03 3rio3Rio
Alexandre Côté; Gary Schwartz; Jim Doxas
Independent
(cdbaby.com/cd/garyschwartz12)

If at first it seems odd to listen to a disc that has neither the benefit of a contrabass nor a tuba to hold up the bottom end of the musical scale, but relies upon the bass drum to do that, all raised eyebrows are soon lowered when this threesome gets to Monk’s Dream. It is then that Jim Doxas comes into his own not only as a drummer who is doing the rhythmist’s job all on his own, but is actually playing the role of a percussion colourist and the third melodist of the band.

Ensembles that are as free-flowing as 3Rio often tend to be reminiscent of the many unpredictable musical journeys that Jimmy Giuffre’s duo and trio might take. However Doxas, Alexandre Côté and Gary Schwartz make everything from written counterpoint (You Stepped Out of a Dream) to classic improvisation (Monk’s Dream), and free form – or formless – improvisation (Bridge 1-6) sound shockingly unexpected and fresher than music from other improvising groups.

Warm, sliding chords (Bridge 3) reveal an elegant structural sense on the part of guitarist Schwartz, even without text. This is easily carried over by Schwartz into his poetic waltz-time The Cove, an obliquely tonal homage to the instrument he plays so well. Côté responds beautifully on the tenor saxophone. Côté plays with brilliant focus and timbral variety always staying just long enough to charm and dazzle the senses helping weave the magical threads into an enigmatic musical fabric.

04 C I JensonInfinitude
Ingrid and Christine Jensen with Ben Monder
Whirlwind Recordings WR4694 (ingridjensen.com)

Originally from Vancouver Island, sisters Ingrid and Christine Jensen have both established careers in jazz, Ingrid as a trumpeter in New York, Christine as a composer and alto saxophonist in Montreal. Their individual styles share a compelling sense of spaciousness and a keen alertness to voicings and sound, qualities that link them, as annotator James Hale notes, to a Canadian tradition embodied in forebears like Paul Bley and Kenny Wheeler.

While both may be best known for orchestral projects, Infinitude presents them in a quintet with guitarist Ben Monder, bassist Fraser Hollins and drummer Jon Wikan. Despite that sparse instrumentation, the music often does feel orchestral, a tribute to the sisters’ rich sonorities and thoughtful harmonies as well as Monder’s resourceful mastery of electric guitar timbres.

A feeling of infinite space is apparent from Monder’s Echolalia, a rolling piece that sets its repeating theme on the carpet of sound provided by Hollins’ resonant bass. That sense of space colours the music in other ways as well; Ingrid’s Duo Space is a duet with Monder, her burnished trumpet sound supported by waves of atmospheric guitar sound.

Another sense of space is apparent, too. If Christine’s reputation as composer and orchestrator has long surpassed her instrumental achievements, the openness of this group highlights a new fluency on saxophone. It comes through especially on her Octofolk: she reveals a fresh assertiveness and a shifting mercurial creativity in both line and sound.

05 Picasso ZoneThe Picasso Zone
Modus Factor
Browntasauras Records NCC-1701H (chrislesso.com/modus-factor)

Don’t expect things to be dull and dreary when Brownman Ali is around – either on stage, or in the studio. Ever. Take Chris Lesso's Modus Factor 2016 release The Picasso Zone, where Brownman is invited to join bassist Ian De Souza and drummer/bandleader Lesso in the molten mix that is cooking in this bubbling cauldron of an album. It might not be that odd to think of this music in the Cubist terms that it references.

The sharply angular rhythms and harmonic objects that are analysed, broken up and reassembled in a brand new multi-dimensional form of music closely resemble the Cubist line. The introspective nature of Now & Zen, for instance, might be considered – without putting too fine a point on its melody – a strikingly “blue period” piece.

There have been times when Brownman has been spoken of in less than flattering terms as being in the time-warp that held Miles Davis’ fancy during his electronic period. But Brownman is no clone of anyone. His singular “voice” is just that; a trumpet that is played to mimic the sounds of the human voice as it revels in astonishing whoops, excited stutters and solfège, with its loud resonance and frequent blurring of syllables. It’s quite ingenious technically, but what’s more, carefully melting the sonority of the human voice into that of the trumpet, Brownman is able to emote freely, often leaping joyously from the ecstatic head-games of the Monkish Rounded Corners to a more contemplative Metatonia.

Much as it might seem that the trumpeter is the dominant voice on The Picasso Zone, both De Souza and Lesso also assert themselves with virtuoso performances. Both men combine cohesively, playing with more expressive depth and luxuriating in the burnished, golden tone of Brownman’s trumpet with roaring bass and a broad palette of percussion colours.

Editor's note: this review has been updated since it appeared in print to correct the impression that Modus Factor is a Brownman-initiated project. Chris Lesso is the group's driving force as noted above.

06 Roberto OcchipintiStabilimento
Roberto Occhipinti
Modica Music MM0017 (modicamusic.com)

Review

In Stabilimento Toronto bassist and composer Roberto Occhipinti has produced a highly ambitious and coherent musical statement. The album’s repertoire combines Occhipinti’s wide-ranging compositions with imaginative interpretations of pieces by Caetano Veloso, Stevie Wonder and Beethoven. A strong world music vibe, a hallmark of Occhipinti’s varied musical career, serves as a home base for the album’s nine tracks.

