ANTHONY BAXTON. Photo by MARTIN MORISSETTEAnthony Braxton – composer, theorist, master of reeds, philosopher of play – has been recording for over half a century now and has often done so exhaustively. It began in 1969, when the recorded history of improvised solo wind performances consisted of a few brief pieces by Coleman Hawkins, Sonny Rollins, Eric Dolphy and Jimmy Giuffre. The young Braxton declared his arrival with a two-LP solo set called For Alto, outlining a musical language that he’s been exploring and expanding ever since, with larger and larger projects and titles ever more evocative or mysterious, like the Ghost Trance Music and Diamond Curtain Wall. In 2019, in his 75th year, he presented a six-hour performance of Sonic Genome at Berlin’s Gropius Bau, with 60 musicians spread throughout the museum drawing randomly from Braxton’s vast compositional output. Graham Lock suggested his significance in the subtitle of his book Blutopia: Visions of the Future and Revisions of the Past in the Work of Sun Ra, Duke Ellington, and Anthony Braxton. Possible alternatives? You might as readily match Braxton with Olivier Messiaen, Karlheinz Stockhausen or Harry Partch as a composer who has constructed his own universe. 

01 Anthony BraxtonBraxton’s latest compositional series is called ZIMAnthony Braxton: 12 COMP (ZIM) 2017 (Firehouse 12; He has just released its first substantial documentation on a single audio Blu-ray disc: 12 pieces, ranging from 40 to 73 minutes each, over ten hours altogether, recorded over a 14-month period by groups ranging from sextet to nonet in the U.S., Montreal and London. As usual though, the real wonder of Braxton’s work is in the listening, not the clock-watching, despite the hourglass he will place on a stage at the start of a piece, signal of a time apart: ancient, infinite, even granular. 

Along with Braxton and his reeds, the group constants are Taylor Ho Bynum playing cornets and trombone; tubist Dan Peck and harpist Jacqui Kerrod. Another harpist – there are three others – is always present; accordionist Adam Matlock appears on 11 of the pieces; cellist Tomeka Reid appears on eight; violinist Jean Cook on three; saxophonist Ingrid Laubrock and trumpeter Stephanie Richards figure in the nonet’s four performances. The harps, strings and accordion are key to the music’s special qualities: it is often sweeping, fluid and delicate, though those dreamlike and gentle textures mingle and fuse with the diverse sounds supplied by the winds. Braxton’s own alto saxophone can range from silky sweet to abrasive, and he also brings along instruments ranging from sopranino saxophone to contrabass clarinet.  

Braxton provides extensive notes in an accompanying booklet, and they’re as rich and playful as the music, which can sound as natural as a convergence of streams in a pond: “the notated material is positioned on top of an ‘unstable metric gravity’. This is a ‘wobbly music architecture’.” This multiple and unpredictable movement defines the music, a brilliant confluence of composed and improvised elements, a sonic flux of such delicacy that rhythmic, tonal and timbral incongruities combine to suggest an immersion in the spirit of change. 

Braxton has previously remarked that “I want the undefined component of my music to be on an equal par with the defined component,” and it’s a goal that he continues to extend here. If James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake is the most musical of books, Braxton’s ZIM is its double, diverging concordances passing over and through one another in a babbling dream discourse, free in some sense that music rarely is, as diverse in its methods as in its favoured sonorities, from those sibilant saxophones to brash brass blasts and hand-swept harp strings.

Whichever iteration of the group appears, the performance suggests it’s the ideal scale. As broad as the invention becomes, there’s always a sense of meaning rather than mere novelty, each event arising with its own certainty, however realized, an inevitability in accord with the logic of a dream, including a strange nonet passage in Composition No.415 in which Peck’s tuba wanders in a field of sudden pointillist punctuations from the other winds.  

