09 Andy BallantyneAndy Ballantyne: Play on Words
Andy Ballantyne; Rob Piltch; Adrean Farrugia; Neil Swainson; Terry Clarke
GB Records GBCD190307 (gbrecords.ca)

Toronto-native, saxophonist Andy Ballantyne has decided to pay tribute to some of his greatest influences on this new release. Ballantyne describes the thought behind this record as being a showcase of how it’s possible to make something your own and add your personal touch and flare to it, even within the bounds of certain stylistic constraints you often have as a freelance musician. It’s very much about showing how a musician can add their own unique perspective within a piece of music. Ballantyne composed all of the pieces except Till the Clouds Roll By, written by Jerome Kern, a famed musical theatre and popular music composer from the early 1900s.

All of the songs stand out in their own right and, if the listener knows about the greats Ballantyne is paying tribute to, it is easy to hear their influence. Some pieces that really come forth are Gordian Knot, a catchy and rhythmically pleasing opening track dedicated to Dexter Gordon, Round Shot, a song that is positively groovy and is a shout out to the great Cannonball Adderley and Mr. P.L., a quite cleverly named tune to honour one of our amazing local saxophonists (maybe the reader will be able to figure out who.) Featuring Adrean Farrugia on piano, Rob Piltch on guitar, Neil Swainson on bass and Terry Clarke on drums, this record is nothing short of excellent.

10 RobClutton TonyMalaby Cover trimOffering
Rob Clutton with Tony Malaby
Snailbongbong SBB006 (robclutton.bandcamp.com)

Bassist Rob Clutton has long been a mainstay of Toronto’s jazz community, as diligent supporting player in the mainstream and a creative catalyst in more adventurous settings. Clutton leads his own Cluttertones, combining songs, synthesizer and banjo, and he’s explored individualistic inspirations on solo bass. Here he’s playing a series of duets with New York saxophonist Tony Malaby, a fellow member of drummer Nick Fraser’s Quartet, and a standout soloist, whether for the animated gravel of his tenor or the piquant air of his soprano.  

That pared-down instrumentation reveals its rationale on the hymn-like title track, one of Clutton’s seven compositions here, his bowed bass complementing Malaby’s warm, airy tenor sound. On Refuge, as well, the two reach toward the grace and intensity of John Coltrane. Often admirably concise, the two can also stretch out, extending their spontaneous interaction on Crimes of Tantalus.

Among the three improvisations, Swamp Cut has both musicians reaching deep into their sonic resources, Malaby’s grainy soprano meeting its double in the high harmonics of Clutton’s bowed bass. The rapid-fire Twig has Clutton to the fore, plucking a kind of compound ostinato that fires Malaby’s lyricism. Swerve has as much focused energy and raw expressionism as bass and tenor might provide, while Nick Fraser’s Sketch #11 possesses a special melodic attraction.

Throughout, one hears the special camaraderie that two gifted improvisers can achieve in a stripped-down setting, while Clutton’s compositions could support a larger ensemble and further elaboration.

11 Simone LegaultLiminal Spaces
Simon Legault Trio
Effendi Records (effendirecords.com)

Simon Legault’s previous album was titled Hypnagogia Polis (2017) which referred to a transitional state from wakefulness to sleep and featured a quintet. Liminal Spaces (2019) is a trio album which includes Adrian Vedady on electric and acoustic bass and Michel Lambert on drums. Liminal means “relating to a transitional or initial stage of a process.” Therefore the theme of “transitions” can explain many of the melodic and compositional elements of his work. Legault’s guitar playing is both clean and precise and includes a spacey quality that hints at other worlds and explorations beyond the immediacy of the groove.

Many of the pieces seem to have evolved from improvisations and work organically through several organizing ideas or movements. The opening Liminal Spaces contains many rubato portions which draw on Legault’s melodic scampering; a pastiche of percussive nuances from Lambert provides a nuanced and shifting backdrop. Solus I, II, III and IV are shorter solo guitar works that explore a variety of melodic and harmonic ideas, all in relatively free time. On the other hand, Inflexion has a solid groove and a harder bop feel which Vedady and Lambert accentuate with great ensemble backing. Interwoven’s title could refer to the opening contrapuntal interplay between guitar, bass and drums which propels us forward to the busier middle section that showcases some excellent and articulate guitar chops leading to a thoughtful bass solo.

Legault’s “process” works to create a fascinating album that is introspective with bursts of melodic and rhythmic intensity.

12 Aurochs Perdidox CoverPerdidox
Aurochs
All-Set Editions (all-set.org)

Aurochs is an improvising group consisting of Ali Berkok (piano), Pete Johnston (bass), Jake Oelrichs (drums) and Mike Smith (live signal processing electronics) with a monthly Friday night residency at the Tranzac club in Toronto. Perdidox contains two longer improvisations, Grammar Architect and Perfect Future, which the group describes as “long slow atmospheric disturbances.” These works contain many elements including minimalism, jazz, funk, pointillism and general avant-garde mayhem. The addition of Smith’s electronics to the classic jazz trio instrumentation creates sounds that are repeated with delay, reverb and other treatments that blur distinctions between what is live and what is sampled and regenerated.