Saxophonist Tim Ries is prominently featured on the first five tunes. His remarkable virtuosity and inventiveness is cast alongside Luis Deniz’s equally compelling alto playing on Tuareg, the opening cut. Pianist Manuel Valera creates a wide-open landscape for the horns to blow on and proceeds to take full advantage of this territory, starting with small rhythmic cells that expand into fleet double-time lines. Drummer Dafnis Prieto brings an Afro-Cuban edge to the groove and closes the track with a brief but explosive solo.

Ries’ rich soprano sound brings a bittersweet quality to Stevie Wonder’s Another Star, treated here as a ballad rather than the Latin/funk of Wonder’s original recording. The ensemble adds horns, strings and percussion for the title track, Occhipinti’s Stabilimento. The writing is lush and inviting with inspired blowing from Ries and Deniz as well as a challenging and expertly executed soli section. Valera conjures Herbie Hancock on the vamp out. Tenor saxophonist Quinsin Nachoff is featured on Wayne Shorter’s Penelope. The large-ensemble arrangement, this time including pianist Hilario Duran and drummer Mark Kelso, lends itself beautifully to the poignant waltz and Nachoff improvises fluidly and effortlessly.

07 Glamour NailsGlamour Nails
Lina Allemano; Justin Haynes
(glamournails.bandcamp.com)

Between the arc-lit symbolisms of Glamour Nails (as evinced by a lurid cover image) is music of great subterfuge. It is based on the fountainhead of the electrifying trumpeter Lina Allemano, who seems determined to create a fresh sound for the 21st century in the manner of Graham Haynes and Toshinori Kondo as well as to establish a new approach to what might be the renaissance of art music. Allemano’s music quickly finds itself in the eye of a swirling tornado created by the guitarist Justin Haynes who echoes the singing of Fred Frith. Haynes is also a canny electro-technician who adds FM synth, prepared piano, cassette player and tin cans into this delightfully weird modern mistura fina.

The album is a short one. But it is provocative, adventurous and broadly atmospheric. It is appealing and colourful, combining the cultural topography of Frith and Kondo in music with portents of a rapidly advancing future. Allemano teams her trumpet with Haynes’ myriad electronic instruments and a lonely electric guitar, which blends gleaming sonorities with soaring gestures and dramatically free and volatile improvisation.

There are a total of ten tracks on this disc. Two gems stand out; Tawny Owl, which puts a haunting spin on the poetic imagism of the bold brass of the trumpet. And then there is Crumb, made up of wild, impressionistic figures that combine seamlessly with the impassioned lines of the trumpet. Bolder and more brazen creativity will be hard to find.

08 Konitz wheelerOlden Times – Live at Birdland Neuburg
Lee Konitz-Kenny Wheeler Quartet
Double Moon Records DMCHR 71146

In 1996 the late trumpeter Kenny Wheeler may have recorded his most singularly beautiful CD, Angel Song, with a quartet that included alto saxophonist Lee Konitz, guitarist Bill Frisell and bassist Dave Holland, each a consummately lyrical musician. Two years later Wheeler and Konitz were appearing in a quartet in the Bavarian city of Neuburg with two German musicians, pianist Frank Wunsch and bassist Gunnar Plümer, who provide solid support and some fine individual moments. This live recording captures music very near the level of Angel Song, benefitting further from the relaxed club atmosphere.

Konitz’s compositions swing readily, with a strong inner drive and a lighter mood, whether it’s his propulsive solo on Lennie’s, named for his mentor Lennie Tristano, or the highly varied Thingin’, which in its lively quarter hour keeps finding different instrumental textures within the quartet, whether it’s a two-horn theme statement accompanied by just lockstep piano chording or an ebullient passage of alto saxophone set against just walking bass.

Wheeler contributes four pieces, including two that appeared on Angel Song: Kind Folk and Onmo. His compositions and improvisations are masterful demonstrations of economy of means and maximum effect. What begins as a work of serene repose can take on a range of subtle emotions from pensive reflection to sublime melancholy, whether delivered with a sudden leap into the upper register, a pinched note or a sustained blast of air through his flugelhorn.

Konitz and Wheeler sound like they were born to play together, and their accompanists here complement them well.

09 Stu HarrisonVolume 1
Stu Harrison; Neil Swainson; Terry Clarke
One Night Stand Records 2016-001 (stuharrison.com)

On his debut release as a leader, Stu Harrison has tackled perhaps the biggest challenge for a jazz pianist: a set of time-honoured standards performed in the classic trio format. Harrison, accompanied by veterans Neil Swainson on bass and Terry Clarke on drums, brings a well-rooted sensibility to the album’s ten tracks. His deep affinity for the tradition is evident throughout the album and he manages to bring a fresh voice to familiar material.

On The Street Where You Live opens the recording with a fast tempo and a tasty reharmonization of the tune’s opening chords. Swainson and Clarke swing hard while Harrison plays compelling single lines, adding left hand chords in the bridge. His playing moves easily from bebop to contemporary as he pushes the harmonic edge of the changes. Clarke lets loose over a vamp before the final melody.

Blame It On My Youth has a funky, gospel-like feel to it. Harrison knows when to play it loose with the harmony, mixing blues and modern influences in his thematic and well-constructed improvisation. In Your Own Sweet Way features a searching rubato intro from Harrison and a superb solo from bassist Swainson.

An imaginative arrangement of Nature Boy opens up the tune’s possibilities with a key change creating the illusion of a bridge in a tune that doesn’t have one. Harrison’s virtuosic triplet and double-time lines illuminate the expanded form.

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