The term "West Coast Jazz often recalls images of Hermosa Beach's Lighthouse and an echelon of players associated with the cool school. Lesser known is the contemporary Northwest Coast scene centered in Portland, Oreg., Seattle, Wash. and Vancouver, BC. Among a host of vibrant venues clustered in these hubs - notably Dimitriou's Jazz Alley in Seattle - The Cellar Restaurant in Vancouver stands out as a club of the highest caliber. Owned and operated by musician/promoter/producer Cory Weeds, the venue was launched in 2001 and has featured Kenny Barron, Benny Golson, Tom Harrell, Charles McPherson and Mulgrew Miller, among others. More importantly, Weeds has supported and nurtured Vancouver's burgeoning talents and local legends, giving players-deserving-wider-recognition the place and the space to hone their craft and voice their individuality. Weeds also founded Cellar Live, a label whose current discography contains 22 releases featuring many of the city's finest, including debut efforts from Oliver Gannon (guitar), Bruno Hubert (piano), Sharon Minemoto (piano), Chad Makela (baritone sax) and James Danderfer (tenor sax/clarinet). Three new releases demonstrate why Vancouver's in the vanguard.
Ugetsu's Live at The Cellar, as the name implies, began as an Art Blakey tribute band, expanding to the current lineup of Bernie Arai (drums), Jon Bentley (tenor), Rod Murray (trombone), Brad Turner (trumpet), Ross Taggart (piano) and André LaChance (bass). In addition to projects covering the music of Ornette Coleman (To Be Ornette to Be) and Thelonious Monk, founders Arai and Bentley have also performed the music of Joe Henderson, Wayne Shorter and Larry Young, influences readily discernible on this recording. Far from derivative, however, this music sings for itself: spoken in a distinctive Canadian dialect, the group evinces understated dynamism, well-balanced group cohesion and effortless conviction. There are strong tunes, including "King for a Day , "Open Book and "Chowder ; Taggart's (Horace) Silver-esque riff-melodies are compelling; Bentley gets up and down on "Chowder and "Caribbean Fire Dance ; Murray plays succinct, well-crafted solos that get to the point; and LaChance gets down to "bass -ics on "Backstage Sally . But the standout here is Turner, a musical polyglot equally fluent in trumpet/flugelhorn, piano, drums and composition. Employing a "horn -ucopia of tones, textures and ideas, Turner makes extended excursions into "Maybe Yes, Maybe No , "Chowder and especially "Open Book , a ballad feature.
The Uptown Quintet's Live in New York is a novelty for Weeds' label in that it wasn't recorded at his venue and doesn't use Vancouver-based musicians, but was the result of Weeds hearing the group on a live recording made by Smoke Jazz Club co-owner Paul Stache. The quintet, including Ryan Kisor (trumpet), Spike Wilner (piano), Ian Hendrickson-Smith (alto sax), Barak Mori (bass) and Charles Ruggiero (drums) is Big Apple to the core, playing with a hard swing and driving edge that reflect life in the ultra-urban jungle; like Ugetsu, Live in New York extols the virtues of vintage Blakey and the Blue Note finishing school. Wilner pens three classic-sounding tunes ("In the Kitchen , "A Foolish Lament and "Joyful Abandon ) and plays impressively throughout; Kisor and Hendrickson-Smith contribute simmering solos, while Mori and Ruggiero swing like Tarzans on a vine.
Flicker, baritone saxophonist Chad Makela's debut recording, is something new. Forget about the old-school cool of Pepper Adams and Gerry Mulligan, Makela's his own man here, possessing a tone and technique that allow him to navigate the Leviathan brass beast with flexibility and finesse. Including four of Makela's originals, Flicker showcases the saxophonist's endlessly inquisitive improvisations, bursting with ideas and intelligence as they veer off on oblique tangents. Edgy but calm, Makela exudes a Bird-like command of rhythmic nuances in lines that spin out in double- and triple-time with effortless ebullience, almost tripping over themselves, embodying what the def emcees refer to as "flow . "Seventh Day Rain is a mellow lament of casual profundity, while "Uprising is a bop barnstormer, with Makela storming out of the starting gate like a bucking bronco. Brad Turner reappears and contributes mightily to the proceedings, especially on "Underdog , where he exhibits Brownie-like resplendence and on "Uprising , with a motivic bravura that recalls early-period Freddie Hubbard. Supported by drummer Jesse Cahill's polyrhythmic panache and bassist Paul Rushka's middle-of-the-beat anchor lines, this chordless quartet represents the Northwest at its best.
Tracks and Personnel
Live at The Cellar
Tracks: Backstage Sally; King For A Day; Back At The Sugar Shack; That Old Feeling; Maybe Yes, Maybe No; Caribbean Fire Dance; Open Book; Chowder.
Personnel: Bernie Arai: drums; Jon Bentley: tenor saxophone; Brad Turner: trumpet; Rod Murray: trombone; André Lachance: bass; Ross Taggart: piano.
Live in New York
Tracks: O'Cleary's Shuffle; In The Kitchen; A Foolish Lament; Sweet Pumpkin; Calypso Cove; Blue Minor; Joyful Abandon.
Personnel: Ryan Kisor: trumpet; Ian Hendrickson-Smith: alto sax; Michael "Spike" Wilner' piano; Barak Mori: bass; Charles Ruggerio: drums.
Tracks: Flicker; Comfort Level; Secret Code; Seventh Day Rain; Underdog; My Ideal; Uprising.
Personnel: Chad Makela: baritone sax; Brad Turner: trumpet; Paul Rushka: bass; Jesse Cahill: drums.