From north of the U.S. border comes The History of Us, a warm-hearted album by the Carn Davidson 9, a Toronto-based nonet co-led by trombonist William Carn and saxophonist Tara Davidson. The album consists of a pair of three-part suites, one by Carn, the other by Davidson, separated by Carn's amiable composition, "Goodbye Old Friend," a fond salute to his late and dearly loved cat, Murphy.
Carn's "Finding Home" suite, which leads things off, was inspired by his family's journey from Hong Kong to Costa Rica, where Carn was born, and then to Canada, where he was reared and educated. Its titles are "A New Life," "A Mother's Song" and "Home." Each one is melodically well-drawn and thematically apt, with the ensemble on its toes throughout. Trumpeter Kevin Turcotte solos on "A New Life," Carn on the gentle "Mother's Song" (whose traditional Chinese melody echoes a lullaby sung to him by his mother when he was a baby), baritone Shirantha Beddage on chorale-infused "Home."
Davidson's "Suite 1985" was written in response to not one but two personal tragedies, the passing of her mother from breast cancer when Davidson was five years old, and the loss of her father and "biggest fan" in 2015. The movements are titled "The Epitaph (for Mom)," "Swept Out to Sea (for Dad)" and "Wisely If Sincerely." Bass and clarinet introduce "The Epitaph," whose melodies and harmonies are far more upbeat and optimistic than sorrowful until the last minute or so, when they veer toward crestfallen. Turcotte is again the featured soloist, as are bassist Andrew Downing and tenor Kelly Jefferson on the slow-moving and shadowy "Swept Out to Sea." Davidson takes her lone turn in the spotlight (and a splendid one it is) on soprano on the lyrical, Scottish-sounding "Wisely If Sincerely," based on the Davidson family's Gaelic motto, "Sapienter Si Sincere."
That leaves the brief and beguiling "Goodbye Old Friend," on which no one solos but everyone has his best foot forward as the earnest melody unfolds and leads to its placid conclusion (with the faint sound of a feline purring). The Carn Davidson 9 is sturdy from end to end, and as there is no piano present, Downing and drummer Ernesto Cervini must share the rhythmic duties, which they do quite nicely and with nary a hint of strain. While it would have been nice to place a few more numbers on the sunny side of the street, it is what it is, and the outcome offers scant reason for complaint.
Finding Home Suite (A New Life/A Mother’s Song/Home); Goodbye Old Friend; Suite 1985
(The Epitaph—for Mom/Swept Out to Sea—for Dad/Wisely If Sincerely).
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