Recorded at the Farm, Sterling rd. Toronto On Canada, 2007. All compositions Martin and Shaw, except Philosophy of the world by Wiggins/the Shaggs. Mastered by David Travers Smith, Photos and art by J. Martin, Titles by Micheal Keith, word cut up by Evan Shaw.
Daring jazz-based improvisations by alto saxophonist Evan Shaw and drummer Jean Martin. Each player's hugely individual, energetic soloing and the uncanny interplay between them are underpinned by saxophone-section-like overdubs that demonstrate the orchestral conception in which this inimitable duo works.
New music often needs new record labels and new venues, and so it is with the expansion of improvised music in Toronto. Case-in-point: Barnyard Records, which has produced these fine CDs and which is named for the Barnyard Drama band co-led by percussionist/label honcho Jean Martin and vocalist Christine Duncan.
Barnyard is no vanity boutique project however. Although Martin is featured on 10 duets with alto saxophonist Evan Shaw on Piano Music – with perversely no keyboard within earshot – Plumb, an investigation into depth exposures, showcases Montreal clarinetist Lori Freedman and Toronto trombonist Scott Thomson. Thomson curates Somewhere There, an intimate new space in Parkdale where many creative musicians perform.
Illustrated with a wrench on its cover, Plumb would have been better served with a plumber’s helper. During the nine duets, both players tug unexpected timbres from the depths of their instruments. The products of breath-play, lip and tongue contortions as well as unusual fingering, the improvisations are studded with chortles, buzzes, brays, whinnies, growls, rumbles and warbles. Although pressurized overblowing and jagged multiphonics are frequent, so are connective harmonies.
Their skills are such that, for instance, on “Leak” Freedman’s sounds both tonal and atonal, constricting her split tones as she plays, while Thomson constructs a counter-line of echoing, double-tonguing. Adding the instruments’ wood and brass properties as sound sources, sibilant tongue-slaps and stops from the clarinet evolve in double counterpoint with the trombone’s low-pitched slurs and whistles, altering the tonal centre as a finale.
Plenty of slurs and growls arise on the other CD, which is paradoxically more jazzy and more electronic than Plumb. Martin’s and Shaw’s interplay is in Energy Music mode, despite sampled background reed echoes that further bond the players. Someone with mainstream as well as experimental credentials, Martin is an accomplished time-keeper, though the time-feel is hardly standard. Encompassing martial thumps, press rolls, and cymbal resonation he creates whichever beat best encourages Shaw’s story telling. Meanwhile split-tones, reed-biting trills and aviary cries are favored by the saxophonist.
“Rattlebag Jimmy” is the most spectacular version of this strategy. Shaw alternates between altissimo squeals and mid-register lyrical phrasing, as Martin brings nerve beats, bell and triangle pings into the mix. Eventually this broken octave exposition allows Shaw space for closely-packed, glottis-expanded reed cadences.
While conventional farming may be in decline, the produce from this musical barnyard appears healthy and flourishing.
The title is deceiving – there’s no piano on Piano Music. Instead, you get a mashing of saxophone (Evan Shaw), drums (Jean Martin) and overdubs.
This jazz-based improv duo riff off each other as much as they run solo. Except on brief occasions, the release is vocals-free – the sax sounding like someone singing, almost scatting to you in an obscure jazz bar. Shaw skilfully captures the various moods of the alto sax, weaving back and forth as Martin lays down his schizophrenic drums. With the addition of overdubs this release is expanded and layered, giving ears a fill of focused experimentalism.
Best way to approach the frenetic Piano Music is to look at each song individually as well as part of a much bigger mesh of sound. Even within each song musical moods run the gamut from soft to rapid.
The music is both drawn out and quick. ‘Warren brings his lunch’ is 1:43 minutes of sax weirdness with Martin drum-rolling along. On the other hand, ‘Rattlebag Jimmy’ clocks in at 14:44. This track is a real rollercoaster. The first three minutes ache your bones with their squeaks and squawks, then for the remainder of the track you’re up and down, relaxed, jagged and spastic. Tiring sometimes.
Their interplay is direct and fun. The seven-minute ‘A Strong Glue is not Necessary’ is a perfect example of each player taking a backseat to the other, then quickly switching positions to tell the stories.
With improv jazz – any music, actually – you take from it what you will. So take with you all the achy bones, freak-outs and weirdness.
Toronto’s Barnyard Records are a creative bunch, armed with energetic solos, euphoric interplay, and spontaneous improvisations. In one eventful setting, the label is presenting a CD launch party for 3 brand new recordings at Montréal's Casa del Popolo. Barnyard Records certainly isn’t very old. Its young livestock roster sprung into gear with the 2006 release I’m A Navvy by Barnyard Drama, which featured the resourceful poetic-styled vocal presence of Christine Duncan, the drumming and turntable work of label head Jean Martin, and the fancy guitar impressions of both Justin Haynes and the incomparable Bernard Falaise. You can expect that foursome to create some excitement during the upcoming Suoni Per Il Popolo Festival later this June, but for the moment at least, Barnyard Records is busy welcoming three new creative beauties into the world.
