01 BrotzSoloTrioAlthough the witticism that “free jazz keeps you young” has been repeated so often that it’s taken on cliché status, there’s enough evidence to give the statement veracity. Many improvisers in their eighties and seventies are still playing with the fire of performers in their twenties. Take German saxophonist Peter Brötzmann, who celebrated his 70th birthday and nearly 50 years of recording a couple of years ago. Case in point is Solo +Trio Roma (Victo CD 122/123, victo.qc.ca), recorded at 2011’s Festival International de Musique Actuelle de Victoriaville (FIMAV) in Quebec. Not only does Brötzmann play with unabated intensity for almost 75 minutes, while fronting a bassist and a drummer about half his age on one CD; but on the other inventively plays unaccompanied, without a break, for another hour or so. The multi-reedist still blows with the same caterwauling intensity that characterized Machine Gun, 1968’s free jazz classic, but now a balladic sensitivity spells his go-for-broke expositions.On Solo, his overview is relentlessly linear mixing extended staccato cadenzas with passages of sweet romance that momentarily slow the narrative. Climactically the nearly 25-minute Frames of Motion is a pitch-sliding explosion of irregular textures and harsh glissandi that seems thick as stone, yet is malleable enough to squeeze the slightest nuance out of every tune. Slyly, Brötzmann concludes the piece with gargling split tones that gradually amalgamate into I Surrender Dear. Backed by Norwegian percussion Paal Nilssen-Love and Italian electric bassist Massimo Pupillo, Brötzmann adds lip-curling intensity and multiphonic glissandi to the other program. Centrepiece is Music Marries Room to Room that continues for more than 69 minutes. Besides wounded bull-like cries tempered with spitting glissandi from the saxophonist, the piece includes jet-engine-like drones from Pupillo as well as shattering ruffs and pounding shuffles from the drummer. Several times, just as it seems the playing can’t get any more ardent, it kicks up another notch. Indefatigable, the saxophonist spins out staccato screams and emphatic abdominal snorts in equal measures, with his stentorian output encompassing tongue slaps, tongue stops and flutter tonguing. Brief solos showcase Pupillo crunching shards of electronic friction with buzz-saw intensity, while Nilssen-Love exposes drags, paradiddles, rebounds and smacks, without slowing the beat. There are even lyrical interludes among the overblowing as Brötzmann occasionally brings the proceedings to a halt for a capella sequences, which suggest everything from Taps to Better Git It in Your Soul. Finally the broken-octave narrative reaches a point of no return to wrap up in a circular fashion with yelping reed cries, blunt percussion smacks and dense electronic buzzes. Rapturous applause from the audience spurs the three to go at it again at the same elevated concentration for an additional five minutes.

02 BrotzSnakeThree months after FIMAV, at a Portuguese jazz festival, the trio was joined by Japanese trumpeter Toshinori Kondo and under the name of Hairybones recorded the single-track blow-out that is SnakeLust (Clean Feed 252 CD www.cleanfeed-records.com). Affiliated with the reedist on and off since the early 1980s, the trumpeter who also uses electronics, adds several sonic colors to sounds from the basic trio. Given a wider canvas, Pupillo transcends holding the ostinato, and uses slurred fingering, buzzing flanges and frailing distortions. Similarly the drummer contributes several extended hand-drumming sequences, most notably as accompaniment to Brötzmann’s investigation of the woody tárogató. Kondo’s most common strategy mixes muted tongue flutters with electronic extensions reminiscent of Miles Davis’ 1970s work. He often plays allegro as well, using his familiarity with the reedman’s ideas to blend capillary grace notes with Brötzmann’s visceral strains, often played parallel. The expanded sound field not only creates polyphonic textures with at least five sonic colours, but warms the saxman’s staccato slurs and altissimo cries. Following Brötzmann’s and Nilssen-Love’s tárogató-drum intermezzo, Kondo’s mellow, electronically enhanced trills add enough French-horn-like timbres to almost make that theme variation low key. By the improvisation’s conclusion however, Kondo presses down on his effects pedal to add wide vibrations. These join enough torqued multiphonics from the other players to create a finale that’s strident, contrapuntal and ultimately satisfying.

