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Volume 15 Issue 9 - June 2010

  • Text
  • Jazz
  • Toronto
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JAZZ AND IMPROVIZEDFor

JAZZ AND IMPROVIZEDFor the First TimeHugh O’Connor; Mark Ferguson; JohnGeggie; Don JohnsonTrue North Records TND532(www.truenorthrecords.com)In an age when almostanyone can putout a CD and almosteverybody does,in some cases reducingthe music tothe status of a callingcard, it’s refreshingto come across afirst time album by a veteran player who simplywants to “tell his story”.The musician is Ottawa born saxophonist,Hugh O’Connor. At age 81 O’Conner, whobegan playing in the late 1940s, has just releasedhis first CD. His approach is refreshinglymelodic and he plays with an authoritythat says, “For me, here’s where it’s at.”Recorded in the Almonte Ontario OldTown Hall, the CD consists of a programmeof superior standards ranging from the seldomplayed A Portrait Of Jenny to the frequentlyperformed My Funny Valentine on the openingchorus of which there is a Desmond-ishquality to the sound of his horn. But Hugh isdefinitely his own man and puts an individualstamp on this recording which also includessuch great songs as In The Wee Small Hours,How About You and The More I See You.He is ably and tastefully accompanied bypianist Mark Ferguson - yes the same Markwho used to be a trombone player in Toronto- bassist John Geggie and, on five of thetwelve tracks, drummer Don Johnson.Although active and successful, mainlyaround the Ottawa area, he has maintaineda relatively low profile on the Canadian jazzscene. Perhaps that can change with the releaseof this very welcome CD.Jim GallowayBrown SugarShakura S’AidaRuf Records Ruf 1155(www.shakurasaida.com)What a sweet blast. Shakura S’Aida hasearned praise in Canada as a singer, songwriterand actress of substance and now she’sgot a firm grip on the solo career ladder witha scintillating new CD to follow her excellentalbum “Blueprint”.Released in North America in April andbefore that in Europe, “Brown Sugar” letsS’Aida, whose familyarrived in Torontoin the 1970s, usethe vast experiencegained from workingwith luminariessuch as Jimmy Smith,Ruth Brown and PattiLaBelle.It’s a startlingly good album that bears repeatedlistening, diction so clear that thecool sounds one might expect don’t happen.There’s emotional connection and passionaplenty here on a dozen tracks, 11 of whichemployed power guitarist Donna Grantis towork with S’Aida in lyrics and music. Theband is tight, featuring organist Lance Anderson,bass Dave Smith, drummer StevePotts and Rick Steff on keyboards.Mr. Right is a superb opener best at bigvolume and offers a glimpse of the vocalist’sattractive high warble. Walk Out That Dooris a fetching shuffle while Gonna Tell MyBaby is a slow burner with fierce wails. Twosuccessive tunes, the grittily intimate Did ItBreak Your Heart and the swinging MissingThe Good And The Bad would have beengreat fodder for Janis Joplin and they’re followedby a delightful trio of songs that breakthe raunch barrier - Sweet Spot, the bittertitle track and Anti Love Song.Geoff ChapmanLittle HeartsShannon ButcherIndependent SB2010(www.shannonbutcher.com)Jazz singer Shannon Butcher has comeout with another great album and its mainstrength is in the material she’s chosen tocover. She’s done what I think all modernjazz singers should be doing, i.e. quit coveringthe done-to-death standards and look toa more modern songbook for fodder. Surethere’s a place for theGershwin and Porterrehashings nowand then - especiallyin live performance -but when greats likeElla and Sarah haverecorded them before,a singer hadbetter be bringing something pretty interestingto the party, or why should we buy it? Sowhen I see 70s and 80s tunes on a CD cover,as is the case with “Little Hearts,” it’s asign that an artist is thinking outside the box,and that’s what jazz is all about. The Bacharach-Davidbeauty Walk on By gets a moody,heartfelt treatment that reflects the sentimentof the lyrics better than the peppy Warwickoriginal (sorry Dionne!) and Bryan Adams’Run to You goes Latin American with DanielStone on cajon and Rob Piltch doing hisusual tasteful nylon string guitar work.Butcher has also done some very fine songwritingon this album. Joy in My Heart kicksoff the disc with a soulful ode to stayingpositive and the duet with the enormously talentedMichael Kaeshammer - The Last Word- is a cute nod to 60s romantic comedies.The one older standard covered here - IrvingBerlin’s What’ll I Do - has been given an inventivealt-country facelift courtesy of Piltch’stwangy, plaintive guitar work.Cathy RichesConcert Note: Butcher’s CD release event isat Hugh’s Room on June 2.IT’S OUR JAZZBy Geoff ChapmanThere’s no shortageof forceful pianistsin Montreal andone of the most promisingon the A-listis South Korea-bornMin Rager, whoseFirst Steps (EffendiFND09 www.ragermusic.com)is very welcome five years afterher sterling debut “Bright Road”. The all-originalten-track mostly mainstream programsparkles from the start of the opening bluesNothing To Gain, Nothing To Lose, heartilyaided by an equally A-list of sidemen that includesexcellent trumpeter Kevin Dean, altoDonny Kennedy and drummer Andre White.The title-piece is a sneakily smart take onthe Coltrane classic (Giant Steps of course)while other unabashedly modern tunes havea plethora of slithery solos, confidently delivered,that punctuate melodies and attractiveharmonic structures. As well as offeringslick counterpoint, Rager conjures filigreeruns that sound entirely appropriate on Bella,a duo with Dean, followed by the even morearresting ballad Persistence Of Memory atrio take with Dean and American tenor WaltWeiskopf. Passing is a high-voltage burner,Dean scores again on Portrait Of Miles, withGoodbye Manhattan a passionate slow blues,just one gem in an illuminating set.Bassist Al Henderson is a formidable bandleader(notably his quartet and quintet) andcomposer (notably his work with Time Warpand recasting Duke Ellington) so it’s no surprisehe’s in ambitious mode on the JunonominatedAl Henderson Septet - Regeneration(Cornerstone CRST CD 132 www.alhenderson.ca). He taxes his all-star companionswith a 10-piece program anchoredby a six-part suite inspiredby the architecturalvision ofRaymond Moriyama,specifically his ideasfor the Canadian WarMuseum. This in turnhas led Henderson tomuse on the natureof war and the result is a work of both qualityand interest interpreted with some distinctionby his team – hornmen Alex Deanand Pat LaBarbera, pianist Richard Whiteman,drummer Barry Romberg and a pair ofcellists, Matt Brubeck and Mark Chambers.With a difficult set of ideas to convey, thisnonetheless must be successful. There’s othermaterial here that nods to Inuit artist TuratagaRagee (Spirit Owl) and punta rocker54 w w w.t h e w h o l e n o t e.c o mJune 1 - July 7, 2010

