Les Doigts de l’Homme

Alma ACD61412 www.almarecords.com

Les Doigts de l’Homme – guitarists Olivier Kikteff, Yannick Alcocer, and Benoit “Binouche” Convert, and acoustic bassist Tanguy Blum – is an amazing French band whose music is now available locally thanks to Alma records. Florid guitar lines, interesting solos, a great groove, and tight ensemble playing means these gentlemen could even make a C major scale sound inspirational if asked to do so!

Django Reinhardt was born in 1910, thus the name of this tribute CD. The band covers a number of the guitar legend's tunes like Minor Swing, interspersed with some classic numbers like Irving Berlin's Blue Skies, and originals by band member Kikteff. Each track is a work of aural art. The upbeat cover of the Kern/Hammerstein song Ol' Man River is a surprising success with its punchy shots and zippy tempo. Reinhardt’s Swing 48 features Kikteff’s technical wizardry and Convert’s contrasting lush tonal quality in their solo work. The chromatic melody lines of Kikteff’s Niglo l Waltz are reminiscent of French musette accordion music, one of the many influences on Reinhardt's own music. The scratchy vinyl record sound on the final track is a nice closing touch.

The liner notes describe the band's high regard of Django's music. “He is a perpetual source of inspiration and we are grateful that his music has made its way into our lives today.” And this exactly how I feel about Les Doigts de l’Homme's “1910” too!

03_miles_davisMiles Davis - Live at Montreux 1973-1991

Miles Davis

Eagle Eye Media EE391949

The pleasing shock of seeing jazz genius Miles Davis up close and personal at Montreux in 1973 in striking colour – lip-licking in splendid white jacket, huge Afro, big shades, glittering vest, blue cravat – is matched by the misery of seeing him 18 years later on the same Swiss stage – frail, old, downcast, positively drab in demeanour with playing to match.

All of which makes this DVD, drawn from the archives that generated a 20-CD release in 2002, a valuable document indeed. On the 10 long tracks no line-up is the same, no line-up featured ever recorded in a studio, there’s no remixing, no editing.

Mind you, the lead-up is odd. With roadies on stage there’s around two minutes of shuffling, hints of percussion, an anonymous squawk. A minute later staccato trumpet sounds and instrument fiddling. At six, signs there may be a band at work. All is forgotten when the group, a youthful Dave Liebman on soprano sax and Al Foster drumming, rumbles into action for a very lengthy improv on Ife, Miles conjuring sounds with horn and wah-wah pedal from his recent groundbreaking offerings on seminal albums “Bitches Brew” and “In A Silent Way,” using nods and hand signs to instruct sidemen, dabbling on Yamaha organ and creating ethereal magic over a four-note bass riff.

It’s good, enhanced by the superb, superior visual clarity that easily captures the sweat on the master’s face. Davis retired for six years in 1975 through ill-health but returned to Montreux in 1984 dressed in a sort of white sailor suit with Bob Berg on soprano and guitarist John Scofield. His trumpet was in fine shape, at times ferocious, on Speak: That’s What Happened. 1985 had similar personnel save for stiff-armed Vince Wilburn, Davis’ nephew, on drums, quickly followed in 1986 with banks of synths, alto sax smoothie David Sanborn actually blowing hard and young guitarist Robben Ford thrashing blue notes on Jean-Pierre as the master delivered clean, quick lines. The next year’s Heavy Metal Prelude was a tedious vehicle for percussionist Marilyn Mazur but alto Kenny Garrett was there and in 1989 for a potent big bass punch courtesy of Foley McCreary and tenor Rick Margitza on Jo Jo. 1990’s Hannibal had fetching, understated Davis and raging Garrett.

The gloomy 1991 takes three months before Davis’ death originated in “Sketches Of Spain” (The Pan Piper, Solea ) with over-packed stage and music collapsing into cacophony. It was hardly a fitting epitaph for a life of musical influence and revolution, whose constant was change and whose indelible mark will forever be clear on bop, cool jazz, modal jazz, electric jazz, funk and jazz fusion. The disc, however, is a must-have.

