08 Sweet Sister SuiteSweet Sister Suite by Kenny Wheeler
Scottish National Jazz Orchestra featuring Laura Jurd & Irini Arabatzi
Spartacus Records STS026 (snjo.co.uk)

The late legendary Canadian trumpeter and composer Kenny Wheeler (1930-2014) was a quiet, complex genius. Although perhaps not a household name, Wheeler was held in incredible esteem by the global jazz/music cognoscenti (including John Dankworth, Dave Holland, Bill Frissell and Lee Konitz). His rhythmically and harmonically revolutionary compositions and arrangements have been performed worldwide – including in the United Kingdom – the place that he called home after 1950.

The recent release of Wheeler’s emotional and autobiographical work recorded by the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra (produced by, and under the direction of Tommy Smith) is a magnificent tribute, worthy of the great, humble man himself. Wheeler’s music is propelled by the contributions of trumpet, flugelhorn and voice – rendered here by skillful trumpet/flugelhornist Laura Jurd and vocalist Irina Arabatzi (although one could easily imagine the luminous voice of Wheeler’s longtime collaborator, Norma Winstone).

There are eight compositions in the Suite, beginning with Sweet Sister, which features heartbreakingly beautiful horn work by the gifted Jurd, and a pitch-perfect and gymnastic vocal line from Arabatzi, segueing into fine rhythm section work and culminating in sumptuous, swinging, contrapuntal, jazz-puro, big-band ear candy. Also outstanding is Keeper of the Light. The moving lyric reflects Wheeler’s journey into the realm of his most secret self, illuminated by a potent sax solo from Smith and equally potent playing by the entire talented ensemble.

Wheeler’s massive (and always modestly given) contribution to contemporary jazz is evident in every note of this recording – which is a stunning celebration of the man and his work.

09 Tricia EdwardsIntaglios
Tricia Edwards
Independent TE1117 (triciaedwards.ca)

What happens when you fuse a solid classical music background with a newfound love of jazz and Cuban music? Tricia Edwards’ Intaglios, that’s what! With a master’s degree in piano performance, studies at the Banff Centre and Salzburg’s Mozarteum, and several years performing chamber music while living in the Middle East in the 90s, the Calgary-based pianist launched her “second musical act” in the mid-2000s, having discovered the joy of jazz. Ultimately she found her way to some of the finest musicians heating up Calgary’s Latin music scene, three of whom appear on the album.

What makes this CD especially delightful is that while Edwards beautifully explores her affection for Latin music in seven original and terrific tracks, along with three covers, she clearly hasn’t forgotten her first love. I counted at least six neat little nods to the classical repertoire. On track seven alone, the fabulous and driving String Theory, which Edwards says was inspired by watching her cats at play, there are playful passages from Grieg’s Piano Concerto in A Minor and Mozart’s Turkish Rondo; and I’m pretty sure there are some bars of Bach, too.

Track one, Trainwreck lll, owes its inspiration, in part, to the percussive energy of Ginastera, and the final track, the gorgeous, ballad-like Alegria, offers some lovely and lilting piano work, including a few notes from Debussy’s Clair de lune.

With Intaglios, Edwards honours the genres of classical, jazz and Latin music, imprinting upon them her unique style and a lifetime of experiences.

10 Aaron ShraggeThis World of Dew
Aaron Shragge; Ben Monder
Human Resource (humanresourcerecords.com)

Released in July 2018 on Human Resource Records, This World of Dew is the third duo recording from trumpeter Aaron Shragge and guitarist Ben Monder, following 2010’s The Key Is In The Window and 2012’s Arabesque. While Monder will likely be the more familiar name to jazz listeners, Shragge is a busy member of the improvised/creative music scene in New York, with notable recent performances at the Montreal Jazz Festival, L’Off Jazz Festival and the Festival of New Trumpet Music. A big part of Shragge’s sound on This World of Dew is, in fact, a new trumpet: the Dragon Mouth Trumpet features a slide in addition to valves, allowing the player access to new expressive avenues.

