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Joe Sullivan Big Band: Northern Ontario Suite

Jack Bowers By

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The latest recording by Canadian trumpeter Joe Sullivan's big band is built around his picturesque six-movement Northern Ontario Suite, whose purpose is to portray musically the sights, sounds and ambience of Sullivan's frosty corner of the world including the often spectacular aurora borealis ("northern lights"). The suite is preceded by a pair of Sullivan's engaging compositions ("Plus ca Change," "Mambo #6") and followed by baritone saxophonist Jean Frechette's "Later Joe."

While it is difficult for someone who doesn't live in that neighborhood to confirm that the suite has achieved its aim, what can be stated without reservation is that Sullivan's graphic themes stand well on their own and are well worth appraising. The first movement, "Ionosphere," which depicts Sullivan's impression of the northern lights, is a an aural delight, marred only by tenor Andre Leroux's protracted and over-the-top solo. Trumpeter Dave Mossing fares better, as does the veteran guitarist Lorne Lofsky who is later showcased on Movement 3, the lustrous, easygoing "Tiger Lily." Alto Remi Bolduc and trumpeter Jocelyn Couture share center stage on the bracing second movement, "May Run Boogaloo," trumpeter Aron Doyle (muted) and alto Donny Kennedy on the fourth, the well-named "Super City Shuffle."

Frechette strides confidently to the forefront with pianist Andre White on the even-tempered "Voices" before the suite closes with the mercurial "Abitibi Breeze," whose powerful solos are by tenor Al Mclean, bassist Alec Walkington and drummer Dave Laing. Sullivan takes the first (and his only) solo on the melodious opener, "Plus ca Change," preceding incisive statements by Laing and tenor David Bellemare, while Lofsky and trombonist Jean-Nicolas Trottier help brighten "Mambo #6" (which, Sullivan, writes, is "neither a real mambo, nor No. 6 of anything"). Sullivan and the band ring down the curtain with "Later Joe," a straight-on swinger with handsome solos by Leroux (relatively subdued here) and trombonist Dave Grott.

To bring his Northern Ontario Suite to life, Sullivan has employed a number of Canada's most accomplished musicians, who together make certain that every measure of his impressive work is given its due. The ensemble is solid, the soloists strong and resourceful, the music earnest and rewarding. In short, an altogether pleasing big-band session.

Track Listing: Plus ca Change; Mambo #6; Northern Ontario Suite (Ionosphere / May Run Boogaloo / Tiger Lily / Super City Shuffle / Voices / Abitibi Breeze); Later Joe.

Personnel: Joe Sullivan: leader, trumpet; Jocelyn Couture: trumpet; Jocelyn LaPointe: trumpet; Aron Doyle: trumpet; Dave Mossing: trumpet; Donny Kennedy: alto sax; Remi Bolduc: alto sax; Andre Leroux: tenor sax; Al Mclean: tenor sax; David Bellemare: tenor sax (1); Jean Frechette: baritone sax; Anh Phung: flute (1); Dave Grott: trombone; Richard Gagnon: trombone; Jean-Nicolas Trottier: trombone; Bob Ellis: trombone; Lorne Lofsky: guitar; Andre White: piano; Alec Walkington: bass; Dave Laing: drums.

Title: Northern Ontario Suite | Year Released: 2014 | Record Label: Perry Lake Records

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