heinen-stockhausen-jazzKarlheinz Stockhausen’s Tierkreis

Bruno Heinen Sextet

Babel Label BDV 13119 (babellabel.co.uk)

Perfect sounds for those who think Karlheinz Stockhausen’s music is difficult is Tierkreis (1974-75), initially composed for 12 music boxes reflecting the signs of the zodiac, and then adapted for any number of instruments. With the sanction of the composer’s son, British pianist Bruno Heinen, whose parents were Stockhausen associates, has created a jazz-improv variant of the suite for bass clarinet, tenor saxophone, trumpet, double bass, drums, his own piano and, on certain tracks, five music boxes, bookending the performance as the composer demands, with an identical melody reflecting the session date’s star sign.

Read more: Karlheinz Stockhausen’s Tierkreis - Bruno Heinen Sextet

01 holly coleNight
Holly Cole
Rumpus Room Records 3716101 (www.hollycole.com)

Singer Holly Cole continues her stylish ways with her latest release. Her first studio album in five years, Night is a return to collaboration with the bandmates of the last two decades that helped establish her as the fine song interpreter she is. So pianist and arranger, Aaron Davis, David Piltch on bass, sax and reed player John Johnson and drummer Davide Direnzo are the core players and provide clever nuanced support throughout. The theme of the album isn’t obviously represented by the song titles as not an “evening” or “night” song is to be found. But there’s a wee-small-hours-of-the-morning feel that permeates throughout.

The opening tune sets the tone as the group eases through a languid You Only Live Twice with dreamy pedal steel courtesy of Greg Leisz. Then we’re led through a range of stories courtesy of some well-known songwriters like Tom Waits (the swampy Walk Away) and others a little more obscure but no less poignant, like Danny O’Keefe (Good Time Charlie’s Got the Blues). Even when the energy gets kicked up, as it does on Viva Las Vegas – complete with 60s style horns and a smokin’ flute solo from John Johnson -- there’s an appealing coolness that pervades. Cole and her band’s tune-picking abilities and powers of interpretation are in abundance on Night and fans will not be disappointed.

Holly Cole will be joining the clinicians at the Jazz On The Mountain at Blue festival July 5 to present her own class on “the art of the voice and the bass.” (www.bluemountainjazzfest.com)

02 kylebrencd001Offset
Kyle Brenders Quartet
18th Note Records 18-2012-2 (www.kylebrenders.ca)

Proficient in both improvised and notated music, clarinettist/saxophonist Kyle Brenders has become a known commodity on the local music scene and this bang-up disc aptly demonstrates his elevated compositional and playing standards. Working through a program of eight somewhat bouncy always quirky Brenders’ originals he’s helped immeasurably by the cohesive, multi-faceted soloing of trombonist Steve Ward, Tomas Bouda’s unobtrusive yet sturdy bass line and the ever-inventive drumming of Mark Segger.

Working with motifs which reference brassy marching band music while utilizing extended instrumental techniques, the result is sophisticated without ever becoming esoteric. Segger and Ward are keys to this strategy. On a tune such as Porlock for instance, the trombonist constructs a jolting solo out of mid-range plunger impulses and smooth capillary extensions as Brenders’ soprano saxophone exposes quivering multiphonics. Meanwhile the theme is repeated at intervals with tremolo flutters from both, centred by the bassist. With Whisk it’s blustering puffs and slurs from the ‘bone man that hold the line as the composer on bass clarinet cascades split tones a cappella from subterranean to altissimo and is then joined by the drummer’s ruffs and rebounds for a stop-time ending. Terrace on the other hand is Segger’s showcase, as metallic clinks, castanet-like snaps and wood-block smacks move upfront. At the same time his pops and pitter-patters underline the theme, which correspondingly vibrates by parallel clarinet and trombone lines.

Far along in his synthesis of other influences, which include composer Anthony Braxton’s eclecticism, the sax-and-trombone-centred New York Art Quartet and a crafty subversion of Cool Jazz’s thin and subtle harmonies with raucous trombone blats and contrapuntal saxophone glossolalia, Brenders is a noteworthy Toronto talent, with this CD a definitive showcase of his varied skills.

