By Denise Sullivan | Published April 2019
Toronto saxophonist, composer and arranger Allison Au leads her quartet through 10 pieces varied in influence, but amazingly cohesive, innovative and fresh on their third outing, Wander Wonder, the follow-up to 2016’s Juno Award-winning Forest Grove.
From the top, there’s no mistaking this is a modern work, signaled by Todd Pentney’s electronic soundscape on “The Valley.” And while Au’s sphere of influence ranges from classical to pop, r&b and hip-hop, she embraces not only international jazz, but her own Chinese and Jewish heritage. Yet what comes through loud and strong is her own alto saxophone bop: From voicing, phrasing and tone, Au’s personality and imprint are out front on “Future Self.”
“The Rest Is Up To You,” gently moves with a samba melody and the evocative touch of Fabio Ragnelli’s drums. “Looking Up” highlights a band that works as a unit: Pentney’s piano solo rings through, working in synch with Au’s alto. “The Lie That Saves Us All,” also showcases the way these players are unified in harmony and rhythm. “Red Herring” busts out as the album’s most adventurous track, drums and saxophone flying as Pentney’s contemporary electronic keyboard sounds hover in the distance.
The ballad “Morning” has real feel, unexpected contrast and a deep blue mood that announces this is where Au lives: She’s in it body and soul. (Although, when bassist John Maharaj takes his solo, it’s a fair reminder that he’s quietly been holding it down throughout.)
This impressive third effort by a solidly focused and driven quartet rarely wanders:
Wander Wonder: The Valley; Future Self; The Rest Is Up To You; Looking Up; Morning; The Lie That Saves Us All; Red Herring; Grounds; Force Majeure; A Trick Of The Moonlight. (52:42)
Personnel: Allison Au, alto saxophone; Todd Pentney, piano, Prophet Rev 2; John Maharaj, bass, electric bass; Fabio Ragnelli, drums.