Thursday, 6 November 2014

Tall musicians stretch all the boundaries

WATERLOO, Ontario --- One of the most unique voices in contemporary jazz, the genre-defying Stretch Orchestra, is coming to town.

If you never heard this trio before, you will never forget it.

Three virtuoso musicians, and a bundle of instruments, producing a big sound unlike anything you ever heard before. Friday, Nov. 7, 2014, is poised to be another milestone night at The Jazz Room.

Stretch Orchestra is Kevin Breit (mando-cello, mandola, mandolin), Matt Brubeck (cello) and Jesse Stewart (percussion).  The trio played the Kitchener Blues Festival in August to loud and long applause.  Last year, it played the Uptown Waterloo Jazz Festival.  Breit has appeared five times at the local jazz festival over the years.

Playing together since 2005, the trio has produced only one CD so far, and it won a 2012 Juno Award for best Instrumental Recording.  That was the self-titled CD Stretch Orchestra.  Distances and crazy-busy schedules have kept them out of the recording studio. Elora-based Breit says 99 per cent of the music the trio plays Friday will be instrumental.

“It's just kind of Americana music,” Breit says.  “Because it is improvised, it will always be calld jazz.  It is harmonic, so that gives it the jazz bent, the jazz shape for sure.

“I always say Americana because there is blue grass in there, there's blues in there, there's jazz in there, there's tango music in there, which is not really American but our version of it anyway.  So it's got all that stuff in it, I think,” Breit says.

That's why this trio plays jazz festivals, blues festivals and chamber music festivals with ease, winning new fans at every show.

Hard to believe this creative powerhouse has produced only one CD, and The Jazz Room is very, very lucky to this trio play on Friday night.

“Yeah, distances kept us from doing another one, ust the geography” Breit says.  “Jesse lives in Ottawa and he teaches at Carlton, and Matt teaches at York University and lives in Guelph, and I am on the road.
Among those three things try to get us in the room, it's a bit of a coup that we actually have, collectively, a date available to do this show on the Seventh.  I am so happy it worked out.”

Breit is on the road a lot. Bandleader, composer, studio work, sideman.  He has won other Junos with other bands, and recorded with the likes of Holly Cole, Hugh Laurie and Norah Jones. One of his instruments is a mandola, an ancestor of the lute and the mandolin. Unless you have heard Breit, very few people have ever heard or seen a mandola. It dates back to the 9th Century, and was popular in Italty and Spain. It did not reach England until the end of 14th Century. It is small and traditionally has nine frets and up to six strings.

“I am really into that, I really love playing those,” Breit says.

His instruments are custom-made by a luthier who lives outside Niagara-on-the-Lake, Joseph Yanuziello.

Breit loves to tell the story about sharing an elevator with Chicago Blues legend Buddy Guy. Breit was playing at a guitar festival in Chicago, and so was Buddy Guy. The next morning Breit is taking the elevator down to the lobby when Buddy steps into the lift. Breit is abashed and flustered, and presses the button for the basement. Then he mutters something to the living legend beside him.

"I saw your show last night Buddy and really enjoyed it," Breit said.

"Well, awright," Buddy said.

The elevator goes to the basement, the doors open and close, Breit hits the correct button for the lobby and the two are off again. When the doors open on the lobby, one of Buddy Buy's assistants is standing there, arms crossed, waiting for his boss.

"What kept you Buddy?" he said.

"The kid took me for a ride," Buddy said jerking his thumb at Breit.

Breit and Stewart had worked together in different bands, played the Guelph Jazz Festival and other gigs. This was prior to 2005.  Stewart told Breit about this amazing cello player who just moved to Ontario, Brubeck, the son of the legendary jazz pianist and composer. When the trio first got together, they called themselves The Tall Boys because everyone is, well, really, really tall.

The name was changed to Stretch Orchestra because Breit and Co. found out there was already a band calling itself The Tall Boys.

The Jazz Room audience will hear a mixture of new and old pieces Friday night.

“Half and half,” Breit says.  “Some from our self-titled disc, and new songs.  We are always gathering up this dust, we are always picking up new songs.  We will probably do some selected covers that people will hopefully recognize.”

Brubeck teaches at both York University and Humber College in Toronto. He rides the bus into and out of Toronto on teaching days, working on a laptop while the bus rolls down the 401. Stewart is a professor at Carlton University's School for Studies in Art and Culture.

Breit's music still chills more than 10 years after hearing him play for the first time with a band called Folkalarm.  It was at the Uptown Waterloo Jazz Festival, and with one of his small, custom-made instruments he covered Good Vibrations by the Beach Boys.  Never heard anything like it, before or since.

“It's one of those tunes everybody knows,” Breit says.  “It is one of my favourite tunes ever written.  I still get goose bumps hearing it.  Not us playing it, but the Beach Boys.”