Concert note:
On June 22 the Kyle Brenders Quartet is in concert at the Music Gallery along with New York saxophonist Matana Roberts.

01 oliver jonesMontreal pianist Oliver Jones announced his retirement at age 65 back in 2000, but returned to performing shortly thereafter. Since then he’s made a further contribution to the swing quotient of Canadian jazz, for Jones has a devotion to rhythmic propulsion second only to Oscar Peterson. A certain resemblance may be inevitable: Jones grew up in the same Little Burgundy neighbourhood of Montreal where he studied piano with OP’s sister, Daisy Peterson Sweeney. Josée Aidans appears as a special guest with Jones’ trio on about half of Just for My Lady (Justin Time JUST 251-2 www.justin-time.com) and the warmth of her violin adds a special touch, whether it’s to the forceful Josée’s Blues, the luminous balladry of Lights of Burgundy (a Jones composition from 1985) or the delightful swing of Lady Be Good. Elsewhere Jones, bassist Eric Lagace and drummer Jim Doxas are at their usual consummate level, consistently elegant whether reflective or joyous.

02 bill kingBill King is another veteran pianist with a Peterson connection, first coming to Canada as a teenager in the 1960s to study at the Advanced School of Contemporary Music in Toronto. King has had a long career in Toronto as composer, publisher, bandleader and mentor to a host of vocalists, but on Cinemascope: Orchestrations for Piano (Slaight Music www.slaightmusic.com) he goes it alone at the keyboard of a Steinway grand, improvising on themes with cinematic inferences. There’s a strong thread of Ellington’s particular impressionism here, whether King is reflecting on Audrey Hepburn in Audrey in Silk or Duke’s writing partner in Strayhorn. King’s darkened-theatre reveries can recall a host of landscapes and genres, but they all seem to glow with the special luminosity of memory.

03 don vickery trioAnother alumnus of the Peterson school is drummer Don Vickery, who was already active in Halifax jazz circles before he relocated to Toronto in 1959. Vickery is 74 now, but he’s lost none of his springy, propulsive beat, amply demonstrated on his first CD as leader, Alone Together (Cornerstone CRST CD 139 www.cornerstonerecordsinc.com). The music here is mainstream modern jazz of the first rank, with Vickery fitting hand-in-glove with his partners. Pianist Mark Eisenman’s relaxed rhythmic phrasing and feel for the blues always suggest something of the late Wynton Kelly, while Neil Swainson is a genuine melodic bassist, whether soloing or playing the melody on Johnny Mandel’s seldom heard Close Enough for Love. There’s never a sense of a superfluous note here, and it all seems to float on air, wafted aloft on Vickery’s detailed punctuation. Other highlights include Hampton Hawes’ Blues the Most and Henry Mancini’s Dreamsville, also imaginative repertoire choices.

04 nineThe Carn Davidson Nine (Addo AJR014 www.addorecords.com) debuts a mid-size ensemble led by Toronto alto saxophonist Tara Davidson and trombonist William Carn. The band is a fine outlet for the co-leaders’ compositions and arrangements, allowing for voicings and dynamics that are unavailable in the typical quintet or quartet. While the name may recall Phil Nimmons’ groundbreaking nonet, this Nine’s structure includes sheer heft (consider the brassy force of Davidson’s opening Battle Scars) as well as nuance, complementing the leaders with saxophonists Kelly Jefferson on tenor and Perry White on baritone (always forceful presences), trumpeters Jason Logue and Kevin Turcotte, and bass trombonist Terry Promane, with bassist Andrew Downing and drummer Fabio Ragnelli. The subtlety comes via the doubling, with flutes and flugelhorns coming to the fore on Carn’s airy When You Least Expect It. With arrangers including Promane, Logue and Reg Schwager and high-level soloists (Davidson is delightfully abstract on her South Western View), the Carn Davidson Nine could become a significant institution.

