April 24th, 2018: SOLON McDade/Murals: A cat that’s accrued loads of respect but still feels a tad too under the radar serves up a modern jazz date that feels like it’s too good to be true and shouldn’t be this indie. You can tell he’s a cat steeped in jazz as opposed to a tourist that thinks it’s not that hard to pull off, sitting down jazz has a new champion here with this set that’ll keep you bouncing in your seat. Solid stuff well deserving of a wider audience so more can share the goodness. Well done.
Jazz bassist Solon McDade brings home the band for expert encounter
You could easily mistake them for a bandleader and band who have been playing together for years.
You don’t expect anyone’s solo debut to sound this accomplished, but then, it’s not as if Solon McDadestarted making music yesterday. Growing up in Alberta in the McDade Family Band and taking off with the award-winning McDades seems to have fostered a natural versatility for playing across genres. Check his extensive work as a sideman for many shades of roots and jazz acts.
Still, this quintet session suggests that the Montreal-based bassist excels at playing, composing and arranging in a jazz framework. As the leader-composer, his role feels all about support first, warm, vibrant and grooving down on most tracks, tender and introspective for intimate ballads, always ready to highlight other players. But listen closely. He might be subverting his walk to inject an extra stroke of emotion or a wry aside. When he does solo, he takes over the moment naturally.
Those other players don’t let him down either on a 65-minute, nine-track set of bop and ballads, finding old school respect for the basic rudiments of melody and rhythm with a contemporary twist.
Up front, a twin sax line features the leader’s brother, Jeremiah McDade, on tenor and Donny Kennedy on alto, both sizzling along pretty effortlessly, occasionally poking the other into all too brief exchanges, or playing the heads off of tunes in unison to beautiful harmonic effect. Pianist Paul Shrofel is so elegant, and drummer Rich Irwin masterfully urgent, completing a superb rhythm chemistry around the bass, keeping things spacious with economical punctuation, never overplaying.
But it’s not just the team effort that impresses here. Someone had to set the right pace, and sort out the solos which flow so naturally through seamless transitions, and arrange the beginning, middle and end so each track feels unique unto itself. Someone had to frame the Murals and hand out the paint, and that’s what makes this such a mature set. You could easily mistake them for a bandleader and band who have been playing together for years.
The track titles are the really curious part (liner notes please). I suspect there are some good stories there to tell, but even if you don’t hear them word for word, you will catch their spirit in this expert encounter. Try it on headphones to get every note.
Note: Edmonton-born Solon McDade is back in his hometown this week to celebrate the release of Murals, live at the Yardbird Suite (86 Avenue at Gateway Boulevard), 8 p.m. Friday, complete with the same band from the album. Tickets are $22 for members, $26 for guests, in advance from Tix on the Square or at the box office. The album Murals is available at solonmcdade.com.
Solon McDade: Murals
Solon McDade Music
The quintessence of jazz is captured on this sterling set by bassist-composer Solon McDade. Helping him bring its nine originals to vivid life are his tenor sax-wielding brother Jeremiah, alto saxist Donny Kennedy, pianist Paul Shrofel, and drummer Rich Irwin, all of who bring impressive performance credits to the project. Though it's the Montreal-based bassist's debut release, it's hardly the first group endeavour with which he's been involved. Recordings featuring him have been nominated for five Juno Awards, and his group, The McDades, won a 2007 Juno Award and two Canadian Folk Music Awards for their album Bloom.
Solon's musical education began early: growing up in a musical family, he started on washtub bass before graduating to upright, after which he played with his siblings and parents in the McDade Family Band, which presented its particular brand of Canadian folk music at locales during the ‘80s and ‘90s. The bassist, who's played with everyone from blues and bluegrass figures to folk and jazz artists, augments his performance-enhanced versatility with formal training that includes diplomas and degrees from Edmonton's MacEwan University and Montreal's McGill University. Solon's someone, in other words, who's comfortable on any conceivable stage, be it jazz club, concert hall, folk festival, or blues bar.
Don't be thrown by his penchant for irreverent track titles: the sixty-five-minute Murals, laid down on a single day in April 2017, is a seriously strong and compelling set of modern jazz, firmly rooted in the tradition but hardly straitjacketed by it. Each player brings the highest level of commitment to his playing, and these well-seasoned players alternate between composed and improvised structures with fluidity and passion. In consistently enriching their performances without overplaying, Solon and Irwin provide a solid foundation and invest the material with unerring drive, Shrofel functions equally effectively as support and soloist, and having two saxes as the front-line provides its own particular kind of pleasure.
