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Jim Brenan 11 (Featuring Chris Andrew): 50/50 (Death Defying)

A review of the Canadian big band's album featuring the keyboardist

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50/50 by Jim Brenan 11 (featuring Chris Andrew)
The cover of 50/50 by Jim Brenan 11 (featuring Chris Andrew)

Because major cities in Canada are much farther apart than they are in the States, local jazz scenes there tend to be more isolated than in the U.S. This is particularly true for musicians who live outside the Big Three metro centers of Toronto, Montréal, and Vancouver. Calgary is 1,686 miles from Toronto, Canada’s English media center; Edmonton 1,677 miles. New York may as well be on another continent.

That may be the only rational explanation for how the Jim Brenan 11 could contain so many excellent musicians so few in jazz would have heard of. Drawn from the crème de la crème of the Calgary and Edmonton jazz scenes, this mid-sized big band reflects Brenan’s desire to showcase the best of Alberta’s jazz scene, and if 50/50 has a fault, it’s that the large band format often emphasizes the ensemble sound at the expense of individual voices.

Granted, there’s some excellent sax-against-sax soloing on “Ozark Mountain Cougar Fightin’,” and “Empress,” in addition to its impressively contrapuntal written lines, gives significant solo space to alto saxophonist Sean Craig, trombonist Craig Brenan, and drummer Jamie Cooper. But it’s hard to fault the band for featuring only a single soloist when the individual in question is keyboardist Chris Andrew. “Eleven Eleven,” for instance, is mostly an extended feature for Andrew’s lithe, funky phrasing on Rhodes, and the horn lines bolster the groove with a grace that recalls CTI-era Deodato. In all, 50/50 is the sort of album that will leave any jazz fan wondering what else might be happening in the musical wilds of far-off Alberta.

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J.D. Considine

J.D. Considine has been writing about jazz and other forms of music since 1977. His work has appeared in numerous newspapers and magazines, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, Rolling Stone, Entertainment Weekly, Musician, Spin, Vibe, Blender, Revolver, and Guitar World. He was music critic at the Baltimore Sun for 13 years, and jazz critic at the Globe and Mail for nine. He has lived in Toronto since 2001.