05 pedersenLast year Montreal saxophonist Patrick Lampron released Walking the Line and Ottawa trumpeter Craig Pedersen put out Days like These, both CDs of exceptional promise. That promise has been fulfilled in record time with the release of Live in Silence (www.craigpedersen.com), the end product of a Northern Quebec tour by Pedersen/Lampron/Gobeil/Kerr/Thibodeau, essentially Pedersen with the band from Lampron’s CD: guitarist, Dominic Gobeil, bassist Joel Kerr and drummer Eric Thibodeau. While Pedersen’s band conception usually falls in the overlapping orbits of Ornette Coleman and John Zorn’s Masada, here the collective inspirations are the ECM label’s Nordic cool, open harmonies and spacious, lyrical modal jazz, complemented by influences from Wayne Shorter and Tomasz Stanko. The band is cohesive, with Pedersen bringing another dimension, nowhere more apparent than in Lampron’s compelling and concluding Obrigada, a composition that the quintet sustains with developing interest for nearly 17 minutes of music.

06 martinA similar Ontario/Quebec connection appears in the quintet of free improvisers Martin, Lozano, Lewis, Wiens, Duncan on the CD at Canterbury (Barnyard Records BR0332 www.barnyardrecords.com). The style is deliberate and focused, with ideas clearly developing as they’re passed around the group. Singer Christine Duncan and guitarist Rainer Wiens, doubling on theremin and mbira respectively, can create backgrounds of a rain forest density while trumpeter Jim Lewis and saxophonist Frank Lozano are deft musical architects, marking lyrical trails through the soundscape, all of it enhanced by Martin’s expansive store of adroitly distributed sounds. There’s an often uncanny sense of form here, and it’s too bad that Wiens and Lozano reside 500 kilometres from the rest of the band.

07 carrier vortexMontreal saxophonist François Carrier and drummer Michel Lambert are regular ambassadors to the world of improvised music, intrepid travellers who have matched inspirations with similarly open creators throughout Europe and parts of Asia. On Overground to the Vortex (Not Two MW904-2 www.nottwo.com), another segment in their extended chronicle, the two appear at London’s Vortex with two outstanding representatives of the British school of free improvisation, bassist John Edwards and pianist Steve Beresford. The trio of Carrier, Lambert and Edwards are heard first with Edwards’ complex bass activity matching up perfectly with Lambert, creating a force field of percolating rhythmic details that Carrier negotiates with the zeal of an urban explorer facing a new metropolis. The full quartet assembles for Archway, an extended musical arc consisting of constantly shifting moods and densities, highlighted by Carrier’s controlled passion and Beresford’s playfulness.

