Canadian Jazz Collective Get Cooking at Ronnie Scott’s Debut

By Kevin Whitlock
FRIDAY, MAY 13, 2022

The all-star ensemble dazzled on their debut appearance at the iconic London jazz club

The Canadian Jazz Collective (L-R: Brian Dickinson, Virginia MacDonald, Lorne Lofsky, Derrick Gardner, Neil Swainson, KirkMacDonald & Bernd Reiter). Photo credit: Robert Crowley

Mix together a group of outstanding talents and you’ll get a stellar band, right? Not necessarily – the history of jazz (and rock, or football, for that matter) is littered with failed groupings which look good on paper but which fail to gel on stage or in the studio (or on the pitch).

Fortunately, for the queue of curious fans snaking out into the Soho night, the latest jazz ‘supergroup’ not only gelled on their UK debut, but doubly delivered. The Canadian Jazz Collective do exactly what they say on the tin: a septet of stellar Canuck talent: Kirk MacDonald on tenor; his daughter Virginia on clarinet; Neil Swainson (bass); trumpeter Derrick GardnerLorne Lofsky (guitar); pianist Brian Dickinson; and drummer Bernd Reiter – the CJC are one of those amalgams whose combined talents are even greater than the sum of their parts.

On this, the last night of their debut European tour, and performing a six-song (plus encore) set, each member took (often showstopping) solos at appropriate points, but it was the ensemble playing that really grabbed the attention. The three-strong sax/trumpet/clarinet frontline, driven relentlessly by the rhythm section, worked beautifully and the father-daughter interplay between the MacDonalds was often exquisite. The ensemble’s music is questing and exploratory, while retaining its accessibility and swing, and ranged from bop to bossa and back again. The kind of thing audiences love.

As a soloist Gardner was outstanding, his playing high and hard but exhibiting masterly control and never becoming shrill (a shoutout too, for MacDonald fille, whose tone was never less than spot-on) but this was a night when everyone on Ronnie’s famous stage shone; there’s a delightful unselfishness about this group, with the front-of-stage musician stepping aside to allow the audience to see the bass, drums and guitar whenever they soloed.

The tunes performed were all originals (by either MacDonald père, Gardner or Lofsky) and most of the material hadn’t been performed prior to this tour. The material was strong – particularly impressive was MacDonald’s lengthy ‘Life Cycles’, which allowed each band member their spot in the sun; ‘Shadows’, driven by Swainson’s powerful, swinging bass; and Gardner’s powerful opener, ‘Dig That’.

The seven musicians, who have played with each other in countless combinations, had not all played together before forming CJC; and considering they’d made their live debut a mere seven days before this show, speaks to the fact this this is a group that has really gelled, right from the start.

For those wanting to hear more, the CJC should be touring again in the future, and have just finished recording their first album (of which, more news in the July issue of Jazzwise). Something to look forward too indeed.