Jeremiah and Kennedy weave around one another beautifully during the opening moments of “He's a Problem in the Locker Room” and carry on such conversational maneuvers with a similar degree of ease thereafter; the two purr endearingly alongside Solon's reflective ruminations at the outset of “Buy the Tractor” before pairing up for the tune's head and smoothly riding its laid-back jazz-funk groove. Never do the two sound like competitors venomously sparring but rather players harmoniously spurring each other on, and when their voices unite they at times exude a sweetly singing sonority that might remind you of a Mingus classic or two.
Though Solon's quintet swings spiritedly for much of the date, an affecting introspective side emerges during the ballad performances. The subdued pitch of “Do Airplanes Scratch the Sky?” affords the bassist a prime opportunity to contribute a sensitive solo, which Jeremiah follows with an agile, multiple registers-traversing turn of his own, whereas Shrofel distinguishes “The Ballad of Sir William Ormerod” with a memorably elegant intro. Besides ballads, there's bop (“Off the Bed, Rose”), blues (“Blues for Sebastian”), R&B-inflected swing (“Ali's Second Line”), and a sidelong nod, one presumes, to another of the genre's greatest figures (“A Shorter Thing”).
No info with the release clarifies whether the musicians merely convened for the recording date or were playing as a unit before the session; regardless, the band certainly sounds like one that's developed a deep rapport over time, even if it's possible that musicians of such high calibre are able to come together and instantly create the impression of being a unit of long standing.
This all started with the washtub bass for Solon McDade, slipping into the switch to the more refined upright bass, and years of performance with the McDade Family Band, Canada's contribution to roots music. His career branched out and resulted in his playing bass on several recordings that won the coveted Juno Award, perhaps most notably with the Suzie Arioli Swing Band and The McDades.
But roots music isn't his only game. Murals finds the composer/bassist embracing mainstream jazz with a sharp sounding quintet that features a two saxophone frontline and polished rhythm section. The set of McDade originals opens with "He's A Problem In The Locker Room," inspired by the hockey player PK Subban—who is said to have been one of those problems. The tune, though, is problem-less, a smooth flowing cooker that features a compelling and spirited two sax conversation. The tune opens with a bright fanfare and slips into darker terrain—maybe there's some contention arising from the "problems" there—partially resolved when pianist Paul Shrofel steps in for a spare-but-succinct turn.
Raul Da Gama
The “Murals” title of this enterprising disc from Solon McDade was, it seems, suggested by the line and seemingly visual flow of the music’s sinuous counterpoint – from the brilliant fusion of forms (and sometimes even breathtakingly formless writing) to the subtle micropolyphony of the nine works of this album. Some of the music – displayed here like proverbial pictures at an exhibition – echoes urban and suburban metaphors, while others are dreamy portraits and elegies; still others seem too drift outdoors into pastoral venues, but all are connected by the vividness of depiction and even when colour seems faded and sepia-like it is only to suggest that much time has passed and an old memory is being conjured up again because it is an irresistible one. One is, of course, speaking of “The Ballad of Sir William Ormerod”, in that last instance.
This music here – especially “Off the bed, Rose” and “Blues for Sebastian” for instance – is permeated with the type of polyrhythms that were once the abiding preoccupations of Charles Mingus and Dannie Richmond in the heyday of the mighty composer and bassist’s mid- and late-1950s ensemble. It also runs the gamut of the various characters to which Mr Mingus habitually gave voice, such as pianist Jaki Byard and saxophonist like Booker Ervin and John Handy among others. In the latter, from the central movement’s out-of-phase pizzicato repeated notes that sound like an instrument working overtime, to the long, accents of the blue notes of the solo that follows, the song folds in fluid, dissolving textures of its outer movements.
The rest of the musicians respond magnificently to the many facets of leader and bassist Mr McDade and their performance can fully stand in comparison to many of the foremost, similarly configured ensembles at anytime, anywhere in the world. In fact, in the superb “Ali’s Second Line” where the band takes a de rigueur trip down to New Orleans, where Mr McDade eggs the other protagonists on with flickering pizzicato to produce perhaps the group’s most energetic track on the album. In Mr McDade we have a bassist whose lustrous tone is melded with the kind of deliciously rumbling gravitas that makes it and his music highly seductive and memorable.
