05 Serpents DreamA Serpent’s Dream
Michel Godard & Le Miroir du temps
Intuition INT 3440 2 (intuition-music.com)

Michel Godard may be the rarest and best kind of musician, filled with curiosity and energy and without prejudice. A master tuba player and member of the French National Orchestra since 1988, he’s even more distinguished as an explorer. Taking up the tuba’s ancestor, the serpent, he plays jazz on it as well as ancient music. His most distinctive work may be in the unusual hybrids he constructs between jazz and renaissance music, like A Serpent’s Dream with his quartet Le Miroir du Temps.

The band’s sounds are distinctly beautiful, blessed by a dry and ancient clarity in the case of Godard’s serpent and Katharina Bäuml’s shawm, though Bruno Hestroffer’s theorbo (a long-necked lute) sounds lightly amplified (at least with a microphone close to the steel strings) and Godard’s occasional electric bass is by definition. Percussionist Lucas Niggli employs a host of instruments to add colour, but it’s his hand drumming that comes to the fore. There’s nothing of the purist in Godard’s approach: most of the works heard here are his own compositions, and he’s just as happy setting them beside the ancient and anonymous In Splendoribus as Charlie Haden’s Our Spanish Love Song, with its distinctively contemporary – or at least romantic – harmonies.

Godard’s ensemble manages to reveal a subtle sense of order, some of it gleaned from archives and some just coming into being. Presented with the opportunity to play a serpent made in 1830 that is decorated with an ornate, gilded sea monster with scales and tail, Godard elects to play the blues, the traditional, specific and appropriate Old Black Snake Blues. It’s impossible not to be charmed.

06 Leo 35Leo Records 35th Anniversary Moscow
Gratkowski; Kruglov; Nabatov; Yudanov
Leo Records CD LR 719 (leorecords.com)

Anniversaries of record companies usually only serve as a reminder of the longevity implicit in cannily peddling particular products. But the commemoration associated with this CD is more profound. Recorded at the initial Moscow concert of a quartet consisting of two Russians – Alexey Kruglov playing alto saxophone and basset horn and percussionist Oleg Yudanov – plus Germans, pianist Simon Nabatov and alto saxophonist/clarinetist Frank Gratkowski, the five tracks pinpoint the cooperative skills of players from both countries. Providing a forum for Russian free improvisers to demonstrate their advanced expertise was one of the reasons London-based Leo Records was founded 35 years ago. That neither the Eastern nor Western players can be distinguished on the basis of talent or sound on this celebratory disc is a tribute to the label’s ideas.

Russian-born and American-educated Nabatov provides the perfect linkage among the band members. The grandeur of his cascading runs on Our Digs for instance, creates emotional underpinning for the reedists’ atmospheric whispering; plus his emphasized wooden key stops provide the climax. At the same time he clatters phrases on the keys and slams the instrument’s frame to amplify the piano’s percussiveness on Homecoming, locking in with Yudanov’s smacks and rolls, never unduly forceful in themselves. Marathon-speed chording also adds to the saxophonists’ expositions that mix harsh Aylerian smears with reed textures as broad as wide-bore scanners. While as indistinguishable as corn stalks in a field, when alto saxophone bites emanate from both players, identifying resonation distinguishes Gratkowski’s bass clarinet and Kruglov’s basset horn on the reed showcase Hitting It Home. Exchanges between the Russian’s warbling yelps and the German’s sonorous hums that could be sourced from an underwater grotto are ornamented by the pianist’s ringing timbres and shaped into a pleasing narrative.

Since outsiders rarely associate Germans or Russians with humour, House Games is particularly instructive, when the woodwind players’ choked yelps and snarling pants make the exposition sound like an aural Punch and Judy show – and just as violent. However this tongue splattering and note spewing is eventually harmonized into a manageable melody by the pianist’s romantic interludes.

Overall, Leo’s more than three-decade-old promise is fulfilled with a connective session such as this one.

Honouring More Than The Few Famous Jazz Greats

With music like the other arts increasingly focused on known quantities, recorded salutes to jazz greats have almost become a subcategory of their own. If the world needs another record of Beethoven, Mozart, Elvis or Sinatra, then saluting Ellington, Trane or Miles one more time shouldn’t be a dilemma. But more erudite improvisers realize the music’s wider reach, and if they opt to honour innovators, as on the CDs here, choose lesser-known but equally important stylists.

