Threads008THREADS (Quintet)
Trio Records TRP-019

Every since he arrived in Toronto from his native Vancouver in 2001, guitarist Ken Aldcroft has been a constant presence on this city’s improvised music scene. Whether helping to organize concerts, teaching, playing solo gigs or as part of ensembles of varied sizes, he’s constantly exceeding expectations of what jazz involves. Also exceeding expectations is the first CD by his newest ensemble, which presents this music in concert at Jazz at Oscar’s this month.

Having recorded six CDs with his regular Convergence combo, Aldcroft changes gears on 10/09/11 by supplanting its free-bop orientation for one that offers more space and an almost unmetered beat. Besides Aldcroft, the only Convergence holdover is alto saxophonist Karen Ng, with the band filled out by drummer Germaine Liu plus the characteristic grooves of Josh Cole’s electric bass and Jonathan Adjemian’s analog synthesizer. With each of Aldcroft’s three originals entitled Threads plus a numeral and the disc recorded in 2013, it’s likely the CD title refers to a time of inspiration and composition.

Essentially each of the longish tunes, clocking in at between 18 and almost 25 minutes, showcases varied facets of the quintet. With percussion pulses that slide from parade band whacks to (Canadian) Indian-like rattling and back again, Threads III is the gentlest of the three, with slowly evaporating sax slurs matched with echoing guitar timbres. Threads I has more energy. Here Aldcroft’s crescendo of arpeggiated string licks faces tough, angled reed bites and buzzing synth interjections. Underneath, Adjemian’s staccato blurts plus Liu’s bass drum pops replicate an Upper Canadian version of a Second Line rhythm. Lengthiest of all, the introductory Threads II defines the quintet’s distinct parameters. Harmonized bass and guitar strums steady the beat, leaving enough openings for Ng’s blazing staccato cries, Liu’s irregular thumps and ruffs plus synthesizer fills that at points resemble Morse code, at others what an electric piano would sound like with a cold. Aldcroft’s twangs plus Ng’s volatile tone nudge the narrative towards a satisfying climax.

A notable achievement from an ensemble that offers sonic maturity as it’s in the process of being created.

Concert note: The THREADS (Quintet) is in concert at Jazz at Oscar’s, Hart House University of Toronto January 16.

05 Jazz 01 Diane RoblinReconnect
Diane Roblin
Independent (

Following a more than 20-year intermission, talented keyboardist and composer Diane Roblin has made a strong re-emergence into the jazz world with the release of her new independent recording Reconnect. The well-produced CD is comprised of ten original compositions by Roblin that run the gamut from funk and fusion to soul and jazz. Roblin has also surrounded herself with creative and dynamic musicians (Jeff King on tenor, Howard Spring on guitar, Russ Boswell on bass and Roger Travassos on drums) who easily and intuitively fit into her eclectic and invigorating musical vision.

Reconnect kicks off with In the Beginning – a vigorous funk exploration that calls to mind electric-era Herbie Hancock. There is nothing dainty about Roblin’s attack. She is a facile and deeply emotional keyboardist who establishes her musical territory with a muscular performance on the Fender Rhodes and technical skill on the acoustic piano. Her pianistic virtuosity is clearly evident on Suspend Yourself a complex piece of work in 7/4, involving a trip to the etheric realms, as well as a brash dose of fusoid and progressive jazz.

Of particular beauty and depth is Ballad in 3/4. The haunting melodic line and King’s sonorous tenor work are an evocative treat. On Reconnect, Roblin also includes Tune for Fraser – a stunning acoustic piano solo piece dedicated to her late musician husband, Fraser Finlayson. This brave composition seems to emotionally expose the artist as she transcends, through her music, all of the stages of grief and finally arrives at ultimate redemption.


05 Jazz 02 BonesBones Blues
Pete Magadini
Delmark/Sackville CD2-4004

Recently reissued with an added track, this 1977 Toronto-recorded gem is nearly timeless since it’s an unpretentious session by a consummate professional that could have been taped any time after 1954 … or tomorrow. Unlike contemporary bop-era emulators however, the participants in Bones Blues were around as mainstream jazz was being forged and played this mixture of blues, standards and rhythm tunes almost daily in nightclubs.

