Guitarist Ken Aldcroft is a hard-working mainstay of Toronto's alt. Jazz scene: it's a rare occasion when the Soundlist (an informal e-mail calendar for the city's avant-garde music gigs) doesn't include his name somewhere in the listings. Aldcroft usually has a few different projects and bands on the go, and for The Great Divide he has pooled several of them together to create a quintet that he logically enough calls the Convergence Ensemble. Most tracks are multi-theme portmanteaus, with open-form improv joining the individual components together. The opening three-parter begins with "Mister, Mister", a lazybones march with good spots for alto saxophonist Evan Shaw and trombonist Scott Thomson; it then shifts direction with the dreamy "From the Hart-Land", a hall of mirrors for Aldcroft's guitar to wander around, and resolves with the sort-of-bopish "X Marks the Spot". "The Great Divide" begins in a half-distracted haze that lifts like a curtain to reveal a dark, clanking groove, which the band meticulously assembles then picks apart. The rest of the material on the disc derives from sound-tracks for Buster Keaton's the General and Our Hospitality. This is territory that Bill Frisell has made his own, and indeed the second part of "Humble Home of John Mckay/Hopelessly Lost, Helplessly Cold" is merely easygoing Frisell pastiche, but the other tracks are fortunately a good deal spikier. The band plays hide and seek with the tart, bluesy melodies of "A Refreshing Night/A Union Theme," surrounding them with wry clutter but eventually letting them peek out; while "Retreat-Advance/Stuffed Turkey" begins with a ragged reveille and staggering march, moves toward a melodramatic "oh no!" chord, and ends with a drunk's walk of a theme and a nicely befuddling coda. Like a lot of Toronto's non-mainstream Jazz, The Great Divide, sounds like it's still working through its various American and European influences, but it's still good to hear musicians from this city who have more on their mind than just following the accepted post Bop paths.
(c)Cadence Magazine 2007 www.cadencebuilding.com ph: 315-287-2852