The Canadian Jazz Collective has a new album out, and is about to set off on a European tour. Guitarist and co-leader Lorne Lofsky talks about the band, about jazz in Canada in general, and about the forthcoming tour. Interview by Andrew Cartmel.
The Canadian Jazz Collective is effectively a supergroup formed around the core of Derrick Gardner on trumpet and flugelhorn, Lorne Lofsky on guitar and Kirk MacDonald on tenor sax. Supporting them — although all the other players are such outstanding performers in their own right, they go well beyond a supporting role — are Virginia MacDonald on clarinet, Brian Dickinson on piano, Neil Swainson on bass and Bernd Reiter on drums. Bernd, an Austrian, is the only non-Canadian in the line-up.
The brainchild of manager Judith Humenick, the CJC formed in 2022 and toured Europe, culminating in a night at Ronnie Scott’s. While they were in Germany the group made a pilgrimage to the renowned MPS studios in the Schwarzwald to record their album Septology (appropriately subtitled The Black Forest Session). This studio was a favourite destination for another Canadian jazz star, Oscar Peterson, who recorded many of his classic albums for MPS there. Indeed the benign shadow of that great pianist looms large over the CJC.
Lorne recalls, “When I was first getting into the jazz scene in Toronto I started playing as a sideman at George’s Spaghetti House with a really great trombonist, Butch Watanabe, who was a childhood friend of Oscar Peterson. And Oscar came down one night and heard us and he was very complimentary. And then a short time later out of the blue he called and asked me if I would like to do a record for Norman Granz’s label Pablo.” The resulting album, appropriately titled It Could Happen to You, came out in 1981, produced by Oscar Peterson, and Lorne would go on to play in Peterson’s quartet in the 1990s.
The tunes on Septology are all originals, written by Derrick Gardner, Lorne Lofsky and Kirk MacDonald. Among these, Lorne’s ‘Waltz You Needn’t’ is delightfully Monkish in both its title and content. I mentioned that this was particularly impressive coming from a guitarist. “Well, I think Thelonious Monk is hugely influential on people of all instruments,” said Lorne. “You don’t have to be a piano player to be into Monk.”
‘Silent Voices’, a Kirk MacDonald composition, has a kind of Miles Davis and Gil Evans feel, notably in Derrick Gardner’s horn playing. Of course, Evans was another Canadian jazz genius and his influence seems to have been deeply assimilated by the CJC. The resourceful richness of Evans’s writing for small combos and gift for unusual line-ups is evident in the supple purity of the CJC’s arrangements and in their clever addition of the clarinet to provide an intriguing extra voice.
“We thought it would be an interesting idea to have players that would add another colour to the band,” said Lorne. “So adding Kirk’s daughter, who is a really great clarinet player, makes for a very unconventional front line. A standard Art Blakey kind of front line would have been tenor saxophone, trumpet and trombone.”
I asked him who did the arrangements for the group. “We each arrange our own pieces. On the other hand, when we do a standard we usually pick something just before the gig and it’s not arranged. We have a kind of a jam session, flying by the seat of our pants. It’s a welcome change and a contrast to our own compositions, that are charted.”
We talked about great Canadian jazz artists. Besides Oscar Peterson and Gil Evans, Paul Bley and Maynard Ferguson are names that come readily to mind. Lorne would like to add another to that list. “For my money, Ed Bickert is a jazz guitarist extraordinaire. Ed was a mentor of mine and he played on landmark recordings with Paul Desmond. Ed was a huge influence on me as a player and I had the great fortune of playing with him.”
I made a note of that name. But if the CJC continues to record and play at their current standard, it looks like several more will be added to that list of luminaries.
The Canadian Jazz Collective begins its 2023 European tour on May 4 at the Bix Jazz Club in Stuttgard, reaches Ronnie Scott’s on 13 May and concludes at Espace Vauban in Brest on 21 May. Full tour dates HERE: