Wednesday, July 9, 2014

The Secret is Out: Nancy Walker's Til Now Is Secret

Nancy Walker, Ted Quinlan, Kieran Overs, and Ethan Ardelli (Photo by: Greg King)

There’s always been a sense of mystery to music, which can come from secret places, when notes fall together to form a melody. For Canadian pianist and composer Nancy Walker, “a secret is hidden, mysterious, not fully understood.” Walker’s new release, ‘Til Now Is Secret [Addo Records] offers 10 distinctive tracks that offer a soundscape to our sense of mystery. It’s an album rich in colour and texture, and firmly grounded in the language of jazz, which in itself can be a bit unruly. But Walker’s music vocabulary is strong and varied enough to provide an emotional experience that never wallows. It’s music that celebrates itself while including the audience in that celebration. In other words it’s accessible without any commercial compromises.

On this first-rate recording, Walker [piano] is joined by Kieran Overs, Bass, Ethan Ardelli, drums, Ted Quinlan, guitar and Shirantha Beddage, reeds. It’s a great band, well-tuned and confident: ready to play new music. The album opens with the title track that, according to Walker, “is an anagram that reveals when it was written.” That clue offers up a mystery to its origins, but the music opens up even more ideas than location. It’s a marvelous piece that gently brings you into the album. I can’t tell you how many new artists hit you over the head with their opening track. They could learn a thing or two about the art of sequencing from Walker.

Two compositions on the album are based on other, real sources. “Shade of Many Shades” finds its inspiration in the art of Wassily Kandinsky and was informed by the works of Japanese writer, Haruki Murakami. I was particularly impressed with the tune “Buzz Theory,” with its funky bass-line. It’s a fresh sounding track with plenty of room for improvisation. It was originally written in 2013 for the National Youth Jazz Combo from Humber College in Toronto. That group, led by Kirk MacDonald, is one of the most important bands to carry the tradition of jazz music. (Another good one is the Jazzfm91 Youth Big Band)

The Spanish “Luna Llena” centers the album with its references to the mysteries of a lunar kind, a romantic sway of a work fully developed as a composition with just enough tension to keep us engaged. It’s a beautiful piece. Nancy Walker has become one of Canada’s finest composers over the years. Her first record called Invitation was released to wide acclaim in 1997. Seven albums later, her growth as a composer and bandleader has excelled. Til Now Is Secret is a culmination of patience and thoughtful music. I guess the secret is out.

- John Corcelli is a music critic, broadcast/producer, musician and member of the Festival Wind Orchestra. He's currently writing a book about Frank Zappa for Backbeat Books.

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