September 24, 2005
If Mozart Played Jazz, He'd be David Braid

By Stephen Pederson, The Halifax Chronicle Herald
There is something about jazz pianist David Braid's music that compels attention.

There's a lot going on, but at the same time it sounds integrated -whole and complete. His sextet concert in the Music Room on Wednesday night, part of a short downeast tour which includes Charlottetown tonight and the Jazz-X Festival in Antigonish this weekend, was a homecoming for Braid, bassist Steve Wallace, saxophonist Mike Murley, flugel-horn player John MacLeod and trombonist Gene Smith.

Drums aside, it's the same group that played three years ago in the inaugural sessions of The Music Room - a room Braid likes to think of as his home. His group sounds amazing in it. Drummer Ian Froman subbed for Terry Clarke, reading those complexly rhythmic charts Braid likes to write and raising the ante with impressive sensitivity to what was going on - especially in his Niagara-like contribution to the sonic apotheosis of Fishers of Men featuring the indefatigable Steve Wallace, a musician who doesn't just add himself to his instrument, but integrates himself physically into its dynamic tension.

If Mozart suddenly appeared among us as a jazz keyboardist, he would be a lot like David Braid. Braid’s tunes have a classical, Mozartean simplicity, freely exploring major thirds and their pivotal role in simple “do-me-so” triads, while introducing jazzy alternations.

In piece after piece, Braid explores in his preludes and intros and solo choruses, the balance between melodic simplicity and harmonic complexity finding a different solution for each tune. The major factor in asserting this wonderfully stable balance in his extraordinary rhythmic architecture, aided and abetted by rhythm-mates Wallace and Froman.

You might think the horn line would be compromised by this strangeness in Braid’s melodic inventions, but the opposite is what happens. Murley, jazz music’s own chameleon, changes colour, as it were, before your very ears. On Wednesday’s concert he often found the soprano sax the most flexibility agile voice for what his jazz mind had in mind. We just sat there transfixed in wonder.

Gene Smith, with a deeper, darker, more brooding concept, played with intensity and drive in Fishers of Men especially, his trombone on a flawless quest for all the right notes and contexts. John MacLeod also played introspectively, featured in For J.M., a love song which he invested with the emotional tangles of long-term romance, transcending tenderness and euphoria in his exploration of a more profound feeling. In Wash Away, a slow, three-four tune in the manner of a Chopin prelude in which a slowly adjusting harmony supports a sustained aria, Braid began embroidering the tune with intricate patterns of shadow and light, like a cooling breeze setting sun-washed leaves a flutter.

Formally, Braid’s arrangement also achieve balance, straying not far from the traditional format of head, solos, tutti interlude, more solos and tail with, usually, a long diminuendo to let the energy reabsorb itself into the ambience of the room. Sometimes, the horns sound (as in Modern Times) like a big band set on stun-out in which Murley’s sax soars into life, weaving over a full band sound, the complexity and richness of design of a Persion carpet.

A protein tonic for the ears.