03 Dan Fortin Latest TechThe Latest Tech
Dan Fortin
Elastic Recordings (danfortinthewebsite.com)

It seems to make sense that in the middle of a pandemic year, a solo upright bass album would be the perfect choice to record. Eliminating the band is a simple way to maintain physical distancing while exploring the many nuances of your instrument. 

Dan Fortin has played with many groups and recorded multiple albums as sideman and leader and he currently teaches bass in the University of Toronto’s jazz program. The Latest Tech pares away the other traditional jazz instruments and we can listen to the full, fat sound of acoustic bass. On the title song, a series of repeated ostinato patterns cycle through different tonal centres and slight alterations of rhythmic emphasis create an intriguing journey. Beautiful Psychic Dream has a loping and sustained minor-sounding melodic line which seems to hang and shimmer as it moves onward. Mega Wish opens with a faster series of repeated melodic fragments which become more dispersed and exploratory before picking up speed and ending with a final repetition of the opening phrase. 

The Latest Tech is a clean and meditative album produced during a time when we can all use some music that is calming and thought-provoking.

04 Rebecca HennessyAll the Little Things You Do
Rebecca Hennessy
Independent RH003 (rebeccahennessy.com)

Toronto-based trumpet player, singer and songwriter, Rebecca Hennessy, has released her second full-length album and it’s an interesting and eclectic mix of styles. Although Hennessy generally gets categorized as a jazz musician, All the Little Things You Do has shades of art song, country blues, New Orleans horn band and jazz-rock, all playing together nicely. A mandolin orchestra even makes an appearance on a couple of tracks.

All of the songs were either written by Hennessy or co-written by her with bandmates Michael Herring and Dave Clark (and others). Although her background is as a trumpet player, voice is her main instrument on this album and she has an endearingly unembellished singing style that suits the straightforward lyrics of the majority of the songs. 

Hennessy has gathered a renowned and eclectic mix of players for the album, including pianist Tania Gill, bassist Herring and drummer Clark. Guitarist Kevin Breit (who has played with Norah Jones and Cassandra Wilson) has a strong presence throughout the album with the inventive soundscapes he creates. And when he’s unleashed on a solo, it can be quite a wild ride. Other notable guests include Alex Samaras – a phenomenal singer who I keep seeing pop up on other people’s albums – and violinist and strings-arranger Drew Jureka, whose work on Eclipse is especially compelling. On the whole, All the Little Things You Do is an artful and thoughtful musical journey.

05 Denise LeslieOne Fine Morning
Denise Leslie
Independent (deniselesliesings.com)

With the release of her new recording, delightful contemporary jazz vocalist, Denise Leslie, has created a sumptuous journey through some of the most potent and skillfully composed jazz/rock/pop hits of the 1970s. Leslie has also included two of her own well-crafted tunes in the collection. Her fine crew includes gifted producer/arranger/guitarist Bob McAlpine; first call jazz bassist/arranger Pat Collins; the iconic Paul DeLong on drums; the Lighthouse Horns (Simon Wallis on tenor sax; Chris Howells and Bruce Cassidy on trumpet, Russ Little on trombone); Arturo Avalos on percussion; Don Baird on Hammond B3; and the Brass Transit Horns (Phil Poppa on tenor and baritone sax, Doug Gibson on trombone and Tony Carlucci on trumpet).

Things kick off with a funky cool reimagining of the Badfinger hit, Day After Day. Insistent, potent bass lines by Collins and thrilling drumming by DeLong are ensconced in a delicious vocal arrangement. Leslie is right in the pocket, bringing to mind (but not derivative of) another soulful gal, legendary British diva Cilla Black. Other highlights include Sting’s Driven to Tears, presented here as a bluesy, sexy, evocative lament that resonates easily with our contemporary chaos. Collins plumbs the lower depths here, while McAlpine lashes out with a spine-tingling guitar solo. 

An absolute standout is Little River Band’s tender reverie, Reminiscing, presented here with a stunning, succinct vocal arrangement; truly a compelling version of one of the loveliest contemporary pop ballads ever written. The tasty closer is a charming take on the Jimmy McHugh/Dorothy Fields’ standard I’m in the Mood for Love, which cleverly segues into Eddie Jefferson and James Moody’s Moody’s Mood.

Listen to 'One Fine Morning' Now in the Listening Room

06 Red Hot RambleToday Will Be a Good Day
Red Hot Ramble
Independent RHR003 (redhotramble.ca)

Hope springs eternal, musically and figuratively, right from the title of this disc. Today Will Be A Good Day is what everyone needs, to be reminded of what the pandemic of 2020 took away not only from all of us, but from wonderful artists like these who create music with such vigorous positivity. 

Red Hot Ramble may derive some of its spirit from the music of New Orleans, but the melodies and harmonies sing of stories that could be much more universal. Everything is brought to life magnificently in the vocals of the group’s frontwoman, Roberta Hunt. Her performance in the gloriously dark and sinister Marie Laveau, for instance, is just one example. 

Alison Young also dazzles not only with her versatility on various saxophones, but in the visceral energy (Liquid Spirit) and virtuosity (everywhere else) she displays on each variant. Jamie Stager’s mournful trombone growls its bittersweet way throughout; and Jack Zorawski’s bass and Glenn Anderson’s drumming create an appropriately immutable rhythmic power.

The roster of guest stars is a stellar one. Accordionist and organist Denis Keldie, clarinettist Jacob Gorzhaltsan, trumpeter Alexis Baro and guitarist Kevin Barrett are inspired choices. All told, each musician plays every heartfelt phrase as if his (and her) life depends upon it. This makes for music with unfettered emotional intensity, full of funkified soul and joie de vivre. An album to die for.

