05 Andre DuchesneCh’val
André Duchesne
ambiences magnetiques AM 271 CD (actuellecd.com) 

André Duchesne, as he tends to do, manages to accomplish something resembling complete expressive purity on Ch’val. It feels like a deeply personal project, with Duchesne himself being responsible for every instrument, click, clack, whisper, wander and runaway brushstroke the listener can perceive. Guitar notes in the left channel dissolve in the mix, as if muttering something under their breath, or a notion abruptly turning into an afterthought. Freewheelin’ ride cymbal grooves in the right channel are aborted on a snare hit, the upbeat a helium balloon with a combusting string. There is a charming baldness to the all-around sonic stew, with a notable scarcity of studio effects imposed on Duchesne’s musicking, which makes every utterance completely unmistakable. 

This stripped-back approach makes this virtual rock band (as Duchesne puts it) reminiscent of Ornette Coleman’s Prime Time ensemble, particularly with the polyphony created by the sharp guitar and drum tones. So many sounds are in the forefront, and yet there is a beautifully intricate organization to the soundscape. The presence of transparency and humility Duchesne creates is quite sobering, allowing the entire process to be laid bare in the product. Perhaps most astonishingly, this act of constantly layering numerous takes on top of each other never compromises the music’s sense of spontaneity, and certainly doesn’t take away from the listener’s feeling of adventure on this glorious odyssey.

06 William CarnChoices
William Carn (octet)
Independent WC004 (williamcarn.com) 

This beautiful recital on Choices wraps carefully chosen instrumentation led by trombonist (and now) a singing William Carn, with elegantly played repertoire around fascinatingly atmospheric keyboards. While Carn is one of the fascinating keyboardists here, the music draws significant substance from the keyboards and bass pedals of Todd Pentney, reincarnated as producer and sound designer extraordinaire, HiFiLo.

The Toronto-based Carn is fast gaining a reputation as one of the finest virtuoso trombonists in Toronto. His reputation as a fine sight reader and an imaginative, idiomatic interpreter of music is making him a much sought after member of brass sections in small, medium and larger ensembles too. However, it is as a composer that he deserves to be much better known. 

Conceptually and thematically this album is a significant follow-up to The History of Us, a marvellous, very personal recording he produced with his saxophone-playing wife, Tara Davidson and their ensemble, Carn-Davidson 9. 

Choices reflects the thoughtful nature of Carn’s compositions. Like his previous album, some of the music often reveals a propensity for plumbing the depth of socio-political and personal passions and the need to exhale – both musically as well as emotionally. Thus, between Breathe In and Breathe Out we are treated to profound meditations on Ukraine (Heroyim Slava), discrimination (Get Up) and love (The Gift and Goodbye Old Friend). Through it all Carn and colleagues bring trademark acoustic and electronic energy and virtuosity to a hugely enjoyable program.

07 Itamar ErezMay Song
Itamar Erez Independent
Independent (itamarerez.bandcamp.com/album/may-song) 

Itamar Erez’s 2019 “pre-pandemic” CD, Mi Alegria (Spanish for “my joy”) was, indeed, a purely joyous, musical celebration. Now, with May Song, conceived and recorded amid the incessant COVID-19 lockdowns, and released in October 2022, we have Erez’s reflective response to those uncertain and unpredictable pandemic times (not that the virus is done with us, just yet). Erez characterizes the project as “emerging from darkness and doubt into lightness and joy.”

May Song is unique among Erez’s recordings, in that unlike his five previous releases, Erez, an Israeli-Canadian, world-class (and globetrotting) guitarist, pianist and composer based in Vancouver, is heard only at the piano. In addition to Erez’s focus on the keyboard, which has evolved over the last three to four years, a more improvisational approach to his music-making is also evident throughout May Song, and immediately apparent on the haunting, improvised intro of the first track, Chant. And thus begins this musical journey out of darkness.

Hourglass is pulsing and polyrhythmic, with a dynamic dialogue between piano and clarinet. Catch Me If You Can feels jaunty, expansive, optimistic, edging towards the light. You and Me, evocative and yearning, maintains a steady, forward-moving momentum with taught piano/bass/drum interplay. The deeply emotional title track is the penultimate stop, offering hopeful resolution.

Outstanding collaborators on this journey are clarinettist François Houle, bassist Jeff Gammon, Kevin Romain on drums and Chris Gestrin guesting on synths. Like Erez himself, May Song is inspired and original.

08 jacob WutzkeShow Yourself
Jacob Wutzke; Lucas Dubovic; Gentiane MG; Levi Dover; Caity Gyorgy
Independent (jacobwutzke.com) 

Show Yourself is an exciting new release from Montreal/Toronto-based drummer Jacob Wutzke. This is Wutzke’s first full-length album as a leader, and it encapsulates all the obligatory energy and excitement of a debut album in a mature and thoughtful package. 

In many ways this recording avoids the traps of being a “drummer album,” but when it does enter that realm its ample exciting musicianship will keep listeners of all persuasions entertained. Another potential snare that this album manages to circumvent is that of lengthiness. There are a mighty 11 tracks on Show Yourself, the longest being over seven minutes in duration, but the overall feeling I have after a complete listen-through is one of pleasant variety rather than longwindedness.  

