01_UglyBeautiesUgly Beauties
Marilyn Lerner; Matt Brubeck;
Nick Fraser
ambiences magnétiques AM 187 CD

This is perceptive chamber improvisation which while finely tuned never loses its spiky edge. The sound of this co-op trio depends on the melding of individual talents. Drummer Nick Fraser colors and amplifies the music rather than settling for mere accompaniment. Cellist Matt Brubeck takes full advantage of his instrument’s dual properties with tremolo quivers sharing space with plucked ostinatos. As she does with her other projects, ranging from Klezmer bands to Queen Mab’s New music, pianist Marilyn Lerner exposes in equal measure staccato swing, lyrical meditations and dissonant inside-piano explorations.

Each trio member composes, although of the 15 tracks, four are group improvisations, while Lerner wrote or co-wrote eight. Two of her compositions highlight her versatility. Like its namesake Harold Lloyd jerks, and jumps, as Lerner swings out with kinetic key fanning as the others scramble Keystone Kops-like behind her. In contrast, Figure and Ground aches with Eastern European melancholy, with the piano theme quickening from adagio to andante as Brubeck alters his harmonic responses to fit.

All strategies are put to good use on tracks such as Zoetrope, an instant composition. As the cellist’s semi-classical spiccato evolves to wide octave leaps, Fraser creates an easy pulse with brushes and Lerner sounds low-frequency patterns as well as recoils from the soundboard. Finally all three combine for an episode of stretched, jagged chording.

Ugly Beauty may be an oxymoron, but in this case the emphasis is more on the noun than the adjective.

Concert note: Marilyn Lerner’s Queen Mab Trio joins forces with Barnyard Drama for an evening of improvisation at the Music Gallery October 2.

New jazz guitar releases are waning, compensated by a tsunami of albums from female singers. Fortunately piano mines are in full production – here’s a quartet of recent entries.

01_mombacho Start with Mike Janzen. Raised and classically trained on the Prairies, talents honed at U of T, he’s settled in Toronto now after a history with the Winnipeg Symphony plus a taste for rock, funk, folk and church music. Janzen plays piano and organ, with a dash of Rhodes, on Mombâcho (Signpost Music SP43-02 www.mikejanzen.ca), his sophomore follow to “Beginnings”. I wish he’d played more organ on these mostly original compositions. Where he’s most effective are the opening Around The Block (piano and organ), the title tune (organ alone) and then a delightful makeover of the movie hit Mrs Robinson where Janzen again doubles. With organ he’s forceful and effective, more à la Lonnie Smith than grits ‘n gravy Jimmy Smith. Big assists come from imaginative bass maestro George Koller and drummers Davide DiRenzo, Ben Riley and young Larnell Lewis. The leader also recruits tenorman Phil Dwyer and guitarist Kevin Breit to heighten lush textures but they’re not absolutely essential. Neither are the string section nor the leader’s strained Chet Baker/Willie Nelson influenced vocals. What’s enthralling is Janzen’s writing, woven with wit and inventiveness, and his playing’s sheer exuberance. His songs have catchy dance-floor hooks like Swankometer and are smartly arranged – plus there’s a deep core of spirituality in his emotional attack, which perhaps explains the meaning of life suggested by the album title. He can also caress keys with clarity on Where It Goes, but fusion-styled Trail Runner definitely doesn’t belong in dentists’ waiting rooms. This felicitous mix of funky chords and deep groove is well worth seeking.

02_julie_lamontagneAn equally welcome surprise is the Julie Lamontagne Trio recording Now What (Justin Time JTR 8535-2 www.julielamontagne.com). The Montrealer has a big Quebec following after work with Radio Canada and pop artists Isabelle Boulay and Bruno Pelletier, but her jazz chops are well established with sympathetic trio-mates Richard Irwin (bass) and Dave Watts (drums). For five of her eight creations she’s brought in American tenor saxist Donny McCaslin and the result is every bit as auspicious as her debut disc “Facing The Truth”, his horn adding heft to a gaggle of pleasing hard-hitters such as the 10 minutes-plus opener Desillusionée. Lamontagne’s a strong performer and arranger, incorporating the complexities of a Fred Hersch with the flair and drive of Lorraine Desmarais. Note her boppish abstract concoction Lost In The Cycle, where her soloing is fleet yet keyboard touch light and lilting. The title piece’s quiet opening soon erupts into a power churn while K.O. and Damn ratchet up the tension, underscore the rampant surprise elements and point to dramatic jazz crammed with joyous spirit.

