Inside The Sun
Cat Toren Band (Green Ideas)
Everyone Knows Everyone 1
Pugs & Crows & Tony Wilson (Noschmo)
by Mark Keresman
Pianist Cat Toren is originally from Vancouver, Canada and now calls Brooklyn home. Her style evokes the iconic ECM sound without being derivative of it. There is plenty of space between the notes and use of judicious silence is a big part of her recent album Inside The Sun. This is moody chamber jazz, wherein atmosphere, improvisation and emotive shades take prominence over conventional melody and swing.
Inside The Sun might be described as a combination of space rock and free improvisation closer to the
European model than the American variant. Melody is more hinted at than stated, but there is a harmonious quality to much of Inside The Sun. Opener “Stars” is reflective, piano notes gracefully in the ether among cymbal washes and plucked guitar. Then a pensive motif occurs, as the band (Ryan Ferreira: guitar; Pat Reid: bass; Nathan Ellman-Bell: drums) buttresses Toren’s playing and disposition. The title piece begins with a gentle piano ostinato while electric guitar sighs and rings as if from afar. Toren makes with some attractive brightly lyrical exposition and Ferreira responds by getting slightly agitated and seagull-call surreal (an earlier generation would call it psychedelic)— it’s a compelling use of contrasts, which nonetheless maintains the inward journey vibe. Closer “Old Friend” begins as a furious free blowout before its evolution into a meandering space-out. Decent enough, but nothing avant-jazz fans haven’t heard many times before.
Everyone Knows Everyone 1 by Pugs & Crows comes from a different place entirely. This Canadian sextet, of which Toren is a member, is closer in essence to the Chicago-based post-rock ensemble Tortoise. While there are aspects of jazz, rock, world music, film music and free improvisation, it’s difficult to pinpoint where one leaves off and another begins—in other words, a true example of fusion that has nothing to do with marketing labels.
“Goya Baby” could be an outtake from The Mahavishnu Orchestra’s The Inner Mounting Flame. Meredith Bates’ Balkan-hued violin cries soulfully while the rest of the band (guest Tony Wilson and Cole Schmidt: guitars; Russell Sholberg: bass; Ben Brown: drums; Chris Gestrin: alto sax) swirls like a rising storm beneath, one of the guitarists pealing out haunting slide playing. A Spanish-hinted melody asserts itself and there’s some darting ensemble playing. Toren plays gently driving and lyrical acoustic piano, which gradually rises in intensity. Southwestern European motifs, perky, somewhat angular ensemble playing, jazz improvisation and rock instrumentation and dynamics— and it’s all in one compelling track. “Long Walk (Reprise)” juxtaposes Grateful Dead-like jamming (sparkling electric guitar) and punchy, jazz fusion- styled unison playing and the finale “Slowpoke” has a languid, way-out-West/in-the-desert feel with subtle blues undertones from guitar and keening violin that stings like a cactus needle. And there’s keyboards that shimmer and smoke like rainwater evaporating from hot pavement or rocks in the wilderness.
Those predisposed to jazz that puts improvisational interplay out front are recommended to check out Inside The Sun. Eclectics partial to genre-blurring bands should rush to Everyone Knows Everyone 1.
For more information, visit cat-toren.com and pugsandcrows.bandcamp.com
Eclectics partial to genre-blurring bands should rush to Everyone Knows Everyone. NEW YORK CITY JAZZ RECORD REVIEW
Inside The Sun
..something fans of adventurous creative music can get excited about. The Province (Vancouver)
Just in time for holiday gift-giving, Pugs & Crows releases its third album, Everyone Knows Everyone, on Thursday.
Featuring 15 new compositions from the young quintet and emeritus member guitarist Tony Wilson, the double album is something fans of adventurous creative music can get excited about.
After emerging on the scene with its excellent 2009 debut Slum Towers, the band — comprised of pianist Catherine Toren, violinist Meredith Bates, bassist Russell Sholberg, drummer Ben Brown and guitarist Cole Schmidt — won the 2010 Galaxie Rising Star Award for best new group. Its second album, Fantastic Pictures, took home the 2013 Juno Award for top instrumental album.
Listing all of the other projects the members are involved in could fill pages. Schmidt admits that putting together the new recording took some coordinating with the tour schedules, geographic locations of members (Toren is presently tearing it up in New York City) and other project obligations.
“We’ve been making it work for about the last three or four years, although we have all certainly found ourselves stretched over a lot of projects,” says Schmidt. “There just seems to be something in Pugs & Crows which keeps us all excited and maintains this forward momentum. It’s pretty cool how committed we’ve all been to this and we’re really happy to be releasing this Chris Gestrin-produced album featuring Tony and Debra-Jean Creelman at a show with our good friends Inhabitants.”
On any given night, members of Pugs & Crows could be playing in their other groups on specific nights booked by Schmidt. His production wing with Eric Mosher, titled NoSchmo (Noschmo.com), has booked (and helped build) the local creative music scene at venues from El Barrio (2009-2013) to the Sick Boss Mondays at the Lido (recently ended) and Wednesdays at the Emerald. In November, a new twice-a-month series titled Singles Night kicked off at the China Cloud Studios — a vital space for local musicians (facebook.com/liveatthechinacloud).
