01 Woman ChildWomanChild
Cecile McLorin Salvant
Justin Time JTR 8580-2

When the American singer Cécile McLorin Salvant won the prestigious Thelonious Monk International Jazz Vocal Competition in 2010, the buzz around her was massive. Relatively young and coming seemingly out of nowhere, she impressed the judges with her poise and talent. The praise then and since has been effusive (on a recent cover of Jazz News she was referred to as simply “The Voice”) and it’s all well deserved.

The sounds of many legendary jazz singers can be heard in Salvant’s voice — most apparently Sarah Vaughan — in particular in the pure, horn-like quality that is one of the hallmarks of a great vocal talent. Confident and sure-footed in both traditional and modern styles, she gets basic and loose on the bluesy St. Louis Gal and the New Orleans-style Nobody, then edgy and outside the box on the title track, WomanChild, her own composition. Her sophistication quotient goes up even a few more notches when she sings easily and naturally in French on Le Front Caché Sur Tes Genoux.

The overall feeling of the album is masterful and that owes a lot to Salvant’s band mates. She has chosen to work with some very experienced players — like Rodney Whitaker, bass, Herlin Riley, drums, and James Chirillo, guitar and banjo — who bring a steady hand to the mix, while piano player Aaron Diehl is, like Salvant, a rising star in the jazz world. For fans who may worry about the art form’s future, this album is a sign it’s in very good hands.

02 John MacLeodOur Second Set
John MacLeod & His Rex Hotel Orchestra

Further proof — if indeed it is needed — of the astonishing quality of musicians in Toronto can be found on this, the second CD by this orchestra, recorded January 3 and 4, 2013, at the Humber College recording studio. The arrangements, all by John MacLeod except for Melancholy Baby which is by Rick Wilkins, are works of art and the program is a comfortable mix of standards and originals.

The standards are a high energy Indiana, a richly textured arrangement of Everything Happens To Me, what MacLeod describes as a “mash up” arrangement of O Pato and Take The A Train and the lovely Wilkins arrangement of Melancholy Baby mentioned above. The originals are beautifully played by what can truly be described as an all-star gathering.

The musicianship throughout is exemplary, the soloists are at the top of their respective games and I would hardly be able to single out any one of them. Having said that I would be remiss if I didn’t take my hat off to leader John MacLeod who is the catalyst providing the chemistry that brings it all together. Running a big band involves a lot of time and effort, especially if you are also doing the bulk of the writing.

If you like big band jazz you need to add this recording to your collection.

—Jim Galloway

03 Billy BangDa Bang!
Billy Bang
Tum Records TUM CD 034

Billy Bang came of age amidst the Civil Rights movement and free jazz. Having studied violin as a child, he returned to the instrument after combat duty in Vietnam, a harrowing experience later revisited in recordings like Vietnam: Reflections. From his first recordings in the late 70s, he emerged as the most compelling jazz violinist of his day, combining the robust swing of 1930s violinists like Stuff Smith and the visionary power of John Coltrane.

Bang recorded this final session in Finland in February 2011, two months before his death from lung cancer. The repertoire includes two very familiar tunes, Miles Davis’ All Blues and Sonny Rollins’ calypso-fuelled St. Thomas, but even that emphasizes Bang’s originality in mating musicians and material. The front line of Bang’s eerily thin violin sound and Dick Griffin’s robust trombone is very distinctive, emphasizing the combination of frailty and force that gives Bang’s work a special intensity.

The band sounds as if Bang assembled it for maximum authority, creating a powerhouse rhythm section of pianist Andrew Bemkey, bassist Hilliard Greene and drummer Newman Taylor-Baker. They work in a largely received tradition, but Bang extends it in stunning ways: in his unaccompanied introduction to Don Cherry’s Guinea, pentatonic patterns and microtones link vernacular violin sounds — a Vietnamese đàn gáo, a Kenyan orutu — to early traditions of African-American fiddling, suggesting a unique perspective on the expressive depths and possibilities of jazz. Da Bang! is a powerful final testament.

