B.C. All-Stars: The Jodi Proznick Quartet, and the Brad Turner Quartet with Phil Dwyer
National Arts Centre: B.C. Scene
Auditorium, National Library of Canada
April 30, 2009
A real all-star cast of British Columbia jazz players could have filled the stage of the National Library, and then spilled on to the main floor several rows deep. So, although this concert was billed as "B.C. All-Stars," it was really only a samplebut a fine one nevertheless.
The two groups chosen, quartets led by bassist Jodi Proznick and by trumpeter Brad Turner, were not widely divergent in their influences. Proznick, for example, has played with Turner numerous times. But each took a different approach to their material, obvious from the first song in each set.
Proznick's group opened with a lyrical version of "Help Me" from Joni Mitchell's iconic 1974 album Court and Spark, arranged by pianist Tilden Webb. In the original, Mitchell's vocal is an ironic plea. In this instrumental version, Steve Kaldestad's tenor sax evoked a melody tender and bittersweet, in a stand-out performance.
The emphasis on melody continued for the remainder of their set. A Proznick ballad, "L'Espace," opened with a fast bass solo, but as the other three instruments joined in, it became noir-ish, with the sax and piano echoing each each other. Peter Gabriel's "The Washing of the Water" began with a slow, stately piano solo by Webb. That turned into a beautiful melody, which was then taken up by Kaldestad on sax in an anthemic solo. As Jesse Cahill joined in on drums, the music became more assertive, until the piano took over again with original theme.
Yet rhythm was not ignored either: Proznick's "The Duke of York" opened with a resonant bass solo, and Cahill then helped set up a vibrant tension between the straight-ahead sax melody and the insistent beat of the other three instruments.
And there was plenty of both in "Roundabout," a number Webb dedicated to saxophonist David "Fathead" Newman, whom he, Proznick, and Cahill had toured with a few years before. While starting with a fast complicated pattern, it moved into a smooth line on sax, and then burst into sparkle of high-energy piano notes and a spirited sax solo, rougher-edged probably than Newman would have done but equally energetic.
The set ended with a rollicking blues written by Wray Downes which was dedicated to the late bassist Ray Brown, a strong influence on Proznick. Like most of the songs in the set, it appeared on the quartet's CD, Foundations (Cellar Live, 2006), and it left the audience clapping enthusiastically.
Proznick's quartet did an excellent job of working within conventional jazz forms. But as soon as Brad Turner's group took the stage, you could hear a shift to the abstract.
Turner opened with "Scuffle," also the opening track on his CD Small Wonder (Maximum Jazz/CBC, 2007). Bruno Hubert's piano was matched against screeches from Dylan Van der Schyff's cymbals, which then morphed into a funereal piano against excited drumming. Turner's trumpet entered slowly and the other instruments died back, and then the trumpet inflections increased in speed, moving to a climax. It died back, Hubert inserted some reflective piano, and then the piano and trumpet played off each other, up and down.
The next piece, "You can't be serious," was written for Hubert, who started it off with very deliberate notes on piano, that were then energized by fast drumming. But the most notable part of the piece was a long duet between Hubert and bassist André Lachance, where each echoed and inspired the other.
After the first three songs, Phil Dwyer joined the quartet. Like Turner, Dwyer is a well-known multi-instrumentalist, but for this concert, he stuck to tenor sax. He and Turner perfectly complemented each other, starting with the fourth song, "Artifacts," which was written "loosely in the style of Art Blakey". Unsurprisingly, it was bouncy with noticeable bass and drum lines, but the boppish joint lines from the trumpet and sax set the tone, right until they ended together with assertive flourish.
"Exponential" began and ended with a melodic duet between Dwyer's sax and Turner's flugelhorn, but in the middle was lots of space for exploration: fast riffs building to a climax on flugelhorn, succeeded by fluttery notes moving into longer riffs on sax, and then rippling piano picking up the notes previously used. It was followed by "For Tia," a ballad Turner wrote for his wife, in which first flugelhorn, then sax, then bass echoed the slow, clear melody with perfect control. Turner and Dwyer then started a duet that moved higher and higher until it finally slowly wound down, like a person falling asleep.