02_harris_eisenstadtCanada Day II

Harris Eisenstadt

Songlines SGL 1589-2 (www.songlines.com)

Although he left Toronto more than a decade ago, Brooklyn-based drummer Harris Eisenstadt hasn’t abandoned his home town… or country. This thoroughly modern session is the second CD by one of his working bands, whose name came from its first gig on July 1. Complete with a cover painting – with canoe – reminiscent of the Northern Ontario summer camp the drummer attended, Eisenstadt’s eight originals are played by a quintet of top-flight New York jazzers, none of whom is Canadian, although bassist Elvind Opsvik is Norwegian.

Well engineered, “Canada Day II” balances on Opsvik’s upfront bass rhythm, as well as the never-obtrusive beats of the drummer. With Chris Dingman’s ringing vibraphone clanks recurrently moving from foreground to background, most of the swinging pieces are elaborated by Nate Wooley’s buzzing trumpet technique and Matt Bauder’s vamping tenor saxophone.

Both the trumpeter and bassist are showcased on To See/Tootsie as the bassist keeps up a steady pace and Wooley delves into slurry stutters, mouthpiece kisses and capillary cries. Subsequently, Bauder states the tuneful theme and Eisenstadt accompanies with off-side flams and rim shots. Cottage country cool rather than downtown hot, most of the pieces on “Canada Day II” are like that. With the horns or rhythm instruments often working in tandem, other solos stand out as well. Jagged flutter-tonguing from the saxophonist erupting from a foundation of vibe resonation from Dingman enlivens Now Longer, a bass vamp that became a suite. During the piece, Opsvik slithers all over the strings or walks authoritatively as the blurry unison horn work confirms the transformation.

Overall the expatriate Torontonian’s playing, arranging and composing is so accomplished that one doesn’t known whether to give it an “A” or an “Eh”.

The Fall is always a showcase for the best in Canadian jazz – this month’s collection is a prize package, the top three world class.

01_robi_botosUp first is a splendid trio disc from pianist Robi Botos, who since his arrival from Hungary has consistently brought audiences to their feet with sparkling imagination and a fabulous technique. The impressive Robi Botos Trio - Place To Place (A440 002 www.robibotos.com) is the first album under his name, 68 minutes on which he’s backed by brother Frank on drums and long-time associate Attila Darvas on bass. The 14-cut outing (mostly originals) is terrific from the first notes of Life Goes On with Darvas a revelation in a unit demonstrating impeccable interaction. A fab reworking of Wayne Shorter’s Footprints, a delightful take on the classics with Be Bach, a lovely tribute to Oscar Peterson (Emmanuel), a storming title piece, a bristling Smedley’s Attack and the humour delivered on Inside Out are just a few disc highlights, which assert the leader’s firm grasp of pianistic essentials. Some might quibble at the Botos delight in fiery, top gear playing but to these ears it’s simply splendid.

02_john_stetchPianist John Stetch is a seriously gifted musician whose presence unfortunately is rare in the GTA despite an international reputation. Edmonton-born but U.S.-based, his releases invariably are stunningly original and on the dozen tunes of John Stetch Trio - Fabled States (Addo Records AJR010 www.addorecords.com) he demonstrates his fluent skill at embracing a plethora of styles, rich textures and harmonic progressions. His virtuosic playing and arranging is a constant here, with the opening Oscar’s Blue Green Algebra an energetic, sweeping homage to Oscar Peterson with gospel underpinnings. The pulsating 12-minute Black Sea Suite is a brilliant fusion of world music and western jazz, Plutology (based on the indestructible I Got Rhythm) spins way out and What The McHeck conveys bracing hard bop. Fascinating considerations of jazz approaches continue with Do Telepromptu probing bluegrass, Gmitri reacting to a Shostakovich prelude and the title tune riffing on Benny Golson’s Stablemates. Bass Joe Martin and drummer Greg Ritchie contribute fluently to an often breathtaking disc.

