03 Alex GoodmanSecond Act
Alex Goodman
Lyte Records LR040 (lyterecords.com)

It seems that for much of Second Act, Alex Goodman maintains a sort of spectral presence as a guitarist, shadowing the pianist Eden Ladin or saxophonist and EWI player Matt Marantz with liquid single-note lines, creating contrapuntal tête-à-têtes with them. But in each song Goodman does emerge briefly to punch the clock with short, stabbing solos that might end – as with Marantz’s saxophone in Heightened – in a kind of knotted entanglement with the melody before all but disappearing into the shadows of the music again. This, of course, puts the focus back on the compositional ability of Goodman and how his sinuous music sounds when played in an ensemble setting.

It’s also refreshing when a disc turns up that hearkens back to unfettered swing the way Second Act does. In a sense it feels like listening to big band music without the large ensemble. This quintet is also augmented by the incredible vocalists Felicity Williams and Alex Samaras. Together the ensemble sounds big even as it loses flutes and strings. This keeps the superbly economical melodies swinging and staying in shape through the spare, yet enhanced aural palettes of guitar, piano, saxophone and voice. The breathless fluttering of guitar on The First Break, tumbling cascades of piano in Losing Cool and burbling warmth of the saxophone on Acrobat all make for high art and high entertainment. And when the two meet – as they do in Second Act – memorability is assured.

04 Fran JareCopy Cat Coo Coo
Fran Jaré
Superfran Records FJ0157

Fran Jaré wears a number of hats on her new recording – producer, pianist, organist, composer and vocalist. Having made strong inroads into the genres of R&B, pop and rock (notably as the lead vocalist for the popular Vancouver ensemble Soultrax), Jaré has journeyed back into jazz with some very (dare I say it?) groovy results. The tight, cool and satisfying ensemble is bound together not only by talent and love of music, but also by a jazz-pedigreed gene pool (the executive producer is Jaré’s husband, Brian Disterheft, and features both her JUNO-winning bassist daughter, Brandi Disterheft, and her Grammy-winning sister, Angie Jaree). Additional JUNO-winning instrumentalists include Olaf DeShield on guitar and electric bass, Tom Keenlyside on sax and flute, Buff Allen on drums, Brad Turner on trumpet and also famed percussionist Portinho.

The well-chosen material is primarily a mash-up of Jaré’s original compositions, written over a period of time and culled from previous recordings and musical situations – including Soultrax and incarnations of the Fran Jaré Trio/Quartet/Quintet. A deep bow to the incredible Stevie Wonder is also included with Jaré’s slow, smooth and funky take on I Wish. She also pays tribute to the late great, Oliver Nelson with the buoyant Step Right Up. The title track is an infectious, soulful romp, perfectly underscored and punctuated by Jaré’s considerable organ/piano chops and the fine soloing and ensemble playing.

On Yeah! Together Again, Jaré’s smokey vocal sound brings to mind Joe Stafford and Julie London in perfect synthesis with Jaré’s own sensual, unique, film noir-infused voice. Her charming scat singing is not only completely musical, but delivered with joy and accuracy. A fine recording!

05 Paul NewmanMusic for Solo Tenor Saxophone
Paul Newman
Somewhere There (paulnewman1.bandcamp.com)

Local musician/composer Paul Newman performs his tasteful, thoughtful compositions with care, musicality and colour here. Both works are three tracks each, and explore sound quality, phrasing and mostly gentle melodic movement using contemporary musical tools.

Full Circle is immediately attention-grabbing with its opening lengthy bent tones alternating with long silent spaces, allowing the listener time to reflect on the sound. The work leads to a steady almost slow walking pace with clear tones magically performed. The slightly faster second movement takes on a two-instrument conversational feel between high and low tones. The atonal sound of the third section features faster interval leaps and extended technique. Excitement builds with the short staccato repeated notes and melodies ending with minimalistic flavoured long tones.

In As Long As We Remain (for Ken Aldcroft and Braz King), Newman illustrates more of his contemporary, experimental musical side. The work also opens with longer lyrical notes and phrases, leading to a section of high and low tricky pitch jumps. Especially exciting is the final movement. Fluctuating colours, timbres and similar jumps make for a more atonal listening adventure, ending with a glorious, loooong held tone.

This solo music experience is so gratifying due to Newman’s confident compositional and performance virtuosity, along with a clear production that captures all his musical subtleties. This is brilliant reflective experimental music driving along a mainstream highway of sound.

