06 Cory WeedsDay by Day
Cory Weeds Quartet
Cellar Music CM082619 (cellarlive.com) 

Cory Weeds has made so many recordings with David Hazeltine that you wouldn’t be wrong in assuming that the two are musical twins. Day by Day offers more evidence of this. The recording, an exquisite borehole into the jazzy stratum, reveals a treasure of both standards and original material, masterfully arranged by Hazeltine. Joining in the festivities are two other West-Coast masters: percussion colourist Jesse Cahill and Ken Lister, a bassist with a glorious rumble. Far from being on the sidelines, they play themselves into the proverbial thick of things.

Trios have captured our musical imagination from Art Tatum to Oscar Peterson, Keith Jarrett and Jimmy Giuffre among others. But this quartet does so too, reminding us of another classic quartet where magic occurred time and again. Weeds’ alto saxophone and Hazeltine’s piano are the lead voices and they sing mighty songs – song after song – as they jostle and joust with one another. Two bodies, one brain is a phrase that comes to mind. Once Blues de Troye kicks things off there’s no stopping them. This repertoire is riveting from start to finish. Not many recordings have that quality these days.

Hazeltine’s arrangements ensure that there is plenty of showtime for all four musicians. The joys of this music are also heartily celebrated by Cahill whose fizzing brushes and sticks are goaded by Lister’s gravitational bass. Put this all together and indeed you have the classic Canadian quartet.

07 Johnny SummersBaker’s Dozen – Celebrating Chet Baker
Johnny Summers
Cellar Music CM100819 (cellarlive.com) 

How timely, amid this global pandemic, with folks who have never so much as turned on an oven now cultivating sourdough starters and baking up a storm, that I have the pleasure of reviewing Calgary-based trumpet player and vocalist, Johnny Summers’ Baker’s Dozen: Celebrating Chet Baker. Most notable, and impressive, about Summers’ tribute to the jazz great is that rather than emulate Baker’s style, he takes us on a refreshing journey of some of Baker’s classics, putting his own distinctive spin on each track, of which there are 13 (as you likely surmised by the album title). 

Take My Funny Valentine for example. While Baker’s approach is spare and ruminative, here Summers ingeniously employs the talents of both a string quartet and the 17-piece Calgary Jazz Orchestra, which he founded in 2004 and leads with his trumpet. The result is a lush and layered arrangement, featuring Summers’ warm, inviting vocals and beautiful horn work.

Other lovely, and lively, turns can be heard in the strictly instrumental versions of Time After Time and You’d Be So Nice To Come Home To, where the bass, piano and drums really swing, and Summers’ solo work is stellar!

Summers’ vocal work on Embraceable You and You Go To My Head is also outstanding: luxurious, sensitive and sensual; some serious crooning there. So, while you’re waiting for that loaf of sourdough to rise, kick back with a julep or two and enjoy some time with this delectable Baker’s Dozen.

08 Grdina ResistResist
Gordon Grdina Septet
Irabragast Records 012 (gordongrdinamusic.com) 

Vancouver-based guitarist and oud player Gordon Grdina has emerged forcefully over the past decade, whether integrating jazz and Middle Eastern music or blending free jazz and fusion with a series of all-star bands. Resist is his most ambitious recording to date, both as composer and bandleader. The group combines two of Grdina’s Vancouver ensembles, his trio with bassist Tommy Babin and drummer Kenton Loewen and the East Van Strings with violinist Jesse Zubot, violist Eyvind Kang and cellist Peggy Lee. There’s also a special addition, saxophonist Jon Irabagon, whose intensity and invention often come to the fore.    

The title track is the main event, a 23-minute suite that begins with an elegiac string passage that compounds a distinctive musical language from the Second Viennese School and microtonal elements that suggest Middle Eastern modes. Other movements include an oud interlude that dramatizes an intense isolation, while passages of tumult are focused by Irabagon’s inventive squall. At the conclusion, rising string patterns express resolute determination.

Two other tracks isolate and develop materials from Resist: Resist the Middle intensifies a central passage, with Irabagon and the classical strings slashing and twisting through one another’s phrases; Ever Onward revisits a passage of the strings and oud with a stark, welling drama. There are also two distinct pieces that hold promise for the future: an evocative classical guitar composition, Seeds 11, and the incandescent free jazz of Varscona from Grdina, Babin, Loewen and Irabagon.

download 14Irrational Revelation & Mutual Humiliation
Peripheral Vision
Independent (peripheralvisionmusic.com)

Peripheral Vision could be described as “cerebral grooving jazz” where any of the tunes can effortlessly change course throughout their performance. The catchy titles (Mutual Humiliation Society, Neo-Expressionism for Pacifists or Title Crisis), off-kilter melodies and changing textures show this group is always thinking the big post-bop jazz thoughts. Compositions are by guitarist Don Scott and bassist Michael Herring. Drummer Nick Fraser is always highly inventive and works to actively shape the music, dynamically changing the beat and inflections from one moment to the next. Trevor Hogg’s saxophone lines are restrained and sinewy combining melodic patterns with a touch of swagger. 

