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September 15, 2005

Canadian Jazz CD Review “The Brian Buchanan Ensemble Plays the Music of Dennis van Westerborg”

Written by
cindy mcleod

CD Review / jazz instrumental
The Brian Buchanan Ensemble Plays the Music of Dennis van Westerborg
Jazz Focus Records / 2005

Jazz Focus Records is back on the scene, and has returned confidently with the release of a highly listenable mainstream classic jazz recording. This understated and refined selection of Dennis van Westerborg’s original material is interpreted and performed by a sextet led by pianist Brian Buchanan, and is reminiscent of the Great American Songbook tradition.

van Westerborg is a man whose mind conceives a flourish of melodies in an amazingly diverse but distinct fashion. He flushes his musical ideas out at his piano, saves them on tape, and for this project, handed the melodies over to jazz pianist/arranger Brian Buchanan to bring them into full compositional bloom. The final step was to invite some of Canada’s finest musicians to perform them, and the perfect recipe was born. This recording is everything it was intended to be, malleable, accessible, Sunday morning jazz that you’ll listen to the whole week through.

The musicians were hand-picked by Buchanan for their sage and inspired voices, which play perfectly off the charmingly simple melodies. A highly identifiable pianist, Buchanan’s style is at once melodious and angular, ‘pure’ jazz that digs in and takes hold. There’s a seamless bond between him, drummer Sandro Dominelli, bassist Mike Lent, and guitarist Brent Wright, forming a rhythm section that is solid, swinging and chaste. The horn section features Kent Sangster, who brings rich textural qualities on tenor, soprano and alto saxophones, and the imaginative and artful trumpeter Bob Tildesley.

There are a number of high points throughout these tracks, a nice blend of feels along with notable solos such as Sangster’s searing tenor on the urban and edgy 10th St. Shuffle, Brent Wright’s latin guitar, steeped in the west coast sound on Tour de Force, the aptly named Light and Bubbly Waltz, a 3/4 feel that showcases the mastery of bassist Mike Lent, and Dominelli’s beautiful brush and cymbal work on the intro to Minor Swing Thing. Buchanan shines on The Blues and I, a hipster shuffle with a great Gospel ending, but perhaps the meatiest cuts are ballads like Half Past Midnight, a languorous, humid track bronzed by Bob Tildesley’s trumpet, and My Time Alone, in which Buchanan stretches and breathes the tune with his spare, eloquent lines and deep emotion. There were a some surprises, too, the elegantly beautiful, classically oriented Jazz Francais and its delightful two horn interplay, the two-beat Dixie Bop that swings hard in the solo section, and the hybrid 3/4 Celtic Waltz, an interesting cross-cultural composition.

There’s a fascinating combination of innocence and wisdom within these 15 compositions that makes them unusual and appealing. Unobtrusive but captivating, light yet with substance, this music fits comfortably in nearly any environment and offers something for everyone. Don’t be surprised to catch yourself joyfully humming along with it. www.jazzfocus.com

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