Audacious as well as artful, this Montréal disc shows what can result when free improvisation meshes with knowledge of notated New music. Architecturally organized, the nine originals and two “covers” make up an exceptional version of chamber music that avoids fussy inversion and directionless jamming.
One indication of the trio’s fearlessness is that the “covers” are of compositions by Béla Bartók. Here, the composer’s Bulgarian Rhythm takes on a Latin tinge courtesy of Robbie Kuster’s percussion and ends with a section of double-tonguing by alto saxophonist Philippe Lauzier, and double stopping from bassist Miles Perkin.
Confirming their innovative thinking, the three follow a clarinet-plucked bass-and-drum reading of Bartók’s Mélodie pentatonique with an improv that flows from it. Reharmonized, the tune incorporates distinctive tongue stops and intense vibrato from Lauzier, reverberating strings from Perkin and a modified march beat on wooden blocks from Kuster.
Probably the best example of their mature talents is Perkin’s Broken Glass, divided into sonata-like sections. Near the top, a sliding bass invention gives way to buzzing sul ponticello accompanied by squealing saxophone split tones and contrapuntal drum pummelling. After a side-slipping obbligato from the altoist is matched by a walking bass line, the penultimate variation harmonizes reed notes with the bassist’s wordless vocalizing. Echoing sax runs plus answering arco swipes from Perkin form the spacey finale.
A 21st Century advance on jazz chamber music, Today is a Special Day more than lives up to the inference of its title.