This week on CKUT’s Jazz Euphorium, I played an interview I did with Toronto trumpet player Rebecca Hennessy about her latest album Two Calls. She takes us through each and every tune and talks a bit about how she incorporates her wide ranging slew of influences into this ensemble’s context.
Having both participated in a podcast last season for their project Run and Hide, Kyle Hutchins and Evan Shay give us an update on what they’re up to. Kyle hits Resonance cafe tomorrow evening as a part of L’off Jazz Festival and Evan is currently putting on a free jazz residency also at resonance.
This week’s episode features a talk with Montreal-based bassist Ethan Cohn, who released his debut record “Plastic Waste” over the summer. Topics include Einstein’s theory of relativity, Italian rain, and finding cohesion in a mixed bag of influences. His album release party takes place on October 2nd at Cafe Resonance for those in the area.
Some slight microphone issues at the start my apologies.
This week’s podcast features a talk with underground New York legend Matthew Shipp who first gained recognition as a member of David S. Ware’s band in the 1980s before collaborating with the likes of Roscoe Mitchell, El-P, Evan Parker, and everyone in between. He comes to Montreal on September 18th to play with Thomas Lehn (AT/DE) and John Butcher (UK).
On his follow-up to “Saturated Colour,” Montreal sax player Erik Hove refines his coloristic tonal world with splashes of left-field harmonies decorating groove-oriented song forms. As solos from Canadian great Andy King and New York-based, Montreal expat Anna Webber come to the fore, the work finds pockets of small ensemble ideology within the atmosphere of sound. Perhaps Hove broadcasts his influences a bit too forwardly on “Drift,” and perhaps a bit more time could’ve been spent out in space with inter-ensemble communication (i.e. “Inversions”), but “Polygon” is a digestible collection of well-written tunes in a sound aesthetic unique to Hove.
Spectralism is the big word dropped in conversation with Hove in regards to his chamber ensemble. Having received a master’s degree in composition at McGill, he spent as much time as possible with the likes of Ligeti and Grisey, hoping to incorporate their tonal language into a jazz setting. To try and explain spectralism quickly, the movement began with computer analysis in an effort to rethink harmony and timbre. The texture is made tense by contradicting rhythmic parts with relentless repetition and the harmonies are generally extremely closely voiced with the use of quarter tones rather than the usual half and whole steps.
This influence is most audible in the work of the large ensemble. “Tessellation” opens the album with a plucked string melody that repeats obsessively before some strange, angular melodies come through with each chord sounding superbly harsh on the downbeats of the odd meter. The return of these parts with the second chorus of Hove’s solo makes for a hectic space and a riveting backdrop for his fiery saxophone lines.
As is the case with much of the first five tracks, the dust clears for Hove to take a solo in the center over the bass and drums. A new addition here is the electronic drone sound that sits in the background. It helps a great deal with the solos if the rest of the ensemble drops out for the beginning so that the soloist has some time to develop their ideas and Hove does this, but the electronic drone sound remains, making the return of the rest of the ensemble much more cohesive—especially considering the lack of piano.
“Fractured” is perhaps a bit more melodically driven as Webber brings forward a squirrely melody at the front of the track, with Hove battling her with Sax melody as clashes of harmony come at the end. Although the electronics are absent, the lightness of delivery makes the return of the chords within the solo sensible. Not to the point of becoming one dimensional or tiring, but the next three tracks largely continue in the vein of the first pair with angular grooves and decorative chords.
“Inversions” is much more focused on sonic landscape. The track opens with a big drone sound and pulsing woodwinds and strings and never fully embraces a meter. Instead, the big crystal of sound dissolves to find Hove, King, and a good chunk of the ensemble (Jean René** is in their as well as drummer Evan Tighe) trading off ideas out in disorienting free space.
Personally, I find this more appealing than the other meterless-sounding creation “Drift,” which essentially adds more and more harmony onto the foundation to amass a mind-bending crunch at around the six minute mark. It feels too much like a piece of spectralism that’s been written before, whereas “Inversions” brings in the idea of improvisation more strongly. I also feel as though more free improvisation could have come into play earlier on the work. Still, the record never really finds a dull moment.
Bassist Rémi-Jean Leblanc and drummer Evan Tighe bring stand-out performances to back up the various soloists from track to track. For instance, on the next track, “Tetrahedrons,” King is given free space to fire off some biting bop lines and Tighe is with him at every turn. I’m sure Andy King doesn’t need any help crafting intriguing material on his own, but the communication between him and Tighe makes the moment that much more compelling.
