02_dream_makerDream Maker, Heartbreaker - Sam Broverman sings Johnny Mercer
Sam Broverman
Independent BR002 www.brovermusic.com

It’s clear from the first cut of his debut album – and the well researched, informative liner notes – that Sam Broverman adores, respects and loves singing Johnny Mercer. Making “Dream Maker, Heartbreaker” was a dream come true for Broverman and how nice for us that he realized his dream with 13 terrific tracks, backed by 18 of Toronto’s finest, including Chris Gale on tenor sax, pianists Peter Hill and Mark Kieswetter, cellist Roman Borys, Reg Schwager, guitar, Kevin Turcotte, trumpet and those wonderful Whiteleys – Chris on harmonica and trumpet and Ken, multi-tasking as always, this time on at least four instruments and playing producer.

Knowing he would inevitably invoke those titans of style and interpretation – Sinatra, Bennett, Tormé – I’ve got to hand it to this actuarial mathematics professor by day/jazz singer by night for his bravery, dedication and careful attention in taking on some of Mercer’s most beloved and recognizable songs. Impressively, Broverman has put his own stamp on them. His Laura is lovely and evocative; he swings like the best of them in Day In, Day Out; broods with depth and intelligence in I Wonder What Became of Me. And I was moved by Moon River. Broverman sings it with just the right amount of sweetness, yearning and poignancy, managing to keep this nugget fresh and unhackneyed. (Oh, and the title of the CD? That’s right – third line, first verse.)

Bravo – and Mazel Tov – to Sam Broverman, a fellow Winnipegger-living-in-Toronto. Ya done “The Peg” proud!

Concert note: Sam Broverman will perform material from “Dream Maker, Heartbreaker” at the Green Door Cabaret on December 3.

01_diana_pantonTo Brazil with Love
Diana Panton
eOne Music DIA-CD-1293 www.dianapanton.com

“To Brazil With Love” from vocalist/composer Diana Panton is a perfect jewel of a CD. Each delightful track is an exquisitely manicured musical facet, set firmly in the Brazilian idiom and seamlessly sung in French and English by Panton. Her diaphanous vocal sound never insists and her high speed vibrato is like the beat of a hummingbird’s heart – natural, untainted and pure. The Brazilian-infused material is an eclectic mix, including compositions from Panton, Antonio Carlos Jobim and Paul McCartney (check out the moving interpretation of And I Love Her/Him featuring Don Thompson on piano rendering chord changes that never entered McCartney’s mind).

On the recording, Panton has cleverly surrounded herself with superb musicians – including multi-instrumentalist and producer Thompson on bass, piano and vibes. Guitarist Reg Schwager makes a stellar contribution with his exquisite solos, as does flautist Bill McBirnie. The rich, sonorous linear lines of Kiki Misumi’s cello also enhance the arrangements. Highlights include Panton’s Is it Really You, Samba Saravah (from the 1966 film A Man and a Woman, with authentic vocal and percussion from Maninho Costa), Jobim’s So Nice replete with a lovely, breezy vocal and a take on the 1963 Bobby Vee hit, The Night Has a Thousand Eyes – demonstrating that Diana Paton certainly knows her way around a standard, Brazilian or otherwise. This is a stunning recording on all levels, and we should all look forward to more from the lovely Ms. Panton.


Terri Lyne Carrington

Concord Jazz CJA-33016-02

Terri Lyne Carrington has brought together some of the top women in jazz for the female-centric Mosaic project, and the result runs the stylistic gamut from jazz/funk, to rap and whatever category Grammy-award winning Esperanza Spalding’s music fits into. (Baroque jazz?) Although the liner notes are at times unclear as to who performs on which track, what is clear is that Carrington is the guiding hand, playing drums on all the songs, switching styles effortlessly, and she wrote a handful of the tunes. Other dominant performers among the 20 or so on the disc are Geri Allen, Patrice Rushen and Helen Sung sharing the piano and keys duties. Singer Cassandra Wilson lends her mahogany tones to the aptly named Simply Beautiful, by Al Green, which also benefits from nuanced violin work from Chia-Yin Carol Ma. One of the standout tracks is the opening Transformation, written by Carole Pope and Kevan Staples, formerly of Toronto’s 80s music scene staple Rough Trade, along with Nona Hendryx, who performs the vocals. Also strong is Lennon/McCartney’s Michelle, which gets turned on its pretty head. The only thing I found a bit off was awkwardness in some of the horn and woodwind parts, which seemed largely due to the arrangements rather than the playing. But soloing from all of the horns – Ingrid Jensen, Anat Cohen and Tineke Postma - was solid.


