REVIEWS & Writings
Brodie West Finds Rhythm with The Ex, Mengelberg, Bennink - Downbeat Magazine
Kerilie McDowall, August 2018
Canadian saxophonist Brodie West’s 13th release as a leader, Clips, finds the composer stringing together abstract impressions, each statement seemingly springing spontaneously from the moment before. With stark melodic lines, the sound is innately personal, a kind of sonic solitude emerging from the bandleader’s quintet.
Growing up in British Columbia, West moved to Toronto at 17 and eventually to Europe. Studying with composer and pianist Misha Mengelberg (1935-2017) in 2000 led the saxophonist to fruitful recording and performance collaborations; his work with Han Bennink, who West met at age 24, connected the Canadian with avant-punk’s The Ex and their compatriot, the late Ethiopian saxophonist Getatchew Mekuria. An open and flexible musician, West, 43, has recorded on more than 35 albums, including projects with Sandro Perri, Lina Allemano, Jennifer Castle, U.S. Girls and the late Gord Downie.
In addition to Clips, which is due out Sept. 21 on Lorna Records, West is set to release an album with drummer Evan Cartwright under the name Ways, and a fifth album for his avant-calypso octet, Eucalyptus, is planned to mark the group’s 10th anniversary next year.
The following has been edited for length and clarity.
Studying in Amsterdam with Mengelberg—how did that influence your approach?
The aural perspectives of brodie west - Musicworks magazine
Nick Storring, August 2017
People love a good Jekyll-and-Hyde story, and when it comes to artists, the extreme disparities between their personal and creative lives offer endless fascination. These supposed paradoxes affirm the specious belief that artistic expression magically transcends selfhood. They’re also the pillars of personality cults, painting artists as fundamentally complicated and misunderstood people—exceptional beings occupying their own plane of existence. In experimental music, Morton Feldman is the classic case—his hulking presence and uncouth manner are commonly contrasted with the unfathomably patient, delicate music he produced. Japanese noise veteran Merzbow’s politicized veganism and auditory violence are similarly framed. Frank Zappa’s “mad genius” reputation hinges on perceived friction between his hardline antidrug, anti-alcohol stance and his music’s flamboyant, stoner-friendly wackiness.
Toronto composer and alto saxophonist Brodie West is practically the opposite of all this; his work and disposition are uncharacteristically harmonious. The congenial unruliness and subdued eclecticism of his various expressions are like a direct and irrepressible extension of his personality. West is more apt to weave himself into the aural fabric of an ensemble than to position himself as its protagonist—even when he’s leading. He speaks carefully but generously, retroactively annotating some statements, leaving others half-finished. His musical phrasing is nearly identical: fragmentary, oblique, yet always arriving at a roundabout coherence. When presented with questions pertaining to his sensibilities, he isn’t evasive, but prefers to travel the scenic route, hesitant to oversimplify things. The musical analogue is a key feature of his work: the self-conscious meandering quality that seems to stem from neither deliberate eccentricity nor self-consciousness in and of itself; in other words, his peculiar way of inhabiting the flow of the music.
Born in 1975, West grew up in Nanaimo, British Columbia. Music was a part of early childhood, but mostly in the form of cassettes played in the background by his mother. This shifted in the sixth grade, when he selected instruments for music class. West eagerly volunteered for drums or guitar, but was conscripted into playing saxophone. It might not have been his first choice, but having a tool for his own musical agency whetted an insatiable creative appetite.
Raul Da Gama, July 2017
In 1646 Sir Thomas Browne coined the term “hallucination” from the Latin word “alucinari” meaning “to wander in the mind”. I prefer the Latin (and Browne’s) word to another term often used instead: the term is “psychedelic” and is derived from the ancient Greek words psychē (ψυχή, “mind”) and dēloun (δηλοῦν, “to make visible, to reveal”), or “mind-revealing”. And I do prefer “hallucination” – certainly while emerging from the Pink Flamingo Room a 10″ 45rpm EP by Eucalyptus because this music facilitates a sort of “wandering in the mind” without disturbing it to the extent that something is changed, much like a trip through a Ripley’s museum: you come through relatively unscathed, unlike John Lennon’s rather psychedelic “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds”.
Happily the music of Pink Flamingo Room by Eucalyptus is just as exciting as that iconic Beatles track. The music of “Jazz Visions” and “Have You Listened to Mermaid Tattoo?” includes, among other things a fantasy of extraordinary breadth and visceral energy. In fact these two qualities also permeate the rest of Pink Flamingo Room, which I don’t hesitate to suggest is among the finest I have heard lately. One of the more striking aspects of Brodie West’s approach – indeed of the rest of Eucalyptus, especially Nicole Rampersaud – is his inerrant sense of timing. There is no rush to arrival: every scintillating detail is savoured at leisure, without a trace of decadent indulgence.
Whole Note Magazine
Stuart Broomer, March 2017
Alto saxophonist Brodie West is a significant presence in the Toronto free jazz and improvised music communities, whether leading his own groups like Eucalyptus, or contributing to Drumheller and the Lina Allemano Four. He has also established an international reputation, working with drummer Han Bennink, the band The Ex and the great Ethiopian saxophonist Getatchew Mekurya. Alexandra Park, named for the Toronto park where West used to practise, is a solo saxophone LP, a brief but challenging expedition into West’s sonic world.
The LP begins with a brief tape of West literally playing in the park, his quiet tones accompanied by children’s voices and recurring sounds, perhaps someone shooting hoops. This soon gives way to close recording in a studio: brief runs and muffled asides alternate with long tones, some beginning as multiphonic split tones, others gradually developing emphatic overtones. West produces gentle, flute-like timbres, sometimes merging them with suddenly articulated, hard-edged saxophone notes and whistling harmonics.