Right from the starting track How do You Mean?, listeners are treated to music that is straight-ahead without hanging onto overly traditional aesthetics. This lovely contrast is reflected in Wutzke’s personnel choices for the album too, with core band members Lucas Dubovik, Gentiane MG and Levi Dover all finding common ground as a unit. Vocalist Caity Gyorgy makes an appearance on the album’s final track, a contemporary yet swinging version of the jazz standard My Shining Hour. Gyorgy also produced the album, which is a testament to the powerhouse musical and personal relationship she shares with Wutzke. 

To return to my previous “drummer comments,” this album sounds the way many drummers aspire to play: precise, yet organic. Surgical exactitude needs not sacrifice expressiveness, and Show Yourself is a perfect reminder of this. 

09 Liina AllemanoPipe Dream
Lina Allemano Four
Lumo Records LM 2023-14 (linaallemano.bandcamp.com) 

Lina Allemano’s quartet has had the same personnel since 2005 when her musical direction moved to freer climes, with Brodie West on alto saxophone. Since then, it’s served as a vehicle for Allemano’s development as both improviser and composer, revealing a gift for counterpoint and orchestration that makes creative use of bassist Andrew Downing and drummer Nick Fraser beyond typical rhythm section roles. The opening Banana Canon, the first of three independent compositions, is a minimalist theme, at once playful and slightly querulous, that immediately establishes the group’s distinctive personality. 

The rest of the CD is devoted to a suite called Plague Diaries, composed by Allemano in Toronto during the first months of the COVID-19 lockdown. Each of the four movements is introduced by a stark unaccompanied solo, emphasizing the sense of isolation. If studies with Axel Dörner have contributed to Allemano’s development as a keen explorer of the trumpet’s secret sonic resources, her Berlin residencies may have also offered a compositional resource for the suite. Part III: Hunger and Murder, starting with a gritty arco solo from Downing, suggests the grim, desiccated 1930s work of composer Hanns Eisler. Further, the concluding Doom and Doomer, propelled by Fraser’s willfully chaotic drum solo, develops a rapid, circulating pattern against which Allemano improvises brilliantly, her solo suggesting one trapped in a labyrinth. 

There’s a consistent, collective creativity here, at once urgent and coherent, that marks this as one of the year’s most significant jazz recordings.

10 Canadian Jazz CollectiveSeptology – The Black Forest Session
Canadian Jazz Collective
HGBS Blue Records HGBSBLUE20217 (canadianjazzcollective.com) 

Canada’s improvised music scene frequently occupies a limbo between the government supported arts scenes of Europe, and the large commercial entertainment markets of the United States. That phenomenon is one of several reasons why it’s exciting to see the Canadian Jazz Collective gather success representing our fair nation locally and abroad.

Kirk MacDonald, Derrick Gardner and Virginia MacDonald are the lead voices of this formidable septet, with guitarist Lorne Lofsky contributing to both the melodic and harmonic sides of the ensemble. In the liner notes to Septology, The Black Forest Session, Lofsky mentions a 40-year history with several members of the group, namely bassist Neil Swainson and pianist Brian Dickinson, who round out the rhythm section alongside Austrian drummer Bernd Reiter. 

Septology’s eight original tracks are penned by Gardner, Lofsky and MacDonald respectively, and feature a beautiful blend of individualism and group interplay. Dig That! is a hard swinging opening track that prepares the listener for what’s to come: a steadfast commitment to the roots of this music, approached in a manner that eschews any notion of traditionalism or conservatism. 

The Time Being is a contemplative piece penned by Lofsky. This writer knows the guitarist’s other two offerings Waltz You Needn’t and Highway 9 from his 1992 self-titled album, and they’re cleverly reworked here for septet. Kirk MacDonald contributes two originals to the recording that fit the collective’s aesthetic beautifully, notably his arrangement of Shadows that keeps the rhythm section on their toes under contrapuntal horn lines. 

Alongside exploring this album at home, I have encountered it several times on local Toronto radio. Septology is receiving ample well-deserved attention, and with a second European tour approaching, this is definitely not the last you’ll be hearing of the Canadian Jazz Collective!

11 Le Boeuf BrothersHush
Le Boeuf Brothers
Soundspore Records (leboeufbrothers.com) 

Pascal and Remy Le Boeuf are identical twin brothers who have worked individually and together to produce innovative music which is mainly composed, but also includes many spaces for improvisation. HUSH is a quieter and more intimate work than many of their previous albums and uses a quintet with Remy on alto saxophone, Pascal on piano, Dayna Stephens on tenor saxophone, Linda May Han Oh on upright bass and Christian Euman on drums. This is a true collaboration as 12 tracks are written by Pascal and eight are by Remy. 

Most works are shorter and are specific to the brothers’ interests. For example, Wedding Planning was composed by Pascal to display their excitement over both brothers’ marriage celebrations. Oblique Two-Step by Remy begins with a simple piano melody with bass and drums that evolves into a dialogue between the two saxophones. The liner notes describe Soot as “a chorale ... searching for something that has been burned away” and Pascal’s gorgeous alto sax makes it one of the most beautiful songs on the album. HUSH is a quiet and graceful work full of variety and nuance.

Listen to 'Hush' Now in the Listening Room

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