In the spirit that jazz is increasingly an international language, this month’s collection of CDs emphasizes that dialogue, from American guests turning up on Canadian musicians’ CDs to Canadian expatriates who are members of a global community.

01 Chet DoxasMontreal tenor saxophonist Chet Doxas has just released Dive (Addo AJR 015, a well-conceived successor to his JUNO-nominated 2010 release Big Sky. Doxas has put together a New York-based rhythm section, though it includes Canadian expatriates, Toronto-born guitarist Matthew Stevens and Montreal-born bassist Zack Lober, as well as drummer Eric Doob. The music is in a contemporary idiom (Doxas also co-leads Riverside, a band that includes Dave Douglas and Steve Swallow), and Doxas delights in cleverly constructed pieces that he and the band negotiate with ease, creating playful engaging music. Doxas’ light tenor sound is made for mobility and everything here contributes to quick, spontaneous reactions. Stevens’ processed guitar sound contributes much to the overall feel: it’s at once glassy and opaque, shimmering and muted, and the abstracted clarity of his work comes to the fore on the elusive Mysteries.

02 Ryan Oliver QuartetA native of Williams Lake, BC, now based in Toronto, tenor saxophonist Ryan Oliver studied in the celebrated Jazz Program at Rutgers University in New Jersey where he got to know veteran New York drummer Victor Lewis, the two exploring rhythmic concepts in weekly duet sessions. Lewis appears on Oliver’s Strive! ( and brings Oliver’s John Coltrane influence into sharp focus, from the turbulent dialogue of the opening title track, so evocative of Coltrane’s duets with Elvin Jones, to the elegiac Thousand Miles, Oliver’s impassioned high notes framed by Lewis’ ceremonial cymbals. There are still elements of Coltrane’s harmonic conception on the funk of Eddie and Crescent City Stomp but the back beats open the door to Oliver’s soul-jazz side and also provide openings for the rest of the band — pianist Gary Williamson and bassist Alex Coleman — to shine. While Oliver may lack originality at this point, he makes up for it in conviction and skill.

03 Cory Weeds Bill CoonThere’s more imported propulsion on the Cory Weeds/Bill Coon Quartet’s With Benefits (Cellar Live CL 091812, a terrific session in which Vancouverite tenor saxophonist Weeds and guitarist Coons enjoy the estimable support of the New York rhythm team of bassist Peter Washington and drummer Lewis Nash. They are all masters of a modern jazz mainstream defined in the 1950s, but they speak it as a personal idiom, whether it’s Weeds’ hard-edged lyricism or Coon’s lightly sparkling lines. Coon’s compositions make up half of the program, distinctive tunes that range from the superb balladry of Sunday Morning to the hard bop of Cory’s Story. The group dialogue is never better, though, than on the standard East of the Sun, a feature for Weeds’ warm balladry.

04 Rich Halley 001Like Weeds and Coon, bassist Clyde Reed is an essential part of the Vancouver scene, a stalwart presence in free jazz and improvising groups like the NOW Orchestra and Ion Zoo. One of his longest running affiliations is with the Oregon-based tenor saxophonist Rich Halley whose elemental music is one with the Pacific Northwest: his Crossing the Passes (Pine Eagle 005 consists of compositions inspired by a hike across Oregon’s Wallowa Mountains, an outcropping of the Rockies. Halley’s compositions can be as jagged as a series of peaks, as varied as the terrain and there’s clear empathy with trombonist Michael Vlatkovich, who supplies the same emotion and force that characterize Halley’s own lines. Reed is a bulwark of empathy and form, whether providing rapid propulsion with drummer Carson Halley on Duology or coming to the fore with warm pizzicato and arco solos.

05 Lama Chris SpeedDrummer Greg Smith went to Europe with Toronto’s Shuffle Demons in the mid-90s and decided to stay there, taking up residence in Holland. Among his current projects is a Rotterdam-based band called Lama with Portuguese trumpeter Susana Santos Silva and bassist Gonçalo Almeida. The group expands to Lama + Chris Speed with the addition of the New York saxophonist and clarinettist for Lamaçal (Clean Feed CF 275, a live performance from the Portalegre Jazz Festival. This is lively creative music that delights in detailed close interaction amid a mix of unusual sonic textures: suggestions of village brass bands, Middle-Eastern scales, electronic loops and whale sounds abound. It even combines old-fashioned New Orleans polyphony with atonality. Smith’s boppish composition Cachalote is highlighted by a duet between the drummer and the mercurial Speed.

