Since jazz’s beginnings, the measure of a musician’s talent has not only been how well the person improvises, but also how he or she interprets standards. In the 21st century a standard song has evolved past its Tin Pan Alley origins, plus distinctive purely jazz compositions have entered the canon. But while more conservative players treat standards as immutable, the CDs here are noteworthy because their creators distinctively re-imagine standards.

waxman 01 obligatoIn an exercise that’s breathtakingly difficult, drummer Tom Rainey and his quintet take a collection of hyper-familiar tunes and upend them in such a way that it sounds as if they’re being played for the first time. Rainey, plus Canadian pianist Kris Davis, bassist Drew Gress, trumpeter Ralph Alessi and saxophonist Ingrid Laubrock, turn Obbligato (Intakt Records CD 227 into a showcase for new ideas. Starting with the hoary Just in Time, the five cannily layer dissonant variations onto the basic theme before conjuring up the head. These restructurings take in songs by Duke Ellington, Dave Brubeck, Jerome Kern and Jule Styne among others. Secret Love, for example is given a sharpened, stop-time treatment, with an extended octave-jumping solo from Laubrock, decorated with smeared triplets from Alessi. Meanwhile whinnying brass and cymbal swishes back up steady vamping on You Don’t Know What Love Is until the pressurized torque explodes into the muted melody. With sophisticated timing, Davis shows her skills by plucking the recognizable melody of Reflections, while the saxophonist is constructing a related buoyant theme out of pinpointed smears and rests. Most extraordinarily, before the trumpeter creates a quivering impressionistic variant of Prelude to a Kiss, Rainey validates his percussion refinement, with one of his few solos. Putting in motion many parts of his kit, he moves the narrative forward without turning to bombast.

waxman 02 riversidescdAnother variation on this theme is interpreting another musician’s compositions while seamlessly adding your own themes in a similar style. That’s what American trumpeter Dave Douglas and Montreal reedist Chet Doxas do on Riverside (Greenleaf Music GLM 1036 A salute to the music of influential clarinetist Jimmy Giuffre, the quartet, filled out by electric bassist Steve Swallow and drummer Jim Doxas, Chet’s brother, performs tracks from this CD at The Rex on April 19. Although New Englander Douglas and Quebecer Doxas come from dissimilar backgrounds than Texas-born Giuffre, their originals reflect the same sort of Southwestern spaciousness in which the clarinetist’s trios specialized. Their sophisticated transformations are substantiated by slotting Douglas and Doxas tunes near Giuffre’s. Maintaining a loping swing throughout, the quartet also redefines a Giuffre standard like The Train and the River by carving out parts for drums and trumpet, unlike the original. Making the melody speedier and hard hitting doesn’t destroy its fragile beauty though. Cantering along via the drummer’s clip-clops and Swallow’s guitar-like plucks, Douglas’ Front Yard attains the same easy swing in which Giuffre specialized, harmonizing his muted trumpet and Doxas’ chalumeau clarinet. Doxas’ extended Sing on the Mountain/Northern Miner reflects his command of the moderato idiom as well, as contrapuntal trumpet tones and leisurely tenor sax slurs intertwine. Nonetheless, the quartet’s originality is confirmed with Douglas’ Backyard, a vamping blues line. While Douglas’ brassy tongue slurps and the drummer’s rapping backbeat create a tune much weightier than anything by Giuffre, its contrapuntal call-and-response organization maintains the mood.

