01_bill_dixonPraised and reviled in equal measure during his 40-year career, Vermont-based trumpeter Bill Dixon was finally recognized as one of improvised music’s most original stylists and theorists before his death at 84 in June 2010. Fittingly his final concert took place a mere three weeks previously at Quebec’s Festival International de Musique Actuelle de Victoriaville, where a hand-picked octet played this composition under his direction. Luckily the performance has been released as Envoi (Victo Records Victo cd 120 www.victo.qc.ca). Not only do the two sections illuminate Dixon’s particular mixture of formalism and freedom, but with a horn section of four playing cornet, bugle and flugelhorn, Envoi also demonstrates Dixon’s influence on a younger generation of brass players. Famously prickly and opinionated, Dixon organized The Jazz Composers Guild, one of the first musicians’ self-help organizations in the mid-1960s. A long-time professor at Bennington College in Vermont, Dixon recorded sparingly over the years, which makes this session doubly valuable. Impressionistic and dramatic, Envoi is organized with classical precision in varied sequences. Most involve muted, shaded bent notes from the brass players in counterpoint to the spiccato string swipes of cellist Glynis Loman and bassist Ken Filiano, or, in the first section, tart slurs from Michel Côté’s bass clarinet. Additional unifying motifs come from Warren Smith’s resounding kettle drumming, and, in the second section, his ringing vibes, which soften the interface as it moves forward. In that same section the unison strings maintain a menacing undertow, breached only occasionally by heraldic brassiness or dissonant grace notes, plus at one point echoing stillness from Graham Hayes’ bugle. True to Dixon’s style, most of the brass tones are segmented sound shards which waft pure air through the horns. Following nearly 40 minutes of quivery tremolo theme variations, a spectacular example of the trumpeter’s measured art arrives near the end. After one cornetist sounds heraldic tones at a higher pitch among the others’ capillary whispers, all harmonize for a protracted section of legato impressionism, only scattering at the end as one puffs quietly while another exposes plunger tones. Finally, call-and-response vamping from all marks the climax.

02_next_thbNew York’s Taylor Ho Bynum and Chicago’s Rob Mazurek, both featured on “Envoi”, have been marked by Dixon’s compositional and improvisational skill, as has Montreal’s Ellwood Epps. On his own, Bynum is probably closest to Dixon when it comes to voicing. Atmospheric textures on the six instant compositions that make up Next (Porter Records PRCD-4058 www.porterrecords.com) are built up from his cornet, flugelhorn or trumpet, Sara Schoenbeck’s bassoon and Joe Morris’ guitar. With no instrument in the so-called front-line, and each player capable of extended techniques, it’s often difficult to separate timbres. Schoenbeck may use her burbling pedal-point as a foundation, but on a tune like Next, she splinters her tone into tiny reed bites, and later harmonizes intense growls with Bynum’s triplet patterns. On Next the guitar texture is all bottleneck licks. Yet on pieces such as Consensus Struggle Morris’ percussive strumming emphasizes the beat, allowing the bassoonist to solo with hoarse multiphonics, and giving the cornetist room for peeping squeals and trippy tongue flutters. The trio’s interface is most appealing on Fireside. Morris’ below-the-bridge plinks are further coloured by Schoenbeck’s burbling bluster as Bynum’s staccato, off-centre trills soar upward to lip-twisting brassiness.

03_pink_salivaSomeone who took lessons with Dixon and – at least in choice of band name – has inherited the older man’s impudence, is Ellwood Epps, whose Pink Saliva trio (& Records &11 www.etrecords.net), is filled out by Alexandre St-Onge on electric bass and laptop and Michel F Côté on drums, microphones and lap steel guitar. Although Dixon only dabbled in electronics, Epps, a Toronto native, and his Québécois confreres embrace it wholeheartedly, adding oscillated wave forms and crackling drones to everything they play. Negotiating the line between indie-rock and jazz-improvisation, the CD is studded with irregular ruffs and drags on Côté’s part, rumbles and pops from St-Onge’s string set and dial-twisting buzzes. At points overdubbed, Epps’ trumpet soars over these wiggling sequences, repeatedly shifting from low-pitched inner-horn gurgles to piercing trills, adding additional touches of soaring lyricism.