06 Ugly BeautyUgly Beauty
Kadi Vija; Lucas Dann

Kadi Vija and Lucas Dann – a Finnish musician who calls herself a “vocal instrumentalist” and a Canadian pianist of considerable pedigree – might seem like strange bedfellows but in the music of Thelonious Monk on Ugly Beauty, the very oddness of the partnership gives the album’s title a distinctly Monkish meaning. The album takes its name from the only waltz among Monk’s compositions and it is appropriately kicked off by a relatively rarely played Gallop’s Gallop, which, in turn, establishes the extraordinary relationship between these two musicians. For from the very first bars it becomes clear that something astonishingly brilliant is happening here.

Both Vija and Dann ignite Monk’s music operating as a partnership of equals, not as vocalist and piano accompanist. Their relationship recalls the enduring one between Monk and his ubiquitous tenor saxophonist, Charlie Rouse, lending credence to Vija’s “vocal instrumentalist” persona. In fact, the vocalist melds Rouse in with gorgeous echoes of the great American vocal gymnast, Lauren Newton, who shone with the iconic Vienna Art Orchestra. Meanwhile Dann negotiates the music with magnificent control of fingerwork in these most densely textured and substantially road-tested songs, keeping it close to Monk while managing to ring in the changes. Consider the two wondrous takes on Bemsha Swing.

The haunting compositions supply this duo’s usual range of ear-worm music – dancing melodies, chopped rhythms and gorgeous harmonies – with the added element of unusual textures.

07 MonkLes Liaisons Dangereuses 1960
Thelonious Monk
Sam/Saga SRS-1-CD (sagajazz.com)

For Thelonious Monk, the most creative of bop composers and a brilliantly original pianist, life flowed no more smoothly than one of his craggy, knotted, playfully or naggingly disjointed compositions. When director Roger Vadim contracted him to provide a soundtrack for Les Liaisons Dangereuses 1960, Monk was experiencing career highs and personal lows, gaining attention and employment while facing drug charges and a nervous breakdown. This two-CD (or two-LP) set issues material from the 1959 soundtrack session for the first time, supplementing it with extensive documentation.

Monk really was at his best in the late 50s, increased acceptance leading to regular work, frequent recording and the best sidemen of his career (e.g., John Coltrane and Sonny Rollins). Here it’s the newly arrived tenor saxophonist Charlie Rouse, Monk’s most convivial partner, a stellar rhythm team of bassist Sam Jones and drummer Art Taylor and tenor saxophonist Barney Wilen added on some material. The music is alternatively sparkling (the quintet’s Rhythm-a-Ning), profoundly lyrical (solo and quartet versions of Pannonica) and pensively luminous (a solo version of the hymn By and By), a boon to every connoisseur of Monk’s mysteries.

That said, this material is less accessible to the Monk newcomer: there are multiple takes and false starts, two edits of the same take, and a 14-minute rehearsal with Monk repeatedly trying to get Taylor to play an awkward drum pattern. There are numerous Riverside recordings available that are much more welcoming.

08 Brill FrisellSmall Town
Bill Frisell; Thomas Morgan
ECM 2525

Bill Frisell has developed a distinctive style, his lines spare and spacious, his sustained electric guitar sound approaching the mass of a pedal steel. He has explored the resonant depths of a variety of roots music (country, blues and rockabilly) as well as creating an original voice in jazz. The complex mix of warm intimacy and refractory cool that Frisell can bring to a performance is amplified in his recent work with Thomas Morgan, whose broad-toned acoustic bass provides both underpinning and reflection to Frisell’s lines.

Recorded at New York’s Village Vanguard (the room is both resonant and reverential), Small Town explores a breadth of American music within a unifying vision. It opens with the late drummer Paul Motian’s It Should Have Happened a Long Time Ago, revealing the harmonic telepathy of which the two are capable, then continues Frisell’s associations with modern jazz royalty with a contrapuntal and lightly boppish treatment of Lee Konitz’s Subconscious Lee. Frisell’s luminous title piece explores multiple dimensions of an American heartland, while its mystery appears in an eerily beautiful rendition of Wildwood Flower, composed by Joseph Philbrick Webster in 1860 and first recorded by the Carter Family in 1928.

The breadth of Frisell’s relationship to traditional popular music is further apparent in the cheerfully subdued version of Fats Domino’s What a Party. It might escape recognition, but the concluding Goldfinger won’t. Frisell can shed new light on the most unlikely material.

