Friday, March 1, 2013

North American Jazz Alliance Montreal Sessions Challenge 2013

I often use the term "jazz collective" when attempting to describe an ensemble that draws from a myriad of influence throughout the global music scene.

The North America Jazz Alliance keeps it slightly closer to home with some of the finest American and Canadian jazz musicians that were hand picked by producer Peter Maxymych to do their own riff on some more eclectic standard fare rarely recorded and perhaps next to the originals, never pulled off with this type of flair. Diversity is the key to success with The Montreal Sessions which runs the sonic spectrum from foot to the floor bop, bossa and even tango for a more organic world music nuance that continues to extreme level of excellence Challenge Records has become famous for.

Not being totally familiar with vocalist John Labelle, I was anxious to check out the opening tune and a personal favorite being "Just One Of Those Things." With the tempo kicked up a notch and the delightful French Canadian gypsy jazz vibe brought by vibe player Steve Hobbs and accordion player Kenny Kotwitz there us a joy and freedom of swing that is natural and effervescent. Greg Clayton turns it out with a Joe Pass infusion of technical proficiency while keeping the lyrical flow front and center. A hand picked group that gives the impression of a twenty year collaboration as a working band. A swing that you hear with your hips and feel with your feet but nothing to overpowering. "Angel Eyes" is a gorgeous ballad only sweetened with the bass of Alec Walkington and the brush work of drummer Dave Laing. The reharm of "Dancing In The Dark" is a perfect showcase for vocalist John Labelle. The vocals of Labelle are stellar be it with phrasing, tone, inflection and an innate interpretation of vocal swing, John Labelle brings it every time!

While this sextet could hold their own with any mid size ensemble, the re-purposing of the accordion is a pure stroke of genius. Stereotyping the accordion as belonging strictly to the gypsy jazz genre simply does not work but instead this is the evolution of a genre but with the artists putting their own individual voices together for a refreshing new synergy of harmonic energy.

The only possible criticism I might have would be just one or two slightly more recognizable tunes may help the North America Jazz Alliance some more press that they so richly deserve.

A top notch jazz collective flipping genres and creating their own sound. Producer Peter Maxymych should be highly commended!

4 out of 5 stars!

Tracks: Just One Of Those Things; Close Your Eyes; Cute; Oblivion; Angel Eyes; Nobody Else But Me; Deliah; Charade; Dancing In The Dark; It Could Happen To You; Only Trust Your Heart; That's All.

Personnel: Steve Hobbs: vibes; Kenny Kotwitz: accordion; Greg Clayton: guitar; John Labelle: vocals; Alec Walkington: bass; Dave Laing: drums.

Special Thanks To Jim at Jazz Promo Services.