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The Composers Collective Big Band: The Toronto Project

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The Composers Collective Big Band: The Toronto Project
The term Composers Collective is quite often a thinly veiled phrase that signifies "experimental" or "avant-garde" jazz. Thankfully, that is far from true on the Composers Collective Big Band's irrepressible The Toronto Project, which carries the listener on a buoyant and colorful musical journey through Canada's largest city, capital of the province of Ontario and home to a number of superb jazz musicians.

True, there are some moments when the Collective veers from conservative to exploratory, but they are few and far between. For the most part, the ensemble cleaves to the task at hand, which is to shelter the city of Toronto and environs within a mantle of plain-spoken contemporary jazz. While there are seventeen tracks on the album, only eight are full-fledged compositions; the other nine are brief interludes depicting arrivals and departures, which someone presumably thought would be interesting. (Spoiler alert: they aren't.)

Six of the album's eight selections were written by members of the band or guest artists, including one by music director and trombonist Christian Overton. The others are by Chelsea McBride ("Inside the Toy Factory") and Shirantha Beddage ("Transit"). After arriving at Yonge Station (the stops are not listed on the album jacket), the band sets a swinging course on "West Toronto Ode," written by guest Pablosky Rosales, a Cuban-Canadian who is featured on tres, a Spanish chordophone that sounds much like a traditional guitar. "West Toronto" is arguably the most savory item on a consistently pleasing menu.

Trombonist Tom Richards' ambiguous "Non-Sequitur" is next, its whimsical portrait of residents in St. Clair West amplified by alto saxophonist Chris Roberts and spirited blowing by everyone else. "Spadina," Overton's rhythmic survey of Spadina Avenue and its large Chinese community, sounds far more Spanish than Chinese at the outset until guest Amely Zhou enters on the two-stringed erhu, at which point the Chinese motif prevails. Other solos are by alto saxophonist Tara Davidson, the composer on trombone and John Macleod on trumpet.

Guest vocalist Maya Killtron's graceful ballad, "Finding Home" (on which she sings, and trumpeter MacLeod—who leads his own Toronto-based big band—solos again), "explores feelings of solitude surrounded by a city of millions." While the tune is pleasant enough, the lyric is so opaque as to be irrelevant. McBride's breezy "Toy Factory" is next, with Davidson and Overton framing expressive solos before the band shouts its assent. Bassist Justin Gray's powerful "Interweave," which envisions traditional Indian culture set against modern-day Toronto, is painted in darker hues as the cultures interact, leading to a brash and full-throated coda. Guests Jonathan Kay (tenor saxophone) and Andrew Kay (alto saxophone) are the soloists.

Guitarist Erik Patterson wrote "The Commuter," a picturesque glance at Toronto's burgeoning traffic, Beddage the charming, trombone-centric "Transit," which offers a birds-eye view of Toronto's endless pattern of arrivals and departures. Saxophonist Paul Metcalfe solos smartly on "Commuter," while Overton and drummer Jeff Halischuk are outstanding on "Transit." As a portrait of a vibrant city, The Toronto Project is fabulous; as a portfolio of superlative big-band jazz, even more so.

Track Listing

West Toronto Ode; Non-Sequitur; Spadina; Finding Home; Inside the Toy Factory; Interweave; The Commuter; Transit.

Personnel

The Composers Collective Big Band
band / ensemble / orchestra
Jason Logue
trumpet
John Pittman
trumpet
Brian O'Kane
trumpet
Tara Davidson
saxophone, alto
Chris Roberts
saxophone, alto
Paul Metcalfe
saxophone, alto
Jared Welsh
saxophone, tenor
Marcus Ali
saxophone, alto
William Carn
trombone
Tom Richards
trombone
Pat Blanchard
trombone
Karl Silveira
trombone
Sylvain Bedard
trombone, bass
Erik Patterson
guitar, electric
Justin Gray
bass, electric
Additional Instrumentation

Pablosky Rosales: tres; Les Alt: flute; Amely Zhou: erhu; Maya Killtron: voice; Jonathan Kay: tenor sax; Andrew Kay: alto sax; Ravi Naimpally: tabla.

Album information

Title: The Toronto Project | Year Released: 2023 | Record Label: Self Produced


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