Although seemingly limited in expressive textures by the trumpet’s size and construction, composers and players have steadily expanded the brass instrument’s range and adaptability during the past half century. As more have investigated the possibilities in improvised and aleatoric music, the definition of brass tone has modified. Concurrently the makeup of an acceptable ensemble connected with trumpet tones has evolved as well and each of these out-of the-ordinary outings demonstrates how musical definition can shift from session to session.

01 MantleCD005Longtime partners, Japanese trumpeter Natsuki Tamura and pianist Satoko Fujii have played in many configurations from duo to big band, but Mantle (NotTwo MW 10003-2 nottwo.com) is unique in that they collaborate with Spanish drummer Ramon Lopez in a trio featuring the trumpeter in the role usually taken by a reed player. Throughout the nine tracks as well, it’s Tamura’s choked or splayed capillary discursions which are most aggressive, with the pianist and drummer equally complementary. Brassy flutter tonguing, open horn accelerations, half-valve effects, kazoo-like blats and inner body tube excavations are Tamura’s common strategies. Meanwhile, as on Metaphors, the pianist’s careful arpeggios and the drummer’s contrapuntal shuffles preserve linear output. An equal line of this triangular creation, Lopez often sets up narratives with pops, ruffs or clanging cymbal work. As for Fujii, as demonstrated on Straw Coat, she skillfully creates a gentle impressionistic exposition with soundboard echoes and then turns to broken-chord power to counter Tamura’s freylekhs-like brassy interjection. Other times, as on Encounter, her dynamic vibrations give impetus to a narrative dominated by Lopez’s resounding rolls and fluid paradiddles plus Tamura’s brassy screeches. Still it’s the penultimate Autumn Sky which puts the trio’s skills in boldest relief. Beginning in a balladic mode with metronomic keyboard patterns and a brass part that is muted and moderated it subsequently creates andante excitement via grainy distended brass work and kinetic piano crunches and clusters from Fujii.

02 DaveGislerCD003Another variation on the theme of timbre reorientation is Zurich Concert (Intakt CD 357 intaktrec.ch), a live program where American trumpeter Jaimie Branch joins the trio of Swiss guitarist Dave Gisler for the first time. Her vigorous drive, propelled with a touch of greasy blues, easily latches onto the sensibility of the guitarist, bassist Raffaele Bossard and drummer Lionel Friedli, whose playing encompasses rock energy. The trumpeter’s foreground/background role is best illustrated on One Minute too Late. Picking up from the short, shaking and rattling track that precedes it, this tune evolves into a solid narrative of horizontal brass tones decorated with Gisler’s flanges and frails. When the guitar solo transforms into a gentling theme elaboration with both folk and jazz inflections, the timbral decorations are from Branch’s plunger tones. Meanwhile, movement is provided by a bowed bass line and cymbal crashes. Throughout the set, cadences are further informed by rock sensibility. If Gisler’s slashing frails and echoing string slides are often staccato and distorted, their origins are British hard rock atop jazz perceptions. When a groove is established coupling fretted string echoes, a double bass pulse and drum backbeats, low-pitched bass colouration joins the guitarist’s slurred fingering and the trumpeter’s brass smears to confirm this is no pop-rock CD. This maxim is further demonstrated on the smeary, scatological Better Don’t Fuck with the Drunken Sailor. A blues, it combines Gisler’s upward string shakes and stutters that could come from Led Zeppelin with Branch’s plunger mute extension which dates to Duke Ellington’s Jungle Band. The group also detours into post-modernism on Cappuccino, where the vocalized title is repeated and distorted by looping electronics and the stop-time narrative enhanced with guitar flanges and trumpet plunger growls.

