Sometimes it's better to be a little fish in a big pond than the reverse. Not to diminish the vibrant Canadian jazz scene, but when Alberta-born bassist Chris Tarrywho'd won numerous awards for his own work and with the collaborative fusion group Metalwoodrelocated to New York a few years back, it was a courageous move. With no shortage of fine bassists in the Big Apple, Tarry went, nevertheless, and has worked with artists including guitarist John Scofield, trumpeter Jim Rotondi and drummer Gregg Bendian's Mahavishnu Project.
Tarry's Project 33 (Black Hen, 2003), was a more plugged-in affair, utilizing electronics, loops, drum programming and more while still retaining the sound of surprise that comes from assembling a group of musicians who had not previously worked together. Sorry to be Strange is a more organic effort, built around a group of contemporariesguitarist Pete McCann, drummer Dan Weiss, pianist Jon Cowherd and saxophonist Kelly Jefferson (the only other Canadian, who still lives in Toronto). The difference between bringing a group together for the first time and working with a regular group, as is the case with Sorry to be Strange, is clear from the first notes of "Then There Was One, where there's an immediate sense of unity.
The materialall by Tarry with the exception of a folksy yet grooving version of ambient pop group Air's "Universal Traveler covers a lot of territory. The singable theme of "Then There Was One, that ultimately opens into an ascending three-chord pattern with a hint of Midwestern Metheny, contrasts sharply with the freer, more abstractly complex "Yeah Guys!. The ethereal tone poem "P.G.O.A.T. is miles away from the irregular-metered shuffle of "McCann Can Blues, which features the guitarist at his grungiest. "For the Quiet Heart is a soft ballad, while "Wind-Up Bird is a buoyant burner that features another gritty solo from McCann and a cleaner but no less powerful tenor spot from Jefferson.
That this quintet can sound so completely convincing regardless of the stylistic emphasis is a function of its broad collective resume. Cowherd, who first came to attention with Brian Blade Fellowship, can play with gospel-tinged authenticity on "Happy for Most or atmospheric abandon on "Yeah Guys!. Weiss, who's rapidly becoming the most ubiquitous drummer on the New York scene, is just as capable of a rock backbeat as he is a more delicate swing.
Tarry doesn't overburden the disc with bass soloschoosing, for the most part, to be a team player. Still, he's a potent soloist with a deft touch and ideas to spare on the arpeggio-driven "Merry-Go-Round, which also features a curious outro solo by Weiss.
Sorry to be Strange is a welcome return to recording from Tarry; an album that's equal parts slow simmer and fast boil. Keeping a group together these days is no easy thing, but hopefully the Chris Tarry Group will be around long enough for a follow-up.
Personnel: Chris Tarry: electric bass; Pete McCann: guitar; Dan Weiss: drums; Jon Cowherd: piano; Kelly Jefferson: saxophone; Leah Siegel: vocals (3).