Friday, May 8, 2020

Ways + Simon Toldam - Fortunes (Lorna Records, 2020) ****½

I used to live across the street from a park, it was a long rectangular shaped area that bordered an active train track on one side, and on the other side, I'd walk my dog. As we would approach the playground area, at just about where the "no dogs allowed" sign was posted, he'd do his business. At one point I noticed that the playground - which had been a rather traditional set of swings, see-saw, and slide - was replaced with, among other things, a light weight climbing structure, an angular geodesic framework atop a rubberized ground cover. I then began noticing a trend for these types of playgrounds when I was biking through a park, or walking around a city. I'm not a playground psychologist, but it seems to me this shift away from what I considered the traditional things that you "knew what you were supposed to do with" to these "make up your own rules" type of equipment was interesting. I mean, who doesn't love a good swing, but, the opportunity to define it as you go along is a lot fun. 

As I listen to the Toronto based group Ways, which is Brodie West on sax and Evan Cartwright on drums, along with the Danish pianist Simon Toldam (a group leader in his own right, who has also collaborated with a who's who of creative musicians), I hear masters of the new playground at work. The trio's collaboration is captured on the album Fortunes, which offers such a ill-defined, but well constructed environment for the group to create in. Often led by focused, exploratory phrases from West, the tracks follow self-constructed logic often to energized ends.

The first track, 'Health,' is also the longest. At over thirteen minutes, it takes its time to develop, starting with fragments of musical lines that gain in volume and density, finding interlocking points, but never truly sticking to each other. There is a combination of both mathematical precision and  disobedience of obvious choices. Here, the trio is setting out the rules as they encounter the imaginary playground. West sticks to choppier phrases, not so much filling the space, but darting about, as Toldam counters with his own acute melodic ideas. Cartwright punctuates the play with accents and propulsive attacks. The result is a musical tapestry made from discovery and invention, both self-contained and inviting. 

The next track 'Fame', is much shorter, and seems to follow a composition - or at least a predetermined form. The trio proceeds in short phrases, in perfect tandem. The melodic ideas are fully formed, but seem half-presented, ghostly, as if there is another hidden side. The effect is interesting and effective. The next track, 'Love', which continues to reveal the albums titling theme, also carries on with a sense of mystery. This time, Cartwright is the dominant voice ... a simple pulse from a floor tom provides the anchor point. The others drop muted notes, or other sound artifacts (a slap of the mouth piece of the sax, for example). Other tracks like 'Money', 'Money II', and 'Money III' are all sharp tunes. At least on the third one, Toldam seems to be playing a prepared piano and Cartwright utilizes a unique set of percussion to create a spiky underlayment, to which West reacts with vigor.  

Fortunes is an intriguing album. The group make quickly captivating music, and their approach offers many ways to engage with it. 

Check out a premier video of the group recording 'Fame' from Fortunes:

Ways feat. Simon Toldam - Fame from James West on Vimeo. Video by Mike Højgaard. 

Available on Bandcamp:


Diand said...

super video and music....congratulations!

Diane Roblin said...

Super video and music...congratulations!

Nick Metzger said...

Great piece Paul, love the playground metaphor.

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