12 TrapistCDThe Golden Years
Staubgold Digital 19

Although no one would ever confuse the improvisations on this CD with ecclesiastical plainsong, the fact that this Canadian/German/Austrian trio’s name suggests the Trappist order, implies the deferential skill it brings to the music. Not only do the three players cunningly negotiate the boundaries between jazz improvisation, rock beats and electronic interface, but like monks in that order which discourages speech, this compelling program includes as many lucid and protracted pauses as measured instrumental timbres.

Over the course of four mesmerizing tracks, Vancouver-born bassist Joe Williamson’s steadying thumps are advanced with the same sort of electronic delays and modulations as German-born guitarist Martin Siewert brings to his slurred fingering, which is already distorted and processed. Plus the inventive slaps, flams and drags from Austrian percussionist Martin Brandlmayr are only as pronounced as needed to keep the program balanced. Ambidextrous or overdubbed, he expands the basic tripartite sound generation with piano riffs or vibraphone reverb when needed.

Filtering out extraneous timbres throughout, Trapist reaches a climax of sorts on The Spoke and the Horse when perfectly timed twanging guitar licks, a juddering bass line and emphasized drum rolls blend with the crackling and grinding voltage undercurrent for a satisfying rhythmic exposition. Meanwhile, bass and drums harmony is expanded with sensitive vibe colouration and dense, signal-processed buzzing. Finally, after folksy guitar strums and metronomic bass stops are paired with processed sequences that could be telephone dial tones or aviary twitters, the final track incorporates the intimation of waves lapping against the seashore. A similar resonance was heard on the first track, bringing the program full circle.

Additionally this CD confirms how wide a sonic spectrum can result when electronics are put in the service of intelligent intermingling of a minimum of instrumental textures.

13 ContinuumDavid Virelles arrived in Toronto in 2001 at 17, the protégé of Jane Bunnett who has helped in so many ways to take Cuban music to the world. Virelles received the first Oscar Peterson Prize at Humber College from Peterson himself, then won the Grand Prix de Jazz award at the 2006 Montreal Jazz Festival. Since moving to New York in 2009, he’s been studying and working with adventurous musicians like Steve Coleman and Henry Threadgill. Virelle’s first American release as a leader, Continuum (Pi Recordings 46 www.pirecordings.com), is a brilliant step forward — an exploration of Afro-Cuban ritual elements in which his sometimes pensive, sometimes explosive improvisations are framed by poet and percussionist Román Diaz, whose poems are in Spanish and African-derived ritual languages. The music is rooted by bassist Ben Street and given further dimension and sonic potency by the great drummer Andrew Cyrille, who brings both Haitian ancestry and jazz lineage to the sessions. In a world where mere piano chops are common, Virelles’ Continuum demonstrates real depth and vision.

14 TaigaAl Henderson rarely pushes his bass out front but it’s hard to overlook his presence as a bandleader and a composer, creating music with independent harmonic structures, a keen sense of voicings, memorable lines and real passion. His latest CD Taiga (Cornerstone CRST CD 138 www.cornerstonerecordsinc.com), named for the Northern boreal forest, is steeped in the traditions of Mingus and Monk (Martian Jump is pure Monk) whether it’s hard-driving or weirdly atmospheric — like Croaking Raven which comes with Newfoundland bird tapes, eerie bass clarinet and a recitation of Poe. Henderson is armed with A-list saxophonists — Pat LaBarbera on tenor and Alex Dean on alto, tenor and bass clarinet, and there are appearances on some tracks by baritone specialist David Mott — and the three make up a superb Ellingtonian reed choir on Henderson’s Portrait of Billy Strayhorn.

15 DisterheftBrandi Disterheft is another standout bassist, with a deep resonant sound of her own and a deft hand at constructing supportive lines and emotionally direct solos. She also has a knack for creating good group chemistry and well-crafted CDs, beginning with the Juno-winning Debut in 2006. On Gratitude (Justin-Time Just 247), she’s assembled a first-rate New York band that she uses to excellent effect. It’s a group with soulful depths, with transplanted Canadian pianist Renee Rosnes coming to the fore on Disterheft’s Blues for Nelson Mandela and the horns — alto saxophonist Vincent Herring and trumpeter Sean Jones — sounding terrific on Rosnes’ anthemic post-bop Mizmahta. Disterheft also sings on a couple of tracks, including the soul classic Compared to What, in a light, musical way that’s a fine complement to her instrumental abilities.

