01_EParker.jpgJust as international improvisers sometimes find a more welcoming atmosphere for their sound experiments in Canada than at home, so too have Canadian record labels become a vehicle to release notable free music sessions. Attesting to this openness, two of the most recent discs by British saxophone master Evan Parker are on Canadian imprints. But each arrived by a different route. One of the triumphs of 2014’s Festival International de Musique Actuelle de Victoriaville in Quebec, this performance of Seven by Parker’s ElectroAcoustic Septet (Victo 127 victo.qc.ca) is available on Victo, FIMAV’s affiliated imprint. Consisting of one massive and one shorter instant composition, Seven literally delineates the electro-acoustic divide. Trumpeter Peter Evans, reedist Ned Rothenberg, cellist Okkyung Lee and Parker make up the acoustic side, while varied laptop processes are operated by Ikue Mori and Sam Pluta, with George Lewis switching between laptop and trombone, with his huffing brass tone making a particular impression during a contrapuntal face-off with Parker’s soprano saxophone during Seven-2. At nearly 46 minutes, Seven-1 is the defining work, attaining several musical crests during its ghostly, meandering near-time suspension. Allowing for full expression of instrumental virtuosity, dynamic flutters, flanges and processes, the laptoppists accompany, comment upon or challenge the acoustic instruments. Alternately wave form loops and echoes cause the instrumentalists to forge their reposes. Plenty of sonic surprises arise during the sequences. Undefined processed-sounding bee-buzzing motifs, for example, are revealed as mouth and lip modulations from Evans’ piccolo trumpet or aviary trills from Rothenberg’s clarinet. In contrast the electronics’ crackles and static are often boosted into mellower affiliations that sound purely acoustic. Eventually both aspects meld into a climax of bubbly consistency with any background-foreground, electro or acoustic displays satisfactorily melded. More percussive Seven-2 has a climax involving fragmented electronics pulsating steadily as first Evans, then Rothenberg and finally Parker spill out timbres that confirm formalism as much as freedom.

02_Extremes.jpgWhile Seven’s domestic release seems almost mandatory, Montreal-based Red Toucan’s decision to release UK-recorded Extremes (RT 9349 symaptico.ca/cactus.red) demonstrates its commitment to this music. Parker on tenor saxophone, alongside Paul Dunmall, another intense British tenor specialist, plus American drummer Tony Bianco, offer a three-track masterclass in free-form improvisation. With the drummer keeping up a constant barrage of smacks, whacks, ruffs and pops in the propulsive Elvin Jones tradition, the saxophonists dig into every variation and shading of reed and metal tones like an updated John Coltrane and Pharoah Sanders. Unlike the maelstrom of bedlam-like expression in which some sound explorers operate, however, Dunmall and Parker play with relaxed intensity. This isn’t a cutting contest either, but a demonstration of how saxophonists can function as separate parts of a single entity. With the final Horus especially adding affirming motes to the jazz tradition via glossolalia and faint echoes of Sonny Rollins’ East Broadway Rundown, each player maintains his individuality no matter how many harsh snorts or siren-pitched expressions are unleashed. Parker’s tone is distinguished by lighter vibrations and swifter split tones while Dunmall’s timbres are darker and grittier. With intuitive timing the tenors attain concluding connection, showcasing rowdy theme variations on the 30-minute-plus title track and polyphonic expressiveness on Horus. Overall, the result is head expanding, not head banging.

03_Earnear.jpgA trio concerned with the linkage between notated and improvised sounds is Lisbon-based, EarNear; its self-titled debut CD appears on the Rimouski-based TourdeBras label (TDB90012 CD tourdebras.com). Conversant in many genres, violist João Camões, pianist Rodrigo Pinheiro and cellist Miguel Mira expose textures unique and unexpected for a chamber ensemble. Although strident, speedy and high pitched much of the time, generic continuum is maintained with Mira connectively thumping out what would be the bassist’s role in jazz. On the other hand barbed wire-like sharpened sweeps from Camões, plus inner piano plinks, plucks and crackles confirm the modernity of the performance on tracks such as Airfoil. The responsive nature of the trio’s narrative is such though, that even Gõmbõc, the lengthiest and most cerebral performance, is tempered with sympathetic piano chording and bass string pressure. This leads to a tonal resolution of what begins as a cacophonous battle, with rugged low-pitched string scrubbing on one side and euphonious textures expressed in bell-like, near-harpsichord vibrations on the other.