waxman 03 luce bentFormulating a variation of this concept is Dutch pianist Michiel Braam, whose arrangements for his Flex Bent Braam septet on Lucebert (BBBCD 16 re-energizes jazz and pop standards while linking them with eight originals based on epigrams by an innovative poet whose nom-de-plume was Lucebert. Don’t fear the highbrow trappings however; during the CD`s almost 80 minutes the pianist stitches together a sincerely jaunty program of his own shrewd compositions plus tunes by Thelonious Monk, Cole Porter and Dizzy Gillespie among others. Mocking and celebrating the standards in equal measure, the band finds unexpected echoes in many of the often-played themes. Get out of Town for instance could be the product of a small swing-era combo with slick piano glissandi and Joost Lijbaart’s drums swaying like a metronome. Straight No Chaser is set off with a treatment confirming its dance-like undercurrent via smacked cymbals and snorting work from altoist Bart van der Putten and baritonist Oleg Hollmann. The concept is enhanced when Braam’s compositions are examined alongside the standards. Gentle and ornamental with brassy expressiveness, his Drift-Urge is architecturally organized the same way as I May Be Wrong/So What? which follows it. Trombonist Wolter Wierbos’ slurs plus Angelo Verploegen’s whinnying trumpet create a distinctive overlay as the heaving reeds and pounding piano keys attach Braam’s initial melody to the familiar tune structures, while Tony Overwater’s bass playing confirms the rhythmic suture. Plunger trombone smears, high-pitched trumpet triplets and sharp alto sax bites are exciting in themselves during Zorg-Care; yet they remind the ear of Let’s Cool One which precedes it. All in all, swing plus significance is applied to every number.

waxman 04 whammieAnother standards’ challenge crucially met on The Whammies: Play the Music of Steve Lacy Volume 2 (Driff Records CD 1303 is remaining individual during a complete program of one composer’s tunes. With soprano saxophonist Lacy, one of jazz’s idiosyncratic stylists whose his compositions are enduringly linked to his performances, The Whammies’ interpretations are simultaneously novel and deferential. It helps that alto saxophonist Jorrit Dijkstra studied with Lacy; drummer Han Bennink played with Lacy; and pianist Pandelis Karayorgis has an intuitive command of Monk’s work, which influenced Lacy’s writing. You can measure this by comparing how The Whammies handle Monk’s Shuffle Boil and Lacy’s Monk-dedication, Hanky-Panky. Balancing supple lyricism and whinnying trombone cries plus Karayorgis’ runs on the first, the band expresses source fealty. Whereas by emphasizing violinist Mary Oliver’s arpeggiated sweeps and trombonist Jeb Bishop’s low-pitched smears Hanky-Panky becomes the next step away from Monk’s music. A comparable neat trick turns up on Somebody Special which Lacy composed for Duke Ellington’s vocalist Ivie Anderson. As Bennink’s rolls and rim shots reference swing band rhythms, Oliver’s spiccato suggests both Anderson’s light-paced singing plus Ray Nance’s fiddle tricks with Ellington, while Bishop’s deep-dish slurs relate back to Tricky Sam Nanton. Not that every track is a mirror of a mirror of a mirror however. Feline becomes a near chamber music salute to Marilyn Monroe; while the wide-ranging polyphony and polyrhythms that characterize Threads, dedicated to Albert Einstein, connect some musical threads that include drum whumps, spidery piano licks and a contrapuntal showdown between Bishop’s plunger tone and the calliope-like squirms from Dijkstra’s lyricon. The lyricon’s moog-like tones plus bass string strops from Nate McBride and irregular piano key clips are just some of the contributions to the note pileup that is Lumps. Yet Bennink slaps and clatters his cymbals enough to maintain the tune’s absurdist nursery-rhyme pulse.

waxman 05 diehochstSetting out even more difficult sleights of hand is the French-German Die Hochstapler band, whose The Braxtornette Project (Umlaut Records ub004 interprets compositions by Ornette Coleman and Anthony Braxton. To make this two-CD set more novel different groupings, most with trumpeter Louis Laurain, alto saxophonist Pierre Borel, bassist Antonio Borghini and drummer Hannes Lingens in common, mash up compositions by both men into extended medleys. The players’ skills are such that the commonality between Coleman’s blues-based lines and Braxton’s austere theses becomes obvious. With additional players making up a double quartet Die Hochstapler audaciously recalibrates Coleman’s Free Jazz composition as Part IV by bookending it with two variants on Braxton’s 348. Making the former tune more atonal and minimalist plus soothing what was originally played in a stentorian manner, tremolo jazziness is added to 348. More generic are Part II and Part III played only by the quartet. Stringing together an almost equal number of Braxton and Coleman tunes in each, the first medley emphasizes the music’s historical jazz motifs while the latter’s admixture plays out the compositional resemblances, mulching improvisation and atonality. Although the horns jump and judder throughout the ten tune-fragments that make up Part II, Lingens’ rugged drumming and Borghini’s sweeping thwacks regularize the underlying pulse to such an extent that staccato trumpet peeps and reed squeals indulge in satisfying vamps. Plus the bass and drum team shepherd the medley so that individual compositions’ tensile strength is apparent alongside the more obvious musical japes. Part III not only exposes a hitherto unknown eastern influence in Braxton lines such as 53 and 69D, but also moves the connected narrative through numerous variations. At times a theme is taken apart with horn peeps and bites; elsewhere unrelated shards are harmonized. Considering that Coleman tunes like Joy of a Toy, Deedee and W.R.U. are included, no matter how rapid or agitated the performance sounds, transitions include bonded swinging.

