01 Sheila SoaresAll There Is
Sheila Soares
Independent (sheilasoaresmusic.com) 

Gifted vocalist and composer Sheila Soares’ new recording is one of the freshest, most engaging and thoroughly musical CDs to be released this year. Although Soares is no unseasoned debutante, her debut offering is rife with new, intriguing, genre-blurring original material and fine musicianship. Deftly produced by talented guitarist Eric St-Laurent, Soares’ excellent collaborators also include Jeff McLeod on piano and organ, Jordan O’Connor on acoustic bass and Chris Wallace on drums.

At first blush, there is an obvious sonic similarity between the vocal timbre of Soares and the late Blossom Dearie; however, Dearie (with her quirky, narcissistic performances) never came near Soares’ interpretive sensitivity and jaunty songwriting style. It may be that good tunesmiths (such as Soares) are just “born” when the creative stars align, and they can enter our consciousness at any point along their journey – it’s inevitable… and as Soares says, “Music is like breathing to me.”

Highlights include the lovely title track, as well as the stunning Les Fraises Sur La Lune (Strawberries on the Moon), which displays Soares’ skilled, pitch-pure vocal instrument and considerable ability to swing. The romantic Constellation boasts not only beautiful chord changes, but also a lilting melody and a gentle, rhythmic jazz sensibility that make this gorgeous track a total standout. Jazz has many faces and expressions, and happily for all of us, Soares will no doubt be delighting us with her jazz eclecticism and irresistible perspective for a very long time to come.

02 Marc JordanBoth Sides
Marc Jordan
Linus 270389 (marcjordan.com)

Listing all of Marc Jordan’s songwriting credits, awards and accolades would take up the whole word count of this review, so let me simply say that the man knows his way around a song. And since this album is mostly covers – only two of the tracks are originals – his mighty interpretative skills are a key component here. The other key component of Both Sides is Lou Pomanti, who produced, arranged and orchestrated all the tracks. These two men are at the top of their games and we are the beneficiaries. The album is rich with instrumentation courtesy of the Prague Symphony Orchestra and guest appearances by international heavies like Randy Brecker and Tommy Emmanuel, and local luminaries like Kevin Breit and Larnell Lewis. 

Although he covers a couple of standards from the Great American Songbook, it’s the reinterpretations of classic folk/rock songs that are standouts for me. In particular, Lou Reed’s Walk on the Wild Side shines with its many layers and gorgeous woodwinds, courtesy of Toronto’s own, John Johnson. Although the soft, groovy treatment of the tune is antithetical to its subject matter, it works. Beautifully. Jordan’s thoughtful handling of the title tune also caused me to hear these familiar lyrics with fresh ears and I was struck by how mature Joni Mitchell’s writing was for one so young. (She was in her early 20s when she wrote Both Sides Now.) Overall, the album reflects a full-grown artist who has lived completely, and well.

Listen to 'Both Sides' Now in the Listening Room

03 Karin PlatoThis Could Be The One
Karin Plato
Independent KP0418 (karinplato.com)

Released worldwide on April 12 through Stikjazz Music, This Could Be The One is Vancouver-based vocalist Karin Plato’s eighth studio album, and the culmination of ten years of work with her quintet, which includes herself, clarinetist James Danderfer, pianist Chris Gestrin, bassist Laurence Mollerup and drummer Joe Poole. This Could Be The One also features three special guests: blues musician Jim Byrnes, singer Rebecca Shoichet and trombonist Rod Murray. Recorded live off the floor by Sheldon Zaharko in Vancouver at Warehouse Studio, the album has a warm, inviting vibe, emulating, to a certain degree, the experience of hearing acoustic jazz from a good seat in a well-appointed venue.