02_harris_eisenstadtCanada Day II

Harris Eisenstadt

Songlines SGL 1589-2 (www.songlines.com)

Although he left Toronto more than a decade ago, Brooklyn-based drummer Harris Eisenstadt hasn’t abandoned his home town… or country. This thoroughly modern session is the second CD by one of his working bands, whose name came from its first gig on July 1. Complete with a cover painting – with canoe – reminiscent of the Northern Ontario summer camp the drummer attended, Eisenstadt’s eight originals are played by a quintet of top-flight New York jazzers, none of whom is Canadian, although bassist Elvind Opsvik is Norwegian.

Well engineered, “Canada Day II” balances on Opsvik’s upfront bass rhythm, as well as the never-obtrusive beats of the drummer. With Chris Dingman’s ringing vibraphone clanks recurrently moving from foreground to background, most of the swinging pieces are elaborated by Nate Wooley’s buzzing trumpet technique and Matt Bauder’s vamping tenor saxophone.

Both the trumpeter and bassist are showcased on To See/Tootsie as the bassist keeps up a steady pace and Wooley delves into slurry stutters, mouthpiece kisses and capillary cries. Subsequently, Bauder states the tuneful theme and Eisenstadt accompanies with off-side flams and rim shots. Cottage country cool rather than downtown hot, most of the pieces on “Canada Day II” are like that. With the horns or rhythm instruments often working in tandem, other solos stand out as well. Jagged flutter-tonguing from the saxophonist erupting from a foundation of vibe resonation from Dingman enlivens Now Longer, a bass vamp that became a suite. During the piece, Opsvik slithers all over the strings or walks authoritatively as the blurry unison horn work confirms the transformation.

Overall the expatriate Torontonian’s playing, arranging and composing is so accomplished that one doesn’t known whether to give it an “A” or an “Eh”.

The Fall is always a showcase for the best in Canadian jazz – this month’s collection is a prize package, the top three world class.

01_robi_botosUp first is a splendid trio disc from pianist Robi Botos, who since his arrival from Hungary has consistently brought audiences to their feet with sparkling imagination and a fabulous technique. The impressive Robi Botos Trio - Place To Place (A440 002 www.robibotos.com) is the first album under his name, 68 minutes on which he’s backed by brother Frank on drums and long-time associate Attila Darvas on bass. The 14-cut outing (mostly originals) is terrific from the first notes of Life Goes On with Darvas a revelation in a unit demonstrating impeccable interaction. A fab reworking of Wayne Shorter’s Footprints, a delightful take on the classics with Be Bach, a lovely tribute to Oscar Peterson (Emmanuel), a storming title piece, a bristling Smedley’s Attack and the humour delivered on Inside Out are just a few disc highlights, which assert the leader’s firm grasp of pianistic essentials. Some might quibble at the Botos delight in fiery, top gear playing but to these ears it’s simply splendid.

