The diversity of the Canadian jazz scene, as with many countries, is rarely fully appreciated. The Montreal scene, in particular, is as far-reaching as it getseverything from the mainstream to the experimental can be found in the clubs and on labels like Effendi and Justin Time. Ottawa-born, Toronto and Boston- schooled, and Montreal-based saxophonist Frank Lozano has been active in that most cosmopolitan of Quebec cities for some time, and can be heard on a number of Effendi recordings by Thom Gossage's Other Voices, Effendi Jazzlab and label president/bassist Alain Bédard's Auguste Quintet. Colour Fields
is Lozano's long overdue debut as a leader and, with a quintet cherry-picked from the Montreal, Ottawa and Toronto scenes, it's been well worth the wait.
Lozano straddles the lines between form and freedom on a beautifully transparent production that ranges from the dense freedom of the brief "Rothko (Colour Fields)"featuring drummer/co-producer Jean Martin, guitarist Kim Ratcliffe's harshly overdriven guitar and bassist John Geggie's high-register arcoto Lozano's rubato, tone poem arrangement of Béla Bartok's Eastern European-tinged "Buciumeana." Ratcliffe switching to mandolin for a lengthy solo, culminating in dramatic but acutely intuitive interplay between Lozano and trumpeter Jim Lewis.
Other than the Bartok piece and an imaginative and open-ended retake of Duke Ellington's "Fleurette Africaine"with Lozano on bass clarinet in full-out conversational trio mode with Geggie and Martinthe balance of the music was written by Lozano during a six-month stay in New York, courtesy of the Quebec's Conseil des Arts' Soho Studio Residence Grant. It's clear that this concentrated time spent absorbing the vibrant New York scene provided plenty of inspiration.
"Cast" is an intrepidly abstruse opener, with its lengthy cued theme by Lozano and Lewis leading into quintet interplay that recalls some of Dave Douglas' early, more avant-tinged work like Parallel Worlds (Soul Note, 1993). Ratcliffe's scratchy sound, Martin's textural approach and Geggie's balanced style contrast Lozano's robust tone and oblique ideas, which largely dominate a freely improvised center section. "Village" is another rubato piece that centers on group interplay, beginning with an opening solo from Geggie that should raise some eyebrows, and a winding saxophone/trumpet theme supported by Ratcliffe's Abercrombie-like understatement. Lewis' warm, spare solo is supported empathically by Ratcliffe, Geggie and Martin, while Lozano begins supported by Martin alone, but with Geggie and Ratcliffe gradually becoming more active as his equally space-attentive solo evolves.
It's not all about rubato abstraction. "New Man" is a cerebral yet visceral piece of acoustic funk, grooving harder than anything else on the disc, with Lozano adopting a more aggressive stance. "L.R.P." is more idiosyncratic, with Martin treading a fine line between color and pulse, though pulse ultimately wins out. These tunes provide well-paced alternatives to the ethereal beauty of "Now Won" and the ECM-like closer, "Center of Gravity," which references the lyrical melancholy of Kenny Wheeler.
He may be approaching fifty but, with a debut as balanced as Colour Fields, Lozano proves it's never too late to step into the spotlight.
Personnel: Frank Lozano: tenor and soprano saxophones, bass clarinet; Kim Ratcliffe: guitar, mandolin; Jim Lewis: trumpet,
flugelhorn; John Geggie: bass; Jean Martin: drums.