Scintillating Beauty10 Cat Torens BeautyCD006
Cat Toren’s Human Kind
Panoramic Recordings PAN 18 (

Aiming to express her ideas of hope, Vancouverite-turned-Brooklynite pianist Cat Toren, also a practitioner of sound healing, has composed a four-track album that is both cadenced and curious by drawing on multiple musical strands. 

On Radiance in Veils, for instance, she uses the modal outpourings of Xavier Del Castillo’s tenor saxophone, multiple-string chording from Yoshie Fruchter’s oud plus the textures of chimes, tuning forks, singing bowls, rattles and bells to outline spinning and soothing 1970s-style spiritual jazz. But on Ignis Fatuus she creates a slow-burning swinger built on Jake Leckie’s walking bass line, with Del Castillo shouting in full bop-bluesy mode. In between, Toren varies the program from one signpost to the other. Added to each of the four tracks are cross pulses from drummer Matt Honor and her own playing which expresses stentorian notated music-styled glissandi and snapping jazz vamps in equal measures. 

Besides Del Castillo, whose intensity and variations move towards multiphonics and squeaking split tones, but never lose control, Fruchter’s string set is the secret weapon. Skillfully, he sometimes plucks and shapes his strings into patterns patterns that could originate in the Maghreb, while on other tracks more closely aligned to a finger-snapping pulse, he replicates sympathetic rhythm guitar chording.

It’s unsure how COVID-19, which arrived after this CD was recorded, has affected Toren’s upbeat ideas. But she and her fellow humans certainly demonstrate resilience and adaptability in musical form on this disc.

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11 Angelica SanchezHow to Turn the Moon
Angelica Sanchez; Marilyn Crispell
Pyroclastic Records PR 10 (

Currently residing in the Big Apple, famed composer, pianist and educator, Angelica Sanchez, has continuously left a resounding impression on the jazz community for the past 20 years with her unique sound. This latest release, from her and fellow pianist Marilyn Crispell, is a definite culmination of her innovative works that blur the lines between improvisation and composition. All tracks are penned either by Sanchez herself or along with Crispell and showcase both of their compositional talents superbly. It should be noted that what truly makes the auditory experience whole is the fact that each pianist is heard through separate channels, Sanchez through the left and Crispell in the right, allowing the listener to appreciate both melodies separately and together. 

The record begins with a whirlwind track Lobe of the Fly, within which the image of the flying insect is called to mind with the tinkling, expeditious riffs that both musicians coax forth effortlessly from the keys. It’s interesting to hear how both random and uniform aspects of composition exist within each piece, the interplay between structure and free expression is fabulous. Windfall Light is a piece which gives the listener a moment to appreciate just how in tune both pianists are with each other; it almost sounds at times as if one knows just what the other will play next. For those looking for a complete musical experience, this album would make a very worthy addition to your collection. 

12 Peter LeitchNew Life
Peter Leitch New Life Orchestra
Jazz House 7006/7007 (

Montreal-born, eminent NYC jazz guitarist Peter Leitch wears several sizeable hats on his new recording:  composer, arranger, conductor and co-producer. All compositions on this magnificent project (co-produced with Jed Levy) were written by Leitch, with the exception of Thelonious Monk’s Round Midnight, Rogers and Hart’s immortal balled of longing and loneliness Spring is Here, and The Minister’s Son by Levy (an outstanding track, written in honour of Leitch’s dear friend, pianist and musical collaborator, the late John Hicks). In the framework of this arrangement, Hicks’ and Leitch’s unique, soulful, rhythmic style is palpable throughout, and the heady sax solo from Levy calls to mind the potency of a snifter of cognac!

Following a heroic victory over cancer, Leitch could no longer physically play guitar, so he chose to reinvent himself, and express his new musical vision through a medium-sized ensemble that would still have the flexibility to embrace free soloing by the gifted, NYC A-list members who define the sound. These include trumpeter Duane Eubanks, Bill Mobley on trumpet/flugelhorn, Tim Harrison on flute, Steve Wilson and Dave Pietro on alto/soprano sax, Levy on tenor sax/flute/alto flute, Carl Maraghi on baritone sax/bass clarinet, Matt Haviland on trombone, Max Seigel on bass trombone, Phil Robson on electric guitar, Chad Coe on acoustic guitar, Peter Zak on piano, Dennis James on arco bass, Yoshi Waki on bass and Joe Strasser in the drum chair (whose skill, dexterity and taste are the ultimate ingredient).