01_playin_janeWelcome back Jane Fair and Rosemary Galloway, last heard together nine years ago. Their new one - Jane Fair Rosemary Galloway Quintet - Playin’ Jane (JFRGQ-002 www.rosemarygalloway.com) – has nine briskly-paced originals (five by Galloway, four by Fair) artfully executed alongside trumpeter Lina Allemano, pianist Nancy Walker and drummer Nick Fraser. Fair, a rare commodity on record, is adept on soprano and tenor sax, confidently setting the mood on her spirited title track opener, a harbinger of bright, unusual pieces propelled by resonant Galloway bass and lively drums. Highlighted throughout are Walker’s thrusting solos and comping as well as Allemano’s impassioned avant garde notions that complement her comrades’ bop inclinations. The Thelonious Monk-inspired Green Roofs features intricate exchanges and potent playing by soprano and trumpet, while Circles And Lines initially echoes his classic Misterioso before segueing into minor blues. Elsewhere, expect the unexpected on a terrific album celebrating the deep pool of Toronto-based talent.

02_heavyweightsThe Heavyweights Brass Band - Don’t Bring Me Down (www.heavyweightsbrassband.com). This debut disc deserves the extensive air time it’s garnered this summer. After all, who can resist a contemporary group showcasing a sousaphone, courtesy of Rob Teehan, especially if it’s not just occupying rhythmic roles? Here’s 13 tracks, six mostly upbeat originals alternating with tunes referencing popsters like Lady Gaga, Michael Jackson, Beyonce, and Stratford’s Beeb, so think reincarnated Shuffle Demons. Trombonist Chris Butcher, trumpeter Jon Challenor and saxman Paul Metcalfe wail to great effect over tough, battering drums from Lowell Whitty. The ensemble’s tight, simple emphatic riffs abound and despite unvarying structures, the entirely unnecessary Cuban rapper and soulful blues singer (and bandsmen vocals) this is a most entertaining outing that updates vintage New Orleans marching combos.

03_bourassaQuebec pianist François Bourassa has enjoyed a stellar three-decade career yet his veteran team always plays with youthful urgency, as you quickly gather from Isola, the first cut on François Bourassa Quartet - Idiosyncrasie (Effendi FND111 www.francoisbourassa.com). It’s one of the leader’s seven (of eight) compositions that showcases slick unison play, bracing tenorman André Leroux, ever-churning bassist Guy Boisvert and stimulating drummer Philippe Melanson, followed by the long, mysteriously moody Haiku-Darmstadt that offers clipped phrasing, seductive piano-sax dialogue and choppy odd-meter beat. Then comes a three-part suite, among which the stirring Pressiert bests elegant balladry with the foursome consumed by focused urgency. The session guarantees both pleasure and curiosity – witness the closing Chant Du P’tit Gny.

04_clevelandJulia Cleveland, who studied jazz at Mohawk College after classical percussion at U of T, is Hogtown’s heir to a new-ish tradition of female driving drummers such as Cindy Blackman and Susie Ibarra. Her debut jazz record is the melodious Julia Cleveland 5uintet - Tumble, Stumble (JC52011 www.juliacleveland.com), which also headlines saxist Kelly Jefferson, bass Ross MacIntyre, pianist Adrian Farrugia and Mike Malone on trumpet and flugelhorn. Its 11 tunes and charts are by Cleveland, who more than holds her own in this well-integrated group. Farrugia often steals the limelight with smart, sometimes lavish statements, particularly effective on electric piano, but Cleveland defines the pulse, which underpins everything from the chirpy title tune to the elegiac Obbink. Malone is cool and clever, Jefferson powerfully inventive. Going Back is a tribute to late bandleader Dave McMurdo, who taught at Mohawk.

05_senenskyBernie Senensky has long been a major player on the Canadian jazz scene but somehow remains undervalued, which is outrageous – he’s always a fount of fresh ideas, an assured performer with incredible technique who honours jazz tradition. Thus on Senensky-Perla-Riley - Invitation (P M Records PMR-033 www.PMRecords.com) the pianist demonstrates his mastery of melodic, harmonic and improvisational possibilities, starting with two of his own – the hard-charging Come To Me and a potent Blues For E.J. Six standards adorn this get-together with bassist Gene Perla and drummer Ben Riley, with notably subtle Senensky approaches to Old Folks and Young And Foolish. Perla scores with his stylish Bill’s Waltz and the leader closes with a rousing Bud Lines that would have the late piano legend smiling.

