01 Quinsin NachoffQuinsin Nachoff’s Ethereal Trio
Quinsin Nachoff; Mark Helias; Dan Weiss
Whirlwind Recordings WR4706 (quinsin.com)

Toronto-born New York resident Quinsin Nachoff has created several projects in which interests in jazz and formal composition overlap, from the harmonic complexity of his Flux to the strings of his Horizons Ensemble. The Ethereal Trio, a more improvisation-oriented group that matches Nachoff’s tenor saxophone with the very distinguished bass work of the veteran Mark Helias (who will perform a solo set at the Guelph Jazz Festival on September 17 at noon) and the propulsive, creative drumming of Dan Weiss, arose from a project with the Penderecki String Quartet that combined the quartet with a jazz trio, encouraging Nachoff to pursue this bare-bones format further.

Without a chordal instrument, the trio’s emphasis is rhythmic and melodic with a keen sense of structural interactivity between Nachoff’s compositions and the group’s relatively free improvisations. While Nachoff’s patterns tend more to the serial than the triadic, there’s a certain kinship to the great early trios of saxophonist Sonny Rollins, with an acute rhythmic awareness among the three partners as they shift accents and bounce phrases off one another’s lines. It’s strongest on the hard-edged Subliminal Circularity, but it arises as well in the layered rhythms of Push-Pull Topology. Nachoff’s fondness for traditional string textures is supported here by Helias’ fine arco work, especially on the lyrical Gravitas.

The trio is loose without being casual, at once taut and free, and the consistent quality of detailed interplay and invention brings Nachoff’s forceful, inventive tenor playing to the fore. It may be his most satisfying recording to date.

03 Alex GoodmanSecond Act
Alex Goodman
Lyte Records LR040 (lyterecords.com)

It seems that for much of Second Act, Alex Goodman maintains a sort of spectral presence as a guitarist, shadowing the pianist Eden Ladin or saxophonist and EWI player Matt Marantz with liquid single-note lines, creating contrapuntal tête-à-têtes with them. But in each song Goodman does emerge briefly to punch the clock with short, stabbing solos that might end – as with Marantz’s saxophone in Heightened – in a kind of knotted entanglement with the melody before all but disappearing into the shadows of the music again. This, of course, puts the focus back on the compositional ability of Goodman and how his sinuous music sounds when played in an ensemble setting.

It’s also refreshing when a disc turns up that hearkens back to unfettered swing the way Second Act does. In a sense it feels like listening to big band music without the large ensemble. This quintet is also augmented by the incredible vocalists Felicity Williams and Alex Samaras. Together the ensemble sounds big even as it loses flutes and strings. This keeps the superbly economical melodies swinging and staying in shape through the spare, yet enhanced aural palettes of guitar, piano, saxophone and voice. The breathless fluttering of guitar on The First Break, tumbling cascades of piano in Losing Cool and burbling warmth of the saxophone on Acrobat all make for high art and high entertainment. And when the two meet – as they do in Second Act – memorability is assured.

04 Fran JareCopy Cat Coo Coo
Fran Jaré
Superfran Records FJ0157

Fran Jaré wears a number of hats on her new recording – producer, pianist, organist, composer and vocalist. Having made strong inroads into the genres of R&B, pop and rock (notably as the lead vocalist for the popular Vancouver ensemble Soultrax), Jaré has journeyed back into jazz with some very (dare I say it?) groovy results. The tight, cool and satisfying ensemble is bound together not only by talent and love of music, but also by a jazz-pedigreed gene pool (the executive producer is Jaré’s husband, Brian Disterheft, and features both her JUNO-winning bassist daughter, Brandi Disterheft, and her Grammy-winning sister, Angie Jaree). Additional JUNO-winning instrumentalists include Olaf DeShield on guitar and electric bass, Tom Keenlyside on sax and flute, Buff Allen on drums, Brad Turner on trumpet and also famed percussionist Portinho.

The well-chosen material is primarily a mash-up of Jaré’s original compositions, written over a period of time and culled from previous recordings and musical situations – including Soultrax and incarnations of the Fran Jaré Trio/Quartet/Quintet. A deep bow to the incredible Stevie Wonder is also included with Jaré’s slow, smooth and funky take on I Wish. She also pays tribute to the late great, Oliver Nelson with the buoyant Step Right Up. The title track is an infectious, soulful romp, perfectly underscored and punctuated by Jaré’s considerable organ/piano chops and the fine soloing and ensemble playing.

On Yeah! Together Again, Jaré’s smokey vocal sound brings to mind Joe Stafford and Julie London in perfect synthesis with Jaré’s own sensual, unique, film noir-infused voice. Her charming scat singing is not only completely musical, but delivered with joy and accuracy. A fine recording!

05 Paul NewmanMusic for Solo Tenor Saxophone
Paul Newman
Somewhere There (paulnewman1.bandcamp.com)

Local musician/composer Paul Newman performs his tasteful, thoughtful compositions with care, musicality and colour here. Both works are three tracks each, and explore sound quality, phrasing and mostly gentle melodic movement using contemporary musical tools.

