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La Scena Musicale - Vol. 16, No. 2 October 2010

Off the record: Canadian Capers

by David Beckett / October 1, 2010

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Admittedly, the sample is miniscule. But to judge solely from these three new items under review, jazz in Canada’s three main centers is vibrant, exciting and healthy!

Joe Sullivan: Voices
Effendi 099  www.effendirecords.com

Although known for his big band, and active as a teacher of jazz composition and big band orchestration at McGill, Montreal trumpet player Joe Sullivan fronts a sextet in his latest offering. Though its title is Voices, Sullivan could have called it “Rainy Streets” because so many of the pieces have a Film Noir quality to them. While there are three up-tempo numbers here, the predominant mood is one of a lovely melancholy. The leader has studied classical trumpet, and his technique is so good, it’s hard to tell his trumpet from his fluegelhorn. This sort of warm brass tone is perfect for the material, expertly played by some of the city’s finest, ie. pianist André White, drummer Dave Laing, and saxophone player André Leroux who contributes excellent solos and incisive ensemble work on both tenor and soprano. Bassist Alec Walkington, and Jean Fréchette on baritone sax round out the band and chip in with fine solos. Voices rewards close listening, but can also be recommended for its mood. If Joe Sullivan hasn’t been asked to score a film yet, he shouldn’t be surprised if the phone rings one day with an offer.

Richard Underhill: Free Spirit
Stubby Records 7734  www.richardunderhill.com

For years, alto saxophonist Richard Underhill has been the driving force behind the crowd pleasing Shuffle Demons, but he’s also been recording albums under his own name. His latest year-long labour of love, Free Spirit, is a combination of a terrific studio CD, and an exciting performance DVD, recorded live at Toronto’s Lula Lounge. The studio side is an energetic affair driven by pianist Dave Restivo, bassist Artie Roth, and drummer Larnell Lewis, or Sly Juhas on three of the tracks. Ron Westray rounds out the personnel here and adds a lot to both recordings. Best known as lead trombonist of the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, Westray is a fluent and exciting player who holds an endowed chair of jazz studies at York University, created in memory of Oscar Peterson. The live set offers a few extra angles; Restivo plays Fender Rhodes on a couple of tunes, elsewhere former Montreal guitarist Eric St-Laurent takes over, but both play together on “Be Strong, Be Strong”, and share solo duties with the leader. Michael DeQuevedo on djembe makes an appearance on the final number. This live date is so enjoyable it’s tempting to consider the equally fine audio CD a bonus. The whole band performs passionately in the lovely club. The camera work and video editing are world class too, never detracting from the music. Drummer Larnell Lewis shines throughout for his alert attention to the rest of the players. Watching him listen to, comment on, and support the other players with his quick-witted drumming is a master class of sorts well worth the price of this two-disc set. Let’s hope this DVD makes the rounds, for the benefit of all the players and the drummer in particular.

Chris Davis: Baile Bonita
Cellar Live CL020510  www.cellarlive.com

Trumpeter Chris Davis’ second recording for Vancouver’s Cellar Live label is a delightful studio date. Though he’s from Florida, this talented newcomer is making his way as a mainstay in his adoptive city. There’s no piano on Baile Bonita, which poses a challenge for the musicians but an opportunity as well. Both the leader and altoist Ian Hendrickson-Smith meet that challenge by taking every opportunity to play counterpoint and harmony on the heads of each piece. Someone should proudly take credit for this in this small group. This disc is the antithesis of a “blowing date” with long and self-indulgent solos on well-worn tunes. Instead it’s spare, swinging, and hip, an example of well-written and carefully arranged originals played with joy and spirit.

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