After a couple of quiet years the annual Guelph Festival (GJF), September 13 to 17, is newly energized and asserting its role as one of Canada’s most consistent showcases of adventurous music. Another reason for this year’s buzz is that besides the outstanding Canadian and American musicians consistently featured at the GJF, major European improvisers will be on hand as well.

Probably the band members most equipped to show off their individual and cumulative talents in different settings are trombonist Ray Anderson and bassist Mark Helias, who both live near New York City, and fellow American, drummer Gerry Hemingway who lives and teaches in Luzern, Switzerland. Together they make up BassDrumBone (BDB), which celebrates its 40th anniversary on September 16 as part of a double bill with Montreal-Vancouver quartet MendHam at the Co-operators Hall of the River Run Centre (RRC). On September 15 Anderson’s Pocket Brass Band will be the closing act at the Market Square Stage. Then, on September 17 at the Guelph Youth Music Centre, Hemingway, in duet with German synthesizer player Thomas Lehn, shares a bill with a solo bass recital by Helias.

01 BassDrumBoneThe two-CD set, The Long Road (Auricle Records AUR 16/17, offers 13 examples of BassDrumBone’s cooperative talent, mostly as a trio, but like a roast improved with seasoning, adding either tenor saxophonist Joe Lovano or pianist Jason Moran on some tracks. Lovano’s expositions, which function with explosive power on BluRay and Bluish, confirm the rhythmic sides of BDB as the saxophonist’s reed vaulting doubles the trombonist’s gutbucket whinnies. Vigorously backed by slap bass and drum rolls, the tunes demonstrate how to swing heartily without abandoning technical skills, and also suggest how Anderson’s rollicking brass ensemble operates. Moran’s targeted keyboard musings help showcase BDB’s other skills as the four dynamically invest Bungle Low and Tone L with subtle colouration, balancing among individual timbral elaboration, as they take turns shadowing each others’ advances. Solidly walking or subtly vibrating throughout, Different Cities confirms how Helias sounds on his own, with the bassist given space to thrust an opulent section of arco expressions on multiple strings into the mix, finally engaging in a dialogue with the trombonist’s vocalized cries. BDB’s ability to disguise itself as a carefree jump band is given full reign on the set’s two extended live tracks as well as At Another Time. Not only does the last allow Anderson to showcase every manner of smeared and slurred tailgate tones, but Hemingway moves upfront with a spectacular display of cymbal clanks and paradiddles, reminiscent of drum masters from pioneers like Baby Dodds to the most modern stylists.

A saxophonist undeniably in tune with modern sound experiments is London-based John Butcher, who has partnered Hemingway in the past. He won’t do so at the GJF, although two other instances of his musicianship are featured. On September 15, he’ll perform with Lehn and New York pianist Matthew Shipp at the Co-operators Hall on a bill with Vancouver cellist Peggy Lee’s Film in Music. Then on September 16 at the Guelph Little Theatre, Butcher and FIM members, bassist Torsten Müller and drummer Dylan van der Schyff perform as the Way Out Northwest trio, sharing the stage with Quebec guitarist René Lussier’s MEUH.

02 AnemoneAn expanded variant of Butcher’s interactive and interpretative talent is Anemone – A Wing Dissolved in Light (NoBusiness Records NBLP 105, where the saxophonist is part of the band Anemone joined by bassist Clayton Thomas and drummer Paul Lovens, pianist Frédéric Blondy and trumpeter Peter Evans. Challenging Evans’ ability to attain Maynard Ferguson-like skyscraping notes, Butcher may begin his exposition with emotional cries, but moderates the interaction to harsh slurs and stuttering signs, also connecting to Blondy’s distinctive key jabbing. Meanwhile, Thomas’ string buzzes, and the metal clangs and Mylar echoes from Lovens comfortably carpet the narratives’ bottoms. Une Aile Dissoute dans la Lumiere (Part II) is a more deliberate showcase as the final sequence breaks free from Part I’s swirling cacophony. Brief reductionist solos that include a single stopped piano key, an oboe-like sour reed blat and a wooden drum plop, are emphasized. Finally, hollow reverberations from the drummer, hunt-and-peck keyboard patterns and even to-the-colours bugle-like peeps from the trumpeter combine into a languid exit. Still, a sharp whistle from the saxophonist and a hard chord from the pianist as the coda reference the dissonance that preceded the calm.