04_GoldenState.jpgGolden State II’s (SGL 1610-2 songlines.com) situation is atypical since drummer Harris Eisenstadt is a Canadian and Songlines is a Vancouver imprint. But Eisenstadt is based in Brooklyn and other members of this working quartet – bassist Mark Dresser, bassoonist Sara Schoenbeck and clarinetist Michael Moore – are Americans, natives of California: the Golden State. Here much of the emphasis builds on the divergences between Schoenbeck’s rhinal smears and Moore’s honeyed trills. For example, Agency, a near blues, validates the bassoon as a frontline instrument with hard gusts from Schoenbeck’s horn doubled by Moore as the theme is propelled by rim shots and double bass stops. A Kind of Resigned Indignation is an analogous showcase for Dresser’s profound facility, as he moves from sul ponticello minutiae to focused walking, maintaining bedrock toughness while spurring the others. Defining chamber jazz much differently than EarNear does, the drummer’s knocks and sweeps give the CD a rhythmic base propelled with sophisticated understatement. Animatedly reaching a climax of suspended time on Seven in Six/A Particularity with a Universal Resonance, the quartet blends reed smoothness, curlicue percussion pops and string sweeps into a distinct chromatic form. The result is as mellow, unhurried and sunny as the Golden State or Vancouver.

05_Braxton.jpgCanadian labels’ openness to experimentation goes back at least to the early 1970s, with Sackville’s series of Toronto-recorded original sessions featuring then-emerging players from Chicago and New York. Reissued with two additional tracks, 1974’s Trio and Duet (Sackville/Delmark SK3007 delmark.com) hints at why Anthony Braxton’s vision may have been too difficult for some jazz fans of the time. Accompanied by bassist Dave Holland and playing alto saxophone on five tracks, Braxton creates his own variations of standards. While his stripped-down performances may appear slightly frenetic compared to mainstream versions, despite solid timekeeping and a triple-slicing showcase from the bassist on You Go to My Head, the melody remains. If tracks such as Embraceable You or On Green Dolphin Street include more altissimo slurs or squeaking sheets of sound than were common four decades ago, in 2015 the versions would frighten only the most hidebound neo-cons. Yet if Braxton’s standards side was accepted he turns around on what was the LP’s other side and creates a 19-minute modernist piece titled HM-421 (RTS) 47, featuring himself on clarinet, contrabass clarinet, chimes and percussion, Leo Smith on pocket trumpet, trumpet, flugelhorn and percussion plus Richard Teitelbaum on Moog synthesizer, with textures the keyboardist pioneered as a member of Musica Elettronica Viva. Spatial and carefully sequenced, the Moog’s flanges set up a juddering, staccato ostinato over which Smith and Braxton layer muted peeps and stentorian puffs plus chime and conga-like pumps. Yet even if Teitelbaum’s oscillations resemble a Model T warming up rather than the futuristic electronics of today, the graceful playing expressed by all means that at this early date Braxton and the others had perfected the subtle art of matching electronic and acoustic textures without conflict.

The brilliance of this CD substantiates Sackville’s vision. It also suggests that years from now the concept of Canadian labels releasing foreign-sourced experimental music will more likely be praised for foresight rather than eccentricity.