03_amanda_tosoffWhite Rock, B.C.’s pianist Amanda Tosoff fields her quartet on Wait And See (Cellar Live CL081208 www.cellarlive.com). To West Coast A-listers in her group, saxophonist Evan Arntzen, bass Sean Cronin and drummer Morgan Childs, she’s added ubiquitous trumpeter Brad Turner, who always pumps up energy levels. He’s needed here. She’s composed 9 of 10 tracks for a percussive approach but at times this is more efficient than inspiring, somewhat too polite. The opener’s called Soaring but it doesn’t - yet repeated hearing yields the sense of well-organized balance, deftly shaped melody, all within the subtle deployment of jazz convention. Tosoff won big this year when her team carried off the Grand Prix de Jazz at the Montreal Jazz Festival over 10 finalists - which means at least a new recording. In addition, she and Childs are expected to work in Toronto this winter.

04_dick_hymanAmerican Dick Hyman at 76, with more than 100 albums to his credit, is also the performer of ragtime albums as Knuckles O’Toole, creator of scores for art forms such as Woody Allen films and much more. His solo offering In Concert At The Old Mill (Sackville SACD2) is a 12-song masterpiece through which he conjures the storied past of jazz in the styles of trailblazers such as Fats Waller (lively takes on Ain’t Misbehavin’ and Honeysuckle Rose), Gershwin and even John Lennon (Blackbird). Hyman is a versatile exploiter of what’s good about earlier music, and he tosses in a pair of his own, Ocean Languor done in Duke Ellington style and Pass It Along à la Teddy Wilson. You’ll hear lots of bouncing stride, sustained brilliance and dazzling examinations of harmony, melody and swing. The audience loved it. So will you.

A masterful and distinctive soloist, French bassist Joëlle Léandre is versatile in any musical situation. These impressive CDs showcase her improvisational skills, while elsewhere the conservatory-trained Parisian is as comfortable with notated music, often performing studies written for her by composers such as John Cage and Giacinto Scelsi.

01_Leandre_IsraelOne of the two CDs that make up Joëlle Léandre Live in Israel (Kadima KCR 17 www.kadimacollective.com) verifies her solo skill. This showcase includes exposition, theme variations and finale, without being conventionally programmatic. Equally strident and soothing, her string strokes include thick rhythmic scrubs and spiccato patterning that produce not only initial tones, but also corresponding echoes. Lyrical and romantic on one hand, her harsh string sweeping also expands with snaps, taps and banjo-like frailing. Sometimes she vocalizes as she plays, adding another dimension to the performance. Commanding on her own, she inserts herself into groups without fissure. In a sextet on the companion CD featuring Israeli reedists, her triple-stopped advances lock in with the horns’ contrapuntal key-slipping and trill spraying. Never upsetting balanced reed bites, her sul tasto expansions amplify the crunching dynamics of pianist Daniel Sarid, while her wood-slapping pulse operates in tandem with the flams and bounces of drummer Haggai Fershtman. In trio interaction with bassist JC Jones and saxophonist Stephen Horenstein, she lets the other bassist time-keep with col legno stops, while she string-snaps and pumps. Her bel canto warbling not only adds another texture, but also joins in double counterpoint with the saxophonist’s rubato tonguing.

02_Leandre_ParkerMore reductive, Joëlle Léandre & William Parker Live at Dunois (Leo CD LR 535 www.leorecords.com) captures a bravura showcase for Léandre and Manhattan’s William Parker, whose jazz-honed techniques are as celebrated as hers. Performance roles are defined: Parker thumps, walks and slaps his bass in pedal point, while Léandre uses her bow to swirl rococo tinctures that encompass agitated peaks and valleys of flying spiccato. This isn’t a brawl but an expression of mutual respect. At points both combine strokes as polyphonic textures rappel every which way. Reaching an intermezzo of floating concussion and friction, the two fuse as if they were playing an eight-stringed bass. Unbroken portamento runs echoing in double counterpoint, although each maintains individual identity.

