Friday, August 28, 2015

Jazz bassist Daniel Fortin's "Brinks": How to stand out in a crowd without getting bizarre about it

Daniel Fortin writes with understatement, heads a simpatico quartet.
Plenty of imagination and technique funnel into the creation of new jazz worldwide. Amid the abundance, fans have a trickier task than ever just figuring out who is worth hearing. My view is: Why compile a short list, when exploring the ever-lengthening long list can be so much fun?

The problem for musicians is how to present something honest with enough individuality to lodge in the world's ear somewhere. You have to assume you're going to be part of a crowd and just make the most of what you have to say.

Here's a new release that does just that. I've recently been listening to Toronto bassist Daniel Fortin's debut album, "Brinks" (Fresh Sound, New Talent). As a composer, he shows a strong commitment to crafting pieces for a working ensemble that sounds as if the participants really belong together. My guess is he's not too concerned about having his compositions taken up by other musicians; they seem fully at home with this personnel.

On "Brinks," at any rate, we are offered 10 varied statements highlighting group rapport, which means showing off in disciplined yet relaxed fashion the many facets of the Canadian quartet. Besides Fortin, it consists of David French, tenor sax; Michael Davidson, vibes; and Fabio Ragnelli, drums.

The pieces hold aloft the independence of the two front-line instruments: Davidson and French thread their ways forward with minds of their own, but the mutual responsiveness is evident. Fortin's pieces don't depend on a "head" that privileges the unit: In the first number, "Verona," the tenor sort of sidles in after his three bandmates have gotten things going.

Davidson's hard, ringing vibes sound owes something to Joe Locke's. The dispassionate tone of French's sax is welcome, for the most part. Sometimes I yearn for more overt expression, but his restraint helps make for a good partnership. Ragnelli's drumming, while full of variety, is never self-regarding or bent on display. Fortin takes a substantial solo on "Ends" and moves into the spotlight briefly elsewhere, but characteristically steadies the band harmonically without drawing too much attention to himself.

The pieces' structure, tempos and stylistic influences vary, from "Flecks," a ballad that turns urgent and faster after a while, to the funky churn of  "Smithereen" and the probing "Mince," with their prominent drum backbeats. The band flirts with free jazz in "I Don't Know" and gets atmospheric in "Progress Bar." Overall, the emotional palette remains cool, and all four men seem totally at home with the blend and subtlety that result.

"Brinks" is a good addition to my long list of current jazz worth listening to.