02_green_edge_skygreen edge sky, green edge sun

Mark Kieswetter; Ross MacIntyre

Independent (www.cdbaby.com/cd/markkieswetter)


It’s always nice – and a relief – when the playing you hear on a CD is as elegant and evocative as its title (and title track). Indeed, that is the case with pianist Mark Kieswetter and bassist Ross MacIntyre’s newly released CD, ever-so-evocatively entitled, “green edge sky, green edge sun” (no clumsy caps, here). It is a beautiful album, exquisitely executed by two outstanding musicians who clearly “get” each other. Kieswetter and MacIntyre have captured the true essence of what the best piano/bass duos are all about: elegance, economy, precision, fluidity, style, intimacy, grace, and that magical, intangible chemistry – the simpatico.

Indiana-born Kieswetter spent a chunk of time in Toledo, making quite a name for himself – he was referred to in one article as “Toledo, Ohio piano legend Mark Kieswetter” – prior to arriving in the Big Smoke in 2002. And the accolades didn’t stop at the border. He’s been the pianist-of-choice for many Toronto-based, talented jazz artists (with obvious good taste), including Heather Bambrick, Emilie-Claire Barlow and The WholeNote’s own Ori Dagan. I have it on good authority that at the May 31 CD Release (at the very hip Gallery 345), there were at least two dozen singers in the room who regularly work with Kieswetter. That, in itself, speaks volumes about the man’s skill.

The other guy’s skill ain’t nothing to sneeze at, either. Ross MacIntyre (born, raised and based in Toronto), is one of the most in-demand side musicians in Canada. When he’s not in the studio, or playing in town alongside local luminaries like Reg Schwager and Mike Murley, to name but a few, he’s touring the world with the likes of Matt Dusk, Elizabeth Shepherd and Barlow. He’s also the house bassist for Lisa Particelli’s weekly “Girls Night Out Vocalist-Friendly Jazz Jam” at Chalkers Pub. The man is busy.

Despite their whirlwind schedules, it was meant to be for these two highly respected musicians to take a breath and take the time to make some great music together. We’re lucky that they did. They’ve gifted us with 13 tracks including gorgeous and creative arrangements of classics such as Green Dolphin Street (chosen in keeping with the CD cover’s “green theme” perhaps?), Lerner and Loewe’s The Heather on the Hill and, the final track, Bill Evans’ We Will Meet Again, as well as Kieswetter’s original title track and his harmonically haunting Ask Alice. Let’s hope they’ll consider producing a second CD down the road.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that Kieswetter’s six-year old grandson, Isaac, provided the enchanting – and yes, evocatively “green-hued” – cover art for the album. Hmmm… a serious artistic streak appears to run in the family. Ya think?



03_anita_odayLet Me Off Uptown

Anita O'Day

Mr. Music MMCD-7027 (www.worldsrecords.com)

For those of us who believe Anita O’Day was one of the most important among jazz singers, this brand new release of previously unavailable live material is a divine treat. Those not in the know should Google O’Day’s mind-blowing renditions of Sweet Georgia Brown and Tea for Two, filmed by Bert Stern at the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival. With these two cuts as bonus tracks, this CD features four other selections from that famous set, including a brilliantly phrased Have You Met Miss Jones and a droll ditty referred to as the novelty number, Varsity Drag.

Also included are several impressive performances from the late 1950s, O’Day’s heyday. Take The Man I Love recorded at the 1957 Timex All-Star Jazz Show: she starts off rubato, decorating phrases expertly with dissonance; then, improvising like the finest of horn players, she swings the melody to Mars and back, but never loses the lyric in the process. Four Brothers and Love Me or Leave Me demonstrate O’Day’s incredible ease with fast tempos; her time feel is infectiously on the money and she is never rushed, always relaxed. The singer’s cool, tongue-in-cheek approach is best exposed on vehicles like Honeysuckle Rose, which she performed literally thousands of times in her career, but never the same way twice. Personnel includes Benny Goodman, Jack Sheldon, Lionel Hampton, Flip Phillips and others jazz greats. This CD is a worthwhile jazz history lesson. A bargain at any price.