03 BrotzYatagarLess than 90 days afterwards, peripatetic Brötzmann performed at Krakow’s Autumn Jazz Festival in another mammoth improvisation captured on Yatagarasu (NotTwo MW 894-2 www.nottwo.com). Billed as The Heavyweights, his associates were both Japanese and his contemporaries: pianist Masihiko Satoh is his age and drummer Takeo Moriyama four years younger. Despite the abundance of grey hair the set was characterized by the same unparallelled toughness as the others. Another free jazz marvel, Satoh has the matchless technique and indefatigable stamina to match the saxophonist’s snaky inventions, while Moriyama’s double-time paradiddles and martial press rolls open up spacious sound territory. On some tracks, Brötzmann appears to never stop playing, emptying his lungs with staccato whinnies and visceral battle cries. Not that the pianist’s raw-power chording takes second place. Should the saxophonist metaphorically examine every tone facet before letting it loose, then Satoh’s voicing emphasizes each note with key-clipping enthusiasm. On Icy Spears, the pianist cuts through the cacophony to surprise with low-frequency, cross-handed chording, prodding Brötzmann to briefly slow the tempo with breathy vibrations before deconstructing the line into shards once again. Full-blast saxophone shrills are other Satoh challenges, which he counters by redoubling his kinetic key fanning. Eventually cymbal clashes blend with swelling piano pumps and altissimo reed passion for an expressive climax which appears to have reached the limits of endurance; at least the trio suddenly stops playing.

04 BrotzSonoreBrötzmann is also a mentor to – and often employer of – younger saxophonists involved with unbridled free expression. Recorded one month before his FIMAV gig, Sonore Café Oto/London (Trost TR 108 www.trost.at) is a showcase for another of his distinctive working groups. An all-reeds trio, other members are American tenor saxophonist/clarinettist Ken Vandermark and Swedish baritone saxophonist Mats Gustafsson, leaders of their own bands, each two decades Brötzmann’s junior. Tellingly the older saxophonist doesn’t pull rank, with solos parceled out equally. Furthermore the program consists of a composition by each member plus a free-form blow-out. More crucially despite the juxtaposition of jagged split tones, altissimo runs and deep-seated bellows vibrating during the program, Sonore is in no sense Brötzmann times three. While a layered narrative like Le Chien Perdu features the three harmonizing in triple counterpoint, each player retains his individuality. Gustafsson does so by propelling pedal-point pops. Still even as Brötzmann’s and Vandermark’s staccato timbres swell to bird-whistle territory, neither would be mistaken for the other.

Youthfulness may have a particular meaning in general. Yet when it comes to innovative musical expression, Brötzmann provides the textbook definition.

Surveying the array of jazz reissues and box sets that have appeared since the dawn of the compact disc, one might imagine that all of the major work has already found its way onto CD. It turns out that’s still not the case, as scrupulously remastered and researched collections continue to appear. The year’s best CD sets include a compilation of the first 25 years of an early master’s recordings, highlights from a year in the life of a great jazz composer, previously unreleased performances by esteemed pianists and an expansive work of new music that took 34 years to realize. There’s even a bargain box of 25 varied CDs, many of them undeniable classics.

01 Hawkins

Since launching in 1983, Mosaic Records has set the highest standard for jazz reissues, searching for the best possible sources, ensuring that sets are as complete as possible and packaging them in a handsome, uniform style with definitive accompanying texts. This year Mosaic released an extraordinary portrait of one of the few genuine giants of jazz: Classic Coleman Hawkins Sessions 1922-1947 (Mosaic #251: www.mosaicrecords.com). It’s an extraordinary historical sweep, beginning with Hawkins as a teenage clarinetist in Mamie Smith’s Jazz Hounds, following him through his long tenure with Fletcher Henderson to features with the Mound City Blues Blowers (an early example of racial integration in the recording studio) and Count Basie. There are also towering performances like his famous 1939 Body and Soul and examples of his expanding sponsorship of the early luminaries of be-bop.

02 Mingus

The latest Mosaic release is the seven-CD Charles Mingus: The Jazz Workshop Concerts 1964-65 (Mosaic #253). It includes the explosive bassist-composer’s performances at New York’s Town Hall, Amsterdam, Minneapolis and the Monterey Jazz Festivals in 1964 and 1965 with bands ranging from five to 11 pieces. Mingus was at his creative peak in the mid-60s, launching challenging new compositions like Meditations on a Pair of Wire Cutters, all supported by a cast of distinguished musicians, including the brilliant reed player Eric Dolphy in the last months of his life, trumpeter Johnny Coles, tenor saxophonist Clifford Jordan, pianist Jaki Byard and Mingus’ perpetual rhythm partner, drummer Dannie Richmond. At times, the music feels like it might ignite the CD player. Much of this material originally appeared on LP, but most of it has never appeared on CD and there are also newly discovered concert segments.

03 top of the gate

Pianist Bill Evans is one of the best-documented musicians in jazz, with expansive box sets chronicling his work for multiple labels and two seven-CD sets chronicling his last performances. Now more has come to light and it will be welcome news to fans of Evans’ luminous, limpid harmonic exploration: Live at Art d’Lugoff’s Top of the Gate (Resonance Records HCD-2011 www.resonancerecords.org) devotes its two CDs to Evans’ two sets of October 23, 1968 with bassist Eddie Gomez and drummer Marty Morell. Evans could create and sustain dream states, propelled by the most complex interaction and the subtlest extensions of harmony that jazz had ever heard at the time. Gomez is never less than brilliant and the charging energy the two bring to My Funny Valentine raises the set to essential listening.

