Kellylee Evans

Plus Loin Music PL4528


Recognized for writing and delivering songs of exquisite beauty and depth, Kellylee Evans is a perfect example of musical honesty in its purest form. Several years back, the sweet-voiced Ottawa-based singer-songwriter was summoned to France to record an album for the Plus Loin label. “They said I could do whatever I wanted as long as it was standards”, Evans recalls. She decided to dedicate the recording to Nina Simone, selecting a dozen songs famously cut by The High Priestess of Soul. Talk about a challenging undertaking! Simone – who began playing Bach as a toddler – was a legendary pianist, vocalist, composer and civil rights advocate, one of the 20th century’s most important (and arguably, underrated) musical geniuses; in her 70 years on earth she forged an unmistakable style fused with classical, jazz, pop, rock, folk and her own originals. The impressive results demonstrate Evans’ impeccable taste.


It was a wise decision not to include keys on the recording, as Simone was incomparable as a pianist. Instead, Evans is joined by shining Chicagoan Marvin Sewell on guitars and two of France’s finest sidemen, François Moutin on bass and André Ceccarelli on drums. What makes this recording shine is how freshly these songs are re-imagined. Whereas Simone’s gritty voice was dramatically fuelled by anguish, Evans’ interpretation of the same material scintillates with a pure, soulful optimism. Here’s hoping this outstanding effort earns new fans for both Kellylee Evans and Nina Simone.

02_emily_clare_barlowThe Beat Goes On

Emilie-Claire Barlow

Independent EMG445


With “The Beat Goes On” Toronto-based jazz singer Emilie-Claire Barlow has done what a few wise singers are doing these days, namely looking to more recent eras and songwriters for fresh material rather than the overdone American Songbook. This time out, Barlow has focused her considerable talents and jazz sensibilities on the 60s. The opening track sets the tone for the album as Kelly Jefferson provides nuanced sax fills on a swingy 6/8 version of Bacharach's Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head. Barlow has written all the arrangements herself and the stripped down instrumentation that predominates fits her light, pretty voice like a Pucci print dress. We feel transported to a Yorkville coffeehouse as just bass and congas (Ross MacIntyre and Davide Direnzo) accompany These Boots Were Made for Walkin'. Very groovy. Iconic sounds of the 60s bubble up in the woodwinds on Soul Bossa Nova as it's mashed up with the classic Sonny & Cher title track.


An exploration of the 60s wouldn't be complete without a journey to that hotbed of musical innovation, Rio de Janiero, and the cover of O Barquinho (My Little Boat) featuring Reg Schwager’s nylon string guitar skills perfectly evokes a carefree Brazilian day. Barlow’s specialty is bossa nova (do yourself a favour and find her version of O Pato on YouTube) so when she surprisingly imposes that style on Dylan’s Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright it actually works.


“The Beat Goes On” will be released on October 12. Barlow is performing live to air on JazzFM91 October 21 at 7:00 PM and at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre May 14, 2011.

03_double_portraitDouble Portrait

Bill Charlap & Renee Rosnes

Blue Note 509996 27560 2 0


Successful piano duets call for the ability to listen to each other bend a little, give up some ego and converse with each other. Oscar Peterson and Count Basie, Willie “The Lion” Smith and Don Ewell, Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn, Dick Wellstood and Dick Hyman all demonstrated the art of duet playing.


Add to the list the team of Charlap and Rosnes. This is the first duet recording by these two outstanding pianists. It is a sensitive, beautifully played, beautifully recorded set of superior compositions which demonstrate just how well this husband and wife team blend their talents with an intuitive understanding of each other.


There is one original by Rosnes, The Saros Cycle and the eight additional tracks include the seldom heard Little Glory by Gerry Mulligan, Inner Urge by Joe Henderson, Double Rainbow, by Antonio Carlos Jobim and Howard Dietz, and the Arthur Schwartz standard Dancing In The Dark.


Musical magic happened when this album was recorded December 27-29, 2009 at the Kaufmann Concert Hall, 92nd Street Y, New York City. The playing throughout is flawless and it is to be hoped that it will be only the first from this enjoyable and satisfying collaboration.

