05 Jazz 05 Glen HallOverheard Conversations
Glen Hall; Bernie Koenig
Slam Productions CD 552 (slamproductions.net)

A reflective and comfortable musical conversation between reeds and percussion, the dozen brief duets by Toronto saxophonist/flutist Glen Hall and drummer/vibraphonist Bernie Koenig from London, Ontario have all the hallmarks of overheard dialogue. Some interjections are predictably of paramount interest to those involved; others, which stretch the capacities of the instruments and musicians, are as insightful as discussions from more formally organized sessions. Seemingly recorded in real time, luckily the discourse intensifies as it evolves.

While Hall gradually defines his parameters with tenor and soprano saxophone slurs and smears via John Coltrane’s influence, Koenig’s drum pulses are a bit more rigid, not really coming into strong focus until – and perhaps because of – “Time for a Stiff Drink.” Mixing martial-like ruffs with supple rolls, he meets Hall’s mellow elaborations head on and effectively. From then on sound snatches capture a wide-ranging conversation. Snaky bass flute timbres countered by off-centre plops suggest Arabic music on Trust Me, while rugged reed split tones attain screaming heights on “Things Are Looking Up” though the drummer’s carefully paced beats keep the theme chromatic. Additionally the whap of sticks on Mylar and wood during “Look at Her!” insinuate two percussionists at work as Hall’s altissimo snarls create a fanciful verbalization of overbearing Buddy Rich strokes backing “Caravan” played by Albert Ayler.

Like old friends winding down their conversation before they part, the reedist and percussionist save their excursions into chamber jazz for the last few duets. With Koenig’s sparkling vibraphone strokes attaining sonorous swing, the unique multi-colours Hall sources from his flute on tunes such as “I Understand Why You Are So Melancholy” reflect the skills of these sophisticated communicators who can comfortably express emotions instrumentally.

Concert Note: Glen Hall’s Rub out the Word: A William S. Burroughs Centennial Event is at The Music Gallery November 7.

06 Jazz 01 Coltrane - Offering Temple 001Offering: Live at Temple University
John Coltrane
Impulse! B0019632-02

No musician in jazz has created the stylistic transformations of John Coltrane, moving in little more than a decade through the harmony-rooted “sheets of sound” of the late 1950s and the modal period typified by his hit My Favorite Things in the early 1960s, ultimately to embrace and extend the most intense form of free jazz, “energy music,” in the two years prior to his death in 1967. This 2CD set presents a relatively well-recorded concert in Philadelphia just eight months before his death.

Coltrane’s last band was characterized by the rapid fluttering scales of pianist Alice Coltrane, the dense percussive fields generated by drummer Rashied Ali and, exceeding Coltrane himself in turbulent fury, saxophonist Pharoah Sanders, generating mad wails and honks that somehow erupted into polyphony. On this occasion, the band was augmented by a complement of four hand drummers and two young saxophonists sitting in.

The repertoire was already classic Coltrane – Naima, Crescent, My Favorite Things – but the treatment rarely is. This is jazz eschatology, religious and revolutionary, a vision of heaven and hell in which sounds may writhe in ecstasy or torment. Coltrane’s own sound is transformed by a tight vibrato and when he has taken his horn to its expressive limit he turns to chanting, pounding his chest for vibrato, in a performance that is as much rite as concert. This music has divided jazz audiences for half a century and still demands to be heard.

06 Jazz 02 Elizabeth ShepherdSignal
Elizabeth Shepherd
Linus 270197 (elizabethshepherd.com)

Elizabeth Shepherd continues on her unique musical path with her latest album Signal. Straddling genres such as jazz, lounge and soul (think Björk meets James Blake meets Stevie Wonder) the talented keyboardist, songwriter and singer combines funky rhythms, moody modes and thoughtful, obscure lyrics to create her sound. Co-produced by Shepherd and John Maclean, the liberal use of effects, samples and unusual instruments enrich the soundscape and elucidate the messages of the songs, such as on Another Day which starts with a news clip about a race riot before launching into a chanty groove. Words from folk-blues legend Ledbelly open B.T. Cotton and the use of steel pan drums keeps us on our sonic toes. What’s Happening is surely one of the prettiest songs ever written about political ugliness.

