Album Review :: TuneTown :: Entering Utopia

by Phil Enns

Jazz, like folk and blues, is a form of music in which one is largely indebted to the contributions of one’s musical forebears. Ultimately, the goal is to take the lessons learned from past traditions and inject them with new life while still paying homage.

TuneTown is a band composed of three wickedly talented individuals from the Toronto jazz scene – Kelly Jefferson on saxophone, Artie Roth on upright bass, and Ernesto Cervini on drums – who have successfully achieved this goal on their sophomore effort, Entering Utopia. They have each clearly paid their dues, as it were, to this music, and are more than capable of taking traditional song forms to new and unexpected places. What is also abundantly clear throughout is the level of comfort they have with one another. 

The album’s opening track, “Hello, Today,” is prefaced by a short, Dave King-like, percussive overture which leads to a sassy solo saxophone passage. Only when the bass enters a few bars later do we realize we’ve entered a down-and-dirty blues territory. And what a raunchy, swaggering blues it is! The title track, with bassist Artie Roth providing the harmonic framework, brings the listener into a moodier, more contemplative, frame of mind. “Layla Tov” continues the contemplative mood with a chamber-like sax, bass, and glockenspiel introduction, flowing into a truly dreamy saxophone melody. Following the slightly off-kilter “Rhythm changes” of “Billyish,” comes “Flood, Deluge,” a kind of free-form, nightmarish soundscape which proves this trio would be at home in just about any musical setting. 

The album, mostly original tunes, is rounded out by two standards: a genuinely surprising reading of Charlie Parker’s “Cheryl,” and album closer “Blue Gardenia,” which, with Cervini on bass clarinet, hearkens back to the gentle swing of days gone by, further displaying, perhaps, their debt to jazz tradition.   

Much is made of the fact that TuneTown is a chordless jazz trio (i.e. without the harmonic foundation of a piano or guitar), but the music on this, their second, album is so endlessly inventive and surprising that such instruments are, quite frankly, not even missed.

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