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La Scena Musicale - Vol. 18, No. 3 November 2012

Jazz: The Record Round-Up

by Marc Chénard / November 1, 2012

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In spite of all dire predictions to its imminent demise, compact discs are not yet on the brink of extinction. The steady flow of new releases goes on unabated, hitting a peak in the fall season. Time now to tackle that backlog and pull out a few sides from our local and national music scenes.

Quebec Releases

Last month, we announced the release of Nicolas Caloia’s Rachet Orchestra’s disc on the last day of October. On Hemlock (Drip Audio), close to 30 musicians perform the compositions of their conductor and double-bassist whose one important influence may well be the late Sun Ra and his fabled Arkestra. This second release, and first on a commercial label, can be purchased off the label’s website (dripaudio.com). And do check out the several YouTube videos from the recording session. 4/6

Fan of the ECM aesthetic? Trumpeter Jacques Kuba Séguin pays homage to one of the label’s emblematic musicians, Tomas Stanko, in his Litania Projekt (OddSound Records). Surrounded by three local musicians and one guest, Polish violinist Adam Baldych, the leader succeeds in going beyond the introspective atmosphere of the first few pieces and allowing the music to lift in the second half of the disc, thanks to a couple of riveting solos. A sequel would be in order. 4/6

Listening to double-bassist Patricia Deslauriers’ recording (Lucky Lucky—Disques Silence) plunges us even further into the fold of the German label: contemplative lyricism, slow tempos, resonant instruments, all the ingredients are there. With Guy St-Onge, piano, and Paul Brochu, drums, the bassist shares duties with a pair of consumate pros like herself, all of whom play it safe. It would have been nice for them to give a little more spark than just the hint heard in the last of ten instrumentals, all penned by Québécois singer and social activist Richard Desjardins. 3/6

If you think of a female double bassist who also sings, American star Esperanza Spalding may surely come to mind. But that is also the case for our compatriot Brandi Distherhelt. Gratitude is her second release on  Justin Time. Surrounded by New York musicians, where she now lives, the bassist offers a much jazzier program than in her more pop oriented debut, her music firmly ensconced in the canon of the art. One quibble though: the sound recording puts the bass too far in front of the other instruments. 3/6

Released last spring on an American label, Swim marks a new phase in tenor sax Joel Miller’s career. On one hand, he enjoys the company of a name performer, New York pianist Geoff Keezer; on the other, the album contains a program of very tightly written music, to the extent that even the saxophonist’s solos are largely written out. Interestingly his playing is much more vigorous and assertive than in the past, clearly a step in the right direction for him. (www.origin-records.com) 4/6

Canadian Releases

In town last month for the Off Jazz Festival, the talented Toronto reedist Kyle Brenders (saxes, clarinets) offered a solid performance, playing several pieces taken from his disc Offset (13h Note Records). His style of jazz is clearly adventurous, drawing both on free improvised music and more chamber-like pieces with subtle dynamics. While his compositions bear the imprint of his teacher Anthony Braxton, the delivery is reminiscent of Ken Vandermark’s quintet, albeit not so long-winded or excessive, as you wish.. 4/6

Hailing from our nation’s capital, Ottawa, trumpeter Craig Pederson’s quartet sans piano delivers his version of free bop on Days Like Today (self-produced). The heads are concise and segue quickly to free melodic improvisations driven by a propulsive bass and drums rhythm section. The leader and altoist Linsey Wellman are the main solo voices here in the ten pieces of the album, with workmanlike suppport provided by their accompanists. 3/6

A McGill graduate, now back in his native Alberta, drummer Jon McCaslin (no relation to saxophonist Donny) presents himself in Sunalta (Cellar Live) with four musicians working on the Vancouver mainstream jazz scene, most notably tenor saxman Phil Dwyer. Recorded live at The Cellar club, this session is cut out from the 1960s hard bop mold, with its rhythmically catchy themes and succession of solos articulated over well-worn hamonic frameworks. But if you’re looking for musical surprises, this is not quite the right address to go to. 3/6

Owner of Vancouver’s The Cellar club, Cory Weeds manages the label of the same name and is equally an adept saxophonist. This year alone, he has issued two sides under his own name, Just Like That (reviewed here) and more recently, Up a Step (a tribute to Hank Mobley, who Dexter Gordon referred to as the middle-weight champion of the tenor). Although Vancouver is known for its more daring music, Weeds succeeds in defending the mainstream turf, as witnessed by both of his albums. 3/6

A native of the U.S. but adoptive Vancouverite, pianist Lisa Miller is among the most original artists in the city, if not the country. Her fourth production, Q Waterwall, (on her GreenIdeas label) allows her to affirm her originality by using different preparations on her instrument while drawing on stylistic elements from improvised, classical, contemporary and ethnic musics alike. Aside from bass and drums, the pianist is accompanied by a cello and viola in this most successful production.(www.lisacaymiller.com) 4/6

Next month: American and European releases

Translation: Catherine Hine

Musical Stories & Histories

If music fans have trouble keeping up with the steady flow of new releases, critics have to contend with a flood of promos. Thankfully, there are some albums that rise above the rest in any given year, like the two recordings now under review.

Leo Smith: Ten Freedom Summers
Cuneiform 350/351/352/353

An ambitious undertaking to say the least, this four-CD set will surely constitute the magnum opus of avant-garde trunpeter Leo Smith. All nineteen pieces comprised in this four-and-a-half hour musical saga are his creations, some scored for his own group the Golden Quartet, or Quintet (with two drummers), others for the L.-A.-based Southwest Chamber Music Ensemble, each disc rounded out by an extended work written for both groups. Some of this music was heard at the festival in Victoriaville last May, but the whole story is available here (or just about, as there were more pieces to fill another disc, but four seemed to be the label’s quota). Smith’s main source of inspiration are the historic events that shaped American social and racial politics of the 1950-60s, but there is nothing nostalgic or backward-looking in the music. It is utterly contemporary in its stylings, at the crossroads of cutting-edge improvised and through-composed music. A year ago, the trumpeter turned 70 and by the looks of it, he is still very much at the forefront of American music. As recommended in the liner notes: This is not music to be listened to, but to be lived.

Gunther Sommer: Songs for Kommeno
Intakt CD 190

If the previous issue stands out for its musical vision, this single disc is worth talking about on its subject matter alone. Virtually unknown till now, Kommeno is a remote village in Greece whose population was almost completely wiped out in August 1943 by a German commando troop. Gunther Sommer is a drummer hailing from Dresden, formerly in East Germany, who coincidentally was born but a week after this horrendous event. In 2008 he was invited to play at a drum fest in that town, but only there did he learn about this hitherto untold tragedy. On that occasion, he was presented to two of its remaining survivors: imagine being stared at for 20 minutes by an elderly lady without a word being said.... So taken was he by all of this, that he immediately conceived a musical project involving four musicians of that country, three instrumentalists and  vocalist Savina Yannatou who delivers mainly wordless vocalese aching with hearfelt sorrow. Rather than evoking the savagery, explained at  length in the outstanding 150 page booklet (in Greek, German and English), the music unfolds in the manner of a litany, dark and brooding for the most part, but with a glimmer of hope and lightness in the last the eight tracks of this hour-long suite. As this magazine hits the stands, this project will be on tour in Germany this month, including a performance at the prestigious jazz festival in Berlin. Simply moving.

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