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Don Thompson Banff Jazz All Stars: Celebration

Is lyricism a national trait of Canada? It seems so, based on this celebration of the 25th anniversary of the Banff Centre Jazz Workshop. Thompson, who plays piano throughout (he’s also an accomplished bassist and vibist), leads an octet here, with an implied emphasis on tunes by or for Kenny Wheeler. (i.e., two of the six tunes are by Wheeler; another is a Thompson original called “For Kenny Wheeler.”)

Thompson’s piano style leans toward Bill Evans and George Shearing-he was Shearing’s bassist for several years-and his charts make the five-horn ensemble sound warm and larger than it is. Pat LaBarbera, burly-toned and gruff on tenor, sweeter on soprano, is the most aggressive soloist. Trumpeter Kevin Turcotte (shades of Wheeler), trombonist Josh Brown, alto saxophonist Roy Styffe, and baritone saxophonist Perry White are solid melodic improvisers. The alto man (Lee Konitz meets Gary Foster) plays pretty and dreamy on Wheeler’s “Wintersweet.” Bassist Jim Vivian introduces Thompson’s “For Dave Holland” in a nimble, Holland-like style. Drummer Ted Warren unleashes some heavy thunder on this tune. (Drummer Mark McLean also appears on the album.) Good writing, good playing.

Originally Published