With three combos in the spotlight, individuality may need to be shelved for a short while, and Jean Martin should be a little busier than most, as the CD Launch Party and Concert will zig zag through Colin Fisher & Jean Martin's Little Man on a Boat, Evan Shaw & Jean Martin's Piano Music, not to mention Plumb by trombonist Scott Thomson and Montréal clarinetist (and bass clarinetist) Lori Freedman, for a very eventful evening of mostly jazz-based collaborations (and I use the term loosely) at the Casa del Popolo. And to set the record straight, negating my catchy article title, there’s as much simple beauty involved as anything remotely cacophonous.
It’s a bit of a toss up, but both albums featuring deft percussionist Jean Martin are my favorites from the lot. The dude’s got a magic touch on the skins from the likes of it. Piano Music, featuring Martin alongside Evan Shaw, with its tongue and cheek title, doesn’t actually feature any piano, but it’s well-stocked in crazy ass jazz improvisations (not to mention a few overdubs), often reaching great heights— all of which can hardly be contained on the 14-minute "Rattlebag Jimmy". Shaw, an extremely talented and rich-sounding alto-saxophonist, manages to keep things captivating and tantalizing throughout. Little Man on a Boat, meanwhile, finds Martin hooking up with reeds/guitar multi-instrumentalist Colin Fisher for a wild ride, despite the more song-oriented format. À la fois tactical and free as the wind, these two animals really cut the cake on the wondrous, rustic and comforting "Folk Song"(which features Rob Clutton on bass), or the shining cacophonous splendor of "Hempville". Pay yourself a treat, and get the quality and diversity you really crave in one single malt shot serving.
From the opening seconds of Piano Music, the listener can feel an electric current passing between drummer Jean Martin and alto saxophonist Evan Shaw. The musicians are in deep communion with one another, listening, feeling and moving together. With instrumentation this spare, with every gesture under the microscope, Martin and Shaw have to be ultra-confident that what they produce will withstand the kind of scrutiny Martin’s crystal-clear production brings to their improvising. And little here bears the imprint of over-thinking and second-guessing — the music materialises magically.
Martin’s playing has been documented in detail elsewhere but altoist Evan Shaw has been woefully under-recorded (his work with guitarist/composer Ken Aldcroft notwithstanding). His blistering pyrotechnics on “Sweeter than a Plastic Bag” smacks of inspired Jimmy Lyons and elsewhere makes elliptical reference to Dewey Redman. Track for track, this CD packs some serious wallop. (Barnyard)
Evan Shaw, Jean Martin: Piano Music (Barnyard - 2008)
En jeunes ayant des choses à dire, Evan Shaw (saxophones) et Jean Martin (batterie) peuvent se permettre d’improviser jusqu’à faire naître Piano Music : titre à la frondeur facile pour disque rempli d’épreuves persuasives.
Bien sûr, Shaw ne peut cacher longtemps ses influences (Ornette Coleman, Dewey Redman) et Martin rappelle de ses airs secs un peu de John Stevens, mais le duo parvient à faire oublier les références au gré d’illuminations bienvenues : alto straight contre soprano en dérive, répétitions amusées, faux-airs contemplatifs ou, partout ailleurs, extraits indélicats de frénésie brute. L’improvisation pour toute réjouissance.
Jean Martin and Evan Shaw -- Piano Music (Barnyard, 2007)
Wiseacres -- there's no piano! These are sax/drums duets. Or, maybe you're thinking piano, the term for quieter music playing; there's some of that on here. In fact, it's one of this pairing's great strengths.
With any CD, especially some of the more abstract stuff, the faster tracks tend to catch your ear the most. They're exciting, edge-walking, and just grab you, while the slower tracks take a patience you might not have at that precise moment. It's a sad, shallow fact of life. And "Sweeter Than a Plastic Bag" opens this CD with just that kind of crowd-pleasing fun.
Many of the pieces, though, put up a persistent yet restrained flow. They're not quiet, but they match up the sax and drums, softly played, with a backdrop of silence to create a kind of lush trio. The 14-minute "Rattlebag Jimmy" is a suite of these moments, often heating up to a medium-intensity boil but never losing control -- it's a terrific listen. I also like the warmly lonely feel of "A Strong Glue Is Not Necessary," which includes the effect of a sax played back at high speed and small volume, like a mosquito buzzing from ear to ear.
"Me Softly with His Kill" opens in a placid place, then lets the sax get increasingly edgy until you've got a nice jazzy groove going. "Moose Clock" features both musicians (I think) reciting a long, surreal menu in unison, a spoken-word answer to overdubbed unison saxes on tracks like "Philosophy of the World/Wiggins."
So, Piano Music could be a meaningful name for this project, indeed. Then again, if you look at those song titles ("Which Way to Domino's"?!?!), maybe they really are just screwing with us.