Standards are defined that way because of their universality. Yet these bands demonstrate how familiarity can be excitedly mixed with new interpretations.

broomer 01 bill coon quartet - scudder s grooveVancouver-based guitarist/composer Bill Coon has spent quite a bit of time working with singers like Denzal Sinclaire and Kate Hammett-Vaughan. They clearly hear Coon’s rare ability to provide optimum framing for a melody. His lyrical gift is much in evidence on Scudder’s Groove (Pagetown 006,, a magically tuneful set in which standards and Coon compositions alike seem to bubble up through the warm, glassy sound of his guitar. His trio rendering of My Funny Valentine is a model of jazz ballad playing. Coon gets solid support from bassist Darren Radtke and drummer Dave Robbins, while the late Ross Taggart on tenor saxophone is a perfect partner. Taggart swings magnificently on the opening version of Lady Be Good and Coon’s Thelonious Monk-inspired But I’m Glad You Did, while his playing on Ballad for Someone and the title track resonates with the same depth of feeling that Coon brings to them.

broomer 02 crema fotografia smCoon’s special contribution to Canadian jazz singing is immediately apparent on Laura Crema’s Fotografia (, as the Vancouver singer opens her fourth CD with just Coon’s guitar momentarily embracing her voice. That initial lack of adornment is emblematic of Crema’s work: she favours substance over decoration, eschewing both affectation and surface perfection in favour of direct, emotional renderings of her disparate and imaginative material, including Ellington’s Azure, a duet with Coon; John Lennon’s Beautiful Boy, a vocal duet with bassist Adam Thomas; a compelling Wild Is the Wind with pianist Sharon Minemoto; three songs by Antonio Carlos Jobim; and two originals by Crema and Minemoto. Somehow Crema ties them together, along with a concluding version of Kurt Weill and Maxwell Anderson’s Lost in the Stars that leaves the best possible impression, its dreamlike ambience shot through with emotional grit. 

broomer 03 jeff presslaffComposer/trombonist Jeff Presslaff left his native New York City for Manitoba in 1997, but he’s found an intriguing way to merge the two locales in The Complete Rebirth of the Cool (Cellar Live CL071113 In 1949 Miles Davis was at the centre of a group developing fresh concepts in jazz orchestration, among them Gil Evans, Gerry Mulligan and John Lewis. The result was Davis’ Nonet, a group that included French horn and tuba, as well as likelier jazz instruments. Collected on an LP in 1957, the group’s 78s were dubbed The Birth of the Cool. Presslaff has assembled a group in Manitoba with identical instrumentation and commissioned compositions inspired by the original Nonet’s works. It’s generally true to the subtle textures and harmonies of the originals, though at times it turns ponderous. Trumpeter Dean McNeill provides the livelier What Fourth, while Jon Stevens’ brooding November Night explores more contemporary sonics.