George W. Harris
Classic sounds of post hard bop are delivered by the quintet of Donny Kennedy/as, Jeremiah McDade/ts, Paul Shrofel/p, Rich Irwin/dr and leader Solon McDade/b. The bassist’s compositions have irresistible pulses, most of them introduced by the leader’s hip lines before the silky saxes form a frothy front of melody. The team skips bounces to “He’s A Problem…” and snaps with delight to Irwin’s sticks on the crisp “Whatever Whatever.” Some sighing tenor sax makes “Buy the Tractor” a delight” and Shrofel’s piano is pretty as it canters with the team on “A Shorter Thing” while building up to a climax on a dramatic thrill ride of “The Ballad of Sir William Ormeod.” Melding reeds on “Do Airplanes Scratch the Sky” and warm moods on a sleek “Off the Bed, Rose” make this a protein meal, full of red meat.
Solon McDade Paints Musical Murals
Murals is the first release by bassist-composer Solon McDade’s little band, and it’s a good one. It’s not so much his basic tunes, which are your typical modern kinda-modal-kinda-atonal things, but the solos, the use of the instruments and the easy swing of the band, led by the smooth, gliding drumming of Rich Irwin. McDade also likes to use his two saxists in improvisational counterpoint, as in the opening track, with fascinating results. He also sets up, in this piece, himself on bass playing tonal notes while pianist Paul Shrofel goes out on a musical limb. It’s one of those quintets where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
The band’s tightness obviously stems from their complete trust in each other as musicians and their ability to listen to each other. Think of it as a modernistic version of, say, the John Kirby Sextet, where everyone was on exactly the same wavelength, producing well-structured performances in which every cog in the musical wheel fed into the whole. This is even evident in the slow numbers, such as Buy the Tractor, which starts out with a bass into before Donny Kennedy and Jeremiah McDade (his brother?) feed off each other. Their sympathetic duo-improvisations put me in mind, a bit, of Zoot Sims and Al Cohn on those old late-1950s/early-‘60s records. And yet again, I was struck by the tastefulness of Irwin’s drumming. This is not a small thing. Too often, nowadays, I hear bands where the drummer is trying too hard to make an impression, throwing in superfluous backbeats and cymbal washes where they intrude on the musical progression. Irwin is one of those drummers, like Roy Haynes, who always seems to know exactly how much to play. Indeed, the more I listened to this disc, the more I was impressed by the solo work as a whole. It contributes to the compositions rather than flying out on a limb that doesn’t seem to be connected to the trunk of the tree.
Do Airplanes Scratch the Sky? begins in a slow, out-of-tempo manner, much like many Charles Mingus compositions before the saxes slither into the melody. Solon McDade’s bass solo is accompanied mostly by Shrofel’s piano, with Irwin delicately adding tasteful accents, and when the focus shifts to Kennedy on alto the piano and drums maintain their delicacy behind him (with McDade adding to the mix). When Jeremiah McDade enters on tenor, he is playing with a slightly hard tone reminiscent of Rollins or Coltrane, and indeed his note choices remind you at times of both saxists.
Whatever Whatever is an uptempo swinger of the old school, channeling the feel of ‘50s style bop. Here the two saxists lead off playing in harmony before taking turns soloing—as usual, Kennedy up first, followed by Shrofel on piano in a sort of Wynton Kelly mode. It ends on an unresolved chord. The Ballad of Sir William Ormerod follows a delicate tracery from Shrofel’s a cappella introduction through to the rest of the rhythm section, which sets up a jazz waltz. Here, too, the saxists play in harmony through an entire chorus, followed by Jeremiah on tenor. McDade’s bass solo on this one, two choruses, is one of his finest. Then the volume increases as the two saxists again play in opposition to each other, Jeremiah laying the groundwork for Kennedy’s imaginative flight above him.
Off the Bed Rose brings us uptempo again, this time in an old-fashioned swinger that could have been played by Woody Herman’s Second Herd band (the one with Stan Getz, Zoot Sims and the other “Four Brothers”), only reduced to Two Brothers and rhythm section (well, maybe the Woodchoppers, Herman’s small-band-within-a-band). The whole band is unbuttoned on this one, taking risks in their solos and again contributing to the whole—including Irwin, who finally gets a few nice breaks on the drums.
Blues for Sebastian opens with a McDade bass solo, following which Shrofel and Irwin set up a nice relaxed, funky, middle-tempo groove for the band to play in. Jeremiah McDade plays a nice, wailing solo on tenor, after which his brother does some walking while Kennedy picks his way through the tune in a relatively sparse solo, weaving notes around the bass line. The altoist’s second chorus is busier but no less tasteful and interesting and McDade’s bass picks up on some of his ideas for his own solo turn. The two saxists play the quirky tune in unison for the final chorus.
