01 FORTUNESFortunes
Ways + Simon Toldam
Lorna 12 (brodiewest.com)

Ways is the Toronto duo of alto saxophonist Brodie West and drummer Evan Cartwright, formed in 2012. This is the group’s first recording, and it comes from a Copenhagen session with Danish pianist Simon Toldam. West’s music has a distinct rhythmic focus. His quintet includes two drummers, the octet Eucalyptus adds an additional percussionist and a pianist, and both groups include Cartwright. If a piano might blur instrumental typologies, Toldam’s approach is definitely percussive. The strings are variously prepared to alter decays and ambiguate pitches. West even pushes the saxophone into the percussion family, often working within a restricted pitch range while creating complex staccato patterns.

This rhythmic focus links to a corresponding interest in timbre that immediately distinguishes the trio. The opening Fame contrasts passages of saxophone and prepared piano with passages of drums, with saxophone and piano sounding like next of kin, the former’s pointillist pops synched to the latter’s muffled, echoing, repeated phrase. On Love, the three create a complex pattern while sometimes reducing themselves to single notes: West’s wispy sounds are mere amplified breaths; Toldam’s notes, punctuation marks; Cartwright’s kit, a single drum. 

The activity gradually expands: Money II is a virtual explosion of anxious, rapid-fire saxophone ricocheting through harpsichord-like piano figures and suddenly dense drums, yet still as closely knit as to suggest a single organizing mind on works credited to all three musicians. The ultimate results are as invigorating as they are unusual.

02a GGRIL LaubrockGGRIL Plays Ingrid Laubrock
GGRIL; Ingrid Laubrock
Tour de Bras TDB900039 / Circumdisc microcidi015 (tourdebras.com ; www.circum-disc.com)

Le Rnst
Xavier Charles; Pierre-Yves Martell; Éric Normand; Matija Schellander
Ambiances Magnétiques AM254 CD (actuellecd.com)

Since 2003, Éric Normand has been building a unique musical empire, a thriving hub of free improvisation in the city of Rimouski on the Gaspé Peninsula. There he’s assembled an orchestra, created a record label and festival, and brought major figures to appear as guest soloists and conductors. He’s also managed to arrange performances for that orchestra, GGRIL, or Grande Groupe Régional d’Improvisation Libérée as far afield as Europe, building increasingly strong links.

The measure of Normand’s Rimouski achievement is apparent immediately on GGRIL Plays Laubrock, with the orchestra hosting German-born, New York-resident Ingrid Laubrock, a brilliant saxophonist and improviser whose work extends to conducting Ligeti’s Poème Symphonique for 100 metronomes and her own large ensemble pieces released as Contemporary Chaos Practices (Intakt). Here she leads a 16-member GGRIL in three pieces, covering a series of divergent methodologies.  

It’s a heterodox ensemble mixing electric guitars and bass with winds, strings, a harp and assorted percussion; a lightly plucked cello can share space with droning feedback, but it’s a group in which sharp contrasts take on a unity of their own. The opening Silent Light is a graphic score with inserted conductions, moving between spacious textures and sudden forceful interludes, its delicately plucked strings merging with dense explosions and structural trumpet blasts. Laubrock’s tenor saxophone comes forcefully to the fore in its later moments. Strak Dark is composed, developing passages of muted electronics and pensive bowed strings, while the concluding Palindrome is a collective improvisation with set dynamic markings. The intense performance testifies both to the orchestra’s creative range and Laubrock’s inventiveness with minimalist structural inputs.

02b Le RnstAnother side of Normand is evident in Le Rnst, a single 34-minute improvisation that combines two Quebecois musicians with two Europeans, Austrian Matija Schellander is playing an acoustic double bass, Normand is playing his homemade electric bass as well as objects and fellow Quebecer Pierre-Yves Martel is playing viola de gamba as well as harmonicas. French clarinetist Xavier Charles completes the group.