01 leanleftcd006As the rhythmic base of jazz has changed over the past half century, adding emphases besides pure swing to improvisation, the role of the percussionist has changed as well. No longer just a time keeper the modern drummer must be conversant with varied beats from many genres of music. This familiarity with other cultures is also why many non-Americans have become prominent. Case in point is Norwegian percussionist Paal Nilssen-Love, who plays with the Euro-American band Lean Left at the Tranzac on June 15. Nilssen-Love, whose associates range from the most committed electronics dial-twister to free-form veterans is equally proficient laying down a hard rock-like beat as he is trading accents with experimental timbre-shatters. The two extended tracks on Live at Café Oto (Unsounds 32U www.unsounds.com) demonstrate not only Nilssen-Love’s cohesive skills amplifying the improvisations of Chicago-based tenor saxophonist/clarinettist Ken Vandermark as he does in many other contexts, but shows how both react to the power chords and violent string distortions which characterize the style of guitarists Andy Moor and Terrie Ex from Dutch punk band The Ex, who complete this quartet. In spite of Vandermark’s consistent overblowing which encompasses pumping altissimo honks and frenetic slurs; plus the guitarists’ constant crunches, smashes and frails, the drumming never degenerates into monotonous rock music-like banging. Instead, while the backbeat isn’t neglected, auxiliary clips, ruffs, ratamacues and smacks are used by Nilssen-Love to break up the rhythm, with carefully measured pulsations. This strategy is most obvious during the climatic sections of the more-than-37 minute Drevel. With all four Lean Lefters improvising in broken octaves, the narrative shakes to and fro between Vandermark’s collection of emphasized freak notes and dyspeptic stridency and the dual guitarists’ slurred fingering that leads to staccato twangs and jangling strums. Not only is the climax attained with a crescendo of volume and excitement, but the final theme variations are in contrast as stark and minimalist as the earlier ones are noisy. As guitars methodically clank as if reading a post-modern composition, and the clarinet lines emphasize atonal reed bites, intermittent stick strokes and toe-pedal pressure from the drummer concentrate the sound shards into the track’s calm finale.
02 doubletandemcd005An extension of this calm also eventually occurs on Double Tandem Cement (PNL Records PNL 013 www.paalnilssen-love.com), where Nilssen-Love’s and Vandermark’s only companion is Amsterdam’s Ab Baars, playing tenor saxophone, clarinet and shakuhachi. Although the drummer trots out ruffs, smacks and bounces when both saxophonists blare at top volume, the most distinctive track here is the 30-minute Shale. Dividing interaction into duos or trios, as he faces each reedist’s experiments in hushed atonality the percussionist limits himself to microtonal popping and ratcheting as if he were playing Native American drum patterns. When one tenor saxophonist expels Sonny Rollins-like sharp and brittle slurs and honks, Nilssen-Love concentrates his responses to cymbal swishes and snare splatters. Elsewhere, glockenspiel-like pings plus cross-handed ratamacues back lip-bubbling, mid-range clarinet growls. As eloquently precise as he is focused in his percussive responses, the drummer later limits himself to offside rim clattering and cymbal rubbing as his associates rappel through reed challenges. When Vandermark circular breathes strident clarinet tones, Baars’ shakuhachi puffs judder sympathetically. When one saxophonist explores the limits of altissimo bent notes, the other revels in penny-whistle-pitched chirps and squeaks. Eventually the apotheosis of pummelling split tones and forced glossolalia that the two attain subsides into tonal interaction confirming Nilssen-Love’s discreet accents throughout.
03 resonancecd004Vandermark confirms his far-reaching rhythmic sophistication and welcoming of worldwide improvisers on The Resonance Ensemble’s What Country is This? (NotTwo MW 885-2 www.nottwo.com). This is a program which balances his baritone saxophone and clarinet style plus the input from six additional horn players with the synergic percussion skills of two Chicago-based drummers, Tim Daisy and Michael Zerang. Veterans of many bands with Vandermark and others, both know exactly how to both lead and accompany an ensemble of American and Northern European players, including three more saxophonists, three brass players and one bassist. Tracks such as Fabric include rapidly changing pitch and speed sequences where, for instance, salient drum rolls from one percussionist and clattering rim shots from the other underline the inchoate power essayed by Vandermark’s baritone sax and Dave Rempis’ tenor saxophone, underlined by pedal-point blasts from Per Åke Holmlander’s tuba. By the finale shimmering cymbal and drum plops lessen the density and solidify a now well-balanced melody, leaving ample subsequent space for Devin Hoff’s walking bass solo, Magnus Broo’s plunger trumpet lines and mid-range clarinet sluices from Waclaw Zimpel. Stop-and-start rather than stop-time, the distinctive Acoustic Fence likewise mixes unique forms of expression from a swing-era-styled saxophone section riffing to a hearty tenor sax solo by Mikolaj Trzaska that’s just this side of rock music. Still the sinewy arrangement calls for the former to be accompanied by perfectly timed percussion slaps and clattering cymbals and the latter by tough shuffles and opposite sticking from the drummers that would be equally appropriate on a soul music session. Eventually, extended blustery trombone brays by Steve Swell prefigure the session’s only protracted percussion solos, as rolls, rumbles and ruffs open up into a restrained yet powerful display of thrusting textures and pinpointed smacks, with the narrative ricocheting from one drummer to the other.

