13 Art Ensemble of ChicagoThe Sixth Decade from Paris to Paris
The Art Ensemble of Chicago
RogueArt ROG-0123 (roguart.com)

After almost a decade of evolution in their hometown, The Art Ensemble of Chicago arrived in Paris in 1969, their combination of free jazz and theatricality (their slogan – Great Black Music: Ancient to the Future) was greeted as the embodiment of the incendiary protests that had rocked the city in the previous year. The band was welcomed with frequent performances and multiple recording offers. Five decades later most of the original members – saxophonist Joseph Jarman, trumpeter Lester Bowie and bassist Malachi Favors – are deceased. Only multi-instrumentalist Roscoe Mitchell and percussionist Famoudou Don Moye remain. They’ve chosen to reinvigorate the band’s legacy by expanding it with a substantial number of young musicians and an even broader musical lexicon, entering their sixth decade with a 20-member ensemble for this 100-minute Paris concert from 2020. 

It’s alive with potent moments, including brilliant individual instrumental performances from Mitchell and Moye, trumpeter Hugh Ragin, flutist Nicole Mitchell, cellist Tomeka Reid and trombonist Simon Sieger. True to the band’s history, however, it continues to press the envelope – musically, lyrically and culturally. The ensemble includes chamber musicians who can execute Mitchell’s Webern-esque scores; a mixed improvising ensemble that suggests Tibetan ritual music; and three percussionists and three bassists who can launch a polyrhythmic maelstrom. There is also a self-explanatory track called Funky AECO. There are concert vocalists and the spoken word calls to consciousness of Moor Mother, activist-orator with such groups as Sons of Kemet and Irreversible Entanglements. 

Mitchell and Moye have made of their longstanding collaboration a gift to contemporaneity and the possibilities of the future. It’s as much about that promise as it is a platform for two celebrated senior warriors of music.

14 Trio DeromeSi tu partais
Trio Derome Guilbeault Tanguay
ambiences magnetiques AM 272 CD (actuellecd.com)

Saxophonist/flutist/vocalist Jean Derome, bassist Normand Guilbeault and drummer Pierre Tanguay have been playing together as a trio for over 20 years, embracing a broad repertoire and becoming an essential component of Canadian jazz in the process. Here they play 11 compositions, handily supplying dates to mark the range from 1917 (The Original Dixieland Jazz Band’s Tiger Rag) to 1963 (Eric Dolphy’s Iron Man). Throughout, the trio is polished and intense, engaging, yet fully engaged. 

On the first track, Ornette Coleman’s The Disguise, Derome manages to be at least as buoyantly joyous as Coleman himself might have been, while Guilbeault and Tanguay provide ideal support, balancing intensity and lilt. Love Me or Leave Me, a standard, is fused with Lennie Tristano’s variant, the boppish Leave Me. On Sy Oliver’s ‘Taint What You Do, Derome’s vocal, rich in comic inflection, frames a virtuosic duet of bass and drums. While Derome is not a great singer in any conventional sense, there’s a special combination of musicality and wit at work here that illuminates the performance of Duke Ellington’s Mood Indigo, achieving a consummate elegance in the contrast between the rough-hewn vocal and the refined invention of the instrumentalists. 

An anthology of recordings from Jelly Roll Morton to Anthony Braxton can serve as an excellent introduction to jazz, but this might serve as well: Trio Derome Guilbeault Tanguay fully share the abundant joy that they take in adding their own spontaneous dimensions to this far-flung repertoire.

15 Matthew ShippThe New Syntax
Matthew Shipp; Mark Helias
RogueArt ROG-0124 (roguart.com)

Pianist Matthew Shipp and bassist Mark Helias are distinguished veterans of the New York City free jazz community, and this program of improvised duets is the embodiment of both their craft and their commitment. The very match of their instruments might suggest a contrast between the florid and fundamental, but that couldn’t be further from the reality. A few years ago, Shipp published an essay on “Black Mystery School Pianists” linking Thelonious Monk with a handful of other, mostly African-American musicians such as Randy Weston, Cecil Taylor and Andrew Hill, pointing to their rhythmic complexity and layering of harmonic systems. Shipp himself might be considered a member: here his rhythmic insistence and chorded density often conjoin with Helias to create music that’s both forceful and precise. At other times, the surgical precision of Shipp’s runs can suggest Bud Powell.  