03 BeautifulA pianist who can be tranquil or turbulent in turn is Matthew Shipp, who besides playing with Butcher and Lehn gives his own solo concert at the Co-operators Hall, September 16. Shipp is as potent a stylist in a group setting as he is a soloist, as is shown on This Is Beautiful Because We Are Beautiful People (ESP-Disk ESP 5011, where the pianist, longtime confrere bassist William Parker, plus Polish saxophonist Mat Walerian, make up the Toxic trio. Anything but toxic in the usual sense, the CD’s five selections are unique, since to engage Parker’s playing of the shakuhachi as well as bass and Walerian’s use of alto saxophone, flute, and bass and soprano clarinet, Shipp debuts on organ as well as piano. The multi-keyboard is only brought out on the final Peace And Respect but like church pews now used in a bistro, it’s removed from the tinge of the chapel. Instead, the organ’s polyphonic upsurge comes in and out of focus to reflect and redefine Walerian’s harsh bass clarinet slurps and Parker’s thumping bass thwacks. Shipp reverts to piano cadences to regularize the track’s processional ending. The four tracks preceding this allow the pianist leeway to emphasize his swinging and straight sides. The tone elaboration and colouration he extracts from the piano on the title tune could easily slip into a Romantic-era concerto, despite being surrounded by solid bass pulses and dramatic runs from Walerian. Shipp’s stride-style comping eventually nudges all three into a swinging line. In sharp contrast, the low-pitched, metronomic groove that the bassist and pianist create on The Breakfast Club Day 2 has a contemplative gait, but resonates with such effortless swing that Walerian’s light chromatic clarinet flutters could come from a reborn Benny Goodman.

04 KrakowOne musician never confused with Goodman is Germany’s Peter Brötzmann, who presents a solo woodwinds concert at the Guelph Little Theatre September 13. In the mid-1960s, he created an original outlook that brought free jazz advances and continental sophistication to the music, And Brötzmann is still at the height of his powers, playing a variety of saxophones, clarinets and the Hungarian tárogató. The sonic blending expressed by his small groups have been as influential as Goodman’s trios and quartets. One trio, recorded live on Krakow Nights (Not Two MW-937-2, features canny American trombonist Steve Swell and commanding Norwegian percussionist Paal Nilssen-Love. Most instructive are sections of Scotopia and the massive Full Spectrum Response which feature instances of Brötzmann’s tárogató solos on the former and tenor saxophone and bass clarinet on the latter. The wooden Magyar horn brings out his emotional nature as he cruises through a selection of mellow tones. Soon enough though, with the others on side, the result is as rough and cathartic as anything else on the disc, with Brötzmann’s tone now nephritic and bellicose, a pattern he repeats when he switches to sour-toned tenor, aided by the drummer’s rolls and pops and the trombonist’s high-pitched colouration. The reedist’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde duality has its most extended showcase on Full Spectrum Response. With an introduction built around nuanced cymbal colouration that radiates in a 360-degree angle from Nilssen-Love and Swell’s plunger cries, Brötzmann’s initial unaccompanied tenor saxophone solo is dramatic, calm and perfectly modulated, exploring every possible reed variation. But once the drummer’s pressurized clunks, plus Swell’s tremolo smears, join him, the saxophonist reacts like James Brown after the comforting cape has been draped around him during the penultimate minutes of his performance. The soul singer then shakes off the cloak to exuberantly continue singing, until the cloak goes on again. Brown again shakes it off, and the pantomime repeats until peak excitement is reached. Here, within seconds of Brötzmann screaming a fervidly wrenching solo on tárogató, he switches to clarinet for a moderato exposition, backed by drum-top scrapes from Nilssen-Love and mellow plunger tones from Swell. Then, like Brown, it appears Brötzmann can’t control himself any longer and he’s soon propelling machine-gun-like volleys of altissimo split tones. This routine, taking in the highest levels of glossolalia and the most moderate instances of flutter tonguing continues throughout the track, pinpointing Brötzmann’s stamina and repository of musical ideas. Also featured is a standout drum solo, bending, tapping and clanging every part of the kit without disrupting the proceedings with an aplomb that would have impressed Goodman associate Gene Krupa, plus both staccato forward motion and mellow elaborations from Swell. These Krakow Nights were undoubtedly memorable for the audience and presage what GJF attendees should experience. The music on these discs posits that the festival’s 24th edition could be one of the most dazzling in the festival’s history.