04 firecd003If that CD underlined the expressive power of two inventive percussionists then Fire! Orchestra Exit! (Rune Grammofon RDCD 2138 www.runegrammofon.com) ups the ante with four drummers contributing. Exit is a two-part multiphonic showcase for this massive band featuring 27 of Scandinavia’s top improvisers, including Holmlander and Broo; plus one ex-pat Canadian, bassist Joe Williamson. The ensemble is directed by tenor saxophonist Mats Gustafsson, a frequent associate of both Vandermark and Nilssen-Love, who played Toronto in May. Although part of the performance is devoted to wordless or unconnected phrase-making vocals from three singers – most prominently Sofia Jenberg – they’re part of the improving process, as their vocal cries, yodels and rasps intersect or soar over the often dense instrumental cacophony. While there’s never any doubt about the beat emanating in hearty unison from percussionists Raymond Strid, Andreas Werlin, Thomas Gartz and Johan Holmegard, like Nilssen-Love on Live at Café Oto, there’s sensitivity in their accompaniment. Designated space is also available for soloists who include Sten Sandell’s piano-pumping glissandi in addition to frenetic split tones and broken octave jumps from saxophonists Gustafsson and Frederick Ljungkvist. The percussionists shatter the finale of Exit! Part One with their collection of miscellaneous instruments of ratchets, rattles, gongs, bell trees and wood blocks. Then, if anything the CD’s second track is more intense and powerful than the first. It features string-shredding reverb from three guitarists, massed cadences from the vocalists, deep-pitched tuba burbling and a vamping reed section. Only as the piece reaches a fortissimo crescendo is it clear that the entire band has been steadily motivated by the drum quartet’s nearly inaudible clanks, clicks and drags, which have been present throughout. Eventually the harmonized percussionists’ conclusive thundering, echoing and booming make it clear the sonic miasma has been breached for the finale.
Hearty demonstrations of new percussionists’ taste as well as power, plus the ascendency of European musicians, these discs also suggest names to watch for when they next gig in Toronto.

02KrisDavisKris Davis
Capricorn Climber
Clean Feed CF 266 CD

Creating a cohesive program that moves from experimentation to straight-ahead swing and lush inventions — often on the same track — pianist Kris Davis outlines a series of moods on this program of her own compositions. Calgary-born Davis has made a reputation for herself as an arranger as well as a soloist and each of her compositions displays her sidefolk — some of New York’s most accomplished players — to their collective best advantage.

Take for instance Pass the Magic Hat, which starts off as a swirling and spiralling exposition for her piano plus the bass of Trevor Dunn and the drums of Tom Rainey, but soon evolves to a contrapuntal duel between her metronomic comping and Ingrid Laubrock’s pulsating tenor saxophone. A spikier secondary theme developed by violist Mat Maneri arrives, eventually to be harmonized with piano and reed slurs. On the other hand, Bottom of a Well is a cohesive recital-styled track with low-pitched piano clunks underscoring the chromatic string sets. Before a legato finale, Dunn vibrates a solo in the cello range while the violist harshly rubs his strings. With Davis’ narrative literally more low-key and impressionistic, Pi is Irrational balances Maneri’s tremolo stridency with Rainey’s rugged ruffs and taps, until Laubrock’s gentle arpeggios presage a brief, rhythmically sophisticated bass solo.

Davis who studied at Banff and Toronto defines her program enough to give her soloists the freedom to interpolate everything from strident reed bites and fiddle scratches to extended cymbal vibrations into the nine tracks. But she reins them in enough with strategies ranging from inner piano string plucks to keyboard jabs and cohesive chording to maintain the integrity of her compositional vision.

Matt Herskowitz
Justin Time JUST 249-2

This CD was recorded before an audience at the Upstairs Jazz Bar & Grill in Montreal where Matt Herskowitz has made his home since 2000 and the first thing that struck me was the phenomenal technique possessed by this Albany-born pianist.

The varied program begins with a long — over 13 minutes — interpretation of the Dave Brubeck composition, Dziekuje which means “thank you” in Polish, and was modelled on Chopin’s Prelude in E Minor. He also includes Cantabile by Michel Petrucciani, Traumerei by Robert Schumann, music by J.S. Bach, two originals, Waltz In Moscow and Bella’s Lament plus a couple of Gershwin songs for good measure — But Not For Me and I’ve Got Rhythm.

Herskowitz’ classical training permeates the music, sometimes at the expense of “jazz feeling” but then there are also passages of delicate beauty as shown in Bella’s Lament and Traumerei.

To make a comparison between visual art and music, Herskowitz is like, say, a Dali rather than a Mondrian.

I have a non-musical complaint on behalf of all of us with less than perfect eyesight. The liner notes are in deep blue against a black background, making them all but impossible to read. I, and a few others I have spoken with, find it extremely frustrating. Designers of CD sleeves please take note.

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