08 Pink SalivaTropical Fun & General Lightness
Pink Saliva
Sono Sordo S02 (actuellecd.com)

Don’t be fooled by the tile of this album by Montreal band Pink Saliva. The two-CD set is anything but light and fun. That’s because the 24 tracks consist of moderato-paced oscillating drones, percussion pivots and brass squeals that in a (Morton) Feldman-like fashion unfold slowly while squirming forward. On the other hand, band members Alexandre St.-Onge who plays electric bass and electronics, Michel F. Côté, whose skill encompasses percussion, steel guitar and all manner of electronics, and Ellwood Epps, who varies his trumpet sound with a series of mutes, are canny enough to limit their compositions to between two and four minutes.

Overall, the tunes’ appeal is in how precisely like light bulbs in a socket, the musicians’ ideas adhere and subsequently illuminate. For instance a track such as Mario & Salvio is measured out in double bass thumps, making rhythmic sense of brass squeaks and hamster-wheel-like cranks, while (J. von P.) transforms from doom-laden drumming, as it’s opened up with molecule-sized brass bites to reach a theme of satisfying nonchalance. Like its subject matter, Nixon à la télévision shows that the band can be down and dirty in its exposition but by its conclusion use focused string pulses and relaxed drum pops to direct the narrative to soar sympathetically upwards.

Tropical Fun & General Lightness easily proves that the trio members are experts in creating the musical equivalent of Instagram photos or pointed tweets. But without appearing to be too old-fashioned, longer tracks with more extensive solos would demonstrate how well Pink Saliva stacks up against the work of earlier, innovative improvisers.

Infinite Distances
Noah Haidu
Cellar Live CL080216 (cellarlive.com)

Masters Legacy Series Vol.1 – Emmet Cohen
Emmet Cohen featuring Jimmy Cobb
Cellar Live CL03161

Sapphire Birds
Maya Rae
Cellar Live CL10181

The Cellar, Vancouver’s iconic jazz club, may have long-since closed and the hive of activity relocated to Coastal Jazz, but impresario Cory Weeds – the common denominator in it all – has retained executive producer privileges at Cellar Live. Virtually every month something resembling a gleaming gem (or three) pops up on the horizon. Here, for instance, are three such nuggets of plenty – two from American artists and one by a Canadian; or put another way, two featuring gifted pianists – Noah Haidu and Emmet Cohen – and one startling young songbird: Maya Rae. As is expected not a ray of daylight separates talent here. In the case of the pianists, styles may be disparate, but intellect and authentic pianism is of one piece. In Rae one is presented with the beckoning voice of a young woman that stands out in solitary splendour from among a crowded field.

10a Cellar Noah HaiduNoah Haidu’s jazz abstraction is, not for nothing, called Infinite Distances and is presented in the form of a ten-piece suite of the same name. The title is borrowed from the German poet, Rainer Maria Rilke, who suggested: “Among the closest people there remain infinite distances.” In keeping with this inspired Rilke quotation all of the songs included here reflect this profoundly meditative state of being for Haidu, who has also been touched, it would seem, by the mortal nature of humanity. Each of the miniatures in the suite is a beautiful heart-offering, poetically crafted and ornamented by the gifted pianist with an all-star ensemble featuring saxophonist Jon Irabagon, trumpeter Jeremy Pelt and bassist Peter Brendler.

10b Cellar Emmett CohenPianist Emmet Cohen draws on the gifts of the virtuoso drumming and all-round erudite musicianship of Jimmy Cobb to bring his trio recording to fruition with the ubiquitous and supremely talented bassist Yasushi Nakamura. The album includes two quartet features with the vibrato-rich voice of alto saxophonist, Haitian-born Godwin Louis as musical doppelgänger. Cohen’s playing is spry and his right-hand agility is wonderfully complemented by a genuinely expressive left hand punching out chords that recall the many-splendoured stride masters of a bygone era that still beg emulation. His breathtaking introduction to When I Fall in Love – easily the high point of the performance – beckons an ineffably delicate response from the legendary Jimmy Cobb on cymbals. A memorable performance from end to end.

10c Cellar Maya RaeMaya Rae’s disc must surely be a front-runner for many accolades to come. The Vancouver singer is an extraordinarily prodigious talent who is still barely 14 years old and who, even more incredibly, wrote the title track of Sapphire Birds when she was in fourth grade. It is impossible to overstate the genius of Rae who also displays maturity wildly beyond her years in So Caught Up. Showcasing those wondrous “vocalastic” skills, Rae turns up the heat in a fiery version of I Got Rhythm and then knocks it right out of the park with Summertime. There is ample evidence here that the world is Rae’s to conquer. What a coup for Cellar Live to have her on board.