Many accomplished players who are regulars with Shepherd’s band fill out the tracks including Colin Kingsmore on drums and Ross McIntyre on bass. Guests include guitarist and Herbie Hancock band-member, Lionel Loueke, and the velvety voiced Alex Samaras. Shepherd favours minor keys and edgy harmonic relationships and by about the seventh track I found myself craving some nice cheery major chords. But if you’re in the frame of mind for a heady, complex listen, Signal will do the job well. Shepherd is touring in Canada, the U.S. and Mexico this fall.

Concert Note: Shepherd performs with Kingsmore, Kevin Turcotte, Thom Gill and Scott Kemp at the Music Gallery on November 15.

06 Jazz 03 Bollani - Joy in Spite 001Joy in Spite of Everything
Stefano Bollani
ECM 2360

Stefano Bollani belongs to a bel canto school of Italian jazz musicians, like the superb trumpeter Enrico Rava, with whom he has worked extensively, and fellow pianist Enrico Pieranunzi, who has brought a heightened timbral grace to the harmonic style of Bill Evans. Further, the German ECM label has long recorded pianos with rare sonic allure. That combination may assure surface beauty, but there’s more here than that. Bollani is joined by his usual partners, bassist Jesper Bodilsen and drummer Morten Lund, along with two American masters of nuance and tone, tenor saxophonist Mark Turner and guitarist Bill Frisell, the five exploring formats that range from duo to full quintet.

The title may tell all: the music is usually joyous (conspicuous from the opening calypso Easy Healing) but it’s an insistent joy, earned in the rich depths and contradictions of experience. The group has a collective ability to deal lightly with complexity, evident in No Pope No Party with its distinct and playful mix of 50s cool jazz and contemporary angularity. It’s apparent as well in Bollani’s trio feature, Alobar e Kudra, as he ranges from the limpid to the crisp.

It’s ultimately the sense of dialogue and shared vision, though, which gives this music its depth, apparent on Las Hortensias, Bodilsen’s bass line rising to entwine with saxophone and piano, and on Ismene, where guitar, piano and drums create liquid pools of light.

06 Jazz 04 Boom CraneBoom Crane
Boom Crane
Fresh Sound/New Talent FSNT 432 (freshsoundrecords.com)

Providing an unassailable musical instance of Equilibrium, “a state in which opposing forces or influences are balanced” – also the title of one composition on this incisive CD – is the intuitive skill of two expatriate Canadians and one American. In fact, such is the dexterity of the trio in negotiating moods and tempos on Boom Crane’s 11 selections that Boom Crane (the band) sounds like a full-time working group. In truth the three convene infrequently, since Kingston, Ontario-born alto saxophonist/clarinetist Peter Van Huffel is in Berlin; while B.C. native, bassist Michael Bates lives in Brooklyn as does Yank drummer Jeff Davis.

Actually titled On Equilibrium, the track perfectly syncs vibrating reed slurs, beefy string pumps and drum pops, but that’s only one of the trio’s attributes. Besides Van Huffel’s warm clarinet tone used on a couple of occasions to wiggle out unmatched balladic interpretations, his biting alto lines equally illuminate bop, blues and experimental forays. Sharp and tense, the title tune is a stop-time blues which distends without ever splintering and features Blake’s comfortable but commanding strumming. Dissonant Slipper Hero showcases hollow breaths forced through the saxophone alongside double-stopping arco string buzzes until Davis’ amiable swing beat helps guide the others towards an electrifying communicative finale. On Automatic Vaudeville apparently The Jazz Messenger must operate in that venerable tradition, since Bates’ walking bass and Van Huffel’s buoyant note jumps reference hard bop. Later reed squeaks and string pops confirm the tune’s modernity, plus the time is slyly doubled until variations lead back to the initial theme.

But perhaps the most characteristic track is Not A Living Soul. Another exercise in shifting tempos, its centrepiece is Bates’ dark, extended bass solo. It separates with skill the herky-jerky, flutter-tongued sax-led beginning and the blended conclusion of graceful cymbal vibrations, supple reed trills and bass string resonations.

A notable debut disc that calls for celebration not boom lowering on the trio, the CD’s tunes and the band can be experienced in Toronto this month.

