Wednesday, December 27, 2023

Tim Mah's Recommended Canadian Jazz Albums of 2023

Frequent Four on the Floor correspondent Tim Mah returns once again, offering his generous and extensive yearly list of music released by Canadian jazz artists over the course of the past year 2023. As you will see, read, watch and hear below, there continues to be lots of great music coming out of Canada these days.

Tim's weekly radio program Jazz Today can be heard on CJSW Radio 90.9 fm (Calgary, Alberta, Canada) on Thursday mornings from 530-7am MST. It is also streamed on the CJSW website and available through Apple and Google podcasts and the CJSW mobile streaming app. Tim's weekly radio program and podcast is also recommended by New Music USA.

Thank you Tim!

Tim Mah's Recommended Canadian Jazz Albums of 2023

During the summer, I became aware of a jazz-infused, six-part comic book series, called “Deep Cuts,” which is co-written by Kyle Higgins and Joe Clark. Upon further research, I learned that Joe Clark is a Chicago-based trumpet player, composer and educator (not to be confused with the former Canadian Prime Minister) and that he wrote a song, “I’m Just Here for the Music,” that was inspired by the story in the second issue of “Deep Cuts.” 

You can learn more about the origin of the comic book series and song (Leslie Beukelman – vocals, Jeremy Kahn – piano, Christian Dillingham – bass; Greg Artry – drums; Joe Clark – music) here: 


The song title “I’m Just Here for the Music” describes what this blog is about and what this list is about. We’re here to celebrate and be advocates for this music. Below is a list (in alphabetical order) of thirty of my favourite new releases from albums led, or co-led, by Canadians over the last twelve months (December 2022 to November 2023). 

Unlike some other year end lists, we are not using the word “best.” Our musical preferences are unique to ourselves. Instead of debating which is the best, let’s to listen more music and support your local live music scenes, as much as you are able. 

Thank you to all of the Calgary music presenters and artists who performed in Calgary over the last year. 


Aline’s étoile magique “eclipse” 

My favourite performance at the 2023 summer jazz festival in Calgary was by Aline’s étoile magique, a quintet led by violinist and songwriter Aline Homzy, which featured music from the album “eclipse.” The other musicians on the album include Thom Gill (guitar), Michael Davidson (vibraphone), Dan Fortin (bass), Marito Marques (drums) and Felicity Williams (voice). 

This is the official music video for “Caraway” (written by Aline Homzy):


Allison Au “Migrations” 

Saxophonist and composer Allison Au’s new album “Migrations” draws inspiration from her family history of immigration. The suite of music on this album speaks to cultural identity and is the first time that Allison features vocals and a string quartet. 

This is “Aves Raras” from the album “Migrations”:


Andrew Rathbun “The Speed of Time” 

After releasing three albums last year, saxophonist, composer and educator Andrew Rathbun’s lone 2023 release is called “The Speed of Time” and features his quartet - Gary Versace (piano), John Hebert (bass) and Tom Rainey (drums). Thematically, the album is about the perception of time, both musically and in life. 

This is the title track “The Speed of Time”: 


Anna Webber “Shimmer Wince” 

Anna Webber’s (saxophone, flute, composer) latest album, called “Shimmer Wince,” requires the band members to perform music based on “just intonation” (an ancient tuning system based on natural harmonics and resonances. The album title reflects how this style of tuning makes her feel. Her quintet includes Adam O’Farrill (trumpet), Mariel Roberts (cello), Elias Stemeseder (synthesizer) and Lesley Mok (drums). Also, listen to Anna Webber’s other 2023 releases including “Several” with Weston Olencki (trombone), “Capacious Aeration” with Matt Mitchell (piano) and “Letters to George” from the band called George, led by John Hollenbeck (drums). 

This is concert features music from “Shimmer Wince” that was recorded on September 9, 2023 at Arts Center at Duck Creek:


Anthony Fung “Fo(u)rth” 

This is drummer and composer Anthony Fung’s fourth album as a band leader, features Mark Turner (saxophone), Luca Alemanno (bass) and Michael Ragonese (piano). The album includes tunes written specifically for Mark Turner and also takes inspiration from his film scoring work. 

