01 Andrew ScottThe Brightest Minute
Andrew Scott Quartet
Cellar Live CL022817 (cellarlive.com)

Skilled guitarist, composer, arranger and highly respected jazz educator Andrew Scott has just released his new Quartet CD under the fine auspices of the internationally noted jazz label Cellar Live. Co-produced by Scott and pianist Jake Wilkinson (who also engineered), the CD features eight tasty original, contemporary jazz compositions by Scott, as well as a fine lineup of players including Scott on guitar, Wilkinson on piano, Jon Meyer on bass and Jeff Halischuk on drums.

Kicking things off is My Ears Can’t Hear Your Voice. Scott’s swinging, soulful, full-bodied guitar sound brings to mind elements of Tal Farlow, Herb Ellis and Grant Green. Combine that with a tight, grooving, acoustic quartet, propelled by the jaunty, well-written material and Scott’s facile soloing, and you have a dynamic jazz track. Wilkinson’s rhythmic and emotional piano style is clearly featured here, and is reminiscent of a young Hampton Hawes.

A highlight of the recording (and in contrast to the rest of the high-octane tracks) is the thoroughly gorgeous ballad For Marilyn, dedicated to Scott’s late mother, Marilyn Elizabeth Scott, who died in 2016. Scott is capable of such direct communication through his music that one can easily feel the love that inspired this piece. Also of note is the title tune – a high-intensity, New York-ish cooker that features not only the musical tightness of the ensemble, but also the high level of unspoken communication between the band members. A final favourite is Dreamin’ – rendered with an almost Basie-like simplicity and Scott’s perfect, rhythmic comping and in-the-pocket soloing. Easily one of the best small jazz group recordings of the year.

02 Jamie ReynoldsGrey Mirror
Jamie Reynolds
Fresh Sound New Talent FSNT 528 (freshsoundrecords.com)

Canadian-born and New York City-based jazz pianist Jamie Reynolds has just released a challenging and deeply moving recording, featuring himself on acoustic piano and Wurlitzer as well as special guests Matthew Stevens on guitar (who also served as co-producer), Orlando LeFleming on acoustic and electric bass and Eric Doob on drums. Other key players on this project are the noted brass quartet, the Westerlies, featuring Andy Clauson and Willem de Koch on trombones, and Zubin Hensler and Riley Mulherkar on trumpets.

In the planning stages Reynolds determined that in order to achieve the artistic expression, depth and meaning that he was looking for, he would arrange most of his 14 original compositions on the CD to be played in two diverse ways – by his trio plus Stevens and also by a brass quartet… thereby illustrating in a very real way, the constant, and often distorted and contradictory mirror images of nature.

The opening track, The Earliest Ending, is first expressed as a brief intro of stunning, warm and moving brass lines, and later as an almost Satie-like piano solo which seamlessly melds into sensual, lush guitar lines. The same juxtaposition occurs with Small Worlds, a hard-driving, face-melting guitar-centric quartet take, followed later in the program by a smooth and beautiful brass arrangement of the same composition. Other superb tracks include the evocative title track, which features excellent solos from the quartet and the stirring Good Help, replete with the distinctive, percussive sound of the Wurlitzer electric piano as well as concise and solid bass work from LeFleming.

03 Kite TrioSlightly Higher in Canada
Kite Trio
Sunset Hill Music SHM-021703 (kitetrio.com)

With their third release, this fine Montreal-based jazz trio has pushed past the boundaries of contemporary jazz and into a zone of pure expression and freedom. Produced by Dave King (The Bad Plus), the recording is both raw and experimental. Of the 12 explorations here, half are composed by the trio, and half by the talented individual members of the ensemble, which include Eric Couture-Telmosse on guitar, Paul Van Dyk on bass and Eric Dew on drums, synthesizer and banjo.

