Although the romantic image of a lone trumpeter has been standard in jazz since the time of “Young Man with a Horn”, musically it’s actually more difficult for a trumpet to be the sole horn in a band – at least until freely improvised music rewrote the rules a few decades ago. The reason is simple: unlike the saxophone’s many keys which the soloist can manipulate for different timbres, the trumpet has only three valves and a length of tubing. Brass players thus most often work with a reed partner or as part of an ensemble. However these CDs, featuring mostly Canadian casts, show that notable sessions can appear no matter the instrumental make up.

01_SmithAnticipationToronto-born, Brooklyn-resident David Smith’s Anticipation (Brooklyn Jazz Underground Records BJUR 015 is the most conventional of the discs, with Smith and Montreal-born drummer Greg Ritchie playing in a quintet filled out by tenor saxophone, guitar and bass. Working out on one standard, a Coltrane line and five originals, the band rarely strays from the expected head-solo-head formula, with Smith’s bright playing amply backed by saxophonist Kenji Omae and guitarist Nate Radley. Standouts are the trumpeter’s compositions, Bittersweet, a gentle line celebrating his daughter’s birth with tremolo tonguing; and The Question, a contrafact of Monk’s Ask Me Now, built on cascading horn lines from Omae and a tough brassy break from Smith. Throughout Smith illustrates his instrument’s restrictions, since many of his solos feature complementary runs from Omae, while Radley’s fleet-fingered chording and limber picking dominates most of the tunes.

02_KlaxonGueleEx-Torontonian, now Montrealer, trumpeter Gordon Allen plus saxophonists Jean Derome and Philippe Lauzier take an equally standard role as backing horn section on Montreal band Klaxon Gueule’s Infininiment (Ambiances Magnétiques AM 194 CD Throughout the 13 minimalist tunes the horns extend or amplify improvisations from the band’s core trio – guitarist Bernard Falaise, bassist Alexandre St-Onge and percussionist Michael F. Côté. Concerned as much with mood and texture as melody, the scene-setting arrangements frequently find single horn parts providing brief commentary on Falaise’s popping guitar licks, St-Onge’s pulsating rhythms or the knitting-needle-like clatter of Côté’s delicate drumming. The bass line serves as a pedal point drone on Momo Pèle, for instance, which fades away following dissociated drum beats, but not before Allen has pumped out a bugle-like reveille. In contrast singular note extensions from one saxophone plus chromatic mellow timbres from the trumpeter inflate from distanced peeps to provide a counterweight to dissonant guitar-string snaps and abrasive strums on Brown Suinte.

03_LewisDowningMartinAltering the paradigm so that each instrument is as important as any other creates a more equitable and satisfying performance – and boosts the trumpet’s role. Toronto’s Jim Lewis, Andrew Downing and Jean Martin demonstrate this On a Short Path from Memory to Forgotten (Barnyard Records BR 0311 Consisting of 10 instant compositions, there is no foreground or background instrument. One tune for example could be a capriccio, as Lewis’ joyful trumpet blasts define the theme; another is dependent on Downing’s thumping bass pulsations; and almost all are illuminated more by the splashes of multiphonic color Martin creates with gamelan-like bell tones and triangle resonation than a steady beat from his regular kit. Showcasing Lewis’ phrasing, which ranges from staccato heraldic blasts to graceful flutters, is Eight, the tune in which his moderated a capella puffs give way to a rubato, double-time version of theme and finally to aviary chirps plus whistling resounds. These intertwine with martial rolls and rebounds from Martin and walking slap bass from Downing.

