Roger Levesque, Edmonton Journal, Friday, January 26, 2007

Insides and outsides of great jazz

Convergence Ensemble mix and matches all the best elements for a fantastic set

Inside or outside?

Those two terms can summarize a lot in describing a contemporary jazz band. "Inside" jazz groups stay close to the melody, grooves and chord changes as originally mapped out by the composer. "Outside" players use compositions more as a sketch to inspire improvisation, sometimes even the collective improvisation of all the players at once.

In my experience, some of the most exciting jazz comes from collectives who are able to move fluidly between inside and outside playing, to take a tuneful grounding and offer up a nice surprise.

Consider Toronto guitarist Ken Aldcroft and his Convergence Ensemble. In two years, they've developed a set of signals and hand cues that allow them to seamlessly integrate improvisation into their charts and vice versa.

You'll be able to hear how this adventurous quintet makes intriguing, intuitive musical connections when their current cross-country tour brings them to open the Yardbird Suite's winter season tonight at 9.

If two years seems a short gestation period for a group that operates on intuition as much as deliberation, understand that the ensemble was a convergence of members of four other bands Aldcroft had been juggling at the time. They've actually known each other much longer. Based on the five original tunes that fill out the band's recent debut release "The Great Divide" (trio records/verge, guesses are that their live show could be a little more challenging than some groups, but it's also likely to be good fun.

"The audience has to meet us halfway," admits Aldcroft, "but it can be a rich experience. It's music that really thrives in the live environment."

Aldcroft was born in Coquitlam, B.C., and grew up in Vancouver. He took up guitar to express his early fascination with rock and blues before an encounter with a Charlie Parker recording in his mid-teens pushed him toward jazz, and eventually to studies at Edmonton's Grant MacEwan College and Nova Scotia's St. Francis Xavier University. He wound up in Toronto in late 2000 and has now put out seven albums on his own Trio Records Label.

The Convergence Ensemble is a tight-knit group of gifted players who also work in various other situations, pitting trombonist Scott Thomson, Evan Shaw's alto sax, bassist Wes Neal and drummer Joe Sorbara alongside Aldcroft's hollow-body Gibson guitar.

They're set to record again right after the tour.