Dylan van der Schyff (drums), Mark Helias (acoustic bass), Michael Moore (alto saxophone, clarinet, bass clarinet), Brad Turner (trumpet), Achim Kaufmann (piano).
This new Canadian/American/European collaboration is the brainchild of Vancouver drummer/percussionist Dylan van der Schyff (recently featured on Dave Douglas's Mountain Passages), who formed the group, brought it together for Vancouver's 2003 jazz festival, and thoughtfully sequenced the record. An excellent DSD studio recording and multi-channel mix accentuate the music's colors and moods. Each of the performers (apart from Dylan) contributed a substantial composition or two to the session, resulting in a very diverse yet complementary range of styles, moving between modern and avant jazz and free playing. With only one day of rehearsal, the collective depth of the musicianship is evident throughout in the soloing and group dynamic. The record feels fully realized as a unique collective creation, often intense but with a high quotient of lyricism and humor. This is not so surprising considering these players' shared experience: Kaufmann and Moore have performed together frequently in the last five or six years (including a brief tour with van der Schyff); Moore and Helias have known each other for over 25 years, and van der schyff and Turner go back over 10 years on the Vancouver scene.
There's no doubt that the group clicked, and while some of the pieces were rather difficult to play, with different events happening simultaneously and tricky transitions between sections, the results never seem too abstractÉoblique perhaps, but not strained. You can sense that the musicians are having a good time and want to invite the listener in. Dylan remarks: "Listen to Michael's sound, and Brad's sound -- how friendly those horns are. How playful they are. And Mark and Achim, too... They draw you in and then they challenge you. Some other musicians you play with, well they don't spend any time drawing you in, they just get right down to it. It's about the play, simply. But these guys have a way of playing that is kind of based on an arc. It's about construction. But there's the play in there as well." Each piece has its own form, its own story as a composition as well as the story it tells as a performance. (For detailed descriptions of the compositions, and reflections on the process of creating the record, please check out liner-note writer Greg Buium's very informative interviews with all the musicians.
The record is named after the piece Michael Moore wrote specifically for the group: "The idea for that started, I was driving in Michigan and I heard this ad for a toy store. It was telling us that in the definition of a toy, there were three things you had to look for -- it's open-ended, it's interactive and it has to encourage creativity. As to distinguish a toy from a waste of time, or a video game or something like that. And I thought, 'Wow, it sounds exactly like music to me.'...The melody, it's kind of a game in the sense that the rhythm section will try to glue the two sections of melody together. But it's also such that the melody interrupts whatever the rhythm section is doing.... ItÕs a very simple piece. It's just a melody. I don't see any chords or anything, which is nice for people that like to contribute." Achim adds: That piece always puts me in a happy mood. It's pretty quirky. There are some game ideas and some stuff that only somebody who understands improvisation could have written." And did it feel as natural to play as it sounds? Michael: "That's what we do you know. It's like whatever you do you have to make it sound easy -- suspension of disbelief or something."