broomer 04 greg de denusThat early Miles Davis project was also a meeting ground for some of the key figures in the third stream movement that would seek to fuse elements of jazz and classical music, including Evans, Lewis and Gunther Schuller, the Nonet’s French horn player. “Third stream” may only be cited as an historical category these days, but it’s a pervasive methodology for many musicians. Greg de Denus is a young Toronto pianist whose background includes studies with such distinguished musicians as Don Thompson, Fred Hersch and Dave Douglas. The quality of the instruction is more apparent than specific influences in Solo Piano, Live at Gallery 345 (Pet Mantis Records PMR009, which has de Denus working through a program in which composition and improvisation are often indistinguishable. There’s a rhapsodic sweep to much of this music, de Denus’ pyrotechnics often tending toward chromatic fantasia on pieces like Pocket Jacks. It even touches Steve Swallow’s Falling Grace and Thelonious Monk’s In Walked Bud, which has as much Rachmaninov as Bud Powell. De Denus is true to the tradition of French Impressionism in jazz, summoning up the spirit of Duke Ellington in Alter Ego. When de Denus slows down, he produces the elusive Folksing, a study in sonority that’s as beautiful as it is original.

broomer 05 houseofmirrors coverThe influence of classical models is also apparent in much of the work of clarinetist/saxophonist Peter Van Huffel, the Kingston, Ontario native whose recent residences include New York and Berlin (Van Huffel also has a duo with Greg de Denus). The group House of Mirrors continues Van Huffel’s partnership with singer Sophie Tassignon, with pianist Julie Sassoon and bassist Miles Perkin (originally from Winnipeg) completing the group on Act One (Wismart W 105 The piece is a long suite with both composed and improvised materials, summoning up everything from medieval song to jazz, School of Vienna abstraction and European free improvisation. It’s held together by sheer virtuosity and the focal point of Tassignon’s mercurial voice.

broomer 06 anna webberSaxophonist/clarinetist Anna Webber is another Canadian expatriate with similar musical breadth and co-ordinates: originally from British Columbia, she has resided successively in Berlin and Brooklyn. She has an absolute gem as a memento of her Berlin stay, Percussive Mechanics (Pirouet PIT 3069, Webber leads aseptet ofmostly German percussionists in a suite of her compositions that seems to simultaneously connect to African music, New York minimalism and the late serialism of Boulez’ Le marteau sans maître. There’s real power here, with a sense of mystery and essential coherence arising from the evolving rhythmic language and its ability to absorb certain kinds of almost-random fractures. Webber the tenor soloist comes to the fore on the title track, rising over the underlying patterns with expansive detailed runs delivered with machine-gun precision. 

06 jazz 01 bill cliftonRed Shadows
Bill Clifton
Cliftone Records CT 1667 (

Toronto-born Bill Clifton is hardly a household name but at a time when some pianists were exploring a more modern approach to their playing using advanced harmonics, Clifton was one of them. Oscar Peterson, in his autobiography A Jazz Odyssey, makes mention of Clifton, describing his playing as “noticeably introspective, having an intuitive, languid Debussy-esque feel to it.” And indeed the ten original compositions on this CD have the feel of a series of etudes with strong jazz content.

Clifton’s playing is sensitive without being overly sentimental and repeated listening heightened the pleasure I derived from his music. The one standard, the final track on the album, a popular song called Little Girl by Al Jolson, is performed before an audience and given a straight-ahead jazz treatment. The mood of the rest of the album is suggested by the titles of the pieces – Sunny Brook, Mystic Mountain, A Minor Melancholy and Moon Valley being a few examples. They suit late-in-the-day listening and give an insight into the composer’s contemplative and searching mind.

If you are interested, you can learn more about Bill Clifton in my Jazz Notes column this month.

06 jazz 02 sam brovermanLeftover Dreams
Sam Broverman
Independent BR003 (

Astonishingly, it has been more than 100 years since the 1913 births of two of the most seminal and prolific film, stage and popular music composer/lyricists of the modern era – Sammy Cahn and Jimmy Van Heusen. Although in their later careers these two geniuses collaborated with other notables, their partnership yielded 11 Academy Award nominations and three Oscars. In Leftover Dreams, gifted and expressive vocalist Sam Broverman has presented a sumptuous buffet drawn from the work of Cahn and Van Heusen – carefully selecting not only their more familiar and beloved compositions, but also rarely performed gems including the poignant All My Tomorrows (a stunner) and the buoyant It Could Happen to You.