04_InhabitantsVacantLotA refinement – or coarsening – of this strategy is displayed by Vancouver’s Inhabitants, on A Vacant Lot (Drip Audio DA 00579, which adds the guitar of Dave Sikula to the basic trumpet (JP Carter), bass (Pete Schmitt) and drums (Skye Brooks) trio. Another major difference is the use of electronics, with Carter’s heavily miked trumpet’s pulsating alongside Sikula’s folksy strums. Eschewing a steady beat Schmitt and Brooks still use string strokes and harsh backbeats to prevent otherwise airy timbres from ascending into the stratosphere. Pacific Central is the representative track. After a minimalist introduction that’s mostly acoustic guitar and trumpet peeps, the piece opens up and accelerates to full-bore polyphony with hard drum ruffs, staccato guitar licks and trumpet shakes which cascade chromatically then fade, while still encouraging the group’s affiliated pulses. This is electrified music with a touch of dissonance.

By crafting new roles for trumpeters within improvising combos, these Canadian players have produced memorable CDs.

Long-established jazz groups have become as common as pop hits based on Mozart melodies topping the charts – they sometimes exist. But with accomplished improvisers tempted by side projects, bands often reconstitute and sidemen regularly have their own gigs. In most cases, though, this doesn’t affect the music’s quality.

01_35mmTwo bands confirm these realities. Ken Vandermark’s Vandermark5 (V5), which is at SPK (Polish Combatants Hall) June 17, has been together with only one personnel change for almost 15 years. Yet even Chicago-based Vandermark is involved in multiple side projects, as The Frame Quartet - 35 mm demonstrates. V5 members, cellist and electronics-player Fred Lonberg-Holm and drummer Tim Daisy are represented as well. Meanwhile saxophonist Dave Rempis, a V5 fixture for 10 years, shines on Cyrillic, a duo with drummer Frank Rosaly. New York pianist Matthew Shipp, whose trio plays June 13 at Gallery 345 on Sorauren Ave. is similarly part of numberless formations. Nu Bop Live involves some of his cohorts, who won’t be in Toronto. For an idea of what piano/bass communication sounds like involving Michael Bisio, the bassist who is in Shipp’s Toronto trio, there’s Session at 475 Kent  with Connie Crothers.

02_cyrillicThe Non-V5er on 35 mm (Okka Disk OD 12078 is Nate McBride, whose thick acoustic bass lines, electric bass thumps and manipulated wave forms distinguish this disc. Strident friction from Lonberg-Holm additionally gives the CD’s five long selections a rough-hewn quality, enhanced by Daisy’s reverberating and pinpointed cymbal slaps, not to mention Vandermark’s soloing which encompasses straight-ahead licks or tongue slaps on tenor saxophone and feathery clarinet trills. This is especially notable on Theatre Piece (for Jimmy Lyons) which links decisive sawing from the cellist, restrained plucks from the bassist and clatters, pops and rim shots from the drummer as Vandermark’s sound ranges from tremolo pitch-sliding on the clarinet to tongue-moistured saxophone flattement, flutters and split tones. Mid-way through, the tempo halves to allegro to expose faux romantic cello sequences that gradually shatters into sul ponticello lines mated with harsh, low-pitched saxophone rasps, balanced on crackling and buzzing electronics. Eventually the piece ends with an exposition of disconnected timbre-shredding from Vandermark and a conclusive string slap from the cellist.

Halve the number of players and double the performance intensity for Cyrillic (482 Music 482-1064 Completely improvised, the selections include those with cymbal-chiming funk grooves, replete with honking reed patterns, plus others featuring smeared double-tonguing from Rempis, where he never seems to stop for breath, matched with rim shots and side spanks from Rosaly. Most impressive are In Plain Sight and How to Cross When Bridges are Out. The former, which could be a deconstructed classic R&B line, gains its rhythmic impetus from Rempis’ guttural baritone saxophone snorts. The latter is like a face off between never-ending ratcheting, rolls and ruffs from Rosaly’s Energizer Bunny-like drumming and Rempis’ Eric Dolphyish-alto saxophone with its broken-octave staccato runs and wide split tones. Changing the agitato tempo to andante, the tune slips into uncharted aleatory territory, echoing with excitement and abandon.