Even gentler passages are often arrived at through passages of combined rhythmic force, witness Psychic Ladder or Acoustic Electric, in which taut figures give way to a spare lyricism. Conversely, Bridge to Loka moves from random dialogue to rhythmic unison. The effect can resemble shifting weather patterns, sunshine breaking through storm clouds and vice versa. The most lyrical moments, like The Mystic Garden, arise when Shipp’s melodic probes combine with Helias’s arco passages in a cello register, while The New Syntax has the two matching one another’s patterns so closely that they might be reading a score. It’s music that’s as consistently rewarding as it is demanding.

16 Sun Ras JourneySun Ra’s Journey featuring Marshall Allen
Tyler Mitchell Octet
Cellar Music CMSLF001 (cellarlive.com)

Sun Ra (born Herman Poole Blount) was a jazz composer, keyboard player and bandleader who was active from the 1950s to the 1980s. He was known for his claims of being an alien and many mystical allusions about space and time which could also be viewed as commentary on world politics and race. 

Sun Ra’s music included the history of jazz (ragtime, swing, fusion etc.) and many avant-garde elements. I was lucky enough to see him live in Toronto in the 80s and can confirm that each performance was an event. He combined melodic jazz tunes with great ensemble playing and solos that often went outside the traditional jazz sound; he also introduced synthesizers to provide some “other worldly” sonics. 

Both Tyler Mitchell and Marshall Allen played with Sun Ra for many years and Sun Ra’s Journey is a homage to their bandleader and his music. Care Free is a very swinging opener which showcases some excellent trumpet work from Giveton Gelin. Free Ballad begins with electronic sounds and works into a gorgeous alto sax solo from Allen that swoops between tonal and experimental. Sun Ra’s Journey is a delightful album that celebrates Sun Ra’s legacy by proving it is still alive and inspiring.  

17 UnwalledUnwalled
François Carrier; Alexander von Schlippenbach; John Edwards; Michel Lambert
Fundacja Sluchaj FSR 22/2022 (francoiscarrier.bandcamp.com)

What an incredible ensemble. Altoist François Carrier is a tornado of concepts, ideas and interjections that refuses to cease, providing galvanizing directionality to the music. Drummer Michel Lambert provides textural structures and contrapuntal formations that expand skyward while building laterally. Living legend pianist Alexander von Schlippenbach is a maestro and a master, who injects the music with adrenaline shots into every orifice, while weaving improvisational narratives one can almost tangibly see. Bassist John Edwards cannot help constantly being at the right place, at the right time, armed with thunderbolts of his own. 

What makes Unwalled flourish as a descriptor of this music, is that everybody seems to consider themselves a percussionist. Halfway through the title track, Edwards challenges the listener to guess whether he or Lambert are hitting things, with an incredible display of tuneful string-slapping that multiplies in density. Later on, Schlippenbach seems to predict Lambert’s lines before they’re played, while simultaneously opening and closing the door for Carrier to provide a rebuttal. The never-ending means Carrier finds to manipulate note duration is probably the most infectiously danceable aspect of this album. Who’s making the warbly glitch-in-the-matrix sounds on Open End feels as relevant as how they’re being made. The functional roles society assigns to specific instruments may be insurmountable parameters for most, but this marvellous group refuses to acknowledge their existence.

Ever since the J.C. Deagan company perfected the modern vibraphone in the late 1920s, decisions as to whether it should be used as a rhythm or a solo instrument have divided musicians. Some, like Lionel Hampton, emphasized the percussion functions, others, like Milt Jackson, perfected its melodic use. Improvised music accepts each of these functions – and a few more – as reflected on these discs.

01 Martin PyineTaking a cue from the subtle melodicism perfected by Chick Corea and Gary Burton on their series of duo discs are vibraphonist Martin Pyne and keyboardist David Beebee. But on Ripples (DISCUS 145 CD discus-music.co.uk) the two up the ante on the disc’s dozen selections by using electric piano tones to blend with vibe sonorities. The resulting improvisations involve elastic note vibrations from the plugged-in keyboard alongside sustained aluminum bar resonations. Some tracks are balladic, taking full advantage  of the ingenuity of the pianist, who also recorded the session, as he cushions the vibist’s languid, perfectly shaped single notes with tremolo comping. This is emphasized most clearly on the extended Seeking Refuge, where lyrical interludes from the vibist are backed with sympathetic piano chording. Modernity is emphasized as well since Pyne’s single notes ring as well as relate. The vibist’s ability to create perfectly rounded notes that can almost be visualized as teardrop shaped are then hardened into sustained accents when the two play staccato and presto. Glissandi created by mallet slides are sometimes as prominent as keyboard smears. The vibist’s sustain pedal pressure and firmer strokes also frequently confirm the instrument’s idiophone heritage with concise, powerful strokes. Still these instances as on Night Music and Peg Powler are never completely percussive since the latter includes stop-time interludes and the former a sand-dance-like solo from Pyne. With neither partner exclusively soloist nor accompanist the intersectional connection is always maintained. The duo defines each sequence effectively and frequently leaves a timbral ripple in the air after the selection is completed. 

