01 Eldon Rathburn ProjectThe Romance of Improvisation in Canada: The Genius of Eldon Rathburn
Petr Cancura; Kevin Turcotte; Marianne Trudel; Adrian Vedady; Jim Doxas
Justin Time JTR 8613-2 (justin-time.com/en/album/588)

The Romance of Improvisation in Canada – The Genius of Eldon Rathburn celebrates the music of the late, titular composer, who wrote more than 250 film scores, the majority of them during his long career as a staff composer for the National Film Board. This album – released through Justin Time, and helmed by Adrian Matte and Allyson Rogers, who co-produce and arrange all the album’s music – is a labour of love to the memory of Rathburn, whose music will be familiar to multiple generations of Canadians, even if his name is not. Playing Matte and Rogers’ arrangements is the top-notch ensemble of Petr Cancura, saxophone, Kevin Turcotte, trumpet, Marianne Trudel, piano, Adrian Vedady, bass, and Jim Doxas, drums.

Working for the NFB, many of Rathburn’s assignments involved composing music for educational shorts, including the endearingly titled Fish Spoilage Control; the theme gets an up-tempo swing treatment on this album, with a jagged melody set atop a tense pedal point. The Industrial Revolution Comes to Canada, at a mere 31 seconds, is a brief foreboding delight; likewise the three sections of the Ox Driver’s Blues suite. Fresh Fish Delish! Le Poisson se mange frais! is a bouncy, bluesy number, which, like so much of the album, balances humour and levity with the ensemble’s sophisticated improvisational prowess; Vedady, Turcotte, Cancura and Trudel all take concise solos. An excellent and unique album, appropriate for those interested in Rathburn, jazz, Canadiana or any combination thereof.

03 Ben dCunhaThis Is Autumn to Me
Ben D’Cunha
Independent (bendcunha.com)

On his debut recording, compelling pianist, vocalist and composer, Ben D’Cunha culled the selection of tunes here from 27 original songs captured in a single four-hour recording session this past summer. D’Cunha’s voice is rich and lustrous, and his jazz sensibility and phrasing are superb. As a pianist, he is in the pocket, connecting on a psychic level with the superb musicians also featured on this fine recording – Bob Brough on tenor saxophone, Jordan O’Connor on acoustic bass and Mike McClelland on drums.

The CD gets going with Earworm – an up-tempo, beboppish salute to the great vocalese progenitors, such as Lambert, Hendricks and Ross. D’Cunha bops and scats joyously throughout this delightful tune, punctuated by the trading of fours with Brough, O’Connor and McClelland. Of special note is the title track, a lilting bossa with a charming lyric and thoroughly gorgeous vocal. D’Cunha seems to channel the late, great, Kenny Rankin here with his pitch-pure and vibrato-controlled vocal sound. Also of note is Where Are You Now – a touching ballad of a past love, loss and reflection. The pristine canvas of piano, bass and drums is the perfect setting for this deeply moving piece.

The ten tasty tracks continue with Sweet Honey Bee (Won’t You Walk With Me) – a bluesy, funky tune featuring the soulful tones of Brough on tenor; and also the brilliantly lyricized, You Expletive You – a contemplative ballad about toxic love. O’Connor sets the sultry tone with the wonderful voice/bass duet that kicks off this boppish ballad, and Brough’s languid solo is masterful, as is O’Connor’s.

03 TrioliloquyTrioliloquy
A/B Trio
Chronojazz CR065 (chronographrecords.com/releases/trioliloquoy)

While the slyly clever play on words in the title may suggest drama and a certain angular structure to the music, nothing can really prepare you for the fierce energy that leaps out of the opening chords of the A/B Trio’s opening chart Lenny’s Beat. It’s an immensely exciting start to a recording that has you on the edge of your seat.

Primary colours abound in the textures that often rustle in the raw silk of Dan Davis’ saxophones that receive a mighty fillip from the brassy ones that special guest, trumpeter Kevin Turcotte, brings to the trio. All this while bassist Josh McHan and percussion colourist Thom Bennett keep the music on a tight rein, with rhythms and phrasing that are tight and alert.