03_ernesto_cerviniDrummer Ernesto Cervini is a relative newcomer who’s blazing a path through contemporary jazz with smart new ideas and a burning intensity that shouts to be heard. Taped live over two nights at Vancouver’s Cellar Club, he illustrates his achievements with terrific young sidemen in tow – versatile American saxophonist Joel Frahm, pianist extraordinaire Adrean Farrugia and bassist Dan Loomis. On Ernesto Cervini Quartet - There (Anzic Records ANZ-3200 www.ernestocervini.com) there’s nine tracks, six by him, that illustrate individual skills and group cohesion with Frahm’s spiky lean notes, Farrugia’s dynamic imagination and Loomis’ solid core bass keeping energy levels high despite formidable rhythmic shifts. They even reimagine the soul ballad Secret Love into helter-skelter mode rooted in bop with Frahm’s tenor referencing Sonny Rollins. These performers always complement each other, notably on the Andalusian-flavoured Granada Bus, the reverential Gramps and the clever, quirky The Monks of Oka. Farrugia’s rollicking Woebegone is a meaty treat and the exhilarating Little Black Bird is a blast on an album that has to be one of 2011’s best.

04_cookersThe Cookers are a back-to-basics hard bop quintet, nowadays an attractive voice in the land of quasi-intellectual trickery, avant-garde noodling and jazz’s black sheep cousin, smooth jazz. Formed last year, the fivesome comprises veterans and newbies but they’re close companions on The Cookers - Volume One (TC69420 www.thecookers.ca) and its eight originals supplied by bandsmen. Immediately you know this group’s best heard live with its mix of bop, soul, jazz and the blues, with trumpeter Tim Hamels and saxman Ryan Oliver swinging hard, pianist Richard Whiteman reliable as ever in all modes and a lively pulse generated by tuneful bassist Alex Coleman and drummer Morgan Childs. The trumpet’s crisp, rough-toned precision matches Oliver’s full-range warm horn, the former occasionally offering full rasp Roy Eldridge, the latter bringing to mind Eric Alexander. Top tracks: The Ramble, Blues to Booker and The Pork Test, but all have merit. Pity there’s just 47 minutes on offer.

05_5_after_4Drummer Vito Rezza’s pounding jazz fusion band 5 After 4 makes a mostly welcome return on Rome In A Day (Alma ACD62112 www.almarecords.com) with its sixth album, the first since 2004. Backing the powerhouse leader on 11 originals are versatile woodwind ace John Johnson, Matt Horner on piano, Rhodes and organ, and bassist Peter Cardinali. The musical architecture is as always firm, groove and vigour uppermost. Johnson enjoys himself throughout, setting out his keen priorities on the fiery opener 10,000 Days with Cardinali’s bass sound big and booming, a combination that works well with tried and trusted drumming and complementary subtleties from Horner. The bluesy Top Hat is spelled out neatly with Rhodes and agile bass followed by a surprisingly serene ballad caressed by tenor and then the dense, off-kilter Mr. Govindas. Perhaps the most appealing tune is Changes Of Season with marked contrasts employing speed, delicacy and finally fury, Johnson leading the charge. The only problem here is a sameness in composition and execution, as if the ensemble’s wound too tight.

06_bunnett_duranLovers of Cuban music will rejoice in Jane Bunnett & Hilario Duran - Cuban Rhapsody (Alma ACD67112 www.almarecords.com), a vast survey of the island nation’s music from the mid-19th century to the mid-20th. Virtuosos Bunnett (flute and soprano sax) and Duran (piano) play with passionate vitality and gracious charm as they canvas traditions established by such valued composers as Ernesto Lecuona and Frank Emilio Flynn. The heart of this album, crammed with dancing beats and lilting melody, is a five-tune medley of contradanzas by Manuel Saumell. The duo plays with intimate chemistry and still adds jazz improv fuel to a sterling session that integrates European music with classic Cuban folkloric styles.

