03a Aldcroft long and short03b Aldcroft MiasmsThe Long and the Short of It

Ken Aldcroft; Joel LeBlanc
Trio Records TRP-D502-016

Notes on the Miasms
Andy Haas; Ken Aldcroft
Resonant Music 010

Toronto guitarist Ken Aldcroft displays his formidable guitar technique and improvising acumen in two new “free improv” releases.

The long and the short of it features him with fellow guitarist Joel LeBlanc in two contrasting short and long works. Each “short” is a concise tidbit of colour and rhythm which sets up a lengthier (over 20 minutes) set. The Long (I) is a mellow soundscape which seems to emulate the soothing environment of the wilderness. The minimalistic patterns and atonal guitar effects are precisely placed in the relaxing soundscape. In contrast, The Long (II) is a wall of sound, giant stadium extended rock guitar extravaganza. It sounds like one giant guitar – riffs, extended solos and in-your-face sound bolts, combined with humour and wit in a stunning example of superb music.

Notes on the miasms features Aldcroft improvising with Andy Haas on sax and electronics. The music is more atonal than the above release making it perhaps a bit more of a difficult listening exercise for those not accustomed to this type of music. Haas’ rapid saxophone lines against Aldcroft’s guitar colours are brilliant in their textures, phrasing and energy. The occasional reference to traditional jazz and blues is a welcome musical commentary.

These two releases are fine examples of the flourishing creative music scene in Toronto. The improvisation skills, talent and dedication of musicians such as Ken Aldcroft guarantee a vibrant improvising future for players and listeners alike.


01 Amy McConnellStealing Genius
Amy McConnell; William Sperandei
Femme Cache Productions FCP0001 mcconnellsperandei.com

The debut record from singer Amy McConnell and trumpeter William Sperandei, with producer Feisal Patel, is a stylish romp through 20th century music originating from a range of genres and eras. The title, Stealing Genius, is a reference to Oscar Wilde’s quip “talent borrows; genius steals.” But since covering other songwriters’ work is standard practice in the world of jazz, the quip could be reworked as “talent borrows; jazz artists assume ownership.” In this case, the victims of the thefts are varied and sometimes unexpected such as Elvis Presley (Suspicious Minds), Led Zeppelin (Thank You) and James Bond (From Russia With Love).

McConnell’s background in theatre shows in her vocal phrasing and approach — she has a big sound and emotions are expressed in broad strokes that play to the back of the house. Her accent is beautiful and convincing on the few French offerings including, of course, Piaf’s La Vie en Rose. Sperandei’s nice, bright sound blends well with McConnell’s and his soloing is confident and concise. Singer/stride pianist Michael Kaeshammer’s guest turn on the Ink Spots’ I Don’t Want to Set the World on Fire is inspired. But the real genius is in having Larnell Lewis and Rob Piltch play drums and guitar on this record. Lewis’ exuberant precision and Piltch’s subtle musicality elevate many of the songs from stylish to artful.

02 SpeakeasyThe Speakeasy Quartet –
Vintage Style Hot Jazz, Swing and Pop
Speakeasy Quartet
Independent WJS004

Hugh Leal may not be well known in Toronto but he has been a significant force for jazz in the Windsor area since the late 70s. He has been a real catalyst for the music as a guitarist/promoter/record producer; between 1983 and 2000 his Parkwood Records label recorded such veteran musicians as Doc Cheatham, J.C. Heard, Art Hodes, Franz Jackson and Sammy Price.

On this latest CD he features the Speakeasy Quartet in a program of jazz standards from the 20s and 30s including a couple of Bechet compositions, Egyptian Fantasy and the rarely heard Premier Bal, East St. Louis Toodle-oo and The Mooche by Ellington, Jubilee, Willie The Weeper, two trio numbers where the cello lays out, Wrap Your Troubles In Dreams and Indian Summer plus three originals by saxophonist Ray Manzerolle whose impressive playing is featured throughout the album. There are also fine solos from cellist Mike Karoub and pianist Mike Karloff.