04_michel_f_coteà l’inattendu les dieux livrent passage

Mecha Fixes Clocks (Michel F. Côté)

& Records ET 09 (www.etrecords.net)

Atmospheric and ambient, but also audacious, Montreal percussionist/keyboardist and electronic manipulator Michel F. Côté uses a variety of sonic strategies to construct an exuberantly original nine-part sound world on “à l’inattendu les dieux livrent passage.” Accomplished in transforming directors’ and choreographers’ ideas into sound, as well as leading ad hoc bands such as this one, which generate a new meaning from his initials, the composer/arranger pushes and pulls the textures in a multi-stylistic fashion so that seemingly bland surfaces turn out to contain tough, multi-faceted cores.

Case in point is a track like ferveur fossile, where chunks and clicks from signal-processed timbres splutter and shrill while commenting upon Gordon Allen’s irregularly vibrated trumpet lines and the twangs from Bernard Falaise’ guitar. Arco string runs maintain the theme, although variants become looser, more strident and discordant as they come in contact with the buzzing electronics. Other pieces offer interludes of pseudo classicism via Pierre Yves-Martel’s viol de gambe or Jean Derome’s harmonized bass flute, only to have them sabotaged by Lori Freedman’s harsh bass clarinet slurs or abrasive wood scrapes from the percussionist. Overall it seems that sonic disruption is as much a part of Côté’s compositions as legato continuum.

This post-modern strategy is sardonically confirmed on au-delà de l’espace des petits oiseaux and more obviously on the concluding entre idéal et mental. On that track, string-laden samples, likely sourced by turntablist Martin Tétrault from Gone with the Wind composer Max Steiner LPs, are interrupted by plinking from live string players, motor-driven whines and clanks plus the percussionist’s cross pulses and opposite-sticking beats.

01_broadviewWhen Mike Murley enters the heroic tradition of tenor sax trios, you’d better listen. The star hornman has linked with two quality veterans in a new band playing bandsmen originals that makes its recording debut on Broadview Trio - Two Of Clubs (Addo Jazz Recordings AJR008 www.addorecords.com). Taped at Toronto clubs Chalkers and The Rex, the appropriately titled opening track Rich Murlted soon morphs into a thriller, with fleet and pungent bassist Rich Brown and smart, energizing drummer Ted Warren revelling in an open, loose structure that lets them stretch. All eight cuts have something to recommend them, Lullabye showing off the serious intense groove impact Brown generates, Open Spaces brewing nicely beneath Murley’s seamless phrasing cruise and International Idle a feast for Warren’s rapid-fire excursions around the kit. Murley’s caressing of Winter Flower is the saxman at his spellbinding best, the off-kilter Tango Ruby bounces giddily, On The Lemonade is an out-and-out swinger while Hibiscus rambles with purpose, illuminating trio members’ vast skills as they blend ingenuity and emotional depth.

02_carrier_inner_spireThe threesome led by inspirational Quebec alto saxist François Carrier indulges avant-garde motifs crammed with repetitive notes, long tense solos and a sound that’s wildly uneven yet most agreeable, at least to these ears. François Carrier/Alexey Lapin/Michel Lambert - Inner Spire (Leo Records CDLR601 www.leorecords.com), recorded in Moscow last December, has the boss wailing like Albert Ayler while regular drummer Lambert and thunderous Russian pianist Lapin pursue manic notions of their own, together creating freewheeling music that’s always teetering on the precipice. Lapin suggests Cecil Taylor or Matthew Shipp, the irrepressible Lambert only himself. Five “tunes” here, none hummable, but it’s always fascinating to hear how bold sonic explorations develop – it makes 20th century classical revolutionaries seem distinctly tame.

03_kirk_macdonaldKirk MacDonald, noted tenorman and now noted composer, has put together a top-drawer collection of musicians to play eight of his tunes on Kirk MacDonald Jazz Orchestra - Deep Shadows (Addo AJR009 www.adddorecords.com), with trombonist Terry Promane and trumpeter Joe Sullivan (who also conducts) sharing chart duty. The leader’s in the sax section, soloing at length in signature powerful manner on the opening New Piece and with considerable acumen and authority elsewhere. His compositions pack the passion in, though it’s not always obvious. The intro to Goodbye Glenn has elements of the lustrous Miller sound but the ballad is a delightful showcase for saxists P. J. Perry (alto) and Pat LaBarbera (tenor) and ever-present lush section work, while the thrusting Greenwich Time offers fine moments from guitarist Lorne Lofsky. Jazz waltz Calendula puts the chief back in the solo saddle to deliver a well-rounded gem, and it’s the turn of Sullivan, Promane and driving drummer Barry Romberg to achieve blowhard honours on the effective minor-chord Eleven. High standards throughout are maintained, right up to the showcase title tune closer.

