04 Ron DavisPocket Symphronica
Ron Davis
Really Records REA-ED-5886 (rondavismusic.com)

With the release of his tenth recording, eclectic and skilled pianist/composer/producer Ron Davis has reaffirmed his position as one of the most tenacious and engaging musical artists in Canada. Pocket Symphronica embraces the wide range of Davis’ skills and taste (which includes explorations into the milieus of jazz, world, pop/dance and classical musics). Comprised of 11 original compositions (and with Davis performing brilliantly on piano, Fender Rhodes and Hammond B3), this new project is a fresh distillation of his previous, innovative CD, Symphronica – a clever symphonic jazz recording which in turn led to the current chamber-sized, more portable version of the larger ensemble.

Davis has surrounded himself here with a stalwart group of collaborators, including arrangers Mike Downes, Jason Nett and Tania Gill and co-producers Dennis Patterson, Mike Downes, Roger Travassos and Kevin Barrett. A breathtaking string quartet (including genius Andrew Downing on cello) and a first-call core band comprised of guitarist Barrett, bassist Downes and drummer/percussionist Travassos fully manifest Davis’ creative and stylistically diverse visions.

Included in the recording are Davis’ impressions of such far-flung motifs and artists as Lady Gaga (the ambitious Fugue and Variations on Gaga and Poker Face), funk (Gruvmuv – featuring a few face-melters from Barrett), Middle Eastern/Sephardic elements (the exciting and rhythmic D’hora) and a beautifully string-laden and evocative take on the traditional Jewish Passover song, Chassal Siddur Pesach (featuring sumptuous cello work from George Meanwell).

Additional memorable tracks include the uptempo string/piano feature, Presto and the gentle, bossa-infused beauty of Jeanamora. This is a deeply satisfying CD, as well as a portrait of an artist at the peak of his creativity and technical facility.

05 Artie RothDiscern
Artie Roth Quartet
Independent (artieroth.com)

Bassist Artie Roth’s latest offering, Discern, is a highly textured and interactive affair, combining a loose, open feel with remarkably precise and detailed arrangements. The mix of electronic sounds with acoustic instrumentation lends itself to approaches that are both highly varied and coherent. His writing is steeped in the harmonic and rhythmic language of contemporary jazz while retaining a strong melodicism.

The Compromise Blues establishes the tone of the recording with its majestic soundscape and drummer Anthony Michelli’s Elvin Jones-inspired groove. Roth opens the soloing, elaborating on the lyricism of the melody and paving the way for Mike Filice’s tenor sax. Filice’s understated opening lines and relaxed style gathers momentum as he fluidly weaves his way in and out of the tune’s harmony. Guitarist Geoff Young, equally adept in the language of modern jazz, makes use of a rich overdriven tone to build into inspired double time lines. As well, Young’s sonic palette orchestrates the proceedings in ways that become increasingly apparent as the album unfolds.

The textural aspect of the CD comes into full fruition in Still Hear, dedicated to the late drummer Archie Alleyne, a long time cohort of Roth’s. Tenor saxophone and bass clarinet are overdubbed, meshing with Young’s atmospheric guitar colours. Frontline instruments converse and Michelli lets loose over Roth’s ostinato bass figure. This is a beautifully played and produced recording that is a pleasure to listen to.

06 Heillig ManoeuvreWait, There’s More
Heillig Manoeuvre
Independent HM 6015 (heilligman.com)

The latest incarnation of bassist and composer Henry Heillig’s Heillig Manoeuvre continues the shift from the group’s earlier more electric sound to the decidedly mainstream bent of Wait, There’s More. The constant in the band’s evolution has been Heillig’s accessible, groove-oriented compositional style. The current group, including longtime Manteca cohort Charlie Cooley on drums, pianist Stacie McGregor and saxophonist Alison Young may be its most compelling lineup to date. Young, who has established herself as an important new player on the scene, brings a confident, fresh voice to the quartet’s blend of bebop, blues and funk. McGregor embraces a similar sensibility, occupying both frontline and rhythm section roles with aplomb.

Wait, There’s More, the opening tune, highlights Heillig’s and Cooley’s ease with classic Latin and swing feels. The drum/sax duet off the top of Young’s solo is a perfect setup for her soulful, swinging style. McGregor follows suit, complementing the sax solo with her own well-rooted sense of the tradition. Arrangements are the key here and solos are concise and to the point without feeling truncated. Wonky Rhomboid features bass and baritone saxophone over a seven-beat figure that slips momentarily into a fast swing, reminiscent of Mingus’ Fables Of Faubus. Young’s composition Waltz For Harriet showcases the composer’s command of nuance with a nod to Cannonball Adderley’s funky exuberance. Groove and fun are the order of the day in this highly satisfying outing.

07 Paul NewmanPaul Newman – Duo Compositions
Paul Newman; Karen Ng; Heather Segger
Independent (paulnewman1.bandcamp.com)

Paul Newman has already proved his credentials at the existential end of the saxophone. Now he turns that angst and all of his utterly brilliant compositional prowess to a pair of daring works for a set of duets – the first featuring his tenor saxophone with the alto of Karen Ng, entitled Strange Customs. The second piece (with Heather Segger’s trombone replacing Ng’s alto) is a furiously innovative one, its title taken from a poem by the quintessential artist, Dianne Korchynski. The music is as arresting as the title: When I Die, Who Will Be There to Count the Rings? While experimental music such as this can be more concerned with process than result, the fruits of Paul Newman’s experiments – especially on Duo Compositions – are brave, gutsy and aurally fascinating. These duets could have been limited by the timbre of each instrument – a tenor and an alto saxophone and a trombone. But Newman’s scores expand the consciousness of the improvising musicians. And you experience this throughout the recording.