01_Kris_David_Save_Your_Breath.jpgCalgary-raised, Toronto-educated and now based in New York, pianist/ composer Kris Davis has built a substantial reputation at the cutting edge where jazz blends freely with classical and improvised inspirations. However, Save Your Breath (Cleanfeed CF 322 CD, cleanfeed-records.com), by her new ensemble Infrasound, is her most exciting work to date. What might draw a composer to create an octet combining the chordal density of piano, organ and guitar with the inchoate depths of four bass clarinets? The answer is apparent everywhere here in thick, welling music that moves from haunted opera house to the real depths provided by shaking low frequencies, all of it combined in ways both masterful and mysterious to create a music that you definitely haven’t heard before. Among the cast of bass clarinetists, Ben Goldberg is profound on Always Leave Them (Wanting More) and Joachim Badenhorst incendiary on Whirly Swirly.

02_Pedersen_Ghosts.jpgOttawa trumpeter Craig Pedersen’s Quartet has just released its third CD, Ghosts (cpm-006, craigpedersen.com), as remarkable for its concentration as its brevity. Less than 18 minutes long, the five-part work suggests roots in the 1960s avant-garde – the braying, village-band dirges of Albert Ayler (Ghosts, though, is Pedersen’s, not Ayler’s) and the linked suites of Don Cherry – but Pedersen has his own voice. His compositions can reduce and repeat melody, insisting on its essence in Something to Like, or hint at musical travels: a Latin beat, a Middle-Eastern mode, the wail of flamenco. Within the intensely collective enterprise, each individual voice presses forward, whether it’s alto saxophonist Linsey Wellman and bassist Joel Kerr on Sung Song or drummer Eric Thibodeau on Clothesline. At the work’s conclusion, the highly vocal trumpet and saxophone give way to actual chanting.

03_Chantal_de_Villiers.jpgChantal de Villiers emphasizes the connection between jazz and soul music on Funky Princess (Independent CDV 052014, chantaldevilliers.com) and lives up to the billing by delivering the kind of rich tenor saxophone sound – think Gene Ammons to Grover Washington – that saturates a melody as much as it articulates it. The emphasis is definitely on fundamentals, with strong rhythmic grooves provided by some of Montreal’s finest, bassist Fraser Hollins and the drummers Rich Irwin or Dave Laing. The Shadow of Your Smile and Dexter Gordon’s Panther supply further touchstones, but de Villiers is adept at fashioning her own anthems, like the opening Groovy Step, a slice of solid jazz funk. Alto saxophonist Rémi Bolduc appears, adding a lighter touch, while Burt De Villiers contributes further heft with Hammond B3 organ.

04a_Cory_Weeds.jpgCory Weeds closed his Cellar Jazz Club in Vancouver at the end of February 2014, but it hasn’t hampered his career as a saxophonist or his vigorous Cellar Live record label, which continues to release sessions from the club and further afield. Weeds’ musical ideal is hard bop: hard-edged, blues-inflected, modern jazz as defined in New York in the late 50s and early 60s. It’s much in evidence in several recent releases.

Weeds marks the label’s 100th release with his own Condition Blue, The Music Of Jackie McLean (Cellar Live CL111214, cellarlive.com), paying tribute to the great alto saxophonist. Weeds brings his own alto sound to this – no one should try to duplicate McLean’s unique, acid-toned, slightly sharp delivery – touching on aspects of McLean’s style from the drum-like phrasing of the title track to the abstract Capuchin Swing and the serpentine coil of Jacknife. The back-up is an organ trio, with Mike LeDonne, guitarist Peter Bernstein and drummer Joe Farnsworth bringing a gentler, burbling, almost dream-like ambience to McLean’s visceral art.

04b_Curtis_Nowosad.jpgDrummer Curtis Nowosad made his recording debut two years ago. A recent graduate of the University of Winnipeg’s Jazz Studies Program, he led a band made up of his teachers, mixing a hard bop approach with material sourced from Pink Floyd to Tupac Shakur. Nowosad is currently living and studying in New York, but he reassembled the same band for Dialectics (Cellar Live CL010115), including the stellar saxophonist Jimmy Greene. The repertoire is much more conventional, mostly Nowosad originals that frankly reference works by hard bop masters like Horace Silver and Duke Pearson. It’s consistently lively work, and Nowosad stands out on his Afro-Cuban arrangement of Monk’s Bye-Ya.