04_koptorDrummer Kevin Brow graduated from U of T’s jazz program but now is based in Copenhagen. Koptor - Fire Sink (Fresh Sound New Talent FSNT 384 www.kevinbrow.com) is his band Koptor’s second album and it’s really good. The forceful, imaginative Brow composed 10 originals for a session featuring three Danish players – avant-garde saxist Lotte Anker, pianist Jacob Anderskov and bass Jeppe Skovbakke. The music’s all stop-time rhythms, unpredictable sequiturs and cool sonic provocation, like some ECM recordings, and nods relentlessly to Euro classical structures. Brow maintains exceptional grooves, often exciting though never overstating his case while his companions offer up jazz ranging from lavishly melodious to suggestively raw. The rousing Intellectual Sex, the fascinating soloing of sax and piano and crafty underpinning by drums and bass on the title cut and the weird eruptions on Penny Crushing are just three examples of creative minds in high gear.

05_convergenceYoung bands are stirring interest in Hogtown. One has twenty-somethings making their debut recording on Brent Mah/Alex Goodman - Convergence (www.alexgoodman.ca), a most promising album demonstrating maturity, flexibility and a cohesion so acute that on occasion it almost throttles freshness. Accomplished guitarist Goodman penned four tunes, saxist Mah three and the 68-minute session is fleshed out with a jazz standard and contributions from Radiohead and Pink Floyd. Booming bassist Dan Fortin and drummer Karl Schwonick make a solid rhythm team. The opening Momentum is sort of chamber-bop in 5/4, a measure of the writing challenges met and the other material is never dull, though while I appreciate Mah’s range and agility I don’t care much for his restrained and thin alto/soprano tones. Other entertaining tracks are Persistence Of Memory and Missed Opportunity.

06_ken_madonaldThe next shows bassist Ken McDonald making big strides with his second album as leader Ken McDonald Quartet - Pay What You Can (www.kenmcdonaldjazz.com) that features saxist Paul Metcalfe, guitarist Demetri Petslakis and drummer Lowell Whitty. He’s composed six thoughtful originals that are performed with energy and confident flair, for starters Detroit which especially shows off his strings agility and bright-toned Metcalfe’s rich vein of ideas. Beyond it are smart and subtle creations that let bandsmen expand their horizons and conjure up novel, sometimes striking, jazz – it’s a pity there’s just 39 minutes of it.

Besides gaining a reputation for its demographically diverse and eminently liveable neighbourhoods, when it came to improvised music starting in the early 1970s Toronto was actually a world-class city in more than civic boosterism. That’s because on the initiative of photographer/musician Bill Smith, Sackville records was issuing LPs by some of the most significant avant-garde players from New York, Chicago and St. Louis. Recorded for the most part in local studios, these discs – and affiliated concerts – documented these emerging stylists and designated Toronto as part of the international free jazz firmament. Now Chicago’s Delmark label is distributing CD reissues of the original Sackville records.

01_Julius Hemphill CDProbably the most significant session was the label’s one two-disc package, saxophonist and flautist Julius Hemphill’s Roi Boyé & the Gotham Minstrels (Sackville SKCD2-3014/15 www.delmark.com). It’s a solo session that’s a pioneering example of using multi-tracking to create a compelling audio drama. Best known as a founder of the World Saxophone Quartet (WSQ), Hemphill (1938-1995) was interested in programmatic story telling not reed bravado. One observation is that the often-delicate timbres of the reedist’s overdubbed flutes were showcased at a time when the cliché of advanced jazz imagined every player a discordant eardrum-assaulter. Even when playing astringent alto saxophone, as on the second track, Hemphill is so in control of his material that he doesn’t lapse into glottal punctuation. Instead he replicates a New York subway journey through an overdubbed choir of yelping saxophones. Exactly one year later, Hemphill and his WSQ colleague Oliver Lake recorded the duo disc, Buster Bee (Sackville SKCD2-3016 www.delmark.com) in Toronto. As notable as their teamwork was, it lacks the revolutionary force of the solo set. On “Roi Boyé” for instance, Hemphill devotes the final track to a narrative about a black artist’s life in a materialistic society, punctuating his story-telling with harsh squeals, discordant whorls and split tones. Another track replicates a butterfly’s attraction through stacked and harmonized reed tones that meander linearly; while a third is practically a capriccio, with the theme bouncing along, propelled by carefully stacked, overdubbed horn vamps, while reed-biting and pressurized vibratos from the alto saxophone come in-and-out of aural focus for contrast, ending with a distinctive contralto textural upturn. Hemphill doesn’t neglect jazz’s bedrock, the blues, either. One extended piece positions a soulful alto saxophone riff, basso lip-bubbling from the flute and a heavily breathed soprano saxophone line that could come from a country blues harmonica, while discordant pitches slide contrapuntally among them. Eventually the track reflects both the guttural despair and altissimo promise of the music.

