Ken Aldcroft Quartet, Peter Meisenheimer, Guelph Mercury, Thursday, September 5/2002.



Performing on the opening evening of the ninth annual Guelph Jazz Festival, the Ken Aldcroft Quartet offered an appropriate - and fun - introduction to this year's festival theme.

Festival Artistic Director Ajay Heble describes the emphasis this year as "performances that cross musical, disciplinary, and cultural borders." The quartet's live performance of an original score to the Buster Keaton silent film classic Our Hospitality did all of that.

Our Hospitality is a sort of Antebellum Romeo and Juliet written as farce with a happy ending. Well, I did say sort of.

The Canfields and the McKays are feuding families from the Blue ridge Mountains. Young Willie McKay returns from New York - where he has lived since his father died at the hands of a Canfield - to the family home to claim his inheritance. He meets up with the only daughter of the Canfield patriarch en route. Much manic and hilarious carrying on ensues with everything from southern chivalery to dometic violence serving as foils to Keaton's finely tuned sense of the absurd.

Scoring Buster Keaton is not a project to be taken on lightly. Keaton's cinematic genius requires that any musical accompaniment must be deftly handled if it is not to distract from his performance.

Aldcroft's score ranged from melancholy, melodic ensemble playing to warm guitar phrases accompanying images of sunshine to mild dissonance at points of high drama. Aldcroft on guitar, Ronda Rindone on clarinet, trumpeter Kevin Turcotte and trombonist Scott Suttie used their instruments' voices to good effect, generally expressing the mood of the film well.

Aldcroft managed to slip in the occasional wink in the direction of movie-house piano accompaniment without falling into cliche. The quartet also managed to avoid upstaging Keaton, and the musical performers were largely inconspicuous throughout the show.

The music was not really front and centre at any point in the evening, and it was easy to get caught up in the action on screen and forget that this was supposed to be a concert. As odd as that might seem in a jazz festival setting, it worked.

The selection of a Keaton film for such a project offered challenges. But Keaton's visual virtuosity, his willingness to push limits and take risks and his own penchant for improvisation also offered ample range for a talented group of improvisational jazz players - doubly so for players with a sense of humour.

The Ken Aldcroft Quartet managed to put it all together for an opening night performance that was received enthusiastically by the near capacity crowd at the MacDonald Stewart Art Centre.

Ajay Heble was there, and he appeared to be all smiles.