Cellist and bandleader Peggy Lee's web page states that the group, formed in 1998, grew out of her work in the bands of guitarists Ron Samworth (Talking Pictures) and Tony Wilson (Tony Wilson Sextet) and went from a sextet on its first outing to the current octet. It was also shaped by the desire to "explore different strategies for improvisation within composition and to feature the unique and brilliant individual voices that make up the band."
Over the years, the band has developed an enduring and endearing aesthetic, characterized by straight-eight feel in compositions with soothing melodies and harmonies and rhythms, while avoiding the complacencies of "easy-listening," and keeping the material quirky enough to have the ring of truth rather than the veneer of the sellable.
Along with Lee's cello and the two aforementioned guitarists, the band includes Brad Turner, trumpet; Jon Bentley, tenor saxophone; Jeremy Berkman, trombone; André Lachance, electric bass; Dylan Van Der Schyff, drums. The band sound works from some nice groove-driven bass lines, underscored by subtly propulsive percussion, a wide palette of articulations and sonic resonance from the blend of voices that make their a pleasure to listen to on so many levels.
Some noteworthy compositions in A Giving Way, the band's sixth release, can serve to sum up the characteristics of the album. "It's Simple" opens the disc with some creatively abstract sounds of drums and trumpet but then morphs into a lyrical mode as the rest of the band joins in, spearheaded by the silky tone of Lee's cello. Tunes like "Internal Structure," "Boat Ride into Go Home Bay," "A Giving Way" and "Whispering Pines" evince the even-eights, gentle rhythm-wave that gives this music its charm and allows for the soaring of Lee's romantically-inclined cello tones, Turner's buttery trumpet, Bentley's round and pleasantly dry reed playing, and Berkman's trombone lines, not to mention the dueling guitars that give this music an edgy bite here and there. Tunes like "Promise" and "Justice" show off Lee's writing for horns, fanfare-like voicings articulated coherently, but interspersed with bubbly free playing replete with extended techniques in the former and some free-form ensemble improvisation in the latter.
This is often introspective and meditative-sounding music, but with a firm compositional hand guiding the soloists resulting in a consistent and distinct band sound. This isn't free jazz, nor is it swing-derived music. It is something all its own, expressing the leader's unique aesthetic that straddles lyrical composition and boundary-pushing creative improvisation all at once.
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