05 Jazz 05 Destination VoidDestination: Void
Peter Evans Quintet
More is More MM 141 (moreismorerecords.com)

Unusually constituted with a front line of brass, piano and live electronics, Destination: Void is another indication of how trumpeter Peter Evans is altering the fabric of improvised music. Seemingly capable of producing every sound on his horn from spindly murmurs to aggressive whinnying, the four extended Evans compositions here feature Sam Pluta’s sound wave mutation and are given extra impetus by Ron Stabinsky’s mercurial exploration of piano keys and strings.

Evans’ command of his instrument is such that at points his graceful flutters take on reed characteristics, most appropriately on 12 (for Evan Parker), saluting the British saxophonist. Elsewhere he single-handedly creates a rhythmic ostinato that would usually come from a conventional rhythm section of bass and drums. Diffident throughout, in contrast, bassist Tom Blancarte showcases triple-stopping on the concluding Tresillo; while surprisingly percussionist Jim Black’s thumping resonations are most prominent when linked with processed hisses plus the pianist’s low-pitched rumbling on the balladic Make It So. Taken as a whole, formalist notated music is referenced throughout.

If the preceding tracks ramp up excitement via speed-of-light keyboard exchanges, half-valve dramatics plus in-and-out-of-focus oscillated flanges, the 27-minute concluding Tresillo crackles with such intensity that you could imagine a second quartet with the same instruments is present and playing along. As Evans’ endlessly inventive disconnected grace notes float over the theme expansion that is one part multiphonic electronic drones and one part ever-shifting rhythm, the initial sequence climaxes with distinctive animal-like shrieks and shudders. Never losing the narrative direction however, the end section could be an acoustic showcase recital, as Stabinsky shapes the program with slapped keys and sweeping glissandi at the same time as Evans attains the highest-pitched triplets with his horn.

With these virtuosic performances spectacular but never lapsing into bravado for its own sake, Evans and company demonstrate that improvised music’s future destination isn’t void but diversity.

05 Jazz 06 The GroupThe Feed-back
The Group
Schema Easy Series SCEB 916 CD (ishtar.it)

The musical ferment of the 1960s saw a breakdown in boundaries between categories and a corresponding expansion of permissible content. Few locales were more experimental than Italy, where the burgeoning electronic music scene created special connections. The Feed-back, recorded circa 1970, can still surprise with its vigorous mix of free improvisation and rock beats. Behind the Anglicized “Group” resides the Gruppo di Improvvisazione Nuova Consonanza or just “Il Gruppo.”

Organized in 1964 by composer Franco Evangelisti (whose role here appears to be reduced to writing liner notes), the shifting ensemble creates three collective improvisations that use foreground, almost mechanized, rock drumming by Renzo Restuccia (the members of The Group are uncredited on the actual CD) to link distinct elements. The most prominent member of the group is composer Ennio Morricone, whose skill as a composer of moody soundscapes extends here to his pensive, probing trumpet work. His lines are both rich in tonal colour and structural suggestion, and he and trombonist John Heineman use mutes extensively to suggest Martin Denny’s lounge exotica and Miles Davis’ contemporaneous jazz fusion. The longest piece here, Kumâlo, is also the most adventurous, including a solo by guitarist Bruno Battisti D’Amario that sounds like an electric banjo and pans between speakers à la Jimi Hendrix. Brief even by LP standards at 28 minutes, The Feed-back retains the adventure and surprise that distinguished it 45 years ago.

Threads008THREADS (Quintet)
Trio Records TRP-019

Every since he arrived in Toronto from his native Vancouver in 2001, guitarist Ken Aldcroft has been a constant presence on this city’s improvised music scene. Whether helping to organize concerts, teaching, playing solo gigs or as part of ensembles of varied sizes, he’s constantly exceeding expectations of what jazz involves. Also exceeding expectations is the first CD by his newest ensemble, which presents this music in concert at Jazz at Oscar’s this month.