By the time the septet reaches the final performances at London’s Café OTO, the pieces have stretched past the 70-minute mark and the strange fusions, mergers and discontinuities are ever more fully realized, the group pressing further and further into new territories, all the way to brief and uncredited vocal outbursts. On Composition No.420, Braxton’s alto initially fuses with the accordion and two harps; later he matches his sopranino’s whistle with Cook’s violin, which can also suggest an erhu; Bynum’s cornet flutters on a carpet of strummed harps, then whispers while the harpists diverge, one maintaining conventions while the other becomes percussionist and guitarist, striking the frame, slapping chords and picking a sparse melody. At times there’s an aviary in Braxton’s horns, from goose squawk to piping sparrow, while Peck’s tuba emits a low frequency hum that seems momentarily electronic. Toward the end, anarchic near-New Orleans jazz explodes and a harp sounds like elastic bands.    

Braxton’s ZIM is music of surprise. These are broad aural canvases in which the participants surprise themselves as well as one another, reaching toward a collective music that breeds in myriad individual encounters and in which close conversationalists will come to finish one another’s sentences – a saxophone’s phrase becoming an accordion’s. It’s the sound of recognition and empathy, one mind, like one sound, becoming another.  

Editor’s Note: Stuart Broomer is the author of Time and Anthony Braxton (Toronto: The Mercury Press, 2009).

Although unusual before that time, by the early 1960s a trio consisting of a double bass and drums, with a saxophone upfront, became increasingly common in jazz and improvised music. Initially influenced by the sound explorations of Sonny Rollins and Ornette Coleman, the configuration has since become so common that it rivals the traditional piano trio. Stripping interactive textures to their most basic with one woodwind, one percussion instrument and one string instrument challenges trio members to be as creative within these limitations as they would in a larger group. 

01 KorrFrench soprano/sopranino saxophonist Michel Doneda, who has been involved in varying improv configurations over the past 40 years, adapts to this format as part of CDWEIN14 Joined by Italians, veteran percussionist Filippo Monico and much younger bassist Andrea Grossi, the three create a mixture of multiphonics and melody with almost half the CD given over to the seven-part f.t.f suite. Memorable interpretations and intersections emerge on all tracks, with Grossi’s col legno and spiccato thrusts serving as contrapuntal foil to Doneda’s multiphonic explorations. Limiting himself to the occasional shuffle or cymbal accent with an irregular pulse, Monico stays in the background. Meanwhile, from the introductory not impro in roc all the way to the concluding re:call, the saxist and bassist operate like an accomplished comedy team feeding each other unexpected lines and reacting by topping or embellishing the japes. On the first tune this involves matching triple tongued saxophone shrills with elevated string pressure that almost replicates reed properties. A proper finale, re:call climaxes as mellow reed burbles hook up with balanced string strokes, after spiralling sopranino squeaks from inside the horn’s body tube are challenged by swaying string slaps. As for the suite, almost every imaginable timbre is exposed during each brief, connected sequence. Tremolo bagpipe-like drones alternate with compressed air forced out of the horn without key movement; or terse reed peeps share space with inflated aviary-like shrills from Doneda. Meanwhile Grossi’s expositions encompass techniques ranging from fluid spiccato strops to full-toned rhythmic vibrations, to echoing strokes that resemble the mechanics of long-string compositions in notated music.

02 GlotzeArriving from an almost diametrically opposed concept is GLOTZE I (Boomslang Records Boom 0613, an eponymously named German trio whose briskly kinetic tracks move on from the speed and strength projected by many freeform trios since the heyday of energy music. Adding echoing strokes from Philipp Martin’s electric bass to the power pulse of drummer Philipp Scholz and the strident bites of alto saxophonist Mark Weschenfelder, the band ends up with 11 miniatures as reminiscent of the Ramones as Rollins or Return To Forever. While it’s only the final De Wert that features overwrought buzzing from the bassist and noisy tones launched or unexpectedly cut off by the saxophonist’s overblowing, other tunes have arena rock equivalents. They include Klangschale #1, a cymbal vibrating, bell-tree shaking, water-bottle popping percussion showcase for Scholz. Other tracks are more reminiscent of Ornette Coleman’s electric bands, as harsh saxophone yelps are matched by stentorian thumb pops or sluicing vibrations from the electric bass, all of which evolves over a carpet of buzzing percussion and cymbal crashes. At the same time Weschenfelder’s playing isn’t all frenetic flattement and split tones. For every tongue-slapping variation there are tracks such as Durchführung #1 and Hobel #3 where floating trills and breathy straight-ahead theme elaborations are buoyant enough to bring Paul Desmond to mind and are met by sympathetic guitar-like comping from Martin.