01 RoscoeMitchellCD007Prize of the group is saxophonist Roscoe Mitchell’s Celebrating Fred Anderson (Nessa ncd-37 nessarecords.com). Here, one of the founders of Chicago’s influential Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM) honours another of its founders, tenor saxophonist Fred Anderson (1929-2010) by playing two of Anderson’s and four of his own compositions. Backed by other AACMers, cellist Tomeka Reid, bassist Junius Paul and drummer Vincent Davis, Mitchell, 75, a more experimental stylist than Anderson, uses the narrow, near-Oriental timbres of sopranino to liberate Anderson’s Bernice and Ladies in Love from the older saxophonist’s freebop conceptions. As Davis’ cymbal smacks sprinkle intermittent tones like flowers on a tombstone, Mitchell uses the natural melancholy from Reid’s instrument plus his sax’s nipped tones to convert Bernice into an effective threnody. In contrast, Ladies in Love moves from a respectful moderato melody to Morse code-like beeps, expressed by near replication of infant cries from Mitchell plus staccato counterpoint from the cello. Emphasized is the rainbow-like expressiveness of the theme’s powerful colours. Hey Fred is the session’s highlight. During its 17-minute length Mitchell expels staccato alto saxophone timbres with the ferocity of a lightning storm, while Paul’s thundering stabs and slants pace his string tones. As laboratory scientist-like Mitchell exposes melody permutations, Reid contributes arco extensions and Davis a continuous pitter patter. Crucially, the climax is reached when circularly breathed saxophone pitches blend with distinctively scattered arco swipes from both string players. Confirmed is the abiding power of, plus the continued sonic research involved in creating, the sounds that Anderson and Mitchell helped nurture.

02 RobReddyCD006Cello, soprano, bass and drums are also featured in a salute to another deceased saxophonist, also using a combination of his compositions and others written especially for the date. But soprano saxophonist Rob Reddy’s Bechet: Our Contemporary (Reddy Music RED 003 robreddy.com) resembles neither Celebrating Fred Anderson nor a reproduction of the music of New Orleans-born soprano saxophonist Sidney Bechet (1897-1959). Like theatre companies which perform modern variations on Shakespeare’s plays, Reddy re-orchestrates the timeworn pieces into something contemporary. Case in point is Chant in the Night expanded from Bechet’s rickety-tick, under-three-minute reed showcase to a 15-minute exercise in counterpoint between trombonist Curtis Fowlkes’s protracted slide smudges and hard-punching almost rural licks from Marvin Swell’s guitar. Encircled by flashing swipes from violinist Charles Burnham and cellist Marika Hughes plus amalgamated horn riffs, the end result piles burnished tones atop one another creating a unique structure that’s both traditional and futuristic, especially when a Theremin-like twinge signals the end. Trombone and trumpet vamps predominate on Petite Fleur. But like a ballet dancer who surprises by executing a faultless cha cha, rather than the familiar theme coming from Reddy’s soprano, it’s instead given a memorable reading by Burnham. Two other Bechet tunes are strutting expositions, although Pheeroan akLaff’s Gene Krupa-like hollow wood block smacks on Broken Windmill may be more trick than tribute. Reddy’s portion of the tunes is as high class, with Erasing Statues making room for bottleneck guitar-like sonorities within a ring-shout-like accompaniment; while luculent horn multiphonics modernize the yearning blues licks from Sewell that introduce Yank.

03 OscalypsoCD004Taking the concept one step further is cellist Erik Friedlander whose Oscalypso (Skipstone SSR22 skipstonerecords.com) consists of nine compositions by cellist Oscar Pettiford (1922-1960), one of the first to introduce that orchestral instrument to jazz. Throughout Friedlander and company – tenor and soprano saxophonist Michael Blake, bassist Trevor Dunn and drummer Michael Sarin – interpret the tunes with restrained, unselfconscious swing, that could be called cool, but with a harder edge. Sarin, for instance, never thunders, but outputs a constant pulse that ranges from clipping rim shots on the title tune that are answered by spiccato bowing from Friedlander and narrowed note spearing from Blake, to near-Afro-Cuban conga replications on Sunrise Sunset that encourage dance-like flutters from the saxophonist. Supple and relaxed, the cellist’s and reedist’s timbres intersect often, like the conversation of fraternal twins. They can do so at warp speed as on Pendulum at Falcon’s Lair, with its familiar-sounding melody studded by (Stan) Getzian euphony from Blake, or in full balladic mode with the slowly building Two Little Pearls. Tongue-trilling tremolos from the saxophonist are egged on by the cellist’s string sweeps as Dunn strengthens the rhythmic bottom as he does throughout. Expressively romantic playing arco as any cellist facing the Impressionistic repertoire, yet as rhythmically exciting plucking pizzicato as any guitarist in a swing combo, Friedlander not only confirms his talents and those of the quartet members, but flags the continued adaptability of Pettiford’s compositions to contemporary sounds.