02 Patricia BrennanMore percussion is featured on Patricia Brennan’s More Touch (Pyroclastic Records PR22 pyroclasticrecords.com), where the Mexican-born New Yorker adds electronics to her vibraphone and marimba narratives as she meets textures from Cuban percussionist Mauricio Herrera, and Americans, bassist Kim Cass and drummer Marcus Gilmore. Imagine Latin Music-leaning Cal Tjader amplifying his sound with electronics. At the same time, except for the final two tracks which are built around ratcheting Afro-Cuban repercussions and a solid Batá drum pulse respectively, influences far removed from the Southern Hemisphere are interpreted by what could be called a post-Modern Jazz Quartet. Brennan’s compositions touch on reggae and contemporary notated music and can sound as Arcadian as African and relate Mexican son jarocho to American swing. Textures are tweaked with electronic drones and oscillations and Cass’ supple string stops sometimes bend notes to blend with electronic wheezes and washes. Crucially though, he and Gilmore always retain the jazz groove. Extended tracks such as Robbin and the nearly 15-minute Space For Hour are treated as mini-suites. The first moves from emphasizing adagio raps from the vibist to downshifting to a silent interlude that gradually inflates with synthesized wriggles and whooshes. These join emphasized vibe slaps to build a livelier but still moderato connection. Silences separate sequences in Space For Hour, as Brennan’s skittering metal plinks start off unaccompanied until conga drum plops and cymbal clanks join them to outline the theme. As acoustic and electronic timbres are stretched, a vibe-bass duet limns a secondary theme at half the speed of the first. The subsequent multi-mallet pressure from the vibist is mirrored by bass string pops and drum ruffs to toughen the line. Finally, as the resulting stop-time exposition is intensified with drum and percussion reverb, a reprise of the vibes-bass duet preserves the original melody.

03 Dan McCarthyExcept for guitars and drums there’s no overt electronics or percussion on Toronto vibist Dan McCarthy’s Songs of the Doomed’s Some Jaded, Atavistic Freakout (TPR Records TPR 014 tprrecords.ca). But his disc aims to reflect the writing and over-the-top life of US Gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson (1937-2005). Probably less programmatic than McCarthy intended, the compositions and arrangements crafted for this 13-track CD, mix hints of Metal, pop, chromatic serialism and improv, adding up to a clever package of near-swinging lyricism. Negotiating the changes, besides the vibraphone’s chiming aluminum bars, are intersecting guitar riffs from Don Scott and Luan Phung, steadfast bass accents from Daniel Fortin and drummer Ernesto Cervini’s cooperative rhythms. Tracks like Some Jaded, Atavistic Freakout and Kingdom of Fear are more cinematic than others. The first includes rounded vibraphone plops that colour the exposition as the guitars turn from drones to harmony that almost suggest a string section. On the second, an intermingling of stentorian bass stops, percussion rubs and expanded guitar string jabs create vamps that are as menacing as those on any thriller soundtrack. Others, such as Owl Farm, are more concerned with the groove. While Fortin’s recurrent bass thumps and Cervini’s paradiddle shuffles create a continuum, string stabs slide the expressive theme out further and further as McCarthy emphasizes prestissimo clanks and echoes, with cadences as rhythmic as anything produced by Lionel Hampton. A throwback, only as far as Thompson’s early 1970s heyday, buzzing guitar flanges, double bass slaps and idiophone accents throughout the session maintain equivalence between the strident and the song-like. So, an exposition such as The High-Water Mark is as straight ahead as any soundtrack, but slightly twisted with interludes of rainstorm-like resonating notes. One 1960s recasting does misfire though with a vocal version of White Rabbit that is more plodding than psychedelic. However the quintet redeems itself by the concluding Evening in Woody Creek as McCarthy and Cervini provide appropriate pops and clatters to highlight Scott’s and Phung’s tolling Jimi Hendrix-like flanges, which relate back to the pressurized guitar feedback on the introductory Morning in Woody Creek.

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Adding horns and choral instruments, two European sessions position the vibraphone within the jazz continuum. All Slow Dream Gone (Moserobie MMPIP 128 moserobie.com) features Norwegian bassist Ingebrigt Håker Flaten with Swedes, clarinetist Per Texas Johansson, drummer Konrad Agnas and vibraphonist Mattias Ståhl. Meanwhile Windows & Mirrors | Milano Dialogues (Leo Records CD LR 931 leorecords.com) is even more pan-European with a quartet of two Finns: soprano/sopranino saxophonist Harri Sjöström and accordionist Veli Kujala and two Italians, trombonist Giancarlo Schiaffini and vibraphonist Sergio Armaroli.

