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December 13, 2005

Canadian Avant Jazz Pop CD Release

Written by
cindy mcleod

CD Review
George Higton / Sonny Boy
Builtrite Records Inc./2005

Avant jazz pop is not a common phrase, but neither is the music. The genre, a blend of rock, blues, roots and folk, sees a new release with George Higton’s Sonny Boy, ten tracks of original music in a trio format.

Higton, a pianist/vocalist who has been making music for over thirty years, grew up in Toronto and hit the road in the 70’s, playing in a diverse array of bands including a stint as a bouzouki player backing belly dancers.

Heavily influenced by players appearing in neighbourhood clubs, (the underage youth snuck into the historic Concord Tavern frequently to listen to the touring musicians), Higton has gone on to produce his own version of the sounds he heard as a young man. Sonny Boy, the artist’s second release, reveals these influences in his compositional, vocal and keyboard style. His trio-based sound features Higton (vocals, piano, organ, guitar, synthesizer, harmonica), bassist Louis Simao, and drummer Adam Haye (drums), with guest appearances including trumpeter Nick ‘Brownman’ Ali, Rod Booth (violin), Glen Salley (sax), and Chip Yarwood (flute, concertina).

Sonny Boy is a great example of the talent Higton possesses as a writer of prose, the strongest aspect of this recording is the lyrics. It is a rather dark message he sends, reflecting on poverty, hunger, broken hearts, and the environment. This music won’t make you want to dance, rather it requires you to look into the somber side of the human experience from a listening standpoint.

Musically speaking there are shades of Nina Simone, Leonard Cohen and Tom Waits among these moody tracks, with Higton’s poetic dialogue laid over a heavy bottom end and exposing the underbelly of life for the listener to chew on. From the opening track Everybody’s Broke, a B3 washed ballad where Higton wails about poverty; to Hunger Moon, a minor key piano trio cut drawn in purples; and the 3/4 country influenced Hurtin’ Side of Love with its mournful violin; one is exposed to a raw perception of life. There are only a few tracks that break out of the ballad feel, including the title cut Sonny Boy, rendered in an up-swing style complete with horn section, and Where Cathy Goes, a boppy two-feel rock tune that sounds a hair like British melody maker Van Morrison. Far and away the most developed track compositionally is the haunting electric-rock ballad Wilderness of Love, which features flute and creates dynamic tension/release.

This is not a recording for the feint of heart, be prepared for introspection and a tug of your heart-strings. George Higton is a writer of depth, and his music carries the vital and important message that life isnit always joyful for the many who struggle. www.georgehigton.com

Cindy McLeod
Jazz Elements

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