02_sophieYoung & Foolish

Sophie Berkal-Sarbit

Independent KEC-CD-5150 (www.sophieberkalsarbit.com)

To have one CD under your belt when you’re only 19 is quite an accomplishment. For Sophie Berkal-Sarbit to be releasing her second at that age is a marvel. Berkal-Sarbit has a background in musical theatre that shows in her singing style, which has a gutsiness and assurance beyond her tender years.

Piano master Bill King produced and arranged the 12 covers on the album that opens with the heart-starter I’m Gonna Live Till I Die and moves through songs by a range of old and new composers including Porter’s Love for Sale and Strayhorn’s gorgeous, desolate Lush Life. Refreshingly, newer songs like Sting’s Until and Pick Somebody Up by Raul Midón also get reworked here.

King has assembled a roster of local luminaries like drummer Davide di Renzo and Duncan Hopkins on bass. As always, Rob Piltch brings much to the mix with his gorgeous nylon-string guitar work. “Young and Foolish” can be found on iTunes as well as in stores across Canada.

01_pj_perrynota bene

PJ Perry

Independent (www.pjperry.com)

Take five great standards, a Charlie Parker blues and five originals, add PJ Perry - surely one of the best straight ahead saxophonists in the country, or any country for that matter - and a rhythm section that really knows how to swing and you have a CD deserving of a place in your collection.

The standards include the familiar Limehouse Blues and Georgia On My Mind along with Be My Love, The Gypsy and What’ll I Do. Add Parker’s Mood and the five interesting PJ originals and you have just over an hour’s worth of honest jazz. On one of the original pieces, Salsa Saxofono, the regular rhythm section takes time out in order to feature David Verelles on piano and Jalidan Ruiz on congas and timbales.

Recorded in August at Humber Recording Studios and October at Inception Sound, this recording shows that not only is Mark Eisenman an inventive soloist but also a sympathetic accompanist, adding just the right touches behind the leader’s forceful saxophone playing. PJ is a joy to listen to and bassist Neil Swainson and John Sumner on drums provide the icing on the cake.


The Necks

Fish of Milk ReR Necks 9 (www.rermegacorp.com)

Aptly described as mesmerizing, the sonic currents created by Australian trio The Necks sweep listeners along without complaint during any one of the band’s hour-long, time-suspending performances. The audience at the trio’s Music Gallery show in late January could testify to that. Yet “Silverwater” – named for an industrial suburb of Sydney – pulses with even more textures, since with overdubbing and granularization multiple and fungible sonic layers can be exposed.

That means that the swelling and jabbing organ tones played by Chris Abrahams that quiver throughout this one-track CD to reach a crescendo of almost visual three-dimensional polyphony, sometimes operate in tandem with knife-sharp piano chording – also played by Abrahams. Additionally, samples and patching split Tony Buck’s percussion skills so that rhythmic tambourine shakes, thick press rolls, ratcheting wood scrapes and a steady backbeat are heard all at once. Holding the bottom are the rhythmically powerful and chromatic spiccato runs of bassist Lloyd Swanton, occasionally doubled by overdubbing.

Suffused with contrapuntal clinking, chording and clattering, the extended improvisation here becomes a nearly opaque interlude of frozen time made up of bonded organ washes, bass thumps and percussion cracks. That is until steadying piano chords and the drummer’s shuffle beat isolate the different tinctures of this musical color wheel, allowing the narrative to loosen and separate into sections. The ultimate straight-ahead theme is then divided among low-frequency keyboard tinkles, spanked cymbals and solid bass string plucks.

Ken Waxman


By Geoff Chapman

01_here_nowCanadian guitarist Jake Langley fought his way through the ranks to long-term sideman in Joey DeFrancesco’s organ trio. Now he bosses his own threesome with American Sam Yahel doing the grunt work on ancient Hammond B3 (plus Fender Rhodes) and Vancouver transplant drummer Ian Froman, now of the Big Apple. It’s clear on Here And Now (Tonepoet TPCD2012 www.jakelangley.com) that Jake’s in charge, his Gibson guitars setting the menu for nine tracks, five by him plus a Mingus, classics by McCoy Tyner and Michel Legrand plus Gordon Lightfoot’s mega-hit If You Could Read My Mind. The music swings hard without grating pyrotechnics, even with blues, rock and funk dominating themes. Yahel’s vigorous bass lines groove as the Langley guitars lay out forceful ideas, particularly strong on modal cuts Singularity and 2012. There’s a short, daring take with seriously dark passages on Goodbye Pork Pie Hat showing how the trio knows when to caress, when to drop out and when to get tough. The Langley unit displays finely developed harmonic sense, creates a light jazz anthem of the Lightfoot and underscores the leader’s unfailing imagination.

