01 Barry ElmesNight Flight
Barry Elmes Quintet
Cornerstone Records CRST CD 168 (cornerstonerecordsinc.com)

Renowned musician and composer Barry Elmes has again gathered up the best of the best in the Canadian jazz industry and released a captivating new record. The quintet he started in 1991 has seen a couple of changes recently with Chris Gale on sax and Pat Collins on bass added to the existing lineup of Brian O’Kane on trumpet and Lorne Lofsky on guitar. The album is a compilation of standards by greats such as Charles Mingus and Keith Jarrett, which Elmes and crew have revived in an enticing manner. Also featured in the tracklist is a new composition by the drummer himself, which starts off the record with a mellow and catchy groove. 

The bandleader has this to say about this latest release, “Each of these songs left a deep impression on me and this album serves as both a tribute to the composers and an opportunity to present new arrangements of their music.” Elmes’ appreciation and respect for these tunes and their composers is evident throughout the album, especially in the way that each piece has a unique, new take on it without changing the feel and charm found in the original songs. An example of that is Mingus’ Opus 3, which takes on a more laid-back feel in Elmes’ arrangement, but the drive and rhythmic prowess of the original is not lost in this relaxed version. A great album as a whole, perfect for any jazz-lover!

02 Brian DickinsonBallads
Brian Dickinson
Modica Music (modicamusic.bandcamp.com/album/ballads)

Although I have not had the good fortune to perform with the great pianist Brian Dickinson often, I do remember one opportunity in Vancouver that was both memorable and instructive. Between tunes, the band fielded questions from an audience that was comprised largely of music students. After one particularly inspired cascading passage of improvised up-tempo 16th notes by Dickinson, a student asked the Canadian pianist how he approached these sorts of speedy extemporizations. His answer, which was both practical and hilariously banal, was that one should take all the musical language that one knows how to do using eighth notes and simply play them twice as fast. I have learned a lot from Brian over the years, both as a colleague at work, but also by listening to him play live, and I found this advice to be eminently prudent.

I was reminded of this exchange while enjoying Dickinson’s terrific new recording Ballads, which features nine gorgeous solo piano pieces recorded on a beautiful Yamaha C7 during the COVID lockdown of 2020. I wondered if Dickinson would describe playing solo piano as like playing with a rhythm section, but only without one. Although I have not asked Brian about this, I imagine that the answer would be “no.” As is evident on this recommended 2023 release, Dickinson is fulfilling many roles as a solo pianist, coaxing forward the expansive and expressive range of the instrument as only an artist of his level of accomplishment is capable. The entire listening experience is pleasurable. Dickinson plays with the dependable greatness that jazz fans have come to expect from him, and the fact that this recording is a touching dedication to the late great jazz vocalist and educator Shannon Gunn makes it all the more special. 

03 Bernie SenenskyMoment to Moment
Bernie Senensky; Eric Alexander; Kieran Overs; Joe Farnsworth
Cellar Music CM080923 (cellarlive.com)

The pandemic knocked the performing arts into a near-total hiatus, and many speculated on whether we’d see a post-pandemic renaissance, or a tepid return to “normal.” Jazz’s return has been one marred with ups and downs, but it does feel like it’s brought the global community together in the highs and lows of the new normal. Veteran pianist Bernie Senensky’s Moment to Moment was recorded pre-pandemic at the CBC back in 2001 with two live tracks from 2020 added, and released in 2023. Today it sounds as current as ever, while maintaining a connection to the “before times.”  

Andrew Scott’s liner notes are also quick to point out Moment to Moment’s modern yet classic duality, for which Senensky selected the perfect personnel. American cohorts Eric Alexander and Joe Farnsworth are both sought-after leaders and sidemen in the New York area, where the group’s Canadian contingents have all paid their respective dues at one point or another too. Alexander and Senensky are featured on each of the album’s eight tracks, with Morgan Childs and Farnsworth alternating the drum chair, and Kieran Overs and Dave Young trading bass duties. Overs’ and Childs’ contributions to the quartet are from a live hit in Waterloo, Ontario and sound right at home amongst the six studio tracks.  

During my initial listening, I noted that Moment to Moment features more than one blues and a few tracks at similar tempos. With a less creative and engaging band, this could feel repetitive, but not in the hands of these masters!

04 Adi BraunNight and Day – The Cole Porter Songbook 
Adi Braun
Alma Records ACD91532 (almarecords.com) 

Backed by Don Breithaupt’s gargantuan arrangements, Adi Braun’s endlessly expressive voice embodies the world of every lyric, her choice of Cole Porter repertoire helps to weave a compelling thematic narrative and her gracefully imaginative phrasing refracts off the pristine orchestration to create a warm, celestial glow. Breithaupt’s orchestra in all of its exuberance and luster, seems to exist for Braun’s effortlessly unhurried time feel to envelope it; these two forces’ moments of impalpable coalescence feeling like proximity to a subdued fireplace, where nearness is best paired with the faintest layer of distance. 

