Matthew Sumera, ONE FINAL NOTE
amalgam(e) is proof enough that Red Toucan has been a vital addition
and contributor to today's jazz scene. Originally formed to document vital
Québec jazz, but later developing significant relationships with
a variety of Canadian-born and international improvisers, from clarinetist
François Houle to contrabassist Jöelle Léandre, Red
Toucan has consistently presented cutting-edge improvised music, devoid
of pretension and brimming with thoughtful, potent musicianship.
Comprising twenty-two tracks and over two hours of music, amalgam(e)
is a fantastic starter course for those unfamiliar with the Red Toucan
diet. Beginning at the beginning with a humorous pre-song dialogue among
musicians that culminates in what could be a Red Toucan motto, "check
your hang-ups at the door", Charles Pappasoff's "Serious"
is both reminiscent of "Lonely Woman" and a driving beast of
a tune with the ever-resourceful Pheeroan Aklaff in the engine room.
Tracks two through four take a sharp left turn in presenting some of
the many wonderful sessions Red Toucan has captured with the aforementioned
Houle, including recordings where the clarinetist is partnered with label-staple
Léandre, as well as Marilyn Crispell. Houle's sound, crisp and
clean, is rare in these times of multi-multi-instrumentalism, and it is
indeed a treat to hear the clarinet in the hands of a studied master.
Mostly eschewing extreme harmonics for more classically-reminiscent tonalities,
the three selections manage to showcase the range of Houle's talents,
including an almost klezmer-like swing in "Prayer", a rough
and tumble affair with Crispell, and a free-improv setting with Léandre
and Georg Graewe.
The remainder of disc one highlights a variety of group, duet, and solo
settings from increasingly well known, and hopefully soon to be better-known
players, with particularly nice statements from Dana Reason on piano (from
border crossings), Dylan van der Schyff in fine, Bennink-link playfulness
on drums playing with Paul Plimley and others (from stable chaos), and
a start-stop big band piece alternating between Zorn-like hopping and
Threadgill-like orchestration, with trombone, cello, violin, electric
guitar, tenor sax, bass, bass clarinet, and drums (from polish theatre
Disc two starts with a Peter Brötzmann blowout, acerbic as ever,
but with a bit of the ridiculous, unfortunately, in the guitar of Sakari
Luoma, who appears to be in full heavy-metal attack. The hoped-for Last
Exit sound never quite emerges, and the piece is one of the few low points
on the compilation. Tracks two and three, both featuring Gerry Hemingway
in very different settings, on the other hand, are quite beautiful and
return to the high level of disc one. Hemingway's duet with John Butcher
(from shooters and bowlers), in particular, is beguiling as ever. A trio
piece (from arrears) with Graewe, Frank Gratkowski, and the redoubtable
John Lindberg on contrabass is again a moving piece of improvisation,
with Lindberg spending the better part of the first four minutes on the
body of his bass, thumbs and fingers, only to move to a percussive statement
on the strings, followed by some inside-the-piano finessing from Graewe:
A nice, evolving piece of collective improvisation.
Back to Léandre for tracks six and seven of disc two, this time
in performance with Masahiko Satohnot entirely a meeting of the
minds (almost a sense of two competing aesthetics), but only in light
of the other remarkable performances from the bassist throughout the rest
of the compilationand Yuji Takahashiwhose meeting with the
bassist turns out to be a much more satisfying endeavor. The Laura Andel
Orchestra is featured on track eight (from somnambulist) in a four-minute
take on sustainbowed cymbals, heavy on the strings, with some processed
(?) white-noise accompaniment. A haunting piece, truly. In with a few
Chicagoans for track nine, (from wrack) with Tim Daisy and Jeb Bishop
teaming up with Kyle Bruckmann (on oboe, English horn), Kurt Johnson (bass)
and Jen Clare Paulson (viola): Some early steam turning into a saunter
and eventually evaporation, only to restart again.
The last two tracks are highlights from the Cactus Records label, dedicated,
as the liner notes to amalagam(e) state, to "music of a more composed
nature". An interesting if less then audible distinctioncertainly
the likes of polish theatre posters are heavily composed works. Nonetheless,
two pieces from Catus records are included, the first being a welcome
duet setting for Dave Liebman. The second track and the closer to amalgam(e),
is "Hommage à Debussy", performed by Michael Jefry Stevens:
A fitting tribute and lovely end to this spectacular two disc set.
