Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Baron Tymas' Montreal on CD

I've really wanted to go to Montreal for several years now, mostly because it seems both exotic and relatively accessible. Now that I live close to the Canadian border and can drive to The City of the Hundred Steeples in about five hours, the call is plaintive and clear. The Montreal Audio Fest, formerly known as Salon Son et Image, was just a week or so ago and I was utterly unprepared to go--one of the good things about moving to Central New York was living close enough to make the Montreal hi-fi show a regular thing. It came and went. I felt like there was no good reason for that to happen.

Baron Tymas' new album, Montreal, pours salt on that wound by making me feel that I'm really missing out on a spectacular place. Tymas, who hails from North Carolina, is a jazz guitarist who possesses an easy demeanor and a clear tone. (He's also an associate professor of music at North Carolina Central University.) He spent 2015 as a Fullbright Fellow at Concordia University in Montreal, and this album is inspired by his time there, working with a variety of Montreal jazz musicians such as pianist Joshua Rager, bassist Sage Reynolds and drummer Jim Doxas. These eight original compositions are designed to evoke images of Tymas' travels on the metro and the bus lines, of the diverse cuisine, of the warm fall weather and of the relationships he built. The result is solid, and it's easy to translate these vivacious sounds into a soundtrack for a vibrant city.

Each of these tunes go down easy without feeling like easy listening, and you can hear Tymas' inspirations with a certain amount of deliberation. I do have to make one small confession--I do not dig Jeri Brown's vocal improvisations on "And Oui" in the least. I don't want to pick on her because she has a lovely, rich voice that's filled with an element of sorrow and deep reflection. But it's almost alarming the way she slides into the song like a river of molasses, slowing everything down. I've heard this type of scatting a few times in recent months and I don't know if it's the new things or a reclamation of some old style, but it's making me hit the NEXT button on the CD player.

Fortunately that act brings on one of the most liveliest and distinctive jazz tunes I've heard in a long time, "Wishbone." Driven by Tymas' mean and lean guitar work, this tune has a steady drive that pushes it to the brink of jazz-rock--imagine Bill Frisell making an appearance on an old Steely Dan record. It's dry and it moves like one of Tymas' buses. It's also fitting that the final tune is titled "Take the 24," which was the actual number of the bus that he used to go sightseeing.

Once again, Montreal is a contemporary jazz album from a small label and it sounds absolutely fantastic, as realistic as any hi-rez audiophile standard. After saying this over and over, I'm wondering if there's some sort of renaissance going on in contemporary jazz. I probably wouldn't be so astounded by this is it was one particular label or studio, like 2L Recordings of Norway putting out such consistently excellent work. All I can say is whoever is sending me all these jazz CDs has extraordinarily high standards when it comes to recordings.

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