03 MoreSomaMeanwhile the Lille, France-based More Soma trio on Hondendodendans (Microcidi 019 stretches the creation of freeform improvisation into the 21st century, giving it a more luminously layered but no less ecstatic cast. Built around the altissimo smears, basso scoops and split tones of alto and baritone saxophonist JB Rubin, the ruffs and rebounds from drummer Fred L’Homme and the sweeps or dot-dash plucks of bassist Mathieu Millet, the three gallop through four tracks with moderated responsiveness coupled with unpredictable invention. On a tune such as God B, Rubin’s vibrations from the sax’s body tube, coupled with flutter tonguing, projects a secondary, complementary tone alongside the baritone sax’s lowest reaches. Still open-palm drum shuffles and reverberating slaps from the bassist preserve the broken octave narrative. Similar power dynamics are expressed on alto saxophone features like Dog A as Millet’s seemingly unstoppable strumming sets the pace even as L’Homme’s ruffs and paradiddles redefine the time and Rubin’s duck quacking and corkscrew honks repeatedly fragment pitches. Triple cohesive refinement, however, ensures that no matter how many reed multiphonics are snarled upwards, bass strings stropped or drum pressure applied, horizontal expositions are maintained.

04 UassynThis necessary balance is more obvious on Zacharya (Double Moon/Challenge Records OMCHR 71387, the debut CD of the young Swiss trio Uassyn. Eschewing rock or ecstatic jazz influences, this group’s music is so scrupulously symmetrical that at times it threatens to become bloodless. Luckily the accomplished ingenuity of alto saxophonist Tapiwa Svosve, bassist Silvan Jeger and drummer Vincent Glanzmann means that the six joint instant compositions are enlivened by textural deviations even as triple coordination keep the tunes on level paths. Working up to an unforeseen group definition on the last track, the trio runs through variants in tempos ranging from adagio to allegro and uses breaks and fragmented patterns to pace brief solos. Svosve projects lower-case breaths and gusty smears with the same facility as Jeger’s oscillating strokes, and Glanzmann’s clanks and slaps propel the music without strain. Most notable are Mmoosh and Kheretem, the penultimate and concluding tracks. The former is an original concept where disconnected reed stops, echoing drum vibrations and bass string drones define the piece without much ambulatory motion. Likewise avoiding any faux-exoticism in their use, the three players clap and shake bells to introduce Kheretem, then employ these metallic resonations along with pinpointed ruffs, cymbal clashing and string slaps to confirm the exposition as the saxophonist decorates its evolution with continuously ascending reed arabesques.

05 AliseenAnother unique take on this configuration is on Aliseen (577 Records 5846 which mixes improvised jazz iterations with currents of traditional Finnish folk sounds. That means multi-reedist Jorma Tapio & his Kaski band of bassist Ville Rauhala and percussionist Janne Tuomi astutely manoeuvre among idioms. While a track like Nukunuku is the most overtly folksy, with low-pitched wooden flute puffs evolving over biting string drones, the preceding Way Off is closest to free jazz, with continuous snarling glossolalia and split-tone screams from Tapio’s tenor saxophone, the performances are separate enough so sonic schizophrenia doesn’t result. In fact the concluding title tune, which makes extensive use of string buzzes from kanteles or Finnish zithers played by the saxist and drummer in tandem with bass strokes, mostly serves as an idiosyncratic confirmation of the trio’s Nordic identity. Besides that though, emphasis is on contemporary improvisation. Rauhala’s subtly expressive plucks are upfront on a couple of tracks and Tuomi’s pinpointed cymbal clatter and hi-hat pulses join him on Siltasalmi. As for Tapio, playing flute on She’s Back, he produces Herbie Mann-like shrills with funky echoes and the same facility that his slashing alto saxophone cries suggest Ornette Coleman on a track with the ethnic title of Lasten Juhlat.   

