Matthew Tavares & Leland Whitty ‘January 12th’ LP/CD (Mr Bongo) 5/5

Multi-instrumentalist Matthew Tavares and saxophonist Leland Whitty have been collaborating together for the best part of a decade now. Their history as members of Canadian nu-Jazz outfit Badbadnotgood has been well documented over the years, with their forward-thinking, hip-hop and electronica-infused take on jazz. But it was their incredible 2020 release “Visions” that really lit a musical fire for me. Far more steeped in the jazz tradition than the pair had been heard before, that album was undoubtedly one of the highlights of the year. Before the onset of Covid, the duo’s aim was to tour extensively to promote the Visions album, but obviously that couldn’t happen. “January 12th” is an improvisatory live set, offering a glimpse of what we might have got to hear from the band in a live setting.

Recorded as part of Burdock’s Piano Fest, an annual event at the city’s brewery and music hall, Tavares and Whitty are joined onstage by bassist Julian Anderson-Bowes and drummer Matt Chalmers, the same line-up as heard on the Visions recording. This four-track, improvised set from the quartet explores their jazzier side even more deeply than before, with a magically interwoven connection between all four musicians setting a solid foundation for them to roam, free-spirited and unencumbered, through moments of darkness and light, intensity and beauty, reflection and adventure.

“10,000 Roses” is a half-hour tour-de-force. The music is wholly transitional, with Tavares’ acoustic piano flowing like the peaks and troughs of a multi-dimensional mountain range. Whitty blows as if his life depended upon it, with all the passion, fire and emotion required to summon the gods of improvisation. As with the whole album, Bowes’ bass playing and Chalmers’ drumming give much more than mere support, their intuition bang-on, knowing exactly when to step back into the shadows, and when to fly like an eagle, soaring blissfully over those mountainous peaks. Together, the quartet seem to share such a close musical connection, that there’s nothing in their way, their musical paths combining perfectly on this magnificent piece of music.

Tavares switches to electric guitar for the moody, slow-burner of a tune, “Chandelier”. This is a far more atmospheric piece at the start, with a gradual build-up resulting in an almost rock-fuelled frenzy; bass, drums, sax and guitar letting loose with cataclysmic exuberance. Back at the piano for the beguiling “Cloud Dance”, Tavares’ piano combines beautifully with Whitty’s conversational sax. This feels like a much more impressionistic vibe, with the drums and bass picking up the tune and imbuing the piece with a sense of the jazz tradition. Bowes’ exploratory bass leads us into the final tune “Forever”. Tavares’ electric guitar takes the tune into a kind of hushed Grateful Dead prog-rock theme, with late 60’s, early 70’s experimental hues and textural colours permeating their way through the whole mesmeric ambience of the piece.

Eclectic and slightly off-the-wall it may be, “12th January” is a sparkling live set from Tavares, Whitty, Bowes and Chalmers. Four musicians at the peak of their powers, this album has ‘cult classic’ written all over it.

Mike Gates

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Matthew Tavares & Leland Whitty ‘Visions’ 2LP (Mr Bongo) 5/5