Full Circle is immediately attention-grabbing with its opening lengthy bent tones alternating with long silent spaces, allowing the listener time to reflect on the sound. The work leads to a steady almost slow walking pace with clear tones magically performed. The slightly faster second movement takes on a two-instrument conversational feel between high and low tones. The atonal sound of the third section features faster interval leaps and extended technique. Excitement builds with the short staccato repeated notes and melodies ending with minimalistic flavoured long tones.

In As Long As We Remain (for Ken Aldcroft and Braz King), Newman illustrates more of his contemporary, experimental musical side. The work also opens with longer lyrical notes and phrases, leading to a section of high and low tricky pitch jumps. Especially exciting is the final movement. Fluctuating colours, timbres and similar jumps make for a more atonal listening adventure, ending with a glorious, loooong held tone.

This solo music experience is so gratifying due to Newman’s confident compositional and performance virtuosity, along with a clear production that captures all his musical subtleties. This is brilliant reflective experimental music driving along a mainstream highway of sound.

06 Ugly BeautyUgly Beauty
Kadi Vija; Lucas Dann

Kadi Vija and Lucas Dann – a Finnish musician who calls herself a “vocal instrumentalist” and a Canadian pianist of considerable pedigree – might seem like strange bedfellows but in the music of Thelonious Monk on Ugly Beauty, the very oddness of the partnership gives the album’s title a distinctly Monkish meaning. The album takes its name from the only waltz among Monk’s compositions and it is appropriately kicked off by a relatively rarely played Gallop’s Gallop, which, in turn, establishes the extraordinary relationship between these two musicians. For from the very first bars it becomes clear that something astonishingly brilliant is happening here.

Both Vija and Dann ignite Monk’s music operating as a partnership of equals, not as vocalist and piano accompanist. Their relationship recalls the enduring one between Monk and his ubiquitous tenor saxophonist, Charlie Rouse, lending credence to Vija’s “vocal instrumentalist” persona. In fact, the vocalist melds Rouse in with gorgeous echoes of the great American vocal gymnast, Lauren Newton, who shone with the iconic Vienna Art Orchestra. Meanwhile Dann negotiates the music with magnificent control of fingerwork in these most densely textured and substantially road-tested songs, keeping it close to Monk while managing to ring in the changes. Consider the two wondrous takes on Bemsha Swing.

The haunting compositions supply this duo’s usual range of ear-worm music – dancing melodies, chopped rhythms and gorgeous harmonies – with the added element of unusual textures.

07 MonkLes Liaisons Dangereuses 1960
Thelonious Monk
Sam/Saga SRS-1-CD (sagajazz.com)

For Thelonious Monk, the most creative of bop composers and a brilliantly original pianist, life flowed no more smoothly than one of his craggy, knotted, playfully or naggingly disjointed compositions. When director Roger Vadim contracted him to provide a soundtrack for Les Liaisons Dangereuses 1960, Monk was experiencing career highs and personal lows, gaining attention and employment while facing drug charges and a nervous breakdown. This two-CD (or two-LP) set issues material from the 1959 soundtrack session for the first time, supplementing it with extensive documentation.

Monk really was at his best in the late 50s, increased acceptance leading to regular work, frequent recording and the best sidemen of his career (e.g., John Coltrane and Sonny Rollins). Here it’s the newly arrived tenor saxophonist Charlie Rouse, Monk’s most convivial partner, a stellar rhythm team of bassist Sam Jones and drummer Art Taylor and tenor saxophonist Barney Wilen added on some material. The music is alternatively sparkling (the quintet’s Rhythm-a-Ning), profoundly lyrical (solo and quartet versions of Pannonica) and pensively luminous (a solo version of the hymn By and By), a boon to every connoisseur of Monk’s mysteries.

That said, this material is less accessible to the Monk newcomer: there are multiple takes and false starts, two edits of the same take, and a 14-minute rehearsal with Monk repeatedly trying to get Taylor to play an awkward drum pattern. There are numerous Riverside recordings available that are much more welcoming.

08 Brill FrisellSmall Town
Bill Frisell; Thomas Morgan
ECM 2525

Bill Frisell has developed a distinctive style, his lines spare and spacious, his sustained electric guitar sound approaching the mass of a pedal steel. He has explored the resonant depths of a variety of roots music (country, blues and rockabilly) as well as creating an original voice in jazz. The complex mix of warm intimacy and refractory cool that Frisell can bring to a performance is amplified in his recent work with Thomas Morgan, whose broad-toned acoustic bass provides both underpinning and reflection to Frisell’s lines.

Recorded at New York’s Village Vanguard (the room is both resonant and reverential), Small Town explores a breadth of American music within a unifying vision. It opens with the late drummer Paul Motian’s It Should Have Happened a Long Time Ago, revealing the harmonic telepathy of which the two are capable, then continues Frisell’s associations with modern jazz royalty with a contrapuntal and lightly boppish treatment of Lee Konitz’s Subconscious Lee. Frisell’s luminous title piece explores multiple dimensions of an American heartland, while its mystery appears in an eerily beautiful rendition of Wildwood Flower, composed by Joseph Philbrick Webster in 1860 and first recorded by the Carter Family in 1928.

The breadth of Frisell’s relationship to traditional popular music is further apparent in the cheerfully subdued version of Fats Domino’s What a Party. It might escape recognition, but the concluding Goldfinger won’t. Frisell can shed new light on the most unlikely material.

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