03 Campbell Shirley HornLoving You – Celebrating Shirley Horn
Peter Campbell
Independent (petercampbellmusic.com)

Vocalist Peter Campbell’s introduction to the stylings of the great vocalist/pianist Shirley Horn was during his undergraduate days at McGill University. After hearing her 1992 recording Here’s to Life, he was greatly impressed and influenced by her musical expressiveness. In this celebration of Horn’s recordings, Campbell utilizes her influence as he performs 13 Horn songs with clarity, musicality and respect while simultaneously creating his own sound.

Campbell performs with clear diction, phrasing and vocal colour. He is accompanied by a stellar group of musicians – pianist Mark Kieswetter, guitarist Reg Schwager, bassist Ross MacIntyre and trumpeter Kevin Turcotte. In the opening track A Time for Love, Campbell’s effortless wide vocal range is supported by Kieswetter’s solid piano stylings and a colourful Turcotte trumpet solo. Bass and guitar provide tasteful solos and support to an emotional vocal performance of Sharing the Night With the Blues. Loving You is highlighted by subtle vocal colour changes in the longer held notes against a sparse piano accompaniment – it’s almost like two soloists having a musical chat over beverages! A straightforward ballad rendition of the Piaf classic If You Love Me is memorable for its simplicity and lyric storytelling.

No drums here in the mix, but the rhythmic sense is never lost with the band members’ sense of time. Inventive arrangements by Campbell and Kieswetter, and smart instrumental improvisations support Campbell’s moving renditions to make this a great musical gift to his musical hero Shirley Horn.

04 Rebecca HenneseyTwo Calls
Rebecca Hennessy’s FOG Brass Band
Independent RH002 (rebeccahennessy.com)

If the term “less is more” ever elicited a vivid example to go along with it, this disc Two Calls by Rebecca Hennessy’s FOG Brass Band would be it. Rarely do performers shine in all their radiant apparel, creating an unmatched nimbleness of sound, as Hennessy and her ensemble. This is no stripped-down interplay but a fulsome recreation of the evocative dialogue between a trumpeter and her band. The ebullient arpeggios and brilliantly gilded glissandi played by Hennessy mimic perfectly the melisma of a singer, only in this instance the trumpet or flugelhorn, in all its brazen or hushed spookiness, recalls the ghosts of masters as Hennessy shines forth.

Among the choicest encounters on this disc are Birds for Free and Why Are You So Sad Booker Little? The rest of the melodically exquisite songs are also beautifully crafted; a combination of ingenious writing and inspired improvisation on the part of Hennessy and her ensemble. The vitality and brilliance of each invention shines forth in the strongest and most appealing orchestral colours. The dynamic range and balance between the instruments is achieved by each artist never seeming to tread on the other’s turf. It’s almost as if soloing is done in a series of shy dance moves, as saxophone comes into the spotlight while piano is in the shadows; then switching roles as if by magic so that another instrumentalist is highlighted.

05 Audrey OchaAfterthought
Audrey Ochoa Trio
Chronograph Records CR 055 (chronographrecords.com)

As any dictionary search shows, “feeling” is a word with multiple meanings: a function or the power of perceiving by touch; any particular sensation of this kind; the general state of consciousness considered independently of particular sensations; thoughts affected by emotion… To say that trombonist Audrey Ochoa sets about creating feelings is to suggest, therefore, that somehow she does all of these. All the ingredients are there: tempo, dynamics and emotion, activated by the vibrations as her lips engage the air from her lungs singing, and her fingers extend the gliding tubing. This is the means by which Ochoa creates fine texture and timbre; her sense of spatial scale creates equal parts grace, rhythmic energy, and pure emotion in a kinetic response to combative, hair-trigger dynamic musical contrasts.

For proof of all of the above, look no further than the present recording, Afterthought, a mesmeric album full of swagger, swing and beckoning genius. Audrey Ochoa’s inventions are redolent of light-handed glissandos and mercurial arpeggios played with quintessential charm and wit. The disc consists of eight works of unsurpassed beauty. Each song is alive with personal magic and happily shared imaginative possibility. Ochoa’s compositions are graceful, fluent and affectionate. Titles such as Low Interest Rate and Doppelgangers are bursting with surprise. Underpinning this excellence is the work of bassist Mike Lent and drummer Sandro Dominelli, whose superb playing adds a feeling of considerable largeness to this fine recording.

06 Erik HovePolygon
Erik Hove Chamber Ensemble
Independent (erikhovemusic.com)

Montreal-based alto saxophonist and composer Erik Hove is a musician of startling persistence and ambition, as ready to challenge himself as his listeners. In 2014 he released Saturated Colour by his ten-member Chamber Ensemble, a well-rehearsed group playing complex compositions that merged the microtonal methodologies of spectral composition à la French composers Gérard Grisey and Tristan Murail with a jazz rhythm section and improvised solos, an approach also pioneered by New York-based saxophonist/composer Steve Lehman.

Now, simply put, Hove has done it again, with just three personnel changes in the ensemble of four reeds (including flutes, clarinets, oboe and saxophone), trumpet, string trio, bass and drums. He has an increasingly assured and innovative command of his complex materials, happily mixing microtonal chords, machine-like arpeggios and complex rhythms. On Metal Clouds, Hove, flutist Anna Webber and violist Jean René solo with aplomb, matching their own quarter-tones with those of the accompanying chords. His gifts as an orchestrator come increasingly to the fore as the program continues, with Inversions developing eerily sustained mixes of strings and reeds.