04c_Louis_Hayes.jpgLouis Hayes and the Cannonball Adderley Legacy Band Live at Cory Weeds’ Cellar Jazz Club (Cellar Live CL120513) was recorded in December 2013, shortly before the club closed. Though the presence of Canadian musicians is limited to Weeds sitting in on Sack of Woe, he fits right in, no small accomplishment. Hayes was 76 at the time, as precise as when he was propelling Adderley and Horace Silver in his 20s. With alto saxophonist Vincent Herring and trumpeter Jeremy Pelt in the front line, the band plays the soulful bop and blues of Adderley’s repertoire (Dat Dere stands out) with as much élan as any contemporary group might manage.

04d_Grant_Stewart.jpgThe highpoint of Weeds’ current crop is by an expatriate Torontonian, tenor saxophonist Grant Stewart who established himself in New York 25 years ago. His Trio (Cellar Live CL111014) is boiled down to just tenor, bass and drums, but while it’s reminiscent of Sonny Rollins’ great orations, the resemblance takes nothing away from Stewart’s achievement. It’s spontaneous dialogue at the highest level, with the saxophonist at once as meaty and abstract as his model, whether cascading through chord changes or in intimate rhythmic dialogue with bassist Paul Sikivie and drummer (and brother) Phil Stewart. The trio spins particularly memorable variations on Everything’s Coming up Roses.

01_Throne.jpgThe Throne
Ochs-Robinson Duo
NotTwo MW 918-2 (nottwo.com)

Eschewing all regal trappings, this game of throne strips interactive improvisation to its bare bones, demonstrating how expansive a duet between one saxophonist and one drummer can be. Rova member, soprano and tenor saxophonist Larry Ochs, doesn’t need other reed backup on these nine tracks, carving out strategies involving sharpened abstraction plus an underlying swing, which at points is surprisingly harmonious. Responsive rather than confrontational, Donald Robinson uses all parts of his kit from cymbals to bass drum to push, promote or punctuate the interface.

Tarter tunes such as Red Tail and Breakout give Ochs a Sonny Rollins-like showcase to extract all possible tonal consideration from a theme, abandoning it like a dog with a bone only when maximum improvisational nourishment has been extracted; other lines are more sympathetic. Push Hands for instance, one of two memorials to departed musicians, is a study in pinched chromatics. Here Robinson bends his beats with an Africanized lilt, in order to accompany Ochs’ gravelly threnody. Song 2 is another revelation. What starts off as an essay in modulated reed slides and smears wedded to a rumpled pulse becomes a vibrant, coherent narrative that assumes song form.

Near-human vocalized cries which Ochs pulls from both his horns throughout are refined from stacks of timbral smears to a growly renal-like exposition that defines the concluding title track. At the same time Ochs’ thematic exposition relates back to Open to the Light, the first track, memorializing another musician. Ultimately Robinson’s emphasized ruff marks a distinct ending both to the final piece and this well-balanced program.

Jazzland Recordings Norway No. 2
471-991 B (jazzlandrec.com)

First formed in 2000, the quintet Atomic has developed into a key voice in current jazz, its distinct identity comprised of strong rhythmic grooves, free jazz fireworks and the edgy ensemble precision of post-bop jazz. The Scandinavian band has honed its art in the furnace of frequent tours over years, becoming a genuinely international presence. Lucidity is the band’s first CD since drummer Paal Nilssen-Love’s 2014 departure and Hans Hulbœkmo’s arrival, the band’s first personnel change. Atomic has done more than survive the loss of Europe’s most dynamic younger drummer: it’s found a new balance.

With compositions provided by saxophonist and clarinetist Fredrik Ljungkvist and pianist Håvard Wiik, Atomic presses forward on strong personalities and rare flexibility, with the aggressive brassy presence of trumpeter Magnus Broo defining the ensembles and bassist Ingebrigt Håker Flaten the group’s molten core. While Ljungkvist’s Major swings hard and continuously, Wiik’s Laterna Interfuit touches down on many bases, a gentle folk-like opening, a brashly dissonant fanfare and improvised passages that range through collective blowing from the horns and Wiik’s own airy, post-bop interlude.

