Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Al Muirhead's Canadian Quintet Undertones

Al Muirhead's Canadian Quintet
Chronograph Records

Western Canadian Jazz Icon, Al Muirhead, came to wider prominence in North America with the release of his JUNO-nominated debut album ‘It’s About Time’. At the age of 82 years old, he is making up for lost time with his fourth release in just three years. This recording features Al on the rare bass trumpet with his new Canadian Quintet, all Canadian jazz heavyweights: Kelly Jefferson (sax), Reg Schwager (guitar), Neil Swainson (bass) and Ted Warren (drums).

Muirhead, as trumpeter, composer, arranger, sideman and recording artist has been making listeners take notice for longer than jazz fans might realize. Born in Regina, Saskatchewan, in 1935, he was playing in the Regina Symphony and dance bands by age 12. Muirhead started listening to and being influenced by the likes of Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, and Louis Armstrong. While Muirhead’s playing is infused with the indelible influence of the jazz giants, he brought his own flowing, melodic sound to a career in which he has worked with legends such as Diana Krall, Paul Anka, Rosemary Clooney, Frank Mills and Dizzy Gillespie.

The bass trumpet looks like an oversized version of that brass instrument with a sound like a valve trombone. There are ten songs, eight of them are standards and two originals with the overall tenor of the music being swing to bebop. It is a swinging ensemble and Jefferson is a fine solo foil for Muirhead's melodic trombone sorties with a clean tone and a driving style while guitarist Schwager has more than several occasions to display a fluid attack and thoughtful solos. His comping and the support of Swainson and Warren help generate the nicely paced swinging performances.

The album opens with this he easy bluesy stride of "A Tune For Cal," written for the memory his older brother. Muirhead has an ear for classics of the big band including "Rose Room" that opens with his attractive playing followed choice solos from Jefferson and Schwager with the bass and drums providing a sure foundation as well as a solid bass solo. I'm am most familiar with "'Deed I Do," from the Count Basie recording featuring Jimmy Rushing in which Muirhead delights with his slightly gruff lyricism. The relaxed swing of the rendition of "You're My Everything" is followed by Muirhead's "Take It To Bank Tom," dedicated to Canadian musician Tommy Banks, and also has a bluesy feel in the leader's relaxed solo. It is followed by a marvelous interpretation of the Mancini and Mercer classic waltz, "Charade," with Jefferson's driving, searching solo contrasting with the leader's raspy, yet lyrical, playing.

After a lovely "I Don't Stand a Chance With You," with a splendid solo from Muirhead, the album closes with a spirited rendition of "Four Brothers," a number chosen to honor his sister Elaine, with solo spots to the entire band. Muirhead and his quintet are an impressive, swinging ensemble that have produced a wonderful swinging release.

I received a download to review from a publicist. Here is an interview with Al Muirhead.

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