All in all an enjoyable album from four musicians who respect and understand the traditions of the music. As the back of the jewel case accurately says: “Classic jazz with a unique fresh sonority.” Thank you Hugh for your seemingly tireless dedication to the jazz of an earlier era. To buy the CD contact lealjazz@gmail.com. $15 and it’s yours.

01 Mike MurleyFew cds will garner the immediate interest of Test of Time (Cornerstone Records CRST CD 140, cornerstonerecordsinc.com), previously unreleased material recorded in 1999 by the trio of saxophonist Mike Murley, guitarist Ed Bickert and bassist Steve Wallace. The trio’s only previous CD won the 2002 Juno Award for best mainstream jazz album, shortly after Bickert’s 2001 decision to retire from playing. Bickert may be Canada’s most distinguished jazz guitarist (his tenure with Paul Desmond might be enough to establish that) but all his gifts are in evidence here, the gentle propulsion of his chording, the perfect voicings when he’s comping and the brilliant linear flow of his improvised lines. There’s likely no better forum to showcase his gifts than this trio without drums, his every nuance clearly audible and Murley and Wallace ideal associates to bring out his best as both soloist and accompanist. East of the Sun stands out.

02 Myriad3Myriad 3 is a group of young Toronto musicians in the traditional jazz piano trio format, with Chris Donnelly on piano, Dan Fortin on bass and Ernesto Cervini on drums. Tell (ALMA ACD13112, almarecords.com), however, doesn’t strongly suggest any traditional trio approaches. Instead the group’s affinities are with more recent paradigms, like Sweden’s EST or the American trio Bad Plus. Myriad 3’s style is distinctly spare and strongly rhythmic, with elements of classical and pop music frequently appearing. The opening Myriad may suggest Satie in its modal grace, while Drifters emphasizes forceful, broken rhythms and dramatically unexpected piano chords. There’s a sense here of an equality of parts, each member playing in a sparse, assertively gestural style. When older jazz elements appear, they’re equally lean and specific, whether it’s Duke Ellington’s almost monotone C Jam Blues or the bluesy Horace Silver-style bop of Donnell’s Mr. Awkward.

03 Lina AllemanoThe Lina Allemano Four has achieved remarkably consistent form, maintaining the same personnel for their fourth consecutive CD (beginning with Pinkeye in 2006). Trumpeter Allemano is joined by Brodie West on alto saxophone, Andrew Downing on bass and Nick Fraser on drums on Live at the Tranzac (Lumo Records, linaallemano.com), the Toronto bar providing a comfortable setting for these close-knit, highly conversational dialogues on the leader’s compositions. The style is free jazz, the band reminiscent of Ornette Coleman’s original quartet, but the music couldn’t be more disciplined, the band working hand-in-glove to realize the most from each of Allemano’s tunes.

04 Michael BlakeTenor saxophonist Michael Blake has long been established in New York, where he’s best known for his decade-long membership in John Lurie’s high-profile Lounge Lizards. He still maintains strong ties to Vancouver, however, and he has just released In the Grand Scheme of Things (Songlines SGL159-2, songlines.com) featuringa quartet with Vancouver musicians. It’s a heady musical blend that delights in contrasting sounds, from Blake’s own, often straight-ahead tenor in lyrical ballad or forceful up-tempo mode to passages of eerie, electronically altered trumpet from JP Carter, techno and ambient electronic sound from Chris Gestrin on Fender Rhodes electric piano and a Moog Micromoog synthesizer and percussion that ranges from traditional trap drumming to the metallic grit of scraped cymbals from Dylan van der Schyff. It’s evocative work, but it’s Blake’s warm, keening tenor on the soulful Treat Her Right that leaves the strongest impression.

