jazz & blues music blog with news, reviews, concerts & more, with a Canadian focus

February 15, 2006

Canadian Jazz CD Review

Written by
cindy mcleod

CD Review
The Duncan Hopkins Quartet with
The Canadian Staff Band
‘Red & Brassy’
Independent / 2005

Bassist Duncan Hopkins creates a rare breed with the blend of his mainstream jazz quartet and the Canadian Staff Band of the Salvation Army. The live recording was done during a concert performed a year ago at the Glen Gould Studio in Toronto.

Hopkin’s accomplished quartet of Adrean Farrugia (piano), Anthony Michelli (drums), and Roy Styffe (alto sax) meets, shakes hands, and gets down to the business of making rich, textural music with the Canadian Staff Band, who perform flawlessly under the direction of Kevin Hayward.

The CD is marked by the strength of Hopkins compositional talent and his facility for arranging. Not to mention he’s a fine player. Raised in the Salvation Army faith, Hopkins’ 10 compositions reflect the brass underpinnings of the Salvation Army’s music, and cross-pollinates it with mainstream jazz in a dynamic fusion. Seven of the selections feature large ensemble, with two quartet outings and one band performance making up the nearly 70 minutes of original music.

The quartet is a solid jazz voice that melds seamlessly with the brass, providing a colourful palette for the composer’s brush, and carries a sense of classicism burnished into the contemporary sound.

From the first track ‘Changing Tides’, one becomes keenly aware of the flexible nature of the instrumentation, with it’s quiet bass/brass intro setting the mood for Styffe’s lyrical alto. Building tension and release with changing time signatures, Hopkins delivers a robust performance and confidently guides the ensemble through this hearty offering. ‘Welcome to Babylon’ is a full orchestral piece based on a sultry Latin feel and woven into a rich musical tapestry. Michelli’s mallets elicit a mystical nature, while Farrugia’s piano burns down like the desert sun. ‘White Pants, Red Suspenders’ takes a Big Band approach to swing blues, with Styffe’s alto deftly moving in and around the melody, and Steve Brown’s muted cornet on the end a delightful addition. Delivered at a brisk swing tempo, ‘Four Year Old Steps’ showcases the quartet members, with each taking articulate solos over the changes. Bassist Hopkins trades 8’s with drummer Michelli, and a touch of Latin puts the finish on the end. The final three tracks, ‘Rebellion’, ‘Allegiances’, and ‘A New Age’, are taken from a project of five movements from ’Sketches of Upper Canada’, which the artist wrote to celebrate the founding settlers of southern Ontario. These tracks are splendid examples of the composer’s ability to integrate the two distinct natures of the music ensembles, with the quartet telling the story as the orchestra frames the message.

Duncan Hopkins adds an inspired voice to Canadian jazz composition with his masterful ‘Red & Brassy’, offering a fascinating glimpse into the past, present and future in one invigorating musical breath.

For more information visit www.duncanhopkins.com

Leave a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.