02_john_stetchPianist John Stetch is a seriously gifted musician whose presence unfortunately is rare in the GTA despite an international reputation. Edmonton-born but U.S.-based, his releases invariably are stunningly original and on the dozen tunes of John Stetch Trio - Fabled States (Addo Records AJR010 www.addorecords.com) he demonstrates his fluent skill at embracing a plethora of styles, rich textures and harmonic progressions. His virtuosic playing and arranging is a constant here, with the opening Oscar’s Blue Green Algebra an energetic, sweeping homage to Oscar Peterson with gospel underpinnings. The pulsating 12-minute Black Sea Suite is a brilliant fusion of world music and western jazz, Plutology (based on the indestructible I Got Rhythm) spins way out and What The McHeck conveys bracing hard bop. Fascinating considerations of jazz approaches continue with Do Telepromptu probing bluegrass, Gmitri reacting to a Shostakovich prelude and the title tune riffing on Benny Golson’s Stablemates. Bass Joe Martin and drummer Greg Ritchie contribute fluently to an often breathtaking disc.

03_ernesto_cerviniDrummer Ernesto Cervini is a relative newcomer who’s blazing a path through contemporary jazz with smart new ideas and a burning intensity that shouts to be heard. Taped live over two nights at Vancouver’s Cellar Club, he illustrates his achievements with terrific young sidemen in tow – versatile American saxophonist Joel Frahm, pianist extraordinaire Adrean Farrugia and bassist Dan Loomis. On Ernesto Cervini Quartet - There (Anzic Records ANZ-3200 www.ernestocervini.com) there’s nine tracks, six by him, that illustrate individual skills and group cohesion with Frahm’s spiky lean notes, Farrugia’s dynamic imagination and Loomis’ solid core bass keeping energy levels high despite formidable rhythmic shifts. They even reimagine the soul ballad Secret Love into helter-skelter mode rooted in bop with Frahm’s tenor referencing Sonny Rollins. These performers always complement each other, notably on the Andalusian-flavoured Granada Bus, the reverential Gramps and the clever, quirky The Monks of Oka. Farrugia’s rollicking Woebegone is a meaty treat and the exhilarating Little Black Bird is a blast on an album that has to be one of 2011’s best.

04_cookersThe Cookers are a back-to-basics hard bop quintet, nowadays an attractive voice in the land of quasi-intellectual trickery, avant-garde noodling and jazz’s black sheep cousin, smooth jazz. Formed last year, the fivesome comprises veterans and newbies but they’re close companions on The Cookers - Volume One (TC69420 www.thecookers.ca) and its eight originals supplied by bandsmen. Immediately you know this group’s best heard live with its mix of bop, soul, jazz and the blues, with trumpeter Tim Hamels and saxman Ryan Oliver swinging hard, pianist Richard Whiteman reliable as ever in all modes and a lively pulse generated by tuneful bassist Alex Coleman and drummer Morgan Childs. The trumpet’s crisp, rough-toned precision matches Oliver’s full-range warm horn, the former occasionally offering full rasp Roy Eldridge, the latter bringing to mind Eric Alexander. Top tracks: The Ramble, Blues to Booker and The Pork Test, but all have merit. Pity there’s just 47 minutes on offer.

05_5_after_4Drummer Vito Rezza’s pounding jazz fusion band 5 After 4 makes a mostly welcome return on Rome In A Day (Alma ACD62112 www.almarecords.com) with its sixth album, the first since 2004. Backing the powerhouse leader on 11 originals are versatile woodwind ace John Johnson, Matt Horner on piano, Rhodes and organ, and bassist Peter Cardinali. The musical architecture is as always firm, groove and vigour uppermost. Johnson enjoys himself throughout, setting out his keen priorities on the fiery opener 10,000 Days with Cardinali’s bass sound big and booming, a combination that works well with tried and trusted drumming and complementary subtleties from Horner. The bluesy Top Hat is spelled out neatly with Rhodes and agile bass followed by a surprisingly serene ballad caressed by tenor and then the dense, off-kilter Mr. Govindas. Perhaps the most appealing tune is Changes Of Season with marked contrasts employing speed, delicacy and finally fury, Johnson leading the charge. The only problem here is a sameness in composition and execution, as if the ensemble’s wound too tight.

