08 Mike MurleyRecent History
Mike Murley; Mark Eisenman; Neil Swainson; Terry Clarke
Cornerstone Records CRST CD 166 (cornerstonerecordsinc.com)

Craving the perfect musical accompaniment to those cozy winter nights spent at the fireside, a warm drink in hand? Stellar duo Mike Murley and Mark Eisenman’s newest release is just the soundtrack you’re looking for. Mellow sax melodies and catchy piano riffs make for a warm, inviting record that conjures images of a snug living room and music floating softly in the background, watching the snow fall softly. Featuring all-stars Neil Swainson on bass and Terry Clarke on drums, Murley/Eisenman’s compositions soar to new heights via these fabulous backing musicians. 

The album harkens back to the classic jazz sound, featuring standards by greats such as Monk, Schwartz and Strayhorn. Yet just the right amount of modernity is brought into the mix, with Murley and crew adding a pleasing contemporary twist to the pieces to swiftly bring them into a current musical setting, as is heard in the time-honoured Monk’s Dream. Murley/Eisenman mention that the album “[reflects their] shared interest in writing new melodies on standard chord progressions,” otherwise known as contrafacts. What also adds a unique spark to the record is the several pieces that showcase Murley/Eisenman’s shared, intertwining solos that soar lyrically overtop of Clarke’s constant, energy-laden beat and Swainson’s rhythmic bass riffs. For those jazz aficionados looking for a foray into the past while also remaining present in the current day, this is a great album to add to the collection.

09 Jesse DietschiGradient
Jesse Dietschi Trio
Independent JDM-2023-01 (jessedietschi.com)

With so much so-called 21st-century music to listen to it is refreshing when a disc turns up that harks back to the elements that made jazzy, improvisational music so attractive in the first place: melody and swing. In this case it is the album Gradient by the contrabassist Jesse Dietschi and his trio. This ensemble is fortified by pianist Ewen Farncombe, a wunderkind who combines technical prowess with intelligence and good taste, and the swinging timekeeper with a gift for melodicism, itinerant journeyman and drummer Ethan Ardelli, now well on his way to becoming something of a proverbial elder statesman. 

The trio operates as a partnership of equals, not as bassist and accompaniment. Each participant is given ample room to stretch; to pick up threads, develop ideas and to embellish Dietschi’s compositions with a range of ear-worm riffs, dancing melodies, insistent rhythms and harmonies with the added elements of colour and texture. 

A relative newcomer, Dietschi emerges as an eloquent musical contrabassist producing some tasty arco work (cue Loose Plug and Canmore), and agile pizzicato everywhere else. As a composer he is clearly more gifted than he would get credit for being. This is likely because he splits his time between chamber orchestras and contemporary ensembles. The music of Gradient, however, suggests a questing mind with a borderless, erudite aesthetic. This is quite a rare combination under any circumstance.

Listen to 'Gradient' Now in the Listening Room

10 Jocelyn GouldSonic Bouquet
Jocelyn Gould
Independent JGCD0523 (jocelyngould.com)

The aptly titled Sonic Bouquet is the third album as leader from guitarist-composer Jocelyn Gould, and is a snapshot of an artist who has refined their craft immensely. The melodies are lean, memorable and feature just the right amount of subversive turns. Across nine tracks, there is nary a single minute of excess, with only pinpoint solo sequencing and an enduring sense of restrained dynamism to be found. It is no coincidence that every track is directly in that five-to-six-minute sweet spot, the whole affair is an absolute breeze by design. 

The tracks distinguish themselves from each other through their beautiful subtleties and small details. Spring Regardless’ head is a clever one, making use of syncopated shots almost exclusively to relay its information, but these hits are metronomic enough to feel purposeful rather than a barrage of material. Coming out of the melody, Rodney Whitaker’s deep-pocket bass solo contrasts nicely with the driving nature of previous proceedings, reining in the band with the logic-defyingly easygoing time feel of his lines. 

Alongside other standard selections on this album, My Foolish Heart takes a ubiquitous ballad and turns it into a stirringly yearnful dialogue between two guitars in the midst of mourning. Gould and former teacher Randy Napoleon’s creative synergy forms the nucleus of what makes this album feel like a documentation of profound musical connection. In the first minute of My Foolish Heart, this effect finds its pinnacle.

11 Peripheral VisionWe’ve Got Nothing
Peripheral Vision
Independent step3-009 (peripheralvisionmusic.com)

Innovative Toronto-based jazz quartet Peripheral Vision has released their long-awaited second live album, their sixth full-length release. From the first track, the listener is pulled into a musical realm where genre-defining boundaries don’t exist and the imagination can be let loose. The group was formed years ago by long-time collaborators guitarist Don Scott and bassist Michael Herring, with saxophonist Trevor Hogg and drummer Nick Fraser brought along for the 15-year (and counting) ride. The album was conceived during pandemic times and was a much-needed creative outlet for these musicians, as it was for many. 