04_LoeschelInnocenceSongs of Innocence
Hannes Loeschel
Col Legno WWW 1CD 20903

British mystical poet William Blake’s 1794 cycle Songs of Innocence and Experience has inspired many composers including Benjamin Britten and Ralph Vaughan Williams. Yet this treatment of the unconventional poet’s masterwork is notable for more than full-color illustrations for each of the 18 songs included in the session’s the lavishly produced booklet. The top-flight and ever changing arrangements here were created by Viennese composer/keyboardist Hannes Loeschel, and performed by him plus an Austrian combo of guitars, electric pianos, bass, drums and trumpet.


Loeschel’s compositions echo his familiarity with Continental jazz, improv, notated and theatre music. How then does he retain the intrinsic English nature of Blake’s work? By having the verses sung by British vocalist Phil Minton. Minton, whose usual performances involve wordless vocalese of yowls, retches and cries, rises to the occasion. His parlando respectfully reflects Blake’s singular, quasi-religious beliefs, while his lilting and passionate musicality makes it appear as if singing the poet’s words is an everyday occurrence.


Meanwhile the highly syncopated and heavily rhythmic backing could impress pop fans with its beat, and jazzers with its supple sophistication. Intelligent jazz-rock, the music is driven by drummer Mathias Koch’s backbeat and illuminated by rough-hewn twangs and distorted snaps and echoes from guitarists Michael Bruckner-Weinhuber and Burkhard Stangl plus trumpeter Thomas Berghammer flashing grace notes. Redefining and extending Blake’s 18th Century visions with modernistic, but not alienating sounds is a momentous achievement. Loeschel, Minton and the others should be lustily applauded.

05_gary_grantDon’t Hold Your Breath
Gary Grant
Independent GG-2010

You may not be familiar with his name, but you’ve heard him on a host of recordings with, for example, Barbara Streisand, Michael Jackson, Celine Dion, Frank Sinatra and Natalie Cole and movie and TV sound tracks such as First Wives Club, Eraser, Forest Gump, Grumpier Old Men II, The Simpsons and Tales From the Crypt, to name only a few.

This CD of original jazz/Latin jazz compositions is his second album under his own name and it’s a good one.


I must confess that when I see a programme of all original compositions it sometimes raises a little red flag, but in this instance the compositions are interesting, full of imagination and beautifully played. He has with him an assortment of hugely talented musicians including Dan Higgins, alto and tenor saxophones, Vinnie Colaiuta, drums, Wally Minko, piano/keyboards, Wayne Bergeron, trumpet, Brian Bromberg, bass and Johnny Friday, drums.


If you are into Latin flavoured jazz this release will be an addition to your collection which will stand up to repeated listening. There is an informative booklet describing each track. One of my favourites is a beautiful ballad by pianist Wally Minko, I Still Hear You, featuring Grant’s flugelhorn playing, but there is plenty of high energy playing throughout the album as in Get It Straight and American Native.


“Don’t Hold Your Breath” can be purchased online at CDBaby.

01_kelly_jeffersonKelly Jefferson is a top flight saxophonist and cements his reputation on Kelly Jefferson Quartet “Next Exit” (Cellar Live CL033110 www.cellarlive.com), a bracing eight-track outing. Add his forceful leadership to pianist David Braid, who also tackles Fender Rhodes and synths, bass Marc Rogers and drummer Mark McLean and it’s a truly gifted combo. Group cohesion may be showcased and Jefferson’s relentless drive tempered by sleek tones but his adroit negotiation of the labyrinthine complexity of much of this music is admirable - he penned five tunes, including the joyfully creative title piece, on which Braid’s keyboard work also excels. There’s crafted unison playing, special horn effects and much sophisticated jazz of emotional depth. Unconditional’s attractive lines are almost romantic but on the ensuing Give Away, Take Away there’s daunting time shifts plus breezily confident sax and Rhodes offerings over a thick harmonic palette. Jefferson’s playing on his ballad Glass is splendid. The pulse team is strong, notably on upbeat romps. *Jefferson leaves for Thailand and South Korea with the Shuffle Demons on Oct. 12.