16 Peggy LeeFirst formed as a sextet in 1998 and now an octet, the Peggy Lee Band has an almost magical capacity for musical synthesis, moving seamlessly between the cellist-leader’s compositions, jazz improvisation and freely improvised solos that often explore alternative techniques. On their fifth CD Invitation (Drip Audio DA00853 www.dripaudio.com) the title track has the clear harmonies of a folk song, while other tracks will pick up the moods of hymns, 1930s swing and the elegies and landscapes of Samuel Barber or Aaron Copland, with frequent introductions and interludes of almost interior monologue — the cello sings in whistling, tumbling harmonics, a trombone solo by Jeremy Berkman in which several trombones seem to mutter together, or a passage by guitarist Tony Wilson that might spring from African strings.

17 SanzaruKate Hammett-Vaughan can be Canada’s most adventurous jazz singer — she’s turned the writer Jane Bowles’ post-stroke notebooks into art song (on Conspiracy from 2006) — but she’s also explored more conventional repertoire, revealing at every turn a talent that’s as inspired and skilful as it is daring. Whatever the material, Hammett-Vaughan is one of our best singers, with a rich contralto, an ability to sing with the clarity of speech and a host of subtle, expressive techniques from altering pitch to shifting vibrato. A sense of conversational ease permeates Sanzaru (S/R www.katehv.com), a live recording devoted to standards. She’s joined by Bill Coon, a guitarist who plays very few notes, just the best ones, and bassist Adam Thomas who sings as well, with such ebullience and musicality that he recalls Louis Prima. Come Rain or Come Shine and ‘S Wonderful are highlights.

18a Conversations18b Cooke-WiensVancouver saxophonist Coat Cooke may be best known as the leader of the NOW Orchestra, a brilliant aggregation of 16 Vancouver improvisers that set a national standard for such ensembles. He’s heard on a very different scale on two new releases, each featuring a duo. Cooke’s free-jazz side comes through on Conversations with drummer Joe Poole (Now Orchestra CLNOW006 www.noworchestra.com) with Cooke working through the saxophone family in a series of dialogues ranging from the intensity of Feeling Feint to the puckishly vocal Dancing the Night Away, all of it enhanced by Poole’s subtly complex drumming. There’s a very different side of Cooke to be heard on the free improvisation of High Wire with Montreal guitarist Rainer Wiens (Now Orchestra CLNOW007). The emphasis is on texture and timbre, eerie whistling saxophone tones moving through layers of bowed and scratched guitar strings. There’s something uncannily involving about these fragile, evolving drones, a kind of tensile strength and focus that rewards sustained attention.

Defying doomsayers who predicted the death of the LP, the CD’s disappearance appears oversold. True music collectors prefer the physical presence and superior fidelity of a well-designd CD package and important material continues to be released. Partisans of advanced music, for instance, can choose any one of these sets.

19 Pharoah SandersThe only saxophonist to be part of saxophonist John Coltrane’s working group, tenorist Pharoah Sanders is celebrated for his own highly rhythmic Energy Music. In the Beginning 1963-64 (ESP-Disk ESP-4069 www.espdisk.com), a four-CD package, highlights his steady growth. Besides Sanders’ first album as leader, very much in the freebop tradition and as part of a quintet of now obscure players, the other previously released sounds capture Sanders’ recordings in the Sun Ra Arkestra. More valuable is a CD of unissued tracks where Sanders asserts himself in quartets led by cornetist Don Cherry or Canadian pianist Paul Bley. The set is completed by short interviews with all of the leaders. Oddly enough, although they precede his solo debut, Sanders’ playing is most impressive with Bley and Cherry. With more of a regularized beat via bassist David Izenson and drummer J.C. Moses, Cherry’s tracks advance melody juxtaposition and parallel improvisations with Sanders’ harsh obbligato contrasted with the cornetist’s feisty flourishes; plus the darting lines and quick jabs of pianist Joe Scianni provide an unheralded pleasure. Bley’s economical comping and discursive patterning lead the saxophonist into solos filled with harsh tongue twisting lines and jagged interval leaps. With Izenson’s screeching assent and drummer Paul Motian’s press rolls, the quartet plays super fast without losing the melodic thread. Sun Ra is a different matter. Recorded in concert, the sets include helpings of space chants such as Rocket #9 and Next Stop Mars; a feature for Black Harold’s talking log drums; showcases for blaring trombones, growling trumpets; plus the leader’s propulsive half-down-home and half-outer-space keyboard. Sharing honking and double tonguing interludes with Arkestra saxists Pat Patrick and Marshall Allen, Sanders exhibits his characteristic stridency. Enjoyable for Sun Ra’s vision which is spectacular and jocular, these tracks suggest why the taciturn Sanders soon went on his own.

