05 Sam DickinsonDon’t Ask Me
Sam Dickinson Trio
Independent (samdickinsonguitar.com)

Don’t Ask Me is an enjoyable album from Toronto guitarist/composer Sam Dickinson who has studied at Humber College, the New England Conservatory, McGill University and received a Doctorate from the University of Miami in 2019. The album is an engaging and diverse set of works displaying his substantial guitar chops. 

Dickinson’s trio includes Jim Vivian on bass, with Adam Arruda and Terry Clarke alternating on drums. South Florida Task Force has a funky 7/4 groove and the guitar part is fusion inspired, effortlessly jumping through lithe melodies. Old Folks is a beautiful piece featuring acoustic guitar which begins slowly as a solo with some jazzy folk chords, then bass and drums enter and it builds into some expressive solo lines. Memory Lane also has some very nice acoustic playing and features Vivian›s bass, initially playing an exquisitely bowed melody and then evolving into intriguing pizzicato lines. Don’t Ask Me is an impressive and assured debut album and we look forward to more work from Dickinson.

06 Artie RothResonants
Artie Roth Quartet
Three Pines Records TPR-0016 (artieroth.bandcamp.com/album/resonants)

Resonants has many overarching themes, but sonically one in particular hits the ground running and never looks back: Artie Roth’s bass sounds nothing short of astonishing in this mix. Whether this reality is brought to the actual forefront as on the delicate Sound and Sky or greatly heightening the impact of every single Anthony Michelli drum hit on Refrain, Roth is the bedrock of what gives his group its distinctively substantial and grounded sound. The band itself displays an incredible grasp for mood, accessing a palette that not only delights in its sophistication, but fluctuates considerably between each track with effortless precision. The entire tracklist only consists of two (showstopping) segues, but the thoughtful sequencing and Roth’s refined compositional touch binds Circle Maker and Second Moment together as soulmates. 

Resonance makes up one half of the album’s conceptual namesake (“tenants” is the other), and it is a key element that is manipulated by the entire band to great effect. Soloing throughout is divorced from the idea of isolation that is often associated with the practice, taking the form of calculated traversal through a living soundscape rather than self-contained reactions to a set of harmonic constraints. Sam Dickinson’s guitar work shines in this respect, with active accompaniment that provides a resolute sense of warmth. The most energetic sections are characterized by an irresistible swing, kept page-turning by a constant shifting of beat emphasis, never allowing momentum to yield. Freshness flourishes.

07 LOrigine EclateeL’Origine Éclatée
Jean-Marc Hébert; Lex French; Morgan Moore; Pierre Tanguay
Independent (jean-marchebert.bandcamp.com)

L’Origine éclatée is an interesting album, and in many ways a rather selfless offering from guitarist Jean-Marc Hébert. It is one thing to have an understated style, or to showcase compositions and ensemble over one’s individual prowess, but Hébert truly takes an egalitarian stance with this recording, letting his great band shine on the seven unique original compositions we are treated to. The album doesn’t eschew the fact that Hébert is an excellent guitarist, but rather celebrates the trust and confidence he has in his bandmates to interpret his musical vision in a way that is extremely engaging to listeners. 

This is the guitarist’s third album as a composer and leader, and perhaps this is why Hébert has no problem stepping back and letting his music breathe through his bandmates. Another factor could be that he is classically trained. To me, this training is reflected in his mature and fully realized compositional style, as well as his technique on the instrument. I can’t point to a single moment on the album that displays the types of virtuosic shredding so many guitarists are drawn to, but each note Hébert plays is deliberately placed and full of intention. 

If you are starved for virtuosity and shredding, you won’t be disappointed after hearing trumpeter Lex French’s rich contributions to the album. French, bassist Morgan Moore and drummer Pierre Tanguay, are all represented on L’Origine éclatée as features and supporting artists. Check it out for yourself.

08 Francois BourassaSwirl
François Bourassa Quartet
Effendi Records FND169 (francoisbourassa.com)

I have had the pleasure of reviewing two albums from Quebec this month, and this province continues to produce the kind of outstanding art our country has come to associate with it. Pianist François Bourassa’s latest release Swirl: Live at Piccolo is a beautiful mix of improvised and composed elements and is full of contrast to its core. 

Years ago, there was a stereotype that contemporary jazz from Quebec tended to be either avant-garde or straight ahead, with little room in the middle. Whether that was ever entirely true stands to be determined, but the improvised music currently being produced in La Belle Province is an amazing melange of improv and tradition, and to this listener it contains a better range of influences than most other music forged in our country. 

I assumed Live at Piccolo meant this album was recorded live off the floor at Studio Piccolo in the east of Montreal, but audience applause quickly alerted me to the fact that this was a performance as well. This brings a certain realness to the music, which is expertly choreographed and precise while simultaneously sounding entirely improvised. Bourassa has been working with reed player André Leroux and bassist Guy Boisvert for more than two decades now and the most recent addition to the group, Guillaume Pilote, does more than hold his own. The album is just over an hour in duration but manages to keep even the most distractable ears glued to their stereo. I recommend it to curious listeners nationally and globally.

09 Dan Pitt TrioStages
Dan Pitt Trio
Independent (dan-pitt.com)

During Part Two, there is a realization one may arrive at; where it becomes clear that bassist Alex Fournier will indeed have to halt his climb up the thumb register at some point. When that simple, descending two-note phrase adds a skip with its last few repetitions before finally falling back on its sustained apex, it feels like the musical equivalent of holding a person’s gaze. Guitarist Dan Pitt and drummer Nick Fraser then promptly enter the canvas, as if occupying the same mind. This entrance occurs mid-trill, prompting one to rewind the track and locate the exact source of the inciting gesture. The snaking 11-beat pattern that follows serves as the backdrop for continued Fournier arco explorations, cyclical and possessing the assurance of having always occupied its indelible spot in the piece’s conscience. The pattern begins to open up gradually, with Pitt emphasizing offbeats and Fraser dropping open cymbal hits like stones in a glassy stream. Synchronized with this increased generosity, Fournier begins to show his hand as well, weaving what will become the primary motif into his solo.

Part Two is Stages’ shortest song, and a great chunk of its runtime is Fournier’s intro, but it encapsulates the album’s overall tendencies. Gentle, satisfying phrases are meditated on for stretches that manipulate a listener’s time perception, gliding along an axis with ease while each musician applies careful changes with blink-and-you’ll-miss-it subtlety. This music feels truly nurtured.

10 Daniel HersogOpen Spaces – Folk Songs Reimagined
Daniel Hersog Jazz Orchestra
Cellar Music CMR010123 (cellarlive.com)

Vancouver-based composer, arranger, trumpeter and conductor Daniel Hersog leads a 17-musician ensemble in his renditions of four well-known folk songs, and six of his own compositions on this, his second album. Recorded in Vancouver, Hersog’s takes on the familiar folk tunes are varied, musical, jazz flavoured, improvised, yet always true to the original and all performed perfectly.

Gordon Lightfoot’s The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald is given a jazz rendition with classical orchestration and harmonies. Held notes lead to Lightfoot’s memorable melody, repeated with gradual entrance of jazzy countermelodies and variations performed by Dan Weiss’ lively drums, Noah Preminger’s improvised tenor horn solo, Kurt Rosenwinkel’s solo/comping guitar and Frank Carlberg’s flourishing piano solo. A brief silence leads to closing gradual instrumental entrances of legato high-pitched rhythmic lines and held-note melody. Unbelievable how respectful, sad and beautiful this all is. 

Hersog’s adaptation of Red River Valley features repeated bass notes from Kim Cass, full orchestra theme and alternating solos, with Rosenwinkle’s guitar leading back to the famous song, now a big surprise, sung by the musicians to closing loud full orchestra and drum cymbal crashes. How Many Roads is Hersog’s self-described “re-composed” version of Bob Dylan’s Blowin’ in the Wind. His Dylan melody sounds simultaneously familiar yet different, especially in the calming yet fast colourful Carlberg piano solo above Weiss’ drum rolls and orchestral glissandos. Hersog’s compositions are equally enjoyable. Rentrer opening Cass bass line is so intriguing, followed by lengthy colourful orchestral lines and solos. Hersog provides so much space for his musicians to improvise, and there’s so much musical fun for everyone!!

11 Projet Seb ParentProjet Seb Parent
Sébastian Parent
Independent (projetsebparent.bandcamp.com)

Projet Seb Parent, the debut album of Montreal-based drummer Sébastien Parent, leaves the impression of being long in the making. Tight jabs and stabs from the astonishingly cohesive 13-piece horn section inject the most tranquil of rhythm section passages with adrenaline. These sudden shots are surges of pure energy and chutzpah that leave pregnant pauses in between; fleeting voids of suggestion, soon to be realized. This method of tireless tension building through choreographed involvement places Projet Seb Parent on the small ensemble-big band continuum, clueing in while never quite revealing its exact coordinates. The results of Parent’s distinct sound facilitating style: a gleeful grab bag of tuneful goodies that feel equal parts organized and unrestrained. 

Mont Saint-Bruno features acoustic fingerpicking, an irresistible shuffle beat, a whimsical trombone melody and an assertive slide guitar solo played by Patrick Bourdon. Bling Bling’s unabashed usage of 808s, choppy horns and sub bass simultaneously conjures the approaching menace of a Metro Boomin intro, the vigour of a Comet is Coming beat and bravado of your local brass band. Station Du Collège is an absolute highlight, with Parent himself helming an elusive groove reminiscent of early Tune-Yards, not ever quite fully swinging or straight, which makes the song itself feel like it’s constantly lurching forward and backward; reflecting the profoundly danceable quality this whole album possesses.

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