As with the Stone Quartet in Guelph with whom she performs this month, Léandre has an affinity for 04_Leandre_Lewisbrass and piano players. Joëlle Léandre-George Lewis Transatlantic Visions (RogueArt ROG-0020 www.roguart.com) and Joëlle Léandre & Quentin Sirjacq Out of Nowhere (Ambiance MagnétiqueAM184 www.actuellecd.com) confirm this. The firs03_Leandre_Sirjacqt is a meeting between the bassist and American trombonist Lewis, with whom she has worked for decades. Sirjacq is a French pianist she has just begun to partner. Familiarity and novelty produce equivalently outstanding CDs. Chamber music-like in its initial delicacy, her duet with the pianist becomes intense as vibrating bass harmonies encourage Sirjacq to toughen his output. Soon her jagged arpeggios and glissandi are met by metronomic pounding, key fanning and internal string plucking from the pianist. Anything but equal temperament, stopped soundboard buzzes on Ruin are joined by church-bell-like gongs from Sirjacq, as Léandre doubles her sul ponticello bowing, while growling nonsense syllables. In the penultimate Awakening her quivering bowing is bisected by a flurry of kinetic key patterns. Finally Closing mates her flamenco-like rubs with his construction of an edifice of expansive arpeggios and cascading chording, reintroducing the theme for musical closure.

In contrast to the tentative exposition on “Out of Nowhere”, Léandre and Lewis are fully attuned from the get-go and stay that way. Announcing herself with a guttural snarl, at points she vocalizes alongside her string strokes. In addition to sweeping glissandi and staccato string-scouring, Léandre yowls as Lewis’ lows gutbucket tones. In response to her sul tasto runs, the trombonist exposes rotund tones and rubato yelps. If he showcases subterranean grace notes from inside his horn, she smacks the strings col legno. Sounding as if they could stretch their instruments’ tessitura indefinitely, they reach a climax at the half-way point as glottal stops from Lewis are complemented by pumped arpeggios and contrapuntal strumming from Léandre.

But perhaps the most palpable testimony to Léandre’s sonic versatility is the tracks she shares with oud player/vocalist Sameer Makhoul on “Live in Israel”. Despite the oud’s five pairs of strings compared to her four, she manages to advance buzzing timbres that perfectly match his breakneck finger-picking. Not only that, but her rhythmic breaths and free-form chanting complement his vocalized glossolalia so that the two sound as if they’re performing a Middle Eastern operetta.

Concert Notes: Joëlle Léandre performs at the Guelph Jazz Festival on September 10 as part of The Stone Quartet and on September 12 in a solo recital.

06_Jean_DeromePlates-formes et Traquenards
Jean Derome et les Dangereux Zhoms +7
Victo cd 114 (www.victo.qc.ca)

Two suites for 12-piece polyphonic orchestra composed by Montreal-based reedist Jean Derome exhibit his cunning musicality on this notable CD. A mainstay of Victoriaville, Quebec’s Festival International de Musique Actuelle (FIMAV) – where the CD was recorded – Derome titles Plates-formes with a pun on the name of the organization which oversees the festival. Traquenards celebrates another musical organization, which like FIMAV, celebrated its 25th birthday when this recording was made.

Augmenting the five-piece Dangereux Zhoms with additional horns and strings, ensures that both suites emphatically balance on the edge between improvised and notated sounds, as well as extrapolating timbres that add a tincture of rock’s rhythmic muscle, vocalist Joane Hétu’s Dadaesque intonation, plus crackles, hisses and LPs’ music from Martin Tétreault’s turntables.

Consisting of multiple jump-cut variations, contrasts and connections characterize both suites. Expressively tonal and unfussy, Derome’s themes suggest folk songs and Tin Pan Alley ditties. Yet he constantly undercuts lyricism with asides and interpolations such as his own jutting alto saxophone phrasing, gutbucket echoes from trombonist Tom Walsh, plus whining frails and strident string-snapping from guitarist Bernard Falaise. Maintaining the compositions’ equilibrium, despite altissimo disruptions and tutti explosions where the players wallow in every sort of abrasive shriek, are Guillaume Dostaler’s pounding piano syncopation and the measured ruffs and back beat of drummer Pierre Tanguay.

Pastiches as well as interludes, Derome’s compositions are memorable for architectural soundness, but arranged inimitably so that their most satisfying interpretation come from this band.