After a couple of quiet years the annual Guelph Festival (GJF), September 13 to 17, is newly energized and asserting its role as one of Canada’s most consistent showcases of adventurous music. Another reason for this year’s buzz is that besides the outstanding Canadian and American musicians consistently featured at the GJF, major European improvisers will be on hand as well.

Probably the band members most equipped to show off their individual and cumulative talents in different settings are trombonist Ray Anderson and bassist Mark Helias, who both live near New York City, and fellow American, drummer Gerry Hemingway who lives and teaches in Luzern, Switzerland. Together they make up BassDrumBone (BDB), which celebrates its 40th anniversary on September 16 as part of a double bill with Montreal-Vancouver quartet MendHam at the Co-operators Hall of the River Run Centre (RRC). On September 15 Anderson’s Pocket Brass Band will be the closing act at the Market Square Stage. Then, on September 17 at the Guelph Youth Music Centre, Hemingway, in duet with German synthesizer player Thomas Lehn, shares a bill with a solo bass recital by Helias.

01 BassDrumBoneThe two-CD set, The Long Road (Auricle Records AUR 16/17 gerryhemingway.com), offers 13 examples of BassDrumBone’s cooperative talent, mostly as a trio, but like a roast improved with seasoning, adding either tenor saxophonist Joe Lovano or pianist Jason Moran on some tracks. Lovano’s expositions, which function with explosive power on BluRay and Bluish, confirm the rhythmic sides of BDB as the saxophonist’s reed vaulting doubles the trombonist’s gutbucket whinnies. Vigorously backed by slap bass and drum rolls, the tunes demonstrate how to swing heartily without abandoning technical skills, and also suggest how Anderson’s rollicking brass ensemble operates. Moran’s targeted keyboard musings help showcase BDB’s other skills as the four dynamically invest Bungle Low and Tone L with subtle colouration, balancing among individual timbral elaboration, as they take turns shadowing each others’ advances. Solidly walking or subtly vibrating throughout, Different Cities confirms how Helias sounds on his own, with the bassist given space to thrust an opulent section of arco expressions on multiple strings into the mix, finally engaging in a dialogue with the trombonist’s vocalized cries. BDB’s ability to disguise itself as a carefree jump band is given full reign on the set’s two extended live tracks as well as At Another Time. Not only does the last allow Anderson to showcase every manner of smeared and slurred tailgate tones, but Hemingway moves upfront with a spectacular display of cymbal clanks and paradiddles, reminiscent of drum masters from pioneers like Baby Dodds to the most modern stylists.

A saxophonist undeniably in tune with modern sound experiments is London-based John Butcher, who has partnered Hemingway in the past. He won’t do so at the GJF, although two other instances of his musicianship are featured. On September 15, he’ll perform with Lehn and New York pianist Matthew Shipp at the Co-operators Hall on a bill with Vancouver cellist Peggy Lee’s Film in Music. Then on September 16 at the Guelph Little Theatre, Butcher and FIM members, bassist Torsten Müller and drummer Dylan van der Schyff perform as the Way Out Northwest trio, sharing the stage with Quebec guitarist René Lussier’s MEUH.

02 AnemoneAn expanded variant of Butcher’s interactive and interpretative talent is Anemone – A Wing Dissolved in Light (NoBusiness Records NBLP 105 nobusinessrecords.com), where the saxophonist is part of the band Anemone joined by bassist Clayton Thomas and drummer Paul Lovens, pianist Frédéric Blondy and trumpeter Peter Evans. Challenging Evans’ ability to attain Maynard Ferguson-like skyscraping notes, Butcher may begin his exposition with emotional cries, but moderates the interaction to harsh slurs and stuttering signs, also connecting to Blondy’s distinctive key jabbing. Meanwhile, Thomas’ string buzzes, and the metal clangs and Mylar echoes from Lovens comfortably carpet the narratives’ bottoms. Une Aile Dissoute dans la Lumiere (Part II) is a more deliberate showcase as the final sequence breaks free from Part I’s swirling cacophony. Brief reductionist solos that include a single stopped piano key, an oboe-like sour reed blat and a wooden drum plop, are emphasized. Finally, hollow reverberations from the drummer, hunt-and-peck keyboard patterns and even to-the-colours bugle-like peeps from the trumpeter combine into a languid exit. Still, a sharp whistle from the saxophonist and a hard chord from the pianist as the coda reference the dissonance that preceded the calm.