20 DrumsDreamsPartially in reaction to vocifeous American players like Sanders, by the 1970s European innovators developed a spacious and subdued take on improvisation. This can be sampled via the solo work of Swiss percussionist Pierre Favre, a model of taste and restraint on Drums and Dreams (Intakt CD 197 www.intaktrec.ch). Overall it’s 1972’s Abanaba which is the defining masterwork, with 1970’s Drum Conversation and 1978’s Mountain Wind, the buildup and elaboration of maturity. Favre has such command of the sonorous properties of his expanded kit that he can use approximations of tones from unusual sources such as guiro, conches, unlathed cymbals and thunder sheets plus a regular kit without bombast or showiness. A track such as Kyoto is a fascinating duet between kettle drum and tuned gongs, expanded by theremin-like resonations; while Gerunonius is an essay in abrasion, as textures created by sawing with a bow on drum rims are integrated with shakes, pops and pulls. Roro fastens on triple sticking at supersonic speeds, producing ringing tones from log drums, cymbals and gongs, while the final track demonstrates how aggression can be paced as bell trees ping and snares sizzle. CD1 establishes a framework for juxtapositions, with silences integrated with kinetic paradiddles and ruffs. Sounding at times like multiple players, Favre’s distinctive sounds are as likely to arise by twisting mallets on aluminum bars as from blunt whacks on oversized gongs. By 1978, his rhythmic palette had expanded so that he could replicate the sound of a telephone bell ring or Chinese temple bell with equal facility and without any loss in power.

21 SpontaneousThis mixture of delicacy and strength is expanded to its pianistic limits on Spontaneous Suite for Two Pianos (Rogueart R0G-037 www.roguart.com). These four CDs capture an entire recording session beginning with the evocative acceleration from feathery chording to anvil-like kinetic pressure on CD1, track one, and conclude with key-clipping near-player piano continuum on CD4, track seven. Anyone who follows dual keyboardists like Radu Lupu and Murray Perahia or Albert Ammons andPete Johnson will be staggered by the work here. Completely improvised, the nine interlocking suites expose almost all variations of what can be extracted from 176 keys. Technical wizardry plus jazz inflections are apparent in the playing of Connie Crothers and David Arner, yet focussed reductionism as well as spontaneity is also on tap.

Piano guru Lennie Tristano’s most accomplished student, New York-based Crothers has recorded with jazzmen like drummer Max Roach. Up-state New York’s Arner is associated with choreographers such as Meredith Monk. Playing side-by-side with layered chords, palindromes or in counterpoint, the two evoke many aspects of piano literature while creating their own. For instance The Hoofer which bounces and taps as a terpsichorean fantasia is followed by Blues and the Moving Image. Despite low-pitched glissandi, this blues is polyrhythmic, depending on a dusting of high-frequency tremolo to provide the necessary emotion. The Reckoning is meditative and linear, while Density 88X2 moves from jocular patterns to blunt syncopation. An extended sequence like City Rhapsody may unroll staccatissimo with soundboard rumbles and ringing cadenzas in equal measures, but it never unravels or loses connectivity. Overall the real connection this duo exhibits is with their own histories. Basso notes on Swing Migration and Fool both unearth Tristanto-like themes among the cumulative cascades and pitch-sliding vibrations.