06 Eric RevisPianist Kris Davis has followed a path from Calgary to Toronto and on to Brooklyn where she has established herself as one of the most creative improvisers of her generation. She appears on bassist Eric RevisCity of Asylum (Clean Feed CF 277 in a piano trio completed by the veteran drummer Andrew Cyrille. The studio session marked the first meeting of the three musicians, but there’s no sense that they’re feeling one another out. There’s aggressive creative interplay in the freely improvised pieces, with a special attention to momentum, the three sometimes developing tremendous swing while pursuing independent rhythms. A playful approach to Thelonious Monk’s Gallop’s Gallop and a reverent one to Keith Jarrett’s Prayer reveal something of the trio’s range and affinities. 

Twenty years after its modest beginning, the Guelph Jazz Festival (GJF), which this year takes place September 3 to 8, has grown to be one of this country’s major improvised music celebrations. Unlike many other so-called jazz fests which lard their programs with crooners masquerading as jazz singers, tired rock or pop acts, or so-called World or C&W performers who make no pretence of playing jazz, the GJF continues to showcase committed improvisers in sympathetic settings including during the fourth installment of the dusk-to-dawn Nuit Blanche.

01 WadadaLeoSmithPerhaps the most celebrated innovator at the GJF is trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith. His Golden Quartet, which shares a double bill at the River Run Centre (RRC)’s main stage September 7, performs a variant of his classic Ten Freedom Summer suite, shortlisted for this year’s Pulitzer Prize in music. Part of that program was recorded with an orchestra, and you can get an idea of Smith’s structural blending listening to Occupy The World (TUM CD 037-2 as the 21-piece TUM Orchestra (TUMO) interprets another Smith composition. The selections’ intricate arrangements serve not to frame Smith’s muted brass flurries, which bring Miles Davis-like ballad mastery into the 21st century, but open up to the talents of the mostly Finnish orchestra. You can hear that on the title track when the trumpeter’s tale told through rubato grace notes and squeezed triplets is matched with tom-tom-like passages from TUMO’s three percussionists, followed by massed polyphony pierced by legato strings, a tremolo harp sequence and Smith’s conclusive brassy and heraldic tones. The Golden Quartet’s bassist John Lindberg is soloist on Mount Kilimanjaro, where his magisterial double and triple stopping establish a staccato pantonality which encourages the five-person string section to abandon legato thrusts for stirring sweeps, and despite being performed at warp speed, encourages a satisfying orchestral mosaic. Leaving space for split-second sonic blasts from the entire band, before the warm and welcoming conclusion, Lindberg joins the other tremolo strings for a sequence of scrubs and sweeps. Incidentally, Swedish tenor saxophonist Fredrik Ljungkvist, part of the Atomic band, which is at the RRC’s Co-operators Hall September 4 during the GJF, is one stand-out on Queen Hatshepsut when his bravura churning and almost vocalized tenor saxophone lines make a perfect pantonal contrast to pointillist smears from accordion and piano.

02 NicoleMitchellBalancing a delicate outer shell with a steely core, American flutist Nicole Mitchell is another major improv figure whose Indigo Trio plays St. George’s Church’s Mitchell Hall September 5. A similar configuration with bassist Joshua Abrams and drummer Frank Rosaly expands with additional colours on Aquarius (Delmark DE 5004 when the three and vibraphonist Jason Adasiewicz make up the Ice Crystal band. What Herbie Mann’s combo could have sounded like if he had ignored rock-pop blandishments, even Mitchell’s blues and Latin tunes trade simplicity for sophistication as four-mallet, bell-like tones from the vibist and her gruff tremolo gusts are as linear as they are lyrical. Other pieces such as Above the Sky reflect mood rather than linearity, borne on metal-bar smacks and swooping flute flutters. Another standout, Sunday Afternoon has a pastoral title, yet adds Chicago grit to become a straight-ahead swinger, following Abrams’ stentorian solo that expands into string multiphonics while maintaining a steady pulse. Meanwhile the rhythmic adaptability of Rosaly is succinctly showcased on Adaptability. He proves that a program of rim shots, rolls and pops doesn’t retard the beat but instead underlines the metallic origin of the other instruments Adasiewicz and Mitchell transform with extended techniques, to soar and bounce as well as peep and resonate. 