Some highlights include Brooklyn’s Bearded which was inspired by some Eastern European jazz heard at the famous Brooklyn music venue Barbès. It begins with a moody sax line over top of a lazily contrapuntal guitar, then works into an elegant sax solo, a very beautiful, circus-like whirl of major key sound in the middle and into an intense, yet precise, guitar solo. For Kent Monkman is breezy with an elegant melody over a fast walking bass. Michael Davidson’s vibraphone adds a kind of 50s Mad Men feel so the tune mixes periods just like the famous artist does with his paintings. Irrational Revelation is this group’s fifth album and a double one at that; it offers delightful surprises and great playing on every track.

10 SupernovaSupernova 4
Félix Stüssi; Jean Derome; Normand Guilbeault; Pierre Tanguay
Effendi Records FND159 (effendirecords.com/en/album/supernova4)

Montreal-based musicians Jean Derome (alto/baritone saxophone, flute), Normand Guilbeault (double bass) and Pierre Tanguay (drums) were approached by Swiss/Montreal-based pianist/composer/producer Félix Stüssi to combine musical forces to perform his works. Recorded live in 2019 at Montreal’s Chapelle historique du Bon-Pasteur and at Oscar Peterson Concert Hall, this is out-of-this-world uplifting music.

Stüssi’s compositional style encompasses the traditional to modern jazz with tons of inherent improvisational opportunities. Highlights include the opening track, T.R.T (Tapir Racing Team) an upbeat, happy, tonal toe-tapping tune, with contrasting slower solo sections, showcasing formidable tight ensemble work and solo musicianship. The exuberant Bagatelle features an underlying humorous jazz feel contrasted by intermittent slow rubato sections and Stüssi’s flashy, fast-trilled piano solos. Guilbeault’s contrasting high and deep low resonating held and plucked bass solo opens Urubu, a more atonal piece highlighted by quasi-unison piano/sax lead-line playing and subsequent full-band loud section. The closing more modern-sounding Super 8 features more solos and a full band finishing with a bang and cymbal crash. Also included is Jean Derome’s composition La Nouvelle Africaine which opens with an extended Tanguay drum kit solo with singing cymbal effects, leading to upbeat clear ensemble playing and a rapid, intense, clever Derome sax solo. 

Supernova 4 with its unique compositions and solo/ensemble performances are equal if not superior to April’s supermoon or a supernova star blast – memorable, breathtaking and powerful.

13 GorillaBrain Drain
Gorilla Mask
Clean Feed CF 540 CD (cleanfeed-records.com/product/brain-drain/)

With the power of an oil derrick pumping, Gorilla Mask’s Peter Van Huffel uses his baritone saxophone throughout to unearth subterranean textures, in order to extract robust dynamics that slam against Roland Fidezius’ electric bass hammering and percussionist Rudi Fischerlehner’s comprehensive battering. All eight tracks composed for this Berlin-based band by Kingston, Ontario-native Van Huffel straddle metal force and improvisational exploration. Despite leaning towards the former, the trio never strays into excess.

Sonically defining the difference between a headbanger and a Hoser on a track named for the Ontario taunt, the narrative of sutured bass and saxophone outbursts are almost too thick to be partitioned. But the drummer’s oblique ruffs and rebounds retain a whiff of the unexpected. In the same way, Fidezius uses effects to suggest ringing guitar-like licks on tunes like Barracuda; and the saxophonist sometimes turns from baritone rumbles or altissimo squeaks to airy alto saxophone trills.

Additionally the group is versatile enough to brush against bedrock funk on Caught in a Helicopter Blade, as reed honks, drum pops and string sluices up the excitement level. But the best demonstration of balancing insight and intensity comes on the extended Drum Song where intense kinetics radiate from Fischerlehner’s cymbal clashes, bell ringing and rim shots, as electronic-fattened dual reed timbres and bass twangs steamroll the theme forward.

While Canada’s musical loss may be Germany’s gain, the result is a notable and individual band identity.

Despite the difficulty of organizing large ensembles, determined musicians strive to realize the unique mixture of expanded colours and rhythm only available from this format. Although finances mean that the groups here are either occasional or organized for specific projects, what they lack in permanence they make up for in quality presentations.