04_double_demonA similar brass lyricism is evident on Starlicker’s Double Demon (Delmark DE 2011 www.delmark.com) featuring Rob Mazurek. Instructively it’s also the cornetist who impels the tunes towards jazz improvisation, while John Herndon, of the Tortoise rock band, concentrates on gutsy backbeats. Meanwhile the six Mazurek compositions are given distinctive shape by mallet-driven staccato juddering from Jason Adasiewicz’s vibraphone. With the vibist’s ringing gamelan-like tones a constant leitmotif, whether playing in ballad time or much speedier, Starlicker’s appeal lies in continuous contrast among three intense instrumental textures. The title track finds the vibist’s blurred tremolo lines matching the cornet’s strident brays; whereas the brass man uses finesse and moderated splutters to create a chromatic line alongside Herndon’s ratcheting and discordant pops on Triple Hex. However on Skull Cave, the cornetist’s Dixon-like melodic release which recaps the initial theme, moderates sequences of metal bar smacks and a thick drum backbeat.

Regularly operating outside of jazz’s mainstream, Bill Dixon’s brass sound and ideas actually influenced more musicians than is generally acknowledged. It’s both ironic and appropriate then, that it was an experimental Canadian festival which gave him a platform for his final performance.

01_jeff_healeyLive at Grossman’s

Jeff Healey Band

Convexe ERN 28002 www.conveyorcanada.com

Phew! Wotta Scorcher. That time-honoured Brit tabloid newspaper headline neatly sums up the inaugural release of the Convexe label, first in a series of unreleased Healey band CDs and DVDs culled from audio and video archives. With power trio regulars Joe Rockman on bass, drummer Tom Stephen plus on many cuts guitarist Pat Rush, the Canadian icon – stunningly proficient with guitar and voice - establishes a blistering pace from the start, storming through Alvin Lee’s I’m Going Home and maintaining the pace with Killing Floor, one of two Howlin’ Wolf classics that Healey jokes are just part of “another session of sonic torture!”

Chinatown venue Grossman’s has equally venerable status, one reason its hosting the Sunday jam sessions spawned the Healey band in 1985.

Today its blues and rock Mecca rep has faded, but this outing 17 years ago – one shared with local rockers The Phantoms - is fully energized though the crowd seems thin. The session was actually a rehearsal for Healey’s fourth studio album “Cover To Cover.”

The Albert King hit As The Years Go Passing By shows Healey’s skills at their best, raw voice effortlessly locked onto the beat then a launch of a typically aching solo on guitar - once again you’re reminded of how comfortable he is in blues, rock and jazz, resulting in a public appeal that was unquenchable until his death in 2008.

Vintage jukebox hit Ain’t That Just Like A Woman gets thrusting treatment, followed by a rare Beatles tune, the Lennon-penned, melancholic Yer Blues with passionate Healey vocal and general ensemble fury setting the mood ablaze and then it’s back to the Wolf for Who’s Been Talking with Michael Pickett’s vigorous harmonica.

Robert Johnson’s Crossroads has plenty of jump, as does Elmore James’ Dust My Broom, this chestnut all urgent wailing, pleading crescendos and bouncing beat. Then, unpredictably, comes a smartly done extended encore with Dylan’s All Along The Watchtower, more searing guitar work, rock lyrics and realization that a memorable hour has concluded with a grand flourish.


Les Doigts de l’Homme

Alma ACD61412 www.almarecords.com

Les Doigts de l’Homme – guitarists Olivier Kikteff, Yannick Alcocer, and Benoit “Binouche” Convert, and acoustic bassist Tanguy Blum – is an amazing French band whose music is now available locally thanks to Alma records. Florid guitar lines, interesting solos, a great groove, and tight ensemble playing means these gentlemen could even make a C major scale sound inspirational if asked to do so!