Concert Note: October 28 12:30pm: a concert/clinic with Boom Crane at Humber College; October 27 and October 28 8:30pm Boom Crane at The Rex.

As serious music has become both more ardent and more accommodating over the past few decades, so has the definition of what constitutes a musical group or which instrument is appropriate for a solo session. One of the instruments that benefitted the most from this liberal attitude is the double bass. Freed from its singular function as a timekeeper in jazz or to suggest rumbling menace in so-called classical music, it has become the object of new experiments.

Waxman 01 RotationsSolo bass recitals are no longer the novelty they once were, but some four-string explorers go even further, creating situations where multi basses play together. Take for instance Rotations (Evil Rabbit Records ERR21 evilrabbitrecords.eu). Operating as Sequoia, four double bass players – two Germans, one Italian and a Canadian, all based in Berlin – come up with eight-tracks that irrefutably demonstrate the qualities of a program based entirely on what can be created with acoustic bass. Acoustic sometimes has to be emphasized, because when Germans Meinrad Kneer and Klaus Kürvers, Italian Antonio Borghini and Canadian Miles Perkin fuse swabbed impulses on a track such as Lifts and Escalators the results resemble those created by electronic instruments. A block of coursing low-pitched tones, this sonic chiaroscuro still reveals separate timbre strata. Shaking and bouncing the tune reaches a crescendo of spinning attachments then downturns. Overall, interspaced with concise instances of jazz-like thumping, the CD exhibits all sorts of bass desires: staccato and languid, stentorian and shrill. The almost 16-minute Rotations for example isolates an assortment of expositions. While one bass duo creates a droning ostinato, another two make the upper reaches of their strings chirp and whistle. Interacting with tremolo slices, the final sound-image is that of a lively chicken coop with each fowl contributing distinctive notes. A similar divide exists on the final Passing By. Except here individual aggressive thrusts are layered from altissimo to basso, exhibiting mesmerizing strength within a mid-section of shrieking spiccato; and climaxing with a display of stentorian power that makes the 1812 Overture seem like a mild exposition.

Waxman 02 ZwirnRather than halving the number and breadth of sounds they produce with only two bull fiddles, Swiss duo Peter K. Frey and Daniel Studer range through expanded narratives on Zwirn: Live in München (Creative Sources CS 239 CD creativesourcesrec.com). Less bellicose than Sequoia’s frequently all-out attack, the two employ scordatura, retuning and detuning to create timbres that often sound less string sourced than horn resembling. This is particularly apparent during the first measures of Eins Punkt Zwei. Until a clear string pluck resonates, it sounds as if a reed duet is in progress. Although not shying away from decorating their interface with mellow tones and sparkling peeps, toughness isn’t neglected either. The concluding Drei subsides after mandolin-pitched strums; upwards-moving string tweaks and almost visual sparks fly between the two on Zwei Punkt Zwei; and there are sections of the introductory Eins Punkt Eins where it appears as if the two are not only creating novel rhythms by twisting strings near their instruments’ scrolls, but sounding as if they’re ripping apart the bass wood as they play. Zwei Punkt Eins is the track most illustrative of the relationship. Climaxing with a series of spiccato runs that eventually relax into a peaceful conclusion, intense excitement is first built up by combining scrubbed lowing, aviary-like chirps and string recoils.

Waxman 03 NogetMore linear, but just as inventive, Denmark’s Nils Davidsen fashions11 multi-textural solos utilizing a single gong plus two or three basses on some tracks. Although the multiple-bass narratives on Noget at glæde sig til (ILK Music 217 CD ilkmusic.com) may be overdubbed there’s no hint of artificiality. Blending upper register timbres with a reed player’s facility, for instance, Davidsen turns the three-bass Extraterrestrial Breakfast into a piquant repast of sharp and sour resonations. Creating a rhythmic continuum by vibrating the gong-like cymbal, the two-bass M/S Kissavik smartly concludes as arco and pizzicato lines harmonize. As for the two brief tracks featuring a single bass and a gong the sonorous gamelan-like vibrations provide unique accompaniment to relaxed pulsing. It’s not that additional instruments are needed either. Just Turn Green for example demonstrates Davidsen’s arpeggio-rich, guitar-like facility, while Woody unsurprisingly highlights tones that remain charming while sourced from the bass’ mid-range and much lower. Finally the bassist’s skillful proficiency with four strings allows him to negotiate the interlocking sequences that make up Osiris in 4 Parts. Slipping from melancholy spiccato, rugged double-stopping and melodic sprightliness, his fervor leads to sul tasto bowing concluding the piece with a beefed-up sonic landscape. The CD title translates as “something to look forward to,” which is awkward grammatically but musically apt.

