by: Hobart Taylor
Billy Mintz - Ugly Beautiful - (Thirteenth Note Records)
Some records are just profound. The melodies seem true. The playing seems ethereal and heartfelt and egoless. Drummer Mintz along with his life partner, astute pianist Roberta Piket, the astounding reeds of John Gross and Tony Malaby, and the sublime Hilliard Greene on bass, have recreated the Mingus miracle. On this two CD set, whether going out on free form explorations a la Dolphy, or settling in on quietly alluring ballads, group mind reigns. This is my favorite release of 2017 so far. I'll either have to end the review here or go on for another couple of pages. Just listen.
Modus Factor - The Picasso Zone - (Browntasaurus Records)
Soul jazz power trio Modus Factor from Toronto is produced by Brownman Ali on trumpet and electric trumpet and has a "Bitches Brew" vibe. With Chris Lesso on drums (website lists the group as Chris Lesso's Modus Factor, but this as a very balanced trio and feels pretty leaderless sort of like Chico Hamilton's early groups) and Ian De Souza , bass, Modus Factor has jazz sophistication without sacrificing any of their funkiness. What makes this release particularly special is the way they expand the tonal range and timbres of their various instruments so that although there are three players, there are a multitude of voices. Oh, and the jams are lovely.
The University of Toronto Jazz Orchestra with Norma Winstone and Dave Liebman - Sweet Ruby Suite: The Music of Kenny Wheeler - (University of Toronto Jazz Series)
First off, ECM recording artist trumpeter Kenny Wheeler, who died in 2014, was always among the swingingest and most engaging figures in jazz, both as a sideman and as a leader. Although born in Canada, Wheeler spent most of his working life in London. This has not prevented the Canadians from claiming him as a national treasure, and along side Oscar Peterson and Glenn Gould, Wheeler represents that nation's musical heritage.
This recording by top flight musicians at the University of Toronto captures Wheeler's whimsy and drive. Norma Winstone, one of the world's most evocative and thoroughly musical vocalists who performed on Wheeler's own recording of the title tune, and who recorded with Wheeler and English avant garde pianist John Taylor in the '70's and '80's, along with saxophonist Dave Liebman, a major and wonderfully benign force in contemporary jazz, respect the near orchestral aspirations of the piece while never letting go of the swing.
On the same disc there's a cut, "Canter No. 1", that is as sweet a five minutes and twenty seven seconds as you'll ever hear.
MEM 3 - Circles - (Self Released)
Also from up north comes Toronto's MEM 3 trio which features pianist Michael Cabe, bassist Mark Lau, and Ernesto Cervini on drums. The tunes are often rock inspired and brim with quiet energy, like a kettle just before the whistle. All three musicians contribute to the writing, and the tunes are engaging and thought provoking earworms. This is part of the future of jazz, that place where Kamasi Washington, Robert Glasper, and Marcus Strickland reside, not to mention multiple Toronto bands we've celebrated on our air. Programmers please note.
Stockton Helbing - Swimming in Place - (Armored Records)
This Texas based drummer writes deeply creative tunes based in the straight ahead traditions with funk tinges around the edges. Supported by a crackerjack band, Helbing's compositions were inspired by the loved ones and simple joys of his everyday life. His observant and sympathetic sprit permeates the entire project.
Nate Hajar - This is Nate Hajar - (Candid Productions)
Playing an unamplified classical guitar with a rhythm section and trumpet accompaniment, Hajar glides seemingly effortlessly between Chick Corea tunes and Antonio Carlos Jobim, with a country melody he penned himself and a famous Chopin prelude thrown in for good measure. The performances are exquisite.
Chris Rogers - Voyage Home - (Art of Life Records)
Trumpeter Rogers and saxophonists Michael Brecker and Ted Nash, pianist Xavier Davis, Steve Khan on guitar, and rhythm section Jay Anderson, bass, and Steve Johns, drums, have made a solid addition to the straight ahead canon. The title tune is indeed a "Voyage Home", a voyage to the golden era of early Wayne Shorter and Lee Morgan. For a lot of folks, this is "Real Jazz", hard charging tunes on top of Latin rhythms. It is very well done.
Patrick Zimmerli Quartet - Shores Against Silence - (Songlines)
Recorded 25 years ago, this CD seems timeless. Treading in the shadows of Schoenberg or skimming the surface of melody like skittering Ornettian tadpoles the saxophonist Zimmerli along with pianist Kevin Hays pinned several glorious butterflies to a canvas and oh how they shimmer. Rounding out the ensemble are bassist Larry Grenadier, drummer, Tom Rainey, and on "Three Dreams of Repose" percussionist Satoshi Takeishi.