04 Red HotRed Hot
Mostly Other People Do The Killing
Hot Cup HC 125

Trumpeter Peter Evans, who along with drummer Weasel Walter, bassist Tom Blancarte and pianist Charity Chan is featured at a punk-jazz-improv concert at the Arraymusic space on September 4, has quickly become one of jazz’s most in-demand and versatile brass men. Proficient elsewhere playing atonal music, this CD by an expanded version of the co-op group Mostly Other People Do The Killing (MOPDtK) finds the New York-based brass man helping to create a respectful but sophisticated take on early jazz. That Evans has mammoth chops is without question, and you can note that on Zelienople, where following a wood-block [!] break from drummer Kevin Shea, Evans’ open-horn exposition is bird-song sweet at one instance and growly as a warthog by the next. Meanwhile on Orange is the Name of the Town, he fires off triplet patterns after triplet patterns with aplomb.

While classic jazz fanciers probably won’t be offended, sardonic Red Hot is no by-rote Dixieland-recreation. For a start, MOPDtK bassist Moppa Elliott composed the nine selections, and each draws on a conservatory full of influences. On the title track for instance, there are echoes of sci-fi-like electronic processing plus clunking banjo twangs, both created by Brandon Seabrook. Meanwhile the two-step melody is extended by pianist Ron Stabinsky’s ragtime-styled pumps, and climaxes when Jon Irabagon’s C-Melody sax wails pierce the connective four-horn vamp.

Atmospherically (post) modern and good time music in equal measure, the CD demonstrates clearly how many avant-garde tropes like broken-octave sax peeps or squeezed and hectoring brass tones actually have a long history. It also shows how top-flight music can be made up of many inferences. Elliott, for instance, begins Turkey Foot Corner not with Trad Jazz bass string slaps but spiccato plucks, that while undoubtedly modern, blend seamlessly into a two-beat band arrangement that emphasizes bass trombone guffaws from David Taylor.


In the spirit that jazz is increasingly an international language, this month’s collection of CDs emphasizes that dialogue, from American guests turning up on Canadian musicians’ CDs to Canadian expatriates who are members of a global community.

01 Chet DoxasMontreal tenor saxophonist Chet Doxas has just released Dive (Addo AJR 015 addorecords.com), a well-conceived successor to his JUNO-nominated 2010 release Big Sky. Doxas has put together a New York-based rhythm section, though it includes Canadian expatriates, Toronto-born guitarist Matthew Stevens and Montreal-born bassist Zack Lober, as well as drummer Eric Doob. The music is in a contemporary idiom (Doxas also co-leads Riverside, a band that includes Dave Douglas and Steve Swallow), and Doxas delights in cleverly constructed pieces that he and the band negotiate with ease, creating playful engaging music. Doxas’ light tenor sound is made for mobility and everything here contributes to quick, spontaneous reactions. Stevens’ processed guitar sound contributes much to the overall feel: it’s at once glassy and opaque, shimmering and muted, and the abstracted clarity of his work comes to the fore on the elusive Mysteries.

02 Ryan Oliver QuartetA native of Williams Lake, BC, now based in Toronto, tenor saxophonist Ryan Oliver studied in the celebrated Jazz Program at Rutgers University in New Jersey where he got to know veteran New York drummer Victor Lewis, the two exploring rhythmic concepts in weekly duet sessions. Lewis appears on Oliver’s Strive! (ryanoliver.ca) and brings Oliver’s John Coltrane influence into sharp focus, from the turbulent dialogue of the opening title track, so evocative of Coltrane’s duets with Elvin Jones, to the elegiac Thousand Miles, Oliver’s impassioned high notes framed by Lewis’ ceremonial cymbals. There are still elements of Coltrane’s harmonic conception on the funk of Eddie and Crescent City Stomp but the back beats open the door to Oliver’s soul-jazz side and also provide openings for the rest of the band — pianist Gary Williamson and bassist Alex Coleman — to shine. While Oliver may lack originality at this point, he makes up for it in conviction and skill.