Waxman 04 GulletAnother Danish, but Berlin-based, bull fiddler, Adam Pultz Melbye uses Gullet’s nine tracks (Barefoot Records BFREC032CD barefoot-records.com) to showcase his skills with only one double bass, one bow plus a stick placed horizontally among the strings. More a deft colourist than someone swabbing gouts of paint onto a musical canvas, with angled string-darting and mid-range rubs he creates gamelan-like peals and flute peeps. At the same time, comparing tracks such as Attempts at Relevance and Zossener credibly demonstrate how power can be present as much when microscopic bow pulls lead to splintered tones as with off-centre yet tough col legno pushes. Taken as a whole, Melbye’s arco and pizzicato facility on these tracks is reminiscent of that of a writer who has mastered the short story. Perhaps however his next exercise should involve extended tale-telling.

Waxman 05 St JamesOne double bassist unfazed by lengthy improvisations is Paris’ Benjamin Duboc. His St. James Infirmary CD (Improvising Beings ib22 improvising-beings.com), consists of only two tracks, both more than 20 minutes apiece: the title tune and Saint-Martin. Each delineates one side of his mercurial talent. St. James Infirmary Blues is a deconstruction and reassembling of the folk-blues classic. Sonorous and diffident, his unhurried bumps, crunches and resonations, shake out unique variations on the theme until corrosive string stops break through the coconut shell of variations to expose the flesh of the familiar melody. The resulting sequence matches poignancy and power. Saint-Martin is even more challenging. Separating motifs through interludes of staccato whistles and strident buzzes, perhaps the result of unique tuning, his multiphonic exposition can be as thick as that expressed by all four bassists in Sequoia. His elaboration of assorted pitches from widely separated parts of his string set make it appear as if more than one bassist is at work. Exhibiting a mastery of col legno smacks, his stentorian pacing showcases unique string textures which are subsequently pierced with dagger-sharp thrusts. Buzzing drones finally make common cause with sul ponticello shrills for a finale of satisfaction and relief.

On their own or in multiples, the double bassists here confirm that any expression of bass desires is only limited by a player`s imagination.

Vancouver’s jazz scenes are well documented by some of the country’s most active labels, with Cellar Live (cellarlive.com) devoted to what might be called “traditional modern” and Songlines (songlines.com) covering more recent stylistic evolutions. Among the recent releases are a few of Vancouver’s outstanding guitarists and some dynamic crossovers of Canadian and American musicians.

Broomer 01 Easy SailingOliver Gannon has been a mainstay of the Vancouver scene for over 40 years, but he has rarely recorded as sole leader, favouring partnerships like one with the late saxophonist Fraser MacPherson. Easy Sailing (Cellar Live CL 120913) celebrates the kind of joyous swing that Gannon can create. His style is forged in the jazz of the 50s and 60s and he retains some of the markers of Wes Montgomery’s influence, like a fondness for playing in octaves and touches of the blues everywhere. The music moves along with a warm energy as Gannon plays through a program made up mostly of standards, still finding plenty of inspiration in tunes like Ellington’s Prelude to a Kiss or Harold Arlen’s Come Rain or Come Shine. He’s ably accompanied by pianist Miles Black, bassist Jodi Proznick and drummer Blane Wikjord.

