REVIEWS & Writings
Kick It ’Till You Flip It
Lorna 10/ HAVN 054 (brodiewest.com)
Alto saxophonist/composer Brodie West makes music that’s both exploratory and engaging, growing from varied experiences playing jazz and its transmutations in Toronto and further afield, including stints with Dutch drummer Han Bennink and Ethiopian saxophonist Getatchew Mekuria. West’s groups typically emphasize rhythm (his eponymous quintet has two drummers), but his octet, Eucalyptus, takes it further. Drummers Nick Fraser, Evan Cartwright and Blake Howard feed data to West and trumpeter Nicole Rampersaud as they bounce around the multi-directional polyrhythms and ostinatos.
West’s compositions can suggest African pop music, but they also have affinities with a broad swath of work, from Terry Riley to Ornette Coleman. Something Sparkly is perfectly dreamlike, its slow theme weaving through bright electric guitar and exotic overlapping rhythms. It suggests Sun Ra’s stately early music, a resemblance heightened by Ryan Driver’s trebly clavinet, a keyboard Sun Ra called a “solar sound instrument.” West’s solo seems suspended between melody and birdcall. The title track develops with the horns playing a short, taut figure, then gradually moving out of synch with one another amidst the various rhythmic paths at hand. The entire LP testifies to West’s artful concision, but his compressed, expressionist solo here is a miracle of improvisational economy.
The final track, Triller, is another beautiful floating mystery, its minimalist components ultimately weaving a complex whole; it’s enhanced by Alex Lukashevsky’s bending guitar tones, until parts drop away and only electric bassist Mike Smith’s pulsing ostinato remains.
Andy Hamilton, November 2018
Defying conventional wisdom, perhaps, Brodie West’s music is complex, creative and loose. The Toronto composer has worked with the city’s leading jazz outfits, and here features a group of close collaborators - Tania Gill (piano), Josh Cole (bass), and Nick Fraser and Evan Cartwright (drums). I feel it’s embarrassing that this remarkable Canadian musician had released 13 albums before I got to hear his work - but I guess that reflects the links, or lack of them, between music in Canada and the UK.
The title refers to Sandy Plotnikoff’s absurdist cover art - and maybe to the brief melodic fragments deployed. The saxophonist studied with the well known dadaist Misha Mengelberg, then worked with Han Bennink, Dutch avant punks The Ex and their associate, the late Ethiopian saxophonist Getatchew Mekuria. The leader calls the album “A psychedelic, visceral experience… disorienting in the rhythm”. That’s certainly true of the opening title track, a kind of fanfare in spasmodic time. On “Tumbling In”, with it’s boppish groove, and off-centre theme, pianist Tania Gill’s sparkling, very free solo impresses. The theme of “Prel And Fug” - short for “Prelude And Fuge” I’d guess - suggests Steve Coleman’s cerebral convolutions, but the main echo in the saxophone playing is Anthony Braxton.
It turns out West is a big Braxton fan. “He and Roscoe Mitchell both seem to make a lot of use of the overtone harmonics which can sometimes sound a bit harsh,” he says. Another way of putting that is that these players don’t have - or consciously avoid - a crafted jazz sound, at least on alto. Saxophonist Martin Speicher echoes Braxton’s seeming hesitancy, tone-coarsening and multi-phonics, but with a fuller, more crafted sound. West is less of a disciple, and “Emerald Green” and “Diamond Days”, at a halting pace, is gorgeous and haunting, while the modal flavour perhaps recalls West’s immersion in Ethiopian music.
Next year his group Eucalyptus release their fifth album, and there’s also the debut by his duo with drummer Evan Cartwright - both albums surely worth catching. This is exciting, eventful music of the highest quality.
Bill Meyer, November 2018
Alto saxophonist Brodie West has played over a hundred concerts with the Ex, mostly in the big band edition that backed up Getatchew Mekurya for the better part of a decade. This record sounds nothing like either the Ex or Mekurya, but the lessons of that association are clear on Clips. Like Mekurya, he has a particular idea of how his music should sound, and he’s particular about finding the right people to make it sound the way it should. And like the Ex, the Brodie West Quintet contains striking instrumental talents who put their gifts at the service of a singular ensemble sound.