06_interceptionInterception is a new band comprising cousins Marko Ostojic (piano) and Uros Stamenkovic (drums) whose heritage is Macedonian, bass Justin Gray, percussionist Altaf Bwana Moto Vellani and tenor saxophonist Sal Rosselli, who often declaims à la Argentinean firebrand Gato Barbieri. Their debut disc Timing and Distance (www.interceptionmusic.com) starts modestly but improves dramatically with the tune Interception, the first of three Ostojic compositions, in which the tenor storms over heavy, tumultuous rhythm. Then it’s one of three modern jazz rarities, Phineas Newborn’s Sugar Ray, like much here a vehicle for Rosselli to range widely before the pianist shows off his imaginative independence. Nomad wobbles before Rosselli tears into double-time over thrusting grooves, then Ostojic counters with more shrewd notions. The album impresses, if only lasting 46 minutes.

01_ThreadgillA highlight of the international calendar, the Guelph Jazz Festival (GJF), September 7 to 11, has maintained its appeal to both the adventurous and the curious over 18 years. It has done so mixing educational symposia with populist outdoor concerts, featuring performers ranging from established masters to experimenters from all over the world. For example, American alto saxophonist/flautist Henry Threadgill appears at the River Run Centre on September 10 with his Zooid quintet. A frequent GJF visitor bassist William Parker is featured in at least four ensembles; twice with Toronto vocalist Christine Duncan’s Element Choir Project on September 9 at St. George’s Anglican Church and September 10 at the outdoor Jazz Tent; on September 11 as part of an all-star quartet in Co-operators Hall; and in the same spot on September 8, with pianist Paul Plimley and drummer Gerry Hemingway. Sharing the bill is Tilting, a quartet led by Montreal bassist Nicolas Caloia. Meanwhile Danish saxophonist Lotte Anker is part of an afternoon performance September 10 at Co-operators Hall with two Americans, pianist Craig Taborn and drummer Gerald Cleaver.

02_FloatingIslandSupplely slinky, bouncingly rhythmic and unmistakable original, Zooid’s This Brings Us To Volume II (Pi Recordings PI 36 www.pirecordings.com) clearly delineates Threadgill’s compositional smarts expressed by the band. Many of the tracks depend on the contrasts engendered by mixing Liberty Ellman’s nylon-string guitar licks with the snorts from Jose Davila’s gutbucket trombone or surging tuba plus cross-sticking and rolls from drummer Elliot Humberto Kavee. The most characteristic track is Polymorph, with a sardonic melody that suggests Kurt Weill’s Berlin period. Here Threadgill’s astringent saxophone timbres are first framed by snapping frails from Ellman and later arrive at contrasting double counterpoint with the thick pop of Stomu Takeishi’s bass guitar.

03_ParkerICIFloating Islands (ILK 162 CD www.ilkmusic.com) demonstrates the cohesive skills of the Anker/Taborn/Cleaver group. Recorded at the Copenhagen Jazz Festival, the selections demonstrate the trio’s extrasensory perception. With Anker rotating among soprano, alto and tenor saxophones, the band divides according to the improvisation; sections are devoted to saxophone-piano, saxophone-drum or piano-drum interaction. Hard reed buzzes bring out cascading choruses from Taborn for instance, while the pianist’s unconventional key clicks are met by the saxophonist’s arching split tones and tongue flutters plus swirling cymbals and snare backbeats. Sometimes the narrative becomes a mass of chiaroscuro patterns from all, with the palpable tension finally breached by Anker’s chirping tones and Taborn’s glissandi. Backwards River is an extended example of this, as galloping runs from Taborn arrive after an exposition of gritty reed tones. Before the climax, involving Cleaver knitting rat-tat-tats and tom-tom rolls into a forceful solo, the sax and piano sounds surge from gentle swing to jagged altissimo intersections rife with polyphonic smears.