03_nu_bobBoth those adjectives are also on show on Shipp’s CD Nu Bop Live (Rai Trade RTPJ 0015, especially on the 26-minute Nu Abstract suite. Putting aside the many-fingered staccato patterning on other tunes, the pianist initially restricts himself to occasional plinks, as drummer Guillermo Brown use electronics to unload crackling signal processing and hissing voice patches. After the pianist constructs a many-layered impressionistic response, he joins with William Parker’s fluid bass line and saxophonist Daniel Carter’s tightened reed snarls, in multi counterpoint. The performance swells to shrieking horn glossolalia, stretched and scattered bass-string movements and the pianist’s cascading note patterns. Climaxing alongside Brown’s explosions of drags and bounces, Shipp’s raw, exposed notes layer the interface alongside Carter’s strident altissimo cries and Parker’s triple-stopping.

04session_475Sophisticated piano-bass double contrapuntal interaction get an even better showcase on Session at 475 Kent (Mutable 17537-2 as every tune is a culmination of Crothers’ thickly voiced, chromatic chords working out a challenge or response to Bisio’s chiming, slapping string reverberations. Chamber interludes, the CD’s four lengthy tracks evolve similarly to Resonance, the CD’s climatic finale. With Bisio double-stopping and pulling his strings fortissimo, Crothers’ glissandi and metronomic pumping, gradually give the sympathetic dynamic a novel undercurrent of unrelieved tension – embellished by the pianist’s strumming syncopation and the bassist’s woody string-stopping. Lightening her touch with freer harmonies, Bisio follows and shifts downwards into diminished pulses until the notes from both directions merge into a satisfying, protoplasmic whole.

01_min_ragerThere’s no shortage of forceful pianists in Montreal and one of the most promising on the A-list is South Korea-born Min Rager, whose First Steps (Effendi FND09 is very welcome five years after her sterling debut “Bright Road”. The all-original ten-track mostly mainstream program sparkles from the start of the opening blues Nothing To Gain, Nothing To Lose, heartily aided by an equally A-list of sidemen that includes excellent trumpeter Kevin Dean, alto Donny Kennedy and drummer Andre White. The title-piece is a sneakily smart take on the Coltrane classic (Giant Steps of course) while other unabashedly modern tunes have a plethora of slithery solos, confidently delivered, that punctuate melodies and attractive harmonic structures. As well as offering slick counterpoint, Rager conjures filigree runs that sound entirely appropriate on Bella, a duo with Dean, followed by the even more arresting ballad Persistence Of Memory a trio take with Dean and American tenor Walt Weiskopf. Passing is a high-voltage burner, Dean scores again on Portrait Of Miles, with Goodbye Manhattan a passionate slow blues, just one gem in an illuminating set.

02_al_hendersonBassist Al Henderson is a formidable bandleader (notably his quartet and quintet) and composer (notably his work with Time Warp and recasting Duke Ellington) so it’s no surprise he’s in ambitious mode on the Juno-nominated Al Henderson Septet - Regeneration (Cornerstone CRST CD 132 He taxes his all-star companions with a 10-piece program anchored by a six-part suite inspired by the architectural vision of Raymond Moriyama, specifically his ideas for the Canadian War Museum. This in turn has led Henderson to muse on the nature of war and the result is a work of both quality and interest interpreted with some distinction by his team – hornmen Alex Dean and Pat LaBarbera, pianist Richard Whiteman, drummer Barry Romberg and a pair of cellists, Matt Brubeck and Mark Chambers. With a difficult set of ideas to convey, this nonetheless must be successful. There’s other material here that nods to Inuit artist Turataga Ragee (Spirit Owl) and punta rocker Andy Palacio (Palacio) plus other tracks that offer chamber jazz, vaudeville and reflective passages.

