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.

Guitarist Reg Schwager has worked with some of the most famous performers in jazz, including Diana Krall, George Shearing and Peter Appleyard. In addition to being a distinguished sideman, though, he’s also genuinely adventurous. Schwager has just released two contrasting CDs that testify to the range and quality of his work.

01a-Schwager-Arctic-passageHis duet with pianist David Restivo, Arctic Passage (Rant 1346), presents two musicians gifted in the myriad permutations of melody and harmony, etching work of glittering lyricism. Most of the compositions are Schwager’s own, themes worthy of further exploration, but there are also distinctive accounts of Poor Butterfly and Alexander’s Ragtime Band, each enlivened by thoughtful chordal extensions that are bound to surprise. The dialogue is inevitably reminiscent of the perfect duos recorded by Bill Evans and Jim Hall in the 1960s.

01b-Schwager-trioSchwager and drummer Michel Lambert, one of Quebec’s finest free improvisers, make Schwager’s outer limits more apparent on Trio Improvisations (Rant 1245). It’s a special trio, with three different musicians occupying the third spot. The recordings come from sessions during a six-month period between 2001 and 2002 and include the powerful Coltrane-influenced Toronto saxophonist Michael Stuart, Amsterdam’s anarchic and brilliant pianist Misha Mengelberg (an early influence on the Dutch-born Schwager) and trumpeter Kenny Wheeler, perhaps Canada’s greatest contribution to international jazz. The music is all free improvisation, though in this case that means harmonic and rhythmic structures arise and dissolve with frequency and ease. What makes the set most remarkable is that it’s anything but pastiche. While many CDs from different sessions sound like patchwork quilts, this one sounds like a suite, with a consistent approach that expands outward from Schwager and Lambert and embraces their various guests.

02-Kye-MarshallCellist Kye Marshall has a broad musical background ranging from extensive studies in jazz composition and positions as principal cellist with Toronto’s New Chamber Orchestra and assistant principal cellist with the National Ballet Orchestra. She’s worked extensively both in jazz and improvised music, and she brings all of those skills and inclinations to her Jazz Quartet’s Pencil Blues (Zephyr/Westwind Productions www.kyemarshall.com). It’s lively, infectious work and Marshall has thoughtfully constructed a string band around her still rather unusual jazz cello, with Don Thompson on bass, Andrew Scott on guitar and Ethan Ardelli on drums. When the group expands for textural reasons, she adds violist Kent Teeple and percussionist Mark Duggan to the ensembles. The feeling’s not unlike the Hot Club of France, and the clear star is Thompson, whose bass playing should be declared a national treasure.

03-Steve-KovenPianist Steve Koven is a crisp modern stylist, an ebullient musician who can move handily from infectious Latin jazz to probing ballads and complex three-way dialogues with the members of his long-standing trio. In fact that’s what has given Koven’s work its greatest dimension, something celebrated on SK3 20 (Bungalow Records SK 009 3), commemorating the 20th anniversary of the group with bassist Rob Clutton and drummer Anthony Michelli. It would be remarkable enough if Koven had held together a band that long with anybody, but he’s done so with two of the most creative musicians that the Toronto scene could provide, evident in the playful funk groove of Lolaland. The CD also comes with a bonus DVD of the group in performance.

04-Curtis-NowosadCurtis Nowosad is a 24-year-old drummer who recently graduated from the University of Manitoba’s Jazz Studies Program. Clearly Nowosad enjoys many kinds of music, and there’s plenty of pop repertoire to go with the hard bop on his debut, The Skeptic & the Cynic (Know-a-sad Music KSM-001 www.curtisnowosad.com), with songs made famous by Michael Jackson, Bob Marley, Pink Floyd, Joni Mitchell and 2Pac Shakur. Nowosad’s band is made up largely of University of Manitoba faculty, with trumpeter Derrick Gardner, saxophonist Jimmy Greene, bassist Steve Kirby and Will Bonness on keyboards (covering piano, Fender Rhodes and Hammond B3) lending tremendous lustre to the proceedings. Clearly Nowosad has been an outstanding student, sounding right at home in this band of veterans, who for their part seem to be enjoying playing signature hard bop on tunes as unlikely as The Way You Make Me Feel and Three Little Birds.

