Don Thompson: Ask Me Later (2005)
Ask Me Later, an all-Canadian project, swings as much as it is lyrical. Released on the state-owned CBC Records' quiet but qualitative jazz schedule, it eloquently demonstrates the breadth of Canada's most seasoned and able contemporary jazz talents. (The disc was awarded a Juno at the 2006 awards ceremony.)
The multi-talented Don Thompson (a pianist, vibraphonist, bassist, composer, arranger and teacher) is known internationally mainly for his stints with Jim Hall, George Shearing and Kenny Wheeler, with whom he shares not only a longstanding friendship but a propensity for word play in song titles. Wheeler's compositional influence can be heard on "April Snow," a moving piece with a simple, long-toned, descending melodic motive that's repeated over a set of beautifully laid out chords.
The quartet's other overachieving multi-instrumentalist, Phil Dwyer, featured here on tenor, soprano and piano, has played with Kenny Barron, Randy Brecker and Renee Rosnes, among others. The driving, crisp rhythm section of bassist Jim Vivian and drummer Terry Clarke, who was also part of Jim Hall's trio in the late 70s, rounds up this stellar group. Clarke's straight-ahead yet loose playing style blends in well, supporting the more adventurous Thompson and Dwyer.
Thompson's virtuosic playing is dense and intricate, but he finds a perfect balance between Evans/Jarrett-like long, flowing lines, hard bop-type phrasing and melodically developed ideas. Dwyer's vocabulary and tenor sound is somewhat reminiscent of Michael Brecker, especially on "Waltz in 3/4 Time" and "You Are The Song," Thompson's take on "The Song Is You." Like his playing, Thompson's writing is crafty and diversified, ranging from the bossa nova piece "Elis" to "Blues For Jim San," which has a 6/8 feel a la "All Blues," to a Monkish bop tune, "Ask Me Later," and interspersed with organic contemporary elements. Finally, for a full cultural immersion, the liner notes are provided in French as well.
Another recent CBC-driven project saw the same lineup perform on March 31, 2006 at the Glenn Gould Studio in Toronto, making a long overdue tribute to Kenny Wheeler, another Canadian giant who now resides in the UK. The concert and radio broadcast featured Wheeler with a 28-piece orchestra conducted by saxophonist Rick Wilkins. Dwyer, Thompson and Wilkins provideed the arrangements to the influential and idiosyncratic trumpeter's compositions; the now-defunct Azimuth trio's expert vocalist, Norma Winstone, added the occasional lyric. It was a true celebration of Wheeler's music by his friends, in a setting he too rarely had the occasion to shine in over the course of his career.
Track Listing: You Are The Song; April Snow; Waltz In 3/4 Time; Blues For Jim San; Another Rainy Day; Ask Me Later; Elis; Sunday Morning; Hot Chocolate.
Personnel: Don Thompson: piano, vibes; Phil Dwyer: saxophones, piano; Jim Vivian: bass; Terry Clarke: drums.
Record Label: CBC Records