Django Reinhardt was born in 1910, thus the name of this tribute CD. The band covers a number of the guitar legend's tunes like Minor Swing, interspersed with some classic numbers like Irving Berlin's Blue Skies, and originals by band member Kikteff. Each track is a work of aural art. The upbeat cover of the Kern/Hammerstein song Ol' Man River is a surprising success with its punchy shots and zippy tempo. Reinhardt’s Swing 48 features Kikteff’s technical wizardry and Convert’s contrasting lush tonal quality in their solo work. The chromatic melody lines of Kikteff’s Niglo l Waltz are reminiscent of French musette accordion music, one of the many influences on Reinhardt's own music. The scratchy vinyl record sound on the final track is a nice closing touch.

The liner notes describe the band's high regard of Django's music. “He is a perpetual source of inspiration and we are grateful that his music has made its way into our lives today.” And this exactly how I feel about Les Doigts de l’Homme's “1910” too!

03_miles_davisMiles Davis - Live at Montreux 1973-1991

Miles Davis

Eagle Eye Media EE391949

The pleasing shock of seeing jazz genius Miles Davis up close and personal at Montreux in 1973 in striking colour – lip-licking in splendid white jacket, huge Afro, big shades, glittering vest, blue cravat – is matched by the misery of seeing him 18 years later on the same Swiss stage – frail, old, downcast, positively drab in demeanour with playing to match.

All of which makes this DVD, drawn from the archives that generated a 20-CD release in 2002, a valuable document indeed. On the 10 long tracks no line-up is the same, no line-up featured ever recorded in a studio, there’s no remixing, no editing.

Mind you, the lead-up is odd. With roadies on stage there’s around two minutes of shuffling, hints of percussion, an anonymous squawk. A minute later staccato trumpet sounds and instrument fiddling. At six, signs there may be a band at work. All is forgotten when the group, a youthful Dave Liebman on soprano sax and Al Foster drumming, rumbles into action for a very lengthy improv on Ife, Miles conjuring sounds with horn and wah-wah pedal from his recent groundbreaking offerings on seminal albums “Bitches Brew” and “In A Silent Way,” using nods and hand signs to instruct sidemen, dabbling on Yamaha organ and creating ethereal magic over a four-note bass riff.

It’s good, enhanced by the superb, superior visual clarity that easily captures the sweat on the master’s face. Davis retired for six years in 1975 through ill-health but returned to Montreux in 1984 dressed in a sort of white sailor suit with Bob Berg on soprano and guitarist John Scofield. His trumpet was in fine shape, at times ferocious, on Speak: That’s What Happened. 1985 had similar personnel save for stiff-armed Vince Wilburn, Davis’ nephew, on drums, quickly followed in 1986 with banks of synths, alto sax smoothie David Sanborn actually blowing hard and young guitarist Robben Ford thrashing blue notes on Jean-Pierre as the master delivered clean, quick lines. The next year’s Heavy Metal Prelude was a tedious vehicle for percussionist Marilyn Mazur but alto Kenny Garrett was there and in 1989 for a potent big bass punch courtesy of Foley McCreary and tenor Rick Margitza on Jo Jo. 1990’s Hannibal had fetching, understated Davis and raging Garrett.

The gloomy 1991 takes three months before Davis’ death originated in “Sketches Of Spain” (The Pan Piper, Solea ) with over-packed stage and music collapsing into cacophony. It was hardly a fitting epitaph for a life of musical influence and revolution, whose constant was change and whose indelible mark will forever be clear on bop, cool jazz, modal jazz, electric jazz, funk and jazz fusion. The disc, however, is a must-have.