On the opening track, Pidgin, the ensemble creeps in with a subtle, and then an insistent, guitar-defined rhythm and melody. The seemingly simple becomes complex as the composition dis-assembles into molecular form and re-assembles into kinesthetic harmonic and percussive exultation. The next track up is Paul Van Dyk’s Estranged – a solemn solo journey to the netherworld of the acoustic bass, where dark double-stops transport the listener deep into the chasm of the bass clef. The appealing That Good Old Feeling features the trio in an energetic and joyous light. Bombastic and masterful drum and guitar work as well as solid, innovative bass lines (arco and pizzicato) and some well-placed banjo embellishments define this fine arrangement.

The dynamic title track establishes a complex pulse of opposition and contrast, while lyrical sections seductively lure the listener into a thrilling guitar-infused realm of vibrancy, rife with the goose-bump raising excitement of possible danger. Another standout is Milkman, which represents the perfect integration of rock and free jazz sensibilities, and also features more superb Richter-scale musicianship from the trio a well as intriguing synthesizer sequences. 

Sometimes Y
Lina Allemano Four
Lumo Records 2017-7

Squish It!
Lina Allemano’s Titanium Riot
Lumo Records 2017-8 (linaallemano.com)

04a LinaAllemanoFour SometimesYTrumpeter Lina Allemano has been playing in Toronto for two decades, becoming a central figure among the city’s more creative musicians and developing enduring musical associations that tip over into a variety of bands. In recent years, Allemano has been splitting her time between Toronto and Berlin, where her musical life includes work with improvising ensembles from duos to the Berlin Improvisers Orchestra as well as studies with Axel Dörner, whose exploration of extended techniques has given the trumpet new life. On the home front, Allemano is releasing work by her two ongoing Toronto bands, each CD testifying to the virtues of longstanding partnerships combined with questing musical minds.

The Lina Allemano Four first recorded in 2003 and the current lineup has been in place since 2006, with alto saxophonist Brodie West, bassist Andrew Downing and drummer Nick Fraser. The group has apparent roots in classic free jazz ensembles like the Ornette Coleman Quartet, with similar emphasis on the leader’s compositions and an almost stark principle of dialogue consistently informing the music. There’s a frequent emphasis on speech patterns in Allemano’s compositions, sometimes consisting of short, emphatic truncated phrases, and their realizations here are just as conversational, with West consistently adding supportive counterlines to Allemano’s solos and the trumpeter returning the favour. Kanada, a high point, ends with an extended group dialogue that grows naturally from Downing’s arco lead.

04b TRiot SquishItAllemano first assembled Titanium Riot in 2013 and released the group’s debut Kiss the Brain a year later. Including Ryan Driver on analogue synthesizer, Rob Clutton on electric bass and Nick Fraser on drums, the group, devoted to free collective improvisation, undoubtedly benefits from the years working together in different contexts. The 2017 recording Squish It! is a dramatic continuation of the process. In this context, Allemano combines a distilled and pointed lyricism with striking timbral explorations to provide the music with an essential focus. It’s evident in the opening moments of the title track as she concentrates on long tones and a sound that’s a striking combination of subtle muting and the light buzz of air through the horn, the effect suggesting more than one trumpet. The quartet’s close listening and attention to texture consistently create an almost orchestral feel. Allemano’s focused concentration on sonority dovetails with Clutton’s rich sustained bass tones and mobile lines, Fraser’s shifting, energizing patterns and Driver’s creative mix of environmental, vintage cartoon and sci-fi sounds. The results range from the playful to the genuinely mysterious.

While the methodologies of Allemano’s two quartets differ, the groups share a collective passion for creative interaction as well as admirable results.

06 Collective OrderVolume Two
Collective Order
Independent (collectiveorderjazz.com)

What separates Volume Two from the 2016 album Volume One by Collective Order is the fact that on this second edition the music comprises original charts written by members of the ensemble, a “community,” as it is referred to in the notes to this package. While it is impossible to imagine a group without at least a musical director, Collective Order prefers to keep that function anonymous in its determination to maintain the communal spirit of these large-ensemble works, no doubt. So far this strategy appears to be working to the group’s advantage, as these 12 charts prove yet again and with good reason.