That quicksilver creativity extends to Ljungkvist’s descriptively titled Start/Stop, from its eerie and slightly muffled night music beginning to its eventual rapid theme filled with wide intervals and accompanying clusters. Negotiating a shifting ground between composition and improvisation and a host of sounds, moods and methodologies, Atomic is devoted to keeping themselves and the audience engaged.


04_TwoPiano.jpgTwo Piano Concert at the Philadelphia Museum of Art
Michael Snow; Thollem McDonas
Edgetone EDT 4148 edgetonerecords.com

Besides distinguishing himself as one of Canada’s most lauded filmmakers and visual artists, Toronto’s Michael Snow maintains a parallel career as an improvising pianist. Most frequently working as a charter member of the local CCMC, on occasion he matches wits with outsiders. A bonus as part of the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s retrospective of his work Two Piano Concert featured a duet with peripatetic American improviser Thollem McDonas. Although both are pianists, the selections clearly outline the individuality of each so-called avant-garde player.

With the metronomic 176-key assault only brought to the fore for emphasis, the most frequent strategy in this three-track recital is for one pianist to squirm and skip a theme to a certain point where it’s either embellished with arpeggios and strums or challenged at half speed with contrapuntal asides by the other. Besides this, the keyboardists often converse like an old married couple, finishing each other’s phrases. More like hearing two Cecil Taylors, rather than any conventional piano duo, the two utilize all parts of their instruments. Shrill key clips and tremolo backboard echoes are only part of this; so are wood-rending scratches and harp-like inner string strums. Snow identifies himself most clearly on Two even as McDonas pounds out sardonic Chopstick-like rhythms or identifiable bop runs. Unexpectedly, the Canadian, who apprenticed playing classic jazz, sounds out a perfect stride piano lick which would have done James P. Johnson proud. McDonas’ response is to swell his glissandi to such an extent that they fill every molecule of the resulting soundscape. That challenge met, the final track features a satisfying return to carefully timed sympathetic patterning.

There’s no way Snow will ever have to fall back on his second career, but Two Piano Concert confirms that his keyboard inventiveness and professionalism allow him to hold his own with – and sometime best – a full-time improviser.


01_Dickinson.jpgPianist Brian Dickinson continues to build on a distinguished career that reaches back to the 1980s. The latest release by his trio, a nominee for the 2015 JUNO Jazz Album of the Year – Group, Fishs Eddy (Addo Records AJR023, addorecords.com) matches him with young drummer Ethan Ardelli and senior bassist George Mraz, whose long CV includes work with Oscar Peterson, Stan Getz and Elvin Jones. It’s a perfect match given Dickinson’s roots in Bill Evans’ harmonically rich, lyrical style and Evans’ evolution of the piano trio, giving a prominent place to the bass to develop strong countermelodies. There’s a keening, reaching, welling lyricism here, a passionate rush of emotion rising from reverie. It begins on familiar melodic ground, George Gershwin’s I Loves You Porgy, explored for over nine minutes, then turns largely to Dickinson’s originals, the trio developing intense interactions around their harmonies and repeating figures.

02_Roussel_Trio.jpgQuantum (Effendi FND 139, effendirecords.com) is the third CD from the Emie R Roussel Trio, a young group that has been consistently nominated for Quebec festival and media awards since its inception in 2010. It’s easy to hear why. It’s consistently engaging music, well thought out with an almost architectural sense of form. Building on rock-solid foundations provided by bassist Nicolas Bédard and drummer Dominic Cloutier, pianist and composer Roussel compounds a personal idiom that fuses post-bop jazz with R&B (think Joe Sample and George Duke), the instrumentation moving readily from acoustic to Fender Rhodes piano and electric bass. The acoustic highlight is Ipomée, a fine demonstration of Roussel’s ability to construct tension by making incremental shifts in short figures, then contrasting short and long phrases; the electric Marée haute combines a deep groove and extended melodic development.

