Tales of big labels retrenching and jazz musicians struggling to finance CDs are legion today – but hang on, start cheering. Steve Bellamy, who’s been recording and producing jazz and classical music for 15 years, has started a Toronto-based label - Addo Records (www.addorecords.com) – with three splendid recordings of top-flight Canadians. Liner notes are by local musicians and planned 2010 releases are already in the can.
Saxophone star Kirk MacDonald opens Addo’s account with Songbook Vol.1 (Addo Jazz Recordings AJR001) with seven of his own tunes and quality sidemen in pianist David Virelles, bass Neil Swainson and volatile drummer Barry Romberg. This adventurous music offers tuneful momentum, rhythmic flair and opportunities for bold contributions from bandsmen backing the leader’s warm, expressive and appealing sound – Virelles and Romberg are never still while Swainson’s lush-toned bass anchors proceedings. The opening, expansive New Piece features flowing ideas, and you understand how Kirk has embraced composition as well as stellar performance. There’s winsome balladry on Calendula, passion lamenting late saxist Glenn McDonald, plus fiercely restless work on By Invitation Only (no prizes for knowing the inspiration).
Mega-versatile guitarist Ted Quinlan, equally comfortable with B3 banger Tony Monaco and string peers like Pat Metheny and Joe Hall, is up next with Streetscape (Addo Jazz Recordings AJR002) featuring nine originals, sterling support from bass Kieran Overs and drummer Ted Warren and his penchant for strong, attractive melodies flagging both old and new approaches. Notes are picked with care, yet there’s often unusual choices à la Bill Frisell. The trio fits seamlessly in an elegant atmosphere, creating mysterious note weaves that nonetheless deliver zestful, snaky improv - but overstatement never cramps finesse on Go West and Vibrolux. The pulse quickens on Speakeasy while Crowchild reveals deep emotional focus. This balanced offering swings breezily to the closing Block Party.
Montreal-based trio Fieldtrip, whose edgy self-titled debut stirred free jazz fans, pulls its horns in somewhat with No Destination (Addo Jazz Recordings AJR003), boosting the power trio of alto Colin Power, bass Patrick Read and drummer Mark Nelson with energetic tenor Kelly Jefferson and guitarist Jim Head. Most tunes come from Power and Read and you wonder, briefly, if this group has turned respectable. It’s cooler only in the sense there’s more melodic structure and harmonic nuance than before to accompany the imaginative elements of musical wanderlust. There’s good chemistry on Sounds On Silence and the surging I Am The Impostor, with each tune splashing a kaleidoscope of ideas that crash with ease through genres and approaches. It’s worth more than a second listen.
Rising bass star Brandi Disterheft trolls new territory on Second Side (Justin Time Records JTR 8544-2 www.justin-time.com), adding vocals she surprised us with when opening for Dave Brubeck in the summer, but showing again that she’s in full control of her music, if not the photographers who’ve glammed her up excessively on the album sleeve. With a hand in 10 of the 11 tracks that she’s arranged, her concept is a musical journey entwined with love - but were guest singers Ranee Lee and Holly Cole needed as the boss fashions a classic pop, classic jazz mélange? Disterheft is backed by a bevy of striking players such as saxman Chris Gale, pianist Stacie McGregor and inevitably drummer Sly Juhas. The starter Sketches Of Belief has the magisterial air of a Miles Davis, there’s a neat Brazilian lilt to Twilight Curtain and some ‘outside’ horn rumbling on My Only Friends Are The Pigeons. I’d have liked more instrumentals with the basic trio such as A Night In Haiti that let Disterheft display her considerable bass chops, while her toying with kalimba hints at interesting future possibilities.
Trombonist Darren Sigesmund is pursuing a somewhat similar course, bringing classical aspects – courtesy of European composers such as Rodriguez, and de Falla – and rock staples into a contemporary jazz mode, heading up a septet in which U.S. saxman Tim Ries has added colour to the leader’s eight thickly-textured pieces on Strands II (DS 09001 www.darrensigesmund.com). You’ll enjoy stuttering rhythms, florid outbursts and Sigesmund’s agile yet smooth-toned trombone. Horns drift sometimes but there’s always something happening, with guitarist Reg Schwager and percussionist Daniel Stone cutting through the forest frequently with ecstatic soloing. Vocal textures from Eliana Cuevas heighten intriguing sounds, and listen out especially for confident and committed playing on Dance For Leila, Castle In The Storm and the zippy El Inicio.
Concert note: This album will be officially released Nov. 6 at Hart House.