Album Review :: Jesse Ryan :: Bridges

by Phil Enns

As its title suggests, the debut album by Toronto-based saxophonist Jesse Ryan sees the gifted young instrumentalist building musical bridges between traditional jazz idioms and the Afro-Caribbean rhythms of his native Trinidad & Tobago. The improvisational nature of jazz always appealed to Ryan, as it provided, in his own words, “a space for collaboration, cultural exchange, and [a place] where old and new worlds meet.”

It is in that spirit that the album’s opening track, “Big Ole Shoes” – in which traditional Trinbagonian Tambrin drums introduce, then undergird, a bright, swiftly-moving modern jazz melody and chord structure – demonstrates well the synergy between these no-longer-estranged musical traditions. 

Alongside Ryan are a whole host of talented musicians, including Marc Rogers on both upright and electric bass, and Ewen Farncombe on piano and, notably, Fender Rhodes. While some of these names may be new, Winnipeggers familiar with the local jazz scene may recognize at least one of the artists contributing to the album: former University of Manitoba Jazz Studies vocal major Joanna Majoko lends her voice to two of its tracks.

One of those two, “Zambian Offertory,” is a gentle zephyr of a tune seemingly representing – in this reviewer’s mind, at least – a hopeful hymn of thanks sung at the dawning of a new day. “Right To Be Wrong,” another standout track, lays down a bed of Trinbagonian percussion, over which Ryan and his sidemen display their mastery of the form with sultry solo spots. In many ways, the Tambrin drums are the star of the show here and, of their three appearances, the album’s closing track, “S.O.T.S. (Sons of the Soil),” is one of its more danceable offerings. 

Overall, Bridges is, even in its quieter moments, a very lively album, and there are far more surprises in store for the serious listener than can be recounted here. With all tracks composed by Jesse Ryan, and co-produced by respected Toronto percussionist Larnell Lewis, Bridges is a fine debut effort in what, one hopes, will be a long and illustrious career.

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