Winnipeg Jazz Orchestra

Tidal Currents: East Meets West

In a very real, geographical sense, the gorgeous Tidal Currents is a panorama of Canadian jazz. The 16-piece Winnipeg Jazz Orchestra — resident in the city closest to Canada’s geographic center — has commissioned two charts apiece from East Coast-born, West Coast-based Jill Townsend and West Coast-born, East Coast-based Christine Jensen. In addition to the Trans-Canadian perspectives that are the focus of their work here, they also happen to be (arguably) their country’s two most accomplished writers for big band. (They also perform, Jensen on alto and soprano saxes and Townsend as conductor.)

The WJO proves more than up to the task of interpreting their music. Details matter: The ensemble is smooth as sea glass on Townsend’s “Inside The Wave,” a waltz evoking her childhood in the maritime province of Nova Scotia. But the secret weapon is drummer Fabio Ragnelli, whose cymbals mimic the hiss and crash of the breakers from a distance, while his tom-driven solo suggests the same sound from, well, inside the wave. On Jensen’s “Crossing Lachine,” meanwhile, the tune’s opening stop-and-start rhythms echo the trepidation of navigating the titular St. Lawrence River rapids; Niall Cade’s game tenor solo scans like a real-time narrative of that crossing.

At the same time, though, those details are just the icing on the cake. One need not examine it under a microscope to hear the joyful catharsis in Jensen’s soprano solo on her pensive romance “Rock Skipping Under The Half Moon,” or the orchestral swells that push it along. Likewise, there’s no need for granular analysis in appreciating peak after rhapsodic brass peak in Townsend’s “Tidal Currents.” All four of the tracks overflow with memorable melody, rich harmony and easy groove. Winnipeg is high in the running for North America’s ugliest city, but, man, can they create beauty.

On Sale Now
April 2024
Béla Fleck
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