08 Francois BourassaNumber 9
François Bourassa Quartet
Effendi Records FND150 (effendirecords.com)

With the release of his ninth CD, François Bourassa reminds us why he is considered to be one of the jazz world’s finest pianist/composers. All of the superb material here has been written and produced by Bourassa. His talented group includes longtime collaborators André Leroux on tenor sax, flute and clarinets, Guy Boisvert on bass and Greg Ritchie on drums. From the downbeat, this is a group that communicates on a psychic level, soaring together through the highest realms of musical creativity and jazz expression, travelling via the emotional pathway of the heart.

The compositions reflect a nostalgic reverie for Bourassa – melodic portraits of people, places and events, now revisited with a big dose of mature vision as well as the muted and misty sepia-toned colours of memory. All members of the Quartet are really time travellers who (in addition to firm linear time) also intuitively understand the quantum multi-dimensional nature of spacetime, and that the “now” is the conceivable and creative aspect of all that is.

Standouts include Carla und Karlheinz, which was written in honour of avant-garde pianist/composer Carla Bley and electronic music pioneer Karlheinz Stockhausen. The clever juxtaposition of styles here is simultaneously mindbending and delightful. Bourassa’s technical skill on this challenging track is also thrilling, and Leroux sizzles on his gymnastic solo. Also evocative are Frozen, which conjures isolated, inescapable fields of nothingness, and Past Ich, featuring gorgeous, melodic playing from Bourassa, punctuated by Leroux’s alternately caressing and yowling soprano sax.

Clearly, this profound, beautifully recorded project will be considered one of the finest international jazz recordings of the year.

09 Kathleen GormanI Can See Clearly Now
Kathleen Gorman
Independent (kathleengorman.bandcamp.com)

Kathleen Gorman is already an accomplished pedagogue, adjudicator and clinician. Add to these a light and high-sprung rhythmic pianism, and this recording adds yet another prismatic facet to her multi-dimensional musical personality.

Gorman’s three compositions reflect the evolution of a pianist deeply immersed in the forms and performance of classical music, with the touch-sensitive music of Arabesque and Mysterioso, redolent of dazzling runs and parabolic arpeggios. Influence, played in a dark, minor mode, is wonderfully arranged to capture the characteristic mystique of what has come to be called the Blue Note sound, one that recalls not just early iconic Herbie Hancock but also Freddy Hubbard and Wayne Shorter. And in all songs Gorman reveals a singular virtuosity that eschews showmanship and accentuates a phrasing style pregnant with emotion.

Other works reflect a composer-like skill in re-harmonization of original melodies to reflect a new angular perspective on the songs. Gorman does this by turning the original tonal colours of a piece into black and white before recolouring it in her own unique new way and guiding her wonderful ensemble into performing each new piece memorably. Both Sides Now, which also features her seductive voice, is a poignant example, as is the instrumental Over The Rainbow. The entire repertoire makes this a disc to die for.

Listen to 'I Can See Clearly Now' Now in the Listening Room

10 Phoenix JazzAmparo
Phoenix Jazz Group
Independent (phoenixjazzgroup.ca)

The Phoenix Jazz Group may not be a prominent blip on everyone’s radar but among cognoscenti and musicians alike, keyboards player John McLelland, saxophonist and clarinetist Andy Klaehn, bassist Greg Prior, and drummer and percussionist John Goddard are held in high esteem. Their third album, Amparo, reflects the myriad styles in which the members of the ensemble are fluent. This stretches in a wide swathe from New Orleans and the ebullience of second-line marching rhythms to the swinging momentum of early jazz, fused with broad hints of 1970s’ and contemporary rock.

It is in the fusion of these myriad styles that the group’s music speaks best. The vivid and fierce imagery created by the cover on the CD package not only relates to the song Falcon (Revisited) but strikes at the very heart of the group’s virtuoso artistry that is heard on songs such as Sojourn, with its questing melody, and Tribute, where the individuals’ technical facility may be heard at its best – from the short arco burst of Prior’s bass to McLelland’s gracious arpeggios, Goddard’s percussion colouring and Klaehn’s startling glissandos.

The title of the recording suggests that music is a “refuge,” or safe place. This can be felt throughout the short album, but nowhere more strongly than in the profound beauty of Amparo, the title track itself.

11 Have You HeardHave You Heard?
David Mott; Vinny Golia
Pet Mantis Records PMR011 (2baris.com)

Low reeds and woodwinds equate to musical gravitas, and when combined with the pronounced erudition of musicians such as David Mott and Vinny Golia, magical things happen. From the suggestive disc title Have You Heard? and the ethereal mystery of each track name to the questing music itself, this disc seems to contain echoes of another universe, as well as a yearning for the profound melodic intellect of the music to be reflected in our own planet.

Lest this seem like the description of something resembling science fiction, it is important to clear the air immediately – for it is anything but that. Music such as that contained in Power of Serenity, Serendipitous Ruminations and Urban Pastorale is an example of how loaded with meaning this album is. It is, however, in the dark and delicious rumble of two baritone saxophones locked in an interminable melodic double helix – often with magical counterpoint – that the music’s vivid and changing colours most resemble the rich didacticism that ensues from deep philosophical discourse.

Although they are two distinct musical voices, Mott and Golia are so attuned to each other’s artistry that they had to be separated into two audio channels. But it’s not hard to tell who’s who aurally. David Mott’s tone is sharp, a reflection of the ululating voices in Eastern music that so fascinate him, while Golia’s fat, rounded notes line up in sap-like, viscous phrases. Together they make dark, beautiful music.

12 Jean DeromeRésistances
Jean Derome
Ambiances Magnétiques AM 235 (actuellecd.com)

In 2015 at the annual Festival International de Musique Actuelle de Victoriaville, Jean Derome launched a year-long series of performances to mark his 60th year with Résistances, a singular composition inspired by the 60 cycles per second (Hz) frequency to which all North American electricity is tuned. This has rich metaphoric content for Derome, who imagines the constant tuning process of a continent, as well as Quebec’s houses grounded through the plumbing to the St. Lawrence River. The orchestra here is tuned to 60Hz (including Jew’s harp and kalimba).

The piece, exactly 60 minutes long, has 16 wildly varied segments, from the abstract Tableau with its de-tuned piano to the speaking-in-tongues boogaloo of Vamp, to the strange dislocations of Trois orchestres and the frantic trills and free expression of Turbine, virgule. In the process, the concept of “résistances” extends from electrical resistance to social and political resistance through wit, humour, manic juxtaposition, sheer lyricism and enthusiastic chaos – a work that extends beyond the concert hall to engage the environment and the power grid.

Derome eschews his usual saxophone and flutes for the conductor’s role and such incidentals as a trumpet mouthpiece and an iPad. However, he has the 19-member Ensemble SuperMusique, an orchestra of fluent interpreters and improvisers playing traditional strings, analogue synthesizer, turntables, electric guitars and winds, with multiple drummers and bassists. Touching on virtually any sound available in contemporary music, Résistances is a bracing experience.

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