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Volume 20 Issue 9 - Summer 2015

  • Text
  • Festival
  • Jazz
  • August
  • Toronto
  • Quartet
  • Musical
  • Concerts
  • Trio
  • Violin
  • Flute
  • Summers

Fires of Autumn, could

Fires of Autumn, could be considered to be the obsession of 20th-century composers with finding a new musical language. I can hear the composer’s voice in the atonal language of the first and the adopted Japanese idiom of the other if I consider them explorations, part of this search; but, Rochberg’s language and his voice seem most convincingly related in the Caprice Variations, which are so deeply rooted in the western musical tradition. Perhaps T.S. Eliot was right: “…the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.” Allan Pulker Morton Feldman: Two Pianos and other pieces 1953-1969 John Tilbury; Philip Thomas Another Timbre at81x2 (anothertimbre.com) !! Along with John Cage and Christian Wolff, Morton Feldman was a key figure in the midcentury development of indeterminacy as a component in composition, creating works that emerge anew in each performance. This 2CD set focuses on a crucial period in his development and includes pieces for two pianos as well as pieces for three and four pianos and piano in various small ensembles. While the earliest, Intermission 6 (1953), presents the performers with various bits of notation and the direction to play in any order, the other pieces employ sequential notation that plays with time, whether using notes without rhythmic values or instructing musicians to sound a note when the decay of the previous one has begun. In his extensive notes (available through anothertimbre.com), Philip Thomas emphasizes Feldman’s preoccupations with sound and time: they’re key to the way this special world ultimately involves us. While these works are designed to develop great structural complexity, the focus on sounds and their incremental evolution draws us ever further into the instant of the work’s coming into being, its evolving architecture stretching to erase its own boundaries. These works lead directly to Feldman’s later massive essays in time without being overshadowed by them. Here John Tilbury and Philip Thomas bracket their program with two performances of Two Pianos (1957), each subtly distinct from the other. The complexity expands on the later Two Pieces for Three Pianos (1966) and the ensemble piece, False Relationships and the Extended Ending (1968). Tilbury may be Feldman’s most incisive interpreter (he first performed one of his works in 1960); his collaborators here share his attention to sonic nuance. Stuart Broomer JAZZ AND IMPROVISED MUSIC New York Stories Micah Barnes LoudBoy ODCD02 (micahbarnes3.bandzoogle.com) !! Micah Barnes has long established himself as one of the most engaging vocal performers and contemporary, jazzinfused tunesmiths on the scene today. Perhaps best known as a member of the iconic vocal group The Nylons, Barnes has also crafted a serious solo career by employing his considerable skills as a musician/keyboardist in conjunction with his sumptuous baritone voice, quirky narrative humour, showmanship and innate ability for direct emotional (and artistic) communication. Barnes’ new recording is the result of many live performances that were focused on perfecting his original material prior to ever stepping into the recording studio – and the highly personal songs (of which three were co-written with J.P. Saxe and one with Russ Boswell) easily bring the rapt listener along for the wild ride. Barnes has surrounded himself here with a fine ensemble, including Michael Shand on keyboards, talented brother Daniel Barnes on drums and voice, the above mentioned Boswell on bass and voice and Saxe on vocals. Top tracks include New York Story – a nostalgia-saturated valentine to the great city itself and the clever After the Romance (The Rent) – a character song in search of a Broadway show. Barnes’ voice has never been richer and more laden with experience, and his vocal control has never been more succinct, as illustrated by the bluesy standout Starting Tomorrow and the funky cool Harlem Moon. The heart-rending Some Other Man clearly establishes Barnes as a fine contemporary songwriter and the closing track, I’ve Been Awake Too Long evokes incredible, bittersweet longing. Lesley Mitchell-Clarke Made in Chicago Jack DeJohnette ECM 2392 (ecmrecords.com) !! Jack DeJohnette first came to prominence in the late 1960s as the drummer in Charles Lloyd’s quartet and later Miles Davis’ pioneering fusion bands. He’s since cemented his fame with his own groups and his three-decade membership in the Standards Trio with Keith Jarrett. His roots, however, reach back to Chicago’s Wilson Junior College where in 1962 he began jamming with classmates and saxophonists Roscoe Mitchell and Henry Threadgill. Soon they were playing in pianist Muhal Richard Abrams’ Experimental Band and were present at the 1965 formation of The Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM), a dramatic assertion of African-American musical freedom and self-sufficiency. The title Made in Chicago is multi-dimensional: it commemorates the reunion of DeJohnette, Mitchell, Threadgill and Abrams (joined by the younger Larry Gray on bass and cello); it celebrates the diversity of AACM music; and it marks its literal venue, the 2013 Chicago Jazz Festival. It is, simply, a great band, evident from the first composition, Mitchell’s Chant, a work that places the repeating patterns of American minimalism in a kind of pan-African setting, from circular-breathing saxophone stretched beyond the tempered scale to DeJohnette’s dense, sonically rich drumming. Each work that follows is similarly an exercise in shaping, its raw materials examined and extended into forceful musical statement, like the emotion-drenched invocation of Abrams’ multi-faceted Jack 5 and DeJohnette’s own Museum of Time. Mitchell’s This presses toward chamber music, with its Bartók-like harmonic language and the lighter textures of flutes and arco cello. Throughout, there’s a sense of spacious invention and collective mastery, the music growing from a kind of spontaneous deliberation. Stuart Broomer Begin Alister Spence; Joe Williamson; Christopher Cantillo Alister Spence Music ASM 003 (alisterspence.com) !! What world music really should be, this high-quality session involves the talents of multi-stylistic Australian pianist Alister Spence, subtle Swedish drummer Christopher Cantillo and authoritative Canadian bassist Joe Williamson. Now Stockholm-based, Vancouver native Williamson is part of this trio whose reference points are musically broad while lacking any affectation. Constantly pushing each of the tracks forward, the pianist’s world view is as wide as the Australian outback, emphasizing attention to cultivated detail that melds Keith Jarrett’s exploratory feints, dynamic jabs à la Cecil Taylor and the bouncy playfulness of Paul Bley, usually simultaneously. Hear this at work on Place, where after probing piano innards and hammering the keys, Spence unexpectedly bursts out with a textbook 88 | June | July | August, 2015 thewholenote.com