Bones Blues has added value as well because it initially gave Toronto piano legend Wray Downes one of his first chances to stretch out on record. On the intro to What a Time We Had, for instance, his sympathetic elegance is notable; as is his innate command of the blues sensibility in the title tune. In 1977, Massachusetts-born leader, drummer Pete Magadini, had just begun his 28-year Canadian residency as teacher and performer; while on the disc Buffalo-born tenor saxophonist, Don Menza, consistently demonstrates his mastery of both bop and swing that gave him featured status in big bands like Buddy Rich’s. Buoyant even when assaying assertive 1950s classics like Solar and Freddie the Freeloader, the saxophonist’s skillful balance is a highlight. Note how his caressing of Poor Butterfly’s melody parallels Downes’ two-handed, near-boogie-woogie exposition, and how both lines are underscored by Magadini’s subtle brush work. Amplifying the others’ work with powerful strokes and decorative cadenzas is bassist Dave Young, who has in the intervening years become a local legend, habitually busy with club and concert work in a variety of contexts.

Overall, ballads and finger-snappers are treated with the same respect and performed at the same high level on this CD. Listening to how the disc’s eight tracks evolve and gratify, confirms why this session, unlike many pretentious, highly vaulted projects of the same era, has stood the test of time.


05 Jazz 05 Claire MartinTime & Place
Claire Martin; Montpellier Cello Quartet; Joe Stilgoe
Linn Records AKD 423

Delightful British jazz vocalist Claire Martin’s new release, Time and Place is a well-conceived, well-produced and expertly performed recording, featuring Martin at the top of her vocal game in collaboration with the renowned Montpellier Cello Quartet as well as with an ensemble of gifted and cooking jazz musicians, featuring special guest, pianist and vocalist Joe Stilgoe.

Martin is known for her versatility, as well as for her unique, dusky, sensuous, cello-like voice… part Dusty Springfield and part Julie London with a dash of Irene Kral. On Time and Place she also displays her gift for selecting diverse, perhaps unusual material, and making it her own – with compositions included from David Bowie, Joni Mitchell and Thelonious Monk.

The levels of melancholy on this CD (particularly on the cello-infused tracks) are quite profound – which is no surprise – as just previous to the project, Martin’s close friend, mentor, teacher and creative partner Sir Richard Rodney Bennett passed away. Loss is a theme that echoes in several of the exquisite tracks, including the Beatles’ She’s Leaving Home and Gershwin’s timeless anthem of lost love My Man’s Gone Now. The string arrangements and the sonic intermingling of the cellos with Martin’s sonorous vocal instrument are simply breathtaking.

The closing track, Goodbye for Now comes from the aforementioned Bennett – who may have left us in the physical sense, but his impeccable musical standards, influence, taste and brilliant musicianship are all present and accounted for on Time and Place.


05 Jazz 03 Alex PangmanNew
Alex Pangman
Justin Time JTR 8587-2

There can be no doubt that that Alex Pangman – Canada’s own “Sweetheart of Swing” – is a national treasure and a true original. Feisty, authentic and a fully realized music historian, Pangman has continued to delight with New, her latest recording on Justin Time Records. For this project (and not unlike Aretha heading to Muscle Shoals, Alabama), Pangman has bravely stepped outside of her musical and experiential comfort zone by recording in the historic Algiers section of New Orleans – accompanied by the popular local depression-era swing band, the Cottonmouth Kings. It seems apparent that an important part of this creative process was Pangman’s collaborator, producer/engineer (and Canadian ex-pat) Andrew “Goat” Gilchrist.

New is a mature album, and Pangman’s voice – while still maintaining her clear, luminous sound – now reflects the depth and subtext of her own life experience. She is fearless in her emotional openness – imbuing each of the ten tasty tracks with large dollops of confidence, sensuality, joy, irony and maybe even a certain ennui.

