03 Curtis NowosadCurtis Nowosad
Curtis Nowosad
Sessionheads United SU007 (curtisnowosad.com)

Curtis Nowosad is a drummer and composer who was born and raised in Winnipeg but has lived in New York City since 2013 after moving there to complete a master’s degree at the Manhattan School of Music. This is Nowosad’s third album, the first recorded in New York, and contains five original compositions and three covers. The musicianship is impeccable with crisp horns, a tight and driving rhythm section, and arrangements reminiscent of Birth of the Cool. Highlights include Braxton Cook’s several wily alto saxophone solos and Andrew Renfroe’s guitar work on Hard Time Killing Floor Blues which is soulful, bluesy and rhythmically varied. Nowosad’s drumming is complex yet understated, always interesting but never in the way of the other player’s groove. Brianna Thomas’ assured vocals on two songs add extra nuance to the project.

This album can stand alone as an excellent example of intelligent, driving jazz but there are compelling social and historical themes woven through the original compositions and cover choices. The opening Home is Where the Hatred Is comes from Gil Scott-Heron’s 1970 album, Pieces of a Man. Nina Simone’s Sea Line Woman is given an elegant and sophisticated treatment. Nowosad’s The Water Protectors is dedicated to the Standing Rock Sioux and other Indigenous people while Never Forget What They Did to Fred Hampton is a sharp reminder of the young Black Panther activist’s murder and cover-up. Curtis Nowosad combines socially conscious history with assured jazz performances.

04 Jacques Kuba SeguinMigrations
Jacques Kuba Séguin
Odd Sound ODS-17 (jacqueskubaseguin.com)

Released in June on his own label, ODD SOUND Records, Migrations is the newest album from the Montreal-based trumpeter Jacques Kuba Séguin. A regular in the Montreal jazz and creative music community, Séguin tours regularly, including a 2016 stint in Poland, Lithuania, and Germany, and has worked as the host of the Symphonie en bleu radio show, for ICI Musique classique. In addition to Séguin, who is solely responsible for the album’s compositions and arrangements, Migrations features pianist Jean-Michel Pilc, tenor saxophonist Yannick Rieu, vibraphonist Olivier Salazar, bassist Adrian Vedady and drummer Kevin Warren.

The medium-tempo Hymne starts things off, and gives Séguin plenty of room to exercise his warm, burnished sound; it also contains beautiful moments from Pilc, Salazar and Rieu. Pilc – who, since becoming a faculty member at McGill, is appearing on more and more Montreal-based projects – tends to always be excellent and his work on Migrations is no exception; his playing on Origine, the album’s second track, is particularly satisfying. Première neige (You’re Not Alone), one of Migrations’ most introspective tunes, is beautiful, and Séguin takes the opportunity to showcase the expressive, lyrical side of his playing. I Remember Marie in April, a clear album highlight, begins with stellar playing from Warren, who negotiates the tune’s syncopated shots with aplomb and keeps things interesting throughout the solos. Overall, Migrations is a thoroughly engaging album, with strong individual playing deployed in the service of a cohesive group spirit.

05 Vlatkovich FiveFive of Us
Michael Vlatkovich; 5 Winds
pfMENTUM PFM CD 130 (pfmentum.com)

Gathering four of Toronto’s most accomplished horn players to collaborate on his 5 Winds Suite and other compositions, American trombonist Michael Vlatkovich recorded this disc at Array Space, producing sounds that recall both a disciplined concert band and a freeform improvising ensemble.

Dividing the presentation so that the higher-pitched trumpets of Lina Allemano and Nicole Rampersaud are contrapuntally stacked against darker timbres from David Mott’s and Peter Lutek’s saxophones, the trombonist challenges or harmonizes with each group in turn, lowing snarls when called for and shrilling flutter tones when necessary. Working through call-and-response sections as well as individual solo spots, the crafty arrangements are particularly notable on the suite. Sophisticatedly layered to highlight individual voices, a climax of sorts arrives with Part 5: Five. Mott’s baritone saxophone sighs move from melodious harmony to screaming intensity as the muted brass tones bolster the background. Although top-of-range cries and slurs dominate, dissonance never upsets forward motion.

Similar strategies underline the other sequences. On the introductory Please Help Me I’m Blowing Bubbles, for instance, Vlatkovich’s airy slides harmonize with descending reed amplifications. Later, after the five experiments with variants of split tones, slurs and shakes, the concluding For The Protection of Yourself and Others You’ll Need to Wear Your Space Suit is bouncy and boisterous but balanced despite shuddering capillary brassiness and reed glossolalia. Four of the five musicians may come from a different country, but exemplary improvising within crafty arrangements knows no boundaries.

06 Peter EldridgeSomewhere
Peter Eldridge; Kenny Werner
Rosebud Music (petereldridge.com)

Consummate vocalist, composer and lyricist, Peter Eldridge has joined forces with arguably one of the finest jazz pianist/composers of his (or any other) generation, Kenny Werner, to co-produce a contemporary album of breathtaking beauty. The project boasts not only some fine original tunes, but also a sprinkling of some much loved popular standards – all rendered with fine rhythm section work by Werner on piano, Matt Aronoff on bass and Yoron Israel on drums. Eldridge’s rich, nuanced vocals and sumptuous orchestral arrangements (skillfully arranged for The Fantastical String Orchestra by Werner and conductor/cellist Eugene Friesen) make this a formidable CD.

