Jean Martin & Evan Shaw

Piano Music
Barnyard Records BR0303

Lori Freedman & Scott Thomson


Barnyard Records BR0305

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.

— Ken Waxman