It’s quite a shock to also see how fast the music can move from the tempestuous opening chart to the stately canter of the romantically inclined How Suite It Is, where the musicians take an elegiac view of the written material and work around it to produce something quite magical even in a walking rhythm.

The poetic waltz Leda’s Song later in in the repertoire keeps things deliriously romantic and balletic at the same time; this before the heat is turned up once again with the raw and gutsy Bluesaholic and the tantalizing interplay of Secondary Opinion that closes this edifying music. Capture that in a recording that gives space to sound and you have a winner.

04 Uncertainly PrincipleLive at The Rex
The Uncertainty Principle
Independent (andrewboniwell.com)

With the release of pianist and composer Andrew Boniwell’s second CD with his stellar ensemble, The Uncertainty Principle, he has once again established himself as one of the most creative, non-Euclidian, improvisational jazz musicians on the scene today. For this live recording (expertly engineered by Neil MacIntosh at Toronto’s Rex Hotel and Jazz and Blues Bar), he has once again coalesced the considerable talents of Richard Underhill on alto saxophone, Kevin Turcotte on trumpet, Artie Roth on bass and Mike McClelland on drums. Boniwell serves as producer here, and has written all but one of the compositions. He is also fluent in what is possibly the only universal language – mathematics – and although the sophisticated quantum concepts that are integral to his music may not be readily understood, the exciting and unpredictable aspects of it certainly communicate the plasticity of space/time, as well as the thrilling idea of participating in a perfect, unexpected and unplanned moment of creation.

Boniwell’s opening salvo, Getting Higgy With It, Part #1 is a dream-like piano and percussion exploration which segues into the evocative Sleeping Giant, which features superb work from Underhill and McClelland. Another standout is Probability Wave #1 / HUP Poem, in which a superb bass solo and profound trumpet work lead the ensemble into a free flight of beauty and majesty punctuated by a stirring, hip, thought-provoking spoken word sequence by Boniwell. Winding up the CD are two exceptional tracks, Suite 60, where Underhill’s alto and Turcotte’s muted trumpet cling together like particles attracting, and Monk’s Well, You Needn’t, re-imagined with Latin underpinnings. Both are triumphs, as is the entire recording.

Listen to 'Live at The Rex' Now in the Listening Room

06 Mike FieldTrue Stories
Mike Field
Independent MFJCD 1801 (mikefieldjazz.com)

Following three previous award-winning CDs, trumpeter/composer/vocalist Mike Field presents a heady blend of his actual diverse, peripatetic road experiences expertly merged with compelling bits of pure fantasy. Field serves as composer here, as well as co-producer/co-arranger with noted guitarist Dominic Mancuso. In order to bring his eclectic concept into reality, Field has assembled a cast of fine musicians, including Mark Camilleri on piano/organ, Russ Boswell and George Koller on bass, Davide Direnzo on drums, Rosendo “Chendy” León on percussion, Mancuso and Tony Zorzi on guitar and Jerry Caringi on accordion.

The project kicks off with Mechanic, a hard-rocking anthem, replete with burning horns, face-melting guitar and impassioned vocals by Field that tell the story of a lonely, travelling space mechanic. Following immediately is another standout, The Hotel by the Mansion, which features a klezmer-like arrangement about a very peculiar circus act, starring a woman with fire in her hair (the kind of act that you can only do once!) Field soars on Tu vuo’ fa’ l’americano – a lusty reworking of Carosone and Salerno’s Neapolitan classic, most recently heard in the film, The Talented Mr. Ripley, replete with a bombastic accordion solo from Caringi.

Also of note are Magnolia, a swinging, jazz-like tune that features not only a fine vocal by Field, but also a dynamic trumpet solo, and the lyrical closer, Autumn Lovesong, which is a tender reflection on love, life, family, the turning of the seasons and the inevitable passage of time. Field sings deeply and emotionally, in symbiosis with gorgeous piano work by Camilleri.

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