01 Carol WelsmanFor You
Carol Welsman
Welcar Music WMCD369 (carolwelsman.com)

I have long been up for any recording by Canadian jazz singer and pianist Carol Welsman (now Los Angeles-based), and my admiration continues with her most recent CD, For You. It is a solo recording except for three tracks on which expert guitarist Paulinho Garcia plays. The title refers to a social media process: after listening to 30-second soundbytes, around 5,000 voters selected the songs. The result is 16 standards in a wide variety of moods, styles and languages, each song presented with enough musical intimacy to suggest that it is indeed, For You.

On this disc Carol Welsman sings in English, French, Spanish, Portuguese and Italian – regardless, her excellent diction and sense of style are convincing as is heard in such titles as Les Parapluies de Cherbourg (Legrand) and Corcovado (Jobim). American numbers show the same clarity and sensitivity to lyrics, suggesting many different moods. Her delivery is direct and almost non-vibrato in Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered, breathy and sensual in My Foolish Heart, and vulnerable, almost down to a whisper in Skylark. Those remembering her exuberant singing and pianism in earlier times may be surprised by the restrained contralto and spare apt accompaniments on this CD. Yet she conveys a feeling of optimism, and a sense of more closeness is now gained, perhaps abetted by producer Takao Ishizuka. The disc has already been a bestseller among jazz listeners in Japan.

Listen to 'For You' Now in the Listening Room

02 Alex PangmanAlex Pangman’s Hot Three
Alex Pangman
Justin Time JTR 8610-2 (alexpangman.com)

In his 2010 book Perfecting Sound Forever, Greg Milner describes how Thomas Edison mounted thousands of “tone tests” across America in the early 20th century to prove how his Diamond Disc record player “perfectly” represented sound. The phonograph would play while a singer would perform intermittently and the audience would be stunned by how closely the recorded and live performances meshed. The “secret” of this demonstration was that the singers emulated the “pinched” quality of the recording which was the baseline against which everything else was measured. “Recorded versus live” has had a fascinating history, with many opinions regarding which sound is the best.

With Alex Pangman’s Hot Three, the Toronto jazz singer has created a bold experiment of her own by travelling to New Orleans and, with local musicians, recording an album of seven standards live to an acetate 78 rpm disc. She wanted to “explore the roots of the recording medium and how and why early recordings have the energy they do.” The results are conveniently available on CD.

This disc literally crackles with excitement; you can hear the sound of the needle cutting through the acetate and there is a low hum throughout. For authenticity only one microphone was used and the sound is high on treble but Tom Saunders’ excellent bass sax playing produces a solidly articulated bottom end. Matt Rhody (violin) and Nahum Zdybel (guitar) are also top-notch and Pangman’s vocals are energetic and manage to be nuanced within the limits of the medium. These tracks do not have the fidelity we are used to hearing and that is part of their appeal.

Listen to 'Alex Pangman’s Hot Three' Now in the Listening Room

03 TorcheTorche!
Xavier Charles, Michel F Côté, Franz Hautzinger, Philippe Lauzier, Éric Normand
Tour de Bras TDB90024cd (tourdebras.com)

Bandleader, electric bassist and organizer Éric Normand has become a central figure in Canadian improvised music, working from his unlikely base in Rimouski, Quebec to develop a large ensemble, a local festival and regular programs of international visitors, activities that have led to international touring for his ensemble GGRIL. Torche! comes from a 2016 quintet tour in which Normand was joined by Montreal-based drummer Michel F Côté and bass clarinetist Philippe Lauzier along with two distinguished European visitors, French clarinetist Xavier Charles and German trumpeter Franz Hautzinger.

On paper that instrumentation might look like a jazz group, even a free jazz group, but the methodology is very different, with close listening the only directive, and the music’s evolution timbral and textural rather than linear. Wind instruments are sometimes played with oscillator-like evenness, even when they’re exploring complex multiphonics; the unfolding layers of sound can suggest an insect-dense forest or the compound sonic ambience of fluorescent lights, varied electronic appliances and of one’s own internal processes.

Individual instrumental voices disappear into the collective whole, so that one is less aware of personalities, more involved in the movement of sound. The music feels orchestral rather than like a collection of individual voices, collective purpose creating work that is as profoundly selfless as it is involving. It’s a highly evolved art, with the five musicians here shaping eight taut improvisations that are remarkably free of meanderings or those empty moments of merely getting acquainted.

04 CarnDavisonMurphy
Carn Davidson 9
Independent CD9-002 (taradavidson.ca; williamcarn.com)

The new recording from multi-reed player Tara Davidson and trombonist William Carn is not only named after their venerable cat, but is also a shining example of what fine jazz composition, arranging and performance should be. Co-produced by Davidson and Carn, the ensemble is loaded with jazz talent, including Davidson on alto and soprano sax, flute and clarinet; Kelly Jefferson on alto and soprano sax and clarinet; Perry White on baritone sax and bass clarinet; Kevin Turcotte and Jason Logue on trumpet and flugelhorn; William Carn on trombone; Alex Duncan on bass trombone; Andrew Downing on bass; Ernesto Cervini on drums and special guest, award-winning and luminous jazz vocalist Emilie-Claire Barlow on Carn’s tune, Glassman (arranged by Geoff Young).

