08 Bill EvansOn a Monday Evening
The Bill Evans Trio
Fantasy FAN00095

Previously unknown recordings of Bill Evans have been surfacing regularly of late, confirming the late pianist’s position as one of the most rapturously lyrical and harmonically creative figures in jazz history. This installment captures Evans in concert in Madison, Wisconsin, in 1976 with his regular trio of bassist Eddie Gomez, then in his ninth year in the group, and drummer Eliot Zigmund, who had joined the previous year. The chemistry with Gomez is particularly good: the bassist spent over a decade in the trio and was Evans’ most adventurous partner after Scott LaFaro, who had first defined the highly mobile role of the bass in the Evans trio, moving from harmonic fundamentals and propulsion to aggressive counter melody with sudden excursions to the upper register.

Evans certainly lives up to his reputation for limpid beauty here. There’s the reverie of Time Remembered, the pensive Minha (All Mine) and the trance-like elaboration of Leonard Bernstein’s Some Other Time; however, there’s also energized music as well, like the exploratory T.T.T. (Twelve Tone Tune) and All of You, with room left for extended bass and drum solos that bring the trio’s individual strengths to the fore.

While this lacks the surprise of the recent Some Other Time: The Lost Session from the Black Forest (Resonance), an unknown studio recording from 1968 with drummer Jack DeJohnette, On a Monday Evening is a fine addition to a still-expanding body of work.

09 RovaNo Favorites!: For Lawrence “Butch” Morris
Rova: Orkestrova
New World NW80782-2 (newworldrecords.org)

Dedicated to Lawrence “Butch” Morris (1947-2013), who structured improvisations without compromising individual freedom, Rova swells to orchestral size to adapt the concept. Adding acoustic string players, an electric rhythm section and, on one selection, a conductor, to Rova’s four saxophones is like adding bright colours to a room decorated in shades of white. Yet so attuned to the concept is everyone’s playing that the now euphonious sounds remain hard-edged not ornamented. Interlacing sequences from other compositions that are sutured and separated by hand signals and graphic scores, the 11-piece ensemble makes the formations sound harmonically and rhythmically whole, with space for interjections ranging from buzzing string spiccato and guitar flanges to sharp reed keening and drum resonation, often wrapped in group polyphony.

Following shorter tunes like sprints before a marathon, the most spectacular instance is the lengthy Contours of the Glass Head. Opening with Rite of Spring-like juddering counterpoint with electric instruments’ droning continuum, the exposition features theme-shredding via reed tongue slaps, altissimo cries and sibilate razzing even as it’s stabilized by moderated string and drum ostinato. The ensuing narrative makes room for double bass low plucks and upper register violin strokes plus a disorderly rock-like sequence of guitar flanges, backbeat drumming and screeching saxophone trills that are half-R&B and half-Free Jazz. Finally intermittent saxophone bites allow an underlying ruggedness to peek through the gauze. The CD is a fine instance of Orkestrova’s art and a fitting salute to a departed innovator.

10 Joy of BeingThe Joy of Being
François Carrier; Rafal Mazur; Michel Lambert
No Business Records NBCD 97 (nobusinssrecordfs.com)

Continuation of the unique Polish-Canadian partnership between Montrealers alto saxophonist François Carrier and drummer Michel Lambert, plus Krakow’s acoustic bass guitarist Rafal Mazur, this session finds the parts meshing like Polish perogies and Québécois beer: unusual but nourishing.

Mazur is ambidextrous in that his work utilizes both guitar-like intonation and double bass-like resonation. His fluid strokes create a walking-bass-like foundation on tracks such as True Nature allowing the others freedom to improvise; while his solo forays such as Omnipresent Beauty, vibrate sophisticated tonal asides which frequently refocus the narratives. As adept at squeezing rhythmic inferences from his drums and cymbals with the attention of a doctor performing microsurgery, Lambert’s motion subtly reinforces the program so that most beats are implied. Although tracks such as True Nature exultantly stretch Carrier’s solos almost to the edge of infinity so that that every variation, extension and partial, is exposed, these choppy asides don’t negate the saxophonist’s other side. His wide vibrations and thoughtful timbre elaborations on Blissfulness and Mystery of Creation, for example, are as artful as Paul Desmond’s ballad style.