Hove uses improvisation selectively and structurally: Inversions is already a well-developed piece before it welcomes a passage of collective improvisation, while Tetrahedron begins as a feature for Andy King’s jazz-fueled trumpet, eventually evolving into a composition for full ensemble. Hove’s finest moment as an improviser comes at the end as he solos on the brief Octagon, lifting its evanescent textures while adding further mystery.

07 Stir Tour de BrasStir
Yves Charuest; Agustí Fernández; Nicolas Caloia; Peter Valsamis
Tour de Bras TDB 9021cd (tourdebras.com)

The group involved in Stir begins as an unrecorded Montreal-based trio called Still that consists of alto saxophonist Yves Charuest, bassist Nicolas Caloia and drummer Peter Valsamis, then adds the titanic Spanish pianist Agustí Fernández. It’s a collective performance by a compound ensemble devoted to free jazz, but there’s also a sense of traditional roles, with Charuest and Fernández frequently in the foreground.

Charuest runs counter to expectations for free jazz saxophonists, his playing consistently lyrical, often understated, his brief, sometimes elliptical lines conveying intense passion and thought, but rarely cascades of notes or distorted timbres. His original models likely included Lee Konitz, but Charuest, who began his career in the 1980s and spent a creative stretch in Europe, long ago sublimated his influences into a distinctly personal style. Charuest’s meeting with Fernández can suggest some of the David-and-Goliath dialogue of Jimmy Lyons and Cecil Taylor, but the telepathic interaction practised by the two is remarkable, with even short, simultaneous phrases sounding like they might have arrived via manuscript paper.

The collective improvisations Stir presents here are titled (Un)fold I-VI, and range from brief episodes (the delicate I and the pensive VI) to extended forays. The group’s raw power and investigative reach explode on (Un)fold II, while III is a foray into sounds in which Caloia and Valsamis, always creative in support, come forward, sometimes mingling indistinguishably with the interior of Fernández’ piano. This is free jazz of the first order.

08 Trouble Kaze JuneJune
Trouble Kaze
Circum-Disc HeliX LX009 (circum-disc.com)

Kaze first launched in 2011 as a quartet of Japanese and French improvisers, matching the husband and wife team of trumpeter Natsuki Tamura and pianist Satoko Fujii with trumpeter Christian Pruvost and drummer Peter Orins. That brassy instrumentation may suggest an overdose of trumpet pyrotechnics, but Tamura and Pruvost’s virtuosity includes extended techniques, radically altering their palettes, while the band’s invention and energy create real excitement. Trouble Kaze expands the group to a sextet with the addition of two more French musicians, pianist Sophie Agnel and drummer Didier Lasserre, the name punning on the resultant triple duo or double trio.

The five-segment performance eschews formal match-ups for a loose, intuitive shape with a meditative and ceremonial character. Parts I and II have a serene and distinctly Asian quality, combining small cymbals with the sounds of prepared piano strings; as the work progresses, it literally engages the sound of its space, allowing instruments to approach and even reach silence or, alternatively, to make dramatic and singular sonic gestures. Part IV has a lengthy and lyric muted trumpet solo, likely Tamura, a rare occasion for a familiar trumpet timbre, while Part V begins with a fine approximation of a crying baby. By its conclusion, the piece has become isolated drum strokes, trumpet blasts and piano chords along with what sounds like a beeping alarm endowed with the ability to change pitch.

It’s more powerful than any description might suggest.

10 DuoCD0021Trandans
Duo Baars Henneman & Dave Burrell
Wig #25 (stichtingwig.com)

Having played together in many contexts for more than a quarter century, Dutch reedist Ab Baars and violist Ig Henneman are like draft horses, so long in harness that they can respond to each other’s motions before they even happen. Although this mixture of strained, sul tasto resilience from the fiddler and outpourings that range from shrilly atonal snarled blares to mere breaths, depending on Baars’ use of clarinet, tenor saxophone or shakuhachi, would be distinctive in itself, they up the ante on Trandans by playing with veteran American pianist Dave Burrell, with whom neither had previously recorded.

As meditative and whimsical in his hunt-and-peck narratives as the other two are penetrating, as demonstrated on his mostly solo musings on Korsekebacken, Burrell’s basso-directed fills are low-key in both senses of the word. Yet as tracks such as Fyllevägen and Laggareno demonstrate, his unflappable keyboard command adds a certain formality when involved in counterpoint with the duo. Especially illustrative is Laggareno, since the harshness engendered by the fiddler’s tempered-blade volatility, in broken octave concordance with altissimo reed shrieks, is warmed to a finer-tuned narrative via the pianist’s even-tempered chording. On their own as captured on Rassel runt Brunnen, the duo follows multiphonic paths the way a grizzled guide uses trail markers. They’re never lost and are constantly interesting, since Baars’ crying split tones or lows from the tenor saxophone’s bottom notes help regularize the near-atonal exposition, even as Henneman brings her own spiny individualism to the tune.

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