03_JNT3_Acid_Bunny.jpgWhile the Roussel trio is happiest with a detailed road map, trombonist Jean-Nicolas Trottier builds energy through the exchange of ideas based on brief heads. Trottier is something of a big band specialist, but he pares it down to a trio on Acid Bunny (Effendi FND135). His JNT3, with bassist Rémi-Jean LeBlanc and drummer Rich Irwin, is a band of rare chemistry, quickly overcoming anyone’s doubts about the limited range of a trombone and rhythm trio. Trottier has technique and energy to spare, making effective use of mutes and a bright high register to change things up. Reemy-Jeeny-Leblee is a fine example of the band’s detailed rhythmic interaction and intense swing, while the elegiac Nouveau Patente has LeBlanc’s arco bass line countering Trottier’s elegant line, Irwin negotiating a ground between military ceremony and rubato.

04_Michel_Lambert_Journal_II.jpgMichel Lambert is a real creative force, whether considered as a painter, percussionist or composer. His compositional vision is particularly evident in Journal des Épisodes II (Rant 1448, jazzfromrant.com), an exploration of a daily diary of compositions and paintings from the last six months of 1988. His group here is a traditional piano trio with pianist Alexandre Grogg and bassist Guillaume Bouchard; what makes it highly untraditional is the presence of 97 tracks on a 44-minute CD. Lambert’s compositions can be as brief as seven seconds, as long as a couple of minutes, but whether microscopic or developed, they’re compelling musical messages that achieve a kind of formal perfection, continuous with their surrealist aesthetic of the unconscious and their Webern-like economy. The material is at once so fragmentary and dense that each trip through the CD is another experience, tiny fragments in time creating new refractions with one another and with the sustained trio pieces.


05_not_the_music.jpgÉric Normand is another fount of creativity, working from his unlikely home base in Rimouski to form both a large improvising ensemble, the Grand Groupe Régional d’Improvisation Libérée, and the wide-ranging Tour de Bras record label, as creative in its design as in its music. While a recent GGRIL release appeared as a red vinyl LP, Normand takes a diametrically opposed route to packaging for Philippe Lauzier and Éric Normand’s Not the Music / do (Tour de Bras, tourdebras.com), issuing the CD in a brown paper lunch bag with a printed cover. The music is just as provocative – sustained minimalist improvisations in which Lauzier’s soprano saxophone and bass clarinet extend from single tones to circular breathing against a backdrop of Normand’s electric bass and a snare drum that Normand sometimes plays and often uses as a vibrating surface.

06_continuum.jpgMontreal sound artist Pierre-Yves Martel creates dauntingly minimalist improvisations contrasting single tones on a renaissance viola de gamba and a harmonica with silences on Continuum (Tour de Bras TD89011CD). It’s demanding work (Martel’s intent extends to letting “the music ‘play’ both the performer and the listener”), an experience in which the act of listening may be dissected and stitched back together, the music developing a severe and icy beauty in the process. Available as limited edition CDs or downloads, extensive portions can be heard at the label’s website.

07_sortablue.jpgAmong music’s stranger documents is a letter from Woody Guthrie to John Cage, greeting his music as “a keen fresh breeze.” It might have inspired The/Les Surruralist(e)s on Sortablue (SURRU 01, actuellecd.com). The duo of Nova Scotia-based Arthur Bull (guitars, harmonica and voice) and Normand (electric bass, tenor banjo and voice) explore early blues and folksongs from perspectives shaped by free jazz and improvised music, adding a raw electric edge and weirdly dissonant accompaniments to traditional instrumental approaches and songs like La Femme Du Soldat and Stagger Lee. The two create a new tradition in the same breath that they pay homage to others.