Both works have a strong rhythmic impulse for most of their span which drives the narrative forward. Grammar Architect maintains a sustained and funky forward momentum with many tasty riffs from Oelrichs, from shuffle to hypnotically off-centre snare, which plays off Johnston’s juicy bass sound. Perfect Future has a great break around the seven-minute mark where a simple bass riff is sampled and looped but most of the bass timbre has been taken away. The other players drop away and allow this riff to create a space before the second major section of the work which involves much tapping and scratching of instruments. The final portion contains many piano interjections that mix some Romantic elements with angular modernist riffs; towards the end, the drums and bass find a jazzy marching groove.

Perdidox is being released on SoundCloud which is becoming common in this age of multiple streaming platforms.

13 Sound of the Mountainamplified clarinet & trumpet, guitars, nimb
Sound of the Mountain with Tetuzi Akiyama and Toshimaru Nakamura
Mystery & Wonder MW008 (mwrecs.com)

Sound of the Mountain is the duo of clarinetist Elizabeth Millar and trumpeter Craig Pedersen, significant younger figures in the Montreal musique actuelle community. Their work includes orchestral roles, free jazz and free improvisation. This CD, titled by its instrumentation, comes from a 2017 Tokyo encounter with guitarist Tetuzi Akiyama and Toshimaru Nakamura, who plays “nimb” or no-input mixing board, plugging its output into its input and creating an array of controlled feedback sounds.

There are two improvisations here, identified by the numbers 1 (clocking in at 18:39) and 2 (16:51) and that instrument list. The music proceeds with its own developing form, a collection of shifting sounds, sometimes spacious, like an isolated guitar passage, some gently picked reflective notes, some longitudinally scraped strings, these matched with a few electronic burbles. At other times there’s a crumbling wall of sound: diverse feedback, a delicate clicking of clarinet keys, some lip-smacking kissing sounds from the trumpet.

Such literal description gives nothing of the actual experience of the music, which possesses an inner logic, sometimes jangling, sometimes a reverie in an industrial park. It’s a communion of sounds, linked in an experiential continuum rather than through fixed harmonies and rhythms. Ten minutes into 2, there’s a passage that sounds like a very wise child is gently plucking at a guitar for the first time, a trumpet plays muffled lines and there’s a hive of electronic sound. It’s a moment of perfect multi-dimensional calm.

14 PCPTriointernal/external/focused/broad
PCP Trio
Mystery & Wonder MW 004 (mwrecs.com)

Specializing in the outer limits of tones and timbres, Montreal’s PCP Trio works through one short and one extended improvisation on this brief – less than 25 minutes – CD, where the distinctions among pure sounds are exalted without a need for melody, harmony or rhythm. Writ large on Extended Listening Blues, the parameters set up include laconic watery burbles from Craig Pedersen’s amplified trumpet, off-handed slaps from drummer Eric Craven and a cornucopia of licks from guitarist Alex Pelchat that sputter, twang and clang among high-volume distortions.

Except for the occasional percussion thump or cymbal crash, the guitarist and trumpeter dominate the action with broken octave lines and dual counterpoint that initially evolves in a parallel fashion without intersection. By the mid-point however, the trumpeter’s dissected whistles and hums and the guitarist’s harsh string rubbing and metallic clangs reach a droning concordance, culminating in a finale of vibrating strings and measured brass breaths.

Not easy listening in any way, internal/external/focused/broad shouldn’t be frightening either. In their own ways free music and heavy metal practitioners have set up challenges to familiar and comfortable music. Stripping sounds to primeval levels is what the PCP Trio also does here, and the adventurous should want to check it to see how these experiments are proceeding.

15 Coltrane Blue WorldBlue World
John Coltrane
Impulse B0030157-02 (vervelabelgroup.com)

John Coltrane is among jazz history’s most influential musicians, and any unheard work demands attention, witness last year’s reception for Both Directions at Once, a lost session from 1963. Blue World isn’t quite so startling: it’s a June 1964 soundtrack session for Montreal filmmaker Gilles Groulx’s Le chat dans le sac, a film that’s been available online. However, the one complete take and three fragments on the soundtrack total less than 11 minutes, so there’s plenty of unheard material on this 37-minute CD of the studio session.

Groulx’s request list favoured Coltrane’s work from 1957 to 1960: all but one composition originated then, most prior to Coltrane assembling the “classic quartet” heard here, with pianist McCoy Tyner, drummer Elvin Jones and bassist Jimmy Garrison. It’s an opportunity to hear some of Coltrane’s earlier material performed by his most celebrated band, at its peak, in Rudy Van Gelder’s legendary studio.

What’s here may be relatively brief, but it’s very special: there are two takes of Coltrane’s luminous Naima. A couple of tracks run past six minutes, but they’re half the length of earlier versions. The title work, a blues recast from Coltrane’s 1962 arrangement of Harold Arlen’s Out of this World, has comparable power with added tension from Coltrane’s evolving tone and focus. There’s also a driving version of Traneing In, a piece dating from his earlier harmonic investigations. Often a relentless explorer, Coltrane was also a masterful editor: here he’s emphasizing that side of his extraordinary craft.

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