These are endlessly fascinating pieces, their broad glissandos and darting arpeggios, products of the fertile imaginations of the improvising musicians, Ng and Segger. The language of Cage might seem to be spoken and sung; that and the gleeful dancing of Cecil Taylor, whose gymnastically inclined pianism appear to inform the improvisations. The scores suggest something equally original, both in the suggested “vocalastics” and instrumental mischief of saxophones and human smears of the trombone. These admirable performances make a worthwhile addition to any collection of music.

09 TenThousandThe Ten Thousand Things
Simon Rose; Stefan Schultze
Red Toucan RT 9350

Joining forces to extract as many undiscovered textures from their instruments as humanly possible, British alto and baritone saxophonist Simon Rose and German-prepared piano specialist Stefan Schultze come across less like mad scientists and more like dedicated epistemologists. Like researchers confronted with unexpected by-products from their experiments, they assiduously dissect the results for further trials. And like the Lone Ranger and Tonto riding in tandem, for every extended technique exposed by Rose, from tongue slapping to atonal smears, Schultze has an appropriate response or goad, plucking, stopping, pushing and sliding along his strings, and with implements such as bowls, bells and mashers vibrating atop them.

A track like Magua for instance starts with gargantuan baritone sax textures exposed via bone-dry multiphonics, soon pleasantly liquefying to a jerky slap-tongue rhythm to affiliate with bell-like clangs from the piano’s speaking length. Or consider Schultze’s ring modulator-like reverberations which bring out the mellow underpinning of Rose’s back-and-forth snuffling on Bird Sommersaults. Additionally, harpsichord-like string stopping gets a tougher interface that vibrates the soundboard strings when sympathetically matched with low-pitched reed vibrations on Unstabled. Rose’s split tones allow him to play reed strategies that are simultaneously mellow and rickety or skyscraper high and copper mine low at the same time; while Schultze’s strategies create equivalent concurrent textures inside and outside the piano. Leviathan Blues is a fine demonstration of this. The pianist’s stretching the strings while percussively key slapping creates a rhythmic backbeat which expands to meet the saxophonist’s theme variations that likewise widen and become more dissonant as Rose plays. Altissimo reed agitation brings out equivalent kinetic key pummeling, until a simple pedal-push counter-theme calms the woodwind cyclone enough to move Rose to singular honks that finally meld with solidifying key vibrations.

By the time the last note sounds at the end of this CD’s 11th and final track, if the two haven’t exposed the sound textures from 10,000 things they’ve certainly come close to doing so.

10 Mette Henriette

Mette Henriette
Mette Henriette
ECM 2460/2461 (ecmrecords.com)


Mette Henriette is a young Norwegian saxophonist and composer and this eponymous two-CD debut is a remarkable statement, whether considered for its skill, beauty or sheer reach. Recorded during 2013 and 2014, the music possesses sufficient breadth to escape any immediate classification, with materials and textures drawn from contemporary composed music, jazz and free improvisation. The two CDs are distinguished by their resources: the first features a trio with pianist Johan Lindvall and cellist Katrine Schiøtt; the second adds 11 musicians including a jazz rhythm section and five more strings.

Henriette does not immediately reveal herself on the first CD as Lindvall and Schiiøtt develop elongated textures that are at once rich and spare, aloof and full of suggestion. There’s a profound state of attentiveness in this music: neither specifically contemplative nor serene, it seems poised to accept revelation. The opening track, So, may suggest something of Arvo Pärt, while later episodes are at times more evanescent still, touching on the whispers and transparency of George Crumb’s Night Music. Henriette’s tenor saxophone is often limited here to long tones and brief phrases, her interest focused on sonority, overtones and the literal sound of air and moisture in the horn.

That role expands, along with the range of compositions, on the second CD, with Henriette’s wellspring of lyricism coming immediately to the fore on the beautiful passé, before the music moves on to darker realms, including the foreboding circus of late à la carte. As a saxophonist, she has a tremendous expressive range. Her timbral focus can suggest tenor sounds as distinct as Stan Getz, Jan Garbarek and Gato Barbieri (the latter in wildheart, a brooding noisefest that invokes the early Jazz Composers Orchestra), while a willingness to explore multiphonics and sheer air suggests affinities with free improvisers. Mette Henriette’s reach is impressive, her grasp even more so.

11 Sonny SharrockAsk The Ages
Sonny Sharrock
M.O.D. Technologies MOD0016 (mod-technologies.com)

Many creative musicians have struggled to find a supportive audience, and that was certainly the case with guitarist Sonny Sharrock. He emerged in the late 1960s as a school of one, playing free jazz with the raw power of electric blues and the sonic edge of rock guitar, bringing a signal force to recordings like Pharoah Sanders’ Tauhid and Miles Davis’ Jack Johnson. Over the following years Sharrock was in and out of music, until forming an association with bassist/producer Bill Laswell. The fruits of that association included the explosive band Last Exit and this CD from 1991, Sharrock’s last recording as a leader before his death in 1994.

Sharrock has ideal partners here, including saxophonist Sanders, drummer Elvin Jones and the younger bassist Charnett Moffett, all of them sharing a vision of music possessing palpable spiritual power. The music is often anthemic with a sonic density rare in jazz (thanks to Laswell’s production) and an emotional power seldom approached in jazz fusion. There’s a perfect balance between Sanders’ apocalyptic rant and Sharrock’s own wild inventiveness, from the skittering electric chatter of Promises Kept to the illuminated eloquence of Who Does She Hope to Be?, his ringing, sustained sound the closest a guitarist will likely ever get to the spirit of John Coltrane.

The match of the four musicians on each of Sharrock’s six compositions is uncanny, achieving its greatest power on Many Mansions, Sanders wailing above Jones’ thunderous drumming while Sharrock and Moffett generate a pulsing wall of sound.

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