03 Cory Weeds Bill CoonThere’s more imported propulsion on the Cory Weeds/Bill Coon Quartet’s With Benefits (Cellar Live CL 091812 cellarlive.com), a terrific session in which Vancouverite tenor saxophonist Weeds and guitarist Coons enjoy the estimable support of the New York rhythm team of bassist Peter Washington and drummer Lewis Nash. They are all masters of a modern jazz mainstream defined in the 1950s, but they speak it as a personal idiom, whether it’s Weeds’ hard-edged lyricism or Coon’s lightly sparkling lines. Coon’s compositions make up half of the program, distinctive tunes that range from the superb balladry of Sunday Morning to the hard bop of Cory’s Story. The group dialogue is never better, though, than on the standard East of the Sun, a feature for Weeds’ warm balladry.

04 Rich Halley 001Like Weeds and Coon, bassist Clyde Reed is an essential part of the Vancouver scene, a stalwart presence in free jazz and improvising groups like the NOW Orchestra and Ion Zoo. One of his longest running affiliations is with the Oregon-based tenor saxophonist Rich Halley whose elemental music is one with the Pacific Northwest: his Crossing the Passes (Pine Eagle 005 richhalley.com) consists of compositions inspired by a hike across Oregon’s Wallowa Mountains, an outcropping of the Rockies. Halley’s compositions can be as jagged as a series of peaks, as varied as the terrain and there’s clear empathy with trombonist Michael Vlatkovich, who supplies the same emotion and force that characterize Halley’s own lines. Reed is a bulwark of empathy and form, whether providing rapid propulsion with drummer Carson Halley on Duology or coming to the fore with warm pizzicato and arco solos.

05 Lama Chris SpeedDrummer Greg Smith went to Europe with Toronto’s Shuffle Demons in the mid-90s and decided to stay there, taking up residence in Holland. Among his current projects is a Rotterdam-based band called Lama with Portuguese trumpeter Susana Santos Silva and bassist Gonçalo Almeida. The group expands to Lama + Chris Speed with the addition of the New York saxophonist and clarinettist for Lamaçal (Clean Feed CF 275 cleanfeed-records.com), a live performance from the Portalegre Jazz Festival. This is lively creative music that delights in detailed close interaction amid a mix of unusual sonic textures: suggestions of village brass bands, Middle-Eastern scales, electronic loops and whale sounds abound. It even combines old-fashioned New Orleans polyphony with atonality. Smith’s boppish composition Cachalote is highlighted by a duet between the drummer and the mercurial Speed.

06 Eric RevisPianist Kris Davis has followed a path from Calgary to Toronto and on to Brooklyn where she has established herself as one of the most creative improvisers of her generation. She appears on bassist Eric RevisCity of Asylum (Clean Feed CF 277 cleanfeed-records.com) in a piano trio completed by the veteran drummer Andrew Cyrille. The studio session marked the first meeting of the three musicians, but there’s no sense that they’re feeling one another out. There’s aggressive creative interplay in the freely improvised pieces, with a special attention to momentum, the three sometimes developing tremendous swing while pursuing independent rhythms. A playful approach to Thelonious Monk’s Gallop’s Gallop and a reverent one to Keith Jarrett’s Prayer reveal something of the trio’s range and affinities. 

Twenty years after its modest beginning, the Guelph Jazz Festival (GJF), which this year takes place September 3 to 8, has grown to be one of this country’s major improvised music celebrations. Unlike many other so-called jazz fests which lard their programs with crooners masquerading as jazz singers, tired rock or pop acts, or so-called World or C&W performers who make no pretence of playing jazz, the GJF continues to showcase committed improvisers in sympathetic settings including during the fourth installment of the dusk-to-dawn Nuit Blanche.

