It is not news that Canadian musicians continue to emerge into jazz prominence. Canada has long enriched this music with important players, composers and arrangers. A complete list of them would fill this page and several more. To mention a few, think of the contributions of Gil Evans, Kenny Wheeler, Oscar Peterson, Maynard Ferguson, Rob McConnell, Don Thompson, Guido Basso, Ed Bickert, Renee Rosnes, Lennie Breau and Peter Appleyard. Then there are pop figures, including Joni Mitchell and Michael Bublé, who sometimes edge into jazz and occasionally take a full plunge.
Let’s mention just a few recent recordings by Canadians whose work has caught the ears of the Rifftides staff.
Ernesto Cervini’s Turboprop: Abundance.
The Toronto drummer’s most recent sextet album has the same players as his 2017 Rev . They are all Canadians except for New Yorkers Joel Frahm on tenor saxophone and Dan Loomis on bass. Tara Davidson’s alto saxophone is frequently the ensemble’s lead voice. The phrasing and inflections of her solos suggest a deep connection to and understanding of the blues. Frahm is one of the most impressive tenor players to achieve widespread attention in recent decades. His work here provides further evidence of his flexilibity and consistency. Trombonist William Carn, pianist Adrean Farrugia, bassist Dan Loomis are impressive in all respects. Cervini’s brush work, in “Gramps,” a remembrance of his grandfather, is at once restrained and expressive in his commentary behind Davidson’s alto solo. “Abundance Overture” finds him alternating between brushes and sticks as improvisation passes from player to player, then vigorously driving the proceeding as the ensemble goes into an almost Bachian counterpoint reminiscent in spirit of the Dave Brubeck Octet of the late 1940s.
Allison Au, Wander Wonder (Allisonaun.com)
Following “The Valley,” a mysterious synthesized track that would be perfect behind the opening credits of a sci-fi movie, alto saxophonist Au and her quartet of fellow Torontonians get down to jazz business. Her sound is as spacious as her conception, with occasional side trips into the horn’s altissimo register. Her ten original compositions have variety and pacing that give the album attractive, logical, progress. “Morning”—unrelated to the Clare Fischer tune of that name—is a piece of calm reflection that could well attract other musicians. The synthesizer shows up again for atmospheric swooshes in the piece called “Red Herring.” In the course of the album pianist Todd Pentney constructs several story-telling solos. He, bassist Jon Maharaj and drummer Fabio Ragnelli work together smoothly and inventively in support of Au. We are almost certain to hear more from them—and from her.
Quinsin Nachoff’s Flux, Path Of Totality (Whirlwind Recordings)
Born in Toronto, living now in New York City, saxophonist Nachoff has long been fascinated by astronomy and, in particular, the phenomenon of lunar eclipses. In 2017 he was rewarded with the eclipse that inspired this album of adventurous music. Joined by an equally intrepid saxophone partner, David Binney, Nachoff added to his lineup pianist Matt Mitchell, bassist Nate Wood and Kenny Wollesen, a drummer whose explosiveness is balanced by his sense of order and form. All of them are champions of the avant garde whose respect for the modern mainstream tradition is obvious. Together, the four translate Nachoff’’s fascination with science into music that incorporates influences of Kenny Wheeler, Shostakovich and Prokovief. There is also a deep bow toward John Cage through the inspiration of his “Works For Prepared Piano And Toy Piano.” But, back to the source of Nachoff’s inspiration, the title tune sets into musical language the album’s commitment to understanding of scientific truths. Among the stimulating side trips is the incorporation of a vintage theatre organ from the 1920s. You’re unlikely to go to sleep while this album is playing. It’s due for release early next month
Scott Morin of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) has compiled a list of musicians he considers Canada’s best jazz artists under the age of 35. Be prepared to spend a lot of time with Morin’s list, or make many visits to his CBC page, because he incorporates performance videos of all 35 musicians on his list (that’s a link).
Happy New Year to our readers in Canada and our many friends there.