05 Carl MayotteEscale
Carl Mayotte
Analekta AN 2 8836 (analekta.com/en)

Nary a single second of Escale feels superfluous. Track after track, canvasses for expression are established, occupied, broken down and eventually transformed. The compositions build in remarkable fashion, and that doesn’t necessarily always translate to a crescendo in volume or vigour. 

Bassist/bandleader/pianist/vocalist/engineer/producer extraordinaire Carl Mayotte is a master of making his compositions feel organic and like breathing. Irresistible earworm (try getting that guitar ostinato out of your head) Au milieu de nulle part starts by gradually adding complexity to its initial groove, and just when the proverbial beat feels ready to drop, everything comes down. The subsequent bass solo leads back into the first motif seamlessly, which essentially resets the clock and adds dimensionality to the dance. Turning another corner, the band drops out again to give way to ambient noise, foreshadowing the sombre and meditative Hiver. This track is a brilliant showcase of Mayotte’s warm bass tone and his proclivity to utilize the entire range of his instrument when improvising. There is also a lot to love about the variety of layered bass tones used, from the dominant warbly sound more characteristic of a fretless approach, to the understated and hushed tones arpeggiating in the left channel during the outro. Also central to Mayotte’s music is the use of simple repeated phrases, percussion and rhythm that drives every track. Escale has an undeniable, infectious pulse behind it.

07 George CrottyChronotope
George Crotty Trio
Independent (georgecrotty.com/trio)

Cellist George Crotty, bassist Jonathan Chapman and drummer Matias Recharte have their versatility on full display throughout Chronotope. Produced, led and composed in its entirety by Crotty, the music certainly plays like a showcase of the cello’s capabilities. However, while Crotty’s virtuosity and melodicism undeniably take center stage, that doesn’t mean there exists a hint of passivity from Chapman or Recharte. As an incredibly accomplished two-man rhythm section, they provide a bedrock-solid foundation for the ever-expanding/contracting pace and energy of the sound. Some of the most potent moments occur when the trio triples down on a passage, which functionally puts great emphasis on the more crucial rhythms, all while bringing out the weight of their tandem. 

On Prayer Dance, a standout, the lines played in unison instill a sense of urgency in the listener. The combination of Crotty’s lyrical, aggressive solo (he combines these elements extremely well throughout the album) and Recharte’s dynamic playing almost transcends the trio format in terms of scale, or sheer amount of sound produced over a span of time. In a moment of positively beautiful sequencing, the significantly calmer yet immensely moving Metamorphosis comes next. Chapman hops on electric bass, and his ability to sustain notes within his arpeggios allows for a sound that blankets the mix in warmth, giving a spellbinding depth of harmonic context to Crotty’s vibrato. That’s the recurring theme throughout Chronotope – the diverse complementary potential of musical instruments being fully realized.

Listen to 'Chronotope' Now in the Listening Room

08 Steve KaldestadLive at Frankie’s Jazz Club
Steve Kaldestad; Chris Gestrin; Conrad Good; Jesse Cahill
Cellar Music CM072321 (cellarlive.com)

Live recordings often give the listener a bit of an extra feeling for the music, a certain je ne sais quoi that studio albums may not necessarily convey. Star saxophonist and music educator Steve Kaldestad’s newest release is, in fact, a live recording of his show at Frankie’s Jazz Club in Vancouver; the energy rolling off the band can fully be felt throughout this album. Kaldestad mentions that the whole point of this recording was to “document the renewed feeling of urgency and gratitude emanating from the quartet” while being able to play together properly after a two-year hiatus due to the pandemic. The sheer joy from musicians getting to do their thing together on stage and instruments blending with each other is truly palpable while giving this a listen. 

Backed by a fantastic group of musicians, featuring Chris Gestrin on piano, Conrad Good on bass and Jesse Cahill on drums, the pieces in this live set are transported to new heights and filled with a positive energy that could penetrate even the gloomiest of mindsets. The record features a unique and captivating improvisation on a jazz classic, Con Alma, by Dizzie Gillespie; a mellow saxophone melody soars over a captivating piano and bass line. Among the stellar collection of pieces, Kaldestad’s own Equestrian Interlude stands out as well, a rhythmically groovy tune that gets your head bopping right along. A great addition to any jazz lover’s collection.

09 The Artist John LeeThe Artist
John Lee; Carl Allen; Miles Black; Cory Weeds
Cellar Music CM111620 (cellarlive.com)

I first knew John Lee primarily as a drummer, but even at that point close to a decade ago, he wore plenty of different hats. On The Artist, we hear Lee featuring himself on upright bass. Having not heard the young musician in several years, I first thought this was a strange choice, but hearing the first 20 seconds of music are enough to assure even the most critical listener that Lee is in his element. 