03 FujiiMaDoAnother inventive figure is pianist Satoko Fujii, whose French-Japanese Kaze Quartet is at the RRC’s Co-operators Hall on the morning of September 7. Kaze trumpeter Natsuki Tamura is also featured on Time Stands Still (NotTwo MW 897-2 along with Fujii, bassist Norikatsu Koreyasu and drummer Akira Horikoshi as the quartet Ma-Do. Anything but Orientalist, except for some taiko-like thumps from Horikoshi and Koreyasu’s erhu-like patterning during the appropriately titled Broken Time, Fujii’s concepts are closely aligned to bedrock jazz plus inferences from so-called classical music. That tune accelerates to a layered swinger with strummed chords and glissandi from the pianist plus a Gabriel-like open-horn trumpet solo. Relaxed excitement is the touchstone of North Wind and the Sun on the other hand, where Tamura’s moderated linear exposition turns to sibilant lip bubbling as Fujii’s double pumping and circular chording plus sweeping bass lines engender friction but never break the chromatic line. In contrast Set the Clock Back is almost formalist with Chopinesque keyboard touches and legato note construction from the trumpeter. Outstanding and more experimental are Koreyasu’s a cappella string shakes which redirect the tune so that following his solo, when the head reappears, it too is more tremolo and agitated.
04 BomataOutstanding double bass work from closer to home is on tap during a free Market Square afternoon concert that same day when Montreal bassist Jean Félix Mailloux performs his compositions from Bomata – Arômes d’allieurs (Malasartes mam 016 with his associates, percussionist Patrick Graham and Guillaume Bourque playing clarinet and bass clarinet. A trio which has internalized “scents from elsewhere” – the translation of the CD title – Bomata’s unhurried performances reference various ethnic styles without becoming subservient to any. A fine instance of this mixing is Cardamome when cross pulses from Graham and second drummer Phillippe Melanson move contrapuntally alongside a walking bass line, providing a trembling rhythm to Bourque’s mid-range, Klezmer-like overlay. The reedman’s mercurial high-note skill is on display on Shaman, with the bass taking on a slinky oud-like resonance and guest frame drummer Ziya Tabassian adding hard thwacks to toughen the beat. Yet as intense as the bassist’s and clarinettist’s improvisations become neither disrupts the basic thematic flow. Pianist Jérôme Beaulieu, who joins Bomata on a couple of tracks, is a little too decorous, creating a crystallite Nordic feel which clashes with Bourque’s ney-like sound on Nuit Blanche. Although with 13 tracks, sameness sets in at points, most performances argue well for the band’s continued evolution from this 2012 CD. Chinoiseries could offer one path, with the arrangement open enough to allow the reedist some altissimo smears even as the theme stays linear, with the end product suggesting both Eastern European concertina-like riffs plus a swinging jazz-like interface.

Fuelled by innovation rather than nostalgia, composers and arrangers continue to utilize the sonic parameters of larger ensembles to help tell their stories in the most expansive way possible. Whether it’s exposing individual original compositions or organizing the sessions into a thematic whole, these vital CDs demonstrate why a big band is still favoured as an expressive vehicle for both free-form improvisation and tightly plotted compositions.

brookyln-babylon-something-in-the-air-1For an example of the latter you don’t have to go much further than Brooklyn Babylon (New Amsterdam Records NWAM 048, a mythical and cinematic narrative created by Vancouver-born Darcy James Argue as part of a multi-media presentation by Croatian-born visual artist Danijel Zezelj. Argue, who also lived in Montreal and received his degree in composition in Boston, has been in Brooklyn since 2003 and composed the multi-part Brooklyn Babylon as a fable, reflecting his adopted hometown’s storied past, cultural multiplicity and ambitious future. Conducted by the composer, Argue’s 18-piece Secret Society band performs the suite’s eight interlocking themes and seven brief interludes. Calling on the talents of a band featuring the interlocked groove of drummer Jon Wikan and bassist Matt Clohesy, the storytelling understatement of several reed soloists, and the alternately plunger excitement and mellow narratives of fellow Canuck trumpeter Ingrid Jensen, Argue directs a sound picture with enough expansive exposition to make the CD the equivalent of aural Technicolor. Reflecting present-day currents of New York`s second borough, the sequences in Argue’s suite blend and contrast vamping big-band section work; heavily rhythmic rock-music-like grooves; gentle folkloric and impressionistic sound pastels from flute, soprano sax and flugelhorn soloists; plus interludes that replicate brass band marches, Balkan ballads, a touch of electronic processing and the pre-recorded sounds of the borough’s streets. One standout is Missing Parts when the rest of the band members play hand percussion backing Josh Stinson’s free-form baritone sax lines and a mellow trombone interlude from James Hirschfield. Another is The Tallest Tower in the World, which reaches its heights through brassy trumpet triplets and soprano sax squeals. Keyboardist Gordon Webster holds components together not only with sharp piano cadenzas but also with near-vocalized melodic sweeps. If the program does have a weakness it probably lies in its movie soundtrack-like surround sound expressiveness. With piccolo peeps and French horn lowing heard more often than tuba burps or guitar note shredding, the selections often retreat to overly pleasant background sounds lacking the authoritative ingredients that would define them as completely individual. But Argue is still developing. Maybe he’ll soon compose a piece to reflect his homeland.

