Jazz used to be Saskatchewan’s most famous export outside of grain… and the Saskatchewan Roughriders… and Tommy Douglas. Perhaps Saskatchewan has done a lot of things right over the years. It’s certain that a large number of artists with Saskatchewan roots have made their stamp on the international jazz scene. There were many pioneers who have left us, so it is an extreme treat to still have the Regina ex-pat Al Muirhead creating to this day.
Muirhead has been playing jazz since the 1940’s and it shows, not as a tired nostalgia act but in the sensibility of a wizened veteran. The majority of the tunes on the record are jazz standards, and have been played by everyone from high school students to Miles Davis, so the excitement for these tunes then comes in hearing what moments the band will coax out that we have yet to hear. Some people’s consternation with jazz is the artists who will push this envelope so far beyond basic listenability. Others are given horrible nightmares of call-waiting smooth jazz. “Oop!” manages to walk the line between boring familiarity and alienation well, largely in part because of the talented group of musicians on the record.
The artists featured on the recording are few, but their contributions important. This record could very nearly be marketed as a duo record as Tommy Banks’s piano playing helps glue the album together. He deftly handles melody, rhythm, and harmony all at once providing comfortable adaptable frameworks for the featured artist to play in and around. PJ Perry appears often as well, making his mark on over half of the tracks. Perry’s fierce technical ability and searing musicality are legendary throughout Canada at this point and he provides them in spades. Of course Muirhead is the feature, often with the unique brass tones of the mellow flugelhorn or the bass trumpet rarely heard in jazz today. These configurations offer a wonderful balance of tone and space to let the musicians interact with each other in their developed instrumental voices. It sounds like three friends hanging out and having conversation…perhaps because that is what it is!
Al Muirhead will be playing at The Capitol on Friday, October 14th at 10:15pm as part of BreakOut West. If you have an interest in jazz at all it would be worth your time to come see his performance and all the other wonderful events at BreakOut West. Wristbands are available for purchase at this link.
– Jon Neher