This album features an excellent cast of musicians who brilliantly execute its hard-swinging repertoire. As both a bassist and a drummer, it makes sense that Lee is acutely aware of the relationship between these two instruments in a jazz rhythm section. He’s chosen American drum great Carl Allen to join him, and he fits into this Canadian ensemble perfectly. 

The music heard on The Artist is unapologetically straight ahead, but the energy Lee’s band brings to it makes it appealing to listen to in 2022 and ensure that it’s by no means just a time capsule harkening back to a bygone era. Tracks like Soul Leo and Carl’s Blues set the mood for the album, and Lee’s two originals, Life is a Beautiful Thing and The Artist, fit this vibe to a tee. 

Like so much great jazz, this album can be enjoyed in several different contexts. I initially took diligent notes while listening through high-fidelity headphones, then subjected it to a second listen while chopping carrots and onions in the kitchen. The Artist passed both tests!

12 Ches Smith Interpret It WellInterpret It Well
Ches Smith; Craig Taborn; Mat Maneri; Bill Frisell
Pyroclastic Records PR 19 (chessmith.com)

Drummer/vibraphonist Ches Smith’s capacity for creative synthesis became clear with last year’s Path of Seven Colors, a combination of Haitian vodou music and jazz, ultimately named best jazz album of the year by The Guardian. Interpret It Well is similarly outstanding work, adding guitarist Bill Frisell to Smith’s trio with pianist Craig Taborn and violist Mat Maneri. The title appears in a sparse drawing by Raymond Pettibon in whIch a railroad track and telephone poles seem to drift toward approaching smoke or a tornado. (It’s sufficiently significant that a 42 by 27cm reproduction is folded in the CD sleeve.)

Working with Smith’s compositional sketches, the musicians meet the titular challenge admirably, with a special balance of individual freedom and collective invention, at different moments weaving together disparate materials into a kind of polyphonic unity. As the theme of the title track is gradually elaborated, a Webern-ish abstraction is matched by the concrete blues of Frisell’s electric guitar. Taborn is transforming throughout, luminous flurries giving way to looming chords, which turn to arpeggiated pointillism with drums and viola adding turbulence. Mixed Metaphor opens with a sparse, liquid beauty but ultimately becomes a home for Maneri’s dissonant intensity. 

The program unfolds with a sense of assembling meaning, a new understanding intuited out of what might be described as complementary disjunctions among harmonies, melodies, rhythms and timbres, a different music arising from familiar elements and rare empathy. 

13 John ScofieldJohn Scofield
John Scofield
ECM 2727 (ecmrecords.com/shop)

Stalwart New York-based guitarist John Scofield has gone in an even more bold direction than usual with his latest release on ECM. The band? Scofield at the electric guitar, accompanied by a looper pedal and the many decades of playing experience that make his music so unique and excellent. The looper makes this album less of a traditional solo-guitar experience than you may be familiar with from Joe Pass or Ted Greene, but it’s not a gimmick to make Scofield’s life easier. Instead, he treats the pedal like a bandmate he is intimately familiar with. There are also plenty of moments where Scofield shows off his ample harmonic sensibilities, which can be overshadowed in ensemble settings by his fiery single-note, line playing.

As a brief technical note that I hope can be appreciated by jazz guitar experts and casual fans alike, I heard Scofield interviewed several years back about things he still wanted to improve upon with his playing. Then in his 60s, he gave a very tangible response about hoping to add wider intervals and more angular sounds to his music. It was beautiful to hear someone talk about how much there still is to learn, even after decades in the industry. What brought this to mind now, is that I hear concrete evidence of the 70-year-old guitar master playing these very intervallic ideas on this solo guitar offering. 

While Scofield continues to find meaning through playing music, we can all find a little just from listening to this poignant opus.

14 PoeticPoetic
Jonathan Barber & Vision Ahead
Independent (jonathanbarber.bandcamp.com/album/poetic)

Connecticut-native, famed drummer Jonathan Barber has released a scintillating third album with Vision Ahead, a group of musicians he’s been pushing the limits with for over a decade. Barber has worked on refining his sound on this record, honing in on a unique modern sound with just enough of the classic mixed in to intrigue both older and newer fans of the genre. Featured are all original compositions, not only by the drummer himself but also by guitarist Andrew Renfroe, alto-saxophonist Godwin Louis and keyboardist Taber Gable. A journey through a beautiful musical landscape, this album is sure to catch the attention of many a listener from the first note. 

Barber mentions that “the album showcases… the striking cohesiveness of a band who have performed by each other’s side…” and that is certainly very apparent throughout the record. Within each piece, each musician’s talents are very much showcased, but there’s a blending of sounds and instruments, of vibes, that only comes from having a true understanding of your fellow musicians. What lends a truly specific and interesting dimension to the pieces is how they are very much driven by rhythmic grooves but not in an overpowering way, it all comes together for a captivating whole. 

From beginning to end, this album pushes the boundaries of the genre in the best ways possible, leaving the listener waiting for the next musical statement from this extraordinary musician and group.

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