“Forest Grove” is the follow-up to the 2013 JUNO nominated “The sky was pale blue, then grey” and features nine of Au’s original compositions. The emerging Canadian saxophonist/composer is joined by Todd Pentney on piano, Hammond B3, Rhodes, Wurlitzer and synths, Jon Maharaj on bass, and Fabio Ragnelli on drums. Since its formation in 2009, The Allison Au Quartet has performed at jazz venues across Canada, garnering a reputation for imaginatively written and performed modern jazz.
“Forest Grove” opens with “Tides”, a free-flowing, lyrically engaging piece that explores subtle harmonic textures. “Bolero” is a lush ballad that draws inspiration from the classic Latin American love song. The composer shows a deft touch here and the tune is lifted with the beautiful vocals added by Felicity Williams. Maharaj’s bass solo is also a highlight to enjoy. The pace picks up on “Aureole”, a swinging number that features some excellent Hammond playing from Pentney. Williams’ voice once more adds a different dimension on “The Clearing”. One of the album’s stronger compositions, Au’s saxophone playing is thoughtful and provocative, making for a very enjoyable piece of music. “Deluge” is a jazz-rock tune that drives forward in a searching manner. Au employs a hard-edged tone to some of her playing, one which to these ears is not always the most likeable, but it works very well here. There’s a slick feel to “Through Light”, with Au’s alto sparkling with energy and invention. On “Tumble”, we are in more impressionistic classical territory. I do like Au’s ballad writing, there’s a subtlety and grace to it that is impressive. “You Ordinary Stranger” is a slowly moving piece that leads into the album’s final track “They Say We Are Not Here”. The tune crescendos into a saxophone feature buoyed by the strength of the rhythm section, vocal harmonies and overlapping layers of synths.
“Forest Grove” makes for an enjoyable listen, with fine performances from the musicians involved. There is however, an overall feel of what I would best describe as “take it or leave it music”. It’s all…ok. Good in fact. But it doesn’t have that edge or originality which would make me shout about it as something you just have to listen to. Hopefully the band will develop further and build on the best elements of Au’s compositions, hopefully finding something of a more unique sound or fresher originality along the way.