By Dave Cantor | Published January 2019
The third album from Toronto’s Allison Au Quartet opens with Todd Pentney’s anachronistic synthesizer radiating sounds that might indicate to listeners of a certain age that it’s time to flip over a cassette. What follows are nine more tracks that hue more closely to the jazz genre’s acoustic development, while solidifying Au’s broad compositional prowess.
The ensemble—which took home the 2016 Juno Award in the category Best Jazz Album of the Year: Group for Forest Grove—mostly sticks within the bounds of prime-bop territory, carving out a backdrop for the saxophonist to ponder melody and expression through the tender tone of her horn. As with that earlier disc, the quartet’s personality comes through most clearly on balladic work, “Morning” beginning calmly with Au and Pentney stretching to meet the dawn, then being joined by the rest of the band. On “Future Self,” Au’s tone, control and phrasing easily recall ’50s trendsetters, even as she adds some well-placed squeaks and rhythmic peculiarities to her original composition. But on “Red Herring,” it’s all intrigue, with a sturdy noir feel to the endeavor propelled by Fabio Ragnelli’s galloping drums and quicksilver thematic shifts, making the composition’s title seem more than fitting. Au’s endless lines are met, supported and enlivened by Pentney’s swells of synth, expanding the quartet’s purview beyond the territory of decades-old torchbearers. The history of the music is here, but something more expansive, too.