reference Monkish licks; other times, loops, claw-hammer banjo tones or serrated rock-music extensions are present. Like Brenders he creates a call-and-response pattern as if a guitar duo is present. However his repeated phrases often fade into silences or transform themselves into patterns that form a combination of slack-key and microtonal slurs. These spidery, interlaced textures reverberating back onto one another are most accessible on Sterling Road Blues, which matches a non-showy blues progression that emphasizes the bass, with hesitant string-clumping, finally downshifting into ringing, but not reverberating timbres. (www.kenaldcroft.com) 03_aldcroft_solo
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 Bringing this game plan to group improv, Trolleys (Trio Records TRP-009) finds Aldcroft’s Convergence Ensemble meandering between group and solo work. Trombonist Thomson, alto saxophonist Evan Shaw, drummer Joe Sorbara and bassist Wes Neal join Aldcroft here for an outing where pauses are as much a part of the sound as polyphony, though there are points at which disconnect is evident between soloists and band. Individually each player impresses, especially Sorbara with drum stick nerve beats, thick ruffs and distinct hi-hat bops; Shaw, who undulates accentuated lines with a wide vibrato and snorting obbligatos; plus Thomson’s tongue-blurring plunger work and staccato grace notes. At points the trombonist’s blustery braying corrals the others into a bluesy stop-time amble which moves forward for a period until all the players disperse on individual paths. A rubato near-ballad, Apples showcases the most co-operation, involving multilayered counterpoint from each player. Shaw’s irregularly shaped reed osculation makes common cause with Aldcroft’s rhythmically sophisticated echoing fills, while walking bass propels the intersection of burbling trombone runs and ringing guitar licks. Before the climax, Sorbara gooses the tempo as the piece speedily double then triples in time, adding discursive riffs from Thomson and Shaw.

Impressive as part of an orchestra, AIMToronto members are just as estimable individually.

 

 

 

 

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