02_van_huffelOne-time Torontonian Peter Van Huffel, who toured his band through Canada this summer, now performs in Berlin after a New York stint. Pity if you missed him - this group is terrific. The alto saxist wrote all 10 tunes on Peter Van Huffel Quartet “Like the Rusted Key” (Fresh Sound/New Talent FSNT361 www.petervanhuffel.com) and they’re an invigorating blast of originality in an era when many struggle to find a singular voice. The ingenious material, mostly out of left field, is well executed by lively colleagues – American pianist Jesse Stacken, Canadian bassist Miles Perkin and Swiss drummer Samuel Rohrer – so that at times it sounds like four soloists in action. Pugnacious opener Drift precedes the dark, disquieting Tangent, while other tracks build and release tension, create a multihued sonic tapestry and properly judge climactic accents – all evident on Enghavevej. Three pieces with Beast in the title are free jazz assaults, while elsewhere Van Huffel’s mercurial, vibrant tones excite. Havens of calm exist but even on Atonement the music’s charged with extreme shifts of mood and velocity.


03_rockit88bancTwenty years ago jazzman Bill King was big on singing and he’s returned to it with the latest release from his entertaining outfit, Rockit 88 Band. “Sweet Sugar Cane” (7 Arts 7 Arts 0020 www.reverbnation.com/rockit88band) is a dozen-track session mindful of the intimate relationship between jazz and blues, with the heavy lifting done by King’s piano and organ and Neil Chapman’s guitar. Also aboard are violinist Anne Lindsay, bass Lionel Williams, drummer Jim Casson and vocalists, with the big surprise on this sounds-of-the-south tribute that the songs are original - eight by King, Chapman the rest. The groove is heavy and heady, no harmonic clutter or too-dense charts, while passionate lyrics with contemporary clout predominate, King taking singing and composing honours. Tracks to note are the fluent, sensuous titler, the gospel-drenched I Can’t Live Without You, Independence Day and the Delta blues blast Mississippi Grind.


04_steve_kovenGroup recordings are frequently one-offs, but often better are units that stay together, like pianist Steve Koven’s team that’s been an item for almost two decades. Experience is well demonstrated on the 10 tracks of Steve Koven Trio “Alone Together” (Bungalow Records SKT008 www.stevekoven.com). Seven are standards, with each band member – the leader plus imaginative bassist Rob Clutton and drummer Anthony Michelli – contributing an original. The players weave with ease and precision through material robust and delicate, the pianist’s motifs refreshing the title tune on a relaxed, intimate session. There’s space for Clutton’s impressive bass, while Koven is a cooler version of Jackie Terrasson on classics like Indiana and Ain’t Misbehavin’ as well as a boogified Bye Bye Blackbird. Also pleasing is Clutton’s catchy Snowy Maple. *The CD release is Nov.6 at Crescent School Theatre, 2375 Bayview Ave.


05_richard_whitemanPiainist Richard Whiteman is a familiar face around town, always versatile and resourceful. Adding the skills of bassist Brandi Disterheft and drummer Sly Juhas works well on Richard Whiteman Trio “Slow Night” (Tapas Records TPRD003 www.richardwhiteman.com). The session’s 11 tunes include vintage jazz and songbook items as well as two Whiteman tracks, the medium-paced title piece illuminating his finely-wrought single note runs and the perky Lush Jays. Overall the music’s tethered by too tight a rein despite the leader’s adroit way with ballads and bop. There’s nicely-judged detail on Love For Sale, a tasteful Night Mist Blues and a wistfully contemplative The Night Has A Thousand Eyes. *Whiteman is at Gate 403 with vocalist Shannon Gunn Oct. 6 and plays every Friday at The Rex with the Hogtown Syncopators.

01_HowardDrumLoreConstantly the brunt of other musicians’ jokes for their supposed fixation on rhythm, over the years drummers have actually proven themselves as organized band leaders and sophisticated tunesmiths. Edmonton-born, Brooklyn-based percussionist Owen Howard strikes a blow for his stick-wielding brethren with Drum Lore (BJU Records BJUR 017 www.bjurecords.com), as he leads a sextet through compositions by 11 different drummers, including himself. His notable CD, along with others by drummer/leaders, demonstrates these players’ overall improvisational and compositional smarts. Howard proves his percussion adaptability with strategies ranging from understated paradiddles and pops backing muted trombone and slurry bass clarinet on Shelly Manne’s Flip, to cross pounded bounces and clattering opposite sticking that adds an undercurrent of gravitas to Alan Ferber’s trombone ostinato and call-and-response patterns from the three saxophonists on Ed Blackwell’s Togo. He’s even more impressive guiding the slinky polyrhythms of Jack DeJohnette’s Zoot Suite, as clattering cymbals and popping bass drum subtly shifts tempos from andante to moderato as the layered horn riffs expand in scrappy, cascading counterpoint. The drummer’s own Roundabout vibrates with shifting pulses as alto saxophonist John O’Gallagher’s refracting flutter-tonguing alters the melody already trilled by soprano saxophonist Adam Kolker. Howard’s blunt rebounds and splashing cymbals keep things moving until pianist Frank Carlberg’s wide-spaced comping signals the finale.