This well-produced recording is an immensely satisfying musical assemblage, and features a first-call jazz trio, including Mark Kieswetter on piano, producer and musical director Jordan O’Connor on bass and Ernesto Cervini on drums. Certainly one of the most moving and sumptuously arranged songs is Van Heusen’s and Johnny Mercer’s Empty Tables. In the annals of Hollywood legend, Mercer and Judy Garland carried on a long-term love affair (unbeknownst to their respective spouses). The two remained close for the duration of Garland’s life, and she actually passed away only a couple of years before Empty Tables was composed. The ballad is said to reflect Mercer’s deep feelings of grief and loss.

Another stand-out is A Sammy Cahn Song – an original composition by Broverman, whose silky smooth, pitch-perfect baritone is the ideal expression for these superb and timeless compositions.


06 jazz 03 circlewideListen Both Ways
George Schuller’s Circle Wide
Playscape PSR # 053112 (

A restrained percussionist and bandleader, George Schuller, who will be playing The Rex March 4 and 5 as part of an all-star aggregation featuring guitarist Michael Musillami and bassist Joe Fonda, exhibits his gift for composition and arrangements on this quintet session.

Most of the tunes sparkle with easy swing based on the clever juxtaposition of Peter Apfelbaum’s tenor saxophone with Brad Shepik’s guitar and Tom Beckham’s vibes. Beside Schuller’s drumming rebounds which often cuff and prod the soloists into an architecturally perfect presentation, Dave Ambrosio’s bass holds the rhythm steady. The saxman, who suggests what Stan Getz would sound like had he sharpened his tone after the early 1960s, outputs a slurry efficiency on straightforward tunes such as Could This Be the Year? yet can also spew out dramatic split tones on A Map Would Help while backed by shaking guitar licks, cascading rustles from the drummer and popping aluminum bar resonation from the vibist.

As a switch, Apfelbaum plays melodica on the band’s version of Jesus Maria. Using the key flute’s tremolo range to put an individual stamp on the Carla Bley classic, his whistling stutter is enhanced by the smooth flow of Beckham’s motor-driven continuum, with Shepik’s downward strums defining the melodic line. Meanwhile Edwin, a juddering waltz and Schuller’s own Bed Head also show off the band’s combination of playful and precise creation. Although the guitarist gets a little raucous on the latter, it’s the drummer’s peppy rolls and centred timing prodding containment which keeps the improvisation from spinning out of control. With the overall sound picture buoyant yet complex, listening both or any way confirms the high quality of this CD.


Reed sections have been part of jazz’s performing vernacular since its earliest days. But only with the freedom that arose with modern improvised music in the 1960s were the woodwinds able to stand on their own. In the right hands, with the right ideas, a group consisting only of saxophones and/or clarinets can produce satisfying sounds that don’t need the intervention of a rhythm section or even brass for additional colours. All of the fine discs here demonstrate that.

waxman 01 roundgoalChicago tenor saxophonist and bass clarinetist Keefe Jackson extends this concept on A Round Goal (Delmark DE 5009, with his Likely So ensemble consisting of seven reed players. Including two of his Windy City associates – Dave Rempis and Mars Williams – three Swiss stylists – Thomas K.J. Mejer, Peter A. Schmid and Marc Stucki – plus Polish clarinetist Waclaw Zimpel – the septet members play two or three horns each, providing all the necessary contrast and colours for Jackson’s 11-part suite. After leading the others in unison ostinato lines on Round Goal for instance, alto saxophonist Williams sparks the improvisation with jagged, bracing squeaks that inflate to dog-whistle-like glossolalia, without ignoring swing. Similarly while tenor saxophonist Stucki brings prototypical free jazz cries to Was Ist Kultur, the others’ shifting modes ensure the compositional thread isn’t lost. In contrast, tracks like Neither Spin nor Weave and the descriptively titled Pastorale confirm that experimentation doesn’t have to be abrasive. The former, including contributions from five clarinetists, uses mellow architecture to construct a round of calming timbres. Pastorale, meanwhile, is a showcase for Zimpel. His bass clarinet adds a formal sheen to the proceedings, with tongue fluttering gradually giving way to unforced motions. Later, Mejer’s contrabass saxophone is freed from its role providing pedal point textures with the other low-pitched reeds featured on My Time is My Own. Buzzing out notes that could come from a cello played sul ponticello, his smears and snorts are eventually knit into a tapestry of harmonized timbre with the other horns. By the CD’s end it’s obvious that harsh textures can arise from any reed register to build excitement, as can soothing harmonies. Overall, the key point is that individual showiness never takes the place of balanced interaction.

