01 FalaiseLézardes et zébrures
Bernard Falaise
Ambiances Magnétiques AM 237 (actuellecd.com)

Guitarist Bernard Falaise is a significant contributor to Montreal’s musique actuelle movement, a member of the expansive Ensemble SuperMusique as well as the trio Klaxon Gueule and Quartetski, a group that regularly re-imagines high modernist composers like Bartók and Stravinsky. Lézardes et zébrures is a solo record, but one without solos, a series of pieces constructed from minimal materials. Each begins with short figures, intervals and arpeggios played on an acoustic guitar in open tunings to emphasize steel string resonance and ringing harmonics; these are then looped, with Falaise adding layers of other instruments, among them electric guitar, glockenspiel and melodica.

The opening Au zoo sets both a pattern for the music and an intermittent theme, one that’s reflected in titles like Langue de girafe and Mémoire d’éléphant, and even in the CD title – literally “cracks and welts” but with the bi-lingual suggestion in this context of lizards and zebras. These notions of other species’ consciousness are matched with alternative substances and spaces – Marcher sur la glace or Stalactites et stalagmites – all of them implicit in sounds that repeat and reconfigure. All of Falaise’s works here are at once immediate, luminous and strangely dream-like.

The oscillating figure of Le compas dans l’œil suggests Steve Reich’s minimalism, while the clicks and suspensions of Distillations reference the turntablist’s art, but it’s all part of Falaise’s bright, immediate, sonic universe, developed at greatest length in the imagination of another materiality in Porcelaine 360°.

02 Dan PugachPlus One
Dan Pugach Nonet
Unit Records UTR 4816 (unitrecords.com)

Israeli-born, Berklee-educated drummer Dan Pugach’s debut bandleader album, Plus One, recorded in Brooklyn and released on the Swiss label Unity Records, is a compelling offering that functions both as a celebration of diverse influences and as a unified statement of artistic intent. Plus One is a nonet record, and Pugach arranged (or co-arranged, with vocalist Nicole Zuraitis) all of the album’s nine tracks, the majority of which – with the exception of Jolene, Crystal Silence and Love Dance – are original compositions.

Brooklyn Blues, the opening track, is a fitting beginning for the album, as it showcases Pugach’s confluent interests: while the harmonic and textural choices may be Brooklyn, the song is anchored by a classic New Orleans second-line rhythmic feel. The influence of modern large-ensemble composers such as Maria Schneider is evident on the 7/4 Coming Here, a driving, lyrical Pugach original, which features a powerful trumpet solo from frequent Schneider collaborator Ingrid Jensen, as well as great solo work from tenor saxophonist Jeremy Powell and, in the song’s final section, from Pugach himself. Our Blues, an original 12/8 blues that recalls Bonnie Raitt as much as it does Charles Mingus, is a tongue-in-cheek piece that features Zuraitis’ strong vocals. The exciting, medium-up Discourse This! ends the album, with great solos from alto saxophonist Andrew Gould, trumpeter David Smith and Pugach. Plus One is a robust, intelligent debut, and is as notable for its arrangements as it is for its top-tier playing.

Listen to 'Plus One' Now in the Listening Room

04 Jerry GranelliDance Hall
Jerry Granelli
Justin Time JTR 8606-2 (justin-time.com)

Listening to this marvellous recording by drummer Jerry Granelli, one cannot help but be seduced by the mood and atmosphere – sometimes genuinely spooky – and with the drummer’s sublime ability to coordinate shade and structure to a rare degree. Every one of the eight pieces here is played by Granelli with languid ease, each rhythmic variation following the other inexorably, from the bluesy brilliance of Boogie Stop Shuffle to the sinister elegance of Driva Man.

As if things could not get any more perfect, guitarists Bill Frisell and Robben Ford team up with Granelli and his son and bassist J. Anthony Granelli to sculpt and shape the sustained inventions of The Great Pretender, Caldonia and other pieces with endless craftsmanship, beguiling variety and sensuousness.

The power and stylishness of this music makes this a champagne disc, full of fizz and finesse. It is also music of enormous drama, full of glinting lights, mysterious depths, expectations, frustrations, hopes and doubts, like the shattered shadows of a sinister quasi-existential soundtrack to life glimpsed by moonlight in a forest. There’s an unhurried quality to this approach, a lived-in character to the rhythmic phrase-making that is endlessly engaging, as the fire and brimstone of youth is melded with the well-honed values of experience.

In sheer colour and variety, in the exceptional refinement of its musicianship, Granelli here imparts a monumental stature to the eternal blues, seemingly played in the shadows of the Dance Hall.

Listen to 'Dance Hall' Now in the Listening Room

05 Gord MowatGord Mowat’s Skeleton Crew
Gordon Mowat; Chris Gale; Rececca Hennessy; Jeff Halischuk; Tom Richards
Independent (gordonmowat.com)

Gord Mowat’s Skeleton Crew is, as the title suggests, the debut album from bandleader Gord Mowat’s band Skeleton Crew, which includes trumpeter Rebecca Hennessy, tenor saxophonist Chris Gale, trombonist Tom Richards, drummer Jeff Halischuk, and Mowat, who, in addition to playing upright bass, is the sole composer and arranger of the album’s six tunes. The group is notable for its lack of piano, guitar, or other traditional chord-playing instrument, aligning itself with a rich lineage of “chordless” small ensembles that hearkens back to the Gerry Mulligan/Chet Baker recordings of the early 1950s.

For Skeleton Crew, the choice of instrumentation is a winning one, as it foregrounds both Mowat’s compositional prowess and the individual voices of each band member, resulting in an engaging, nuanced approach to music-making that places the emphasis on communication and group interplay, rather than on individual heroism. Nomads, the album’s first track, begins with a rubato section in which all five band members gradually enter, exploring the space and bringing things to a small climax before Mowat plays a propulsive figure and Gale comes in with the melody, effectively setting the tone for the rest of the album. The through-composed Spinnaker is both the album’s longest song and one of its highlights: it features a beautiful melodic treatment by Mowat and Hennessy, strong solos from Gale, Hennessy and Halischuk, and is structured much like a suite. Skeleton Crew is a confident, well-executed album with a clear concept, ably realized by accomplished players.

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06 Peripheral VisionMore Songs About Error and Shame
Peripheral Vision
Independent STEP3-007 (peripheralvisionmusic.com)

More Songs About Error and Shame is the fourth CD release from Peripheral Vision. Group leaders, guitarist Don Scott and bassist Michael Herring, wrote all seven tracks and are joined by Trevor Hogg on tenor saxophone and Nick Fraser on drums. They state the title is a reference to an “iconic album by famously neurotic band, Talking Heads” and it illustrates their desire to mix genres and themes along with different types of jazz and popular music.

The tunes are as inventive as their titles (e.g. The Blunder, Syntax Error, Click Bait) and each track evolves through melodic statements, repeated riffs, solos, duets and solid ensemble playing. The music sounds like elaborate conversations which ebb and flow, growing heated and then reflexive. For example, Mycelium Running begins with a lyric sax melody, develops into a lively interchange among sax, guitar and drums, followed by a long, lilting guitar solo and a pensive solo saxophone; then the rest of the band enters and it builds to a loud and majestic ending.

Scott’s guitar mixes inventive lines, chord melody and even some grunge/fuzz tones. Fraser’s drumming is always inventive and here he provides an engaging and shifting background to the mix of ensemble and solo playing. Hogg’s playing is clean, focused and versatile while Herring’s bass work is subtle, grooving and complex. More Songs is an inventive album with unique performances and a sense of humour.

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