April 2007

Glenn Buhr Ensemble – Thru the Wounded Sky CD release
April 2, 2007 Live@Courthouse Toronto
Thru the Wounded Sky
by David Fujino with photo by Roger Humbert

I came out to hear Glenn Buhr's compositions performed this particular night by an octet + poet at the new atmospheric jazz club, The Courthouse.

I'll briefly try to describe Glenn Buhr's ('fun' and intelligent) compositions.

Glenn Buhr

For one thing, they're definitely jazz, with faint traces of Classical music showing through in their smoothly harmonized melodies.

The jazz sound, and attitude, often came from Buhr's keyboard with its contrary dissonant sprinkles and well-placed thumps. ("Jackhammer").

As well, the funk-based grooves and Spanish-styled vamps that drove Buhr's large group compositions created anticipation and an insistent sense that there was a darkling mystery of some kind unfolding through time.

And, of course, the strong jazz soloists playing Buhr's "I Ain't Got No Rhythm". Saxophonist Sundar Viswanathan was always thinking, probing, committed to an inner search. Guitarist Greg Lowe stood out as a luminous sheets-of-sound player who was ever ready to slip into the next dimension, while Chuck McLelland's tenor solo, made up of piercing and measured cries, nicely balanced the emotional and the mental.

Adding the voice and words of poet/narrator Margaret Sweatman to the octet mix in "Holding Pattern" was a dramatic and illuminating event. Her urbane and urban words — "This is not my stop. I see pavement ..." — played beautifully and trippingly with the funky beat and the high cry of McLelland's tenor saxophone. At times, Sweatman's delivery and phrases made me think of Annette Peacock.

It was unfortunate that Sweatman was consistently undermiked. Scott Good's sturdy trombone was an elephant trumpeting. Viswanathan's baritone sax was all squeals and emotionally high pitches. It was amiable in spirit.

In "Adagio" — a theme from Mozart that developed into a slow, 4/4, funeral anthem — where the trumpets and trombones always seem to play slightly out of tune, where this only adds to the incredible melancholy of a slow funeral march, we find that this piece ends with a slow paced marching to a snare drum.

The compositions of Glenn Buhr took a jazz, big city view of things. They allowed for plenty of improvisation and, like a city, they're made up of internalized, diverse, cross-cultural sounds and rhythms. Buhr's melodies are actually multicultural since they ranged from a syncopated Klezmer style to a sonorous Mozart theme in "Adagio" (with its funky backbeat) to the jabbing r&b horn accents of "Jackhammer".

But finally, Buhr's music has a satisfying whole sound. It's richly compositional in its various sound textures and changing moods; and it's all gathered around a funky heartbeat.

It's all good.

The musicians
Glenn Buhr — piano
Richard Moody — viola
Sundar Viswanathan — alto and baritone saxophone
Chuck McLelland — tenor saxophone
Scott Good — trombone
Greg Lowe — electric guitar
Gilles Fournier — electric bass
Blair McKay — drums
Margaret Sweatman — poet/vocals
We welcome your comments and feedback
David Fujino
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Roger Humbert
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The Live Music Report

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