Having recorded six CDs with his regular Convergence combo, Aldcroft changes gears on 10/09/11 by supplanting its free-bop orientation for one that offers more space and an almost unmetered beat. Besides Aldcroft, the only Convergence holdover is alto saxophonist Karen Ng, with the band filled out by drummer Germaine Liu plus the characteristic grooves of Josh Cole’s electric bass and Jonathan Adjemian’s analog synthesizer. With each of Aldcroft’s three originals entitled Threads plus a numeral and the disc recorded in 2013, it’s likely the CD title refers to a time of inspiration and composition.

Essentially each of the longish tunes, clocking in at between 18 and almost 25 minutes, showcases varied facets of the quintet. With percussion pulses that slide from parade band whacks to (Canadian) Indian-like rattling and back again, Threads III is the gentlest of the three, with slowly evaporating sax slurs matched with echoing guitar timbres. Threads I has more energy. Here Aldcroft’s crescendo of arpeggiated string licks faces tough, angled reed bites and buzzing synth interjections. Underneath, Adjemian’s staccato blurts plus Liu’s bass drum pops replicate an Upper Canadian version of a Second Line rhythm. Lengthiest of all, the introductory Threads II defines the quintet’s distinct parameters. Harmonized bass and guitar strums steady the beat, leaving enough openings for Ng’s blazing staccato cries, Liu’s irregular thumps and ruffs plus synthesizer fills that at points resemble Morse code, at others what an electric piano would sound like with a cold. Aldcroft’s twangs plus Ng’s volatile tone nudge the narrative towards a satisfying climax.

A notable achievement from an ensemble that offers sonic maturity as it’s in the process of being created.

Concert note: The THREADS (Quintet) is in concert at Jazz at Oscar’s, Hart House University of Toronto January 16.

05 Jazz 01 Diane RoblinReconnect
Diane Roblin
Independent (dianeroblin.com)

Following a more than 20-year intermission, talented keyboardist and composer Diane Roblin has made a strong re-emergence into the jazz world with the release of her new independent recording Reconnect. The well-produced CD is comprised of ten original compositions by Roblin that run the gamut from funk and fusion to soul and jazz. Roblin has also surrounded herself with creative and dynamic musicians (Jeff King on tenor, Howard Spring on guitar, Russ Boswell on bass and Roger Travassos on drums) who easily and intuitively fit into her eclectic and invigorating musical vision.

Reconnect kicks off with In the Beginning – a vigorous funk exploration that calls to mind electric-era Herbie Hancock. There is nothing dainty about Roblin’s attack. She is a facile and deeply emotional keyboardist who establishes her musical territory with a muscular performance on the Fender Rhodes and technical skill on the acoustic piano. Her pianistic virtuosity is clearly evident on Suspend Yourself a complex piece of work in 7/4, involving a trip to the etheric realms, as well as a brash dose of fusoid and progressive jazz.

Of particular beauty and depth is Ballad in 3/4. The haunting melodic line and King’s sonorous tenor work are an evocative treat. On Reconnect, Roblin also includes Tune for Fraser – a stunning acoustic piano solo piece dedicated to her late musician husband, Fraser Finlayson. This brave composition seems to emotionally expose the artist as she transcends, through her music, all of the stages of grief and finally arrives at ultimate redemption.


05 Jazz 02 BonesBones Blues
Pete Magadini
Delmark/Sackville CD2-4004

Recently reissued with an added track, this 1977 Toronto-recorded gem is nearly timeless since it’s an unpretentious session by a consummate professional that could have been taped any time after 1954 … or tomorrow. Unlike contemporary bop-era emulators however, the participants in Bones Blues were around as mainstream jazz was being forged and played this mixture of blues, standards and rhythm tunes almost daily in nightclubs.

