30 May 2012


They liked the venue. The Loft is small and oddly located in a medical centre, but Darren Sigesmund’s sextet, under the name of Strands, was smiling broadly by the end. The sound was good and the small venue was filled with a lively and informed student crowd and a various other agers so they could relax after lots of inter-gig travelling and get down to playing. Darren and his band are mostly from Canada, Toronto, and they’ve been touring through Japan, SE Asia, Australia (as far away as Perth), and will be carrying on to NZ on the way home. They’ve been picking up players in each country (here it was guitar master James Muller) and borrowing gear. Bassist Jim borrowed my bass, and we joked this was like a series of one night stands and how travelling with just a pocket-sized pre-amp (he was using a UK-made Headway EDB-1) is the dream of every double bassist. These were no slouchers – they were touring with grants from provincial governments – but they were just a bit under the weather when they started. It’s not easy to fly in, eat dinner, play a gig with a new instrument, repeat. But soon enough the playing was hot and relaxed and by the end of the night, the place was jumping, the solos were infectious, the rhythms were solid and busily syncopated and there were smiles all round.

James Muller had told Darren these were hard charts. He read some tortuous lines with surprising ease, but they were hard. There were lots of contorted unison and some parallel harmony melodies from voice and the front line instruments, Darren’s trombone and Luis’ alto sax, but also from James’ guitar and even Jim’s bass. I noticed how the colour and feel of these would change with different combinations - the alto would drop into counterpoint and solo against a melody, or both horns would dissolve into collective improvisation, or we’d get deep intent with four unison parts, or the tone would change with trom/voice unison or alto/voice. All this against vacillating counts that moved with rock solidity on drums and jazz flexibility on bass. I think it was only on one tune that I heard words from Venezuelan singer Eliana and this was for a ballad. Perhaps it was her Dance for Leila, written for her young daughter and an award winner at the Montreal Jazz Festival. The ballads were equally rich with compositional complexity. I think it was August ballad that had the repeating written bass line that spanned numerous measures. And as for the others, the title 7/8 yikes just says contortions. Their final tune, Little Mizoumi blues, doesn’t sound too complex, but only the solos had some relative simplicity. Otherwise, I loved the Ethan’s sharp hits and so-solid drumming in rock and latin and jazz styles and the easy syncopations and expressive solos on Jim’s bass that made the rhythm section. Also that rounded purity of Darren’s trom, the frequent divergent solos of Luis and the purity of the unison lines with Eliana’s wordless vocals that defined so many of the melodies. And of course James’ guitar was astounding as always. I was amused to see Luis smile congrats after one of James’ solos, and James returning with a (rare) “hah! faked-that” smile. I’ve felt the same thing, when you’re taking it out and it works pretty well, but of course, when James does it, it’s stratospheric.

This was a great night, skilled but also attractive and entertaining. I never saw Corea’s first Return to Forever with Flora Purim and Airto Moreira, but this had that lively and melodious presence and joyful Latin influences. I left in great cheer and so did the band. Strands Sextet was led by Darren Sigesmund (trombone) with Eliana Cuevas (vocals), Luis Denis (alto sax), James Muller (guitar), Jim Vivian (bass) and Ethan Ardelli (drums).

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