04 HomageBleyCD005Canada’s second best-known jazz pianist is the subject of another salute: Homage to Paul Bley (Leo Records CD LR 732 leorecords.com), but Italian pianist Arrigo Cappelletti has taken the oddest way to frame his admiration for someone he lists as one of his chief inspirations. Cappelletti, who teaches at Venice’s Music Conservatory and has played with Bley associates like drummer Bill Elgart and bassist Steve Swallow, plays mostly his own music here. Of the three tunes not by Cappelletti though, one was composed by Andrew Hill, two were composed by Thelonious Monk. There’s probably some perverse Mediterranean logic at work here. Although none of the 13 tracks are Bley compositions, the pianist, assisted by bassist Furio Di Castri and drummer Bruce Ditmas, both of whom worked with Bley, writes short, weedy lines that compare to the Canadian’s work. Unlike Bley’s note economy though, the Italian’s style is much busier, even on the title tune. The multi-note textural exposition he specializes in is reminiscent of someone making sure to spread jam on every single millimetre of his toast. More crucially, the pianist’s synergy with his bassist is as pronounced as Bley’s was with his sidemen. Tracks such as the stop-and-go Bluesy and Refugee Blues find the two playing pitch and catch with the themes, with blues expressed only by inference. Meanwhile on the introspective Ashes, Cappelletti appears to be answering every chord he plays himself; and on the slow-moving and stately Coral creates a sense of unfolding drama which perfectly presages the Monk medley that follows it. While Cappelletti’s touch is also not spare enough to meet Monk’s idiosyncrasies on Pannonica & Crepuscule with Nellie, the luxurious elegance he brings to his own compositions is imposing. DiCastri’s bowed bass line adds expressive deep tones to Durate, as Ditmas’ molasses-slow rolls maintain the tune’s ambulatory momentum; while the almost endless thematic development the three bring to Dialogue invests it with a scanty romanticism, characterized by piano-key dusting and the drummer’s patterning smacks.

05 BarryHarrisCD002An identical format was used in 1975 by pianist Barry Harris’ trio to pay tribute to a composer-arranger-pianist, whose achievements were even at that early date in danger of being forgotten. Plays Tadd Dameron (Xanadu Master Edition 906071 elemental-music.com) with bassist Gene Taylor and drummer Leroy Williams was the first – and for many years the only – disc given over to classics by Dameron (1917-1965), whose tunes such as Hot House and Our Delight defined bebop. Harris, whose harmonic adroitness is in many ways comparable to Dameron’s, stresses both the melodic and rhythmic parameters of these tunes. With Taylor string interpolations shadowing him like a guide dog with his master, the pianist’s interpretations are more buttoned down than the originals, but this controlled session also lacks spectacular front men like Fats Navarro and John Coltrane, for whom the tunes were first composed. Yet by separating these eight classics from their initial recordings, Harris burnishes the composer’s reputation. For instance his evocative version of If You Could See Me Now, initially recorded by Sarah Vaughan, adds a wash of colourful breaks to the ballad like nuts sprinkled on caramel chocolate. Soultrane, first recorded by Coltrane, is modulated into sophisticated smoothness with the floating beat encompassing pure emotionalism. Meanwhile the assured treatment of the frequently recorded Ladybird is allowed to float freely until double-timing bass work and an elliptical keyboard coda confirm its individuality. Even the lush Casbah is dappled with rhythmic quotes and humour to strip out the false exotica so that the melody stands on its own.

Forty years ago Harris, now 85, showed that memorable jazz was made by more than a handful of great composer/performers. Today, canny players are further exposing inventive compositions by lesser-known creators. With more colours and contours in place, a fuller picture of the music emerges.

01 EisenstadtDrummer/composer Harris Eisenstadt is currently based in New York, but he commemorates his roots in the band that recently released Canada Day IV (Songlines SGL 1614-2, songlines.com). The group style has its roots in the Blue Note avant-garde of the mid 60s: it’s a quintet of trumpet and reeds, vibraphone, bass and drums, but the style is stretched at every point into a dramatic contemporary idiom, from the eerie sound of Chris Dingman bowing his vibraphone to Nate Wooley’s radical reconstruction of trumpet sound, sometimes departing from his crisply incisive lines to couple multiphonics with circular breathing. Eisenstadt’s compositions keep inviting the band members to further invention while anchoring them in often complex designs that reference his interests in African and Cuban rhythmic patterns. An emphasis on sub-groupings brings each individual to the fore, including tenor saxophonist Matt Bauder and the group’s newly arrived French-German bassist Pascal Niggenkemper, while Eisenstadt leads from his drum kit, exploring fresh forms of momentum.

