01_bedardJazz in Quebec is a vigorous element of French-Canadian culture, though all too infrequently experienced in these parts. However, Montreal label Effendi has recently released a bumper crop of albums by provincial stalwarts that underscore the lively musical health of its practitioners. One features veteran bassist Alain Bédard, who skilfully demonstrates his roles as leader, anchor, frequent soloist and rhythmic engine of his Auguste Quintet on Alain Bédard – Homos Pugnax (Effendi FND 115 www.effendirecords.com). He wrote five of the ten tracks that include four by bandsmen and Carla Bley’s Fleurs Carnivores, which he’s arranged impressively. Supported by the nimble, versatile sax of Frank Lozano (mainly soprano), pianist Alexandre Grogg and subtle drummer Michel Lambert, Bédard has created an enticing album full of interest, unusual time signatures and sparkling work by all.

02_fieldIt’s odd to come across a fully-fledged band that’s only been around a short while yet clearly displays confidence and chemistry. Mike Field – Ashes (MFJCD 1101 www.mikefieldjazz.com) is a pleasing quintet outing led by trumpeter Field, a veteran of musical forms other than jazz, performing with tenor saxist Paul Metcalfe, pianist Matt Newton, bassist Carlie Howell and drummer Dave Chan. The boss wrote all nine pieces here, some with unconventional structures and all executed with considerable panache, though the music’s more unblemished than exhilarating. Field plays with authority, with obvious tonal smarts and ear-catching virtuosity. His album strongly suggests future success.

03_rombergIndefatigable drummer Barry Romberg has put out 11 CDs over the past decade featuring his Random Access combos and the newest maintains the group rep for sustained excitement and relentless drive. Recorded live at the Rex, Barry Romberg’s Random Access – Unplugged Live (Romhog Records 121 www.barryromberg.com) has the usual suspects in play for 70 minutes encompassing just four tunes – guitarist Geoff Young, keyboardist Robi Botos and power electric bassist Rich Brown. Guesting is American tenor saxist Donny McCaslin, who’s more than comfortable with the striking free improv that is RA’s trademark, his staccato phrasing meshing well with Young’s distinctively spiky approach, Brown’s gouging grooves and the fierce energy from keys and drums. The more-than-22 minutes of the burning In Pursuit is a stirring highlight, Botos sparkling on electric piano.

04_keith_priceThe guitar toted by Winnipeg’s Keith Price makes untypical, attractive sounds, quickly manifested on his sophomore album The Keith Price Trio/Quintet – Gaia/Goya (KP201102 www.keithprice.ca). Bell-like chords, shining echoey notes, shimmering resonances are heard, which gives this disc surprising heft considering that it occupies only a measly 41 minutes as it combines four indie-pop tunes performed by his trio with bass Julian Bradford and drummer Curtis Nowosad and a six-part suite which adds alto saxist Neil Watson and pianist William Bonness. The groupings are well integrated, no one stepping out of line, though the pulse team is allotted occasional flights of fancy. The suite’s components come across as more fully realized, with a freshness of expression and frequent servings of heat.

05_butlerMontreal pianist Taurey Butler has plenty to offer on his impressive debut recording as leader, the self-titled Taurey Butler (Justin Time JUST242-2 www.justin-time.com), 11 cuts where he unabashedly illuminates his respect for late genius Oscar Peterson without consciously emulating him. The ferocious swing, eloquent skill at speed, pounding left hand and showy imagination are all there, however, markedly on opening burners Sunrise, Sunset and The Lady Is A Tramp. Butler gets exemplary support from bassist Eric Lagacé and drummer Wali Muhammad throughout, though the trio’s work on ballads is less satisfying than the verve they show on tunes mid-tempo and up, like the catchy Butler contributions An Afternoon Downtown and Grandpa Ted’s Tune, the latter a surging procession of ideas. And you can’t say OP doesn’t spring to mind on Butler’s tearaway Nobody’s Here.