Classic jazz, sometimes called Dixieland or trad jazz, can be a path into the music. However since the 100th birthday of recorded jazz passed last month, those who stick to recreating jazz standards of earlier eras are in the position of early music devotées who refuse to consider anything not played on period instruments. Ironically enough, some well-known Free players started out as Dixielanders, including saxophonist Steve Lacy and Toronto artist-pianist Michael Snow, but they soon switched to more challenging fare. Recently a new curiosity has emerged though. As a postmodern paradox some advanced improvisers are mixing old-timey classics with free-form sounds with unique results.

01 Looking BackTake for instance the Italian octet The Freexielanders. On Looking Back, Playing Forward (Rudi Records RRJ1032 rudirecords.com) the band brings the same rollicking, texture-stretching freedom to contemporary originals as they do to two-beat tunes that were even considered warhorses in the early 1950s. Yet starting with the first track which blends the hoary St. James Infirmary with Gotta Get to St. Joe, the foot-tapping performance is done with such finesse that it’s obvious that Alberto Popolla’s sparkling clarinet blowing and Giancarlo Schiaffini’s gutbucket trombone slurs would impress during this pseudo-march exposition whether played in 1917 or 2017. This same sort of transubstantiation is applied to standards like Yardbird Shuffle, borne on trumpeter Aurelio Tontini’s Gabriel-like high chortles and slap bass from Gianfranco Tedeschi; or Black Maria that evolves into a hearty swing-shuffle dance, following a jagged split tone intro from the five horns plus vibraphone-clanking extensions from Francesco Lo Cascio that could have been part of a 1965 free-jazz date. Like actors who are as convincing in a Shakespearean production as in an action flick, the eight perform reverse alchemy on modern tunes. Sabor de habanera, a Schiaffini composition, moves from tango to tea dance to something more within the contrapuntal challenge between the trombonist and clarinetist and ends with a Count Basie-like repeated riff. Meanwhile Voci del Deserto, treated as a cousin to Hoagy Carmichael’s Hong Kong Blues, features both free-form reed wiggles from Popolla and sizzling Gene Krupa-styled pumps from drummer Nicola Raffone. Relentless polyphony that characterizes the recasting of Jelly Roll Morton’s Cannonball Blues relates both to notated orchestrations with a Native Indian-like lilt that pulls it one way plus slap bass and so-called Jungle effects trumpeting pulling it in another. More distinctively Tontini’s sputtering tongue stops and Schiaffini’s well-modulated slides not only made a perfect topping for the stacked reed trio vamps on Come Sunday but by leaves space for altissimo clarinet puffs. The piece is deconstructed to the extent that the performances – like most of the CD – become timeless.

02 Nuclear FamilyTimeless too is a 1979 Paris duo between American cornetist/saxophonist Joe McPhee and French saxophonist/clarinetist André Jaume on Nuclear Family (Corbett vs Dempsey CD031 corbettvsdempsey.com). At a time when so-called young lions claimed ownership of all of jazz’s pre-1960s vocabulary and ignoring modern currents, these players presented their own originals alongside classics from the Duke Ellington band, Monk, Coleman and Charles Mingus. With a layer-cake-like recipe of dense and voltaic alto saxophone licks atop guttural bass clarinet slurps, the narrative of Ellington’s Come Sunday is more emotional yet grounded than the Freexielanders’ version. This combination of jump-through-hoops modernism coupled with heart-on-sleeve sentiments conveyed by Jaume’s tenor saxophone is augured on the preceding Chelsea Bridge and echoed on Nuclear, the free improvisation that follows. With variable snorts and spits nearly electric in output, the half-atonal, half-accessible theme is transformed when the pocket cornet’s sprightly grace notes add a whiff of Come Sunday to the exposition, completed by staccato growls and slurred snarls from reeds and brass. This tightrope-balancing act between affiliation and avant-garde is expressed throughout, whether the two play off one another’s advances with punchy note nips during Pithecanthropus Erectus or make jittery Blue Monk even more antsy in execution, as Jaume’s outer-space-like bass clarinet rumbling and McPhee’s tongue slaps and bites beak down the theme into atoms before reconstructing it. Echoes of early jazz even work their way into Rue St. Jaume. Here New Orleans-style tongued exaggerations from both saxophonists swirl around the theme like a handkerchief waving at a parade, with high-pitched split tones overlapping with the equivalent of a reverent coda at a jazz funeral.