Whether he is playing the Dragon Mouth Trumpet, flugelhorn, or shakuhachi, melody is at the forefront of Shragge’s contributions to This World of Dew, from the beautiful opener, Companion, through the album’s titular suite and beyond. The recording is texturally captivating from beat one; even during moments of intensity, Shragge’s tone tends to be warm and breathy, which contrasts effectively with Monder’s electric guitar tone, which, even at its gentlest, maintains an articulate edge.

Beyond the suite, highlights include spare, linear improvisation on Roll The Dice, ethereal, organ-like sounds on It’s Ours, and the unsettling urgency of Blue Bird. Do not let the contemplative mood of This World of Dew fool you: Shragge and Monder have created captivating, intricate music that rewards the active listener with unexpected delights.

Listen to 'This World of Dew' Now in the Listening Room

11 Brulez les meublesBrûlez les meubles
Louis Beaudoin-de-la-Sablonnière; Éric Normand; Louis-Vincent Hamel
Tour de bras/Circum-disc (circum-disc.com)

Guitarist Louis Beaudoin-de-la-Sablonnière has recorded with the jazz-rock band Gisèle, while drummer Louis-Vincent Hamel has distinguished himself in mainstream-modern jazz idioms. Electric bassist Éric Normand comes from further left in the spectrum, best known as leader of a free improvisation large ensemble, called GGRIL. Here the trio seeks a fresh approach to the jazz trio, under the comically radical rubric, Brûlez les meubles (Burn the furniture).

That’s just what they do, stripping their music down to its essential elements, rooting it in spare melodies, clear relationships of parts and close communication. The opening L’affaire digitale, composed by Normand, has a melody as etched as something played by Paul Bley, suggesting a Quebecois stylistic parallel, while Beaudoin-de-la-Sablonnière’s Le bonheur reduces the melodic shape of Mongo Santamaria’s already spare Afro-Blue. It’s a gentle war on the rhetoric of much modern jazz, avoiding any approach focused on a tired harmonic language of convenience.

When the trio stretches out, it’s usually in a collective improvisation, like Éminence, which begins in a rubato reflection by Beaudoin-de-la-Sablonnière then gradually picks up tempo and form in a developed dialogue that smoothly reshapes itself in a series of tempo and mood changes, including a particularly subtle bass solo at its conclusion.

By the CD’s end, the trio has established a broad expressive range and a remarkably compatible formal language built on elastic forms and detailed rhythmic interaction. It’s a particularly interesting patch in the national jazz quilt.

12 VICTO cd 131In Transverse Time
Rova Saxophone Quartet
VICTO cd 131 (victo.qc.ca)

Victo is the recording arm of the venerable FIMAV festival, the annual celebration of radical musics presented in Victoriaville, Quebec since 1984. Under Michel Levasseur, the label has produced many CDs, whether to coincide with coming attractions or document exceptional concerts. In recent years, with the market in disarray, the label has limited itself to a single CD a year. The last two were of festival events, singular performances by Musica Elettronica Viva and Anthony Braxton. This year’s sole release was a prelude to Rova’s 2018 appearance, celebrating the saxophone quartet’s 40th anniversary in 2017, reached with only one personnel change (in 1988). The group has investigated game composition with John Zorn, performed a work composed for them by Terry Riley and explored John Coltrane’s Ascension in multiple forms, including a feature film recorded at the Guelph Jazz Festival.

In Transverse Time is a more intimate event, devoted to works by the quartet’s members – Bruce Ackley on soprano, Steve Adams on alto and sopranino, Jon Raskin on baritone and Larry Ochs on tenor – and playing to some of their greatest strengths, their openness to new concepts and their incredible sounds, bridging classical concepts of the quartet with stunning individual voices, Ackley’s soaring soprano, Raskin’s harmonic-rich baritone, Adams’ lyrical alto and Ochs’ blustery, vocalic tenor, filled with the breath of free jazz. Their voices have never been better framed in more immediate conversation, or more alive than they are here. It’s another annual Victo masterpiece.

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