This song is called “The Valley” (inspired by Anthony’s move to the San Fernando Valley): 


Artemis “In Real Time” 

The ensemble Artemis, the brainchild of pianist, composer and musical director Renee Rosnes, released their second album, “In Real Time,” this summer. It showcases co-founding members, Ingrid Jensen (trumpet), Noriko Ueda (bass), and Allison Miller (drums), as well as newcomers Nicole Glover (saxophone) and Alexa Tarantino (multi-reeds). Renee Rosnes is quoted as saying “Music exists in time. Without time, there is no music.” 

This is a video of a live performance of “Balance of Time” (written by Renee Rosnes): 


Ben Wendel “All One” 

Vancouver-born, Los Angeles-raised, New York based saxophone and bassoon player Ben Wendel’s latest album, “All One,” features a series of duets - with Cecile McLorin Salvant, Terence Blanchard, Bill Frisell, Elena Pinderhughes, Jose James and Tigran Hamasyan. 

This is a video of Ben Wendel and Jose James performing “Tenderly”:


Caity Gyorgy and Mark Limacher “You’re Alike, You Two” 

Calgary-native, Montreal-based Caity Gyorgy (voice) and Calgary’s Mark Limacher (piano) provides their fresh interpretations of the Jerome Kern songbook on “You’re Alike, You Two.” You can add this album to the list of great Jerome Kern tribute albums (check out albums from Sandy Stewart and Dick Hyman, plus Tony Bennett and Bill Charlap). 

This is a video of Caity Gyorgy and Mark Limacher performing “I’ll Be Hard to Handle”: 


Curtis Nowosad “If I Had” 

On “If I Had,” drummer Curtis Nowosad is joined by his working trio (Andrew Renfroe – guitar; Luke Sellick – bass), interpreting the music of Sam Cooke, Glen Campbell, Stevie Wonder and Nick Drake, while delivering a message of social justice. 

This is the video for “By the Time I Get to Phoenix”:


Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society “Dynamic Maximum Tension” 

This double album from Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society pays homage to forward-looking mid-century innovators who fashioned their own vision of the future, with music dedicated to Buckminster Fuller, Alan Turing, Mae West, Duke Ellington, Laurie Frink, Bob Brookmeyer, and Levon Helm. 

This is a video for “Dymaxion” (inspired by Buckminster Fuller):


David Virelles “Carta” 

Pianist and composer David Virelles presents “Carta,” featuring Eric McPherson (drums) and Ben Street (bass). Eight of the nine compositions on “Carta” are written by David Virelles.

You can find this album on Bandcamp: https://davidvirelles.bandcamp.com/album/carta

Erin Rogers & Alec Goldfarb “Earth’s Precisions”

Originally from Lloydminster, Alberta, New York-based saxophonist, composer and educator Erin Rogers released “Earth’s Precisions” in June, with New York-based guitarist Alec Goldfarb. This album is inspired by the lineage of guitar & saxophone duos (from Fred Frith and Anthony Braxton to Tim Berne and Bill Frisell) and expands upon this tradition. 

This is a video of Erin Rogers and Alec Goldfarb performing together in New York (May 2023):


Francois Houle Genera Sextet “In Memoriam” 

On the album “In Memoriam,” clarinet player and composer Francois Houle pays tribute and celebrates the memory of Ken Pickering (co-founder and artistic director of the Vancouver International Jazz Festival, who passed away in 2018). Check out Francois Houle’s other 2023 releases, including “Poise” with Benoit Delbecq, “Triocular+” with Linda Bouchard, “Voci Volante” with Charlotte Hug, “Hush” with Joe Sorbara, “Crystalline” with Daniel Janke to name a few. 

This is “Requiem for KP”:


George “Letters to George” 

George is a group led by John Hollenbeck (drums, piano, compositions) and featuring Anna Webber (saxophone, flute), Aurora Nealand (voice, saxophones, keyboards) and Chiquita Magic (keyboards, voice, piano). The name George is derived from the Greek word, meaning “farmer, earthworker” and song titles on the album include references to famous people named George, including George Clinton, George Washington Carver and Georgia O’Keefe. This autumn, John Hollenbeck also released a duo album with pianist Marianne Trudel called “Dede Java Espiritu.” 