No matter which woodwind is used alongside the bass and percussion on these discs, invention and originality are projected from each.

01 No BoundsNo Bounds
Caity Gyorgy
Independent (

While having a beautiful voice is plenty to recommend any singer, also knowing how to use it in the myriad ways that Caity Gyorgy does puts her high up the list of young singers to watch. 

Although the debate about what is and isn’t jazz is an old and often tedious one, it becomes especially tricky to nail it down when it comes to vocalists. Is covering standards enough to call yourself a jazz singer? Well, that’s all moot when it comes to Gyorgy because she is unmistakably a jazzer. Just head over to her Instagram account, @liftaday, if you want to see what I’m talking about. There she posts videos of herself doing lifts – i.e. singing note-for-note – solos of jazz giant instrumentalists like Clifford Brown, Oscar Peterson and even Charlie Parker. She’s posted 180 videos since 2018! It would be an impressive accomplishment for a mature singer but for someone only 22 years old, it’s mind-blowing. 

As well, her improv skills – the attribute that seals the deal for jazz credentials – are undeniable and on full display throughout her debut release, whether soloing over choruses or trading fours with her band members: Jocelyn Gould, guitar, Thomas Hainbuch, bass, and Jacob Wutzke, drums.

But Gyorgy isn’t all technique and prowess; she also has a ton of musicality and heart. These shine through on the songs she’s written herself like Postage Due which has a cute 60s vibe and Undefined, the only ballad on the album.

Despite the serious skills Gyorgy possesses she never gets too heavy and the overall feel of No Bounds is upbeat, warm and utterly charming.

Listen to 'No Bounds' Now in the Listening Room

02 SarahJerrom DreamLogicDream Logic
Sarah Jerrom
Three Pines Records TPR-002 (

With the release of her latest recording, Sarah Jerrom has reminded us that she is one of the most  interesting, talented and creative vocalist/composers on the scene today. All of the 13 compositions on the CD were written by Jerrom, except for two (Illusions and Plastic Stuff) by ensemble member and gifted guitarist, Harley Card. Jerrom is also featured on piano and, in addition to Card, is joined by the uber-skilled Rob McBride on bass, Jeff Luciani on drums/percussion and Joe Lipinski (who also co-produced and engineered this project brilliantly) on acoustic guitar/vocals. 

The opening salvo, Snowblind, has a silky, languid opening, featuring Jerrom’s pitch-perfect, clear tone – reminiscent of the great Jackie Cain or Norma Winstone. Cleverly arranged group vocals join in, followed by Card holding forth on an exquisite solo, rife with emotional and musical colours. An intriguing inclusion is Accolade Parade. Percussive and noir-ish, it deftly explores the desire for recognition – earned or not – and Jerrom shows herself to be a fine pianist on this harmonically dazzling tune. She also displays her vocal and compositional versatility on this well-written track. All is punctuated by the fine work of McBride and Luciani, who drives the ensemble down the pike with pumpitude to spare.

A highlight of the recording is the poetic, sultry, diatonic Fata Morgana. Again Jerrom dons another vocal guise with the deft use of her warm, lower register and her fine time feel. Card – this time on electric guitar – adopts a free, Bill Frisell-ish motif, set against the throbbing percussion of Luciani and the dynamic, soul-stirring bass of McBride. Another standout is Fergus – an unselfconscious, swinging, bittersweet love song – elegant in its simplicity and mysterious in its meaning.

