Mike Doherty, Eye Magazine, October 21/2004

Kirby your enthusiasm

Perhaps the best thing about Toronto's booming music scene is its sense of communal spirit. Our most widely championed groups bring together so many musicians from so many different projects that audiences are bound to be drawn to their less commercial relatives -- from Broken Social Scene to Do Make Say Think, for instance, or from The Hidden Cameras to Les Mouches.

Still, the more degrees of musical separation between you and the buzz bands, the more work that needs to be done to make people aware of who you are, where you're coming from, and where you're going. No one understands this better than Ken Aldcroft.

The guitarist/composer has been an indefatigable promoter of Toronto's creative improvised music scene ever since he moved here from Vancouver in 2001. His own music, as most recently heard on the new double studio album, Kirby Sideroad (Trio), mixes freewheeling improvisation with playful swing and the occasional funky backbeat. It's hardly a daunting listen, but its unpredictability asks the listener to meet it halfway.

"To listen to improvised music or creative jazz music, you can't come after a hard day of work and expect to be entertained," Aldcroft says over a drink at a Bloor Street café. That's not what it's about. It's about a conversation -- and you need an audience as a part of it. You need that energy, that feedback ... you can't walk into a bar and hear some weird music and go, 'That fuckin' sucks.' Maybe just sit down and let it affect you. See where it goes."

This idea of "seeing where something goes" is important to Aldcroft's own modus operandi. On Kirby Sideroad, his own charts are balanced by improvisations among different combinations of musicians in his group (including Evan Shaw, bassist Wes Neal and drummer Joe Sorbara), who sat down and played with no preconceived ideas.

With its succinct, buoyant melodies and sparse angularity, Kirby Sideroad brings to mind Ornette Coleman's early quartet music. Aldcroft's playing, laconic, direct and at times augmented by loops, brings to mind Bill Frisell and occasionally John Abercrombie. Aldcroft recalls a lesson he had with Abercrombie in New York in '97 as a formative experience.

"I was really inspired to do my own thing," he says. "I'd been trying to do the 'professional musician' thing and was fairly successful making things happen but it wasn't really the type of playing I wanted to do full-time: playing weddings and casuals and stuff, six nights a week."

As Aldcroft commits himself to playing his own music and promoting the Leftover Daylight series of concerts at the Arraymusic Studio (check www.joesor bara.com/leftoverdaylight.htm; the next performance is Oct. 29), he's happy to let wedding gigs get "few and far between." Still, the occasional one helps pay the bills: "I don't play dance music -- I would play cocktail sets. And then we can really do anything we want."


"We wouldn't get into sound exploration at that point," he says, somewhat wistfully. "I wouldn't pull out my loops ... I'm not going to put on the distortion pedal and be super-aggressive. I'll play within the context of what we're playing, just try and keep it as open as I can. But generally, you're not playing at a volume that really affects people that way. I hate to say it, but you're like the wallpaper. As long as you're not bright red all the time, then it's cool -- just do whatever you want to do."