Heillig Manoeuvre’s sophomore disk, Inmotion , manages to straddle a fine line: harmonically and rhythmically rich enough to intrigue the more serious jazz listener, it also maintains a level of melodic accessibility and groove to appeal to the more casual listener. Successful on both counts, this is a record that covers a lot of territory but never loses site of engaging its audience. “I was brought up in a home where music was a social event,” says bassist/leader Henry Heillig. “To me it is a form of sharing, of communicating.”
Setting the tone for the album with the upbeat opener, “Ladybug Waltz,” the group quickly establishes a predilection for memorable melodies. Contemporary rhythms coupled with a strong lyrical sense abound, from the quirky 7/4 funk of “Sam’s Guitar” to the tender ballad, “Keep Walkin’.” From the Latin-tinged “Heatherweed” to the modernistic swing of “Miles Behind,” the group keeps things both intellectually engaging and spiritually moving.
Heillig has a long history of contemporary jazz work, dating back to the jazz-meets-Latin-meets-funk band Manteca which ran for over fifteen years, winning the Canadian equivalent of a Grammy, the Juno. He is a supple bassist on both acoustic and electric, contributing fine solos on “Sam’s Guitar” and in particular “Don’t Feel Bad Homburg,” where he brings to mind the lyrical touch of Charlie Haden.
Guitarist Jake Langley has covered a lot of ground in his relatively short career, from playing with Grateful Dead alumnus Merl Sanders to soul singer Bobby “Blue” Bland, as well as a more straight-ahead context with P.J. Perry and blues with Carlos del Junco. He brings his breadth of knowledge to this recording, from the post-Metheny bop on “Spring, Please” and “Procession” to the more gritty approach of “Sam’s Guitar.” Through it all he demonstrates the ability to combine solid technique with a sense of passion.
Pianist Craig Harley is another up-and-coming young player who has emerged on the scene since graduating from the University of Toronto Jazz Program in 1997. Whether on acoustic or electric piano, and like the rest of his bandmates, he manages to investigate harmonic depth while, at the same time, remaining completely accessible.
Drummer Howard Gaul couples a strong sense of groove with a slap-happy approach that brings the programme of original material to life. On “Dancing Julie” he solos confidently over an ostinato and proves that his rhythmic sense is backed up by formidable technique.
The challenge, when making a recording that wants to appeal to a broad audience is that, by making concessions to either side—challenge versus accessibility—one runs the risk of alienating everyone. Fortunately that is not the case with Inmotion , an album that remarkably finds a way to satisfy everyone while refusing to make any artistic compromises.
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