22 EchtzeitMusikWith the German capital now home to a mass of creative musicians, it takes 40 selections on a three-CD anthology Echtzeitmusik Berlin (Mikroton CD 14/15/16 www.mikroton.net) to try to define the scene. Although currents of free jazz, notated music, punk-rock and all sorts of electronic programming are universally accepted, echtzeitmusik is defined differently by each innovator. For instance the long pauses and foreshortened breaths from Robin Hayward’s microtonal tuba and intermittent plinks from Morten Olsen’s rotating bass drum on Deep Skin may come from the same reductionist base as Versprechen which mutates piano string strums by Andrea Neumann with linear trumpet breaths from Sabine Ercklentz. But the studio collage that’s Annette Krebs’ In-between, mutating ring-modulator whooshes, music samples and layered voices has little in common except density with Antoine Chessex’s Errances which inflates a single saxophone’s tremolo timbres to near organ-like cascades. So what defines the sounds? The key may be Blues No.5 by Perlonex.Guitar feedback, turntable scratches plus drum smacks and electronic quivers reach an intensity that equals the emotionalism of a blues singer. Consequently honesty and innovation supersede musical forms. Echtzeitmusik Berlinallows the listener to sample and choose.

01-WattaWestonCD002Dialogues in Two Places
Trevor Watts; Veryan Weston
Hi4Head Records HFH 010D (www.hi4headrecords.com)

Confirmation of the Guelph Jazz Festival’s increasing importance on the international scene is this significant 2-CD set by British saxophonist Trevor Watts and pianist Veryan Weston. Both men have helped define improvised music since the 1970s, and during a rare North American foray in 2011, recorded one CD in Guelph and the other in Toledo.
Nationalism aside, the two appear more assured north of the border, with the climax, Cardigan, a 32 minute intermezzo. Three months earlier in Ohio they distributed their aleatoric and dextrous efforts among six much shorter improvisations. Playing both soprano and alto saxophones, Watts’ tone is sequentially taut, peeping, staccato and agitated in Toledo, while Weston’s lines encompass both formal pianism and near-splintered tremolo dynamics to extend and pivot the performances. Toledo’s high point appears on Glenwood. Here a contrapuntal intersection displays the saxophonist’s mercurial skills at speedy and slow tempos while compressing tones for nuance and colour. Also featured is the pianist initially accelerating, then halving the accompaniment, while moving from high-intensity chording and pounding to edgy soundboard and string plinking patterns.
Practically an invention on its own, Cardigan dramatically conveys the veterans’ familiarity with each other’s sound strategies and their ability to parry and thrust in split second intervals. The initial variations find Weston’s kinetic pumps, clips and unexpected octave jumps prodding Watts to move from reed bites and snorts into broken octave, aviary-like tremolos as the two explore the tune in tandem. By the exposition’s midpoint, metronomic keyboard cascades embolden the saxman to unleash a variant of circular breathing which culminates in juddering bagpipe-resembling tremolos. Soon afterwards Weston’s playful variations in the piano’s bass clef sustain the rhythm as he splays sharp harmonies. Leading to the finale, further developments find Watts echoing and shaking grace notes to affiliate with the pianist’s now low frequency, slow-paced chording. By the end pinched oboe-like reed bites replace an ocean-wide vibrato as Weston’s meticulous keyboard framing leads to parallel diminuendo.
Before a short encore, the applause from the Guelph audience is almost as protracted as the length of some of the Toledo tracks.

01-Elizabeth-SheppardRewind (linus 270155) is Elizabeth Shepherd’s first CD devoted to standards, but they aren’t everybody’s standards; rather they’re a carefully if quirkily chosen personal selection, including French chanson (Pourqois tu vis), art song (Kurt Weill’s eerie Lonely House) and jazz tunes (from Lionel Hampton’s Midnight Sun to Bobby Hutcherson’s When You Are Near, the latter with Shepherd’s own lyrics). It’s a deeply involving album — there’s an insistent intimacy in Shepherd’s light, high voice and her subtle combination of the articulated and the withheld. The matching of voice to band is perfect — Shepherd herself plays various pianos, beatbox and “tuned mixing bowls and muted pestle” — with consistently deft arrangements. Highlights include Poinciana, with Reg Schwager’s lilting guitar accompaniment, and the soul jazz classic Sack of Woe with Andrew Downing’s plucked cello and Shepherd’s period Wurlitzer electric piano.

