Mr. E Records #5

By Ken Waxman

Enlarging free-form improvisation with a shot of jubilant foot-patting rhythm is the Montreal-based Togetherness band. Splashing a couple of high-spirited compositions by trumpeter Ellwood Epps into the swirling pool of Free Jazz, High Life, Second Line and Brass-band styled creations that characterize all eight selections, the band juxtaposes originals plus material from the likes of Abdullah Ibrahim, Dudu Pukwana and Mongezi Feza.

Epps, whose ebullient trumpet adds zest to tunes such as his own “Homescoolin”” when he intersects with the plunger elaborations from trombonist Scott Thomson, is aided throughout by the intervallic beat of drummer Louis-Vincent Hamel and the unshakeable double bass patterns of Stéphane Diamantakiou that together give many tracks the lilt of a 1960s Soul Music session. Moderated vibrations from alto saxophonist Erik Hove and lower-pitched flutter-tonguing from tenor saxophonist Rus Nerwich, added to the band on three selections, are particularly imposing on “Bamako”. Also notable for Thomson’s modified gutbucket-styled smears, this piece bounces between sonic freedom and traditional theme preservation and head recapitulation. South-African jazz phrasing, which seeps into most tunes, balances Kwela exuberance with precise ecclesiastical melodies. The quintet’s ability to negotiate those contradictions is pronounced on “Angel Nemali” and especially the sardonically titled “Blues for a Hip King”. While “Angel Nemali” jumps along with the layering of textures from trombone burrs, a counter melody of reed and trumpet peeps and chunky drums rolls, the second tune recognizes, defines and conquers the contradictions. As velvety trombone lines propel the hymn-like theme, saxophone split-tone variations and brassy trumpet flutters add ambulatory excitement to the narrative.

Togetherness is more than a band name here. It’s also a declaration indication that original compositions and distinctive interpretations can be melded into a whole that’s festive, fitting and fresh.

-For MusicWorks Issue #130