The Composers Collective Big Band: The Toronto Project

Tight Toronto big band plays eight original charts touching on funk, Latin, swing and ballad styles and embellished with effective solos

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The Composers Collective Big Band, an 18-piece ensemble, was formed in 2005 led by Christian Overton, composer and trombonist. All of its members have Toronto roots or connections, and are highly regarded in Canada. This tribute to their home city is both exasperating and promising.

The bad news first: this CD appears to have eight tracks whereas the number 17 will appear on your player. The nine other tracks are short announcements depicting arrivals and departures on Toronto’s subway system. Perhaps designed to add local flavour, they serve no musical purpose and could be skipped. And the eight tracks are not numbered on the sleeve, making them hard to locate. The accompanying sleeve notes offer minimal information – apart from the intelligence that the album is dedicated to “the people of Toronto”.

Six of the compositions are by members of the CCBB or “guests”. On the credit side, the ensemble and section playing throughout is exemplary. Pride of place should probably go to the opener, the jaunty West Toronto Ode, written by Pablosky Rosales with fleet fingering from guitarist Erik Patterson. Non-Sequitur is a brooding original by Tom Richards, featuring altoist Chris Roberts. Finding Home, the one vocal on the album, has Maya Kiltron failing to make sense of the repetitive and pedestrian lyrics, but is partly redeemed by a flugelhorn solo from John MacLeod. Soprano saxophonist Tara Davidson is the soloist on The Commuter, and Christian Overton’s composition Spadina. He is also featured on Inside The Toy Factory. One track (see if you can find it) with a distorted tenor solo qualifies for Philip Larkin’s dismissal of a Coltrane recording as being “ugly on purpose”.

How much (or how little) The Toronto Project contributes to an understanding of the multi-ethnic nature of the city’s population is a moot point. Comments by some of the composers themselves are less than illuminating. West Toronto Ode (written by Cuban-Canadian Rosales) is meant to celebrate “the warm welcoming community of Little Portugal”, while The Commuter (composed by Erik Patterson) is an aural depiction of “surviving the white knuckle gauntlet that is Toronto traffic”. Whatever, this uneven album has many redeeming features. Try it.

Discography
*Arriving At Yonge Station; West Toronto Ode; *Arriving At St. Clair Station; Non-Sequitur; *Presto Gate; Spadina; *TTC Bus Stop; Finding Home; *Union Station; Inside The Toy Factory; *Walk Sign Is On For All Crossings; Interweave; *HWY 427; The Commuter; *GO Train; Transit; *Train Out Of Town (52.40)
Christian Overton (md, tb); Tara Davidson, Chris Roberts, Paul Metcalfe Jared Welsh (as, ss, f); Marcus Ali (bar, bcl, f); Jason Logue John Pittman, Brian O’Kane, John MacLeod (t, flh); William Carn, Tom Richards, Pat Blanchard, Karl Silveira (tb); Sylvain Bedard (btb); Erik Patterson (elg); Carissa Neufeld (p, kyb); Justin Gray (b, elb); Jeff Halischuk (d). Guests: Pablosky Rosales (tres); Les Alt (f); Amely Zhou (erhu); Maya Killtron (v); Jonathan Kay (ts); Andrew Kay (as); Ravi Naimpally (tab). Toronto, May 2022. (*Denotes brief spoken introductions and/or locomotive sounds before eight orchestral performances.)
christianovertonmusic.com