definition of jazz swing. Consistently a group effort, though – even when Spence’s playing is at its most jaunty – his pointed improvising on Tip for instance is sympathetically extended with tap-dance-like clacks from Cantillo and Williamson’s bowed continuum. Knowingly attuned to one another’s strategies and willing to mix up the performances to make them new, Williamson, for example, often uses a resolutely steady bass line to second the pianist’s widely spaced spikes and winnowing plucks on Fetch before Spence cunningly recaps his intro. Elsewhere, as on Allow, each rhythm partner uses static drum buzz or string pulls to create edginess on this warm balladic track. Other times as cymbals swirl and drum tops are scrubbed, Spence and Williamson expose nearly identical timbres, balancing inside-piano string strums and unforced bass string plucks. With even more unexpected approaches they can utilize on this disc’s lucky 13 tracks, the hope is that this trio didn’t just Begin but will continue to make CDs like this for a long time. Ken Waxman You’ve Been Watching Me Tim Berne’s Snakeoil ECM Records ECM 2443 CD (ecmrecords.com) !! Augmenting the already well-balanced sound of his Snakeoil quartet, alto saxophonist Tim Berne introduces guitarist Ryan Ferreira’s chordshredding distortions to the seven Berne originals here, creating a fuller but no less memorable program than the quartet offered at April’s SRO appearance in Toronto. Added to the alternately luminous fluidity or strained grunting from Oscar Noreiga’s clarinet or bass clarinet are Matt Mitchell’s poised linear piano style and discriminating accents from Ches Smith’s drums, vibes, timpani and percussion; the re-imagined ensemble easily negotiates the compositions’ intricacies. Cunningly arranged so that each voice is heard clearly while the polyphonic nature of the tunes is emphasized, the final False Impressions is a fine example of this. As the guitarist’s angled flanges attempt to disrupt the proceedings, the theme is driven steadily forward by the pianist’s arpeggio-laden power. Perhaps the track is so named because the piece is finally resolved as a thoroughgoing swing line. Further manoeuvres are expressed in the manner of a magician only fleetingly letting you peek at his strategies, as on Semi-Self-Detached where a balanced block of patterning piano and blended horns is followed, after a dramatic pause, by a triple-tongued solo from Berne, whose alto sounds as if it’s reaching for humanly unattainable notes. In contrast, Embraceable Me, which has no obvious resemblance to the standard Embraceable You, goes through several distinct sequences that present bouncy music-box-like emphasis from Mitchell, broken-chord slamming from the guitarist and the clarinetist’s tremolo precision before a crescendo of united horns and piano timbres are roughly buzzed away by the altoist. At 18 minutes long, the extended Small World in a Small Town is the CD’s centrepiece. Possibly composed as a concerto for himself, Berne spins out intense reed variations that range from swift laughing bites to sombre, near-ecclesiastical drones, as the sparse accompaniment is limited to infrequent piano or vibe voicing. With Noriega’s near-Oriental tone providing an intermezzo, backed by brief piano pumps, Berne returns thickening his subsequent lines with intense multiphonics, until craftily, but not unexpectedly, the initial theme is recapped as a convincing summation by sax and piano. Creating more memorable releases each time out, Snakeoil is no nostrum but an elixir whose