A conversation about “bad jazz” with members of the A/B Trio of Edmonton veers into the abstract and philosophical.
Two rather intriguing questions emerge: Can any creative form be disparaged in a world that’s relaxed the term ‘artistic’ to include such modern art installments as twine pinned to a wall?
And do improvising musicians — under the very definition of ‘improvisation’ — have complete freedom to invent their own rules as they go along?
The answers are given a ‘not really’ and a qualified ‘yes’ by Thomas Bennett, drummer for the jazz trio that performs along award-winning saxophonist Mike Murley on Thursday, Dec. 4, at Fratters Speakeasy in Red Deer.
Bennett said putting down certain jazz forms that are not to your liking is like calling certain foods gross because they are not to your taste.
“Maybe you don’t like Indian food, but other people do.”
On the other hand, he believes bad jazz can be created by musicians who don’t possess the fundamental skills or “craftsmanship” the genre requires.
“It becomes an open concept for self indulgence,” said Bennett.
A/B Trio’s double bassist Josh McHan doesn’t like the term “bad jazz” at all. He noted that free jazz innovator Ornette Coleman chose to break the structures of standard or traditional jazz. But Coleman knew what he was doing, as his musical mastery is undeniable. He’s a Pulitzer Prize-winning composer, saxophonist, violinist and trumpeter.
Wherever listeners might stand on these musical questions, they won’t have to overstretch their tolerance to appreciate upcoming A/B Trio album, Out West, to be released in February.
Melodies still rule on its original jazz compositions, say Bennett and McHan, who perform in the group, along with saxophonist Dan Davis. The trio’s second CD will be full of groove-based tunes, from reinterpretations of old standards, to original instrumentals with two-part melodies, harmonies and driving rhythms.
Multiple Juno Award-winning saxophonist Murley, of Toronto, was invited to play on the release — and Bennett believes this upped everyone’s game.
“He was our special guest and personal hero.”
McHan praised Murley, who’s coming on tour with the group, for having a musical vocabulary that’s not dependent on playing a lot of notes. “Mike’s developed a sound that’s very melodically based,” which, he believes, fits exactly with A/B Trio’s vibe.
The group inspired by the music of Sonny Rollins and Joshua Redman was formed in 2010 by musicians who go back a decade or more on Edmonton’s music scene. Each contributed original content to Out West.
For instance, McHan wrote the contemplative tune For Carson with Davis. McHan was thinking a lot about his uncle, who was battling liver cancer, while composing the instrumental track. And he believes a certain “vulnerability” emerged on it.
Bennett came up with the upbeat tune that he later named Daytime Errands because it reminded him of all the running around he sometimes does.
“I like high-energy stuff.”
Meanwhile, the cover version of My Romance is a reinterpretation of the song from the 1930s. It was updated with a modern drum and bass line “to keep it fresh,” said Bennett.
Although jazz sometimes struggles to find an audience, McHan is thrilled by the trio’s reception in Red Deer, where the group previously played at the One Eleven Grill.
“Lately, there seems to be an appreciation for well-crafted, non-mass-produced items, whether its farmers markets, art, or coffee or music. I think jazz fits into that. There’s a subculture that’s more open to being challenged,” he said.
“What’s different about art music is that it really needs to be enjoyed in a live setting.”
Mike Murley and the A/B Trio perform at 8 p.m. as part of the Barrelhouse Jazz Series. Tickets are $20 from Fratters.