06_mississaugaBig bands don’t rule the jazz roost nowadays but they’re often worth a listen, as is the case with Mississauga Big Band Jazz Ensemble – On The Periphery (MBBJE 5-2 rboniface@rogers.com), which offers 14 tunes and 73 minutes of classy, sprightly entertainment recorded live at Arnold’s Sports Bar in Oakville. The opening Steamsville is brisk and bright with gritty alto by Gary Martin, who also shines on Aluminum Baby. Section work is mostly splendid though soloists vary widely in ability (10 players get solo opportunities). The ensemble sounds best on relaxed material, especially well-worn standards, but it can swing hard and clearly enjoys challenging choices, including pieces from Burt Bacharach, the Average White Band and Charlie Mingus. Vocalist Catherine McGregor holds her own on four songs.

07a_cinque07b_weedsThree worth seeking: If you’re in the mood for tight fusion try Cinque - Catch A Corner (Alma ACD83012 www.almarecords.com), a quintet featuring Robi Botos, John Johnson and Joey DeFrancesco. For forceful swing there’s Cory Weeds – Just Like That (Cellar Live CL031311 www.cellarlive.com), a quartet helmed by Vancouver alto saxist Weeds with pianist Tilden Webb’s trio. If you want groove and funk hear Jason Raso – The Red Arrow (Summit Records DCD 569 www.jasonrasomusic.com), which showcases the Guelph-based bassist in action with assorted colleagues including B3 master Tony Monaco and drummer Ted Warren.07c_jason_raso

01_williamsonruppAlmost from the time the professional music business was established in this country, the expected route for success has been for artists to head off to the larger market down south and set up shop there. Canadians from Percy Faith and Maynard Ferguson to Joni Mitchell and Teresa Stratas effectively followed that formula. But today, as American musical hegemony lessens and modern communications almost literally shrink the world, musicians, especially those who play improvised music, can demonstrate that a permanent home in Europe is as beneficial as becoming an American resident. Take Vancouver-born Joe Williamson for instance. On Weird Weapons 2 (Creative Sources CS197 CD www.creativesourcesrec.com), the bassist, who now lives in Stockholm after stints in London, Berlin and Montreal, is matched with German guitarist Olaf Rupp and drummer Tony Buck, an Australian turned Berliner, for two extended selections of intuitive improv. No lounge guitar trio, this band creates sonic sparks that almost visibly fly every which way. Rupp’s constant, intense strumming often elasticizes into slurred fingering as Buck buzzes drumstick on cymbals, pops his toms, door-knocks his snares and rattles and reverberates any number of bells, chains and wood blocks for additional textures. Keeping the improvisations grounded is Williamson, who splays, stretches or saws upon his instrument’s strings, scroll and body wood when he’s not creating added continuum by slapping out pedal point resonation. On the nearly 30-minute Buckram, the three reach such a level of polyphonic coherence that the cumulative textures seem to ooze into every sonic space. Moving to the forefront then fading back into the ensemble, Rupp pinpoints jagged licks that eventually accelerate to stentorian multi-string runs, as Buck concentrates pitter-pattering and agitatedly clanking into tremolo whacks. Finally, a climax is reached, as Williamson’s multi-string variations, consisting of col legno strokes vibrating with a near-electronic pulse, push the three to a decisive conclusion.

02_hopscotchLess than 300 kilometres southwest, in Copenhagen, lives drummer Kevin Brow, an Orangeville native and part of the trio on Hopscotch (ILK 179 CD www.ilkmusic.com), completed by Italian-born tenor saxophonist Francesco Bigoni, another Copenhagen resident, plus local guitarist Mark Solborg. Paced and cooperative, Brow’s rhythmic sensibility here is like Williamson’s on the other CD. Brow’s backbeat alternately advances or bonds the others’ extended techniques during ten notable improvisations. With Solberg’s solos including distorted power chords with rock music antecedents plus organ-like echoes, and Bigoni’s bitten-off reed strategies accelerating to intense, repetitive phraseology, the drummer’s playing creates thematic definition. Case in point is Almost. Before Brow’s hard thwacks define a conclusive tipping point where unison harmonies from the guitarist and saxist advance to similar legato patterning, the variegated strategy from each differs markedly. Solberg’s licks are trebly and echoing, while Bigoni’s behind-the-beat tones split and squeak. The percussionist can also express himself more forcefully as he does with carefully positioned press rolls and flanges on Brainwashing. Meantime the saxophonist appears to be exploring the limits of his instrument with intense vibrato, lip bubbling sprays and pressurized staccato tones, as serpentine guitar strokes harden into splayed fingering plus crunching, echoing twangs, leavened by a bit of amp buzz. Bigoni’s tone alternates among magisterial reed quivers, speech-like inflection and legato lines, which helps define the remaining tracks’ scope(s).

