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Jazz Education: The Next Generation, Part 2

Karl Ackermann By

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The pundits who regularly question the vital signs of jazz would be well served to turn their ears toward the Humber Studio Jazz Ensemble. Almost two-dozen albums into a constantly evolving presence, Denny Christianson, the Director of Toronto's Humber Music Program, has been mentoring young musicians through their persistent reinventing of sound and process. The combined passion for the music and an expert knowledge of the form have created an experience that is keeping modern big band music alive, healthy and growing. The twenty-one piece ensemble features some of Humber's School of Creative and Performing Arts most distinctive young jazz players on Another Parallel Reality.

Each year the Humber Music Program recruits a marquee jazz artist for a brief residency during which the artist, faculty and students work on the selection of pieces, writing of charts, and rehearsals, all culminating in a live concert. In the case of Another Parallel Reality the title is a very slight spin on a collection from this event's resident, drummer Jack DeJohnette. He joins the ranks of pianist Danilo Perez, bassist Dave Holland, saxophonists Michael Brecker and Chris Potter and trumpeter Dave Douglas who, among others, have participated in the Humber program.

Of the ten pieces on Another Parallel Reality, DeJohnette penned six and co-wrote another with guitar icon Pat Metheny. The arrangements are implemented by various members of the Humber faculty. "Jack In" is the imposing opener which features fine solos from pianist James Hill, Christian Brown on tenor sax, and trombonist Brad Gilchtist. The more avant-garde "New Muse" has a snake-like quality to its movement with added tension in the quietly menacing sounds of Chris Rennie's tenor sax and Josh Hung's trumpet. "Indigo Dreamscapes" appropriately floats on the ethereal wordless vocals of Lydia Persaud and Chynna Lewis before it eventually drifts into a slightly off-kilter conclusion. These same two vocalists shine on the Duke Ellington classic "Do Nothin' Til You Hear From Me." Persaud and Lewis' stellar performance of the difficult scat technique is so satisfying that it would have made Ella Fitzgerald take notice. Latin rhythms take over on "Nine Over Reggae," the DeJohnette/Metheny composition from Parallel Realities (MCA Records, 2004). Guitarist Sam Dickenson supplies a fine solo that is a bit more rock oriented than the Metheny original.

The atmospheric rhythms on Another Parallel Reality, may be set in the big band era but the ensemble plays to the present, opening up harmonies and improvisations. Where more conventional scoring is utilized, it presents a perfect showcase for the eye-opening performances of Persaud and Lewis. On Another Parallel Reality Christianson is careful in not possessing the sense of space common to so much contemporary big band music. The Humber arrangements place just the right amount of examination on each of the pieces so that style and technique are not being over analyzed to the detriment of the performances. Another Parallel Reality is an impressive album and Christianson has fused the many individual talents of the Humber Studio Jazz Ensemble into a tight and precise unit who happen to be a lot of fun to listen to. Track Listing: Jack In; New Muse; Indigo Dreamscapes; Do Nothin' Til You Hear From Me; Nine Over Reggae; Exotic Isles; You Can Have It; Ebony; Salsa For Eddie G; We'll Be Together Again. Personnel: Andrew Racknor: saxophone, flute; Liam Masil-Mitro: saxophone, flute; Christian Brown: saxophone, flute, clarinet; Chris Rennie: saxophone, clarinet; Zach Mills: saxophone, clarinet; Rob Laird: trumpet; Shawn Robson: trumpet; Ania Zarzycki: trumpet; Sean White: trumpet; Josh Hung: trumpet; PJ Andersson: trombone; Devin Chubb: trombone; Brad Gilchrist: trombone; Nicholas Sieber: trombone; James Hill: piano; Sam Dickinson: guitar; Julian Anderson-Bowes: bass; Matthew Chalmers: drums, vibes; Juan Carlos Medrano Magallanes: percussion; Lydia Persaud: vocals; Chynna Lewis: vocals.

David Virelles: Antenna

On Antenna—his second release for ECM—pianist/composer David Virelles takes his affinity for jazz and Cuban influences to another level, layering on sophisticated planes of improvisation along with ethnic rhythms. With an assortment of electronics, Hammond B-3, Roland Juno-6, electric and prepared pianos, the artist immerses himself in the kind of electronic mélange that has been his forte since his leader debut Mbókò (ECM, 2014).

Reunited with vocalist Román Díaz and drummer Marcus Gilmore from Mbókò, the album opens with "Binary," a piece consisting of programmed Afro-Cuban rhythms and sampled bird refrains. The bluesy contribution of Henry Threadgill's alto saxophone punctuates the otherwise drone and tone-oriented "Water, Bird-Headed Mistress." Cuban rapper Etián Brebaje furnishes the lines in a pop/funk "Rumbakua" while the pulsing arrangement of "El Titan de Bronce" permeates a serpentine maze of piano, guitar and drums.

Antenna seems an evolutionary step for Virelles; more experimental in nature than Mbókò and his first leader date Continuum (Pi Recordings, 2012), it nevertheless incorporates elements of both in a somewhat eclectically perplexing set. No one would suggest that an artist of broad-reaching ambitions and talents find a comfortable niche, but Virelles may benefit from a more focused approach. Track Listing: Binary; Water, Bird Headed Mistress; Threshold; Rumbakuá; El Titán de Bronce; Text. Personnel: David Virelles: acoustic piano, Hammond B3 organ, Roland JUNO-6, Vermona and Wurlitzer electric pianos, prepared piano, programming, samples; Alexander Overington: electronics, samples, cello; Henry Threadgill: alto saxophone (2); Román Díaz: vocals (3); Marcus Gilmore: drums (3,5), MPC (4); Rafiq Bhatia: guitar (3,5); Etián Brebaje Man: vocals (4); Mauricio Herrera: percussion (4); Los Seres: percussion (a fictional percussion ensemble, created and programmed by David Virelles) (1,6)

Photo credit: North Central College

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