02_WoodblockHoward’s CD shows jazz percussionists’ compositional versatility, while the six compositions on Woodblock Prints (No Business NBLP 18 www.nobusinessrecords.com) presents a singular vision by another drummer, Toronto native-turned Brooklynite Harris Eisenstadt. Program music based on celebrating the art of Japanese wood bock prints, this chamber-improv is played by a brass-heavy nonet. What isn’t expected is that Mark Taylor’s French horn and Jay Rozen’s tuba are frequently lead voices, with the burbling timbre crepuscule of Sara Schoenbeck’s bassoon often used for its unique tincture. Most demonstrative of Eisenstadt’s skills as a colourist is Hokusai, energized by his bell-tree shaking and tambourine smacks. Meanwhile hoarse, stuttering, bassoon patterns deconstruct the slow-gliding theme alongside Jonathan Goldberger’s guitar licks. Following Michael McGinnis’ squealing clarinet trills backed by the drummer’s ruffs and drags, Rozen’s extended tremolo line shepherds the variants towards Eisenstadt’s conclusive cymbal shimmies. Similarly on The Floating World, the narrative is defined as much by waddling tuba slurps plus diffuse French horn brays as liquid clarinet runs and pumping unison horns. The tubaist’s penultimate snort dissolves into pitch-sliding polytones as the drummer outlays shuffles, ruffs and bell-pings.


03_KobberlingLess upfront as a performer, but responsible for all compositions on Sonnenschirm (Jazz Werkstatt JW 093 www.records-cd.com) is Heinrich Köbberling, a professor of percussion at Germany’s Leipzig University. He’s content using his cross strokes, opposite sticking, drags and rebounds to keep the session moderato, but with infectious, flowing rhythms. Rather than taking solos, Köbberling’s compositions and accompaniment give full reign to bassist Paul Imm, piano/accordionist Tino Derado and especially bass clarinettist Rudi Mahall. An unflappable tone explorer, Mahall adds sonic vitality to the often-jaunty tunes. Zahlen Bitte is a particular example of the reedman’s skills. Here his coloratura slides and tongue-stuttering face chiming piano lines. Circling around one another, all the textures then join to complete the melody. Meanwhile the drummer rolls and pumps in the background. Built on light-fingered piano harmonies, Konbanwa is another standout as the repeated theme variants are expressed sequentially by lyrical reed voicing and cascading piano chords.


04_RaineyPoolCompletely antithetical to the preceding discs is Pool School (Clean Feed CF 185 CD www.cleanfeedrecords.com), the first disc under the leadership of busy New York percussionist Tom Rainey. Consisting of 12 instant compositions, the CD depends as much on the inventiveness of guitarist Mary Halvorson and tenor and soprano saxophonist Ingrid Laubrock as Rainey’s drum dexterity. Yet as low-key and unforced as Rainey’s rhythms are, it’s their unruffled surge which keeps the dozen tracks moving. More Mesa for instance is taken agitato and moderato, with Laubrock’s pressurized vibrations as intense as the angled crunching runs from Halvorson. Yet the piece’s atmospheric identity is maintained through Rainey’s rim shot accents, hi-hat strokes and cymbal slaps. The drummer’s swirling cauldron of broken-octave rebounds and solid ruffs also create a subversive swing rhythm by the finale of Semi Bozo. Earlier, his ratcheting clicks and drum-top pops, the guitarist’s disconnected chording and slurred fingering plus the saxophonist’s rasping, low-pitched warbles appear to evolve in parallel rather than connective lines, until Rainey’s inverted sticking pushes them into harmonic concordance.


As these sessions prove, giving a sophisticated drummer freedom to innovate, results in much more than a rhythmic free-for-all.

Back to top