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La Scena Musicale - Vol. 19, No. 4

Jazz: The Record Round-Up

by Marc Chénard / December 1, 2013

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Who says the days of the CD are over? Not so, judging from the large numbers of new releases. In this month's section, we will deal with a handful of items received over the last few months that cross cut several styles.

Two Takes on the Tradition

Chet Doxas Quartet – Dive
Addo Records AJR015  
Tenor saxophonist Chet Doxas is a talented Montreal newcomer who has what it takes to make it on the international scene. Released on a Toronto label, this third offering under his leadership fits in perfectly with contemporary mainstream jazz trends, including spiky originals, bouyant solos with lots of chops to spare. The album's title track demonstrates the quartet's flair; three New York musicians, Matthew Stevens (guitar), Zack Lober (bass) and Eric Doob (drums) round out the combo. The eight tracks that comprise the 50-minute album allow the listener to fully appreciate the group’s potential. To give you an idea of Doxas’s rising star, it’s worth noting, he is scheduled to tour next summer with his brother Jim (drums) in the company of Dave Douglas and Steve Swallow. Stay tuned!

Cory Weeds / Bill Coon Quartet – With Benefits
Cellar Live CL091812  

Cory Weeds is a busy man; he owns a club (Vancouver’s The Cellar), a record label (Cellar Live), and plays both tenor and alto sax. This man keeps traditional jazz music alive in his city, programming both local and out-of-town acts in his club, some of whom wind up on his label. His releases bear the imprimatur of the 1960s American hard bop idiom. On his horns, Weeds knows the style inside and out, to the point he can flawlessly spin out its best licks. After listening to him on this disc, which is made up of a handful of standards and compositions in the style (10 in total), we can only conclude that this is 20th century music, not updated but directly carried over into our own century. If pure unadulterated hard bop is what you dig, this quartet will fit the fill, a group whose instrumentation is identical to the preceeding disc, but so different in the results.

Homegrown Musicians at Large

Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society – Brooklyn Babylon
New Amsterdam Records NWAM046

McGill educated composer Darcy James Argue is much talked about since his move to the Big Apple. His band (The Secret Society) is made up of approximately twenty musicians equally at home in the contemporary American jazz idiom. While the instrumentation is totally in keeping with that of jazz big bands, Argue’s music is not confined to the genre. His long-awaited second album should simply be called 'orchestral music'. The suite he composed premiered there last year, complete with a video installation. Divided in 17 movements, this fifty minute-plus work is an ambitious saga that could be called a musical allegory, the story being too involved to summarize here. While solos are not lacking, it is the composer’s vision that stands out more than any of the individual contributions. 

Anna Webber – Percussive Mechanics
Pirouet PT3069  

The late critic Whitney Balliett defined jazz as “the sound of surprise.” If you agree, this is a true jazz work. Vancouver saxophonist Anna Webber, also a McGill alumnae, has been trecking around the globe since her graduation. Before finally settling down in the Jazz Mecca, she cut her teeth in Berlin, where she had the opportunity to produce a side for the Munich indie Pirouet Records (unfortunately not distributed here). The group, a septet, includes two drummers, vibraphone and piano, a bassist, Webber and a second reedist. Webber's originals, nine in total, are chock full of unexpected twists and turns. Influenced by leading New York greats, Tim Berne for one, her writing is anything but simple, but her charges tackle the complexities with confidence and conviction. This is one musician not interested in playing it safe, and her yen to explore uncharted territories risks at times getting out of hand, without going awry. But since jazz is not meant to be perfect, this album has less to do with guaranteed results than with the process of realizing her vision. For those interested, go to the label’s Website.

Improvising Trios

Inspirit Trio – Enjoy
Fidelio Records FACD038  

Bassist Frédéric Alarie leads a three-man team rounded off by trumpeter Jacques Kuba Séguin and drummer Michel Lambert. His ensemble offers music with rather open forms and harmonies, albeit never sounding esoteric. There are no free-wheeling romps here, in fact the album could have been called “Ten Meditations for Jazz Trio.” All tunes but one were penned by Alarie, the exception written by his guitar player son, but the notes fail to give the credit. Since the pieces are rather introspective, the musical tenor is somewhat reminscent of the one heard on the ECM label, including its signature crystalline recording quality. One cannot help but getting the impression that these men met in the studio for the first time, and dealt with the music cautiously. Here's hoping they can perform more in the months to come and give the music a little more lift.