salutary qualities improve each time it’s sampled. Ken Waxman POT POURRI Call Me a Fool Eliza Pope Independent (elizapope.com) !! Talented vocalist and songwriter Eliza Pope’s debut CD is a delightful potpourri of re-conceptualized Broadway show tunes, jazz standards and original compositions. The project was co-produced by Pope and yeoman keyboardist/arranger Mark Kieswetter, who also performs magnificently on the CD. To say the least, this recording is an auspicious opening salvo for an emerging artist. Included is a soulful take on Harold Arlen and Yip Harburg’s 1939 Oscar-winner Over the Rainbow. Kieswetter’s contemporary chord substitutions are the perfect complement to Pope’s tasty vocal line. With facile use of her head voice, Pope soars delicately over, around and above the well-known melody, pushing it right into 2015. Also of note is the jaunty Depression-era original Where Will I Find Love, which evokes a historical mode without becoming derivative of it – no easy task! Eric St. Laurent’s well-placed acoustic guitar work is exceptional on this track, calling to mind a young Charlie Christian. Another fine original is Try, which explores a more pop-oriented aspect of Pope’s versatile vocal and writing style. A standout is Feeling Good, penned by Anthony Newley and Leslie Bricusse for their hit Broadway show, The Roar of the Greasepaint – The Smell of the Crowd. Pope makes wonderful use of her lower register here, and resists the temptation to convert this tune into an overwrought cabaret anthem. Pope also displays her ability to swing, with a thoroughly delightful rendition of Fats Waller’s Crazy ’Bout My Baby. Noted bassist Ross MacIntyre provides the necessary backbone here, and truly shines on this groovy cooker. Of particular beauty is the gorgeous ballad Little Girl Blue, written by Rogers and Hart for the 1935 Broadway musical Jumbo and rendered by Pope with the full intent of the genius composers firmly in place. Lesley Mitchell-Clarke Evolve Andria Simone Independent GKM 1018 (andriasimone.com) There’s been a major resurgence of R&B/soul singers in the last several years, led by the fabulous and tragic Amy Winehouse. Many singers have tried to imitate Winehouse’s singing style and production techniques and, as a result, most blue-eyed soul records released lately sound very similar and, frankly, tired. So it’s a real pleasure to hear a relatively new singer who is treading her own path. With the aptly named Evolve, Toronto-based singer Andria Simone is developing a style all her own. That said, there are influences apparent in her big, gutsy voice, but how can you be a blues and soul singer and not have greats like Janis Joplin and Aretha Franklin show up? Evolve establishes Simone not only as a singer to be reckoned with, but as a songwriter of note too. The majority of the tracks are co-written by her and producer Greg Kavanaugh and there are touches of a variety of styles in the mix, but all are hard-driving. The one cover, Sunshine of Your Love, burns with the heat of a thousand suns. Simone’s backing band – and I hesitate to call them a backing band since they contribute so much to the overall musicality and funkiness of the record that they’re more like collaborators – consists of bassist Mark Wilson, guitarist Dave Kirby, saxophonist Brian Dhari, drummer George Nikolov and keyboardist Anthony Brancati. Evolve doesn’t break brand new ground, but it delivers solid groove and energy. Cathy Riches thewholenote.com June | July | August, 2015 | 89

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