03_spliceOver in the United Kingdom, the band Splice consists of two British players – trumpeter Alex Bonney and drummer Dave Smith – plus French reedist Robin Fincker who has lived in London for a dozen years, and Montreal-born Pierre Alexandre Tremblay. Tremblay, who plays bass guitar and electronics, has taught at England’s University of Huddersfield since 2005 and oversees its electronic music studio. Perhaps that’s why this disc is entitled Lab (Loop Records 1013 www.loopcollective.org). It certainly has a more extensive electronic palate than the others. Although slippery and shuddering bass guitar runs are heard infrequently throughout, Tremblay’s electronics maintain the sometimes opaque methodical pulsations which pervade the disc. A track such as The Wanderer is smooth and bouncy, built on Fincker’s chromatic clarinet runs, Bonney’s trumpet obbligatos, a shuffle drum beat and electroacoustic colouring that could be Arabic music played on an accordion. The blurry wave forms which elsewhere quiver alongside, process or complement instrumental textures such as alphorn-like vibration from Fincker’s tenor saxophone, Bonney’s brassy or muted asides and drum pops and backbeat, are more upfront on Luna Verde. Stacked horn lines, sliding bass guitar licks and percussion rebounds are accompanied by processed textures that come in-and-out of aural focus. This crackling interface concretely outlines the theme statement from the harmonized horns.

04_tony_malabyNot surprisingly of course, the stateside lure still exists and is beneficial for some musicians. Vancouver-born, Toronto-educated pianist Kris Davis, has, after a decade in New York, become one of the go-to musicians there. While the Canadians on the other CDs may provide the backdrop for improvisations, Davis not only plays on Novela (Clean Feed CF 232 CD www.cleanfeed-records.com), by Tony Malaby’s nine-piece band, but wrote all the arrangements and conducts. A career retrospective for Malaby, Davis recasts six of his original compositions to show off his tenor and soprano saxophone prowess. The extended Remolino, for example, is given a Mexicali flavour by intertwined horn lines broadened with Dan Peck’s harsh tuba snorts and drummer John Hollenbeck’s press rolls. Dramatic chording from the pianist introduces a Malaby soprano saxophone solo which reaches an elevated level of pressurized multiphonics before downshifting to moderato timbres in unison with the other horns. Before a climax of piano key plinks and a brass fanfare, the saxophonist winds his way among clanks and scrapes from the percussionist and trombonist Ben Gerstein’s brays as close harmonies are produced by alto saxophonist Michael Attias, baritone saxophonist Andrew Hadro and Joachim Badenhorst’s bass clarinet. Carefully shaping arrangements to expose distinct sound tinctures like xylophone rhythms or plunger trombone friction, Davis makes Floral and Herbaceous another highpoint. Following trumpeter Ralph Alessi’s lead and ending with a crescendo of staccato noises, the tune plays out as a duel between Malaby’s distinctive soprano reed bites and a sequence of more muted tones from the baritone saxophonist.

Whether it’s as co-leader, arranger, teacher or improviser, each of these Canadians appears to have found the proper foreign context for his or her musical development.

02_School_DaysSchool Days

Steve Lacy; Roswell Rudd; Henry Grimes; Dennis Charles

Emanem 5016 www.emanemdisc.com

Nearly 50 years later it seems unbelievable, but this all-star quartet broke up after a couple of years of almost no work because few wanted to support a band that exclusively played what was then thought of as far-out music by pianist/composer Thelonious Monk. Yet, on the basis of the material recorded here in 1963, with Henry Grimes’ stentorian walking bass timbres and Dennis Charles’ free-flowing drum beats, soprano saxophonist Steve Lacy and trombonist Roswell Rudd were already so familiar with the Monk canon that they were able to create their own swinging variations on such now-familiar Monk fare as Monk’s Dream and Brilliant Corners.

The seven spiky and unconventional songs, recorded in a New York coffee house by the late Toronto poet Paul Haines, then resident in Manhattan, demonstrate how Lacy’s gritty, yet lyrical tones imposingly blended with the modern gutbucket styling of Rudd. These treatments of Monk’s inimitable compositions also suggest the distinctive concepts that would help Lacy (1934-2004) develop into a major improviser and admired composer during the rest of his life.