With the hushed and hardy parts of the trio’s work constantly available, the title tune is the most distinctive showpiece. Producing yelping split tones from a Chinese oboe, Carrier strains to outline Mazur’s crackling runs and Lambert’s undulating slaps. With Carrier back on alto by the finale, The Joy of Being becomes yet another instance of the trio’s complete communication.

11 UofT 12tetTrillium Falls
University of Toronto 12TET
U of T Jazz (uoftjazz.ca)

It appears that the University of Toronto is, happily, going to be known for more than medicine and other sciences. For now, let fine arts take centre stage as we are treated to an album of exhilarating songs (and some soaring, yet elegiac balladry) – Trillium Falls. Here we have director Terry Promane, low-brass specialist, writer and arranger, as producer of this fine eight-song set. Trillium Falls plays to the strengths of a select group of Promane’s students from the bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate programs from which the light of young stars will no longer remain hidden within the stark, academic environs of Walter Hall.

Truth be told, several members of the band have stepped into Toronto’s jazz spotlight before and those who haven’t yet done so surely will. This finely crafted unit is more valuable than a proverbial well-oiled machine, although the refined machination of the band is one of its main attractions. It’s hard to imagine this ensemble without Emily Denison’s trumpet and flugelhorn, or Modibo Keita’s trombone or both the Argatoffs’ saxophones. And on evidence of her luminous, wordless vocals Jacqueline Teh is sure to journey to the stars. There is, of course, much more for the 12tet to be proud of, such as the riveting Song for Lia written by pianist Noam Lemish, Terry Promane’s atmospheric title track and, of course, performances by other members of this wonderful ensemble, not named here for want of space.

12 discoveries on tracker action organsDiscoveries on tracker action organs
Veryan Weston
Emanem 5044 (emanemdisc.com)

Veryan Weston is an English improviser and composer, a brilliant free-jazz pianist whose works include Tessellations, a structure for improvisation that moves permutationally through 52 pentatonic scales. Weston is inspired by the behaviour of different keyboard instruments and by the possibilities of microtonality, two passions that came together on the 2014 Tuning Out tour with violinist Jon Rose and cellist Hannah Marshall (Emanem 5207).

In preparation, Weston visited old churches, exploring some 30 tracker action organs, small mechanical instruments in which “there is only a short gap between the touch of a key and the pipe making a sound.” Weston was concerned with the instruments’ individual characteristics: “When each stop is very gradually pulled out (or pushed back in) while a key is pressed, you can hear many stages of the sound being made; from breath to whisper…Often microtones seem to bend toward a final pitch.”

The material here has been drawn from Weston’s recorded research, exploring the sonic quirks and minutiae of various instruments, making fresh discoveries in the lightly swirling runs of Quiet Fanfare (from St. Mary the Virgin in South Croxton), the low-pitched chords with foghorn effects of Proceeding with Caution (All Saints in Horstead) and the playful, calliope-like Fair with Ground (St. Anselm Hall in Manchester). The 24-minute Numerous Discoveries (All Saints in York) is a work of sustained invention, with Weston finding sub-vocal bleats and wails as well as beat patterns between close frequencies. This is fascinating music, a fine companion to Messiaen’s improvisations and Áine O’Dwyer’s Music for Church Cleaners.

Heir to a long and prominent role in notated music, exploration of the cello as a frontline partner has a shorter history in improvised music. Yet like a visual artist’s apprentice who subsequently envisages novel ways to utilize painterly techniques that surpass earlier conventions, today improvisers’ cello showcases expose the four-string instrument in a multitude of unexpected and interactive situations.