01 FireOrkCD002The most topical program, sadly related to the March 29 death at 86 of Polish composer Krzysztof Penderecki, is Actions (Rune Grammofon RCD 2212 runegrammofon.com). Conceived of before his death and eagerly encouraged by the composer, it’s the first performance of Penderecki’s mixture of improvisation and composition since its premiere in 1971. With the same number and almost exact instrumentation of the initial band, the 14-piece Scandinavian Fire! Orchestra, conducted by baritone saxophonist Mats Gustafsson, devises a personal interpretation. Negotiating the peaks and valleys of the creation, the group works its way from an introduction heavily weighted towards growling brass from tubist Per-Åke Holmlander and trombonist Maria Bertel to a protracted silence broached by muted tones from one of three trumpeters and propelled into a steadying groove from bassists Elsa Bergman and Torbjörn Zetterberg. From then on, until a semi-climax at the midpoint, fruitful dialogues emerge involving distorted runs from guitarist Reine Fiske and Gustafsson’s low-pitched baritone slurs. A middle section driven by kettle-drum thumps and gong resonations from Andreas Werliin plus Christer Bothén’s bass clarinet continuum is further propelled by Alexander Zethson’s ecclesiastical organ pumps that judder just below the polyphonic surface. Overblowing snorts from Gustafsson coupled with surging glossolalia from the other reeds lead to a final section of pumping guitar distortion and a capillary explosion. With the massed instruments’ layered top, middle and bottom textures equally audible as a crescendo, brief guitar frails and organ washes signal the finale.

02 BothTrueCD003Moving from the music of an older Polish composer to that of two young Canadians is Both Are True (Greenleaf Music GRE CD 1075 greenleafmusic.com) by the Webber/Morris Big Band. The 19-piece ensemble is named for its co-leaders, now Brooklyn-based. Anna Webber and Angela Morris both compose, play tenor saxophone and flute, and split conducting chores. The other players are some of New York’s top young veterans. Lighter in tone and movement than the Fire! Orchestra’s interpretation, tracks range from the chipper to the atmospheric. The brief Webber-composed Rebonds for instance, has a slinky cartoon villain-like theme personified by the slow acceleration of guitarist Dustin Carlson’s distorted pedal frails among low-pitched snorts by four trombonists. In contrast Webber’s extended Reverses is a pensive mid-range creation of reed gurgles complemented by a rococo-like brass arrangement that slides via Marc Hannaford’s piano comping into a modulated smorgasbord of swing effects, further opened up midway through. Trumpeter Kenny Warren emphasizes flutter tonguing and grace notes upfront as textures from the other sections couple and separate in the background. A complete change of pace, Morris’ And it Rolled Right Down suggests what would happen if a C&W ditty was interpreted by crack improvisers. Interpolating a marching band motif, the piece lopes along as clarinetist Adam Schneit and bass trombonist Reginald Chapman face off earnestly before a funky plunger-muted snarl from trumpeter Jake Henry confirms the piece’s links to jazz. Elsewhere brief unaccompanied sax duets confirm the co-leaders’ improvisational skills. Overall, slick arrangements make the band’s program audacious as well as animated.

03 SupersonicCD004Another large group dedicated to the interpretation of a single composer’s work is Norwegian percussionist Gard Nilssen’s Supersonic Orchestra (ODIN CD 9572 odinrecords.com). With If You Listen Carefully the Music Is Yours, the 16-piece group blasts through six Nilssen tunes with the speed, exuberance and ferment that would have been apparent if Maynard Ferguson’s flashy big bands had included more sophisticated improvisers. The band’s cumulative textures are also idiosyncratic since the Supersonic features only two trumpets and one trombone along with seven saxophonists, some of whom double on clarinets, plus three double bassists and three drummers. Despite refined string patterning from some of Scandinavia’s most accomplished bassists, the band’s lack of chordal instruments means that melodic twists and turns are most often marked by short contemplative sequences that stand out from the lusty arrangement. At the same time a constant glaze of group stimulation permeates the live disc, from the introductory Premium Processing Fee to the concluding Bytta Bort Kua Fikk Fela Igjen. The first is notable as skyscraper-high trumpet tones and riffing reeds answer bass drum and cymbal patterns before settling into descriptive tongue slaps and slurs from baritone saxophonist André Roligheten and his section mates. Meanwhile the concluding Norwegian-language-titled track finds everyone slapping, scraping, bouncing and ratcheting additional percussion instruments alongside the drummers for a dancing Scandinavian variant on Afro-Cuban beats. Low-pitched brass stutters later push the narrative into an explosive, multi-vibrated finale. Along the way, players pilot a path that draws equally on John Coltrane’s large group work, Norwegian folk melodies, unforced Count Basie-like swing and African-oriented percussion. Almost all of the soloists distinguish themselves, but with so many playing similar instruments, it’s impossible to praise the unaccompanied bassist or bassists who bridge the rhythmic gap in the middle of a couple of numbers or to whom to ascribe the standout mellow tenor sax musings or the twists and tongue-slapping turns of higher-pitched alto saxophone excitement.