02-MacDonaldToronto saxophonist Kirk MacDonald is doing a fine job of maintaining the modern big band tradition. His last recording Deep Shadows was a 2012 JUNO nominee and he’s followed it with another performance by his Jazz Orchestra, Family Suite for Large Ensemble (Addo AJR013). Here trombonist Terry Promane has taken on the challenge of arranging MacDonald’s 2008 quartet album Family Suite for an 18-piece band, emphasizing brass lustre with five trumpets and four trombones. Promane successfully adopts MacDonald’s complex original lines to the weightier textures, burnishing them with greater emotional depth, and MacDonald the soloist is clearly inspired anew. The quality of the writing is emphasized by the performances of an all-star band that includes alto saxophonist P.J. Perry, guitarist Lorne Lofsky and trumpeter Kevin Turcotte.

03-DickensonPianist Brian Dickinson wears his influences on his track list, opening his Other Places (Addo AJR011) with a blazing and percussive Unreal McCoy and a harmonically complex Shorter Days, clear homages to Tyner and Wayne respectively. The CD might not win awards for originality, but it could for sheer drive, featuring the intense Boston tenor saxophonist Jerry Bergonzi — a master of a later John Coltrane style in which rapid, convoluted phrases are driven by a tight vibrato and a slightly gravelly tone. The rhythm section of bassist Jim Vivian and drummer Steve Wallace is up to the task and the result is charging, inspired music. Dickinson’s Tagine demonstrates the pianist’s rhythmic invention, an expansive take on a North African theme.

04-HexentrioHexentrio (Intakt CD 205) presents Vancouver pianist Paul Plimley in outstanding international company, with English bassist Barry Guy and Swiss drummer Lucas Niggli expanding the idea of the piano trio. The methodology is free improvisation but there’s no limit to the styles or technique of the music, a brilliant tapestry of 17 short pieces that moves from dramatic three way conversations — like the tumultuous Flo Vi Ru and Railways Rear Viewed in Magic Mirror that bracket the program — to dreamlike epiphanies and spontaneous chromatic rhapsodies. Plimley is an improviser of rare resourcefulness and in this company he is able to launch tonal systems at will, assured of empathetic and apt response. Niggli possesses an aggressive approach and an ability to suggest multiple rhythmic environments, while Barry Guy is simply the most articulate bassist a piano trio might have, embellishing the brilliant tradition launched by Scott La Faro with Bill Evans over 50 years ago.

05-Eric-NormandMore than 500 kilometres northeast of Montreal on the St. Lawrence River, Rimouski might strike you as an unlikely spot for cutting edge free improvisation, but you wouldn’t be accounting for the resourcefulness of electric bassist Éric Normand whose quintet mixes Montreal visitors with Rimouski residents. Sur un Fil, released on the Italian label Setola Di Maiale (www.setoladimaiale.net), matches Jean Derome (on flute, alto saxophone and birdcall) and Michel F Côté (drums and feedback) with James Darling (cello) and Antoine Létourneau-Berger (vibes and cymbals). The mood is avant-garde chamber music, with subtle textures set up by Normand’s compositions expanded with a free hand by everyone in the band, from glittering vibraphone to sometimes squalling saxophone, creating a music that can be as elemental as Rimouski’s rocky shore or as abstract as a composition by Boulez.

06-Chris-BanksAlto saxophonist Brodie West has spent substantial time with the celebrated and whimsically independent founders of Amsterdam free jazz, studying with composer Misha Mengelberg and playing with drummer Han Bennink. West in turn has developed his own distinct approach. When West turns to standard forms, he does so with a lyrical directness reminiscent of Lee Konitz and free of the polish and rote learning that often compromise contemporary mainstream approaches. That approach is in high relief with the Chris Banks Trio on the unusual Softly as in a Morning Sunrise (S/R www.chrisbankstrio.blogspot.ca) as West, bassist Banks and pianist Tania Gill play standards and older jazz tunes from Jitterbug Waltz and Undecided to Soul Eyes. The absence of drums emphasizes an intimate and deliberate dialogue and the genuine spirit of improvisation.