05 Ratchet OrchestraThe American composer and bandleader Sun Ra died in 1993, but his influence persists in new recordings from Montreal and Toronto. Bassist Nick Caloia has been building the Ratchet Orchestra since the early 90s. At times it’s been as small as a quartet, but the current personnel numbers around 30. While the band has performed and recorded Sun Ra compositions in the past, here the influence is apparent in Caloia’s own writing. It’s a mad explosion of sound that layers Caloia’s ceremonial melodies over processional rhythms and a thick undergrowth of improvising percussion. As heard on Hemlock (Drip Audio DA00820, dripaudio.com), the band has also assembled the strongest core of soloists you’re ever likely to hear in a Canadian free-jazz band, including the reeds of Jean Derome, Lori Freedman, Christopher Cauley and Damian Nisensen, trombonists Tom Walsh and Scott Thomson and guitarist Sam Shalabi. The vitality and high spirits are palpable and they sometimes explode, as in the eruption of Beat poet Brion Gysin’s permutational Kick that Habit Man.

06 Ken Aldcroft Sneeky PeteToronto guitarist Ken Aldcroft’s Convergence Ensemble has released a 2-CD set of the leader’s compositions called Sneaky Pete/Slugs’ (Trio Records try 015, kenaldcroft.com). Disc one is a collection of pieces that emphasizes sub-groups and solo improvisations; Disc two, by the full sextet, presents Slugs’: Suite for Sun Ra, named for the New York club where Sun Ra once played regularly. It’s animated at once by Aldcroft’s melodies and swaying rhythms, but it’s elevated by the focused improvisations of the ensemble, from Aldcroft’s own divergent approaches (sometimes a lyrical minimalism, at other times tumbling, rapid flurries of notes) to the extended techniques of trumpeter Nicole Rampersaud, playing multiple tones at once, and trombonist Scott Thomson (yes, he manages to appear in both these bands) who explores seemingly contradictory low-pitched whistles. The final piece, combining themes from both Sneaky Pete and Slugs’, goes through numerous textures, highlighted by the intensity of saxophonist Evan Shaw.

01 BrotzSoloTrioAlthough the witticism that “free jazz keeps you young” has been repeated so often that it’s taken on cliché status, there’s enough evidence to give the statement veracity. Many improvisers in their eighties and seventies are still playing with the fire of performers in their twenties. Take German saxophonist Peter Brötzmann, who celebrated his 70th birthday and nearly 50 years of recording a couple of years ago. Case in point is Solo +Trio Roma (Victo CD 122/123, victo.qc.ca), recorded at 2011’s Festival International de Musique Actuelle de Victoriaville (FIMAV) in Quebec. Not only does Brötzmann play with unabated intensity for almost 75 minutes, while fronting a bassist and a drummer about half his age on one CD; but on the other inventively plays unaccompanied, without a break, for another hour or so. The multi-reedist still blows with the same caterwauling intensity that characterized Machine Gun, 1968’s free jazz classic, but now a balladic sensitivity spells his go-for-broke expositions.On Solo, his overview is relentlessly linear mixing extended staccato cadenzas with passages of sweet romance that momentarily slow the narrative. Climactically the nearly 25-minute Frames of Motion is a pitch-sliding explosion of irregular textures and harsh glissandi that seems thick as stone, yet is malleable enough to squeeze the slightest nuance out of every tune. Slyly, Brötzmann concludes the piece with gargling split tones that gradually amalgamate into I Surrender Dear. Backed by Norwegian percussion Paal Nilssen-Love and Italian electric bassist Massimo Pupillo, Brötzmann adds lip-curling intensity and multiphonic glissandi to the other program. Centrepiece is Music Marries Room to Room that continues for more than 69 minutes. Besides wounded bull-like cries tempered with spitting glissandi from the saxophonist, the piece includes jet-engine-like drones from Pupillo as well as shattering ruffs and pounding shuffles from the drummer. Several times, just as it seems the playing can’t get any more ardent, it kicks up another notch. Indefatigable, the saxophonist spins out staccato screams and emphatic abdominal snorts in equal measures, with his stentorian output encompassing tongue slaps, tongue stops and flutter tonguing. Brief solos showcase Pupillo crunching shards of electronic friction with buzz-saw intensity, while Nilssen-Love exposes drags, paradiddles, rebounds and smacks, without slowing the beat. There are even lyrical interludes among the overblowing as Brötzmann occasionally brings the proceedings to a halt for a capella sequences, which suggest everything from Taps to Better Git It in Your Soul. Finally the broken-octave narrative reaches a point of no return to wrap up in a circular fashion with yelping reed cries, blunt percussion smacks and dense electronic buzzes. Rapturous applause from the audience spurs the three to go at it again at the same elevated concentration for an additional five minutes.