As an added bonus this reissue contains two bootleg sound quality tracks – not recorded by Haines – from a 1960 jazz festival appearance with Lacy as a member of a Monk combo of heavyweights, the pianist, drummer Roy Haynes, bassist John Ore and tenor saxophonist Charlie Rouse. Historically matchless, the versions of Ba-Lue Bolivar Ba-Lues-Are and Skippy provide insight, showing how Lacy’s tart, taut tone created a sonic role for itself within the tight-knit group’s performances.

03_Sophie_MilmanIn the Moonlight

Sophie Milman

eOne Entertainment EOM-CD-215 (www.eonemusic.ca)

Vocalist Sophie Milman’s latest disc, In the Moonlight is a trip through the Great American Songbook (with a short detour by way of Feist) which places her on a new tier of her remarkable evolution as a jazz vocalist. Ms Milman is the veritable Grace Kelly of jazz – elegant, beautiful, skilled and always in good taste. Produced by Matt Pierson (who is responsible for discovering jazz star Joshua Redman, among others), the CD was recorded at famed Sear Sound in NYC and boasts an all-star line-up of jazz luminaries such as Gerald Clayton, Lewis Nash, Romero Lubambo, Randy Brecker and Chris Potter, matched with innovative arrangements by Rob Mounsey, Gerald Clayton, Julian Loge, Gil Goldstein, Alan Broadbent and Kevin Hayes. In addition, we are treated to six tracks with orchestral components – inspired settings for Milman’s luminous voice and persona.

This recording is the splendid result of exquisitely talented pairings between instrumentalists, arrangers and vocalist. The Oscar winning title track was written by The Bergmans for the 1980s re-make of the film Sabrina. Milman’s version utilizes strings in interplay with her lower register, in order to capture every romantic nuance. From The Music Man comes ’Til There Was You, rendered by Milman with a profound intimacy - a new twist on this familiar Broadway powerhouse. Also wonderful is Serge Gainsbourg’s romantic Ces Petits Riens, enhanced by atmospheric accordion work from pianist/arranger Gil Goldstein. Milman’s quick, parfait-like vibrato and impeccable phrasing is an elegant fit for this genre. This is a beautifully produced, recorded and performed CD – a perfect holiday gift!

01_Guido_BassoIs it possible to sound better than perfect? This improbable intellectual puzzle came to mind thanks to the new CD from Guido Basso, his first in eight years. His work on trumpet and flugelhorn has always been exemplary but he’s surely attained new heights on Changing Partners (Rhythm Tracks RTCD0015 www.cdbaby.com), an 11-tune excursion recorded over two years with five top-notch collaborators in duet formats. These settings, with no plan, no charts and no rehearsal, result in playing that’s often passionately inspirational, with wit and bravura technique added to his customary mellow fluency in all genres. His colleagues are pianists Robi Botos, John Sherwood and Don Thompson plus guitarists Lorne Lofsky and Rob Piltch. Botos is a particularly effective foil on three cuts, notably a sparkling There Is No Greater Love and a frolicking Down By The Riverside but there are no duds here. On Goodbye Basso adds a moving segment employing late bandleader Rob McConnell’s valve trombone in honour of his long-time associate. Apparently there’s plenty of material available for a second volume. Do it soon.

02_Kevin_DeanAnother stylish veteran trumpeter is Montreal’s Kevin Dean, always eloquent and always striking. On Kevin Dean Quartet - A Message From The Dean (Cellar Live CL060711 www.cellarlive.com) he demonstrates an assured, flowing yet unhurried approach with a big, round sound that has none of the rough edges you’d expect in a jazzer schooled in hard bop. He’s also an imaginative composer, penning all ten tunes on which he has well-seasoned support from splendid pianist Andre White, bass Alex Walkington and drummer Dave Laing. The opening Famous Last Words is particularly impressive, Gone By Morning brisk and bracing with Dean’s contribution seemingly effortless despite daunting structure, in marked contrast to the yearning ballads Ultra Sounds and Thank You Notes. Quality is high throughout, concluding with the lovely Epitaph.

