Canadian Jazz Collective raise the roof at Ronnie’s

Kevin Le Gendre
MONDAY, MAY 15, 2023

The leading Canadian ensemble impress with their contemporary, imaginative take on post-bop jazz

Canadian Jazz Collective at Ronnie Scott’s – Photo by Emma Perry

There is a knowing and appealing nod to history in many ways tonight. The Canadian Jazz Collective’s impressive current album Septology refers to a seven strong line-up, that from the hearty downbeat, upholds the classic small group heritage epitomized by Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers. The punchy, sassy, greasy blues of opener ‘Dig That’ seals the deal convincingly, with trumpeter Derrick Gardner launching a fervently soulful solo from the catchy theme, while the swish harmonising of father and daughter combination, tenor saxophonist Kirk McDonald and clarinetist Virginia, provides rich additional colour to the frontline.

As the set unfolds it becomes clear that CJC has the necessary skillset to grow its own repertoire from within a number of traditions, not least the practise of taking well-known material as a point of departure for new compositional journeys. Kirk MacDonald’s ‘Starlight’, with its tasty medium tempo swing, is an astute variation on ‘Stella By Starlight, but he then broadens the stylistic canvas with ‘Life Cycles’, an ambitious suite of which the band play the last three movements, whose wistful, airy beauty vaguely suggests Gil Evans big band works scaled down. Throughout, the rhythm section – pianist Brian Dickinson, double bassist Neil Swainson and drummer Bernd Reiter – form a very coherent unit within the larger group, and show restraint to match momentum. It is the range of mood and beat, the seamless shifts from walking to pedal pointing, the peaks in energy through unison statements and the new impetus by way of successive improvisations – be it Virginia McDonald’s punchy clarinet or Lorne Lofsky’s understated guitar – that gives the band a noted identity.

Lofsky’s artfully hovering piece ‘The Time Being’ also makes the point that CJC is as much a band of composers as it is a band for whom just one person composes, and the wide array of both character and timbre enhances the rhythmic drive synonymous with small combos. It would be interesting to see CJC on a double bill with those other loosely related acoustic superheroes, The Cookers.