02 BrotzSnakeThree months after FIMAV, at a Portuguese jazz festival, the trio was joined by Japanese trumpeter Toshinori Kondo and under the name of Hairybones recorded the single-track blow-out that is SnakeLust (Clean Feed 252 CD www.cleanfeed-records.com). Affiliated with the reedist on and off since the early 1980s, the trumpeter who also uses electronics, adds several sonic colors to sounds from the basic trio. Given a wider canvas, Pupillo transcends holding the ostinato, and uses slurred fingering, buzzing flanges and frailing distortions. Similarly the drummer contributes several extended hand-drumming sequences, most notably as accompaniment to Brötzmann’s investigation of the woody tárogató. Kondo’s most common strategy mixes muted tongue flutters with electronic extensions reminiscent of Miles Davis’ 1970s work. He often plays allegro as well, using his familiarity with the reedman’s ideas to blend capillary grace notes with Brötzmann’s visceral strains, often played parallel. The expanded sound field not only creates polyphonic textures with at least five sonic colours, but warms the saxman’s staccato slurs and altissimo cries. Following Brötzmann’s and Nilssen-Love’s tárogató-drum intermezzo, Kondo’s mellow, electronically enhanced trills add enough French-horn-like timbres to almost make that theme variation low key. By the improvisation’s conclusion however, Kondo presses down on his effects pedal to add wide vibrations. These join enough torqued multiphonics from the other players to create a finale that’s strident, contrapuntal and ultimately satisfying.

03 BrotzYatagarLess than 90 days afterwards, peripatetic Brötzmann performed at Krakow’s Autumn Jazz Festival in another mammoth improvisation captured on Yatagarasu (NotTwo MW 894-2 www.nottwo.com). Billed as The Heavyweights, his associates were both Japanese and his contemporaries: pianist Masihiko Satoh is his age and drummer Takeo Moriyama four years younger. Despite the abundance of grey hair the set was characterized by the same unparallelled toughness as the others. Another free jazz marvel, Satoh has the matchless technique and indefatigable stamina to match the saxophonist’s snaky inventions, while Moriyama’s double-time paradiddles and martial press rolls open up spacious sound territory. On some tracks, Brötzmann appears to never stop playing, emptying his lungs with staccato whinnies and visceral battle cries. Not that the pianist’s raw-power chording takes second place. Should the saxophonist metaphorically examine every tone facet before letting it loose, then Satoh’s voicing emphasizes each note with key-clipping enthusiasm. On Icy Spears, the pianist cuts through the cacophony to surprise with low-frequency, cross-handed chording, prodding Brötzmann to briefly slow the tempo with breathy vibrations before deconstructing the line into shards once again. Full-blast saxophone shrills are other Satoh challenges, which he counters by redoubling his kinetic key fanning. Eventually cymbal clashes blend with swelling piano pumps and altissimo reed passion for an expressive climax which appears to have reached the limits of endurance; at least the trio suddenly stops playing.