When it comes to welcoming immigrants to North America, Canada and the United States have long had different policies. To Americans the ideal is the melting pot with all foreigners persuaded to become true-blue Yanks. Modern Canada, once it shook off fealty to Britain, has long promoted multiculturalism, where immigrants become Canadians without giving up their homeland identity. Generalities should be avoided, but it’s informative to see these concepts played out in improvised music. Thus Neelamjit Dhillon, born in Vancouver of Sikh background, has created a notable CD based on the infamous 1914 incident when 376 mostly Sikh immigrants were refused entry to Canada. To do so he mixes traditional Indian instruments with Western ones. In contrast, American performers who are his contemporaries, and with similar immigrant roots, have recorded sessions exclusively linked to the un-hyphenated jazz continuum.

01_Komagata.jpgA notable work, that evolves through nine related sequences, Komagata Maru (neelamjit.com) manages to tell this shameful story of anticipation, betrayal, violence and ultimately hope for the future with only four musicians, admixing Indian sub-continental and Western sounds. Besides Dhillon, who plays alto saxophone, tabla and bansuri, a transverse bamboo flute, the others are bassist André Lachance and drummer Dan Gaucher plus Chris Gestrin, who plays sympathetic, whimsical piano throughout; and who produced, recorded and mixed the disc. With Gestrin’s strong accompaniment, Dhillion’s proficiency allows him to create swinging, unforced jazz lines throughout, no matter which instrument he’s playing. Even the tabla’s distinct timbres are used to make specific points rather than for exoticism. On Shore Committee: Bonds of Ancestral Kinship and later on British Clash at Budge Budge, for instance, the Carnatic drum’s textures contrast sharply with Gaucher’s martial-styled drumming, together symbolically depicting a full-scale riot on the first tune; and add to the sonic bellicosity of the second, further intensified by keyboard clips and harsh reed slurps. In the same way the expansive Munshi Singh: Trial for a Sanguine Tomorrow has its relaxed mood, set up by Lachance’s double-time strumming, disrupted by contrapuntal screeds, although they come from the bansuri rather than an alto saxophone. Crucially as well, the sonic representation of police-passenger combat on Debris from the Sky: Confront with the Tools at Hand, relies on the divergence between very Westernized double bass strokes and the distinctively Indian tabla patterns. Finally, the unforced Lee Konitz-like saxophone riffs Dhillon uses to underline the exposition here not only relate back to the introduction but portend the concluding Reconciliation: Evoke the Fallen and Persevere. Part elegy and part anticipation, the tune’s mellow hopefulness suggests why incidents like that of the Komagata Maru are rare in Canadian history. As well this meticulously crafted CD posits that Dhillon and company will soon be creating more intriguing sounds, either straight ahead or with a sub-continental lilt.

As more immigrants or children of immigrants begin to fill the ranks of Canadian improvisers it will be instructive in the future to observe whether an American-inflected national style takes hold, or if Canadian musical sensibilities will still include distinctive overseas links.

02_Rez_Abbasi.jpgMoving south of the 49th parallel a different musical ethos takes hold. Alto saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa, whose parents are Indian, and guitarist Rez Abbasi, who was born in Pakistan and immigrated to the U.S. as a small child, have in the past recorded discs reflecting their South Asian roots. But both these New York-based players’ newest sessions are jazz, without ethnic subtitles. Mahanthappa’s Bird Calls (ACT 9581-2 actmusic.com) consists of 13 of the saxophonist’s compositions based on familiar Charlie “Bird” Parker lines; while Abbasi takes on eight jazz-rock classics of the 1970s on Intents and Purposes (Enja Records ENJ-952-2 enjarecords.com), and recasts them using only his acoustic guitars, Bill Ware’s vibes, Stephen Crump’s bass and the drums of Eric McPherson. Although hints of sarod-like shimmers from Abbasi’s fretless instrument peek through on Herbie Hancock’s Butterfly, the intent and purpose of this disc lies in post-modern interpretation. Decelerating and relaxing the themes, Abbasi and company transform them from arena jazz-rock showpieces to subtle improvisational vehicles. Instructively enough the tracks that work best are those such as Joe Zawinul’s Black Market, Chick Corea’s Medieval Overture and Tony Williams’ There Comes a Time written by composers who played other instruments than the rock-associated guitar and who had the strongest pre-fusion jazz bona fides. With McPherson’s percussion hovering in the background, these restrained interpretations usually take impetus from Crump’s bass line; while leaving room for his solo work as well. Medieval Overture for instance, features a sequence of time and tempo changes where the string build-up is divided between, and nearly identical from, bass and guitar interpretations. Ware’s buoyancy animates most of the sequences as well, showcasing resonating textures that are often voiced alongside Abbasi’s finger-style lead. Meanwhile There Comes a Time, the concluding – and climatic – track is painted in the most vibrant and captivating colours, with strong four-mallet vibraphone smacks blending with thick baritone guitar strums that almost resemble tenor saxophone licks. Keeping it and the other pieces in a proper groove, Intents and Purposesreclaims them all for the jazz canon.

