Globe Unity Canada: Ratchet Orchestra

Drip Audio DA 00820

Maikotron Unit


Rant 1243

Kyle Brenders Quartet


18th Note 18-2012-2

By Ken Waxman

Characterized by Americans as polite northern cousins who enjoy universal health care and little gun violence, Yanks don’t appreciate the current of outright quirkiness that courses through many Canadian endeavors, especially when it comes to creative music. It may be because Canuck popsters from Paul Anka to Justin Bieber as well as the likes of Rush and Joni Mitchell are quickly subsumed into the Yank music industry, but remembering that comedians such as Jim Cary and Mike Myers hail from North of the 49th parallel may provide a glimpse of some Canadians’ mindsets.

Take for instance the releases here. During the performance by Montreal’s Ratchet Orchestra conducted by Nicolas Caloia, the group wraps textures from a legato string section around not only multifold rhythms referencing rock and Latin music, but strong soloists and eccentric arrangements that would be at home in any contemporary big band. Often intimations of one genre are quickly superseded by the next. “Dusty” for instance appears ready to become “A Train” until altissimo reed squeals that could come from Sun Ra’s Arkestra meld with gutbucket trombone slurs and cross-pulsed guitar passages to dissolve and reconfigure the theme. Similarly near-baroque flute flutters, harmonized with linear clarinet puffs and vibraharp pulsations which make up the moderato and legato melody on “Safety” move out of their safety zone as quivering horn vibrations or string glissandi menacingly and contrapuntally color or comment on the exposition. Although other tracks centre around exciting strategies ranging from marching-band replications to a face-off between Afro-Cuban percussion and triple spiccato string lines, the session-defining showcase is the two-part title track. Resounding from earth-shaking vibrations to those which could baffle a dog’s hearing, cacophonous and multiphonic smears, screeches and whistles pull back to reveal nuanced finger-style guitar licks and vibrating electric piano lines. Hearty percussion thumps are muted and horn squeaks fades until a final spiritual-like lyric line from a single violinist signals the end point.

An essay in low-pitches, Effugit, from Quebec’s three-piece Maïkotron Unit builds its CD around the maïkontron, a ‘80s invented valves and keys reed instrument with a range below bass saxophone. Both percussionist Michel Lambert and reedist Michel Côté take turns vibrating pitches from the maïkontron, while Pierre Côté plays cello or bass. The results are shown on tracks such as “Suara Ular Naga” and “Lagu Ora”. On the former nephritic pressures from the maïkontron and bass clarinet are so dense, that it seems impossible for them to get any thicker –until string bass patterns are added. On the other Pierre Côté’s harmonized cello and voice provide the only respite from magisterial basso tones, equal parts stentorian maïkontron and gong resonations. However the CD is saved from monotonality as each man switches from instrument to instrument. Hippo-like reed burbles and met with twanging arpeggios from Côté on “Luwak Sedang Makan” ; while piccolo peeps join legato clarinet tones on “Sawah”. On “Jakur” Lambert’s snare slaps and cymbal snaps plus clarinet quivers produce an atmosphere where even the maïkontron is forced into lumbering terpsichorean rhythms.

In this company the quartet of Toronto’s multi-reedist Kyle Brenders, trombonist Steve Ward, bassist Tomas Bouda and drummer Mark Segger appears almost conventional. That is until you hear Brenders’ edgy compositions that play with time and velocity, referencing his studies with Anthony Braxton, especially in the juddering wood block and horn pumping lines like “Terrace”. Others such as “Whisk” and “Scoatica” suture the nightclub and the parade ground, especially when Ward lets loose with gutbucket slurs and Segger outputs march tempo. Brenders has a fondness for unpredictable stop-time expositions. For a start his tenor sax playing is tougher and funkier, and when it comes time to compose, blends reaching back to Archie Shepp’s combo with Roswell Rudd and even the subtle polyphony of ‘50s West Coast jazz can be detected. Plus a lot depends on individual soloists. “Porlock” wouldn’t be the same for example, if Ward didn’t have the freedom to harmonize his modern gutbucket slurs with chromatic tonguing from Brenders’ snarling soprano saxophone.

Each of these notable discs could destroy any outsider’s supposition about the conventionality of Canadian created music. As a matter of fact it may cause jazzers to wonder just what a Canuck has in his or her instrument case.

Tracks: Ratchet: Winnow; Dusty; Yield; Wish - part 1; Wish - part 2; Kick; Safety; Hemlock - part 1; Hemlock - part 2

Personnel: Ratchet: Elwood Epps, Philippe Battikha : trumpets; Tom Walsh, Jacques Gravel, Scott Thomson: trombones; Thea Pratt: E flat Horn; Noah Countability: sousaphone; Eric Lewis: euphonium; Gabriel Rivest: tuba; Craig Dionne: flute; Jean Derome; flute, bass flute, piccolo Lori Freedman: clarinet; Gordon Krieger: bass clarinet; Cristopher Cauley: soprano saxophone; Louisa Sage: alto saxophone; Damian Nisenson: tenor saxophone; Jason Sharp: bass saxophone; Joshua Zubot, Guido Del Fabbro, Brigitte Dajczer: violins; Jean René, Gen Heistek: violas; Norsola Johnson: cello; Nicolas Caloia: bass; Guillame Dostaler: piano; Chris Burns, Sam Shalabi: guitar; Isaiah Ceccarelli, John Heward: drums; Michel Bonneau: conga; Ken Doolittle: percussion; Nicolas Caloia: director

Tracks: Effugit: Liberum; Sous La Canopée; Animae Fugienti; Forever; Luwak Sedang Makan; Sawah; Lagu Ora; Panique; Effugit; Requiem; Tortor Tellus; Lorem Ipsum; Spelunca Aproteles; Suara Ular Naga; Jakur; Paradoxe

Personnel: Effugit: Michel Côté: clarinets, piccolo, maïkontron; Pierre Côté: cello, bass; Michel Lambert: drums, flute, maïkontron;

Tracks: Offset: Sciatic; Terrace; Roach; Porlock; Pond; Whisk; Stroll; Offs

Personnel: Offset: Kyle Brenders soprano and tenor saxophones, clarinet and bass clarinet; Steve Ward: trombone; Tomas Bouda: bass; Mark Segger: drums

—For The New York City Jazz Record July 2013