08 alex lefaivre 7kwovNaufragés
Alex Lefaivre Quartet
arteboreal (alexlefaivre.com)

Alex Lefaivre’s latest quartet outing is a delightfully sequenced blend of energy and lightness that makes for a compulsively listenable project. As a listener, I’ve found that my most memorable experiences often occur when I can tangibly sense how much musicians relish interacting with each other, and this recording is a prime example of such synergy. Lefaivre’s basslines and guitarist Nicolas Ferron’s rhythmically inclined blowing on standout original Reset serve as a wondrous showcase for two musicians who are fully engaged with each other, listening intently. Meanwhile, Alain Bourgeois’ drumming is sensitive and understated, playing nothing but the bare functional necessities for most of the album’s duration, releasing only the occasional outburst for the most exciting moments. The band is locked in and Lefaivre is the primary driving force behind their sound. In the compositional sense, his lines propel the forward motion of the rhythm section while anchoring the melodic content, particularly on the rather animated track Sly

Lefaivre’s time feel is rock-solid and assured, helping to firmly ground the ensemble during the eccentric time signatures of tracks like Sneaked. He also fashions the bass into a highly effective comping instrument, providing a springboard for Erik Hove’s alto showcase on Sin City. All in all, Lefaivre has assembled both a group of artists and a set of tunes (playfully including a Led Zeppelin cover) that have allowed him to refine his band, leading chops in a very enjoyable way.

09 levi dover sextet z9w1xImaginary Structures
Levi Dover Sextet
Three Pines Records TPR-004 (levidover.com)

In his debut as a leader, Montreal bassist Levi Dover has concocted something refreshingly original while also remaining true to his post-bop influences. From the very moment they hit the listener’s ears it’s apparent Dover’s compositions have a methodical quality to them; every statement of a tune’s central melody utilizes his entire sextet to its full expansive potential. Each line trickles into the next smoothly, as if the instrumentalists are finishing each other’s sentences. Musical phrases possess the easy flow of a daily conversation between friends. Dover is a very deliberate arranger, and one of his most interesting creative decisions (that ends up being greatly to the benefit of the music) is heavily featuring two functionally similar instruments: vibraphone and piano. Additionally, pianist Andrew Boudreau and vibraphonist Olivier Salazar are often playing the same material in tandem, creating an incredible textural effect that almost feels like an aesthetic marriage of Andrew Hill and Bobby Hutcherson. 

While a fair bit of Dover’s ornate writing brings to mind vintage mid-60s Blue Note, his personal progressive and classical leanings also shine through on immensely electrifying standouts like L’Appel du Vide and Galapagos. Boudreau is more often than not an effective mouthpiece for Dover’s vision, grounding the band through the more complex passages of rhythmic counterpoint and constantly serving as the primary accompanist for Dover’s own playing. Imaginary Structures is beautiful, and Dover establishes himself as an artistic force throughout eight masterful ensemble performances.

11 galeanthropology x1jyzGaleanthropology
Darrell Katz & OddSong
Jazz Composers Alliance JCA1806 (darrellkatz.com)

Any considered exposé of Darrell Katz’s oblique, still under-appreciated genius is always welcome, especially one that is inspired by – and evocative of – his late wife, Paula Tatarunis’ poetry. Galeanthropology is an elliptical metaphor that connects Katz’s literary and musical pursuits, from the conventional to the experimental, the mechanical to the emotional. Making a leap from that almost illusionary promontory, this repertoire traces an evolutionary arc as if falling off a proverbial cliff and is comprised of elongated melodic, harmonic inventions with the rhythmic aspect provided by the radiant mallet percussion colours of the marimba and vibraphone.

Tatarunis’ extraordinarily expressive poetic canvas derives from life as a jazz cat and her lyrical canticles come alive together with Katz’s stylishly delivered instrumental contributions. Making the most of Tatarunis’ deeply elegant poems requires a particular sensitivity to linear shape, lyrical articulation and clarity of texture, not least in order to infuse it with the pungency of the harmonic language that this music breathes into it. 

The most striking example of this is certainly not restricted to the song Galeanthropology with its quote from Charlie Parker’s iconic, Ornithology. Katz’s ingenious hipness comes alive on his especially free-floating take on Charles Mingus’ Duke Ellington’s Sound of Love, James Taylor’s Sweet Baby James and the traditional I Am a Poor Wayfaring Stranger; the latter being a profoundly consequential musical experience for the listener. The elegantly idiomatic performance all around is fronted by Rebecca Shrimpton’s lustrous, poignantly executed vocals.

10 beth mckenna 3ki8aBeyond Here
Beth McKenna
Independent (bethmckenna.ca)

Beth McKenna really showcases her versatility as a bandleader, writer and improviser on her most recent effort, Beyond Here. Throughout the record, the sextet of McKenna on woodwinds, François Jalbert on guitar, Guillaume Martineau on keys, Oliver Babaz on bass, Peter Colantonio on drums and Sarah Rossy on voice, manages to generate a versatile sound that often borders on the sublime. The album’s mood changes significantly but never in a manner that feels jarring, as the unwavering richness of the arrangements and production helps maintain cohesion. 