Some may hear this recording as an exploration in technique, but West’s intent seems to be very different. Though numerous techniques are present, this is absolutely human music, recorded so closely that West’s breath is an integral part of his saxophone sound; at times he’s literally mixing his own simultaneous mouth sounds with the horn. Silence too, is a significant presence, with the tape left running in the pauses between episodes. West reaches his highest level of expression on Side II, pressing from sustained shaku-hachi-like cries to higher pitches that first turn to trills, then to multiphonics. It’s as impassioned as music gets.
Welcome…to the Pink Flamingo Room. Why don’t you sit down and stay a while? Have something to drink. We only have grapefruit cocktails, but that’s OK, because it’s permanently 4:00 PM July 18th, 1974, in Miami Beach. Undo your top two buttons, lean back, and let’s watch the band.
Listen to how the piano patiently spills out phrases like it’s watering all the potted palms in the hallway. And how the percussion plinks happily, and the bass bobs up and down like a sailboat out on the horizon. Doesn’t it make you wish you never had to leave?
This next tune has questions. Questions like “Have You Ever Listened to Mermaid Tattoo?” It’s like the saxophone has grown lips and is asking you again and again, each time in a slightly different way. And before you can answer, the trumpet interrupts you with a procession of snorts and giggles. Maybe there never was a mermaid tattoo.
The Law Of The Meander
by Nick Storring
Brodie West's breathily angular sax tone has never been presented with such intimacy as on this odd little solo tape from Toronto, ON's Healing Power. West is known as a member of various Toronto outfits, including Drumheller and Eucalyptus, as well as a collaborator with Dutch avant-punks the Ex and legendary free-jazz drummer Han Bennink, not to mention celebrated Ethiopian musicians such as Getachew Mekuria. West's style, which is full of curt, slippery phrases and tentative-sounding tangents, can definitely be disconcerting upon first listen; it's almost as though you're eavesdropping on him humming to himself as he does the dishes, or glancing at a few smudged bars of a tune jotted on the back of a napkin. However, it's apparent that the curious, soggy sound world heard on The Law of the Meander is something unique, rich and cultivated. He's using various neglected spectra of the instrument to articulate a gently fractured lyricism that's completely his. It's a humble and highly personal contribution to a lineage that can eventually be traced back to Monk and Ornette. (Healing Power)
Ephemera of Brodie West
My grandmother taught me how to play ukulele. She gave me a George Formby book, she was really into him. He played banjolele, which is what this is. This was something she left to me in her will… she must have found it at a garage sale. I don’t play it any more, not much. I did play it with Zebradonk. My grandmother’s name was Lorna, so that’s why my label’s name is Lorna Records. She had a lot of musical instruments and she loved music. She took me under her wing as soon as I started showing any interest in music. She was the first to teach me jazz songs, 30’s-style tunes. She subscribed to sheet-music magazines and she always had music in her house, a piano in the living room so the whole family with six kids would sing together. A really cool grandma, and really outgoing. She was a big influence on me.
by Kerry Doole
Toronto, ON-based saxophonist/composer Brodie West has long been a key member of the city's improv and new music community. He has worked with such prominent ensembles as Woodchoppers Association, Zebradonk and Drumheller, as well as such international notables as Han Bennink, the Ex and Getatchew Mekuria. His new project is as leader of Eucalyptus and his formidable talent is effectively showcased on this new recording. Its five compositions clock in at 31 minutes and are filler-free. West manages to combine the accessible and avant-garde in an appealing way, while recording on just two microphones provides a warm aural ambience. Opening cut "Cookie" has a languid, film score-like feel, while "Triller" uses sax, piano and percussion washes to create a hauntingly reflective mood. "Jelly Roll" and "Durrty Goodz" are in the avant-jazz realm, while closing track "54321 Calypso" does indeed have an effervescent calypso vibe. Fine stuff all round.
Whole note Magazine
Bennink/West/Ex - Lets Go by Ken Waxman, November 2011
Unfazed by the decades of musical history represented by his Dutch associates – Han Bennink, probably his country’s most recorded jazz drummer, and guitarist Terrie Ex, who has been a punk-rocker since its first spit – Toronto alto saxophonist Brodie West leaps into the fray in this session with youthful inspiration and the skills resulting from constant improvising. The result reflects the title: the three create at a high, interactive level from the get-go until they finally exhaust all sonic possibilities.
Known locally for his gigs with trumpeter Lina Allemano, West has played with the two Dutchmen in different configurations. But here his febrile reed variations, that range from trilling obbligatos to eviscerating honks, spiced with split-second quotes from pop and jazz tunes, invigorate Bennink and Ex, pushing them to take more chances.
Ex, a frenetic if rudimentary guitarist, stays away from simple rhythms to use slurred fingering, amp distortion and scraping frails to augment his responses to the saxophonist’s flattement, penny-whistle-like shrills and reed bites. Bennink, who has worked with major jazz players since the early 1960s, is as unpredictable in his beat-making as always. But there are times here where his crunches and slams move into violent, near-Hard Rock territory to relate to Ex’s chunky strums and shakes, while at the same time using rattles, nerve beats and rim clicks to join West in deconstructing the material. For his part, West’s techniques, including deliberately schmaltzy vibratos, circular breathing and dagger-sharp reed bites, help keep everyone off balance, but allow him to improvise at his inventive best.