Mentors and heroes have been celebrated musically for years. In improvised music interpretations are more individual, the choice of honourees is quirkier, but the sounds are just as impressive – as these CDs demonstrate.
Montreal bassist/composer Normand Guilbeault’s Ensemble has played the music of bassist/composer Charles Mingus (1922-1979) for years. Hommage à Mingus: Live at Upstairs (ambiance magnétiques AM 185 CD www.actuelle.com) finds the six man – and one woman, vocalist Karen Young – combo preserving Mingus’ purposely jagged stop-time themes and tempo switches. With Jean Derome’s snorting baritone saxophone and the broken phrasing of Mathieu Bélanger’s bass clarinet, the arrangements have more bottom. Young’s delivery adds emotion to a piece like Weird Nightmare, which benefits from Ivanhoe Jolicoeur’s whispering trumpet. Pianist Normand Devault consistently lays on the blues notes. Yet these link to the trumpeter’s sometime pre-modern plunger work and the steady pulse of drummer Claude Lavergne. The band proves that homage includes irreverence, when the pianist weaves a pastiche of other Mingus tunes into Song with Orange; and on Passions of a Woman Loved, the reeds quote Tequila.
Joe McPhee’s Angels, Devils & Haints (CJR 7 www.joemcphee.com) re-imagines the work of saxophone avatar Albert Ayler (1936 -1970). Besides two standards, the music is improvised. While Ayler’s themes were driven by thick percussion and raucous horns, McPhee plays alto or tenor saxophone or trumpet, backed by four bassists – Michael Bisio, Dominic Duval, Paul Rogers and Claude Tchamitian. Separated by heartfelt saxophone readings of Goin’ Home and Ol’ Man River, the outstanding originals capture the Ayler persona. The Gift is a pointillist exercise divided into saxophone tongue stops, flutter tonguing and frayed trills, while the bassists strike and slap cantilevered timbres, then divide into arco string stretches and pizzicato plinks. The title tune is the real stunner. As the bassists thump or pluck to unify pedal point undertow, McPhee reed bites, squeals and chirps. When the bassists use tremolo pumps to meet the saxophonist’s slip-sliding smears, multiphonics are exposed. McPhee then switches to spidery chromatic triplets on trumpet confirming underlying lyricism. Ultimately he returns to saxophone with ceiling-scraping altissimo. The finale finds the bassists’ portamento runs and McPhee’s floating and stuttering trills melding.
Four Torontonians and two Swiss honour Urs Blöchlinger on Tribute (Pet Mantis Records PMR 004 www.petmantisrecords.com). The compositions of Blöchlinger (1954-1995) reflect the saxophonist’s sardonic humour and hint at the depression that led to his suicide. Organized by local bassist Neal Davis, plus two Swiss who worked with Blöchlinger – pianist Christoph Baumann and drummer Dieter Ulrich – the horn section is all Torontonian: trombonist Tom Richards plus reedists Peter Lutek and Kelly Jefferson. Aylerian echoes animate Lutek’s nephritic cries, with Jefferson lyrical and Richards as fond of plunger work as Jolicoeur. This is especially effective on the lurching theme of King Arthur meets Hans Eisler in Hollywood. The trombone blats, Lutek’s alto saxophone slithers and Jefferson’s soprano saxophone trills draw out the narrative. Davis’ walking, Baumann’s comping and Ulrich’s ruffs let the horns interject quotes from other tunes which are diaphanous enough to expose a climatic round of honks and peeps. Kungusische Arbeitslied layers themes in sequence. Contrapuntally contrasting trombone growls and reed chirps, the group switches to a marching band emulation following a drum roll. Sluicing horn lines quicken the pace as Ulrich nudges the melody with montuno rhythm. Baumann’s sprawling dynamics signal another shift and suddenly roles reverse. Lutek’s nasal alto, Jefferson’s smooth soprano and Richards’ gutbucket trombone play the melody as the pianist’s key wandering replicates a fantasia. A bass string spank completes the tune.
The strangest acknowledgment is Hommage à Syd Barrett (Imuzzic CRCD 0821 www.cristalrecords.com). The Lyon-based i.overdrive trio honours Barrett (1946-2006), the songwriter/guitarist whose idiosyncratic tunes dominated Pink Floyd’s first LP before he left the group. With guitarist Philippe Gordiani using the pre-eminent rock instrument; trumpeter Rémi Gaudillat representing jazz sophistication; and drummer Bruno Tocanne weaving between the two, Barrett tunes are reinvigorated. Astronomy Domine balances Gordiani’s flanged and elongated riffs with melodiousness from Gaudillat and Tocanne’s mid-range banging. Distorted notes from effects pedals and whammy bars, plus prickly guitar licks are in the mix, but so are muted overtones and romantic obbligatos from the trumpet plus the drummer’s crunching rebounds and cymbal-splashes. Deference and deconstruction are realized with Interstellar Overdrive. Replicating the familiar riffs, Gordiani could be playing two guitars, while Gaudillat’s grace notes include a near-Arabic motif. Slurry brass triplets and staccato strumming combine for final redefinition.
The honourees aren’t around to hear these tributes, but each would be proud.