03 SupersenseCD002If loops are one way to imaginatively add originality to trumpet-oriented jazz, Canadian-in-Brooklyn Steph Richards has come up with an even more outlandish statement. The nine tracks on Supersense (Northern Spy NS 130 northernspyrecs.com) are each named for a specific scent created for the trumpeter by fragrance artist Sean Raspet. A scratch-and-sniff card is included in the package to see if the music reflects the smells and vice versa. Olfactory connections may be up to individual debate. More compelling is the dynamic expressed between Richards’ downplayed brass undulations, the resonating drums and strewn water tones she projects with the sensitive accompaniment provided by Americans, pianist Jason Moran, bassist Stomu Takeishi and drummer Kenny Wollesen. Stroked internal strings and stopped keys from the piano, languid double bass strokes and drum-top buzzes remain atmospherically low key and purposeful, as mewling and trilling trumpet splutters create contrapuntal theme extrapolations. That makes tracks like Canopy and Metal Mouth, where Richards unexpectedly exhales strident bursts of staccato snarls, stand out. Her splayed textures, plunger asides and muted slurs are expressively bright or gritty as the situation demands. Overall, the few instances of reveille-like bugling or lively brassy buzzing are secondary to the comprehensive integration of brass, string and percussion timbres. Like quality perfume, Supersense makes its presence felt through subtlety and understatement.

04 DontWorryCD001In the right hands and mouth, trumpet tones also ally or contrast with experimental vocals and electronics, as well as instrumental techniques. That’s what happens on Don’t Worry Be Happy (Intrication Tri 002  thierrywaziniak.wixsite.com) as veteran Austrian brass experimenter Franz Hautzinger evokes his strained flutters alongside out-of-the-ordinary contributions from a trio of French players: percussionist Thierry Waziniak, guitarist Pascal Bréchet and the clarinet and voice of Isabelle Duthoit. There are times, as on Sables symphoniques, for instance, when Hautzinger’s growls and gurgles are the mirror image of Duthoit’s yelping shrieks and burbling trills, but that’s after his horizontal bites have established brass identity. More commonly, the interaction involves unearthing blurry or bellicose brass timbres from unexpected places to work alongside shrill reed multiphonics, as well as dissected string flanges and ratcheting percussion, all of which owe as much to electronic processing as acoustic qualities. This is particularly noticeable on Dans le ventre de la baleine, where irregular drum chops and jangling guitar runs are further distended with on/off voltage shakes, as high-pitched trumpet peeps and reed trills preserve the narrative movement. Moving from discursive to distinct sequences with knife-sharp guitar whines, percussion buzzing, panting vocalese and blurry trumpet variations, the program is resolved at midpoint with the extended and concept-defining Souffle hybride. With electronic wave forms soaring throughout, the sound field becomes louder as the narrative intensifies with diffuse guitar twangs and drum clip clops. Duthoit and Hautzinger construct a melded duet from clarinet chicken clucking and half-valve barks. Vocal gurgles and retches alongside back-and-forth brass vamps finally relax the track into narrative coherence. 

05 BrittleCD007Using a similar strategy and instrumentation, but with acoustic intonation, is Brittle Feebling (Humbler 006 heule.us) by a quartet of Bay Area players: trumpeter Tom Djll, Kyle Bruckmann on oboe and English horn, koto player Kanoko Nishi-Smith and Jacob Felix Heule using only a floor tom. Acoustic is merely one facet of these reductionist improvisations however, since expected tones are eschewed for the most part. The minimalist interface is adhered to so closely in fact, that it’s often impossible to attribute a single tone to one identifiable instrument. For the most part, koto strokes are intermittent, with short hammer-like clanks as present as strumming. Rarely harmonized, Bruckmann and Djll constantly overblow with squealing whines from the reeds and bell-against-mike metallic squeals from the trumpet. Underscoring this are concentrated abrasions from the floor tom that become shaking drones that sometimes replicate hurdy-gurdy continuum. Although there are brief tuneful hints emanating from the reedist’s and trumpeter’s usually dissonant narratives, the horns and percussion eventually meld into a massive blare that dominates the entire track. This density is only lessened when thin koto string plinks are gradually revealed. Careful listening though, confirms that timbral striations from the instruments during the performances mean the collective result is as fluid as it is brittle.

There are plenty of roles for trumpets in conventional ensembles. Yet each of these tone-explorers – and the groups in which they play – outlines other ways to use the brass instrument’s properties.

01 Alex MoxonAlex Moxon Quartet
Alex Moxon Quartet
Independent (alexmoxon.com)

The Ottawa-based guitarist, Alex Moxon, is a musical omnivore, his very personal style of playing clearly informed by an early diet of many styles and idioms of music. Best of all, Moxon is a shining example of what true musicality means and how it is meant to devolve from composition to performance. This 2020 recording is an exquisite example, from its unassuming title and the whimsical honesty of the cover photograph, the absence of liner notes to explain any gratuitous raison d’être for the music and, of course, the music itself. 