Listen to 'Today Will Be a Good Day' Now in the Listening Room

07 Griffith HiltzArcade
Griffith Hiltz Trio
G-B Records (gbrecords.ca)

Last week, a colleague who makes beats and electronic music sampled part of an ambient-sounding guitar piece I had shared online. During the COVID-19 pandemic I have been exploring home recording and this electronic reuse of my piece made me wonder what other sonic ideas I might probe. I am not the only musician currently investigating recording technology, nor am I alone in pondering electronic possibilities like beats and live-sound samples. A brilliantly original take on these electroacoustic explorations comes in the form of Arcade, the latest offering from the Griffith Hiltz Trio. 

Concept albums with unifying themes can, at their worst, sound cheesy or forced. Arcade avoids this trap while tackling a very unique underlying theme: the video games and movies of the 1980s. This theme is realized with a plethora of synthesizers that blend immaculately with the acoustic instruments present, making this a departure stylistically from other Griffith Hiltz Trio releases and other jazz albums in general. Nathan Hiltz’s signature employment of Hammond organ pedals alongside his guitar playing may be the most unique aspect of the group, but that is to take nothing away from the saxophone work of Johnny Griffith and drumming of Neil MacIntosh. The album was recorded remotely by the group and their ample recording/production experience gives the 13 tracks unifying quirks that never sound gimmicky. This is no easy feat and commands a listen!

Listen to 'Arcade' Now in the Listening Room

08 Michel Lambert RougeArs Transmutatoria Rouge
Michel Lambert
Jazz from Rant n/a (nette.ca/jazzfromrant/in-production-2)

I find that multidisciplinary free music is often one of the most unfairly dismissed genres in jazz. Works like Anthony Braxton’s operatic forays certainly come to mind. They are branded impenetrable in many circles and people don’t even bother to offer them anything resembling serious consideration. I attribute this reluctance to fear. 

I’m going to be honest. This new Michel Lambert project is scary. It’s an amalgam of visual artworks (referred to as Lambert’s “visual scores”) and the band’s collective instinctual responses to them. The album is presented as an expedition of sorts, with both the band and listener travelling through 11 distinct audiovisual landscapes. Amazingly, it all works incredibly well. The improvisers not only know exactly how much space to leave for each other, but looking at the score, I was struck by how effectively the music evoked specific images on the score and vice versa with almost supernatural symbiosis. 

As I listened, it became apparent that the glue holding the affair together was the expressive poetry of vocalist Jeanette Lambert. It felt like she articulated and/or punctuated my thoughts perfectly, serving as a tour guide. What is a Transmutatoria? Not sure, but taking the journey there has been a real pleasure.

Tatouages miroir
Jean-Luc Guionnet et le GGRIL
Tour de Bras tdb90046cd (tourdebras.com)

Solo à la décollation
Jean-Luc Guionnet
Tour de Bras tdb9044cd (tourdebras.com)

09a Guionnet tatouage miroirFrench saxophonist, organist, composer and improviser Jean-Luc Guionnet has rare inventive powers. Among his activities, two bands demonstrate his range: Hubbub, a French quintet, looks like a conventional jazz group while improvising ethereal, symphony-length works of continuous sound through circular breathing on saxophones and bowing on cymbals and the strings of piano and guitar. The international trio Ames Room creates the most singularly intense, hard-bitten, minimalist expression ever developed by a stripped-down trio of saxophone, bass and drums. However, these recordings from Quebec performances show Guionnet’s inventiveness even without his saxophone.     

Tatouages miroir (“mirror tattoos”) is an orchestral composition realized by GGRIL (Grand groupe régional d’improvisation libérée), the highly exploratory improvising orchestra that has made Gaspé fertile soil for meaning-probing music. Here GGRIL is an 11-member ensemble of electric guitars and bass, strings, brass and reeds, stretching to include accordion and harp. Beginning with contrasting blasts of orchestral might and silence, the initial lead voice emerges unaccompanied, a tight metallic string sound – the harp – single notes plucked evenly with only microtonal shifts in pitch. In the background, a rich welling of winds plays a melodic pattern dominated by muted trumpet and baritone saxophone. Throughout there are contrasts between sound and silence, between small sounds magnified and rich ensembles moving from foreground to background, questioning their own status. It’s a rethinking of what orchestras traditionally do, foregrounding random incidental percussion – footsteps, perhaps – while crying-baby-trumpet and multiphonic flute and saxophone elide into silence, creating unexpectedly rich drama. During its course, the work ranges across approaches and meanings, inviting a listener’s reflection on the work’s burrowing depths and strange sonic redistributions, a seeming interrogation of its own processes. 

09b Guionnet solo à la décolationSolo à la décollation presents Guionnet as a church organist, though his performance is as remarkable as the L’Isle-Verte location: the Church of the Beheading of John the Baptist and its traditional Casavant organ, described as “in need of love.” The traditional church organ is a special site, as much monumental architecture and domicile as musical instrument, and Guionnet is here to probe it and the church’s sonic nooks and crannies in a performance that is as much meditation as query, including the incidental percussion of interaction with the instrument. Divided into four segments, the 70-minute work begins in near silence, a kind of breathing of the pipes with only the subtlest infrequent blips that lead to extended drones, shifting oscillations, overlays of tones and sharply contrasting keyboards laid over and through one another. It’s improvisation as meditation, music exploring notions of sound as symbolic site of symbolic conflict, at once resolving and extending the voyage, with the kinks, fissures and vibrations of the particular instrument and church becoming key participants.

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