The pundits who regularly question the vital signs of jazz would be well served to turn their ears toward the Humber Studio Jazz Ensemble. Almost two-dozen albums into a constantly evolving presence, Denny Christianson, the Director of Toronto's Humber Music Program, has been mentoring young musicians through their persistent reinventing of sound and process. The combined passion for the music and an expert knowledge of the form have created an experience that is keeping modern big band music alive, healthy and growing. The twenty-one piece ensemble features some of Humber's School of Creative and Performing Arts most distinctive young jazz players on Another Parallel Reality.
Each year the Humber Music Program recruits a marquee jazz artist for a brief residency during which the artist, faculty and students work on the selection of pieces, writing of charts, and rehearsals, all culminating in a live concert. In the case of Another Parallel Reality the title is a very slight spin on a collection from this event's resident, drummer Jack DeJohnette. He joins the ranks of pianist Danilo Perez, bassist Dave Holland, saxophonists Michael Brecker and Chris Potter and trumpeter Dave Douglas who, among others, have participated in the Humber program.
Of the ten pieces on Another Parallel Reality, DeJohnette penned six and co-wrote another with guitar icon Pat Metheny. The arrangements are implemented by various members of the Humber faculty. "Jack In" is the imposing opener which features fine solos from pianist James Hill, Christian Brown on tenor sax, and trombonist Brad Gilchtist. The more avant-garde "New Muse" has a snake-like quality to its movement with added tension in the quietly menacing sounds of Chris Rennie's tenor sax and Josh Hung's trumpet. "Indigo Dreamscapes" appropriately floats on the ethereal wordless vocals of Lydia Persaud and Chynna Lewis before it eventually drifts into a slightly off-kilter conclusion. These same two vocalists shine on the Duke Ellington classic "Do Nothin' Til You Hear From Me." Persaud and Lewis' stellar performance of the difficult scat technique is so satisfying that it would have made Ella Fitzgerald take notice. Latin rhythms take over on "Nine Over Reggae," the DeJohnette/Metheny composition from Parallel Realities (MCA Records, 2004). Guitarist Sam Dickenson supplies a fine solo that is a bit more rock oriented than the Metheny original.
The atmospheric rhythms on Another Parallel Reality, may be set in the big band era but the ensemble plays to the present, opening up harmonies and improvisations. Where more conventional scoring is utilized, it presents a perfect showcase for the eye-opening performances of Persaud and Lewis. On Another Parallel Reality Christianson is careful in not possessing the sense of space common to so much contemporary big band music. The Humber arrangements place just the right amount of examination on each of the pieces so that style and technique are not being over analyzed to the detriment of the performances. Another Parallel Reality is an impressive album and Christianson has fused the many individual talents of the Humber Studio Jazz Ensemble into a tight and precise unit who happen to be a lot of fun to listen to.
Track Listing: Jack In; New Muse; Indigo Dreamscapes; Do Nothin’ Til You Hear From Me; Nine Over Reggae; Exotic Isles; You Can Have It; Ebony; Salsa For Eddie G; We’ll Be Together Again.
Personnel: Andrew Racknor: saxophone, flute; Liam Masil-Mitro: saxophone, flute; Christian Brown: saxophone, flute, clarinet; Chris Rennie: saxophone, clarinet; Zach Mills: saxophone, clarinet; Rob Laird: trumpet; Shawn Robson: trumpet; Ania Zarzycki: trumpet; Sean White: trumpet; Josh Hung: trumpet; PJ Andersson: trombone; Devin Chubb: trombone; Brad Gilchrist: trombone; Nicholas Sieber: trombone; James Hill: piano; Sam Dickinson: guitar; Julian Anderson-Bowes: bass; Matthew Chalmers: drums, vibes; Juan Carlos Medrano Magallanes: percussion; Lydia Persaud: vocals; Chynna Lewis: vocals.
I was first exposed to jazz while working overseas in Africa as a Peace Corps Volunteer. I would listen to the Voice of America on the radio and they had a nightly jazz program on at 10:00pm. I learned a lot about jazz listening to this program. I also had a friend who listened to real jazz by artists like Charles Mingus, Eric Dolphy and Archie Shepp. On my way home from Africa I landed in New York and had the opportunity to see the George Adams/Don Pullen quartet at the Village Vanguard as well as Kenny Barron and Ron Carter at another club, and was in heaven.