All compositions on this project were written by Carn and Davidson, and they have collaborated on the skilled arrangements with other fine musician/composers (Cervini, Downing, Logue, Andy Ballantyne and Geoff Young). First up is Carn’s composition Try Again (arranged by Cervini). Rife with tricky contrapuntal horn lines and percussive drum work, this track swings with a distinctive quintessential bop viguor. Groovy, extended solos by White on baritone sax and Carn on trombone sail in and around Downing’s powerful and insistent bass lines. One of the most interesting songs on this recording is Downing’s arrangement of Davidson’s composition, Family Portrait. Gorgeous, lyrical and melancholy, Downing makes brilliant use of space and warm chord structures.

Other impressive tracks include Carn’s Glassman – Barlow’s sumptuous voice acts as an instrument here, moving in seamless musical symmetry with the others – and the joyous closer, Murphy! (written by Carn and arranged by Ballantyne), featuring buoyant solos from both Carn and Davidson.

05 Liebman Murley QuartetLive at U of T
Liebman/Murley Quartet
U of T Jazz (uoftjazz.ca)

Mike Murley has a decades-long musical relationship with celebrated American, fellow saxophonist Dave Liebman, and it has only strengthened since Liebman joined Murley as a visiting artist/adjunct professor in the University of Toronto’s jazz department. This CD documents a performance by the two at the department’s concert space, joined by the solid support of fellow faculty members Jim Vivian on bass and Terry Clarke on drums. The style is at the leading edge of the modern jazz mainstream, rooted in the music of John Coltrane and Sonny Rollins as well as Miles Davis (with whom Liebman worked in the 1970s). It’s energized, often joyous, and there’s a celebratory edge as well as a disciplined focus.

Liebman sticks to soprano and Murley to tenor through the first half of the program, developing sinuous, coiling lines on Vivian’s pulsing composition Split or Whole and a relaxed swing on Murley’s YBSN. The music becomes increasingly intense when Liebman turns to tenor as well, first setting an exotic jungle atmosphere on flute on Murley’s modal Open Spaces before the two press forward, exploring the expressive sides of their tenors, bending pitches and sonorities. Highlights abound, including Liebman’s Nebula, an astral soundscape that foregrounds Vivian’s arco bass, and the forceful take on the session’s only standard, And the Angels Sing.

Far more than a mere faculty event, Live at U of T sets the bar very high for Canada’s 2018 jazz releases.

07 Mario RomanoFenyrose non Dimenticar
Mario Romano
Modica Music MM0020 (marioromano.ca)

I’ve got to admit that at first I was somewhat skeptical about reviewing a jazz CD by a big-time Toronto real estate developer who returned to his piano playing roots after almost four decades. But listening to Mario Romano’s Fenyrose Non Dimenticar – his second CD since 2010 – I was quickly disabused of my skepticism. Romano is the real McCoy, to risk punning on the fact that the legendary Mr. Tyner’s influence is apparent in Romano’s keyboard style; there are shades of Chick Corea, too. The man has sophisticated chops!

Of the eight tracks on the CD, five are refreshingly arranged covers, two are Romano originals and one is by guest solo pianist, Nahre Sol. Romano is joined by four distinguished musicians, all but one Toronto-based: Pat Labarbera on sax, William Sperandei on trumpet, bassist Roberto Occhipinti and Toronto born, New York-based drummer Mark McLean.

Throughout, Romano’s playing is elegant and understated, sometimes driving, sometimes effortlessly languid, all in service to his novel arrangements. Cream’s Sunshine of Your Love features Sperandei, and the band just swings! The sax and trumpet work on Non Dimenticar is absolutely lovely, as is Romano’s shimmery and stylish keyboard approach. His Hymn for Padre Pio has a grand, sweeping opening, some tasty drum work and splendid sax and trumpet solos. Estate is given a gorgeous, silky treatment, and Romano’s Encanto de Mi Niña features him on accordion in a tender, slow-tango serenade.

Each track shines on this gem of a CD. Non dimenticare to check it out!

08 Ethio JazzEthio Jazz Vol.1
Jay Danley Band
Independent (thejaydanleyethiojazzproject.bandcamp.com)

Ethiopian Jazz (Ethio Jazz) began with Mulatu Astatke, the first African student at the Berklee College of Music in the 1960s. He fused jazz with Ethiopian music to create a sub-genre which employs heavy rhythm, horns and several minor sounding scales. On Ethio Jazz Volume One, the Toronto jazz guitarist Jay Danley states Ethio Jazz has shown him “an entirely new way to play guitar, compose and most importantly how to hear” by combining the freedom of jazz with the “discipline of applying the scales, rhythms and ‘feel’ of Ethiopian music.”

The Jay Danley band has a core group of guitar, bass, drums, percussion and two saxophones. This is augmented on several tunes with “special guests” Hilario Durán on piano and Alexander Brown on trumpet. The arrangements are in a straightforward melody, solos and melody format. The rhythm is in the pocket for the whole album, creating a smooth and grooving background. The fat bass, combined with horns using fourths and fifths in their harmonized lines, creates a rich but edgy sound. The melodies and solos use the Ethio-jazz scales, which provide extra tension that contrasts with the funky background. All the musicians are excellent: Danley’s solos are well crafted and Durán’s piano playing is another highlight. Bring on Volume Two!

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