Andy Palacio (Palacio) plus other tracks thatoffer chamber jazz, vaudeville and reflectivepassages.Toronto guitaristRoy Patterson is alwaysworth hearing,a long-term memberof the local stringelite and an artist repletewith driving notionsand thrivingimagination. He justifiesthis on Roy PattersonTrio – Atlantic Blues (Toronto JazzComposers Collective TJCC AS 001 www.roypatterson.com). For this elegant eighttunemaster class the leader is supported byageless sidemen bass Don Thompson anddrummer Terry Clarke for long workouts ona mix of standards and three Patterson tunes,a live session recorded at Zooma ZoomaCafé in Jordan Village on the Niagara Escarpment.The musical atmosphere is warm,subtle, sophisticated and intimate, ripe withcreative ingenuity, and the threesome worksas one unit with playing that’s almost spiritual.Patterson’s deft fingering keeps melodiesintact and everything precise and detailed.His title tune is suitably broody,Water is freewheeling pleasure, the exoticsheen of Brazilian music comes through onJobim’s Favela, yet one gets the feeling thatthe guitarist is even more appealing when hecasts off the unmistakable influence of JimHall. One question remains. Why is this Patterson’sfirst album in eight years?The prolific Andrew Downing, his reputationas bassist-bandleader-composer alreadyestablished, takes a bold step with his newestalbum Silents (Black Hen Music BHCD-0058 www.andrewdowning.com). His fascinationwith silentmovies has led to thisexamination by a dozenmusicians of a pairof early 20th centuryfilms – horror masterpieceThe Cabinet OfDoctor Caligari from1920 by Germany’sRobert Weine and the fantasy tale ImpossibleVoyage from 1904 by France’s George Melies.Downing has created 18 tunes that pinpointepisodes in the films and the executionby the players – Downing forsaking bass forcello – is very satisfying. You’d love to bewatching the plots unfold with this sophisticatedmusic accompanying them, especiallythe 12 creepier pieces for Caligari, a talewherein the evil doctor is exposed as a serialkiller. Impossible Voyage is weird, narratinga trip by car, train and submarine by travellerswho survive it all, even when the trainreaches the sun! Among the players, clarinettistQuinsin Nachoff and bassoonist PeterLutek stand out, while there’s disciplinedwork from the strings, notably bassist JoePhillips – but all should take a bow.The group dubbed Red Blue Green offers adebut album of 11 originals where de factoleader – pianist Tom Richards – dominatesaction with playingthat suggests he’d becomfortable in anymusical niche. OnTransparent Thesis(Pet Mantis RecordsPMR006 www.petmantisrecords.com) he has clearlydigested diverse approaches and revels indark compositions, shifting time signatures,switching from lyricism to abstraction andis fully in control though there’s less jazzfocus on occasion. He gets sympathetic backingfrom bass Andrew Pacheco and drummerJay Sussman in what’s free improv withan innate sense of structure. The trio is boththoughtful and adventurous, keeps jarringelements to a minimum, inserts classical influencesand, importantly, play quieter thanThe Bad Plus. Best tunes: Song For Under ABridge, Recovery and Lost Arrow.EXTENDED PLAY - Combos: Ad Hocand Long Constituted in TorontoBy Ken WaxmanLong-established jazz groups have becomeas common as pop hits based on Mozart melodiestopping the charts – they sometimesexist. But with accomplished improviserstempted by side projects, bands often reconstituteand sidemen regularly have their owngigs. In most cases, though, this doesn’t affectthe music’s quality.Two