Recorded in l’église Saint-Merry in Paris, the church’s resonance performs a major role in the performance, adding scale and a special depth, and highlighting a gradual and detailed interaction in which the instruments’ harmonics take on a life of their own. Charles is a great sonic explorer, summoning unknown avian species within the confines of his clarinet, even creating the illusion of an alto or even a bass version of the instrument. The various bass string players are similarly resourceful, sometimes functioning as electronic drones or hand drums, depending on an individual instrument’s characteristics, while an extended passage of spacious long tones manages even to blur their identities with Charles’ clarinet. It’s free improvisation of a rare, sustained and tranquil beauty.

03 Jacek KochanOccupational Hazard
Jacek Kochan & musiConspiracy
Roots 2 Boot Roots2Boot 1912 (jacekkochan.com)

Polish-Canadian drummer, composer, bandleader, arranger and producer Jacek Kochan has gathered several well-renowned musicians together for his newest release – talents such as vocalist and pianist Elizabeth Shepherd, bassists Rich Brown and Adrian Vedady, alto saxophonist Luis Deniz among a long list of other fantastic musicians. This unique album is highly recommended for any jazz fans looking for an interesting take on mixing jazz, improvisation and rock together into an eccentric musical jambalaya. All compositions are written and arranged by Kochan himself, with Marta Kochan penning the lyrics. For anyone looking for a true musical adventure, the album “weaves rhythms and harmonies from around the world into an eclectic and infectious mix sure to please the ears of any adventurous listener.”

The album starts off with the track Fear No More, a slightly haunting piano riff amplified by Shepherd’s vocals. The song progresses into a foot-tapping number with Kochan’s constant drum groove and sizzling solos by Brown on electric bass, Deniz and Petr Cancura on saxophones and Jerry De Villiers Jr. on electric guitar. The title track of the record features a very captivating vocal duet by Shepherd and Sari Dajani and a positively groovy riff thanks to Mo Boo on electric bass. Soliloquy is perfectly fitting for spring with its intense energy and infectious drum and bass rhythms. This record is a perfect mix of contemporary with just enough structure to each piece mixed in to keep the listener enraptured.

04 Mark SeggerLift Off
Mark Segger Sextet
18th Note Records 18-2018-3 (marksegger.com)

Sophisticated, supple and swinging sextet sounds, Lift Off shows off the advanced compositional and arranging skills of Edmonton-based drummer Mark Segger, helped immeasurably by contributions from his five GTA associates. With echoes of feathery neo-classicism mixed with technical explorations, Segger’s eight tunes become even more animated when filtered through brassy provocation from trombonist Heather Saumer and trumpeter Jim Lewis; the expressive inflections of tenor saxophonist/clarinetist Peter Lutek; keyboardist Tania Gill’s note-perfect comping; and the solid grounding of bassist Rob Clutton.

Case in point is For the Bees, with the horns providing the buzzing motif as the theme evolves from a canon with a West Coast Jazz-like feel into more solid sound expressions helped by swirling piano lines and as the climax, pinched notes from Lewis. Meanwhile, despite its title, the concluding Bassline is actually a trombone feature with a mixture of rapid-fire blasts and slinky slurps from Saumer. After the trumpeter’s Mariachi inflections and thick piano patterns expand the tune, a jumpy finale confirms its unforced jollity. Meanwhile, One Note is more complex than imagined, since the emphasis is on each player creating a distinctive variation without violating the unfolding limitations of the slow-motion idea.

Limiting his playing to timekeeping and distinctive accents that help propel the peeps, slurs and trills that personalize his creations, there’s no question of Segger’s mastery of his triple role. The only question is why this authoritative 2016 date took so long to be released.

05 Alain BedardExalta Calma
Alain Bédard Auguste Quartet
Effendi Records FND158 (effendirecords.com)

Gifted Quebecois jazz bassist, composer and president of the forward-thinking Effendi Records, Alain Bédard, has just released the latest project from his Auguste Quartet, which features the equally gifted Félix Stüssi on piano, Mario Allard on soprano and alto saxophones and the facile Michel Lambert on drums. The majority of the intriguing compositions here have been penned by Bédard, with two fine contributions from Stüssi (the evocative Debout au bout du Bout-du-Bank and Insomnia), as well as one gem from J.P. Viret (NY – Pas encore).

