WEST: Entrainment. Fortress. Inhabit I. Grotto. Inhabit II. Inhabit III. Haunt. Meadow of Dreams / Brodie West, a-sax; Tania Gill, pno; Josh Cole, bs; Evan Cartwright, vib/gtr/dm; Nick Fraser, dm / Ansible Editions AE003
A relatively new group on a new label: the Brodie West Quintet recording for Ansible Editions. West, like his cohorts, is a Canadian jazz musician, but he might as well be living in Sweden, Iceland or Mars for all the American jazz press cares. No matter how good you are, if you’re a furriner, you ain’t really a jazz musician according to Jazz Times, Down Beat or All About Jazz.
Their music is highly unusual in that, for the most part, it has a steady rhythm, yet there’s nothing steady, regular or expected about the form of these pieces or the highly iconoclastic solos. West is obviously a musician who admires the older avant-garde of the 1960s while trying to forge his own path as a soloist, and he is more than ably aided here by the outstanding Tania Gill, who I just recently discovered and who is one of the most creative pianists playing today. There’s even a touch of Lennie Tristano’s music in both parts of these compositions (listen to the latter part of Entrainment) and her own playing, which is all to the good.
Each piece, and each performance, somehow combines harmonic edginess with a calm, placid mood. Occasionally one feels that this “meadow of dreams” has a few nightmarish elements in it, but that’s how dreams are. They’re not all ice cream cones and happy times. Yet in a piece like Fortress, where motifs are repeated without becoming minimalism, the music keeps you in one spot while subtle shifts are going on just under the surface. On Inhabit I, we seem to leave the world of dreams for a spell to inhabit the world of Middle Eastern belly dance music, with West playing his alto sax in such a manner than it almost sounds like a shawm. This track is dominated by West and his two drummers, Cartwright and Fraser, happily banging away in the background.
On Grotto, by contrast, West plays so softly that his tone at times resembles some of the classic alto sax players of the past, though the music itself is a thoroughly modern ballad with slow, subtle but noticeable harmonic shifts in lieu of a real harmonic structure. Gill fills in subtly and tastefully on piano, never intruding on West’s mood yet making her presence felt with some intriguing figures as the piece develops. The piece ends in the middle of a phrase.
Inhabit II is entirely different in both mood and structure from Inhabit I; this is an amorphous modern jazz piece that starts with bassist Josh Cole playing some strange distorted figures around Gills’ ruminating piano. On Inhabit III, things become even quieter and more minimal, with soft guitar and bass playing repeated Cs in unison behind Gill’s piano. At the 1:40 mark West finally enters, playing his alto almost like a very soft car horn, two repeated notes that resemble soft horn beeps. Inhabit III is intriguingly developed into a complex series of rhythmic cells that link together, played by West, Gill and Fraser, with Cole eventually joining in. This was one section, however, that annoyed me because it was too repetitive and didn’t go anywhere, whereas the opening of Haunt, with its quirky atonal bass playing, blooms into an equally quirky piece played by West in his upper range, the notes doubled by Gill on piano. Cole plays an extremely strange, distorted solo while Fraser drops in some asymmetric accents on snare and tomtom. What a peppy little piece!
The final, title track is another ballad-like piece without actually becoming a ballad, here again focusing on C major and, for the most part, sticking to it as Gill ruminates, Cole plays nice walking bass, and West plays in and around the cracks in the music.
All in all, an intriguing album. Not everything in it works perfectly, and at one or two points I felt the effects were a bit overdone, but for the most part this will keep you engaged because most of it is just so creative.
—© 2022 Lynn René Bayley
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