08 Francois Carriet GlowGlow
François Carrier; Diego Caicedo; Pablo Schvarzman; Michel Lambert
Colya Koo Music (francoiscarrier.bandcamp.com)

While two Canadians and two South Americans meeting in a Barcelona bar has all the elements of a shaggy dog story, that’s what happened with Glow; although instead of a punchline what we get here is a session of superior improvised music. Canadians, alto saxophonist François Carrier and drummer Michel Lambert, along with Colombian guitarist Diego Caicedo and Argentinean Pablo Schvarzman, who employs guitar and electronics, both now Spanish residents, operate as one unit during the CD’s five tracks.

Emphasizing voltage extensions throughout, not only do the guitarists project expected twangs, frails and strums, but Schvarzman’s electronics also produce an undulating drone as well as throbbing vibrations which frequently mirror double bass sluices. Lambert’s irregular drum patterning is used for coloration not rhythmic pulse, which leaves performances twisted every which way by Carrier and Caicedo.

Hammering or picking his strings, the guitarist moves from reflective accompaniment to brittle adagio shakes. The saxophonist doesn’t play standard licks but overlays each track with a variety of effects from screaming fragmented bites to harsh breathy honks and slurs. Unique tropes evolve throughout to establish collective equilibrium. This is aptly demonstrated when the set climaxes with Heart Core, the penultimate track. Repeated string ratcheting strokes coupled with reed motifs soaring from dyspeptic scoops to bagpipe-like drones to staccato tongue flutters, reach such a point of pressurized intensity that they seem unstoppable, but quickly and easily downturn to relaxed timbres later on.

Glow is no joke just fine exploratory music.

09 Lussier QuartetSpring 2021
René Lussier; Erick d’Orion; Robbie Kuster; Martin Tétreault
Victo CD 134 (victo.qc.ca)

The Victo record label is almost as venerable as the Victoriaville, Quebec FIMAV festival that gave it birth, and this disc is a signal moment in the history of both. The performance comes from the May 2021 festival, a hardy, insistent edition with a Quebec focus following the pandemic-cancelled 2020 festival. The recording marks the label’s 35th anniversary with special significance: the first recording issued was a guitar duet that also featured René Lussier, then in the company of Fred Frith. 

In keeping with the festival’s ideal of musique actuel, current music, this resists classification, a collective improvisational, combining Lussier’s electric guitar and daxophone (a bowed, fretted instrument), Robbie Kuster’s drums, Érick d’Orion’s computer and electronics and Martin Tétreault’s turntables. It blurs categories of electronic music, free jazz and anarcho-rock, the latter sometimes suggested by Kuster’s steady beat anchoring disparate elements. 

The music’s aim is neither clarity nor easy consumption; its strengths are in its vision, energy and a palpable sense of resistance. Lussier’s guitar is often the central voice, hard-edged, icy, sometimes distorted, at times limpidly lyrical. He can supply a focal element whether creating a keening, electric wail or shifting to the barely amplified wandering of L’avant dernière. L’autre, a nine-minute segment near the temporal centre of the work, develops mysterious and distinct layers and events that are almost sculpturally arrayed in the sound field, the seemingly independent parts ultimately evolving into part of a collective vision.

10 Knotted ThreadsKnotted Threads
Yves Charuest; Benedict Taylor
Tour de Bras tdb 90048/Inexhaustible Editions ie040 (tourdebras.bandcamp.com)

Montreal-based alto saxophonist Yves Charuest is a free improviser of the highest order, a musician of rare depth and originality. During a six-month residency in London in 2017, he heard English violist Benedict Taylor, felt an immediate affinity and soon began a collaboration that joins two of the closest listeners in improvised music. In 2019, Charuest arranged some Montreal performances for the duo and dancer Alanna Kraaijiveld, during which time he and Taylor recorded Knotted Threads.     

There are innate difficulties in describing any music, but the problems compound with free improvisation. While one is free to say almost anything, finding something relevant is a challenge. Charuest and Taylor, generously, provide an ideal metaphor for their work: a series of titles taken from arcane knots used by fishermen, sailors and craftsmen for centuries, thereby highlighting both the practice and goal of their special idiom. Each is a virtuoso of extended as well as conventional techniques, each an explorer of sonority, attacks and decays – to the extent that their sounds, like their pitch ranges, intersect. Gauzy and gritty harmonics, whether bowed or blown; percussive knocks, whether plucked string or struck keypad; subtle shifts in dynamics or sudden glissandi: they all intertwine in myriad ways, whether designated as Ossel Hitch, Round Lashing, Poldo Tackle or Bimini Twist

There are moments when the whole voyage is revealed. On Chain Sinnet, the viola sounds like a rope stretching against a gunwale, the saxophone like gulls, landed in the bow – yet all of it human, rope and gull crying as one. It’s an hour of music with the precision and gravitas of several chapters of Homer’s Odyssey or Moby Dick.

11 Chet DoxasYou Can’t Take It With You
Chet Doxas
Whirlwind Recordings WW4778 (chetdoxas.com)

You Can’t Take It with You is a creative and swinging drummer-less offering from Montreal-born New York-based saxophonist, Chet Doxas. Doxas’ tenure in NYC has led him to play with the who’s who of American musicians, including a long-term collaboration with Steve Swallow and Carla Bley, who encouraged Doxas to put together this trio project over conversations during a European tour. Pianist Ethan Iverson and bassist Thomas Morgan are perfectly suited for the ten original pieces Doxas penned for the recording, which comes as no surprise given their individual reputations for making creative yet grounded music. 