McKenna’s care for her craft ensures that the ensemble thrives as a unit, and her graciousness as a bandleader allows the spotlight to be evenly distributed among musicians. Rossy’s talents are featured most sparingly, but they are perhaps utilized most effectively, often at the end of pieces when the energy reaches its apex. McKenna and Colantonio’s impassioned playing complements the overall tone beautifully and adds a fair bit of substance to the music. The overall quality of improvisation is outstanding, particularly with the breathtaking interplay between members of the rhythm section in tracks such as From Divided to One.

12 mary halvorson 7fnaaSearching for the Disappeared Hour
Sylvie Courvoisier; Mary Halvorson
Pyroclastic Records PR 17 (pyroclasticrecords.com)

Swiss pianist Sylvie Courvoisier and American guitarist Mary Halvorson are distinguished members of an emergent elite, technically brilliant, creative musicians whose work freely combines improvisation and global musical materials. Searching for the Disappeared Hour – its fold-out graphic presents eerie gouache renderings of clocks by artist Dike Blair – achieves a startling, even utopian, elegance, merging their precise articulation, lyric sensibilities and refined timbres with Halvorson’s strange electronic pitch-bending and Courvoisier’s percussive invention breaking through the refined surface. 

There’s a hint of hypnotic unease in Halvorson’s opening Golden Proportion, matching obsessive repetition with a dissonant undercurrent. Courvoisier’s Lulu’s Second Theorem postulates a common ground for bop phrasing and spectral harmonies, while her gorgeous Moonbow constructs a series of imaginary worlds in sound. The fluid dance of Halvorson’s Torrential might be the perfect complement to scenes from Fellini, until the sepulchral thrum of a piano bass note, suggesting Ravel’s infante défunte, anchors the glassy upper-register runs. Halvorson’s fondness for the clash of quarter tones against the piano’s fixed pitches is particularly lush in her own scores, as if the disappearing hours of the title might be measured in the cycles per second of her bending guitar pitches. In the improvised Four-Point Play, Courvoisier’s rhythmic knocks and clusters become the unpredictable element while Halvorson’s rapid runs become the constant.

There’s a sense of the uncanny here, as Courvoisier and Halvorson seem somehow simultaneously to perfect and reveal new sonic worlds.

13 james brandon lewis 31qf7Code of Being
James Brandon Lewis Quartet
Intakt 371 (intaktrec.ch)

Tenor saxophonist James Brandon Lewis began recording about a decade ago, around the time he finished studies at CalArts with, among others, Charlie Haden and Wadada Leo Smith, two profoundly lyrical players. Since then, Lewis has become a powerful voice reflecting the jazz tradition, his controlled intensity recalling John Coltrane circa 1964 (e.g., Crescent), his broad sound and emotive vibrato suggesting David S. Ware. Like them, Lewis is suspended between the creative risk of free jazz and the explosive tension of form, here using composed melodies with freely determined harmonies. 

That controlled intensity is apparent from the opening Resonance, the group realizing multiple levels of activity, from pianist Aruán Ortiz’s looming chords to the press of Brad Jones’ bass and the rapid-fire, dense rush of drummer Chad Taylor’s sticks across his rattling snare and cymbals, and a pulsing hi-hat cymbal receiving simultaneous attention from foot-pedal and sticks. It’s Taylor’s special gift, rarely heard and consistently reinforced by his collaborators, to convey both majesty and mission, grandeur and struggle, wedding a nobility of sound with underlying tension and tumult that threaten disintegration. The emotional complexity extends to Every Atom Glows, a glacially slow, utterly beautiful piece that expands through its fragility. 

The title track is highlighted by Ortiz’s densely inventive solo, its complex lines overlapping and compounding in a welling mystery that suggests Andrew Hill, specifically, but also the whole ethos of those mid-60s musicians who first fused the energies of post-bop and free jazz.

14 kazemde george 8bidkI Insist
Kazemde George
Greenleaf Music GRE-CD-1087 (kazemdegeorge.com)

A musician’s debut album as a leader requires ample planning before ever seeing the light of day, and artists are often hyperconscious of small details since these albums provide a formal introduction to listeners. Kazemde George’s release I Insist resists overcomplicating things musically or programming repertoire that is exceedingly eclectic for the sake of variety. Instead, listeners are treated to a balanced ten tracks of music that showcase the young saxophonist’s playing and composing, and a stellar cast of his New York colleagues.  

Tracks like Coasts, I Insist and This Spring, conjure up the hard swinging rhythms and dense harmonies heard in Miles Davis’ second quintet, still sounding contemporary next to today’s improvised music. Haiti and Happy Birthday are groove-based numbers, apropos on George’s debut album given his beat-making alter ego KG,B and experience playing neo-soul alongside his fiancée, vocalist Sami Stevens, in The Love Experiment. The remaining tracks exist within the modern jazz idiom, while varying in style and arrangement, offering the listener a well-rounded album from start to finish. 

When first listening, the mix/blend achieved at Big Orange Sheep in Brooklyn was not my favourite. However, this grew on me over time. The band acts as one cohesive unit throughout the album, and it is no surprise that the pieces presented have been performed live time and time again prior to entering the studio. Enjoy I Insist now and expect to hear more great things in the future from George!

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