02_chunkedTriodes comprises the co-chiefs of big band NOJO, guitarist Michael Occhipinti and keyboardist Paul Neufeld, joined by resonant bassist Roberto Occhipinti and drummer Doan Pham with a gaggle of guests. On Chunked (Modica Music MM0110 www.triodes.ca) there are three pieces each from the leaders in an eclectic, easy-on-the-ear selection of vintage soul and R&B, designed to conjure memories of The Meters yet allowing players licence to blunder into Desmond Dekker’s Israelites. Catchy cuts like Occhipinti’s Big Belly gets additional fire from Jeff Coffin’s sax, Black Disciples features woolly trombone and a rapper ruins Blue Pepper but the popping pulse, clean notes, witty notions and upbeat atmosphere carry the day. The strutting Funky Miracle and old school wailing on The Kick are distinct bonuses.

03_other_sideBlasting trumpeter Alexis Baro likes funk as well as swirling Cuban rhythms and is in take-no-prisoners mode on From The Other Side (www.g-threejazz.com). There’s polyrhythmic mayhem early on with Robi Botos, Jeff King and Larnell Lewis prominent conspirators in a mix of high power bathed in funky blasts and whirling percussion. Baro shows off some awesome technique as well as lapses of concentration, which actually gives the album – his second – live jam appeal with African Escape a thriller. Baro then steers his large troupe through some ordinary light bop before plunging into whiplash funk that exploits searing guitar from KCRoberts. You can hear the potential in Baro’s laid-back moments, where technique is not everything, instead supplanted by tone control and emotional appeal. Wake up Call before it boils over is proof. His second album, with 10 of his tunes, bodes well for the future.

04_pleased_to_meetHank Jones is 91, Oliver Jones a mere 75. These storied veterans, brought up on melodic jazz, the will to swing and the example of Oscar Peterson, deliver a lovely, relaxed disc that should suit every occasion and trounce age stereotyping. The 11 tunes on Pleased To Meet You (Justin Time Just 2326-2 www.justin-time.com) provide no barrier to the fecund jazz minds of these elder statesmen who employ on three cuts two rising stars – bassist Brandi Disterheft and drummer Jim Doxas - they don’t really need. Jones and Jones, who hadn’t recorded together before, do sound pleased to meet each other, comfortable in five duets that include a pair of Peterson chestnuts, Cakewalk and Big Scotia, while Oliver contributes his own I Remember OP. Hank offers solo ruminations Monk’s Mood and Ornette Coleman’s Lonely Woman in a warm, welcoming session executed to perfection.

05_double_doubleWhen two Toronto vets get together it’s more than a cutting session – much more here with flugelhornist Chase Sanborn and pianist Mark Eisenman going at it on a disc subtitled Always Swinging. Swing it does on a dozen tunes they stack with vigour and creative acumen you’d expect from expert practitioners. Double Double (Samo Media MFA 18249 www.chasesanborn.com) opens with a jointly-composed tune and shows how the challenges of democratic duet playing are answered, as two musicians at the top of their game breeze through tunes with sure-handed panache. Each contributes a brace of songs – Sanborn Great Gait and Call It and Eisenman Benny’s Ballad and N.O.O.N. and they round out the performance with standards, classics and originals. The dynamic duo deftly exchanges ideas, quotes freely and offers up some groundbreaking passion with a celebratory tone. The ‘contest’ is especially appealing on Benny Golson’s Stablemates and Hoagy’s The Nearness Of You, impeccably done.

04_nixon_in-chinaJohn Adams - Nixon in China

Robert Orth; Maria Kanyova; Thomas Hammons; Marc Heller; Tracy Dahl; Chen-Ye Yuan; Opera Colorado Chorus; Colorado Symphony Orchestra; Marin Alsop

Naxos 8.669022-24

Watching modern operas become a part of the standard repertoire is like watching the children grow up. Some of the precocious ones (the ones by Philip Glass) sometimes become rather dull adults, others are still gawky teenagers (works by Corigliano), while others reach their full, stunning potential. The seminal work by Adams, Nixon in China, belongs to that last category.

