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La Scena Musicale - Vol. 20, No. 7 June 2015

Jazz: Off the Record

by Marc Chénard / June 1, 2015

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Christine Jensen Jazz Orchestra –
Habitat – Justin Time Records JTR 8583-2
In 2011, saxophonist and composer Christine Jensen presented her first orchestral album Treelines. Buoyed by rave reviews, this B.C. native and now resident Montrealer released this second disc in the fall of 2013. Six lengthy works fill up the side, but unlike its predecessor, there is no theme or unifying thread to it. Instead, they are inspired by recent events, like a protest march by some Quebec native people to Ottawa, or travel impressions, some gleaned from a trip to Peru. This summer she is fortunate enough to take her music on the road for five dates across Canada and two evenings south of the border. As a bonus, her sister, trumpeter Ingrid, tags on, and who knows, she may have some new charts in the book. A definite must for those who appreciate well crafted music with clean harmonies and spotless playing.

Paal Nilssen-Love Large Unit
Erta Ale – PNL Records PNL025CD
Unlike the bands above and below this review, this outfit is not composer-driven but performance generated. It is a collective of eleven musicians with a no-holds-barred attitude to music making.
Its leader, Norwegian drummer Paal Nilssen-Love, has recruited a hoard of newcomers all capable of wailing with reckless abandon. Their efforts aredocumented in this three CD box set, the first two produced in studio, the third live. The latter contains four pieces heard elsewhere in this set; in fact one is presented four times. But what is the purpose of this, when it is basically a free form collective improvisation with minimal material to it? In fact, most of the music unfurls that way but it is the written parts that surface, too, and are welcome diversions. However, at a time when the writing is on the wall for the silver disc, bringing out box sets is a rather reckless enterprise. But so is music.

Orchestre national de Jazz – Montréal
Dans la forêt de ma mémoireDisques Atma CD2 2730
The single work culled on this disc was premiered on May 1, 2014, at the final concert of this orchestra’s debut season. A programmatic piece of sorts, it is a seven-part suite, two of the parts being short introductions to longer movements. The ensemble’s pianist, Marianne Trudel, was commissioned to write for the group and in true jazz fashion she delivers a series of pieces with their own titles, some of them quilted together. Overall, the results are quite convincing, for the composer scores each piece with savvy, using Gil Evans colourings in spots, while allowing for some open-ended improvisations. Kudos to those involved in the recording, mixing and mastering, as the sound quality only heightens the listening experience. But at 42 minutes, the side is short, and a piece or two from a concert devoted to women composers could have rounded it out. Also, the applause between movements could have been removed, but those quibbles aside, it is still a fine example of orchestral jazz music in the present tense.

Kenny Werner Trio
The Melody – Pirouet PIT3083
While not a major jazz star, pianist Kenny Werner is a known quantity to any self-respecting aficionado. This album marks his return to the piano trio format after a hiatus, with his trusted bandmates, bassist Johannes Weidenmüller and drummer Ari Hoenig. This is a recording that pretty well illustrates the state of modern mainstream jazz piano trios, where the musicians engage in three-way conversations rather than having a piano backed by a couple of time keepers. The leader contributes four originals and reconfigures pieces by Coltrane (26-2), Brubeck (In Your Own Sweet Way), even a Tom Jones pop tune (Try to Remember) with unconventional twists. The latter tune is also a good microcosm of Werner’s world, as it segues from lyrical classical harmonies to jazzier phrasings and back, all in eight minutes. Overall, the pace is deliberate from start to finish, with little need to rush or create too much tension. Catch them this month at a Canadian festival near you.

Curtis Nowosad
Dialectics – Cellar Live 010115
Winnipeg native Curtis Nowosad appears to be a go-getter set to make his way in the Jazz Mecca, his home base. Spearheading a quintet of classic instrumentation (piano trio with tenor sax and trumpet), this drummer delivers nine pieces in true hard bop form, six of which he penned, the remaining items being jazz standards, including Monk’s Bye Ya. While the music is familiar in style and delivery, the leader still gives it an edgy and at times busy playing. His American colleagues are all very deft, but no one really stands out in the pack. For those who like a slightly updated take on 20th Century modern jazz, this one is for you.

Roddy Ellias Trio
Monday’s Dream – Kwimu Music
The abstract painting in hushed hues of grey and blue that adorns the cover of this record is a good visual cue to the type of music heard on this album. Guitarist Roddy Ellias picks his way nimbly and gently through 11 of his pieces on an acoustic model. Equally unassuming are his partners, bassist Adrian Vedady and drummer Thom Gossage, the latter acting more like a percussionist colouring the proceedings than a jazz tubman holding the beat. Blessed with impeccable technique, the leader forgoes all instrumental prowess, which far too many plectrists fall prey to, and plays in a concise manner, no tune lasting over seven minutes. A long-time guitar instructor, Ellias has now retired, and this record is a first step back to a more active performance schedule, one that is shaping up well in light of the nationwide festival tour starting this month.

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