01_bill_dixonPraised and reviled in equal measure during his 40-year career, Vermont-based trumpeter Bill Dixon was finally recognized as one of improvised music’s most original stylists and theorists before his death at 84 in June 2010. Fittingly his final concert took place a mere three weeks previously at Quebec’s Festival International de Musique Actuelle de Victoriaville, where a hand-picked octet played this composition under his direction. Luckily the performance has been released as Envoi (Victo Records Victo cd 120 www.victo.qc.ca). Not only do the two sections illuminate Dixon’s particular mixture of formalism and freedom, but with a horn section of four playing cornet, bugle and flugelhorn, Envoi also demonstrates Dixon’s influence on a younger generation of brass players. Famously prickly and opinionated, Dixon organized The Jazz Composers Guild, one of the first musicians’ self-help organizations in the mid-1960s. A long-time professor at Bennington College in Vermont, Dixon recorded sparingly over the years, which makes this session doubly valuable. Impressionistic and dramatic, Envoi is organized with classical precision in varied sequences. Most involve muted, shaded bent notes from the brass players in counterpoint to the spiccato string swipes of cellist Glynis Loman and bassist Ken Filiano, or, in the first section, tart slurs from Michel Côté’s bass clarinet. Additional unifying motifs come from Warren Smith’s resounding kettle drumming, and, in the second section, his ringing vibes, which soften the interface as it moves forward. In that same section the unison strings maintain a menacing undertow, breached only occasionally by heraldic brassiness or dissonant grace notes, plus at one point echoing stillness from Graham Hayes’ bugle. True to Dixon’s style, most of the brass tones are segmented sound shards which waft pure air through the horns. Following nearly 40 minutes of quivery tremolo theme variations, a spectacular example of the trumpeter’s measured art arrives near the end. After one cornetist sounds heraldic tones at a higher pitch among the others’ capillary whispers, all harmonize for a protracted section of legato impressionism, only scattering at the end as one puffs quietly while another exposes plunger tones. Finally, call-and-response vamping from all marks the climax.

02_next_thbNew York’s Taylor Ho Bynum and Chicago’s Rob Mazurek, both featured on “Envoi”, have been marked by Dixon’s compositional and improvisational skill, as has Montreal’s Ellwood Epps. On his own, Bynum is probably closest to Dixon when it comes to voicing. Atmospheric textures on the six instant compositions that make up Next (Porter Records PRCD-4058 www.porterrecords.com) are built up from his cornet, flugelhorn or trumpet, Sara Schoenbeck’s bassoon and Joe Morris’ guitar. With no instrument in the so-called front-line, and each player capable of extended techniques, it’s often difficult to separate timbres. Schoenbeck may use her burbling pedal-point as a foundation, but on a tune like Next, she splinters her tone into tiny reed bites, and later harmonizes intense growls with Bynum’s triplet patterns. On Next the guitar texture is all bottleneck licks. Yet on pieces such as Consensus Struggle Morris’ percussive strumming emphasizes the beat, allowing the bassoonist to solo with hoarse multiphonics, and giving the cornetist room for peeping squeals and trippy tongue flutters. The trio’s interface is most appealing on Fireside. Morris’ below-the-bridge plinks are further coloured by Schoenbeck’s burbling bluster as Bynum’s staccato, off-centre trills soar upward to lip-twisting brassiness.

03_pink_salivaSomeone who took lessons with Dixon and – at least in choice of band name – has inherited the older man’s impudence, is Ellwood Epps, whose Pink Saliva trio (& Records &11 www.etrecords.net), is filled out by Alexandre St-Onge on electric bass and laptop and Michel F Côté on drums, microphones and lap steel guitar. Although Dixon only dabbled in electronics, Epps, a Toronto native, and his Québécois confreres embrace it wholeheartedly, adding oscillated wave forms and crackling drones to everything they play. Negotiating the line between indie-rock and jazz-improvisation, the CD is studded with irregular ruffs and drags on Côté’s part, rumbles and pops from St-Onge’s string set and dial-twisting buzzes. At points overdubbed, Epps’ trumpet soars over these wiggling sequences, repeatedly shifting from low-pitched inner-horn gurgles to piercing trills, adding additional touches of soaring lyricism.