01_playin_janeWelcome back Jane Fair and Rosemary Galloway, last heard together nine years ago. Their new one - Jane Fair Rosemary Galloway Quintet - Playin’ Jane (JFRGQ-002 www.rosemarygalloway.com) – has nine briskly-paced originals (five by Galloway, four by Fair) artfully executed alongside trumpeter Lina Allemano, pianist Nancy Walker and drummer Nick Fraser. Fair, a rare commodity on record, is adept on soprano and tenor sax, confidently setting the mood on her spirited title track opener, a harbinger of bright, unusual pieces propelled by resonant Galloway bass and lively drums. Highlighted throughout are Walker’s thrusting solos and comping as well as Allemano’s impassioned avant garde notions that complement her comrades’ bop inclinations. The Thelonious Monk-inspired Green Roofs features intricate exchanges and potent playing by soprano and trumpet, while Circles And Lines initially echoes his classic Misterioso before segueing into minor blues. Elsewhere, expect the unexpected on a terrific album celebrating the deep pool of Toronto-based talent.

02_heavyweightsThe Heavyweights Brass Band - Don’t Bring Me Down (www.heavyweightsbrassband.com). This debut disc deserves the extensive air time it’s garnered this summer. After all, who can resist a contemporary group showcasing a sousaphone, courtesy of Rob Teehan, especially if it’s not just occupying rhythmic roles? Here’s 13 tracks, six mostly upbeat originals alternating with tunes referencing popsters like Lady Gaga, Michael Jackson, Beyonce, and Stratford’s Beeb, so think reincarnated Shuffle Demons. Trombonist Chris Butcher, trumpeter Jon Challenor and saxman Paul Metcalfe wail to great effect over tough, battering drums from Lowell Whitty. The ensemble’s tight, simple emphatic riffs abound and despite unvarying structures, the entirely unnecessary Cuban rapper and soulful blues singer (and bandsmen vocals) this is a most entertaining outing that updates vintage New Orleans marching combos.

03_bourassaQuebec pianist François Bourassa has enjoyed a stellar three-decade career yet his veteran team always plays with youthful urgency, as you quickly gather from Isola, the first cut on François Bourassa Quartet - Idiosyncrasie (Effendi FND111 www.francoisbourassa.com). It’s one of the leader’s seven (of eight) compositions that showcases slick unison play, bracing tenorman André Leroux, ever-churning bassist Guy Boisvert and stimulating drummer Philippe Melanson, followed by the long, mysteriously moody Haiku-Darmstadt that offers clipped phrasing, seductive piano-sax dialogue and choppy odd-meter beat. Then comes a three-part suite, among which the stirring Pressiert bests elegant balladry with the foursome consumed by focused urgency. The session guarantees both pleasure and curiosity – witness the closing Chant Du P’tit Gny.

04_clevelandJulia Cleveland, who studied jazz at Mohawk College after classical percussion at U of T, is Hogtown’s heir to a new-ish tradition of female driving drummers such as Cindy Blackman and Susie Ibarra. Her debut jazz record is the melodious Julia Cleveland 5uintet - Tumble, Stumble (JC52011 www.juliacleveland.com), which also headlines saxist Kelly Jefferson, bass Ross MacIntyre, pianist Adrian Farrugia and Mike Malone on trumpet and flugelhorn. Its 11 tunes and charts are by Cleveland, who more than holds her own in this well-integrated group. Farrugia often steals the limelight with smart, sometimes lavish statements, particularly effective on electric piano, but Cleveland defines the pulse, which underpins everything from the chirpy title tune to the elegiac Obbink. Malone is cool and clever, Jefferson powerfully inventive. Going Back is a tribute to late bandleader Dave McMurdo, who taught at Mohawk.

05_senenskyBernie Senensky has long been a major player on the Canadian jazz scene but somehow remains undervalued, which is outrageous – he’s always a fount of fresh ideas, an assured performer with incredible technique who honours jazz tradition. Thus on Senensky-Perla-Riley - Invitation (P M Records PMR-033 www.PMRecords.com) the pianist demonstrates his mastery of melodic, harmonic and improvisational possibilities, starting with two of his own – the hard-charging Come To Me and a potent Blues For E.J. Six standards adorn this get-together with bassist Gene Perla and drummer Ben Riley, with notably subtle Senensky approaches to Old Folks and Young And Foolish. Perla scores with his stylish Bill’s Waltz and the leader closes with a rousing Bud Lines that would have the late piano legend smiling.