Not for Moxon are flurries of notes, dramatically rising and falling arpeggios, cerebrally dazzling runs up and down the fretboard. He strips bare the melody of each song that he has interiorized, distills the intended harmonic conception to the essential chords and rings in the changes to evoke mood and emotion very effectively. His single-note lines are beautifully moulded, the sound of his phrases are exquisitely elliptical. He turns harmony inside out, as on Piety in Crescent Park, and his sense of time is flawless. This is evident all over the repertoire of this album. 

Another interesting aspect is the sonic space that is created for both the chordal instruments – Moxon’s guitar and the piano played with character by Steve Boudreau, especially on the dancing, contrapuntal merry-go-round of Wood Chop. Empathetic performances are also shared by rhythm twins, bassist John Geggie and drummer Michel Delage, who also shine in their own right.

Listen to 'Alex Moxon Quartet' Now in the Listening Room

02 Will BonnessChange of Plans
Will Bonness
Independent (willbonness.com)

As a guitarist by trade, I have always been jealous of the harmonic possibilities available to pianists. Ten fingers and 88 keys, paired with the visual nature of the keyboard, gives them a unique advantage as orchestrators and arrangers. This is often rebutted by my piano-playing colleagues with things they’re jealous of in the guitar and saxophone worlds; easier legato phrasing and longer sustained notes come to mind. Winnipeg pianist Will Bonness’ new release, Change of Plans, does an excellent job of utilizing the piano’s advantages and showcasing his musicianship in a quintet setting, with vocals by Jocelyn Gould and Jon Gordon on saxophone. They are joined by Julian Bradford on bass and Fabio Ragnelli on drums. The resulting album strikes an imperturbable balance between modernity and grounding in the jazz tradition. 

It is refreshing to hear this kind of contemporary music being created in Canada. Particularly in Winnipeg, whose long thriving music scene unfairly receives less attention than those of many larger Canadian cities. Change of Plans’ originals, arrangements of standards and one Smashing Pumpkins cover, all call to mind the cutting edge often associated with New York City. While each of the quartet’s members has spent ample time in that scene, this album should receive extra attention for being a Winnipeg one at heart. While so many younger Canadian musicians move abroad, the commitment to community present on this recording makes it unique, and a globally relevant offering of Canadiana.

03 Doxas BrothersThe Circle
Doxas Brothers
Justin Time JTR 8624-2 (justin-time.com/en/album/631)

Tenor saxophonist Chet and drummer Jim Doxas are quite the power duo. Besides the obvious lifelong bond that comes with being brothers, they have the added privilege of considering each other lifelong musical counterparts. Their deeply rooted chemistry really shines through on their debut album as the Doxas Brothers. The welcome additions of pianist Marc Copland and bassist Adrian Vedady also contribute to the family vibe, as they have been associated with the brothers Doxas for years in a variety of contexts. The synergistic result is some of the most intoxicating post-bop you’re likely to find this year. 

Recorded in its entirety by Jim and Chet’s father George Doxas in their family’s Montreal studio, the album has an endearing homemade sound quality to it that really adds to the experience. Every aspect is built with TLC, and the level of comfort with which the musicians interact is extremely apparent. Chet carries a majority of the load compositionally, contributing six tunes out of a total of eight. His style is distinctive, while still remaining faithful to his influences, sometimes evoking greats such as pianist Andrew Hill. One of the most admirable characteristics of the music is Chet’s acute attention to detail. Each melody manages to leave an impression while still having his own brand of intricacy and nuance. This album is a restrained affair with a rather hushed approach, and the polished interplay within the tight-knit ensemble will leave the listener mesmerized.

Listen to 'The Circle' Now in the Listening Room

04 genius loci eastGenius Loci East
Jeannette Lambert; Reg Schwager; Michel Lambert
Independent (jeannettelambert.bandcamp.com)

A wonderfully eclectic and enlightening musical journey is what we embark on in velvet-voiced Jeannette Lambert’s newest release. Recorded during her travels with brother and guitarist Reg Schwager along with husband and drummer Michel Lambert, the album documents how local cultures affected Lambert’s music and fuelled her creativity which blossoms within each track. Perhaps the most unique part of the album, besides lyrical poems penned by Lambert, is that the entirety of the record is improvisational; the vocalist herself mentioning that she’d bring in the poem she had written only moments before recording. The result is a musical harmony between musicians, an inspirational freshness that can only be brought about by living in the moment. 

