Canadian Jazz Collective: Live At Le Vauban

Dynamic Canadian band including Lorne Lofsky and Neil Swainson laid down some crackling hard bop in Brest to close its 2023 European tour

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One might not imagine that Brest, on the north-west edge of France, would have a jazz club for connoisseurs, but so it is with Le Vauban, where this star-studded Canadian septet recorded its second album, live, last year. Liner-note writer Jacques Person says: “Le Vauban is the best jazz club in Brest and Charles Muzy, the owner, is the guardian of this music temple… It was an exceptional concert with fantastic musicians.”

The Collective’s core musicians are guitarist Lorne Lofsky, trumpeter Derrick Gardner and tenor-saxophonist Kirk MacDonald, a threesome expanded to seven and judiciously selected. This is its second album, the debut release in 2023 having been Septology, recorded in Germany. The Le Vauban album includes material from the first as well as new material, all of it played on a tour covering six countries in 18 days. The six charts – two each – were written by the founding trio.

Executive producer Jordi Pujol and the band have been generous in allocating space and time. The shortest track by a smidgen is Lofsky’s Waltz You Needn’t, a quirky subversion of 3/4, with Lofsky burrowing beneath the theme and a final solo by bassist Neil Swainson; the longest at almost 24 minutes comprises the three movements of the continuous Life Cycles Suite, by MacDonald. Swainson, perhaps with Lofsky the most familiar musician on the stand, is everywhere impressive, tirelessly and conspicuously driving the mid-tempo blues of Gardner’s Dig That and with pianist Brian Dickinson striding through the suite below the double time of Lofsky and MacDonald.

The Suite begins with an elaborate choral head for the principals and end with it dissolving into artful polyphony. In between, the tempi and dynamics rise and fall, with Swainson upping the stakes behind Dickinson’s solo and Lofsky colouring Gardner’s stratospheric reaching out.

Lofsky is first from the blocks on his Live From The Apollo, and there are also solos from MacDonald, Dickinson and drummer Bernd Reiter. There are a lot of solos on the album as a whole, some more compelling than others. In fact, all the tracks could have benefited from reining in. But one guesses it wasn’t that sort of night. MacDonald’s oddly titled – or ironic – Lament For A Better Tomorrow, proclaims what kind of night it was.

Discography
Dig That; Waltz You Needn’t; One Thing Led To Another; Live From The Apollo; Life Cycles Suite, Movements 6, 7 and 8; Lament For A Better Tomorrow (67.59)
Derrick Gardner (t, flh); Kirk MacDonald (ts); Lorne Lofsky (g); Virginia MacDonald (cl); Brian Dickinson (p); Neil Swainson (b); Bernd Reiter (d). Le Vauban jazz club, Brest, France, 21 May 2023.
Fresh Sound FSR-CD7503