01 WadadaLeoSmithPerhaps the most celebrated innovator at the GJF is trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith. His Golden Quartet, which shares a double bill at the River Run Centre (RRC)’s main stage September 7, performs a variant of his classic Ten Freedom Summer suite, shortlisted for this year’s Pulitzer Prize in music. Part of that program was recorded with an orchestra, and you can get an idea of Smith’s structural blending listening to Occupy The World (TUM CD 037-2 tumrecords.com) as the 21-piece TUM Orchestra (TUMO) interprets another Smith composition. The selections’ intricate arrangements serve not to frame Smith’s muted brass flurries, which bring Miles Davis-like ballad mastery into the 21st century, but open up to the talents of the mostly Finnish orchestra. You can hear that on the title track when the trumpeter’s tale told through rubato grace notes and squeezed triplets is matched with tom-tom-like passages from TUMO’s three percussionists, followed by massed polyphony pierced by legato strings, a tremolo harp sequence and Smith’s conclusive brassy and heraldic tones. The Golden Quartet’s bassist John Lindberg is soloist on Mount Kilimanjaro, where his magisterial double and triple stopping establish a staccato pantonality which encourages the five-person string section to abandon legato thrusts for stirring sweeps, and despite being performed at warp speed, encourages a satisfying orchestral mosaic. Leaving space for split-second sonic blasts from the entire band, before the warm and welcoming conclusion, Lindberg joins the other tremolo strings for a sequence of scrubs and sweeps. Incidentally, Swedish tenor saxophonist Fredrik Ljungkvist, part of the Atomic band, which is at the RRC’s Co-operators Hall September 4 during the GJF, is one stand-out on Queen Hatshepsut when his bravura churning and almost vocalized tenor saxophone lines make a perfect pantonal contrast to pointillist smears from accordion and piano.

02 NicoleMitchellBalancing a delicate outer shell with a steely core, American flutist Nicole Mitchell is another major improv figure whose Indigo Trio plays St. George’s Church’s Mitchell Hall September 5. A similar configuration with bassist Joshua Abrams and drummer Frank Rosaly expands with additional colours on Aquarius (Delmark DE 5004 delmark.com) when the three and vibraphonist Jason Adasiewicz make up the Ice Crystal band. What Herbie Mann’s combo could have sounded like if he had ignored rock-pop blandishments, even Mitchell’s blues and Latin tunes trade simplicity for sophistication as four-mallet, bell-like tones from the vibist and her gruff tremolo gusts are as linear as they are lyrical. Other pieces such as Above the Sky reflect mood rather than linearity, borne on metal-bar smacks and swooping flute flutters. Another standout, Sunday Afternoon has a pastoral title, yet adds Chicago grit to become a straight-ahead swinger, following Abrams’ stentorian solo that expands into string multiphonics while maintaining a steady pulse. Meanwhile the rhythmic adaptability of Rosaly is succinctly showcased on Adaptability. He proves that a program of rim shots, rolls and pops doesn’t retard the beat but instead underlines the metallic origin of the other instruments Adasiewicz and Mitchell transform with extended techniques, to soar and bounce as well as peep and resonate. 

