04_han_benninkLet's Go
Han Bennink; Brodie West + Terrie Ex
Terp Improv Series IS 16 www.terprecords.nl

Unfazed by the decades of musical history represented by his Dutch associates – Han Bennink, probably his country’s most recorded jazz drummer, and guitarist Terrie Ex, who has been a punk-rocker since its first spit – Toronto alto saxophonist Brodie West leaps into the fray in this session with youthful inspiration and the skills resulting from constant improvising. The result reflects the title: the three create at a high, interactive level from the get-go until they finally exhaust all sonic possibilities.

Known locally for his gigs with trumpeter Lina Allemano, West has played with the two Dutchmen in different configurations. But here his febrile reed variations, that range from trilling obbligatos to eviscerating honks, spiced with split-second quotes from pop and jazz tunes, invigorate Bennink and Ex, pushing them to take more chances.

Ex, a frenetic if rudimentary guitarist, stays away from simple rhythms to use slurred fingering, amp distortion and scraping frails to augment his responses to the saxophonist’s flattement, penny-whistle-like shrills and reed bites. Bennink, who has worked with major jazz players since the early 1960s, is as unpredictable in his beat-making as always. But there are times here where his crunches and slams move into violent, near-Hard Rock territory to relate to Ex’s chunky strums and shakes, while at the same time using rattles, nerve beats and rim clicks to join West in deconstructing the material. For his part, West’s techniques, including deliberately schmaltzy vibratos, circular breathing and dagger-sharp reed bites, help keep everyone off balance, but allow him to improvise at his inventive best.

Shirley Crabbe

New York City jazz vocalist Shirley Crabbe’s initial CD offering is a tasty collection of tunes associated with Broadway and elsewhere. The well-produced and conceived recording features saxophone legend Houston Person as well as Shirley’s pitch-perfect vocal instrument and a quintessential New York City rhythm section of Jon Burr on bass, Alvester Garnett on drums and Jim West and Donald Vega on piano.

Ms. Crabbe fortuitously returned to singing following major surgery on her vocal cords and has rendered each carefully chosen track with emotion, skill, theatrical flair and a complete reverence for the melody (something to be kept in mind by emerging jazz singers). A protégée of the late, great Etta Jones, Ms. Crabbe shows us a depth of meaning that can only be realized through life experience and devotion to your art. The moving title track from the hit musical The Wiz is a standout, as is Not While I’m Around, Sondheim’s harmonically complex ballad from Sweeny Todd, featuring an inspired trumpet solo from Brandon Lee. Oscar Brown Jr.’s Strongman is another highlight, replete with an elegant and bluesy solo from special guest (and long-time Etta Jones collaborator) Houston Person. On Leonard Bernstein’s Lucky to Be Me – another gem - Crabbe channels the incomparable Irene Kral and on Herb Ellis’ rarely performed Detour Ahead, the whole company swings sumptuously with a lilting, uptempo horn-infused arrangement from Matt Haviland.

A brilliant debut, this recording should be required listening for any jazz vocalist.

02_dream_makerDream Maker, Heartbreaker - Sam Broverman sings Johnny Mercer
Sam Broverman
Independent BR002 www.brovermusic.com

It’s clear from the first cut of his debut album – and the well researched, informative liner notes – that Sam Broverman adores, respects and loves singing Johnny Mercer. Making “Dream Maker, Heartbreaker” was a dream come true for Broverman and how nice for us that he realized his dream with 13 terrific tracks, backed by 18 of Toronto’s finest, including Chris Gale on tenor sax, pianists Peter Hill and Mark Kieswetter, cellist Roman Borys, Reg Schwager, guitar, Kevin Turcotte, trumpet and those wonderful Whiteleys – Chris on harmonica and trumpet and Ken, multi-tasking as always, this time on at least four instruments and playing producer.

Knowing he would inevitably invoke those titans of style and interpretation – Sinatra, Bennett, Tormé – I’ve got to hand it to this actuarial mathematics professor by day/jazz singer by night for his bravery, dedication and careful attention in taking on some of Mercer’s most beloved and recognizable songs. Impressively, Broverman has put his own stamp on them. His Laura is lovely and evocative; he swings like the best of them in Day In, Day Out; broods with depth and intelligence in I Wonder What Became of Me. And I was moved by Moon River. Broverman sings it with just the right amount of sweetness, yearning and poignancy, managing to keep this nugget fresh and unhackneyed. (Oh, and the title of the CD? That’s right – third line, first verse.)

Bravo – and Mazel Tov – to Sam Broverman, a fellow Winnipegger-living-in-Toronto. Ya done “The Peg” proud!

Concert note: Sam Broverman will perform material from “Dream Maker, Heartbreaker” at the Green Door Cabaret on December 3.

01_diana_pantonTo Brazil with Love
Diana Panton
eOne Music DIA-CD-1293 www.dianapanton.com

“To Brazil With Love” from vocalist/composer Diana Panton is a perfect jewel of a CD. Each delightful track is an exquisitely manicured musical facet, set firmly in the Brazilian idiom and seamlessly sung in French and English by Panton. Her diaphanous vocal sound never insists and her high speed vibrato is like the beat of a hummingbird’s heart – natural, untainted and pure. The Brazilian-infused material is an eclectic mix, including compositions from Panton, Antonio Carlos Jobim and Paul McCartney (check out the moving interpretation of And I Love Her/Him featuring Don Thompson on piano rendering chord changes that never entered McCartney’s mind).