Just over 25 years old, the opera has had numerous productions in North America and Europe, initially overshadowed by the premiere Peter Sellars production and sacrosanct casting of voices (Maddalena, Sylvan, and Craney). Its one and only recoding, an excellent rendition on Nonensuch Records with The Orchestra of St. Luke’s under Edo de Waart became the de-facto reference recording… But some 5 years ago, the tide started changing. When I saw in 2006 an early version of the current production, here recorded live in Denver, it was a fresh and fascinating experience. The excellent Naxos CD recording conveys this freshness and Alsop brilliantly reveals the lyrical, almost romantic side of Adams’ music. That lyricism, often buried under the trappings of minimalism, emerges victoriously.

Winnipegger Tracy Dahl is every director’s dream of Madame Mao, both vocally and visually, especially in her triumphant coloratura “I am the wife of Mao Tse-Tung”. Robert Orth brings us a strangely sympathetic, pre–“I am not a crook!”Nixon; just listen to his opening aria “News has a kind of mystery”. Overall, this is my first must-have recording of the new decade!

Robert Tomas


By Ken Waxman


Arguably more responsible than any other instrument over the past century for famous and infamous music, the electric guitar is a harsh taskmaster, especially for musicians creating innovative sounds. Luckily the six-string’s versatility can be adapted to a variety of sonic situations. Mixing original concepts with sympathetic musical partners make each of these discs notable.

01_ken_aldcroftToronto’s Ken Aldcroft takes an organic approach on Our Hospitality

(Trio Records TRP-010 www.kenaldcroft.ca), situating his axe within his top-flight Convergence Ensemble filled out by trumpeter Nicole Rampersaud, trombonist Scott Thomson, alto saxophonist Evan Shaw, bassist Wes Neal and drummer Joe Sorbara. Long-time colleagues, this relationship means that Aldcroft’s eight compositions are extended with instant arrangements and sympathetic improvisations throughout. Just a Hint and Dialoguing illuminate this. On the former, Sorbara’s paradiddles set up each soloist’s understated parallel lines while discursive guitar plucks maintain spectral separation. Eventually Rampersaud’s fluttering grace notes provide connective sinew as she ascends the scale. A group improv, Dialoguing matches the trumpeter’s flutter-tonguing with moderato and legato trills from Shaw. All the while Thomson’s trombone is slurring and shuffling on its own tangent, as is Aldcroft’s circular, finger-styled pacing. When the plectrumist introduces below-the-bridge hammering plus metallic crunches, it’s Neal’s bass line that steadies the narrative from below.


02_tony_wilsonTransforming much different source material is Vancouver’s Tony Wilson’s The People Look Like Flowers (Last Drip Audio DA 00482 www.dripaudio.com), whose centrepiece is an improvisational re-imagining of Benjamin Britten’s Lachrymae. The 11-movement suite is made new not only by mutating and mixing melodies with improvisations and other musical tropes, but by interpreting the chamber work composed for viola and piano with Wilson’s guitar, Peggy Lee’s cello, Paul Blaney’s bass, Dylan van der Schyff’s drums, Dave Say’s saxophones and Kevin Elaschuk’s trumpet. Proving the theme’s adaptability, the sextet takes it straight in sections, adds to its lyricism elsewhere, distorts it abrasively in other spots and alludes to folk songs at points. The last is most apparent on Movement #4 Variation as Wilson’s linear development is given added impetus by Lee’s sul tasto sweeps as well as wavering trumpet lines. Movement #2 on the other hand includes sul ponticello scratches from the strings, plus the drummer’s martial flams and rim shots that only occasionally let portions of the melody peek through. Elaschuk’s contrapuntal trumpet lines and Wilson’s slurred fingering help turn Movement #11 into a sectional swinger with the others riffing until the guitarist’s distorted licks give way to theme recapitulation.


03_east_van_stringsAnother Vancouver guitarist, Gordon Grdina follows a similar route on The Breathing of Statues (Songlines SGL-SA 1572-2 www.songlines.com). Except all the compositions are his, and the East Van Strings which accompanies are violinist Jesse Zubot, violist Eyvind Kang and again cellist Peggy Lee. Combining Grdina’s fascination with Middle Eastern music – he also plays oud here – the second Viennese school and improvisation, the CD ensures that disparate influences converge without conflict. A detour into double-timed Arabic progressions is most apparent on the title track, when following a strummed drone from the oud, the other strings’ initial gypsy-like romantic colouration takes on the tonal characteristics of kamanchas or three-string spiked fiddles. This allegro stridency ceases though, when Lee’s adagio slides move the piece towards western lyricism. More attuned to atonality are Silence of Paintings and Origin. On the latter, after lively string curves illuminate the theme, Grdina counters with spidery runs and antiphonal slurred fingering. Pitch-sliding and flying spiccato from Kang lead the narrative towards stop-time until guitar strokes and romantic harmonies level the tempo. On the former, heavily rhythmic, vibrating cadenzas from Grdina sharply drive the theme chromatically as the strings’ layered pulsations scrape and scatter.