03_Bill_EvansMore great music emanates from Montreal on Donato Bourassa Lozano Tanguay - Autour de Bill Evans (Effendi FND112 www.effendirecords.com), an all-star quartet showcasing the current cornerstones of that city’s superior jazz history. The group led by excellent pianist François Bourassa tackles the repertoire of Bill Evans, the lyrical master who died in 1980, although of the disc’s 11 tunes just four are Evans originals. This tribute pushes the right buttons, sounds classic yet up-to-date and highlights the considerable talents of the team, with saxman Frank Lozano adept at capturing Evans’ melodic strengths, bass Michel Donato’s rich deep tones proving a super-strong anchor, drummer Pierre Tanguay exercising his precise subtleties and the leader his expansive imagination and crafted harmonies. The band’s easy cohesion and flair for innovation within the tradition will ensure this album is a candidate for top ten year-ending lists.

CD Note: Effendi has recently issued four more classy discs by Montreal headliners, groups led by Lozano (Destin), pianist Josh Rager (Kananaskis), saxophonist Alexandre Cote (Transitions) and bassist Alain Bédard (Homos Pugnax).

05_Gelcer_HoffertPianist Paul Hoffert and drummer Jim Gelcer have long paid their musical dues (Hoffert a founder of Lighthouse) but their jazz inclinations get a workout here on Gelcer Hoffert Trio - How High The Bird (Breaking Records 110110 www.paulhoffert.ca), an 11-track exploration combining classic standards, much unison playing by the principals (bass duties shared by Lew Mele, Russ Boswell and Justin Gray) and a large dose of Thelonious Monk. The combinations don’t always work – the opening All Weep For Blues has definitive parts of All Blues and Willow Weep For Me and so on – but this seems just enforced cleverness rather than boundary-breaking concept. Elsewhere the unison work is more appealing, while the basics of Monk’s great compositions like Straight No Chaser and Well You Needn’t need no tampering and are handled well, as is Moe Koffman’s hit Swinging Shepherd Blues (done in 5/4). I didn’t care for Gelcer’s channelling Chet Baker vocals.

04_Bob StandardBob Stevenson is probably better known hereabouts as Robert Stevenson, long a force in classical circles as former artistic director of innovative Arraymusic and many other roles. He’s also into jazz improv, demonstrated on The Bob Standard - Out Of Nowhere (Urban Meadow www.urbanmeadow.ca), his clarinet aided by guitarist Justin Haynes, bassist Victor Bateman and eclectic percussionist Blair Mackay. They tackle ten standards, trying to make the chestnuts palatable in different ways – like avant-garde music without its frequent ventures into the ugly. Results can be bizarre; witness the ensemble output on Out Of Nowhere and the sonic massacre perpetrated on Softly, As In A Morning Sunrise. The leader hews closest to familiar melodies while his subversive team assaults harmony, rhythm and a whole lot more. However, this risky venture is always interesting; Caravan works.

06_Phil DwyerJazz with strings was a popular experiment when bebop arrived, but mega-talented saxophonist, pianist and composer Phil Dwyer has gone much further, creating a violin concerto integrating jazz and classical music. On the enterprising – and beautifully recorded – Phil Dwyer Orchestra - Changing Seasons (Alma ACD10252 www.almarecords.com) he employs 21 strings led by admirable violinist Mark Fewer and a 17-piece jazz band. It’s a seamless showcase, a pleasing companion to baroque composer Vivaldi’s 18th century triumph, The Four Seasons.

07_Have_Yourself_A_MerryIf you must have Christmas fare but don’t want to cringe at the season’s usual mawkish musical sentiments, get Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas (Justin Time JUST 245-2 www.justin-time.com). The album features performers such as Oliver Jones, Diana Krall, Rob McConnell, Montreal’s Jubilation Gospel Choir and some fine but undervalued singers.

Despite the regular spouting from doomsayers, there’s still a tsunami of jazz discs being released, especially south of the border. Here’s an American six-pack that appealed to me in 2011.

01_Rudresh_MahanthappaPride of place goes to Rudresh Mahanthappa, who on Sandhi (ACT 9513-2) plays alto sax (and laptop) and is joined by guitar, drums and a percussionist on South Indian drums as well as Toronto’s Rich Brown on electric bass. Intriguing melodies and rhythms are explored in depth with bright tones and ever-swirling grooves.