03 FujiiMaDoAnother inventive figure is pianist Satoko Fujii, whose French-Japanese Kaze Quartet is at the RRC’s Co-operators Hall on the morning of September 7. Kaze trumpeter Natsuki Tamura is also featured on Time Stands Still (NotTwo MW 897-2 nottwo.com) along with Fujii, bassist Norikatsu Koreyasu and drummer Akira Horikoshi as the quartet Ma-Do. Anything but Orientalist, except for some taiko-like thumps from Horikoshi and Koreyasu’s erhu-like patterning during the appropriately titled Broken Time, Fujii’s concepts are closely aligned to bedrock jazz plus inferences from so-called classical music. That tune accelerates to a layered swinger with strummed chords and glissandi from the pianist plus a Gabriel-like open-horn trumpet solo. Relaxed excitement is the touchstone of North Wind and the Sun on the other hand, where Tamura’s moderated linear exposition turns to sibilant lip bubbling as Fujii’s double pumping and circular chording plus sweeping bass lines engender friction but never break the chromatic line. In contrast Set the Clock Back is almost formalist with Chopinesque keyboard touches and legato note construction from the trumpeter. Outstanding and more experimental are Koreyasu’s a cappella string shakes which redirect the tune so that following his solo, when the head reappears, it too is more tremolo and agitated.
04 BomataOutstanding double bass work from closer to home is on tap during a free Market Square afternoon concert that same day when Montreal bassist Jean Félix Mailloux performs his compositions from Bomata – Arômes d’allieurs (Malasartes mam 016 malasartesmusique.com) with his associates, percussionist Patrick Graham and Guillaume Bourque playing clarinet and bass clarinet. A trio which has internalized “scents from elsewhere” – the translation of the CD title – Bomata’s unhurried performances reference various ethnic styles without becoming subservient to any. A fine instance of this mixing is Cardamome when cross pulses from Graham and second drummer Phillippe Melanson move contrapuntally alongside a walking bass line, providing a trembling rhythm to Bourque’s mid-range, Klezmer-like overlay. The reedman’s mercurial high-note skill is on display on Shaman, with the bass taking on a slinky oud-like resonance and guest frame drummer Ziya Tabassian adding hard thwacks to toughen the beat. Yet as intense as the bassist’s and clarinettist’s improvisations become neither disrupts the basic thematic flow. Pianist Jérôme Beaulieu, who joins Bomata on a couple of tracks, is a little too decorous, creating a crystallite Nordic feel which clashes with Bourque’s ney-like sound on Nuit Blanche. Although with 13 tracks, sameness sets in at points, most performances argue well for the band’s continued evolution from this 2012 CD. Chinoiseries could offer one path, with the arrangement open enough to allow the reedist some altissimo smears even as the theme stays linear, with the end product suggesting both Eastern European concertina-like riffs plus a swinging jazz-like interface.

Fuelled by innovation rather than nostalgia, composers and arrangers continue to utilize the sonic parameters of larger ensembles to help tell their stories in the most expansive way possible. Whether it’s exposing individual original compositions or organizing the sessions into a thematic whole, these vital CDs demonstrate why a big band is still favoured as an expressive vehicle for both free-form improvisation and tightly plotted compositions.

brookyln-babylon-something-in-the-air-1For an example of the latter you don’t have to go much further than Brooklyn Babylon (New Amsterdam Records NWAM 048 newamsterdamrecords.com), a mythical and cinematic narrative created by Vancouver-born Darcy James Argue as part of a multi-media presentation by Croatian-born visual artist Danijel Zezelj. Argue, who also lived in Montreal and received his degree in composition in Boston, has been in Brooklyn since 2003 and composed the multi-part Brooklyn Babylon as a fable, reflecting his adopted hometown’s storied past, cultural multiplicity and ambitious future. Conducted by the composer, Argue’s 18-piece Secret Society band performs the suite’s eight interlocking themes and seven brief interludes. Calling on the talents of a band featuring the interlocked groove of drummer Jon Wikan and bassist Matt Clohesy, the storytelling understatement of several reed soloists, and the alternately plunger excitement and mellow narratives of fellow Canuck trumpeter Ingrid Jensen, Argue directs a sound picture with enough expansive exposition to make the CD the equivalent of aural Technicolor. Reflecting present-day currents of New York`s second borough, the sequences in Argue’s suite blend and contrast vamping big-band section work; heavily rhythmic rock-music-like grooves; gentle folkloric and impressionistic sound pastels from flute, soprano sax and flugelhorn soloists; plus interludes that replicate brass band marches, Balkan ballads, a touch of electronic processing and the pre-recorded sounds of the borough’s streets. One standout is Missing Parts when the rest of the band members play hand percussion backing Josh Stinson’s free-form baritone sax lines and a mellow trombone interlude from James Hirschfield. Another is The Tallest Tower in the World, which reaches its heights through brassy trumpet triplets and soprano sax squeals. Keyboardist Gordon Webster holds components together not only with sharp piano cadenzas but also with near-vocalized melodic sweeps. If the program does have a weakness it probably lies in its movie soundtrack-like surround sound expressiveness. With piccolo peeps and French horn lowing heard more often than tuba burps or guitar note shredding, the selections often retreat to overly pleasant background sounds lacking the authoritative ingredients that would define them as completely individual. But Argue is still developing. Maybe he’ll soon compose a piece to reflect his homeland.

Read more: Something In The Air: Sophisticated Expression From Large Improv Ensembles
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