11 Joe BowdenThank You for Listening
The Joe Bowden Project
Independent (joebowden.bandcamp.com)

As a young teenager, I was taught to repeat the phrase “thank you for listening” when taking a post-performance bow. Joe Bowden should feel free to repeat this phrase over and over as he deserves endless praise and respect for his brilliant work as composer, drummer, arranger and bandleader in his latest release. Originally from Halifax, Bowden moved to Toronto in the early 1980s where he studied at Humber College and was musically inspired by listening to and working with many jazz musicians. His music here is driven by a mature understanding of jazz style, rhythms, and awe-inspiring musicianship.  

Bowden’s ten musicians play with a deep respect for his music and artistry. Mingus is an upbeat toe-tapping tradition-flavoured tune with a locked-in groove between the drums and Rich Brown’s bass. I’m Here Again is a slower quasi-ballad, featuring Michael Occhipinti’s modernistic guitar solos and Manuel Valera’s chromatic runs and intervals on piano. Devil Five lives up to its title, featuring a wide interval, almost minimalistic repeating bass line, zippy piano runs and Bowden’s virtuosic drum solos. Nice change of pace with FSC (Funky Soul Calypso), a fun get-up-and-dance tune featuring Joy Lapps-Lewis’ steel pan artistry.

Bowden writes on the CD jacket “Pursuit of Happiness, is it reality or a dream?” Like the track of the same name, the reflection, improvisations and grooves make this a dreamy musical reality!

14 Tardo HammerSwinging on a Star
Tardo Hammer Trio
Cellar Live CL110717 (cellarlive.com)

To play bebop, one needs to deal with two competing impulses: master the instrument – amass the fluency required to float at heightened tempi, navigate harmonic complexities and execute ornamented lines that are part of this music’s tradition – and utilize a relaxed phraseology that is anything but frenetic and that comes across as “not trying too hard.” No doubt, to play with the sort of authenticity that stellar musicians Tardo Hammer, Lee Hudson and Steve Williams bring to Hammer’s Swinging On A Star is difficult. But to listeners, the effort is hidden, the inventive spirit of musical collaboration and taste displayed.

In the spirit of disclosure, I, as guitarist and occasional liner-note writer, am affiliated with Cellar Live, the label on which Hammer’s disc is released. Nonetheless, as an objective jazz fan, I am routinely impressed by their expanding catalogue of great releases of which Swinging On A Star is no exception. Drinking from the well of Bud Powell, Barry Harris and Thelonious Monk, Hammer and company offer an auditory snapshot of a blue-chip jazz trio on any given night. Yes, there are arrangements and unique repertoire; however, this recording fits comfortably within the tradition of blowing sessions, wherein beauty is revealed through improvisatory extrapolations that spin forward when three masters come together in a comfortable listening environment. Overall, a swinging recording that marries beautiful songs, improvisatory excellence and, as a bonus, insightful liner notes by Morgan Childs.

15 LAMA MetamorphosMetamorphosis
LAMA + Joachim Badenhorst
Clean Feed CF433 CD (cleanfeed-records.com)

Metamorphosis is true to its title only if the term includes transmogrifying one way and subsequently taking a completely opposite form, as this Canadian/Belgian foursome does on this CD. Initially on Metamorphosis I, it appears that the brassy emphasis from Portuguese trumpeter Susana Santos Silva and pressurized flutters from Belgian bass clarinetist Joachim Badenhorst are going to be mere bagatelles to the polyrhythmic undulations from Portuguese keyboardist Gonçalo Almeida, which seem to subsume all other timbres into a crackling electronic wash. But not only is there soon space for brass and reed counterpoint, once the sounds flow into Metamorphosis II, the pulsating tick-tock of Canadian drummer Greg Smith kicks into gear and is joined by string plucks from Almeida, who has switched to double bass, an expansion creating a powerful acoustic jazz trope.

This movement from electronic to acoustic continues throughout the CD, through faultless changes of pitch and tempo. Especially striking is how Badenhorst and Silva appear to be going their separate ways, examining extended techniques, involving, for instance, contralto hollow tones from the clarinetist and billowing plunger excursions from the trumpeter, only to interlock onto a series of connective riffs in the nick of time.

Officially Badenhorst is still a guest of the LAMA trio, but it’s evident that the four have evolved a strategy that gives everyone a chance at textural exploration as a notable group sound is produced.

16 Chris WallaceSomewhere Sacred
Chris Wallace’s Many Names
GB Records (chriswallacedrums.com)

Jazz musician/drummer/composer Chris Wallace hails from Regina, but his varied career has seen him working in Europe, the United States and Canada, residing/working in Edinburgh, Scotland from 2002 to 2013 when he moved to Toronto. So many locales and musical experiences, along with his compositional process he describes as “allowing myself to be open to something I don’t fully understand and that is where the music comes from – somewhere sacred,” must have influenced his smart contemporary jazz compositions here, featuring his outstanding band Many Names – Jeff King (tenor sax), Adrean Farrugia (piano) and Daniel Fortin (double bass).

Wallace the composer and Wallace the drummer both listen astutely, have complex technical prowess and unique musical storytelling capabilities. Wallace’s drumming is dense and colourful yet never overwhelming, and fully supportive of his colleagues – as best heard in Chapter Zero where his backdrop supports King’s sax stylings, Farrugia’s florid piano, Fortin’s driving bass and the occasional band quasi-unison sections. More reflective is the opening of the title track, with a luscious sax melody, laid-back groove, superb bass solo and wide-pitch piano explorations. New-music sounds appear in the pitch leaps in the sax and the chromatic florid piano runs of Visitation. Nice musical conversations between the players flavour the more traditional jazz sounding A Memory of 10.

With touches of many styles throughout performed by great multi-faceted musicians/improvisers, Wallace’s challenging jazz welcomes repeated listening.

18 FirebirdsAladdin’s Dream - The Firebirds Play Carl Nielsen
The Firebirds
ILK 269 CD (ilkmusic.com)

Tweaking the compositions of Denmark’s most prominent composer to new ends, The Firebirds – tenor saxophonist/clarinetist Anders Banke, keyboardist Anders Filipsen and percussionist Stefan Pasborg – discover hitherto hidden grooves in Carl August Nielsen’s (1865-1931) work.

Concentrating on extracts from Aladdin, the Helios Overture and Little Suite for Strings, the trio emphasizes eastern Eurasian dance-like motifs with pliable keyboard shakes and ney-like reed outbursts, while adding a pronounced, almost rock-like beat to the tunes. If a combination of tenor sax blasts and drum backbeats suggest heavy metal tropes on The Market Place in Ispahan, remember that rock style is now as prominent in Scandinavia as the buoyancy of Nielsen’s tunes, exemplified by Filipsen’s animated key chiming. The Helios Overture provides the most varied instance of the trio’s sound reconstitution. Evolving from sophisticated saxophone and ruffled keyboard timbres at the beginning, to a snaking, stop-time melody examination in the middle, to an intense display of agitated snare pops and splashing cymbal from Pasborg, the convivial theme returns as light swing by the finale, helped by the keyboardist’s walking bass line.

The band’s name came about after the trio recorded a CD which transformed some Stravinsky compositions into semi-improvised theme and variations. The three have now proven they can perform similar alchemy on another composer’s work with this CD. There are plenty of other modern composers whose work could provide material for equal transformations.

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