02 Mathieu SoucyRecollecting
Mathieu Soucy
Inner-Bob Records (mathieusoucy.com)

Young jazz guitarist Mathieu Soucy, a recent graduate of McGill and a Montreal native, showcases his prolific compositional and technical skills on this debut album. Soucy adds his own twist to the songs, managing to both create a beautiful hark back to the eras of swing and bop while also bringing them into current times; making for a new classic of sorts. The record features an excellent set of musicians, with Gentiane MG on keys, Mike De Masi on bass, Jacob Wutzke on drums and Caity Gyorgy on vocals. Most pieces are penned by the guitarist himself with a couple of fresh takes on well-known jazz classics mixed into the musical pot pourri.  

Lennie’s Changes starts off the album with catchy, toe-tapping energy; fast-paced bass runs and a constant, driving beat keep this captivating little number moving until the last note fades. Where or When is a spiffy take on the Rodgers and Hart classic, featuring the sultry and mellow vocals of Gyorgy with Soucy’s talents as a guitarist splendidly coming to the forefront within the piece. 

The fascinating thing about this album is how Soucy manages to make these pieces sound as if they could have been written back in the golden era yet also fit incredibly well into the current musical landscape. With this invigorating album, the up-and-coming young guitarist shows that he definitely has more in store for the future.

03 Sam TaylorLet Go
Sam Taylor; Terell Stafford; Jeb Patton; Neal Miner; Willie Jones III
Cellar Music CM013122 (cellarlive.com)

Philadelphia native, tenor saxophonist Sam Taylor has a pure joy for both playing and writing music which shines through phenomenally on his latest release. Recorded at the legendary Van Gelder Studios in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, Taylor has managed to capture that aforementioned joy within each of these pieces and send it right to the ears and hearts of listeners; it’s impossible to not smile while listening through. The talented musician has brought together his musical heroes and inspirations in his backing band, featuring Terell Stafford on trumpet, Jeb Patton on piano, Neal Miner on bass and Willie Jones III on drums. The pieces are uplifting and fresh takes on jazz classics with one song penned by Taylor himself. 

The record is a ray of musical sunshine that brightens up the dreariest, grey winter days from the first note. A perfect balance of slower, mellow tunes and fast-paced, head-bopping ones make for an ear-pleasing, all-encompassing musical journey to satiate that itch for fresh music that you didn’t quite know you had. Luminescence stands out as a particularly energetic and snazzy piece with fantastic solos peppered throughout, showcasing each musician’s fine talents. Bye Bye Baby, a fitting title to end the record, leaves the listener with a sense of hope and positivity for the future as well as a curiosity to see what this prolific saxophonist comes up with next. A great addition to the jazz aficionado’s collection!

04 Francois HouleMake That Flight
François Houle & Marco von Orelli
ezz-thetics 1032 (hathut.com)

A barebones, but not budget flight, this 11-track itinerary is fuelled by only two instruments and the improvisational imaginations of Canadian clarinetist François Houle and Swiss cornetist Marco von Orelli. The key to microscopic interactive playing like this is to make the partnership expansive not reductive, creating as many harmonized or contrapuntal tropes as necessary. Not only are compositions divided between the musicians, but for every delicate reed tone and portamento brass sequence heard, an almost equal number of altissimo squeals and half-valve extensions balance the horizontal flow.

This is most expansively expressed on the concluding Morning Song 1 where the tune’s forward motion is speckled with shaking growls and toneless breaths from von Orelli and scoops and stretches from Houle. Eventually both intersect and resolve the tune with connected but distorted high pitches. Transitions aren’t always that abrupt, as dual sweeps up and down the scale are sometimes concluded with grace not suturing. Other times, as on a track like Tandem, the title is literally defined. Allegro cornet puffs and calliope-like clarinet peeps move through parallel shaking emissions only to finally connect with tandem-animated narratives.

Overall, while each sequence allows for individual technical expressions, all are resolved with lockstep ambulation or rondo-like affiliations, leading to broken octave linear motion. Without the need for electronic technology or more partners, Houle and von Orelli prove that together they can auspiciously fuel a memorable musical flight.

05 Ig HennemanOutside the Rain Has Stopped
Ig Henneman
Stichting Wig Wig 32 (abbaarsighennemanwig.bandcamp.com/album/outside-the-rain-has-stopped)

Canadians who only know Dutch violist Ig Henneman from her collaboration with the local Queen Mab duo, might not realize that in recognition of her lifetime in improvised and composed music The Netherlands made her a Knight of the Order of Oranje-Nassau in 2021. This CD presents many aspects of the 76-year-old’s extensive career in many idioms. 

The soundscape Bow Valley, which blends improv with Alberta’s Rocky Mountain area field recordings is one standout. While Anne La Berge’s flute flutters and Ab Baars’ shakuhachi trills are intertwined with rural sounds, the bucolic texture is repeatedly interrupted by passing freight train whistles and radios blaring rock music. Meanwhile Galina U, inspired by Russian composer Galina Ustvolskaya, posits a contrapuntal challenge between Ansgar Wallenhorst’s foghorn-like organ drones and dynamic crescendos with structured colouration from La Berge’s flute, Baars’ clarinet and Henneman’s own viola. 

