Will Fisher: Portage (2012)
Following the ebb and flow of the opener, the album's title track begins with an alluring drone, the bass playing arco, and shimmering cymbals and percussion jangles. The quartet lets the sense of mystery and spirituality hang in the air as Challoner's trumpet moans forlornly, progressing warily as if a boat coursing its way through a foggy night sea. Fisher enters with a rhythmic cross-current that, rather than wash everything over, fuses the divergent patterns into one.
The middle section of the album falls into more familiar territory. With the pop and bounce of "Top, Bottom, Slide," the quavering-heart ballad of "Vestibules," and the rock-influenced modern jazz of "Lite Brite," Fisher hits many standard thematic locations. No weak links here, but also not as fascinating as the opening tracks.
Things start getting interesting again with "Falling Arbutus," which opens with an extended bass solo that is anything but obligatory. It begins slow, occasionally looking over its shoulder to be sure the listener is keeping up, then builds both in speed and intensity. At the finish line, when Downes hands the baton to the rest of the quartet, the ensemble doesn't miss a beat: they stream right along as one. Trumpet and guitar lead the way, taking turns with fiery solos.
The album ends with "Cape Breton Lullaby," which covers the expanse of two tracks. The lullaby begins with a piano solo that doubles as an invitation to a quiet end of the night. The intro leads into the quartet's reunion, and the album's grand, and gracefully restrained, finale. Chaloloner plays long sonorous notes, Hilden wavers in the distance, Matt Giffin's piano expands on the seeds of its solo, and the rhythm section skips like stones across the water. It's a strong end to a very strong album.
Track Listing: The Great Karoo; Portage; Top, Bottom, Slide; Vestibules; Lite Brite; Falling Arbutus, Cape Breton Lullaby (intro); Cape Breton Lullaby.
Personnel: Will Fisher: drums; Mike Downes: bass; Mikko Hilden: guitar; Jon Challoner: trumpet, flugel; Nancy Walker: piano (tracks 1,4); Matt Giffin: piano (tracks 7,8).
Record Label: Self Produced