Ways is the Toronto duo of alto saxophonist Brodie West and drummer Evan Cartwright, formed in 2012. This is the group’s first recording, and it comes from a Copenhagen session with Danish pianist Simon Toldam. West’s music has a distinct rhythmic focus. His quintet includes two drummers, the octet Eucalyptus adds an additional percussionist and a pianist, and both groups include Cartwright. If a piano might blur instrumental typologies, Toldam’s approach is definitely percussive. The strings are variously prepared to alter decays and ambiguate pitches. West even pushes the saxophone into the percussion family, often working within a restricted pitch range while creating complex staccato patterns.
This rhythmic focus links to a corresponding interest in timbre that immediately distinguishes the trio. The opening Fame contrasts passages of saxophone and prepared piano with passages of drums, with saxophone and piano sounding like next of kin, the former’s pointillist pops synched to the latter’s muffled, echoing, repeated phrase. On Love, the three create a complex pattern while sometimes reducing themselves to single notes: West’s wispy sounds are mere amplified breaths; Toldam’s notes, punctuation marks; Cartwright’s kit, a single drum.
The activity gradually expands: Money II is a virtual explosion of anxious, rapid-fire saxophone ricocheting through harpsichord-like piano figures and suddenly dense drums, yet still as closely knit as to suggest a single organizing mind on works credited to all three musicians. The ultimate results are as invigorating as they are unusual.