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May 2009

The October Trio + Brad Turner
Looks Like It’s Going to Snow
Songlines

Why was there ever any fuss about pianoless quartets? The October Trio (tenor saxophonist Evan Arntzen, bassist Josh Cole and drummer Dan Gaucher) and their trumpet-playing cohort Brad Turner play full arrangements and rich harmonies just fine without keys on the excellent Looks Like It’s Going to Snow. The Vancouver confederates’ postbop travels many paths, but their ability to maximize the sound of their small ensemble underpins all of them.

Much of the album has another common thread: sensitive lyricism, frequently provided by Turner (“Found”) or Cole (“Springs”). But no single instrumentalist defines any track: Arntzen’s weary statements on “Give (Sydney Carton),” for example, have weight only by virtue of the rhythm section’s spidery patterns and Turner’s languid responses on flugelhorn. The disc’s avant-garde efforts aren’t so lyrical, but the ensemble never wavers. Given the intensity of the 49-second blast “Flip,” the quartet might well be a big band. The centerpiece, “The Progress Suite,” combines atonality with peculiar melodicism (à la Ornette); its second section is the closest the band comes to minimalism, dominated by Cole and scattered cymbal shots from Gaucher, but it’s bounded by lush phrasings from Turner and Arntzen that reassert the collective’s strength.

Looks Like It’s Going to Snow has no shortage of strengths, from intriguing compositions to extraordinarily inventive players, but at its core it really is all about the ensemble. If bands once went without pianos for the sake of derring-do, the Octobers and Turner do so for the sake of their own self-possession.

Originally published in May 2009
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