In terms of the success of this symbiotic razor’s-edge dance, it would be tempting to say that credit goes to Breithaupt for not crowding Braun’s frequencies (and credit is certainly due as Breithaupt cultivates sweet, colourful, lush orchards of sound), but it is Braun who is largely playing both the mindful accompanist and driver of mood. Just One of those Things kicks off with an adrenaline shot of an upright bass intro courtesy of Pat Collins and the sheer steadfast vigour of his tone, with the strings resonating at a frequency that could slice right through the fingerboard. Braun finds herself occupying the space in the decay within each note Collins hammers out, nearing a whisper while staying just detached enough to allow the bass line to act as a buoy for our monologue of ephemeral affiliations. Then the extravaganza returns and Braun finds a renewed purpose for those gaps.

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05 Lauren BushTide Rises
Lauren Bush
Mighty Quinn Records MQR1166 (mightyquinnrecordsmusic.bandcamp.com/album/tide-rises)

Canadian born, UK-based singer Lauren Bush has released an eclectic album of both original songs and original-sounding covers. Although there are forays into other genres, the group mainly focuses on jazz with a mix of standards and modern takes. We’re put on notice about the serious skills at play with the opening track as Bush tackles the Clifford Brown vocal-cord twister Joy Spring with ease. 

As a sucker for a Fender Rhodes, I was taken by the more soulful/groovy numbers like the title track, which is a Longfellow poem given an urban ballad treatment. It has the bonus of showing Bush’s voice in a different light, as her straight tone can sound a bit strident in the upper register and on some of the up-tempo tunes. However, here and on some of the other laid-back tracks, her tone is softened and more relaxed. Throughout, Bush’s ability to put across a lyric is consistent and is one of her strong suits along with her improvising ability. 

The players – in particular keyboardist Liam Dunachie, who also doubles as arranger – are comfortable on acoustic and electric instruments as the style of song demands and Madrugada is a lovely lesser known bossa nova which highlights their versatility. It seems no Canadian singer’s album is complete without a Joni Mitchell tune; Bush and crew don’t disappoint with their beautifully reharmonized cover of The Circle Game.

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06 Caity GyorgyYou’re Alike, You Two
Caity Gyorgy; Mark Limacher
Independent (caitygyorgy.bandcamp.com/album/youre-alike-you-two)

Two-time Juno Award-winner in the Best Vocal Jazz Album category, Caity Gyorgy is back again with a fresh, snazzy album. The scintillating songstress has put her own twist on a few classic tunes by renowned composer Jerome Kern as well as thrown one of her own new songs into the mix, so this album does double duty – freshening up traditional pieces in addition to showcasing her skills as a composer. Throughout the album and taking into account her past releases, a unique streak runs through them, one that only a few talented musicians can truly master: the ability to breathe new life into traditional pieces and bring them into the modern day. Charm, wit and a certain je ne sais quoi from a bygone era are brought into the present through Gyorgy’s composition and her takes on famed tunes.

The multi-talent’s soaring yet mellow vocals are complemented and showcased perfectly by pianist Mark Limacher’s melodies and riffs. There’s something wonderfully satisfying about a record that is focused around the interplay between a voice and the piano; it’s simple, yet the way the two work together and collaborate brings in an intriguing level of complexity that one must really listen to in order to fully comprehend. Gyorgy’s own tune The Bartender is a standout and a snappy little musical response to some of her critics. Yet another fabulous release, this is a worthy addition to the jazz aficionado’s collection.

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07 John HerbermanSpring Comes Early
John Herberman
Ceola Records CR0003 (johnherberman.com)

Composer and pianist, John Herberman is not primarily known as a jazz musician, but has enjoyed a long, successful career as a screen composer/producer. He has received many international accolades for his 45 successful albums as well as record sales in the millions. Like his debut jazz recording of 2021, his new project also focuses on the jazz of the 50s and 60s, as exemplified by pianists such as the late Bill Evans and Ahmad Jamal. All of the well-constructed tunes here were written by Herberman, who performs on acoustic piano and Fender Rhodes, and he has surrounded himself here with a superb ensemble of noted jazz musicians.

The program begins with the lovely Courtenay Circle, which memorializes a street and time in Rochester where Herberman jammed with wonderful friends who have sadly both passed. This sweet track features both Mark Eisenman and Herberman on piano, and a stunner of a solo from bassist Paul Novotny. Next up is the thoroughly gorgeous Central Park West, which was inspired by a New York City Busker, wailing on his sax into the sticky, NYC summer night. Herberman brilliantly captures the mood on Rhodes here, with eminent alto saxophonist Verne Dorge, hauntingly soloing in the spotlight.

Another sumptuous track is Modalities – this delicious composition includes the evocative muted trumpet of John MacLeod, with a visceral harkening back to 1950s-era Miles Davis. Vibraphonist Mark Duggan adds his own luminous work to this stunner. Another highlight is the title track, which is a diaphanous homage to the iconic Evans, with Duggan and MacLeod (on flugelhorn) moving contiguously through the piece, propelled by Herberman on Rhodes. The exquisite Kevin Turcotte is featured on flugelhorn in the closer, Ballad for M.T., which also features Herberman on mesmerizing, sylph-like acoustic piano and Novotny on sinuous, emotive bass.

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