03_roy_pattersonToronto guitarist Roy Patterson is always worth hearing, a long-term member of the local string elite and an artist replete with driving notions and thriving imagination. He justifies this on Roy Patterson Trio – Atlantic Blues (Toronto Jazz Composers Collective TJCC AS 001 For this elegant eight-tune master class the leader is supported by ageless sidemen bass Don Thompson and drummer Terry Clarke for long workouts on a mix of standards and three Patterson tunes, a live session recorded at Zooma Zooma Café in Jordan Village on the Niagara Escarpment. The musical atmosphere is warm, subtle, sophisticated and intimate, ripe with creative ingenuity, and the threesome works as one unit with playing that’s almost spiritual. Patterson’s deft fingering keeps melodies intact and everything precise and detailed. His title tune is suitably broody, Water is freewheeling pleasure, the exotic sheen of Brazilian music comes through on Jobim’s Favela, yet one gets the feeling that the guitarist is even more appealing when he casts off the unmistakable influence of Jim Hall. One question remains. Why is this Patterson’s first album in eight years?

04_andrew_downingThe prolific Andrew Downing, his reputation as bassist-bandleader-composer already established, takes a bold step with his newest album Silents (Black Hen Music BHCD-0058 His fascination with silent movies has led to this examination by a dozen musicians of a pair of early 20th century films – horror masterpiece The Cabinet Of Doctor Caligari from 1920 by Germany’s Robert Weine and the fantasy tale Impossible Voyage from 1904 by France’s George Melies. Downing has created 18 tunes that pinpoint episodes in the films and the execution by the players – Downing forsaking bass for cello – is very satisfying. You’d love to be watching the plots unfold with this sophisticated music accompanying them, especially the 12 creepier pieces for Caligari, a tale wherein the evil doctor is exposed as a serial killer. Impossible Voyage is weird, narrating a trip by car, train and submarine by travellers who survive it all, even when the train reaches the sun! Among the players, clarinettist Quinsin Nachoff and bassoonist Peter Lutek stand out, while there’s disciplined work from the strings, notably bassist Joe Phillips – but all should take a bow.

05_red_blue_greenThe group dubbed Red Blue Green offers a debut album of 11 originals where de facto leader – pianist Tom Richards – dominates action with playing that suggests he’d be comfortable in any musical niche. On Transparent Thesis (Pet Mantis Records PMR006 he has clearly digested diverse approaches and revels in dark compositions, shifting time signatures, switching from lyricism to abstraction and is fully in control though there’s less jazz focus on occasion. He gets sympathetic backing from bass Andrew Pacheco and drummer Jay Sussman in what’s free improv with an innate sense of structure. The trio is both thoughtful and adventurous, keeps jarring elements to a minimum, inserts classical influences and, importantly, play quieter than The Bad Plus. Best tunes: Song For Under A Bridge, Recovery and Lost Arrow.

03_little_heartsLittle Hearts
Shannon Butcher
Independent SB2010

Jazz singer Shannon Butcher has come out with another great album and its main strength is in the material she’s chosen to cover. She’s done what I think all modern jazz singers should be doing, i.e. quit covering the done-to-death standards and look to a more modern songbook for fodder. Sure there’s a place for the Gershwin and Porter rehashings now and then - especially in live performance - but when greats like Ella and Sarah have recorded them before, a singer had better be bringing something pretty interesting to the party, or why should we buy it? So when I see 70s and 80s tunes on a CD cover, as is the case with “Little Hearts,” it’s a sign that an artist is thinking outside the box, and that’s what jazz is all about. The Bacharach-David beauty Walk on By gets a moody, heartfelt treatment that reflects the sentiment of the lyrics better than the peppy Warwick original (sorry Dionne!) and Bryan Adams’ Run to You goes Latin American with Daniel Stone on cajon and Rob Piltch doing his usual tasteful nylon string guitar work.