bands confirm these realities. Ken Vandermark’sVandermark5 (V5), which isat SPK (Polish Combatants Hall) June 17,has been together with only one personnelchange for almost 15 years. Yet even Chicago-basedVandermark is involved in multipleside projects, as The Frame Quartet- 35 mm demonstrates. V5 members, cellistand electronics-player Fred Lonberg-Holmand drummer Tim Daisy are represented aswell. Meanwhile saxophonist Dave Rempis,a V5 fixture for 10 years, shines on Cyrillic,a duo with drummer Frank Rosaly. NewYork pianist Matthew Shipp, whose trioplays June 13 at Gallery 345 on SoraurenAve. is similarly part of numberless formations.Nu Bop Live involves some of his cohorts,who won’t be in Toronto. For an ideaof what piano/bass communication soundslike involving Michael Bisio, the bassist whois in Shipp’s Toronto trio, there’s Session at475 Kent with Connie Crothers.The Non-V5er on 35 mm (Okka Disk OD12078 www.okkadisk.com) is Nate Mc-Bride, whose thick acoustic bass lines, electricbass thumps and manipulated waveforms distinguish this disc. Strident frictionfrom Lonberg-Holmadditionally gives theCD’s five long selectionsa rough-hewnquality, enhanced byDaisy’s reverberatingand pinpointed cymbalslaps, not to mentionVandermark’ssoloing which encompassesstraight-ahead licks or tongue slapson tenor saxophone and feathery clarinettrills. This is especially notable on TheatrePiece (for Jimmy Lyons) which links decisivesawing from the cellist, restrained plucksfrom the bassist and clatters, pops and rimshots from the drummer as Vandermark’ssound ranges from tremolo pitch-sliding onthe clarinet to tongue-moistured saxophoneflattement, flutters and split tones. Mid-waythrough, the tempo halves to allegro to exposefaux romantic cello sequences that graduallyshatters into sul ponticello lines matedwith harsh, low-pitched saxophone rasps,balanced on crackling and buzzing electronics.Eventually the piece ends with an expositionof disconnected timbre-shredding fromVandermark and a conclusive string slapfrom the cellist.Halve the number of players and doublethe performance intensity for Cyrillic (482Music 482-1064 www.482music.com).Completely improvised,the selectionsinclude thosewith cymbal-chimingfunk grooves, repletewith honking reedpatterns, plus othersfeaturing smeareddouble-tonguingfrom Rempis, where he never seems to stopfor breath, matched with rim shots and sidespanks from Rosaly. Most impressive are InPlain Sight and How to Cross When Bridgesare Out. The former, which could be a deconstructedclassic R&B line, gains its rhythmicimpetus from Rempis’ guttural baritonesaxophone snorts. The latter is like a face offbetween never-ending ratcheting, rolls andruffs from Rosaly’s Energizer Bunny-likedrumming and Rempis’ Eric Dolphyish-altosaxophone with its broken-octave staccatoruns and wide split tones. Changing the agitatotempo to andante, the tune slips into unchartedaleatory territory, echoing with excitementand abandon.Both those adjectives are also on show onShipp’s CD Nu Bop Live (Rai Trade RTPJ0015 www.matthewshipp.com), especiallyon the 26-minute Nu Abstract suite. Puttingaside the many-fingered staccato patterningon other tunes, the pianist initially restrictshimself to occasional plinks, as drummerGuillermo Brown use electronics to unloadcrackling signal processing and hissing voicepatches. After the pianist constructs a manylayeredimpressionistic response, he joinswith William Parker’s fluid bass line andJune 1 - July 7, 2010 w w w.t h e w h o l e n o t e.c o m 55

Volume 26 (2020- )

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