02 Preminger Pivot Live At The 55 Bar COVERKnown for his long tenure in Metalwood, the remarkably successful trans-Canada fusion band, Ottawa-born Ian Froman is another Canadian drummer who works primarily in the New York area. He plays a key role on Noah Preminger’s Pivot: Live at the 55 Bar (noahpreminger.com). Preminger is an adventurous saxophonist whose influences range from the laconic abstraction of Warne Marsh to the wail of Ornette Coleman, but he’s chosen to root his music here as deeply as possible. The CD consists of two songs by Mississippi Delta blues singer Bukka White: Parchman Farm Blues and Fixin’ to Die Blues. Each primordial blues provides a launching pad for a 32-minute exploration that will recall both the Coleman quartet and the titanic work of John Coltrane and his drummer Elvin Jones as Froman (a student of Jones) keeps the music moving with continuous polyrhythms and shifting accents, whether pressing Preminger and trumpeter Jason Palmer ahead or providing detailed commentary on their phrasing. Like its sources in the blues, this music has the feel of living tissue.

03 Scott MarshallAnother fine Ottawa-born drummer, Nick Fraser provides solid support to saxophonist Scott Marshall on Nihahi Ridge (SMT004, scottdouglasmarshall.com), Marshall’s fourth CD as a leader and the third by his Toronto quartet with pianist Marcel Aucoin and bassist Wes Neal. Marshall is a lyrical player using his tenor to create warmly reflective music even when the rhythms are forceful. The group’s sense of dialogue emerges on After all this Time as the quartet smoothly negotiates shifts in mood. Aucoin’s luminous solo is a highlight. Marshall’s tone is just as nuanced when he switches to alto, from the keening wail of Groovy Eliot to the light, airy sound he achieves on I Wish You Peace. Marshall’s preference for ballad tempos and strongly asserted melodies can dominate here, but the off-kilter How Very Kerouac provides a change of pace along the way.


04 Alpha Moment cover 912x912Pianist/composer Peter Hum may be better known as a jazz and food critic for the Ottawa Citizen, but there’s nothing to suggest anything but full commitment to his art on Alpha Moment (peterhum.com). Hum leads a sextet here, and his group concept is almost orchestral. His compositions are well formed and subtly voiced, with solos arrayed against his own lush chords, Alec Walkington’s resonant bass and drummer Ted Warren’s constant sonic shadings. While the band’s members are currently spread out geographically, the group clearly came together at a special moment for the Ottawa jazz scene, much of the excitement coming from two Ottawa-raised saxophonists who have since moved on: Kenji Omae, now resident in Seoul, may be the most exciting tenor saxophonist to emerge in Canada in recent years, a powerful, impulsive player who’s also capable of lustrous ballad playing; Nathan Cepelinski, now a New Yorker, plays alto and soprano with quicksilver thought and phrasing. Along with glassy-toned Montreal guitarist Mike Rud, the six make up a terrific band, something that’s apparent everywhere here, but most pointedly on the aptly named title tune.

05 BrinksBassist Daniel Fortin makes his debut as a bandleader on Brinks (Fresh Sound New Talent FSNT 473, freshsoundrecords.com). While his compositional skills have figured in releases by the band Myriad3, they play a more prominent role here, defining a strong, personal style. Fortin’s pieces consist of just a few notes, a phrase or two to be recast, concentrated and contrasted. He creates edgy, tensile structures that have some of the character of Thelonious Monk’s works without any particular resemblance. It’s music that requires tremendous discipline on the part of the band to come up with sufficiently minimalist improvisatory approaches that are true to the spirit of the works, but that’s just what tenor saxophonist David French, vibraphonist Michael Davidson and drummer Fabio Ragnelli have done. Operating within a set of timbres that might suggest comfortable ballads, the group turns out complex music filled with intriguing juxtapositions and fresh patterns. Fortin himself plays bass with a keen sense of structure and a special melodic focus.

06 Steve KaldestadTenor saxophonist Steve Kaldestad criss-crossed Canada and spent an eight-year sojourn in England before settling in Vancouver in 2008. Since then he has established himself there as a solid exponent of the mainstream modern. New York Afternoon (Cellar Live CL032014, cellarlive.com) presents him in performance with pianist Renee Rosnes (one of Vancouver’s great contributions to New York jazz) and her regular rhythm section of bassist Peter Washington and drummer Lewis Nash. Kaldestad swings fluidly through a program that ranges through hard bop blues and swaying Brazilian melodies to the more exotic modal underpinnings of Joe Henderson’s Punjab, with Rosnes’ scintillating solo recalling her extensive work with the late saxophonist’s band. Her own Icelight explores similar strata, while the ballad highlight comes on Kaldestad’s soulful and silk-toned rendering of Beatriz.

