02 Allison YoungSo Here We Are
Alison Young
Triplet TR10023 (alisonyoungmusic.com)

Stellar, JUNO-nominated saxophonist Alison Young has released her diverse, long-awaited debut album. Those who have had the pleasure of seeing Young play live know what to expect from this record and it definitely lives up to and exceeds all expectations. There is no shortage of great musicianship on the album, featuring well-known musicians such as Eric St-Laurent on guitar, Jeff McLeod on piano and organ, Ross MacIntyre on bass, Chris Wallace on drums and Guido Basso on flugelhorn. Pieces do a great job of showcasing the talents of all musicians and are mostly written by Young herself, with the exception of three tracks.

Diversity is found throughout every piece in this album. There are contrasts between elegant and energetic, driven melodies, as well as various inspirations ranging from “hard bop to soul to New Orleans-style funk.” Cedar Roots starts the record off with a righteous bang and is a strong example of the drive that drummers Chris Wallace and Sly Juhas bring to each track. Afterparty delves into a New Orleans-esque flavour with Young’s soul and funk inspirations showing through, as well as a delicious hint of traditional rock ‘n’ roll added to the mix. Celia & Harry and title track, So Here We Are, display another side of the saxophonist’s playing, leaning towards elegance, grace and a hark back to a more traditional jazz sound. Young’s album is a thoroughly enjoyable musical journey for all jazz lovers.

03 Curtis NowosadCurtis Nowosad
Curtis Nowosad
Sessionheads United SU007 (curtisnowosad.com)

Curtis Nowosad is a drummer and composer who was born and raised in Winnipeg but has lived in New York City since 2013 after moving there to complete a master’s degree at the Manhattan School of Music. This is Nowosad’s third album, the first recorded in New York, and contains five original compositions and three covers. The musicianship is impeccable with crisp horns, a tight and driving rhythm section, and arrangements reminiscent of Birth of the Cool. Highlights include Braxton Cook’s several wily alto saxophone solos and Andrew Renfroe’s guitar work on Hard Time Killing Floor Blues which is soulful, bluesy and rhythmically varied. Nowosad’s drumming is complex yet understated, always interesting but never in the way of the other player’s groove. Brianna Thomas’ assured vocals on two songs add extra nuance to the project.

This album can stand alone as an excellent example of intelligent, driving jazz but there are compelling social and historical themes woven through the original compositions and cover choices. The opening Home is Where the Hatred Is comes from Gil Scott-Heron’s 1970 album, Pieces of a Man. Nina Simone’s Sea Line Woman is given an elegant and sophisticated treatment. Nowosad’s The Water Protectors is dedicated to the Standing Rock Sioux and other Indigenous people while Never Forget What They Did to Fred Hampton is a sharp reminder of the young Black Panther activist’s murder and cover-up. Curtis Nowosad combines socially conscious history with assured jazz performances.

04 Jacques Kuba SeguinMigrations
Jacques Kuba Séguin
Odd Sound ODS-17 (jacqueskubaseguin.com)

Released in June on his own label, ODD SOUND Records, Migrations is the newest album from the Montreal-based trumpeter Jacques Kuba Séguin. A regular in the Montreal jazz and creative music community, Séguin tours regularly, including a 2016 stint in Poland, Lithuania, and Germany, and has worked as the host of the Symphonie en bleu radio show, for ICI Musique classique. In addition to Séguin, who is solely responsible for the album’s compositions and arrangements, Migrations features pianist Jean-Michel Pilc, tenor saxophonist Yannick Rieu, vibraphonist Olivier Salazar, bassist Adrian Vedady and drummer Kevin Warren.