Listen to 'Dream Logic' Now in the Listening Room

03 Mike FreedmanInto the Daybreak
Mike Freedman
Independent (

A very welcome and positive pick-me-up to balance out these grayer times, local Toronto guitarist Mike Freedman’s latest release (and debut as a bandleader) is a rhythmically and melodically pleasing album that you would be hard pressed not to want to dance or at least tap along to. Spanning and mixing genres from Latin to blues and jazz to R&B, this record would be a great addition to the collection of listeners who tend to lean towards a classic sound or are looking for a modern take on the genre. All pieces are penned by Freedman himself and are given life by a sublime backing band with well-known names such as Chris Gale on tenor saxophone, Kobi Hass on bass and Jeremy Ledbetter on piano. 

Samba on the Sand is definitely a standout on the album, a Latin-flavoured piece with scintillating rhythms provided by drummer Max Senitt and a unique combination of melodica and guitar that creates a warm and distinctly Brazilian undertone to the tune. In Lamentation Revelation, focus is put on the interplay between distinctive piano chords, a smooth and quite funky bass line as well as Freedman’s mellow riffs forming a sultry R&B-flavoured whole. The title track manages to capture the exact essence of positivity, regeneration and awakening that each day brings; the driving rhythms and uplifting melodic progressions all contribute to maintaining this feeling throughout the piece.

04 KlaxonCD001Entièrement unanimes
Klaxon Gueule
Ambiances Magnétique AM 259 CD (

While this session may at first appear to be a traditional guitar (Bernard Falaise), electric bass (Alexandre St-Onge) and drums (Michel F Côté) creation by Montreal’s Klaxon Gueule, the addition of synthesizers and a computer means it relates as much to metaphysics as to music. That’s because programming alters the sound of each instrument, blending timbres into a pointillist creation that brings in palimpsest inferences along with forefront textures.   

A track such as Continuum indifférencié for instance, features a programmed continuum with concentrated buzzing that moves the solid exposition forward as singular string slides, piano clicks and drum ruffs are interjected throughout. In contrast, la mort comme victoire malgré nous finds voltage impulses resembling a harmonized string section moving slowly across the sound field as video-game-like noise scraping and ping-ponging electron ratchets gradually force the exposition to more elevated pitches. Although aggregate tremolo reverb frequently makes ascribing (m)any textures to individual instruments futile, enough timbral invention remains to negate any thoughts of musical AI. Singular guitar plucks peer from among near-opaque organ-like washes on Société Perpendiculaire and a faux-C&W guitar twang pushes against hard drum backbeats on toute la glu

During the CD’s dozen selections, the trio members repeatedly prove that their mixture of voltage oscillations and instrumental techniques can create a unique sonic landscape that is as entrancing as it is expressive.

05 Al MuirheadLive from Frankie’s & the Yardbird
Al Muirhead Quintet
Chronograph Records CR082 (

There is an eloquent maxim in many musical discussions that “improvised music ought to sound written and written music should sound improvised.” In a similar vein I would argue that most studio jazz recordings benefit from a live energy, and most live recordings can sound as polished as their studio counterparts when well executed. The Al Muirhead Quintet strikes this balance beautifully on Live From Frankie’s & the Yardbird, performing a collection of jazz standards, one Muirhead original and Jimmy Giuffre’s Four Brothers; hardly a standard, but part of the jazz lexicon nonetheless. The album comes to a brief midway pause with the vocal Intermission Song, a showbiz-style way to end sets that only someone with Muirhead’s long connection to the music could pull off in such a fun and endearing manner. 

The recording features Muirhead on bass trumpet and trumpet, Kelly Jefferson on tenor saxophone, veteran bassist Neil Swainson and differing guitarists and drummers for each venue. Reg Schwager and Jesse Cahill round out the band in Vancouver, with Jim Head and Ted Warren playing the Edmonton hit. The recording has a stunningly unified sound despite these personnel and venue changes, evidenced by the two contrasting versions of Sonny Rollins’ Tenor Madness. I recommend this album as a great example of Canadian jazz in a nutshell: easy to listen to, but far from devoid of depth.

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