Ali’s Second Line really jumps with a quasi-Professor Longhair sort of New Orleans-Caribbean beat. The saxists play the opening melody, followed by the solos, Shrofel coming up first. The saxes really jump on this one, too, playing highly syncopated figures around the lively rhythm. The album concludes with
A Shorter Thing, a medium-slow ballad, led off by Shrofel with the rhythm section before McDade’s bass solo. The tempo then relaxes slightly for the saxes, playing alternating figures in chase-chorus fashion before teaming up in thirds. Jeremiah McDade gets his tenor solo, and a good one it is, followed by a fade-out ending with both saxists.
An excellent first release for this talented group that you should hear!
—© 2018 Lynn René Bayley
Another late bloomer. Released earlier this year, in April, it has been worth waiting for and not just for the quirky titles!
He's a Problem in the Locker Room has a boppy head with flattened fifths abounding as if we were back on 52nd St. There's a cool Lee Konitz/Warne Marsh feel to the ensembles on this and the subsequent tracks.
Buy the Tractor, an explorative piece that does nothing to explain the title but does plenty to make you appreciate the rich harmonies and the integration between soloist and support.
Do Airplanes Scratch the Sky? brings Mingus to Mind, not just in Solon McDade's bass solo but also in his writing which is very much in the Black Saint mode. The way the two horns blend is effective and their solos take us on fanciful flights. I wonder if saxophones may also scratch the sky?
Whatever Whatever has a nice uptempo swing about it, Kennedy soaring like a bird, with Shrofel and leader McDade joining in the fun.
The Ballad of Sir William Ormerod has a meditative piano solo - it's rather beautiful -bringing the horns in. The music is funereal and, if you know the story behind the title you'll discover just how appropriate it is. If you don't, then read up on it here. Solon's bass solo keeps the hearse moving majestically forward before the wild wake.
Off the Bed, Rose opens up with Kennedy's angular alto adventure followed by Shrofel's piano picnic, Jeremiah's japes and fantastic fours all-round. (Rose?)
Blues For Sebastian is just that although, unlike Sir William, we know as little about Sebastian as we do about Rose. It doesn't matter, it's as good as any blues number I've heard this year, not least because of the composer's bass solo.
Ali's Second Line. could this refer to "The Greatest"? Maybe, because the horns are floating in the ensembles and stinging in the solos with Rich Irwin's drums doing a kind of bebop Ali Shuffle.
A Shorter Thing, no prizes for guessing the inspiration here (I hope!) Shrofel once again waxes lyrical. Solon too keeps the mellow mood going setting the horns up to take it to a gentle fade-out.
One thing this album proves is that Canadian jazz isn't American music's poor relation.
The CD of this month comes from Canadian double-bass player and composer Solon McDade. Solon basically grew up on stage, he was playing alongside with his parents and siblings in the McDade Family Band, a group that toured Canada with their own brand of Canadiana folk music at festivals and theaters throughout the 1980s and 1990s.
“Murals” is his debut-album as band-leader and it features nine original compositions of him. The album was officially released on April 20 with a celebration in his home town Edmonton AB.
A second eastern Canadian release is planned for Montreal, QC at the Upstairs Jazz Bistro & Bar on July 21st.
The line-up on the album is
Solon McDade – Bass
Donny Kennedy – Alto Saxophone
Jeremiah McDade – Tenor Saxophone (his brother)
Paul Shrofel – Piano
Rich Irwin – Drums
All musicians are well established in the Canadian Jazz scene and have performed with well-known national and international musicians.
Interesting about this line-up is the two saxophones, alto and tenor sax which gives the whole album it’s unique character.
The album starts with the tune “He’s a Problem In The Locker Room”. The tune was written for the Montreal Canadiens hockey defense player P.K. Subban who was (and still is) very popular in Montreal but was traded to Nashville because he created “problems in the locker room”. The tune starts with a very swinging melody and the first musician featured here is drummer Rich Irwin, the two saxophones take over in an open dialog followed by a piano solo. Bass and drums produce a steady swinging groove for the soloists. We hear a bass and drums solo before the saxophones play the head, so everything very traditionally organized but very dynamically and relaxed played. Great tune and great start into the album.
The second song is called “Buy The Tractor” and Solon told me that this song is about getting older. The melody is played by the saxophones in two voices. It’s a rather soft song and it features Paul Shrofel on piano and both saxophonists, again very dynamically played.
The next tune is my favorite tune on the album. It’s called “Do Airplanes Scratch The Sky” and refers to a quote from Solons daughter about the condensation trails airplanes leave in the sky. The tune starts very slow, rubato. The first solo goes to Solon, he plays very melodically, followed by Donny Kennedy on alto sax. The best part of the album comes when the focus shifts to Jeremiah McDade on tenor sax (at around 5:22). The tenor sax rises from the ground up in the sky and piano and drums follow the saxophone, again great dynamics, great solo and my highlight of the album.