Leitch explains: “The title New Life refers not only to my personal odyssey, but also to the music itself – to the act of breathing ‘new life’ into the ‘raw materials’…”. Every track on this 17-piece, two-disc recording is a pinnacle of jazz expression. A few of the many highlights include the opener, Mood for Max (for Dr. Maxim Kreditor), a snappy, up-tempo, joyous arrangement featuring a fluid and thrilling trumpet solo from Mobley and equally fine alto and piano solos by Wilson and Zak; Portrait of Sylvia – a lovely tune for the ever-lovely Sylvia Levine Leitch – an exotic and ephemeral piece, featuring guitar work by Robson – and Fulton Street Suite, a masterpiece in three movements that paints an evocative, jazzy portrait of lower Manhattan, replete with all of its artsy, manic energy. Without question, this is one of the top jazz recordings of the past year.

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13 Art of QuartetThe Art of the Quartet
Benjamin Koppel; Kenny Werner; Scott Colley; Jack Dejohnette
Cowbell/Unit UTR 4958 (

We’ve heard of the art of the duo and trio often enough, but perhaps not enough of the quartet. Certainly there has been very little musical exploration as significant as this, The Art of the Quartet, freewheeling explorations by the wizened majesty of drummer Jack DeJohnette and pianist Kenny Werner together with the derring-do of younger experimentalist, bassist Scott Colley; all of whom have been brought together at the behest of the superb Danish alto saxophonist Benjamin Koppel. 

Koppel is possessed of an expressionistic wail and he uses it with tremendous effect throughout the repertoire of this album. His wild excursions flow like a river in flood and the yowling vibrato with which he often ends his phrases evokes restless northern spirits sweeping across space in powerful gusts of wind. Colley secures the roving melodies and harmonies like a singing sheet anchor; his evocative arco performance on Night Seeing is a testament to his virtuosity and his ability to bend time.

Werner is a master of atmospheric pianism. He plays with ceaselessly soft dynamics throughout the exquisite prosody of this music. The rippling excursions of his right hand are masterfully complemented by the architectural balance provided by his rock-steady left hand. DeJohnette, as ever, is the glue that holds everything rhythmic together. But every so often, putting his pianist’s hat on, he adds delicate or thunderous harmonic inventions to this wondrous music.

14 Jacob Garchik ClearLineCD004Clear Line
Jacob Garchik
Yestereve Records 06 (

Drawing on big band jazz section work, European village marching bands and notated music for winds, composer/conductor Jacob Garchik has composed nine POMO interludes for four trumpets, four trombones and five saxophones. Eschewing a rhythm section and string sweetening, he endows the compositions with coordinated horn work for rhythmic impetus and savory harmonies, while leaving space for creative soloing.

At the same time, with blustery brass and popping reeds often emphasized to create contrapuntal backing, individual features are short but to the point. Besides brief mood-setting sequences, extended tracks highlight different strategies from fusion-referencing brassy horn expositions to others that add enough saxophone overblowing to suggest tremolo airs from a collection of Scottish bagpipes. Moebius and Mucha is the most overt swinger with bugle-bright trumpet work cutting across sliding connections from the other horns. Meanwhile, Sixth is a quasi-rondo that subverts its mellow form with colourful upward movements that encompass brass and reed call-and-response before textures meld into a stop-time climax.

Garchik draws on the skills of some of New York’s top younger talents like saxophonist Anna Webber and Kevin Sun and trumpeters Jonathan Finlayson and Adam O’Farrill. But with frequently displayed gorgeous harmonies, as highlighted on the concluding Clear Line, this is a suite of well-paced originals that stroll rather than gallop. This is also profound group music that makes its points through subtlety not showiness.

Although seemingly limited in expressive textures by the trumpet’s size and construction, composers and players have steadily expanded the brass instrument’s range and adaptability during the past half century. As more have investigated the possibilities in improvised and aleatoric music, the definition of brass tone has modified. Concurrently the makeup of an acceptable ensemble connected with trumpet tones has evolved as well and each of these out-of the-ordinary outings demonstrates how musical definition can shift from session to session.

