After a seven year hiatus, bassist Eric Martin has reconvened the Montreal progressive jazz outfit Upright and released Opinion
, an album that owes more to the European progressive community than it does to more traditional American influences. The result is a recording that, with its electric approach, skirts the edges of fusion but, with less reliance on overt displays of technical prowess and a greater concern for compositional development, manages to avoid its more excessive trappings.
While the influence of UZEB is evident in some of the writing, the most direct link is to the Canterbury sound of groups including Phil Miller's In Cahoots and National Health. The title track, in fact, sounds like it would fit comfortably in the Miller songbook with guitarist Annam Nguyen, keyboardist Marc-Étienne Savage and saxophonist Bernard Barribeau showing their reverence for Miller, Pete Lemer (by way of Dave Stewart) and Elton Dean respectively. Nguyen, in particular, mirrors the oblique linear development that Miller has honed over the years.
The other apparent influence is that of bassist Hugh Hopper’s Franglo-Saxon band, but Martin is a defter player than Hopper, with a more nimble approach that shows the influence of another Miller cohort, Fred Baker, especially on fretless bass.
But with all the comparisons being drawn, Upright has managed to create a sound that, while its roots are evident, distinguishes itself with a more inherent sense of groove. Martin and drummer Jèrôme Chamberland are a strong rhythm team; intricate without being busy, they clearly drive tunes like “Maverick,” providing the perfect backdrop for fine solos from Nguyen and Savage. And, while swing has very little to do with most of the album, it is clear that Martin and Chamberland can swing when they want to, as they do on “Progression.”
Martin’s writing clearly exhibits some of the trademarks of the Canterbury Scene—the use of certain chord changes, harmonies and rhythmic devices that completely separate it from more American influences; and a spirit that crosses musical boundaries and eschews labels. This music is fusion in the truest sense of the word, in that it fuses a cosmopolitan diversity of influences. But unlike Fusion with a capital “F,” there is a stronger inherent sense of musicality, both compositionally and in the way the performers solo.
Intelligent, moving and engaging, Opinion will appeal to jazz fans who believe that jazz is not strictly an American music, but truly a world music, one that incorporates influences from a multitude of sources. Martin is an accomplished composer, a fine bassist and he has surrounded himself with a strong group of players; here’s hoping another seven years don’t have to go by before Upright releases another record.
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