Jerry D'Souza - ALL ABOUT JAZZ
Ten years is a long time in the life of an independent label. It takes
commitment and a love for the music to keep it going that long. It is
all the more impressive when one considers the fact that the initial impetus
was to document musicians from Quebec. It was a bold move, but pioneers
go out on the twin limbs of risk and hope. And so was conceived Red Toucan.
The first artists to be signed to the label were Charles Papasoff and
Normand Guilbeault, both making their debut recordings. Papasoff had Baikida
Carroll, Pheeroan AkLaff and Santi Debriano in his band, an appreciable
group of musicians. However, the larger imprint and the extension that
the label was looking for came when they met François Houle, a
man whose vision roamed wide. A decision was made to go in for improvised
music with a difference, even if it would seem to be far removed from
jazz. In a sense it may have been, but it was improvised and did not lack
an adventurous spirit. From then on the scope could only broaden. Houle
recorded with several musicians who brought in an exciting perspective,
among them Marilyn Crispell, Georg Graewe, Joëlle Léandre
and Hasse Poulsen.
While Quebec was the takeoff point, Red Toucan subsequently signed artists
in Vancouver, thanks to Houle. And sure enough it recorded Peggy Lee and
Dylan van der Schyff. But the label did not forge ahead regardless of
the consequences. In 1997 it came to a point it termed a crossroad. Red
Toucan lay back and reflected over the next 16 months and returned with
a resolution to release music from artists who were on the cutting edge
of jazz and deserved to be heard. From that commendable purpose came works
from bands that had Paul Plimley, Wolter Wierbos, Peter Brötzmann,
Mark Whitecage, Achim Kaufmann, John Butcher, Gerry Hemingway, Michael
Moore, John Lindberg and Frank Gratkowski. That indeed is a stellar cast!
During this time, Red Toucan has released 25 albums, including Amalgam(e),
a compilation of tracks from earlier releases. Of the total 23 are in
print, an exceptional number and an indicator of the strength of the records.
The first track, Serious, from Papasoff is a muscular devolution
from the soprano saxophone of Papasoff well countenanced by the linear
trumpet of Carroll. Glenn Spearman sets up a taut framework that essays
into yowls and screams to Go Left Out of Shantiville, from
the CD Let it Go, pursued by Lisle Ellis, who shifts resiliency and gives
the bass a broader dimension, with James Routhier extending the momentum
using sharp lines on the electric guitar. Quite a different bag is stirred
by the rumbling piano of Dana Reason on Border Crossings Part I,
from Border Crossings, that opens up the vent to use space judiciously.
There is plenty more; the two disc set comprises 24 selections, including
two from Cactus Records, a sibling, so to speak, and devoted to music
of a more composed nature.
Red Toucan has a creed which is the necessity of documenting original
projects by creative musicians. Long may this label continue to
Stephen Griffith, PARIS TRANSATLANTIC
"Bird Lives" was perhaps the first case of widespread graffiti
in New York following the death of Charlie Parker, and the phrase could
have been co-opted by some of the fans of the Montreal-based Red Toucan
label after 1999, when it appeared that it was no longer in existence.
Fortunately the label is still going strong and amalgam(e) celebrates
ten years of providing a forum for improvising artists, originally centered
in Quebec but spreading to Vancouver and elsewhere. Releases like this
occupy their own little niche; neither complete statements by an artist
or group, nor taken from festivals to provide listeners with the essence
of the event, they serve as a "this is who we are" type of mission
statement. I have no idea what went into selecting the individual cuts
for these discs, although time considerations must have been a primary
factor, but amalgam(e) should serve as an excellent marketing tool in
which to give listeners - both owners of the disc or anyone partaking
of radio programming interesting enough to play it - a sampler to use
to make future purchases.
I bought my first Toucan in 1998, the wonderful Polish Theatre Posters
by Andrew Drury. Since then I've acquired a sizeable chunk of the catalogue
but was still open to having my curiosity piqued by this collection. Indeed
the songs from the initial release, Papasoff by reed player Charles Papasoff
and The Mirror With a Memory by Talking Pictures, merit future attention.
The label has had many appearances by the wonderful Joëlle Léandre
(present here on five songs), François Houle, George Graewe and
Frank Gratkowski, and there are two selections from the associated Cactus
label, which concentrates on music of a more composed nature. Ten years
and counting; here's to many more.