Way North is Fearless and Kind

Way North - Fearless and Kind - Cover Art - Square

FEARLESS AND KIND / CANCURA: Boll Weevil. Ready or Not. The River’s Flow. HENNESSY: Lagoon. Inchworms. Birds for Free. BARSHAY: Airport to Nowhere. MORTON: Buddy Bolden’s Blues. King Porter Stomp. HERRING: You Know a Song. Fearless and Kind / Way North: Rebecca Hennessy, tpt; Petr Cancura, t-sax; Michael Herring, bs; Richie Barshay, dm / private issue, no number or label

This album, due for release November 2, is the second by Way North, a band of three Canadian musicians and one New Yorker formed in Brooklyn in 2014. Their music is aptly described in the publicity blurb as “jazz you can dance to.”

Petr Cancura’s opening track, Boll Weevil (no relation to Brook Benton’s pop music hit record of 1959) is clearly such a piece. Written in the echt-modern-New Orleans style of the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, it has a joie-de-vivre seldom heard in modern jazz quartets, and to a certain extent trumpeter Rebecca Hennessy is as much responsible for propelling the rhythm as the bassist and drummer. Her own rhythmic jazz ballad Lagoon is up next, a piece that has, to my ears, a slow Jimmy Yancey-styled boogie beat going on in the background as she and Cancura play their solos (as well as a really fine chase chorus…wow, I haven’t heard a chase chorus in a jazz record in ages!). Bassist Michael Herring picks his instrument as if it was a Nashville guitar, clean as country water, pure as mountain dew.

I would, however, question the claim that Richie Barshay’s Airport to Nowhere is “jazz you can dance to.” It’s a sort of jazz kazatsky in irregular meter—a really good and interesting piece, but I sure as hell couldn’t dance to it without throwing a hip out. The band certainly has fun with it, though, and the more I hear Hennessy’s playing the more I like it. She’s really a terrific trumpet player.

Just as I haven’t heard a jazz band play a chase chorus recently, neither have I heard one play Jelly Roll Morton in ages. Buddy Bolden’s Blues is given pretty straightforward, but their treatment of King Porter Stomp is unorthodox to say the least: juiced up in tempo and played with more of a fast ragtime beat than a jazz one. (Morton would have a coronary attack if he heard his piece played this way, but I found it amusing.) Inchworms is another slow piece, this time in a sort of dragged-out march beat with asymmetric rhythms interspersed with a regular 4. Once again, Herring’s country-clean bass playing comes to the fore, as does Hennessy in a wonderfully lyrical solo.

Hennessy

Rebecca Hennessy

Curiously, Herring’s Fearless and Kind sounds much more like a Jelly Roll Morton tune in both beat and structure than their treatment of King Porter, with a funky sort of melody that reminded me of the great jazz composer’s Bugaboo. (Look it up.) Of course, the solos are more modern in style, particularly Cancura’s, which again channels the Dirty Dozen band’s playing (as does Barshay’s drumming), and again there is a splendid chase chorus between him and Hennessy. Ready or Not is a jazz waltz by Cancura, nice and relaxed, while with the title track we’re firmly back in Dirty Dozen territory. One of the things I like so much about Hennessy’s playing is her outstanding sense of compositional structure: she views a jazz chorus as a composition and not just a splattering of notes, thus imparting logic to her playing which in turn permeates the entire band. On Fearless and Kind, another jazz waltz, she plays with a mute, using smears and occasional growls while still retaining a sense of direction, and here Cancura’s tenor sax put me in mind of some of those gritty-sounding old-time tenor players as well. Another, briefer chase chorus also ensues in the finale, The River’s Flow.

This is a simply splendid recording in every respect; I loved each and every track.

—© 2018 Lynn René Bayley

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