The opener, PouTiti, begins with a subtle Afro-Creole beat that underscores the quirky melody, with delightful and melodic soprano sax contributions from Allard. Bédard establishes the steady pulse with his undulating bass lines, while Lambert develops an intricate second-line-inspired framework, and on La Silva Major ll, Bédard’s nimble bass exploration leads the way into an exotic, sonic journey.

On Stüssi’s Debout au Bout du Bout-du-Bank, a unison piano/sax intro segues into a groovy, boppish construct, written to delight the ear and stimulate the imagination. A standout is Queen Ketchup, where a concentric swing propels the players into a symbiotic dance that fully illustrates not only the ego-less democracy of this ensemble, but their ability to communicate almost telepathically. An inspired bass solo punctuates the piece brilliantly. The closer, Insomnia, is the perfect postscript to a thoroughly gorgeous, well-recorded, conceived and performed contemporary jazz recording. With an almost futuristic West Coast Jazz feel, this final track again displays the wide skills of all of the players, captured in the act of creation. Vive Montréal! Vive Québec!

06 Peter CampbellOld Flames Never Die
Peter Campbell
Independent (petercampbellmusic.com)

Respected NYC vocalist, Peter Campbell, has long been a much-loved presence at top cabaret and jazz venues across North America; in 2012 he brought his gorgeous voice and superb musical taste and settled in Toronto. With the release of this new recording, Campbell has gifted us with an inspired smorgasbord of musical delights. Diverse, inter-generational composers and lyricists are represented here, including Dorothy Fields, Cy Coleman, Irving Berlin, Joni Mitchell, Fred Hersch and Oscar Peterson. Campbell also serves as producer/arranger and has assembled a group of fine musicians, with co-arranger Adrean Farrugia on piano, Reg Schwager on acoustic and electric guitars, Ross MacIntyre on bass, Kevin Turcotte on trumpet and flugelhorn and Michael Occhipinti on electric guitar and effects.

The opening track, Stars, is a gem of a tune, written by genius pianist Hersch and the incomparable jazz singer Norma Winstone. Campbell’s pitch-pure instrument soars, bobs and weaves through this contemporary, bossa-infused track and Turcotte’s muted solo is a thing of rare beauty. Also intriguing is Coleman and Carolyn Leigh’s My how the Time Goes By, which reveals a whole different dimension to Campbell, as he dips deep into the blues. 

The title track opens with creative, otherworldly sonic affects which then segue into a film noir-ish, 3am ballad of love, loss and longing, expertly rendered. An absolute stand-out is Farrugia’s breathtaking arrangement of Both Sides Now. His stunningly inventive chord substitutions and Campbell’s skilled vocals have not only created their own musical perspective, but also honoured Mitchell’s immortal classic.

Listen to 'Old Flames Never Die' Now in the Listening Room

07 Emie RousselRythme de Passage
Emie R Roussel Trio
Uni Musiqc UNICD-4720 (emierroussel.com/en/home/)

In traditional larger ensembles the piano, bass and drums feature in what is referred to as the “rhythm section.” Famous trios from Nat Cole to Art Tatum, Paul Bley, Bill Evans, Keith Jarrett and others changed all that. With more adventurous exploration of the instruments, trio music has evolved enormously. Singularity of sound, however, has often remained elusive. Not so with the trio of Emie Rioux-Roussel (piano), Nicolas Bédard (bass) and Dominic Cloutier (drums). 

Rioux-Roussel’s music is born of a fluid relationship between written material and improvisation and dwells in the delicate balance of European and American jazz. Rythme de Passage celebrates a decade of such musical collaboration; its repertoire clearly establishes how the relationship between each musician has evolved from being one in which the fire and brimstone of youth has paved the way for the well-honed values of experience. This is brilliantly caught in the sumptuous music of this record.

The trio operates as a partnership of equals, not as piano and accompaniment. The sound is essentially produced by unamplified, acoustic instruments. Electric instrumentation is unobtrusively integrated in the same spirit with the pianist and bassist principally exploiting it. Its use is sparing and enhances the acoustic instrumentation rather than distracting attention from it. 

This trio music glows in its unique lithe elegance, its warmth and poetic joyousness; the tantalizing symmetry of melody and harmony. A musical adventure which sets off in unexpected directions and always swings exactly right with its own fascinating rhythm.

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