07-Clutton-Michelli-WestAnother side of West is apparent on Compound Eyes (S/R www.cluttonmichelli-west.blogspot.ca) by the trio of Clutton/Michelli/West, with the emphasis on a minimalist style of improvisation that often matches West’s repeating whistles and vocal smears with bassist Rob Clutton’s pulsing, repeating figures and drummer Anthony Michelli’s spare accents and subtly insinuated grooves. It’s fresh and challenging work, and even here West manages to reference the tradition, inserting an attenuated phrase from What’s New? in the title track.

At the height of jazz’s popularity, during the Big Band era of the 1930s and 1940s, one of the most common images was of a resplendent clarinettist, instrument shining in the spotlight, taking a hot solo. Subsequent styles found the so-called licorice stick relegated to a poor cousin of the saxophone, with few reed players brave enough to keep the clarinet as a double, let alone concentrate on its unique timbres. However attacks on conventional sounds, coupled with an appreciation for unique instrumental textures starting in the 1960s, spurred a rediscovery of the wooden reed instrument. Right now there are probably more CDs extant featuring the clarinet than at any time since the heyday of Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw and Woody Herman.

01-ClarinetTrioSimilar in some way to what a jam session involving Goodman, Shaw and Herman would have entailed is The Clarinet Trio 4 (Leo Records CD LR 622 www.leorecords.com). Besides the obvious difference that the trio members are German, rather than American, additional factors characterize this trio of reed players as a 21st Century juggernaut not a 1930s revival band. For a start, each man plays a different member of the clarinet family: Jürgen Kupke, regular clarinet; Michael Thieke, clarinet plus alto clarinet; and Gebhard Ullmann, bass clarinet. Plus nearly all the tunes are Ullmann originals rather than standards. Unlike earlier reed players who depended on rhythm section accompaniment however, the 11 tracks on this CD feature nothing but clarinet timbres. Interludes which result from an arrangement like this are put into boldest relief on Collectives #13 #14 and Geringe Abweichungen von der Norm. The latter is carefully unrolled at adagio tempo, with balanced reed vibrations and understated motion as staccato slurs and pitch-sliding smears appear at the same time, finally melding into a tremolo narrative. In contrast, Collectives #13 #14 is rife with pinched notes from the straight clarinet, snarling quivers from the alto clarinet and inner-directed bass clarinet growls. Eventually a mellow interface from the higher pitched reeds surmounts these chirps and quacks as Ullmann continues to tongue slap and masticate tones. Other tunes such as Blaues Viertel and Waters explore variations in legato tone blending and burbling reverberations, as triple vibrations are showcased in broken octave, chromatic lines. The climatic triple reed definition is News No News however. As abrasive, tremolo lines from each reedist progressively align against one another the finale finds all ultimately diminishing to silence. Before that, three singular melodies have been cross-vibrated and intertwined, while staccato lines maintain each player’s individuality.

02-ClarinoCookbookAnother trio, but this one including string and brass instruments as well as reeds, is on Clarino Cookbook (Red Toucan RT 9345 www3.sympatico.ca/cactus.red). This time the CD matches the clarinet of Belgian Joachim Badenhorst with the trumpet of German Thomas Heberer, who also composed the dozen selections, plus German-French bassist Pascal Niggenkemper. Although the lineup is the same as if it were a combo of Goodman, trumpeter Harry James and bassist Artie Bernstein, Heberer’s graphic notation wouldn’t have been recognizable by those earlier jazzers, though they would have been impressed by the breadth of this trio’s technique. Encompassing a modicum of unanticipated tranquil passages, especially from muted trumpet and fluid clarinet lines, the fundamental object lies in revealing as many contrasting tones as they intersect. For instance a track such as Nomos, introduced by ringing double bass tones, develops new motifs as a busy trumpet limns the bouncing theme. Moderated with clarinet squeaks, the piece is cleanly concluded with bowed strings. More adventurous, Bogen is concerned with melding air bubbled through both horns’ body tubes with arco swipes from Niggenkemper, whose well-shaped notes later underscore Heberer’s brassy yelps and Badenhorst’s rhythmic tongue slaps. Even more dissonance is present on Erdbär with the bull fiddle barely audible.