04 Sleeper

Sleeper (ECM 2290/2291) is another lost session by a highly influential pianist: Keith Jarrett. The two-CD set comes from a 1979 Tokyo concert by Jarrett’s distinctive European Quartet with saxophonist Jan Garbarek, bassist Palle Danielsson and drummer Jon Christensen. The music is imbued with a lyricism and an openness that combine to sweep a listener along. There’s a melodic clarity that can suggest folk music, and Jarrett’s compositions provide distinct thematic flavours, including the Middle-Eastern Oasis and the gospel-hued Chant of the Soil.

05 Ten Freedom SummersIf you’re an adventurous listener, there’s also a contemporary masterpiece that arrived this year in a four-CD set: Wadada Leo Smith’s Ten Freedom Summers (Cuneiform Rune350-353 www.cuneiformrecords.com). The cutting-edge trumpeter/composer began composing works inspired by the struggle for African-American civil rights back in 1977 and continued the work until 2010 when he was commissioned by Southwest Chamber Music to add new works and set them for his own Golden Quartet/Quintet and the chamber ensemble. The result is four CDs of hard-edged, intensely involving music that is probing, elegiac and magisterial by turn. It’s rarely easy listening, but it’s a stunning integration of political and musical issues and composed and improvised idioms, undoubtedly a major musical work.

06 Perfect Collection 2If you’re looking for an instant record collection, Sony is producing a series called The Perfect Jazz Collection (Sony 8697720092), with two volumes so far. It might not be perfect, but it’s very good, whether you’re discovering or recalling jazz as it appeared in the LP era, with 25 CDs in mini-LP format drawn from Columbia and RCA labels in each release. In the first volume, you get excellent late work from Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington; masterpieces by Sarah Vaughan, Miles Davis (Kind of Blue, no less, the ultimate jazz record), Chet Baker, Stan Getz, Dave Brubeck, Erroll Garner, Thelonious Monk and Charles Mingus; and hard bop, soul jazz and fusion classics by Art Blakey, George Benson and Herbie Hancock, respectively. There are also great records you might never come across otherwise, like pianist Martial Solal at Newport ’63. Are there terrible records included? There might be two or three, but even Sonny Meets Hawk (a weird meeting of saxophone greats Sonny Rollins and Coleman Hawkins when Rollins was creating his own version of the avant-garde) and Bird (the soundtrack to the Clint Eastwood film about Charlie Parker that grafts new rhythm tracks on old Parker performances) are “interesting.”

07 Perlman MusideumAlive at Musideum
Sophia Perlman; Adrean Farrugia
Independent #AS1012 (www.sophiaperlman.com)

This latest CD project from luminous vocalist Sophia Perlman and gifted pianist Adrean Farrugia was recorded “Live” at an intimate, evocative venue boasting one of Toronto’s finest pianos – the ideal spot for capturing this intimate, eclectic and thoroughly splendid performance. Perlman and Farrugia have a profound chemistry and sensitivity to their individual creative modalities, and the collection of tunes is diverse, to say the least.

The duo explores compositions from such far-flung artists as David Bowie, Gershwin, Thelonious Monk and Geri Allen. These are bold, original choices in repertoire – rendered with an intuitive, high musicality and purity of intent that is reminiscent of the work of Alan Broadbent and the late Irene Kral.

Standouts include a clever, contemporized reworking of Gershwin’s But Not For Me, featuring a rhythmic piano part and Perlman’s horn-like scat singing. Also, her rich, sensual, alto voice caresses the melody of a rarely performed Ellington composition, All Too Soon. Certainly one of the most interesting tracks is the duo’s interpretation of David Bowie’s anthem against the mundane, Life on Mars. Also gorgeous – albeit deliciously melancholy – is a legato take on the Tin Pan Alley classic After You’ve Gone, and Farrugia’s dynamic solo piano performance on Geri Allen’s Feed the Fire clearly establishes his position as one of the finest and most technically gifted pianists on the scene today.

Kudos must go to Donald Quan and Roger Sader for their superb job of onsite recording. Every lovely, melodic and complex nuance has been beautifully captured.

