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Changing Seasons

November 9, 2011

The clocks have changed, the rain has come, and fall is firmly in place on the west coast. What better time to stream a beautiful new recording through my home stereo.

And what a recording it is. Released on October 25, Changing Seasons is a lyrical 35-minute jazz-suite-cum-violin-concerto performed by a 17-piece  superstar big band, a 20-piece string section, violin virtuoso Mark Fewer and trumpet great Ingrid Jensen all blowing, bowing, and swinging their way through 1000 bars of classical, jazz, and show music cooked up by  the great Phil Dwyer and his fertile musical imagination.

Modelled in part on Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, it’s a refreshing breeze bringing the warmth of spring and the promise of summer to a sometimes frozen music world.

For some time now I’ve been thinking about the jazz and classical communities within that world and their apparent inability to get together in any meaningful way – at least on this continent.

My wife and I were in Europe in September and attended a concert at Bimhuis, the acclaimed center for improvised music in Amsterdam. There we saw a 30-piece big band of jazz and classical players (with a vocalist and tap dancer to boot) thrilling the audience with startlingly original compositions that mixed classical, jazz and experimental music as naturally as fresh water blends with salt in Holland’s seaside estuaries.

Changing Seasons isn’t quite that adventuresome, but it does challenge the notion that jazz is jazz and classical classical and never the twain shall meet. It also throws down the gauntlet to the institutions that keep music boxed up.

I’m reminded of my attempt two years ago to convince a local symphony to take a risk and produce Christine Jensen’s amazing Treelines jazz suite, a tribute to her Vancouver Island roots inspired in part by Emily Carr’s paintings (imagine the music together with the projected paintings), but no such luck. I didn’t even get the courtesy of a reply to my letter.

That symphony and others like it across the country will occasionally stick one toe out on a limb and produce a Holly Cole or Michael Kaeshammer  concert but sadly that’s about as daring as they’ll get.

And our jazz societies that control most of the meagre funding that goes to improvised music in this country generally stick with the same formula of big-name (often non-jazz) acts filling the auditorium seats while the jazz groups are sequestered in the far corners of the city.

In the meantime our gifted Canadian jazz composers have to move mountains all by themselves just to get their work performed and recorded and then hope that somebody somewhere might eventually have the vision to present it to a larger audience. Which almost never happens, except, God bless them, now and then on CBC radio.

Enough ranting. We can do something about it. Do yourself a favour and download or order Changing Seasons. You won’t regret it. And as the winter winds start blowing, consider writing letters to a few music directors. If they get enough maybe they too will understand that they must believe in spring.

Note: Ottawa Citizen reporter Peter Hum has posted on his superb jazz blog a five-part interview with Phil Dwyer. Dwyer talks about the new album, his childhood fascination with jazz, hanging in NYC in the 80s, his career, his personal struggles, and his advice to aspiring players. It’s a deeply personal and moving interview. Highly recommended.

And blessing of blessings, Phil Dwyer performs with Ken Lister on Sunday, November 20, 7pm, at a Church of the Advent jazz vespers gig in Colwood.

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