“Stuff comes and goes, but it’s really great that the Emerald (emeraldsupperclub.com) has allowed something steady to develop over the past two years without freaking out about those nights when it might be a bit quieter than others,” he says. “With Pat’s Pub (patspub.ca), Frankie’s Italian Kitchen & Bar [frankiesitaliankitchen.ca] and those crucial artist-run spaces, it feels like pretty good times.”
With places to play come the kinds of chops you hear on stunning Everyone Knows Everyone tracks such as The Treatment. Starting with a piano and violin interplay, the song settles into the sort of constantly shifting, confident grooves you would expect on a recording from a senior statesmen such as John Abercrombie. Pugs & Crows is always about expecting the unexpected, so from expansive instrumentals you find Waltz for Two. With its caustic lyrics and smoky vocals from Debra-Jean Creelman, the track feels like an archival gem rediscovered from some bombed out Berlin cabaret.
“It’s a big step up in terms of compositions, with twice as much music as the first two records,” says Schmidt. “The tunes break down into sessions in 2012, coming from a place where we were really entering into something special with Tony as a collaborator, and then another in 2013, when Tony is in the band for all intents and purposes and that’s inspiring. It seems deeper than the last two, as everyone is working on their own music and developing as much more as ensemble players.”
Great groups attain a comfort level that enables them to make music together unlike anything they create with other musicians. This is certainly true of Pugs & Crows, who appear to be entering the next level of what one hopes is a very long career.
..clearly rewarding. Georgia Straight
If there’s a downside to making a record with a beloved mentor, it’s that the junior partner’s contributions can sometimes get lost.
That’s not an issue on Pugs & Crows’ new collaborative effort with Hornby Island guitarist Tony Wilson, Everyone Knows Everyone. After all, bandleader and Wilson aficionado Cole Schmidt is solely responsible for writing six of the double CD’s 16 tracks, and he composed another six with his band’s esteemed guest. But there are times, at least on first hearing, when it can be hard to tell which guitarist is doing what.
“That’s influence,” Schmidt says on the line from his East Van home. “I’m impressionable, and I’ve been hanging out and listening to Tony’s guitar-playing for years, and I can hear it coming out in mine. I’m influenced by his sound, and then I’m taking that and trying to add my own to it.”
The process, which has included many six-ferry expeditions to Hornby and time spent playing together in the late Elizabeth Fischer’s DarkBlueWorld band, has clearly been rewarding. Everyone Knows Everyone, which inhabits an attractive and mysterious zone between psychedelic rock and avant-garde jazz, is marked by Wilson’s melodic elegance, but it also sports a degree of sonic ambition that surely derives from the band’s five younger players, who include violinist Meredith Bates, pianist Cat Toren, bassist Russell Sholberg, and drummer Ben Brown, in addition to Schmidt.
Still, Wilson has a few habits that the latter doesn’t intend to adopt—or pass on to the even more impressionable kids he deals with on a daily basis. “I’m a guitar teacher, and when I analyze Tony’s technique, I’m like, ‘Oh man, these are all the things I tell my students not to do!’ ” Schmidt says with a laugh. “The way he holds his pick, and his flat fingers… We joke about that, but he’s got the touch. It’s just that thing that happens after you’ve played for 30 years, I guess.”
Landscape is another major influence on the Pugs & Crows sound. Schmidt aptly describes Everyone Knows Everyone as having a “West Coast, foggy feeling”, and although some tracks depart from that—notably “Goya Baby!”, which is as Iberian asjamón serrano—most swim in a decidedly oceanic atmosphere.
“I can’t say that I go out there and sit by the water with a guitar and write the music, but I’m sure I’m picking up on that feeling,” Schmidt says. “So I’m definitely reflecting on that a lot—and missing it when I’m away from home. You know—that thing where you kind of complain about your surroundings, but when you leave for a couple of months it’s pretty loud and clear what you’ve been taking for granted.”
One aspect of Vancouver life that Schmidt refuses to complain about is the music scene. Like just about all of our working musicians, he’s got multiple bands on the go, playing in the Sands, Copilots, and the NOW Ensemble, among others, and he notes that Everyone Knows Everyone is both a commentary on and a love letter to his community. That’s especially apparent on the title track, which closes the sprawling set in anthemic fashion, thanks in part to a horn section—featuring Brad Turner on trumpet, Jon Bentley on tenor sax, and Jeremy Berkman on trombone—borrowed from cellist Peggy Lee’s long-running sextet.
Including them on the disc was both a generous gesture and a necessary one. Mostly, though, Schmidt says that the new record reflects Pugs & Crows’ fruitful partnership with Wilson, and its own growing maturity.
“If there’s one thing I’d like to put out there, it’s that this has been a great process for us, even if it doesn’t reach everyone,” he says. “Artistically, we’ve moved a great deal forward—and, selfishly speaking, I’m pretty happy with how the band’s getting along and playing together. I think it’s going to be a fun year!”