02_Delfeayo_MarsalisThe trombone-playing member of jazz’s first family is Delfeayo Marsalis. With a star-studded big band he offers Sweet Thunder (Troubadour Jazz Records TJR092110) in which he deftly and delicately reinterprets the music composed in the 1950s by Duke Ellington for Stratford’s Shakespeare festival.

03_Wadada_Leo_SmithTrumpeter Wadada Leo Smith heads the double-CD Heart’s Reflections (Cuneiform Records Rune 330/331) where a massed and mostly electric ensemble (two more on laptops) create unruly, exciting and funky music way beyond Sun Ra that also lets the leader show his spiritual side - and displays the influence of Miles Davis.

04_Ambose_AkinmusineNew trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire is a Monk Institute Competition winner who on When The Heart Emerges Glistening (Blue Note 509990 70619 2 9) leads a top-flight quintet featuring pianist Gerald Clayton in an inspired, adventurous and fresh probe into the future of 21th century jazz.

05_Miguel_ZenonAlto sax ace Miguel Zenón, a recipient of a $500,000 MacArthur “genius” grant, takes a large group on Alma Adentro: The Puerto Rican Songbook (Marsalis Music MARS 0016) through the melodic history of the Caribbean islands via ten well-known songs – a delightful fusion of jazz and Latin traditions.

06_Mostly_Other_PeopleDespite its ludicrous nomenclature Mostly Other People Do The Killing is a provocative quartet that presents original ideas and a passion for loud, furious assaults on the senses on Forty Fort (Hot Cup 091). It offers quirky trumpet, menacing sax, thunderous bass and splashy drums more extreme than The Bad Plus. They’re also big on wit.

01_DubocTraditionally, holiday time gets people thinking about CD box sets as gifts. But merely offering multi-disc best-of collections hardly shows originality. Instead the most valuable multiple CD sets are collected because, like the talented players featured here, the musicians literally had more ideas than could be expressed on even two discs. Take Paris-based bassist Benjamin Duboc for example. Probably the busiest and most inventive player of his instrument in French improvised music circles, Primare Cantus (AYLCD 098-099-100 www.ayler.com), a three-CD-set, highlights a different facet of his work on each side. A treat for double-bass fanatics, the solo work on Disc 1 demonstrates that by also using his voice and extended techniques the spatial program not only expresses the fascinating bass timbres but does so in a way that the resulting sounds seem electronically processed although thoroughly acoustic. Meanwhile Discs 2 and 3 are equally excellent showing how his mature style adapts to input from radically different ensembles. Accommodating his jagged bowing and hearty string smacks to the vibrations from saxophonists Sylvain Guérineau and Jean-Luc Petit plus cunning percussion asides from Didier Lasserre, results in concentrated sounds that are as accommodating as they are opaque. The fifth untitled track for instance, perfectly matches low-pitched bass arpeggios with the timbres of cymbal tops being gonged and gauged, while track nine climaxes with majestic glissandi from both reedists mated with Duboc’s speedy string scrubbing that completes the initial challenge between the bassist’s strums and subterranean snorts from Petit’s baritone plus fortissimo bites from Guérineau’s tenor. Pascal Battus’ guitar pick-up and the subtle introduction of field recordings give Disc 3 more of an electronic cast. Overall, with Sophie Agnel concentrating on fishing out unexpected note clusters from her piano’s internal string set and Christian Pruvost mostly propelling pure air from his trumpet, the thesis is timbre expansion not swing. For instance, the bassist’s concentrated ostinato underpinning Battus’ bottleneck flanges, the trumpeter’s strained grace notes and Agnel’s mallet popping on the strings creates mercurial dynamism. Additionally, suggestions of billiard balls being racked or magnetic tape reels reversing provide unexpected tinctures in a sound field otherwise consisting of agitated bass licks, quivering piano strings and squealing brass. Overall, an aviary explosion from Pruvost, shaped by Agnel’s metronomic pitter-patter and Duboc’s pedal point is as exciting as anything recorded by Roy Eldridge with Oscar Peterson and Ray Brown.