Read more: Something In The Air: Sophisticated Expression From Large Improv Ensembles

heinen-stockhausen-jazzKarlheinz Stockhausen’s Tierkreis

Bruno Heinen Sextet

Babel Label BDV 13119 (

Perfect sounds for those who think Karlheinz Stockhausen’s music is difficult is Tierkreis (1974-75), initially composed for 12 music boxes reflecting the signs of the zodiac, and then adapted for any number of instruments. With the sanction of the composer’s son, British pianist Bruno Heinen, whose parents were Stockhausen associates, has created a jazz-improv variant of the suite for bass clarinet, tenor saxophone, trumpet, double bass, drums, his own piano and, on certain tracks, five music boxes, bookending the performance as the composer demands, with an identical melody reflecting the session date’s star sign.

Read more: Karlheinz Stockhausen’s Tierkreis - Bruno Heinen Sextet

01 holly coleNight
Holly Cole
Rumpus Room Records 3716101 (

Singer Holly Cole continues her stylish ways with her latest release. Her first studio album in five years, Night is a return to collaboration with the bandmates of the last two decades that helped establish her as the fine song interpreter she is. So pianist and arranger, Aaron Davis, David Piltch on bass, sax and reed player John Johnson and drummer Davide Direnzo are the core players and provide clever nuanced support throughout. The theme of the album isn’t obviously represented by the song titles as not an “evening” or “night” song is to be found. But there’s a wee-small-hours-of-the-morning feel that permeates throughout.

The opening tune sets the tone as the group eases through a languid You Only Live Twice with dreamy pedal steel courtesy of Greg Leisz. Then we’re led through a range of stories courtesy of some well-known songwriters like Tom Waits (the swampy Walk Away) and others a little more obscure but no less poignant, like Danny O’Keefe (Good Time Charlie’s Got the Blues). Even when the energy gets kicked up, as it does on Viva Las Vegas – complete with 60s style horns and a smokin’ flute solo from John Johnson -- there’s an appealing coolness that pervades. Cole and her band’s tune-picking abilities and powers of interpretation are in abundance on Night and fans will not be disappointed.

Holly Cole will be joining the clinicians at the Jazz On The Mountain at Blue festival July 5 to present her own class on “the art of the voice and the bass.” (

02 kylebrencd001Offset
Kyle Brenders Quartet
18th Note Records 18-2012-2 (

Proficient in both improvised and notated music, clarinettist/saxophonist Kyle Brenders has become a known commodity on the local music scene and this bang-up disc aptly demonstrates his elevated compositional and playing standards. Working through a program of eight somewhat bouncy always quirky Brenders’ originals he’s helped immeasurably by the cohesive, multi-faceted soloing of trombonist Steve Ward, Tomas Bouda’s unobtrusive yet sturdy bass line and the ever-inventive drumming of Mark Segger.

Working with motifs which reference brassy marching band music while utilizing extended instrumental techniques, the result is sophisticated without ever becoming esoteric. Segger and Ward are keys to this strategy. On a tune such as Porlock for instance, the trombonist constructs a jolting solo out of mid-range plunger impulses and smooth capillary extensions as Brenders’ soprano saxophone exposes quivering multiphonics. Meanwhile the theme is repeated at intervals with tremolo flutters from both, centred by the bassist. With Whisk it’s blustering puffs and slurs from the ‘bone man that hold the line as the composer on bass clarinet cascades split tones a cappella from subterranean to altissimo and is then joined by the drummer’s ruffs and rebounds for a stop-time ending. Terrace on the other hand is Segger’s showcase, as metallic clinks, castanet-like snaps and wood-block smacks move upfront. At the same time his pops and pitter-patters underline the theme, which correspondingly vibrates by parallel clarinet and trombone lines.

Far along in his synthesis of other influences, which include composer Anthony Braxton’s eclecticism, the sax-and-trombone-centred New York Art Quartet and a crafty subversion of Cool Jazz’s thin and subtle harmonies with raucous trombone blats and contrapuntal saxophone glossolalia, Brenders is a noteworthy Toronto talent, with this CD a definitive showcase of his varied skills.

Concert note:
On June 22 the Kyle Brenders Quartet is in concert at the Music Gallery along with New York saxophonist Matana Roberts.

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 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 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 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 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 (, 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 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, 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.

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