This Could Be The One is largely made up of Plato’s original material, with a few re-arranged exceptions: the Lennon/McCartney-penned I’ve Just Seen A Face, Hank Williams’ I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry, and the ubiquitous Heart And Soul. Byrnes joins Plato on What Came Before, Plato’s loping, 3/4 ode to empathy; though they represent different vocal traditions, the two singers’ voices blend well, with Byrnes’ big, woolly voice complementing Plato’s controlled clarity. Shoichet and Plato sing together on Sorrow, another Plato original, a bittersweet, straight-eighths song that serves as the album’s final entry.

With an overall mood that tends toward the calm and communicative, even during its more bombastic moments, This Could Be The One is a worthy addition to the canon of modern Canadian vocal jazz.

Listen to 'This Could Be The One' Now in the Listening Room

Le way qu’a do
Les Surruralists
Tour de Bras TDB90033CD

Monicker (Arthur Bull; Scott Thomson; Roger Turner)
Ambiances Magnétiques AM 246 CD (actuellecd.com)

04a Arthur Bull SURRURALISTGuitarist and poet, Toronto-born, Nova Scotia resident Arthur Bull enjoys a compound musical identity. He has been a part of the Canadian improvising community for decades, developing a personal idiom that draws in equal parts from the extended techniques of free improvisation and the slide and finger-style traditions of blues and folk idioms. These two CDs, from Spring 2018, present Bull in radically different, if equally radical settings.

The Surruralists is essentially a duo of Bull and electric bassist Éric Normand, though guests sometimes contribute to a music that’s at once timeless and timely. The two (sometimes subtly, sometimes not) merge free improvisation with folk singing, mixing French and English traditions to craft a primal music in which country tunes and proto-rhythm ‘n’ blues collide with flashes of an unearthly sound art. Bull’s raw baritone and slide guitar drive Jack o’ Diamonds and Frankie (and Johnny), while his gift for epigram emerges on the spoken Skidmarks: “I couldn’t count how many ways the woodpecker could divide the beat.” Normand adds weird electronic burbles to condition familiar themes, and he’s eloquent on the dirge La courtisane brûlée, with Bull adding plaintive harmonica and Ben Grossman a funereal vielle à roue (hurdy-gurdy).

04b Arthur Bull MonickerAmong Bull’s international associations is one formed in 2002 with drummer Roger Turner, a charter member of the British school of free improvisation. Turner’s sometimes machine-like approach can be traced directly to an early appreciation of the brilliant precision of Dave Tough, the drummer who propelled the rise of Chicago jazz over 90 years ago. Anyone who imagines free improvisation to be somehow vague in its contours simply hasn’t heard Roger Turner. In 2018 Bull and Turner expanded their duo with the addition of trombonist Scott Thomson for a tour (as Monicker) that stretched from Southern Ontario to Nova Scotia.

No blow-by-blow description could do justice to Spine: the music is mercurial, each of the CD’s six tracks a continuum of shifting, permutating relationships and voices, much of it conducted at incredible speed, from Thomson’s burbling register leaps and runs, squeezed through a metal mute, to Turner’s high-pitched clatter. Bull’s voices range from long, wandering bass glissandi to high-speed flurries of metallic scattershot, liable to be confused with some of Thomson and Turner’s own voicings; but the very determination with which the three proceed soon destroys any identikit game of “he said, he said” with a conclusive “When was that?” It’s a high-water mark in Canadian free improvisation.

05 Jonathan BauerWalk Don’t Run
Jonathan Bauer
Slammin Media (jonathanbauermusic.com)

Prolific Alberta-born trumpeter and composer, Jonathan Bauer, harkens back commendably to the past while adding a modern, unique touch on his long-awaited debut album. Coming from playing with the Grammy-Award-winning New Orleans Jazz Orchestra, Bauer’s immense talent and skills are apparent on this album, with sultry and smooth riffs throughout the pieces and each track written by him. A perfect musical balance is achieved with support from saxophonist Alexander Geddes, pianist Ryan Hanseler, bassist Alex Dyring and drummer Gerald Watkins. Each musician is given several opportunities to showcase their talent through solos, and instruments blend together for a New Orleans-flavoured, foot-tapping jazz journey.