The album’s title track is almost bluesy in nature, making it a perfect introduction to this often abstract but always grooving recording. I was surprised to read that its inspiration comes from compositions by Count Basie, but this makes sense after a second listen. The following track Lodestar also takes its inspiration from a source I didn’t immediately recognize; saxophone legend Lester Young. Tributes of this sort are often penned in a heavy-handed manner, so I very much appreciate Doxas using influences as jumping off points rather than strict rules. 

The theme of obscuring influences permeates the entire album and feels apropos given the manner in which these three musicians improvise. Doxas’ compositions are detailed enough to unify the album’s sound, but open-ended enough to allow these unique improvisers to shine. This makes You Can’t Take It with You entertaining to listen to over and over again.

12 Noam LemishErlebnisse.
Noam Lemish
Independent (noamlemish.com)

In these times of reworked, remade and rebooted albums, movies and musicals, it is truly refreshing to encounter a CD of improvised music where each track has been recorded once… period. Noam Lemish’s debut solo album, Erlebnisse, is an engaging example of this. 

Toronto-based Lemish wears many hats, traversing diverse musical boundaries and incorporating numerous musical traditions into his art. A jazz pianist, pedagogue, composer, ensemble leader/director and accompanist, he is clearly a musician who happily defies categorization.

Erlebnisse is a word/concept in German that means “deeply felt experiences.” What Lemish offers us on 16 tracks – each one an Erlebnis – is indeed an array of deeply felt experiences conveyed to us through the medium of music with all of its evocative powers on display. And, as Lemish explained to me, with “little interference from our meaning-making mind.” 

Listening to this extraordinary CD – one would be well-advised to do so, repeatedly, as an uninterrupted whole (preferably with a glass of red wine in hand) – Lemish takes us along on his soul-baring, improvisational journey, which is nothing short of stunning (and which may even feel a touch voyeuristic for the listener, given the deeply felt depths that he plumbs). Infused with elements of jazz, classical and Middle Eastern music, Jewish folk and Israeli popular song, Lemish’s extemporizations are at times poignant, propulsive, yearning, melancholic, contemplative and quixotic. And they are masterful.

Erlebnisse is improvisation at its most inventive and intimate!

13 Don Macdonald Shifting SandsShifting Sands
Don Macdonald

Award-winning Canadian composer/performer/educator, Don Macdonald, composed, produced and performs/improvises on violin on his nine original jazz works here. His unique orchestration adds violin and mandolin to a traditional jazz rhythm section – guitar, piano, acoustic bass, drums—performed by predominately Canadian musicians. Each tune is jazz based, yet intriguing touches from other musical influences and the instrumentation makes these jazz fusion sounds appealing to all music lovers. 

Opening track Shifting Sands is so very happy and sets the musical stage. Pianist Dave Restivo’s quiet piano intro leads to a faster groove. Great full-band jazz to pop sounds, especially when guitarist Mike Rud’s solo contrasts with Macdonald’s violin high pitches. Dali’s Hourglass is darker, with contrapuntal detached piano chord opening until violin lead begins – a little bit of everything jazz with touches of minimalism in repeated lines. In Bayou, drummer Steven Parish’s solo opening sets up a Cajun groove in this tightly performed modern take on the familiar New Orleans style. Dreams of Ozymandias is slow and moody with close-knit instrumental conversations and underlying subtle rhythms. Four diverse tracks follow until the “sands shift” back to happy in the closing Homecoming with its fun, funky and florid party-time music. Bassists Rob Fahie and Jill McKenna, and mandolinists Dylan Ferris and Boston-based Jason Anick, also perform on select tracks.

This is a must-listen-to joyous release. Macdonald’s virtuosic works and violin playing never disappoint. All the stellar musicians play exuberantly, with care and respect.

14 Avi Granite TogetherSongTogether Song
Avi Granite; Daniel Carter
Pet Mantis Records PMR013 (petmantisrecords.com)

Through three pieces of varying length, multi-instrumentalist Daniel Carter (flute, clarinet, trumpet, tenor saxophone) and electric guitarist Avi Granite demonstrate the value of patience in a purely improvisational setting. This isn’t to say that more kinetic free-form music with a shorter attention span isn’t a compelling alternative approach, but Carter and Granite’s musical relationship is a thing of beauty. They not only seem to be listening closely to one other, they’re in perpetual dialogue concerning the ultimate destination of the form itself. It’s not just about finishing each other’s sentences, it’s about taking an idea and expanding upon it in a manner that opens up new possibilities. 

Carter and Granite both accompany in a way that feels far more like amplification than mere coexistence. Granite’s rhythmic reflexes constantly provide the context and environment in which Carter’s vignettes thrive. On the other hand, the intent and clarity of Carter’s own articulation gives the overall work a sense of unrelenting movement. Each piece feels like it’s constantly developing, and yet perhaps the characteristic that best defines this album is space. Rather than trying to continually build upon each passage until they hit a plateau, Carter and Granite opt to meditate on their surroundings, letting the music naturally mature rather than forcing a progression. In art, there are few things more inspiring than a creative bond this powerful.

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