Tuesday, April 1, 2014


To cap off a long day in the city filled with good food, writing and music, I decided to catch the last band of the night on a cool Friday spring day.   The band was the Ryan Driver Sextet.

At first glance, the band makeup of piano, guitar, vibes, bass, drums and melodica may bring to mind another classic ensemble noted for its configuration:  The George Shearing Quintet plus Toots Thielemans on harmonica.    The George Shearing Quintet was known for its pristine, unison melodies and lighthearted approach to swing and jazz.   However, in this set up, it straddles on the fence of being a straight ahead jazz band with the grit of avant-gardism that defines their sound.

Ryan Driver doubles as a skillful classically based piano improviser along with his gritty, poring vocals that cross the line between the boy-next-door innocence of Chet Baker and a jazz-influenced Chris Martin from Coldplay.   The way he delivers repertoire from standards such as “The Night We Called It A Day”, “You’ve Changed” to obscurities such as “I Was Telling Her About You” brings a unique element of sexiness that is both raw and romantic at the same time.   

The rest of the band, made up of guitarist Martin Arnold, vibraphonist Michael Davidson, melodist Tania Gill, bassist Rob Clutton and drummer Nick Fraser basically transforms the otherwise straight ahead ballad material into full out avant-garde collective improvisation, filled with displacements, distortions, and playing in and out of time.    The landscape makes it for challenging listening to the listener and risk taking opportunities for the musician.    

With Ryan Driver, at first it may seem like another straight ahead jazz band playing the same old tunes.    But he transforms the material and makes it into a festive adventure that rewards repeated and concentrated listening.   It may at times feel out of place or completely left field, but in the world of jazz and creative music, it is all about taking the past and bringing it forward into the future.  


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