03 BeautifulA pianist who can be tranquil or turbulent in turn is Matthew Shipp, who besides playing with Butcher and Lehn gives his own solo concert at the Co-operators Hall, September 16. Shipp is as potent a stylist in a group setting as he is a soloist, as is shown on This Is Beautiful Because We Are Beautiful People (ESP-Disk ESP 5011 espdisk.com), where the pianist, longtime confrere bassist William Parker, plus Polish saxophonist Mat Walerian, make up the Toxic trio. Anything but toxic in the usual sense, the CD’s five selections are unique, since to engage Parker’s playing of the shakuhachi as well as bass and Walerian’s use of alto saxophone, flute, and bass and soprano clarinet, Shipp debuts on organ as well as piano. The multi-keyboard is only brought out on the final Peace And Respect but like church pews now used in a bistro, it’s removed from the tinge of the chapel. Instead, the organ’s polyphonic upsurge comes in and out of focus to reflect and redefine Walerian’s harsh bass clarinet slurps and Parker’s thumping bass thwacks. Shipp reverts to piano cadences to regularize the track’s processional ending. The four tracks preceding this allow the pianist leeway to emphasize his swinging and straight sides. The tone elaboration and colouration he extracts from the piano on the title tune could easily slip into a Romantic-era concerto, despite being surrounded by solid bass pulses and dramatic runs from Walerian. Shipp’s stride-style comping eventually nudges all three into a swinging line. In sharp contrast, the low-pitched, metronomic groove that the bassist and pianist create on The Breakfast Club Day 2 has a contemplative gait, but resonates with such effortless swing that Walerian’s light chromatic clarinet flutters could come from a reborn Benny Goodman.

04 KrakowOne musician never confused with Goodman is Germany’s Peter Brötzmann, who presents a solo woodwinds concert at the Guelph Little Theatre September 13. In the mid-1960s, he created an original outlook that brought free jazz advances and continental sophistication to the music, And Brötzmann is still at the height of his powers, playing a variety of saxophones, clarinets and the Hungarian tárogató. The sonic blending expressed by his small groups have been as influential as Goodman’s trios and quartets. One trio, recorded live on Krakow Nights (Not Two MW-937-2 nottwo.com), features canny American trombonist Steve Swell and commanding Norwegian percussionist Paal Nilssen-Love. Most instructive are sections of Scotopia and the massive Full Spectrum Response which feature instances of Brötzmann’s tárogató solos on the former and tenor saxophone and bass clarinet on the latter. The wooden Magyar horn brings out his emotional nature as he cruises through a selection of mellow tones. Soon enough though, with the others on side, the result is as rough and cathartic as anything else on the disc, with Brötzmann’s tone now nephritic and bellicose, a pattern he repeats when he switches to sour-toned tenor, aided by the drummer’s rolls and pops and the trombonist’s high-pitched colouration. The reedist’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde duality has its most extended showcase on Full Spectrum Response. With an introduction built around nuanced cymbal colouration that radiates in a 360-degree angle from Nilssen-Love and Swell’s plunger cries, Brötzmann’s initial unaccompanied tenor saxophone solo is dramatic, calm and perfectly modulated, exploring every possible reed variation. But once the drummer’s pressurized clunks, plus Swell’s tremolo smears, join him, the saxophonist reacts like James Brown after the comforting cape has been draped around him during the penultimate minutes of his performance. The soul singer then shakes off the cloak to exuberantly continue singing, until the cloak goes on again. Brown again shakes it off, and the pantomime repeats until peak excitement is reached. Here, within seconds of Brötzmann screaming a fervidly wrenching solo on tárogató, he switches to clarinet for a moderato exposition, backed by drum-top scrapes from Nilssen-Love and mellow plunger tones from Swell. Then, like Brown, it appears Brötzmann can’t control himself any longer and he’s soon propelling machine-gun-like volleys of altissimo split tones. This routine, taking in the highest levels of glossolalia and the most moderate instances of flutter tonguing continues throughout the track, pinpointing Brötzmann’s stamina and repository of musical ideas. Also featured is a standout drum solo, bending, tapping and clanging every part of the kit without disrupting the proceedings with an aplomb that would have impressed Goodman associate Gene Krupa, plus both staccato forward motion and mellow elaborations from Swell. These Krakow Nights were undoubtedly memorable for the audience and presage what GJF attendees should experience. The music on these discs posits that the festival’s 24th edition could be one of the most dazzling in the festival’s history.

Back to top