On the recording, Panton has cleverly surrounded herself with superb musicians – including multi-instrumentalist and producer Thompson on bass, piano and vibes. Guitarist Reg Schwager makes a stellar contribution with his exquisite solos, as does flautist Bill McBirnie. The rich, sonorous linear lines of Kiki Misumi’s cello also enhance the arrangements. Highlights include Panton’s Is it Really You, Samba Saravah (from the 1966 film A Man and a Woman, with authentic vocal and percussion from Maninho Costa), Jobim’s So Nice replete with a lovely, breezy vocal and a take on the 1963 Bobby Vee hit, The Night Has a Thousand Eyes – demonstrating that Diana Paton certainly knows her way around a standard, Brazilian or otherwise. This is a stunning recording on all levels, and we should all look forward to more from the lovely Ms. Panton.


Terri Lyne Carrington

Concord Jazz CJA-33016-02

Terri Lyne Carrington has brought together some of the top women in jazz for the female-centric Mosaic project, and the result runs the stylistic gamut from jazz/funk, to rap and whatever category Grammy-award winning Esperanza Spalding’s music fits into. (Baroque jazz?) Although the liner notes are at times unclear as to who performs on which track, what is clear is that Carrington is the guiding hand, playing drums on all the songs, switching styles effortlessly, and she wrote a handful of the tunes. Other dominant performers among the 20 or so on the disc are Geri Allen, Patrice Rushen and Helen Sung sharing the piano and keys duties. Singer Cassandra Wilson lends her mahogany tones to the aptly named Simply Beautiful, by Al Green, which also benefits from nuanced violin work from Chia-Yin Carol Ma. One of the standout tracks is the opening Transformation, written by Carole Pope and Kevan Staples, formerly of Toronto’s 80s music scene staple Rough Trade, along with Nona Hendryx, who performs the vocals. Also strong is Lennon/McCartney’s Michelle, which gets turned on its pretty head. The only thing I found a bit off was awkwardness in some of the horn and woodwind parts, which seemed largely due to the arrangements rather than the playing. But soloing from all of the horns – Ingrid Jensen, Anat Cohen and Tineke Postma - was solid.


02_harris_eisenstadtCanada Day II

Harris Eisenstadt

Songlines SGL 1589-2 (www.songlines.com)

Although he left Toronto more than a decade ago, Brooklyn-based drummer Harris Eisenstadt hasn’t abandoned his home town… or country. This thoroughly modern session is the second CD by one of his working bands, whose name came from its first gig on July 1. Complete with a cover painting – with canoe – reminiscent of the Northern Ontario summer camp the drummer attended, Eisenstadt’s eight originals are played by a quintet of top-flight New York jazzers, none of whom is Canadian, although bassist Elvind Opsvik is Norwegian.

Well engineered, “Canada Day II” balances on Opsvik’s upfront bass rhythm, as well as the never-obtrusive beats of the drummer. With Chris Dingman’s ringing vibraphone clanks recurrently moving from foreground to background, most of the swinging pieces are elaborated by Nate Wooley’s buzzing trumpet technique and Matt Bauder’s vamping tenor saxophone.

Both the trumpeter and bassist are showcased on To See/Tootsie as the bassist keeps up a steady pace and Wooley delves into slurry stutters, mouthpiece kisses and capillary cries. Subsequently, Bauder states the tuneful theme and Eisenstadt accompanies with off-side flams and rim shots. Cottage country cool rather than downtown hot, most of the pieces on “Canada Day II” are like that. With the horns or rhythm instruments often working in tandem, other solos stand out as well. Jagged flutter-tonguing from the saxophonist erupting from a foundation of vibe resonation from Dingman enlivens Now Longer, a bass vamp that became a suite. During the piece, Opsvik slithers all over the strings or walks authoritatively as the blurry unison horn work confirms the transformation.

Overall the expatriate Torontonian’s playing, arranging and composing is so accomplished that one doesn’t known whether to give it an “A” or an “Eh”.

The Fall is always a showcase for the best in Canadian jazz – this month’s collection is a prize package, the top three world class.

01_robi_botosUp first is a splendid trio disc from pianist Robi Botos, who since his arrival from Hungary has consistently brought audiences to their feet with sparkling imagination and a fabulous technique. The impressive Robi Botos Trio - Place To Place (A440 002 www.robibotos.com) is the first album under his name, 68 minutes on which he’s backed by brother Frank on drums and long-time associate Attila Darvas on bass. The 14-cut outing (mostly originals) is terrific from the first notes of Life Goes On with Darvas a revelation in a unit demonstrating impeccable interaction. A fab reworking of Wayne Shorter’s Footprints, a delightful take on the classics with Be Bach, a lovely tribute to Oscar Peterson (Emmanuel), a storming title piece, a bristling Smedley’s Attack and the humour delivered on Inside Out are just a few disc highlights, which assert the leader’s firm grasp of pianistic essentials. Some might quibble at the Botos delight in fiery, top gear playing but to these ears it’s simply splendid.

