In Tune or Not in Tune... That Is the Question
When all is said and done, Lucidity is music for the open-minded, not necessarily for those who hold fast to tradition, especially as it applies to big-band jazz. Henzi is a perceptive composer, but what he has in mind may not mirror everyone's idea of what a big band should embody. Fans of Basie, Herman, Rich or even Ellington / Kenton should take that for what it's worth.
The Ian McDougall 12Tet
Put a dozen immoderately talented jazz musicians in one room, as trombonist Ian McDougall has done on Live, and you almost can't help but produce an album that crackles with high-powered enthusiasm as it swings easily from one emphatic measure to the next. Oh, to have been there to see and hear this excellent concert, presented in March 2012 at the Cellar Club in Vancouver, BC. Luckily, it was recorded, so those who weren't there can at least eavesdrop and appreciate what twelve perceptive, single-minded men are able to accomplish when the stars align and the time is right.
It's clear from the outset that this is to be a concert like few others, as tenors Ross Taggart and Phil Dwyer lay down the gauntlet and lock horns in earnest on McDougall's free and easy "Tales of Cotton" (inspired, McDougall says, by Ben Webster), bringing to mind memories of such implacable dueling tenors as Gene Ammons and Dexter Gordon, Ammons and Sonny Stitt, Gordon and Wardell Gray, Johnny Griffin and Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis. Later on, the altos have their say, with Campbell Ryga and Chris Startup dueling on "Silver Woody," McDougall's inventive union of Horace Silver's "Sister Sadie with his impressions of the Woody Herman Herds. McDougall also wrote "Desolation Blues," "Red Sky" and "Dry with a Twist," while Don Thompson contributed the shimmering "LEDCC" (Lower Etobicoke Daycare Center) and Dwyer penned the jazz waltz "Speak Softly" for his wife and daughter. Rounding out the program are Kenny Dorham's "Blue Bossa" (taken at a slower-than-usual tempo) and the '30s standard "Home," which McDougall inserted because it was one of his father's favorite songs (and which swings here as never before).
One feature of McDougall's ensemble that stands out is that each of its members is not only an unwavering team player but an exemplary soloist as well. Besides the tenors and altos already named, they include bassist Ken Lister and guitarist Oliver Gannon ("Desolation Blues"), trumpeter Brad Turner and pianist Ron Johnston ("LEDCC"), Turner and Gannon ("Blue Bossa"), Gannon, Dwyer and Lister ("Speak Softly"), Johnston and Ryga ("Red Sky"). McDougall solos twice, with Taggart on "Home," with Johnston and Dwyer on the well-grooved "Dry with a Twist." Not to single anyone out, but Johnston and Ryga are especially impressive on the prismatic "Red Sky," Ryga and Startup likewise on "Silver Woody." And even though drummer Craig Scott doesn't solo, he handles more than his share of the heavy lifting as unflappable skipper of the group's tight-knit rhythm section.
McDougall, who logged twenty years as lead trombonist with Rob McConnell's peerless (and greatly missed) Boss Brass, has stayed busy since returning home to British Columbia, teaching, composing and performing in the Vancouver area. During his years in the trenches, McDougall has developed a keen eye for synergy and talent, a knack that is readily apparent on Live, one of the more persuasive concert recordings in recent memory.
Asuka Kakitani Jazz Orchestra
Nineteen / Eight Records