The record stands out for its ability to make the contemporary and experimental accessible and captivating to listeners. This is achieved through two main components: a non-stop groove that gets the body moving and grooving, and through meandering between and constantly mixing genres to create an intriguing set of tunes. Each piece has its clear personality and moods that the listener is transported through. One of the influences for the record that Scott/Herring mention is “influential bassist Dave Holland’s thoughts on achieving balance in life,” which highlights the perfect word to describe this set of pieces: balance. Balance is reflected through the way each musician has a definite role to play within each song, how there is an equilibrium in regards to movement and mellowness and how we are left with a sense of symmetry and stability as the last notes fade.

12 Allison AuMigrations
Allison Au; Migrations Ensemble
Independent AA-23 (allisonau.com)

Allison Au’s Migrations is a vibrant sonic landscape with ebbs and flows inspired by transitions through physical landscape. Described in the liner notes as a long-due creative articulation of personal history and identity, this undertaking succeeds in a profound, inspiring, thought-provoking way. Central to this triumph is the depth, versatility and range of the ensemble itself. 

Au’s own jazz combo is accompanied by string quartet, Michael Davidson on vibraphone and the expressive vocals of Laila Biali. This instrumentation unlocks a spectrum of prismatic mood and texture, with the brightness of the strings crackling over an undercurrent of spellbinding harmonies. Biali not only faithfully conveys the weight of her words during the expertly paced spoken word sections, but she shines as a primary melodic instrument in tandem with Au’s saxophone, particularly on pieces like Them

As a suite, Migrations’ sense of interconnectedness does not feel contrived. Rather than flowing into each other directly with manufactured studio transitions, there are brief pauses between movements. This allows each scene ample time to remark on the previous, while organically creating forward momentum that complements the album’s central text and themes. Racing Across the Land feels like a direct continuation of where Aves Raras ended up in terms of its pace, but from the utterance of “long after you are gone…” the throughline grows beyond what is outwardly stated, allowing for a retrospective plunge into the metanarrative properties of sound.

12 Quinsin NachoffQuinsin Nachoff – Stars and Constellations
Quinsin Nachoff; Mark Helias; Dan Weiss; Bergamot Quartet; The Rhythm Method
Adyhaopa Records AR00040 (quinsin.com)

Noted saxophonist/composer Quinsin Nachoff has just released a new offering, pinioned on the synthesis of a free, non-chordal jazz trio and string quartets. The result is a challenging and bold three-part jazz suite. Nachoff is the composer of all of the material here, and the project itself features Nachoff on tenor as well as the superb players, bassist Mark Helias and drummer Dan Weiss – both frequent collaborators of Nachoff’s. The trio is joined by NYC’s string ensembles, the Bergamot Quartet and The Rhythm Method. The synthesis of these ensembles is breathtaking, as is the compositional and improvisational freedom lying therein.

Mankind has always looked upward to receive insight and inspiration from the sky – and in acknowledgement of those ancient engrams, the three movements of the suite are entitled Scorpio, Pendulum and Sagittarius. Scorpio explores the white luminosity of individual stars – mere points of light – morphing into constellations. Pizzicato strings instigate the chaos, as they form and are greeted by lengthening string lines, while blazing percussion indicates the heartbeat of the galaxy. The strings both support and antagonize the subtle spots of light, while the bass and cello lines support the very firmament itself. Nachoff’s potent tenor jumps into the fray with a deeply soulful recitative followed by a searing cry against oblivion, and hence into the very eye of creation itself. Fine percussive work from Weiss, as well a gymnastic and soul-searing bass solo from Helias summon the Paleolithic magic.

The 14-minute Pendulum is a study in extremes – invoking frenetic conversation between the string quartets, and Sagittarius celebrates the almost Vedic universal law common throughout the known and unknown universe – the eternal law of destruction and re-creation. This is a major work of luminosity and brilliance, which will inform the higher consciousness of each listener.

13 Lucas NiggliPlay!
Lucas Niggli Sound of Serendipity Tentet
Intakt CD 406 (intaktrec.ch)

More than a game piece that creates musical situations suggested by the shuffling of playing cards into three-fold suits, Swiss percussionist Lucas Niggli’s refined this eight-track program so that tentet members negate any breach between composition and improvisation. Although different conductors, soloists and backing players are listed for each piece, foreground and background roles aren’t static.

Niggli, whose experience encompasses solo sets, a punk-jazz trio and African percussion experiments, only lightly sprinkles rhythmic strokes and slaps among the tunes from his kit and drummer Peter Conradin Zumthor’s. Instead the tracks’ contours are decided by soloist juxtaposition, as extended technique alters expected sounds. Movement 2 for instance evolves from Marina Tantanozi’s electronically doubled flute puffs and shrills to near opaque vibrating textures from organist Dominik Blum and accordionist Tizia Zimmermann, then reinstates flute peeps mated with squeeze box jerks. The most natural transition between dissonance and delicacy occurs with Movement 4 and Movement 5. Joana Maria Aderi’s voltage-altered vocals paired with percussion clangs cushioned by Marc Unternährer’s tuba ostinato subsequently turns into a brief pastoral flute feature.

While space is also made for aggressive altissimo asides by tenor saxophonist Silke Strah and stentorian slaps from bassist Christian Webber, as well as widely separated rock-like or marching-band-like interludes, the suite’s basic structure remains constant and linear.

Not only does the group Play exceptionally, but it also demonstrates how to play using varied sound elements while preserving a coherent musical perception.

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