The Twilight Fall
24-year old award-winning composer, orchestrator and multi-instrumentalist Chelsea McBride leads the Toronto based big band, The Socialist Night School which is heard here on its first full length recording. This big band is a unique cross-generational collection of some of Toronto finest musicians, where award-winning veterans like William Carn, Colleen Allen & Brownman Ali find themselves standing next to some of Toronto's hottest jazz 20-somethings that provides a platform for McBride to tell her musical stories. Her approach is in a manner similar to that of Bob Brookmeyer, Maria Schneider and Darcy James Argue, but here she displays her own fascinating approach. About the music here, each tune has it's own narrative direction accompanying it, and outlining a life-cycle that starts you at birth, and then -- one tune at a time -- moves you forward through a life-time of experiences.
Musically, she provides a varying canvas of textures, and approaches employed here ranging from the opening ballad, "Ambleside," with a vocal from Alex Samaras about waking up on a beach. Besides her own punchy tenor sax, her scoring of the reeds accompanying the vocals along with drummer Geoff Bruce's subtle cymbal play that evokes waves crashing on the beach make a picturesque performance. In contrast to the pastoral "Ambleside," there is the nervous energy "Intransitory," with its rock-tinged rhythmic feel, Chris Bruder's staccato piano, searching alto sax and David Riddel's fuzz-toned electric guitar which builds in intensity.
Of the title track she asks the listener: "Close your eyes and picture your six-year old self in onesie pajamas falling through a purple sky with orange clouds. Until you land in a carnival -- broken, tilted Ferris wheel on one side, dusty abandoned carousel, chipped paint, fading, on the other. …" The swirling musical colors along with biting guitar as the horns adding coloring and contrast until the horns explode before blistering trumpet as the tempo transitions into a march-like cadence before the musical storytelling of the bluesy "Smooth (or What I Should Have Said Instead)," with Samaras singing to a person one did not want to see but needs to make amends to, "If I had something to say, and something to prove, would you just be confused?" This is another number with the leader's distinctive tenor sax playing.
Other tracks take us further through the transit of our lives as McBride herself suggests in her own compositional narrative, with The Socialist Night School's performances of these imaginative compositions, wonderfully scored and played with considerable spirit, whether a trombone solo on "Arrival of Pegasus," or fiery tenor saxophone in the perky "Foot in Mouth," with some. "The Twilight Fail," is a multi-faceted musical journey that will delight listeners, and makes one hope to hear more from this Canadian composer and her big band.
I received a review copy from a publicist. This review originally appeared in the May-June 2017 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 372). Here is a video that gives a teaser of the music on "The Twilight Fail."