July 2008

Circles Quartet
July 27, 2008 Gate 403 Toronto
The Music Goes Round and Round ...
Report and photo by Zoë Guigueno
"Circles... keep the energy going," explained bassist Matt Roberts when asked about the name of the band. The co-founder of the Toronto-based jazz quartet, living on and off in Edmonton and Toronto, could not have chosen a more apt title for this group of musicians.
With two sets of original compositions and arrangements, the Circles Quartet livened up the cozy Roncesvalles jazz and blues bar, Gate 403, on July 27. Although the shape of the room caused most of the musicians to face the wall, the venue has decent sound and a grand piano, so they weren't complaining.

Along with Roberts was fellow Humber College alumnus Hayoun Lee on piano, University of Toronto's guitarist Neil Whitford, and McGill graduate Nico Dann on drums. Not only are these four powerhouse musicians, but they all happen to be strong and unique composers as well. Every tune had a different feel and form, yet they were cohesive and complementary in a set.

The music was fresh, luminously dark, glorious, delicious, and energetic through any tempo. Constant circles of rhythmic and harmonic progressions maintained a steady hypnosis in the listener. Effective use of doubling lines was employed in several tunes — Lee's left hand matching Roberts', or Whitford and guest vocalist Alex Tait, who graced three songs of the second set, delivering a melody in flawless unison.

After opening with Roberts' peaceful tune "The Waterfall", a section of a seven-piece jazz suite he wrote portraying the life of Shakyamuni Buddha, the group moved into Whitford's arrangement of Victor Young's classic "Stella by Starlight". It was exciting and refreshing to hear the melody of such an overplayed standard expressed over an entirely new and dense chord progression. The set closed with a version of Kenny Wheeler's "Everyone's Song But my Own", a composition that, like many Wheeler tunes, has a circular form and a very pretty melody.

One of my favourite pieces was Roberts' tone poem "How to Walk on Water", a tune in 7 that featured Tait on vocals. Toronto musician Graham Campbell described Lee's playing on this tune like this: "[his] left and right hands were like two awkward strangers gradually getting to know each other. It began dissonant, in distant registers, and ended in a block of cohesive rhythm." Indeed, the playing of everyone in this group evoked vivid images that helped to imprint the music in my memory.

The morning after the gig the group went into the studio with Robert Sibonney to lay down about five tracks. They hope to release the EP by the end of the summer and take the group on tour next year.

I could describe every tune they played, but you should just go check them out instead. This performance was more welcome to my ears than most of what I saw at the Toronto Jazz Festival. It was a treat to see them at such a small venue, as I don't believe that will happen for too much longer. This group is far beyond small, pay-what-you-can audiences and I expect to see them off on tour next summer, pushing forward and making their name on the Canadian jazz scene.

The Musicians
Matt Roberts – bass
Neil Whitford – guitar
Hayoun Lee – piano
Nico Dann – drums

For music and upcoming gigs

We welcome your comments and feedback
Zoë Guigueno
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