05-Calling-DexterAnother musician employing distinguished talent is saxophonist Cameron Wallis. Calling Dexter (www.cameronwallismusic.com) features pianist André White, bassist Alec Walkington and drummer Dave Laing, who have functioned as the André White Trio for the past 25 years. Wallis is a skilful traditionalist, smoothly negotiating chord changes and swinging with aplomb. If anything, he’s a little too respectful, from the title dedication to Dexter Gordon to liner note invocations of Don Byas and “my two favourite Sonnys.” One of them is definitely Stitt, but Rollins seems too aggressively modern even in his 1950 form to qualify as the other. Wallis demonstrates more flexibility than identity by playing soprano, alto, tenor, baritone and even C melody saxophone, making it hard for a listener to get a sense of a distinctive voice.  

Of all the instruments that needed the advances of free music in the 20th century to show off its true character, it has been the double bass which benefitted most from this situation. Relegated to decorative, scene setting or mere rhythmic functions in conventional classical and jazz performances, it was only when bassists were able to express themselves without restraint that their role grew. By the 21st century in fact, solo bass recitals became as commonplace as those by other instrumentalists. The reason, as these CDs demonstrate, is the arrival of performers who can extract a multiplicity of novel tones, timbres and textures from four tautly wound strings.

01LeandreWolsTake Paris-based Joëlle Léandre for instance. Early in her career she played pieces composed specifically for her by the likes of John Cage and Giacinto Scelsi; now she’s fully committed to free expression. Wols circus: 12 compositions pour contrebasse d’après 12 gravures de Wols (Galerie Hus HUS 112 joelle-leandre.com) is particularly fascinating. Using only a bow, the strings, her instrument’s body and her own vocal inflections, Léandre interprets musically engravings by Surrealist artist Otto Wols (1913–1951). Created from 1942–1945, when the Berlin-born Wols was interned as an “enemy foreigner” in France, where he lived from 1932 until his death, the images are as abstract as they are affecting. Making no attempt to literally replicate the drawings in music, Léandre’s sound interpretations move from stentorian to muted, with indistinct, spiccato scrubs as common as Jew’s harp-like twangs. Especially noteworthy is the build-up and release reflected on the successive Topographie, Drei Vingnetten auf einem Blatt and Keiner Fleck. With each sequence three minutes, first abrasive then mellow string sawing fades into occasional arco slides and sul tasto pops with the air vibrated by the bow audible as well. The climax occurs as unison basso string strokes and Léandre’s vocal growls give way to a contrapuntal duet between sharp instrumental lines. Throughout, the bull fiddler provides personalized a view of Wols’ sketches with additional string inventions ranging from squeeze-toy peeps to tremolo bass slaps. Nonetheless the defining performance occurs with Dunkle Stadt, when with intensifying torque she moves from miniscule below-the-bridge plucks to staccato string chirps contrapuntally layered with vocalized faux lyric soprano accents. 

02-JCJonesUnlike Léandre, whose 12 acoustic selections were recorded at one live concert, French-Israeli bassist JC JonesCitations: Solo Bass (Kadima Collective KCR 36 kadimacollective.com) is made up of 17 untitled compositions and improvisations from 2008 to 2012 using acoustic bass or electro-acoustic bass with live electronics. To be honest the computer processes aren’t that prominent; but are mostly used to provide a constant pizzicato undercurrent, while Jones’ arco buzzes add multiphonic sweeps or balladic decorations to the selections. More individual are the improvisations, which sometimes had been created to accompany dancers. On the 11th track for instance, rosin seems to be sliding off the bass strings as Jones slaps them agitato and tremolo so that soundboard thumps resonate throughout the instrument’s body. Buzzing spiccato action with banjo-like plucks from below the bridge succeed spanked string rhythms on the 15th track; while on the fifth Jones manages to sound as if he’s manipulating two basses at once without overdubbing. Here he plucks and shakes the strings in the instrument’s top range while ruggedly double- and triple-stopping from the bottom, resulting in snaps, knocks and pops ricocheting back onto one another. Moreover a track such as 17 sums up all the preceding strategies as Jones manages to isolate three separate theme variations. Not only are stentorian thumps and undulating bow motions heard, but so too is a third tremolo impulse harmonized alongside the first two.

