03 Let it ShineLet It Shine! Let It Shine!
Dee Daniels; Denzal Sinclaire
Cellar Music CM111621 (cellarlive.com)

Singers Denzal Sinclaire and Dee Daniels take us to church with their new offering, Let It Shine! Let It Shine! Produced by the renowned jazz bass player, John Clayton, and recorded over several days while the band and crew were living together in a house outside Calgary, the love that went into this project is palpable. With gospel being the predominant style, the Hammond B3 by organ master Bobby Floyd is a centrepiece of the album, but all the players have their moments, such as Herlin Riley’s tambourine flair on some of the spirituals and Nick Tateishi’s groovy guitar work on God, Be in My Head.

Sinclaire’s signature warmth and gently swinging style is a nice contrast to Daniels’ powerful vocals, yet they blend beautifully on their duets. I confess I wasn’t very familiar with Daniels’ work before listening to this album and what a force she is. Her intensity is perfect on the blues-tinged If He Changed My Name while her emotional range is showcased on Sometimes It Snows in April. Sinclaire does a wonderful lilting reimagining of Row, Row, Row Your Boat and a simply gorgeous take of Blessings Upon Blessings. But where the group really seems to hit its groove is on the traditional spirituals like This Little Light of Mine and Every Time I Feel the Spirit. When they let loose and the choir kicks in, I defy even the staunchest non-believers to sit still and not sing along.

04 Schwager OliverSenza Resa
The Schwager/Oliver Quintet
Cellar Music CMR030123 (cellarlive.com)

Much can be said about both guitarist Reg Schwager and saxophonist and flutist Ryan Oliver. Suffice it to say that both musicians have paid their dues in and around Canada and elsewhere with demanding bandleaders. In many respects their wide experience and well-documented discographies make them ideally suited to this ambitious project called Sensa Reza

On sterling repertoire Schwager and Oliver can be heard firing on all cylinders throughout the kinetic-energy-filled music on this album. The ensemble also features the liquid harmonics of pianist Nick Peck, and sizzle and rolling thunder with bassist Rene Worst and drummer Ernesto Cervini. Together, these musicians meld melodies, harmonies and rhythms into songs with a preternatural roar from one chart to the next, giving no quarter and taking no prisoners. 

No wonder that producer Luigi Porretta titled this album Senza Reza, Italian for “no surrender.” This powder-keg music explodes out of the gate with the incendiary Another Happening. There is no letup as the quintet negotiates the fast and oblique-angled rhythmic changes of Rushbrooke. This magnificently frenetic pace continues throughout, changing to elegiac only for Tender Love. The musicians on Senza Reza present an edge-of-the-seat experience from end to end, brilliant in both long-limbed soli and in ensemble.

05 Nimmons TributeVolume 2 – Generational
The Nimmons Tribute
Independent (nimmonstribute.ca)

While F. Scott Fitzgerald may have opined that there are no second acts in American life, apparently there are second, third and even fourth acts possible in the lives of Canadians, particularly if the Canadian in question is the talented and thankfully, still meaningfully recognized and among us, Phil Nimmons. With Volume 2-Generational, The Nimmons Tribute, under the skilful direction of Sean Nimmons (composer, arranger, producer, pianist and grandson of the now centenarian Phil), again aligns the Nimmons name with musical excellence and uncompromising artistry. And while the artistic conceit of the project is clear, do not be fooled into thinking that the album is the work of an ersatz cover band. Quite the opposite is true in fact, as this recording again shines a light on the ongoing relevance of Nimmons’ music. 

Continuing the legacy work that began with 2020’s To The Nth, this 2023 recording treads an appropriately reverential path in its careful handling of Nimmons’ canonic music now interspersed with new compositions by the younger Nimmons, whose fine original contributions to this recording do much to further the legacy of the family name. Supported by an impressive multi-generational cast of jazz musicians representing some of the finest players in Toronto, it is clear that either as a pedagogue (mainly at the University of Toronto, but also dating back to his work at the Advanced School of Contemporary Music), or as a bandleader and jazz community member, Nimmons’ impact on the scene has been considerable and his contributions to the canon of great Canadian jazz sacrosanct. 

Listen to 'Volume 2 – Generational' Now in the Listening Room

06 Toronto ProjectThe Toronto Project
The Composers Collective Big Band
Independent (christianovertonmusic.com/ccbb)

Christian Overton has been a long-term journeyman, paying his proverbial musical dues in ensembles of varying size and celebrity from the city of Toronto and elsewhere. In addition to his renown as a virtuoso trombonist, Overton also runs a music publishing company and is an almost ubiquitous presence in Toronto’s musical scene. This has led to his being at the helm of this creative ensemble – The Composers Collective Big Band – modelled in the spectral shadow of his mentor, trombonist Rob McConnell and the legendary Boss Brass. The Collective now pays tribute to the city of Toronto. 

The Composers Collective comprises 19 rather successful musicians plus six celebrated guests. While such a large group of artistic voices could rub uncomfortable shoulders with one another, the differences in style – sometimes subtle, often striking – enhance the overall impact of these superbly crafted and affecting miniatures making up The Toronto Project. Engaging pieces like the cinematic West Toronto Ode, the tongue-in-cheek Non-Sequitur and postmodern Spadina, draw you inexorably into their sound-world as voiceovers from subway announcers draw you into their subway narratives. 

Torontonians and visitors to the teeming multi-cultural city will be able to put visuals to the miniatures that, collectively, act as a soundtrack for the city. The repertoire includes music by other commendable Canadian composers, capturing atmospheres in music that glows, expertly balanced and alive to Toronto’s unique rhythmic and harmonic nuances. 

