Joan of Art
Dave Robbins Sextet
Cellar Music CM110518 (cellarlive.com)

Jump Up
Brad Turner Quartet (with guest Seamus Blake)
Celler Music CM123018 (cellarlive.com)

Just Like Magic
Mike Allen; Peter Washington; Lewis Nash
Celler Music CM010519 (cellarlive.com)

This Quiet Room
PJ Perry featuring Bill Mays
Cellar Music CM121018 (cellarlive.com)

The Real Blue
Pureum Jin (Jeremy Manasia; Luke Sellick; Willie Jones III; Sabeth Perez)
Celler Music CM020219 (cellarlive.com)

The Cellar Music Group: As a high school jazz musician in Metro Vancouver in the early 2000s, The Cellar Jazz Club, owned and operated by Cory Weeds, was the centre of my musical universe. Despite the fact that it was located below street level, it stood head and shoulders above comparable Vancouver venues, bringing in a healthy mixture of performers, from local standouts such as Jodi Proznick, Bill Coon and Brad Turner, to major international acts, including organist Joey DeFrancesco, pianist Monty Alexander and Chris Potter’s Underground project, with Adam Rogers, Craig Taborn and Nate Smith. (I have a vivid memory, at the Potter show, of strategically hiding a recording device under a napkin at my table, on behalf (I swear) of a friend.) Out of the club grew the label: Cellar Live, as it was initially known, was a vehicle by which the club’s live performances could be documented and distributed, helping to further develop the identity of the Cellar, the musicians who played on its stage, and the Vancouver jazz scene as a whole.

Though the Cellar Jazz Club is no more, the label has continued to thrive, and now operates as The Cellar Music Group, with three distinct imprint categories: Cellar Live, which primarily releases live recordings, Cellar Jazz, which primarily releases studio dates, and Reel to Real Recordings, a relatively recent venture, which releases rare archival recordings. With close to 150 albums over the course of its 18-year history, Cellar Music has a broad range of releases in its roster. Some highlights: the late Ross Taggart’s Thankfully, with Bob Murphy, Mike Rud and Bernie Arai, Curtis Nowosad’s Dialectics, with Jimmy Greene, Derrick Gardner, Steve Kirby and Will Bonness, and, on Reel to Real, Etta Jones’ A Soulful Sunday: Live at The Left Bank, a recording made in Baltimore in February 1972.

Cellar Music has five new recordings worth checking out, which, taken together – but listed in no particular order – showcase the label’s aforementioned breadth.

01a Dave RobbinsJoan of Art, from drummer Dave Robbins’ eponymous sextet, takes its name from the title track, written in honour of Vancouver jazz patron Joan Mariacher. Robbins is a strong, dynamic drummer, with a propulsive swing feel that lends itself well to a sextet format (he is joined by Steve Holy, bass; Chris Gestrin, piano; Mike Allen, tenor saxophone; Brad Turner, trumpet; Rod Murray, trombone). Robbins is also a thoughtful, conscientious arranger, both of his own compositions and of the album’s two covers (Lennon/McCartney’s Can’t Buy Me Love and Paul Desmond’s Take Five). 

01b Jump UpJump Up, a new album from the Brad Turner Quartet with special guest Seamus Blake, is a follow-up almost 20 years in the making: around 2000, the same group (Turner, trumpet; Blake, tenor saxophone; Bruno Hubert, piano; André Lachance, bass; Dylan van der Schyff, drums) released Live At The Cellar. Packed with exciting playing and Turner’s mature, well-developed compositions, Jump Up covers a wide range of material, from the funk-tinged The Enthusiast to the swinging up-tempo title track to Catastrophizer, a welcome bonus, recorded live at Frankie’s Jazz Club during a three-day stint leading up to this album’s recording at The Warehouse Studio in Vancouver.

01c Just Like MagicTenor saxophonist Mike Allen’s new album, Just Like Magic, is a trio outing with the famed rhythm section of Peter Washington and Lewis Nash, recorded in Rudy Van Gelder’s Englewood Cliffs studio in New Jersey in January of this year. From the downbeat of Big Bertha, the focus is on melody, time and tone, the intimacy of the sax trio configuration only enhanced by the headphone-free, live-off-the-floor approach and the legendary acoustic characteristics of the studio.