03 CravePianist Jelly Roll Morton’s jazz funeral took place in 1941, but pianist Dave Burrell and tuba player Bob Stewart pinpoint the adaptability of Morton’s arrangements to contemporary setting on The Crave (No Business Records NBLP 100 nobusinessrecords.com) by splitting the program between three Morton compositions and three by Burrell. A commanding stylist, Burrell’s performances bring an Ellington-like refinement to this bare-bones format, opened up on tracks such as his own Pua Mae ‘Ole. But at the same time, like a couturier who insists on classic detailing on a leading-edge garment he’s crafting, the pianist doesn’t mute echoes of the past, such as primitive blues on Morton’s New Orleans Blues and ragtime reflections on Morton’s The Crave. On the latter Stewart defines the function of a so-called brass bass, huffing a grounding ostinato alongside the pianist’s jaunty interpretation that also twists tango intimations into Jazz, with intelligent pauses and contemporary chord augmentations not upsetting the piece’s terpsichorean orientation. In contrast, the tubist’s dramatic growling, coupled with the pianist’s meditative pace, ups the intense storytelling that is Burrell’s I Am His Brother. Instructively enough Burrell’s savvy conversion of two other Morton tunes points out the lineage between 1920s ivory ticklers and Monk. These Monkish allusions are especially noticeable on the harder-edged Spanish Swat, where Burrell’s keyboard creeping leads to opaque, moderato and angled patterning. His narrative, which slides from high-pitched glissandi to segmented bass chords, is held up like the top man on a human pyramid by Stewart’s puffing continuum. New Orleans Blues is taken at a more leisurely pace than the original, with contemporary note variations pockmarking the stone face of Morton’s original. These improvisations not only stretch the theme with the looseness of a cat chasing a string, but allow the tuba player’s contemporary oom-pah-pahs to march in rhythmic lockstep with Burrell’s deeply felt and relaxed tune elaborations.

04 Monk n MoreWith many Monk compositions now nearly 70 years old, they’re as much classic jazz as Morton tunes. On Monk ’n’ More (Leo Records CD LR 780 leorecords.com), Russian-American pianist Simon Nabatov tries for a similar alchemical updating of five Monk lines by interspacing them among five originals that probe keyboard extensions using live electronics. Nabatov no more takes the Monk canon as immutable than a Talmudist would take the Torah’s words as unavailable for interpretation. Like that scholar’s theories, Nabatov’s explorations provide alternative readings of the pieces. Nabatov’s take on Skippy, for instance, is more herky-jerky than the original, while Oska T. is taken thicker and faster. Using pedal shading Nabatov adds echoes of the Russian Romantic tradition, while paradoxically emphasizing the tune’s swinging pulse that in turn links it to the blues and stride Morton and Ellington were perfecting in the 1920s and 1930s. Re-harmonized, Pannonica becomes more expansive, with the triplet-timed note colouration adding unexpected tenderness to its habitual angularity. Although most of the electronic experiments are concerned with laboratory-condition-like probes into pitch and timbral extensions, the additional clanging results confirm Monk’s unique orientation. The discontinuous interface on Electroacoustic Extension 4, for example, with its blurry pulses reflecting back onto the initial stop-and-start theme posits how Monk could have utilized computer programming. This is confirmed on Sunrise Twice Redux, the CD’s 14-minute centrepiece. Unfolding like a flower probed by a buzzing bee, unique pitch-bending techniques allow for tone examination, rhythmic asides and protracted pauses that add honeyed chamber music allusions to the jazz and electronics already present.

Gathering these strands together to revamp existing parts of the jazz canon is Nabatov’s contribution to examining classic music from new angles. All of these CDs are instances of how intermingling new ideas and older themes rejuvenates venerable material.

01 Misses SatchmoIs That All There Is
Misses Satchmo
Bros BROS11602 (missessatchmo.com)

In their third offering, this delightful Montreal-based quintet has released a project that literally drips with authenticity from “The Big Easy” and fully embraces the multi-cultural, Afro-Creole-Acadian-infused mojo that has made sultry New Orleans the musical crossroads of the world since the 17th century. This elegant ensemble presents a spicy étoufée of 13 sassy, eclectic tunes, embracing traditional spiritual material, as well as compositions from the great Louis Armstrong, the Gershwins, Fats Waller, early pop hit-makers Leiber and Stoller and more.

The tight and talented group includes the luminous Lysandre Champagne on trumpet and voice, Blanche Baillargeon on acoustic bass, Marton Maderspach on drums, Yvan Belleau on clarinet and saxophones, Jeff Moseley on guitar and banjo.

Following a brief guitar/whistle intro, the CD kicks off with a distinctly Depression-era medley of My Babe/Muddy Water, which features authentic front line drumming, call and response as well as sexy, unpretentious vocals. A standout is the Gershwins’ It Ain’t Necessarily So (written for the opera Porgy and Bess). All at once sweltering, swinging and sensual, this interpretation takes things to a fresh, contemporary stylistic level. Also charming is Why Don’t You Do Right (J.J. McCoy) which is arranged with a stripped-down distillation that includes double bass stops and lovely marimba accents from Maderspach. The title track is certainly one of the strongest cuts on the CD – a savvy rendition of the Leiber and Stoller hit, Is That All There Is (made famous by Peggy Lee) which is enhanced not only by the spot-on, ironic, no-nonsense vocal, but also by the clever addition of slide guitar and theremin into the inspired arrangement.