04_double_demonA similar brass lyricism is evident on Starlicker’s Double Demon (Delmark DE 2011 www.delmark.com) featuring Rob Mazurek. Instructively it’s also the cornetist who impels the tunes towards jazz improvisation, while John Herndon, of the Tortoise rock band, concentrates on gutsy backbeats. Meanwhile the six Mazurek compositions are given distinctive shape by mallet-driven staccato juddering from Jason Adasiewicz’s vibraphone. With the vibist’s ringing gamelan-like tones a constant leitmotif, whether playing in ballad time or much speedier, Starlicker’s appeal lies in continuous contrast among three intense instrumental textures. The title track finds the vibist’s blurred tremolo lines matching the cornet’s strident brays; whereas the brass man uses finesse and moderated splutters to create a chromatic line alongside Herndon’s ratcheting and discordant pops on Triple Hex. However on Skull Cave, the cornetist’s Dixon-like melodic release which recaps the initial theme, moderates sequences of metal bar smacks and a thick drum backbeat.

Regularly operating outside of jazz’s mainstream, Bill Dixon’s brass sound and ideas actually influenced more musicians than is generally acknowledged. It’s both ironic and appropriate then, that it was an experimental Canadian festival which gave him a platform for his final performance.

01_jeff_healeyLive at Grossman’s

Jeff Healey Band

Convexe ERN 28002 www.conveyorcanada.com

Phew! Wotta Scorcher. That time-honoured Brit tabloid newspaper headline neatly sums up the inaugural release of the Convexe label, first in a series of unreleased Healey band CDs and DVDs culled from audio and video archives. With power trio regulars Joe Rockman on bass, drummer Tom Stephen plus on many cuts guitarist Pat Rush, the Canadian icon – stunningly proficient with guitar and voice - establishes a blistering pace from the start, storming through Alvin Lee’s I’m Going Home and maintaining the pace with Killing Floor, one of two Howlin’ Wolf classics that Healey jokes are just part of “another session of sonic torture!”

Chinatown venue Grossman’s has equally venerable status, one reason its hosting the Sunday jam sessions spawned the Healey band in 1985.

Today its blues and rock Mecca rep has faded, but this outing 17 years ago – one shared with local rockers The Phantoms - is fully energized though the crowd seems thin. The session was actually a rehearsal for Healey’s fourth studio album “Cover To Cover.”

The Albert King hit As The Years Go Passing By shows Healey’s skills at their best, raw voice effortlessly locked onto the beat then a launch of a typically aching solo on guitar - once again you’re reminded of how comfortable he is in blues, rock and jazz, resulting in a public appeal that was unquenchable until his death in 2008.

Vintage jukebox hit Ain’t That Just Like A Woman gets thrusting treatment, followed by a rare Beatles tune, the Lennon-penned, melancholic Yer Blues with passionate Healey vocal and general ensemble fury setting the mood ablaze and then it’s back to the Wolf for Who’s Been Talking with Michael Pickett’s vigorous harmonica.

Robert Johnson’s Crossroads has plenty of jump, as does Elmore James’ Dust My Broom, this chestnut all urgent wailing, pleading crescendos and bouncing beat. Then, unpredictably, comes a smartly done extended encore with Dylan’s All Along The Watchtower, more searing guitar work, rock lyrics and realization that a memorable hour has concluded with a grand flourish.


Les Doigts de l’Homme

Alma ACD61412 www.almarecords.com

Les Doigts de l’Homme – guitarists Olivier Kikteff, Yannick Alcocer, and Benoit “Binouche” Convert, and acoustic bassist Tanguy Blum – is an amazing French band whose music is now available locally thanks to Alma records. Florid guitar lines, interesting solos, a great groove, and tight ensemble playing means these gentlemen could even make a C major scale sound inspirational if asked to do so!

Django Reinhardt was born in 1910, thus the name of this tribute CD. The band covers a number of the guitar legend's tunes like Minor Swing, interspersed with some classic numbers like Irving Berlin's Blue Skies, and originals by band member Kikteff. Each track is a work of aural art. The upbeat cover of the Kern/Hammerstein song Ol' Man River is a surprising success with its punchy shots and zippy tempo. Reinhardt’s Swing 48 features Kikteff’s technical wizardry and Convert’s contrasting lush tonal quality in their solo work. The chromatic melody lines of Kikteff’s Niglo l Waltz are reminiscent of French musette accordion music, one of the many influences on Reinhardt's own music. The scratchy vinyl record sound on the final track is a nice closing touch.

