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Ways + Simon Toldam: Fortunes

Troy Dostert By

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Ways + Simon Toldam: Fortunes
Two iconoclasts currently generating interest in their native Canada and beyond, alto saxophonist Brodie West and drummer Evan Cartwright can be found playing in widely varying contexts, frequently in a duo format under the moniker Ways. Often joined by pianists of similar, boundary-stretching temperament, West and Cartwright refuse to trade in jazz cliches or stay comfortably within the polite confines of chamber music. With Danish pianist Simon Toldam on board for their current release, Fortunes, the trio successfully crafts a distinctive sound world in which disruption and displacement are more important than fulfilling settled expectations.

In addition to their work in Ways, West and Cartwright also perform in West's quintet. That band's Clips (Lorna Records, 2018) was an enticing amalgam of small-group jazz and avant-garde experimentation, with a fiercely swinging side that leavened the album's more challenging, esoteric aspects. This release, by contrast, puts the emphasis solidly on de-centered exploration, mostly through the accrual of small gestures that evade easy familiarity. The album's cover offers more than a hint of what's in store: a disordered page of a calendar with skewed days and dates, suggesting that while we may think we know what we're getting, the reality will be something very different.

It's clear that Toldam's presence plays a big role here, as his own predilections lie in the direction of exceedingly deliberate, minute pianistic excavations; his recent trio release, Omhu (ILK Music, 2019), is one of the most patient, subdued piano trio recordings in recent memory, highlighting the leader's startling ability to communicate through the fewest possible notes. In that vein, Fortunes opens with the minimalist-sounding "Fame," involving a spare, rhythmically fluctuating ostinato figure from Toldam with West in close accord, only West doesn't match the notes, instead blowing a single pitch with micro-variations, stressing texture over tunefulness.

"Love" is similarly confounding, with a steady tom beat from Cartwright (more or less) in sync with Toldam's prepared piano, itself limited to a single repeated note, while West contents himself with percussive slaps and muted breaths, with just a hint of tone slipping through. The music picks up urgency by the end of its six-minute run time, but it never takes on a determinate form, always leaving the listener looking for a settled place to gain a foothold, but never quite finding it.

Over the course of the album's nine tracks, the music does become progressively more involved, with more elaborate statements from all three musicians. But the collective spirit of quiet determination remains the tenor of the album; even when West is at his most demonstrative, as during his syncopated bursts on "Money II" or his plaintive cries on "Money III," there's never a sense in which his muse is getting away from him. And Cartwright's meticulous work on the kit complements Toldam's more assertive moments, which are themselves contained within his measured quest to inhabit the spaces between the notes.

Perhaps the most compelling track of all, "Passion," is remarkable in its reserved power. A five-minute gem, Toldam's languid, introspective ruminations and Cartwright's measured ballast provide support for West's characteristically tempered reflections, never quite taking shape as a "tune" per se, but still bearing a deep emotional resonance.

Consistently eschewing ostentation, yet always reveling in collective music-making, this is a trio worth following, and the effort required to engage its unique concept is repaid in full.

Track Listing

Fame; Love; Money; Luck; Money II; Money III; Passion; Fame II; Health.

Personnel

Brodie West: saxophone, alto; Evan Cartwright: drums; Simon Toldam: piano.

Album information

Title: Fortunes | Year Released: 2020 | Record Label: Lorna Records

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