The medium-tempo Hymne starts things off, and gives Séguin plenty of room to exercise his warm, burnished sound; it also contains beautiful moments from Pilc, Salazar and Rieu. Pilc – who, since becoming a faculty member at McGill, is appearing on more and more Montreal-based projects – tends to always be excellent and his work on Migrations is no exception; his playing on Origine, the album’s second track, is particularly satisfying. Première neige (You’re Not Alone), one of Migrations’ most introspective tunes, is beautiful, and Séguin takes the opportunity to showcase the expressive, lyrical side of his playing. I Remember Marie in April, a clear album highlight, begins with stellar playing from Warren, who negotiates the tune’s syncopated shots with aplomb and keeps things interesting throughout the solos. Overall, Migrations is a thoroughly engaging album, with strong individual playing deployed in the service of a cohesive group spirit.

05 Vlatkovich FiveFive of Us
Michael Vlatkovich; 5 Winds
pfMENTUM PFM CD 130 (pfmentum.com)

Gathering four of Toronto’s most accomplished horn players to collaborate on his 5 Winds Suite and other compositions, American trombonist Michael Vlatkovich recorded this disc at Array Space, producing sounds that recall both a disciplined concert band and a freeform improvising ensemble.

Dividing the presentation so that the higher-pitched trumpets of Lina Allemano and Nicole Rampersaud are contrapuntally stacked against darker timbres from David Mott’s and Peter Lutek’s saxophones, the trombonist challenges or harmonizes with each group in turn, lowing snarls when called for and shrilling flutter tones when necessary. Working through call-and-response sections as well as individual solo spots, the crafty arrangements are particularly notable on the suite. Sophisticatedly layered to highlight individual voices, a climax of sorts arrives with Part 5: Five. Mott’s baritone saxophone sighs move from melodious harmony to screaming intensity as the muted brass tones bolster the background. Although top-of-range cries and slurs dominate, dissonance never upsets forward motion.

Similar strategies underline the other sequences. On the introductory Please Help Me I’m Blowing Bubbles, for instance, Vlatkovich’s airy slides harmonize with descending reed amplifications. Later, after the five experiments with variants of split tones, slurs and shakes, the concluding For The Protection of Yourself and Others You’ll Need to Wear Your Space Suit is bouncy and boisterous but balanced despite shuddering capillary brassiness and reed glossolalia. Four of the five musicians may come from a different country, but exemplary improvising within crafty arrangements knows no boundaries.

06 Peter EldridgeSomewhere
Peter Eldridge; Kenny Werner
Rosebud Music (petereldridge.com)

Consummate vocalist, composer and lyricist, Peter Eldridge has joined forces with arguably one of the finest jazz pianist/composers of his (or any other) generation, Kenny Werner, to co-produce a contemporary album of breathtaking beauty. The project boasts not only some fine original tunes, but also a sprinkling of some much loved popular standards – all rendered with fine rhythm section work by Werner on piano, Matt Aronoff on bass and Yoron Israel on drums. Eldridge’s rich, nuanced vocals and sumptuous orchestral arrangements (skillfully arranged for The Fantastical String Orchestra by Werner and conductor/cellist Eugene Friesen) make this a formidable CD.

Things kick off with the Eddie Arnold hit, You Don’t Know Me. Eldridge’s silky baritone takes command of this gorgeous standard, which is lusciously wrapped in acoustic strings and supported by the supple spine of Werner’s inspired piano work. Another outstanding selection is That Which Can’t Be Explained, with music and lyrics by Eldridge. This sensitive ballad has a lovely, poetic lyric and a pleasingly complex melodic line. Eldridge effortlessly takes the listener along for the ride on a deep emotional journey… this is a hit song in search of a hit Broadway show!

Additionally, the Bernstein/Sondheim title track/medley is a major stunner, and begins with a haunting a cappella voice, followed by solo piano, which gently enfolds Eldridge throughout. A brilliant orchestral segue leads to the second part of the medley, A Time for Love, which features exquisite harp and string section work, and of course Johnny Mandel’s incomparable melody.

Without question, the artistry of Eldridge and Werner make Somewhere one of the most exceptional recordings that I have had the privilege to experience this year.

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