Toronto-based reeds player and composer Brodie West is known for his collaborations with legendary Dutch drummer Han Bennink which led to two recordings, and his work with the Dutch band The EX and Terrie Ex, who invited West to join their tours and recordings with the late, great Ethiopian sax player Getatchew Mekuria, as well as with the fellow-Canadian Lina Allemano 4. But West is also a gifted composer and bandleader with a unique, genre-bending perspective on modern jazz who releases now two albums with his Quintet and the octet Eucalyptus.
«Meadow of Dreams» is the third album of the all-acoustic Quintet. The Quintet features pianist Tania Gill, double bass player Josh Cole and drummers Nick Fraser (a frequent collaborator of Tony Malaby and Kris Davis) and Evan Cartwright (who also plays with West in the duo Ways, and here adds vibes and acoustic guitar to his arsenal). The album is released by the Texan free-jazz imprint Astral Spirits and the brand new Canadian imprint Ansible Editions. The album was recorded at Canterbury Music Company in Toronto in February and March 2020.
West composed eight pieces, all stressing his idiosyncratic and somehow quirky voice and his angular themes. His compositions are minimalist, evocative etude-ballads with a touch of Nordic melancholia. These pieces repeat hypnotic themes but quite often stumble upon gentle, unison melodies, sudden energetic skronk cascades and asymmetric rhythmic patterns. The three-part «Inhabit» suggests an exotic and ritualistic atmosphere in the first part, where West gently dances with the layered percussive work of Fraser and Cartwright; an impressionistic atmosphere in the second chamber part, and a mysterious and poetic one in the last part. The last, title piece is a beautiful and haunting ballad that highlights West’s open musical vision.
The octet Eucalyptus is described as «avant-calypso» band like the Quintet relies on the twin drummers Fraser and Cartwrightm plus trumpeter Nicole Rampersaud, guitarist Kurt Newman, clavinet player Ryan Driver, double bass player Michael Smith and percussionist Blake Howard. West alternates here between the alto sax and the clarinet. «Moves» is the sixth album of Eucalyptus and the first one to cross into a bonafide full-length territory. This octet offers West’s most eclectic and kaleidoscopic vision, compacted into tight and playful textures. The seven pieces, recorded at the same location of «Meadow of Dreams», insist on strong and clever collective aesthetics, a product of improvisational synergy Eucalyptus has built over more than a decade together.
Each piece suggests a distinct side of Eucalyptus, and all approximate the intoxicating warmth this octet conjures in its live performances. «Infinity Bananas» that opens «Moves» introduces the manic, polyrhythmic drive of Eucalyptus. The seductive «Cuckoo Birds» nods to West’s collaboration with The Ex and Mekuria, as Eucalyptus has made a tradition out of mounting month-long residencies at Toronto’s Hirut Cafe, a cozy east-end eatery that serves delicious Ethiopian cuisine. «Dust in the Wind» sounds like a melody written to one of Robert Wyatt’s psychedelic songs. «It’s In A Move» sails on light Bossa Nova waves while «Rose Manor» (titled after the retirement home of West’s grandmother Lorna, ever a source of inspiration for West) and «Snapdragon Hop» float on soulful, uplifting aromas of dub. The last «Lookie» is a sweet, nostalgic jazz ballad.
Evan Cartwright (dr, vib, g), Josh Cole (b), Nick Fraser (dr), Tania Gill (p), Brodie West (as, cl), Nicole Rampersaud (tp), Kurt Newman (g), Ryan Driver (clavinet), Michael Smith (b), Blake Howard (perc)