The little-known Ken Aldcroft keeps a busy performance schedule, having made his mark in the diverse Vancouver scene, and then migrating east to Toronto in 2001. These two recordings offer a glimpse at some of his recent projects.
KEN ALDCROFT GROUP, KIRBY SIDEROAD
The double CD, Kirby Sideroad, distinguishes itself in several ways, including the manner in which the quartet of guitar, alto sax, string bass, and drums negotiates a steady stream of original, creative compositions that span an ocean stylistically, yet the group somehow maintains its own identity, due in part to the individualism of the players. Aldcroft, who wrote virtually all the compositions, is a master of eclecticism, able to speak in the language of nuanced free improvisation one minute, followed by Stan Getz inflected Bop the next, followed by a touch of atmospheric puffed clouds. The influence of one of Aldcroft's teachers, John Abercrombie, has sometimes been noted, and there are some similarities in their sound. Aldcroft, though, is a more aggressive performer by nature, and he infuses humor into his tunes. A good example is the last piece on the second CD, "Punto's Place," with its Chick Corea-infused Mexican dance theme. Aldcroft encompasses a broad palette, and while there are others who exceed him on pure technical talent, few can boast his breadth of style, compelling writing, and willingness to pursue new outlets. While the guitarist's performance is solid throughout, and sometimes, as on "Be Nice Monster," even superb, Evan Shaw offers an equally compelling voice on alto. On "A Strained Hello," for instance, he bursts from the gate, announcing what appears to be a Hard Bop melody that morphs to a gutsy funky tag, a tribute to Aldcroft's impressive composing skills. The quartet sounds as though it is a larger group, a function, in part, of a confident drummer and powerful if largely subordinate bassist. Aldcroft has carved a niche where his fascinating, even quirky, writing melds admirably with the darting, fluid lines of Evan Shaw's virtuosic alto, leading to a double recording filled with surprises. By the end, you realize that Aldcroft has led you on a different sort of journey, where roads you thought you knew will take you someplace just a little different. Much like Rod Serling's "The Twilight Zone."
KEN ALDCROFT TRIO +1, FROM OUR TIME
From Our Time was recorded a few months earlier, and differs in that it substitutes Gordon Allen on trumpet for the acoustic bass of Wes Neal. The change is significant, as the two horn front line backed only by drums and Aldcroft's guitar gives an entirely different feel, one that more often emphasizes collective improvisation. Once again, Aldcroft's tunes hit the mark, beginning with the compelling opener, "South-Eastern Baja," which melds a slightly Middle-Eastern flair with an upbeat and quirky Ornette-ish line. Each track is filled with secret doorways, obfuscating the division between the written and the instantly created. On the gorgeous blues-drenched "Gospel," the two horns jointly entwine themselves around the hooks of the melody. "Snake Hips" is beyond doubt the best melody line of any of the tracks reviewed, with a classic sound that could have passed for adventurous 1950s Blue Note, altered slightly by the clever subtleties of Aldcroft. What does Gordon Allen bring to the table? Simply a trumpet sound in the tradition of Bobby Bradford and Don Cherry that sputters eloquently except when it swooshes or flutters. Allen is a strong talent with an individual voice who in time should distinguish himself as his speed and flexibility improve. The last track, the bifurcated "From Our Time/Evening Peace," is a fascinating mosaic of styles, a fitting finale, with strong solos from Aldcroft and the horns, and some fine drumming.
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