05 Francois CarrierFreedom Is Space for the Spirit
Francois Carrier; Michel Lambert; Alexey Lapin
FMR Records FMRCD425
(fmr-records.com)

The milieu of spatial freedom can be noisy. If that were not so, nothing would be heard or written in tabula rasa in corde suo, “the blank slate of the heart” so to speak. Fortunately, where there is sound, there is also silence, more so in this music by saxophonist François Carrier, drummer Michel Lambert and pianist Alexey Lapin. Each musician leads this performance, which is surprisingly formed and visceral despite suggestions of the formlessness of “Space” and “Spirit.” Another curiosity in the presentation is that the music has five distinct parts (one would have expected a continuous musical flow); each reaching the gossamer fragility of the best of free-improvised music. The music is imbued with a sense of languor and immediacy and richness in abundance in saxophone and piano parts.

That’s not to say that textures clot: flecks of melody flicker in the ear, enticing and disappearing in a moment; the balancing that makes that possible is admirable and it has much to do with the incessant tattoo of the drummer’s alternately placid and volcanic intercessions. The musicians’ work comes off in rather special ways. In Keep Calm, for instance, the saxophone, caustic and stark, smacks at the winging, indeterminate piano and in Nevsky Prospect, drummer and pianist come up against the saxophonist’s snarling, nasty layering in the climactic, dying sections of the piece. Everywhere in the program, are muscularity and the mystery of Space and Spirit in abundance.

06 Brian DickinsonThe Rhythm Method
Brian Dickinson Quintet
Addo Records AJR033 (addorecords.com)

The last couple of decades have seen a rise in new rhythmic concepts in jazz, arguably making it the area of greatest creative growth in the music. Brian Dickinson, one of Canada’s top pianists and composers, has delved deeply into this subject matter in The Rhythm Method. Whether it’s a compound time signature or an unusual rhythmic grouping in 4/4 time, Dickinson has explored some challenging new territory in the album’s ten tunes. That he has wedded these concepts with another jazz tradition, the contrafact, a new melody written over the chord changes to a standard tune, is a remarkable achievement.

Open Season starts with an odd time vamp before settling into 4/4. Dickinson, a pianist who has thoroughly digested his influences into a distinctive voice, solos with sophistication, soul and variety, expertly negotiating the composition’s twists and turns. Tenor saxophonist Kelly Jefferson begins patiently, building into angular lines and inspired double time. Luis Deniz displays fluidity and lyricism on alto saxophone over the powerhouse rhythm section of drummer Ted Warren and bassist Neil Swainson.

Lennie’s Loonies, the title a play on Lennie Tristano’s Lennie’s Pennies, uses the chord changes of You’d Be So Nice to Come Home To to support a brilliantly convoluted line, played to perfection by the front line. Swainson opens with an extraordinarily melodic bass solo. Jefferson and Dickinson take a cue from the tune’s melody, breaking up their lines in unusual ways and incorporating its complex rhythms into seamless improvisation.

07 FrontiersFrontiers
Azar Lawrence; Al McLean; Adrian Vedady; Paul Shrofel; Greg Ritchie
Cellar Live CL073116 (cellarlive.com)

Frontiers is a dynamic blowing session that feels more like a live set at a club than a studio recording. The spirit of John Coltrane looms large here and the front line of tenor saxophonists Azar Lawrence, a veteran of Elvin Jones’, McCoy Tyner’s, Woodie Shaw’s and Freddie Hubbard’s bands, and Al McLean, a stalwart of Montreal’s jazz scene who is equally steeped in this deep tradition, more than does justice to the seven tunes contained here.

The material is a mix of originals and standards. Lawrence’s Mystic Journey immediately establishes the vibe with an Elvin Jones-inspired Afro-Cuban groove from drummer Greg Ritchie and bassist Adrian Vedady. The harmonic structure of the composition, much like several tunes on the album, has a strong modal feel, leaving the soloists plenty of room to express themselves. Lawrence leads off with lines that move in and out of the harmony effortlessly, displaying a complete command of post-Coltrane language with the virtuosity and musicality to back it up. Pianist Paul Shrofel plays thematic ideas over the rhythm section’s broken feel before breaking into hard swinging improvisation. McLean is equally adept in this demanding language and solos with complete assurance and abandon, going toe to toe with Lawrence.

The 16-minute version of Coltrane’s Lonnie’s Lament is an appropriate tribute to the late genius as is McLean’s Get Up, based loosely on Impressions. This is a feast for the tenor saxophone and Lawrence and McLean are clearly enjoying each other’s company.

08 Dave YoungDave Young Quintet featuring Renee Rosnes
Modica Music (modicamusic.com)

Review

Toronto bassist Dave Young has had a distinguished career, including duet recordings with pianists Oscar Peterson, Kenny Barron and Cedar Walton. In recent years, he’s led a fine quintet reworking classic modernist repertoire, including compositions by Charles Mingus and Horace Silver. On One Way Up, the group includes regulars Kevin Turcotte on trumpet, Perry White on tenor saxophone and Terry Clarke on drums, with a special guest, the Vancouver-raised, New York-based pianist Renee Rosnes.

This time the group explores hard bop and post-bop compositions by icons like Walton, Joe Henderson and Freddie Hubbard as well as three of Young’s own pieces. This is the most muscular of jazz idioms (think Blue Note records of the late 50s to mid-60s), and the band brings real heft to every tune, some characterized by anthemic themes and punchy vamps and ostinatos. As the program moves along it makes perfect sense for Turcotte to be spinning long, bright lines on Hubbard’s Intrepid Fox or White finding the perfect degree of reflection for Henderson’s Inner Urge: it’s not imitation, but the original inspiration is clear in both cases, and there’s no more apt Canadian choice for any chair in the band. (It’s also true when regular pianist Gary Williamson is present.)