Concert Notes: Jean Derome et les Dangereux Zhoms +7 play at the Music Gallery on September 9 and at the Guelph Jazz Festival September 10.

Ken Waxman

05_real_divasCafé Society
Real Divas
E1 Entertainment KEC-CD-9196


Real Divas started out eight years ago as a showcase every Tuesday night at a Toronto club hosted by musician, band leader, festival organizer, broadcaster, photographer (let me see, have I left anything out?) and all round good guy, Bill King. Designed to give a stage to local singers, both established and new to the scene, the Real Divas evenings saw now-notable singers such as Emilie-Claire Barlow and Sophie Milman take their initial steps into jazz performance. Those nights are history now, but the project and goal behind it live on under King’s guidance. The current incarnation comprises four young (some still teenage) vocalists — Kinga Victoria, Sophie Berkal-Sarbitt, Lauren Margison and Josephine Biundo (and guest Jessica Lalonde) — who come from a range of musical disciplines (including opera) and locales (Winnipeg, Poland), but who share an appreciation for good songwriting.

Singing individually and as an ensemble on “Café Society” the group covers Bacharach, Ellington, Bernstein and pop hits such as First Time Ever I Saw Your Face, bringing new interpretations and layers of musical styles. Hence a Latin version of Tea for Two, swinging Come Fly With Me and sultry Lazy Afternoon all cozy up together here. The vocal arrangements are not overly complex, but the singers achieve a good blend when needed, then let their lovely voices and individuality shine on the solo numbers.

Cathy Riches

For Now
Peter Hill Quintet
Independent PCH0901


Pianist Peter Hill has been working as a sideman in the greater Toronto area for roughly two and a half decades. With a piano style steeped in early swing with shades of boogie-woogie, Hill is especially sought-after as an accompanist who can play virtually any song in any key without a chart. Previously associated with Jeff Healey, current and long-time collaborator with Laura Hubert, the house pianist for Lisa Particelli’s vocalist-friendly Girls Night Out Jazz Jam and so on, accomplished Hill also holds a PhD in the mathematical field of Low-dimensional topology. His inventive arrangements and originals make their recording debut right here. Now, for “For Now”, Hill has hired a hot band comprised of some of Hogtown’s hippest cats: Bob Brough on alto and tenor saxes, Chris Gale on tenor and baritone saxes, Brandi Disterheft on bass and Sly Juhas on drums. This swingin’ quintet is super tight with a driving energy that’s consistently engaging. Highlights from the varied program include Dexter Gordon’s chestnut Cheesecake, the Bacharach & David famous Alfie and Eden Ahbez’s classic minor lament, Nature Boy. Particularly droll is a modern treatment of the historic Duke Ellington/Bubber Miley composition, Black and Tan Fantasy. Of Peter Hill’s originals, Amico’s, Party of Four is a standout complete with a dazzling Disterheft solo.

Never judge a CD by its cover. For me the art direction is both wacky and tacky, the recording neither. Highly recommended.

Ori Dagan

Live in Vancouver
Richard Whiteman Trio
Cornerstone CRST CD 131


Pianist Richard Whiteman has been working as a leader and sideman in the greater Toronto area for over twenty years. A polished player whether you prefer bebop or a ballad, Whiteman has recorded six times under his own name, including the aptly titled “Solo Piano” and the critically acclaimed “Grooveyard”. As a leader he works frequently in the tradition of piano, bass & drums, arrangements echoing the glorious trios of Peterson, Evans and Jamal. After recording on the Cornerstone label with such Canadian luminaries as bassists Mike Downes and Neil Swainson and drummers John Sumner and Barry Elmes, his latest trio is completed by Brandi Disterheft on the bass and Sly Juhas on the skins. The pair share an exciting chemistry that reflects countless gigs played since their years at Humber College early in the new millennium. Whiteman gives both Disterheft and Juhas generous time to shine on this fine live recording. The eight tracks represent the best of what was recorded by Cory Weeds at The Cellar over two nights in February, 2008. An 11’39” take on I’m Confessin’ gives each player a nice opportunity to stretch out, the original Blues for Jervis is a cheerful one and The Song is You bops blissfully to close. Whiteman, Disterheft and Juhas are all at the top of their game throughout. Although not a consistently hollering bunch, the audience applauds appreciatively, enhancing the experience for the players and now the listener.

Ori Dagan

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