Ancient but apt, the saying “you can take a boy out of the country, but can’t take the country out of the boy” is more accurate if the country is Canada and the “boys” are male and female musicians in the United States. No matter how busy they are, improvisers are always ready to play north of the border. Last month, for instance, Toronto-born, Brooklyn-based drummer Harris Eisenstadt played two Toronto shows in one day before continuing an American tour.
Being Canadian doesn’t mean cutting yourself from other interests as Eisenstadt demonstrates on Guewel (Clean Feed CF 123 CD www.cleanfeed-records.com). Named for the Wolof word for griots, the band – cornetist Taylor Ho Bynum, trumpeter Nate Wooley, French hornist Mark Taylor and baritone saxophonist Josh Sinton – plays the drummer’s arrangements of West African pop music and ceremonial rhythms which he learned overseas. The tunes contain elements of southern dance tracks and brass band marches. Each horn man has the melodic smarts to meld with Eisenstadt’s multi-faceted drumming, producing catchy yet non-simplistic tunes. With his hunting horn sonorities, innate lyricism and pumping vamps, Taylor is a standout. The sympathetic arrangements stack horn parts atop one another in such a way that every solo becomes almost three-dimensional. Rice and Fish/Liti Liti begins mellow and impressionistic, then a drum beat signals a timbral shift with Taylor’s jujitsu tongue-fluttering matched with near Mariachi-styling from the other brass players. N’daga/Coonu Aduna transcends its marching band flavour as Sinton riffs harshly, accelerating to whoops and brays, while the meandering brass trill rococo detailing around him and Eisenstadt clatters, pops and ruffs.
Another notable reedist is Canadian turned Brooklynite Quinsin Nachoff, featured on bassist Michael Bates’ Outside Sources Live in New York (Greenleaf Paperback Series Vol. 4 www.greenleafmusic.com). Another Brooklyn-Canadian, Bates studied double bass at Banff Centre for the Arts and the University of Toronto. Other players are trumpeter Russ Johnson and drummer Jeff Davis. Playing all Bates compositions, the band is straight-ahead enough to maintain a swinging pulse, yet imaginative enough to give everyone free range for creative expression. Nachoff for example, punctuates one tune with gradually accelerating glissandi; Johnson another with high-pitched triplet tonguing. A bravura performance on Damasa finds everyone discovering theme variants. Johnson offers tremolo vibrations; Nachoff snuffled and exhaled split tones; Bates chiming runs and Davis opposite sticking plus blunt backbeats.
Davis is also part of the RIDD Quartet on Fiction Avalanche (Clean Feed CF 121 CD www.cleanfeed-records.com), with CanCon provided by his spouse, pianist Kris Davis, who studied at the U. of T. and the Banff Centre. Outstanding on 10 group compositions, solos are weighed among Davis’ sensitive drumming, sweeping colours from distaff Davis, Reuben Radding’s tough, but restrained bass, and the kinetic runs of saxophonist Jon Irabagon. On Fiction Avalanche, the pianist percussively chords a counter melody that extends rasping bass slides and flattened reed vibrations. Monkey Catcher is a screaming blues expanded by Irabagon’s fortissimo split tones, yet tamed by Davis’ chord progression, key-clipping and flailing. Sky Circles is both atmospheric and lyrical. In unison the saxophonist’s buzzy trills and the pianist’s comping outline the theme. Segmented by winnowing squeals from Irabagon, the pianist moors the improvisation while advancing the theme chromatically.
Double the number of pianos appears on Where is Pannonica? (Songlines SGL SACD 1579-2 www.songlines.com). It was recorded at the Banff Centre by Paris-based Benoît Delbecq who also participates in Vancouver’s Creative Music workshop, and Torontonian Andy Milne, who studied at York and Banff before heading south. Delbecq admits that he couldn’t always distinguish his touch from Milne’s during the playback, but the usual division of labour finds him manipulating inside strings and using electronic loops, while Milne’s stays the acoustic course. Bouncing off each other’s ideas, the impression the two give is of subtle invention. Still each can surprise with the use of spiky patterns and percussive note clusters. Dividing the composing chores as well, the moulded and layered tunes are paced so that when they unwind the polytonal qualities available from the soundboard and other innards decorate the keyboard’s strums and resonations. Probably the best number is Milne’s two-part Water’s Edge. Demonstrating quick-moving, overlapping tremolo lines, the piece modulates from andante to allegro and is harmonized by default. Spacious with cascading portamento, sharpened key jabs glance off bell-pealing-like string plunks.
Fine efforts all, these CDs preview what you’ll hear next time one of these expatriates gigs in Toronto.