03_Bird_Calls.jpgIf transforming fusion into straight-ahead jazz is the attained challenge of Abbasi’s CD, then Bird Calls is an even more daunting task: finding a new way to interpret Parker’s legacy. Using a standard bop formation of saxophone, trumpet (Adam O’Farrill), piano (Matt Mitchell), bass (François Moutin) and drums (Rudy Royston), Mahanthappa’s contrafacts are up-to-the-minute statements which still intuit Parker’s essence. Putting a brake on bebop’s sometime frantic performance velocity, these interpretations are helped immeasurably by the saxophonist’s tone, which is wider and more rounded than Bird’s, often moving into the tenor range. In contrast, while O’Farrill frequently shows his age (20), by incessantly reaching for the most elevated capillary patterns, his excesses are reined in by the others. Oddly enough it’s the trumpeter’s Hispanic background which also comes into play giving a Latin feel to some of his work. As for Indian echoes, they’re practically non-existent, unless the obvious references to Hindu chanting on Gopuram can be counted. But even so this contrafact of Steeplechase gives more prominence to breakneck ripostes from piano, trumpet and saxophone. The remainder of the disc emphasizes a variant of mainstream jazz over all else. The rhythmic riffs that characterize Talin is Thinking (taken from Parker’s Mood) for example, go back as far as the Count Basie band’s elevation of the bluesy harmonies that came from Parker’s Kansas City hometown. Meanwhile Chillin’ (based on Relaxin’ at Canarillo), takes its shape from classic bop. The trumpeter and saxophonist face off with equivalent harsh lines while the bassist’s woody clunks and the drummer’s rolls and ruffs properly pace the galloping rhythms. Seconding both horns and carving space for himself throughout the tune, Mitchell demonstrates a command of the idiom as well as a casual, almost carefree pacing in his solos.

04_Blue_Notes.jpgYet another variation on this theme shows up on For The Blue Notes (Ogun Records OGCD 042 ogunrecords.com). Although the musicians featured have ancestral backgrounds from Martinique, Guyana and South Africa as well as parts of the United Kingdom, these ancestral memories are subsumed in this salute to the combo that left Apartheid-era South Africa to mingle high-life rhythms with British free jazz, creating an unmatched hybrid sound. Led by percussionist Louis Moholo-Moholo, the last surviving Blue Note, the octet’s repertory was mostly composed by original Blue Note members. What that means is that tracks such as Sonke and Zanele are fully in the South African style even though the associated vocals are by French-born (of Martinique background) Francine Luce. When she trades licks with the horns as well, the end product is high quality jazz that soars without labels or hyphens. Furthermore, listening to other creations like the title track, it’s bassist John Edwards’ solid timekeeping and pianist Alexander Hawkins’ kinetic chording that drive the undertaking as much as tie keening solos from saxophonist Jason Yarde and Ntshuks Bonga. Closer to the American rather than the Canadian concept here, the ancestral background of the players hardly influences the notable sounds issuing from their instruments.

As more immigrants or children of immigrants begin to fill the ranks of Canadian improvisers it will be instructive in the future to observe whether an American-inflected national style takes hold, or if Canadian musical sensibilities will still include distinctive overseas links.

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