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Cory Weeds Quartet with Steve Davis: remembering music and musicians past

Steve Davis' trombone style was smooth and intense. Ken Lister provided clear, strong bass lines. ©Brett Delmage, 2013

Cory Weeds Quartet with Steve Davis
Wednesday, January 23, 2013
National Arts Centre, Fourth Stage

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Mid-way through his Ottawa concert, saxophonist Cory Weeds slowed down the blues and bop to acknowledge the three unexpected losses from the Canadian jazz community this month.

He first remembered Ottawa's Jacques Emond and Toronto's Del Dako, but it was clearly the death of Vancouver saxophonist Ross Taggart which had hit him the hardest. Taggart had been both his mentor and his close friend, and a musician he'd played with many times.

In remembrance, the band played Taggart's composition, “Thinking of You”. Weeds opened with a slow, sad line on tenor sax, and Steve Davis similarly responded on trombone. It was a reflective ballad, with strong piano chords underpinning it (Taggart played both piano and sax professionally), and attracted strong applause.

Although quite different in style from most of the repertoire that night, it showed off the strength of the group Weeds had assembled for this cross-continent tour. It was a collaboration of east and west: Weeds, pianist Tilden Webb, bassist Ken Lister, and drummer Jesse Cahill, all from Vancouver, and trombonist Steve Davis from New York City.

Their sound was heavily influenced by 50's and 60s jazz. The band opened with “Tonk” by Ray Bryant, a fast, breezy number which Weeds noted was made famous by trumpeter Art Farmer on an album from 1964. It featured Weeds and Davis playing in unison and then alternating, a style they continued to follow prominently throughout, and which emphasized both the sweetness of their tones and the intensity of their playing. The opening song of the second set was another Farmer number from 60/61: “Younger than Springtime”, newly arranged by Webb.

At the end of the tour in New York City, one week after the Ottawa show, the band is scheduled to record an album of originals written for this project. The show featured five of these songs, by four different band members. “Something Borrowed, Something Blue” by Lister was a blues with enough vividness and bounce that I suspect swing dancers would love it. “Rabbit Run” by Webb (was this a tip of the hat to John Updike's 1960 novel?) featured thoughtful playing in a more minor key, including an exploratory piano solo. “Not So Solid” by Weeds (a riff on Sonny Rollins' tune, “Solid”) was fast and rollicking, melodic and immediately enjoyable.

Davis contributed two numbers. “Close to Home” had a retro vibe, and lots of room for both him and Weeds to stretch out their solos. “Evening Shades of Blue” had a Latin feel, with sparkling piano and a contemplative, flowing trombone solo.

A particular highlight was another standard: the group presented Duke Ellington's “In a Sentimental Mood” in a way that emphasized both its ironic sweetness, and its feeling of unwanted solitude and melancholy. Davis' trombone had an earthy feel. Lister's bass solo sounded almost like a lonely monologue.

It was a tight ensemble, with Weeds and Davis most strongly featured, although each musician had solo sections. I particularly enjoyed Cahill's drumming: despite his emphatic style, he also knew when to hush with brushes or mallets in the quieter numbers. And when the band was swinging out, his was the strong foundation that gave the music its infectious drive.

It was a near-record cold temperature outside that evening. That and the mid-week scheduling might have discouraged attendance, but the National Arts Centre's Fourth Stage was respectably full. The audience clearly enjoyed the music, with repeated enthusiastic applause.

If I had any complaints, it was that there were a few too many standards. I would have liked to have heard more originals, and been a bit more surprised by the show. Regardless, it was a well-produced, highly approachable, and fun evening of music.

    – Alayne McGregor

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Photos ©Brett Delmage, 2013
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