Here is the official music video for “Iceman” (the nickname for American basketball player George Gervin):

Hilario Duran and His Latin Jazz Big Band “Cry Me a River” 

Composer and pianist Hilario Duran leads a nineteen piece ensemble with the album “Cry Me a River,” his first big band album in seventeen years. It features special guests Paquito D’Rivera, Horacio “El Negro” Hernandez, and OKAN. 

This is the live in studio performance of “I Remember Mingus” (which was nominated for a 2024 Grammy Award): 


Jessica Ackerley “Petting Zoo” 

One of my favourite guitarists on today’s scene is Jessica Ackerley, who released four albums over the last year: - “Live Recordings” with Frank Meadows and Eli Wallace, released under the band name “MAW” - “Submerging Silently” with bassist Gahlord DeWald and drummer Kevin Cheli. This album was named one of the 20 best experimental albums of 2023 by the online magazine PopMatters - “Petting Zoo” with saxophonist Yuma Yusaka and drummer Colin Hinton - “five lines indecipherable” with violinist Alex Cunningham, saxophonist Patrick Shiroishi and bassist Damon Smith.

This is a performance in 2018 from the Petting Zoo trio in Brooklyn, New York: 


Jocelyn Gould “Sonic Bouquet” 

Guitarist Jocelyn Gould’s third album as a leader was recorded in 2022 after completing her North American tour. The other musicians on the album include Quincy Davis (drums), Rodney Whitaker (bass), Randy Napoleon (guitar), Will Bonness (piano) and Virginia MacDonald (clarinet). 

This is “Tender is the Night”: 


Josh Cole “Kind Mind”

One of the live performance highlights in Calgary this autumn featured the Toronto-based trio of Josh Cole (bass), Karen Ng (saxophone) and Michael Davidson (vibraphone), performing music from the album “Kind Mind.” 

This is a video of a live performance from this trio at the Open Waters Festival in Halifax, Nova Scotia in January 2020: 


Kelly Jefferson “Rituals” 

The album “Rituals” is saxophonist Kelly Jefferson’s first solo recording in over fifteen years, and features music that he wrote over the last twelve years, most of them represent a time in his life where significant changes occurred. The other musicians on the album are Amanda Tosoff (piano), Jon Maharaj (bass) and Morgan Childs (drums). 

This is “Holding Court”: 


Kris Davis “Diatom Ribbons – Live at the Village Vanguard” 

This double album documents performances during a residency in May 2022 at New York’s Village Vanguard. Pianist and composer Kris Davis is joined by three musicians from the 2019 album “Diatom Ribbons” (Terri Lyne Carrington – drums, Val Jeanty - turntables, electronics and Trevor Dunn - bass) and guitarist Julian Lage. Instead of a re-recording of the 2019 album, this album includes eight new compositions and three covers (Wayne Shorter, Geri Allen and Ronald Shannon Jackson). 

This is a video of a live performance of “VW” (with Terri Lyne Carrington and Val Jeanty): 


Lina Allemano Four “Pipe Dream” 

The Lina Allemano Four, led by trumpet player and composer, Lina Allemano, released “Pipe Dream” in May 2023 via her record label, Lumo Records (which is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year). The other members of the quartet include Brodie West (saxophone), Andrew Downing (bass) and Nick Fraser (drums). I also recommend listening to Lina’s album called “Aphelia” with Berlin-based trumpet player, Axel Dorner, released in August 2023 by Relative Pitch Records and her album “Canons” released on December 8, 2023 via Lumo Records. Also, Lina is also part of the 2023 albums “Dead Leaf Butterfly” (with Els Vandeweyer, Maike Hilbig and Lucia Martinez) and “Khyal” (from Sophie Tassignon). 