waxman 02 doubletrioMore restrained in execution, but with similar inspirations so that the program never flags, is Itinéraire Bis (Between the Lines BTLCHR 71231 Blending two clarinet trios into the Double Trio de Clarinettes, the players use standard, alto, E-flat, bass and contrabass clarinets to highlight the woodwind’s unique properties. Although the Berlin-based Clarinet Trio of Jürgen Kupke, Gebhard Ullmann and Michael Thiecke may be more oriented towards jazz and improvised music and the Paris-based Trio de Clarinettes, which includes Armand Angster, Sylvain Kassap and Jean-Marc Foltz, has more of a new music bent, no fissure exists here. Parameters are established as early as track one, Almost Twenty-Eight, with the reedists spending as much time vocalizing exuberant harmonies as playing. But while such ebullience is present throughout the disc, so is the sophistication that melds atmospheric textures, expressing individual instruments’ rugged or shrill qualities as the pieces advance. Ullmann’s Desert… Bleue… East for instance is a centred performance that includes an unfolding hint of menace, even as vibrating low tones and seagull-like cries are harmonized into a smooth flow. Meantime Kassap takes a more cerebral and musicological approach. His compositions, Bizarre, FAK! and Charles Town, But Yesterday… which follow one another, set up a distinctive continuum. Initially an essay in low pitches, he sabotages the first track’s relaxation with chattering, slightly bizarre interjections ending with a kazoo-like cry; the next sequence deconstructs the line into shaking timbres only to have it snap back into shape following comfortable harmonies from the other players, standard clarinet in the lead; and concludes with a thorough re-examination of the theme. Rhino-like pedal points from the lower-pitched reeds balance the flighty aviary cries from the other woodwinds, with the result beautifully balanced polyphony that succinctly express the theme then stops instantly.

waxman 03 canardThe difference may result from geography or personality, but in sharp contrast to the concentration on solemn experimentation which characterize the Double Trio and Keefe Jackson CDs, Montreal clarinetist Robert Marcel Lepage's Canard Branchu (Ambiances Magnétiques AM 216 CD in the main promotes unselfconscious merriment. With his reputation for creating soundtracks, Lepage sets his compositions here in a fanciful swamp populated by the insects, birds and amphibians. Moreover while many tracks on the other CDs appear to be evolving improvisations, Lepage’s are self-contained songs. Nonetheless while the sounds may be decorous and controlled, they’re not formal and mix good fun alongside technically clever improvisations. The band make-up is different as well. The core is Jean-Sébastien Leblanc and Pierre Emmanuel Poizat on clarinets, Guillaume Bourque, bass clarinet, André Moisan on basset-horn plus bassist Fraser Hollins and drummer Pierre Tanguay, with Nicolas Borycki adding electric organ on three tracks. Bass clarinetist Lori Freedman joins the band on one track and plays another unaccompanied; while the composer plays solo and duets with Moisan on two different cuts. With steady rhythm section work, the others are freed for supple, contrapuntal work, resembling the score for a kids’ show on one hand and Duke Ellington’s arrangements for clarinet trio on the other. Characteristic is Le Pelleteur de nuages, whose church-like harmonies courtesy of Borycki underlie a theme that touches on Can’t Help Falling in Love plus Creole Love Call. Bourque shines on Maringouins en escadron as tremolo horn parts sound as if they come from an accordion; whereas Fondation: qui sommes-nous? is a pseudo-tango that contrasts the basset-horn’s serene chalumeau with slick drum patterns. Chalumeau is also in use on Mi-figue, mi-bémol, Lepage’s solo feature, that improvises succinctly on the melody line, whereas on her own feature, Freedman’s variants on Le Grand Héron et la demoiselle use hectoring cries, irregular vibrations, split tones and spetrofluctuation to deconstruct the theme into individual atoms, then reconstruct in pointillist fashion.