06_bunnett_duranLovers of Cuban music will rejoice in Jane Bunnett & Hilario Duran - Cuban Rhapsody (Alma ACD67112 www.almarecords.com), a vast survey of the island nation’s music from the mid-19th century to the mid-20th. Virtuosos Bunnett (flute and soprano sax) and Duran (piano) play with passionate vitality and gracious charm as they canvas traditions established by such valued composers as Ernesto Lecuona and Frank Emilio Flynn. The heart of this album, crammed with dancing beats and lilting melody, is a five-tune medley of contradanzas by Manuel Saumell. The duo plays with intimate chemistry and still adds jazz improv fuel to a sterling session that integrates European music with classic Cuban folkloric styles.

01_bill_dixonPraised and reviled in equal measure during his 40-year career, Vermont-based trumpeter Bill Dixon was finally recognized as one of improvised music’s most original stylists and theorists before his death at 84 in June 2010. Fittingly his final concert took place a mere three weeks previously at Quebec’s Festival International de Musique Actuelle de Victoriaville, where a hand-picked octet played this composition under his direction. Luckily the performance has been released as Envoi (Victo Records Victo cd 120 www.victo.qc.ca). Not only do the two sections illuminate Dixon’s particular mixture of formalism and freedom, but with a horn section of four playing cornet, bugle and flugelhorn, Envoi also demonstrates Dixon’s influence on a younger generation of brass players. Famously prickly and opinionated, Dixon organized The Jazz Composers Guild, one of the first musicians’ self-help organizations in the mid-1960s. A long-time professor at Bennington College in Vermont, Dixon recorded sparingly over the years, which makes this session doubly valuable. Impressionistic and dramatic, Envoi is organized with classical precision in varied sequences. Most involve muted, shaded bent notes from the brass players in counterpoint to the spiccato string swipes of cellist Glynis Loman and bassist Ken Filiano, or, in the first section, tart slurs from Michel Côté’s bass clarinet. Additional unifying motifs come from Warren Smith’s resounding kettle drumming, and, in the second section, his ringing vibes, which soften the interface as it moves forward. In that same section the unison strings maintain a menacing undertow, breached only occasionally by heraldic brassiness or dissonant grace notes, plus at one point echoing stillness from Graham Hayes’ bugle. True to Dixon’s style, most of the brass tones are segmented sound shards which waft pure air through the horns. Following nearly 40 minutes of quivery tremolo theme variations, a spectacular example of the trumpeter’s measured art arrives near the end. After one cornetist sounds heraldic tones at a higher pitch among the others’ capillary whispers, all harmonize for a protracted section of legato impressionism, only scattering at the end as one puffs quietly while another exposes plunger tones. Finally, call-and-response vamping from all marks the climax.

02_next_thbNew York’s Taylor Ho Bynum and Chicago’s Rob Mazurek, both featured on “Envoi”, have been marked by Dixon’s compositional and improvisational skill, as has Montreal’s Ellwood Epps. On his own, Bynum is probably closest to Dixon when it comes to voicing. Atmospheric textures on the six instant compositions that make up Next (Porter Records PRCD-4058 www.porterrecords.com) are built up from his cornet, flugelhorn or trumpet, Sara Schoenbeck’s bassoon and Joe Morris’ guitar. With no instrument in the so-called front-line, and each player capable of extended techniques, it’s often difficult to separate timbres. Schoenbeck may use her burbling pedal-point as a foundation, but on a tune like Next, she splinters her tone into tiny reed bites, and later harmonizes intense growls with Bynum’s triplet patterns. On Next the guitar texture is all bottleneck licks. Yet on pieces such as Consensus Struggle Morris’ percussive strumming emphasizes the beat, allowing the bassoonist to solo with hoarse multiphonics, and giving the cornetist room for peeping squeals and trippy tongue flutters. The trio’s interface is most appealing on Fireside. Morris’ below-the-bridge plinks are further coloured by Schoenbeck’s burbling bluster as Bynum’s staccato, off-centre trills soar upward to lip-twisting brassiness.