04 All Slow Dream GoneContrapuntal sounds, the Scandinavian session All Slow Dream Gone contains enough unselfconscious swing to be reminiscent of a Benny Goodman small group session of the 1940s or ones with Terry Gibbs in the 1950s. But while these Northern Europeans have internalized hot and cool jazz, the airy sounds they produce include an undertow of studied toughness. Sure the bassist provides an unwavering pulse and there are frequent drum breaks, but when he solos, Flaten explores techniques unknown decades ago. As for the front line, whether it’s chalumeau register scoops or clarion twitters, Johansson’s tone is never forced and produces narrative advances in high, low or middle registers. Creating a woody marimba-like sound Ståhl turns off his instrument’s motor during the selection so that the notes project a hollow sustain, more earthy than elaborate. Skin is an instance of this. Played andante and vivace with never a note out of place, the vibe resonations and clarinet slurs and slithers maintain discerning motion in spite of hocketing pauses and individual interchanges with Agnas. Among the foot-tapping rhythms, maintained by the bassist’s walking, other tracks such as Slow – which isn’t – make room for the vibist’s swift, rolling glissandi and pinpointed clanks, while Gone lets the clarinetist snore and snarl his most ferocious low-pitched timbres as drum breaks and metal bar ringing keep the narrative symmetrical.

05 Windows MirrorsComing from a completely antithetical perspective is Windows & Mirrors | Milano Dialogues since its ten tracks are completely improvised. Also it’s the only disc here that doesn’t include a chordophone. This leaves expression and connection calculated through repetitive accordion tremors and resonating vibraphone clanks. For their part, the trombonist and saxophonist extend dissonant textures such as elephantine roars from Schiaffini and calculated peeps and slithers from Sjöström, as the non-horns maintain andante footing with knowing segues. If the trombonist unleashes a series of elongated plunger stutters and the saxophonist replies with biting howls or slippery bites, resonating metal pitter-patter and mid-range squeeze box shudders create a stabilizing continuum. The accordion and vibes aren’t relegated to mere background work either. Throughout the two related groups of free music tropes, each instrument asserts itself for solo introductions or in duet or trio form. A track such as Windows 5 for instance, is set up with Armaroli’s metallic pops, as the theme is kept moving with plunger brass portamento and irregularly vibrated reed slithers. Another distinct strategy is displayed on Mirrors 4, as Kujala‘s accordion squeezes create a beginning-to-end allegro pulse even as Schiaffini rumbles half-valve slurs that widen and shake the exposition. Sound summation comes on Mirrors 5, the extended concluding track. Emphasized vibe mallet splatters and malleable accordion judders join with gravelly brass breaths and reed vibrations for a climax that moves from tension-ridden to temperate, reflecting both the innovative and integral sides of the improvisations.

The conception and expression of vibraphone playing has come a long way in 100 years. On the evidence here it’s sure to keep evolving.

01 Caity GyorgyFeaturing
Caity Gyorgy
La Reserve Recordings (caitygyorgy.com)

With the opening barn burner, I Feel Foolish, singer-songwriter Caity Gyorgy puts us on notice of what’s to come on Featuring. It’s the first of many compelling songs she’s written for her latest release, and what’s to come is 13 tracks of vocal virtuosity and genuine jazz, ranging in style from swing to cool to bebop. 

Backed up by a hard-swinging trio (Felix Fox-Pappas, piano; Thomas Hainbuch, bass; Jacob Wutzke, drums) with guest appearances by guitarist Jocelyn Gould (who does a gorgeous duet with Gyorgy on the ballad, I Miss Missing You), fellow young phenom singer, Laura Anglade and a long lineup of horn and woodwind players, including Pat LaBarbera and Virginia MacDonald. Gyorgy solos effortlessly and extensively along with the master instrumentalists, but never sacrifices warmth or musicality for adroitness. Storytelling wins out even when vocal gymnastics are dazzling us, as they do on A Moment, featuring the remarkable Allison Au on sax. My Cardiologist is a masterclass on how to be both light-hearted yet seriously musical, with its witty take on what love does to our hearts. 

The accolades continue to pile up for Gyorgy since her debut release two short years ago, as she made Best of 2022 lists and won a Juno Award. I’m looking forward to seeing the rest of the world catch on as this homegrown talent expands her reach through tours in the U.S. and beyond. Track her progress at caitygyorgy.com.

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