04_TiltingCombination spark plug and spiritual guide William Parker’s gigs at GJF 2011 are with a vocal chorus and two instrumental groupings. Winter Sun Crying recorded with Munich’s nine-piece ICI Ensemble (Neos Jazz Neos 41008 www.neos-music.com) demonstrates the skills he brings to groups of any size or instrumentation. The CD captures a 15-part suite which waxes and wanes between legato and atonal contributions. Parker’s contributions on piccolo trumpet, double reeds, shakuhachi and bass are integrated within the composition. As band members move throughout from aleatoric solos to tutti and contrapuntal passages, he adds walking to keyboardist Martin Wolfrum’s precise chording, while under both, Sunk Pöschl’s drums clatter and pop; or lets his pinched reed contrast with upturned harmonies from ICI’s three woodwinds and trombone. The ensemble never nestles in any style or genre. Roger Jannotta’s faux-baroque piccolo decorations are as germane to the performance as Markus Heinze’s guttural baritone sax snorts, while oscillated processes from Gunnar Geisse’s laptop or trombonist Christofer Varner’s sampler are responsible for the composition’s outer-space-like undertone. Meanwhile the downward shifting of Johanna Varner’s spiccato cello lines join with Wolfrum’s dynamic chording to propel the horns away from dissonance towards linearism. The finale, Let’s Change the World, not only refers back to the head, but weaves gradually diminishing string scrubs, piano key pummels and alternately breathy or splintering reed tones into an echoing statement.

Another bassist/composer is Nicolas Caloia, whose Quartet CD Tilting (www.nicolascaloia.net), is a microcosm of Montreal’s scene. Completed by saxophone/flutist Jean Derome, pianist Guillaume Dostaler and percussionist Isaiah Ceccarelli, the disc highlights the bassist’s approach. While Caloia’s connective ostinato is felt throughout, this high-energy showcase gives everyone space. Impressive on each of his horns, Derome’s bass flute adds appropriately breathy tones, evolving contrapuntally with Dostaler’s comping on Stare. Meanwhile the husky textures Derome propels from baritone saxophone make Locked a stop-time swinger, especially when Ceccarelli’s solo folds flams, shuffles and ratamacues together. Derome’s singsong alto phrasing is all over the other two pieces, both of which feature brief but attentive solos from Caloia, whose string slaps and thumps concentrate the action. The pianist’s languid note cascades are showcased spectacularly on Safety where he interrupts Derome’s forays into false registers with an interlude of harmonized chording and rubato key fanning.

As this group of sound explorers join many others of similar quality during the annual GJF, it’s not surprising that this little festival has reached satisfying maturity without the compromises that impinge on many larger celebrations.

01_fern_lindzonTwo Kites

Fern Lindzon

Iatros IM02 (www.fernlindzon.com)

On pianist/vocalist/composer Fern Lindzon’s sophomore recording, she explores themes of spiritual and emotional transcendence as well as the kinaesthetic experience of soaring through, around and above the natural elements of wind, sea and sky. The musical journey is an eclectic one, featuring original material, Brazilian and Yiddish compositions as well as blues and a medley of Broadway standards – even so, there is a unifying creative intent on this breathtakingly beautiful album. For “Two Kites” she has enlisted gifted collaborators bassist George Koller (who also wears the producer hat), Mike Murley on saxophones and Nick Fraser on drums.

The jaunty title track comes from Antonio Carlos Jobim (who wrote the music as well as the English lyrics) and deliciously coalesces all of the thematic elements of the album.

Lindzon has a consummate ability to sing in Yiddish. On Dona Dona and Yam Lid/Lustige Chasidm/Balkan Bella-Busta, she effortlessly combines an ethnic sensibility with decidedly contemporary elements - all the while wrapping her tongue around the unforgiving German dialect. George Koller`s rich and extensive background in world music can be felt throughout.

Memorable tracks include the original instrumental All Fall Down where Lindzon’s intricate, yet commanding piano technique is a perfect fit for Murley’s lithe soprano work, which weaves in and out of Koller and Fraser’s pulsing lines. Also noteworthy are the haunting Distance by consummate vocalist Norma Winstone and Lindzon’s original, Grey Green, on which her evocative vocal, harmonically complex arrangement and Bill Evans-ish piano solo coupled with the inspired work of her ensemble, make this an undeniable stand-out.