03_pink_salivaSomeone who took lessons with Dixon and – at least in choice of band name – has inherited the older man’s impudence, is Ellwood Epps, whose Pink Saliva trio (& Records &11 www.etrecords.net), is filled out by Alexandre St-Onge on electric bass and laptop and Michel F Côté on drums, microphones and lap steel guitar. Although Dixon only dabbled in electronics, Epps, a Toronto native, and his Québécois confreres embrace it wholeheartedly, adding oscillated wave forms and crackling drones to everything they play. Negotiating the line between indie-rock and jazz-improvisation, the CD is studded with irregular ruffs and drags on Côté’s part, rumbles and pops from St-Onge’s string set and dial-twisting buzzes. At points overdubbed, Epps’ trumpet soars over these wiggling sequences, repeatedly shifting from low-pitched inner-horn gurgles to piercing trills, adding additional touches of soaring lyricism.

04_double_demonA similar brass lyricism is evident on Starlicker’s Double Demon (Delmark DE 2011 www.delmark.com) featuring Rob Mazurek. Instructively it’s also the cornetist who impels the tunes towards jazz improvisation, while John Herndon, of the Tortoise rock band, concentrates on gutsy backbeats. Meanwhile the six Mazurek compositions are given distinctive shape by mallet-driven staccato juddering from Jason Adasiewicz’s vibraphone. With the vibist’s ringing gamelan-like tones a constant leitmotif, whether playing in ballad time or much speedier, Starlicker’s appeal lies in continuous contrast among three intense instrumental textures. The title track finds the vibist’s blurred tremolo lines matching the cornet’s strident brays; whereas the brass man uses finesse and moderated splutters to create a chromatic line alongside Herndon’s ratcheting and discordant pops on Triple Hex. However on Skull Cave, the cornetist’s Dixon-like melodic release which recaps the initial theme, moderates sequences of metal bar smacks and a thick drum backbeat.

Regularly operating outside of jazz’s mainstream, Bill Dixon’s brass sound and ideas actually influenced more musicians than is generally acknowledged. It’s both ironic and appropriate then, that it was an experimental Canadian festival which gave him a platform for his final performance.

01_jeff_healeyLive at Grossman’s

Jeff Healey Band

Convexe ERN 28002 www.conveyorcanada.com

Phew! Wotta Scorcher. That time-honoured Brit tabloid newspaper headline neatly sums up the inaugural release of the Convexe label, first in a series of unreleased Healey band CDs and DVDs culled from audio and video archives. With power trio regulars Joe Rockman on bass, drummer Tom Stephen plus on many cuts guitarist Pat Rush, the Canadian icon – stunningly proficient with guitar and voice - establishes a blistering pace from the start, storming through Alvin Lee’s I’m Going Home and maintaining the pace with Killing Floor, one of two Howlin’ Wolf classics that Healey jokes are just part of “another session of sonic torture!”

Chinatown venue Grossman’s has equally venerable status, one reason its hosting the Sunday jam sessions spawned the Healey band in 1985.

Today its blues and rock Mecca rep has faded, but this outing 17 years ago – one shared with local rockers The Phantoms - is fully energized though the crowd seems thin. The session was actually a rehearsal for Healey’s fourth studio album “Cover To Cover.”

The Albert King hit As The Years Go Passing By shows Healey’s skills at their best, raw voice effortlessly locked onto the beat then a launch of a typically aching solo on guitar - once again you’re reminded of how comfortable he is in blues, rock and jazz, resulting in a public appeal that was unquenchable until his death in 2008.

Vintage jukebox hit Ain’t That Just Like A Woman gets thrusting treatment, followed by a rare Beatles tune, the Lennon-penned, melancholic Yer Blues with passionate Healey vocal and general ensemble fury setting the mood ablaze and then it’s back to the Wolf for Who’s Been Talking with Michael Pickett’s vigorous harmonica.

Robert Johnson’s Crossroads has plenty of jump, as does Elmore James’ Dust My Broom, this chestnut all urgent wailing, pleading crescendos and bouncing beat. Then, unpredictably, comes a smartly done extended encore with Dylan’s All Along The Watchtower, more searing guitar work, rock lyrics and realization that a memorable hour has concluded with a grand flourish.

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