waxman sosThese bands’ instrumentation wouldn’t have been possible without the pioneering efforts of players who demonstrated how flexible multi-reed ensembles could be. One of the first, S.O.S.,namedafter the members’ initials, involved three of the United Kingdom’s top jazzmen: Mike Osborne, who played alto saxophone and percussion; Alan Skidmore, on soprano and tenor saxophones and drums; plus John Surman who divided his skills among soprano and baritone saxophones, bass clarinet, synthesizer and keyboards. Looking for the Next One (Cuneiform RUNE 360/361 is a two-CD set of previously un-issued material recorded in 1974 and 1975. Like Lepage, the trio often expands the concept by using synthesized loops or drum beats as continuum, but emphasis throughout is still on saxophone blends or solos. Especially moving are the jerky squeaks and cornucopia of smears, slurs and sighs output by Osborne (1941-2007), defining the substantive jazz qualities of the band, especially on cuts such as Suite and the title track. The latter at first pairs quivering, Sun Ra-like wave forms with faux baroque piano until the narrative breaks out into firebrand solos from the alto saxophonist and tenor man, with Skidmore’s incendiary blowing contrasting with Osborne’s lonely cries. A more sophisticated effort, unlike some of the other tracks, whose rhythms sound as if they migrated from a contemporary Africanized-jazz fusion date, the more-than-25-minute Suite cunningly develops its narrative from among electric piano comping plus varied pitch variations from all three horns. A tapestry of tones, smears, flattement and irregular vibrations show off each reedist to his best advantage, while maintaining forward motion. S.O.S. isn’t all about technique though. A traditional air arranged by Surman, The Mountain Road mixes a flat-out Irish reel with buzzing jazz inflections, propelling two sorts of staccato dance rhythms. That experiment worked so well that the reel appears again during the extended Trio Trio, sharing space with Ellington echoes and reed-theme deconstruction, atop bubbling synthesizer loops.

In trio or larger formations, each of these CDs confirms the long-term viability of woodwind groups creating exhilarating sounds.

Many musicians act as their own agents, produce and distribute their own recordings and promote their own concerts, but a few take on far greater roles, developing performance spaces and record labels, helping create vital scenes. Three such figures are Vancouver’s Cory Weeds, Toronto’s Ken Aldcroft and Rimouski’s Éric Normand.

broomer 01a weeds lets goTenor Saxophonist Cory Weeds is an all-purpose advocate for mainstream modern jazz, running Cory Weeds’ Cellar Jazz Club and the very active Cellar Live label. Canada/U.S. musical exchanges figure in three recent releases. Let’s Go! (CL 013013 documents Weeds’ visit to New York’s Smoke Jazz Club with his regular associates, pianist Tilden Webb, bassist Ken Lister and drummer Jesse Cahill, and adds New York trombonist Steve Davis. Recorded at the end of a 19-performance tour, the experience shows. The music is a pure distillation of hard-bop, featuring tight-knit, spirited playing throughout, highlighted by the muscular lyricism of the tenor/trombone combination. A highlight is a reflective rendering of the late trombonist/pianist Ross Taggart’s ballad Thinking of You.

broomer 01b peter bernsteinThe recording venue switches to Weeds’ own club for American guitarist Peter Bernstein with the Tilden Webb Trio (CL 042613). Along with bassist Jodi Proznick, Webb and Cahill are once again models of support: Webb a worthy foil to Bernstein, turning out long lines that coil and twist, alive with melodic surprise, and Cahill providing animating drive and prodding rhythmic detail. With a distinctive singing tone, rare sustain and inspired virtuosity, Bernstein finds new dimensions in standards and jazz classics, from a heart-felt Darn that Dream to elegiac renderings of John Coltrane’s Wise One and John Lewis’ Django.

