Ethan Ardelli ‘The Island of Form’ CD (Self-released) 4/5

Sydney, Nova Scotia born/Toronto based drummer Ethan Ardelli has been one of Canada’s most in-demand jazz musicians for more than a decade now. Having shared the stage with a who’s who of contemporary jazz (Dewey Redman, Mark Turner, Mark Feldman, Jeremy Pelt, George Mraz, Mulgrew Miller, and Greg Osby) he
was due to make his first statement as a bandleader. “The Island of Form” certainly doesn’t disappoint as a debut, and moreover shows plenty of signs that Ardelli could in years to come be as revered as the aforementioned jazz greats.

As is often the case with a very good album such as this, there are many factors that need to fall in to place for it to sound great. Not least the choice of musicians. The quartet we have here work brilliantly together. Drummer Ardelli is joined by Luis Deniz on alto sax, Chris Donnelly on piano and Devon Henderson on bass. Throughout the entire album there appears to be a kinetic connection between the musicians, one which allows for some exciting interaction and improvisation. The tunes themselves are skilfully written and often inspiring in their inventiveness. As a session, debuts don’t come much better than this, with the album having been recorded at Sear Sound in New York by legendary engineer James Farber, with mastering by acclaimed engineer Greg Calbi.

One of the key factors about this album is how Ardelli doesn’t push the obvious. For example, in the same way that Paul Motian or Jack DeJohnette let the spirit of their music take centre stage, as opposed to any unnecessary showmanship, so does Ardelli. The tunes speak for themselves, and the time and space afforded to the group as a whole is a mature statement from Ardelli, one that reaps many rewards for the listener.

There are several tunes that stand out for me. “Agua” is very reminiscent of a Michael Brecker piece, and certainly wouldn’t sound out of place on one of the great man’s albums. Ardelli’s compositions are deceptively subtle, with the composer’s musical intelligence matched by the performers. Deniz sparkles on alto sax, trading shimmering solos with pianist Donnelly. With “Les Calanques” I could be listening to an ECM recording, with maybe Bobo Stenson and Chris Potter taking my ears on a magical oratory journey. It’s that kind of feel. “Thanks For Something” is edgier, more exploratory, with the intro sounding akin to listening to JD Allen or Joe Lovano, before the full quartet propels the track forward. All four musicians stretch out on this piece. Over the last few years I’ve very much enjoyed listening to Mark Guilliana’s Jazz Quartet. I was reminded of his music when listening to “Shangri-La Pearl”. This is a stunning piece of music. I love the way Henderson’s bass picks out the melody to begin with, and as the tune develops the beautiful piano chords are matched by the emotive sax playing. And as always, Ardelli’s drums are played with a rare poise and effortless perfection.

“The Island of Form” is an excellent debut from Ardelli. I hope he keeps this Quartet together for a while, as there’s so much promise here. I can see them making a very big splash in the world of contemporary jazz if they carry on making music like this.

Mike Gates