01 Remy BelangerVirtuosity is the most universal method of expressing instrumental skill and there are 13 examples of cello prestidigitation on D’éclisses (Ambiances Magnétiques AM 233 CD actuellecd.com). Quebec City’s Rémy Bélanger de Beauport contorts the sound of his instrument into so many unexpected variables that he could be the musical equivalent of Harry Houdini and/or Mandrake the Magician. A mathematician with a fondness for dance, noise rock and electronic music, de Beauport’s skill is such that it appears as if more than one instrument is present or that his cello is amplified, while creating completely acoustic textures without overdubs. Entonnoir treize, for instance, begins with a resonation that could be from a drum set, but is quickly revealed to be a powerful string pluck. Meantime two separate tones, one strident and high-pitched, and the other moderato like Baroque continuo, move in parallel fashion across the narrative. As the piece flashes by with bullet-train-like speed, de Beauport’s techniques suggest at points he’s ripping the finish off his strings while accelerating sul ponticello sweeps that eventually reach a vibrating finale. Similar dark-light/pliable-immovable tones are on Brasier as the simultaneous timbres contrast bird-like whistles with jackhammer-like thumps. But despite these outré gestures moderato strokes are still audible and the track moves with an offbeat swing. De Beauport can perform a sequence on a single string with enough twists in it to resemble an uncoiling snake as on Meet das Berger or he can unearth his buried past as guitarist on Kokosberge where he twangs as if playing a folk song. Most of the CD’s tracks showcase not only the cellist’s ability to slice notes so quickly that he could be whittling a tree into a toothpick in record time, but also his resolute ability to maintain a narrative despite distractions. Almost all improvisations showcase partial extension as well as the notes themselves, making D’éclisses a near-textbook example of what a free-music cellist can attain.

02. RelephantSolo invention is one thing, but how does an improvising cellist interact with fellow players? Very well, even as in the case of Relephant (Borcian Records borcianrecords.com), the meeting is an unconventional strong-percussion mating with American cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm and Polish drummer Adam Golebiewski. Although de Beauport still retains traces of so-called classical technique, Lonberg-Holm pushes that to one side, using electronic connection and extended techniques that are often as astringent as a hail storm and just as clangorous to work alongside. Involved with every manner of objects that can be banged or vibrated, the percussionist strikes rims, bells and wood blocks as often as drum tops and is more likely to be shaving jagged timbres from his cymbals than resonating them. That said, each of the four untitled selections vibrates with such a collection of airy, metallic and sometimes sheer unidentifiable timbres that it’s often a toss-up as to which instrument plays which lick. On the penultimate and longest track for instance after Lonberg-Holm’s early spiccato and sul ponticello arco strategies have extracted imaginative tones and extended partials from the mix, he begins guitar-like strums only to quickly abandon the picking for screeching shuffle bowing to challenge the drummer’s J Arthur Rank-like cymbal resonation and later rattles and shakes from percussion add-ons. Ending with a polyrhythmic sequence, percussion pops are heard alongside brass-like near-capillary sounds from Golebiewski, matched by comparable strident string slashes which also take on valve instrument colouration. Hard and thick with no leavening sweetness, the final selection brings bird-of-prey-like wheezing from the cellist and thunderstorm-like percussion reverb forward for a heightened crescendo, finally ending with drum plops and string angling that vibrate to the end.

03 Desire FreedomAnother strategy that has developed is the use of the cello in the place of a double bass in a jazz combo. That’s Miguel Mira’s contribution to tenor saxophonist Rodrigo Amado’s Motion Trio. During the selections on Desire & Freedom (NotTwo MW 946-2 nottwo.com) which also includes drummer Gabriel Ferrandini, the trio expresses itself in stream-of-consciousness improvisations with the saxophonist exploring every nuance of the sound as Sonny Rollins and Dewey Redman did in similar situations. Meanwhile Mira’s plucks, feints and squeaks follow alongside Amado’s glottal punctuation. The most telling instance of this is on the concluding Responsibility. Halfway through, the cellist creates a vibrating solo, indistinguishable from that of a walking bass line and with the rhythmic power to match the saxophonist’s propelled split tones. By the time the foot-tapping extravaganza is complete it appears that both have exposed every timbral extension possible. Here and elsewhere, Ferrandini’s unforced clanks and rattles pace the other two like a moderator faced with impassioned speakers in a political debate. On Freedom Is a Two-Edged Sword, controlled thwacks from cello and drums properly situate the reedist’s exposition which bites rodent-like into the theme. Comfortable with gopher hole-like low growls and stratospheric cries, Amado’s reed motion can also be expressed in a more moderate fashion as he demonstrates on Liberty. With his narrative shaded to a deeper tone, while still multiphonic, the plinking strings and cymbal vibrations shadow him like a resolute foxhound as he develops theme variations and helps smooth the narrative down to soothing slurs by the finale.