Erik Hove is certainly an innovator and “Polygon” again showcases his band-leading skills. Each track sounds fantastic and Hove is more commanding of the tonal pallet of spectralism than on his last effort. In terms of overall album flow, I think there are some places that could’ve been presented a bit better, but it’s clear that his career will continue to blossom with each coming release.
**review originally listed Josh Zubot as the soloist here, but it is in fact Jean René, I regret this error and thank Erik for pointing it out as well as reading my review.
Jaimie Branch’s debut is a longtime coming. Having grown up in the heart of Chicago’s music scene and relocated to New York City, she’s had a role in improvising, hip-hop, and indie rock scenes for years and she’s also worked as a sound person, enjoying punk and underground aesthetics of all creeds—in interviews, she’ll mention everyone from Sun Ra to Matana Roberts to Show Me the Body.
“Fly or Die” didn’t come together in a conventional manner and it owes a little bit to each of the traditions that Branch has experienced over the years. The record seamlessly incorporates post-production guitar ramblings, live set interpolations, and dubbed over trumpet trios without losing the sense of a single paint stroke.
Themes 1, 2, and “Theme Nothing” operate as major focal points. After a 15 second snack of trumpet distortion, Chad Taylor, Tomeka Reid, and Jason Ajemian combine forces to set the tone with a driving minor groove. Reid and Ajemian’s chemistry is immediate, as they trade off little pieces of bass line over Taylor’s melodic approach to the kit. Branch enters with an ascending line with a lot of room for reinterpretation, leading to a lot of interchange between her and Taylor.
One recurring theme on the record seems to be abstracting distinctions between solo and ensemble, written melody and improvised and this track immediately touches upon that. Branch leads the charge into the back end of the track, which eventually dissolves into a dramatic landscape aided by longing, bowed string melodies and some acoustic guitar ramblings from “guest artist” Matt Schneider. “Meanwhile” then focusses in on Schneider, with Taylor eventually building back the energy for his final fill into “Theme 2.” Although set-up a bit differently, the process somewhat repeats here with another fun, driving groove that gradually falls off into obscurity.
“Theme 2’s” end finds another important skill of Branch. As I’ve said, the album is highly varied, but still feels like one paint stroke and part of that comes from the gradual introduction of the next melody at the end of the previous tune—a tactic that comes up all over the project. Here, Reid and Ajemian paint a hectic backdrop and, as the dust settles, Branch introduces the balladic melody for the next track.
This first utterance of the “Leaves of Glass” melody gives off the impression of a ballad and the track initially has a sense of cleanliness to combat the violent end of “Theme 2,” but nothing is as it seems on a Jaimie Branch record and as the phrase repeats itself, the added trumpet parts lead the overall mood into another dystopian noise ploy. It’s frankly amazing that Branch is able to move through these moods with such ease and her melodic knack helps ground each splash of emotion.
“The Storm” continues the noisiness and showcases one of the best examples of Branch’s use of recording technology. After the “nose dives,” as Jaimie calls them, where each member of the band descends through the whole range of their instrument, a trumpet player spits out a bunch of biting, be-bop oriented lines. This trumpet player is actually guest artist Ben Lamar Gay and Branch is making all of the static radio noise with extended techniques right up against the microphone. This song is also taken from a live performance.
Had Branch not told me these details, I might not have even noticed–It really says a lot about a composer if their musical stamp is so ingrained in the work that even when they hand off the spotlight to another player on the same instrument, their personality reigns true. After this tune, “Waltzer” dedicates itself a bit more to the notion of a ballad and “Theme Nothing” delivers another pulverizing groove to finish of the project.
As a whole, this record could appeal to a lot of music heads out there. There’s instances of blissful groove, but they get balanced out by distorted messes. The production of the project is also impeccable and almost lends itself to the studio ideas of lo-fi folk movements from the late 90s by cutting and pasting all sorts of different ideas into one flowing collage of sound. Branch sounds poised as just about any other band leader out there right now and this album is a testament to her undying creativity and successfully carves out an exciting, unique position in the contemporary instrumental music realm.
This week’s podcast is pulled from another episode of CKUT’s New Shit. I speak to Lauren Lee about her Space Jazz Trio and their upcoming Montreal show at Cafe Resonance on May 20th. Topics include songwriting strategies, influences, and some thoughts on the New York and Montreal jazz communities.
Kara-Lis Coverdale- “Grafts” from Grafts
Lauren Lee Space Jazz Trio- “Voyager” from The Consciousness Test
Jessica Moss- “Entire Populations Pt. 2” from Pools of Light
Erik Hove- “Fractured” from Polygon