The requisite combination of vibrant subtlety and polished force begins in the foundations with Young and Clarke, who often come to the fore, and continues with Rosnes’ sparkling comping and soloing, particularly brilliant on Henderson’s Serenity. Walton’s Holy Land is a hymn-like piece thoughtfully arranged to include Young’s somber arco bass and Turcotte’s elegiac trumpet.

09 Alexandra Park LPcoverAlexandra Park
Brodie West
Pleasence Records PRO12 (pleasencerecords.com)

Alto saxophonist Brodie West is a significant presence in the Toronto free jazz and improvised music communities, whether leading his own groups, like Eucalyptus, or contributing to Drumheller and the Lena Allemano Four. He has also established an international reputation, working with drummer Han Bennink, the band The Ex and the great Ethiopian saxophonist Getatchew Mekurya. Alexandra Park, named for the Toronto park where West used to practise, is a solo saxophone LP, a brief but challenging expedition into West’s sonic world.

The LP begins with a brief tape of West literally playing in the park, his quiet tones accompanied by children’s voices and recurring sounds, perhaps someone shooting hoops. This soon gives way to close recording in a studio: brief runs and muffled asides alternate with long tones, some beginning as multiphonic split tones, others gradually developing emphatic overtones. West produces gentle, flute-like timbres, sometimes merging them with suddenly articulated, hard-edged saxophone notes and whistling harmonics.

Some may hear this recording as an exploration in technique, but West’s intent seems to be very different. Though numerous techniques are present, this is absolutely human music, recorded so closely that West’s breath is an integral part of his saxophone sound; at times he’s literally mixing his own simultaneous mouth sounds with the horn. Silence too, is a significant presence, with the tape left running in the pauses between episodes. West reaches his highest level of expression on Side II, pressing from sustained shakuhachi-like cries to higher pitches that first turn to trills, then to multiphonics. It’s as impassioned as music gets.

10 Sensation of ToneSensations of Tone
Ellery Eskelin; Christian Weber; Michael Griener
Intakt Records CD 276/2017 (intaktrec.ch)

2017 marks the centenary of jazz recording, commemorating the Original Dixieland Jazz Band’s Dixieland Jass Band One-Step and Livery Stable Blues released on March 7, 1917. Few recordings are likely to bridge that century as imaginatively as Sensations of Tone. New York-based tenor saxophonist Ellery Eskelin first worked with bassist Christian Weber and drummer Michael Griener playing improvised music on a tour of their native Switzerland. During their time together the three discovered a mutual love of early jazz. Five years later, they’ve amalgamated those interests, creating a CD that alternates free improvisations with contemporary interpretations of classic tunes.

Ellery Eskelin is a brilliant inside-outside player, as adept at negotiating chord changes as he is in a free exchange of musical ideas. He’s the master of a continuously inflected, speech-like line, reminiscent of Sonny Rollins in his prime, and in Weber and Griener he has ideal partners, whether they’re supporting, challenging or peppering each other with new data. Together the three maintain open space and real momentum in a group dialogue. Leads shift comfortably in the free improvisations, whether it’s Eskelin muttering a multiphonic complaint, Weber delineating a spontaneous melody or Griener essaying the sonic recesses of his kit.

That conversational principle is just as alive when they mine the decade between 1922 (China Boy) and 1932 (Moten Swing), with Jelly Roll Morton’s Shreveport Stomp (1924) and Fats Waller’s Ain’t Misbehavin’ (1929) in between. With a playful sense of period detail, the trio imbues the songs with spontaneous wit and warmth that recall their original spirit.

11 DogLegDilemmaNot This Time
Dog Leg Dilemma
Independent (doglegdilemma.com)

Like the apocryphal teenager who asked “Paul McCartney was in another group before Wings?” members of Toronto-based Dog Leg Dilemma (DLD) sound as if they figure jazz was invented in the 1970s, with touchstones fusion, John Zorn and Frank Zappa’s instrumentals. Still, DLD’s core of alto saxophonist Anthony Argatoff, guitarist Nick Lavkulik, drummer Noah Sherman and Peter Bull who plays basses, ancillary instruments and composed all tunes, are a change from bands mired in the 1960s. Starting the CD with This Must Be Why I Came Home with an ersatz emcee’s comments leading into a jazz-rock polka also shows a sense of self-deprecating fun.

DLD creates foot-tapping sounds featuring drum smacks and tough guitar chops approaching punk-rock stamina. But an outstanding group must transcend its influences. With no tone flattened or torqued, sentiment is obvious, but passion is missing. On a track like Part One – Are You Sure about This Argatoff squeezes out plumy notes harmonized with Lavkulik’s framing strums, but the effect is like hearing an overwrought crooner. However Equestrian Playtime gallops along with a Latin-tinged guitar solo and violinist Natalie Wong overdubbed into a string section. Although its allegiances are as noticeable as if tattooed on the musicians, the flexibility obvious in Roll with the Hunches makes it more notable. Melding licks from Zappa’s Peaches en Regalia, a Good King Wenceslas quote, a rumbling bass line, violin sweeps and reed honks, it demonstrates how DLD could up its game. DLD has a leg up on creating original statements, but more originality and discipline are needed. Not This Time perhaps, but maybe the next.

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