04 SoundTapcd005That isn’t the problem with Sound Tapestries (SoLyd Records SLR 0440 vladimirtarasov.com), since all soloists in the Krugly Band Orchestra (sic) are named as the 17-piece ensemble plays a multi-hued, multi-sectional composition by percussionist Vladimir Tarasov. A former member of the USSR’s legendary Ganelin Trio, the drummer now splits his time between Lithuania and California. However this complex and cadenced performance features all Russian musicians and was recorded in Tasarov’s birth place of Arkhangelsk. Although like the Supersonic Orchestra three drummers are featured, the swish of cymbal, hand patting and cross rumbles are used throughout as piquant accents rather than the whole sonic meal, and integrated within the band’s well-modulated execution of the material. Especially prominent is the funky bass line of Denis Shushkov, whose heavy gauge strokes cement the rhythmic base. While he holds the bottom, the most frequent arrangement involves contrapuntal challenges as soloists alternate with full-band responses. Another standout is pianist Grigory Sandomirsky. He’s equally adept at dense swirling dynamics, as on Tapestry #7, which mates a Latin-like groove with Eastern Bloc dance rhythms, the crushing rock-like thrums of guitarist Tim Dorofeev and the yearning tones of Anton Kotikov’s Armenian double reed, the duduk. Later, Sandomirsk’s pensive and reflective chording is accompanied with taste and sensitivity by drummer Tarasov, Oleg Yudanov and Peter Ivshin in a moderated fashion on Tapestry #3 (for S.J.F), a showpiece that opens up into a sympathetic duet between the breathy expression of tenor saxophonist Alexey Kruglov and the buttery triple-tongued affiliations of trombonist Maxim Piganov. The climactic Tapestry #6 brings the polyphonic program to a masterful close as trumpet squeals and reed spurts relax from shrill scattershot explosions to casually swinging motion alongside flexible percussion claps.

05 AntropologyCD006The most unusual use of a large ensemble however is a two-CD set by the Anthropology Band (Discus 90 CD discus-music.co.uk). On the first disc a septet of mostly rhythm instruments interprets British saxophonist Martin Archer’s 15-part suite. On the second CD, ten brass and woodwind players, with Archer and trumpeter/flugelbornist Charlotte Keeffe the only holdovers, add carefully arranged tonal extensions to the same pieces. The upshot is two vastly dissimilar variations. Awash with Pat Thomas’ shaking keyboard inflections, Corey Mwamba’s crafty vibraphone accents, plus interconnecting rhythm stabilization from drummer Peter Fairclough and bass guitarist Dave Sturt, the effervescent first program vamps along with space made for slurry half-valve effects from Keeffe and waves of corkscrew multiphonics from Archer. Even as the theme is shattered with brief solos, a repetitive ostinato is maintained with shuffle drumbeats and chunky guitar twangs from Chris Sharkey. While forceful beats also keep the sequences spiralling with blues-jazz-rock affiliations, a snowflake sprinkle of vibe resonation and moderated flugelhorn fluttering maintain a lyrical centre. The swinging finale emphasizes both currents with aggressive drumbeats and distorted guitar runs as prominent as melodic Gabriel-styled trumpet blasts. Adding nine additional players transforms the suite. Evolving at a swifter pace, intertwined horn textures and solos fill in the spaces left by echoing bass lines and guitar splatters. With the subsequent sonic fullness taking on more obvious pastoral effects via orchestral instruments like Mick Somerset’s bubbly flutes. Later though, before altissimo reed screams and brassy emphasis make interpretations overly cacophonous, tracks are rhythmically grounded with logical forward motion. This strategy is most obvious on People Talking Blues as shaking keyboard riffs and pointed guitar patternings are subordinated by Nathan Bettany’s nasal oboe tones and Keeffe’s mellow flugelhorn until the rhythm unveils a cymbal-clashing climax. From that point on, the narratives rebound between sympathetic horn input including the trumpets’ bugle-like pitches and five-part reed section harmonies on one hand and a hypnotic bass guitar beat and chugging percussion on the other. With whistling horn slurs and stutters, frailing guitar licks and intensified tremolos from the rhythm section, the orchestral version of the concluding The Wrong Stuff 4 U is infused with the same equilibrium between rhythm and refinement as the septet variation. 

A mature demonstration of how expanded instrumental groups can illuminate and intensify a musical program is illustrated not only on this disc but on the others as well. 

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