Incredibly the work of composition too is well-spread, including contributions from Andrew McAnsh, Liam Stanley, Ethan Tilbury, Ewen Farncombe, Jocelyn Barth, Connor Newton, Chris Adriaanse, Laura Swankey, Jon Foster, Connor Walsh, Belinda Corpuz, Andrew Miller and Joel Visentin. This represents a total of 13 members from the 19-member ensemble; something unusually democratic in any configuration of a music group. Even more remarkable is the fact that despite coming from so many different pens, there appears to be a wonderful uniformity of sound suggesting a kind of rare musical intimacy between the members of the band.

Whether evocative of rarefied realms, such as in Laniakea, or for a deep attachment to terra firma, as in Outside My Window, each chart takes us into some wild or wonderful place with trusted and inspiring musical friends.

07 Brad CheesemanThe Tide Turns
Brad Cheeseman
Independent BCM1701 (bradcheeseman.com)

This exploratory borehole into the atmospheric stratum of contemporary music is only the second in the career of bassist Brad Cheeseman. Unlike other early recordings made by musicians of his generation, The Tide Turns redeems itself from self-indulgence by being original (all but one of the compositions is by Cheeseman) and moreover, each is accessible enough to not require any decoding on the part of the listener. Secondly, this is a musical snapshot captured in the process of – as the bassist puts it – “change, self-discovery and reinvention.” To those aspects of the music’s source one might also add a blending of idioms in music that also retains much emotional intensity and originality.

On this disc Cheeseman shows that a musician can set out to find his own voice; and coming ever closer to doing so, might still retain the early echoes of his idols and those who influenced his playing. Happily the accolade of winning the 2016 Montreal Jazz Festival’s Grand Prix de Jazz has not made Cheeseman either wool-headed or a musical stuffed shirt. This is immediately recognisable in the music, which is all born of a questing quality combined with a rhythmically rock-solid yet splendidly discursive style designed to create music that seems to be contemplative rather than chatty. Despite moments which are unnecessarily garrulous and interrupted by frequent solos, this is energetic music exemplified in the swinging of Falling Forward.

08 Tom RaineyFloat Upstream
Tom Rainey Obbligato
Intakt Records CD292 (intaktrec.ch)

There’s a special relationship between jazz and the Great American Songbook, that collection of old popular songs, Broadway show tunes and movie themes largely assembled from the 1920s to the 1950s. Whether approached casually, romantically, harmonically or ironically, that songbook links performers from Louis Armstrong to Anthony Braxton and almost everyone in between. Drummer Tom Rainey has explored it in depth in association with pianists Fred Hersch and Kenny Werner; with his band Obbligato, he has found a distinctive path, combining standards with collective improvisation.

Obbligato includes frequent Rainey collaborators, saxophonist Ingrid Laubrock and the émigré Canadian pianist Kris Davis, along with the similarly distinguished trumpeter Ralph Alessi and bassist Drew Gress. They establish an identity immediately, the collectivist Stella by Starlight extending the theme’s moody haze with the horns’ exchanges until Davis initiates a bright, fluid approach, animating the piece along with sparkling eruptions from Gress and Rainey as well.

The advanced harmonic language suggests composer George Russell at times, but Laubrock and Alessi also thrive on the original melodies, developing pointillist moments on Sam Rivers’ Beatrice and a pensive luminosity on I Fall in Love Too Easily. The counterpoint and sheer rhythmic energy of What Is This Thing Called Love? recall the invention of Sonny Rollins at his most exploratory, while the extended What’s New? takes the quintet furthest afield, a unique cross breeding of 50s cool jazz lyricism and contemporary impulses that’s at once familiar and fresh.

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