Thoroughly enjoyable tracks include Fit as a Fiddle (and Ready for Love), which features rambunctious, Joe Venuti-esque violin work by Matt Rhody. The popular Tin Pan Alley tune also has special meaning for Pangman, who recorded this track only seven months following her second double-lung transplant, and was finally feeling “Fit as a Fiddle.” Canadian composer Ruth Lowe’s I’ll Never Smile Again is a beauty – performed with a languid, Crescent City feel which suits Pangman’s sultry alto, and she also swings it sweet and low on You Let Me Down.


05 Jazz 04 FrisellGuitar in the Space Age
Bill Frisell
Okeh 88843074612 (

In a career spanning four decades, Bill Frisell (born 1951) has taken the idea of jazz guitar in very different directions, emphasizing sonic architecture and sustained tones in explorations ranging from free improvisation and noise music to traditional blues and folk, country and western and mainstream pop. Guitar in the Space Age is a direct invocation of the music that first influenced Frisell, the world of electric guitar instrumentals of the late 1950s and 1960s, spanning country, rock and its own genre, surf music.

Pedal steel guitarist Greg Leisz extends Frisell’s fondness for bending, reverberant tones, suggesting the period song that’s key to this project may be one that’s not here: Santo & Johnny’s 1959 hit Sleepwalk. This is a sonic dreamscape, in which melodies like Surfer Girl are slowed down and magnified, with sound so rich and dense that Sputnik-era nostalgia (pedal steel virtuoso Speedy West’s Reflections from the Moon – almost C&W Sun Ra in its original form – and The Tornado’s Telstar) assumes cathedral-like dimension.

Frisell both reimagines this music and restores it, along the way touching on the fundamental synthesis of jazz and country in pieces like Merle Travis’ Cannonball Rag and Jimmy Bryant’s Bryant’s Boogie as well as invoking the broad sweep of the moral compass of the times, from the Byrds’ ringing arrangement of Pete Seeger’s Ecclesiastes-fuelled Turn, Turn, Turn to Link Wray’s juvenile delinquent anthem Rumble.


As the availability of music on different media continues to proliferate, the focus of the durable box set has become equally diverse. No longer does a multi-disc collection have to be definitive or far-ranging. As a matter of fact some of the best, like the ones discussed here, concentrate on certain sequences in an artist’s career.

Waxman 01 KowaldCase in point is Discography (Jazz Werksttatt JW 150, a four-CD collection of sessions from the 1980s and 1990s by German bassist Peter Kowald (1944-2002). Someone who began his career in the 1960s ground zero for European Free Jazz, over the years Kowald interacted with those playing mainstream and contemporary jazz as well as making forays into cross-cultural improv with non-Western players. His recorded career, with disc cover pictures and personnel, is outlined in the 210-page booklet included with the set. Still the focus of Discography is Kowald’s Free Jazz achievements. Right off the bat, Solo Improvisation Music on CD1 is a 35-minute tour-de-force from 1981 that captures his unvarnished inventiveness. Showcasing equal facility with fingers or bow, he moves seamlessly from strident smacks and slashing strums to a collection of spiccato rubs and rasps producing aviary-like shrills as well as mellow continuum. Discography also highlights the talents of Greek clarinetist/saxophonist Floros Floridis, a frequent Kowald playing partner. Compare how the two reacted without prevarication in different settings. A 1989 Athens session, for instance, emphasizes the music’s bop and blues roots, due to the inimitable time-keeping of American drum master Andrew Cyrille. At the same time as Kowald’s doubled strokes steady the beat alongside Cyrille, jocular intensity on tunes such as Nice Ending Folks! and Points Slashes Etc. is expressed by Floridis’ fluid clarinet flutters and vocalized blats from German trombonist Conny Bauer. Six tracks from the next year are more expansive since Kowald’s and Floridis’ partners are American French hornist Vincent Chancy and South African drummer Louis Moholo. Kowald’s careful note placement gives the proceedings a lighter feel as the four prove themselves on both spirited and sorrowful tunes. The Spell is one of the latter as Chancy’s facility emphasizes not only melancholic cries, but animates the tune through steady pacing. With verbal interjections from Moholo Mongezi is another standout since tough vibrations from the horn and Floridis’ saxophone reed bites work up to freneticism as pulsating power from the bass and percussion keep the narrative snappy. Even better is CD4 from 1997 where Floridis on alto and soprano saxophones, clarinet and bass clarinet, Kowald and German percussionist Günter Baby Sommer – featured with the bassist on a long improvisation on CD1 – turn out 26 brief “Aphorisms.” Ranging from less than one minute to almost two and a half, the concise motifs express everything that others would need greater length to do. A track like Aphorismus III for instance features Kowald strumming what sounds like telephone-wire thick strings, Sommer pinging gamelan-like bells and Floridis’ smooth soprano sax surmounting both. Aphorismus XI is pure jazz with mountaineering thumps from the drummer, spiccato bass strokes and reed bites; while Aphorismus VI parallels clarinet tongue-slaps with bagpipe-like tremolos from the bass. Floridis’ alto saxophone tone can be as sharp as any bopper’s as it is on Aphorismus XVII; while percussion clip-clops are sophisticatedly smoothed into a connective exposition on Aphorismus XIX. The program ends with Sommer affectionately mocking Kowald’s chamber music-like sweeps and Floridis’ delicate clarinet lines with obtrusive Jew’s harp twangs.

