05 Hilario DuranCry Me a River
Hilario Durán and his Latin Jazz Big Band
Alma Records ACD90832 (almarecords.com)

A sign of a truly great musician is the ability to not only capture the attention of the listener from the first note, but also to maintain that same level of rapture throughout an entire recording. Renowned pianist Hilario Durán’s long-awaited Latin big band album does just that, it captivates and thoroughly ensnares within the sizzling melodies and rhythms of these tunes. The mix of original compositions and covers with an interesting and refreshing twinge make for an ear-pleasing whole that is as vibrantly expressive and joyful as the changing colours of the autumn leaves. 

A defining element of this album is the way in which Durán’s improvisational and genre-crossing talents are highlighted within each piece. It’s absolutely enthralling to listen to how the star pianist throws in his own flavour to well-known jazz standards such as Dizzy Gillespie’s A Night in Tunisia, which takes on decidedly more Latin flavour, adding a renewed element energy and passion to the classic tune. Rhythmic grooves and scorching melodies interspersed with Durán’s prolific improvisational riffs create a delicious musical potpourri that will fill the soul and body of listeners. The bandleader hops between genres and bends pieces to his will, jumping from traditional jazz to modern and even funk with the utmost ease. Featuring a roster of great musicians such as Luis Mario Ochoa on guitar, Elizabeth Rodríguez on violin and Roberto Occhipinti on bass, this is a must-have for any jazz-lover’s collection.

06 Audrey OchoaThe Head of a Mouse
Audrey Ochoa; various artists
Chronograph Records CR-103 (audreyochoa.ca)

We’re now in the midst of chillier fall weather and what better way is there to add some warmth to these colder days than by moving your body to some spicy music? Edmonton-based trombonist Audrey Ochoa’s latest release is sure to motivate you to do just that; a fiery, Latin fiesta packed into one 13-track package. This is the starlet’s fourth album as a bandleader and features a slew of all-star names, among them Sandro Dominelli on drums, Jeremiah McDade on tenor saxophone and Rachel Therrien on trumpet. Showcasing her talents as a composer, all tracks on the record are penned and arranged by Ochoa herself. 

Conceived during pandemic times, the trombonist mentions that her desire and goal for the album is for “current and future generations [to] experience [the] music as a unique musical creation that reflects the experiences of an artist during an unprecedented time.” The contrast between hope and joy, sorrow and defeat is apparent throughout the collection, with a melancholy tinge weaving its way through the melodies and rhythms. Ochoa’s compositions reflect the essence of life in general, that it has its peaks and valleys, yet they are exactly what makes us stronger in the end. In essence, the record is like a journey through the mind of a musician through the darkest of times, where new and different ways of creative expression must be found, through which the darkness is conquered and defeated.

Listen to 'The Head of a Mouse' Now in the Listening Room

07 Teri ParkerShaping the Invisible
Teri Parker; Luis Deniz; Andrew McAnsh; Mark Godfrey; Ernesto Cervini
Independent (teriparkermusic.com)

Skilled pianist/composer/arranger Teri Parker has just released a remarkable project that began as an immersive writing experience… sans any pre-conceptions, and yet rife with a wide variety of influences. With the exception of two exquisite tracks (Segment by Charlie Parker and Retrograde by British producer/vocalist James Blake), all compositions have emerged from the creative soul of Parker. As she has so succinctly said, “Music is just sound particles in the air, but it doesn’t exist until you make it exist.” Parker has assembled a fine complement here, including Luis Deniz on alto and soprano sax, Mark Godfrey on bass, Ernesto Cervini on drums and special guest Andrew McAnsh on trumpet.

The opening salvo, Becoming (inspired by Michelle Obama’s memoire), is replete with a languid, mystical intro featuring the supple Deniz and McAnsh, which gives way to a stirring and rhythmic melodic line, imbued with the sheer beauty and power of Parker’s piano. McAnsh provides a stunner of a solo here, engaging fully with the solid rhythm section. The groovy-cool Humph was written in tribute to the late bop-saxophonist Dewey Redman and masterfully lauds his eccentric style and command of his instrument. Deniz shines on alto here, and also on Desolate Places, which is a sumptuous, lilting duet between Parker and Deniz on soprano. Parker’s Segment is also a stunner, rendered here with all bop sensibilities intact, but also informed by Parker’s contemporary view, as well as her highly intuitive comping and potent soloing.

The closer of this fine recording, Strolling, is a sultry exploration, replete with a luscious solo by Parker and dynamic percussion by Cervini. Nimble bassist Godfrey is also featured, with Deniz serving as the magical glue which encircles and binds the ensemble in pure creativity.

08 Marc CopelandSomeday
Marc Copland Quartet
Inner Voice Jazz IVJ107 (marccopland.com)

This album Someday by Marc Copland is not only enigmatically entitled but is replete with music to match. Copland declares his intent right out of the gate, exploring music’s spectral nature with a gloriously wistful interpretation of Frank Churchill’s iconic song Someday My Prince Will Come, one of three standards on this album. 

The pianist twists the B-flat Major key of the song shaping the harmony from obtuse angles, setting up the narrative in gambolling, elliptical melodic lines, sharing the oblique harmonic variations with saxophonist Robin Verheyen. By the time drummer Mark Ferber stirs the proverbial soup with beautiful brush strokes and bassist Drew Gress adds a dusky rumble to the gossamer melody you know you’re in for quite the ride on this sparkling set. 