Broomer 02 TrilogyVancouver’s other mainstream guitarist of note is Bill Coon; in fact, the two have worked together as Two Much Guitar. One might expect Triology (Cellar Live CL 062113) to emphasize the resemblance, with the presence of Miles Black and Jodi Proznick, but the feel of the music is very different. Coon’s sound is more distinctly electric than Gannon’s, with a shimmering, glassy quality whether he’s creating a lyrical reverie on Proznick’s L’Espace or running rapid scalar figures on Black’s aptly named Morocco. What really distinguishes this from the Gannon quartet is its rhythmic momentum. While Gannon’s music has the slightly fractured quality of hard bop, Triology resembles the smooth, headlong swing of the early Oscar Peterson trios with guitar and foregrounded bass. The resemblance is exaggerated by the opening track, Ray Time, a Black original dedicated to Ray Brown, Peterson’s longtime bassist, but the sense of Peterson-inspired excess figures frequently here, as in the pile-up of the concluding I Got Rhythm.

Broomer 03 Cory WeedsSaxophonist Cory Weeds, founder of Cellar Live, has long paired the label with his recently closed Cellar Jazz Club, often matching local and international soloists and rhythm sections. As of Now (Cellar Live CL 100313) presents Weeds in the company of a superb New York-based trio made up of pianist Harold Mabern, bassist John Webber and drummer Joe Farnsworth, one of the last groups to appear at the Cellar before its closure in February. The three are masters of the kind of crisp interplay that’s at once precise, relaxed, authoritative and aggressive, and they clearly inspire Weeds, whose work is rooted in that of stylists like Hank Mobley and Stanley Turrentine. The 77-year-old Mabern is as vital as ever, combining Memphis blues roots, subtle chord voicings and sudden, invigorating, percussive splashes. As well as playing great piano, Mabern also contributes the best original compositions, including Edward Lee, a composition he recorded in duet with Toronto bassist Kieran Overs in 1992 on another cross- border excursion Philadelphia Bound (released on the Sackville label and well worth seeking out).

Vancouver has long been a site for some of the most creative cross-pollination in jazz, reaching back to the classic 1959 recording Kenneth Patchen Reads with Jazz in Canada, the American poet accompanied by the quartet of pianist Al Neil, the firebrand of Canadian jazz surrealism. Tony Reif’s Songlines label has been active since 1992, documenting the frontiers of jazz both internationally and locally, often documenting meetings between Vancouver-based musicians and international collaborators. It’s a frequent Vancouver practice: Ken Pickering, Artistic Director of the Vancouver International Jazz Festival, has used the approach to develop the most creative large-scale festival in the country. At Songlines, for example, clarinetist François Houle has created a substantial body of work, much of which consists of on-going partnerships with European and American musicians.

Broomer 04 No DifferenceAnother musician pursuing the same opportunity with the label is guitarist Gordon Grdina, whose recordings have benefitted from the participation of major American figures like bassist Gary Peacock. Grdina’s work is exploratory, experimental, seemingly driven outward and inward, forward and back simultaneously, whether he’s exploring free improvisation or traditional Arabic music. It’s apparent in his integration of the Arabic lute, the oud and bowed guitar in his performances. No Difference (Songlines SCL 1603-2) presents recordings from New York and New Jersey, with Grdina’s regular drummer Kenton Loewen and two outstanding New Yorkers. Tenor saxophonist Tony Malaby is a galvanizing presence, but Grdina forms an especially strong bond with Mark Helias, whose bass lines work hand-in-glove with Grdina’s improvisations. The bouncing free-bop of Visceral Voices is particularly memorable.

Broomer 05 Golden StateAnother example of Songlines’ creative openness is composer/percussionist Harris Eisenstadt’s Golden State (Songlines SCL 1602-2). The Toronto-born Eisenstadt spent a 2012 residency at CalArts in Valencia where he created the ensemble Golden State with his wife bassoonist Sara Schoenbeck, flutist Nicole Mitchell and bassist Mark Dresser. The music is every bit as surprising as you might expect from that unusual instrumentation. Eisenstadt has studied African music extensively, as well as working with European and American idioms, and the choice of voices facilitates everything from the aggressive rhythmic introduction of What Is a Straw Horse, Anyway? to the almost medieval sound of It Is Never Safe to Be and the Schoenberg-like chamber textures of Flabbergasted by the Unconventional, in which Dresser’s cello-register bowed bass complements the winds. Don’t let the instruments fool you: Mitchell is among the most creatively aggressive of jazz flutists and Schoenbeck’s rapid-fire improvisations bring saxophone fluency to the bassoon. 


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