08 Panton ChristmasChristmas Kiss
Diana Panton
Independent DIA-CD-5605 (www.dianapanton.com)

If the post isn’t already taken, I’d like to nominate Diana Panton as Canada’s jazz sweetheart. With this, her fifth CD in about as many years, Panton firmly establishes herself as a steadfast source for pretty and accessible song collections. Though she works in the jazz realm and collaborates with some of the most respected jazz players in the industry – Don Thompson on bass and piano, Reg Schwager on guitar and Guido Basso on flugelhorn and trumpet – Panton takes quite a straightforward approach in her singing. She picks finely written pieces, usually from a few decades ago, and delivers them in an honest and endearing way. With Christmas Kiss, winter and holiday tunes get the velvet glove treatment. Although most will be familiar such as Winter Wonderland and Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas, there are a few lesser known selections such as C’est Noel Cheri and the title tune, written by Panton and Thompson. Dave Fishberg’s Snowbound epitomizes cool yet cozy comfort, especially with the addition of Thompson’s tasteful work on vibes. And for that perennial duet, Baby it’s Could Outside, R & B legend and fellow Hamiltonian, Harrison Kennedy, plays the role of the persuader. The CD release event is December 10 at the Old Mill Inn.

09 Kurt Elling1619 Broadway – The Brill Building Project
Kurt Elling
Concord Jazz CJA-33959-02

When I first heard that Kurt Elling was turning his cerebral musical sights on songs from the Brill Building era for his next album, I couldn’t imagine how the two very different styles would come together. The BrillBuilding was a musical factory known for churning out teen-oriented pop hits in the late 50s and early 60s from resident songwriters such as Jerry Goffin and Carole King, Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil and Neil Sedaka.

Kurt Elling is a true jazz singer; a hep cat who takes a serious and sometimes ponderous approach to music, often with stunning results. So hearing his take on fluffy tunes like You Send Me and Pleasant Valley Sunday is an exercise in open-mindedness for listeners familiar with the original versions.

1619 Broadway: The Brill Building Project is no trip down memory lane – these songs have, for the most part, been completely and successfully re-imagined. Working with his longtime collaborator, pianist Laurence Hobgood, guitarist John McLean, bassist Clark Sommers and drummer Kendrick Scott, Elling plays with tempos and enriches harmonies at every turn. The most effective arrangements are those that stay true or add additional depth to the original meaning of the song, despite musical wanderings, like the taut, striving On Broadway and I’m Satisfied with its swingy groove. Best, though, are the more straightforward and expressive approaches such as I Only Have Eyes for You, So Far Away and American Tune. Nobody can touch Elling when it comes to delivering a beautiful ballad.

Kurt Elling and his quintet play the Living Arts Centre in Mississauga, March 22, 2013.

10 Red Hot RambleRed Hot Ramble
Red Hot Ramble
Independent RHR001 (www.redhotramble.ca)

Recorded at The Canterbury Music Company, Toronto, March 30, 2012 with Roberta Hunt, lead vocals, piano, Alison Young, baritone and alto sax, Glenn Anderson, drums, percussion and Jack Zorawski, bass. All three also sing background vocals. They are joined by Andrej Saradin, trumpet and Jamie Stager, trombone on some of the numbers.

Roberta Hunt and Red Hot Ramble have established a following in Toronto with their New Orleans influenced brand of jazz and this CD is a good representation of their entertaining approach to the music.

The music is infectious and I particularly enjoyed the soloing of Alison Young. The music is a mix of material ranging from Doctor Jazz by Joe "King" Oliver to Horace Silver's The Preacher and all of it with a contemporary New Orleans feel. Purists might raise an eyebrow or two at the chord changes of Lonesome Road, the 1927 song by Nathaniel Shilkret and Gene Austin, but with repeated listening I got accustomed to this version.

The band is propelled along nicely by Glenn Anderson and Jack Zorawski. Anderson's playing, for example, on the Eddie Harris number Cold Duck Time shows a real understanding of the idiom. Roberta herself lends her own distinctive styling to the proceedings and the overall result is like party night in a friendly bar.

11 Dream GypsyDream Gypsy
Bruce Harvey; Tom Hazlitt; Kevin Coady
Audubon Music Productions

Bruce Harvey is an exceptionally talented pianist, a fact well-known by other musicians but under-recognized as far as the general listening public is concerned. This is partly because he has a busy career playing shows and accompanying singers, and he spends much less time featuring himself as a soloist or building a high profile outside the immediate musical community.

This recording will go some way to changing that perception. There is a pensive quality to much of the music throughout this CD which is made up of well-known standards, like Laura and Falling In Love With Love, some lesser-known pieces such as You’re My Everything, Old Portrait by Charles Mingus, J. J. Johnson’s Lament and one original by Bruce called Claire De Soleil. There is also a tantalisingly short, (just over one minute), take on Ray Noble’s Cherokee which is given the name Odd Fragment.

Throughout the album Harvey’s imaginative playing amply demonstrates why he is highly regarded by his peers and his fellow musicians. Tom Hazlitt and Kevin Coady provide a sympathetic and tasteful accompaniment.

Like many CDs today this is an independent production so if you are interested in purchasing it please contact harvemuse@yahoo.ca.

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