02_john_stetchPianist John Stetch is a seriously gifted musician whose presence unfortunately is rare in the GTA despite an international reputation. Edmonton-born but U.S.-based, his releases invariably are stunningly original and on the dozen tunes of John Stetch Trio - Fabled States (Addo Records AJR010 www.addorecords.com) he demonstrates his fluent skill at embracing a plethora of styles, rich textures and harmonic progressions. His virtuosic playing and arranging is a constant here, with the opening Oscar’s Blue Green Algebra an energetic, sweeping homage to Oscar Peterson with gospel underpinnings. The pulsating 12-minute Black Sea Suite is a brilliant fusion of world music and western jazz, Plutology (based on the indestructible I Got Rhythm) spins way out and What The McHeck conveys bracing hard bop. Fascinating considerations of jazz approaches continue with Do Telepromptu probing bluegrass, Gmitri reacting to a Shostakovich prelude and the title tune riffing on Benny Golson’s Stablemates. Bass Joe Martin and drummer Greg Ritchie contribute fluently to an often breathtaking disc.

03_ernesto_cerviniDrummer Ernesto Cervini is a relative newcomer who’s blazing a path through contemporary jazz with smart new ideas and a burning intensity that shouts to be heard. Taped live over two nights at Vancouver’s Cellar Club, he illustrates his achievements with terrific young sidemen in tow – versatile American saxophonist Joel Frahm, pianist extraordinaire Adrean Farrugia and bassist Dan Loomis. On Ernesto Cervini Quartet - There (Anzic Records ANZ-3200 www.ernestocervini.com) there’s nine tracks, six by him, that illustrate individual skills and group cohesion with Frahm’s spiky lean notes, Farrugia’s dynamic imagination and Loomis’ solid core bass keeping energy levels high despite formidable rhythmic shifts. They even reimagine the soul ballad Secret Love into helter-skelter mode rooted in bop with Frahm’s tenor referencing Sonny Rollins. These performers always complement each other, notably on the Andalusian-flavoured Granada Bus, the reverential Gramps and the clever, quirky The Monks of Oka. Farrugia’s rollicking Woebegone is a meaty treat and the exhilarating Little Black Bird is a blast on an album that has to be one of 2011’s best.

04_cookersThe Cookers are a back-to-basics hard bop quintet, nowadays an attractive voice in the land of quasi-intellectual trickery, avant-garde noodling and jazz’s black sheep cousin, smooth jazz. Formed last year, the fivesome comprises veterans and newbies but they’re close companions on The Cookers - Volume One (TC69420 www.thecookers.ca) and its eight originals supplied by bandsmen. Immediately you know this group’s best heard live with its mix of bop, soul, jazz and the blues, with trumpeter Tim Hamels and saxman Ryan Oliver swinging hard, pianist Richard Whiteman reliable as ever in all modes and a lively pulse generated by tuneful bassist Alex Coleman and drummer Morgan Childs. The trumpet’s crisp, rough-toned precision matches Oliver’s full-range warm horn, the former occasionally offering full rasp Roy Eldridge, the latter bringing to mind Eric Alexander. Top tracks: The Ramble, Blues to Booker and The Pork Test, but all have merit. Pity there’s just 47 minutes on offer.

05_5_after_4Drummer Vito Rezza’s pounding jazz fusion band 5 After 4 makes a mostly welcome return on Rome In A Day (Alma ACD62112 www.almarecords.com) with its sixth album, the first since 2004. Backing the powerhouse leader on 11 originals are versatile woodwind ace John Johnson, Matt Horner on piano, Rhodes and organ, and bassist Peter Cardinali. The musical architecture is as always firm, groove and vigour uppermost. Johnson enjoys himself throughout, setting out his keen priorities on the fiery opener 10,000 Days with Cardinali’s bass sound big and booming, a combination that works well with tried and trusted drumming and complementary subtleties from Horner. The bluesy Top Hat is spelled out neatly with Rhodes and agile bass followed by a surprisingly serene ballad caressed by tenor and then the dense, off-kilter Mr. Govindas. Perhaps the most appealing tune is Changes Of Season with marked contrasts employing speed, delicacy and finally fury, Johnson leading the charge. The only problem here is a sameness in composition and execution, as if the ensemble’s wound too tight.

06_bunnett_duranLovers of Cuban music will rejoice in Jane Bunnett & Hilario Duran - Cuban Rhapsody (Alma ACD67112 www.almarecords.com), a vast survey of the island nation’s music from the mid-19th century to the mid-20th. Virtuosos Bunnett (flute and soprano sax) and Duran (piano) play with passionate vitality and gracious charm as they canvas traditions established by such valued composers as Ernesto Lecuona and Frank Emilio Flynn. The heart of this album, crammed with dancing beats and lilting melody, is a five-tune medley of contradanzas by Manuel Saumell. The duo plays with intimate chemistry and still adds jazz improv fuel to a sterling session that integrates European music with classic Cuban folkloric styles.

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