01 MantleCD005Longtime partners, Japanese trumpeter Natsuki Tamura and pianist Satoko Fujii have played in many configurations from duo to big band, but Mantle (NotTwo MW 10003-2 is unique in that they collaborate with Spanish drummer Ramon Lopez in a trio featuring the trumpeter in the role usually taken by a reed player. Throughout the nine tracks as well, it’s Tamura’s choked or splayed capillary discursions which are most aggressive, with the pianist and drummer equally complementary. Brassy flutter tonguing, open horn accelerations, half-valve effects, kazoo-like blats and inner body tube excavations are Tamura’s common strategies. Meanwhile, as on Metaphors, the pianist’s careful arpeggios and the drummer’s contrapuntal shuffles preserve linear output. An equal line of this triangular creation, Lopez often sets up narratives with pops, ruffs or clanging cymbal work. As for Fujii, as demonstrated on Straw Coat, she skillfully creates a gentle impressionistic exposition with soundboard echoes and then turns to broken-chord power to counter Tamura’s freylekhs-like brassy interjection. Other times, as on Encounter, her dynamic vibrations give impetus to a narrative dominated by Lopez’s resounding rolls and fluid paradiddles plus Tamura’s brassy screeches. Still it’s the penultimate Autumn Sky which puts the trio’s skills in boldest relief. Beginning in a balladic mode with metronomic keyboard patterns and a brass part that is muted and moderated it subsequently creates andante excitement via grainy distended brass work and kinetic piano crunches and clusters from Fujii.

02 DaveGislerCD003Another variation on the theme of timbre reorientation is Zurich Concert (Intakt CD 357, a live program where American trumpeter Jaimie Branch joins the trio of Swiss guitarist Dave Gisler for the first time. Her vigorous drive, propelled with a touch of greasy blues, easily latches onto the sensibility of the guitarist, bassist Raffaele Bossard and drummer Lionel Friedli, whose playing encompasses rock energy. The trumpeter’s foreground/background role is best illustrated on One Minute too Late. Picking up from the short, shaking and rattling track that precedes it, this tune evolves into a solid narrative of horizontal brass tones decorated with Gisler’s flanges and frails. When the guitar solo transforms into a gentling theme elaboration with both folk and jazz inflections, the timbral decorations are from Branch’s plunger tones. Meanwhile, movement is provided by a bowed bass line and cymbal crashes. Throughout the set, cadences are further informed by rock sensibility. If Gisler’s slashing frails and echoing string slides are often staccato and distorted, their origins are British hard rock atop jazz perceptions. When a groove is established coupling fretted string echoes, a double bass pulse and drum backbeats, low-pitched bass colouration joins the guitarist’s slurred fingering and the trumpeter’s brass smears to confirm this is no pop-rock CD. This maxim is further demonstrated on the smeary, scatological Better Don’t Fuck with the Drunken Sailor. A blues, it combines Gisler’s upward string shakes and stutters that could come from Led Zeppelin with Branch’s plunger mute extension which dates to Duke Ellington’s Jungle Band. The group also detours into post-modernism on Cappuccino, where the vocalized title is repeated and distorted by looping electronics and the stop-time narrative enhanced with guitar flanges and trumpet plunger growls.

03 SupersenseCD002If loops are one way to imaginatively add originality to trumpet-oriented jazz, Canadian-in-Brooklyn Steph Richards has come up with an even more outlandish statement. The nine tracks on Supersense (Northern Spy NS 130 are each named for a specific scent created for the trumpeter by fragrance artist Sean Raspet. A scratch-and-sniff card is included in the package to see if the music reflects the smells and vice versa. Olfactory connections may be up to individual debate. More compelling is the dynamic expressed between Richards’ downplayed brass undulations, the resonating drums and strewn water tones she projects with the sensitive accompaniment provided by Americans, pianist Jason Moran, bassist Stomu Takeishi and drummer Kenny Wollesen. Stroked internal strings and stopped keys from the piano, languid double bass strokes and drum-top buzzes remain atmospherically low key and purposeful, as mewling and trilling trumpet splutters create contrapuntal theme extrapolations. That makes tracks like Canopy and Metal Mouth, where Richards unexpectedly exhales strident bursts of staccato snarls, stand out. Her splayed textures, plunger asides and muted slurs are expressively bright or gritty as the situation demands. Overall, the few instances of reveille-like bugling or lively brassy buzzing are secondary to the comprehensive integration of brass, string and percussion timbres. Like quality perfume, Supersense makes its presence felt through subtlety and understatement.