04 Strange AttractorsAnother variation on this theme is exhibited by Toronto’s Ugly Beauties. On Strange Attractors (marilynlerner.com), Matt Brubeck’s cello takes the double bass role as well as what’s expected from the so-called classical cello in this ten-year-old aggregation with equal input from pianist Marilyn Lerner and drummer Nick Fraser. Although the cello’s natural melancholy tone is evoked when slow motion bends connect with variable piano patterning on Blue Violins and in contrast squirms and vibrates in tandem with the spontaneous joy emanating from the keyboard on the title tune, the true test of its adaptability comes in What Now? With the cellist initially skipping through the narrative like an inspired toddler, Lerner’s confirmed adults-only rendition of jazzy variations matures Brubeck’s output enough to replicate a walking bass line. Finally the cello’s resonation becomes tough enough to intersect with Fraser’s rolls and pops. Later, in a Janus-like demonstration of four-string versatility, the cello’s low pitches create a bluesy introduction to Sniffin’ Around, adding smacks on the wood for extra percussiveness as the pianist busily speeds up her chording to suggest terpsichorean movements. While other tunes like Fragments of a Dream and Broken Glass play up the cello’s solid chamber-music-like tones, Holometabolous, the extended free improvisation which ends the set confirms that staccato string torquing and descriptive glissandi are not only atonally effective but also are the equivalent mates for the pianist’s long-lined kinetics and string stopping. Overall the material somehow manages to combine a heavyweight boxer’s rough reach with the delicacy of a ballet dancer’s jetés.

05 RawMoving further into the abstract realm is Raw (Leo Records CD LR 766 leorecords.com). More cerebral than coarse, the CD shows how the unconventional Swiss string trio of cellist Alfred Zimmerlin, violinist Harald Kimmig and double bassist Daniel Studer adapt its variant of modern chamber music with the addition of British tenor and soprano saxophonist John Butcher. An individualistic blend of sharp angling, judders and stretched asides, Kimmig-Studer-Zimmerlin (KSZ) relates to a string trio only in the same way a cat and tiger are both felines. But its idiosyncratic variables make the saxophonist’s slurs and split tones the ideal complement to the trio-developed sound. Separated by protracted periods of near-inaudibility and silences, the results are something like the proverbial blind taste tests. Which timbres can be attributed to the reedist and which to strings? The giveaway on tracks such as the extended A Short Night with a Light Beam of the Moon are when Butcher’s circular breathing, multiphonics or tongue slaps audaciously confirm his identity. Overall though, the string trio’s angled unison allows reed trills to arise organically from within the KSZ’s practised interface. Reed-and-metal plus wood-and-strings blending demonstrate congruence most obviously on Morning Star Shining on Hydrangea, as first Zimmerlin, then Butcher, sound near-identical caustic echoes before string rubs and reed bites sweep to silence. Although less raw than imagined, a CD like this demonstrates the cello’s versatile skill in solo and group situations, just as pushing it another way on some of the other discs confirms its rhythmic function.

Using imagination and skill, cellists have found a place for themselves in improvised music that probably could never be imagined by those who support conventional techniques.

01 Andre lachanceThe Orange Challenge
Quatuor André Lachance
Independent AL201601

The Quebec City-born, Vancouver-based musical journeyman André Lachance may be better known as one of Canada’s highly prized younger bassists, but he is reincarnated as a guitarist on The Orange Challenge, which also features his dreamy and distinctive writing. The music here is fascinatingly complex. At its dizzying best, it conjures imagery of the guitar equivalent of dancing figures in ice skating, dispatched consummately by the abstract, dramatic and virtuosic ramblings of Lachance. Rush-hour momentum, caffeine highs, ennui, angst and closing-time loneliness are driven powerfully by the guitarist together with swinging, rock-solid contributions from keyboardist Brad Turner, drumming colourist Joe Poole and the sonic lightning of Chris Gestrin’s Moog bass.

It is difficult to single out any chart for special mention, but for sentimental reasons Claude shall receive exactly that. For one, its high and lonesome beauty perfectly describes its inner melancholia. Secondly, it is the perfect dedication to the legendary Canadian drummer Claude Ranger. Understandably, the spotlight is on Poole, who crowns the song with sonic wonders while Lachance caps things with the heart-stopping sadness of his playing. The rest of the music, though, is not as heavy-laden as Claude. Noteworthy are the lovely, swinging miniatures: Life Cycle and The Orange Challenge – the latter informed by an invigorating workout from Turner as well as another fine solo by Poole. The rich and sweet sound and impeccable virtuosity in a spacy and warm acoustic all combine to make this a rather memorable disc.

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