Dylan van der Schyff

The Definition of a Toy
Songlines SGL SA1554-2

Half of Vancouver’s first family of improvised music – with cellist Peggy Lee – drummer Dylan van der Schyff organized this international contingent for a hometown concert.

The results prove that when musicians have a connective history, an exceptional program can be developed after one rehearsal. Trumpeter Brad Turner and van der Schyff have played together since the 1990s; New York bassist Mark Helias and Amsterdam-based reedist Michael Moore met in 1978; and German pianist Achim Kaufmann has toured with Moore and the drummer since 2000.

Except for a trumpet-bass duo track and an abstract feature for drums, piano and reeds, the pieces are full-flavored and remarkably consistent. Tight compositionally, they’re loose enough for individual expression. Van der Schyff is a model of restraint throughout, rhythmically guiding the tracks without turning up the volume. Turner impresses with muted echoes and sluicing tones on his own moderato “Queen of the Box Office”, while the pianist can switch from the off-centre dynamics he exhibits on Helias’ romp, “Broken” – which also has some liquid flutter-tonguing from Moore’s clarinet – to committed mainstream comping elsewhere.

Kaufmann’s chord strumming and patterning shape the title tune. Encompassing slapped drum top and rattled cymbals, col legno bass pulsations and bugle-like brassiness from Turner, it culminates in bumpy dance-like rhythms. Before that, composer Moore’s trilled alto saxophone cadences imply a bulked up version of Paul Desmond’s tone.

Locking disparate component parts into a groove, the CD confirms van der Schyff’s talents as a top session organizer as well as a first-rate percussionist.

— Ken Waxman