01d PJ PerryThis Quiet Room, a duo album from Canadian alto saxophonist PJ Perry and American pianist Bill Mays, is another essay in intimacy. Recorded live-off-the-floor at a private home in Vancouver, the session feels warm and immediate, and successfully produces the sensation of being in the room as the songs are being performed. Both Perry and Mays are veteran jazz players, with a firm grip on the idiomatic conventions of the music they’ve recorded. Bud Powell’s Parisian Thoroughfare and Charlie Parker’s Laird Baird are highlights, and both give Perry ample room to demonstrate his bebop prowess. The album’s quieter moments are also memorable: the medley of The Folks Who Live On The Hill (played solo by Mays) and Two For The Road is a lovely treat. 

01e Real BlueThe Real Blue, the debut studio album from New York-based alto saxophonist Pureum Jin, was recorded at GB’s Juke Joint, in Long Island City, New York; relatively close to Van Gelder’s New Jersey Englewood Cliffs studio, at least compared to Vancouver. Joined by pianist Jeremy Manasia, bassist Luke Sellick, drummer Willie Jones III and special guest vocalist Sabeth Pérez, Jin has a bright, strong sound, rooted in the hard-bop style of Phil Woods, to whom she pays tribute on the song Remembering Mr. Woods, one of eight originals on this ten-track disc.

02 jazz libre cover cropMusique-Politique: Anthologie 1971-1974
Le Quatuor de Jazz Libre du Québec
Tour de Bras TDBHIST0001 (tourdebras.com)

This has been a momentous year for the documentation of Quebec’s entry into the world of free jazz. First came Eric Fillion’s book Jazz Libre et la révolution québécoise : Musique-action, 1967-1975 (M Éditeur: 2019) and now this ambitious four-CD set to provide sonic evidence of the achievement of the founders of free jazz in the province, Le Quatuor de Jazz Libre du Québec. The CDs, drawn from the group’s archives of performance tapes, are supplemented by a 24-page, LP-size volume that includes essays in French (including ones by Fillion and producer Éric Normand) and reproductions of manifestos, news stories and even a cover questionnaire from the group’s social outreach program, all of it providing context for the most radical Canadian-born jazz movement in history.

The group existed from 1967 to 1975 with two constant members, tenor saxophonist Jean Préfontaine and trumpeter Yves Charbonneau. If jazz has rarely been political in Canada, Le Quatuor was insistently so, creating a distinct connection between the ferment in Quebec society and the ferment in their own music, initially inspired by American free jazz as played by Ornette Coleman and Albert Ayler. The music here is very much a soundtrack to the times, an intense element in the rise of Quebec nationalism that followed on the FLQ crisis and the War Measures Act, enacted in October 1970. The quartet’s reach into the heart of Quebecois culture included the founding of an artist commune (Le Petite Québec Libre), a later performance space (L’Amorce) and public self-analysis of their work (interspersed here between the performances).

The music here runs from 1971 to 1974, arguably the group’s strongest period despite shifting support. Jean Préfontaine, born in 1926, is the strongest presence here, a musician who found free jazz after a career in a military band. His extended opening solo on a September 1973 performance is a riveting example of all that free jazz saxophone could be: a radical soliloquy that’s part jeremiad, part exhortation, part abstract interior monologue cut through with doubt and excitement at the coming day. Yves Charbonneau is a fine foil, a subtler provocateur, adding thoughtful solos and detailed support as the set documents the band’s developing sense of a commanding freedom. The presence of American cellist Tristan Honsinger on the 1973 material, passing through en route to a brilliant career in European free improvisation, signals a broadening musical language and the achievement of the group’s final period.

The set adds substantially to the history of jazz in Canada, casting new light on its most intense moment, as well as a significant contributory stream to Quebec’s diverse concept of musique actuelle, perhaps the most vigorous scene in contemporary Canadian music.

