Last but not least in this series is my review of the debut disc from a Toronto up-and-comer who will be playing at Cafe Paradiso this Friday and Saturday: Pianist Adrean Farrugia’s debut disc reflects an expansive musical vision and the talent and craft to combine elements from a range of influences. On Ricochet, the 35-year-old Torontonian cogently melds the sounds of jazz, pop,classical and world musics to allow for spirited personal expressions by some of Toronto’s finest.
Each of the disc’s eight tracks features a different lineup. There’s one trio track, the feisty 5/4 tune Highfive), a fine duet by Farrugia and his wife, vocalist Sophia Perlman (the sad and lovely Blackberry Winter, the CD’s only cover), and a half-dozen tunes that are distinctively coloured as Farrugia sees fit by not just brass and woodwinds, but also voice and tabla and cello. Not only are Farrugia’s compositions appealing; he’s arranged them deftly to give his disc a broad sonic palette. The disc’s opener, Mourning Star, begins sing song simple, with Perlman’s warm voice and entries by trumpeter Kevin Turcotte, trombonist William Carn and then Farrugia. Their introduction gives way to a groovy, upbeat theme with layers of brass and voice. Turcotte, one of Canada’s most naturally melodic improvisers, and then Farrugia coast over the the swaying beat courtesy of bassist Andrew Downing and drummer Anthony Michelli.
Situmani features trumpet, trombone, tenor saxophone and flute over an undulating 12/8 groove that’s coloured by Ravi Naimpally’s tablas. As the track progresses through Downing’s bowed bass solo, a shared turn in the limelight for trombonist William Carn and saxophonist Kelly Jefferson, and then a rousing jam for Naimpally, it feels feels less South Asian and more multicultural or post-racial — rather like Toronto, perhaps, the recent election of Rob Ford notwithstanding.
One of the two quartet tracks, Meadowlark (For Sophia), is romantic in the classical-music sense, with Kiki Misumi’s spendid cello expressing its melody along with Farrugia. The other quartet piece, There… and Then Back Again, which closes the CD, is a samba romp with Jefferson joining in.
And then there are the pieces that I’d consider Farrugia’s most ambitious. Lifetide is a performance that grows from beginning to end, from a pretty minor-key waltz that grows stronger, darker and even celebratory. Turcotte and Perlman double its stirring melody before Farrugia — who is appealingly melodic with both hands — and they take turns soloing. Naimpally is back on this tune, adding discrete tabla work. The CD’s longest track, The Libertine, is a faster tune in 3 for quintet, featuring Turcotte and the alto saxophone of Sundar Viswanathan. The track feels like a two-in-one; a little more than half way through, its groove and vibe shift. Farrugia switches to electric piano and things become more rocking as Turcotte solos. After, the tune’s final theme feels like it’s floating over the churning by Michelli and Downing.
Ricochet is admirably diverse and consistently engrossing in terms of smaller details and larger structural concerns alike. I’ll be surprised if there’s a better debut jazz CD released in Canada this year.
The Ottawa Citizen – Peter HumBuy Ricochet!