The liner notes describe the band's high regard of Django's music. “He is a perpetual source of inspiration and we are grateful that his music has made its way into our lives today.” And this exactly how I feel about Les Doigts de l’Homme's “1910” too!

03_miles_davisMiles Davis - Live at Montreux 1973-1991

Miles Davis

Eagle Eye Media EE391949

The pleasing shock of seeing jazz genius Miles Davis up close and personal at Montreux in 1973 in striking colour – lip-licking in splendid white jacket, huge Afro, big shades, glittering vest, blue cravat – is matched by the misery of seeing him 18 years later on the same Swiss stage – frail, old, downcast, positively drab in demeanour with playing to match.

All of which makes this DVD, drawn from the archives that generated a 20-CD release in 2002, a valuable document indeed. On the 10 long tracks no line-up is the same, no line-up featured ever recorded in a studio, there’s no remixing, no editing.

Mind you, the lead-up is odd. With roadies on stage there’s around two minutes of shuffling, hints of percussion, an anonymous squawk. A minute later staccato trumpet sounds and instrument fiddling. At six, signs there may be a band at work. All is forgotten when the group, a youthful Dave Liebman on soprano sax and Al Foster drumming, rumbles into action for a very lengthy improv on Ife, Miles conjuring sounds with horn and wah-wah pedal from his recent groundbreaking offerings on seminal albums “Bitches Brew” and “In A Silent Way,” using nods and hand signs to instruct sidemen, dabbling on Yamaha organ and creating ethereal magic over a four-note bass riff.

It’s good, enhanced by the superb, superior visual clarity that easily captures the sweat on the master’s face. Davis retired for six years in 1975 through ill-health but returned to Montreux in 1984 dressed in a sort of white sailor suit with Bob Berg on soprano and guitarist John Scofield. His trumpet was in fine shape, at times ferocious, on Speak: That’s What Happened. 1985 had similar personnel save for stiff-armed Vince Wilburn, Davis’ nephew, on drums, quickly followed in 1986 with banks of synths, alto sax smoothie David Sanborn actually blowing hard and young guitarist Robben Ford thrashing blue notes on Jean-Pierre as the master delivered clean, quick lines. The next year’s Heavy Metal Prelude was a tedious vehicle for percussionist Marilyn Mazur but alto Kenny Garrett was there and in 1989 for a potent big bass punch courtesy of Foley McCreary and tenor Rick Margitza on Jo Jo. 1990’s Hannibal had fetching, understated Davis and raging Garrett.

The gloomy 1991 takes three months before Davis’ death originated in “Sketches Of Spain” (The Pan Piper, Solea ) with over-packed stage and music collapsing into cacophony. It was hardly a fitting epitaph for a life of musical influence and revolution, whose constant was change and whose indelible mark will forever be clear on bop, cool jazz, modal jazz, electric jazz, funk and jazz fusion. The disc, however, is a must-have.

01_playin_janeWelcome back Jane Fair and Rosemary Galloway, last heard together nine years ago. Their new one - Jane Fair Rosemary Galloway Quintet - Playin’ Jane (JFRGQ-002 www.rosemarygalloway.com) – has nine briskly-paced originals (five by Galloway, four by Fair) artfully executed alongside trumpeter Lina Allemano, pianist Nancy Walker and drummer Nick Fraser. Fair, a rare commodity on record, is adept on soprano and tenor sax, confidently setting the mood on her spirited title track opener, a harbinger of bright, unusual pieces propelled by resonant Galloway bass and lively drums. Highlighted throughout are Walker’s thrusting solos and comping as well as Allemano’s impassioned avant garde notions that complement her comrades’ bop inclinations. The Thelonious Monk-inspired Green Roofs features intricate exchanges and potent playing by soprano and trumpet, while Circles And Lines initially echoes his classic Misterioso before segueing into minor blues. Elsewhere, expect the unexpected on a terrific album celebrating the deep pool of Toronto-based talent.