This is a video of Lina Allemano Four’s live performance of “Longing” in Bremen, Germany during 2022: 


Melissa Pipe “Of What Remains” 

The album “Of What Remains” is Montreal baritone saxophonist and bassoonist Melissa Pipe’s first release as a leader. It explores ideas around temporality: the shifting of time, form and being. The other musicians on the album include Lex French (trumpet), Philippe Côté (tenor sax, bass clarinet), Geoff Lapp (piano), Solon McDade (bass) and Mili Hong (drums).

This song is called “La part des anges”: 


Michael Blake “Dance of the Mystic Bliss” 

Michael Blake’s (saxophone, flute and compositions) new album “Dance of the Mystic Bliss” is dedicated to mother who passed away in 2018. The album features his project Chroma Nova, which includes a small string section (Skye Steele, Chris Hoffman, Michael Bates), electric guitar (Guilherme Monteiro) and percussionists Mauro Refosco and Rogerio Boccato. 

This is the music video for “Merle the Pearl”:


Mingjia “star, star” 

On the album “star, star,” vocalist, composer and multi-instrumentalist Mingjia Chen leads the Toronto-based chamber ensemble, the Tortoise Orchestra, through her compositions, which explore stories from her life, Chinese mythology and the world around her. 

This is the Venus Fest video of Mingjia’s “star, star”:


Nicky Schrire “Nowhere Girl” 

Toronto-based vocalist and songwriter Nicky Schrire’s first album in a decade demonstrates her masterful ability to tell stories through songs. Nicky is joined on this album by Chris Donnelly (piano), Dan Fortin (bass), Ernesto Cervini (drums), Tara Davidson (saxophones), Laila Biali (voice) and Julio Sigauque (guitar). 

This is a video of the title song, “Nowhere Girl”: 


Peripheral Vision “We’ve Got Nothing” 

Peripheral Vision is co-led by guitarist Don Scott and bassist Michael Herring, and also includes Trevor Hogg (saxophone) and Nick Fraser (drums). The album “We’ve Got Nothing” celebrates of the band’s fifteen years together, and marks the first time in their long creative history that Scott and Herring have co-written music together. The project was recorded over the course of four months between January to April 2023 at The Tranzac, one of Toronto’s most important creative music hubs. 

This is the music video for “I’ve Got Nothing”:


Quinsin Nachoff “Stars and Constellations” 

Saxophonist and composer Quinsin Nachoff is joined by his Ethereal trio (Dan Weiss -drums, Mark Helias - bass), as well as two New York-based string quartets (The Bergamot Quartet and The Rhythm Method), on his latest album, “Stars and Constellations,” blending jazz and classical music. 

This is the song “Sagittarius” by Quinsin Nachoff: 


Rachel Therrien “Mi Hogar” 

The album “Mi Hogar” is the first recording for trumpet player Rachel Therrien’s Latin Jazz Project, which features many of the musicians that have been a part of her musical journey. 

This is the music video for “Porcelanosa” written by Rachel Therrien:


Rubim de Toledo “The Drip” 

My favourite concert at the November 2023 jazz festival in Calgary was from Edmonton bass player, educator and songwriter Rubim de Toledo, which featured music from his new album, “The Drip.” Rubim is also a member of the Up and Over Trio (Chris Andrew – piano, Jamie Cooper – drums), who released their debut album, “Up and Over” in December 2022. 

This is the music video for “Rhythm Chante” off the album “The Drip”:


Sanah Kadoura “Duality” Drummer and composer 

Sanah Kadoura’s second album, “Duality” focuses thematically on the balance between light and dark. The album is an offering of healing, guidance and love. Her band includes Stacy Dillard on soprano saxophone, Rachel Therrien on trumpet and flugelhorn, Virginia MacDonald on clarinet, Joanna Majoko on vocals, Michael King on piano, Jonathan Michel on bass, Parham Haghighi on vocals, and Flavio Silva on guitar. 