02_green_edge_skygreen edge sky, green edge sun

Mark Kieswetter; Ross MacIntyre

Independent (www.cdbaby.com/cd/markkieswetter)


It’s always nice – and a relief – when the playing you hear on a CD is as elegant and evocative as its title (and title track). Indeed, that is the case with pianist Mark Kieswetter and bassist Ross MacIntyre’s newly released CD, ever-so-evocatively entitled, “green edge sky, green edge sun” (no clumsy caps, here). It is a beautiful album, exquisitely executed by two outstanding musicians who clearly “get” each other. Kieswetter and MacIntyre have captured the true essence of what the best piano/bass duos are all about: elegance, economy, precision, fluidity, style, intimacy, grace, and that magical, intangible chemistry – the simpatico.

Indiana-born Kieswetter spent a chunk of time in Toledo, making quite a name for himself – he was referred to in one article as “Toledo, Ohio piano legend Mark Kieswetter” – prior to arriving in the Big Smoke in 2002. And the accolades didn’t stop at the border. He’s been the pianist-of-choice for many Toronto-based, talented jazz artists (with obvious good taste), including Heather Bambrick, Emilie-Claire Barlow and The WholeNote’s own Ori Dagan. I have it on good authority that at the May 31 CD Release (at the very hip Gallery 345), there were at least two dozen singers in the room who regularly work with Kieswetter. That, in itself, speaks volumes about the man’s skill.

The other guy’s skill ain’t nothing to sneeze at, either. Ross MacIntyre (born, raised and based in Toronto), is one of the most in-demand side musicians in Canada. When he’s not in the studio, or playing in town alongside local luminaries like Reg Schwager and Mike Murley, to name but a few, he’s touring the world with the likes of Matt Dusk, Elizabeth Shepherd and Barlow. He’s also the house bassist for Lisa Particelli’s weekly “Girls Night Out Vocalist-Friendly Jazz Jam” at Chalkers Pub. The man is busy.

Despite their whirlwind schedules, it was meant to be for these two highly respected musicians to take a breath and take the time to make some great music together. We’re lucky that they did. They’ve gifted us with 13 tracks including gorgeous and creative arrangements of classics such as Green Dolphin Street (chosen in keeping with the CD cover’s “green theme” perhaps?), Lerner and Loewe’s The Heather on the Hill and, the final track, Bill Evans’ We Will Meet Again, as well as Kieswetter’s original title track and his harmonically haunting Ask Alice. Let’s hope they’ll consider producing a second CD down the road.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that Kieswetter’s six-year old grandson, Isaac, provided the enchanting – and yes, evocatively “green-hued” – cover art for the album. Hmmm… a serious artistic streak appears to run in the family. Ya think?



03_anita_odayLet Me Off Uptown

Anita O'Day

Mr. Music MMCD-7027 (www.worldsrecords.com)

For those of us who believe Anita O’Day was one of the most important among jazz singers, this brand new release of previously unavailable live material is a divine treat. Those not in the know should Google O’Day’s mind-blowing renditions of Sweet Georgia Brown and Tea for Two, filmed by Bert Stern at the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival. With these two cuts as bonus tracks, this CD features four other selections from that famous set, including a brilliantly phrased Have You Met Miss Jones and a droll ditty referred to as the novelty number, Varsity Drag.

Also included are several impressive performances from the late 1950s, O’Day’s heyday. Take The Man I Love recorded at the 1957 Timex All-Star Jazz Show: she starts off rubato, decorating phrases expertly with dissonance; then, improvising like the finest of horn players, she swings the melody to Mars and back, but never loses the lyric in the process. Four Brothers and Love Me or Leave Me demonstrate O’Day’s incredible ease with fast tempos; her time feel is infectiously on the money and she is never rushed, always relaxed. The singer’s cool, tongue-in-cheek approach is best exposed on vehicles like Honeysuckle Rose, which she performed literally thousands of times in her career, but never the same way twice. Personnel includes Benny Goodman, Jack Sheldon, Lionel Hampton, Flip Phillips and others jazz greats. This CD is a worthwhile jazz history lesson. A bargain at any price.

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