06_interceptionInterception is a new band comprising cousins Marko Ostojic (piano) and Uros Stamenkovic (drums) whose heritage is Macedonian, bass Justin Gray, percussionist Altaf Bwana Moto Vellani and tenor saxophonist Sal Rosselli, who often declaims à la Argentinean firebrand Gato Barbieri. Their debut disc Timing and Distance (www.interceptionmusic.com) starts modestly but improves dramatically with the tune Interception, the first of three Ostojic compositions, in which the tenor storms over heavy, tumultuous rhythm. Then it’s one of three modern jazz rarities, Phineas Newborn’s Sugar Ray, like much here a vehicle for Rosselli to range widely before the pianist shows off his imaginative independence. Nomad wobbles before Rosselli tears into double-time over thrusting grooves, then Ostojic counters with more shrewd notions. The album impresses, if only lasting 46 minutes.

01_ThreadgillA highlight of the international calendar, the Guelph Jazz Festival (GJF), September 7 to 11, has maintained its appeal to both the adventurous and the curious over 18 years. It has done so mixing educational symposia with populist outdoor concerts, featuring performers ranging from established masters to experimenters from all over the world. For example, American alto saxophonist/flautist Henry Threadgill appears at the River Run Centre on September 10 with his Zooid quintet. A frequent GJF visitor bassist William Parker is featured in at least four ensembles; twice with Toronto vocalist Christine Duncan’s Element Choir Project on September 9 at St. George’s Anglican Church and September 10 at the outdoor Jazz Tent; on September 11 as part of an all-star quartet in Co-operators Hall; and in the same spot on September 8, with pianist Paul Plimley and drummer Gerry Hemingway. Sharing the bill is Tilting, a quartet led by Montreal bassist Nicolas Caloia. Meanwhile Danish saxophonist Lotte Anker is part of an afternoon performance September 10 at Co-operators Hall with two Americans, pianist Craig Taborn and drummer Gerald Cleaver.

02_FloatingIslandSupplely slinky, bouncingly rhythmic and unmistakable original, Zooid’s This Brings Us To Volume II (Pi Recordings PI 36 www.pirecordings.com) clearly delineates Threadgill’s compositional smarts expressed by the band. Many of the tracks depend on the contrasts engendered by mixing Liberty Ellman’s nylon-string guitar licks with the snorts from Jose Davila’s gutbucket trombone or surging tuba plus cross-sticking and rolls from drummer Elliot Humberto Kavee. The most characteristic track is Polymorph, with a sardonic melody that suggests Kurt Weill’s Berlin period. Here Threadgill’s astringent saxophone timbres are first framed by snapping frails from Ellman and later arrive at contrasting double counterpoint with the thick pop of Stomu Takeishi’s bass guitar.

03_ParkerICIFloating Islands (ILK 162 CD www.ilkmusic.com) demonstrates the cohesive skills of the Anker/Taborn/Cleaver group. Recorded at the Copenhagen Jazz Festival, the selections demonstrate the trio’s extrasensory perception. With Anker rotating among soprano, alto and tenor saxophones, the band divides according to the improvisation; sections are devoted to saxophone-piano, saxophone-drum or piano-drum interaction. Hard reed buzzes bring out cascading choruses from Taborn for instance, while the pianist’s unconventional key clicks are met by the saxophonist’s arching split tones and tongue flutters plus swirling cymbals and snare backbeats. Sometimes the narrative becomes a mass of chiaroscuro patterns from all, with the palpable tension finally breached by Anker’s chirping tones and Taborn’s glissandi. Backwards River is an extended example of this, as galloping runs from Taborn arrive after an exposition of gritty reed tones. Before the climax, involving Cleaver knitting rat-tat-tats and tom-tom rolls into a forceful solo, the sax and piano sounds surge from gentle swing to jagged altissimo intersections rife with polyphonic smears.