The album continues with “Whatever Whatever”, a tune where alto sax and piano are featured as soloists.
The fifth song on the album is called “The Ballad Of Sir William Ormerod”. It was written for a fictional character that writer Victoria Coren created in order to entrap people that were crashing funerals with the hopes of free food and drink. Paul Shrofel on piano is the featured player here, he plays a long and beautiful intro. Dynamics increase with the saxophones playing a melody of long notes, but reduces for a bass solo and increases at the end of the bass solo again with both saxophonists improvising and playing together. The great dynamics come again from the rhythm section, especially Rich Irwin on drums knows how to do this perfectly.
“Off The Bed Rose” is about a dog named Rose that used to jump on Solons bed when he first moved to Montreal and could stay with a friend while searching an apartment. He was not used to dogs so he tried to talk the dog off the bed without having to get to close to it. You can hear this phrase in the melody. Very funny. The song is an up-tempo 12-bar blues and played in jam-style, both saxophones and piano plus the drums get their chance to improvise.
The next tune is called “Blues for Sebastian”. It has been written for Solon’s friend Sebastian who has the Blues sometimes. Again very dynamically played with great saxophone and bass solos.
“Ali’s Second Line” comes next and was written for Solos’ wife Alison and uses one of her favorite grooves. Drums, bass and piano push the saxophone players with their groove to peak performances.
The album ends with “A Shorter Thing”. It was written for Wayne Shorter and uses the chord progressions from the Wayne Shorter tune “Fall”. The song starts with the rhythm section only and an elegant piano solo, followed by a saxophone interlude and a tenor sax solo. The song and the album finish with a soft fade-out, leaving a final impression in your ears. Very sophisticated.
Dear Solon: Chapeau. You have managed to impress me strongly with your first album as a leader. You found excellent fellow musicians to play your fine compositions very dynamically and very refined.
The album gets a clear recommendation from me. Unfortunately I will not be in Montreal on July 21 for the release concert at the Upstairs Jazz Bistro & Bar. Let’s hope that this group gets the chance to perform in Europe.
An inventive sense of composition characterizes Murals by Toronto-based jazz bassist and composer Solon McDade. As a composer, McDade possesses a dramatic sense of structure that is always multi-layered, and constantly shifting in mood and tone.
"He's A Problem In The Locker Room" intertwines tenor and alto sax over a driving drum and busy bass line. It's alternately dissonant and melodic, always rhythmic. The piano dances in, then bass and drums take their turn in an interesting and melodic track. Each musician is allowed to shine without a whiff of self indulgence.
The ensemble McDade has brought together includes Donny Kennedy on alto sax, Jeremiah McDade on tenor sax, Paul Shrofel on piano and Richard Irwin on drums. As a group, they create an expansive kind of energy, something like a big band might sound like in the modern era. "Buy The Tractor" begins with bass and saxophones weaving in and out of each other, with McDade's bass providing one of the main threads in the texture of the piece. Piano and drums throw in a curveball, and the track turns into a groovy, ultra-modern, jazz-lounge tune.
One of the more impressive jazz debuts of the year comes from Canadian drummer/composer/band leader Solon McDade, 44. Murals has a sax front line of alto and tenor who play off of each other magnificently while the bass/piano/drums rhythm section churns and burns. The nine originals hit a post-bop height while not forgetting to swing mightily. Wholeheartedly recommended.
Murals er den Juno-Award-vindende, canadiske jazzbassist og –komponist Solon McDades debutalbum i eget navn. Et album, der – med ni nye kompositioner af McDade – vidner om, hvor stort et talent han – både som komponist og bassist – er. Han mestrer det hastige swing såvel som den stilfærdige ballade. Og så mestrer han helt åbenlyst at sammensætte et hold og med det skabe forudsætningen for den smukkeste musik- og kunstformidling. Holdet er i dette tilfælde en kvintet, der udover bassisten selv, består af den absolut bemærkelsesværdige pianist, Paul Shrofel, trommeslageren, Rich Irwin, altsaxofonisten, Donny Kennedy, og tenorsaxofonisten, Jeremiah McDade. Netop med dén konstellation formår McDade at få det smukkeste frem i sine kompositioner – eksempelvis i det hastigt swingende nummer, Whatever Whatever, men også i den underskønne ballade, The Ballad of Sir William Ormerod. Begge disse numre er begavede, komplekse og forrygende flot forløst. Som helhed virker albummet gennemarbejdet, gennemtænkt og fuldendt – langt over det niveau, man ville kunne forvente af en debutant.