Verheyen’s song Dukish is wonderfully sprightly and receives a delightful treatment as the musicians react with seamless vibrancy. Saxophonist and pianist invite the bassist and drummer to apply rhythmic propulsion to the quick outer movements, passing lines deftly to the other musicians who know exactly when to dominate and when to lend support. 

As a composer, Copland gives us a ringside perspective on his magical writing through two other originals including the wonderfully spiralling Round She Goes. The song, propelled by a hypnotic four-note piano figure, builds in intensity as the musicians capture the urgent and plaintive power that makes Copland’s music – and this album – so ethereally beautiful.

09 Kelly JeffersonRituals
Kelly Jefferson
Cellar Music CMR022023 (cellarlive.com)

When the Canadian JUNO-Award winning star of the saxophone – curved or straight – Kelly Jefferson decides to bare key moments in the past decade or so of his life it must be something special. When he plays the momentous music with a stellar trio of his peers – pianist Amanda Tosoff, bassist Jon Maharaj and drummer Morgan Childs, whose idiomatic interpretations mark this music – then the album of songs does, indeed, become something truly special. 

The title of the album – Rituals – suggests a rite of passage for Jefferson. Each of the nine charts marks the memory of a milestone that, as the lyric of the iconic Sam Cooke song suggests “a change is gonna come,” or in Jefferson’s case, a change did, in fact come. What these events were, are poured into deeply songful charts by the saxophonist. Each is suited to a particular horn – tenor, alto or soprano – and his playing will drive listeners, happily, into a state of frenzy. 

Whether it be Kindling, or No Time Like The Present, or even Dimmer Switch, each is suited to his alternating ultra-virtuosity and languor. With hallmark rapid crescendos and decrescendos, accelerandos or decelerandos, sometimes within a few bars, almost as if a grenade has been tossed into the saxophone, Jefferson announces his unique musical charisma to us, his rapt audience.  

Tosoff, Maharaj and Childs, fully attuned to Jefferson’s vision, remain inspired choices to bring this music to fruition.

10 Ashley WeyHummingbird
Ashley Wey
Independent (ashleywey.bandcamp.com/album/hummingbird)

When pianist, vocalist and composer Ashley Wey opened for the great Lisa Fischer (of Rolling Stones and 20 Feet From Stardom fame) in Wey’s hometown of Victoria in 2018, she wrote a song for the occasion, inspired and actually titled by Fischer! Thus, Hummingbird became the name of both the album and title track of Wey’s most recent release. It’s also her first to feature mostly original music (written over a 15-year period).

Wey is an “uncategorisable” artist who, while firmly grounded in the jazz tradition, is equally at home in the worlds of alternative folk and indie pop – “genre-blending,” rather than genre-bending. I had the pleasure of hearing Wey perform live in Victoria this past spring, at Superior Jazz, a project by Victoria-based jazz vocalist, Heather Ferguson (whose debut album I reviewed in the Feb/Mar 2023 WholeNote). Wey impressed me with her versatility, generosity, energy and playfulness, qualities, along with some of that genre-blending, apparent throughout the album.

An overriding feeling of expansiveness repeatedly came up for me in listening to Hummingbird. It’s there, in abundance, in the title track, as well as in other instrumental tracks, Sterioso, Initially and Finally and Destiny – a lovely, fluid, Metheny-esque expansiveness that I found beautifully compelling. 

Along with her solid piano work were Wey’s breezily playful vocals on that old nugget, Just Squeeze Me. I could “hear” her smiling! 

Joining Wey are her longtime trio collaborators, Louis Rudner on bass and drummer Nicholas Bracewell, both masterful. Hummingbird will indeed leave you humming.

11 Josh ColeKind Mind
Josh Cole; Karen Ng; Michael Davidson
Cassiar Records CR02 (cassiarrecords.bandcamp.com)

Through much of jazz history, from New Orleans beginnings to free jazz, the music’s shifting character has been defined by relationships between formal structure and improvisation. In recent years that has changed, with some individual musicians embracing everything from completely composed to through-improvised forms. What distinguishes Josh Cole’s Kind Mind is not its place on the spectrum but the rough division into those extremes. 

Kind Mind, both CD title and band name, is bassist/composer Cole’s trio with Karen Ng (alto saxophone, clarinet and synthesizer) and Michael Davidson (vibraphone, marimba and pedals). That attention to sonic variety extends to Cole’s sampler, field recordings and synthesizer. Of 11 tracks on a concise 38-minute CD, six are credited to Cole, five to the three trio members. Those credited to Cole emphasize overlapping melodic gestures spread among Cole, Ng and Davidson. The effect is both lyric and timeless, almost ambient, made by instrumental sounds as engaging as you might hear, all apparent in Cole’s opening The Subway with Ng largely reconfiguring melodic content. Next up, talking makes it worse, credited to all three musicians, is taut free improvisation, marked by Cole’s scratching pizzicato and the flow of passionate saxophone and abstract vibraphone. In two tracks, totalling just 6’30” Kind Mind has constructed two different musical worlds, with several more to come. 

With some variations that pattern repeats, but with some looping and extensive field recordings enriching the experience, becoming increasingly hypnotic. The dilemma for the reviewer? I found I could listen to it forever.

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