01_Cecile_Salvant.jpgFor One to Love
Cecile McLorin Salvant
Justin Time JTR 8593-2 justin-time.com

American singer Cecile McLorin Salvant put the jazz world on notice with her first major release in 2013. With a voice that is at once fresh and traditional, Salvant won numerous accolades such as Female Vocalist of the Year from the Jazz Journalists Association, Jazz Album of the Year by the Annual DownBeat International Critics Poll and a Grammy nomination. Still only in her mid-20s, the bar was set high for her sophomore release – and For One to Love is a continuation on the same fine musical path she set for herself.

The impeccable pitch, diction and control are still there, as are top-notch band mates. The choice of material is similar to the first release – a few standards wrought in interesting new ways, such as The Trolley Song, made famous by Judy Garland and which includes a brief, amusing imitation of Garland. Also, in what’s becoming a bit of a trademark, Salvant takes a run at some low down dirty blues – like Growlin’ Dan. These aren’t my favourites, largely because Salvant’s classically trained voice just doesn’t suit the material, but they’re fun. And that’s true of a lot of Salvant’s delivery – theatrical and broad and a little flighty, never really landing on one style or sound. I imagine she’s very entertaining to see live. There’s also a sprinkling of original compositions and the opener Fog really exemplifies the whole album – artful, skilled and not entirely certain what it wants to be.

02_Cold_Duck.jpgCold Duck
MonotypeRec Mono 096 (monotyperecs.com)

No relation to the sparkling wine of the same name, Cold Duck is instead a series of nine biting improvisations by S4, an ad-hoc, all-star quartet of soprano saxophone innovators – one British, John Butcher, and the others Swiss: Urs Leimgruber, Hans Koch and Christian Kobi, the last of whom is also a member of the all-saxophone Konus Quartett, which interprets notated music.

Designated by Roman numerals, Cold Duck’s tracks, lasting from barely one minute to more than 12, could be the auditory sound track of an experimental ornithologist’s laboratory. But unlike such trial and error endeavours, the quartet deliberately creates timbres that range from police-whistle harshness to fipple-like songbird echoes, with a goodly collection of tongue slaps, tongue pops and snorts thrown in for good measure. At the same time its skill is such that III is harmonized as intimately as if by a bel canto choir, but open enough so that every strain, partial and split tone is audible as the four work through tonal variations. Severing and re-attaching with plasticine-like continuity on VII, tremolo whines and lip burbles maintain a shrill pitch until the final moment when one sharp tone pushes the other reeds into more comfortable interaction. Then on the extended IV, S4 members pump air bubbles through their horns with a velocity that resembles electronic processing. After the narrative is magnified enough, it’s squeezed like a balloon, slowly deflating as growls and yelps mix with puffs and squeaks. Subsequently, united circular breathing leads to an aural rainbow-like expansion of tonal colours involving all four.

That climax may be one of the fundamental triumphs and instructive pleasures of Cold Duck. No matter how many instances of sound separation exist, no individual voice is more prominent than the others. The result is a program that confirms group cohesion while fittingly sampling a saxophone choir’s outermost elements.

04_Kurt_Elling.jpgPassion World
Kurt Elling
Concord Jazz CJA-36841-02 (concordmusicgroup.com)

When I first tried to listen to Kurt Elling’s new album Passion World, I had a hard time getting through it. That’s because whenever I got to the seventh track – his cover of U2’s Where the Streets Have No Name – I had to stop, hit repeat and then just take a moment to recover. It’s a powerful and beautiful take on an already powerful and beautiful song. Once I managed to move on, I realized it’s an album full of such takes.

Passion World was born out of Elling’s desire, when touring, to deliver a song that would give the audience a taste of their country’s own music – what he refers to as “charmers.” The collection of songs then developed into a project for Jazz at Lincoln Center and, now, an album. Leaning mainly toward ballads, Passion World is filled with songs about longing and a sense of place. The project also exemplifies collaboration in its many forms. The opening tracks set the tone as Elling puts lyrics about home and the road to two instrumentals by John Clayton and Pat Metheny before getting into more traditional territory with Loch Tay Boat Song featuring a modern woodwind arrangement played by the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra. Arturo Sandoval’s Bonita Cuba is another fine example of musical minds meeting. The band members all play major roles in the success of this album and, in particular, John McLean’s arrangements and guitar work elevate this collection. 

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