01 Emma FrankCome Back
Emma Frank
Justin Time JUST 262-2 (justin-time.com)

It’s not often that you come across a multi-faceted voice that could fit into any genre of music imaginable. Boston native Emma Frank demonstrates her ability to seamlessly blend genres within songs and navigate between them with her stellar voice on her latest release. Frank’s pieces are introspective, telling stories in such a way that any listener could directly relate to. Her vocal style is reminiscent of highly acclaimed Canadian indie pop singer Feist with a delicious hint of Diana Krall that aids in creating the perfect blend of jazz and art pop throughout the album. This album provides a welcome updated jazz sound that is suitable to listeners new to the genre and aficionados alike.

Frank’s songs are of a milder tempo but have plenty of movement, allowing the listener to fully process every musical element and nuance within the pieces without growing weary. The soundscape is strewn with plenty to listen and pay attention to thanks to musicians such as Aaron Parks on piano and synthesizers, Tommy Crane on drums, Zack Lober on bass and co-producer/guitarist Franky Rousseau with whom Frank has previously collaborated. While her record has a modern touch, it is pleasing to hear hints of traditional jazz throughout, especially within pieces such as Sometimes, Promises and See You. This fourth release by the stunning and golden-voiced vocalist is an incredibly pleasing journey through genres that leaves something new to discover around every corner.

04 Matt HerskowitzMirror Image
Matt Herskowitz
Justin Time JUST 263-2 (justin-time.com)

To play jazz on the piano, a musician must – at some point – come to terms with the weight of the instrument’s history. The modern drum kit started to come together in the 1920s; the electric guitar, which, unlike its classical forebears, would be played through an amplifier, primarily with a plectrum, would not be manufactured until the 1930s. But the piano – so central to the sound of mainstream jazz – predates the genre by over 200 years.

On the solo album Mirror Image, released on Montreal’s Justin Time Records, the accomplished pianist Matt Herskowitz demonstrates his command of both the jazz and classical traditions through a mixture of original pieces, compositions by the likes of Ravel, Satie and Schubert, and a jazz standard. The fusion of jazz and classical has its own rich history; third stream music has enjoyed a degree of popularity since the 1960s. This synthesis is used to great effect by Herskowitz, not as a way to showcase two separate skill sets, but as a framework with which to display an intelligent, well-developed, honest approach to music making that honours the pianist’s personal experiences on the instrument. Highlights include bluesy, gospel-tinged flourishes on Gottschalk’s The Last Hope, the percussive title track Mirror Image, and My One And Only Love, which closes the album. Herskowitz’s truest success, however, is the thread with which he so effectively and confidently connects the album’s many elements into a sensible whole.

Listen to 'Mirror Image' Now in the Listening Room

05 Bill GilliamCounterstasis – Refracted Voices
Bill Gilliam; Glen Hall; Joe Sorbara
Independent MPBG-006 (gilliamhallsorbara.bandcamp.com)

Counterstasis – Refracted Voices is a new album of improvised music from the trio of Bill Gilliam (acoustic piano, preparations), Glen Hall (woodwinds, electroacoustics) and Joe Sorbara (drums, percussion), recorded at Number 9 Audio Group in Toronto. Gilliam, Hall and Sorbara are veteran improvisers, and bring a wealth of creative experience to their shared practice, which takes its influence from a variety of musical traditions. The heart of this project, as described in the liner notes, is to “counter stasis, to foster change, to create a music in which [the musicians’] individual voices can be bent by, refracted through the voices of their co-conspirators.” To these exploratory and interactive ends, Hall uses an assortment of live effects, including the OMax AI improvising software and the CataRT synthesis program, both by the Paris-based Institute for Research and Coordination in Acoustics/Music (IRCAM).

Hall’s electronic contributions range from subtle additions to the trio’s acoustic instruments (as on the opening track, Sinuous Movements), to major structural components (as on Radio Chatter, which does indeed feature radio chatter, and Cave Ritual, the album’s longest offering, in which eerie atmospheric sounds form the basis for the overall shape of the tune). Throughout the proceedings, Gilliam, Hall and Sorbara play with maturity, confidently committing themselves to the realization of a shared musical vision that privileges communication over individual athletics. The album offers many highlights, but is best heard in one listen, as the spontaneously composed event that it is.

Back to top