Jazz festivals are the summering grounds of the large ensemble. The big, beautiful beasts come from far and wide to frolic in the sun, their distinctive calls heard across the city.
Among the pack, The Hylozoists migrate from Toronto, while Slavic Soul Party! come up from Brooklyn. To watch and listen to these two graceful creatures is to understand the very nature of the ensemble.
Ensembles are packs—moveable societies unto themselves. While they travel as a single entity, they follow the cues of a leader.
As a recording engineer, producer and player with The Sadies and The Heavy Blinkers, among others, Halifax native Paul Aucoin knows what it means to move in the pack. But he started The Hylozoists back in 2000 because “I wanted to make a record of my own. It was my chance to contribute to the canon as writer instead of an engineer, producer, side guy,” he explains from Toronto.
Composing on guitar, piano and vibraphone, which he plays principally in The Hylozoists, Aucoin writes songs that couldn’t be played by fewer than seven players.
“There are some big bands that you could take away three of their guitar players and there’d still be a lot of the same substance,” he says. “But if you take the violin player out of The Hylozoists half the melodies are missing. There are no duplicates in this band other than having two drummers.”
The lineup for the festival gig on July 15 is a mix of veteran and new members like Dale Murray (pedal steel), Randy Lee (violin), J. Ball (synth/percussion) and Paul Lowman (bass).
Slavic Soul Party! shows similar tendencies in terms of leader and pack. “I was getting interested in Balkan music and playing a lot of very traditional folk music with master musicians from the Balkans who had immigrated to New York,” explains founder Matt Moran, who plays a drum called a bubanj (boo-BON-ya) but is originally a jazz vibraphonist. “I also have my own strong sort of musical identity, which didn’t fit the tradition but I thought would sound really cool.”
Moran’s eight collaborators include Ron Caswell, a tuba player. As well, Moran mentions, “I have an accordion player, Peter Stan, who’s sort of the go-to accordion player for the Serbian and Romanian communities here. He really has helped us develop deeper roots into the Gypsy tradition.”
SSP’s members live in Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx and play a weekly gig in a Brooklyn bar. “Community is important, yeah, both in terms of understanding global culture and creating our own,” Moran says.
The Hylozoists will come from Halifax, Ottawa, Toronto and Winnipeg. “Canada is a pretty small musical community when it comes down to it,” says Aucoin.
Whether mournful or celebratory, Moran says, Slavic Soul Party! is “sort of balls-to-the-wall music. You can’t half-ass it. You have to be entirely present for it.”
The band’s raw passion is undeniable. Vocals aren’t missed. “There’s something about a band powered by lip and lung in the days of electronic mediation of everything that really grabs people. It’s really subversive and direct.”
Subversion is at the heart of The Hylozoists too. “The whole instrumental thing: it’s why people jump to the cinematic analogy,” says Aucoin. “I think it’s sad that vocals have become so important that it’s such an oddity to have a lack of them.”
Over and over he’s heard: “‘Oh I wish they sang.’ Isn’t there enough going on intellectually? That’s why I like playing the jazz festivals because, quite often, that isn’t going to be someone’s critique of us.”
The Hylozoists and Slavic Soul Party!, July 15 at Festival Tent, Spring Garden at Queen, 8pm, $20, 492-2225, www.jazzeast.com