02_heavyweightsThe Heavyweights Brass Band - Don’t Bring Me Down (www.heavyweightsbrassband.com). This debut disc deserves the extensive air time it’s garnered this summer. After all, who can resist a contemporary group showcasing a sousaphone, courtesy of Rob Teehan, especially if it’s not just occupying rhythmic roles? Here’s 13 tracks, six mostly upbeat originals alternating with tunes referencing popsters like Lady Gaga, Michael Jackson, Beyonce, and Stratford’s Beeb, so think reincarnated Shuffle Demons. Trombonist Chris Butcher, trumpeter Jon Challenor and saxman Paul Metcalfe wail to great effect over tough, battering drums from Lowell Whitty. The ensemble’s tight, simple emphatic riffs abound and despite unvarying structures, the entirely unnecessary Cuban rapper and soulful blues singer (and bandsmen vocals) this is a most entertaining outing that updates vintage New Orleans marching combos.

03_bourassaQuebec pianist François Bourassa has enjoyed a stellar three-decade career yet his veteran team always plays with youthful urgency, as you quickly gather from Isola, the first cut on François Bourassa Quartet - Idiosyncrasie (Effendi FND111 www.francoisbourassa.com). It’s one of the leader’s seven (of eight) compositions that showcases slick unison play, bracing tenorman André Leroux, ever-churning bassist Guy Boisvert and stimulating drummer Philippe Melanson, followed by the long, mysteriously moody Haiku-Darmstadt that offers clipped phrasing, seductive piano-sax dialogue and choppy odd-meter beat. Then comes a three-part suite, among which the stirring Pressiert bests elegant balladry with the foursome consumed by focused urgency. The session guarantees both pleasure and curiosity – witness the closing Chant Du P’tit Gny.

04_clevelandJulia Cleveland, who studied jazz at Mohawk College after classical percussion at U of T, is Hogtown’s heir to a new-ish tradition of female driving drummers such as Cindy Blackman and Susie Ibarra. Her debut jazz record is the melodious Julia Cleveland 5uintet - Tumble, Stumble (JC52011 www.juliacleveland.com), which also headlines saxist Kelly Jefferson, bass Ross MacIntyre, pianist Adrian Farrugia and Mike Malone on trumpet and flugelhorn. Its 11 tunes and charts are by Cleveland, who more than holds her own in this well-integrated group. Farrugia often steals the limelight with smart, sometimes lavish statements, particularly effective on electric piano, but Cleveland defines the pulse, which underpins everything from the chirpy title tune to the elegiac Obbink. Malone is cool and clever, Jefferson powerfully inventive. Going Back is a tribute to late bandleader Dave McMurdo, who taught at Mohawk.

05_senenskyBernie Senensky has long been a major player on the Canadian jazz scene but somehow remains undervalued, which is outrageous – he’s always a fount of fresh ideas, an assured performer with incredible technique who honours jazz tradition. Thus on Senensky-Perla-Riley - Invitation (P M Records PMR-033 www.PMRecords.com) the pianist demonstrates his mastery of melodic, harmonic and improvisational possibilities, starting with two of his own – the hard-charging Come To Me and a potent Blues For E.J. Six standards adorn this get-together with bassist Gene Perla and drummer Ben Riley, with notably subtle Senensky approaches to Old Folks and Young And Foolish. Perla scores with his stylish Bill’s Waltz and the leader closes with a rousing Bud Lines that would have the late piano legend smiling.

06_interceptionInterception is a new band comprising cousins Marko Ostojic (piano) and Uros Stamenkovic (drums) whose heritage is Macedonian, bass Justin Gray, percussionist Altaf Bwana Moto Vellani and tenor saxophonist Sal Rosselli, who often declaims à la Argentinean firebrand Gato Barbieri. Their debut disc Timing and Distance (www.interceptionmusic.com) starts modestly but improves dramatically with the tune Interception, the first of three Ostojic compositions, in which the tenor storms over heavy, tumultuous rhythm. Then it’s one of three modern jazz rarities, Phineas Newborn’s Sugar Ray, like much here a vehicle for Rosselli to range widely before the pianist shows off his imaginative independence. Nomad wobbles before Rosselli tears into double-time over thrusting grooves, then Ostojic counters with more shrewd notions. The album impresses, if only lasting 46 minutes.

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