02 Socialist Night SchoolThe Twilight Fall
Chelsea McBride’s Socialist Night School
Browntasauras Records NCC-1701J (browntasauras.com)

Twenty-four-year-old composer, orchestrator and tenor saxophonist Chelsea McBride’s debut recording features ten original compositions performed by an energetic 19-piece ensemble, including solid vocals from noted jazz chanteur, Alex Samaras. With hints of compositional influences from Maria Schneider, Bob Brookmeyer and Gil Evans, McBride has described the evocative project as “the soundtrack to your travelling daydreams, the story of your life,” with each composition poetically and musically defining a segment of the shared human journey. Unusually, the CD booklet itself includes a “Compositional Narrative” which outlines how McBride would suggest the listener envision each track, as they walk the wheel of McBride’s “Lifecycle.”

Members of the Socialist Night School include the gifted Colleen Allen on reeds, Brownman Ali on trumpet and flugelhorn (who also serves as executive producer here) and William Carn on trombone. The song cycle begins with Ambleside, which establishes the cinematic and emotional tone of the CD. McBride’s haunting tenor saxophone, Chris Bruder’s piano and Samaras’ voice conjure a vision of spacious austerity and alienation. Other standouts include Intransitory, which features the potent Allen on alto sax and guitarist Dave Riddel weaving a complex, high-energy expression echoing the working person spinning on the proverbial hamster wheel. Also of note are the mind-bending title track and the funky cool confessional Smooth (or What I Should Have Said Instead). The recording closes with Something Simple, a joyous dénouement encapsulating our brief, but luminous life experience here on planet Earth. Tenorist McBride soars, dips, digs and intertwines with Samaras’ fine vocal instrument.

Certainly this is one of the most intriguing recordings of the year thus far, and a defining debut from the intensely gifted McBride.

03 Steve AmiraultHold On, Let Go
Steve Amirault
Independent (steveamirault.com)

Steve Amirault’s solo CD Hold On, Let Go is a wry commentary on life. This mood continues throughout the 11 songs on the disc and is sometimes made intricately droll perhaps, by the fact that he sits in splendid isolation at the piano, interweaving the lyrics with the shimmering sonority and yearning rapture of his accompaniment. Any form of solo performance is a lonely pursuit. The artist and the engineer are inevitably separated by glass which invariably accentuates the experience. It is in this very atmosphere that Amirault’s music rustles like raw silk.

The listener is treated to spiritual flights far above the mundane and journeys through worlds at once zealous, reflective and transcendent. Amirault’s Dindi is a little gem, elementally melancholic yet infinitely hopeful. On Moon River and God Bless the Child, he uses elongated syllables to evoke the crepuscular and the dramatic. In this way, Amirault shapes every phrase with ardent sensitivity, lingering or propelling the narratives as they heighten the music’s ineffable meanings. There is, of course, a lot more.

Steve Amirault is an exceptional artist and he proves time and again on Hold On, Let Go that he has an innate ability to find a keen balance between poetry and intensity. His pianism, albeit featured here in the shadow of his spotlighted voice, provides a superb brand of animation, meeting the needs of the music exquisitely and fittingly, as equal to the loneliness of this music.

04 Michel LambertAlom Mola
Michel Lambert
Jazz from Rant 1650

Any music that has been inspired by the work of Michelangelo Caravaggio (1571-1610), the Baroque artist who worked in Naples, Sicily and Malta, and flavoured by the rumblings of Steve Lacy’s legendary French bassist Jean-Jacques Avenel as well as Jan Jarcyzk, the pianist and pedagogue from Montreal, has to be symphonically beguiling. Or put another way: why expect anything less from a riveting musician enthralled by three iconic characters from three disparate time-space continuums? Still you would be remiss if you did not admit to many moments of breathlessness not only during Caravaggio, ténèbres et lumières, but all through Alom Mola, as you might expect from the ingenious drummer Michel Lambert, whose inspiration is drawn from Mayan mythology as well as the Baroque and modern art history.

The musicians’ traversal of Lambert’s complex music is remarkable. The music throughout Alom Mola is crafted on an orchestral soundscape that manages – somehow – to be monumentally miniscule, enormously small. Each of the five works presents a sound environment of wisps, susurrations, noises and the odd pitched note. Key to the music’s success, though, is Lambert’s subtle layering of different instrument groups – brass, woodwind, strings, piano and a whole universe of percussion instruments and devices. The resultant music is impossibly brilliant; evoked by different shades and densities of an aural patina passed around various orchestral permutations to produce a veritable ecosystem of music that is at once delicate and powerful.

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