02_Geo Lewis  CDAnother pace-setting session took place a year earlier, with George LewisThe Solo Trombone Record (Sackville SKCD2-3012 www.delmark.com), the first session under his own name by the musician now as famous for his computer-directed music as for his brass mastery. Audacious to the nth degree, the disc’s Tonebursts is another example of overdubbing. But while Hemphill was 39, with years of gigging behind him when “Roi Boyé” was recorded, Lewis was all of 24. In spite of his youth, the 20-minute track is another tour-de-force with the trombonist evidentially able to stylistically replicate key attributes of older brassmen, calling upon the color of Tricky Sam Nanton, the sophistication of Lawrence Brown and the speed of J. J. Johnson at will and blending them as needed. Here expressive lines are sometimes replaced by a sudden staccato brays, or mid-improv, a trombone choir harmonizes, with its parts segmented among bass trombone pedal-point, alto trombone open-horn linearity, and the highest textures strained though a cup mute. There are even times during which you could swear a supple saxophone is soloing accompanied by phantom guitar strokes. Besides expressive glissandi, timbres are sourced from deep within the trombone body; capillary lines are lobbed from one ‘bone to another; or rubato tones share space with polyharmonies and polytones. Eventually techniques such as oscillated mouthpiece kisses are replaced with resonating runs that maintain an almost conventional jazz-styled line while at the same time making room for growling ostinatos and altissimo cries. Lewis also provides a solo interpretation of Lush Life, but more impressive are other tracks such as Untitled Dream Sequence. Taken at the same tempo as that Billy Strayhorn classic, the Dream Sequence’s note-slurping, double-tongued accents and speedy glisses from every part of the horn demonstrate that exciting improvisation doesn’t have to be fortissimo, super-fast or discordant.

03_Roscoe Mitchell CDLewis was also more than just present a year previously when saxophonist Roscoe Mitchell’s Quartet on Sackville (SKCD2-3009 www.delmark.com) was recorded live at Toronto’s long defunct A Space gallery. The momentous session not only captures a then-rare example of the Art Ensemble of Chicago’s saxophonist performing without the other band members, but puts him in an all-star context. Other quartet members are pianist Muhal Richard Abrams, probably the most respected Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians founder, and Detroit guitarist Spencer Barefield. Mitchell and Lewis expose sonorous counterpoint on one duo track and the trombonist alone turns Mitchell’s Olobo into another brass tour-de-force, blending a near ballad exposition with guttural sniggers, near-silent breaths and a coda of overblowing. Group dynamics are memorable as well. Sonic tension is almost visible on Tnoona. With the theme built up from the saxophonist’s tongue flutters and split tones, guitar vibration, Lewis’ sliding plunger work and Abrams’ focussed note clusters, it finally dissolves without release. Aleatory as suggested by its title, Mitchell’s Cards is the CD’s most fully-realized composition. Chromatic forward motion is due to the pianist’s expressive low-frequency runs, but the linear form is punctuated by Barefield’s oscillating amp reverb. Meanwhile Mitchell’s reeds bark with clown-horn-like blasts and dilating split tones, as the trombonist contributes plunger grace notes and discursive pedal point. A coda of stentorian guitar strums completes the improvisation.