The Quintet’s signature is a layered approach to rhythm that is way more intricate than it initially sounds. It helps to have two drummers, Nick Fraser and Evan Cartwright, who understand how to convey constant motion without either locking into shared groove or getting in each other’s way. One keeps a steady cumbal pulse throughout “Diamond Days” while the other plays quietly contrarian parts that are like little whirlpools in a stream. Bassist Josh Cole and pianist Tania Gill shift fluidly between passages where they stay with West in close formation and others where they strike notes a hair apart, which creates spacious harmonies and a bit of rhythmic ambiguity. “Emerald Green” has perfectly situated rests that turn the ballad tense, yet airy.
Despite his association with some very big-sounding musicians, West delivers a compact sound that never crowds his fellow musicians. His darting phrases zig, zag and bounce through the intricate, ever-shifting percussive dialog of “Rabbit in the Snow.” On “Soft Pause,” he weaves mellifluous, Ethiopian-steeped phrases through a bass and piano countermelodies. West could play heavier and harder; he’s done so in a trio with Han Bennink and Terrie Ex. But the focus here is on maintaining the balance in music that is dynamic without demanding that you notice it’s changes.
Raul Da Gama, November 2018
In the world of scientific laboratories, an experiment is defined as “a procedure carried out to support, refute, or validate a hypothesis.” Experiments provide insight into cause and effect by demonstrating what outcome occurs when a particular factor is manipulated. Experiments vary greatly in goal and scale, but always rely on repeatable procedure and logical analysis of the results. However, in music the word experimentation ought not to exist, as no scientifically repeatable procedure can be used to support, refute, or validate its hypotheses.
The music of the Brodie West Quintet validates its constructs with magic and mystery, both becoming the quintessence of their improvisational musical world. Truth be told, when it comes to West and his music – particularly on Clips – mystery and magic all collide in one unscientifically glorious big bang, producing art that always defies and blurs any categories. The alto saxophonist continues to destroy the proverbial artificial walls erected in music.
Goal and scale are tossed into the unknown with the wickedly intense scope of the music on Clips. The fractured rhythms of the radiantly irreverent Prel and Fug are an exemplary experience of the sparkling wit and ingenuity of West’s yammering melodic and harmonic conceptions. The saxophonist also draws into this musical web pianist Tania Gill, bassist Josh Cole and the drummers Nick Fraser and Evan Cartwright. Together they penetrate West’s riddle-filled music at a deeper level, creating art that’s radically fresh and intuitive, and plucked as if from ether.
Nilan Perera, Oct 2018
First and foremost: this is a jazz album, the way jazz was intended: "the sound of surprise." What we don't have here is a byzantine theoretical exercise, but rather, a pointed remark about how things can be complex yet part of everyday sound. This may seem like an oxymoron until you start thinking about the ferocious complexity of Fela Kuti or Sly Stone, but it's still jazz.
West has assembled a series of compositions that his quintet feel at home in. It's Brodie's house, but everyone is comfortable enough to be there and raid the fridge if need be. Even a ballad has that off-hand innocence like "Emerald Green" (and comes to Zappa's take on jazzism exemplified by "Twenty Small Cigars"), is as serious as they come, yet goes straight to the heart.
The band sound is in itself relaxed, and this in no small way framed beautifully by the phrasing of pianist Tania Gill, exemplified in her careful and concise handling of "Diamond Days."
West's playing is clear, melodic and tuneful. It's always really great to hear music being played with more than technique and it's just nonstop here. Underpinning all is one of the finest rhythm sections around; drummers Evan Cartwright and Nick Fraser establish equally distinct and strong musical character, stay out of each others way and provide bassist Josh Cole with space for independence and vitality. (Lorna)
Stuart Broomer, Sept 2018
There’s something different afoot in saxophonist Brodie West’s quintet, its singular construction of a jazz combo with alto saxophone, piano, bass, and drums—as traditional as Brubeck to that point—and a departure from the norm with a second set of drums. The sound itself doesn’t strike you right away, but it’s already there in a special emphasis that begins with the opening and title track, a line of isolated, clipped sounds, pure rhythmic utterance that clocks in under two minutes. The longer “Tumbling In” shows the full benefit of the two drummers’ presence: everything is dynamic, nothing perfectly aligned, the music moving on shifting accents imparted by Nick Fraser and Evan Cartwright’s absolutely fluid cymbals and drums, a complex momentum that seemingly reviews the jazz language of the 1950s, but which is oddly and absolutely contemporary.
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.
The aural perspectives of brodie west
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.
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.
brodie west - Alexandra park
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.
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.