broomer 01c weeds sweet shadowThe cross-border emphasis continues with tenor saxophonist Pete MillsSweet Shadow (CL 070813). Originally from Toronto (his CD includes a photo of Charlie Parker’s autograph, collected at the 1953 Massey Hall concert by his father, Ernie), Mills, who teaches at Denison University in Ohio, is a wildly inventive player with a light, airy sound and solid fundamentals. Sam Rivers and Joe Henderson likely number among his inspirations, while his themes include Roland Kirk’s Serenade to a Cuckoo and Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend. Aided by a first-rate New York band that includes guitarist Pete McCann and drummer Matt Wilson, Mills also plays two freely improvised duets with Wilson.

Since migrating from Vancouver more than a decade ago, guitarist Ken Aldcroft has become an essential figure in the Toronto improvised music scene, producing performance series and acting as one of the founders of AIMToronto, an association of improvisers. Documenting his own work on his Trio Records since 1997, Aldcroft has just released two contrasting sessions.

broomer 02a saskatoonAldcroft’s Convergence Ensemble is his principal group, a long-standing quintet that has been a laboratory for his developing compositional approach. Saskatoon (TRP-017 was recorded at the Bassment in 2007, so it’s clearly an old performance with enduring significance. Alto saxophonist Evan Shaw, trombonist Scott Thomson, bassist Wes Neal and drummer Joe Sorbara share Aldcroft’s commitment to the group, and it’s apparent in every instant of this music, a consistent collective creation on Aldcroft’s themes. Our Hospitality cleverly integrates free jazz, swing and instrumental click languages.

broomer 02b hat   beard reflections coverFor sheer playfulness, there’s Aldcroft’s duo with drummer Dave Clark, Hat and Beard: The Music of Thelonious Monk. Their second all-Monk program, Reflections (TRP-018), extends Monk’s own assertive rhythms, clashing phrases and unlikely chord changes. The approach, with Clark’s explosive, weirdly precise cacophony and Aldcroft’s acid-toned minimalism, may owe as much to the members of Captain Beefheart’s Magic Band as to Monk himself. It’s all a delight, but Pannonica and Monk’s Dream are stand-outs.

broomer 03a le-ggril---combines---2While Weeds and Aldcroft work in major population centres, bassist Éric Normand, through sheer creativity, commitment and energy, has somehow made Rimouski, Quebec a hotbed for free improvisation, producing concerts, drawing in international guests and releasing music in a welter of media on his Tour de Bras label.

The acronym GGRIL may identify the large ensemble Grand Groupe Régional d’Improvisation Libérée, but it also suggests “guerrilla,” emblematic of Normand’s adaptive and spontaneous rebellion. GGRIL has released one of the year’s most beautiful records, Combines a red-vinyl LP in a clear plastic sleeve, (TDB 990001LP There’s a delightful sense of community get-together in the music, whether it’s using chance methodologies or two conductors simultaneously leading a collective improvisation, and it extends to the unlikely combination of instrumentalists: multiple percussionists, bassists, and guitarists with an accordionist among the featured voices.

broomer 03b rcfffe coverAt the opposite pole of media, there’s the insubstantial Rrrrrrrrrroyal Canadian Free Form Folk Experience ( by the trio ofNormand, Halifax-based guitarist Arthur Bull, and Toronto percussionist Bob Vespaziani, also known as the Surruralisms. Available as a paid download or free streaming audio, the work consists of a single half-hour improvisation called Batoche’s Battle, a brilliant realization of Normand’s aesthetic, melding folk materials and instruments with the most radically concentrated, minimalist, electroacoustic improvisation. It’s an invitation to sample one of Canada’s most creative musical visions.

broomer 03c pink saliva imageNormand has also released the latest music by the Montreal-based trio Pink Saliva, with trumpeter Ellwood Epps, bassist Alexandre St-Onge and drummer Michel F. Côté also exploring electronics. Available as a download or a micro-edition CD, Il parait que... (TDBW0003) is a tangled forest of vital distorted sound, Epps’ amplified trumpet sounding like a raw nervein the undergrowth.

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