03-AStOngeIf Jones’ electronic interface is limited, Montreal-based Alexandre St-Onge and Norwegian-in-Austin Ingebrigt Håker Flaten draw more textures to their finger tips by utilizing amplified electric basses on their solos sessions. A member of bands such as Klaxon Gueule, as well as studying for his PhD in art, St-Onge describes himself as a sound performer and the six selections on Ailleurs (&records ET18 etrecords.net) are studded as much with signal-processed drones and splutters as reflective string modulations. Layering the sequences with loops that replicate sounds ranging from ring-modulator whooshes to bell ringing and distorted flanges, the basic double bass-like rhythmic qualities of the instrument are muted. Only on the fifth track does the tremolo, dial-twisting exposition pull back enough for a semi-acoustic interlude. Here juddering bass-string plucks can be heard contrapuntally advancing the narrative, which is still decorated with additional droning lines and wiggling voltage-affiliated cries. The achievement of Ailleurs is that by mutating its intonation and freeing the bass from its limitations as a purely rhythmic instrument a new interface appears. The reverberating result is of an expansive formula that evocatively builds on expected bull fiddle timbres the way a realistic photograph could be the basis for a surrealistic art

04-BirdsIHFAs abstract in execution as St-Onge and as familiar with as many electronic extensions, on the six tracks which make up Birds – Solo Electric (Tektite Records ingebrigtflaten.com), Ingebrigt Håker Flaten at least follows the convention of titling his tracks. Known for his membership in bands such as The Thing and Atomic, he’s able to play the electric bass in such a way to suggest multiple instruments. The most breathtaking instance of this occurs on Chicago. Pulsating the top string of his highly amplified bass with spiccato pressure, Flaten produces timbres that could as easily have come from a bagpipe chanter or a piccolo trumpet. At the same time modulated feedback decorates the exposition, while a legato theme is heard from the top guitar-like strings. Eventually this broken-octave display fades into measured stops. Mercurial and rubato, many of the other tones in his improvisations sound as if they are extended by an e-bow. Take a track like Lucia. Here string slaps alternate with flanges that could come from backward running tapes, until a vigourous melody surmounts those sounds. Whistles, whooshes, crackles and other amplified flutters predominate throughout, but when Flaten strikes or scrapes the strings with firecracker-like resonation, he confirms the true instrumental origin of the performances.

With the creativity on display on any one of these CDs so obvious, hearing the bass used merely for decorative or rhythmic functions in the future will likely be disappointing for many.

05 The White SpotThe White Spot
Way Out Northwest
Relative Pitch
RPR 1006 (www.relativepitchrecords.com)

Perhaps it should be called a North American Free Improv Agreement or NAFIA. Every time experimental British saxophonist John Butcher plays in the northwestern part of this continent his trio is made up of two Vancouver-based players: bassist Torsten Müller and drummer Dylan van der Schyff. Listening to the nine pitch-perfect improvisations on this disc demonstrates why this configuration has been maintained since 2007.

The veteran bassist, who is perfectly capable of atonal string-stretching and scrubbed pulsations, is careful to maintain a connective pumping throughout. Liberated by that stance, the drummer has the freedom to make strategic moves involving everything from cymbal snaps and woodblock clipping, the better to complement Butcher’s narratives.

Probably the easiest entry point to the poised intensity from this balanced trio is Earlianum. With Müller’s accompaniment low-pitched and rhythmic, Butcher’s tenor sax exposition is so well-modulated it could be from Coleman Hawkins, until he opens up the piece with shaking vibrations and quivering multiphonics, which are shadowed by the drummer’s clicks and clatters. As the saxophonist’s part evolves to reed bites plus staccato split tones, van der Schyff introduces muscular ruffs and the bassist’s part is transformed from stentorian tremolo strokes to razor’s edge slices and stops.

This interaction is emphasized throughout the disc. No matter how many triple-stopping bass runs, drumstick-on-cymbals shrills or strident reed-shattering banshee wails are heard, skilful equilibrium allows the tunes to impress as they flow chromatically. Comparison of NAFIA with NAFTA makes it clear that cooperation involving disparate musicians easily trumps any tripartite agreement dreamed up by politicians


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