09 682 681682/681
Lisa Cay Miller
Trytone Records TT559-07 (

682/681 puts a whole new spin on speed-dating, and what it means for Lisa Cay Miller to go Dutch in the process. The recording is made up duo – and in more licentious encounters with ten Amsterdam-based musicians – trio recordings as well. Each piece is the equivalent of tightly bound sticks of dynamite that explode with visceral energy right out of the gates. One would fully expect that some of the encounters would be risqué and at times even a tad unresolved in terms of dénouement, as Miller appears to have set “time” to activate the revolving door.

“Every hour,” she states, the Dutch musicians would arrive, and would be instructed expressly to improvise on the fly. It’s hardly any surprise that one would never know what to expect. At its best the music is – despite that time constraint – unexpected and brilliant.

Musicians were not held to brevity. Musical phrases might end up long and meandering, and even jagged. The focus is on tonal colour, texture and (with the multiplicity of instrumentation) on timbre as well. Lisa Cay Miller does not always lead the charge. She does not need to because, every time the focus is on the piano, Miller draws on zealous countenance to put the myriad aspects of her pianism front and centre. Depending on who goes first, that instrumentalist might blaze a trail, inviting the other to run the gauntlet or clear quite another path and beckon the other to follow.

12 MEVCD0011Symphony No.106
Musica Elettronica Viva
Victo cd 129 (

A milestone itself, Symphony No.106 captures one of the infrequent regroupings of Musica Elettronica Viva (MEV), almost 40 years after its three founders – Alvin Curran, Frederic Rzewski and Richard Teitelbaum – organized it in Rome. Recorded at last year’s Festival International du Musique Actuelle du Victoriaville in Quebec, the 62-minute piece is scarcely anyone’s idea of a twilight leave-taking. Pioneers of electronic interface and non-jazz-sourced improvisation, the three sophisticatedly adapt computer processing and patches plus multi-keyboard crackles and jiggles to their own ends. Like modernist printers who also use precision hand presses for certain projects, the single track’s narration at one point is given mournful fillip by blasts from the furthest reaches of Curran’s shofar, while connecting motifs are produced by processional melodies from Rzewski’s piano.

Moving at points from stately to squiggly to swift, processing allows this symphony to include sonorous amplifications and contrapuntal interruptions. These sequences sprinkle references to accordion-like slurs, percussion-power and aviary-twittering projectile-like explosions, as well as interpolated, but distant, pre-recorded male and female voices of different ages speaking a variety of languages. Like elders impressing children by knowing the latest dance steps, MEV adds some electronic funk-like samples before a climactic piano part that’s half-anthemic and half Born Free. While sampled timbres of Galician davening blend with processed drones, Rzewski recounts a story of how Cossacks unexpectedly attacked his grandfather in 1914, linking the act to the present time. Point made, waveform synthesis and a Broadway-like melody alongside thick piano chording relax into a distanced finale.

02 Reg Schwager SongbookSongbook
Reg Schwager
Jazz from Rant 1751 (

In his latest release, consummate Canadian jazz guitarist Reg Schwager acts brilliantly as producer, composer and arranger. The well-conceived and performed recording comprises all original compositions by Schwager, with collaborations from: his talented sister, jazz chanteuse Jeannette Lambert; luminous Brazilian vocalist Luanda Jones; and certainly one of Canada’s finest jazz singers, John Alcorn.  The superb cast of performers on the CD also includes William Sperendai on trumpet, Allison Au on alto saxophone and flute, Mike Murley on tenor saxophone, Brodie West on alto saxophone, Don Thompson and Amanda Tosoff on piano, Steve Wallace on bass, Michel Lambert and Fabio Ragnelli on drums and Manino Costa on percussion.

Schwager’s elegant, crisp style and harmonic sophistication are reminiscent (but not derivative of) guitar legends Jim Hall and Emily Remler, and this recording is certainly a portrait of an artist at the peak of his creativity and skill.

Every track here is a work of art, but of particular note are Kisses of Summer – a winning combination of Alcorn’s sensuous and evocative baritone, sumptuous compositional ideas, Schwager’s incomparable guitar work and jazz legend and multi-instrumentalist Thompson on piano. Co-written with Jones, O que tinha que dar features Schwager’s considerable Brazilian chops on full throttle, as vocalist Jones effortlessly draws the listener into her lovely web of bossa rhythms and sexy nuances. Au on alto and Tosoff on piano also shine. On the gorgeous ballad Splintered Dream, co-writer Jeannette Lambert channels the spirit of Peggy Lee with this romantic and melancholy song worthy of the silver screen.

03 Campbell Shirley HornLoving You – Celebrating Shirley Horn
Peter Campbell
Independent (

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 (

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 (

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.

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