May 2008

The Darren Sigesmund Septet
May 29, 2008 Trane Studio Toronto
Dancing on Tightropes
by Zoë Guigueno photos by Roger Humbert
The rest of the band put their instruments down as Anthony Michelli and Daniel Stone began trading ideas and jamming together over the groove. Michelli played loose and relaxed over the ever-shifting, infinitely subdivisible rhythms, drumsticks like long fingers. He gazed off into the brick walls of the restaurant, throwing in a few measures of disco and funk beats. The young, slick-haired Stone played various percussion instruments, but most remarkable was the cajon, a Peruvian instrument that looks like a box that you sit on and play with your hands. The cajon sounds like a rich, warm bass drum when struck in the middle, but like a growling rattle near the edges. It was amplified so much that it covered the bass and the bass drum, pounding and driving like a heart.
The groove that these percussionists improvised over was conceived by Darren Sigesmund, an ambitious jazz composer and trombonist whose latest creations have been strongly influenced by Chilean and Argentinian traditions. His recent album Strands was promoted on a tour through Asia and Australia and featured his quintet — tenor player Quinsin Nachoff, bassist Jim Vivian, guitarist Reg Schwager and drummer Anthony Michelli.

Since Strands, Sigesmund has been writing furiously, and many of his new tunes made their debut at the Trane Studio on this night — the night before they headed into the studio. The quintet was joined by vocalist Eliana Cuevas and percussionist Daniel Stone. With such in-demand musicians, it isn't surprising that they could only find time to rehearse the tunes the week before, and it explains the music stands and page flipping. The reason they are so busy and the reason they pulled it off so well are one and the same.

Sigesmund's tunes change time signatures every few bars and the melodies are always stretching and sprawling through dense chord changes. The tenor and trombone counterpart lines dance together on a tightrope, over the safety net of Vivian and Michelli. Although at times it was hard to hear him, Vivian layed down the time and was always locked in. He looked around constantly at his bandmates, his lips puckered in concentration.

Darren Sigesmund

Quinsin Nachoff & Eliana Cuevas
I wish I could have heard more of Eliana Cuevas, the Venezuelan-born vocalist who sang wordless melodies in close harmony — or dissonance — with the two horn players. Though she wasn't yet entirely comfortable with the music, when she sang all my attention was on her. She sings with precision, warmth and purity. Her own quintet will perform at the Trane on August 1st.

There was a full house for the first set, but the second act was perhaps past some people's bedtime, and more intimate. The level of musicianship onstage was enough to ensure a good show, but as many tunes were so fresh to the musicians, there was some stumbling and exchanged glances. I had a chance to talk to Nachoff about the band and peruse his charts. "And then you... solo over it?" I said, frowning. The 34-year-old tenor player is also fluent on soprano and clarinet. Sigesmund teased that Nachoff "didn't want to bring his soprano on tour, so he just played the parts on tenor." Among my sax player friends at Humber College, Nachoff has definitely gained 'freak' status. His percussive style complements Sigesmund's lyrical approach and deep, smooth tone.

Although Michelli and Stone didn't seem to be inhibited by their music stands, the melodic players stared into their charts as they improvised. They still took amazing solos, but at no point did I feel truly moved, as I surely would have had they been freed from the paper. More familiarity and exploration of the material will bring Sigesmund's tunes to maturity, and when that happens I doubt bedtime will be on anybody's mind.

The Darren Sigesmund Septet
Darren Sigesmund – trombone
Quinsin Nachoff – tenor saxophone, clarinet
Jim Vivian – bass
Anthony Michelli – drums
Reg Schwager – guitar
Daniel Stone – percussion
Eliana Cuevas – vocals


We welcome your comments and feedback
Zoë Guigueno
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Roger Humbert
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The Live Music Report

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