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Michelle Gr: Reaching

John Kelman By

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Michelle Grégoire may have been an active freelance artist for the past twenty years, but it's only now that she's releasing her long-overdue debut, the graceful and accessible mainstream effort Reaching. The Winnipeg, Canada born-and-raised pianist has studied with composer/arranger Maria Schneider, trumpeter/composer Kenny Wheeler, and trombonist/composer Bob Brookmeyer, and has contributed her talents, both as player and composer, to the Winnipeg Jazz Orchestra since its inception in '97.

For this quintet date she has picked some of the cream of the Canadian jazz scene. Saxophonist Kirk MacDonald has appeared on nearly thirty albums, including collaborations with Kenny Wheeler, singer Norma Winstone, and pianist John Taylor. He possesses a full-bodied tenor tone and rich linguistic command that gives his solos a focus and grounding, turning each one into an event. Trumpeter Kevin Turcotte, while curiously having no releases as a leader, has nevertheless appeared on over fifty recordings in the past fifteen years and continues to win national jazz awards with an approach that combines the lyricism and clean sure footedness of middle-period Miles Davis with a touch of Kenny Wheeler's melancholy and larger scope.

Bassist Jim Vivian, who along with Turcotte is on the Faculty of Music Jazz Program at the University of Toronto, has an equally impressive résumé, having recorded with artists including John Abercrombie, Jerry Bergonzi and Tim Hagans. His no-nonsense sense of time, ability to navigate the toughest chart with aplomb, and melodically inventive soloing was clearly evident in his set with the Mike Murley/David Braid Quartet at last summer's Ottawa International Jazz Festival. Drummer Ted Warren, who has worked with the likes of Rob McConnell's Boss Brass and Chuck Mangione, demonstrates a generally light and relaxed approach, coupled with an implied power and great set of ears.

It is, in fact, the group's collective experience and ability to anticipate that brings Grégoire's writing to life. She leans strongly to the lyrical, coupled with a solid sense of swing that ranges from the romanticism of "Miles Away to "Minor Alterations, where the head has something of an ECM ambience, but a solo blues section swings hard in a medium tempo way reminiscent of Miles' "So What. Grégoire makes great use of MacDonald and Turcotte, with lines that move in and around each other, occasionally resting in unison, but more often diverging into harmonies that give the impression of a larger front line.

Grégoire is clearly in command of a broader harmonic knowledge, yet her playing style is all about elegance, subtlety, and understatement. No sharp edges mar her approach, and she builds her solos gradually and with great care.

As much as Grégoire's heart is in the mainstream—and there is a clear Kind of Blue vibe to some of Reaching—she isn't trapped in a time warp. Reaching may be approachable, but in a way that doesn't sacrifice invention, interplay, and understated strength.

Visit Michelle Grégoire on the web.


Track Listing: Minor Alterations; December 1st; Blues for Us; Knock It; Miles Away; Joe's Tune; Lost and Found; Reaching

Personnel: Michelle Gr

Title: Reaching | Year Released: 2005 | Record Label: Boat House Records


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