The Canadian scene continues to be impressive. John Roney's Rate Of Change
leads me to wonder what it is that creates a sense of something that can be called "Canadian jazz." While Canada itself is somewhat divided by language (and culture), the country's mainstream jazzers feel connected by a strong sense of optimism and an underlying romanticism. Francois Carrier
belongs to an entirely different genre, playing mostly free improvisation, as he did on Happening
(Leo Records, 2006).
The original compositions that make up this album continually twist, turn and never stay put as they each explore a given theme. In the notes, Roney talks about the meaning of the album's title. He demonstrates the changes, both personal and musical, brought by the last five years since he moved from Toronto to Montreal, in different ways through each track.
This brings up the issue of familiarity. If a performer is new to you, as Roney is to me, then his musical past, in this case that which he is changing from
, is unknown, and the music has to be appreciated as it is.
That said, Rate Of Change
is a masterful album demonstrating Roney's compositional prowess and improvisational skill, along with his partners' unity of purpose and sensitivity. Stylistically, the individual tracks vary widely, from the overtly romantic "Older Now" and "Don't Go" to the Chopinesque harmonies of "Piano Seque" to solid driving swingers like "Go" and "Third Degree," but they have a number of characteristics in common.
The melodies all have features that allow for easy recognition, and yet the phrasing is never obvious and can be quite subtle. The underlying harmony moves but, as with the phrasing, it's not obvious at all. A constant feeling of overlap makes the "joints" where phrases or harmonies change almost invisible.
Roney is an amazing improviser who never seems to run out of ideas. He combines that with a very finely honed intuition that lets him know when to take a breath so that the river of ideas does not drown the listener. His playing style is an enticing mix of the romantic and the classical, along with some solid swing and techniques like tremolo. Each track has a definite structure that allows for drama and tension, both building and release.
The overall effect is that each track, while obviously moving, developing and changing in the moment, does so with such a natural ease as to yield surprise when it is over. This is where mere playing stops and artistry begins, and Rate Of Change
is very fine indeed.