Double Review of Cat Toren’s Inside the Sun, and Everyone Knows Everyone 1.

Eclectics partial to genre-blurring bands should rush to Everyone Knows Everyone. NEW YORK CITY JAZZ RECORD REVIEW

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