Give the Toronto drummers some (CD reviews)
Ottawa Citizen November 7, 2011
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Redshift is only the fourth CD in 20 years from the Barry Elmes Quintet on the veteran Toronto drummer’s own Cornerstone label. In this case, familiarity breeds great ease and connection in playing with one another.
Elmes’ group consists of the cream of Toronto’s jazz establishment — saxophonist Mike Murley, trumpeter Kevin Turcotte and bassist Steve Wallace have been with him since 1991, while guitarist Reg Schwager at some point replaced the retiring Ed Bickert. With Redshift, Elmes wanted to extend his group’s sonic palette, and to this end the disc also features Kelly Jefferson adding flute or tenor saxophone on three tracks, as well as organist Vanessa Rodrigues on three tracks.
As a composer, the 59-year-old Elmes remains true to bopping tunes, sometimes with a few drummerly twists (the opener, Reading Week, seems to flourish in two grooves at once, Wayne Shorter’s This Is For Albert has been updated with some 3/4 bars). All of the music is crisply arranged and executed, especially the bright, swinging title track, the shuffling minor-key rhythm change-y kind of tune called Stumpy and above all The Reincarnation of Ratboy. That tune, another minor-key medium tempo swinger, is a cavalcade of timbres and counterpoint bolstered by flute, muted trumpet and organ. On The Brush-Off, which features the jovial sparring of Murley and fellow tenor man Jefferson, Elmes shows off his brushwork prowess — to the extent that I find myself thinking that sweeping as he does is becoming a bit of a lost art among younger drummers.
The disc ends with Abide With Me, the hymn by Monk (William Henry, not Thelonious Sphere) that was also covered by Monk (Thelonious Sphere). On it, as on Ratboy and the slow, moody tune Theme For Sterling Hayden, Rodrigues adds organ colouring, fattening the lean group’s sound just a touch. The only question I’d have for Elmes regarding his CD is why he chose not to give Rodrigues, who can burn and then some, some solo space.
CADENCE | JUL - AUG - SEP 2011
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Redshiftî is a blast of modern mainstream Jazz from the Toronto area. Drummer Elmes may be the leader but he does not dominate the session. He’s content to bob and weave underneath the slippery intertwining lines set up by the three-man
front line of Schwager, Murley, and Turcotte. The pieces are all within normal Jazz parameters but still sound original. Reading Week is a twisty Blues with shifting tempos and Stumpy and Red Shiftî are laidback, Hard Bop shuffles. Brief Sanctuary and Ratboy are both built on under-lying Baroque rhythms. Sanctuary has Turcotte sailing against the jaunty unison tenors of Murley and guest Jefferson while ìRatboyî is a perky little round enlivened by flute, wah wah trumpet and organ. Sterling Hayden is a downbeat ballad
melody with organ and Schwager’s liquid guitar prominent while Wayne Shorter’s This Is for Albert is a waltz that swirls into lively Hard Bop. Through it all, Murley, Turcotte and the other front players provide strong, exuberant soloing and Elmes and bassist Wallace are a supportive and engaged rhythm section.
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Toronto-based drummer-composer Barry Elmes has, for the past 20 years, flown under the radar with his quintet featuring tenor saxophonist Mike Murley, trumpeter Kevin Turcotte, guitarist Reg Schwager and bassist Steve Wallace. It’s time for more recognition: Redshift, the group’s fifth release, is chock-full of first-rate solos and compositional surprises, like the quirky blues “Reading Week”; the constantly shifting “Stumpy,” teeming with rhythmic displacement; the chamber-like intro to “Brief Sanctuary”; or the boisterously swinging title track. Drum heads will want to study Elmes’ masterful use of brushes on “The Reincarnation of Ratboy” and the uptempo swinger “The Brush-Off,” and an impressive group empathy marks covers of Wayne Shorter’s “This Is for Albert” and the traditional hymn “Abide With Me.”