04_grdina_trioTauter three-part dialogue characterizes Gordon Grdina’s other session while confirming both the guitar’s versatility and his own. If Accident Will (Plunge Records PR00628 www.plungrecords.com), with his combo filled out by bassist Tommy Babin and drummer Kenton Loewen, furrows the classic fusion power trio groove. However the originality and finesse exhibited on his other CD also appear here, albeit in a brawnier fashion. Tracks such as Yellow Spot into the Sun illustrate this, as the drummer’s measured march time is decorated with drags and flams as well as thick double bass thumps. Thanks to Grdina’s chromatic sound sprays the disguised ballad still retains its form despite Loewen’s hard pummelling. Arabic influences and the oud aren’t neglected either. Cobble Hill/Renunciation brings out a double-strung ecstatic pitch from Grdina, elastic chording from Babin and beats that could arise from a dumbek or North African goblet-shaped drum.

The new Jazz Icons series from Naxos is its fourth incarnation with an eight-DVD boxed set full of surprises as well as shedding beneficial light on under-rated performers. As always, the sound on these 10-plus hours of music is superb.

01_anita_odayThere’s one vocalist – but would you expect Anita O’Day (2.119015) to follow earlier Icon releases of Ella, Sarah and Nina rather than, say, Billie or Carmen? However, this archaeological treat discovered at two Scandinavian concerts show off her vibrato-free, horn-like tones, crafty phrasing manipulation and breezy confidence to great effect. The Norwegian session, featuring a French piano trio is best, highlighting sophisticated interpretations of standards including a brilliant up-tempo Tea For Two, a scat-happy Four Brothers and a lovely Yesterday/Yesterdays medley.


02_woody_hermanThen there’s Woody Herman (2.119016), taped in London, with his jazziest big band, the 1964 Swinging Herd. It’s an explosive thrill, the clarinettist boss sticking to old school playing but encouraging troops to revel in blistering pace and exquisitely-detailed section work. It’s compelling throughout, with close-ups of exciting bandsmen like tenor Sal Nistico and trombonist Phil Wilson but fewer looks at the A-grade rhythm team – pianist Nat Pierce, responsible for most charts, bass Chuck Andrus and drummer Jake Hanna.


03_erroll_garnerWhy Erroll Garner (2.119021) remains shunted aside in the piano pantheon is a mystery. His two 1960s concerts presented here are as good as 1956’s Concert By The Sea, showcasing dazzling improv out of the stride tradition, whirling enthusiasm - with a smile permanently on display - and close support from bass Eddie Calhoun and drummer Kelly Martin. The self-taught keyboard wiz who couldn’t read music achieves superlative heights here with favourites such as Fly Me To The Moon and, of course, Misty.



05_jimmy_smith04_art_farmerArt Farmer’s hour of fame (2.119019) is a master-class on flugelhorn from 1964 that’s even better since bandmates are guitarist Jim Hall, bass Steve Swallow and drummer Pete Laroca. It’s a real keeper, as is the 90-minute Paris outing by Hammond B-3 organist Jimmy Smith (2.119018), a stunning display that underscores his position as organ jazz top dog.


06_art_blakeyDrummer Art Blakey’s 1965 Paris concert (2.119017) has a quintet billed as his New Jazzmen. Its stars are trumpeter Freddie Hubbard and pianist Jaki Byard on just four tracks that fill one hour. It’s Hubbard who’s the focus with his shiny tone, smooth delivery, restless imagination and ability to stir listeners while Byard offers outside playing to counter his straight ahead colleagues.




07_coleman_hawkinsTenor maestro Coleman Hawkins is not in great form at Belgian and British concerts totalling 140 minutes (2.119020), mostly preferring to coast through dreamy ballads rather than letting fly with rumbling roars despite strong company including Sweets Edison, who sounds best of all, Sir Charles Thompson and Jo Jones. Not until Stoned does the maestro awaken.


A bonus DVD with tunes by Garner, Smith and Hawkins comes with the set.


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