Things kick off with the Eddie Arnold hit, You Don’t Know Me. Eldridge’s silky baritone takes command of this gorgeous standard, which is lusciously wrapped in acoustic strings and supported by the supple spine of Werner’s inspired piano work. Another outstanding selection is That Which Can’t Be Explained, with music and lyrics by Eldridge. This sensitive ballad has a lovely, poetic lyric and a pleasingly complex melodic line. Eldridge effortlessly takes the listener along for the ride on a deep emotional journey… this is a hit song in search of a hit Broadway show!

Additionally, the Bernstein/Sondheim title track/medley is a major stunner, and begins with a haunting a cappella voice, followed by solo piano, which gently enfolds Eldridge throughout. A brilliant orchestral segue leads to the second part of the medley, A Time for Love, which features exquisite harp and string section work, and of course Johnny Mandel’s incomparable melody.

Without question, the artistry of Eldridge and Werner make Somewhere one of the most exceptional recordings that I have had the privilege to experience this year.

07 Pete McGuiness OrchAlong for the Ride
The Pete McGuinness Jazz Orchestra
Summit Records DCD 747 (summitrecords.com)

With the release of his third big-band CD, multiple Grammy-nominated composer, arranger, producer, trombonist and vocalist Pete McGuinness has certainly grabbed the golden ring. This is a fine recording featuring tasty standards, beautifully-constructed original compositions, inspired and contemporary arrangements by McGuinness and skilled performances by some of New York City’s most gifted musicians. All arrangements here are by McGuinness, and the recording kicks off with the Charles Strouse depression-era hit Put on a Happy Face. The track is the perfect, snappy, up-tempo opener, with a beautifully recorded big band sound (no easy task) and a buoyant and facile tenor solo from Tom Christensen.

The creative take on the late Michel Legrand’s You Must Believe in Spring is a total delight. McGuiness scats over melodic lines, and also performs the lyric with great emotion and perfect intonation, while pianist Mike Holober propels this gorgeous tune and arrangement through and around all of its beautiful changes. Of special note is Aftermath. With a moving brass choir opening, this original has its origins in an assignment once given to McGuinness by Bob Brookmeyer at the BMI Jazz Composers’ Workshop. Essentially an expanded tone poem about the loss of McGuinness’ close friend, this contemporary piece features Dave Pietro’s incredible (and indelible) soprano solo, which morphs into a wail of pain, grief and frustration (as well as other fine-tuned emotional states).

An additional standout is the McGuinness composition, Point of Departure – a dynamic arrangement that displays a full-throttle, big band sound – just as it should be – with Rob Middleton shining on tenor, as does Bill Mobley on trumpet.

Listen to 'Along for the Ride' Now in the Listening Room

08 Trance MapCrepescule in Nickelsdorf
Evan Parker; Matthew Wright; Trance Map+
Intakt CD329 (intaktrec.ch)

In the 1970s, English saxophonist Evan Parker began developing and combining a series of extended techniques, including circular breathing, false fingerings, harmonics and multiphonics, eventually creating sustained improvisations that could simultaneously suggest flocks of birds and keyboard works by Terry Riley. Eventually he combined these processes with multi-tracking and electronic musicians, further mutating and extending the materials. Between 2008 and 2011, Parker worked with composer/sampling artist/turntablist Matthew Wright to construct a piece using materials from Parker’s collection of recordings, resulting in Trance Map. In 2017, the original materials became the basis for the group heard here, Trance Map+, which adds bassist Adam Linson, turntablist John Coxon and Ashley Wales, all three employing electronics.

This performance from the Austrian festival Konfrontationen 2017 is as complex and engaging a performance as one may hear from the world of improvised music, a maze of sound in which different sounds come to the fore, most frequently Parker’s soprano but the others as well, whether foregrounding the ambient bass rumble of heavy amplification or the subtle harmonics of Linson’s bass.

At the beginning, there’s a passage of bird song in the foreground, a literal trace from Parker’s recordings. That sample of the natural world floats into the soprano’s mechanical world. Then the mirror worlds of Crepuscule unfold, combine and shift: saxophone and bass, bird chirp and insect song, oscillator blip and needle scratch, tease and confound the ear, mutating into and beyond one another’s identities.

09 VoyageVoyage and Homecoming
George Lewis; Roscoe Mitchell
RogueArt ROG 0086 (roguart.com) 

A mostly trio session featuring only two musicians, this CD is defined that way because Voyager, its more-than-25-minute centrepiece, features close interaction among veteran improvisers, trombonist George Lewis and saxophonist Roscoe Mitchell, and an acoustic Disklavier piano programmed by Lewis’ interactive Voyager software.

Reacting to the sounds generated by the horn players, the piano’s recital-ready introduction soon develops splintered and syncopated cadenzas and clusters which, during the sequence development, accompanies first the trombonist’s expansive pumps and then the alto saxophonist’s bluesy extended line. Obviously never outpacing the humans, the piano accompaniment moves from dynamic glissandi to jolts and jumps, making common cause with Mitchell’s thin reed snarls and Lewis’ plunger blats. The polyphonic climax arrives as the three sound layers intersect at top volume, but with individual contributions very audible.

While the concluding Homecoming is a classic duet between trombone and soprano saxophone, Qunata, the debut track, has Mitchell’s sopranino saxophone carving out a place for its shrill peeps and gaunt trills from the concentrated synthesized samples and inflated granular warbles produced by Lewis’ laptop. Working up to a textural program that could be the soundtrack for a film on cosmic exploration, the track ends with a programmed voice repeating “unable to continue.” That sly electroacoustic joke doesn’t characterize a disc that auspiciously offers profound instances of how man and machine can cooperate musically.

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