This is the EPK for the album “Duality”: 


The Peggy Lee Band “A Giving Way” 

The album “A Giving Way” is the first release in eleven years and sixth studio album for Vancouver-based The Peggy Lee Band, which is led by cellist and composer, Peggy Lee. The compositions come from a place of gratitude and a desire to do better collectively toward justice and human dignity. Peggy Lee is also a member of the trio Beatings Are in the Body (Erika Angell – voice, electronics, bells; Roisin Adams – piano, Wurlitzer, voice) who released their self-titled debut album in May 2023. You can also hear Peggy Lee on the September 2023 album “fLuXkit Vancouver (its suite but sacred)” by Darius Jones and the December 2023 album “Canons” by Lina Allemano. 

This is “Justice / Honour” from the Peggy Lee Band: 


There were plenty of new releases from Canadians over the last twelve months. Here are more suggestions, listed in alphabetical order by artist. And of course, there are many more that are not listed below. Regardless, let’s keep listening to the music and find your next favourite artist, album or song.

Aaron Leaney “Lockdown” (with Guy Thouin) 
Aaron Shorr “Omand’s Creek” 
Alex Fournier “Magnetic Dreaming” 
Ally Fiola and Next Quest “Interblaze” 
Andrew Jackson and Sam Wilson “New Doors” 
Aretha Tillotson “Introducing Aretha Tillotson” 
Artie Roth Quartet “Resonants” 
Audrey Ochoa “The Head of a Mouse” 
Beatings Are in the Body “Beatings Are in the Body” 
Bellbird “Root in Tandem” 
Ben Frost Quartet “Pixies” 
Blanche Baillargeon “le nid” 
Brad Turner “The Magnificent” and “North Star” 
Carl Mayotte “Carnival” 
Christine Jensen “Day Moon” 
Colin Stetson “When We Were That What Wept for the Sea” 
Crossroad Copeland “Cope Land” 
Dan Pitt Trio “Stages” 
Daniel Hersog Jazz Orchestra “Open Spaces (Folk Songs Reimagined)” 
Darren Johnston “Wild Awake” 
Derrick Gardner and the Jazz Prophets “Pan Africa” 
Doxas Brothers “Kindred” 
Eli Davidovici “Shapes” 
Eliana Cuevas “Sere Libre” 
Flying Pooka! “The Ecstasy of Becoming” 
Francois Bourassa Quartet “Swirl” 
Greenhouse Ensemble “Rez-de-chaussee” 
Gordon Grdina “Live at the Armoury” (with Mat Maneri and Christian Lillinger) 
Hugo Blouin “Sport national” 
Jacob Wutzke “Show Yourself” 
Jacques Kuba Seguin “Parfum no. 1” 
Jane Bunnett & Maqueque “Playing With Fire” 
Jean-Michel Pilc “Symphony” and “You Are the Song” (with Francois Moutin and Ari Hoenig) 
Joel Haynes “The Return” 
Julian Gutierrez’s Project “Goldstream” 
KneeJerk “Blind Painter” 
Laila Biali “Your Requests” 
Leland Whitty “Anyhow” 
Les Royal Pickles “Take 3” 
Malleus Trio “On / Off” 
Marianne Trudel & John Hollenbeck “Dede Java Espiritu” 
Mary Ancheta Quartet “Level Up” 
Matt Choboter “Postcards of Nostalgia” 
Meredith Bates “Tesseract” 
Nicole Rampersaud “Saudade” 
Noah Franche-Nolan “Within the Stream” 
No Cosmos “you ii everything else” 
Paul Tynan “Bicoastal Collective: Chapter Six” (with Aaron Lington) 
Playdate “Wonderland” 
Philippe Cote and Francois Bourassa “Confluence” 
Remi Bolduc “Les Esprits Oublies” 
Remi Cormier “Glimpse” 
Remi-Jean Leblanc “Heyday” 
Roxane Reddy “Jaywalking” 
Ruiqi Wang “Subduing the Silence” 
Sharon Minemoto “Dark Night, Bright Stars” 
The Titillators “That’s the Night” 
Up and Over Trio “Up and Over” 
Viviane Houle “Unsung Songs: Graphic Scores” 
Will Bonness “Is This a Dream?” 
Zack Lober “No Fill3r”

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