04 BrotzSonoreBrötzmann is also a mentor to – and often employer of – younger saxophonists involved with unbridled free expression. Recorded one month before his FIMAV gig, Sonore Café Oto/London (Trost TR 108 www.trost.at) is a showcase for another of his distinctive working groups. An all-reeds trio, other members are American tenor saxophonist/clarinettist Ken Vandermark and Swedish baritone saxophonist Mats Gustafsson, leaders of their own bands, each two decades Brötzmann’s junior. Tellingly the older saxophonist doesn’t pull rank, with solos parceled out equally. Furthermore the program consists of a composition by each member plus a free-form blow-out. More crucially despite the juxtaposition of jagged split tones, altissimo runs and deep-seated bellows vibrating during the program, Sonore is in no sense Brötzmann times three. While a layered narrative like Le Chien Perdu features the three harmonizing in triple counterpoint, each player retains his individuality. Gustafsson does so by propelling pedal-point pops. Still even as Brötzmann’s and Vandermark’s staccato timbres swell to bird-whistle territory, neither would be mistaken for the other.

Youthfulness may have a particular meaning in general. Yet when it comes to innovative musical expression, Brötzmann provides the textbook definition.

Surveying the array of jazz reissues and box sets that have appeared since the dawn of the compact disc, one might imagine that all of the major work has already found its way onto CD. It turns out that’s still not the case, as scrupulously remastered and researched collections continue to appear. The year’s best CD sets include a compilation of the first 25 years of an early master’s recordings, highlights from a year in the life of a great jazz composer, previously unreleased performances by esteemed pianists and an expansive work of new music that took 34 years to realize. There’s even a bargain box of 25 varied CDs, many of them undeniable classics.

01 Hawkins

Since launching in 1983, Mosaic Records has set the highest standard for jazz reissues, searching for the best possible sources, ensuring that sets are as complete as possible and packaging them in a handsome, uniform style with definitive accompanying texts. This year Mosaic released an extraordinary portrait of one of the few genuine giants of jazz: Classic Coleman Hawkins Sessions 1922-1947 (Mosaic #251: www.mosaicrecords.com). It’s an extraordinary historical sweep, beginning with Hawkins as a teenage clarinetist in Mamie Smith’s Jazz Hounds, following him through his long tenure with Fletcher Henderson to features with the Mound City Blues Blowers (an early example of racial integration in the recording studio) and Count Basie. There are also towering performances like his famous 1939 Body and Soul and examples of his expanding sponsorship of the early luminaries of be-bop.

02 Mingus

The latest Mosaic release is the seven-CD Charles Mingus: The Jazz Workshop Concerts 1964-65 (Mosaic #253). It includes the explosive bassist-composer’s performances at New York’s Town Hall, Amsterdam, Minneapolis and the Monterey Jazz Festivals in 1964 and 1965 with bands ranging from five to 11 pieces. Mingus was at his creative peak in the mid-60s, launching challenging new compositions like Meditations on a Pair of Wire Cutters, all supported by a cast of distinguished musicians, including the brilliant reed player Eric Dolphy in the last months of his life, trumpeter Johnny Coles, tenor saxophonist Clifford Jordan, pianist Jaki Byard and Mingus’ perpetual rhythm partner, drummer Dannie Richmond. At times, the music feels like it might ignite the CD player. Much of this material originally appeared on LP, but most of it has never appeared on CD and there are also newly discovered concert segments.

03 top of the gate

Pianist Bill Evans is one of the best-documented musicians in jazz, with expansive box sets chronicling his work for multiple labels and two seven-CD sets chronicling his last performances. Now more has come to light and it will be welcome news to fans of Evans’ luminous, limpid harmonic exploration: Live at Art d’Lugoff’s Top of the Gate (Resonance Records HCD-2011 www.resonancerecords.org) devotes its two CDs to Evans’ two sets of October 23, 1968 with bassist Eddie Gomez and drummer Marty Morell. Evans could create and sustain dream states, propelled by the most complex interaction and the subtlest extensions of harmony that jazz had ever heard at the time. Gomez is never less than brilliant and the charging energy the two bring to My Funny Valentine raises the set to essential listening.