04 DontWorryCD001In the right hands and mouth, trumpet tones also ally or contrast with experimental vocals and electronics, as well as instrumental techniques. That’s what happens on Don’t Worry Be Happy (Intrication Tri 002 as veteran Austrian brass experimenter Franz Hautzinger evokes his strained flutters alongside out-of-the-ordinary contributions from a trio of French players: percussionist Thierry Waziniak, guitarist Pascal Bréchet and the clarinet and voice of Isabelle Duthoit. There are times, as on Sables symphoniques, for instance, when Hautzinger’s growls and gurgles are the mirror image of Duthoit’s yelping shrieks and burbling trills, but that’s after his horizontal bites have established brass identity. More commonly, the interaction involves unearthing blurry or bellicose brass timbres from unexpected places to work alongside shrill reed multiphonics, as well as dissected string flanges and ratcheting percussion, all of which owe as much to electronic processing as acoustic qualities. This is particularly noticeable on Dans le ventre de la baleine, where irregular drum chops and jangling guitar runs are further distended with on/off voltage shakes, as high-pitched trumpet peeps and reed trills preserve the narrative movement. Moving from discursive to distinct sequences with knife-sharp guitar whines, percussion buzzing, panting vocalese and blurry trumpet variations, the program is resolved at midpoint with the extended and concept-defining Souffle hybride. With electronic wave forms soaring throughout, the sound field becomes louder as the narrative intensifies with diffuse guitar twangs and drum clip clops. Duthoit and Hautzinger construct a melded duet from clarinet chicken clucking and half-valve barks. Vocal gurgles and retches alongside back-and-forth brass vamps finally relax the track into narrative coherence. 

05 BrittleCD007Using a similar strategy and instrumentation, but with acoustic intonation, is Brittle Feebling (Humbler 006 by a quartet of Bay Area players: trumpeter Tom Djll, Kyle Bruckmann on oboe and English horn, koto player Kanoko Nishi-Smith and Jacob Felix Heule using only a floor tom. Acoustic is merely one facet of these reductionist improvisations however, since expected tones are eschewed for the most part. The minimalist interface is adhered to so closely in fact, that it’s often impossible to attribute a single tone to one identifiable instrument. For the most part, koto strokes are intermittent, with short hammer-like clanks as present as strumming. Rarely harmonized, Bruckmann and Djll constantly overblow with squealing whines from the reeds and bell-against-mike metallic squeals from the trumpet. Underscoring this are concentrated abrasions from the floor tom that become shaking drones that sometimes replicate hurdy-gurdy continuum. Although there are brief tuneful hints emanating from the reedist’s and trumpeter’s usually dissonant narratives, the horns and percussion eventually meld into a massive blare that dominates the entire track. This density is only lessened when thin koto string plinks are gradually revealed. Careful listening though, confirms that timbral striations from the instruments during the performances mean the collective result is as fluid as it is brittle.

There are plenty of roles for trumpets in conventional ensembles. Yet each of these tone-explorers – and the groups in which they play – outlines other ways to use the brass instrument’s properties.

01 Alex MoxonAlex Moxon Quartet
Alex Moxon Quartet
Independent (

The Ottawa-based guitarist, Alex Moxon, is a musical omnivore, his very personal style of playing clearly informed by an early diet of many styles and idioms of music. Best of all, Moxon is a shining example of what true musicality means and how it is meant to devolve from composition to performance. This 2020 recording is an exquisite example, from its unassuming title and the whimsical honesty of the cover photograph, the absence of liner notes to explain any gratuitous raison d’être for the music and, of course, the music itself. 

Not for Moxon are flurries of notes, dramatically rising and falling arpeggios, cerebrally dazzling runs up and down the fretboard. He strips bare the melody of each song that he has interiorized, distills the intended harmonic conception to the essential chords and rings in the changes to evoke mood and emotion very effectively. His single-note lines are beautifully moulded, the sound of his phrases are exquisitely elliptical. He turns harmony inside out, as on Piety in Crescent Park, and his sense of time is flawless. This is evident all over the repertoire of this album. 

Another interesting aspect is the sonic space that is created for both the chordal instruments – Moxon’s guitar and the piano played with character by Steve Boudreau, especially on the dancing, contrapuntal merry-go-round of Wood Chop. Empathetic performances are also shared by rhythm twins, bassist John Geggie and drummer Michel Delage, who also shine in their own right.

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