By Carlo Wolff | Published January 2017
Andrew Downing’s delightfully woozy, two-disc Otterville conjures a simpler, more communal and friendlier time. It’s a largely medium tempo affair, melodic and, like its gorgeous graphic design, subtly wondrous.
Dedicated to a small community in southern Ontario’s tobacco belt where numerous Downings once lived, Otterville is ingenious chamber jazz played by a sextet occasionally augmented by trumpet and trombone.
While there are influences, including Kurt Weill, street-corner bands and Ellington (the one cover is Billy Strayhorn’s “Take The ‘A’ Train” stretched like taffy), cellist-composer Downing’s voicings are singular, his arrangements transparent and witty. Another figure who may come to mind is the remarkable American composer Raymond Scott, best known for his Looney Tunes scores.
The dynamics are complex, the pacing occasionally surprising. While tunes like Downing’s brooding “This Year’s Fancies,” his bluesy “Numbers You Know” and alto saxophonist Tara Davidson’s romantic “Family Portrait” are lyrical and accessible, they startle in detail: segueing from Michael Davidson’s vibraphone to Christine Bougie’s lap steel guitar in “Family Portrait,” for example, gives that tune unexpected flair.
There’s also effectively a plot within a plot on Downing’s 10th album: frequent references to classic American pop, suggesting Johnny Mercer-Jerome Kern’s “I’m Old Fashioned” in “This Year’s Fancies,” George Gershwin’s “Strike Up The Band” in “Fall In Line.” Perhaps such programming is one reason Otterville sounds oddly familiar. At the same time, there’s nothing studied about these references; they’re a way for Downing to honor the past and locate himself in a grand tradition.
More dreamy than nostalgic, Otterville evokes a country getaway, a place you may not know but where you’re always welcome. The door to this unusual Canadian jazz reverie is open. Make yourself at home.
Otterville: Otterville: Disc One: This Year’s Fancies; Head Start; All Alone On The Mountain; I’m No Good Without You; Numbers You Know; A Pair of Eyes; Family Portrait; Rhyme. (35:40) Fall in Line; Parade; Mooning About You; Take the ‘A’ Train; Observatory; Wish; Leaving Me With A Memory. (33:27)
Personnel: Personnel: Andrew Downing, cello; Christine Bougie, lap steel guitar; William Carn, trombone; Michael Davidson, vibraphone; Tara Davidson, alto saxophone; Nick Fraser, drums; Rebecca Hennessy, trumpet; Paul Mathew, bass guitar.