Listen to 'The Toronto Project' Now in the Listening Room

07 undoundoneundoundone
Christof Migone; Alexandre St-Onge
ambiences magnetiques (actuellecd.com)

In the final static seconds of undoundone, as the muffled distorted vocalizations cease and the imaginary entity imprisoned in the microphone concedes to an all-encompassing windscreen, a switch is flipped. This can be interpreted in the figurative, as an indicator of change or a fixed transition between states. In this case however it is a computer switch, more specifically a spacebar; as implied by the bluntness of the attack and the timbre of its softer rebound. This is a demarcation device shared with Jay Electronica’s 2020 release Rough Love, opting not to edit out the sound of a decisive spacebar click. Electronica uses the spacebar as a mark of finality, to emphasize that his verse was recorded on a laptop in a single take. It can be either refreshing or jarring to a listener when an artist steps off their pedestal to show this level of vulnerability in the creating process. 

Christof Migone and Alexandre St-Onge’s last ambient pas de deux as “undo” is filled with increasingly brazen spacebars. As if on the heels of a late arrival Néon aléatoire dans le hasard inessentiel begins with the tail end of a sonic happening, initially akin to a wiry bass string being plucked from a singed stream of feedback, while each listen defies categorization until you’re left with a falling shoe. Therein lies the beautiful irony of this project: endless sonic detail to obsess over, the definitive is ultimately undone. 

08 Elizabeth ShepherdThree Things
Elizabeth Shepherd; Jasper Holby; Michael Occhipinti et al
Pinwheel Music PM106CD (elizabethshepherd.com)

Looking for the perfect mix of tunes to accompany these beautiful summer nights? Velvet-voiced vocalist and pianist Elizabeth Shepherd brings a perfect hodgepodge of mellow grooves and feistier melodies on her latest release. Those who have followed Shepherd’s musical journey throughout her various albums know that she is a genre-traveller, bringing a little bit of a different theme to each record. This one takes a foray into the slightly more “religious” aspect of music, depicting “a personal faith that uses music to look beyond oneself, to express gratitude, and to connect — with the divine and with others.” These tunes were born in the depths of the pandemic and provided ample time for self-reflection, which is why the repertoire is inspired by the journey of looking deep into oneself and finding the music within. 

The record features innovativeness through the use of sampling and modernistic melodies, and a hint of Shepherd’s trademark funk-jazz-soul sound through the use of rhythmic bass lines and drum riffs, a perfect example of this combo being the track Time. Further, what leaves an impression on the listener is how each musician’s unique style of playing both shines on its own and blends together seamlessly, with most songs being recorded separately due to restrictions during the pandemic. The result is what Shepherd lovingly deems “a Frankenstein album that’s very different from what I’ve done before.” A great album for the funk and modern jazz lover. 

09a Michel Lambert orangeArs Transmutatoria: Orange, Iku-Turso & Primati Primi
Michel Lambert
Jazz from Rant (michellambert.bandcamp.com)

On Michel Lambert’s website, one can embark on a virtual audiovisual tour of the entire Ars Transmutoria experience spanning from the Rouge, Bleu, Bronze and Orange volumes, available individually or as a deluxe boxed set, and subsequent works expanding on the series. Lambert explains “Ars Transmutatoria is the process of work! Collecting plants, creating scores, work with improvisers, etc... It is an ongoing process with new works to come.” The art gallery format is interesting because intuitively, for a piece to be exhibited alongside other works it demands to be confined to a space; one that allows for distinct statements to be made but requires a level of physical stasis and order. However, in reality this web application is a beautifully liberating way to engage with Lambert’s work, in that it allows for beholders to take a guided tour or roam free on their own accord while equipped with a concise user interface. The museum itself colour-codes all the rooms, which helps illuminate Lambert’s original multi-disciplinary concept of strikingly visual scores, helping listeners abstractly yet thoughtfully navigate between conceptual zones in their mind.  

09b Michel Lambert ikutursoOrange may not be the final room in the tour, but it represents the end of the beginning for this sprawling project. It is perhaps the most ethereal experience of the colour saga. While all volumes up to this point have explored different corners of the Lambert network’s prismatic textural universe, Orange is a deep dive into the emotional power of resonances. Liner notes here take particular pride in the album’s incorporation of the booming low-end warble of the maikotron contrabasse, which could very much devour all it touches, and Lambert unleashes teeth-clattering fury out of its deep drone. However, when transferring registers there is a distinctly phlegmy break in its sustained tones, allowing for it to envelop Raoul Björkenheim’s flowy guitar harmonics rather than engross. In this sense, this almost offers a thesis for the first leg of Ars Transmutoria; painting around the lines rather than purely within, resembling that elusive dustpan-adjacent sketch in the companion art for Un Jour dans la Forêt.

09c Michel Lambert primati primiIku-Turso and Primati Primi mark the beginning of a new era. Lambert says: “The visual scores for those two releases are a bit different. There are 12 of them divided in two recording sessions. One took place in Helsinki, Iku-Turso and the other in Rome, Primati Primi.” Gone are the monochromatic motifs of yesteryear; enter zoomorphism. Resurrected are the poetic pivot points from Rouge, with Iku-Turso proving that Jeanette Lambert’s profoundly tuneful approach to conveying language and image is better than ever. For a specific example, note the musicality of the ng sound in Self-Distancing, in which the word fries as it decays, creating an illusory effect that obscures the phrase’s ending while conveying the universal feeling of lingering on a thought longer than expected. Lambert is all melody while rapper/poet Beamer(!) is decisive, comping rhythms, painting thick lines around Michel Lambert’s trembling snare patterns like if the Orange maikotron could burn books with a tongue so precise it proves that words can briefly take back the mantle from pictures. 

This victory is brief because nary a discipline owns the mantle.

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