By Bill Milkowski
Professor of Jazz, Statesman of Groove
Purple Cabbage, April 2011
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Ladies and Gentlemen. Barry Elmes is back rocking one of this city’s best jazz groups (and one of the city’s best mustaches). Elmes is an anomaly. It is said that he first learned to play drums by watching Ringo Starr during The Beatles’ famous appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show. Inspired by Ringo’s unique approach to drum set playing, Elmes arranged his own in front of the television facing Starr, recreating a mirror image setup with his drums on the opposite sides. Thus the legend was born and Elmes learned to play a kit designed for a left-hander, but leading with his right. This is why if you get a chance to see Elmes play, you might at first be confused as to how someone so great can be playing so fundamentally wrong… but so musically right!
REDSHIFT is The Barry Elmes Quintet’s fifth album. The group has taken on many different faces over the years, but Elmes is always on top of his game when choosing the best sidemen to fit his highly melodic and groove oriented compositions. On this disc we have an all-star line-up of Toronto’s finest: Mike Murley (tenor saxophone), Kevin Turcotte (trumpet), Reg Schwager (guitar) Steve Wallace (bass) and special guest appearances by Kelly Jefferson (flute and tenor saxophone) and Vanessa Rodrigues (organ).
The title track, Redshift (track #4) was “composed in honour of astronomer Edwin Hubble who provided convincing evidence that there are galaxies other than our own and that the universe is indeed expanding”. Elmes’ “sense of wonder when looking up at the stars” seems to run parallel to his life. Much like Edwin Hubble, Elmes seems to be discovering more about himself everyday. Elmes never loses a beat, as his groove continuously grows deeper and his compositions stronger. REDSHIFT is through and through a fantastic jazz album. While it doesn’t break ground in terms of experimentation, it certainly proves (especially to today’s often over analytical and technical jazz scene) that strong compositions, and incredible musicianship will never grow old.
“Brief Sanctuary” – From the rubato opening, this song strikes a chord inside. Maybe it is because of the infectious groove, back-up horn harmonies, or the fact that the man himself, Kevin Turcotte, takes the lead beautifully on this one. This is clearly a group song, which has always been a strong point for Elmes, as all of his tunes often have beautiful band arrangements.
“Redshift” – This song feels like it could have come straight out of Tin-Pan Alley. A driving pulse and a great melody, played by Turcotte and Murley, drive this song into incredibly inspired solos. Elmes and Wallace are locked-in like Philly Jo and Chambers, and Reg’s comping and soloing is just so damn good! Mike Murley, as per usual, kills it – every note just cruising as deep in the pocket as humanly possible. Throw in some classic trading with Elmes and man, you’ve got one insanely good track.
“The Reincarnation of Ratboy” – To sum this one up, I will quote Elmes, “You’ll have to ask me about this one in person, preferably in a bar.”
“Theme For Sterling Hayden” – Although I was initially unsure of how the organ would fit into the combo, I was pleasantly surprised. Vanessa Rodrigues plays the part beautifully, filling the empty spaces in this ballad with an eerie organ sound, adding a character to the composition that truly makes it stand out.
I can comfortably say that there are absolutely no weak tunes on this entire album. From the opening notes of “Reading Week” to the heartfelt rendition of “Abide With Me”, this is an incredible album. The playing shows that Toronto has some of the finest jazz musicians in the world and a great leader in Barry Elmes.
The Purple Cabbage
Wholenote April 2011
Whotenote | April 2011
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It’s been years since sophisticated drummer Barry Elmes’ quintet entered the lists, but the wait’s worth it for Barry Elmes Quintet - Redshift (Cornerstone CRST 127 www.cornerstonerecordsinc.com), a nine-tune session showcasing leading jazzmen at the top of their game. The beat’s in a constant state of buoyant flux as tenorman Mike Murley, trumpeter Kevin Turcotte, guitarist Reg Schwager and propulsive bass Steve Wallace romp through seven artfully-arranged Elmes originals, joined on some tracks by hornman Kelly Jefferson and Montreal-based organist Vanessa Rodrigues. The opening Reading Week is an appealing blues in ever-changing meters and Stumpy updates “Pink Panther” themes with rugged tenor and glistening guitar that counterpoints jagged passages elsewhere. All the Elmes rhythmically-charged tunes suggest a long shelf life with their imaginative structures and unspooling lines that create their own elegant moments – and they get sterling, probing and vigorous execution here. Thus one can accept the leader’s indulgent inclusion of the hymn Abide With Me.
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