Waxman 02 LudemannMore chronologically limited, but even more spectacular in probing the boundaries of a jazz formation is Die Kunst des Trio 1-5 (BMC Records BMC CD 196 During the course of five CDs and a bonus DVD, Cologne-based pianist Hans Lüdemann works through programs involving five unique bass and drum teams. Able to express high-energy complexity and florid impressionism with the same finesse, Lüdemann’s trios showcase original compositions plus Hanns Eisler ballads from the latter’s Hollywood period. All 36 tracks, recorded at the same location, are performed acoustically aside from the sets with electric bass and percussion. Sophisticated in mining perceptive emotions with both acoustic and electronic keyboards, Rhythm Magic is Lüdemann’s weakest program. That’s because bass guitar sluices, percussion patter and staccato key flourishes excite only the tapping foot rather than the thinking brain. Conversely, Chiffre, featuring bassist/cellist Henning Sieverts plus percussionist Eric Shaefer, confirms the adage that the best is often left for last. Able to make the virtual piano as sensitive to cerebral explorations as the real McCoy, Lüdemann creatively exposes the tunes’ reflective innards on CD5. Slow paced Doux for example unites keyboard cascades with piercing multi-string actions that could come from a viola da gamba. Meanwhile the climatic minutes of Verioren that result from the pianist’s near-boogie-woogie patterning are cannily set up with bell peals and impressionistic multi-string vibrations at the top. This is the most impressive trio music, but there’s also much to be said for the pianist’s interaction with bassist Robert Landfermann and drummer Jonas Burgwinkel plus bassist Sébastien Boisseau and drummer Dejan Terzic. The first mixes kinetic piano lines, drum pumps and quirky bass voicing to extend the classic piano trio to include European tropes such as suggestions of baroque stylings plus electronic add-ons. Even better is the Boisseau-Terzic meeting. Dramatic and cerebral, sturdy bass lines and clattering drums aid the pianist’s careful pacing of particular themes. Paradoxically this strategy is impressive on Über den Selbstmord/Das ist gefährlich where Lüdemann sutures harmonic swing onto the Eisler song which starts the track. This type of transformative alchemy is extended throughout the nine tunes that make up Eisler’s Exile. Seconded by bassist Dieter Manderscheid and percussionist Christian Thomé, the pianist never neglects the romantic yearnings which inhabit the German composer’s original intent. At the same time he invests each track with sinewy swing.

Waxman 03 NavigationIn a technological age a boxed set takes on many meanings. For instancecornetist Taylor Ho Bynum 7-tette’s Navigation [Possibility Abstracts XII & XIII] (Firehouse 12 Records FH-12-04-01-019 is available as two CDs of a studio session and on a double LP as a live date. Different variations on Bynum’s Navigation composition, each package includes complimentary download codes to access digital copies of the other format. Using graphic and conventional methods to guide the improvisation, Bynum calls on tropes encompassing tremolo theme repetition and stop-time climaxes, plus intersection and interpolation of riffs and sudden narrative punctuation from a band that includes trombonist Bill Lowe, alto saxophonist Jim Hobbs, guitarist Mary Halvorson and bassist Ken Filiano with Tomas Fujiwara and Chad Taylor on drums and vibraphones. Comparing versions of March from the CD set demonstrates the group’s versatility. While it’s undisputedly the same tune, solo emphasis gives it novel allure in each instance. Introducing the second CD, March features sharp saxophone lines in violin register that quickly give way to scene-setting trombone slurs. From that point until the finale, the sequence takes on a New Orleans-like cast as two-beat drumming backs clanking guitar runs and taut cornet expositions. When March ends the first CD though, the quasi-Dixieland emphasis is downplayed for sophisticated solos. Hobbs’ wide glissandi limn the theme atop cohesive brass vamps, until a Halvorson-Bynum duo that simultaneously manages to suggest the power of early Louis Armstrong’s small groups while slyly interpolating bop modernism.

Waxman 04 FlatEarthTaking this download concept one step further, the 15-piece Belgian jazz-rock-experimental big band the Flat Earth Society (FES) has come up with FESXLS (Igloo IGL 257 The three-CD package includes two discs celebrating the Flemish orchestra’s – and guests’ – recent projects; a single CD, featuring tracks from the more rock-oriented X-Legged Sally band that evolved into Flat Earth Society; plus 12 (!) download codes allowing the listener to get digital copies of additional albums. Even without the digital discs, the physical package is fascinating. Over the course of 19 tracks on X-Legged Sally 1988-1997, the listener can track how the shifting personnel of the group, always led by multi-instrumentalist/composer Peter Vermeersch, gradually shifted from a defiant vocal and instrumental combo, influenced by Frank Zappa and other avant-rockers, into a high-energy instrumental group whose staccato expositions melded jazz-influenced soloing, rock energy and instrumental chops. Mutating into the FES, the contemporary CDs, Boot & Berg and Call Sheets, Riders & Chicken Mushroom are even more striking. Although its Flemish libretto may be difficult for those who don’t know the language, the sheer musicianship of the FES matched with soprano Rolande Van der Paal shines through the language barrier on Boot & Berg. A multimedia retelling of the Titanic tragedy on the 100th anniversary of that disaster, Vermeersch’s music introduces motifs from nautical melodies, hard rock, Count Basie-like-swing and so-called classical counterpoint which scene-set, then integrate Van der Paal’s lyric soprano within the exposition. Particularly expressive during an intermezzo where cracked instrumental tones shade the vocalist’s sophisticated cabaret-style declarations, booming and whistling textures from the band emphasize the emotions involved as much as Van der Paal’s bel canto delivery. A different matter Call Sheets, Riders & Chicken Mushroom is 15 FES live tracks, with featured spots for guest improvisers such as American pianist Uri Caine, Dutch cellist Ernst Reijseger and Belgium’s most famous jazzer, harmonica player Toots Thielemans. While the quiet-jazz setting of Hilton’s Heaven, Thielemans’ first outing, is all smooth harmonica reeds cushioned by muted horns and vibes, Zonk puts him in a novel setting. Like what a Basie band standard would sound like if played by a heavy metal band, the tune finds the harmonica master expanding on cues from the jagged vamps until the piece is taken out with a graceful trumpet solo. The Caine track is even weirder since during Fes 9 the urbane keyboardist takes a solo that mixes bop with Little Richard-like excess and ends with some pseudo-ragtime, as plunger trombone smears and swelling organ riffs explode around him. At the same time this CD confirms that FES can easily be appreciated on its own. In Between Rivers for instance is a standout ballad that manages to shoehorn accordion tremors into an Ellington Jungle Band-style arrangement as reed flutters and warm brass slurs keep the narrative comfortable.

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