The album is said to “celebrate the past while looking to the future,” showcasing Bauer’s influences, among them Art Blakey and Roy Hargrove. Tracks such as Chattin’, Precious Moments and We Need to Do Better transport the listener back to the era of jazz greats and classics while pieces like Ella and Violet showcase a more contemporary sound. The record as a whole is a beautiful contrast, bringing to light Bauer’s desire to hark back to the past while reaching into the future by adding a modernistic touch to some pieces.

This gem of an album is suitable for aficionados of both classical and newer jazz, with tracks that suit the tastes of both. The talented Canadian bandleader has released a debut record that has truly been worth the wait.

06 Sun of GoldfingerSun of Goldfinger
David Torn
ECM 2613 773 1919 (ecmrecords.com)

David Torn has had an extensive career as guitarist, film composer and record producer, ranging from work with the Nordic-cool saxophonist Jan Garbarek to projects with David Bowie. Torn has also worked extensively with alto saxophonist Tim Berne, whose heated New York free jazz may seem at odds with some of Torn’s abstract cool. In this latest work, however, the association makes perfect sense.

Torn is a master of looping, constructing artificial orchestras with compound ostinatos, orchestral chords and percussion. There are three long works here, ranging from 22:10 to 23:55. The opening and closing pieces, Eye Meddle and Soften the Blow, began as trio improvisations with Berne and drummer Ches Smith (the three now performing as Sun of Goldfinger), with Smith and Torn both making extensive use of electronics while still playing percussion and guitar. Torn has then taken the materials into the studio, editing, mixing and multiplying the improvisations. Ultimately, they’re layered assemblages, the looping expanding and cooling Berne’s role, merging his micro-variations with literal repetition. The music retains its expressionist quality while becoming increasingly trance-like, creating musical worlds at once akin to those of Ornette Coleman and Terry Riley.

The work grows more allusive in the central piece, Spartan, Before It Hit, a Torn composition that supplements the trio with a string quartet, two more guitarists and keyboard player Craig Taborn. Sometimes creating thin washes of sound, it clarifies and broadens Torn’s textures while retaining their fundamental mystery.

07 John HewardQuintet
John Heward
Mode/Avant 19 (moderecords.com)

A fitting memorial for Montreal visual artist John Heward (1934-2018), who was as proficient in free music as in painting and sculpture, this 2014 77-minute improvisation shows how his sensitive and sophisticated approach applied proper percussion accents without bluster. Veteran American improvisers, bassist Barre Phillips and alto/soprano saxophonist Joe McPhee plus locals, bass clarinetist Lori Freedman and pianist Dana Reason are featured with no thought of hierarchy and ample space for each.

Matched in flutter tonguing, trilling or excavating basso tones from their instruments, the reed players are frequently involved in interchanges or doubling with either the bassist or pianist. Showcased on Improvisation 1 though, there’s no mistaking Freedman’s snorts or top-of-range squeals for McPhee’s shaded vibrations, even in altissimo mode. Often setting up sequences, Phillips’ angled bow strokes or measured pizzicato runs seem to always find the sweet spot between efficiency and encouragement. Meanwhile Reason’s feature on Improvisation 3, backed by brooding double-bass lines and drum rat-tat-tats, reveals a stylist whose methodical chromatic comping doesn’t stop her from challenging moody soprano saxophone vibrations with rubato cross pulses and inner piano-string scratches.

Unfazed by whatever sound challenges are posed, Heward reacts like a cultivated artist. For instance, he extends McPhee’s pinched soprano tones with patterning paradiddles to achieve the proper colour balance; or elsewhere adds a martial beat to physically shape Freedman’s octave jumps to proper angles. Quintet posits that Heward may be remembered as much for his music as for his art.

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