Bean Trio
I ♥ Bean (Self-released)  

While the line up of this trio is totally conventional (piano, bass and drums), its approach is anything but. Straddling both freestyle playing and more traditional procedures based on themes, this unit nicely blurs the lines between the two. The opening piece, “Etude V”, is an interesting game of musical chairs between the musicians; pianist Marie-Claire Durand starts off fast and furious, only to slow down to an almost snail's pace, whereas bassist Joel Kerr does the exact opposite, leaving drummer Mark Nelson to lay down some irregular accents, all of this clocking in at two and a half minutes. In close to an hour playing time and 13 tracks, the trio constantly varies its playing strategies, offering a nod to Monk (“Raise Bean”) or producing dreamy moods through the effective use of a Fender Rhodes keyboard. This album might fall under the radar, yet it  shouldn’t. A fine first effort from a group that would be nice to hear again on disc, even onstage.

Canadian Releases

Martin Lozano Lewis Wiens Duncan – At Canterbury
Barnyard Records BR0332  

This album is a Montreal-Toronto reunion, uniting two former Torontonians (Frank Lozano and Rainer Wiens) with three Hogtown peers (Jim Lewis, Christine Duncan and Jean Martin). Seven collective improvisations make up the album, the music mostly restrained in tone, with a touch of exoticism provided by the kalimbas of Wiens. We would, however, have liked to see more spark from this ensemble, which is a litte too tentative in its explorations.   

Mecha Fixes Clock
Beau comme Airport – Tour de Bras  

Drummer Michel-F Côté’s septet offers a somewhat hushed musical ambience, with strong results, thanks to the brevity of the pieces–13 in less than 40 minutes. Compositional elements are skilfully juxtaposed with abstract sonic textures and clean melodic lines, elegantly performed by trumpeter Ellwood Epps.

European Releases

Romano Sclavis Texier + – E+E
Label Bleu LBLC6709  

This all-star lineup presents a triple threat French trio joined by three special guests: Nguyen Lé (gtr.), Bojan Z. (pno.) and Enrico Ra (trpt.). As promising as it looks, this session doesn’t manage to meet the listener's expectations. Just imagine what this band could have accomplished had it been able to tour together a bit before meeting in the studio for this one-shot collaboration.

S.O.S. – Looking for the Next One
Cuneiform Rune 360/361

This legendary ensemble of British saxophone players, the S.O.S. trio (John Surman, Alan Skidmore and Mike Osborne) is resurrected in this unissued double release from the 1970s, including two studio dates and one festival performance. Playing on the cusp of modal and free form jazz, the group's fire is fanned more than once by Skidmore’s drumming and Surman’s additional keyboards. A great musical blast from the past. 

Translation: Elisabeth Gillies

The Weapon: Berlin’s À l'Arme Festival
by Gérard Rouy

Visitors to Berlin last summer were constantly reminded of a recurring theme by posters put up throughout the city: “Zerstörte Vielfalt,” which translates into English as “Diversity Destroyed. Berlin 1933-1938-1945.” A City Remembers. This year marks the 80th anniversary of the Nazis rise to power and the 75th of the pogroms that ensued. Beginning in 1933, modern artists—as well as composers, musicians, writers, actors, directors and producers—were targeted by the Nazi regime for their entartete Kunst (degenerate art). Doctors, lawyers and teachers were also initially marginalized and persecuted. Ultimately, their very existence was deemed incompatible to the Nazi’s racist ideology; subsequently, countless numbers of them were murdered.

These anniversaries were marked by numerous exhibits spread across the city’s center that detailed different aspects of these atrocities. Jazz was among the subjects of an exhibit mounted in saxophonist Thomas Borgmann’s neighborhood, the Frankfurter Tor. Many of the exhibit’s pictures and texts were about artists—a number of whom were jazz musicians—considered to be non-conformists and castigated as degenerates. The right-wing press demonized jazz as being “a transfusion of Negro blood;” and “an obscene bacteria.” The infamous Brown Shirts disrupted jazz concerts, sometimes throwing stink bombs in the audience.

Read the complete piece at www.pointofdeparture.org

Translation: Marc Chénard

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