Butcher has also done some very fine songwriting on this album. Joy in My Heart kicks off the disc with a soulful ode to staying positive and the duet with the enormously talented Michael Kaeshammer - The Last Word - is a cute nod to 60s romantic comedies. The one older standard covered here - Irving Berlin’s What’ll I Do - has been given an inventive alt-country facelift courtesy of Piltch’s twangy, plaintive guitar work.

Concert Note: Butcher’s CD release event is at Hugh’s Room on June 2.

02_brown_sugarBrown Sugar
Shakura S’Aida
Ruf Records Ruf 1155

What a sweet blast. Shakura S’Aida has earned praise in Canada as a singer, songwriter and actress of substance and now she’s got a firm grip on the solo career ladder with a scintillating new CD to follow her excellent album “Blueprint”.

Released in North America in April and before that in Europe, “Brown Sugar” lets S’Aida, whose family arrived in Toronto in the 1970s, use the vast experience gained from working with luminaries such as Jimmy Smith, Ruth Brown and Patti LaBelle.

It’s a startlingly good album that bears repeated listening, diction so clear that the cool sounds one might expect don’t happen. There’s emotional connection and passion aplenty here on a dozen tracks, 11 of which employed power guitarist Donna Grantis to work with S’Aida in lyrics and music. The band is tight, featuring organist Lance Anderson, bass Dave Smith, drummer Steve Potts and Rick Steff on keyboards.

Mr. Right is a superb opener best at big volume and offers a glimpse of the vocalist’s attractive high warble. Walk Out That Door is a fetching shuffle while Gonna Tell My Baby is a slow burner with fierce wails. Two successive tunes, the grittily intimate Did It Break Your Heart and the swinging Missing The Good And The Bad would have been great fodder for Janis Joplin and they’re followed by a delightful trio of songs that break the raunch barrier - Sweet Spot, the bitter title track and Anti Love Song.

01_for_the_first_timeFor the First Time
Hugh O’Connor; Mark Ferguson; John Geggie; Don Johnson
True North Records TND532
In an age when almost anyone can put out a CD and almost everybody does, in some cases reducing the music to the status of a calling card, it’s refreshing to come across a first time album by a veteran player who simply wants to “tell his story”.

The musician is Ottawa born saxophonist, Hugh O’Connor. At age 81 O’Conner, who began playing in the late 1940s, has just released his first CD. His approach is refreshingly melodic and he plays with an authority that says, “For me, here’s where it’s at.”

Recorded in the Almonte Ontario Old Town Hall, the CD consists of a programme of superior standards ranging from the seldom played A Portrait Of Jenny to the frequently performed My Funny Valentine on the opening chorus of which there is a Desmond-ish quality to the sound of his horn. But Hugh is definitely his own man and puts an individual stamp on this recording which also includes such great songs as In The Wee Small Hours, How About You and The More I See You.

He is ably and tastefully accompanied by pianist Mark Ferguson - yes the same Mark who used to be a trombone player in Toronto - bassist John Geggie and, on five of the twelve tracks, drummer Don Johnson.

Although active and successful, mainly around the Ottawa area, he has maintained a relatively low profile on the Canadian jazz scene. Perhaps that can change with the release of this very welcome CD.

More an enhancement than a replication of Quebec’s Festival International de Musique Actuelle de Victoriaville (FIMAV), Toronto’s VTO2010 festival cherry picks some of FIMAV’s international performers, presenting them with invited Canadian musicians. As these CDs indicate, the improvisers are impressive no matter the location or formation.

04_ShamanOne of the most anticipated concerts is the Six at the Music Gallery May 26. An all-star European ensemble, one of its distinguishing characteristic is the supportive synthesizer work of Köln’s Thomas Lehn. Close Up (MonotypeRec. mono024 demonstrates Lehn’s skills providing the underpinning for Bertrand Gauguet, a technically adroit French saxophonist, plus Viennese quarter-tone trumpeter Franz Hautzinger. As with the Six, electronics are part of this trio’s mix. So on Close Up’s three extended tracks blurry intonation encompasses loops of granulated tones mixed with rumbles and pulses from Lehn, air burbled through the body tube of Gauguet’s saxophones and tremolo buzzing from Hautzinger. Building up in sonic fervor through the intersection of synthesizer pitch shifting, distortion and flanging plus wide-bore whizzes and echoing patterns from the acoustic instruments, the CD climaxes with the over 26-minute Close Up 03. Cricket-like reed chirps and hand-muted brass vibrations are put aside for spectral processing which adds the affiliated extensions of most timbres as they sweep by staccato or glissandi. While the electronics’ wave forms undulate symmetrically, they also output enough percussive drones to subsume technical flaunting. The trumpeter’s braying bell-like reverb and the saxophonist’s feral animal-like squeals consequently meld with thumping synthesizer pedal-point expressions for a satisfying finale.

02_AndyMoorColin McLean’s computer processing is also prominent on Everything but the Beginning (Unsounds U17 But so is the prowess of British guitarist Andy Moor, a member of the EX. In Toronto his Music Gallery performance – also on May 26 – is as part of a long-standing duo with French poetess Anne-James Chatton. On this CD, his technical command of the six-string is showcased with McLean’s hardware usually confined to patched rumbles and processed burbles and rebounds. Moor often uses the laptop undercurrent as a click track, linearly exposing single-string snaps, rough twangs or chuffed reverberations. His improvising can be playfully decorative, as when he seconds the sample of a squeak toy on Delta Block. In contrast on The Flower of fixed idea it appears that piezo pickups multiply his twangs so that the theme is pulsed, pushed and twisted into voltage-shaking signals.

03_zachAcoustic interaction is also featured on May 19, with the Dans Les Arbes quartet at the Music Gallery. Consisting of one French and three Norwegian musicians, it offers the same sort of extrasensory perception its percussionist Ingar Zach brings to Mural Nectars of Emergence (SOFA Records 528 Interestingly enough Zach’s “Mural”-mates, Australian flautist/saxophonist Jim Denley and guitarist Kim Myhr, are at FIMAV in a different configuration. Minimalist and atmospheric, the CD’s seven tracks are built up from pointillist dabs of sonic colors, soaking together without abrasion. That doesn’t mean the performance is modest, just unshowy. Zach for instance use wood pops, bowl scrapes, chiming bells and drum-skin rubs to make his points. Meantime Myhr’s guitar preparations allow him to produce hefty church-organ-like chords in some instances, loops of electrified signal-processed clangs elsewhere and constant harsh strumming. Throughout Denley’s masticated split tones propel his saxophone pitches to the patchy edge of hearing with strident wolf whistles, tongue slaps and subterranean growls, while there’s nothing delicate about his buzzing flute expositions. Flash Expansion is particularly noteworthy. With Myhr’s rhythmic rasgueado meeting up with amplified drum-top rubs and harsh reed reflux, the processed loops bring the narrative in-and-out-of-focus, with the sound menacing and motor-driven one minute, the next as weightless as waves lapping against the sea shore.

04_ShamanA weightier Canadian balance to the international sounds is the exclusive-to-VTO triple bill at the Tranzac club May 14. The Rent and Hat + Beard are locals, while Shaman from Montreal is also on hand. Consisting of Jean Derome and Joane Hétu on woodwinds, voices and objects Nous perçons les oreilles (Ambiances Magnétiques AM 200 CD exposes Shaman’s strategy of D-I-Y ethnomusicology. Like ancient tribal healers the duo expresses itself through verbal screams, squeaks, murmurs, mumbles and cries as well as inchoate instrumental textures. The two recount 12 short narratives which are as much Dada as primitive, wrapped in onomatopoeia that bonds mouth expressions such as cheers, yelps and gurgles with slide-whistle peeps, unsequenced altissimo saxophone stridency, key percussion, clipping chromatic timbres and reverberating body tube echoes.

Back to top