04-ChansonIf Clarino Cookbook characterizes modern abstraction, then the 17 miniatures on Chansons d’amour (Émouvance émv 1034 www.emouvance.com) by French clarinettist/bass clarinettist Laurent Dehors and British pianist Matthew Bourne are the post-modern equivalent of jazz chamber music. Still the skills of both men include an undercurrent of dissonance. Take the familiar La Vie en Rose for instance. Dehors’ clarinet line consists of flutter-tonguing and split tone pauses before uncovering the melody defined in a series of glissandi roughened by tongue stops and breaths. This is followed by Triste, an impressionistic line dependent on harmonic balance between the pianist’s upwards moving glissandi and the reedist’s lyrical quivering. Overall, the CD includes some instances of hushed chamber music-style pacing while other themes are more barbed. The equilibrium of BDK theme is maintained as it unrolls at a clean clip, but by the final variant a Brubeck-like waltz rhythm played by Bourne is jockeying for space alongside Dehors’ strident reed shrills and snorts. Echoes of pedal point pacing from Dehors’ contrabass clarinet on Two are subtly undermined by piano clinks, while even the impressionism driven by the pianist’s key clusters and glittery plucks becomes hesitant and out of tempo on Á propos. Simple piano clusters characterize Three, yet Dehors completes the theme playing different variants simultaneously on two clarinets, one with wolf call ferocity, the other double tonguing. In fact, the CD’s defining moments may occur on Thrown. A mini suite in itself, which modulates from multi-level pumping impressionism to smooth lines at the end, the landscape includes chalumeau streaming tones from Dehors as well as reed bites, as Bourne’s patterns encompass key clicks and repetitive chording.

03-GordonGridnaSonic landscapes of another structure are audible on Vancouver-based plectrumist Gordon Grdina’s Her Eyes Illuminate (Songlines SGL-2407-1 www.songlines.com). Built on a jazz-like interpretation of lilting Arabic airs, Grdina, usually a guitarist, concentrates on oud playing, leading a ten-piece group which melds the traditional timbres of riq, ney and darbuka, with a strong bottom provided by electric bass and drums plus jazz-like solo interjections. Triplet runs from trumpeter JP Carter, contrapuntal duets between the split tones of tenor saxophonist Chris Kelley and the choked vibrations from Jesse Zubot’s violin, and liquid glissandi from François Houle’s clarinet are highpoints. One of Canada’s foremost woodwind players, Houle inventively creates a place for his Europeanized reed within this Middle Eastern showcase as he does in improvised, electronic and notated music contexts. Besides connective obbligatos and descriptive squeaks on other tracks, his most distinctive contribution is on the Egyptian/Druze composition Laktob Aourak al Chagar. Buoyed by the timed drumming tempo and aggressive string strumming, Houle bends his pitches so that his horn’s moderato line takes on a strident sturdiness, then as the percussion-pushed theme descends, he joins with the tenor saxophonist for a frenetic duet and finale.

Skilfully manipulating the single reed instrument’s sonic qualities, Houle, Badenhorst, Dehors and The Clarinet Trio validate the clarinet’s adaptability as a vehicle for contemporary improvisation.

01-Barbra-LicaThat’s What I Do
Barbra Lica
Triplet TR-1016-2

“She has a voice that would scarcely reach the second storey of a doll’s house” is what the New Yorker music critic Whitney Balliet once wrote about the jazz singer, Blossom Dearie. Anyone who, like me, was a fan of the 60s icon will find the comparison inescapable when listening to Barbara Lica’s debut CD That’s What I Do. And it’s not just the light, girlish vocal quality that invites comparison but also her ability to deliver a song with clarity, wit and deftness. Perennially upbeat, all the songs on That’s What I Do have a sheen of positivity even when delving into what could be dark topics, like being a starving artist, as she does on her own composition Scarlett O’Hara. Many of the strongest songs on the disc — and the least jazzy — are the originals, which Lica wrote mostly with her partner and guitar player Colin Story. Bass player Paul Novotny also contributes much as producer and arranger, injecting new, sophisticated life into the bossa nova standard Quiet Nights and a fun Parisian jazz-meets-reggae feel to the Billy Joel pop hit Vienna. Lica does a lovely job on the older standards like P.S. I Love You and Young At Heart, which totally suit her style. The affection she obviously has for these songs is infectious and will put a smile on any listener’s face.

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