The influence of time the group spent in Java and Kyoto is evident within each song; it’s as if we are able to catch a glimpse into what Lambert experienced day to day; a travel journal that’s brought to life through her highly evocative text, Schwager’s flowing and meandering guitar melodies in combination with percussionist Lambert’s constantly driving and originative rhythmic grooves. Use of the thumb piano (kalimba) as well as the vocalist’s integration of local vocal techniques such as Japanese kobushi, a specific type of warble or vibrato, are applied within several pieces to add that authentic, cultural flavour. In times where we can’t physically travel, this record is a brilliant and melodious escape that any jazz fan would thoroughly enjoy.

05 Mark Hynes TributeTribute
Mark Hynes Trio; Dennis Irwin
Cellar Music CM050120 (cellarlive.com/collections)

New York City bassist Dennis Irwin, was not only one of the most gifted jazz musicians to ever breathe air, but he was a prince among men. Talented saxophonist (and friend and colleague of Irwin) Mark Hynes has just released a never-before-heard collection of tracks recorded in 2007 that feature Irwin. They were intended to be part of a much larger project, which sadly never materialized, due to Irwin’s untimely death in 2008 – the tragic result of no health insurance. The fundamental trio here features facile and soulful Hynes on tenor, Darrell Green on drums, and of course the late Irwin on bass.

Things kick off with B’s Monk, a Hynes original, channelling the quirky artistry of the late Thelonious Monk. This track (and the entire CD) is recorded exquisitely, with a perfect acoustic balance between instruments, propelled by the big, fat, commanding sound of Irwin’s bass. Hynes’ soloing is both compelling and skilled, with ideas flowing out of his horn like lava. Comes Love is a standout – a jazz standard strongly associated with Lady Day. Hynes’ beautiful tone is delightfully reminiscent of Cannonball Adderly, but his contemporary slant and New York City energy is all his own. Irwin’s lyrical solo on this track is a thing of rare beauty, and a fine example of his dedication to excellence.   

Included on the recording is a luminous version of the rarely performed Ellington/Strayhorn composition, Isfahan, and the trio renders this sumptuous ballad with layer upon layer of deep emotional content. Other delights include Monk’s Let’s Cool One and the touchingly appropriate closer, Gordon Jenkins’ Goodbye. A wonderful tribute to an amazing artist.

06 Mary HalvorsonArtlessly Falling
Mary Halvorson’s Code Girl
Firehouse 12 Records FH12-04-01-034 (firehouse12records.com)

In recent years, guitarist Mary Halvorson has transitioned from brilliant avant-gardist to a central figure in contemporary jazz. Her first Code Girl CD from 2018 – introducing Amirtha Kidambi singing Halvorson’s artful, newly minted songs – contributed to that recognition. The project extends to language the edgy intensity – ”Atrophied crucibles, charred Russian dolls” – previously signalled by the funhouse-mirror electronics that light up her guitar playing.  

Halvorson has a keen sense of some special traditions. Her lyrics carry on the art song, whether it’s adapting the sestina form employed by 12th-century troubadours in the title track or matching avant-jazz to surrealism in Bigger Flames, recalling composer Carla Bley and poet Paul Haines’ Escalator over the Hill; she’s also convinced a longstanding influence, singer-songwriter Robert Wyatt, to bring his wanly artful voice to three of her songs. There’s also an insistent contemporaneity, however unpleasant: the words to Last Minute Smears are phrases from Brett Kavanaugh’s 2018 testimony before the U.S. Senate.  

Including Halvorson’s almost decade-long partnership with bassist Michael Formanek and drummer Tomas Fujiwara, collectively Thumbscrew, Code Girl has all the musical intimacy of a genuine band. It’s evident everywhere here but especially in the close tracking and exchanges that Halvorson shares with new band members – trumpeter Adam O’Farrill and saxophonist/vocalist Maria Grand – on A Nearing. When Halvorson unleashes her virtuosity and electronics on Mexican War Streets (Pittsburgh), there are few contemporary performers who can match the urgent complexity and authority of her work.

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