When the David Braid Sextet played at the 2003 Ottawa International Jazz Festival, the group nearly upstaged the headlining Yellowjackets. Sure, it was a bit like comparing apples and oranges, but Braid's deceptive compositions were intriguing in their accessibility given their complex nature of shifting meters and feels. And while the virtuosity of Yellowjackets is without question, many of Braid's compatriots demonstrated a similar penchant for muscular yet lyrical improvisation. This first impression of Braid was only confirmed when he opened for singer Jane Monheit this past summer, with the newly-formed Murley/Braid Quartet. Again, two very different acts; but to these ears the compositions and playing were of such a consistently high level that Monheits's coy and kittenish performance was rendered completely superfluous. Clearly, regardless of the context, Braid is an artist to watch.
Still on the shy side of thirty, Braid has already accomplished a number of significant milestones. First, he has managed to attract some of Canada's best talent, including drum legend Terry Clarke, recent recipient of the distinguished Order of Canada; and the equally formidable saxophonist Mike Murley, who is an award-winning leader in his own right and collaborator with the fusion group Metalwood. Second, he has managed to keep the David Braid Sextet going with the same personnel since its inception in 2001, when it released its first self-titled record. And third, he has managed to create a book of music that is easy on the ears, while deep enough to reveal new layers on each listen. With the release of Vivid: The David Braid Sextet Live, Braid and his sextet get the opportunity to stretch out, but this time in the relative intimacy of a Toronto club setting. The result is a combination of intelligence and abandon; quite simply, music making of the highest calibre.
What is most surprising about Braid is that he only came to jazz a relatively short time ago, yet he demonstrates a mature vision that incorporates influences as broad as Keith Jarrett, Herbie Hancock and more traditional players including Kenny Barron and Harold Mabern. As fine a pianist as Braid is, his strongest suit is his ability as a composer. There's something indefinably Canadian about the way Braid writes. There's little of the blues in what he does, although "Mister Wallace" swings along in a relaxed fashion and serves as a strong vehicle for bassist Steve Wallace's Ray Brown-inflected solo. "Reverence," on the other hand, is a joyous piece that could come from the more acoustic side of Yellowjackets, demonstrating yet again why Murley is a national treasure who deserves broader international recognition. With an eye to long form compositions that eschew the tired theme-everybody solos-theme format, pieces like "The Golden Years" also swing with vigour, but only after a dizzying combination of counterpoint between the rhythm section and the front line.
Vivid: The David Braid Sextet Live is yet another reason for listeners abroad to check out the Canadian scene. Young artists like David Braid are proof positive that jazz is alive and well north of the 49th parallel.
Personnel: David Braid: piano; John McLeod: flugelhorn; Mike Murley: saxophone; Gene Smith: trombone; Steve Wallace: bass; Terry Clarke: drums.