02_Yellow_BellSo are the three CDs of improvisations from the well-matched Swedish duo of veteran Roland Keijser playing a variety of conventional and folkloric reeds in conjunction with Raymond Strid’s sensitive percussion output. Recorded live in a Stockholm club Yellow Bell (Umlaut UMADA 2 www.umlautrecords.com) offers a variety of moods and stratagems. Although Keijser – on piano – and the percussionist conclude with a stately reading of Monk’s Mood that’s all tremolo key clipping and drum rim smacks, most of the 32 tunes are far from the jazz canon. Spegelsång for example finds Keijser on stuttering saxophone and Strid’s thumping martial beat deconstructing a folk tune as its initial tone rows are played upside down in its second half. On Sohini the reedist’s tootles are from trussed metal whistles and Strid’s drags and flams could come from a djembe intonation, while Keijser uses a supple South Indian venu flute to play a variant of the Swedish Varför frågar du/Varför svarar du backed by snare shuffles and cymbal rattles. The most impressive display of this cross-cultural improv is evident on the title tune plus Kvällskvarpa/Dansa med moss. On the former, Keijser’s Sonny Rollins-like obbligatos transmogrify an ancient fiddle tune into near-jazz, while the latter is kept linear by Strid’s paradiddles and ruffs as mid-range clarinet glissandi diffuse from snake-charmer-like trills to splintered runs.

03_StanglSomeone who’s cognizant of Duboc’s plus Keijser’s and Strid’s influences plus many other notated and improvised tropes is Viennese guitarist Burkhard Stangl. Obviously no sufferer from false modesty, Hommage à moi (Loewenhertz loew 020 www.loewenhertz.at) presents 25 tracks of his oeuvre from 1993 to 2009 performed by groups ranging from duos to extended ensembles. Included are electro-acoustic compositions; notated and improvised music; an extended orchestral salute to English lutenist Robert Dowland; plus more contemporary influences and associates. The most affecting pieces are those created for quasi-improvised ensembles spurred by soloists such as British saxophonist John Butcher or Austrian trombonist Radu Malfatti. Konzert für Posaune und 22 Instrumente which seems to take its inspiration from Malfatti’s, microtonal vocabulary, contrasts flat-line, pressurized brass tones with an ensemble’s accelerating and vibrating polyphony. Highlights include slurred guitar fingering and the trombone’s incremental and widely spaced tongue slaps, squeaks and hollow-air vibrations. Quixotically, Concert for Saxophone and Quiet Players, featuring Butcher and a stripped-down ensemble is actually louder than the trombone concerto. Extended reed whorls encompassing tongue flutters are contrasted with contributions from the “quiet players” which include static crackles, dial-twisting quirks and field-recorded bird sounds plus flute flutters and intermittent percussion beats. Post-modern harmonization of 17th century vocalization and 21st century instrumentation, My Dowland puts countertenor Jakob Huppmann’s ethereal voice in the midst of romantic string progressions plus sampled aviary chirps which become increasingly agitated although Huppmann and the string section remain languid and moderato.

04_Howard_RileyMoving from orchestrations to a more singular but just as wide-ranging project is British pianist Howard Riley’s The Complete Short Stories 1998-2010 (NoBusiness NBCD 21-26 www.nobusinessrecords.com). Extended essays in the art of solo piano, these six CDs present 74 tracks which range in length from slightly more than one and a half minutes to almost seven and a half plus five novella-sized meditations from 2010. Someone whose interests include contemporary notated music as well as every variety of jazz, Riley’s showcases are consistent as well as brief. One of the most affecting tracks is For Jaki on CD 2, a bouncy ditty with Tin Pan Alley suggestions that honours the late American pianist Jaki Byard. Similarly the title tune is kinetic as well as dramatic, equally emphasizing high-pitched tremolo lines as well as a grounded narrative. Concision on the other hand, vibrates on the percussive harmonics which can be plucked from and strummed on the piano’s internal strings, while the steady lengthening lines of Another Time show harmonic references to Lennie Tristanto-like cool jazz. Riley’s discursive stop-time frequently recalls Thelonious Monk as on the tellingly titled Roots and elsewhere. Nonetheless, the extravagant dynamics he exhibits on The Opener are mirrored by his stentorian patterns on many other tunes, where Earl Hines-like walking bass notes and Cecil Taylor-like percussive runs vie for supremacy.

Adventurous listeners on anyone’s gift list would appreciate any of these sets.

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