04_TiltingCombination spark plug and spiritual guide William Parker’s gigs at GJF 2011 are with a vocal chorus and two instrumental groupings. Winter Sun Crying recorded with Munich’s nine-piece ICI Ensemble (Neos Jazz Neos 41008 www.neos-music.com) demonstrates the skills he brings to groups of any size or instrumentation. The CD captures a 15-part suite which waxes and wanes between legato and atonal contributions. Parker’s contributions on piccolo trumpet, double reeds, shakuhachi and bass are integrated within the composition. As band members move throughout from aleatoric solos to tutti and contrapuntal passages, he adds walking to keyboardist Martin Wolfrum’s precise chording, while under both, Sunk Pöschl’s drums clatter and pop; or lets his pinched reed contrast with upturned harmonies from ICI’s three woodwinds and trombone. The ensemble never nestles in any style or genre. Roger Jannotta’s faux-baroque piccolo decorations are as germane to the performance as Markus Heinze’s guttural baritone sax snorts, while oscillated processes from Gunnar Geisse’s laptop or trombonist Christofer Varner’s sampler are responsible for the composition’s outer-space-like undertone. Meanwhile the downward shifting of Johanna Varner’s spiccato cello lines join with Wolfrum’s dynamic chording to propel the horns away from dissonance towards linearism. The finale, Let’s Change the World, not only refers back to the head, but weaves gradually diminishing string scrubs, piano key pummels and alternately breathy or splintering reed tones into an echoing statement.

Another bassist/composer is Nicolas Caloia, whose Quartet CD Tilting (www.nicolascaloia.net), is a microcosm of Montreal’s scene. Completed by saxophone/flutist Jean Derome, pianist Guillaume Dostaler and percussionist Isaiah Ceccarelli, the disc highlights the bassist’s approach. While Caloia’s connective ostinato is felt throughout, this high-energy showcase gives everyone space. Impressive on each of his horns, Derome’s bass flute adds appropriately breathy tones, evolving contrapuntally with Dostaler’s comping on Stare. Meanwhile the husky textures Derome propels from baritone saxophone make Locked a stop-time swinger, especially when Ceccarelli’s solo folds flams, shuffles and ratamacues together. Derome’s singsong alto phrasing is all over the other two pieces, both of which feature brief but attentive solos from Caloia, whose string slaps and thumps concentrate the action. The pianist’s languid note cascades are showcased spectacularly on Safety where he interrupts Derome’s forays into false registers with an interlude of harmonized chording and rubato key fanning.

As this group of sound explorers join many others of similar quality during the annual GJF, it’s not surprising that this little festival has reached satisfying maturity without the compromises that impinge on many larger celebrations.

01_fern_lindzonTwo Kites

Fern Lindzon

Iatros IM02 (www.fernlindzon.com)

On pianist/vocalist/composer Fern Lindzon’s sophomore recording, she explores themes of spiritual and emotional transcendence as well as the kinaesthetic experience of soaring through, around and above the natural elements of wind, sea and sky. The musical journey is an eclectic one, featuring original material, Brazilian and Yiddish compositions as well as blues and a medley of Broadway standards – even so, there is a unifying creative intent on this breathtakingly beautiful album. For “Two Kites” she has enlisted gifted collaborators bassist George Koller (who also wears the producer hat), Mike Murley on saxophones and Nick Fraser on drums.

The jaunty title track comes from Antonio Carlos Jobim (who wrote the music as well as the English lyrics) and deliciously coalesces all of the thematic elements of the album.

Lindzon has a consummate ability to sing in Yiddish. On Dona Dona and Yam Lid/Lustige Chasidm/Balkan Bella-Busta, she effortlessly combines an ethnic sensibility with decidedly contemporary elements - all the while wrapping her tongue around the unforgiving German dialect. George Koller`s rich and extensive background in world music can be felt throughout.

Memorable tracks include the original instrumental All Fall Down where Lindzon’s intricate, yet commanding piano technique is a perfect fit for Murley’s lithe soprano work, which weaves in and out of Koller and Fraser’s pulsing lines. Also noteworthy are the haunting Distance by consummate vocalist Norma Winstone and Lindzon’s original, Grey Green, on which her evocative vocal, harmonically complex arrangement and Bill Evans-ish piano solo coupled with the inspired work of her ensemble, make this an undeniable stand-out.

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