This year finally sees the fruition of a musical dream for Toronto jazz guitarist and composer Tony Quarrington. Though as a producer he has so far been responsible for about thirty albums by other artists (including the Juno-Award-winning HEARTSTRINGS by Willie P. Bennett), and has appeared as a sideman on dozens more, it is only now that he makes his debut CD as a jazz leader. “This is the album I’ve been meaning to do for twenty years,” he says, “and it’s come out better than I could have hoped. Really, the main problem was picking material out of the hundreds of originals I’ve written over the decades”.
The other players in the ensemble comprise a “Who’s Who” of Toronto first-call players. Kieran Overs on bass and Barry Elmes (Time Warp) on drums, contribute to the surging excitement and relentless grooves on all the selections. “Of course I wanted a consistent rhythm section on the two studio dates”, says Quarrington, “but after that I had some other criteria in mind. I had worked many times with Bernie Senensky, so I knew how well he would treat my original tunes. I put him together with Kirk McDonald, who had just won a Juno for his Atlantic Sessions, on some of the brighter, bouncier tunes, and we got a great feeling on that date.” On three selections, including the title tune, the basic quintet was enriched by the addition of Kevin Turcotte on trumpet, and Terry Lukiwski on trombone. “I just had a certain sound in mind for the heads of these songs,” he explains. “Probably my favourite album of all time is John Coltrane’s (1957) Blue Train, with Lee Morgan and Curtis Fuller, and I wanted the surface of my album to be like that. Unfortunately Kevin and Terry didn’t get to solo too much, or the whole thing would have become too long...but what they did is great”. Indeed, check out Turcotte’s incendiary choruses on One Bright Morning, and Lukiwski’s virtuoso contributions to Savannah/For South Africa. Both those tunes, incidentally, are first takes.
A second session occurred a week after the first. “Kieran and Barry and I came back”, Tony says, “and Brian Dickinson was on piano. I had wanted to get Shawn Nykwist recorded for a while...I think he’s got a great sound and concept...so I had him on this album. I believe this is the first time he’s been featured to this extent.”
Particularly interesting on this second set of tunes is the fast Salsa/Latin treatment of Thelonius Monk’s Round Midnight, usually very slow and melancholy. Quarrington explains, “I heard in the changes that it would sound good at a fair clip (I’ve done it this way for awhile, actually) and when I was arranging the parts for the session it struck me it would be cool to split the melody up into a two-bar back-and-forth dialogue, that’s a very Salsa thing”.
The eight songs of the recording comprise six Quarrington originals and two standards. The second standard came about almost by accident. “There was time left over after the second date, so Brian and I decided to play the waltz Hi Lily Hi Lo just as a duo. This is the only take we did. It just fell into place after a little discussion. I’ve always loved this tune by Bronislau Kaper, and I’ve evolved a few little extra chord things of my own...but the quote I did from Cole Porter’s True Love was spontaneous, a free association”. Brian Dickinson also plays a wonderful, mysterious chorus on the ballad Princesse en Promenade (a tune, Tony says, "for all my nieces”) and adds immeasurably to the energy of the blues, Roundabout.
“I would have to say I am aware of two big influences on my playing,” Quarrington analyses. “First, the guitarists that I got to hear most often live... Lenny Breau, Ed Bickert, and Sonny Greenwich...and probably above all, the musical spirit of John Coltrane, which I’m able to capture for a bar or two, sometimes. Eclipse is a tune that reflects that...it’s chordally complicated, basically it changes key every second measure. (It’s similar to Giant Steps, except... I can remember it!) And One Brisht Morning is certainly inspired mainly by tunes like Moment's Notice and Lazy Bird, from the Blue Train album. Eclipse, by the by, went by a couple of different names until a session in 1994 when I was recording it...at the end of one take, the engineer told the band to go outside because there was a solar eclipse. I thought, if that’s not a hint, what is? - and changed the title”.
Other selections include the hypnotic Savannah/For South Africa, a flowing and melodic piece similar to Abdullah Ibrahim’s Quiet Village. Tony plays some guitar percussion behind the other soloists on this. “I was inspired”, he says, “by the way Barry was varying his time feels in the different sections, so at a certain point I just had to join in. But I didn’t want to clutter everything up with chords, so I did a pitchless Stanley Jordan kind of accompaniment”. The final tune is the bouncy line that the entire band plays in unison, which Tony calls, with a wry (rye?) humor, You Stepped Out Of A Drink. “Of course it’s based on the chords of You Stepped Out Of A Dream, and it’s unusual for me because I happened to write it down straight out of my head. I didn’t have a guitar or piano at the time, just a pencil and paper. It’s not an easy melody, and I was very impressed with Kieran’s doing it on the bass.”
“Overall,” Tony concludes, “I’m very pleased with this recording. I wanted to make a happy, presentable album, and I hoped I wouldn’t sound too bad playing alongside these wonderfully talented guys. And one of the better ideas that I had was commissioning the cover painting from Colette French...every time I look at it I’m aware of some further level of relation to the music that I made...the whole concept fits together.”
Personnel: Kieran Overs, Barry Elmes, Bernie Senensky, Brian Dickinson, Kirk McDonald, Shawn Nykwist, Kevin Turcotte, and Terry Lukiwski