Other compositions for pressurized solo organ, spirited solo cello and poem or sound poem embellishments and improvisations are included. But the most impressive demonstration of Henneman’s compositional aptitude is the title tune. Here, dynamic interaction among violins, viola and cello with jagged arco slices, sul tasto pushes and whistling glissandi, shatter the form then reach an energetic crescendo that approaches Cecil Taylor’s dynamic pianism. 

Obviously, Ig Henneman is a name that should be more recognized by sophisticated listeners on both sides of the musical improvisation-notation divide.

06 Mike MurleyIn a Summer Dream
Hannah Barstow; Mike Murley; Jim Vivian
Cornerstone Records (cornerstonerecordsinc.com)

There can be no question that the creative pairing of pianist, vocalist and composer Hannah Barstow with saxophonist/composer Mike Murley is beyond inspired… and the addition of eminent jazz bassist Jim Vivian is not only the perfect complement to Barstow and Murley, but also to the superb, eclectic selection of rarely performed tunes and the two original compositions here. Barstow and Murley serve as producers, innovatively arranging works from such diverse artists as Johnny Mandel, Nat Adderley, Johnny Mercer and Michel Legrand. 

The program kicks off with Mandel’s Don’t Look Back – which features a haunting, delicate melodic line as well as masterful playing from Barstow who has put her own swinging stamp on this Broadway tune. Her pitch-perfect, rhythmic jazz vocal style adds another dimension to the meaningful lyric, while Murley and Vivian eminently support Barstow throughout. Barstow’s intonation, tone, lyrical interpretation and respect for the melody is worthy of a vocal master class – and the sooner the better! 

Who Are You comes from iconic trumpeter/composer Kenny Wheeler. The tenor solo opening gently segues into Barstow’s stunning vocal line. Murley sings through his tenor, effortlessly creating an aura of musical intimacy, and Vivian’s skilled and moving bass solo takes us deeper on the trip. From the inspired minds of Legrand and Mercer, comes Once Upon a Summertime, replete with a sumptuous solo from Murley. Of special note is Barstow’s original title track, which calls to mind the vocal style and musicality of the great Norma Winstone. By any musical criteria, this is one of the finest jazz recordings of the year. 

07 Lauren FallsA Little Louder Now
Lauren Falls; David French; Trevor Giancola; Todd Pentney; Trevor Falls
Independent (laurenfallsmusic.com)

With her second dynamic salvo, gifted and accomplished bassist and composer Lauren Falls has fired off a fine recording comprised almost entirely of original tunes. Joining her is a superb ensemble, including Todd Pentney on piano, Trevor Giancola on guitar, David French on tenor saxophone and Trevor Falls on drums. First up is New View – a languid, sensual trip, grounded by Pentney’s perfectly insistent chordal movement and Giancola’s incredible touch and taste on guitar – which brings to mind the great Jim Hall or Mundell Lowe. French’s warm, substantial sound perfectly parenthesises the almost hypnotic tonal modalities of the composition.

The well-conceived title track absolutely grooves with intent and prominently displays the artistry of each musician. Falls is rock solid, and her superb bass work not only permeates the musical landscape, but it deftly leads her group through this evocative tone poem. Drummer Falls not only embodies seamless, perfect dynamics, but additionally manifests the ideal diaphanous support of his sister’s gorgeous solo. Disagree to Disagree is an outstanding effort, rife with emotional content, exploring both longing and resolution. French weaves his tenor in and out of the composition, with clever improvisations that underscore the contrapuntal aspects of the tune.  

Another standout is Take Me. This track lilts along with pure joy, and the duet sequences between tenor and guitar are almost breathtakingly beautiful, as is Pentney’s piano solo. The closer, Vincent Youmans’ venerable Tin Pan Alley classic, I Want to Be Happy is presented here with a fresh, contemporary twist, featuring some interesting non-standard chord changes that perfectly illustrate the cognitive dissonance of the search for personal happiness in a seemingly cold, rigid, unforgiving world – just as it was in the Great Depression. 

08 Esbjorn SvenssonHOME.S.
Esbjörn Svensson
ACT 9053-2 (actmusic.com)

During the 28 years when he was active, pianist Esbjörn Svensson (1964-2008) was all the rage. The music that he created with his trio e.s.t. had an elegant and wry minimalist feel, which made it altogether memorable. When Svensson died in a scuba-diving accident his legion of fans was aggrieved. And now, with the music of Home.S, it’s time to raise his indomitable spirit once again. 

This music, says his wife who produced this disc, was composed and recorded on his home computer in the spring of 2008. Eva Svensson reminds us that her husband had an all-consuming passion for astronomy and reminded us about his 1998 From Gagarin’s Point of View with e.s.t.. Svensson was also a classicist and, in homage to him, his wife decided to name each of the nine tracks after the Greek alphabet. And she did right by her husband.   

All the music on Home.S is played – and hummed, and harmonized – slightly off key. Somehow this adds to the music’s haunting appeal. It makes you feel as if Svensson is omnipresent in the nine fluttering charts from Alpha to Iota not only in body, but not unsurprisingly, as a memorably blithe spirit. Some tracks – Alpha and Gamma – end abruptly, as if Svensson’s train of thought was interrupted. However, the eloquent music does coalesce around Baroque ideas that spring from dense contrapuntal gestures, as if Bach’s Goldberg Variations was on Svensson’s febrile mind.

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