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Peter Hum: Alpha Moment (CD review)

Alpha Moment by Peter Hum (front cover photo by Bruce Deachman). The CD will be released in Ottawa in a concert at the NAC Fourth Stage on Thursday, September 24.Alpha Moment
Peter Hum
Independent, 2015

Over the last year, I've heard Peter Hum in concert several times. Although he's often had a major role in arranging the music being played, he is usually seen off to the side, in the darker edges of the stage, letting others take the spotlight and talk about the music.

This approach is also present in his second album, Alpha Moment. While the compositions clearly reflect Hum's complex style, his piano playing is not particularly featured in this album. It's certainly there in the mix, but the leads and the solos are primarily by saxophonists Kenji Omae and Nathan Cepelinski and guitarist Mike Rud.

Instead, Hum's voice comes through in his writing and arranging. This CD demonstrates Hum's talent for layering instruments and contrasting voices: for example, Omae's more full-bodied sax style against Cepelinski's more finely-edged lines. His compositions flow and and develop, with considerable dynamic range throughout.

The CD also celebrates melody, supporting and developing those melodic threads throughout each piece, changing them in a way that works naturally from the initial statement.

Hum released his first album, A Boy's Journey, in 2010. This second album was mostly recorded in December, 2011, but has taken almost four years to release. Listening to both, it's clear that the two are companion CDs, with overall a similar sound.

This album also features the same line-up as the first – with the addition of Rud, a frequent collaborator with Hum. In fact, almost all the musicians – with the possible exception of drummer Ted Warren – had played with Hum for years, although not all have been recently heard in Ottawa. Omae last played Ottawa at the end of 2013, and Cepelinski in 2012.

And (again with the exception of Warren) they've all lived in Ottawa. Reflecting all all-too-common loss of Ottawa talent to the jazz centres, all but Hum have moved away. Rud and bassist Alec Walkington are in Montreal; Omae in Seoul, South Korea; and Cepelinski in New York City.

The album opens with the dynamic “The Good Fight”, one of the more memorable pieces on the CD. Emphatic with its opening riff, it initially shows off Omae's clear ribbon-like sax lines in a wistful, reflective melody, and then adds Cepelinski's warm alto in circling duets. Warren's echoing drumming drives this piece along, and Rud embroiders the melody with an uplifting, fluid guitar solo – rising over the two saxes as they rejoin the music.

“Voice From Afar” is dedicated to jazz broadcaster Katie Malloch, and her sorely-missed voice on CBC Radio. It sounds much like a song Katie would have wanted to feature on her “Jazz Beat” show. With shining keyboard lines and gentle Latin-influenced rhythms, followed by more exploratory saxophone lines, it's as bright and warm as Katie's voice was on that late-lamented show.

“La tendresse, svp” was also on A Boy's Journey, but on that earlier CD it was one of the few piano-centric pieces. For Alpha Moment, Hum has more than tripled the ballad in length and, while retaining its melody, has made it primarily a noir-ish saxophone showcase, reminding me of Ernie Watts in Charlie Haden's Quartet West.

“Bon Vivant” grabbed me with its starting bass riff and strong forward momentum, propelled both by Hum's keyboards accented with sparkling high notes, by the rougher-edged saxophone lines, and finally by a forceful bass/drums duet.

The album closes with “Saddest Day of the Year”, a slow, thoughtful ballad with the most interesting melody on the CD, and featuring an expressive and interactive sax-guitar duet.

The one thing I did feel missing on this CD was truly joyous music where the musicians really let go. The nearest to that was the sax solos in the title track, “Alpha Moment” and even there I felt a certain amount of restraint and control in the music, rather than full-out improv. In general, the recording felt distanced and not as exciting as the musicians might sound live.

And that made the cover photo, while visually interesting, feel quite disconnected from the music. A roller-coaster? This album was the antithesis of that sort of all-out exhilarating, suspenseful music. The compositions here are carefully put together and thoughtful, but overall have a melancholy edge reminding me of loss of innocence, not thrill-seeking.

    – Alayne McGregor

Peter Hum will officially release “Alpha Moment” with a four-city tour this month, starting with a show at the Upstairs Jazz Bar in Montreal on September 23. On Thursday, September 24, he will perform at the National Arts Centre Fourth Stage in Ottawa, and continue to the Jazz Room in Waterloo on September 26 and The Rex in Toronto on September 27. The tour will include all the musicians on the CD with the exception of Cepelinski.

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