04 Sleeper

Sleeper (ECM 2290/2291) is another lost session by a highly influential pianist: Keith Jarrett. The two-CD set comes from a 1979 Tokyo concert by Jarrett’s distinctive European Quartet with saxophonist Jan Garbarek, bassist Palle Danielsson and drummer Jon Christensen. The music is imbued with a lyricism and an openness that combine to sweep a listener along. There’s a melodic clarity that can suggest folk music, and Jarrett’s compositions provide distinct thematic flavours, including the Middle-Eastern Oasis and the gospel-hued Chant of the Soil.

05 Ten Freedom SummersIf you’re an adventurous listener, there’s also a contemporary masterpiece that arrived this year in a four-CD set: Wadada Leo Smith’s Ten Freedom Summers (Cuneiform Rune350-353 www.cuneiformrecords.com). The cutting-edge trumpeter/composer began composing works inspired by the struggle for African-American civil rights back in 1977 and continued the work until 2010 when he was commissioned by Southwest Chamber Music to add new works and set them for his own Golden Quartet/Quintet and the chamber ensemble. The result is four CDs of hard-edged, intensely involving music that is probing, elegiac and magisterial by turn. It’s rarely easy listening, but it’s a stunning integration of political and musical issues and composed and improvised idioms, undoubtedly a major musical work.

06 Perfect Collection 2If you’re looking for an instant record collection, Sony is producing a series called The Perfect Jazz Collection (Sony 8697720092), with two volumes so far. It might not be perfect, but it’s very good, whether you’re discovering or recalling jazz as it appeared in the LP era, with 25 CDs in mini-LP format drawn from Columbia and RCA labels in each release. In the first volume, you get excellent late work from Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington; masterpieces by Sarah Vaughan, Miles Davis (Kind of Blue, no less, the ultimate jazz record), Chet Baker, Stan Getz, Dave Brubeck, Erroll Garner, Thelonious Monk and Charles Mingus; and hard bop, soul jazz and fusion classics by Art Blakey, George Benson and Herbie Hancock, respectively. There are also great records you might never come across otherwise, like pianist Martial Solal at Newport ’63. Are there terrible records included? There might be two or three, but even Sonny Meets Hawk (a weird meeting of saxophone greats Sonny Rollins and Coleman Hawkins when Rollins was creating his own version of the avant-garde) and Bird (the soundtrack to the Clint Eastwood film about Charlie Parker that grafts new rhythm tracks on old Parker performances) are “interesting.”

07 Perlman MusideumAlive at Musideum
Sophia Perlman; Adrean Farrugia
Independent #AS1012 (www.sophiaperlman.com)

This latest CD project from luminous vocalist Sophia Perlman and gifted pianist Adrean Farrugia was recorded “Live” at an intimate, evocative venue boasting one of Toronto’s finest pianos – the ideal spot for capturing this intimate, eclectic and thoroughly splendid performance. Perlman and Farrugia have a profound chemistry and sensitivity to their individual creative modalities, and the collection of tunes is diverse, to say the least.

The duo explores compositions from such far-flung artists as David Bowie, Gershwin, Thelonious Monk and Geri Allen. These are bold, original choices in repertoire – rendered with an intuitive, high musicality and purity of intent that is reminiscent of the work of Alan Broadbent and the late Irene Kral.

Standouts include a clever, contemporized reworking of Gershwin’s But Not For Me, featuring a rhythmic piano part and Perlman’s horn-like scat singing. Also, her rich, sensual, alto voice caresses the melody of a rarely performed Ellington composition, All Too Soon. Certainly one of the most interesting tracks is the duo’s interpretation of David Bowie’s anthem against the mundane, Life on Mars. Also gorgeous – albeit deliciously melancholy – is a legato take on the Tin Pan Alley classic After You’ve Gone, and Farrugia’s dynamic solo piano performance on Geri Allen’s Feed the Fire clearly establishes his position as one of the finest and most technically gifted pianists on the scene today.

Kudos must go to Donald Quan and Roger Sader for their superb job of onsite recording. Every lovely, melodic and complex nuance has been beautifully captured.

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