04_Altschul CDOther 1970s group sessions involve a rare excursion into focused European improvisations on All Kinds of Time (Sackville SKCD2-3010 www.delmark.com), by a duo of German pianist/vibist Karl Berger and British bassist Dave Holland, who now follows a more mainstream course; plus pianist Anthony Davis, best-known for operas such as X and Amistad, expressing himself with a suite and shorter composition backed by violin, cello and percussion. But it is Brahma (Sackville SKCD2-3023 www.delmark.com) from 1980 which best demonstrates the musical future which was partially ushered in by these earlier discs. Led by veteran drummer Barry Altschul, the unusually constituted trio introduced two players now in the prime of their career: trombonist Ray Anderson and bassist Mark Helias. Improvising jazz is never static, and unlike uncompromising abstraction that characterizes earlier discs in this set, swinging elements are now mixed with the risk-taking solos. These rhythmic components still go far beyond the conventional. Altschul’s solo on the 17-minute title track may hit a groove, but his bulls-eye beat is amplified with timbre scrambles using mallets and sticks, ratamacues and drags on toms and snares, plus numerous interjections that bring in cymbal shaking, bell-tree resonation, waterphone scrapes, cow bell thwacks and shrills from slide whistles. The finale involves shaking a thunder sheet for fortissimo oscillations; the mid-section is based on a martial beat from the percussionist and wide-angled stops and thumps from Helias. Overall, this drum finesse is synchronized with elephant-like grunts from Anderson’s sousaphone when the brassman isn’t altering themes with flutter-tonguing, freak note whinnying and gutbucket slurs. Capable of smooth balladry on Altschul’s mid-tempo Irina, Anderson also whistles and slurs his way through his own Spanish-tinged Con Alma de Noche backed by woodblock bops and opposite sticking from the drummer. And he enlivens the bassist’s Lism with triplet-extended brassiness, allowing Helias to hand pump and sluice his way up-and-down the strings with guitar-like expressiveness as the stop-time tune evolves.

Advanced improvisations featuring out-of-towners, not to mention the burgeoning local free music community, continue to be recorded in the GTA. These historically important and musically impressive albums show how one series of discs successfully captured musical changes.


Alex Pangman

Justin Time JTR 8569-2 (www.justin-time.com)

Toronto teems with jazz vocalists, but few, if any, are as faithful to the genre’s early years as “Canada’s Sweetheart of Swing” Alex Pangman. Reminiscent of Connee Boswell, Mildred Bailey and the youthful recordings of Fitzgerald and O’Day, smooth-voiced Pangman has carved out her niche by charming listeners the old-fashioned way. Beginning with a jubilant take on the seldom-sung I Found a New Baby, this, her fifth recording, is devoted to songs made popular in 1933.

In her ongoing quest to uncover hidden American songbook gems, some of the album’s best cuts include a cheerful homage to Connee Boswell (Hummin’ to Myself), a timeless Jack Teagarden specialty (A Hundred Years from Today) and a pair of Bing Crosby rarities (Thanks and I Surrender Dear, the latter a poignant duet with Ron Sexsmith). It is Pangman’s immaculate diction, delivered ever so earnestly, that makes her an ideal candidate to rescue these titles from obscurity. That said, lyrics aside, the success of this recording owes plenty to Alex’s seven-piece band, The Alleycats. Pianist Peter Hill swings mightily as always, as does Drew Jurecka, who skilfully doubles on violin and alto saxophone; both Hill and Jurecka contribute clever arrangements. Also sensational throughout are clarinettist Ross Wooldridge and trumpeter Kevin Clark. As Ella Fitzgerald would say, “this band will swing you to good health!” On that note, this is Pangman’s first recording since undergoing a double-lung transplant in 2008. A triumph!

02_Parker_Sorbara CDAt Somewhere There

Evan Parker; Wes Neal; Joe Sorbara

Barnyard Records BR0321 (www.barnyardrecords.com)

Without a hint of condescension, veteran British tenor saxophonist Evan Parker allies his skills with the talents of Torontonians bassist Wes Neal and drummer Joe Sorbara in this first-class essay in free improvisation. During the single track, recorded live at local performance space Somewhere There, rhythms, pitches and tones are mixed, matched, mulched and multiplied with a timbral blend that makes it seems as if the trio members have collaborated for years.

Balancing methodical plucks and brawny strums with a hint of sul tasto extensions, Neal marshals his strings to create an unremitting chromatic pulse. For his part, Sorbara pops, plucks, strikes and bounces rhythms on the sides and tops of his drums to tint and roughen the narrative. Delicate bell pings, rattling chains and, more frequently, the harsh application of a drum stick along a cymbal, mark transitions.

Meanwhile Parker, who has been involved in similar ad-hoc improvising since the mid-1960s, varies his output from intense flutter tonguing to glottal punctuation; and from flattement smears to cadenzas of bird-like twittering. Yet even as his inventive free-flowing timbres inflate, constrict or propel the performance in unexpected directions, he never loses its linear thread. A master of cooperation not dominance, even his intervals of nearly superhuman circular breathing are not challenges but an invitation to further group counterpoint. By the finale his occasional pan-tonal bent notes and nephritic explosions have become merely one element in this group’s sonic picture, separate but equal to the bassist’s double stopping or the drummer’s ruffs and rolls.

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