Bones Blues has added value as well because it initially gave Toronto piano legend Wray Downes one of his first chances to stretch out on record. On the intro to What a Time We Had, for instance, his sympathetic elegance is notable; as is his innate command of the blues sensibility in the title tune. In 1977, Massachusetts-born leader, drummer Pete Magadini, had just begun his 28-year Canadian residency as teacher and performer; while on the disc Buffalo-born tenor saxophonist, Don Menza, consistently demonstrates his mastery of both bop and swing that gave him featured status in big bands like Buddy Rich’s. Buoyant even when assaying assertive 1950s classics like Solar and Freddie the Freeloader, the saxophonist’s skillful balance is a highlight. Note how his caressing of Poor Butterfly’s melody parallels Downes’ two-handed, near-boogie-woogie exposition, and how both lines are underscored by Magadini’s subtle brush work. Amplifying the others’ work with powerful strokes and decorative cadenzas is bassist Dave Young, who has in the intervening years become a local legend, habitually busy with club and concert work in a variety of contexts.

Overall, ballads and finger-snappers are treated with the same respect and performed at the same high level on this CD. Listening to how the disc’s eight tracks evolve and gratify, confirms why this session, unlike many pretentious, highly vaulted projects of the same era, has stood the test of time.


05 Jazz 05 Claire MartinTime & Place
Claire Martin; Montpellier Cello Quartet; Joe Stilgoe
Linn Records AKD 423

Delightful British jazz vocalist Claire Martin’s new release, Time and Place is a well-conceived, well-produced and expertly performed recording, featuring Martin at the top of her vocal game in collaboration with the renowned Montpellier Cello Quartet as well as with an ensemble of gifted and cooking jazz musicians, featuring special guest, pianist and vocalist Joe Stilgoe.

Martin is known for her versatility, as well as for her unique, dusky, sensuous, cello-like voice… part Dusty Springfield and part Julie London with a dash of Irene Kral. On Time and Place she also displays her gift for selecting diverse, perhaps unusual material, and making it her own – with compositions included from David Bowie, Joni Mitchell and Thelonious Monk.

The levels of melancholy on this CD (particularly on the cello-infused tracks) are quite profound – which is no surprise – as just previous to the project, Martin’s close friend, mentor, teacher and creative partner Sir Richard Rodney Bennett passed away. Loss is a theme that echoes in several of the exquisite tracks, including the Beatles’ She’s Leaving Home and Gershwin’s timeless anthem of lost love My Man’s Gone Now. The string arrangements and the sonic intermingling of the cellos with Martin’s sonorous vocal instrument are simply breathtaking.

The closing track, Goodbye for Now comes from the aforementioned Bennett – who may have left us in the physical sense, but his impeccable musical standards, influence, taste and brilliant musicianship are all present and accounted for on Time and Place.


05 Jazz 03 Alex PangmanNew
Alex Pangman
Justin Time JTR 8587-2

There can be no doubt that that Alex Pangman – Canada’s own “Sweetheart of Swing” – is a national treasure and a true original. Feisty, authentic and a fully realized music historian, Pangman has continued to delight with New, her latest recording on Justin Time Records. For this project (and not unlike Aretha heading to Muscle Shoals, Alabama), Pangman has bravely stepped outside of her musical and experiential comfort zone by recording in the historic Algiers section of New Orleans – accompanied by the popular local depression-era swing band, the Cottonmouth Kings. It seems apparent that an important part of this creative process was Pangman’s collaborator, producer/engineer (and Canadian ex-pat) Andrew “Goat” Gilchrist.

New is a mature album, and Pangman’s voice – while still maintaining her clear, luminous sound – now reflects the depth and subtext of her own life experience. She is fearless in her emotional openness – imbuing each of the ten tasty tracks with large dollops of confidence, sensuality, joy, irony and maybe even a certain ennui.

Thoroughly enjoyable tracks include Fit as a Fiddle (and Ready for Love), which features rambunctious, Joe Venuti-esque violin work by Matt Rhody. The popular Tin Pan Alley tune also has special meaning for Pangman, who recorded this track only seven months following her second double-lung transplant, and was finally feeling “Fit as a Fiddle.” Canadian composer Ruth Lowe’s I’ll Never Smile Again is a beauty – performed with a languid, Crescent City feel which suits Pangman’s sultry alto, and she also swings it sweet and low on You Let Me Down.


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